Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: August 2006

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bush the Responsible

Well, we've made it through the flood of media coverage of the first anniversary of Katrina's gulf landfall. The Prez was far more prompt with his arrival on the coast than he was last year. Of course, I suppose you could argue that there's more at stake this time--for him, anyway. His presidency was at stake last year, but neither he nor any of his advisors realized it. This year, though, everybody knows it. I'm sure he'd love to just ignore the occasion, but that's not viable. I guess he did the only thing he really could: accept responsibility.

I take full responsibility for the federal government's response, and a year ago I made a pledge that we will learn the lessons of Katrina and that we will do what it takes to help you recover. I've come back to New Orleans to tell you the words that I spoke on Jackson Square are just as true today as they were then.

Well, yeah, they're even more true, because not nearly as much has happened as should've. But what does any of that mean? What good is it that the Prez has taken responsibility? We're just a couple of weeks away from the anniversary of him taking responsibility last year. Here's a contemporary account:

President Bush said Tuesday that "I take responsibility" for failures in dealing with Hurricane Katrina and that the disaster raised broader questions about the government's ability to respond to natural disasters as well as terror attacks.

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government," Bush said at joint White House news conference with the president of Iraq.

"To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility," Bush said.

So that's two years in a row that he's taken responsibility and pledged to "do what it takes." How should we expect this year's result to be any different from last year's?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Karmic Due

This will be meaningless to pretty much everyone, and the one person who might have any idea of what I'm talking about has virtually no chance of ever stumbling across this, but here's a shout-out to the clerk at the White Hen Pantry. Thank you so much, man.

And while we're at it, props to CG (who might actually read this) for selfless acts on Tuesday mornings.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Get Me -- That Girl!

I've fallen behind on the news lately, and there's plenty to blog about, but I'm afraid I've got That Girl on the brain lately. There's a reference in Busting Out to the show, and the first season came out on DVD a few months ago, and somehow the topic seems to keeping up. I was talking to a friend tonight who claimed that Julia was the first TV show to feature a single woman, but Ann Marie beat her by two years (Julia was, however, the first single black woman--and I think the first black woman at all--to have her own series). As far as I can tell from a quick Google search, Marlo Thomas played the first single woman who lived by herself to star in a TV series (although Lucy Charmichael was a single mother, she lived with her kids--and sometimes Vivian Vance). Sure, she had dizzy adventures and a fiancé, but you can only move into the future so far at a time. I was very annoyed a few years ago when I heard a radio report about a class taught by a TV producer (I want to say it was Tom Fontana, but it could've been somewhere else) that required a screening of an episode of That Girl so students could understand everything The Mary Tyler Moore Show was reacting against. I always thought that was giving short shrift to That Girl. A recent New York Times review of the DVDs downplayed Ann Marie as a "pre-libber." In Sunday's Times, no less than Gloria Steinem stands up for the show (scroll down). Her letter is short, so I'll excerpt the whole thing:

In celebrating the DVD of "That Girl" starring Marlo Thomas, Claire Dederer makes an interesting and original point about the changing television portrayal of age. But given my age, I think she misses the point when she plays down this series as pioneering TV feminism. Where else was there a young woman who lived on her own and wasn’t obsessed with getting married? Trust me, nowhere.

Of course, if Ms. Thomas had won out over network executives completely, "That Girl" would have been "That Woman" with different male friends, not just one very proper boyfriend who turns into a fiancé.

I haven't seen the show recently, and I'm told by someone that has that it doesn't really stand up to the passing of time. I don't find that too hard to believe, because Marlo Thomas was on the cusp of a big change. Now that the change has overwhelmed us, her performance that once seemed pioneering and groundbreaking can easily come across as quaint. It's the curse of the trailblazer.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Back Home (Sort Of)

It was our last day in New York, and we had a bit if time before our plane went out from Newark, so we basically wandered the streets and hung at the interesting sites we stumbled across. We spent more time than was necessary in the Virgin Records at Times Square, especially since Chicago has its very own Virgin Records. But the stocks are different enough that I was able to come up with a couple of Art Brut singles that I've never found in Chicago, a Sebastian Tellier single that I've seen once and didn't snap up, and a Futureheads single at half price. They've got a nice $10 CD sale going, and in the import bin I found that price tag on a double set of Bluetones singles and B-sides.

The trip home was uneventful but took forever. Our shuttle picked us up three hours and thirty-five minutes before our flight was due to leave, but given that we might encounter rush-hour traffic and we didn’t know what we'd face at the security line, that didn't seem extravagant. Well, we didn’t encounter that kind of traffic--our time from Times Square to Newark airport was half an hour. Security wasn't much of a problem, either (although they did want to check my contact lens solution and I forgot to take the Blackberry, the cell phone, and my keys out of my pockets), so we were at our gate two hours and fifteen minutes before it was supposed to start boarding. Given that it was late arriving from wherever it came from, we sat there another hour longer, and then (it virtually goes without saying these days) waited on the runway for another little while after that. It took us 9 hours and 15 minutes to make it from where we were staying in New York back to our home. Mapquest says it would've taken us 12 hours and 56 minutes to have driven it, so I guess we saved some time, at least. More complete blogging will pick up again tomorrow.

(I have to confess that because we're so late and I want to go to bed as soon as I can once I get home, I'm word processing this entry on the plane. Those calculations in the previous paragraph were set up after I got back to my desk in my office. As I'm typing this, I don't know how long the complete trip will take. I'm not sure why I'm confessing this, because I can't imagine that you’re actually that fascinated by the mechanics of my blogging.)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Recalling Katrina

Seeing as how I'm in New York and all, I read Frank Rich this morning in the hard copy New York Times. Of course, that isn't quite as big a deal now as it was in the old days, because you can pretty much get the Times in any major American city. I know I can get it in Chicago--I just don't usually. Today he's talking about the imminent anniversary of Katrina's date with New Orleans. His title, "Return to the Scene of the Crime," requires some explanation, as it's the Prez's return to the scene of his own crime at issue here. Rich's argument is that the Bush administration's nonresponse to Katrina was his moment of truth, his great unmasking, the incident that caused the body politic to see right through him. Rich also thinks the press saw through him at the same time, and while they did question his effectiveness (if not very directly his person), they continue to give him the benefit of the doubt far more than non-sycophants would normally do. But he makes a number of good points that make his column worth a read, not least among them some of Katrina's stats:

A year after the storm, the reconstruction of New Orleans echoes our reconstruction of Baghdad. A "truth squad" of House Democrats has cataloged the "waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement" in $8.75 billion worth of contracts, most of which were awarded noncompetitively. Only 60 percent of the city has electricity. Half of the hospitals and three-quarters of the child-care centers remain closed. Violent crime is on the rise. Less than half of the population has returned.

But perhaps the best commentary didn't even come from Frank Rich himself. He quotes Douglas Brinkley to excellent effect as his column nears a close.

