Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: June 2006

Friday, June 30, 2006

Traffic Jams

This week saw historic deluges of rain on the East Coast. The flooding caused loss of life and tremendous damage. In fact, on the weekend of the nation's 230th birthday, the National Archives, home of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and a raft of other significant national documents, is closed for flooding, as is the National Gallery. Twenty feet of water rose in the basement of the IRS, closing the building for a month (to which, apparently, the nation is collectively shrugging its shoulders).

But before the memory of this latest disaster begins to fade, it's worth noting an editorial that appeared in yesterday's Washington Post. Examining the way the city reacted to the storms, the writer had to wonder, "If rain can paralyze movement in downtown Washington, are we ready for a terrorist attack?" We're coming up to five years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and even the experts have no idea what would happen if there's ever another attack.

Unpowered traffic signals on Independence and Constitution avenues made for interminable waits to get out of the city center -- and that was with a normal load of commuters trying to get home. Now imagine everyone in the District frantically trying to get out at the same time. Washington area emergency officials claim that if the city ordered an evacuation, it could extend green lights and put more intersection control officers on the street to promote traffic flow out of the center. Yet they also admit that, beyond models and a trial test after last year's Fourth of July celebrations, they don't know how effective these techniques would be.

That's very heartening. The editorial does give us just a little bit of hope, though.

Homeland security gurus counter that the chances of a citywide general evacuation are small. More likely are phased evacuations or public notices telling residents to stay put.

Now that's a good answer. Maybe a paraphrase would be better: "No one could foresee that we'd have to evacuate the entire city." We've never heard an excuse like that before.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Supreme Court Curbs the Prez

The big news today has to be the Supreme Court ruling that the military commissions intended to try the Guantanamo detainees do not pass legal muster. Here's how The Washington Post described the decision:

Brushing aside administration pleas not to second-guess the commander in chief during wartime, a five-justice majority ruled that the commissions, which were outlined by Bush in a military order on Nov. 13, 2001, were neither authorized by federal law nor required by military necessity, and ran afoul of the Geneva Conventions.

But the implications for the decision go far beyond that. I'm not exactly a legal scholar, so I'll defer to the more informed minds at SCOTUSblog. They have a number of posts from various people on the subject, but here's Marty Lederman (emphasis all his):

I have not yet read the complete opinions, but from what I've seen of not only the Stevens majority, but also the Kennedy and Breyer concurrences (see Orin Kerr with the relevant AMK and SGB excerpts here), it is hard to overstate the principal, powerfully stated themes emanating from the Court, which are (i) that the President's conduct is subject to the limitations of statute and treaty; and (ii) that Congress's enactments are best construed to require compliance with the international laws of armed conflict.

Even more importantly for present purposes, the Court held that Common Article 3 of Geneva aplies as a matter of treaty obligation to the conflict against Al Qaeda. That is the HUGE part of today's ruling. The commissions are the least of it.

As usual, Glenn Greenwald is also on the case. He provides an extremely detailed post that hits on the significant and is well worth your time, but here's the short version:

The Court dealt several substantial blows to the administration's theories of executive power beyond the military commission context. And, at the very least, the Court severely weakened, if not outright precluded, the administration's legal defenses with regard to its violations of FISA.

This is all good news, but there's one reason to be wary about the whole thing. The Court decision was 5-3 (Roberts had previously supported the administration position in a lower court, so he recused himself), and the opinion was written by John Paul Stevens. At 86, Stevens is the oldest member of the Court, and you always have to wonder the state of his health. Ann Coulter famously "joked" that he should be murdered, but that suggestion just reminds us of how tenuous his position--and that of a potential moderate majority--is.

The Bottom Drops Out of Top of the Pops

Even though we don't see it in the States, the BBC's Top of the Pops has a certain cache among musicians and music lovers here and around the world. It's the UK's music chart show, and it tells Britons young and old which groups or performers had the hits. I've only seen it twice, I think. Once was in 1977 when the Sex Pistols had one of the largest-selling singles with "God Save the Queen," but since they were banned by the Beeb (and banned from the charts no matter how many they sold), they didn't make the show. The top single was Abba's "Knowing Me, Knowing You" (although they just appeared by video), and the show also featured a singer named Elkie Brooks--whom I heard of for the first time and have heard very little of since--and Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran's Eurovision-bound "Rock Bottom" (also on video). I saw just a brief clip of it again when I was in London in 1982. I was staying at a bed and breakfast run by a Middle Eastern family, who were all watching it together. I saw just enough to recognize Fun Boy Three performing "Summertime."

But enough of my lame reminiscences. Soon there will be no more chance to mint new memories of the show because the BBC has cancelled it. The last episode will air at the end of next month. The TOTP Website has its own announcement. The BBC is saying ratings are down, so what can you do? Of course, the BBC can do lots of things because they're a state agency and not a commercial venue. Oh, well. From what little I know about the show, it's certainly got a high cheese factor, but it did give a certain visibility to pop music that went beyond a given band's (or even a style or genre's) fanbase.

And there's still time for a little bit if drama left. Art Brut has made no secret of their desire to be on the show. Their first single, "Formed a Band," mentions it, and so does its b-side, "Bad Weekend." With only a month to go, someone's set up a petition to that effect. As of this writing, there are more than 4250 (virtual) signatures. Sure, it might make more sense for all those people to go out and buy Art Brut CDs in order to get them into the charts, it's far less expensive to do it this way. I rarely sign anything on line, but I added my name to this cause. Filter Magazine claim that they've signed it--twice! Why don't you go and add your name. Even if Art Brut aren't able to realize this dream, you'll feel good about getting involved.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Senate Net Neutrality Vote Imminent [UPDATED]

The Senate Commerce Committee has been marking up the Net Neutrality bill, and a vote may come as early as this afternoon. (Here's what I had to say about it last week.) Save the has an updated list of Commerce Committee members who are against Net Neutrality or are undecided on the issue. If either of your senators is on this list, please give them a call this afternoon to urge them to support Net Neutrality.

In other updates, Matt Stoller pointed out yesterday that Ted Stevens, chairman of the Commerce Committee, doesn't believe he has the votes to pass his bill when it comes up in the full Senate, so now is the time to pull out all the stops for Net Neutrality. (Just so this doesn't get too confusing, keep in mind that the Stevens bill undermines Net Neutrality. We're for Net Neutrality and against the bill.)

And for another explanation of how the telecoms want to change the way we interact with the Internet, check out this post from Save the It's describes a debate from a couple of weeks ago between Paul Misener of and Mike McCurry, who's lately been spokesman for the telecom companies. This got a fair amount of blog coverage last week, but I don't think I ever talked about it myself. Misener provides an easy-to-understand explanation about how life on the Internet will change if the telecom companies get their way, and McCurry offers little beyond bluster to defend their position. It's a complicated issue with lots of confusion sowed by the telecoms, so if you'd like a little more clarification, here's your chance.

UPDATE--The vote on the Snowe-Dorgan Net Neutrality amendment was an 11-11 tie, so it wasn't added to the Stevens bill in committee. The whole thing rolls over onto the Senate floor without Net Neutrality provisions. This is bad news, but the silver lining is that just one more vote would've won the day. A little while ago, this was an obscure issue on which hardly anyone had an opinion. Momentum is certainly on the side of Net Neutrality. Save the has more.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Why Did the Governor Cross the Road?

This is hilarious. I was checking back with to get an update on its availability in state computer (it's still banned), but I noticed a different story Mark Nickolas had found about disgraced (and as Nickolas points out, indicted) Governor Ernie Fletcher.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher finishes a day at the office, but instead of walking through the idyllic scene across the street to the Governor's Mansion, he gets into a Lincoln Town Car to be chauffeured to his door.

Well, it's fair enough so far. I live about seven miles from my job, and I drive to work, so why should Fletcher not have the same option?

In Kentucky, the lawns of the Capitol and the mansion are separated by only a narrow tree-shaded street, but Fletcher routinely rides to and from his office. Meanwhile, his administration is encouraging Kentuckians to walk more as part of a statewide fitness initiative.

Oh, that's why.

Meanwhile, the Fletcher administration has begun running radio announcements across the state, calling on residents to walk or bike more. In his state of the commonwealth address earlier this year, Fletcher announced the kickoff of a fitness program to help combat obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

However, Scorsone, the state senator and marathoner, said the governor's commuting habits may speak louder than his words.

"He has an opportunity to really set a good example for good health, and he's not doing it," Scorsone said. "If anything, he's setting a bad example."

