Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: May 2006

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Limiting Availability

In this month's Harper's, Art Spiegelman deconstructs the Danish cartoons of Muhammad that caused such problems in the Islamic world a little while ago. Explaining himself, he writes:

If--as the currency of cliche has it--a picture is worth a thousand words, it often takes a thousand more words to analyze and contextualize that picture. . . . It's a matter of demystifying the cartoons and maybe even robbing them of some of their venom. I believe that open discourse ultimately serves understanding and that repressing images gives them too much power.

Unfortunately, open discourse about the pictures means that they've got to be on display, and that makes some people uncomfortable. Tom Spurgeon has been keeping track of a story from Canada's Globe and Mail (sorry, Dad, I hope you're not too disappointed that I didn't come across the article myself) about Canada's largest chain of bookstores, Indigo, refusing to sell the issue because the group of cartoons "has been known to ignite demonstrations around the world." Yeah, I think that's part of the point. Spurgeon also picked up this editorial from today's Montreal Gazette talking about the Indigo decision and a separate situation in which Cineplex movie theaters refused a short ad from Campus Crusade for Christ to precede The Da Vinci Code (ostensibly because they didn't want to cause offence by taking religious advertising). Since it's a Canadian editorial, it's very polite ("Let it be said from the start that these two businesses are private, profit-making entities that are free to sell or exhibit whatever they wish and equally free to refuse to sell or exhibit whatever they wish"), but it wastes little time in making its point:

The [Harper's] article is only modestly provocative and well within the bounds of reasonable discourse. That Canada's largest bookseller should deem it beyond the pale sends an unfortunate message. It tells the thousands of Christians, for example, who are outraged by The Da Vinci Code, that if they want that offending novel out of circulation, they should go and burn down a few embassies. In fact, it would be hard to name a religious or political group in Montreal that couldn't find something to offend them on Indigo's shelves. Maybe they, too, will absorb the lesson that violence trumps reason every time.

Indigo's decision is a definite overreaction, but it's a good indication of the political hesitancy that seems to be becoming more and more pervasive.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

New Resolve in New Orleans

Don from Article 19 spent the long weekend in New Orleans. Describing his drive into town, he wrote, "The last few miles of the drive in was bleak, bleak, bleak. A ghost town in spots." Today he posted a link to a column by Chris Rose in today's Times-Picayune looking with dread upon the new hurricane season that's only two days away.

The malignant vestiges of the Jefferson and Morial machines are stinking this place up worse than old refrigerators. Our levees aren't ready and the government is in gridlock and street crime is picking up a frightening head of steam and it's impossible -- no, unreasonable -- not to look in the mirror and ask yourself: Is this how I want to live?

What are you going to do the first time Bob Breck comes on the TV screen with that crazed Armageddon look in his eyes and the Super Doppler shows nothing but a big red swirl in the Gulf and -- admit it -- you still haven't gotten all your vital paperwork in one place like you've been promising yourself, and maybe you've got a generator now and maybe not, but what the hell difference does it make?

What are you going to do now? Other than telling yourself that you're not going to Houston this time -- no matter what happens -- just what is your plan?

Who ever thought there would be a day of dread more wicked than April 15? But here it is, two pages ahead of us on the calendar. The feds could drop $80 billion in our laps right now but what's that going to do for you in June, July and August?

. . . That's why I'm scared.

Maybe it's just how these things go when you've got regular space in a major daily, but despite being scared, Rose closes his piece on a note of defiant optimism.

That cabdriver I was talking about? After driving in silence for a while, he said: "You notice all the sunflowers growing all over the place?"

Funny thing is, I have been noticing all the sunflowers popping up in random locations.

"Maybe that's a good omen," he said.

The other day, my kid's grade-school principal said to me: "The magnolia trees around here are amazing. They're so broken and battered yet they're blooming like crazy."

There are your metaphors, if you're looking for some. Flowers. Those time-tested symbols from art and literature of hope, beauty, youth and rebirth.

Let's hope they're not all false promise. Let's hope they're telling our story. Let's hope we've got what they've got.

And let's hope that we don't really get the chance to find out, for this year, at least.

Monday, May 29, 2006

A Mere Shadow of the Post It Could've Been (and Once Was)

Grumble, grumble, grumble. My computer ate my post. I'd intended to note this Newsarama post that referred to this New York Times story about the growing diversity of characters at DC and Marvel. As part of the story, the Times noted that DC would soon introduce a new Batwoman, one who will be a lesbian--and not just any lesbian, but "a wealthy, buxom lipstick lesbian" (that's the best kind!). I was further going to link to this second Newsarama post that follows up on some of the issues raised in the Times piece. So I've done all that again. But I'd also planned to write some pithy asides and commentary about all that, and I'm afraid that's not coming at this point. I may get a chance to revisit this tomorrow, but I'll have to see. The good news is that now you can offer your own pithy asides and commentary by leaving a comment. Have at it!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Presidential Guessing Games

Near record temperatures in Chicago today (we missed tying the record by one degree) made for a sweltering day. Add another project for which I'm doing some preliminary research, and I'm left with hardly any time to devote to blogging. It's a good thing it's Sunday, then, because there's a new column from Frank Rich that I can link to (once again courtesy of donkey o.d.

Today Rich takes a look at the new Al Gore and the welcome reception his film on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, is receiving at Cannes. He calls it "The Cannes Landslide for Al Gore" and compares it to the more reserved support Hillary seems to be getting for the top job these days.

Still, the unexpected rebirth of Al Gore says more about the desperation of the Democrats than it does about him. He is most of all the beneficiary of a perfect storm of events, the right man in the right place at the right time. It was just after Mr. Gore appeared on "Saturday Night Live" to kick off his movie's publicity campaign that long-rumbling discontent with the party's presumptive (if unannounced) presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton, boiled over. Last week both New York magazine and The New Yorker ran lead articles quoting party insiders who described a Clinton candidacy in 2008 as a pox tantamount to avian flu. The Times jumped in with a front-page remembrance of headlines past: a dissection of the Clinton marriage.

If Senator Clinton is the Antichrist, might not it be time for a resurrected messiah to inherit (and save) the earth? Enter Mr. Gore, celebrated by New York on its cover as "The Un-Hillary."

There's a certain logic to this. Mrs. Clinton does look like a weak candidate — not so much because of her marriage, her gender or her liberalism, but because of her eagerness to fudge her stands on anything and everything to appeal to any and all potential voters. Where once she inspired passions pro and con, now she often induces apathy. Her most excited constituency seems to be the right-wing pundits who still hope to make a killing with books excoriating her. At least eight fresh titles are listed at, including my own personal favorite, "Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Hillary Clinton." (Why settle for Il Duce when you can go for Hitler?)

Since no crowd-pleasing Democratic challenger has emerged at this early date to disrupt Mrs. Clinton's presumed coronation, the newly crowned movie star who won the popular vote in 2000 is the quick fix. Better the defeated devil the Democrats know than the losers they don't. Besides, there are at least two strong arguments in favor of Mr. Gore. He was way ahead of the Washington curve, not just on greenhouse gases but on another issue far more pressing than Mrs. Clinton's spirited crusade to stamp out flag burning: Iraq.

But it's not all gushes for the former vice president.

If this were the whole picture, Mr. Gore would seem the perfect antidote to the Democrats' ills. But it's not. The less flattering aspect of Mr. Gore has not gone away: the cautious and contrived presidential candidate who, like Mrs. Clinton now, was so in thrall to consultants that he ran away from his own administration's record and muted his views, even about pet subjects like science. (He waffled on the teaching of creationism in August 1999, after the Kansas Board of Education struck down the teaching of evolution.) That Gore is actually accentuated, not obscured, by "An Inconvenient Truth." The more hard-hitting his onscreen slide show about global warming, the more he reminds you of how much less he focused on the issue in 2000. Gore the uninhibited private citizen is not the same as Gore the timid candidate.

Though many of the rave reviews don't mention it, there are also considerable chunks of "An Inconvenient Truth" that are more about hawking Mr. Gore's image than his cause. They also bring back unflattering memories of him as a politician. The movie contains no other voices that might upstage him, not even those of scientists supporting his argument. It is instead larded with sycophantic audiences, as meticulously multicultural as any Benetton ad, who dote on every word and laugh at every joke, like the studio audience at "Live With Regis and Kelly."

In the end, Rich comes out in support of a Gore presidential run, if only to raise issues that need to be raised, "patriotically goading the national debate onto higher ground."

Last week in Slate, John Dickerson discussed why Gore should not run (even if he said he'd personally like to see it).

