Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: July 2006

Monday, July 31, 2006

Hidden Agendas

Josh Marshall has an extremely distressing post up today (actually, I suppose it's technically yesterday by now). He's concerned that the Bush administration, instead of wanting to cool things off, may actually desire to expand the Isreali-Hezbollah conflict into Syria. Let's let him explain:

As I said a couple days ago, the thing about this region is that things can always get worse, much worse.

And along those lines, I wanted to finish this post by flagging something ominous that keeps coming up in the Israeli press. There's a mix of public and private communications going on between Jerusalem and Damascus. Israel is trying to assure Damascus that they don't plan or want to expand the war to include Syria. Syria is clearly worried that they will and has their troops on full alert. Israel is also warning in no uncertain terms that Syria getting involved will spark massive retaliation.

But there are persistent signs that the US is egging Israel on to bring the war to Damascus.

Here's a clip from the end of an article today in the Jerusalem Post ...

[Israeli]Defense officials told the Post last week that they were receiving indications from the United States that the US would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria.

And there are other ominous indications of the US pressing for expansion the Israelis don't seem to want.

There's more here than the US not wanting a ceasefire before meaningful changes on the ground have happened in south Lebanon. Or at least I fear there is.

As I've noted before, the Prez's high spirits about all this seem just a bit to incongruous for what we know is going on, and he demonstrated that again in his radio address this week.

This moment of conflict in the Middle East is painful and tragic. Yet it is also a moment of opportunity for broader change in the region. Transforming countries that have suffered decades of tyranny and violence is difficult, and it will take time to achieve. But the consequences will be profound -- for our country and the world. When the Middle East grows in liberty and democracy, it will also grow in peace, and that will make America and all free nations more secure.

So it's no more than growing pains. What a relief!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Has the War in Iraq Received a Summer Replacement?

Back in the days of the TV variety show, the networks would schedule summer replacement series instead of reruns of the variety shows themselves. Glen Campbell's TV show started as a summer replacement for the Smothers Brothers, and believe it or not, one year The Jackie Gleason Show's summer replacement show was The Prisoner! It feels like that's what's been happening in the Middle East lately. The fighting on and across the Israeli-Lebanese border is currently the big story, but it seems to me that there's still a war on somewhere else, isn't there? It seems that way to Frank Rich, too. In today's New York Times, he investigates "The Peculiar Disappearance of the War in Iraq":

CNN will surely remind us today that it is Day 19 of the Israel-Hezbollah war — now branded as Crisis in the Middle East — but you won't catch anyone saying it's Day 1,229 of the war in Iraq. On the Big Three networks' evening newscasts, the time devoted to Iraq has fallen 60 percent between 2003 and this spring, as clocked by the television monitor, the Tyndall Report. On Thursday, Brian Williams of NBC read aloud a "shame on you" e-mail complaint from the parents of two military sons anguished that his broadcast had so little news about the war.

This is happening even as the casualties in Iraq, averaging more than 100 a day, easily surpass those in Israel and Lebanon combined. When Nouri al-Maliki, the latest Iraqi prime minister, visited Washington last week to address Congress, he too got short TV shrift — a mere five sentences about the speech on ABC's "World News." The networks know a rerun when they see it. Only 22 months earlier, one of Mr. Maliki's short-lived predecessors, Ayad Allawi, had come to town during the 2004 campaign to give a similarly empty Congressional address laced with White House-scripted talking points about the war's progress. Propaganda stunts, unlike "Law & Order" episodes, don't hold up on a second viewing.

The steady falloff in Iraq coverage isn't happenstance. It's a barometer of the scope of the tragedy. For reporters, the already apocalyptic security situation in Baghdad keeps getting worse, simply making the war more difficult to cover than ever. The audience has its own phobia: Iraq is a bummer. "It is depressing to pay attention to this war on terror," said Fox News's Bill O'Reilly on July 18. "I mean, it's summertime." Americans don't like to lose, whatever the season. They know defeat when they see it, no matter how many new plans for victory are trotted out to obscure that reality.

Rich goes on to metaphorically link the American public's lack of interest with the war's lack of coherence. We've been given several reasons for being there, none of which holds up to much examination. The violence gets worse, the civil war grows more ferocious, so denial seems more and more the only strategy worth pursuing. The Prez has already said that he's not planning to withdraw before he leaves office, so it's not really news that he's got no obvious strategy or particular outcome in mind. If he can't even maintain the interest in the details of the war, why should anyone expect the rest of us too? If it weren't for the massive loss of life and limb that's doing nothing but grow and grow, ignoring the whole thing might almost seem like a reasonable response. I'm sure the Iraq War will be back in the fall with the rest of the new TV season. (Read the full Frank Rich column this week at Wealthy Frenchman).

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Another Fluffy Distraction

Here's a quick item on an engaging interview I heard this afternoon on On the Media. I don't usually follow celebrity journalism that closely, and I have to admit that I hadn't previously heard of Jancee Dunn, who was on promoting her new book, But Enough About Me: A Jersey Girl’s Unlikely Adventures Among the Absurdly Famous. She's written for Rolling Stone and appeared in MTV, so she seems to know a thing or two about rock celebrity interviews. She related an interesting strategy in getting groups to come out of their shells during early-morning interviews: Pay attention to the drummer. Although she's likely not interested in anything the drummer might have to say, the rest of the members of the group become so annoyed and jealous that the drummer might get the upper hand that they almost start competing for the interviewer's attention. That's when the interesting stories and money quotes start coming out. She also had an intriguing anecdote about her rumored romantic involvement with Ben Affleck. I won't spoil it here, but it raises a valid point about our culture's celebrity obsession. I may even take a look at Dunn's book the next time I'm in the bookstore. You can listen to the interview, but a transcript is not due up until Wednesday. I'll try to remember to update this post with a link when it's available.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Nothing, Really

The heat is back in the Midwest, and I've been quite busy for the past couple of days, so there's no substantive blogging this evening, I'm afraid. My brother got his PhD from an East Coast school a couple of months ago, and he took a teaching position here at a nearby university, so he and his family are moving into the suburbs. We've been helping with the big changes for them, so most of this evening was spent at their new place. Therefore, no blogging or even paying close attention to the news.

I'm so tired tonight that I even passed up an opportunity to see Art Brut again. They're playing a show tonight to warm up for an appearance tomorrow at the Pitchfork Music Fest. I'm a bit disappointed not to be there, because I was curious about Eddie Argos's reaction to the demise of Top of the Pops. Will they stop playing "Formed a Band" and "Bad Weekend," essentially their entire introductory single, because of their TOTP references? I'm presuming the band never made it on, and the last show is Sunday. Eddie's bound to be entertaining on the subject.

I'm sorry, but that's it for this evening. I'm having trouble staying awake enough to think of a coherent statement (let alone hit the right keys when typing that coherent statement). I'm off to bed, if I can stay awake long enough to get into the bedroom. Good night.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Obama, Pro and Con

Over the past couple of days at the Washington Post Website, political blogger Chris Cillizza has given reasons why Barack Obama should or should not run for president in 2008. The should side basically consists of the facts that he's popular and he can raise money. The should not side argues that if he runs and loses, it could undermine the rest of his career.

I live in Illinois, I strongly support Obama, and I'm glad he's my senator. Yet I fall firmly in the shouldn't run camp. For all his plusses and advantages as a political figure, he's just not ready yet. He's not had a hard-fought big campaign yet. In the 2004 Illinois senate primary, Obama started out pretty much as an unknown. When the rest of the field did what Democrats seem to do so well these days--essentially self-destructed--Obama was left as the best man standing. He won the primary (somewhat surprisingly) pretty easily, but by the time the ballot actually came around, he was clearly the obvious candidate. What did he stand for? Well, we weren't so sure, but he certainly cut an impressive and charismatic figure over the rest of the field. In the general election, you might remember Republican Jack Ryan, who was forced from the race (for a fairly lame sex scandal, quite frankly). When Illinois GOP couldn't come up with a viable candidate to replace him, they brought Alan Keyes in from out of state to do the job. Keyes never amounted to a realistic alternative, so Obama didn't need to campaign terribly hard. In fact, he partially began building up all the good faith he has with party regulars by campaigning for candidates in other races.