. . .

Lee Jackson, president of the Kentucky Association of State Employees, said driving the short distance to work sends the wrong message to state employees who have longer walks from their parking spaces to their offices.

Yesterday morning, Nickolas linked to a Think Progress post that includes an overhead shot of the drive Fletcher takes to and from the Capitol. Click to get the full picture and note the distance to the Capitol parking lot, too.

So why did the governor cross the road? To give the chauffeur something to do.

Monday, June 26, 2006

How Far Is It from CBGB's to Broadway?

Well, we don't know yet, but the Ramones might just find out. Now that three of the original Ramones have withdrawn from this mortal coil (when were they part of that collective?), the band is safely ensconced in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, and they provide the soundtrack to an unconscionable number of TV commercials, they've been deemed worthy of mainstream acceptance. So what's to follow except for a stage musical? Yes, after triumphs in both Perth and Berlin (what ever happened to tryouts in New Haven?) Gabba Gabba Hey!, the Ramones musical, opens in London at the end of next month. Impresario Michael Hermann, who wrote and is directing and producing, calls the show "a timely antidote to the recent spate of bloated, over-produced back catalogue shows that are about as rock 'n' roll as kitty litter!" He's got a point. Regardless of its other charms, musical theater is not exactly cutting edge rock'n'roll. So why should we expect this one will be? Is Gabba Gabba Hey! going to change the way we go to musicals? Is it going to break ground that musicals based on the music of Squeeze, the Who, Queen, Billy Joel, Abba, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Elvis, and Culture Club (OK, who am I forgetting?)could not? Will the cast get drunk and forget the words to the songs? Will the playlist change nightly? Will they drop in a few unexpected covers? A stage musical is a stage musical. Regardless of its qualities as a piece of theater, how is this going to change our expectations more than any other show?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

What's a Little Inefficiency Between Cronies Friends?

Another very busy day with less blogging than I intended. But one good thing about Sundays is that there's a new Frank Rich essay in The New York Times. He's writing about privatization and the winning ways it has had with the Bush administration:

[Former lobbyist David Safavian] arrived to help enforce a Bush management initiative called "competitive sourcing." Simply put, this was a plan to outsource as much of government as possible by forcing federal agencies to compete with private contractors and their K Street lobbyists for huge and lucrative assignments. The initiative's objective, as the C.E.O. administration officially put it, was to deliver "high-quality services to our citizens at the lowest cost."

The result was low-quality services at high cost: the creation of a shadow government of private companies rife with both incompetence and corruption. Last week Representative Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who commissioned the first comprehensive study of Bush administration contracting, revealed that the federal procurement spending supervised for a time by Mr. Safavian had increased by $175 billion between 2000 and 2005. (Halliburton contracts alone, unsurprisingly, went up more than 600 percent.) Nearly 40 cents of every dollar in federal discretionary spending now goes to private companies.

. . .

But the Bush brand of competitive sourcing, with its get-rich-quick schemes and do-little jobs for administration pals, spread like a cancer throughout the executive branch. It explains why tens of thousands of displaced victims of Katrina are still living in trailer shantytowns all these months later. It explains why New York City and Washington just lost 40 percent of their counterterrorism funds. It helps explain why American troops are more likely to be slaughtered than greeted with flowers more than three years after the American invasion of Iraq.

In terms of privatization, we haven't even sold out to the highest bidder. Contracts to Halliburton and others have had no bids at all. We've farmed out our government, and we don't even know if we got a good price for it.

Last week, it seemed like very few other bloggers were picking Frank Rich's column up, but this week, potential links to the full column are coming out our ears. I'm linking through a new source, Wealthy Frenchman (I like to spread my links around when I can).

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Strange Visitor from Another Country

We spent most of the day today visiting with a friend from Toronto, so I haven't had a chance to sit down at the blog until now. Just a little time until the day turns to Sunday, so in honor of my Canadian friend and the new Superman movie opening next weekend, I'll just borrow a link The Beat had yesterday.

In an attempt to bring Canadian heritage to life, Historica, a Canadian agency devoted to the subject, has developed a series of video spots highlighting significant Canadian people or events. This one features Joe Shuster, artist and co-creator of Superman. The historical accuracy leaves something to be desired, but it's effective in reminding us that even though he lived in Cleveland when he and Jerry Siegel created their iconic character, he was Canadian, so Superman is a legitimate part of Canadian heritage. I've heard the argument that since Shuster had moved to the United States and Siegel was an American, Superman is an American creation. By that same logic, James Baldwin was a French author, Stanley Kubrick was a British filmmaker, and Old Man and the Sea is a Cuban novel.

On the same page as the video is a short essay citing Mordecai Richler's argument for how Superman embodies the Canadian character.

According to the novelist Mordecai Richler, Shuster's Superman is a perfect expression of the Canadian psyche. The mighty "man of steel" hides his extraordinary strength, speed, and superhuman powers under the bland, self-effacing guise of the weak and clumsy Clark Kent. He is a hero who does not take any credit for his own heroism, a glamorous figure in cape and tights who is content to live his daily life in horn-rimmed glasses and brown suits.

Richler wryly suggests that Superman, with his modest alter-ego, is the archetypal Canadian personality who became a "universal hero," famed throughout the world as the champion of everything virtuous.

Another interesting factoid about Joe Shuster that the spot alludes to is that he was the cousin of Frank Shuster, half of the popular Canadian comedy team Wayne and Shuster. I wonder if Wayne and Shuster ever performed a Superman sketch.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Bluegrass Censorship

I probably should've already mentioned this, since I've been watching it at a distance. It seems like one of those stories that should come and go quickly, so when I wasn't on it immediately, I figured that it would disappear soon, but apparently I was wrong.

Our Kentucky readers may already be aware of this, but the Commonwealth of Kentucky (under the current proprietorship of disgraced but not yet impeached or resigned Governor Ernie Fletcher) has entered the world of Internet censorship. started getting messages from state workers on Wednesday morning that its site was being blocked from state computers, and needless to say, site runner Mark Nickolas got right on the case. He started off low key after receiving "a handful of e-mails" about the situation. I presume that's because censorship is a big deal, and surely the state government couldn't be serious about making a concerted effort to block information. Probably just some overzealous intern or something, which would be corrected. But as he looked into the situation, it just got bigger and bigger (his initial post ended up with twenty-two updates). Conservative sites were still accessible, but his site--which has been extremely critical of Fletcher--was not. As the day progressed, other sites began to take notice, and the state of Kentucky banned those, as well. Talking Points Memo, Wonkette, and Atrios--they all fell victim to the censor's blockade.

Kentucky papers picked this up quickly, and by the end of the day, so had the AP. The Situation Room on CNN mentioned the story yesterday afternoon. The Fletcher administration claimed that it was just adding blogs to other blocked sites that waste employees' time, such as "pornography, lingerie, computer games, hate sites, illegal activity sites, chat rooms," but Nickolas provided a list of Conservative blogs and sites that were freely accessible. This morning, The New York Times weighed in, as well. The title of Nickolas's most recent post, written just a couple of hours ago, summarizes new developments and expresses his disbelief over the entire situation: "You're Kidding, Right? Are These The Stupidest Politicians Ever To Roam The Bluegrass State? -- Fletcher Reverses Course And Allows Conservative Bluegrass Institute's Political Blog To Be Reinstated. Still Banned!"

What should have been a quick little story, a disruption that should've been rapidly corrected by the Fletcher administration with a short apology and a hope that it would be immediately forgotten, has grown legs and seems to be settling in for a long stay. Maybe it's checking out rentals in the Frankfort area. Keep checking for updates, which seem all but inevitable.

Alison Bechdel's Fun Home

I'm cribbing a couple of kinks from Tom Spurgeon's Comics Reporter. It appears that Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is the buzz book of the summer. You may remember Bechdel from such comic strips as Dykes to Watch Out For. I picked Fun Home up at BEA last month, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. I guess I'd better before the hype raises my expectations too high.

What kind of hype am I talking about? Well for one, Fun Home led off the first ever graphic novel round up from The Globe and Mail. Nathalie Atkinson calls it "this season's 'it' book" and compares it favorably to Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis from a couple of years ago, noting that Fun Home "is in fact more complex and nuanced, emotionally, narratively and artistically." Atkinson in fact runs through twelve other graphic novels by creators such as Julie Doucet, Lewis Trondheim, Rick Geary, and Hope Larson before ending with Seven Soldiers of Victory. Even with the nod to Grant Morrison, though, she closes with, "Although, with graphic novel sections bursting with such a selection of strong non-traditional comic offerings this summer, you'll be lucky to get to a superhero title by Labour Day."

