Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: April 2006

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Early Neil

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about Neil Young's new anti-war, anti-Bush album. It doesn't go on sale until next week, but you can hear it now streaming over at Neil's Website. Go take a listen, and come back and tell us what you think.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Presidential Mistakes

Last week's post about the article in Rolling Stone reminded me of something that I missed when it was announced for Presidents' Day earlier this year but that I stumbled upon sometime later. The University of Louisville's McConnell Center held a Presidential Moments Conference in which a panel of presidential scholars ranked the ten greatest presidential mistakes. Number 1 is James Buchanan's failure to oppose Southern secession. You've got to admit, that's a big one. Seven states withdrew from the Union after Lincoln was elected but before Buchanan left office, and Buchanan essentially ignored the problem. Number 2 is also Civil War related, as Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction policies are cited for allowing the resistence of Southern confederates to freedom and equality for the freed slaves to become institutionalized throughout the South. Coming in at number 10 was Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. The interesting difference with all the other mistakes (except perhaps for Nixon's Watergate scandal) is that it was a personal problem rather than a policy error. You can argue that it had policy ramifications as it crippled the Clinton presidency from accomplishing more, but I think that's as much a result of the Republican Congress's decisions to punish Clinton for his personal mistakes.

The survey of presidential mistakes also asked the public to rank them, and the public put LBJ's expansion of the Vietnam War and Watergate as numbers 1 and 2. I suspect that's because they're both still in modern memory. But they likewise put Clinton at number 10. One disappointing aspect of this is that the public were given the same ten mistakes and asked to rank them. I'm not sure whether the panel of experts were given the ten in the first place and simply ranked them or if they actually generated the list. Did they come up with Clinton's personal foibles as among the ten worst presidential mistakes of all time, or was it foisted upon them from some source in the McConnell Center? Is it at all significant that the McConnell Center was founded by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the current majority whip in the Senate? I hope not.

Friday, April 28, 2006

All I Want Is the Truth

I hadn't intended to write about United 93, especially since I have no intention of going to see it. I wasn't going to avoid it because I had anything against it. At one point I'd wondered if it might be exploitive, but Paul Greengrass is a good, responsible filmmaker, and from interviews and stories I've seen, it looks like he's gone in with the best intentions. My main reason not to go see it is that I don't feel any need to see a dramatization of the events of September 11. I remember the emotions of that day just fine, thanks.

But an article in today's Washington Post raises some uncomfortable questions. Apparently, though it's not really a surprise, nobody knows enough about what actually happened on Flight 93 to fill out a feature film. And since this is, indeed, a feature film, that presented a problem.

Lloyd Levin, a "United 93" co-producer, acknowledges that the film went beyond known facts about the flight, but he justifies the movie's approach as artistically necessary. "Our mandate was not the same as the 9/11 Commission Report," Levin said. "Our mandate was to what Paul wanted to say with this movie. We're not journalists. Paul is an artist."

He called some of the questionable depictions "choices we had to make." Whether the passengers actually breached the cockpit is "a moot point, because at that point you're in the area of metaphor," he said.

If you're going to see this movie, are you going so you can appreciate the metaphor? Or are you going because you want to see what "really happened." It's all well and good to talk about art, but the vast majority of people putting their money down to see this movie are doing so to gain some insight to the truth. I'm not saying that anyone is stupid enough to believe this is a documentary and the actors they're seeing were really on the plane, but you can't have a visceral dramatization of something like this without it seeping into the audience's consciousness. Although people may know full well that this is a fictionalization, they're going to respond to it as though it's the truth. And so, for all intents and purposes, it will become "the truth."

According to The Washington Post, the film creates new events or slants those we know. We've already alluded to the passengers storming into the cockpit in the film. We don't know Flight 93's actual target, but in the movie it's made clear that it's the Capitol. The movie hijackers murder the pilot and co-pilot, but there are indications that this never happened. We don't know what kind of arguments might've occurred among the passengers before they took the attack to the hijackers, but in the movie, at least according to The Washington Post, "a passenger who argued for cooperating with the hijackers is restrained by others as the counterattack begins." During that counterattack, passengers are shown to kill two of the hijackers, but again, there's no factual support for that. Again quoting the WaPo, "Both depictions might be dramatically satisfying, but there's no evidence that either of those events occurred."

I understand the dramatic arc that a film has to make to keep its audience involved, and although I'll sometimes question the wisdom of certain decisions made to adapt a story from one medium to another, I recognize that such artistic leaps must be made. But I do have to wonder about the wisdom of taking these kinds of artistic leaps on a subject that's still in many ways an open wound. This movie will forever change the way we look at September 11. And in today's charged political and social atmosphere, I can't help but think that this isn't a good idea.

More Fun with Unexpected Covers

Following on the heels of classic literature with comics covers is more proof that comics seem to capture the zeitgeist of our times. (Of course, that also means that they won't capture the zeitgeist of next year, so we'll all be sitting around wondering, "What happened?") Heidi points us to Deutsche Grammophon's new Classical Bytes series. Introductions to Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and more have been packaged with covers by Richard Sala, Jim Woodring, Gary Panter, Michael Kupperman, James Sturm, and many others. I'm just going off the top of my head, but I don't believe there's any overlap with the artists from Penguin Classics. Here's Peter Bagge's cover (you'll have to guess the composer yourself).

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Another Loss for Net Neutrality

As expected, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted against net neutrality yesterday when they defeated the Markey Amendment (PDF) that would've strengthened the net neutral provisions of the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act (which everybody's just been referring to as the telecom bill). As expected, Bobby Rush voted no. Another Chicago Congressperson, Jan Schakowsky, voted in favor.

Despite the loss, Matt Stoller is optimistic at MyDD. The vote was 34-22, which is a big step up from the previous subcommittee defeat of 23-8. The pro-telecom majority has slipped from 74% to just 61%. That's still enough to defeat net neutrality provisions, of course, but the momentum is on our side. Here's Stoller:

I watched the markup and the voting, and there was noticeable defensiveness among Congressmen on the wrong side of this. They are wrong, they know it, and they are ashamed. Now they know people are watching. So we didn't win this vote, but this close margin was nonetheless a smack to the jaw of the insiders, and a clear victory for the people. Now the battle moves out of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and onto more favorable terrain.

The vote in the full House is still a ways off. And there's still the Senate to deal with. When people realize what this bill can do, they'll want no part of it (unless they're part of the telecom industry). This is a winnable war.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


In what in some ways a match made in heaven, the Prez announced today that FOX News commentator Tony Snow will be replacing Scotty-Boy McClellan as White House press secretary. The Washington Post claims that he'll be more than just an administration mouthpiece but will also have a say in developing policy. We'll have to wait and see how that works out.

Although Snow has been a reliably conservative voice in the past, he hasn't blindly followed the Prez wherever he might go. ThinkProgress has helpfully compiled a compendium of statements Snow has made about the Prez. Here are a couple of my favorites:

"George Bush has become something of an embarrassment." [11/11/05]

"The English Language has become a minefield for the man, whose malaprops make him the political heir not of Ronald Reagan, but Norm Crosby." [8/25/00]

In another post added this morning, ThinkProgress has also put together a similar list of Snow's statements on the issues.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Bobby Rush and the Telecom Bill

Last night, when I was writing about the links on the net neutrality issue, I noticed that Save the features a picture of Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush on its site and notes that he's supporting the Barton bill that would expose the Net to telecom takeover. But it was late, and I was tired and wanted to go to bed, so I didn't mention it or look into it any further. Call that a missed opportunity.