Douglas Brinkley, the Tulane University historian who wrote the best-selling account of Katrina, "The Great Deluge," is worried that even now the White House is escaping questioning about what it is up to (and not) in the Gulf. "I don't think anybody's getting the Bush strategy," he said when we talked last week. "The crucial point is that the inaction is deliberate — the inaction is the action." As he sees it, the administration, tacitly abetted by New Orleans's opportunistic mayor, Ray Nagin, is encouraging selective inertia, whether in the rebuilding of the levees ("Only Band-Aids have been put on them"), the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward or the restoration of the wetlands. The destination: a smaller city, with a large portion of its former black population permanently dispersed. "Out of the Katrina debacle, Bush is making political gains," Mr. Brinkley says incredulously. "The last blue state in the Old South is turning into a red state."

I've got it on good authority that this is precisely the strategy spelled out by New Orleans expatriates sitting out the rebuilding in Florida country clubs. The underclass was just getting in the way, and all the wealthy people who'll be flocking to the new condos that can go in where the flooded-out neighborhoods used to be will be better off without them. Exactly how they'll get a thriving tourist economy up and running again without a substantial service sector is a plan that is still probably on the drawing board, but I'm sure the Prez stands ready to help in any way he can.

If you want to read a couple of other excellent commentaries on Katrina, ones that are free to the public this time, take a look at "The Storm That Blew New Orleans Apart" and "Down and Up on the Bayou," both from The New York Times. Thanks today to Wealthy Frenchman for the uncut column by Frank Rich.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Travel Primer, Part 1

I've learned a very important lesson on this trip, and I share it with you to save you from some of the pain and anguish I've experienced. If you're going to take electronics with you on a trip, make sure you take the chargers with you, as well. My phone died on Friday, I think, and I'm nursing the Blackberry along so that it still has some juice (though not a lot, so I'm not sure how much time I've got left on it). I don't have the blogging flexibility I'd prefer, and I was afraid that as we returned home this evening that I'd broken the promise I just made a week or so ago. But then I remembered that this blog works on Central time and New York is still on Eastern Time, so, according to the blog, at least, it's not Sunday yet. I feel my promise is really more along the lines of having something new up every waking day, so if it's 1:00 in the morning it still counts as the day before, but there's something to be said for a post for every individual date.

We've been experiencing a very theater-heavy trip. So far we've seen Pig Farm off Broadway (quite disappointing), and The Drowsy Chaperone, Sweeney Todd, and Martin Short's new show on (each various degrees of much better). We're intending to see The Lieutenant of Inishmore tomorrow. I'll have more to say about them later when I have more time to blog at my convenience. Earlier tonight we stopped by Angus McIndoe for a bite to eat after the show and had a very pleasant experience. It's been a great time, but then NYC virtually always is. More soon, when my blogging time is my own.

Blogger Problems

Blogger is currently trying to immigrate over to Google, and it's causing problems. I've written a post from New York, but it's refusing to post it. This post may or may not work, but either way, I'm giving up for the night, and I'll give it another try tomorrow.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Punch and Judy -udy, -udy

I was watching Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room yesterday (remember, I don't normally have cable), and liberal Bill Press was talking to conservative J. C. Watts about the morning-after pill. There was nothing particularly memorable or intriguing about the conversation, but the way that they were each standing behind the lectern (or whatever it is) smiling happily and slightly facing each other reminded me of something. Maybe it was the four martinis I had at lunch that moved my thinking in this direction, but it seemed like nothing so much as Punch and Judy. You know that if one of them had had a bat they would have hit the other with it. And right then it hit me that this is what our present-day political discourse has come to. We have no ideas. We have no reasonable give and take. We just have the entertainment of bashing each other over the head (ostensibly with political ideas) for entertainment purposes. You can almost pick any popular political figure and figure out who the corresponding Punch or Judy would be. What kind of way is this to run the country, much less how to run the world?

Thursday, August 24, 2006


This was our first time through airline security since we've gone into an orange alert, and it all went much more smoothly than I expected. They've added quite a bit more security in Midway airport than was there when I flew out of there in July, and as far as I can tall, it was money well spent. We planned to give ourselves enough time before our flight was due to leave at 7:15 this morning, so we arrived at the airport by 5:30, but we were through security in ten minutes. That left us more than an hour before our flight left to enjoy the epicurian delights of Potbelly. I didn't necessarily expect it, but I've got nothing but good things to say about airport security.

Iranian Deja Vu

I've got to admit, I don't have much this evening. We've been rushing around to get everything done before we're off to New York in the morning for a late-summer-weekend getaway. I don't want to leave you with nothing, though, so I'll crib a couple of posts from Joe at AMERICAblog. The House Intelligence Committee has come out with a report revealing that we're notably lacking in intelligence on Iran. That may not come as too much of a surprise when we remember that this was reportedly Valerie Plame's area of expertise. Joe first cites a fairly straightforward report from Reuters. But his next post takes a bit of a different angle on the information. A New York Times article reports that the Bushies are quite annoyed by this situation. Why aren't the intelligence agencies providing them with fixed information to back up their preconceptions? It worked before. Surely the American people are spoiling for another war now that Iraq isn't going our way quite as easily as we were assured it would. Are the neocons going to keep starting wars until they find the one that fulfills all their dreams? From the looks of things, the answer to that question just might be yes.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Prez and the Press

Contrary to what you may have heard, the Prez offered some helpful information at his press conference on Monday. Asked about his strategy in Iraq and whether or not he should rethink it, he replied, "If I didn't think it would work, I would change -- our commanders would recommend changing the strategy. They believe it will work." So he's not taking about changing the strategy that seems to get us more and more mired in Iraq, because the one we've got is doing just fine. Yes, this has been asked before, but how dire would the situation have to get for us to think maybe things weren't working out so well?

He was also asked about a timetable for ending the occupation of Iraq and getting the military out of there. He answered, "We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President. That would be a huge mistake." That leaves only two years and about four months before some other president might order the troops to come home, but that's only if everybody cooperates.

And the question (and answer) we've all been waiting for was dealt with, as well. What exactly did Saddam Hussein have to do with al Qaeda? "Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq." And there you have it. Case closed. The 9/11 attack has nothing whatsoever to do with our invasion of Iraq. That makes the question of why we did invade Iraq still unanswered, but maybe the Prez'll get around to explaining that in a couple years' time when he holds his next press conference.

Sunday Spidey

I picked up the Sun-Times with the Spider-Man insert I talked about a couple of days ago, and I have to admit that it was less than overwhelming. It's only sixteen pages (including the cover), so it's small enough that I had to look through the paper twice before I found it. There's no indication of why this is included in the paper, that current Spider-Man stories are written and drawn in a completely different style than the Lee and Ditko use here, or where we should go for more Spider-Man adventures. Spider-Man's first story is shorter than I recall, but it's reprinted here in its eleven-page entirety. The three mystery/fantasy stories that filled out the original Amazing Fantasy #15 are nowhere to be found.

