Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: November 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006

What's in Your DVD Player?

The Chicago Tribune had a diverting story in the Entertainment section on Tuesday. Writer Louis R. Carlozo asked various celebrities what DVDs they'd been watching lately. Some choices were against type, while others were fairly close to what you'd expect. Stan Lee is an example of the first. Instead of high adventure, he prefers what he calls "date movies."

I love to watch movies where there are these little romantic plots where it's a little bit outrageous and funny and has a happy ending. A lot of them seem to star John Cusack. The Wedding Planner was one that I saw recently that really tickled me.

Michael Palin revealed that he's quite the Bill Murray fan and extols the virtues of Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers. John Cleese, on the other hand, prefers to read.

There are some great and important books out there, and at my age, they feel more important to me than what's on TV. Time is an increasingly scarce resource when you become 66.

But the best comment has to come from Dennis Miller. It's not the DVDs he's watching--the miniseries is well worth your time, even if he has too high a regard for it--it's the lesson he's learning from it.

I took Ken Burns' The Civil War on the road with me. I think it's the definitive artistic achievement of our generation -- either that or the B-side of Abbey Road. I think PBS would do a service to rerun that. What we see over and over again is that war is a stumble: It is not a game of Stratego. Burns cuts in these brilliant newspaper headlines of the day; "Lincoln is stupid, a moron" -- and where have I heard that before? One person dying is a heartbreak, but 620,000? No wonder Lincoln was hated.

Yes, he's implying the comparison you think he is. I guess we all see what we want to see, but talk about faulty logic.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More on Jim Webb

The distinguished senator-elect from Virginia is getting more press. It's only natural, because we don't know him as well as we should. His main quality during the campaign was that he wasn't the amazing self-sabatoging, imploding George Allen. Jim Webb was the alternative, and that was enough for the time being. But now we want more.

His recent commentary in The Wall Street Journal let us know that there's more to him than we initially expected, and today's Washington Post offers a profile that fills him out a bit more.

Webb won't be a wallflower, especially when it comes to the war in Iraq. And he won't stick to a script drafted by top Democrats.

. . .

"There are going to be times when I've got some strong ideas, but I'm not looking to simply be a renegade," he said. "I think people in the Democratic Party leadership have already begun to understand that I know how to work inside a structure."

. . .

"He's not a typical politician. He really has deep convictions," said [Senator Charles] Schumer, who headed the Senate Democrats' campaign arm. "We saw this in the campaign. We would have disagreements. But when you made a persuasive argument, he would say, 'You're right.' I am truly not worried about it. He understands the need to be part of a team."

One senior Democratic staff member on Capitol Hill, who spoke on condition that he not be identified so he could speak freely about the new senator, said that Webb's lack of political polish was part of his charm as a candidate but could be a problem as a senator.

"I think he's going to be a total pain. He is going to do things his own way. That's a good thing and a bad thing," the staff member said. But he said that Webb's personality may be just what the Senate needs. "You need a little of everything. Some element of that personality is helpful."

As is my wont, I've saved the best for last. The most quoted section of the article was right up front and related a recent encounter Webb had with the Prez a recent White House reception.

Democrat James Webb declined to stand in a presidential receiving line or to have his picture taken with the man he had often criticized on the stump this fall. But it wasn't long before Bush found him.

"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq.

"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.

"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.

Or maybe it didn't quite end there. According to The Hill (via Josh Marshall), which reported what its source had heard from Webb himself:

Webb confessed that he was so angered by this that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief, reported the source, but of course didn't.

Of course he didn't. Protocol wins out again!

More Semantic Confusion

What's going on north of the border? I've got to admit, I'm having a hard time following it. Like my last post, it seems to be about different people providing different definitions for the same words.

The Conservative government has pushed a resolution through Parliament recognizing Quebec as "nation within Canada." What does that mean, exactly? Well, to start with, it may mean different things depending on whether you're French or English. A different Globe and Mail article explains:

The point of controversy is the English translation of the text. The Bloc motion in French recognizes les Québécois et Québécoises, which can mean all men and women who live in Quebec. Rather than using the English word, Quebeckers, which means all residents of Quebec and is the word used in English by the Bloc, the government's motion in English uses the French term, les Québécois.

When pressed by reporters as to who qualifies as Québécois, [Senate Leader Marjorie] LeBreton suggested it had a broad meaning.

"I know anglophone Quebeckers who call themselves Québécois," she said.

But when asked whether the motion applied to all residents of Quebec, [Transport Minister Lawrence] Cannon said: "No, it doesn't."

Mr. Cannon then said the wording, first used by the Bloc and repeated in the government motion, refers to "pure laine" Quebeckers, a controversial term avoided by sovereigntists for its racial connotations, given that it literally translates to "pure wool."

Mr. Cannon then insisted that the Bloc's attempt to recognize the pure laine was done to divide the country and that [recently resigned Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Michael] Chong's concerns about ethnic nationalism are not justified.

"We're not playing semantics with the words," he said. "We are saying that that is a formal decision that was taken by Quebeckers years ago and here's the . . . first group of sovereigntists that are admitting this fact of life."

(Michael Chong held a position in Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet but resigned over this resolution.)

But what does it mean to be a nation within another nation? Once again, it depends on whom you ask. Apparently Parliament voted for the resolution before they'd actually defined what it meant. Even after the vote, Harper wouldn't say. When asked to define Quebecois, he responded, "The Quebecois know who they are." But there does seem to be some sentiment that nation is being used in the "sociological" sense of the word. I've always thought of nation as more of a political word, myself, but I suppose that it does have a sociological use in such terms as Fast Food Nation or DC Nation. Does that mean that the resolution makes Quebec's new status nothing more than a marketing gimmick? Any of our Canadian readers who'd like to set us straight in comments is certainly invited to do so.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It Depends on What the Meaning of "Civil War" Is

The big linguistic news today appears to be the fact that NBC has made an editorial decision to refer to the situation in Iraq as a "civil war." The Washington Post has a long examination of the issue, digging up definitions of the term from several sources. It also notes that the Bushies continue to refuse to acknowledge that the term could possibly be appropriate.

All this reminded me of an intriguing article I saw a bit over a month ago in the Albany Times Union. Keying off a definition of "civil war" provided by Donald Rumsfeld and General George Casey to explain why Iraq was not experiencing one, Eric Rosenberg provided a few examples of other armed conflicts that didn't quite qualify, including the U.S. Civil War, the Russian civil war that followed the 1917 October Revolution, and the civil wars in Lebanon and Bosnia.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Real McCain

Last week, correspondent JB (no, not that one; not that one, either) wrote me about John McCain, reminding me about Paul Krugman's incisive assessment of him from March of this year (it's still available via truthout if you'd like to revisit it yourself). I wrote about it the time, and I still think it stands as an excellent one-stop shop for understanding that McCain is not the straight talker he portrays himself to be (helped along to a considerable degree by the mainstream media).

But in case you're looking for a little variety, Matt Welch wrote a great piece in Sunday's LA Times that focuses on McCain's core beliefs as expressed in his own writing.

You can read 1,000 profiles of GOP presidential front-runner John McCain without encountering a single paragraph examining his core ideological philosophy. His career is filled with such distracting drama — torture at the Hanoi Hilton, noisy conversion to the campaign-finance-reform faith, political suicide on the Straight Talk Express — that by the time you're done with the highlights, and perhaps a few "maverick" anecdotes, time's up.

People are forever filling in the blanks with their own political fantasies. Third party candidate! John Kerry running mate! Far-right warmonger! Republican In Name Only! But with the announcement that the popular Arizona senator has formed his presidential exploratory committee, it's time for our long national guessing game to end.

Sifting through McCain's four bestselling books and nearly three decades of work on Capitol Hill, a distinct approach toward governance begins to emerge. And it's one that the electorate ought to be particularly worried about right now. McCain, it turns out, wants to restore your faith in the U.S. government by any means necessary, even if that requires thousands of more military deaths, national service for civilians and federal micromanaging of innumerable private transactions. He'll kick down the doors of boardroom and bedroom, mixing Democrats' nanny-state regulations with the GOP's red-meat paternalism in a dangerous brew of government activism.

Welch expands on this argument with roughly another 1,000 words, so he'll satisfy any need you may have for details. You know what to do.

The Forbes Fictional 15

Frank Rich took the weekend off, so there's no column to examine tonight. And since it is still technically Thanksgiving weekend, we can put off real news until later ourselves.