Another strike against an Obama run is the fact that he's still a cipher in many ways. He hasn't had time to build a substantial record (which is probably a good thing in presidential politics), so we're not sure precisely where he stands on everything. Therefore, he's still available to function as a dream candidate. We can fill in the blanks in our own image.

I have complete faith that Obama can grow to become a significant and successful presidential candidate. But that doesn't mean that 2008 isn't premature. For another side of this argument, take a look at ArchPundit from about a month ago. He maintains that machine-candidate Dan Hynes ran a strong campaign in the Democratic senate primary and Obama simply outmaneuvered him. While Obama did do some clever campaigning, my memory is that Hynes vastly underperformed. I'll let you know what I find out if I ever take the time to research the question.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Gearing Up the Pop Hype Machine

Does MySpace really work as a hype engine? Although some might suggest that Arctic Monkeys already answered that question, according to the latest issue of Q magazine (new to these shores, but out in the UK for a month or more), yes it does. Q set up a fake band on a MySpace page to see what would happen. Unfortunately, Q doesn't deign to put much content up on its Website, so you'll have to pick up the 80s issue yourself for the details, but it seemed to work. The faux band was Hope Against Hope, and here's their MySpace page. The picture is a Q intern and a couple of his friends. "The band" put up two songs and then seemed to hit the Friends functions of MySpace pretty hard to get a buzz going. Apparently Alan McGee, former head of Creation Records, offered to book them into his hot club of the moment, Death Disco. (Although in McGee’s defense, he'd probably argue that he wasn't scammed so much as he was leaving himself open to the new communications possibilities of the Internet. Check him out as he rhapsodizes on his own MySpace blog about his new ability to digitally cut out the middle man.)

There was a bit if coverage in the UK about the hoax. The Independent provided a fairly straightforward account, and The Guardian used the opportunity to review great rock'n'roll hype of the past. The Times discussed the whole idea of image in pop culture. The fake Hope Against Hope songs were provided by Howl Griff, who's older and less photogenic than the original Hope Against Hope gang (here's his MySpace page). Although he's getting some exposure, the industry doesn't seem quite as excited to have him performing these hot new songs as it did those other guys. Imagine that.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


What is it with this administration and its surprise diplomatic visits? The Prez has dropped in to Baghdad without calling ahead twice so far. Rumsfeld and Condie showed up there together. And this week, Condie went to the Middle East, presumably to confer with Jerusalem but, without any warning at all, there she was--all of a sudden--in Beirut!

I don't know if anybody out there's impressed by this--I assume the Bushies are at the very least impressing themselves if no one else--but the whole thing smacks to me of their fear of having to face down their own foreign policy. Are all these places so dangerous that the Bushies aren't safe if anyone has advance knowledge of their presence? Now that I put it that way, probably so. I'm not sure how that offers any reassurance to the people--either residents or those stationed there--who can't arrive unannounced and leave again quickly thereafter. Shouldn't we be alarmed by all this rather than cheering on our fearless leaders?

The Washington Post took a look at this phenomenon today, and they saw it as a magic trick that was starting to get old. They interview a couple of people who should know a thing or two about surprises.

What makes for a good surprise? It is a matter of expectations. A good surprise should be fresh, says Jack White, a magician in San Diego who does public relations for the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Pull a rabbit from a hat once and the audience will love it. Pull a rabbit from a hat again, and the audience knows what to look for.

Yes, you can't do the same trick too many times without it going stale. And there's this, too:

"You always try to make sure a good twist, especially in the fourth act of a show like ours, is as inevitable as it is surprising," says Nicholas Wootton, executive producer of "Law & Order." "You've sort of prepared the viewer throughout the episode without necessarily having them know they're being prepared for it."

Maybe the Bushies just aren't providing us with enough set up. The Condi surprise visit just doesn't have the impact of the first Bush one. But then again, maybe the Post provides another reason that we're losing interest, as well.

A crafter of a good surprise is smarter than his audience.

Ah. Maybe that's the problem.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Brave New Comics World

So how big was this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego? It was big. It got so crowded, apparently, that registration was suspended for a period of time on Saturday afternoon and no new people were allowed in. It's too early for the official attendance reports, but I've heard estimates of between 120,000 and 125,000.

As for what actually happened, there was a lot of that, too. Even the real-world press covered it. I can't guarantee what you'll find when you click the link, but my Google News search came up with 486 articles on Comic-Con International. It was much larger than comics this time around, as a host of movie people came down to hype their upcoming (and sometimes even comics-related) films and TV shows. But if you're primarily interested in the comics media coverage, the various news sites have plenty. In fact, the comics newssites have so much that it's a bit too spread out for me. Comic Book Resources has a multitude of stories (I quit counting at fifty) about all facets of the con and the various publishers' announcements and panels, as do Newsarama and The Pulse. It's more than you want to know, trust me, but if you go browse the links, you may find a handful of things to capture your fancy. If you want more personal commentary, check out some of the comics blogs over on the right. I haven't really delved into it for more than just a surface scan so far, but I'll be checking it out over the next few days. If anybody sees anything you think I should know about, just mention it in the comments.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Twilight of the Religious Right?

It was too beautiful a day today in Chicago to stay inside and catch up on the news, so I didn't. I had a very pleasant afternoon reading a book in an outdoor restaurant. Of course, there's always time to read Frank Rich. Mr. Rich is in a more optimistic mood than he's seen in the last few weeks. In "The Passion of the Embryos," he interprets the Prez's unpopular stem cell veto and Ralph Reed's loss in the Republican primary for George lieutenant governor as indications that the religious right is losing its grip over the Republican party. Although those developments are encouraging, I'm not entirely sure that I buy the argument. Rich is right on this point, though:

That the administration's stem-cell policy is a political fiasco for its proponents is evident from a single fact: Bill Frist, the most craven politician in Washington, ditched the president. In past pandering to his party's far-right fringe, Mr. Frist, who calls himself a doctor, misdiagnosed the comatose Terri Schiavo's condition after watching her on videotape and, in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, refused to dispute an abstinence program's canard that tears and sweat could transmit AIDS. If Senator Frist is belatedly standing up for stem-cell research, you can bet he's read some eye-popping polls. His ignorance about H.I.V. notwithstanding, he also knows that the facts about stem cells are not on Mr. Bush's side.

That's all true enough, but I wonder if the general public sees this as an ideological issue or just a simple point on which they agree or disagree. Likewise, I'm not sure voters see Ralph Reed's fall as a strike against the religious right or simply a strike against him as an individual. Rich details his sins:

The humiliating Reed defeat — by 12 points against a lackluster rival in a conservative primary in a conservative state — is being pinned on his association with the felonious lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who also tainted that other exemplar of old-time religion, Tom DeLay. True enough, but it's what Mr. Reed did for Mr. Abramoff's clients that is most damning, far more so than the golf junkets and money-grubbing. The causes Mr. Reed enabled through manufactured grass-roots campaigns (unwittingly, he maintains) were everything he was supposedly against: Indian casinos and legal loopholes that allowed forced abortions and sexual slavery in the work force of an American commonwealth, the Northern Mariana Islands.

Hypocrisy among self-aggrandizing evangelists is as old as Elmer Gantry — older, actually. But Mr. Reed wasn't some campfire charlatan. He was the religious right's most effective poster boy in mainstream America. He had been recruited for precisely that mission by Pat Robertson, who made him the frontman for the Christian Coalition in 1989, knowing full well that Mr. Reed's smarts and youth could do P.R. wonders that Mr. Robertson and the rest of the baggage-laden Falwell generation of Moral Majority demagogues could not. And it worked. In 1995, Mr. Reed was rewarded with the cover of Time, for representing "the most thorough penetration of the secular world of American politics by an essentially religious organization in this century."

He's right that we've seen a host of other religious leaders who've proven to be far short of what they profess over the years. I don't know whether Elmer Gantry was shocking when it was originally published, but if you watch the Burt Lancaster movie today, there's nothing surprising in the fact that he's revealed to be a total charlatan. But precisely because we're aware of such failings, I'm afraid that it's easier for us to lay the blame on the individual rather than the religious organization. Ralph Reed's hypocrisy is his own, but if you don't already have a tendency to see the religious right in the same terms, there's little reason you'll think less of them because Reed has feet of clay.