Talk about the New Gore also builds upon a structural flaw of his last candidacy: Does he know his own mind? If what we're seeing now is the real Al Gore, why was he so easily swayed last time by advisers and pollsters bearing bad advice? If authenticity is just a political gambit, it's hardly authentic. The Old Gore vs. New Gore angle is likely to become a theme of the coverage if Gore runs. The press will remind us again and again about the 2000 campaign's earth-tone suits and the Great Dane kiss of Tipper at the convention and all the other inauthentic things he did to tailor his behavior to show people what he thought they wanted to see. The press will watch closely for signs of a relapse.

Although it annoys me, I have to admit that Dickerson has a point. There's no reason to expect that the liberal media would jump right back to where they left off in ridiculing and misrepresenting the former veep. While that's not enough reason to keep him out, he has to have an active strategy to counteract that kind of coverage.

Closer to home, the senior senator from Illinois has gone on record encouraging the junior senator from Illinois to toss his hat into the presidential ring. The Chicago Tribune ran a speculative piece on a Barack Obama candidacy, and Chris Wallace asked Dick Durbin about it on FOX News Sunday:

DURBIN: I will tell you this. You have to witness Senator Barack Obama in my state of Illinois, from southern Illinois through the Chicago suburbs, into the city, and across the United States to understand that this man brings something special to American politics.

He connects with people better than anyone I've ever seen. He is the number one person sought after to speak at Democratic events across the United States of America. I think he has dramatic potential to unite this country, both red and blue. And yes, I'm encouraging him. But ultimately, it's his personal decision with his wife and...

WALLACE: You're encouraging him. As the number-two Democrat in the Senate, you're saying you would like to see him run for president.

DURBIN: I can tell you that I've sat down with him and said you ought to look at this long and hard. I know many people are saying wait, and he may decide to wait. But he ought to take a hard look at it.

WALLACE: Would you endorse him if he did run?

DURBIN: Well, let me tell you, Barack Obama is my closest colleague in the United States Senate. We've worked together on everything for the state of Illinois. And if he makes a plan to move forward, I'm going to be at his side.

At this point, more than twenty-nine months before the next presidential election, all of this is just fun speculation. Whatever happens in the mid-term elections this fall has the possibility of turning anything we're thinking about today completely on its head. But it's a long weekend--why not indulge in some foolish guessing games.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

A Misspent Saturday Night

I knew I should've blogged this afternoon. I put it off until this evening, thinking that I'd be back home at a reasonable time, and now my back is against the wall trying to write something quick to get a Saturday entry. My wife and I were supposed to have passes to a show in the suburbs, but things didn't work out as smoothly as they were supposed to. We'd made arrangements through a third party, and somehow the message didn't get all the way through. There had been some confusion as to whether we were going last night or tonight, first show or second, but when we arrived at the venue, there were no passes. The show was sold out, so we couldn't even have gotten in if we'd bought tickets at that point. We made a call to our contact, but given that it was Saturday night, we were just able to leave a message. We'd intended to see the first show, but we hung around in the suburbs in the hopes of getting a call back and being able to work something out for the second. That call never came, so we had dinner and then went home, arriving much later than I'd expected.

While we were waiting on our table, I had a martini, and then we shared a bottle of wine at dinner. We stopped back by the venue to see if maybe the box office had heard anything for the second show, but the line to get in was down the block, so we decided not to wait. I didn't feel quite up to driving back to Chicago yet, so we stopped for a cup of coffee first. You can get coffee in any number of places these days, of course, but we figured we'd stop at Denny's. My father has long claimed that no restaurant in the country will make a soft-boiled egg any more, but we saw just that dish on a Denny's menu within the last few years (which means it's literally been years since we were last in a Denny's). Since we were getting coffee and killing time, I thought I'd order one and see what happens. Soft-boiled eggs as such are no longer on the menu, but they do say they'll make eggs to order. I ordered one soft-boiled, and the waitress didn't even flinch. When she finally brought it to the table, though, she admitted that they'd never made a soft-boiled egg before and so weren't sure about how long to boil it. They over-cooked it a bit, but it was still soft when it got to the table and couldn't quite be categorized as hard boiled. They didn't have egg cups, so they served it in the dish usually used for sides of vegetables or fruit. I called my father from the table to let him now that not only had I ordered the soft-boiled egg, but it had been served to me.

So we didn't get to see the show we'd driven out to the suburbs for, and given that a visit to Denny's was the highlight, it sounds like a pretty dull and boring evening. We had a good time, though, improbably enough. So how's your long weekend going?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend

Here we are at the beginning of summer (sort of), and once again, people are lining up on the interstates and at airports to start traveling their hearts out. Not me, of course, because after just coming back into town all I want to do is line up for an early bed. I don't know what it's like where you are, but gas prices have dropped by a few pennies around here. Still, they're far higher than any of us would've expected a year ago. And they're high enough that I assumed we'd be seeing some obvious signs of people hurting and changing their behavior because of them. I have to admit that I expected (and I wasn't alone on this, believe me) high gas prices to at least slow some of the this year's Memorial Day travel down, but it doesn't seem to have even put a dent in it. Oh sure, experts are suggesting that the growth of travel will be off, but it's still growing. I hope we can keep this up indefinitely, but I have to wonder how much longer we can shrug off the effects of what a year ago we'd've considered crippling energy prices.

All that aside, is anybody traveling for the holiday? How far are you going? Have a great Memorial Day weekend.

Things I Missed

I've been playing catch up with the news, and I thought I'd pass along a handful of topics that I didn't see the first time they came around.

* Last week Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told Wolf Blitzer that he didn't know whether his grandparents came into the United States legally or not. His exact quote, which you can see in transcript or on video at Crooks & Liars, was: "You know, it's unclear. It's unclear. And I've looked at this issue, I've talked to my parents about it, and it's just not clear." It's only two generations back. If it's 8unclear, it's only because certain people don't want it to be clear. My parents brought me to the States from Canada when I was two, and it's very clear how we came in. Each person in my family still has the paperwork we needed to cross the border and come to live in the country. Three of my grandparents came from England or Ireland to the U.S. or Canada, and it's clear whether they followed the rules in coming in. My great-grandfather, who was an older man when he came to Canada from Belfast, had worked his whole life in the shipyards there. He was a boilermaker (he worked on the boilers for the Titanic), and he had what we'd probably recognize as carpal tunnel from holding his hammer. He knew that Canadian immigration might not allow him in the country if his health was suspect (U.S. authorities had similar policies), and he was concerned that his gnarled hand might be enough to refuse him entry, so he put everything he had into straightening it out and firmly shaking the hand of the customs officer. It's become family lore that the officer's response was, "Sir, we're proud to welcome anyone with a handclasp like that." I don't know how many families have stories like that, but I bet they're not hard to find among families whose ancestors gave up their lives in their homelands to come to a new land within the last couple of generations. An immigrant's legal status is only unclear if it's being left purposely fuzzy.

* General Michael Hayden's nomination to head the CIA in the wake of Porter Goss was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week and will be voted on by the full Senate soon. Hayden was in charge of the NSA when that agency began running roughshod over our rights by keeping track of our phone calls. Joe Conason, a reliable voice for progressive positions, argued in Salon on Friday that Hayden deserved to get the CIA job.

Unlike so many of the hacks placed in charge of important government agencies during the past six years, Hayden possesses powerful qualifications for the job. He is also wise enough to treat the Senate with respect. He isn't trying to push his way through with bluster and bullying.

By the admittedly dismal standards of the Bush administration, then, Hayden is an unusually good appointment. To reject him will only encourage Bush to send up more awful nominees -- and that would be counterproductive, since, despite his pathetically low approval ratings, Bush is almost certain to remain president for nearly three more years.

* I don't know whether you clicked on either of those previous stories, but this one is definitely worth it. Yesterday morning The Washington Post printed a love letter the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Its amateurism would even be out of place in a high school newspaper. Here's a taste:

[Frist] climbed into the back of his black SUV; his driver steered toward the zoo. "I gravitate towards insurmountable problems," Frist said, his long legs spilling between the front seats. "I try to use creative solutions." One day, he hopes to cure AIDS or cancer. He sucked on the stem of his glasses: "The typical person around here may not understand."

. . .

He pressed his stethoscope to the gorilla's chest and narrowed his eyes. Kuja, a silverback patriarch, was breathing isofluorine. He was the Senate majority leader of the gorillas, who negotiated disputes, back-slapped the ape boys and owned exclusive mating rights with the females. When Kuja started to stir, a veterinarian injected more anesthesia. One backhanded swipe could break Frist's neck.