For a number of years, Forbes has named its "Fictional 15," a list of the fifteen wealthiest fictional characters. I wrote about it last year, too. For the first time, there's a shakeup at the top. In previous years, Santa Claus has been the richest character, with an estimated net worth of infinity. I've never liked that because, in addition to its imprecision, Santa clearly gets his wealth through some sort of magic. He doesn't sell all the toys his elves make, so he must be getting his money elsewhere. Since he has no obvious business of any kind, we can only assume that he's either a counterfeiter (a concept that also has seems to have a few holes, because he never seems to carry cash) or he creates his wealth out of whole cloth. This, however, is not the reason Forbes dropped him from the top. Instead, the magazine claims that they've been inundated with cards and letters from children insisting that he's real and thus disqualified for a list of fictional characters. While I'm not sure how I feel about that, I guess I have to admit that the milk and cookies we leave out for him at our house have been consumed by the time we get up in the morning. But does this mean that he'll displace Bill Gates in next year's list of real billionaires?

The disappearance of Santa Claus, however, leaves the list open for dominance by Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks, and I suppose we have to acknowledge the opportunity these days for war profiteers. In second place is C. Montgomery Burns, and there's no point in arguing against that. But he does beat out Scrooge McDuck, whose wealth seems to me vastly underestimated at $10.9 billion. Richie Rich is a step behind him at #4, who also seems too low at a mere @10.7 billion.

Tony Stark is a new addition to the list, which makes sense for the same reason Daddy Warbucks tops the list--it's a good time for defense contractors. But he can't quite edge out Bruce Wayne, who comes in at #7 to Stark's #8. Lex Luthor drops off the list after his unsuccessful attempt this summer to create a new continent in the Atlantic Ocean.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Plumbing PR

Plumbers must have a new PR team in place. I must say that I don't really think about plumbers that much unless I've got a plugged drain or a toilet backing up (and then I think about them quite strenuously). But it turns out that Thanksgiving is the busiest time of the year for plumbers, and they want you to know it. The fact was featured in a radio story on Marketplace on Friday night (and through the magic of the Internets, you can either listen to it or read the transcript). Their work on the Friday after Thanksgiving may be even worse because many plumbers, like people in other occupations throughout the United States, want to take the day off, but even if all plumbers were at their battle stations all day Thursday and Friday, there are more service calls then than at other times of the year.

I would have assumed that this story was just some holiday filler Marketplace was featuring until I saw the prominent placement of a similar article in Saturday's Washington Post. Right there on the first page of the second section is a piece extolling the very same virtues of plumbers. A sidebar offers tips from Roto-Rooter on how to keep your pipes running smoothly, and the main story supplies some business details:

Service calls the day after Thanksgiving run about 50 percent over the volume of any other Friday, according to research by Roto-Rooter, a plumbing industry leader.

. . .

Roto-Rooter, which employs [Northern Virginia plumber Patrick] Leake, expected to earn half a million dollars in added revenue yesterday; receipts should run about 25 percent above normal for the Thanksgiving weekend as a whole. Much of that comes from fixing sink clogs, a job that might run anywhere from $85 to $250, with a premium customary for work on Sundays and holidays.

All in all, it's "a pretty good bump," said Paul Abrams, spokesman for the Cincinnati-based company. And Christmas, he noted, falls on a Monday this year. "We're looking at another long weekend."

Happy holidays, guys!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Good-Bye Jerry Bails

Jerry Bails was in many ways the founder of modern superhero comic-book fandom. He died on Wednesday evening of a heart attack.

Born in 1933, Bails was just a kid when Superman first took to the skies, and he bought and loved comic books as they first were developing. He also became a correspondent with some of the creators of those comics, perhaps most significantly editor Julius Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox; Bails had a particular love for a feature those two helped create: The Justice Society of America. He continued his interest in comics as he grew older, and in the early '60s he took the step of publishing a fanzine called Alter-Ego. There had been some fan organization around EC Comics, but Alter-Ego was the first real organized fan activity directed toward superheroes. It came at a time when DC Comics was releasing new versions of some of its '40s heroes--The Flash, Green Lantern, and others--and when Marvel was establishing its own superhero universe consisting of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The X-Men, and more, so Bails's superhero nostalgia was able to mingle with the new forward movement. Although it's hard to imagine in this time of the Internet and worldwide interconnectiveness, most comics fans at that time enjoyed their hobby in solitude or with a local friend or two. Alter-Ego allowed collectors to find others who enjoyed their hobby and get in touch with them. Although Bails never became a comic-book pro himself (he was a university professor), many of his compatriots--Roy Thomas being the prime example--did make the jump and molded the adventures of their favorite characters. Now, forty-five years later, the vast majority of creators have come out of the fan foundation that Bails established.

In his interview with Fanboy Radio a couple of weeks ago (which I discussed here), Alan Moore contrasted American comic-book fandom with British fandom, asserting that American fans were first attracted by nostalgia, quickly identifying a Golden Age of comics from twenty years earlier, whereas British fans, who started to come into their own in 1967, were more forward looking. I don't know enough about British fandom to know if the point and the comparison are valid, but I do think American fandom has largely been focused on the past. Sometimes we yearn for the comics of our childhood and youth, and sometimes there's an attraction to comics that existed before we were even born. The DC Archives series reprint many Golden Age comics, beginning with Superman's first appearance in 1938. At 73, Jerry Bails was among the youngest people who had the chance to buy those comics when they were new. As the comics marketplace seems to shrink more and more, we need to reestablish the zeitgeist that existed when Bails first published Alter-Ego and add a healthy dose of looking toward the future to our appreciation of our past.

You can read more appreciations of Bails from Mark Evanier and Tom Spurgeon. And Bill Schelly offers an online excerpt from his book The Golden Age of Comic Fandom, in The Birth of Alter-Ego.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Are They Still Calling Marshall Field's Macy's?

If you're near Chicago and are looking for something to do between servings of leftover turkey sandwiches, take your anti-consumerism sentiments to State and Washington, under the Great Clock that used to be part of Marshall Field but is now attached to Macy's and join the protest. Even though the name change has been official for a little while now, there are some people still lobbying Federated Department Stores to change the name back. Marshall Field's seems synonymous with Chicago, and it still seems a bit odd to see Macy's sitting on State Street.

For the protest today, Jim McKay and the organizers of the Field's protest site are encouraging women to show up dressed in 1890s costumes (and on their blog, they're even offering to provide some costumes themselves). You can hear McKay talk about it on WBEZ's Eight Forty-Eight from Wednesday morning. The protest itself starts at 1:00, but if you miss it, you'll surely be able to see some coverage on the local news this evening. Or if you can't make it but still want to protest Federated, the group sponsors leafleting of bookmarks and bumper stickers every Saturday from 12:30 to 5:00. If the Marshall Field name ever does reappear on the State Street store, you can say you were a part of it.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

As you can see, this image comes to us courtesy of Mile High Comics.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Counting Down to the Holiday

Traveling is getting tighter as Thanksgiving approaches. I was on a couple of freeways in Chicago this evening, and everything was moving much more smoothly than I'd have ever expected. I was going in to town, though, and traffic seemed fairly backed up going the other way.

I don't know whether I'll be caught in traffic or not, but posting for the next couple of days will probably be pretty light. Come on, it's a holiday--find your own fun! (Although now that I think about it, posting has been fairly light all the way around, lately--usually not more than one post a day. I'll still be providing at least that much.)

Enjoy your holiday tomorrow, with family, with friends, or on your own. We're intending to have an awfully low-key celebration, neither traveling nor hosting travelers. But on Friday (or Saturday outside of North America), don't forget not to buy anything. Once again, it's Buy Nothing Day, promoted, as always, by Adbusters (sponsored by Adbusters just sounds wrong, somehow). Remind the corporate commercial interests that we don't actually need to shop no matter what they might try to convince us of. And the stakes are a bit higher this year than they have been in the past, as we're reminded on the Buy Nothing Day Web site:

2006 will go down as the year in which mainstream dialogue about global warming finally reached its critical mass. What better way to bring the Year of Global Warming to a close than to point in the direction of real alternatives to the unbridled consumption that has created this quagmire?