This is an extremely flimsy package, but nowhere does it suggest that you'd find something more substantial if you went to an actual comics store. I wonder if parents will see this and think about how comic books have become much less since they were kids. Unless it's an early tie-in to Spider-Man 3, I don't see how it benefits Marvel Comics.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Quick Hits

Google is slowly merging with Blogger, so we're currently going through some growing pains. It took me quite a while to log in tonight, and I hope that this isn't a sign of things to come. Ultimately, though, it let me in, so here we are now. I've got a handful of things that have been hanging around for a while, so I should probably mention them before they get too stale.

• I never did comment on the Prez's reading Camus's The Stranger. The obvious question is why would he be reading it (no, the obvious question is does anybody really believe that he actually read it), and I suppose one reason might be that he found Sartre too happy and effervescent. My first thought was that he heard it was the inspiration for the early Cure song "Killing an Arab" and thought it would be right up his alley.

• A recent Zogby poll discovered that while 25 percent of the American public can name two Supreme Court justices, 75 percent can name two of the Seven Dwarves. That's a bit surprising, because there are two more SC justices available to remember. The poll even had a comics connection. Only 37 people knew Mercury was closest to the sun, but a full 60 percent could name Superman's home planet, Krypton. The oddest comparison was that 74 percent could name the Three Stooges, but only 42 percent could identify the three branches of government. I don't get it. These days, aren't they essentially the same thing?

• Back a few months ago, I noted that Kevin Drum was thinking about going to Worldcon in Anaheim this year. Well, the con starts in a couple of days, and not only has Kevin decided to go, he's going to be on a handful of panels. If anybody else reading this is going to Worldcon, have fun!

• Osama bin Laden's professed sex slave, Kola Boof, is claiming that Osama had a huge crush on Whitney Houston, even to the point of considering having Bobby Brown killed. She also mentioned that Osama enjoyed Playboy and that his favorite TV shows were The Wonder Years, Miami Vice, and MacGyver. I'm sorry, but I've got nothing to add that can possibly make that funnier or more oddball.

Monday, August 21, 2006

No Longer Fearing Fear Itself

I was wrong. Frank Rich has not followed the Prez's lead from years past and taken the entire month of August off. After only two weeks gone, he's back in Sunday's New York Times, and he's channeling Jimmy Piersall (his title is "Five Years After 9/11, Fear Finally Strikes Out"). He argues that Americans are starting to see through the Bush administration charade of a terrorist under every bed. The recent terrorist raids in England, even before that story started to unravel, did not help the Prez's standing in any of the latest polls, and with Ned Lamont's win and the lackluster performance of Oliver Stone's World Trade Center, Rich sees the public repudiating the Karl Rove fear strategy. I hope I'm wrong, but I worry that Rich is overly optimistic at the moment. While refusing to buy into the propaganda of fear is a good thing, I'm not sure that it translates into voting the bums out. But read what Rich has to say:

It's not as if the White House didn't pull out all the stops to milk the terror plot to further its politics of fear. One self-congratulatory presidential photo op was held at the National Counterterrorism Center, a dead ringer for the set in "24." But Mr. Bush's Jack Bauer is no more persuasive than his Tom Cruise of "Top Gun." By crying wolf about terrorism way too often, usually when a distraction is needed from bad news in Iraq, he and his administration have long since become comedy fodder, and not just on "The Daily Show." June's scenario was particularly choice: as Baghdad imploded, Alberto Gonzales breathlessly unmasked a Miami terror cell plotting a "full ground war" and the destruction of the Sears Tower, even though the alleged cell had no concrete plans, no contacts with terrorist networks and no equipment, including boots.

What makes the foiled London-Pakistan plot seem more of a serious threat — though not so serious it disrupted Tony Blair's vacation — is that the British vouched for it, not Attorney General Gonzales and his Keystone Kops. This didn't stop Michael Chertoff from grabbing credit in his promotional sprint through last Sunday’s talk shows. "It was as if we had an opportunity to stop 9/11 before it actually was carried out," he said, insinuating himself into that royal we. But no matter how persistent his invocation of 9/11, our secretary of homeland security is too discredited to impress a public that has been plenty disillusioned since Karl Rove first exhibited the flag-draped remains of a World Trade Center victim in a 2004 campaign commercial. We look at Mr. Chertoff and still see the man who couldn't figure out what was happening in New Orleans when the catastrophe was being broadcast in real time on television.

Take a look at the whole thing, either at The New York Times's subscription-only site, or at The Unknown Candidate. You read. You decide. (It's the new Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk slogan.)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sunday Comics [Updated]

If you're looking for a Sunday comics fix beyond the ever-shrinking color comics section, see if your paper is picking up Spider-Man between now and December. The Sun-Times is carrying it, and according to Tom Spurgeon, the New York Post is, as well. First up is Spidey's first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15, and next week will be Amazing Spider-Man #1. I'm a bit intrigued that Marvel and the newspapers are making a 44-year-old comic the focus of such a publicity stunt, and I'm even more curious as to what exactly they'll put out as Amazing Fantasy #15. Since that was a try out for the character, Spider-Man was only part of the issue, with a mystery story taking up the remaining pages. Will they give us a complete replica of the issue, will it be shortened to just the Spider-Man content, or will they fill out the 32 pages with some other Spider-Man material? (Actually, since Sunday papers go on sale on Saturday, those questions have already been answered, but I'm not going out to my newsstand to find out what they are until the morning.) It's not clear yet what will follow Spider-Man #1, if the inserts will move forward through the series or if they'll jump around to various issues from different time periods. It's probably worth checking out, though. There are 120 other papers beyond the Sun-Times and the Post that'll be participating, so see if there's one near you.

UPDATE--I bought the paper. See what I thought of the insert here.

Reformatting the Reader

As of last week, the free alternative weekly Chicago Reader is shrinking. They've gone from four sections down to three. I have to admit that, although I noticed the announcement on the front page of the paper, I didn't take too much note of the fact until I noticed this story from Editor & Publisher. The Reader's former fourth section was overwhelmingly made up of classified ads, with a few comic strips, "News of the Weird," and "Savage Love." All of those features have been spread between the first two sections, but there don't seem to be as many ads as there have been over the past few weeks. Publisher Michael Crystal told E&P that although advertisers in the Reader are have the choice of appearing in the actual paper and on the Website, many are preferring to simply limit themselves to online ads. What happens when this trend becomes overwhelming? It wouldn't surprise me if classifieds are mostly gone from the hard copy paper in the next few years. I don't know how much of the paper's revenue comes from classifieds versus regular advertising, and I don't know how much they're making from people who advertise online rather than in both media, but I can only assume that the Reader's cash flow is undergoing an adjustment. They're saving some cash by cutting from four sections to three, but I can't imagine that there won't be some more money-saving maneuvers in the future.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bits and Pieces

We went out to see a band tonight, so I'm really late in adding something new for today. The band was just a local band, and although they were mostly country, they could still mix a little Jonathan Richman and Iggy Pop into their mix of Grandpa Jones, Dan Fogelberg, Lee Hazelwood, and originals. One observer in the crowd suggested that might be because they haven't yet settled on what they want to do--that's probably correct, but it still added a breadth to the evening. But since I have music on the mind for the moment, I thought I'd offer up a couple of minor music points.