This morning's Sun-Times, in a screamingly large point size, headlines "Bobby Rush's Million-Dollar Conflict?" It appears that SBC (now AT&T) has donated $1 million to a community center Rush founded. Let's let Lynn Sweet tell it:

An Englewood community center founded by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a key player on telecommunications legislation, received a $1 million grant from the charitable arm of SBC/AT&T, one of the nation's largest phone companies.

. . .

On Wednesday, the energy and commerce panel on which Rush sits is set to vote on a controversial rewrite of telecommunications law co-sponsored by Rush and backed by major phone companies eager to compete with cable television companies.

. . .

Rush is the only Democrat to sponsor the "Communications Opportunity Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006." He has been working with committee chair Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) to promote the "Barton-Rush" bill.

Although we've focused pretty much on just the net neutrality aspects of the bill, it has a much wider scope than that, and Rush insists his support is intended to bring more media access and cheaper prices to the economically deprived areas he represents.

While that's possible, Sheila Krumholz, acting executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, sums up the problem: "People can disagree about where to draw the line on contributions and abstaining from votes, but $1 million is definitely over that line." Maybe just a little bit.

Net Neutrality Links

Yes, it's that subject again. At MyDD, Matt Stoller has a nice post collecting links on the topic. All of them are worth a look, but I want to highlight a couple.

There's a wealth of information at Save the Keep up with the latest developments, and find out what allowing the telecom giants to take over the Internet will mean for regular people sitting at their computers. That last link also lists examples of ISPs and access providers in the United States and Canada flexing their muscles to prevent their customers from seeing or doing particular things with their Internet connections.

Stoller also links to a call to arms by Art Brodsky.

Don't look now, but the House Commerce Committee next Wednesday is likely to vote to turn control of the Internet over to AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner and what's left of the telecommunications industry. It will be one of those stories the MSM writes about as "little noticed" because they haven't covered it.

Brodsky also provides some explanation of the issue in very understandable terms, and the comments at the end of the post are sometimes quite enlightening. There are ways around this if Congress allows the telecom industry essentially to regulate themselves on this issue, but it would be much simpler to just prevent them from carving up the Internet in the first place.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Congratulations to Third World Press

Third World Press accomplished a first this week. Its book The Covenant with Black America, edited and with an introduction by Tavis Smiley, became the first book from a Black publisher to top The New York Times Best Seller List.

There's a lot that goes into coming up with a best seller, especially for an independent publisher. You have to provide a book that people want to buy, obviously, but they have to know about it in the first place, and they have to be able to buy it. Getting books into the big stores in enough quantity to supply a best seller is a major accomplishment. Shelf space is at a premium, and Borders, Barnes & Noble, or whoever don't want to fill their space with books that aren't going to move. (Actually, that's only partially true. They will fill up with one or two copies of lots of books that probably won't move so they look like they've got a broad selection, but after the books have sat there for several months without selling, the stores send them back to the publishers for a refund.)

I have to admit, I've never looked that closely at the fine print of the Times list, but upon examination, it seems that the lists are two weeks old by the time they get printed. Yesterday's list, linked above as well, is for the week ending April 8. Since the lists are prepared in advance, they're ready well before they see publication. In fact, next Sunday's list is already available online, and it appears that The Covenant with Black America holds its position on the paperback nonfiction list for a second week.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Happy Birthday, Will!

While there's still a little bit of time left in the day, I'll note that today is William Shakespeare's birthday. As my father would say, if he hadn't died, he would've been 442 years old today. Although Frank Rich is still on leave to write his book, today's New York Times has birthday wishes written by Lorrie Moore. And it's not behind the subscription curtain at TimesSelect or anything. Go have a look.

It's One Thing to Know It, Another to Admit

I'm running behind on this story, too, so you may already have seen this. But, let's face it, it's always nice to see it again.

Rolling Stone puts a question mark behind it, but there it is, the phrase "The Worst President in History" on the cover of a mainstream national magazine. And the dunce cap on the Prez erases any mitigating factor that question mark offers. The story inside offers 5,600 words arguing why the answer to that question is yes. Here are just a few of them:

Calamitous presidents, faced with enormous difficulties -- Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Hoover and now Bush -- have divided the nation, governed erratically and left the nation worse off. In each case, different factors contributed to the failure: disastrous domestic policies, foreign-policy blunders and military setbacks, executive misconduct, crises of credibility and public trust. Bush, however, is one of the rarities in presidential history: He has not only stumbled badly in every one of these key areas, he has also displayed a weakness common among the greatest presidential failures -- an unswerving adherence to a simplistic ideology that abjures deviation from dogma as heresy, thus preventing any pragmatic adjustment to changing realities. Repeatedly, Bush has undone himself, a failing revealed in each major area of presidential performance.

. . .

No previous president appears to have squandered the public's trust more than Bush has. In the 1840s, President James Polk gained a reputation for deviousness over his alleged manufacturing of the war with Mexico and his supposedly covert pro-slavery views. Abraham Lincoln, then an Illinois congressman, virtually labeled Polk a liar when he called him, from the floor of the House, "a bewildered, confounded and miserably perplexed man" and denounced the war as "from beginning to end, the sheerest deception." But the swift American victory in the war, Polk's decision to stick by his pledge to serve only one term and his sudden death shortly after leaving office spared him the ignominy over slavery that befell his successors in the 1850s. With more than two years to go in Bush's second term and no swift victory in sight, Bush's reputation will probably have no such reprieve.

. . .

The president came to office calling himself "a uniter, not a divider" and promising to soften the acrimonious tone in Washington. He has had two enormous opportunities to fulfill those pledges: first, in the noisy aftermath of his controversial election in 2000, and, even more, after the attacks of September 11th, when the nation pulled behind him as it has supported no other president in living memory. Yet under both sets of historically unprecedented circumstances, Bush has chosen to act in ways that have left the country less united and more divided, less conciliatory and more acrimonious -- much like James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Herbert Hoover before him. And, like those three predecessors, Bush has done so in the service of a rigid ideology that permits no deviation and refuses to adjust to changing realities. Buchanan failed the test of Southern secession, Johnson failed in the face of Reconstruction, and Hoover failed in the face of the Great Depression. Bush has failed to confront his own failures in both domestic and international affairs, above all in his ill-conceived responses to radical Islamic terrorism. Having confused steely resolve with what Ralph Waldo Emerson called "a foolish consistency . . . adored by little statesmen," Bush has become entangled in tragedies of his own making, compounding those visited upon the country by outside forces.

Historian Sean Wilentz leaves open the possibility that Bush could climb out of the hole he's dug for himself, but his expectations aren't high. I guess we've got another thirty-three months to find out.

Peter Gabriel on NOW

I meant to mention this earlier because I saw the tease from last week's episode, but then it snuck up on me. I think NOW appears on many PBS stations on Friday nights, but we don't get it until Sunday at 11:30 or noon, depending on what else our local PBS outlet wants to squeeze onto the Sunday afternoon schedule. This week, David Brancaccio talks with Peter Gabriel about Gabriel's activist group, WITNESS, which provides video cameras to people around the world to document human rights abuses. Although much of WITNESS's focus is on third-world countries, the organization was also involved in publicizing abuse in the California Youth Authority. Their tag line, "See it, film it, change it," pretty effectively sums up their mission.