Take a look at the 2006 press release for more information. (Although, it never hurts to recognize hype no matter which side it's on. The day after Thanksgiving is generally not the highest-earning shopping day of the year; that day is usually just before Christmas. There are no reliable statistics for shoppers who only browse, however, so I guess we can't say that the day after Thanksgiving doesn't have the most people jamming into the stores.)

R.I.P. Robert Altman

I was sorry to see that Robert Altman passed away on Monday. When a friend e-mailed me the news, I audibly gasped upon reading it. It's not that the death was a shock--Altman was 81, not exactly ancient by today's standards, but it's old enough that when death comes, you can't say it wasn't unexpected. He kept a heart transplant he had sometime in the '90s a secret for a decade, until he announced it in accepting a lifetime achievement Oscar earlier this year. We now discover that he's been battling cancer for a year and a half--had we known that, we might have been watching for this occasion. But we didn't, so the news is startling somewhat. He's had a grand career, with plenty of ups and downs, but it's sad to see it come to an end.

Altman worked his way up from short documentaries and industrial films in his native Kansas City to television series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bonanza, Combat!, and even The Gale Storm Show. His first major film was M*A*S*H, and what a splash it made. It was exactly the right film for the time, as the U.S. public was turning against the war in Vietnam. M*A*S*H was set during the Korean War, but I don't know whether anyone would have argued that that was the war it was about. It's mix of light-heartedness, irreverence, and gravity reflected the public's conflicting feelings about the American presence in Vietnam and even American leadership as a whole.

Altman's films were always bold in their vision, but they weren't always successful in bringing that vision to the screen and, by extension, the audience. I won't even say that at worst Altman produced interesting failures. McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, and The Player may have been brilliant, but Popeye and A Wedding could, depending on how forthcoming you might be, be described as train wrecks. But that didn't matter. What was important was that Altman always sought to portray honest--if not always pleasant and attractive--emotions. Even at their most tenuous, his films had a sense of reality to them. We were living in LA when Short Cuts came out. It's set in LA, and it ends (don't worry, there aren't usually spoilers in a Robert Altman film--they don't end so much as simply stop) with a large earthquake. We saw the film in a Santa Monica theater on a Sunday night, and as the final credits were about to roll, we were hit by a minor earthquake ourselves. It was a very disconcerting feeling--were we being drawn into the movie itself? Even if we weren't part of the movie, would we react just like the characters we'd been watching? I'm confident that Altman would have set it up that way if he could've. (As it happened, this was almost exactly a week before the 1994 Northridge quake hit. Despite his famous dislike of Hollywood, I don't think he was involved in initiating that one, either.)

For more informed opinions, you can check out Tony Scott's appreciation in The New York Times or take a look at Richard Corliss in Time magazine. All my opinion boils down to is that we are diminished in not having the next Robert Altman film to look forward to.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Google Image Search

With Thanksgiving coming up, the image in last year's holiday post has been getting an awful lot of hits from the Google Image Search, so I figured I'd link to it again this year for regular readers to take another look. What do you think? Is it Superman or that big ol' turkey that's catching everybody's eye?

Some Light Link-Blogging

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the computer chips that are starting to be embedded in passports. I was talking primarily about U.S. passports, but this country has been encouraging its allies around the world to follow suit. Via AMERICAblog, a reporter and a computer expert in The Guardian cracked the chip in new British passports. What's more, they did it with equipment that can be purchased for less than $350. But don't worry. The British Home Office says that even so, there's nothing to worry about. Everything's fine. I have no doubt the U.S. Office of Homeland Security is equally confident that they've got everything under control.

I guess it's good to recognize one's mistakes and own up to them. But often it seems that coming clean helps no one but the one with the guilty conscience. A recent example comes from Dick Meyer, editorial director of As soon as you see the title of his column from Thursday, "Good Riddance To The Gingrichites," you've got a vague idea of where he might be coming from, but you still won't believe the first couple of paragraphs:

This is a story I should have written 12 years ago when the "Contract with America" Republicans captured the House in 1994. I apologize.

Really, it's just a simple thesis: The men who ran the Republican Party in the House of Representatives for the past 12 years were a group of weirdos. Together, they comprised one of the oddest legislative power cliques in our history. And for 12 years, the media didn't call a duck a duck, because that's not something we're supposed to do.

Pardon me for my naivete, but if it's not the job of the media to call a duck a duck, what exactly are they supposed to do?

Mr. Show-Me-the-Straight-Talk John McCain was on This Week with George Stephanopoulos yesterday, and he said something puzzling. Think Progress offers the transcript, in which McCain flip-flops on abortion, moving from opposition to overturning Rowe v. Wade to support of overturning Rowe and turning the power to make abortion law over to the states. He didn't acknowledge the flip-flop (at least in the partial transcript provided at the Think Progress link), but he claimed he wanted the power to return to the states because he's a Federalist. There was a redefinition of that word some decades ago that I somehow missed altogether. Federalists first influenced American government over two hundred years ago when the Constitution was being written, and they believed in a strong federal government. Centralized power was what it was about. Apparently some time in the late '60s or early '70s, Richard Nixon introduced the New Federalism. New Federalism differed from traditional Federalism in that it meant almost exactly the opposite. Nixon's New Federalism wanted to take national powers and give them back to the states, and that's the sense in which McCain means it. It's all just more of the Orwellian twist politics can't seem to live without these days. And you expect nothing less from the Straight Talk Express.

Monday, November 20, 2006

It Starts and Ends with Iraq

Despite the sideshow of the Democratic House leadership race (which was far less of an edge-of-your-seat contest than the Republican Senate leadership election, in which Trent Lott returned to a top position over Tennessee's Lamar Alexander by one measly vote), as Frank Rich points out, the real story is all about Iraq. He reveals all in the column title: "It's Not the Democrats Who Are Divided."

[T]he most telling barometer is the election's defining issue: there is far more unanimity among Democrats about Iraq than there is among Republicans. Disengaging America from that war is what the country voted for overwhelmingly on Nov. 7, and that's what the Democrats almost uniformly promised to speed up, whatever their vague, often inchoate notions about how to do it.

Even before they officially take over, the Democrats are trying to deliver on this pledge. Carl Levin and Joe Biden, among the party's leaders in thinking through a new Iraq policy, are gravitating toward a long-gestating centrist exit strategy: a phased withdrawal starting in four to six months; a loosely federal Iraqi government that would ratify the de facto separation of the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds and fairly allocate the oil spoils; and diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy to engage Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, in securing some kind of peace.

None of these ideas are radical, novel or much removed from what James Baker's Iraq Study Group is expected to come up with. All are debatable and all could fail. At this late date, only triage is an option, not "victory." There's no panacea to end the civil war that four years of American bumbling have wrought. But the one truly serious story to come out of the election — far more significant than the Washington chatter about "divided Democrats" — is that the president has no intention of changing his policy on Iraq or anything else one iota.

Any change we see in our policy toward Iraq is entirely dependent on getting the Republicans together to move in one direction or another. Rich offers a number of examples of Repubs who want to move in the same direction as the Dems, including the bipartisan (though we shall see just how much) Iraq Study Group headed up by James Baker. But The Prez is showing no indication that he's willing to reconsider his current direction of adding fuel to the fire and hoping things will get better. The Bushies may claim that "Stay the Course" is no longer their message, but it's only the words that have changed and not their meaning. There'll be no immediate change in policy.

So what then? A Democratic Congress can kill judicial appointments but cannot mandate foreign policy. The only veto it can exercise is to cut off the war's funding, political suicide that the Congressional leadership has rightly ruled out. The plain reality is that the victorious Democrats, united in opposition to the war and uniting around a program for quitting it, have done pretty much all they can do. Republican leaders must join in to seal the deal.

Don't count Mr. McCain among them. His call for more troops even when there are no more troops is about presidential politics, a dodge that allows him to argue in perpetuity that we never would have lost Iraq if only he had been heeded from the start. True or not, that gets America nowhere now. Look instead to two other Republican military veterans in the Senate, one who is not running for president and one who yet might. The first is John Warner, who said a month before the election that he would seek an overhaul of Iraq policy in 60 to 90 days if there was no progress. The second is Chuck Hagel, who has been prescient about the war's potential pitfalls since 2002 and started floating exit strategies parallel to the Levin-Biden track last summer.

We'll see what kind of compromise anybody on the Republican side of the aisle will be willing to make. That'll be the only place we'll see any possibility in a shift of Iraq policy.