• It looks like we've missed our chance to have dueling Pink Floyds. David Gilmour, who describes himself as "The Voice and Guitar of Pink Floyd" on his Website, finished touring the States with his band in the spring. Now it's apparently Roger Waters's turn. Waters calls himself "The Creative Genius of Pink Floyd" on his Website, and he's describing the tour as "Dark Side of the Moon" live. Fans will presumably have to make their own pick as to who provides the definitive version.

• Walter Becker and Donald Fagen have apparently been bored on their current Steely Dan tour. A little while back, they sent an open letter to Luke Wilson to advise some sort of intervention for his brother over Owen's most recent film. Apparently it felt good to help a troubled young Hollywood icon, because they've just come out with some career guidance for Wes Anderson. Will Wes be astute enough to take them up on their offer to aid in his next film? If so, Mark Mothersbaugh will probably not be pleased. I'll keep an eye out for which wayward celebrity they offer a helping hand to next.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Is Hersh Being Overlooked?

Maybe I just haven't been looking in the right places, but I would've expected Seymour Hersh's latest article in The New Yorker to have gotten a bit more attention. He's it on good authority that the Bushies were complicit in the planning of Israel's recent actions against Hezbollah.

The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel's retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah's heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel's security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preemptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.

. . .

Earlier this summer, before the Hezbollah kidnappings, the U.S. government consultant said, several Israeli officials visited Washington, separately, "to get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear." The consultant added, "Israel began with Cheney. It wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of his office and the Middle East desk of the National Security Council." After that, "persuading Bush was never a problem, and Condi Rice was on board," the consultant said.

The initial plan, as outlined by the Israelis, called for a major bombing campaign in response to the next Hezbollah provocation, according to the Middle East expert with knowledge of U.S. and Israeli thinking. Israel believed that, by targeting Lebanon's infrastructure, including highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian runways at the main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon's large Christian and Sunni populations to turn against Hezbollah, according to the former senior intelligence official. The airport, highways, and bridges, among other things, have been hit in the bombing campaign. The Israeli Air Force had flown almost nine thousand missions as of last week. (David Siegel, the Israeli spokesman, said that Israel had targeted only sites connected to Hezbollah; the bombing of bridges and roads was meant to prevent the transport of weapons.)

The Israeli plan, according to the former senior intelligence official, was "the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran." (The initial U.S. Air Force proposals for an air attack to destroy Iran's nuclear capacity, which included the option of intense bombing of civilian infrastructure targets inside Iran, have been resisted by the top leadership of the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, according to current and former officials. They argue that the Air Force plan will not work and will inevitably lead, as in the Israeli war with Hezbollah, to the insertion of troops on the ground.)

Maybe only a handful of people have picked this up because it's not exactly a surprise. Even after last week's patented "frightening terror plot," the Prez's poll numbers have remained stagnant, so perhaps a good portion of us have begun to see through his scare tactics. He certainly never seemed terribly upset with the whole Israel/Hezbollah situation, as I pointed out a couple of times. At one point, he even called the situation a "moment of opportunity." At this point, how much of a shock can it really be to discover that the Bush administration may be making its own opportunities?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Fresh Blogs

I don’t know if something’s up with Blogger, but I’ve been noticing when I’ve brought up this page lately that the computer’s bringing up a cached version rather than a freshly loaded one. I've had this happen on a couple of different computers, so I think it’s the site rather than the computer. I’ve also had it occur on some other blogs, which is why I’m speculating that it could be Blogger. A few nights ago, I wrote a little bit about the commitment I’ve made to have something new up every day. If you’re seeing a post up top that’s been there for a day or two, chances are it’s a cached page rather than a new one. Although I’ve been pretty good about it for the last few days, I won’t necessarily promise to have a new post every morning, so the latest post might be dated from the day before, but it shouldn’t be over two days old.

UPDATE--I only posted this about 15 minutes ago, but I'm updating already. Atrios mentioned this yesterday, and he says it's a problem with Firefox. Has anybody noticed it with any other browsers?

It's Come to This

Yow, I wasn't prepared to be up this late at all! Although the first show of Busting Out was Tuesday night, Wednesday night was the big opening party. There were lots of friends there, and I thank everybody for coming out (and I apologize that I didn't get to talk to you longer).

I'd planned to write a big, expressive piece about how I can't believe I now agree with George Will. I didn't have a blog at the time, so you'll have to take my word for it, but I've always believed that September 11 and other terrorist activity should be the jurisdiction of law enforcement. Sometimes an army might be necessary, but our terrorist goal should be to get our man, not to destroy the Middle East enough that its residents finally see the light and adopt Jeffersonian democracy. And that's apparently what George Will believes, too.

As I said, I'd planned to write a fair bit about the implications of Will's column and how it's essentially a complete repudiation of Bush policies, but it's late enough that I'm doing well to just avoid and/or correct the typos I'm making. So I'm just going to quote him quickly and go to bed. Read the whole thing.

Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement (the British draw upon useful experience combating IRA terrorism) has validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10, 2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror." In a candidates' debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."

Good night.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Oh No! Not More Wizard World!

I'm wading in here again even though, despite how it may look, the subject is not that important to me. Although Wizard insists that there is no cause and effect, after receiving a fair bit of online criticism (Heidi has a round up) the organization fired two senior con organizers. In the comments at the two linked stories, a few creators and guests of the cons have stepped up to praise the fired staffers. The consensus seems to be that there are larger issues that Wizard's turning a blind eye to. If he plays his cards right, Wizard chief Gareb Shamus will be able to find a job in the Bush administration if the comic book guide thing ever fades away.

Meanwhile, over at Indignant Online, Todd Allen has a few suggestions for how to make Wizard World better. He's got a number of good points (including some about the lack of a decent program of panels, a subject I'm apt to complain about now and then, myself). But my favorite part is this:

Let's face it, Rosemont sucks. It's a pain in the backside to get from Chicago-proper to Rosemont, and vice-versa. There aren't just a ton of food options in easy walking distance from the convention center and the local nightlife is pathetic.

I'm not sure what all our non-Rosemont options are or how viable they might be, but everything Todd says is true. Rosemont seems to pack the convention business in, but it's not a terribly easy place to get to or pleasant place to be.

How Things Change

I didn't post anything new most of the day today because I didn't want to bump that picture down any sooner than I had to. But, life goes on, so now it starts its journey down the page.