Frist listened to the heart; the gorilla's lub-dub sounded human. "When you're this close, you feel this kind of oneness with them," Frist said. The stink of ape sweat and gorilla testosterone soaked his hair and clothes. "Gorillas, people, men. You look at the people here, a symphonic flow of people pitching in. It's the oneness of humanity."

This kind of oneness does not come easily to Frist. Though devoted to matters of the heart, Frist acknowledges that he is aloof, something he traces back to the day he refused to attend kindergarten. He calls it "the Great Wall," an emotional barrier that has kept him from having close friends. It is a wall that could block his connection with voters, some say, and his way to the White House.

But in the operating room there were no walls, only bridges, as one arm reached over another.

Elsewhere in the article, a veterinary dentist compares Frist to Superman. This is hilarious, hilarious stuff. In case you haven't had enough, John Aravosis provides an elegant takedown for your reading pleasure.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Can I Get Fries Without That?

This afternoon at lunch I felt like getting some french fries. I know, I shouldn't be getting fries at lunch--I bring a perfectly good lunch to work every day--but I wanted to, so there you go. I pulled into Wendy's, but when the drive-through line was around the restaurant, I decided to go in. I could've got the smallest size of fries, what Wendy's labels Medium, but I decided to go one size up, Biggie. I didn't want anything else, just fries, which I planned to eat in my car as I drove away. I asked for Biggie fries, and the cashier told me it would cost about 50 cents more than it should've. She'd charged me for Great Biggie, which was simply too much. I corrected her that I'd actually asked for Biggie fries, but she told me that she couldn't sell them to me. Biggie fries, she explained, could only be served when you order a full meal and then Biggie-size it. It didn't matter that the board behind her listed Biggie fries as available for $1.29, there was no key on the cash register for that order, and no one had ever successfully ordered it as long as she'd worked there. I thought that was ridiculous. Why have it priced on the menu if it wasn't even possible to order it?

The cashier was accommodating, though. She did agree to let me have Biggie fries, but she'd only charge me for Medium, because there was a key on the cash register for that. The bill was $1.08. I gave her a five, but since she was running low on change, she asked me if I had 8 cents so she could just give me my change in bills. I didn't have 8 cents, but I did have 28, so I gave her that. She gave me $3.20 back in change. I didn't get a chance to say anything before she closed the cash drawer, but that's a dollar less than she owed me. When I pointed it out, she didn't know how to reopen the register without entering a new order. She asked someone else who was filling an order, but that person didn't know how to do it, either. (Maybe, like buying Biggie fries, it couldn't be done, either.) So she took the order of the guy who was behind me, and reopened the till. But then she wasn't sure how much she should give me back. Maybe she only owed me some more coins. No, I explained again that I'd received only $3.20 when I should actually have gotten $4.20. We went back and forth for about another minute, and she finally gave me my dollar, but I think it was mostly out of faith rather than certainty that she owed it to me. I sure hope her registered balanced at the end of the day.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Rockin' with the Right Wing

Over the weekend, National Review issued a list of the top 50 conservative rock songs. Although they take great pains on their site to point out that you need to be a paid subscriber to access the list itself, conservative blogger kevin at The Amboy Times tramples all over their intellectual property rights by posting the full list and some commentary. That's just as well for us, of course, because it gives us something to talk about.

It's a fascinating list because the majority of choices beg one of two questions (although sometimes both at once): what does it mean to be a conservative, or what the heck do they think that song is saying? OK, fair enough, "Taxman" is an anti-tax song (although it's talking about a far more draconian tax rate than anything US conservatives complain about), we can give them that. But their number one song is "Won't Get Fooled Again." Since when is pointing out that a revolution didn't go far enough a secret message to reinforce the status quo? Does "meet the new boss; same as the old boss" really mean that we should've just kept the old boss in place and celebrated him? Add in the irony of the continued full-throated support many conservatives give to the Bushies who have consistently undermined true conservative values such as small government, no deficit spending, etc., and it's easy to remind ourselves that "we know that the hypnotized never lie--do you?"

I also like the fact that they put U2's "Gloria" in at number 6 because Bono sings in Latin. That's all. Latin is a conservative language--what more do you need to know? Number 7 lists The Beatles' "Revolution" and even quotes, "You say you want a revolution / Well you know / We all want to change the world . . . Don’t you know you can count me out?" I guess they never heard the version on the White Album.

Punk gets represented, too. "Bodies" by The Sex Pistols comes in at number 8 because it's ostensibly against abortion. Does this mean that prolific use of the F word is a conservative value? One thing that does seem to take a conservative tack on the issue is that, although the song jumps around among multiple points of view, none of them belongs to the pregnant woman. (Here's an interesting essay I stumbled on that discusses the song and its position on abortion.) The Clash is here, too, with "Rock the Casbah." I'm not sure why. They offer no explanation about what aspects of conservatism the song addresses. Is it conservative to play music in defiance of a ban by religious leaders? Perhaps so.

David Bowie receives a nod for "Heroes," which featured lovers separated by the Berlin Wall. I guess only conservatives were against the Berlin Wall--liberals must've thought it was a reasonable idea. This does raise an interesting question, though. Would it remain a conservative song if the location were changed to the proposed wall on the Mexican border?

I could take potshots like this all night, but I've got to go to bed. Amanda has a nice discussion at Pendagon, and there's plenty of snark in the comments to her post, as well.

Art Brut's Stock Goes Up

Art Brut was featured tonight on Marketplace, American Public Media's business and financial radio show. (The link provides a transcript or a further link to the audio of the segment.) The focus is on the band's gimmick of offering free franchises to anyone who wants to start their own Art Brut. There are various numbered franchisees, and Marketplace features Art Brut Pi, a guy from Virginia who did quite an interesting version of "Formed a Band." You can see him and many other franchisees by going to Art Brut's Webpage and clicking on Friends & Franchises.

So far Art Brut has avoided being categorized, but Marketplace asserts that they're part of the "punk movement." Now, Marketplace does specialize in financial news, so their opinion of musical styles only carries so much weight. And although Art Brut does have a few punk tendencies, I don't think I'd force them into that slot. But it does raise the question of what it means in 2006 to be part of the punk movement. Hmmmmmm. I wonder what that would entail.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Home Again, Home Again

I'm exhausted. In addition to BEA, we've just had an impromptu family reunion with attendees from three countries to watch my brother get his doctorate. There were six of his Japanese in-laws, an aunt and uncle and four cousins from Canada, and the previous generation's nuclear family. It's going to have to wait until tomorrow for me to catch up on what happened while the world was turning without me.

I was curious to see what was going on about a possible Karl Rove indictment, so I jumped over to see what Jeralyn had to say at TalkLeft. She's got an index on the Valerie Plame leak that has a couple of interesting new tidbits. After seeming to pull back a bit on Jason Leopold's original story claiming that Rove had been indicted,'s executive director, Marc Ash, came out even stronger in support of it on Sunday. His statement claimed new unidentified sources backing the story up and differentiated between what they "know" (or have been told by those sources) and what they "believe" (or the suppositions at which they've arrived based on what they've been told). Jeralyn reports that the Rove camp continues to deny everything. Meanwhile, we're still waiting for it all to play out before we'll know who's got credibility.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Half-Hearted Blogging

When I'm away from home--especially if I'm busy with something, such as this weekend's BEA or my brother's graduation from grad school today--it seems like the news stands still. Has anything much happened? I don't know this for sure, but I'm betting Karl Rove still has not been indicted. (A few times lately I've typed that word and mistyped inducted. I don't think Rove's had that happen, either.) Since I've got no current events to comment on, I'm going to fall back on the cliche blogger strategy and recommend some other things.
This morning in The New York Times, Ted Koppel (via donkey o.d. suggested that the U.S. military should just hire on a mercenary military force and simply be done with it.

[C]ontractors provide the bodyguards (most of them veterans of the American, British, Australian, Nepalese or South African military) and, in some cases, the armored vehicles and even helicopters that have become so necessary for the conduct of business by foreign civilians in Iraq. Such protective services are employed by practically every American news agency and, indeed, are responsible for the security of the American ambassador himself.

So, what about the inevitable next step — a defensive military force paid for directly by the corporations that would most benefit from its protection? If, for example, an insurrection in Nigeria threatens that nation's ability to export oil (and it does), why not have Chevron or Exxon Mobil underwrite the dispatch of a battalion or two of mercenaries?

On that same editorial page, Paul Krugman, via Brrreeeport, took off on Joe Lieberman:

You see, the talking-head circuit loves centrists. But a centrist, as defined inside the Beltway, doesn't mean someone whose views are actually in the center, as judged by public opinion. Instead, a Democrat is considered centrist to the extent that he does what Mr. Lieberman does: lends his support to Republican talking points, even if those talking points don't correspond at all to what most of the public wants or believes.