And thanks once again to Wealthy Frenchman for making Frank Rich available.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Talking Comics

Podcasts are everywhere (and they're crowding out blogs!), and the comics community has not been immune. Fanboy Radio is a weekly podcast out of Fort Worth, Texas, and this week they've got Alan Moore. The comics (and other things) writer talks quite openly about a number of things, such as Lost Girls, the acclaim surrounding Watchmen, who really owns the copyright to Marvelman, his feelings on super-heroes and mainstream comics, some current and upcoming work, which Beatles are really working class heroes, and his upcoming appearance on The Simpsons (where apparently he'll be joined by art spiegelman and Dan Clowes). One thing he mentioned that I'm not sure I knew but is certainly not a surprise is the fact that he uses Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies cards. Eno developed this deck of cards, each with its own direction of some sort, to offer random advice to creators who are stuck for some reason. The directions offered on the cards might be easy or difficult, might fit in the context of the creative problem or not, but they're designed to shove your thinking in a different direction and get you over your creative hurdle. As is everything else these days, the cards are on the Web, and you can pick a random card here. And back to Alan Moore, the hour-long interview is certainly worth the time if you're interested in comics. The podcast was free when I downloaded it a couple of days ago, but at some point they start charging 75 cents. But don't worry. It's worth every penny.

And speaking of podcasts, I should also mention Around Comics, a locally produced podcast. It's associated with Dark Tower Comics, over on Western. They haven't been around as long as some others, but they've got over fifty free podcasts to choose from, so check them out.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Lessons to Be Learned

It's a truism that we continue to learn long after we've left school. Experience teaches us, to be sure, and just by living our lives we can't help but expand our knowledge. But every now and again, something will happen that has an obvious lesson attached to it, a meaning so blatant that you can't help but recognize and embrace it. In the past couple of days, we've seen a two powerful politicians acknowledge such lessons.

I meant to include this in my post about Joe Lieberman the other night. In the story I linked to then, in which Joe Lieberman was greeted with a standing O by his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, he opined on the lessons of the midterm elections. He wasn't talking about anything he'd learned, necessarily, but he certainly hoped that the Democrats, newly in the majority, had learned them. And the lessons Lieberman believed the electorate had intended to impart? Compromise--they should "be willing to compromise" with their opponents across the aisle. Unfortunately, the CNN piece didn't elaborate on whether or not anyone else noticed that lesson somewhere in the Democratic landslide.

Halfway around the world, someone else was talking about lessons learned, as well. The Prez is visiting Vietnam for an economic summit. It's his first visit to the country, of course (but not the first by an American president--Bill Clinton was there a few years ago). The conflict in Iraq has often been compared to the U.S. experience in Vietnam, and it only made sense that Bush would be asked about it. Apparently there's been some rehearsal in the White House, because when the question arose, Bush went right into praise for the rebuilding that has occurred sine the end of the war. No, the Prez wasn't suddenly convinced that more should be done to jumpstart the failed rebuilding in Iraq. No, according to The New York Times:

he added that the lesson he drew from the bitter American experience here was that "we'll succeed unless we quit."

Were there not enough lives lost (on both sides) during the Vietnam War? How do you look at that conflict and decide that it should've been longer? This does not bode well for the possibility of drawing down the troops any time soon.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Tower Is Crumbling

I went back to one of the local Tower Records tonight to see where things stood in terms of their liquidation. Although a lot of the selection had been picked through, there was a surprising amount of CDs, DVDs, and other merchandise that was still available. As going-out-of-business sales will do, they've been slowly lowering the prices, raising the percentage that they'll take off. At this point, they're taking off 40 percent of all CDs and DVDs, which is not bad, depending on exactly where the price started. I got one DVD that will be given as a gift, so I'll say no more about that one, and I got one import CD, ...the corner of Miles and Gil by Shack. Shack is one of the great unrecognized bands. Michael Head was front man and primary songwriter of The Pale Fountains back in the '80s, and they put out two very strong albums before folding under the pressure of their major record label. Michael's brother John joined the Fountains with the second album, and the two of them have kept their partnership in the years since. Shack has mostly avoided the trap of major record labels, but they paid the price of limited availability in the indie ghetto. But Shack has had some prominent admirers, and their latest album is out on Noel Gallagher's Sour Mash Records. If you're over in the UK, this sometimes reclusive band will be heading out on a minor tour at the beginning of the month.

To get back to my purchases, I passed over a couple of CDs I was looking for because 40 percent didn't quite seem low enough. They'll drop further before Tower disappears altogether, and the titles I was considering still had a handful of copies available. It's a bit of a gamble, because anybody else can come in and pick them up, but it's not like the CDs themselves are disappearing. I'll check back and see if I can get them for 50 percent off or even more. However, when I ventured over to the singles rack, I discovered that those were 60 percent off. Since singles start off less expensive than full-length albums, they get really cheap much more quickly. I picked up discs from Franz Ferdinand, Baby Shambles, Hard-Fi, Antony and the Johnsons, Arctic Monkeys, and the Spinto Band. That's a fair amount of listening I've got ahead of me. I was at the store later than I'd intended, so I sort of rushed through the singles rack. When I've got more time, I may check back to see if there's anything I might've missed. And also, once the prices drop a little bit more, it might be worth it to go DVD diving, as well.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Getting to Know You

Back when the Virginia senate race was in full swing, many observers (myself included) were so happy to see incumbent Senator George Allen on the ropes that we didn't pay a lot of attention to his opponent. I knew that Jim Webb had served as secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, but I also knew that a number of conservatives had grown disillusioned under George W. Bush. I didn't expect that he and I would agree on too many policy details, but if he could get George Allen out of the Senate (and off the campaign trail for a presidential run in 2008) and would add his seat toward a potential Democratic majority, he had my support.

Now that he's senator-elect from Virginia, perhaps it's time to get to know Jim Webb a bit more closely. He must've been feeling the same way, because Wednesday morning, he penned an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal. Yeah, I know, the WSJ isn't exactly the most progressive venue he could've found, but he was secretary of the Navy under Reagan. We were never expecting a wild-eyed liberal in the first place. Here are a couple of excerpts:

The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.

Incestuous corporate boards regularly approve compensation packages for chief executives and others that are out of logic's range. As this newspaper has reported, the average CEO of a sizeable corporation makes more than $10 million a year, while the minimum wage for workers amounts to about $10,000 a year, and has not been raised in nearly a decade. When I graduated from college in the 1960s, the average CEO made 20 times what the average worker made. Today, that CEO makes 400 times as much.

In the age of globalization and outsourcing, and with a vast underground labor pool from illegal immigration, the average American worker is seeing a different life and a troubling future. Trickle-down economics didn't happen. Despite the vaunted all-time highs of the stock market, wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth. At the same time, medical costs have risen 73% in the last six years alone. Half of that increase comes from wage-earners' pockets rather than from insurance, and 47 million Americans have no medical insurance at all.

Manufacturing jobs are disappearing. Many earned pension programs have collapsed in the wake of corporate "reorganization." And workers' ability to negotiate their futures has been eviscerated by the twin threats of modern corporate America: If they complain too loudly, their jobs might either be outsourced overseas or given to illegal immigrants.
. . .

The true challenge is for everyone to understand that the current economic divisions in society are harmful to our future. It should be the first order of business for the new Congress to begin addressing these divisions, and to work to bring true fairness back to economic life. Workers already understand this, as they see stagnant wages and disappearing jobs.

Wow. Normally, I'd add some sort of quip about class struggle or something, but that would be redundant. "Class Struggle" is the name of the column.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Joe Lieberman: Conquering Hero

Joe Lieberman returned to the Senate on Tuesday. Were the walls themselves quivering with suspense as to how he'd be received? After all, many of his colleagues had campaigned for his opponent, Democratic nominee Ned Lamont. Lieberman himself had jokingly (?) implied to Don Imus that he'd consider hiding a gun in the bathroom the next time he had lunch with his fellow Connecticut Democratic senator, Christopher Dodd. Even after the election and his promise to caucus with the Democrats, Joe told Tim Russert that he wouldn't rule out defecting to the Republicans. So how would it go?

Have no fear. According to CNN (via TPM Cafe Election Central), Democrats not only met him with open arms, they gave him a standing ovation. It's hardly a surprise, though. It's been suggested many times that the Senate is just a big club. Lieberman is a long-time member who was confronted with a challenge, namely being refused his party's nomination by his own constituents, but he overcame that challenge, went around Connecticut Democrats, and returned to the Senate on his own terms. What part of that would not endear him to his colleagues?