Thanks today to Welcome to Pottersville for links to the full Frank Rich column.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Almost-Free Speech

I made a change in the comments procedure today. I've been noticing that automated spam has been hitting the comments more and more often, but I was still willing to weed it out by hand to keep down the barriers for actual readers who want to comment. This morning, though, I was hit by a barrage of spam within just a couple of minutes. I'm not sure how many actual comments were left, because for some reason, some or all of the comments generated multiple notices to my inbox. I had about 400 new messages this morning, and it goes without saying that it took me a while to go through them and delete all the new spam. At that point, it took me no time in deciding to activate the word verification feature to at least stop machines from joining the discussion. I'm late to this, as I've noticed that most (though not all) blogs I visit already it installed, so I assume that everyone is used to it. The vast majority of readers who visit this blog decide to keep their thoughts to themselves, so there won't be a lot of people inconvenienced by the extra effort now required to leave their mark. And I'm not cutting back on who's allowed to comment. Anonymous comments are still possible and available, so most everything is like it was. You'll just have to take one more step, but you won't be met with insincere praise disguising blatant pleas to visit some advertising website (and talk about insincere--some of the comments this morning praised my "beautiful graphics").

Friday, July 21, 2006

Adventures in Ice Cream

The Blackberry's back in operation, but I wanted to give it a test to make sure I could post with it again, as well. If you're reading this, then I guess it worked. While I'm here, though, I suppose I should provide some content.

The heat wave seems to have broken for the moment, but the whole month of August still awaits, and if it remains temperate through then, too, well, there's a lifetime of global warming to look forward to. Sooner or later, we're going to need a way to cool down again. In this week's Reader, Nicholas Day has an intriguing idea--beer floats! He correctly points out that we're already quite used to root beer floats, so beer isn't that much of a departure. You have to be careful of the kind of beer you use, and he warns against chocolate stouts, no matter how obvious the combination with ice cream might be. Belgian fruit beers (as long as they're not too fruity or sweet) come highly recommended. So the next time you need something to cool you down, live dangerously and drop a couple of scoops of ice cream into your beer.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Quick Hits

We're on thermostat watch here at Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk central, as the heat wave finally seems to have broken. We're looking for the thermostat to drop below 80 degrees for the first time in over a week. Humidity's still high, and the air is thick, so although it's well below 80 outside, the temperature's still not plummeting inside. The news certainly isn't inspiring any desire in me to blog. Fighting is getting worse in Lebanon (and yet, the Prez seems to think it's all good), and that's just too depressing to talk about in any depth. Too much heat and the restless sleep that results from it have left me scattered and seemingly unable to focus, so here are another few quick hits.

I saw an ad for the new movie Scoop that hyped it as coming from "the writer and director of Match Point." Has Woody Allen's career fallen so far down that we don't want to talk about anything beyond his most recent work? Sure, until Match Point he'd been going through a fairly extensive commercial and artistic slump, but he might have one or two other credits somewhere back there that are worth mentioning.

Comic-Con International is underway in San Diego. Starting today, it'll run through Sunday. This is the big one, and nowadays it's as much about multimedia these days as it is about comics. I haven't been since we moved away from LA more than a decade ago, and it was wonderfully huge then, but from everything I've heard, it's grown exponentially since that time. Its key strength, in my mind, is its incredibly diverse programming. Looking through the schedule of panels and other events we could've seen today, I counted almost 100 choices. That's more than twice as many as Wizard World Chicago has during its entire show, and CCI lasts for three more days! If you're in the area and have any interest in comics whatsoever, here's where you should spend your weekend.

While I was browsing at Comic-Con International, I was reminded that today was the first day of issue for a series of DC super-heroes stamps from the US Post Office. I don't follow stamp sales closely enough to know how quickly we should expect them to be available in your local post office, but it's not too early to ask.

Pew Internet has released a survey of bloggers conducted with the intention of building a blogger profile. It's pretty much what I would've expected, but PRI's Future Tense seemed surprised:

The popular image of bloggers is quite different from reality, according to a new survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

We tend to think of blogs as mainstream media alternatives, heavily focused on news, politics, technology and government. Many blogs fit that category, but the survey shows blogs are far more personal than that.

Perhaps they've forgotten that blog is short for Web log. Maybe they don't realize that one of the primary blogging outlets is LiveJournal. You can hear their interview with one of the authors of the study here. Over at Slate, Jack Shafer breathes a sigh of relief that maybe journalists don't have to worry about bloggers usurping everything they do and are just yet.

DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! We have a winner! The thermostat reads 79! I'm going to bed.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Is Nightline Worth Anything Anymore?

It used to be that when there was a crisis of some sort, you could tune into Nightline for interviews with some of the newsmakers involved. Ted Koppel didn't hit a home run every time by any means, but there was often some sort of illumination of the issue at hand. Since Koppel has left, they rarely do interviews anymore (and to be completely honest, I don't remember the last interview I've seen on the show, but since I don't watch it obsessively, it's possible that I've missed one or two along the way). You may have heard something about the fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah in Lebanon, and indeed, Nightline led with a report from John Donvan on the ground in Beirut. But since they've got to fit three stories into an episode, we only got seven or eight minutes tops. The second story was about a stem-cell/embryo clinic, which is at least timely, given the Prez's first-ever veto. It was an odd diversion into domestic politics, though, given that they returned to Beirut for the final segment. But this wasn't just more from John Donvan. No, Nightline looked for an angle that hadn't been covered, and, at least as far as I'm aware, they found it: a look at the crisis through the frame of Time Out Beirut. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the club scene seems to have shut down entirely. As editor-in-chief Ramsey Short pointed out, it'll be a while before Mariah Carey or Phil Collins wander back into town. Surely the situation isn't any less dire or tragic for the staff of an entertainment magazine than it is for anybody else currently in Lebanon, but it does seem an odd tack to take for a news program. At least Nightline didn't use the insipid tag line that it's a "sign of the times," but perhaps in this case, it truly is.

The Website is far, far worse. As I write this, I can find very little actual news on the site, because there's no room with all the fluff jammed in there. Some of the current featured stories include consumers fighting back via the Internet, a group of blind and vision-impaired students climbing to Machu Picchu, and "Frankenpups," which are apparently made-to-order mixed-breed dogs. Don't worry--they don't ignore the Middle East entirely. Further down the page is a link to a story called, "Baghdad's Lionel Richie Obsession." What happened to this show? And, perhaps more mystifyingly, why do I continue to turn it on?

Stray Thoughts

While driving home a couple of nights ago, I heard 97.1 FM The Drive's Ten @ 10, in which ten songs from a particular year are played in a block. The feature first plays at 10:00 in the morning, but if I ever hear it at all, it's when it's rerun at 10:00 the same night. The other night it was 1971, which had a number of good albums, and DJ Bob Stroud spotlighted Who's Next. Now, Who's Next is a particularly strong album with a lot of great songs from which to choose, but Stroud highlighted John Entwistle's "My Wife." If you're not as obsessive about albums as I am (and why would you be, after all?), you'll be forgiven for not remembering that Who's Next features numbers such as "Won’t Get Fooled Again," "Baba O'Reilly," and "Behind Blue Eyes." Okay, maybe you don't want a CSI commercial, but you could easily go to the second tier with such titles as "Going Mobile," "Bargain," or "The Song Is Over." Not to speak ill of the dead or anything, but "My Wife" was famously the point in a Who show when Roger would take a break, Pete would catch his breath, and John would take over to give the audience an excuse to go to the bathroom or check out the T-shirt concession. But Ten @ 10 redeemed itself by closing 1971 with T. Rex's "Jeepster," so I guess I can't complain too much.

Speaking of wives, I recently discovered that another old friend from college had taken her husband's name when she married. We'd dated for a while, and I don't recall whether that subject ever came up (if it did, it was only in passing, because we were never serious enough to talk about it as an actual choice), but I always assumed that she'd keep her maiden name. In fact, with one or two exceptions, I pretty much assumed that all my friends would keep their own names. Almost straight across the board, though, none of them did. One woman explained to me that her name had been her identity for twenty-some years and that she had no expectation that she could simply toss it away for her future husband's name, which was an idea that made absolute sense to me. When she got married, she tried to do a hyphenation (and, if memory serves, her husband took the hyphenated name, as well), but she soon found it unwieldy and dropped it in favor of her husband's name. (In fairness, though--all lofty principles aside--she never really liked her maiden name all that much to begin with.) I joined another friend in a heated discussion with a man who insisted he was very proud of his name and expected his wife to be proud of it, as well. My friend asked why the future wife didn't get to be equally proud of her own name, but the question was left lingering in the air. And yet this friend took her husband's name when she married a few years later.