But this "center" cannot hold. And that's the larger lesson of what happened Friday. Mr. Lieberman has been playing to a Washington echo chamber that is increasingly out of touch with the country's real concerns. The nation, which rallied around Mr. Bush after 9/11 simply because he was there, has moved on — and it has left Mr. Lieberman behind.

So that will give you something to read for a little while. Our flight back to Chicago doesn't leave until sometime after 3:00 in the afternoon, so I don't know if tomorrow will bring better blogging or not. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

What Frank Rich Is Writing While He Waits for His Book to Come Out

Today's BEA was much more relaxed. At times, the upper exhibit area almost seemed deserted. That's bad for the exhibitors, I suppose, but not so bad for the rest of us. With less rush and stress, there's more time for longer conversations and more relaxed browsing, and a chance to take a larger view of the show. Unfortunately, it still seemed like a fractured show that never came together for me. Maybe it's just me, because I'm juggling with family responsibilities this time around and have my attention spread too thin. I might have some sort of overview to offer in a couple of days, but we'll just play that by ear and see what happens. Right now I'm too tired to provide many more details.

What I'm not too tired for is to offer a link, via donkey o.d., to today's column by Frank Rich. He takes on the religious right, suggesting that they've been scammed by the Republican party, which continues to sell them down the river, but doesn't have much hope for Democrats, who still seem to pander hopelessly and awkwardly to the same conservative Christians. He's right--you can't get much more transparent than the poor showings Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton have offered of late, talking down gay marriage and iPods, in vying for the so-called "values" vote.

News Blackout

Just a quick note on the Metro on my way in for the final day of BEA. We're staying at a Residence Inn in Silver Spring, Maryland, and every single TV set--every one--is set for FOX News when it comes on. Thus, I know the spin I'm supposed to get about what's going on in the world, but I don't actually know what IS going on in the world. Could we have unwittingly found Dick Cheney's secret undisclosed location?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Yes, It's More BEA

I just haven't gotten into a good groove for this year's BEA. It all feels too scattered, and I haven't found any areas of the hall that start to feel comfortable and familiar, as I have in the past. It's just too big a show for the DC convention center (although the show apparently feels otherwise--I was told that starting next year they were going into a four-year rotation of New York, Chicago, LA, and Washington (of course they've made similar pronouncements before, and after a couple of years they're superseded by the next such announcement), so who knows how it will work out.)

As usual, there was the normal variety of people hocking their new books--established writers, new hotshots, celebrities from other media moving in, niche celebrities who are largely unknown but huge to the people who know who they are. Robert Duvall had some sort of book project connected to his next movie. Leonard Cohen had a line across half the width of one of the exhibit halls of people trying to get an autographed book within a half-hour window (I didn't stay to find out, but I was curious how the organizers were going to resolve that. Were the first seventy-five or so people OK, but the several hundred others would be turned away? Did they take names so Leonard could send them an autographed book at some point in the future?) I wandered down one aisle behind Amy Sedaris. James Carville and Mary Matalin carried balloon animals through the children's publishing area with two daughters in tow. I got a copy of Daily Kos's Marcos Moulitsas's book (which he graciously signed) and realized that he must just not take a good picture--none I've seen do him justice. I told Frank Rich that I'm looking forward to his book release but somehow neglected to mention that I link to a bootleg version of his column every week.

Comics had a larger presence than I've noticed before. There were a number of signings--official program signings and more informal booth signings, both in the "graphic novel pavilion" and in booths across the floor. Harvey Pekar was at Houghton Mifflin signing a preview of Best American Comics 2006, which he'll be editing. Brad Meltzer had lines around almost the entire DC booth for hard cover copies of Identity Crisis. Linda Medley and Fantagraphics, to her own disappointment but to a good omen for her success, ran out of copies of her new Castle Waiting collection because demand was simply higher than anyone expected. There was more comics news, and more celebrity sightings, but I can't remember them right now because I really need to be asleep. But as an aside to Jim, if you're reading--yes, there was an HM sighting.

I may revisit this and add some actual links in the next couple of days, but we'll have to see. On the other hand, the whole thing wraps up tomorrow, so there's at least one more day of fun to go.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Quick BEA Update

The show has a bit of an odd feeling this year--for me, at least. Maybe it's because the exhibit area is split into two, one about three flights of stairs over the other. Although the author autographing area is on the second floor, the big traffic exhibitors are not, so there's a real feeling of emptiness up there. Still, I saw a number of things I wanted to see, caught up with some friends I haven't seen in a while, put faces to people I've talked or e-mailed with, and met new people. So far, so good. We dropped by the Politics and Prose party after hours, thus the late posting. Plenty more on the schedule for tomorrow--more friends to catch up with, and there's always new people to meet. And don't forget the autographed books.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Friday on My Mind

An unexpected mishap and a quick trip to an urgent care facility has changed the complexion of this DC excursion a bit, but everything seems to be back on track now. I'm just a bit worse for wear but will be fine tomorrow.

And even in my slightly woozy state at the moment, I can tell that Karl Rove remains unindicted (in public, anyway). There was the buzz at the end of last week about a possible indictment coming last Friday, and Scooter was indicted on a Friday way back when, so I guess we should pay attention to the fact that tomorrow's Friday again. Jeralyn's been keeping up and noted a further statement today from truthout Executive Director Marc Ash reiterating his support of the story. He claims they've gathered further sources and says:

We have been contacted by at least three reporters from mainstream media - network level organizations - who shared with us off-the-record confirmation and moral support. When we asked why they were not going public with this information, in each case they expressed frustration with superiors who would not allow it.

I'm getting tired of ending these Rove watch posts with little more than a "we'll see," but that's all they'll support at the moment. Tune in tomorrow, same Rove time, same Rove prosecutor.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

BEA Bound

I'm off this morning for BEA (or BookExpo, as the kids are calling it). It doesn't actually start until Friday, but it's in Washington, DC, this year, and since I have family in the area, I' coming a little bit early for a visit, as well (and to see them Red Sox, who are in at Camden Yards tonight--it'll be my first visit to that park). I don't know how that will affect my entries here, but given that I'm writing this on my Blackberry while riding the fabulous Washington Metro, I obviously don't have to be out of touch entirely. I'll try to keep an eye on that other matter we've been watching. Wouldn't it be just like Patrick Fitzgerald to issue an indictment when I'm not paying attention? Of course, given my current location, I guess I could stake out the federal court house myself.

Comic Book Anatomy

Anybody who's browsed super-hero comic books in recent times has noticed the dichotomy between how men are drawn and how women are drawn. (I know my wife has mentioned it once or twice.) Sure, supers are fantasy, so it makes sense that the anatomy would be idealized. And that's true for men. But to call female super-heroes idealized would be a gross understatement. Completely unrealistic might be a good starting point, instead. The audience for supers has dwindled to the point that it's now overwhelmingly male, and the men like to look at the unbelievable ladies. The problem of objectification has traditionally been difficult to get across.

But something's been making the rounds of the comics blogs that just might start to help the fanboys understand. In response to this real-life cover by Frank Miller for an upcoming issue of All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder, odditycollector has put together a collection of covers objectifying their male stars (and depending on the environment of your workplace, they may or may not be work safe). These are very funny and make their point without equivocation.

The assumption among many in the comics community about why artists continue to draw women to all the worst stereotypes was perhaps best summed up a couple of months ago by Tim Seeley, artist for any number of books from Devil's Due Publishing, in Chicago Reader (no link because the article's old enough you'd have to buy it online from the Reader):

[Drawing comics is] this weird lonely job where they start to vent their romantic and sexual frustrations. I think if more comic-book artists were starving there'd be more comic books about meat loaf. Fortunately most of them are well fed. They're just undersexed.

Maybe we'd be better off with a diet of meat loaf for a little while.

Interestingly, and totally coincidental to this issue coming up at this time, I saw a play on Sunday that featured swordfights between topless women (what better way to spend Mother's Day, but--sorry guys--that was the final performance). The breasts on these performers did not behave the way I'd been led to believe they would from years of reading comics. They did not remain pert and perky at all times. Although a fighter might have arched her back at some point during the combat, that was not as common a position as it is in comics. I'd suggest that comic book artists should watch something like this to help them better understand how a female body actually looks in the midst of a fight, but I fear the artists' attention would focus in all the wrong places.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Last Night's Promised Rove Update

I've been getting ready to go out of town, so I didn't get back here as quickly as I'd intended. But it looks like not that much has changed in the Karl Rove Watch since last night. Still no indictment. Still no further reports from any other media outlets. Jason Leopold's reputation is getting some serious examination, and it doesn't seem to be holding up so well. Tim Grieve has a very nice round up in Salon that goes over how we arrived at this point and some points out some questions that have haunted Leopold in the past.