And it's hardly a surprise that he'd make noises about possibly bolting the party. I predicted as much last week. He doesn't have leverage if he doesn't threaten to caucus with the Republicans every now and again. But he loses that leverage the minute he turns to the dark side. He might be able to bargain some concessions from the Repubs in exchange for his vote, but he'll lose any continuing influence, and that's ultimately what he wants. He paid a high price to hold on to his seat, and he's not going to take steps to undermine the power he currently has.

Kos, on the other hand, says he expects Lieberman to join the Republicans.

It's what his voters want, it's what his financiers want, it's what his strategists want. You get elected with Republican voters, money and advice, you sort of end up indebted to the other side.

Maybe so, but I don't think Lieberman, even with all the support he's given to the Bush administration, ever implied that he was a stealth Republican. Repubs may have been supporting him, but they did that without any public statement from the candidate that he would betray the Democratic power structure in the Senate.

Kos also suggests the Lieberman's influence lasts only until the 2008 election, and that sounds right to me. Lieberman only has power when it's a 50/50 Senate. Whatever happens (and Kos handicaps major Democratic gains), neither side will need Joe the next time around. Enjoy your influence while you can, Joe!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Clash of Old and New

In yesterday's Sun-Times, Jim DeRogatis talked with the Clash's Mick Jones about the new Clash exhibit at the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Here's Jones's best quote on what it means to him to be revered in that kind of manner.

I haven't been out there to the museum yet, but my mother has. She liked it very much. I'm going to be going, and it seems like a great building. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the other exhibits.

I'm not sure how old this interview is, because he was featured at the opening of the Clash exhibit on October 22.

I'm glad, though, that I didn't post about this interview when I first read it. This evening when I was going back to find the link, I went to Google News and came across this interview from a few days ago at Minneapolis's City Pages that's more informative. Interestingly, given that DeRogatis rails against nostalgia and praises Jones for continually moving forward, but he only barely mentions Jones's latest project, Carbon/Silicon. The City Pages piece not only talks about Carbon/Silicon, but links to their Web page. I'd heard about Carbon/Silicon as far back as a couple of years ago, but I hadn't heard any updates. Jones is reunited with Tony James, his bandmate from the pre-Clash London SS. James went on to team with Billy Idol in Generation X, and in the mid-80s he was with Sigue Sigue Sputnik, doing whatever it was they did, exactly.

It turns out that Jones and James have been busy for the last little while. They've got two albums and several EPs, all downloadable for free at their site. They've even got downloadable artwork to go with it all. Both the albums dropped in the last few months, so they're about as up-to-minute as you can get. I haven't downloaded any of the music to hear it yet, but I'm very curious to see what it will be like. I've got a little bit of worry that maybe I haven't heard about it because nobody's talking about it because it's not really very good, but I suspect that whatever it is, I'll at least find it interesting. Although Mick didn't have universal adulation for following up the Clash with Big Audio Dynamite, I always liked the fact that he was moving on to new horizons and new technologies. To argue that it didn't rise to the level of the Clash is the same as complaining that none of the Beatles was quite as good on their own. Duh. But the big appeal of Big Audio Dynamite to me was the fact that the Clash was clearly in the past, and in the absence of his old bandmates, Jones was going in a different direction altogether. Carbon/Silicon has those same possibilities.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Frank Rich's Election Wrap-Up

It's very late, so here's just a quick link to Frank Rich today. The TimesSelect subscription curtain is down at the moment, so you may be able to read "2006: The Year of the 'Macaca'" in The New York Times itself. [UPDATE--TimesSelect is closed again, and that link will only take you to the first sentence.] But if you can't, donkey o.d. has made it available, as well.

Today Rich provides his election wrap-up, of course. Here's a taste:

OF course, the "thumpin' " was all about Iraq. But let us not forget Katrina. It was the collision of the twin White House calamities in August 2005 that foretold the collapse of the presidency of George W. Bush.

Back then, the full measure of the man finally snapped into focus for most Americans, sending his poll numbers into the 30s for the first time. The country saw that the president who had spurned a grieving wartime mother camping out in the sweltering heat of Crawford was the same guy who had been unable to recognize the depth of the suffering in New Orleans's fetid Superdome. This brand of leadership was not the "compassionate conservatism" that had been sold in all those photo ops with African-American schoolchildren. This was callous conservatism, if not just plain mean.

It's the kind of conservatism that remains silent when Rush Limbaugh does a mocking impersonation of Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's symptoms to score partisan points. It's the kind of conservatism that talks of humane immigration reform but looks the other way when candidates demonize foreigners as predatory animals. It's the kind of conservatism that pays lip service to "tolerance" but stalls for days before taking down a campaign ad caricaturing an African-American candidate as a sexual magnet for white women.

This kind of politics is now officially out of fashion. Harold Ford did lose his race in Tennessee, but by less than three points in a region that has not sent a black man to the Senate since Reconstruction. Only 36 years old and hugely talented, he will rise again even as the last vestiges of Jim Crow tactics continue to fade and Willie Horton ads countenanced by a national political party join the Bush dynasty in history's dustbin.

Elsewhere, the 2006 returns more often than not confirmed that Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, are far better people than this cynical White House takes them for. This election was not a rebuke merely of the reckless fiasco in Iraq but also of the divisive ideology that had come to define the Bush-Rove-DeLay era. This was the year that Americans said a decisive no to the politics of "macaca" just as firmly as they did to pre-emptive war and Congressional corruption.

Looking at the results in Montana and Virginia, as well as the handful of undecided House races, I'm not sure that the no Americans addressed to the Bushies was a decisive one, but we'll take it.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Election 2008--It's Not Even Two Years Away

Now that we've got the 2006 elections out of the way, it's almost overdue to start gearing up for 2008. Helping us along on that count, a few presidential hopefuls (or not) have started to make their plans known.

Over on the Democratic side, we've had more recusals than those joining the race. Virginia Governor Mark Warner, who'd been highly touted for the job, announced he wasn't going to run a month ago. There was a lot of speculation about why he made that decision (was Hillary too strong? was he afraid of Obama?) after his stated excuse--The Washington Post wrote, "He said he did not want to put his 'real life' on hold for the next two years"--wasn't accepted as the full story. His announcement also didn't do much to dissuade his supporters at Draft Mark Warner.

Today Warner was joined by Wisconsin Senator Russell Feingold in choosing not to run. He released a statement to that effect but then elaborated on it in a diary post at Daily Kos earlier this morning. He doesn't say as much, but the Senate's return to Democratic control has to be a factor in his decision. Feingold entered the Senate in 1992, so except for roughly three years, Feingold has spent his Senate career in the minority. The new prospects of greater senatorial power and influence have to hold some sort of seductive attraction for him and other Democratic senators.

As far as I know, only Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has officially tossed his hat into the ring on the Democratic side. There's a new governor-elect as of Tuesday, so Vilsack won't be in office much longer and will be able to put all his energies into the race. He's a good, solid governor in a nice Midwestern state, but he hasn't done that much one way or another to distinguish himself as a presidential hopeful. Mark Warner had been getting a lot of attention, so with his departure, perhaps Vilsack saw room for another governor on the field. As long as the front-runners seem to consist of Hillary, Obama, and Kerry, expect to hear about how sitting senators can't get elected. We haven't elected a sitting senator in forty-six years, and since then three or four have run and lost (I'm hedging the number because although I'd count Dole in '96, technically he resigned his seat during the campaign so was officially a private citizen when he lost to Clinton). I don't know whether that's true or not, but the idea of it certainly puts automatic luster on Democratic governors. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson also seems to be looking to get a piece of that action.

Filling out the Democratic field is Senator Joe Biden, who I absolutely refuse to count with Clinton, Obama, and Kerry as a potential Senate frontrunner. He's far too compromised, and even though it's been eighteen years since he last ran for president, that's not long enough for the press to have forgotten his little problems with plagiarism. Non-Senate frontrunners would have to include Al Gore and John Edwards. Gore still seems to be playing it cagey, not wanting to commit one way or the other. He may be realistic enough to realize that if he jumps in, he'll again be an immediate target of the press, who never seemed to tire of using him as a punching bag before and after the 2000 campaign. He's regained some respectability since, but not necessarily with journalists and pundits. Perhaps he feels he'll do better with some sort of popular groundswell rising to call for him to run. He'd definitely be in a stronger position if that happened, but I'm not sure any of us should hold our breath for that happening. Edwards, on the other hand, seems to be doing everything toward another presidential run short of making an actual announcement. At the same time, he's been keeping a low profile, so when he does jump in, he may seem like a breath of fresh air, even though he's not. And to return to the Seante again quickly, Indiana's Evan Bayh, who doesn't have much name recognition among the public yet, is also acting like a soon-to-be presidential candidate.