One woman's last name made her an easy target for dirty jokes, so she was more than happy to trade it in when she got married, and after she divorced, she kept her married name. She's married again, and I believe she took her new husband's name. (The whole topic of divorce adds an odd note to this, too. If you took your first husband's name and held on to it after a divorce, it seems you're almost obliged to take your next husband's name if you marry again. Otherwise, you'd be using a name that has no real connection to you or your husband.) But other than that, there's only one woman friend from college (that I know of) who married and kept her maiden name.

I always assumed that the woman I married would keep her own name (because that's the kind of woman I expected to marry), and as it happens, she did (although she did change her first name). We know a few married couples who have different last names, but not really all that many. I can't bring to mind more than one woman I know who hyphenates. When I was in college, starting to contemplate the idea of such a long-term relationship and all that it might entail, this certainly seemed like the trend of the future. Maybe I just don't know the trendy people, but it seems like it's mostly fizzled. Is my experience too limited? Are there larger numbers of married couples with different last names than I'm noticing? Or are we just comfortable settling back into the patriarchy?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Getting Worse

The Israel-Hezbollah conflict is heating up further. Israel has sent troops across the border into Lebanon (although they're saying there aren't that many of them--yet). Neither side seems at all prepared to back down, and all the Prez seems able to do is make news that has the media debating whether or not it's fit to print. (The least he could do is offer to pay the $325,000 if anybody gets fined).

In another late-breaking development, the US government has backed off its decision to charge Americans the cost of their evacuation. I'm not sure what's to be gained by subverting market forces in this situation. There's a mint to be made by some plucky entrepreneur willing to evacuate the highest bidders--too bad it's not allowed by the socialist State Department.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Superman Returns

Yesterday I mentioned that I was off to see Superman Returns in IMAX 3D. Boy, is that a big movie screen. Of course, I've been to IMAX theaters before, but this is the first time I've seen a bona fide Hollywood movie on that screen. I think the closest I've come to a mainstream movie up until now was the Rolling Stones' At the Max. Yes, it's a big screen, but it's not too big (although the seventy-five foot closeups take a bit of getting used to). The 3D was mostly good, but some of the scenes they chose to put into 3D were a bit too frenetic. (I suppose I should mention that I'll be discussing spoilers, so I'll start a new paragraph. I apologize that Blogger doesn't support jump pages to hide it from people whose eyes just can't help straying.)

The first 3D scene was the one in which Superman/Clark remembers running at superspeed through the cornfield. Unfortunately, once 3D was introduced and, like good sheep, all of us in the audience put on our 3D glasses, the corn stalks were flapping in our face, distracting us from the actual action in the scene. The second scene was the space shuttle take off, and the cuts and changes in perspective were awfully quick when we had to keep readjusting our focus, as well. I suppose that we'll get used to it if this becomes common, so I won't complain too much. On the balance, I'm quite happy to have experienced the new technology.

The space shuttle scene highlights one problem that I had with the film. It's probably been a drawback of all Superman stories since he became nigh-omnipotent (he didn't start out that way, you know), but Superman's powers seemed to fluctuate depending on the dramatic needs of the moment. We saw that he was "faster than a speeding bullet" (and that sequence was very impressive), but he sure took a long time to catch up to a plane falling from the sky. Sure, I know 32 feet per second per second and all that, but he didn't have any trouble outracing those bullets.

Another problem I had was the movie's odd sense of pacing. I guess everybody's pretty familiar with the Superman mythos, so there's not a lot that needs to be explained. But it still took its time getting started. (And I was sorry that I wasn't enough on the ball to notice Noel Neill as Luthor's benefactress, though I did enjoy the scene with the two Jimmy Olsens embracing). When Superman came crashing to Earth, I guess we all knew what was going on. But shouldn't we have had some explanation about why Ma Kent was still alive and Pa was dead? If I recall, both parents died during the 1978 Superman, which was the current status quo of the comics, but since then, they've both been resurrected in the comics and are still alive. Of course, on Smallville, Pa Kent died. I'm not a regular watcher of the show, and my understanding is that Ma is still alive, but I could be mistaken. So are we taking the TV show over the comics because the viewership is larger than the readership? (On a side note, was anybody else excited over the fact that Ma Kent dated Jor-El back when he coulda been a contender?) And speaking of casting, while I thought Brandon Routh was fine in the role of Superman, he was far too young. Although this theoretically takes place after all (or maybe just some, in case we want to ignore any) of the Christopher Reeve movies, he seemed younger than Reeve did when he first came to Metropolis in the original. He also seemed younger than Dean Cain. I would've put him about the same age as Tom Welling. And although Kate Bosworth didn't bother me as Lois Lane, I agree with Mike Chary (even if he does back off of it later) that Parker Posie would've been a better choice (although she couldn't have matched that metamovie tension that proved neither she nor her dream lover ever got over the hard feelings of the last time).

But back to the pacing, I'm not exactly sure what the climax of the movie was. My dramatic sense is that it was when Superman threw the new continent into the sun, but then that gave us an exceedingly long denouement. Was the climax when Superman died and was resurrected (yes, I'll get to that in a minute)? Perhaps, but I must say that I never felt any tension over whether or not Superman would survive into the sequel, so it was just a wait until the inevitable. But it certainly wasn't terribly exciting when that inevitable came. It was almost as if Bryan Singer was aware that we all knew what had to happen, so he was afraid to milk it. But by downplaying it, we had an exceptionally uneventful last few minutes (it felt like it was twenty minutes to half an hour, but I neglected to look at my watch).

And it sure did seem as though Superman dying to save Earth but then coming back to life was a metaphor for something, but I'll be darned if I can figure out exactly what. When you look at it, the Christ imagery (unless, of course, it's Moses imagery) in Superman has always been explicit but vague, so why did Bryan Singer have to hit us over the head with it? I knew of one revelatory spoiler before I went in, but I didn't know quite what we had in store on the religious front. At one point before Superman went back to his final face off with Luthor, getting annoyed with the heavy-handedness I muttered half aloud, "Just die for our sins, already." And then he did, floating back to Earth in a crucifixion pose. Excuse me? Superman isn't Christ, and he shouldn't be Christ, no matter what Mario Puzo may have implied twenty-some years ago. One of the most significant Superman stories from back in the day was "Must There Be a Superman," by Elliot Maggin. (I just discovered that you can read it here.) This is where Superman learns that not only can't he solve all the world's problems, he shouldn't. Humanity has to deal with its own issues, and a strange visitor from another planet can't come in and make everything right. I wondered if Lois's Pyoolitzer-winning essay, which, as I recall, was titled, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman," covered any of the same ground, but by the end of the film, it seemed to be dismissed as an angry screed from a jilted lover. Whether the world needs Superman or not, we don't have him--even in any sort of "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus" metaphorical sense--so the movie fills us with false promises. The filmmakers do us no favors in arguing that yes, we do need Superman--and oh, yeah, he's really Jesus, besides!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Our Weekly Dose of Frank Rich

It's interesting that Frank Rich used to hold the very influential post of theater columnist for The New York Times. I'm not sure it's true anymore, but it was once the reality of Broadway life that the Times critic had the power to make or break a production, and that was certainly the case during Rich's tenure. But after a number of years of writing about the theater, Rich wanted to move on to broader cultural topics, and so he did. He wrote about culture for a while, but then he found more and more that his subjects tended to fall into the political arena, so for a fair amount of time, now, he's been writing about that. But as his column today--"From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You 'Axis of Evil'"--makes clear, he's really gone back to the subject matter he started with. After providing the by now familiar litany of the Prez's foreign policy failures, Rich continues:

But for all the administration's setbacks, its core belief in P.R. remains unshaken. Or at least its faith in domestic P.R. (It has never cared about the destruction of America's image abroad by our countenance of torture.) That marketing imperative, not policy, was once again the driving vision behind the latest Iraq offensive: the joint selling of the killing of Zarqawi, the formation of the new Maliki government, the surprise presidential trip to the Green Zone and the rollout of Operation Together Forward to secure Baghdad more than three years after its liberation from Saddam.