Gabriel talks mostly about his career as an activist, although his musical career is also touched on. It's an interesting half-hour. I'm sorry for the late notice, but it's worth trying to catch if you still can. The NOW Website offers a few extras, including an audio podcast of the episode. Or, if you just want more Peter Gabriel, you can got to his own site.

The More Things Change . . .

When I saw the headline of the Reuters story, "College bars students from posing for Playboy," I almost didn't need to click on it to know what it was about. When I did click through, I got exactly what I expected. Playboy is planning a spread on Girls of the Big 12, and Baylor University, as a member of that conference, would be natural to be included. But Baylor, the world's largest Baptist university, has banned its students from appearing.

This apparently happens every few years. The first time it happened was more than 25 years ago when I was a student there. Playboy was planning a Girls of the Southwest Conference layout back when there still was a Southwest Conference. The Baylor administration, of course, wanted nothing to do with Playboy, but the student newspaper, The Lariat, editorialized that students are adults and should be able to do what they wanted to. University President Abner McCall begged to differ, and a crisis of sorts broke out. The Lariat staff cited the First Amendment and stood by its position, but the administration held an interpretation of the First Amendment that I've never forgotten--freedom of the press means freedom for the owner of that press. Freedom for the publisher, not the writer or the editor. That's the kind of real-world lesson you don't usually learn in college but have to wait to discover while on the job. In keeping with that interpretation, the Lariat's editor in chief and some of his staff were told to get their own damn press if they wanted freedom and were summarily fired. The Lariat itself did a retrospective on that story when Playboy returned in 2002. (They'd apparently already been back in 1996.) Somehow it's comforting to know that, even in this age of Internets and iPods, some things don't change. I'm sure Playboy will return to Baylor in years to come to entice more students to pose for the magazine, and the university administration will discipline those that do. There really are constants in life.

To put this in the context of other recent posts (here and here), I think this understanding of money and access being necessary for free speech is part of the reason I feel so strongly about net neutrality. If we allow the Internet to be commandeered by telecom giants interested in pursuing their own agendas, our access to pages such as this or any other blog--not to mention entrepreneurial start-ups like Google, YouTube, and whatever else is in the pipeline that we don't know about yet--will be endangered. Even if the telecom corporate agendas appear to be innocuous, unless we specifically protect equal access, it could easily slip away as an unintended consequence of technological advances that leave no room for smaller sites that don't have money to back them up. We don't need to have a concerted campaign to undermine the Internet as we know it to lose what we have.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Graphic Literature

I mentioned yesterday that I should spend more time browsing through Galleycat. In doing just that, I was reminded of something that I meant to mention a couple of weeks ago but that later slipped my mind. Penguin Classics has repackaged some of its classic literature with new covers by comics artists, and they had a soiree Wednesday night at New York's Morrison Hotel Gallery to show them off. Galleycat has some pictures, as does Heidi at The Beat.

A little while ago, I saw a book dump at Barnes & Noble of the first six books, which included Candide with a Chris Ware cover, Paul Auster's New York Triolgy with an Art Spiegelman cover, a Seth cover on The Portable Dorothy Parker, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle with a cover by Charles Burns, Roz Chast on Cold Comfort Farm, and Anders Nilsen on Hans Christian Anderson. They're very striking, and taken together they strike quite a blow for comics as the trend of the moment. Penguin is calling them "Graphic Classics," and you can take a look at all of the ones currently in stores at the Penguin Classics site. Or, you can see all those and more still to come, including a Chester Brown cover on Lady Chatterley's Lover and Frank Miller on Thomas Pynchon at FLOG!, the Fantagraphics Blog. And keeping it all in the family at Fantagraphics, Penguin art director Paul Buckley dropped by the Fantagraphics message board to describe how the series came about (scroll all the way to the bottom). Apparently it's all Chris Ware's fault. They brought him in to do a cover for Candide, and it went over so well with the staff that a series was born.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Because We're a Bottom-Line Society

I don't know how long the link will be good, but on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal put an article on product placement in comic books on the free portion of its Website. The piece talks about how Pontiac and Dodge have made product placement deals (combined with other ad buys) with DC and Marvel, respectively. A new DC character, The Rush, will be driving a Pontiac Solstice. I don't know if this means Dodge will be building a a new Spider-Mobile or not.

I wrote about this over at Howling Curmudgeons, but I wanted to mention it here, too. No one likes product placement, although I've got less of a problem if it's inconspicuous (but that sort of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?), but what caught my eye in this article was its suggestion that ad agencies (and since we're an ad-based society, that essentially means popular culture as a whole) are no longer looking at comics as kids' stuff. The audience has grown up (partially because the medium has failed in recruiting new, younger readers, which means it's only a matter of time until comics fans follow the path of Lawrence Welk fans from a previous generation), so the ads that appear in them should grow up, too. Ad agencies are trying to find ways to hit the 20- and 30-something male market, and that's who's currently buying comics (although, admittedly, there aren't a whole lot of them buying comics). There's all kinds of talk in comics circles (which I'm too lazy to look up and link to just now) about what format might sell successfully, with graphic novels seeming to be taking the edge over single issues (because, after all, single issues remind me of kisses; graphic novels remind me of plans). But there's usually always a mention, perhaps winsome in its inattainability, of large magazine-type comic books that would take their inspiration from Vogue or some such and have hundreds of pages of content with more hundreds of pages of ads. That's never been a realistic format because the advertising support was never there, but maybe this trend suggests that's changing.

This story has gotten a fair amount of exposure around the comics blogosphere and beyond, with even Jimmy Kimmel apparently putting together a mock-up of Action Comics #1 with Superman holding a Pontiac Solstice over his head. (The ICv2 story didn't mention whether Kimmel did this while standing on his Pontiac Garage concert stage.) Over at The Great Curve, someone noticed that a panel the WSJ highlighted as an example of Marvel's adding the Nike swoosh as a product placement in a published book didn't actually appear in the published book--it was covered by a caption.

I first saw this story on Tuesday morning when it was still new and someone had sent it to me, but when I asked where they'd seen it, they were cagey in reply, and I didn't have time to find anything more than the first paragraph of the WSJ subscription-only version. I ended up waiting until Wednesday and cribbing the link from other sites for Howling Curmudgeons. I'm still not sure where my correspondent came up with the article originally, but I'm betting it could well have been Galleycat, a blog at Which is a good reminder that I should probably be spending more time over there myself.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Rearranging the Chairs

If you've already got your Salon day pass anyway, why don't you go have a look at this item by Tim Grieve. He points us to a post by former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta over at Think Progress that wonders whether the White House shake up has resulted in the revocation of Karl Rove's security clearance. Grieve then offers some speculation of his own.

It's possible, I suppose, but when you realize that such a move would depend upon a serious, sober White House determined to take responsibility for its mistakes and misjudgments, you realize that it's highly unlikely. In an update to the Salon post, Grieve points out that outgoing press secretary Scotty-boy McClellan (you remember him--the guy who insisted that Rove and Libby had nothing to do with the Valerie Plame leak and the Prez would fire anyone who did) insists that of course Rove would keep his security clearance. Why would we have ever doubted?

More Net Neutrality

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about net neutrality in a post that got a little bit of discussion going. Earlier this week at Salon, Farhad Manjoo wrote an article on the subject that goes in to a lot more depth and explains it in relatively simple, non-technical language. (You know the drill on Salon links--if you're not a subscriber, you can watch an ad and get a "day pass" that will allow you to read that article and poke around the site to your heart’s content for a few hours.)