While I was rooting around in my archives to find the post about last year's Busting Out, I couldn't help but notice the post that immediately preceded it. That post's subject was the Chicago White Sox and how, despite a really good start to last year's season, they weren't getting any respect in the Chicago media, instead being relegated to the shadow of the perpetual wait-till-next-year Cubs. No, make that no respect in the national media. The previous week, Sports Illustrated blogger Mark Bechtel called them the worst team to root for in all of professional sports. I guess none of that is the case anymore.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Busting Out '06

Yeah, that'll get your attention. I should've posted this a while back, but at least I'm getting to it now. This morning someone came to Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk looking for Busting Out, and all they were able to find was my post on last year's show (which, interestingly enough, starts off with the sentence: "I should have done this earlier, but here it is now"--does anybody sense a trend?). Stockyards Theatre Project is going with the four one acts again, with one of them popping up throughout the show. This year's theme is "Toying with the Tyranny of Time," and the four plays are The Return, No Time Too Loose, Life Targets, and Thirty Wonderful. It all opens up with the comedy stylings of Helen London. As the poster I've reproduced above indicates, the show opens up tomorrow night tonight (I started this post on Monday, but midnight came and went before I actually got it online) and will play Tuesday and Wednesday evenings through September 13 at the Stage Left Theatre at 3408 N. Sheffield Avenue in Chicago. Approach the performances with care, though--the press release offers the following warning: "Caution, this show contains humor and dancing."

In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that the managing director of Stockyards Theatre Group is my wife, Francesca Peppiatt (who appears in one of the one acts). So yes, this is a commercial. And this is also the reason for my recent late nights and lower level of blogging activity. I'm not officially a part of Stockyards, but I try to help out when I can. Although I've never helped during a production before, I may actually find myself jumping in to do what I can this time around (although not in the show itself, but with the show). If you drop by and I happen to be around, be sure to say hi. And if you're interested in making a reservation, drop me an e-mail.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Keeping My Commitment

Yes, I'm still awake. It's been a very late night, and I'll explain why tomorrow if I get time. If not tomorrow, then very soon. But it occurs to me that I haven't posted anything since I got up this morning, so in order to keep my promise to myself of "something new every day" (a few people are aware of that promise, but it's one I've been fulfilling for myself rather than for my readership--sorry, guys, but at least you get the benefit of the promise, and if you want to tell yourselves I'm keeping a promise to you, as well, then I won't argue otherwise).

It's still August, so I guess that means Frank Rich is still on vacation, so there's nothing new from him today. I'm betting we don't see a new column until Labor Day at the absolute earliest. But in the meantime, Kevin Drum had a very thought-provoking post on restraint as a response to terrorism. It's certainly difficult to pull off in the short-term--who wants to turn the other cheek when we're attacked?--but it may have more substantial pay-offs in the somewhat distant future. Attacking back with both barrels is often playing right into the terrorists' hands. We're almost down to just the Prez, his surrogate father Dick Cheney, and his faithful sidekick Joe Lieberman who are still making the argument that our little adventure into Iraq has made us safer. And can anybody assert the Israel is better off after their no-holds-barred response to the Hezbollah? But at the same time, how long would the US--or any other country with freely elected leaders--continue to follow an official line of patience and mostly holding our fire? What's best for us in the long run may be exactly that which we'll never do.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Offered (Almost) Without Comment

I hadn't been aware that there's a new American Basketball Association ready to start up in the fall. Like the old ABA, they're using a red, white, and blue basketball. By my count at the Website, there are 58 teams in the league, with another ten set to join in 2007. Although they seem to be playing on the tradition of the league from the '60s, the name might be a bit of a misnomer, as there are teams in China, Mexico, and Canada.

Although the ABA is gearing up to start its first season later this year, not all the details have been set yet (for instance, there's not an actual schedule posted on the Website yet). And not every team has a name yet. Which brings us to the real subject of this post. One of the teams without a name is the one set for Quebec City. Quebec City, of course, is the capital of the only French-speaking province or state in North America. Surely there's a lot of history and local color to draw upon in coming up with an appropriate name. But team owner Réal Bourassa has apparently decided to go another way. Trusting his own sense of humor and lack of desire to be politically correct, Bourassa has put two names up for a vote: the Quebec Kebekwa or the Quebec Jumping Frogs. Logos for each of the names have already been drafted, and they both include frogs. The voting is still open. Go take a look and make your choice.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Terror Plot Roundup

There were a few new developments in the latest uncovered terrorist plot.

• Law enforcement officials in Pakistan announced that they've made at least seven arrests connected to the plot. They insist the plot was really based in Afghanistan rather than Pakistan, as US and British officials suggest. I can see why they'd want to nitpick the point, but is that really a significant difference in the bigger picture?

• As part of the process of freezing all their assets, the Bank of England has revealed the identities of 19 of the 24 suspects arrested.

• Tony Blair seems to have learned much at the feet of his guru. Despite the danger his government is dealing with in this extremely serious incident, Blair is not cutting short his vacation at Cliff Richard's villa at Barbados. Unfortunately, he still has a way to go before he completely masters the lessons. He's expressed some concern that perhaps he should return home.

• John Aravosis has been providing reasons why he doesn't accept the gravity of the situation over at AMERICAblog. In this post, he mentions a report that originated in comments at BoingBoing. I'm not going to repeat the photo, but it shows a woman pouring her suspected liquid into a vat of other suspected liquids. Doesn't the argument about banning liquids from flights boil down to the fact that liquids that are innocuous on their own can become explosive when mixed together?

In another post, Aravosis quotes an e-mail from a friend describing airport officials' confiscation of lip gloss from passengers boarding planes. Obviously, they're taking lip gloss because it can be dangerous when . . . well, I don't really know.

Finally (for now, at least), Aravosis notes that officials at Phoenix and Pennsylvania are giving away or auctioning off the dangerous toothpaste, deodorant, shaving cream, and lip gloss that they're confiscating at airports. If these items aren't safe enough to take on a plane, why are they safe enough to sell on ebay?

• In comments to the last post, Don asserts that he believes the plot is real (although he bases most of his position on the fact that he find the BBC more trustworthy and believable than CNN). He may be right, because unfortunately, the gravity and reality of the terrorist plot is not precluded by an inept response by the Bush administration. As we've seen in almost six years since the Prez took office, we've seen plenty of evidence that the administration will blow off or respond inappropriately to serious situations.

• I don't know how long the new airline restrictions will last, but for however long they do, pretty much everybody will have to check a bag, which means that waiting at baggage claim will be that much more annoying. The number of bags that will need to be unloaded from a flight will expand, since the only way to avoid checking anything will be to buy all new toiletries at your destination. A few people might be willing to do that, but most will just put those newly banned products in their bags. Anybody who last week carried a bag onto the plane and left the airport straight from the gate will now have to stow something under the cabin. The airlines, many of whom have been fighting tooth and nail against bankruptcy, must be loving this.