I was planning on looking at the Republican field (which, admittedly, interests me far less), but I'm soon on my way out for the evening, and Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk puts a much higher value on that at the moment, so the Repubs will have to wait.

Waiting for the Trade DVD Collection

A couple of weeks ago, back when the election was taking most of our attention so I didn't comment on it at the time, Atrios wrote about something that sounded familiar. He was discussing a story from The New York Times about the difficulty of getting some of the new serialized TV dramas going this year (the article is two weeks old as I write this, so I don't know how much longer the link will be valid). A number of them, Smith, Kidnapped, and Runaway are already gone, and things don't look too good for The Nine or Six Degrees. Atrios wondered if some of the shows were having a hard time pulling together a viewership because the networks are seen as so quick to pull the plug. Now that DVDs have become so successful, we can bet that anything that's popular will be released in that form later, and we can catch up with those shows then.

This is a problem that the comics industry has been experiencing for a while. New series, particularly those introducing untried characters or concepts have a very hard time of catching on, and many readers simply refuse to give them a try. Since almost everything that's successful in comics is collected later and released in a trade paperback book, a lot of people simply "wait for the trade." They're not going to get caught up in a series that might just suddenly disappear for lack of sales, but they'll wait for it to prove itself and then jump aboard later.

The obvious problem with this, of course, is that the more people who choose to wait for the trade, the fewer people who pick up the single issues every month. And, of course, it follows that the fewer people who buy the single issues, the faster it will be canceled because it can't find an audience. I think the comics industry is in a time of transition as the single-issue format becomes more and more economically untenable (according to ICv2's estimated sales figures for September, only a dozen series sold in the six figures, and less than forty series were able go beyond 50,000 copies sold). Trade paperbacks, which at this point are primarily collections of work reprinted from single issues, are taking a larger and larger portion of the comic industries sales, and I think it can only grow. As those sales grow, more and more of the trade paperbacks will start to feature new work rather than reprints, and fewer and fewer readers will pick up the small thirty-two-page periodicals. So far, Marvel and DC, the major periodical comics publishers, have been moving more slowly into trade paperbacks and bookstore sales, which has been dominated by translated Japanese manga (and if you don't believe me, on your next bookstore visit, take a look at the space accorded manga verses how much space "mainstream" American comics takes up--it's generally about 3-1 manga). If they're not careful, the new market will develop without a major Marvel and DC presence.

To get back to the TV series I was talking about earlier, technology has advanced enough that disappointed fans of those shows have a little bit of recourse. Although Kidnapped and Smith are gone from the airwaves, they still exist in cyberspace. NBC has put all episodes, including those that were never broadcast, online, and CBS has done the same for Smith. Kidnapped has three unaired episodes available, and Smith has four. Even more, the Smith site provides synopses of later episodes that were never produced. True fans can find out everything that had been planned for the series.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Quick Alan Moore Hits

It's been a very long week, and I haven't been getting the sleep I probably should, so it's just a couple of Alan Moore tidbits tonight. And we can always do with more Alan Moore tidbits, can't we?

The biggest Alan Moore news lately is that word leaked this week that he'll be appearing in an upcoming episode of The Simpsons. In the show, he'll be making a rare public appearance in support of a new competitor for The Comic Book Guy's store, The Android's Dungeon. He'll be joining Stan Lee, who visited The Android's Dungeon a couple of year's back, on the rather brief list of comics creators who have guested on the show. After some disappointing adaptations of his comics and their ensuing complications, Moore has rather famously turned his back on Hollywood, refusing to take money or have his name attached to work that is adapted to movies. (For work to which he retains the rights, he has refused adaptations altogether.) There's no word yet about what will become of the money he earned for the voiceover or whether he'll us a Michael Jackson/Dustin Hoffmanesque pseudonym.

Earlier this week, Top Shelf publisher Chris Staros announced that Lost Girls, the unapoligetically pornographic graphic novel that Moore created with artist (and fiance) Melinda Gebbie has been cleared for import into Canada. In what Staros described as a "thoughtful letter," Canada Border Services Agency wrote

that the "depictions and descriptions are integral to the development of an intricate, imaginative, and artfully rendered storyline," and that "the portrayal of sex is necessary to a wider artistic and literary purpose."

So that means that Canadian stores can get in line for copies of the third printing, which is due in mid-December (the first printing sold out in one day when the book--$75 in the U.S.--was first released in August.) In a sort of good news/bad news situation, Borders, which had previously declined to carry Lost Girls, appears to have taken its place in that same line to procure copies of the next printing (via The Beat).

Finally, the long-anticipated on-again, off-again film adaptation of The Watchmen is currently in one of its on-again phases (Moore doesn't control the rights to that one). It'll be helmed by Zack Snyder, who directed the recent remake of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead as well as the upcoming 300, which itself is an adaptation of a graphic novel by Frank Miller. According to Sci Fi Wire, development for the film is going well, but Snyder's not getting everything he wants. Henry Kissinger, for example, will not be appearing as himself in the film. Snyder explains why not in the link above, but if Snyder's already making that kind of compromise, why bother to make the movie at all? No wonder Moore's washed his hands of Hollywood.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Watch the Skies

Uh oh. I hope everybody has their laser rifles at the ready. Phasers on kill.

The Many Moods of George W. Bush

Yesterday, Bush stood up in front of the White House press corps and, acknowledging the Democratic tide in the House (and at that time still only potential takeover of the Senate) promised bipartisanship and compromise. Today, he met with Nancy Pelosi and echoed those promises, but before that lunch meeting, he outlined a combative agenda he intended to push quickly through the lame-duck Congress the Democrats take over in January, which included the divisive nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the UN. After yesterday's press conference, I was ready to reconsider my comments from early Wednesday morning about Bush being as stubborn and recalcitrant as ever. When I heard the news about Bolton today, I was initially glad that I hadn't written that post last night, but on further reflection, I realized that I was right to stand by my initial reaction to the press conference.

I only heard part of the presser on the radio, but I couldn't shake the sense that we were hearing something new: a chastened George W. Bush. I went to look at the transcript later, and it wasn't apparent in print, but his tone and manner seemed unmistakable to me. When I also learned that he was replacing Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates, his father's old CIA chief, I realized that we haven't yet actually seen all possible sides of the Prez. There's one part of his history that has never been on public display, so we don't really know how he reacts to it. Could this possibly be what's happened in the past when W has reached the failure phase of his various ventures? Is this the George W. Bush response when he's ready to be bailed out by his dad's cronies?

The confrontational plan offered this morning was just faux bravado from a White House concerned that the Prez had appeared to be too vulnerable the day before. He was still tough. He was still in control. But I'm not sure that's true. In the face of so much failure in foreign affairs and on the domestic front, I have to wonder if Bush hasn't checked out both mentally and emotionally. Maybe we'll just be left with the clean-up crew from here on out. If Brent Scowcroft reenters the picture, we'll know that's the case.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Stray Thoughts

Stu Shea mentioned in comments to a previous post that Rich Whitney, the Illinois Green party candidate for governor, received 11 percent of the votes yesterday. That allowed the Greens to cross the 5 percent threshold to achieve state recognition, which will make it much easier to get Green candidates on the ballot for the next few years. Part of Whitney's success is the fact that Illinois voters weren't thrilled with their choices for governor from the two major parties, but an independent party needs to get its success any way that it can. Over the weekend, Republican candidate Judy Barr Topinka begged voters not to "throw away" their votes by casting a ballot for Whitney. "If there's a protest vote, I'm it," she insisted. Well, that's unless it was a protest against her, too. Regardless of the reasons voters had for throwing their support behind Whitney, helping the Greens establish themselves as a statewide party is hardly a wasted vote.