The problem seems to be not what barriers large telecom companies such as AT&T will put up on today's Internet--they've promised they won't block access to any Websites, and no one seems to have any reason not to believe them--but how they'll construct a much larger broadband Internet to give favored Websites (i.e., those that pay) better and faster access at the expense of other content providers. Here's how Manjoo describes it:

AT&T and other network operators are building their networks in a way that would make it possible to split up network traffic into various lanes -- fast, slow, medium -- and then to decide what kind of data, and whose data, goes where, based on who's paid what. Broadband companies argue that engineering their networks in this way will benefit customers in two ways. First, they say, splitting up the Internet into several lanes will generally improve its efficiency -- the network will simply run better if it's more logically managed.

The phone companies' second argument concerns cost. If AT&T builds a blindingly fast new Internet line to your house but only allows some firms -- firms that pay -- to get the fastest service, it can significantly offset the costs of the build-out. And that's good for you, AT&T says, because if the company can charge the likes of Apple and Google to pay for the line, it doesn't have to charge you. "I think what we're saying is friendly to the consumer," Ciccone says. "If we're building the capacity, what we're doing is trying to defray some of the cost from consumers to the business end of this."

AT&T's critics don't buy this claim. They argue that by slicing up the Internet into different lanes, broadband companies are violating one of the basic network design principles responsible for the Internet's rise and amazing success. They add, too, that there's no proof that AT&T's plan would result in reduced broadband costs for home customers. Instead, consumers could lose out in a big way. If AT&T's plan comes to pass, the dynamic Internet, where innovation rules and where content companies rise and fall on their own merit, would shrivel. By exploiting the weaknesses in current laws, telecom firms would gain an extraordinarily lucrative stake in the new media universe. In the same way that a corporation like Clear Channel controls the radio airwaves, companies like AT&T could become kingmakers in the online world, granting priority to content from which they stand to profit most. Britney Spears, anyone?

On the surface, organizing the Internet so that some important content can have priority over other less significant content sounds like a potentially useful idea. Manjoo offers a number of examples in which prioritizing makes sense, such as the delivery of video, where a delay of half a second is noticeable and frustrating, versus the delivery of e-mail, where even several seconds is not likely to cause a perceivable delay. But then he answers those examples with a straightforward slogan: "Simple is better."

Gary Bachula, vice president for external affairs of Internet2, a nonprofit project by universities and corporations to build an extremely fast and large network, argues that managing online traffic just doesn't work very well. At the February Senate hearing, he testified that when Internet2 began setting up its large network, called Abilene, "our engineers started with the assumption that we should find technical ways of prioritizing certain kinds of bits, such as streaming video, or video conferencing, in order to assure that they arrive without delay. As it developed, though, all of our research and practical experience supported the conclusion that it was far more cost effective to simply provide more bandwidth. With enough bandwidth in the network, there is no congestion and video bits do not need preferential treatment."

Today, Bachula continued, "our Abilene network does not give preferential treatment to anyone's bits, but our users routinely experiment with streaming HDTV, hold thousands of high-quality two-way videoconferences simultaneously, and transfer huge files of scientific data around the globe without loss of packets."

Not only is adding intelligence to a network not very useful, Bachula pointed out, it's not very cheap. A system that splits data into various lanes of traffic requires expensive equipment, both within the network and at people's homes. Right now, broadband companies are spending a great deal on things like set-top boxes, phone routers and other equipment for their advanced services. "Simple is cheaper," Bachula said. "Complex is costly" -- a cost that may well be passed on to customers.

Complex is costly to debate, too. This is a much more complicated issue than merely to regulate or not to regulate. It's easier to say that the government should stay out of commerce, but secretary of commerce isn't a Cabinet-level position for nothing. We need to do whatever is necessary to ensure a level playing field. Off the top of my head, my personal preference would be for wireless access to be a city utility. The telecom giants are fighting that idea in places like Philadelphia, where it's on the agenda, but that's just more evidence that the telecoms want to keep their cash cow all to themselves.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Don't Mean a Thing

The big story the White House is pushing today is that Scotty-Boy McClellan has resigned as press secretary and Karl Rove shuffled some papers around. Everybody seems to be trying to tie the two events together for some sort of meaningful shakeup, but it's just not convincing. Run over to Google News and run a search for "Karl Rove." CNN's head says, "White House shake-up touches McClellan, Rove." Reuters says, "Bush press secretary quits, Rove ends policy role." The New York Times reports, "Rove Loses a Post in White House Overhaul." The headline at The Washington Post Webpage is "Rove Gives Up Policy Post; McClellan Resigns" (although the story at the link itself heads it with McClellan and leaves Rove to the subhead). At the Newsweek site, Howard Fineman calls it "Clipping Rove’s Wings." But all that's nonsense. Rove was believed to be the power behind the throne long before he had the official title of deputy chief of staff (a title he retains, by the way; it's only his portfolio that's theoretically been reduced). There's no reason to expect that this is changing now, no matter what slight of hand the White House tries to distract us with. As far as Karl Rove is concerned, nothing is different today than it was yesterday.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Other Outlooks

I didn't get a chance to post anything late last night because I was getting some tax information together. The online help available from the IRS is awfully darn confusing--I was just looking for information to help me with a couple of simple answers (such as, how much do I owe?), and I spent far more of my evening than should have been necessary jumping from Webpage to Webpage hoping to hit the right one. I finally did, but when I had everything ready to go, I couldn't connect to the e-file sites. I know, I know, certainly waiting until the last minute did me no good in connecting to sites that had probably been overloaded with hits for hours (or days), so I don't really hold that part of the process against them. But it did force me to take an unexpected drive to the post office before midnight.

On my way downtown, needing some laughs after dealing with the whole tax experience, I tuned in to right wing talk radio (because, you'll remember [or you can go here, here, and here if you don't], Air America has no broadcast presence in Chicago after the sun goes down) and found Mark Levin. He was hilarious, exactly what I needed as I drove. Listening to this show for just a few minutes, though, reminded me of how deep the rift between left and right is in this country. Russ Feingold was ridiculed as a loser for calling for the President to be held to account. Does that mean the House impeachment managers and their followers were losers for wanting the same for Clinton? Liberals weren't listening to his show, Levin derisively claimed, because they were working their pencils down to the nubs getting all the tax deductions they could. Is this as opposed to conservatives, who presumably ignore or even waive possible deductions? Has Levin heard of Cheney's 1.9-million-dollar tax refund? This is a whole different culture, with one set of rules for friends and another for enemies. I suppose if I were immersed in it all the time it would be depressing, but kept in its place with a drop in every now and again, it is pretty funny.

Monday, April 17, 2006

New Clear Days?

Yesterday, The Washington Post gave over some of the space on its editorial page to Patrick Moore to make a case for nuclear power. One of his main arguments sets up nuclear energy as an alternative to coal power and global warming. Although the Post's bio refers to him as a "co-founder of Greenpeace," his situation is much more controversial than that. He broke with Greenpeace twenty years ago and has since taken funding from the mining, lumber, plastics, and yes, nuclear industries. This 2004 profile from Wired seems pretty fair-minded. (Hunter at Daily Kos is more critical--he wonders if the WaPo editorial space was bought and paid for by the nuclear industry.)

Still, as the reality of global warming becomes more and more obvious, I think we need to discuss what our energy options are. Nuclear has a very bad reputation, but coal and oil aren't going to get us much farther, either. What are our other alternatives, and how realistic are they? The general public needs a better understanding of all our options. Here's a start, via Kevin Drum: Mark Kleiman argues for nuclear power, and David Roberts argues against.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Rummy and His Pals

It was a fairly uneventful Easter, but (obviously) I didn't rush to my blog to write for most of the day. There's not really a lot of new stuff out there, so I'll go back and mention something I've been paying attention to but not commenting on.