Operation Together Forward is just the latest model of the Axis of Evil gimmick. In his Rose Garden press conference last month, Mr. Bush promised that this juggernaut of crack Iraqi troops and American minders would "increase the number of checkpoints, enforce a curfew and implement a strict weapons ban across the Iraqi capital." It's been predictably downhill ever since. After two weeks of bloodshed, Col. Jeffrey Snow of the Army explained that the operation was a success even if the patient, Iraq, was dying, because "we expected that there would be an increase in the number of attacks." Last week, the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, allowed that there would be "adjustments" to the plan and that the next six months (why is it always six months?) would be critical. Gen. George Casey spoke of tossing more American troops into the Baghdad shooting gallery to stave off disaster.

So what's the latest White House strategy to distract from the escalating mayhem? Yet another P.R. scheme, in this case drawn from the playbook of fall 2003, when the president countered news of the growing Iraq insurgency by going around the media "filter" to speak to the people through softball interviews with regional media outlets. Thus the past two weeks have brought the spectacle of Mr. Bush yukking it up at Graceland, flattering immigrant workers at a Dunkin' Donuts, patronizing a children's lemonade stand in Raleigh, N.C., and meeting the press in such comfy settings as an outside-the-filter press conference (in Chicago) and "Larry King Live." The people, surely, are feeling better already about all that nasty business abroad.

Or not. The bounce in the polls that once reliably followed these stunts is no more. As Americans contemplate the tragedy of Iraq, the triumph of Islamic jihadists in "democracies" we promoted for the Middle East, and the unimpeded power plays of Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they see reality for what it is. Gone are the days when "Mission Accomplished" would fly. Barring a miracle, one legacy of the Bush Iraq-centric foreign policy will be the mess that those who come next will have to clean up.

It's never been a surprise that politics has elements of showbiz, but it's a bit disheartening when it becomes nothing but. And not very good showbiz, at that. (Thanks this week to donkey o.d. for the link.)


On rereading it, I fear my previous post was whinier than I'd intended. It's hot across the Midwest, and Chicago gets no relief by being on the lake. I don't respond well to heat, which makes me testier and more short-tempered than usual. I hadn't intended to leave yesterday's post as the final word for the day, but as I sat looking at my keyboard, I couldn't come up with anything but the most banal, innocuous things to say.

Taking refuge in the air conditioning, we saw Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and it is as good as everybody's been saying. I'm not sure that there was much information there that I hadn't already encountered, but seeing the crush of global warming information all together does make for a very compelling and overwhelming argument. Here's the movie's Webpage, and it's probably a good idea to particularly check the Take Action section. On a day like this, all the info provides a reminder of why my wife and I have limited ourselves to just a single window unit air conditioner in our front room. For the most part, it's not that big a deal, and opening windows and running fans provide more than enough cooling to the apartment, but sometimes everywhere but that front room is miserable. But it's one way to lower our carbon dioxide emissions.

It's easy to see why some people are suggesting that the movie is a reentry point for Gore's political career. Although the information he provides is vital, he comes off well himself. But I'm just not sure. The seduction of power that comes in seeking the presidency must be awfully overwhelming, so it's hard to ignore it, but I also wonder if Gore's keeping in mind all the distractions that come with the job. He would certainly have a good bully pulpit to press a response to global warming, but he'd have to clean up after the current guy. (When it comes down to it, you have to wonder why anyone would want to be elected to follow Bush and deal with all the mess he's sure to leave behind.) How much would he actually be able to focus on global warming? At one point in the film, Gore says something about once you recognize the enormity of the problem, you can't really do anything but address it, and I have to wonder if holding the office of president might work against that. This may be a silly comparison, but I was reminded of one of the main reasons I lost interest in The X-Files. Once Cancer Man explained to Mulder that Earth was caught between two warring alien civilizations, how could that not consume every ounce of his energy? Knowing that, how could he ever go back to saying, "Hey, Scully! There's a werewolf in the Dakotas! Let's go investigate"? But he did. And although what the president does is far more important than chasing down werewolves (isn't it?), it seems to me that Gore returning to elected politics would be fairly similar. Although I don't have time to find a link at the moment, my memory is that Gore got quite a bit of flack in the 2000 election for downplaying his commitment to the environment (but then again, he got quite a lot of flack for everything). I'm not sure he'd make the same kind of mistake again.

But for me on this hot afternoon, I'm going again in search of air conditioning. I've got a feeling that I may end up at the IMAX to see Superman Returns in partial 3D (the fact that I've already got a ticket contributes to that feeling, of course). And yes, Don, after that I will respond to your request. And if you're in Chicago and looking for somewhere to escape the hot evening, you could do worse than checking out "Chewy Chewy Yummy Yummy Sugar Sugar," a night of bubblegum and teenypop with DJ Stu Shea at Delilah's. Maybe I'll see you there.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

What Do I Get? I Get Nothing at All

If you read the comments to the previous post, you already know that Buzzcocks were not in Chicago at all last night (at all, at all, at all, at all) so I actually had no reason to rush away after my previously written post crashed and burned. No, I apparently need a remedial course in calendar reading, since the show is actually tonight. But, as I'd expected last night anyway, the show's sold out, so there will be no Buzzcocks for Doug this time around. (There's no need to feel too bad about it, though. I've seen them before, and I really only tried to go last night on a whim when I found out my wife already had plans to go out for the evening.) But the tour is moving west through the end of the month, and Jason mentioned in comments that he's heard they're putting on a good show, so if you're so inclined, make better plans than I did and go see them.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Quick Scream of Frustration

I'm very annoyed. I've started writing my blog on a newer computer than the one I used to complain about all the time (not new, but considerably newer). I'd written about some of today's events (Lebanon, the Prez in Europe, the Plame/Wilsons) and linked to them, and then Firefox crashes! I lost it all! This is the newer computer!

My frustration was compounded when I tried to find a phonetic version of Don Messick mumbling (he voiced, among many other things, the Hannah-Barbera dogs) to use as the title of this post and came up empty. I'm off now in search of tickets to see Buzzcocks, who are touring an honest-to-God new album. I'd felt pretty good about it before, but for some reason I've got a sinking feeling they'll sell out before I get there tonight. Got to go--the doors are already open, and the first support band is due on in twenty minutes! I'm sure world affairs can wait a little while.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Getting Situated at Home

It’s always somewhat daunting to start catching up after a vacation. I wasn’t even gone a full week, but I was greeted with more than 100 e-mails when I arrived home. The Blackberry’s still not connecting to the Internet, so I’ll have to check into the instruction booklet to see if I can do anything about it short of contacting Verizon.

I've put away some of the books from the trip. I finished Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City. It was enjoyable, and the material about the Chicago Exposition of 1893 was fascinating. But somehow, although most everyone I know who's read it disagrees, I found the prose style to be just a little bit stiff, and it kept me from being as enthralled as others seem to have been. The sections about the serial killer were fine, but I get the feeling that they functioned more as a way to bring readers (and perhaps publishers) into a book about the Chicago exposition. Although true crime and history are both publishing niches, the true crime niche seems to sell a bit more, so my theory is that a number of readers who wouldn't have read the book without the killer found themselves more fascinated by the story of the exposition.

I also read Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, which is absolutely brilliant. I've previously talked about the hype it's been receiving here (where I annoyingly added an extra l to her name a couple of times, though I've corrected it by now), and it deserves every bit of it. I'll have a fair amount more to say about this, but I think I might read it again before I do. I started to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, and I'm quite enjoying it so far. By this point, I'm about six years behind the curve, but when it came out, everybody I knew was reading it (or claimed to be reading it), and my natural aversion to bandwagons (most of the time) required me to keep it at arm's length long enough that I could claim I'm reading it by choice rather than because of peer pressure. I just started it on the plane ride home, but it's proving itself a quick read, so I hope to complete it soon.