But the reporter continued to stand by his story yesterday, claiming to have five sources, and Marc Ash, executive director of truthout, also went to the mat on the issue.

The story is accurate, and Karl Rove's attorneys have been served with an indictment.

In short, we had two sources close to the Fitzgerald investigation who were explicit about the information that we published, and a former high-ranking state department official who reported communication with a source who had "direct knowledge" of the meeting at Patton Boggs. In both instances, substantial detail was provided and matched.

We had confirmation. We ran the story.

So he's in for three sources. All we can do is and see, but the longer we wait, the sketchier the whole thing seems to become.

Still Watching

Highly annoying. Obviously, we've had no indictment yet. I'd written a longish post about that with lots of links, and my computer ate it. It's too late to try to recreate it now, and I'm sure events will change by the time I have a chance to do that tomorrow, but I may give it a shot later anyway. You can find your own links, if you want, but let's just say for now that Jason Leopold stands by his story and Karl Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, has denied it. Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft has been doing a good job of following the developments, and the comments to her posts are also often worthwhile (with very little interruption from noisy trolls). You could do worse than going over there for further information.

Good night!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Frank Rich on Traitors and White Houses

The idea of a sabbatical is to get away from your routine, relax, study, and find ways to improve what you've been doing all along. Not to say that Frank Rich seemed particularly in need of rest or improvement when he took time away from his New York Times column earlier in the year, but boy has he come back loaded for bear. Today's is another scorcher, as he asks: "Will the Real Traitors Please Stand Up?"

President Bush, himself a sometime leaker of intelligence, called the leaking of the N.S.A. surveillance program a "shameful act" that is "helping the enemy." Porter Goss, who was then still C.I.A. director, piled on in February with a Times Op-Ed piece denouncing leakers for potentially risking American lives and compromising national security. When reporters at both papers were awarded Pulitzer Prizes last month, administration surrogates, led by bloviator in chief William Bennett, called for them to be charged under the 1917 Espionage Act.

We can see this charade for what it is: a Hail Mary pass by the leaders who bungled a war and want to change the subject to the journalists who caught them in the act. What really angers the White House and its defenders about both the Post and Times scoops are not the legal questions the stories raise about unregulated gulags and unconstitutional domestic snooping, but the unmasking of yet more administration failures in a war effort riddled with ineptitude. It's the recklessness at the top of our government, not the press's exposure of it, that has truly aided the enemy, put American lives at risk and potentially sabotaged national security. That's where the buck stops, and if there's to be a witch hunt for traitors, that's where it should begin.

Rich talks about the Bushies versus the journalists who are bringing their activities to shame, but his net is broader than that, as well.

Soon to come are the Senate's hearings on Mr. Goss's successor, Gen. Michael Hayden, the former head of the N.S.A. As Jon Stewart reminded us last week, Mr. Bush endorsed his new C.I.A. choice with the same encomium he had bestowed on Mr. Goss: He's "the right man" to lead the C.I.A. "at this critical moment in our nation's history." That's not exactly reassuring.

This being an election year, Karl Rove hopes the hearings can portray Bush opponents as soft on terrorism when they question any national security move. It was this bullying that led so many Democrats to rubber-stamp the Iraq war resolution in the 2002 election season and Mr. Goss's appointment in the autumn of 2004.

Will they fall into the same trap in 2006? Will they be so busy soliloquizing about civil liberties that they'll fail to investigate the nominee's record? It was under General Hayden, a self-styled electronic surveillance whiz, that the N.S.A. intercepted actual Qaeda messages on Sept. 10, 2001 "Tomorrow is zero hour" for one and failed to translate them until Sept. 12. That same fateful summer, General Hayden's N.S.A. also failed to recognize that "some of the terrorists had set up shop literally under its nose," as the national-security authority James Bamford wrote in The Washington Post in 2002. The Qaeda cell that hijacked American Flight 77 and plowed into the Pentagon was based in the same town, Laurel, Md., as the N.S.A., and "for months, the terrorists and the N.S.A. employees exercised in some of the same local health clubs and shopped in the same grocery stores."

You've got to admit that we're in a tough position when we're depending on Congress to do the right thing to face down the White House and its appointees. You can read the whole Rich column, yanked out from behind the TimesSelect curtain, at The Peking Duck.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

More Reassuring Polling

On Friday, I dejectedly noted an ABC News/Washington Post poll in which a majority of respondents felt that the Prez's illegal telephone data-mining operation was just the price we had to pay to fight terrorism. This was an early poll, and the original USA Today story may not yet have been widely known amongst the respondents. A comment to that post pointed out that this particular pollster has been taken to task for his methodology before, which offered further evidence that the pro-data mining position may not be as large as it seemed.

Well, that appears to be correct. A Newsweek poll released yesterday revealed that 53 percent of respondents believe the data mining "goes too far in invading people's privacy." And 57 percent answered that the White House has "gone too far in expanding presidential power." Today a second new poll was released, this time by USA Today/Gallup, that asserts 51 percent disapprove of the activity. Also among its findings were the facts that 55 percent believed the program definitely or probably broke the law, 57 percent would feel their privacy had been violated if they discovered the phone company had turned over their phone records (although only 35 percent would be very or somewhat concerned if they knew the government had those records), and 62 percent favor a Congressional investigation into the matter.

The Bushies keep pushing the envelope of what they can get away with, and before too long, they'll have gone too far. Of course, that's the kind of development that you only recognize after the fact.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Rove Indictment Watch

This will be quick because I'm on my way out. But the scuttlebutt seems to be that Fitzgerald's indictment of Karl Rove is coming closer and closer. Jason Leopold at truthout says it's a done deal:

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spent more than half a day Friday at the offices of Patton Boggs, the law firm representing Karl Rove.

During the course of that meeting, Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning.

We don't know who Leopold's sources are, of course, but Leopold himself is former LA bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires. Still, in the single report, the amount of time Fitzgerald spent with Rove's representatives is identified alternately as "more than half a day Friday," "for about 15 hours," and "the entire day." Different numbers from different sources that Leopold chose not to merge together? Maybe. But it also offers an uncomfortable implication of sloppiness. Yesterday, Leopold reported that Rove told the Prez he would be indicted and would resign immediately when it happened.

No other news sources are reporting this at this point, so we should maybe keep it in the realm of rumor for the moment. Yesterday morning (via Think Progress), Chris Matthews told Don Imus about speculation that an indictment could even have come on Friday:

Well, it could be today. It could be next week. Everybody is buzzing about when or if. It’s a big if, big when.

We're already into Saturday evening. If there's an indictment, does it have to come during business hours? Will the federal marshals come to pick up Rove on Mother's Day?

Have You Got Yours Yet?

Finally, after it's been out in the UK for what seems like ages, Art Brut's debut album has at last secured a domestic release. The US version has three B-side bonus tracks, which all by itself overcomes any argument you might have to avoid picking it up. If you're still not sure, surf on over to the band's Website to listen to some sample tracks. Or catch them Saturday night on Sound Opinions on Chicago Public Radio. If you aren't in Chicago, you can listen to it live at the WBEZ Website or wait a couple of days for the show to become available on the Sound Opinions page.

Buy the CD, listen to the radio, or catch a performance--whatever it takes, make Art Brut a part of your life.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Focus In Focus Out

A very unfocused day today, and I haven't been able to pin down any subjects in my mind enough to write coherently about them. I also realized after I signed off last night that I'd neglected to mention another aspect of the whole issue of the phone companies feeding yours and my information to the government to do with as they will. I was thrown for a loop when, ironically enough, a Qwest pop up on the Rocky Mountain News story about Qwest refusing to knuckle under to government pressure disabled my computer for several minutes, and I lost my train of thought. But this whole controversy made me think back to the conversations we've been having about net neutrality (and there are more than I'd thought: here, here, here, and here). These companies that have shown they'll sell us out as soon as the government questions their patriotism are the same companies that want us to hand over control of the Internet to them. We can trust them, they insist. They'd never do anything to undermine our access. While I still don't believe that, I now have no doubt that they'll track our surfing activity as well as our phone calls. Google fought the Justice Department's requests for search data a few months ago and was forced to compromise on the issue. But what happens when we give more power to ISPs who've proven they'll roll right over at the slightest pretext from Justice or the NSA? If those or any other government agencies want any Web data from AT&T, we now know they'll pass it right along without thinking twice. Locking in net neutrality seems more important now than ever.