It's been an interesting tug of war to watch the pushing and pulling between Donald Rumsfeld and the various retired generals who have been criticizing the job he's been doing. Earlier this week, The New York Times ran a row of pictures identifying the generals who had come forward: Major General Paul D. Eaton, General Anthony C. Zinni, Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, Major General John Batiste, Major General John Riggs, and Major General Charles H. Swannack, Jr. Naturally, though, after the criticism starting getting so strong, the Pentagon and the White House had to fire back. The Prez said, "Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this period. He has my full support and deepest appreciation." However, as Time magazine pointed out:

In Washington such high praise from the President is sometimes the prelude to an execution. And behind the scenes, there are indications that the moment for a shuffle could be approaching, says a former White House official who has worked with Rumsfeld.

My favorite statement in Rummy's favor came from Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell on FOX News Sunday: "I think he's been a spectacular secretary of defense, one of the best in American history." Well, there you have it. I'd hate to think what kind of quagmire we'd be seeing in Iraq if we had a substandard secretary of defense.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Reminder of Why We Love Blogs

Neil Young has a new album in the pipeline, Living with War. One of the songs is "Impeach the President." As you might guess, it's a protest album. On his Website, he calls it a metal version of Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan.

But what does this have to do with blogs? I first found out about it when Atrios linked to this post by Howie Klein at his blog, DownWithTyranny! He's heard it, and he's very excited. "The album is beyond belief. I mean it's so great I was jumping out of my skin." He had to agree not to write much more because apparently the record company hadn't even heard it yet. But he did add, "Will this go down as Neil's greatest album ever? It will be a contender musically. And the impact lyrically could be profound."

Oh, sure, that's cool, but you don't necessarily need a blog for that. But that's not the end. I went to Technorati to see what else I could find, and I came up with this post, which them led me to a story in Editor & Publisher and a post at Last Left Turn Before Hooterville, the blog of a background singer who sang at the session.

This may be a stretch, but Neil's process in working on the record reminds me of blogs, too. He and Jonathan Demme were discussing their movie at SxSW, and in his intro of the two, Roland Swenson, managing director of the conference made a reference to "Ohio" and mentioned, "Neil, we need a new song." Whether that was Neil's impetus or not, Howie Klein reports that the whole project, from the first songwriting to the final recording, took nine days. Neil had his ideas, got them out, and went with them with few (if any) revisions. I'm trying not to raise my expectations too high, but this definitely seems like something to look forward to.

By the way, if you go clicking on some or all of the links above, stop in at the Editor & Publisher letters page, where a lot more correspondents than I would've expected respond to the initial write-up on the album by loudly asserting that a Republican man don't need him around, anyhow.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Advice

For anybody who’s still not completely clear on the concept, Miss Manners helpfully reminds us that because of the nature of the Internet, blogs are completely open to anybody who wants to drop by. It's a response to this partial question:

One friend recently commented in her blog that she hadn't enjoyed the novel she'd just read. To her surprise, the novel's author found the post after searching the Web for his own name and responded angrily to her "review."

Although we are all aware that blogs can be read by any friend or stranger who passes by, our own blogs are so mundane that they are usually read only by our own friends, and we like it that way. We tend to think of blogs as being akin to conversations with friends at a public cafe -- while they might be overheard by strangers, we don't really expect it, or expect strangers to get involved.

And Miss Manners replies:

You believed that Internet users turn discreetly away when they realize that something is not intended for them? And people accuse Miss Manners of not living in the real world!

You can hardly go more public than putting things online. We used to use the phrase "shouting it from the rooftops" to indicate going public, but you could shout yourself hoarse, put it in the newspapers, announce it on television, and still not reach a fraction of the potential audience of your blog.

That's something to keep in mind if you’re considering starting a confessional blog. I've always put my name out front on my blog so readers can know who they're hearing from, but anonymity has its uses, too.

And speaking of newspaper advice columns, Dear Abby has some words of warning from a reader today, as well.

I recently made a batch of pancakes for my healthy 14-year-old son, using a mix that was in our pantry. He said that they tasted "funny," but ate them anyway. About 10 minutes later, he began having difficulty breathing and his lips began turning purple. I gave him his allergy pill, had him sit on the sofa and told him to relax. He was wheezing while inhaling and exhaling.

My husband, a volunteer firefighter and EMT, heated up some water, and we had my son lean over the water so the steam could clear his chest and sinuses. Soon, his breathing became more regular and his lips returned to a more normal color.

We checked the date on the box of pancake mix and, to my dismay, found it was very outdated. As a reference librarian at an academic institution, I have the ability to search through many research databases. I did just that, and found an article the next day that mentioned a 19-year-old male DYING after eating pancakes made with outdated mix. Apparently, the mold that forms in old pancake mix can be toxic!

This was news to Abby (and me), and she wonders "if the same holds true for cake mix, brownie mix and cookie mix." That's a good question. The next time you're hanging around in your pantry, check the expiration dates!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Whither McCain?

Back in the 2000 primaries, John McCain charmed the mainstream media, a whole lot of moderates, and more than a handful of Democrats with his persona as a straight-talking, no-nonsense anti-politician. But in the past little while, some of McCain's admirers have become worried as he seems to have taken something of a right turn. A spokesperson said he would've signed the bill banning abortion in South Dakota if he'd been governor. He's buddying up to Jerry Falwell, accepting his invitation to deliver the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University. In fact, Falwell even claims McCain told him that he'd be willing to lead the charge for a Federal Marriage Ammendment.

But if you're a McCainiac who feels spurned by the object of your affection, Jacob Weisberg in Slate assures us that McCain hasn't changed--he's just hiding in the closet. McCain isn't turning his back on his perceived principles because he's changed his mind. He's only doing it because he has to if he wants to be elected president. In fact, through some sort of logic I wasn't able to follow, Weisburg seems to be arguing that betraying his principles should actually be taken as proof that McCain still holds them.

[McCain is] trying to win over enough of his party's conservative base to win, for sure. But this is a stratagem--the only one, in fact, that gives him a shot at surviving a Republican presidential primary. Discount his repositioning a bit, and McCain looks like the same unconventional character who emerged during the Clinton years: a social progressive, a fiscal conservative, and a military hawk. Should he triumph in the primaries, we can expect this more appealing John McCain to come roaring back.

Pay no attention to the man in front of the curtain. Apparently thinking that this is somehow an argument in McCain's favor, Weisburg tells us, "He was a conservative before he was a liberal before he became a conservative again." You think McCain's taken a hard right turn? Weisburg says, "McCain's smoke signals spell out something different." Ah, yes. Whenever straight talk isn't possible, smoke signals are always the next best option.

I'd love to go on, but there's no way I could match the elegant take-down Weldon Berger executes at BTC News:

The short version of this nauseating elegy? "For now, my hero is pandering to the yokels. But as soon as the primaries are over, he'll lose those cretins and start pandering to his real base: journalists! Lawd, lawd, get me that seat on the Straight Talk Express. . . ." We can expect two more years of this crap, and worse, if McCain runs.