But back to Alison Bechdel and her press, we have to take note of the review she received last weekend in The New York Times Book Review. Here's Sean Wilsey's opening:

If the theoretical value of a picture is still holding steady at a thousand words, then Alison Bechdel's slim yet Proustian graphic memoir, "Fun Home," must be the most ingeniously compact, hyper-verbose example of autobiography to have been produced. It is a pioneering work, pushing two genres (comics and memoir) in multiple new directions, with panels that combine the detail and technical proficiency of R. Crumb with a seriousness, emotional complexity and innovation completely its own.

And then he starts to gush. I sure hope Bechdel is using "slim yet Proustian" somewhere in her publicity. Run out and pick up a copy before everybody you know has already read it and you have to play catch up.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Net Neutrality in the Senate

The Senate is looking into Net Neutrality today. The Senate Commerce Committee will be meeting shortly to markup the Stevens bill, which updates the Communication Act of 1934 (and they'll probably vote on it next week). Net neutrality is just one aspect of this bill, but it's the part that can potentially change the Internet as we know it. Christy at firedoglake has contact info for anti-net neutrality and wavering senators.

As usual, Matt Stoller has some good information at MyDD. He quotes Internet copyright (and oh, so much more) guru Lawrence Lessig on how much we should trust the telecom companies, who are basically lying to us about their intentions and their possible effects on the Internet. It amazes me that as they recognized the power grab at their disposal, they've completely turned their backs on the beloved free markets. The telecom argument, as I understand it, is that the Internet will get clogged with too many users but no one will pay to improve it, so it will all become less efficient. Essentially, the market will demand change, but the telecoms will fold their arms and stomp their feet at the market and refuse because it will cost them money. They'll defy the market, and they seem to believe that they'll come out winners for doing so.

I'm hardly a world-class economist (in fact, I'm not any class of economist), but this is completely contrary to any information I've ever seen about market forces. If the Internet market demands change, and the telecoms refuse to provide that change, the market will find another way and change without them. That's why the telecoms are trying to write into law provisions that will force themselves on the market and won't allow it to change without them--that will, instead, alter the market to obey their whims. Well, guess what--markets don't operate that way. Sure, the telecoms may have the brute force to push their changes through, and they may do every bad thing supporters of net neutrality fear. But that just means the market will shift around them. We forget in this country that we're part of a world market, and I fear this legislation will undermine future innovations coming from the United States. If this passes, we may find ourselves locked into a moribund Internet that emulates the price and content structures of cable TV while the rest of the world progresses without us. My best case scenario is that we'll all come up with work-arounds (such as municipal wireless, even if we should be wary that it doesn't get overhyped) and the telecoms will ultimately become irrelevant. Worst case would be that we're stuck with whatever system the telecoms devise to separate the elite from the rabble, and that would make the U.S. Internet much less user friendly and force us to lag behind the rest of the world in content and tech innovation.

Getting back to Stoller's post (here's the link again), he quotes SBC (now renamed AT&T) investor info from 2002 about how upgrading their infrastructure--the very act they now fear will be too expensive--will actually more than pay for itself in improved efficiency. No wonder they want to start charging for their pipes--they can save money on their own operating expenses and increase their revenues at the same time. It's win-win (unless you're a consumer).

Call the senators on Commerce Committee. And for further information, there's always Save the

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Bunch of Suckers

For the past few weeks or a month, I've had Public Enemy's "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" floating around in my brain (though it's the Tricky cover with Martine's languid, understated vocals that I've actually been hearing).

"I got a letter from the government the other day. I opened and read it, it said they were suckers."

Except in my version, it goes, "It said we were suckers," because that's how it feels these days. The government's been playing us for suckers, certain that we won't complain unduly about how everything's falling apart (cf. Iraq, New Orleans, oil prices, prescription drug bills, indicted and convicted administration officials, etc., etc., if you're in a mood to argue). And they've been right. We're also suckers to pin our hopes on the Democrats who, even with the Prez's historic poll numbers, still can't come up with a clear alternative--and is anybody sanguine yet about Dem prospects in the fall elections? And we're suckers when it comes to the press, too. How do we stand for their fawning over and hero-worship of this president. If Congress won't practice oversight and hold him accountable, you'd think the press might make some sort of effort, which makes them suckers for the Bush "charm" themselves.

At least on that last point I've got a little bit of company. As reported by Media Matters, Washington Post media critic/CNN media star Howie Kurtz (he comments on other reporters' and TV host's conflicts of interest and such) was hosting Gloria Borger of U.S. News & World Report and CBS News on his CNN show, Reliable Sources on Sunday.

KURTZ: Gloria Borger, are journalists suckers for this kind of secret trip to Baghdad stuff? I mean, Bush was there less than six hours but got an avalanche of mostly positive coverage.

BORGER: I think we are suckers. Particularly if you're the one who gets to go on the pool, Howie, and gets to travel with the president on a secret trip to Baghdad. We do like these secret trips.

Believe it or not, we kind of like to be surprised, but I think if you're a bureau chief in Washington, you may be asking, "Gee, why didn't we have more information?" And when you ask that question, the answer you always get from the White House is, "Because this has to be shrouded in secrecy because this is a matter of presidential security. So we can't tell you more about this in advance." So you know you're being used, but in a way you kind of like it because it's good pictures.

It's not exactly a surprise that the media have been long-time marks of this administration, but it is nice from time to time to realize that at least a few of them are aware of that fact.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Ongoing Tragedy in Iraq

I don't know if it's just me, but the kidnapping and brutal murders of the two kidnapped soldiers brings the horror and brutality of war home far more graphically than hearing the numbers of casualties every few days. Certainly I understand the gravity of the death and injury in Iraq we hear about regularly, but the idea of kidnapping and torture affects me more viscerally.

Will others have a similar reaction? Will this tragedy make us realize the enormous futility of the war effort and the emptiness of the vacuum where our leadership should be? Certainly the tone deaf response of Tony Snow can't help matters--complaining to his former network that the media was focusing on the missing soldiers rather than the "good news" of Zarqawi's death. (And this was on top of his dismissal of overtaking the 2,500 barrier of soldiers killed in Iraq with, "It's a number, and every time there's one of these 500 benchmarks people want something.") And how many will notice today's "sense of the Senate" motion to oppose the Iraqi government's intention to pardon some insurgents who attacked U.S. soldiers that received nineteen Republican votes against it? What could they have been thinking--and what was Mr. Straight Talk John McCain doing among them? (The linked article offers the argument that the resolution "undermined the sovereignty of the new Iraqi government"--no, we wouldn't want the protection of American soldiers' lives stand in the way of that.)

I feel like my prose is flailing at the at the situation from frustration. For an extremely moving (if still angry) response to these two murders and the overall neglect the U.S. military in Iraq faces from its own leadership, check out Christy's post this morning at firedoglake. (But if you don't want to do that, at least read this infuriating article from Sunday's Washington Post magazine she links to that details some of the unconscionable neglect soldiers must face.)

Whatever Happened to the Karl Rove Indictment Watch?

It seems ages ago by now, but it's barely a week since Robert Luskin, attorney for Karl Rove, announced that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had told him that Rove would likely not be indicted. Before that, as I mentioned last month, speculation had been running high that such an indictment was imminent. Jason Leopold at even went so far as to report that Rove had already been indicted. Although I was optimistic, I was skeptical of the details Leopold provided and suggested that we should treat it as nothing more than a rumor until we heard further confirmation.

So now, with Luskin's pronouncement, Leopold's story has been found wanting and he's withdrawn it and skulked away with his tail between his legs, right? Well, maybe not. Leopold's immediate response to the announcement was to stand by his own story. Tim Grieve at Salon described Leopold's appearance on Ed Shultz's radio show the day after the story broke.

Leopold acknowledged that he's "having to juggle many different things now," but he said repeatedly that he stands by the story he wrote: "Until I hear from Patrick Fitzgerald, until Patrick Fitzgerald actually makes a statement and says, 'This is, in fact, exactly what's going on,' I'm not going to budge from my position in terms of what was reported."

A couple of days later, Truthout publisher Marc Ash did back away from the story ("Obviously there is a major contradiction between our version of the story and what was reported yesterday. As such, we are going to stand down on the Rove matter at this time. We defer instead to the nation's leading publications.") But he also promised "a more comprehensive accounting" on Monday.