Of course, if we just want to sit and get depressed over the whole matter, we can take a look at this ABC News/Washington Post poll that found almost two-thirds of people polled thought that if the NSA needed to keep track of every telephone call made in the US to keep us safe from the terrorist menace, then that's just the price that needs to be paid. On an optimistic note, the Post pointed out: "The survey results reflect initial public reaction to the NSA program. Those views that could change or deepen as more details about the effort become known over the next few days." I'm not sure I buy that. If the Rove fear-mongering machine fires up, there's no telling what most of us might be willing to accept. The fall campaign when Rove and/or his minions will be sowing frights and scares hasn't even started yet. If we keep seeing numbers like these, I wouldn't be shocked to see the Repubs pick up a couple of seats.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

24/7 Spies

The big news today, obviously, is the lid coming off the NSA's monitoring of our phone calls. USA Today broke the original story this morning, detailing that the NSA has been keeping track of phone calls of AT&T, Versizon, and BellSouth customers (turned over to them by those phone companies), but by now you can pretty much read about it at the news outlet of your choice. We've been aware of the broad strokes of this program for a while, and the Bushies have insisted that they're only listening in on overseas calls, but these new details involve collecting information about as many calls the feds can get.

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.

The Prez himself was so panicked about this that he rushed out only hours after the story broke to reassure us that everything was above board. "First, our international activities strictly target al Qaeda and their known affiliates. Al Qaeda is our enemy, and we want to know their plans." But we're not talking about international activities here, this is a domestic issue. "Second, the government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval." Perhaps not, but this is about collecting who we called and how long we talked to them. "Third, the intelligence activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat." A few people in Congress have begged to differ; and let's don't forget that this is an administration that has theorized that if the President does it, it isn't illegal. "Fourth, the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities." That obviously goes without saying. "We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans." No, they're just going through the data about who we called when and for how long.

It's worth noting that the three phone companies went along with the program and turned the information they had about their customers (i.e., us) over to the government without warrants. It's worth noting that Qwest, which services telephones in the West and Northwest, resisted government advances to turn over their data. I don't know if that means most of the terrorist cells currently hiding within this country will now move to the West and Northwest, but at least that would get them out of the other parts of the country.

My favorite headline today is from the Scripps Howard News Service: "Conservatives Shocked [Shocked!] by NSA Phone Program."

It's getting late, or I'd look up the raft of editorials in both the conservative and liberal press denouncing this latest wrinkle in domestic surveillance. I may put together a list of links tomorrow (or better still, someone else will, and I'll link to it). I will note that, although it would've been put together before this latest revelation and so isn't related, Bush has finally dropped below 30% in the polls, as the latest Harris Poll clocks his job approval rating at 29%.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Comics as High Culture

There are a couple of comics events in museums around the country to catch if you can. A Chris Ware exhibition opened at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art over the weekend. Here's what they've got to say about it:

Not quite comic books, not quite graphic novels, Ware's work mines art history, popular culture, and personal experience, capturing a queasy sense of reality of modern life in a "retro" style distinctly his own.

There's also an interview with Ware (although he seems much more like the kind of guy you'd just call Chris) and (if you're a slacker with nothing to do in the middle of the day on a Tuesday in the early summer--or a big fan) a curated tour at noon on June 20. The exhibit is up through August, so take a look if you're in town.

If you happen to be in the nation's capital through the weekend (which lets me out--I'm not going until a week from today), check out Colleen Doran talking about manga at the Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian. It's in conjunction with an exhibit on 18th- and 19th-century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, who coined the term manga to mean "whimsical pictures." If you think you're not familiar with Hokusai's work, check this out and realize you're incorrect. Doran's got a couple of blog entries (here and here) about her experience so far.

Incisive Lead of the Day

From "Plan Would Provide Aid to Palestinians" by Glenn Kessler and Colum Lynch in today's Washington Post:

With the Palestinian economy collapsing, the United States yesterday tentatively agreed to consider supporting a vague international plan that would temporarily provide direct aid to critical areas but bypass the Hamas-led government (emphasis mine).

I'm glad the Bushies have been able to pin that down.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Republicans Sow Their Oats

Not surprisingly, seeing as how pretty much everybody had been predicting it since Saturday, the Prez chose General Michael Hayden as his nominee to head the CIA. What was unexpected (although hardly surprising once it happened) is that many of the Repubs (including Speaker Denny Hastert) were unhappy with the choice. Actually when you think about it, they may not really care much one way or the other. But when the Bush people just made their pick without consulting Congress (because, after all, he's the Prez--why should they have to ask anybody?) it provided an excellent opportunity for Repubs, who are seeking reelection in just six short months, to demonstrate some distance between themselves and that guy in the White House. Whether Hastert (who echoed my speculation from Saturday that this was a Negroponte power grab) and his crew are heartfelt in their opposition to Hayden or not doesn't really matter to his chances of skating through because the illusion of not being under the White House's thumb is more important than whatever the reality of it might be. Unfortunately, with the the Repubs jumping in to oppose him, the Democrats end up taking a back seat. This AP analysis is headlined "Both Sides Critical of Bush Pick" but doesn't quote--or even mention--a single active Democrat. (It does have a quote from retired Admiral Stansfield Turner, President Carter's CIA man, who, perhaps somewhat obviously, doesn't have a problem with a military man in the post.) The Dems pick up a lot of good will these days just by being the opposition party, but I don't think it's too helpful for them simply to be taking a backseat and observing the whole shebang.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Conspiring Minds Want to Know

It looks like I'm in an excerpting mood today. While I was rooting around over at donkey o.d., I couldn't help but stumble upon Paul Krugman's column from this morning (choose TimesSelect or not so select). He's opining about conspiracy theories:

[I]t would be an abuse of the English language to call the claim that the administration misled us into war a conspiracy theory.

A conspiracy theory, says Wikipedia, "attempts to explain the cause of an event as a secret, and often deceptive, plot by a covert alliance." Claims that global warming is a hoax and that the liberal media are suppressing the good news from Iraq meet that definition. In each case, to accept the claim you have to believe that people working for many different organizations — scientists at universities and research facilities around the world, reporters for dozens of different news organizations — are secretly coordinating their actions.

But the administration officials who told us that Saddam had an active nuclear program and insinuated that he was responsible for 9/11 weren't part of a covert alliance; they all worked for President Bush. The claim that these officials hyped the case for war isn't a conspiracy theory; it's simply an assertion that people in a position of power abused that position. And that assertion only seems wildly implausible if you take it as axiomatic that Mr. Bush and those around him wouldn't do such a thing.

. . .

[R]ight-wing pundits have consistently questioned the sanity of Bush critics; "It looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again," said Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post columnist, after Mr. Gore gave a perfectly sensible if hard-hitting speech. Even moderates have tended to dismiss the administration's harsh critics as victims of irrational Bush hatred.

But now those harsh critics have been vindicated. And it turns out that many of the administration supporters can't handle the truth. They won't admit that they built a personality cult around a man who has proved almost pathetically unequal to the job. Nor will they admit that opponents of the Iraq war, whom they called traitors for warning that invading Iraq was a mistake, have been proved right. So they have taken refuge in the belief that a vast conspiracy of America-haters in the media is hiding the good news from the public.

That makes me wonder: Could the subscription wall of TimesSelect itself be a conspiracy to keep such incendiary views to a lower profile? Hmmmm?

Richer Still

One good thing about my oversight last week is that we get a double shot of Frank Rich today. I was going to include Rich's column from yesterday in the same post as the one from last week, but as that post got longer, I was afraid that people might stop reading before they got to the second Rich column, and it's far too good to be overlooked. He writes about United 93, what it reminds us about the war on terror, and how it helps us recognize how much we've squandered in that war. To spread the love around, let's go look at this one on donkey o.d. I'd intended to excerpt just a few tidbits, but Rich's argument here is too strong and too important to gloss over, so I'm borrowing at more length than usual.

Whatever the movie's other failings, that message is clear and essential: the identity of the enemy. The film opens with the four hijackers praying to Allah and, in keeping with the cockpit voice recording played at the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, portrays them as prayerful right until they murder 40 innocent people. Such are the Islamic radicals who struck us on 9/11 and whose brethren have only multiplied since.

Yet how fleeting has been their fame. Thanks to the administration's deliberate post-9/11 decision to make the enemy who attacked us interchangeable with the secular fascists of Iraq who did not, the original war on terrorism has been diluted in its execution and robbed of its support from the American public. . . . When Americans think about war now, they don't think about the war prompted by what happened on 9/11 so much as the war in Iraq, and when they think about Iraq, they don't say, "Let's roll!," they say, "Let's leave!"