There's more where that came from. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Got Sushi?--Updated

Today's Chicago Tribune has an interesting story on the nation's sushi industry. Apparently, unbeknownst to most people, it's dominated by companies founded by and connected to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

Adhering to a plan Moon spelled out more than three decades ago in a series of sermons, members of his movement managed to integrate virtually every facet of the highly competitive seafood industry. The Moon followers' seafood operation is driven by a commercial powerhouse, known as True World Group. It builds fleets of boats, runs dozens of distribution centers and, each day, supplies most of the nation's estimated 9,000 sushi restaurants.

Although few seafood lovers may consider they're indirectly supporting Moon's religious movement, they do just that when they eat a buttery slice of tuna or munch on a morsel of eel in many restaurants. True World is so ubiquitous that 14 of 17 prominent Chicago sushi restaurants surveyed by the Tribune said they were supplied by the company.

. . .

"I have the entire system worked out, starting with boat building," Moon said in "The Way of Tuna," a speech given in 1980. "After we build the boats, we catch the fish and process them for the market, and then have a distribution network. This is not just on the drawing board; I have already done it."

In the same speech, he called himself "king of the ocean." It proved not to be an idle boast. The businesses now employ hundreds, including non-church members, from the frigid waters of the Alaskan coast to the iconic American fishing town of Gloucester, Mass.

The Trib says that, although the Unification Church and the sushi companies are theoretically separate, in reality their ties are quite close.

Moon's Unification Church is organized under a tax-exempt non-profit entity called The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. The businesses are controlled by a separate non-profit company called Unification Church International Inc., or UCI.

That company's connections to Moon's Unification Church go deeper than the shared name. A 1978 congressional investigation into Moon's businesses concluded: "It was unclear whether the UCI had any independent functions other than serving as a financial clearinghouse for various Moon organization subsidiaries and projects."

UCI as well as its subsidiaries and affiliates such as True World are run largely by church members, Schanker said. The companies were "founded by church members in line with Rev. Moon's vision," he said. "It's not coincidence."

Sometimes the links are more direct. The boatbuilding firm US Marine Corporation shares its headquarters offices with the church and lists the church as its majority shareholder, according to corporate records.

The article claims te company services hundreds of restaurants in Chicago, but you've got to buy a hard copy of the paper to see the list they provide of 14 that do and 3 that do not.

In a Trib blog, Eric Zorn comments on the story and is inundated with comments about whether trying to avoid restaurants that serve the UCI seafood is religious discrimination.

UPDATE--Zorn revisits the issue in a post early Thursday morning, examining some of the implications in voting with your pocketbook against this sushi or any other product whose parent company doesn't merit your approval.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Link Round Up

We're back in Chicago but much more tired out than I'd have expected. As a result, all I've got the energy for tonight are a few intriguing links and bits of news to pass along.

I saw this piece Steve Clemons wrote last week for TPMCafe, but in light of Seymour Hersh's article, it seems even more relevant. Clemons tells us that the Isreali national security apparatus seems much less concerned about Iran's nuke capabilities than we do. If Israel, which is notorious for its hyper-vigilance over possible threats, thinks we can back off, then we should just take the lesson and move on. Clemons also reminds us that, although we can't know for sure, it's been suggested that Valerie Plame was working on nuclear intelligence about Iran. Any intelligence program she had going was blown along with her cover when the Bushies decided that it was more important to smear Joe Wilson, who was attacking their PR campaign for war in Iraq, than to actually keep up with what was going on in Iran.

Speaking of Iran, that nation announced that it had successfully produced enriched uranium.

In more uplifting news, Dick Cheney was roundly booed when he threw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals' home opener. Interestingly, The Washington Post thought the boos were a result of Cheney's poor pitch, a misperception that Editor & Publisher called them on. Even The Washington Times, probably the White House's best friend in an already obsequious print media, had to call it like it saw it:

Mr. Cheney strode out of the Nats' dugout and boos immediately began to rain down on him, growing to a crescendo as he neared the mound.

But not everyone at the half-filled stadium was booing. Former Clinton strategist James Carville, in the front row just behind the home team's dugout, was howling like a hyena, his face contorted in laughter. Next to him, his wife, Mary Matalin, cheered enthusiastically as her former boss headed to the mound.

Yet the vice president, a year older than Mr. Horton, didn't toe the pitcher's rubber, 60 feet 6 inches from home plate. Instead, he took a spot in front of the mound, on the infield grass. The boos sustained their deafening pitch in the stadium's bowl. With a jerky and short windup, the vice president threw the ball toward home plate.

It didn't quite make it. The ball skipped in the dirt just in front of the plate, but was expertly scooped up by Washington catcher Brian Schneider. The fans booed until Mr. Cheney was back out of sight in the dugout.

Over at AMERICAblog, John noted a post at a National Review blog:

I voted for President Bush twice, and contributed to his campaign twice, but held my nose when I did it the second time. I don't consider myself a Republican any longer. Thanks to this Administration and the Republicans in Congress, the Republican Party today is the party of pork-barrel spending, Congressional corruption — and, I know folks on this web site don't want to hear it, but deep down they know it's true — foreign and military policy incompetence. Frankly, speaking of incompetence, I think this Administration is the most politically and substantively inept that the nation has had in over a quarter of a century. The good news about it, as far as I'm concerned, is that it's almost over.

A follow-up post this afternoon reported that e-mail came in 4-1 in favor of the sentiments. Don't forget these are National Review readers, followers of the William-F. Buckley-founded journal that has been a significant voice (sometimes the voice) for conservatives in America for more than half a century.

And finally, from an e-mail a lunch companion sent me this afternoon, is an appreciation of the latest crop of horror movies and what they're saying about contemporary life in these United States. I'm not sure I'm convinced, but it comes from the film critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and you don't get much more middle America than that.

Well, this always happens. Whenever I try to post a quick list of links, I insist on saying something about each of them and end up with a particularly long post. I'm even thinking that there was one more thing I was going to include, but it's slipped my mind at the moment. Just think, this could've been even longer, and I could've stayed up even later to do it.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Traveling Connected

It's amazing how much more connectivity we can maintain while traveling than we could just a couple of years ago. I don't mean to harp on it as I've been doing over the last few posts, but it really is amazing to me. When I was younger, it used to feel like nothing ever happened in the world--certainly nothing important, because you'd only vaguely hear about it. Now, depending on how much downtime you've got to surf on a PDA, it's possible to be even better informed than when you're home.

One complaint I do have, though, is radio. I've complained before about the new "shuffle" formats they've got in Chicago, but that certainly beats what we've been hearing in Jacksonville. We've been in the car only long enough to go through five-and-a-half gallons of gas, but we've heard repeats of "Running on Empty," "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" (and other Elton John songs), "Only the Good Die Young" (and other Billy Joel songs), "Man in the Moon," and "Cars." Given the apparent choices, I'll be only too happy to get back to Chicago and its lame fake IPod formats.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Must Read from Sy Hersh in The New Yorker

Sy Hersh has a truly frightening article in this week's New Yorker on the Prez's plans for Iran. Yes, it's full of the deja vu stuff that's echoing the anti-Saddam campaign before we invaded Iraq. But this time they're talking nukes. Not threatening that Iran is going to develop nukes, but that we might use them ourselves. That's right, to dissuade Iran from building nuclear weapons, Bush might use nuclear weapons on them. There is the logic that they'd discover first hand the devastation nukes can cause, but then there's the flip side that the U.S. would do what previous generations considered the unthinkable.

I'm almost finding it difficult to write about, because the logical part of my brain says, surely not even George Bush would go that far. This seems a ridiculous conversation to have, because the minuses for staging a preemptive nuclear attack are so far beyond what the plusses could possibly be. But on the other hand, do we want the warning shot about a preemptive nuclear attack to come in the form of a mushroom cloud?