Friday, August 11, 2006

If I Don't Post Tonight, the Terrorists Will Have Won

I have to admit, I don't have much tonight. The terrorist raid in England is distressing for a couple of reasons. If there's any actual meat on the bones of the story, then it's distressing for obvious reasons. If it's been overblown, then we've got a whole bunch of other reasons to be concerned. It's too bad that our first response nowadays is to doubt the terrorist hype, but after false alarm after false alarm, there's little to no reason to take terror alerts at face value. One argument that suggests it may not be what it seems is the Prez's apparent decision to remain on vacation. Of course, on reflection that might not be indicative of anything. He stayed on vacation after being warned against al Qaeda in 2001 and being briefed on the potential destruction of Katrina last year. He stays on vacation during the worst crises, so I guess we can't read anything into his decision to stay now.

On the other side, here in Chicago, the mayor was telling everyone that as far as he knew, there was no credible threat to the city. One presumes that he'd have been briefed if the government has known about this for some time, as seems to be the case. And what exactly were they planning? That hasn't been fully revealed, either. The Department of Homeland Security released a statement today that stated, "This plot appears to have been well planned and well advanced and in the final stages of preparation." However, according to The Washington Post, "Internet searches made by the suspects suggested they had considered targeting as many as 10 flights, investigators said, although there was no evidence that those arrested had bought tickets or made reservations." So this may all be based in Internet searches some of the suspects performed. No plane tickets, no evidence of specific planning, just some Internet searches. If I could potentially be arrested for every Internet search I perform, I'd be a heck of a lot choosier.

I hope all this turns out to be nothing. Of course, that would mean that our government is trying to play us for fools again, but at least that we can do something about.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

How Will Lieberman's Influence Be Felt?

Speaking of Lieberman, a probably overly optimistic thought occurred to me today, but I thought I'd share it. Lieberman wasn't the only incumbent to lose a primary last night. Representatives Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and Joe Schwarz of Michigan also went down to challengers from their own parties. While Ned Lamont attacked Lieberman from the left, liberal McKinney was defeated by a moderate opponent, and moderate Schwarz failed to fend off a challenger from the far right. This isn't an ideological trend, then, but an anti-incumbent one. As we move closer to November, I expect the discontent with out sitting elected officials to strengthen.

So here's the optimistic part of my thinking: I wrote last night that Lieberman's staying in the Connecticut senate race had the potential to take the air out of other races against vulnerable sitting Republicans. While I still think Lieberman will take attention away from those races, what if it doesn't do that much damage? What if his situation influences the other way, possibly even helping Dem challengers? If the country is in a growing anti-incumbent mood, what might help feed it more than an incumbent who was defeated for reelection but refuses to go away? Could that fire up the feeling against incumbents even more? Maybe it's wishful thinking. Certainly it's heavily optimistic. But can we be sure it's not possible?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wizard World Attendance Shocker!

Yeah, I know. That's just a sensational headline so maybe you'll read this post. It's not really a surprise, because this is what Wizard does. To the surprise of no one, except maybe a few of those in the vast expanse of a less-than-full convention center, Wizard announced that attendance at last weekend's Wizard World was up by 2,000 over last year. That makes it a new record.

Now, I wasn't there every minute of the con, of course, and I've got no way of actually counting what attendance was, but as I wrote a couple of times over the weekend, there were noticeably less people there than in past years. I wasn't the only one who noticed it--even the commenters at Newsarama found the estimates unbelievable. Perhaps there were a number of invisible people there that I didn't notice. Or maybe they included any parents who drove up to the curb to let their kids out. Perhaps they counted comics characters, who were certainly present in the books themselves. And the Rosemont Convention Center is right next to O'Hare Airport, so it's possible that any planes that came in low enough were considered as passing through the con. One thing Wizard pretty definitely does is recount attendees who come more than one day. The show is three days long, so if you buy a three-day pass, you count as three attendees--even if you only come for two of those days. Since they've started a preview night, they might even count you as four people, which is ridiculous, because you can only get in to the preview if you've got one of the three-day deals, so you're automatically going to be there at least one other day. Counting Thursday attendees is nothing but stacking the deck.

I'm not sure how much it matters, though. These record-breaking numbers were met with such disbelief that Wizard is just undermining their own credibility. (Maybe Wizard also believes that everything's just getting better and better in Iraq and that Lieberman regained his Joementum last night.) Dealers making their decisions about whether to come back in future years will certainly take this into consideration.

CD Drive Problems

I have no illusions that readers here are particularly tech savvy or anything, but maybe somebody has a decent solution to a problem I've been having. After my computer has been turned off for a long period of time (such as overnight), it starts up fine, but within ten or fifteen minutes (or less), it freezes up completely. When I reboot, it'll come back and is mostly fine (it may freeze again in three or four hours, but it may not).

You may notice that I wrote, "mostly fine." I've got a DVD-ROM drive and a CD-RW drive, and they have no problems when the machine boots the first time. But after it freezes and I reboot it, it loses touch with them entirely. The machine completely won't acknowledge that there are the two drives hooked up to it (the DVD came installed, and I put the CD-RW in four or five years ago). If I turn the computer off and restart it, the drives won't reappear. I haven't found how long the thing has to be off before the drives come back, but I also don't know if that's the same amount of time it has to be off so it freezes again a few minutes after I turn it on.

If anybody has any ideas--even just stopgap measures, I'd be very appreciative.

Sore Loserman

Yeah, I know, the title's kind of obvious, but what can you do? Tonight's big news, of course, is the Joe Lieberman loss to Ned Lamont in the Connecticut senate primary. Early on, of course, the junior senator from Connecticut tried to blackmail Democrats in his state by threatening to run as an independent if they voted him out. Well, now he's acting on that threat. During a concession speech, he announced that his independent candidacy is on. Referring to his primary loss, Lieberman taunted, "For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand." That's right, he's ignoring the will of Democratic primary voters for the sake of the Democratic party. The party is more important than the voters that populate it.

The hubris in that statement is overwhelming. This isn't about the Democratic party, Connecticut, or the nation. This is about Joe Lieberman, who feels the people of Connecticut owe him a seat in the Senate whether they agree or not. If it were about the Democratic party, Lieberman wouldn't be ready to draw focus from the races where Dems really have a chance to pick up House and Senate seats. That lack of focus could make it less likely that Dems can take control over either body. Would someone concerned about the Democratic party really put himself in a position to help Republicans? (Of course, that's one of the main charges against Lieberman, that in the name of "bipartisanship" he was too eager to fall unquestioningly into line behind an irresponsible president and Republican party.) Would he tell Dems to sit down and shut up because criticizing the President during wartime (no matter whether the criticism has merit or not) is bad for the country?

This may be wishful thinking, but I'm hoping that the national party comes down hard on Joe and makes clear that Democratic voters have the final say, not the candidates they vote out of office. Chris Cillizza reports that Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, a Lieberman supporter during the primary and another moderate/conservative Democrat, has come out for Lamont, the party nominee, and Harry Reid and Charles Schumer are expected to make statements tomorrow.