Well, Monday arrived. In the meantime, The Washington Post published a piece by a reporter from The Sunday Times who claims Leopold impersonated him when he talked with Rove's representatives, further undermining Leopold's credibility. With all this coming their way, you might expect Ash and Truthout to have repudiated Leopold and his story altogether. Just the opposite.

[A]s we press our investigation we find indicators that more of our key facts are correct, not less.

. . .

Yes, it does appear that Truthout was used, but not lied to or misled. The facts appear to have been accurate. We reported them, and in so doing, apparently became an instrument. From all indications, our reports, first on May 13 that Rove had been indicted, and then on June 12 when we published case number "06 cr 128" [a sealed case that Leopold seems to believe contains the Rove indictment], forced Rove and Luskin back to the table with Fitzgerald, not once but twice. They apparently sought to avoid public disclosure and were prepared to do what they had to do to avoid it.

The electronic communication from Fitzgerald to Luskin, coming immediately on the heels of our Monday morning, June 12 article "Sealed vs. Sealed" that became the basis for the mainstream media's de facto exoneration of Karl Rove was, our sources told us, negotiated quickly over the phone later that afternoon. Luskin contacted Fitzgerald, reportedly providing concessions that Fitzgerald considered to be of high value, and Fitzgerald reportedly reciprocated with the political cover Rove wanted in the form of a letter that was faxed to Luskin's office.

Some people have written off Leopold and his story, and with what limited information we have, it does appear to be completely at odds Luskin's claim that Rove is off the hook. Yet, when Truthout tried to followup with Fitzgerald's office to get details on any of this, they're met with a studious "I have no comment." I'm certainly not ready to buy in to any of this, but given who the players are, there's no way of knowing quite how deeply the full truth is buried here. I just hope somebody keeps digging.

(And a hat tip to Jeralyn at Talk Left. Her index of Valerie Plame stories is invaluable in keeping track of what's going on.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Delayed Blogging

There's been no new post today due to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup. As I wrote the other day, I was nominally rooting for the Oilers, who had come back from a 3-1 deficit, but except for a few minutes tonight, they were thoroughly outplayed by the Carolina Hurricanes, the new Stanley Cup champions. At one point, the Hurricanes had two men in the penalty box, which gave the Oilers a 5-3 advantage on the ice. Power plays don't get much more overpowering than that. So what did they do? Did the five Oilers use their numbers to overwhelm the hapless Hurricanes? No, they passed the puck around as if they were drilling in practice or, worse still, trying to kill their own penalty. When they couldn't score on a 5-3, I realized that they simply didn't deserve to win. Fittingly, they didn't. So the Stanley Cup is exiled to Raleigh, North Carolina, where there are probably no more than about a dozen kids who have hockey sticks to play street hockey. Well, after two years in Tampa Bay, at least it's moving north. Maybe next year it'll actually make it to somewhere where it will see some snow in the winter (provided the NHL doesn't lock out its players again). In the meantime, I'll have a real post up in a few minutes.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Democratic Electoral Prospects

A much busier day than I had at all expected. I should've gotten something up this morning, because when I thought I could do it this afternoon, clearly I was wrong. But as always, Sunday brings a new collection of thoughts from Frank Rich. Today he takes on the story that seems to be becoming more and more relevant: What the heck are the Democrats doing? He titles his piece "Karl Rove vs The Democrats," but it's much more about the Dems than it is about Rove.

What's most impressive about Mr. Rove, however, is not his ruthlessness, it's his unshakable faith in the power of a story. The story he's stuck with, Iraq, is a loser, but he knows it won't lose at the polls if there's no story to counter it. And so he tells it over and over, confident that the Democrats won't tell their own. And they don't -- whether about Iraq or much else. The question for the Democrats is less whether they tilt left, right or center, than whether they can find a stirring narrative that defines their views, not just the Republicans'.

What's needed, wrote Michael Tomasky in an influential American Prospect essay last fall, is a "big-picture case based on core principles." As he argued, Washington's continued and inhumane failure to ameliorate the devastation of Katrina could not be a more pregnant opportunity for the Democrats to set forth a comprehensive alternative to the party in power. Another opportunity, of course, is the oil dependence that holds America hostage to the worst governments in the Middle East.

Instead the Democrats float Band-Aid nostrums and bumper-sticker marketing strategies like "Together, America Can Do Better." As the linguist Geoffrey Nunberg pointed out, "The very ungrammaticality of the Democrats' slogan reminds you that this is a party with a chronic problem of telling a coherent story about itself, right down to an inability to get its adverbs and subjects to agree."

Rich comes to us this week once again courtesy of The Peking Duck.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Keeping Up with the Times

I was in the market for a flash drive this week and came across a compelling example of a company keeping its brand contemporary with the culture. The idea is brilliant, but I'm not sure I'd have ever come up with it as anything other than a punch line.

The Swiss Army Flash Drive comes in different sizes of memory (up to 2 gigs) and with various attachments. This one has a gig and comes with the following features:
* USB-Memory with 1 GB memory stick
* Blade
* Nail file with screwdriver
* Scissors
* Key ring
* LED mini light
* Retractable ball point pen
(I don't see the ball point pen, but that description is directly from the Website.)

If you'd rather just have the light, they can accommodate you. A different finish on the case? No problem. You like the idea of high tech but don't need a flash drive? How about a Swiss Army MP3 player? Take a look at all the Swiss Army data storage products.

But be careful--there's a competitor out there that's easy to confuse with Victorinox, the Swiss Army Knife company. That's Swiss+Tech, which also offers flash drives that come with multipurpose tools. As near as I can tell, though, those tools are detachable from the flash drives, so the cool factor is far, far lower. Anybody can package a flash drive with some sort of tool. It's making it all into a single piece that makes it truly a winning product.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Congressional Republicans: Support the Troops and the Insurgents?

Somebody's going to have to explain the politics of this to me. I can't make any sense of it at all.

It's no surprise that Republicans (and Democrats, for that matter) support the troops, and this week in Congress they made a big show of it. Both Houses voted against a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq in what was an apparent attempt to position Dems who want a responsible alternative to the failed status quo as "soft on terror" and "against the troops." Even a few Republicans saw through it (actually, I suspect they all saw through it, but a few would admit it on the record). Congressman Ron Paul, who represents the suburbs of Houston, Texas, said that the resolution was set up to "to trick as many people as possible into supporting the president's policy." No real surprises so far.

But this started getting weird when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suggested a possible amnesty for some of the insurgents. He's got his own domestic politics to worry about, and he's concerned with gaining support for his unity government, so this doesn't really come as much of a surprise, either. Although he wasn't interested in offering amnesty to anyone who had attacked other Iraqis, it wouldn't be as much of a problem including those who targeted Americans. You'd think that most Americans would be up in arms over such an idea, but that brings us to the part I don't get. Both Atrios and AMERICAblog have a selection of quotes from Republican senators in support of the idea. Lamar Alexander points out that Nelson Mandela won a Nobel Peace Prize for "just for this sort of gesture." Mitch McConnell suggests that the Senate pass a resolution "commending the Iraqi government for the position that they’ve taken today with regard to this discussion of Amnesty." Ted Stevens reminds us that Confederate soldiers who shot at Union troops were given amnesty. Saxby Chambliss thinks it's OK to forgive insurgents who attacked out troops if they claim to be on our side now. And John Cornyn suggests, "It makes no sense for the United States Senate to shake its finger at the new government of Iraq and to criticize them." No, why would we want to do that?

Just to make sure that I've got all the pieces right, let me sum up. The Republicans vote to support the Prez's strategy of "stay the course" and to keep U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely. Several of these same Republicans then claim to see no problem in releasing Iraqi insurgents who've attacked U.S. troops in the past. How are they effectively doing anything other than putting American soldiers in place to continue to serve as targets for insurgent attacks in the future? Maybe it's just me.

Well, me and AJ in AMERICAblog:

How do we reconcile releasing people who have killed U.S. forces in the past with arresting and detaining those who do it in the future? "Sorry, Joe Insurgent, but you missed amnesty by a day. If you had only blown up that tank yesterday you could go free, but instead it's off to Abu Ghraib."

. . .

Under some circumstances amnesty is understandable, even beneficial. Most notably in a cease-fire agreement. But you can't have a government that both asks America to keep our troops there AND tells its people that it's okay to kill our troops. How is it possible that there are Republicans who don't understand that?

And how is it that the rest of us aren't completely up in arms against them?