There are too many substantive passages in this piece to quote them all, but here's one.

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was "absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb" if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do "what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do," and "that saving Iran is going to be his legacy."

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that "a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government." He added, "I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, 'What are they smoking?' "

And then there's this.

In recent weeks, the President has quietly initiated a series of talks on plans for Iran with a few key senators and members of Congress, including at least one Democrat. A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, who did not take part in the meetings but has discussed their content with his colleagues, told me that there had been "no formal briefings," because "they're reluctant to brief the minority. They're doing the Senate, somewhat selectively."
The House member said that no one in the meetings "is really objecting" to the talk of war. "The people they're briefing are the same ones who led the charge on Iraq. At most, questions are raised: How are you going to hit all the sites at once? How are you going to get deep enough?" (Iran is building facilities underground.) "There's no pressure from Congress" not to take military action, the House member added. "The only political pressure is from the guys who want to do it." Speaking of President Bush, the House member said, "The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision."

Go read it yourself. This is information we can't ignore. If there's any justice in the world, this won't be the last time you hear about it before action is taken in Iran. Of course, I sometimes wonder if it's a sucker bet to back justice in the world.

Watch What You Say in Britain

As I indicated last night, I've been spending a lot of time getting to know my Blackberry, and I've got to admit that the best part of it as far as I'm concerned is having a portable Internet. Yeah, yeah, e-mail, cell phone, address book, et al., are great, but I'd set them all aside if I'd still be left with a handheld Internet. Today I was able to take advantage of what would otherwise have been computerless downtime to catch up on the posts over at AMERICAblog. A couple of posts on Wednesday and Thursday stood out for me. Apparently the U.K. is having some problems in cracking down on free speech these days. This post related the sad tale of a man who was taken off a flight in Northern England and interrogated as a terrorist because he sang along to "London Calling" by the Clash in the cab on the way to the airport. (Note to Self: From now on hum, don't sing (or even mouth the words) to the Clash in public.) A short time later, another post highlighted a new British law that went into effect a little while ago that categorizes some protest activities as terrorist acts. The first two people arrested are grandmothers from Yorkshire. They were veteran protestors who participated in the Greenham Common protests against nuclear cruise missiles in England, and they were making themselves a test case, but it's good to know that the U.K. no longer has any tolerance for terror grannies.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Blackberry Blogging

I've often wondered whether I could write and post blog entry from my Blackberry. Although I'm not entirely without computer access at the moment, the access I do have is limited and not particularly convenient, so I'm giving it a try. On the Blackberry side, though, I'm not at all used to the tiny little keyboard that I essentially have to use with my fingernails, so--for the time being, at least, any Blackberry blogging will by necessity be short.

I've already tried one function that got me nowhere with the Blackberry, so it's possible that all this fingernail typing will be for naught. But in appreciation for your sitting through my little experiment, I'm providing at least a little bit of content. Check out this story in today's New York Times about the Prez's fabulous Medicare drug plan. It seems that a number of cancer patients are having to forego cancer pills they've successfully been taking because they've hit upon the donut-hole section of the plan and can no longer afford it. I guess this is just another example of what it means to be a compassionate conservative.

(It seems, unfortuntely, that the Blackberry keyboard doesn't have all the characters necessary for writing hypertext, so initial readers will have to copy and paste this link to get the story themselves. I'll fix it online as soon as I can.
Hey! It worked! Link fixed above.)

Friday, April 07, 2006

Light Blogging

I'm unexpectedly going to be on the road for the next little while, and I'm not sure what my computer access is going to be like. Blogging will probably be lighter--and possibly even nonexistent--for a few days. I haven't yet given up on my commitment to post something new every day, but circumstances may not allow it. Keep your fingers crossed.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Who Would Have Guessed?

Boy, the latest from the Scooter Libby perjury case really hit like a bombshell, didn't it? The fact that he claimed the Prez gave permission for the leak had to have come as a surprise to everybody, didn't it? Didn't it? Does this mean Bush wasn't entirely straightforward when he claimed anyone found leaking in his administration would be dealt with accordingly?

The whole thing is just looking more and more like Watergate. Karl Rove has been implicated for a while (though he has yet to be charged with any crime), and it was a fairly safe assumption that if he was aware of what was going on, so was Bush. I never got around to linking to it, but Murray Waas laid all this out last week in the National Journal. His main focus was on a memo Bush had seen summarizing the doubts the state and energy departments had about the aluminum tubes Saddam had imported that the White House claimed could only have been used for developing nuclear weapons. Bush saw this memo before he made the tubes a cornerstone of his case for invading Iraq. We've since learned that the state and energy departments were correct and the tubes had nothing whatsoever to do with weapons of mass destruction. Oops. According to Waas, the White House wanted to protect the Prez and keep him insulated from the charge that he knew the tubes weren't dangerous when he made the claim. Valerie Plame was just collateral damage. (Yesterday, Atrios pointed us to a write-up Greg Sargent put together for The American Prospect Online that serves as a sort of Cliffs Notes of the longer Waas piece.)

This obviously opens up a potential Pandora's box for the White House. The Republican Senate has so far shown virtually no interest in investigating the intelligence that led us into war, but this may tip their hand and force them into it. Or, the way things seem to go in Washington these days, not.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Net Neutrality

We've gotten awfully used to the Internet in its current incarnation--open access at a low price or no price, depending on how you get your access. Anybody can put up a Webpage about almost anything (like this one, for example). But there's certainly no guarantee it'll stay this way. I wrote about this a couple of months ago, but there's been a new flurry of activity. Yesterday, The Agonist handed over some of its currently free space to Rep. Ed Markey, who's spearheading efforts to block anti-access Internet legislation that's currently threading its way through Congress. (Here's a PDF of the legislation, as well as a link to recent House hearings.) This is some of what Markey had to say:

U.S. global leadership in high technology stems directly from a policy of open networks, where the owner of the telephone wire into your home or business has to be nondiscriminatory, or "neutral," with respect to how it treats traffic that flows over its network. For decades, this policy has kept telecommunications networks open to all lawful uses and users, leading to a low barrier to entry for web-based content, applications, and services. The result has been remarkable innovation, economic growth, job creation, and the flourishing of remarkable new forums for discussion - such as this one - that transcend all geographic boundaries.

The Barton bill puts all of this at risk, and heightens the need for legally enforceable, so-called "network neutrality" rules. At its core, the term "network neutrality" ensures that a broadband network operator does not block, impair, or degrade a consumer's ability to access any lawful Internet content, application, or service. It means being able to attach any device for use with your broadband connection, as long as it otherwise doesn't damage service to other users. And it means nondiscriminatory treatment of communications traffic so that phone or cable companies cannot favor themselves or affiliated parties to the detriment of competitors, innovators, and independent entrepreneurs. Finally, net neutrality means that the phone companies should not be allowed to charge extra fees and warp the web into a multi-tiered network of bandwidth-haves and have-nots.

Markey points us to a section of his own House Website on net neutrality to keep up with developments on the issue in general. I first saw this when I followed a link from Matt at MyDD, who's also got a few points to make on the topic. He also recommends Public Knowledge's policy blog for more information.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Contractual Obligation Post

As a result of the movie's success, volumes of V for Vendetta are really moving off the bookstore shelves. Newsarama gave us some specific numbers last week.