The administration's blurring of the distinction between Al Qaeda and Saddam threatens to throw out the baby that must survive, the war against Islamic terrorists, with the Iraqi quagmire. Last fall a Pew Research Center survey found that Iraq had driven isolationist sentiment in the United States to its post-Vietnam 1970's high. In a CBS News poll released last week, the percentage of Americans who name terrorism as the nation's "most important problem" fell to three. Every day we spend in Iraq erodes the war against those who attacked us on 9/11.

. . .

To add insult to this potential nuclear Armageddon, Afghanistan is falling back into the hands of religious fanatics; not even the country's American-backed president, Hamid Karzai, dared to publicly intervene in the trial of a man facing execution for converting from Islam to Christianity. "The Taliban and Al Qaeda are everywhere" is how a shopkeeper described the situation to the American commander in Afghanistan, The Times reported last week. These were the conditions that spawned the hijackers of "United 93" — all four of them trained in Qaeda camps in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. At this rate, we are in danger of marking the next anniversary of 9/11 with a reboot of the Afghanistan war we were supposed to have won more than four years ago.

Our level of denial about these setbacks is embedded not just in the White House, which blithely keeps telling us "we're winning" the war on terror, but also in the culture. The decision of most major networks and newspapers (including this one) to avoid showing the inflammatory Danish Muhammad cartoons attests less to our heightened religious sensitivities (we've all run reproductions of art Christians and Jews find blasphemous) than to our deep-seated fear of the terrorists' unimpeded power to strike back. The cheers that greet the long-awaited start of construction at ground zero are all the louder to drown out the unsettling truth that no major private tenant has bet on the Freedom Tower's security by signing a lease.

Rich comes in at just over 1,500 words here, and they're all good, so go read. But just in case you don't click through, I can't help but mention his positive comparison of United 93 to other 9/11 films:

And it isn't cheesy like the first fictional 9/11 movie, Showtime's "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis," in 2003. That dog, produced with White House cooperation and larded with twin-tower money shots, starred Timothy Bottoms as a derring-do President Bush given to pronouncements like "If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come get me!" It's amazing that it hasn't found an honored place beside "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" as a campy midnight perennial.

It can only be a matter of time.

Spring Is Richer Now

Since The New York Times pulled its subscription-only cone of silence down over its opinion writers, I have to admit that I haven't frequented its site as much as I once did. After Frank Rich went on leave to write his book, I'd check it out from time to time, but it no longer functioned as a regular stop on my Websurfing rounds. I knew Rich was coming back in the spring, so I'd been trying to check every Sunday since mid-March just in case. Unfortunately, I never quite made it over there last week, but when someone came by my site last night searching for frank rich peking duck, only to be followed a couple of hours later by someone else searching for donkey o.d., I knew the game was afoot. Sure enough, I went to the Times (feel free to go in the front door if you're a subscriber), and last week--the week I missed--saw Rich's triumphant return. The Peking Duck has it for your free reading pleasure. Here's just a hint:

Looking back at "Mission Accomplished" now is like playing that childhood game of "What's wrong with this picture?" It wasn't just the banner or the "Top Gun" joyride or the declaration of the end of "major combat operations" that was bogus. Everything was fake except the troops.

"We're helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built palaces for himself, instead of hospitals and schools," Mr. Bush said on that glorious day. Three years later we know, courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers, that our corrupt, Enron-like Iraq reconstruction effort has yielded at most 20 of those 142 promised hospitals. But we did build a palace for ourselves. The only building project on time and on budget, USA Today reported, is a $592 million embassy complex in the Green Zone on acreage the size of 80 football fields. Symbolically enough, it will have its own water-treatment plant and power generator to provide the basic services that we still have not restored to pre-invasion levels for the poor unwashed Iraqis beyond the American bunker.

. . .

Set against this reality, the debate about Donald Rumsfeld's future is as much of a sideshow as the installation of a slicker Fleischer-McClellan marketer in the White House press room. The defense secretary's catastrophic mistakes in Iraq cannot be undone now, and any successor would still be beholden to the policy set from above. Mr. Rumsfeld is merely a useful, even essential, scapegoat for the hawks in politics and punditland who are now embarrassed to have signed on to this fiasco. For conservative hawks, he's a convenient way to deflect blame from where it most belongs: with the commander in chief. For liberal hawks, attacking Mr. Rumsfeld for his poor execution of the war means never having to say you're sorry for leaping on (and abetting) the blatant propaganda bandwagon that took us there. But their history can't be rewritten any more than Mr. Bush's can: the war's failures were manifestly foretold by the administration's arrogance and haste during the run-up.

Check it out.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Yesterday's Comics Adventures

Here's a quick rundown on my anecdotal activities on Free Comic Book Day. Well, there's really not that much to talk about. My main complaint is that I couldn't find Free Scott Pilgrim, which was my main target for the day. I got lots of other good comics (I guess--I haven't read them yet, so I don't really know), but not that one. I did check out the new store in my neighborhood (which wasn't quite as close by as I thought, so I drove instead of walked). They've got an attractive store, and it's well laid out. Assuming that they'd have some new people coming in for the occasion, they had some refreshments set up, and they offered a handful of specials themselves (pretty much consisting of the last two issues of selected titles bundled and offered for two dollars off). I took advantage of that to try the new Blue Beetle series that I'd chosen not to buy at full price last month. There was a table of gamers in the corner (and it's a small place, so that probably took up 20-25% of the floor space), but they were relatively unobtrusive. The proprietors were friendly enough, but I did find it odd that they--with their punky haircuts and dye jobs--didn't bother to order ANY SCOTT PILGRIM!! The store itself seemed relatively mainstream, but from the looks of them (I know, I'm a book editor, so I'm well aware of the books and covers dichotomy), I would've expected personal preferences to have included a handful of alternatives. They had some free titles behind the counter (just because they hadn't put them on display--I didn't get the impression that they were actively trying to hide them), so they could've had the Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics offerings, but I forgot to ask specifically about those. Even so, they were very open to special ordering anything I might want, which I understand is a problem in some stores. (I can never understand why a retailer wouldn't want to sell you something, and although I haven't really run into that problem myself--probably because I rarely make special orders--I've heard enough stories to know it's an issue with some comics stores.) Still, I put myself on their mailing list, and although I don't know that I'll drop in terribly frequently, I wish them the best.

The second store I went to was farther away, and I lost a little bit of time driving around looking for it. Even with Mapquest directions, I took a couple of tries before I noticed it from the road and knew what parking lot to turn into. It's in a shopping center, but they've neglected to put their name on the shopping center sign. The store's name is on the wall above the front door, but it might be helpful to put it at the roadside, along with the names of every other store in the shopping center, for any drive-by traffic that might come along. As it doesn't seem to be a neighborhood terribly friendly to pedestrians, I'd guess most of their customers come by car. But as their Website advertised, they've got a fairly substantial stock of back issues. I didn't get into the store until about ten minutes before they were set to close, and it appeared that they were putting whatever Free Comic Book Day paraphernalia they'd had set up away. I was the only person in the store, and there were three staffers, who were in the midst of a conversation about why the cover of DC Comics Presents #16 (a twenty-seven-year-old book, by the way) is lame, so for obvious reasons I didn't want to interrupt them. (The first reason offered was that it was by Ross Andru. Hey, I like Ross Andru! I won't argue that this was his finest hour, but his mere presence doesn't make the cover lame.) I'm not a high-maintenance shopper, and I don't need a lot of attention (in fact, I mostly prefer to do without it), but it doesn't seem too much to ask for some acknowledgment that I've entered your store. But with supers in the windows and on the walls, this didn't seem a likely Scott Pilgrim venue. Earlier I mentioned that I went in about ten minutes before they were going to close, and now I left with about five minutes to go, with ne'er a word uttered by or to me. I'll admit, though, that their back-issue stock was impressive, so the next time I'm looking to fill in some holes, I'll probably be back on their doorstep (although only after I've exhausted all my other local options).

My last comics stop was my normal store, Chicago Comics. It was late in the day, so Scott Pilgrim had already taken his leave from there, too, but I was able to get the offerings from Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics. Scott will turn up one day, I'm sure. The way Free Comic Book Day has gone in years past is that the companies print more than they can give away, so the extra copies show up as party favors at various events throughout the rest of the year. I'm not sure whether or not Oni will have a presence at BookExpo in a couple of weeks, but if they do, there will likely be plenty of Free Scott Pilgrim to be had.