But we need more than statements. Kos and John Aravosis have each called for a concerted effort to lobby Senate Dems to strip Lieberman of any party positions he has in the Senate. I think that's a great idea. He's the ranking Dem on the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and he's also on Armed Services (where he's the ranking Dem on the Airland subcommittee), Environment and Public Works, and Small Business and Entrepreneurship. I'm not sure they can simply kick him off the committees themselves, but he can certainly be stripped of whatever responsibilities the Democratic party has given him. The voters of Connecticut have spoken. He shouldn't get a do-over just because he doesn't like what they had to say.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Arthur Lee

While my attention was otherwise occupied this weekend, very sad news was delivered. Arthur Lee, frontman and primary songwriter for Love, died of leukemia on Thursday. His career was overwhelmingly made up of ups and downs (certainly with far more downs than he needed) but his ups--primarily the Love album Forever Changes--are transcendent. It's a cliche to say as much, but Lee and Love were far ahead of their time. It doesn't seem like such a big deal these days, but Lee, an African-American, led one of the first integrated rock bands. They were very low key about that status--it was just the way the band was.

But Lee was far in advance of musical trends, as well. Forever Changes came out in 1968, and although it was acclaimed and sold well in Britain at the time, it had limited success on this side of the Atlantic. It was a good twenty or twenty-five years before it routinely started showing up on critics' all-time album lists. (Here it is coming in at #40 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 from a few years ago.) While they were making their masterpiece, Lee and his bandmates were also expanding their minds (as was the fashion of the time), and Lee grew to be little more than a recluse. He refused to tour in support of the album (or to venture very far from his house for any reason), and the band fell apart.

Lee continued to record (sometimes under the Love name with other musicians), but he was never able to recapture the chemistry he'd had with the Forever Changes line up of the band. He also had some run-ins with the law and spent much of the '90s in a California jail cell under that state's "three strikes you're out" law. Released in 2001, he finally organized a tour for Forever Changes (which I was fortunate enough to see when it came through Chicago) and received the acclaim he deserved. Although it might've seemed like a nice set up for a happy ending, Lee remained troubled, and his leukemia diagnosis followed much too quickly.

You can find a number of remembrances and appreciations of Lee around the Web. Rolling Stone has a fairly detailed one, and Doors drummer John Densmore recalls the Sunset Strip scene in this morning's LA Times (Lee recommended the Doors to Jac Holzman, the head of Elektra Records). Read about Forever Changes from The Village Voice and Sun-Times rock critic Jim DeRogatis. Take in an Arthur Lee video at YouTube. Or, what the heck, go buy the expanded edition of Forever Changes if you don't already own it. It's the least Arthur Lee deserves.

Monday, August 07, 2006

People Go on Holiday in August

If you're looking for Frank Rich's New York Times column this week, you're not going to find it. I don't know if he'll be taking the entire month of August off, but he's not there today. If you still need some sort of a weekly Rich fix, you can take a look at an early review of his book, The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina, from Kirkus Reviews. That book is due out on September 26.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Quick Wizard World Wrap Up

You may find some differing views on some other sites, but as far as I'm concerned, Wizard World 2006 was as lackluster as I expected. I was brunching with family and out-of-town friends this morning, so I didn't get full view of how well today was attended, but it was pretty sparse by the time I arrived this afternoon. Dealers were dropping prices somewhat, but many booths were offering deals from the get go, so many didn't have that far to move in the first place. I saw one retailer on Friday who had signs for comics marked down from fifty cents apiece to three for a dollar. I wasn't sure whether they'd really started at fifty cents and dropped or if it were just a marketing gimmick to make buyers think that they were getting a better deal. By late this afternoon, though, they'd been marked down to four for a dollar, then five for a dollar, and finally a dime each. Whether they started at fifty cents or thirty-three cents, that's quite a drop.

I can't imagine that the show won't bleed dealers even further next year. And if dealers start to bail, how long until fans follow? The comics publishers and other exhibitors are still bringing a presence, but next year will be a repeat of this year, with Wizard World Chicago following Comic-Con International in San Diego by only two weeks. Not much time for turnaround, and it may have accounted for what seemed like a low level of energy this year.

We'll have to wait for some other postmortems (which may already be posted, but I don't have the energy to go look) to see whether I'm a voice in the wilderness or whether my views represent some sort of consensus. I can almost guarantee that the Wizard take will be that the whole thing was a roaring success. (Any resemblance to national political leaders and their views on Iraq and the war on terror are purely coincidental.)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

On-the-Ball Marketing

Yes, today was another con day, but it was very uneventful. More people were in attendance than yesterday, but except for a couple of instances, it never seemed terribly crowded. Although I'm enjoying visiting with friends, in case you haven't noticed, I'm not terribly enthused about the whole affair. So I'm going to write about something else.

I've written before about some of the questionable decisions and iffy judgments at WCPT, Chicago's Air America outlet, but today I'm offering some praise. A couple of months ago, I critiqued a new ad campaign for a right-wing radio station that consisted of nothing but "Liberals Hate Us." It looks like WCPT has come up with a response ad of sorts. Earlier this week I saw one of their billboards that read, "Liberals Love Us." Very clever. Good job, guys!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Quick Con Update

This is just a quick post as I get ready to go home after Day 1 of Wizard World. I don't know how Wizard will end up spinning this, but from all appearances, attendence is way, way down from previous years. There are huge swaths of open space in the dealer areas that one can only assume is due to dealers who just didn't come this year. I'm not sure whether I mentioned this last night or not, but last year there was an overflow area for artists' tables, but that's gone this year, as well. The aisles on the floor, which in the past have been jammed, are incredibly spacious this year. It feels like maybe the booths are farther apart than they've been in the past, but that seems unlikely. It must just be the lack of people. Saturday's usually the biggest day of the con, so it's premature to come to any final judgments on attendence, but they'll have to have a big couple of days to make up for the lackluster today.