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Friday is Bloomsday, the anniversary of Leopold Bloom's oddyssey through the streets of Dublin celebrated in James Joyce's Ulysses. The book was set in 1904, so that makes this the 102nd anniversary. In case you don't want to reread the whole book to mark the date (and perhaps can't quite remember all the details), the BBC put up this helpful chapter-by-chapter summary a couple of years ago for the centenary. (The book itself, which is both officially and casually referred to as the greatest novel of the twentieth century--and although Proust could give it a run for its money, there's almost no argument that it's not the century's greatest English-language novel, even if Tolkien did top one poll--was published in 1922). I was also going to link to a clever minicomic adaptation David Lasky put together a while back, because I'm certain somebody had it online during the 100th anniversary (unless it was a whole other mini- or webcomic adaptation), but after quite some time of searching, I could only come up with this excerpt on Lasky's own site.

If you're in Chicago, you can commemorate the occasion at the Rattlin’ of the Joists at the Irish American Heritage Center, which will not only include readings of Ulysses but also performances and music from Joyce's life and other works. If you want to stick just to Ulysses, you can visit the Red Lion Pub (who seem to have allowed their domain name to lapse). If you're more the stay-at-home type, listen to Kate Bush's "The Sensual World." Of course, you could always rip it to your iPod and wander around Chicago all day thinking impure thoughts about Leopold Bloom's wife.

But if you want to somehow do something to note the day without delving into Ulysses (or James Joyce) itself, Irish American News also lists a Friday performance of Diner Tales by Tim Joyce at the Raven Theatre. I don't know whether or not the playwright is any relation to the author or not, so be sure to ask him if you see him at the performance. Or, if you'd rather avoid the novel, as well as all things Irish in the first place, the Irish American News listing also features a listing for a performance of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs. No, I don't know why.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Quick Hits

I'm watching what may be the final game of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, but I'm having a hard time getting excited about either Edmonton or Carolina. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk, though, is much more animated about the whole affair (it's genetic--meet her grandfather). The game's tied at the moment, but Carolina's outplaying Edmonton by about every other standard. Still, if only for sentimental reasons, I'd rather see the Stanley Cup in a city where kids actually play the game in their backyards.

* Speaking of Canada, in the midst of a flurry of information about last weekend's MoCCA Art Festival at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, The Beat was pushing a conspiracy theory about Canadian cartoonists:

Authorities fear a rising tide of Canadian cartoonists coming over the porous US/Canada border to steal our women, it was learned this weekend at the MoCCA Festival in New York.

The Canadians are initially indistinguishable from Americans, but are recognizable via their polite behavior. Growing numbers are believed to be flooding into the US to steal women and drink beer.

. . .

The Canadian men are sometimes accompanied by Canadian women. It is not yet known what they are trying to steal--jobs, women or beer.

* Stu Shea sent this link from The Nation a little while ago, but I'm only getting to it now.

In a remarkable article from Wednesday's USA Today, the Colorado Rockies went public with the news that the organization has been explicitly looking for players with "character." And according to the Tribe of Coors, "character" means accepting Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior. "We're nervous, to be honest with you," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "It's the first time we ever talked about these issues publicly. The last thing we want to do is offend anyone because of our beliefs." When people are nervous that they will offend you with their beliefs, it's usually because their beliefs are offensive.

. . .

O'Dowd and company bend over backward in the article to say they are "tolerant" of other views on the club, but that's contradicted by statements like this from CEO Monfort: "I don't want to offend anyone, but I think character-wise we're stronger than anyone in baseball. Christians, and what they've endured, are some of the strongest people in baseball. I believe God sends signs, and we're seeing those." Assumedly, Shawn Green (Jew), Ichiro Suzuki (Shinto) or any of the godless players from Cuba don't have the "character" Monfort is looking for.

Also, there are only two African-American players on the Rockies active roster. Is this because Monfort doesn't think black players have character? Does the organization endorse the statement of its stadium's namesake, William Coors, who told a group of black businessmen in 1984 that Africans "lack the intellectual capacity to succeed, and it's taking them down the tubes"? These are admittedly difficult questions. But these are the questions that need to be posed when the wafting odor of discrimination clouds the air.

The article also mentions that several Major League teams are sponsoring "Faith Days" in which, according to The New York Times:

local churches will get discounted tickets to family-friendly evenings of music and sports with a Christian theme. And in return, they mobilize their vast infrastructure of e-mail and phone lists, youth programs and chaperones, and of course their bus fleets, to help fill the stands.

It's not whether you win or lose, it's who you let play the game.

By the way, check out Stu's blog for a World Cup FAQ from his brother-in-law. It's split between explaining how it works and the more important point, why you should care.

* Here's a listing (scroll down) I came across for a show this weekend that might interest some readers of this blog. Here's a description of The Dead Superheroes Orchestra:

A rock ensemble with a dazzling sound, tasteful string arrangements, and a pitch-black wit, the DSO will take you on a journey from your hometown cemetary [sic] down to the depths of the Underworld, up to the cool bare face of the moon, and back again. The Orchestra and the story they tell were dreamed up by brains steeped in Batman, Mozart, Dostoevsky and Dante.

That's pretty much the Big Four. Check them out if you're so inclined.

I don't get it. I always intend these multilink posts up to be fast and easy round ups of short but interesting items, but they never fail to be among the longest posts I put together. By the way, Edmonton won with a great short-handed goal in sudden death. It wasn't the last game in the series after all.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus [UPDATED]

Or if there is, he's a Republican. News reports spread quickly this morning, first from The New York Times and then rapidly spilling over into The Washington Post and other venues, that Karl Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, had been told by Patrick Fitzgerald that the prosecutor "does not anticipate seeking charges against Karl Rove." What a dispiriting way to start the day.

But then again, that's all we’ve got so far. The AP tells us that Fitzgerald spokesman Randall Sambor has not only declined to comment on Rove, he wouldn't even comment on the status of the CIA leak investigation itself. Is it ongoing? Is it over? He's not telling. And on closer examination, Luskin's statement isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, either. The money quote is that Fitzgerald "does not anticipate seeking charges." That's not a definitive no, and it's easy to infer that some sort of conditions are attached. As Luskin reminded the Post this morning, "We've always said he [Rove] did everything he could to cooperate." Hmmmm. How much cooperation would that be? Will Rove be testifying against Scooter Libby? Has Rove provided evidence against other as yet unindicted figures? If Rove doesn't follow through on any agreement he may have made with the special prosecutor, could that affect just what Fitzgerald might anticipate in the future? There are very few people who have definitive answers for those questions today. In the meantime, Christy has a couple of posts at firedoglake this morning, and Jeralyn is usually good for informed speculation at TalkLeft.

UPDATE--This is one of the fastest updates I've ever come up with. Following my own link to TalkLeft above, I found a new post Jeralyn wrote since I checked earlier. She talked with Luskin, who unequivically denied that Rove had made any sort of deal with Fitzgerald. Here's the quote: "There has never, ever been any discussion of a deal in any way, shape or form." Not much wiggle room there, and this investigation has been full of twists and turns (surely a John Grisham novelization is in the works), but for the time being, that looks pretty definitive.

Monday, June 12, 2006

How Old Are Your Ears?

The New York Times reported this morning on a new phenomenon in the generation gap. Last year a British company developed a high-pitched sound that could only be heard by young people. It was designed to prevent teenagers hanging around stores and annoying or scaring adult customers away. But now that same concept has turned a high-pitched sound into a ringtone that teens can hear without adults ever being aware that a cellphone has even rung.

Apparently this tone is pitched at 17 kilohertz. According to a graphic with the article, most people aged 18-24 hear a maximum frequency of 16.5 kilohertz, and that number goes down with age. The Times also helpfully links to an mp3 of the ringtone, so you can go listen yourself if you want to. I'm a fair ways beyond the target demographic, and I've got only one functional ear to boot, but I could hear a faint sound when I listened. My brother is ten years younger than me (although still beyond the target demo), and he could hear it as well. We couldn't really compare what we were hearing, so I don't know if he heard a louder sound or not. What can you hear when you play the sound?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

New Trends in Scapegoating

It's been a busy weekend here at Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk central, what with family in from out of town to explore the mysteries and majesties of Chicago (among other things). Not much time to keep up with current events, but fortunately, this being Sunday, there's a new column by one Mr. Frank Rich.

In "How Hispanics Became the New Gays," Rich took note of a couple of events that dovetailed uncomfortably (or fortuitously, I guess, depending on your viewpoint): The anti-gay-marriage amendment and immigration bills by both houses of Congress.