Oh, and if you were interested in the offer from TwoMorrows Publishing that I mentioned here, it's still good through today. It must've been more successful than they'd expected and caused problems with their server yesterday, so they're extending it to give everybody a chance. These are good magazines about comics given away absolutely free, so if you're at all curious, it's worth a look.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

CYA CIA Update

I keep meaning to put together a post about all the weird stuff going on at the CIA, but then something new always happens, so it just gets weirder. The latest, of course, is CIA Director Porter Goss's resignation. Speculation about the reasons for his departure was answered fairly quickly by a front-page story in this morning's Washington Post. "Senior administration officials" pretty much blamed Goss's own ineffectiveness as the reason he's no longer there. That would be a reasonable excuse under normal circumstances, I suppose, but the Goss appointment was pegged as more Bush cronyism from the very beginning. He wasn't put into the post because he was expected to be effective, so why should he be drummed out just because he wasn't? How many ineffective people has the Prez kept in their positions regardless of their performance? There's Donald Rumsfeld and Michael Chertoff, for starters. If the administration is going to start firing people for cause, maybe Karl Rove should start getting that resume ready. I don't see that happening, though, so it seems something else is going on here. Maybe it's just nothing more than a power grab by Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.

It'll be interesting to watch in the coming weeks as the Senate holds confirmation hearings for whoever will replace Goss. They should offer a forum to examine the various covert programs currently in place, even if the domestic spying has been operating from the NSA rather than the CIA. That same Post article suggests that the frontrunner for the position is General Michael V. Hayden, who not so long ago ran the NSA, so the questioning could potentially be just that much more pointed. Of course, this is the same Senate that had a chance to put some tough questions to Sam Alito before granting him lifetime tenure on the Supreme Court but saw fit to preen for the cameras and bloviate instead. Maybe Senate confirmation hearings won't be quite so interesting, after all.

More Free Comics Stuff

I knew I was going to forget something when I wrote my earlier post on Free Comic Book Day. Although the original point of the event was to promote bricks and mortar comics retailing, TwoMorrows Publishing is using the occasion to promote its line of magazines about comics. If you go to their Website on Saturday, you can order at absolutely no charge one in-stock issue of Alter Ego, Back Issue!, Draw!, or Write Now! (Yes, that's right, three of the four magazine titles have an exclamation point.) The Website link will take you to the page with the free offer, and the link on each magazine title will take you to the online catalogue listing for the magazine so you can see which issue you might want to order. I've got a number of these magazines already, so I'll have to look around to make sure I don't order something that's already here in my office somewhere. Happy reading!

Friday, May 05, 2006

If It's Funny It's Funny (Unless It's Not)

Okay, the last thing anybody needs is me writing some more about Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. This has been talked to death, and if we needed more, Dan Froomkin had a very nice wrap up of the coverage in yesterday's Washington Post. His summation before he gets to the quotes and links is about the best I've seen:

It's worth looking at where Colbert was coming from. His show, of course, is a spin-off from Jon Stewart's Daily Show on Comedy Central. Both Colbert and Stewart have risen to superstar status largely by calling (how can I put it here?) baloney on the Bush administration -- and on the press corps that transmits said baloney without the appropriate skepticism or irony.

Their very subversive message, at its core: That this Bush guy is basically a joke. And that the mainstream press is a joke, because it takes Bush at his word.

It's true that Colbert and Stewart have a lot of fans within the press corps who appreciate and maybe even envy their freedom to call it like they see it.

But I think that message was just too much for the self-satisfied upper crust of the media elite to handle when Colbert threw it right in their faces on Saturday night.

Here they were, holding a swanky party for themselves, and Colbert was essentially telling them that they've completely screwed up their number one job these past six years. Is it any surprise they were defensive?

He notes, as anybody keeping track of the coverage would know, that the mainstream media first ignored Colbert and then decided, well, he hadn't really been very funny, anyway. My favorite in the "he wasn't funny" sweepstakes was the first piece I saw on it, Howie Kurtz's Tuesday column. He notes that liberals seemed to find the routine funny and conservatives didn't--except for liberal Noam Scheiber, a self-identified Colbert fan who didn't find it funny, making him the only honest man in town, apparently--so whether it's funny or not all boils down to your political position. That, of course, is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard. Even if it were possible, it falls apart as soon as we realize the liberal media wasn't laughing. (Of course, now that I think about it, there could be a whole other explanation for that disconnect.)

While I can understand that one's political position might leave one more or less inclined to laugh at Colbert's routine, I've always thought that stand-up comics live by a sort of variation on the FOX News slogan: "We tell jokes. You decide." You'll either find something funny or not. We can't get consensus as to the objective humor of Colbert's monologue. All we can do is watch it. Some of us will laugh, and some of us won't. There's not much more to it than that.

Free Comic Book Day!

Oh, no. Not to say that I ever had one, but I'm losing my touch. Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day, but as I got ready to start this post, I thought I'd take a look at what I might've written about it last year. What I found is pretty much the same opening I was intending to write today. Can I possibly be that predictable? Maybe so. To look at the silver lining in that, though, it makes it easier for someone to successfully come in and ape my blogging style if I ever want to take some time off.

But be that as it may, tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day, so if you've been waiting for an excuse to pick up some free comic books, your opportunity has finally arrived. Some of the comics companies have some intriguing free books to lure you into the stores this year, and you can find a list and descriptions of them at the Free Comic Book Day Website. You can also find a store locator there, so if you're not sure where your closest comic book store is, you can plug in your zip code (or postal code for Canadian readers) and find out. This isn't a North Americacentric exercise, though, so international readers can find out about their options here.

When you go to your friendly (well, let's hope so) neighborhood comic book store, of course you should pick up any of the free comic books that might interest you--without having seen any of the actual issues themselves, I'd casually recommend Scott Pilgrim from Oni Press, The Simpsons from Bongo Comics, Donald Duck from Gemstone, Owly from Top Shelf, and the Fantagraphics Funny Book. I'm not actually familiar with Mr. Jean, but Drawn & Quarterly is always reliable for (sometimes quirky) quality work. Amelia Rules from Renaissance usually gets good reviews, but I haven't actually picked it up myself. If you like the supers, Marvel and DC have some offerings you may have heard of, X-Men teamed with Runaways, Justice League Unlimited, and Superman/Batman, while Dark Horse offers its licensed Conan and Star Wars flip book. There will be a lot to choose from this year, and the best of it has new content.

There's apparently a new comic book store in my neighborhood, so I may walk over there to see what it's like. Just out of curiosity, I checked out the store locator on the Free Comic Book Day page and found another store that's not particularly close but that I'd somehow missed before. They claim to have a huge supply of back issues, so it's probably worth driving over to take a look. Actually, although they say they've been in business for almost 20 years, I wonder if they've moved in the last two or three. Their location is in the same area as an address I had for a comics store that I couldn't find a year or two ago, and I wonder if this is the same store at a different location. Who knows? If I go over, maybe I'll ask how long they've been in their current digs.

But just so you don't miss it and have to be stuck wishing you'd taken advantage of this for another whole year, go out, find a store if you don't already know where one is, pick up a handful of free comic books you think you'll like (and maybe buy one or two while you're at it), and enjoy Free Comic Day just like those original celebrants way back in 2002.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Hitting the Links

For some reason, I've found that posting to this blog is like pulling teeth for me this week. Is it because the weather is unquestionably warm and beautiful, finally? Is it becasue of various other distractions--some larger and some trivial--I've been encountering lately? Nothing in and of itself seems large enough to offer an explanation, but maybe it's just a combination of everything adding up at once. Whatever the cause, I'm just not able to focus on this for the time being.

Be that as it may, I've made a promise that I'll get at least one post up for every calendar day, so here's an entry for Thursday. There have been a couple of stories that have gotten my attention lately, and quite frankly, I can't really understand why we're hearing about anything else.

On Sunday, Glenn Greenwald noted a Boston Globe opinion piece about the Prez's consistent positioning of himself above the law:

President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, "whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to "execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.

Greenwald adds his own insight, as well, so be sure to click on both links.

Although it's been suggested before, there's new attention being focused on what exactly Valerie Plame (or, as Stephen Colbert would correct, "Joseph Wilson's wife") was working on at the CIA when her cover was blown. Raw Story had this story back in February, but that site noticed this week that David Shuster reported the same information to Chris Matthews on Hardball:

Intelligence sources say Valerie Wilson was part of an operation three years ago tracking the proliferation of nuclear weapons material into Iran. And the sources allege that when Mrs. Wilson's cover was blown, the administration's ability to track Iran's nuclear ambitions was damaged as well.

Crooks and Liars has the video. After the report, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg called for the CIA to provide a public assessment of the damage done when Valerie Plame's cover was blown and whatever assignment she was working on was compromised. Maybe it's just me, since I haven't seen this covered in the mainstream press (of course, I could just have been distracted), but doesn't it seem that it might be kind of handy just about now to be able to draw on some good intelligence about the Iranian nuclear program?