Because the Blackberry was down, I really only started to come out of my vacation news cocoon yesterday morning as I prepared to leave. I've only seen headlines or heard radio reports about Robert Novak publicly fingering Rove as a Plame source, the death of Syd Barrett (I feel bad that I revealed it a little too bluntly to a cousin who was a bigger fan than I realized), and the ongoing and escalating trouble between Israel and Lebanon. I may be writing about all that and more in the next few days (I've already had a request for my comments on Novak and Rove), but I'll have to digest it first. This blog has never had a particularly chatty readership, but if anyone wants to tell me what I should be sure not to miss, I'm all ears.

Traveling Through

Yesterday's trip back to Chicago was more eventful than I expected. I hadn't logged as much beach time as I'd expected, so I went swimming in the ocean until about my last opportunity, coming in about an hour and forty minutes before my flight was due to leave. That was during the midday sun, so I'm paying for that on my shoulders to some degree today. I got to the airport after the automatic kiosks had stopped accepting check-ins for my flight, but there weren't a lot of people there, so I had no problem checking in at the desk. The flight was running a bit late anyway, so I didn't end up being in any sort of a rush. We had a prop plane out of Myrtle Beach to Atlanta, and it's been a number of years since I've been on one of those--possible back to even the '70s. The flight to Atlanta was smooth, though, so that wasn't a problem.

Hartsfield in Atlanta, though, was a whole other issue. I don't know if there was some sort of weather event elsewhere in the country, but flights there were backed up, and the terminal--at least the end of it from where my flight was leaving--was jammed. We were late boarding, and we got on to a commuter jet, which surprised me between Hartsfield and Midway. For some reason, the gate was switched. We were supposed to be boarding at Gate D33 (and, indeed, Gate D33 had a monitor that stated the flight to Midway was in the process of boarding there), but only passengers for a flight to Norfolk or somewhere were allowed through the door. The gate attendant sent us away, and it turned out the my flight was boarding at D35 (the monitor at which claimed to be accepting passengers headed to Milwaukee). The plane was supposed to leave 15 minutes late, and the pilot said he thought he could make the delay up and arrive on time at Midway, but then there was another event.

Gate attendants came to take someone off the plane. This person was sitting looked to be sitting in the front row, and I was in the second to last. Even though there were only ten rows on the entire commuter plane, that was far enough away that I couldn't entirely tell what was going on. I thought the woman they were trying to take off might have been drinking, but she hadn't been a roaring drunk by any means, so it was only my supposition. She was arguing with the attendant, and then the flight attendant entered the fray. I could only hear stray phrases, so it still wasn’t clear exactly what was going on. But it wasn't long before the pilot came out of the cockpit to offer an ultimatum (it was of the classic, "We can do this one of two ways" variety). I did overhear something about drinking. The woman finally left the plane of her own accord, and ultimately we pulled out of the gate. My clock is on my cell phone, which was off by this time, so I don't know precisely when we left, but as we were taxiing, the pilot said our projected arrival time was now forty-five minutes late. We'd apparently long since lost the ability to make up our time in flight. (As soon as the pilot notified us of this fact, the woman across the aisle from me whipped out her cell phone to call whoever was waiting for her in Chicago that we'd be late. I guess not everybody has to have their cell phones turned off after the airplane door is closed. Although it did raise the question in my mind about how many people forget to turn their cell phones off on the plane. I don't normally see anyone talking, but I do wonder if there aren't at least a few phones online while they're on the air. And then that raises the question about how dangerous they are in the first place. Are they really interfering with the plane's equipment?) I don't know if this had anything to do with the incident, but when the flight attendant offered drinks, she didn't mention anything about alcohol. No one around me ordered an alcoholic beverage, so I don't know for sure she wasn't selling it, and if she wasn't, I don't know for sure that it was related to their having to escort a drunk woman from the plane. When someone asked, though, the flight attendant did say that it was airline policy to give gate attendants discretion toward letting a drunk person board, and to give flight attendants and pilots discretion about whether to let a drunk person remain on the plane. However, if people at the gate and onboard the plane recognize someone's condition, all personal discretion leaves, and the drunk person must be removed. That's what the flight attendant said happened here. She said that she'd noticed that the woman was somewhat inebriated, but since she didn't seem to be causing a problem, she and the pilot decided they'd let the situation go. (Although, and this is my speculation, this may have been when they decided not to serve alcohol on the flight.) But when they heard an inquiry from the gate attendants about the person, they were no longer empowered to let it be, and the woman had to be removed. So I guess the lesson here is, if you want to drink in an airport or on a flight, make sure you can do it unobtrusively.

Unfortunately, it still wasn't smooth sailing yet. Somewhere--I'd guess it was about Louisville--we flew head on into a thunderstorm. I was reading and thought I saw lightning outside the plane. I looked up, and sure enough, there was more. The storm gave us a number of jolts and ups and downs, but thankfully it didn't last too long. After we made it through that turbulence, we didn't do too badly for the rest of the flight. We finally arrived at the gate at Midway between thirty-five and forty minutes late. Once out of the baggage area, it was my first opportunity to take advantage of the new cell phone lots that the Chicago airports are initiating. I don't know about the lot itself, but curbside pickup seemed a nightmare. There are only two lanes for driving and one for pulling over and parking, and they were pretty much jammed just before 9:00 last night. The whole point of the new system is to cut down on cars cruising around and around the airport until the people they came to meet show up on the curb, and perhaps people haven’t stopped cruising and gone to wait in the cell phone lots for their party to call them. Or, with only ninety spots in the lot, perhaps there's just not enough room to accommodate everybody who's waiting, so the overflow is cruising the airport like normal. The system is just new, and perhaps it will become more efficient, but for the moment, it seems like it's adding to the bedlam.

This post seems like it's gone on long enough, so I'll do a little bit more vacation wrap up in a follow up.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

On Our Way Back to Normal

Still nothing from the Blackberry. The phone has remained connected the whole time, so it's definitely connecting to something. Today is a travel day as I return to my normal life, so if the Blackberry doesn't come back to its previous powers of Internet connectivity by the time I get home, I may have to get it serviced. Although location might have something to do with the problems, I did have access for the first 36 hours or so of my vacation. If I can get online while I'm traveling, I may do some more posting, but if not, I won't be able to even do so much as check my mail until I get home tonight. I suppose it would be a good idea to expect light posting until sometime Thursday.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Adventures of the Internet Deprived

I'm still getting no Internet connection from the Blackberry, so I'm back at the Internet cafe with a borrowed computer. I'm at about 30 hours without Internet access, and I think I'm starting to experience withdrawal. Has anything happened in the world? Well, I certainly wouldn't know. And if you wrote to tell me, I still wouldn't know, because I can't access this blog and see comments--or even read my e-mail, without a trip to the Internet cafe. We've got a TV at our beach retreat, but we haven't been watching much of it (because why would you when you're at a lovely place at the beach?). It's odd how sometimes the world seems to stop when you're on vacation. As a kid, I remember feeling that if something significant occurred during a vacation, it never felt real until you got home.

We had an interesting conversation the other night with a woman working behind the counter at an ice cream parlor. She was a college student from Russia working here for the summer to make some good money. Her visa was good until the beginning of October, and she planned to work as much as she could, take her money back to Russia where she could convert it to rubles, and finish her final year of university. Apparently a lot of Russians (and I suppose a number of people from other countries, as well) work at the beach during the summer. This woman told us that two others at the ice cream parlor were also Russian university students, and if we wandered up and down the strip, we'd find the same thing. It would be interesting to see how many nationalities would be represented in beach service jobs. When it comes down to it, I'm not sure if that’s a sign of how lucrative such summer employment can be or an indication of how limited financial opportunities can be around the world.

But it's back to life as we lived it in the twentieth century for me. We'll see if the Blackberry starts picking anything up tomorrow.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Quick Comics Hits

If I'd actually taken my Blackberry on to the beach, I'd fear that I got sand in it, but I didn't, so that's not the problem. But for whatever reason, I've been getting nothing out of it in termns of Internet access since early this morning. So now, I've had to borrow my mother's computer and go find a wi-fi location. I'm in an Internet cafe that closes in a few minutes, so I'll keep this short and fall back on something I intended to post last week but never quite organized myself to pull off.