One result of yesterday's polling that's gotten some attention but not as much as I would've expected six months ago is that South Dakota voted down the draconian anti-abortion law passed in February by the state legislature. This was the big bill that outlawed abortion in almost every case and was supposed to be the test case that would allow the Supreme Court to overrule Rowe. Instead of fighting it in court, South Dakota voters took it straight to the polls with a ballot initiative that ultimately overturned the law by a margin of 12 percentage points. South Dakota remains a very conservative state, so this is more evidence that a near-total ban on abortion is out of the mainstream.

Another issue that proved itself mainstream during this election cycle is a raise in the minimum wage. The states of Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio each included a referendum on the ballot raising the minimum wage, and it passed in each one, sometimes overwhelmingly. These are not exactly blue states. If, as promised, Nancy Pelosi introduces a bill into the House in the first 100 hours, it'll be a no-brainer to get my vote.

Glenn Greenwald watched the television coverage on FOX yesterday. He recommends it heartily: "It's like being at a wake for a person that you're really happy has died, but everyone else is in deep mourning." It almost makes me sorry I missed it.

And speaking of the liberal media, Atrios takes note of Rush and Hugh Hewitt each discussing the big Republican repudiation yesterday. They're not sorry to see those losers masquerading as conservatives get shown the door. They've supported them all this time because--well, they just had to--but to hear them tell it, there's no love lost now. The unwavering loyalty is absolutely awe-inspiring.

I'm not saying there's a definite cause-and-effect relationship between gas prices and election day, but it appears that my prediction from last week might have some life in it. At several gas stations near my office, I noticed that many of the prices had risen by eight cents a gallon since the same time the day before. I wonder how much they'll go up tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Is It a Brand New Day Yet?

So the House returns to the Democrats. They've made a good showing tonight, even if northern Illinois didn't quite get to share in the bounty. The Dems have taken four Senate seats, and as of this writing, they're ahead in the two Senate races still outstanding (and in one of them, Virginia, Jim Webb has declared victory, even if George Allen has so far remained silent and a recount is virtually certain). If the Democrats get them both, they'll take over the Senate (presuming that Joe Lieberman doesn't bail). While we should all feel justly happy to have some sort of say in the government again, we can't let our attention flag. The biggest struggle is still ahead.

This isn't an administration that compromises. This isn't an administration that looks for bipartisanship and common ground. Dick Cheney told George Stephanopoulos just last week that it didn't matter what the public thought about Iraq or how the vote came out, the Bushies would continue to do what they thought "was right." Later, he said that he would "probably not" honor Congressional subpoenas if they are issued to him. Not only do I not expect Bush to become more conciliatory and cooperative when put into this kind of position, I expect him and his administration to be more obstinate and determined to do precisely what they want to do than they were last week. Now is the time that they need to prove they don't bow to anyone. In response, a Democratic Congress must stand up to the White House to demonstrate that they are an equal branch of the government. We'll likely end up with a stand off for the next couple of years. The Democrats can't start looking for compromise, because as Bush has proven so far, the only kind of compromise he's willing to consider is one in which he gives up nothing and his opponent gives up everything. The Democrats can't afford to play that kind of game.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


I don't know that anybody's coming to me for results of the horse race throughout the evening, but if you are, you're better off going elsewhere. I'm not going to be updating, because all I'd be doing is parroting information you can get in any number of other places faster. Early on, exit polls look good for the Democrats, but we've certainly seen that before.

If you want to avoid the mainstream media, TPM Cafe is running a nifty scoreboard, or you could go straight to the Democratic horse's mouth on House races at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee site. But if you're willing to whore yourself out for the mainstream-media bells and whistles, CNN has a flashy site at America Votes, with subsites for Senate and House results. MSNBC has its election page, too, but it seems a bit too unwieldy for my tastes.

As of now, no doubt to the surprise of everyone, Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, Dick Lugar, Bill Nelson (who defeated Katherine Harris), and Olympia Snowe are keeping their Senate seats. Bernie Sanders is the new senator from Vermont. I'll be back later when most of the shouting is over (or has just begun, as the case may be).

And in really important news, Britney's dumping K-Fed.

Need a Fix?

I may be the only election junkie at this blog, but then again, I may not be, either. For frequently updated election tidbits, I'm checking out TPM Cafe's Election Central and Washington Monthly's Showdown '06. Showdown '06 in particular has contributors from all over the country posting to the blog. Both of these sites are offering information about turnout, voting problems, and other election details. If there are any other sites we should be keeping our eye on, let us know in comments.


Well, that's it. The polls open in just a few hours, so the campaign's as good as over. Thank God we won't be subjected to all these political ads any longer.

Late polls seem to be good for the Democrats, and the Pew poll I referred to last night seems to be an outlier. The professional prognosticators Larry Sabato fires up his crystal ball and projects Democrats winning 6 seats in the Senate (just enough to take control) and 29 in the House (14 more than needed for control). No mealy-mouthing here, he projects a winner for every Senate and House seat in play (as well as for each of the governor races). The Cook Political Report is not quite as precise but is projecting a 4-6 seat gain for Dems in the Senate and a 20-35 seat gain in the House. Whatever movement Cook was showing in the last days has gone toward Democrats. You can also see PDFs of the specific Cook ratings for the Senate and House. Rothenberg is a bit more optimistic, calling for Senate gains of 4-7 seats and House gains of 30-36 seats.

At this point, though, it all comes down to turnout. Off-year elections are always lighter than presidential years, so expectations must be low to begin with. The Repubs have shown themselves to be much better at motivating their base to come out to vote, and although anecdotal evidence is that they're more demoralized and disillusioned with what they've been getting lately (God knows I'd be demoralized if I were in their shoes), the Repub powers that be have been working hard at suppress the Democratic vote, and we won't know how successful or unsuccessful they are until tomorrow night.

It's time to go into wait-and-see mode (actually, it's time for bed).

Whither Lieberman?

In comments to a previous post, Mike A opined that if Joe Lieberman returns to the Senate (which seems unfortunately likely at the moment), it won't be as a Democrat. While it's true that he seems intent on burning whatever bridges are in reach, I'm not so sure that he's going to turn his back on his party. No, of course I don't say that because I believe he has any sort of loyalty to his party. He's been stabbing them in the back since before he was running in this year's primary, so clearly party loyalty has no hold on him whatsoever. No, the reason I think he'll remain in the party is that he gains nothing by leaving, and he potentially loses a lot if he does. There's little reason to expect that Lieberman will be stripped of his seniority if he retains his seat. If the Democratic Senate leadership was going to do that, they should've done it when he left the party after the primary in the first place. If the Democrats take control of the Senate, he'd be stupid to leave in order to join the minority party. If the Republicans retain control, they have no need for him. He could caucus with their side, but he'll have no seniority whatsoever.

The only scenario in which it makes any sense whatsoever for Lieberman to make the leap is if Dems win the six seats they need to take control. They now have 44 seats, but a win of six more really only gives them a net gain of five, because Lieberman would officially count as an independent (Bernie Sanders is expected to win Jim Jeffords's Vermont seat and will keep it independent), so the Senate would officially be divided 49/49/2. Sanders will caucus with the Dems, so if Lieberman jumps ship, he would leave the Senate in a tie (which would be broken by Dick Cheney, so the Senate would be functionally be Republican controlled). Joe might get a couple of promises from the Republicans to make such a move, but he'd never have any long-term influence the party, and as soon as the Republicans could jettison him, they would. Unless 2008 left the Senate in the same precarious state (and a tie would go to whichever party wins the White House), neither party would need him, and he'd have even fewer friends than he does now.

Lieberman has the most leverage if he threatens to leave the Democrats, and he seems like a smart enough man to realize that. Of course, he also seems like a spiteful enough man that he might walk out on the Democrats just to piss them off, but if he does, he won't find the Republican party terribly welcoming. Now that I think about it, though, being spurned by both parties would serve him right, so I can't say I'd be disappointed if that's how everything turns out.

Even Dirtier Tricks

I wrote last night about questionable tactics by Republican robo calls, but Kos has the transcript of a robo call threatening voters with arrest if they try to vote tomorrow. Other voters are receiving calls telling them that their polling place has changed. Anybody who has a bit more grounding in the law than I do is welcome to explain how this isn't outright fraud.

Another problem that some Virginia voters may have tomorrow is seeing Senate candidate Jim Webb's name. According to an e-mail from the Webb campaign that Kos passes on, ballots in two counties have his name either cut off or split between two pages of the ballot. Let's hope that enough voters are paying attention to boot George Allen out anyway.