The stars are in alignment for a new national orgy of rancor because Americans are angry. The government has failed to alleviate gas prices, the economic anxieties of globalization or turmoil in Iraq. Two-thirds of Americans believe their country is on the wrong track. The historical response to that plight is a witch hunt for scapegoats on whom we can project our rage and impotence. Gay people, though traditionally handy for that role, aren't the surefire scapegoats they once were; support for a constitutional marriage amendment, ABC News found, fell to 42 percent just before the Senate vote. Hence the rise of a juicier target: Hispanics. They are the new gays, the foremost political piñata in the election year of 2006.

. . .

The most pernicious demagogues on immigration often invoke national security as their rationale, but no terrorist has been known to enter the United States from Mexico. Even the arguments about immigrants' economic impact are sometimes a smokescreen for a baser animus. As John B. Judis of The New Republic documented in his account of Arizona's combustible immigration politics, the dominant fear in that border state has less to do with immigrants stealing jobs (which are going begging in construction and agriculture) than with their contaminating the culture through "Mexicanization." It's the same complaint that's been leveled against every immigrant group when the country's in this foul a mood.

. . .

The practitioners of such scare politics know what they're up to. That's why they so often share the strange psychological tic of framing their arguments in civil-rights speak. The Minuteman Project, the vigilante brigade stoking fears of an immigration Armageddon, quotes Gandhi on its Web site; its founder, Jim Gilchrist, has referred to his group as "predominantly white Martin Luther Kings." On a Focus on the Family radio show, James Dobson and the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, positioned the campaign to deny gay civil rights as the moral equivalent of L.B.J.'s campaign to extend civil rights. James Sensenbrenner, the leading House Republican voice on immigration policy, likened those who employ illegal immigrants to "the 19th-century slave masters" that "we had to fight a civil war to get rid of." For that historical analogy to add up, you'd have to believe that Africans voluntarily sought to immigrate to America to be slaves. Whether Mr. Sensenbrenner is out to insult African-Americans or is merely a fool is a distinction without a difference in this volatile political climate.

These guys don't care what groups get in their way as long as they can hold on to power. You can read the full column this week at the always-helpful donkey o.d.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Negative Branding

There's a local Chicago radio station that apparently thinks its target audience is made up of lemmings. There are a number of billboards around town for News Talk 560 WIND that don't tell us who their hosts are. They do admit that the format is news talk, but these days that can include any number of things. But what is their big selling point? "Liberals Hate It." That's all. It doesn't matter, I guess, whether anybody else likes it. If liberals hate it, WIND figures that's good enough to drag prospective listeners around by the nose to tune in. And, although hate is a strong word, the station might have a point if it were broadcasting blahblahblahers like Rush and Hannity, but they're both on the higher profile WLS. No, WIND features second- and third-tier wingers such as Hugh Hewitt, Laura Ingraham, Bill Bennett, Michael Savage, and Michael Medved.

This liberal has to admit that I have a hard time working up much more than indifference to this kind of line up. I don't hate it, I just don't want to bother giving it the time of day. But, I'll admit that the first time I saw one of these billboards, curiosity got the better of me and I set the dial on 560 to see what could be so awful. I happened to tune in to Hugh Hewitt, and instead of something I'd hate, I just got a lot of boring blather. Maybe WIND is just setting up a clever ploy to help Chicago remember just where it got its nickname "The Windy City" to begin with.

I've heard that this same campaign has shown up in other cities that have a similar single-A line up of radio stars. Has anyone else seen it? I suppose "Liberals Hate It" is a stronger ad campaign than the more accurate "Liberals Find It Mildly Ridiculous."

Friday, June 09, 2006

Please, Miss, May I Have Some More?

A couple of weeks ago, I was complaining that Wendy's didn't want to sell me an order of Biggie fries without buying some form of combo meal. Well, apparently that won't be a problem anymore. Wendy's announced that it was getting rid of Biggie sizes. When McDonald's made its similar announcement that it was getting rid of its "Super Size" products, despite the popular assumption that it was all just a ruse, it really did get rid of its largest portions. Not so, Wendy's. "Biggie" will now be "medium." It's making an even bigger size drink (but isn't that what they're currently calling "Great Biggie"?) that will be a "large." Wendy's does currently have a 16-ounce drink they call "small," but the new "small" will be a 20-ounce drink now being sold as "medium." (If medium is the new small, what's the new black?)

Although this looks like it could be the first step in a move away from the "healthier" trend (such as it was) in fast food, Wendy's has also announced that it's changing its deep-fat frying oil to reduce or even eliminate trans fats in the fries and chicken strips. But I don't think the mixed message will take. It won't be long before Wendy's competitors enlarge their portions and return to super-sizing.

What We've Learned

Well, not a whole heck of a lot, really. One thing I learned is that posting from e-mail under certain conditions will screw up the fonts on the whole rest of the page. (Fortunately, I fixed the problem once Blogger came back to life, so most readers never had to suffer through the experience.) I also learned that I'm not at all comfortable with a post called "Down for Maintenance" at the top of the blog, which is why I'm posting this essentially contentless post now. I've been under deadline all day, so I haven't had time to look around at what's going on and to post anything with actual content, but I promise to put up something worth stopping for by later this evening. And it's Friday night, anyway. Who in their right mind is surfing around to blogs?

(My apologies to all who have surfed my way this lovely Friday evening--I have nothing but the utmost respect for you and your priorities.)

Down for Maintenance

It's a good thing I set up the e-mail blogging earlier this evening. Blogger is all the way down at the moment--I can't even read the comment on my previous post. I'm curious to see what kind of line breaks I'll get this time. There's absolutely no reason for the line to break after "seeing." It wasn't even a soft break in the original e-mail.

See you tomorrow!

(Still working the kinks out--I sent this from my e-mail half an hour ago, but I cleverly sent it to the wrong address. I haven't got a return mail yet, so we'll see whether the first one ever shows up anywhere.)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

This Is Just a Test--If It Were a Real Emergency . . .

Blogger was acting up throughout yesterday, and it's doing the same
thing today. I've seen various other bloggers try to get around the
problems by posting through e-mail, so I'm giving it a try. If you're
not reading this, it means my test didn't work. Anyone who's not seeing
this--please confirm.

I'm crossing my fingers now and clicking SEND.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Edge of Our Seats

Well, it looks like the anti-gay-marriage amendment to the Constitution has gone down in defeat. Boy, that was exciting, wasn't it? A real roller-coaster ride, as we watched the nervous tedious debate, never knowing which side would get the upper hand.

Oh, wait. I must've been thinking about something else. This was the debate that everybody thought was a waste of time except the Repubs who take the religious right for suckers who'll be satisfied by this base pandering. Everybody knew it was a losing issue. Nobody thought it had a chance of passage. Some were hoping that it would make us forget Iraq, sky-high gas prices, the devastation of New Orleans, government corruption. I'd say it's a failure on that measure, too.

Needing a majority of 60 votes, the pro-amendment crowd pulled together 49, with 48 against. The Washington Post, which I linked to above, pointed out that this was one less vote in favor than the previous attempt managed. On to flag burning!

Is That Really All You Need?

Chase credit cards have got a new ad campaign going. They've licensed a song from the Michael Jackson collection, and I guess he could do with the folding money. You may remember that Michael owns song catalogues from other writers than just himself. Like Paul McCartney, I really wish he didn't own the Beatles' Lennon & McCartney Northern Song catalogue. It seems almost twenty years ago that he licensed "Revolution" to Nike, and that caused quite a few complaints, but I guess his money problems got the better of him, so he's at it again. Chase is now using "All You Need Is Love" to sell its credit cards. That seems disingenuous to me. I think they really need more than love from their customers. If I run up a big credit card bill and just tried to repay them in love, I expect they'd foreclose on my ass. It's too bad nobody at Chase thought to use the Rutles' charmer, "All You Need Is Cash," instead. We're all under no illusion that this isn't the true subtext of the Chase campaign.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Oooops! [UPDATED]

I don't usually shop at Wal-Mart. Every now and again I might wander through their doors to check out the price of something, but I almost immediately regret it. I was tempted to pick something up from Wal-Mart's Webpage, though. In his latest column, which went live yesterday, Rich Johnston noticed that Wal-Mart had a listing for Moore and Gebbie's Lost Girls that had no content warning or age restrictions whatsoever. Rich was ready to start a betting pool as to how long the listing would survive, and it was already gone by this evening. For the time being, you can still find it in a search on the words lost girls, but I can't imagine that will last long, either. But it's a bargain at only $70.50.