Check out the new Internet home of Heidi MacDonald and The Beat at the Publishers Weekly Website. She was one of the first comics bloggers and in many ways set the standard for what comics coverage on the Web can be. Not that she needed any further respectability, but the Publisher's Weekly imprimature certainly doesn't hurt. Congrats, Heidi! (I'll change my link at the left when I'm back in Chicago.)

The new Batwoman made the cover (albeit in a small box in the corner) of The Advocate. Inside, you'll find an article on gays in comics, with a special focus on the upcoming San Diego Comics Con (or Comic-Con International, to use its proper name). While you're on the Advocate site, also check out the interview with Amanda Palmer of Dresden Dolls. They opened for Panic at the Disco! in Chicago on Friday night but sold out before I could get tickets. I'm quite intrigued by them, and I'll return to read the article when my Blackberry returns or I'm not in a time-sensitive situation (or maybe just when I return to my home computer).

Not everything is an advancement for comics. A week and a half ago at this point, The Washington Post took a look at comics that returned us to those thrilling days of yesteryear. They highlighted the whole DC versus Marvel competitiveness. There's still some of that today, but comics as an industry have moved quite a ways past that. Still, unfortunately, it's an element in most comics shops you'll wander into, so I suppose that we can't sweep it under the carpet entirely. It's an interesting look at one way (limited though it may be) of interpreting the comics community. I'm not sure how much longer this link will be live, but it's still there as I type this.

I actually had a fourth point I wanted to hit, but I've momentarily forgotten it, and the Internet cafe is getting ready to lock its doors, so I'll either think of it in the parking lot and mention it later, or it will be lost to the mists of history. I'm accepting wagers on the outcome.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Pressuring the Press, Just in Case

It was my first full day at the beach, and while I can't say I did much of anything significant, I didn't spend a heck of a lot of time online. I did spend enough time, though, to read Frank Rich's latest column. Entitled "All the News That's Fit to Bully By," Rich takes a look at the right-wing complaints over The New York Times's printing its story on the Bush adminstration's tracking of terrorists' financial transactions. He notes the calls for Times editors to be executed for treason but explains why this hasn't happened yet and is exceedingly unlikey to happen in the future. No one in official Washington has any interest in such a spectacle, but any chance they've got of turning the whole thing into another round of "intimidate the press" they'll jump on. If the press becomes too concerned about its repuation to follow up on legitimate exposes of the Bushies, that's one more threat neutralized. Rich uses the example of Ari Fleisher's warning shortly after 9/11 that we watch what we say, but I think we can actually go back a few decades to when the incessent drumbeat of the "liberal media" began. The press has been trying to live the down ever since, to the point that they now seem to embrace conservative talking points. The press hardly needs to be cowed any further, but the right-wingers never seem to tire of pressing their point further.

I'm on my Blackberry at the moment, and I don't know whether it's possible to copy and paste from a Website, so you'll just have to click the link to read it for yourself. And today's links is again graciously provided by donky o.d.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Reading the Numbers

I'm taking a few days at the beach with my extended family, thus the late posting (with likely very little to say). I was flying much of the day, so if anything important happened, certainly nobody told me. One thing I did hear from a couple of 16-year-old girls is that the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie is somewhat disappointing. While that jibes with pretty much all the reviews I've noticed, this is the first I've heard of it from the 16-year-old girl quarter. And that can't be good for the studio.

Still, though, I have to wonder nowadays how much the studio cares. As far as I can tell, this was the big movie everybody's been waiting for all summer, so it's got a massive amount of hype already built in. It's going to have a huge weekend no matter how the 16-year-old girls feel about it. And that's all the studio wants. It used to be that word of mouth was used to build a movie, but that's largely irrelevant these days. They go in quick, make as much money as they can on opening weekend, and then expect the profits to start drying up quickly. Word of mouth is for video.

I'm hardly the first person to notice this, but we're well on the way to having the film exhibition business being one strictly of blockbusters. More and more, smaller movies are coming into theatres for a short time and functioning as little more than an advertisement for the video. The entertainment media continues to read and report grosses as a guide to Hollywood's winners and losers, but I suspect that the industry itself has already moved on to a different paradigm in understanding what those numbers mean.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Even If the Odds Are 100 to 1

Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine has been getting its share of attention lately, and God knows there are plenty of reviews to be had. I've not had a chance to read it, but by all accounts I've seen, it's another eye-opening account of the Bush administration and they've been running the country for the past few years. (How many eye-opening accounts are we going to need before our eyes, y'know, open?) But among the growing body of growing body of analysis on the book, Kevin Drum has an interesting take on the title phrase itself:

[The phrase] originates with Dick Cheney, who explained early on that if a terrorist event had even a one percent chance of happening, "we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response." This is obviously a justification for taking a hawkish approach to terrorism, but Suskind says there's much more to it than that. After all, the Bush administration has obviously not reacted to every one-percent threat as if it were a certainty.

More than a broad rationalization of mere hawkishness, the One Percent Doctrine is actually a justification for ignoring unwanted analysis. After all, nearly anything has a one percent chance of happening, and if that's the threshold for action, it means we can take action anytime we want. Under the OPD, there is literally no reason to waste time with analysis or policy discussions.

This, of course, is where Suskind ties in this book with his earlier one, The Price of Loyalty. The single most defining characteristic of George Bush's personality is his belief in his own instinct and his corresponding disdain for serious policy analysis. For Bush, the One Percent Doctrine is tailor made. He is contemptuous of policy discussions, and the OPD is the perfect excuse to ignore them.

It still disturbs me that, after all this time, the Prez seems to have no second thoughts whatsoever about anything his administration has wrought. Drum's explanation is a good start at explaining why that might be.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Addressing the Intolerable

You can usually surf over to Jesus' General for a few laughs, and if you're lucky, maybe even a couple of pointed barbs while you're at it. But yesterday General JC Christian (patriot) put up a post that wasn't funny in the least. In the guise of a congratulatory letter to Stop the ACLU Coalition, he told the story of a Jewish family in Delaware forced to move to another town after they filed a lawsuit over the excessive Christian content in their local public school. The general congratulated Nedd Kareiva, director of Stop the ACLU Coalition for his successful pogrom. Kareiva responded, quibbling over the word pogrom but acknowledging that his organization's goal had been achieved in this instance.

The Stop the ACLU Coalition (I'm not linking to them--if you want to visit their site, you can find it easily enough in Google) is getting a fair amount of attention as this story spreads on the Internet, but in truth, they're only a side issue. The Jewish family had already moved before Kareiva's group put their address on its Website (JC Christian has a screen grab). The true villains are the other residents of Delaware's Indian River School District who tormented the Jewish children. Bartholomew's notes on religion has the story from a number of sources, but Jews On First! has the details. (By the way, Jews on First! has a delightfully matter-of-fact slogan: "Defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind." Truer words were never written.)

More and more it seems like intolerance is slipping into our daily routine, and if we don't call it out when we see it, it becomes an acceptable position. Further, agents of intolerance try to argue progressives into a blind alley in which we must allow the intolerance as a simple difference of opinion. This certainly shouldn't need to be pointed out, but we should tolerate diversity; we should never tolerate intolerance.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Quick Hits

Getting back to work and playing catch up resulted in far later blogging than I'd intended today. I hoped that I'd be able to get something up at lunch, and when that didn't happen, I figured that I'd surely get something up by early evening, but I guess at this point, it's useless to dwell over what could never be.

But, boy, for a slow news weekend, there sure was a lot going on. I'm only going to get to a bit of it tonight, and we'll see how much I'm able to address in the next couple of days, as long as events don't eclipse the news that seems so vital right now.

I don't have much to say about the North Korean missile tests. When the Bushies took office, assuring us that the "adults" were once again in charge, North Korea did not have nuclear weapons. Although the Prez named North Korea as one of three prongs of the Axis of Evil, we watched Kim Jong Il as he prodded and provoked his neighbors and the United States. We remained aloof as he kicked out UN inspectors and developed nuclear weapons. (I don't guess I need to point out where we focused our efforts, instead). The Bushies were always quick to criticize the Clinton administration' North Korea policy, claiming that it rewarded that nation's bad behavior. Quibble over the details all you want, but it's hard not to notice that North Korea never tested a missile that could potentially reach US territory under Clinton's watch. We've had five and a half years of nationally security since Bush took the reins in 2001. Do you feel safer?