One more funny story about robo calls--it's illegal to use robo calls in Indiana, but such calls are too effective a weapon for the parties to dump them altogether. When you put your mind to it, it's not too hard to come up with workarounds. Somebody had the bright idea of outsourcing the calls. Sure, you run into the problem of the callers having heavy foreign accents, but how better to spotlight the problem of illegal immigration? (From Attytood, via Talking Points Memo.)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Duckworth/Roskam Wrap Up

I was planning to mention this last night, but the hour got too late. Here are a final few notes about the Duckworth-Roskam race for Henry Hyde's Illinois Congressional seat. The RNCC fed the beast over the weekend with $1,066,400.61 for attack ads against Duckworth. I'd say that officially identifies them as worried. That cash was used to support ads such as the one that Greg Sargent took apart at TPMCafe's Election Central (which came on twice as I was writing this post). Despite the fact that Roskam is on the record in both support of (to the National Taxpayers Union) and opposed to (to the AARP) privatizing Social Security, the ad accuses Duckworth of potentially undermining Social Security in three separate ways, all of which are incorrect. One of the falsehoods, that Duckworth would cut benefits, misrepresents an answer she gave to an AARP questionnaire. The AARP even sent a letter to district voters alerting them to the Roskam ad's dissembling.

And finally, I should mention the VFW's endorsement of Roskam, who's never served in the armed forces, over Duckworth, who not only served but lost her two legs in Iraq. Kos has the lowdown. Apparently no local VFW chapters were consulted on the endorsement (they support Duckworth) because it was all handled behind closed doors. Although the VFW notified Roskam of their choice earlier in the week, he held it until Friday to build some last-minute momentum going into Tuesday's vote. Too bad it backfired. Kos probably has the best summation:

As is, this endorsement is blowing up big time in Roskam's face. If nothing else, it gives Duckworth yet another chance to hold press conferences surrounded by vets and have her story repeated in newscasts.

The latest poll I've seen was a Zogby/Reuters poll from Friday, which put Duckworth up by 14 points. That sounds a bit excessive to me, but as they say, you only need to win by one.

Republican Dirty Tricks

A while back, it seemed that significant majorities of the public considered the Bush administration and the Republican Congress both to be failures, but as the actual election nears, voters seem to be backing off a bit from the same "throw the bums out" mentality. A Pew Research poll released today shows only a four-percent differential between likely voters who plan to vote for a Democratic candidate and those who plan to vote Republican. Other polls provide a larger differential, which means any movement toward Republicans just aren't moving quickly enough for the GOP. So that means they go back to the dirty tricks they know so well.

One of the biggest dirty tricks that's raising its ugly head in the last days of the campaign is a fake robo-call that appears to be from Democratic candidates but then provides negative information about them. In many cases, if the person receiving the call hangs up, the calls ring back, harassing the person being called. That sounds like an awfully effective way of turning voters off of Democratic candidates. Talking Points Memo has been following this in quite a bit of depth. The AP actually had a story on it last week (although it didn't report the harassment of calling back over and over and over), and Republicans, particularly the National Republican Campaign Committee, owned up to them but denied any illegal activity. That remains to be seen, but if there is anything against the law, it will only be discovered after the calls have had whatever affect on the election they will have. Josh Marshall probably has the best overall discussion of the calls, although he revises his advice on how recipients of these calls can do in response in a later post.

These calls have been making appearances throughout the country. Nancy Boyda, a Democrat running for Congress in Kansas, even put an alert about them on her campaign Website. Talking Points Memo notes other instances in New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Connecticut. Locally, they've passed along information from readers that Tammy Duckworth and Melissa Bean have been targeted, as well.

How will these affect the elections? As we get closer to November 7, it seems that everything will revolve around turnout, and voters who don't get the news that these harassing calls actually come from Republicans rather than the Democratic candidates they seem to serve might just tend to stay at home, thus depriving those Dems of votes they rightfully should receive.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Nearing the End

It's election season (had you noticed?), so Frank Rich joins the rest of the commentariat and offers his election wrap-up column today. He titles it, "Throw the Truthiness Bums Out." Can you tell which side he's on?

He provides a round up of campaign high points that seem just as ridiculous in black and white as they did when they first occurred.

While lying politicians and hyperbolic negative TV campaign ads are American staples, the artificial realities created this year are on a scale worthy of Disney, if not Stalin. In the campaign’s final stretch, Congress and President Bush passed with great fanfare a new law to erect a 700-mile border fence to keep out rampaging Mexican immigrants, but guaranteed no money to actually build it. Rush Limbaugh tried to persuade his devoted audience that Michael J. Fox had exaggerated his Parkinson’s symptoms in an ad for candidates who support stem-cell research purely as an act.

In a class by itself is the president’s down-to-the-wire effort to brand his party as the defender of “traditional” marriage even as the same-sex scandals of conservative leaders on and off Capitol Hill make “La Cage aux Folles” look like “The Sound of Music.” Just in recent days, the Rev. Ted Haggard, a favored Bush spiritual adviser and visitor to the Oval Office (if not the Lincoln Bedroom), resigned as leader of the National Association of Evangelicals after accusations that he patronized a male prostitute, and the Talking Points Memo blog broke the story of the Republican Party taking money from a gay-porn distributor whose stars include active-duty soldiers. (A film version of Mrs. Cheney’s “Sisters,” alas, still awaits.)

And always, always there’s the false reality imposed on Iraq: “Absolutely, we’re winning!” in the president’s recent formulation. After all this time, you’d think the Iraq fictions wouldn’t work anymore. The overwhelming majority of Americans now know that we were conned into this mess in the first place by two fake story lines manufactured by the White House, a connection between 9/11 and Saddam and an imminent threat of nuclear Armageddon. Both were trotted out in our last midterm campaign to rush a feckless Congress into voting for a war authorization before Election Day. As the administration pulls the same ploy four years later, this time to keep the fiasco going, you have to wonder if it can get away with lying once more.

Given the polls, I would have said no, but last week’s John Kerry farce gives me pause. Whatever lame joke or snide remark the senator was trying to impart, it was no more relevant to the reality unfolding in Iraq than the sex scenes in Jim Webb’s novels. But as the White House ingeniously inflated a molehill by a noncandidate into a mountain of fake news, real news from Iraq was often downplayed or ignored entirely. It was a chilling example of how even now a skit ginned up by the administration screenwriters can dwarf and obliterate reality in our media culture.

Even with the high level of discontent recent polls have been demonstrating, many in the media seem far too ready to go along with the Republican program of distraction and disinformation. Will that all end on Tuesday? I'd be shocked if it did.

(Thanks to Wealthy Frenchman for the column this week.)

November Surprise?

November 5 is set to become a significant day for the Bush administration and its operations in Iraq. In case you haven't heard, Saddam is currently expected to receive a verdict in his trail today. It's always possible that the verdict could be delayed. The prosecutor raised that suggestion early last week, but it just might be that Prime Minister al-Maliki decided that he exhibited enough independence earlier this week when he forced American forces to redeploy in their search for a kidnapped soldier, effectively undermining the current attempts to locate and rescue him. Saddam's defense has entered a motion to delay as well, asserting that they've yet to present their final arguments in the case. Neither of these options seem likely, however, so Iraqi forces are getting ready to face a huge reaction when the verdict is returned.

The question we've got to ask here, of course, is what effect will this have on domestic elections. The Democrats seem to think that this will provide a huge upswing for Bush and the Republicans. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece on what the Democrats should be doing but aren't. They're acting like it's a bombshell waiting to be dropped that could or will shift the momentum in this week's voting. Comparing the situation to that faced at a trial, Greenwald writes that an experienced attorney would attack the bombshell by getting out in front of it and diluting the effect it can have. Instead of doing that, Greenwald writes, the Dems are sitting and waiting to be smacked down. They're acting like it's a November surprise that they've seen coming for quite some time.

But I have to wonder if it's quite so cut and dried. The Washington Post reports that Iraqis are extremely concerned that a guilty verdict will result in even more turmoil among the population. If that's the case, how will Americans react? Will Bush get the bump in the polls he so desperately needs? Will an even more active insurgency remind the American public of everything it hates about the war and boomerang on the Bushies? The Democrats seem determined to remain unable to capitalize on the situation, but they may benefit from it anyway.

UPDATED--It's 3:20, and I'm not quite in bed yet. Saddam was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Developing, as they say.