Last week, for example, the trade was #4 for trade paperback fiction and #1 in graphic novels sales at Barnes and Noble; #10 trade paperback fiction and #1 in graphic novel sales at Borders/Waldenbooks; #3 overall and #1 in graphic novel sales at; and at # 8 on the BookScan Adult Fiction Trade Paperback list for the week ending March 26, 2006. The trade also debuted at #89 on USA Today's bestseller list, and moved up to #40 this week. Additionally, in terms of comic shops, the V for Vendetta trade was the #1 reorder title for the week of March 14th-20th, according to Diamond.

But you can't talk about sales on the V book without talking about the author, his opinion of the movie, and his contract with DC Comics. In the comments for that same Newsarama post, Don Murphy, producer of Natural Born Killers, (and more importantly for this discussion) From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Rich Johnston square off to debate the matter, and Eddie Campbell and J. Michael Straczynski drop by later. It's an entertaining read, even if it rehashes points we've heard before and will likely hear again.

But one thing Rich says has bothered me for a while. When he mentions Alan Moore's contract with DC for V, he asserts that "the deal had repercussions that neither party could conceive of at the time." This seems to be a regular Moore talking point, and Moore mentioned it himself last year in an interview with Heidi MacDonald for Publishers Weekly. According to Moore, he and David Lloyd sold DC the rights to V, and those rights would return to them after the comics had been out of print for 18 months. Moore implies that DC had intended to publish the 10 issues that made up the series and, 18 months later, it would all be over and he and Lloyd would have the rights again. Who could have ever guessed that the comics would be collected in a paperback book that would never (yet) go out of print? I'll grant that the timeline might've been far-fetched in the mid-'80s, and maybe Moore himself never foresaw the rise of graphic novels, but I find it hard to believe that DC didn't have plans when they signed the contract to publish V as a paperback collection. The contract Moore describes is a book contract, not a periodical contract. Since when would a periodical contract be concerned with how long a work stays in print? By definition, a periodical doesn't stay in print, so there's no need to include a provision for reversion of rights. Periodical contracts usually involve first serial rights--possibly with some provision for reprinting--or outright work for hire. If the contract did indeed resemble a book contract rather than a periodical one, it suggests that DC was thinking in different terms than Moore claims he was. Even if DC didn't have specific plans to publish a collection, there's no question in my mind that they were preparing for that possibility.

In a case such as this in which the success of the work was far beyond what either party would have reasonably hoped, it wouldn't be unusual for the contract to be renegotiated. I have no idea what attempts or rebuffs might have occurred on either side, but too much water seems to have passed under the bridge for any changes in the contract to be made now.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Bye-Bye Tom

Wow. That was a surprise. Tom DeLay has told Time magazine that he's leaving his seat in the House of Representatives and is pulling out of his race for reelection. Sure, he's been in a death spiral for a while, but I never expected that he'd actually admit it. We were very excited here at Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk when he won the Republican primary last month, thinking that this would just make Nick Lampson's victory all the sweeter when he took him down in November. But apparently the numbers just weren't going Tom's way. His own campaign poll showed him with about a 50-50 chance of victory (other polls had him running behind), and that's before the campaign starts in earnest and further indictments or plea agreements develop. The Washington Post has a nice review of DeLay's legal troubles in its report of DeLay's decision. They also pointed out that Texas law allows only three reasons to let a party nominee withdraw from the election: "He must either die, be convicted of a felony, or move out of his district." The second choice doesn't seem like it will happen quickly enough, so DeLay expects he'll change his residence to Alexandria, Virginia, (where he basically lives anyway) by the end of next month. It's true that whoever else the Texas Republican party tosses up against Lampson will be tougher than DeLay would've been, but Lampson lost his Congressional seat to the questionable redistricting before the last election, so he has a constituency himself.

But does Tom have any regrets? Unlike Sinatra, no. As he told Time:

"You can't prove to me one thing that I have done for my own personal gain," he added. "Yes, I play golf. I'm very proud of the fact that I play golf. It's the only thing that I do for myself. And when you go to a country and you're there for seven days and you take an afternoon off to play golf, what does the national media write? All about the golf, not about the meeting that went to. I'm not ashamed of anything I've done. I've never done anything in my political career for my own personal gain. You can look at my bank account and my house to understand that."

I have a feeling that we will be looking at all of that before this is all over. But there's still one loose end. What was the deal with that mug shot?

"I said a little prayer before I actually did the fingerprint thing, and the picture," he said. "My prayer was basically: 'Let people see Christ through me. And let me smile.'"

Proof that God does involve himself in human affairs! (And for the record, even Tom admits it was the "fakiest smile I'd ever given.")

To Con or Not to Con

Kevin Drum, a self-professed reader of science fiction since about age 5, wonders if he should go to Worldcon this year. He's never been to one before, but this year's World Science Fiction Convention (the 64th) is in his neighborhood, Anaheim, California, so he's considering it. The comments to the post feature a spirited exchange between congoers (including a few recognizable SF names) and detractors. Just go, Kevin. You'll have fun.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Making the World Safe for Sunshine

I didn't turn my clock ahead last night, so I've been running around late all day, and I'm late getting to my blog, too. I hate Daylight Savings Time "spring forward" every year--life is too busy these days for the whole thing not to come off like we're getting cheated out of an hour. I neglected to turn my clock ahead on purpose, hoping that the fact that it fell on the night of April Fool's Day meant that we'd all wake up early in the morning to someone somewhere yelling, "April Fool's!" I wasn't going to fall for that, but alas, for all my cleverness, I was behind all day. I guess I'd better change the clocks tonight.

On the good side of April Fool's Day was last night's episode of Sound Opinions, in which Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot gave us their wrap up of the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, providing us with tidbits of lots of bands they discovered. If you missed the broadcast, you can get the podcast, which should be up tomorrow. Both of the critics gave major props to Art Brut, which are well deserved (as I previously pointed out here and here). In other Art Brut news, their album, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, finally has a domestic release date. It'll be out on May 23, a year to the day from it's UK release. It'll have extra tracks not available on the import, so reserve your copy now!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Is This Anything?

The other day when I was looking around for some information on the Hinckleys and the Bushes, I perhaps unsurprisingly came across some other information about some other presidential conspiracies. The Kennedy assassination is an evergreen in terms of conspiracy theory, and surely we're all familiar with at least a few of the suspicions that surround it. On Wednesday, Doug Thompson, a journalist and former Capitol Hill staffer, announced that John Connally told him twenty-some years ago that he didn't buy into the Warren Commission explanation of the Kennedy assassination. Connally, of course, was governor of Texas and was riding with JFK and Jackie when they all came under fire in Dealey Plaza. He has the distinction of reputably sharing the magic bullet with Kennedy. Or not--his widow, Nellie Connally, was also in the car and has loudly argued that her husband and the President were shot by separate bullets (of which this Larry King transcript from the fortieth anniversary of the assassination is just one example).

Thompson says that, as far as he knows, Connally never made his own doubts about the Warren Commission report public "because I love this country and we needed closure at the time. I will never speak out publicly about what I believe." I couldn't confirm that for sure, but it's possible. In his autobiography, Connally disputed the details of the magic bullet theory and the number of bullets but didn't question the Commission's conclusion that Oswald acted alone (never mind that disputing the number of bullets implicitly calls that conclusion into question). So does that mean this is a new piece in the puzzle? Should we make anything of it? Or is this column, like so many historical comparisons these days, another metaphor for how the Bush administration isn't being held to account for its actions?