Joe Lieberman, although he's continuing to run in the Connecticut Democratic primary to hold on to his Senate seat, has announced that if he doesn't win the nomination, he plans to run in the November election as an independent. He's been getting strong resistance from an insurgent campaign for Ned Lamont, which has been getting quite a bit of attention in the various political blogs. I haven't been following it that closely, but Lamont sounds like a good candidate, and ever since his wishy-washy performance in the 2000 vice presidential debate (actually, it was ever since he led the pre-impeachment denunciations of Clinton in the Senate), I've been leery of Lieberman. This may be wishful thinking, but his announcement that he'll ignore the results of the primary if it doesn't go his way is just the right amount of hubris to sink his candidacy for good. The money quote from his statement has to be: "I have loyalties that are greater than those to my party." Another translation is that he has loyalties that are greater than those to his constituents if they choose to vote him out of office. If that's the case, it seems to me that there's only one thing those constituents can do. For great running commentary on this story as it develops, turn to firedoglake and scroll through. You might also want to read this funny diary from A. Whitney Brown at Daily Kos--according to him, Lieberman's apparently going to remain in the Senate no matter which way the election goes.

By now we've all heard that Kenny-Boy Lay has gone to meet his maker. He ostensibly believed that God was on his side during the Enron trial, so I guess by now he's found out the truth of that--one way or another--first hand. Initial reports indicate that he had a heart attack, and I don't know whether an autopsy will be performed or not. But if it is, does anybody want to give me odds that the real reason his heart gave out was that it was two sizes too small?

Well, that's it again for another of my short (?) "let's just mention everything quickly and get out" posts. Aren't you glad I didn't get into the several other items on my list?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth of July!

(Image courtesy of Mile High Comics.)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Gabba Gabba Whoops

I've been thoroughly enjoying this four-day weekend, and I haven't been completely keeping up with late-breaking news. It's a slow news weekend anyway, (although there were a couple of items that I'll talk about later after I take a bit more time to gather my thoughts and put them together in nice, readable chunks). But there is one development that I can talk about without a huge amount of deep thought. A week ago, I wrote about Gabba Gabba Hey!, a musical based around the music of The Ramones, that was opening at the end of the month in London. Well, no more.

According to the show's Website, the opening and the rest of the run have been cancelled. No "Punk Rock Musical." No "Lower East Side Love Story." The site gives no reason for the cancellation, simply offering an apology for our inconvenience. I looked a little bit around the Web, and came up mostly blank. I didn't spend too much time, but the only reference I found at all was on Hugh Cornwell's Website. The ex-Stranglers frontman was apparently signed to appear as Johnny Thunders in the first few performances, and the news announcing this on his own page was crossed out, with only the phrase "Show Cancelled" added in.

There are any number of reasons that a show can be cancelled with only a month to go, so it's pointless to speculate. It did have some intriguing performances lines up, though. Tommy Erdelyi was to be musical director and "guest artist," whatever that entailed, and the cast was to include Angie Bowie and Tony James of Generation X and Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Although the producers may have been planning changes, the show did already exist in some form, having already played in Australia and Germany. There may not be anything further to learn, but if I come across new information, I'll pass it on.

The Prez Shifts Focus and Blame

I don't know whether it's the heat and humidity of the holiday weekend or something else, but I've been very sluggish and listless today, not getting much of anything done. In fact, it's taken me until now to go dig up the latest column from our pal Frank Rich. As might be expected of a columnist for The New York Times, for the Independence Day weekend, he's giving us his take on the whole scapegoating of the press in general and his paper in particular for last week's report on the U.S. government's tracking of international financial transactions. (Of course, The Wall Street Journal and The LA Times each had the same story at the same time, but somehow they don't come up for the same ire as the figurehead of the liberal media.) Going straight for the jugular in the head, Rich titles his piece, "Can't Win the War? Bomb the Press!"

No sooner were the flag burners hustled offstage than a new traitor was unveiled for the Fourth: the press. Public enemy No. 1 is The New York Times, which was accused of a "disgraceful" compromise of national security (by President Bush) and treason (by Representative Peter King of New York and the Coulter amen chorus). The Times's offense was to publish a front-page article about a comprehensive American effort to track terrorists with the aid of a Belgian consortium, Swift, which serves as a clearinghouse for some 7,800 financial institutions in 200 countries.

It was a solid piece of journalism. But if you want to learn the truly dirty secrets of how our government prosecutes this war, the story of how it vilified The Times is more damning than anything in the article that caused the uproar.

. . .

The real news conveyed by The Times and its competitors was not the huge program to track terrorist finances, but that per usual from the administration that gave us Gitmo, the program was conducted with little oversight from the other two branches of government. Even so, the reporting on the pros and cons of that approach was, as Mr. Snow said, balanced.

Or so he said Friday morning, June 23. By Monday, the president had entered the fray and Mr. Snow was accusing The Times of putting the "public's right to know" over "somebody's right to live." What had happened over the weekend to prompt this escalation of hysteria? The same stuff that always happens when the White House scapegoats the press (or anyone else): bad and embarrassing news that the White House wants to drown out.

. . .

Such ravings make it hard not to think of the official assault on The Times and The Washington Post over the Pentagon Papers. In 1972, on the first anniversary of the publication of that classified Pentagon history of the Vietnam War, The Times's managing editor then, A. M. Rosenthal, reminisced in print about the hyperbolic predictions that had been made by the Nixon White House and its supporters: "Codes would be broken. Military security endangered. Foreign governments would be afraid to deal with us. There would be nothing secret left." None of that happened. What did happen was that Americans learned "how secrecy had become a way of life" for a government whose clandestine policy decisions had fomented a disaster.

The assault on a free press during our own wartime should be recognized for what it is: another desperate ploy by officials trying to hide their own lethal mistakes in the shadows. It's the antithesis of everything we celebrate with the blazing lights of Independence Day.

As we prepare to celebrate the nation's birthday, we could do far worse than to contemplate the many rights bestowed upon us by the Constitution (primary among them--though hardly alone--the First Amendment and freedom of the press).

Also, thanks to The Peking Duck for providing Mr. Rich's column in full for us to link to.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Stevens Bill

We've been watching the progress of the Snowe-Dorgan Net Neutrality amendment to the Stevens bill on communication technology. I thought it was something of a victory when the amendment achieved a tie in the Senate Commerce committee. That wasn't enough to win the day, of course, and the amendment didn't accompany the bill out of committee, but it demonstrated the tremendous momentum the issue has generated. On Thursday over at TPMCafe, Public Knowledge communications director Art Brodsky wrote a guest blog post essentially agreeing with that sentiment, but he took a closer look at what else the Stevens bill includes.

The movie companies got the right to set the rules for what consumers can do with over-the-air digital TV signals and the authority for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enforce Hollywood's business plans. The shorthand for this issue is the "broadcast flag," the name for the bits in the signal that will tell your electronics what your rights are. The bill, if it ever became law, would overturn a case brought by Public Knowledge, (my day-job employer), which beat back the FCC's broadcast-flag rule in court last year.

The record companies got the right to use the FCC to cripple the satellite and terrestrial digital radio businesses by curtailing consumers' ability to store music. It was unfortunate that neither of these items, the broadcast flag or its radio counterpart, was at all controversial when the Committee discussed the bill over the course of three days.

The telephone companies got the right to get into the video business quickly, without a requirement that they actually serve an entire franchising area and without pesky local oversight. The cable companies got the right to get out from pesky local oversight when their current franchises run out. The cellular companies, largely owned by the phone companies, got themselves exempted from state consumer protections. Such a deal for all -- consumers excepted.

It looks like the Stevens bill (which is also called "The Communications, Consumer's Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006") is a monster. Brodsky speculates as to what effect the specter of Net Neutrality will do to the overall bill, but despite its title, it doesn't look like Congress or their Big Business pals are terribly interested in consumer choice.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Canada Day!

A few days ago, I linked to a Canadian heritage spot that celebrated the Canadian roots of Superman. But for Canada Day, here's a superhero whose Canadian bona fides are irrefutable: Captain Canuck!