Weekend Wizardry

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about Comic-Con International in San Diego and the wide variety of programming that it offered. I said at the time that it had more than twice as many programmed events on its first day than Wizard World Chicago has during its entire show. But be that as it may, it's Wizard World Chicago weekend this weekend, and I'll be in attendance. I've already been at the "preview" this evening, in which they open the exhibition and dealer floor for a couple of hours before the show officially opens tomorrow. They've shaken up the layout a bit, and it had gotten into a bit of a rut with the same booths and companies in the same place for what seems like several years in a row, so that brings a bit more energy to the floor. My own enthusiasm for this show is fairly low this year, and many of the people I've talked to feel the same way. Following the San Diego con by only two weeks makes it hard on the professionals who have to attend both. But I've heard it on good authority that Wizard is concerned that they may have more people than they can handle. I don't think I commented on it at the time, but earlier this year, a comics convention in New York was closed down for a period of time by the fire marshal, and even San Diego suspended its registration for a little while because of overcrowding. Is Wizard trying to hype the possibility, or is it a real threat? I don't know if they'll be able to measure the ticket sales that will be lost to Lollapalooza this weekend, but I have to assume that it will take somewhat of a bite out of Wizard World attendance. It may be very important for Wizard to have overwhelming attendance this year. If I'm locked out tomorrow (or in, for that matter), I'll let you know.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Chicago Indie Opportunities

On Monday in the Chicago Tribune, Greg Kot, the paper's music critic, called Art Brut "the best band in the world" (although he did add the qualifier, "for the moment, at least"). It makes me sorry that I missed them on Friday night (although even in retrospect, I recognize that I was too wiped out and couldn't realistically have added a club show to my list of activities that day), but I'm not sorry that I missed them on during the heat of Saturday at the Pitchfork Music Festival. The heat makes me absolutely miserable, and no amount of stellar music will change that (though it might distract me for a few moments from time to time). But in his review wrapping up the fest, Kot maintains that much of the music and many of the performances were just that. He particularly singles out The Futureheads, the National, and the reformed Mission of Burma and Os Mutantes. I'm particularly sorry to have missed the Os Mutantes, a legendary Brazilian group that broke up almost thirty years ago, reformulated this year, and played its first ever North American shows within the last couple of weeks. But it wasn't in the cards for me to see them on a sweltering Sunday night. Apparently the show was jammed, which is exactly what promoters want to see at an event, but I can't help but think that would only have added to the heat and misery. It all sounds like a huge success, so next year's fest, provided the weather cooperates (not that I expect it to), might be worth looking into. If you can't wait that long, you can always scurry down to Grant Park in a couple of days for an even bigger indie fest that you may have heard of.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The End of an Era

I don't know if I've ever seen a lead in a news article as evocative as this one from a this one from BBC News a few days ago: "Can it really be disrespectful to swing a dead 20lb fish at a group of men to raise money for lifeboats?"

Not only does this question demand an answer, it screams out for an explanation. That explanation isn't quite Monty Python's Fish Slapping Dance, but it's close.

For forty years during Lifeboat Week, Lyme Regis, Dorset, has had a tradition it called "conger cuddling." This activity, which would often draw an audience of 3,000, consists of nine people standing on blocks and trying to knock each other off. Fairly simple and straightforward, except that their only weapon against each other is a conger eel and a rope. They swing the eel at each other to make their opponents lose their balance and stumble off the blocks. This is all done to raise funds for The Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Except that it all changed this year. An anonymous animal rights supporter threatened in an anonymous e-mail to lead a national protest against the event, so the RNLI decided to let it go. The e-mail writer found the activity disrespectful to the dead animals. Instead of eels, the contestants this year used plastic inflatable bouys. It goes without saying that the whole event is not the same.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Kennedy Grades Roberts and Alito

In Sunday's Washington Post, Teddy Kennedy offers a fairly decent rundown of the first Supreme Court session of John Roberts and Sam Alito. Although his take on the situation can't come as much of a surprise, he neatly sums it up in his title: "Roberts and Alito Misled Us." You think?

Although Kennedy may have some claim to say, "I told you so," he doesn't get to sidestep some responsibility completely. As he points out, he's a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and although he was clearly fighting an uphill battle, he didn't use his questioning period to illuminate the issues as clearly as he might have. The Democrats as a whole didn't seem to be taking their oversight duties as seriously as they demand. Kennedy criticized Republicans for using "their time to praise, rather than probe, the nominees." That's certainly true, but most of the Democrats (and particularly Joe Biden, if memory serves) took full advantage of the opportunity to bloviate themselves.

But that complaint aside, Kennedy's piece is well worth reading. He gives specific examples of both Roberts and Alito saying one thing to the committee and voting another way after receiving their lifetime tenures on the court.

During Roberts's hearing, I asked him about his statement that a key part of the Voting Rights Act constitutes one of "the most intrusive interferences imaginable by federal courts into state and local processes." In response, he suggested that his words were nothing more than an "effort to articulate the views of the administration . . . for which I worked 23 years ago."

Today -- too late -- it is clear that Roberts's personal view is the same as it was 23 years ago. In League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, the Supreme Court held that Texas's 2003 redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act by protecting a Republican legislator against a growing Latino population. Roberts reached a different view, concluding that the courts should not have been involved and that it "is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race."

. . .

Perhaps the biggest winner is the president himself. During Alito's hearing, I asked him about a 1985 job application in which he stated that he believed "very strongly in the supremacy of the elected branches of government." He backpedaled, claiming: "I certainly didn't mean that literally at the time, and I wouldn't say that today."

But he is willing to say it now. In the very recent case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Alito signed on to a dissent by Justice Clarence Thomas that asserts a judicial "duty to accept the Executive's judgment in matters of military operations and foreign affairs" as grounds for allowing the administration to use military commissions of its own design to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Generalities are useful, but specifics always help in an actual argument. But Kennedy doesn't just stop there. Although there's nothing short of impeachment we can do to affect Roberts or Alito, we can be more careful in the future. He offers some suggestions for future Supreme Court nominee hearings:

At a time when great legal issues are being decided by the slimmest of margins, we cannot afford to learn nominees' views only after they have obtained lifetime tenure on our highest court. Instead, the Judiciary Committee, the Senate and the American Bar Association need to work together to return to an honest confirmation process. I support reform despite my belief that the next justice will be nominated by a Democratic president and be sent to a Democratic Senate for confirmation.

The discussion should start with a few truths. First, any qualified nominee to the Supreme Court will have spent many years thinking about legal issues. We should require that nominees share that thinking with the Judiciary Committee, and not pretend that such candor is tantamount to prejudging specific cases. In particular, the Senate should have the same access to the nominee's writings as the administration. Second, the Judiciary Committee will need to reorganize the way it asks questions. An in-depth inquiry will require something more than short rounds of questions that pass from senator to senator. Third, we need to remember what this process is all about. It is good to hear that a nominee has a loving family, faithful friends and a sense of humor. It is important to know that nominees possess the intellect, life experience and discipline that make a good judge. But it is essential that we learn enough of their legal views to be certain that they will make good on the simple promise etched in marble outside the Supreme Court: "Equal Justice Under Law."

Whether we can be bothered to pay attention or not, new justices on the Supreme Court will have the power to alter American life for years and generations to come. Look at the influence they've had in the past: The civil rights movement was given a huge kick start by Brown v. Board of Education. We're still living with the fallout from Roe v. Wade. They forced Richard Nixon's hand and caused him to resign, and they ushered George W. Bush into power. Kennedy points out that in its next term, the Supreme Court is expected to take on cases involving abortion, affirmative action, and the Clean Air Act. We (and more importantly, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee) can't allow another right-winger misrepresent himself (and yes, I'm assuming it's a him) into a lifelong appointment.