UPDATE--I checked the search link Wednesday morning, and the Lost Girls listing is gone from there, too. Don't waste your time waiting around for Wal-Mart to restock. I guess you'll just have to get your literate porn from somewhere else.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Who'll Be Left to Read This?

As midnight creeps closer, we're bearing down on the date 6/6/6, and that's got to be trouble. Is it Armageddon? Will the world end sometime tomorrow?

Of course, it's really 06/06/2006. And nothing much happened last century on this date. Or the century before that. Or every century since the Gregorian calendar was adopted 500 years ago, or even since the Julian calendar back in the BC days. Of course, I could be wrong. There's a new Ann Coulter book (I'm not linking to that--go google it yourself if you have to see!) coming out.

If you're still determined that the 6/6/6 means something, you might want to register a bet. An AP article claims that was offering 100,000-1 odds of an apocalypse (with a $500 maximum bet), but I wonder if they were getting too many takers, because the odds were only 10-1 when I checked a few minutes ago. Do they know something we don't? Actually, it doesn't really matter. Why would they drop the odds so drastically? It's not like they'll ever pay out. If the world lasts until 6/7/6 (or 7.6.6 for our international friends), they'll have won the bets and have no payout. If it doesn't make it and expires tomorrow, the bookies will have lost, but there'll be no one left to collect anyway. Why not make the sky the limit?

Defending Marriage--By Any Means Necessary

It was a big day at AMERICAblog today. John Aravosis called an action alert to combat the anti-gay-marriage amendment the Prez championed at the White House. Arguing that the amendment is only part of an anti-sex campaign by the religious right (an argument bolstered by Antonin Scalia's dissent against the Lawrence v. Texas decision that overturned Texas sodomy laws--a dissent in which he feared laws against adultery and masturbation would be overturned next), Aravosis urged readers to call the House and Senate offices of the amendment's supporters to

ask them to vow that in the past, now, and in the future they will abstain from sodomy (including same-sex and/or male-female analingus, cunnilingus, and fellatio), masturbation, adultery, prostitution, out-of-wedlock sex, and marriages that cannot procreate. We will also ask them about divorce, as there is no greater threat to marriage today than divorce (in addition, the Bible makes clear that divorce is a no-no).

He got a number of takers and reported back their stories throughout the day. We heard from callers to Lindsay Graham, Lamar Alexander, and one of the senators from Utah, another to Mike Crapo (you can hear audio of that one at Crooks and Liars), one to Conrad Burns, and a caller to George Allen. A someone in Mel Martinez's office admitted that Martinez was "not interested in protecting marriage but in protecting the definition of marriage." In response to a question about Kay Bailey Hutchison's divorce, a Hutchison staffer claimed that Christians don't really believe the Bible when it labels divorced women who remarry as adulterers. It sounds like there was lots of fun to be had.

While we're talking about AMERICAblog, Aravosis also noticed that no representatives of the religious right--for whose benefit this whole anti-gay charade is being mounted--were seen on camera during the Prez's big announcement today. He's trying to pander to them without the rest of us realizing it. It's hardly surprising that he'd expect we're too stupid to notice. Will we prove him wrong?

Newsweek in the (Almost) Raw

Speaking of dissing the Prez on gay marriage, one of the Prez's friends anonymously told Newsweek just what Bush felt about the issue. Here's what appears in a Monday report:

Though Bush himself has publicly embraced the amendment, he never seemed to care enough to press the matter. One of his old friends told NEWSWEEK that same-sex marriage barely registers on the president's moral radar. "I think it was purely political. I don't think he gives a s--t about it. He never talks about this stuff," said the friend, who requested anonymity to discuss his private conversations with Bush. White House aides, who also declined to be identified, insist that the president does care about banning gay marriage.

Now who here is surprised by that? Anyone?

Rich Joins the Chorus to Bring the Troops Home

Normally when I link to a public reprint of Frank Rich's Sunday column, I quote from somewhere in the middle. I hope you'll go and click through the link to read the full thing for yourself and to experience his arguments first hand. Today, though, I've got to cut right to the chase for the piece he titles "Supporting Our Troops Over a Cliff" and quote his final couple of paragraphs. Go and read the whole thing anyway (made available today through the auspices of The Peking Duck), but here's what you should see if you don't.

For all the politicians' talk about honoring those who serve, Washington's record is derelict: chronic shortages in body and Humvee armor; a back-door draft forcing troops with expired contracts into repeated deployments; inadequate postwar health care and veterans' benefits. And that's just the short list. Now a war without end is running off the rails and putting an undermanned army in still greater jeopardy. "Today, the Americans are just one more militia lost in the anarchy," Nir Rosen, who has covered Iraq since the invasion, wrote in The Washington Post last weekend.

We can't pretend we don't know this is happening. It's happening in broad daylight. We know that "as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down" is fiction, not reality. We know from the Pentagon's own report to Congress last week that attacks on Americans and Iraqis alike are at their highest since American commanders started keeping count in 2004. We know that even as coalition partners like Italy and South Korea bail out, we are planning an indefinite stay of undefined parameters: the 104-acre embassy complex rising in the Green Zone is the largest in the world, and the Decider himself has said that it's up to "future presidents and future governments of Iraq" to decide our exit strategy.

Actually, the current government of Iraq already is. On Thursday the latest American-backed Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whom Mr. Bush is "proud to call" his "ally and friend," invited open warfare on American forces by accusing them of conducting Haditha-like killing sprees against civilians as a "regular" phenomenon. If this is the ally and friend we are fighting for, a country that truly supports the troops has no choice but to start bringing them home.

He also disses the Prez's big push tomorrow for the anti-gay marriage amendment, making the obvious point that, whether you support it or not, you have to admit that it's not exactly one of the most pressing issues we're facing at the moment.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Net Neutrality and Invasions of Privacy for a Quiet Sunday Afternoon

This weekend's NOW on PBS tackles the whole Net Neutrality issue. They explain it in pretty simple terms, so it's certainly worth a look if you're not sure where you stand. They didn't elaborate on it, but the report did pass along the contradiction in the telecoms' argument for erecting their toll booths on the information superhighway. A telecom representative (whose name I didn't catch) said that, although some Websites that pay for premium service may receive better service than we've got now, no Website will see their service get worse. But at the same time, former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry, who's joined the PR barrage for the telecoms, insists that the Internet we have now is getting creaky and won't be able to operate properly unless we upgrade. While I agree that we may need the upgrades, I don't see how prioritizing some Web providers who are willing to pay for the privileges leaves the rest of us with anything other than McCurry's creaky and substandard Internet. But the episode, while not exactly even handed, does attempt to portray both sides of the issue. If you missed the show in your area, they should have a podcast up before too long. I think the show is on Friday nights in most markets, but of our two Chicago PBS stations, one doesn't broadcast it until Sunday at noon, and the other doesn't broadcast it at all, so I apologize for the late warning.

Also on the episode is an interview with a George Christian, Connecticut librarian who, under the Patriot Act, has been given a partial gag order in discussing an FBI demand for library records. The first gag order didn't allow him to talk about the situation at all--even to acknowledge that there had been an FBI request or that there was any sort of situation to begin with, but a judge has lifted part of it so he can talk about the legalities but still can't discuss any details of the original FBI demand. He and three other officers in the Library Connection, Inc., which is a group of libraries in Connecticut, spoke out on the issue for the first time earlier this week. The NOW site has a link to an ACLU press conference held with the librarians earlier this week. In the NOW interview, Christian said that the FBI is making these requests demands of libraries at an average of about 100 per day, and so far he's only aware of one other instance of librarians speaking out (because the law is such that mentioning this to anyone is illegal--Christian probably broke the law even in consulting an attorney on the matter in the first place). One of the other Library Consortium officers described a situation that lays out the dynamics of this situation on our current political dialogue:

It was galling for me to see the government's attorney in Connecticut, Kevin O'Connor, travel around the state telling people that their library records were safe, while at the same time he was enforcing a gag order preventing me from telling people that their library records were not safe. On one occasion, we were both invited to speak at the same event in Hartford, sponsored by the Women's League of Voters. Mr. O'Connor accepted his invitation, but I had to refuse mine because of the gag order.

This is foolishly idealistic of me, I know, but libraries are one of the cornerstones of democracy. They allow the free exchange of information and ideas should let us. They're supposed to let us privately research and learn about issues and subjects of interest to us. Right now, our public servants are lying to us (through commission or forced omission) by telling us that nothing has changed when clearly our privacy has been subverted.

I was going to end this with an arch question: "What else are they lying to us about?" But then I realized that since we can each start a long list of items, my intended "pointed accusation" would simply read as naive.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Lost Girls

This has been a busy week for comics commentary, and now here's one more. The publicity machine surrounding the August release of Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls from Top Shelf, and the creators have started making the rounds of the comics news sites. The lost girls of the title are three of the most beloved characters from fantasy fiction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy, who meet up in Europe in 1913. Moore unapologetically calls the work--sixteen years in the making--pornography, and like his work in most genres, by all accounts he revels in the possibilities it presents. In his most recent column, Rich Johnston examines how retailers are reacting, and it's pretty much what you'd expect. Retailers on the U.S. coasts are intending to carry it, while retailers in the middle of the country and the South are either taking it on a case-by-case basis among long-time customers or not ordering it at all. I believe Rich only reports on two international shops, one in Hull and one in Montreal. The Hull shop is expecting no problems, while the Montreal shop owner prefers not to carry porn (although he makes it clear that it's a personal preference and not a reaction to any potential legal trouble because he doesn't expect he'd get any).

The Montreal shop's decision is somewhat academic, because my understanding (though I couldn't quickly find a link to confirm it) is that Diamond has decided that it's afraid of Canadian customs and isn't going to distribute it there. There's always the worry about what a zealous prosecutor (or political candidate--don't forget election day in November) might do with pornography in what's perceived to be a "children's medium," but I talked briefly with Top Shelf publisher Chris Staros at BEA, and he seems to have set up a fairly well-coordinated publicity barrage within the national media that will be unveiled at the appropriate time. (It's also worth remembering that he's president of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a charitable organization designed to defend against comics censorship and to help comic book professionals defend their First Amendment rights, so he has some idea of what he's walking into.)

But until that national media campaign gets into high gear, you can look at the Moore and Gebbie interviews in the comics press. Both Newsarama and Comic Book Resources featured the pair over Memorial Day weekend. Newsarama gave two parts (One and Two) to Moore and one to Gebbie. Here's a snatch of the second part from Moore:

One of the things that I'm thinking will prove to be possibly more controversial than the pro-sexuality nature of the book is the book's equally strong anti-war stance, which against, in the current context is perhaps every bit as unpopular as a pro-sexuality stance. That is basically what Lost Girls is about - that's why it builds up to this crescendo of the First World War, with all these ominous prefigurings of The Rite of Spring and the death of the Archduke. It is all leading up to the last few pages where you've got the destruction of everything beautiful and sensual and imaginative in European culture - something that Europe will probably never recover from. It's all dashed off of the map like a handful of dust all for the advent of this senseless, bestial, First World War. All of the symbols of elegance and intimacy and sexuality, and art and imagination are just crushed under the rolling juggernaut of the Great War.

That is the primary message of Lost Girls, and I should imagine that, in the current climate is every bit as likely to prove controversial.

Comic Book Resources gives its Part One to Moore, allows each creator to have half of Part Two to each of the creators, and then let's them share Part Three in what seems to be a joint interview. Here's more of Moore from CBR Part One:

One of the other quotes from 'Lost Girls' is from the scene with Monsieur de Rogeur, which he talks about reality or fantasy, it's only magistrates or madmen who cannot tell the difference. That's a simplification of it, but I think it's a good point that it's perhaps more than magistrates and madmen that have difficulty in telling the difference between the imagination and the act. And why should this only be in terms of sex? Nobody during the course of my writing 'From Hell' ever would have suggested I was either somebody who enjoyed the idea of disemboweling prostitutes, or somebody who was recommending that people should disembowel prostitutes. We don't seem to have much of a problem in distinguishing between fact and fantasy except when it comes to sex, and I'm not entirely sure why that is, why we make a special case for sexuality. It's okay to show murders in most of our great art, it's perfectly okay to show how life can be ended, but there is something suspect in showing the ways in which life can be begun, or just showing people enjoying themselves. That, it seems, has a deeper connection for us than violence does. I don't quite understand why we make that distinction, and it's probably because most of our sex lives are imaginary, and that makes it more difficult for us to distinguish between sexual fantasy and sexual reality. We've got this entire mental construct that we bring to every act of sex. It's about how we are looking, how our partner is looking. It gets very self-conscious. Mostly, we have learned our sexual moves from books, the pages that our dads' paperbacks fell open at, and we learnt it from mild softcore sex films that we happened to see while we were growing up, and bad Harold Robbins novels. That is probably the only place where we learn our sexual manners and sexual behaviour. Pornography has always been with us and always will be with us, and nothing's going to change that. The only question is, 'Is it going to be good pornography or is it going to be bad pornography?' And given that most pornography is very bad indeed, it would seem that it's probably about time that people make a serious effort to reclaim this despised genre. It's not like there's been any great shortage of artist who made great pornography, but they didn't sign their name to it.

Moore and Gebbie each seem to have their talking points down, so there seems to be some repetition between the two series, but if you're interested in the project, both are worth a look.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Divine in Everyday Life [UPDATED]

This has got to be one of the weirdest products I've seen in ages. Go look. You can even start a riot over it if you're so inclined.

So who, exactly, are they trying to sell this product to? Would Christians want it? It seems to weird and potential sacrilegious for them. I guess some non-Christians might want it as a joke, but it seems that you'd only use it one or two times before it just became too disturbing. The best part is the claim that a grilled-cheese sandwich that had an image of the Virgin Mary was sold for $1,700 on Ebay (is that even true?). So is it a money-making venture? Do these people think we're dumb enough to think that if we bought one of these we could make our own grilled-cheese sandwiches and sell them for hundreds of dollars? Although, I guess if you just sold one grilled-cheese sandwich for $100, you'll have tripled your money. Maybe it's worth the investment, after all . . .

UPDATE--I checked the page again, and it's exceeded its bandwidth, so if you clicked, you didn't get through to even see what I was talking about. It's a no-stick frying pan etched with a picture of Jesus so the image will transfer to your food. You can have Jesus pancakes, Jesus cornbread, or even Jesus grilled-cheese sandwiches. I'm not sure if an omelette would hold the image, and strips of bacon definitely won't. So the good news is that you can have an imprint of the Savior on your food, but I guess the downside is that you have to cook on Jesus' face.

UPDATE 2--The site is back up as of Saturday morning, so go click. I noticed when looking again at the pan that it has the letters WWJD in the top corner. Well, from everything I've read, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be using this pan.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Batwoman Redux

I actually did have a couple of points I intended to make in my previous post about the announcement of the new Batwoman, and now that the story has spread all over the internets, I guess I should go ahead and make them. I found it amusing to see Matt Brady's reaction in Newsarama. I presume he already had the information but that it was embargoed, so he couldn't print it. The NYTimes story that broke the news was dated May 28, but Brady was in at 6:26 EST the night before to get it up as soon as possible. To cover himself from breaking any embargo, he wrote that the paper was "already being delivered in the New York area." I know that embargoed information can interfere with all types of journalism, and it's particularly widespread in entertainment journalism, but the comics press seems particularly plagued by it. With only the Big Two companies and a few more minor players, the comics press has to walk a thin line to keep from just becoming a PR clearing house for DC and Marvel (there are some who think they aren't much more than that as it is). But embargoes are all part of the game--even Rich Johnston admits to honoring them if he's asked to nicely enough. (Rich, by the way, wasted no time in reminding everyone in comments to the Newsarama story where we'd first heard the rumor about a gay Batwoman.)

But Matt Brady did break some new ground in talking with DC honcho (and Dr. Phil/Hank Kingsley lookalike) Dan DiDio. In response to DiDio's statement that Batwoman's sexuality "helps her to determine her choices that she makes as she's fighting crime in Gotham City," Matt challenged him as to what exactly that meant, and when he didn't exactly answer, Matt pressed, noting that Batman's heterosexuality doesn't obviously affect his crime-fighting choices. In response, DiDio revealed that Batwoman will to some extent be a closeted lesbian in her secret identity. Well, that's refreshing.

While we're on the subject, yesterday evening, Newsarama posted early pages of Batwoman in action. I've got to admit that Alex Ross's original sketch of a gray/black-and-red costume with dark hair in the NYTimes piece is far more intriguing than this blue-and-red costume with red hair. Oh, well.