Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: February 2007

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Disappointment for Emmett Till

We've mentioned Emmett Till before, and it's been interesting to see the case become subject of reexamination over the past couple of years. So it's got to be disappointing that the grand jury investigating the situation has decided not to pursue charges against anyone. The crime is more than fifty years old at this point, but there was still some hope that Carolyn Bryant, the woman at whom Till is alleged to have whistled, would face some sort of justice.

As a quick refresher, Till was a 14-year-old boy visiting Mississippi from Chicago in the summer of 1955. He and his cousins went into a grocery store, and the woman behind the counter, Carolyn Bryant, claimed he whistled at her. A few nights later, he was kidnapped from his uncle's home and was beaten and murdered--his bloated body was found in the river a few days later. The woman's husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, were later arrested and tried in front of an all-white jury. With barely any deliberation at all, the jury found them not guilty. Once saved from the threat of double jeopardy, they confessed to Look magazine. And not even the "if I'd done it" kind of confession.

Both of the suspects are now dead, but Carolyn Bryant, remarried as Carolyn Bryant Donham, survives at age seventy-two. Witnesses claimed to have heard a woman's voice during the kidnapping, so prosecutors thought that, even after all this time, they could make a case. Apparently not. Emmett's cousin, Simeon Wright, sums up the frustration:

"You're looking at Mississippi. I guess it's about the same way it was 50 years ago. We had overwhelming evidence, and they came back with the same decision. Some of the people haven't changed from 50 years ago. Same attitude. The evidence speaks for itself."

He added: "I don't know how many years I have left on this Earth. We can leave this world and say, 'Hey, we tried. We tried to get some justice in this, and we failed.'"

At this point, it appears that no one will pay for the Emmett Till murder. We'll just have to trust that he can rest in peace anyway.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Can You Believe It?


Wow, what a shock. I was ready to stay up all night biting my fingernails to see who the next mayor of Chicago would be, and here we are at 10:30, and the whole thing's been wrapped up for several hours. That link will update as votes are counted, but right now, with 86.6 percent of precincts, Richie has 71.8 percent of the votes. That's more than three times both of his opponents put together. [UPDATE--No, that's bad math. He'd have needed 75 percent to have three times his opponents.] Looks like the Reader was right. (Read that link to find out why they're not happy about it.) Sorry, Stu.

If Daley can avoid getting indicted and make it to the end of this term (and right now it doesn't look like anything to but wishful thinking to believe he won't), in just a bit under four years (on December 25, 2010, as a matter of fact), he'll surpass his father as the longest-serving mayor in Chicago history. Merry Christmas, Mayor Daley!

On a related note, none of the criminals, whether they were on the ballot or not, won in their various elections.

You Can't Vote for Criminals

What am I saying? This is Chicago--of course you can. But, according to the Illinois Supreme Court last week, you can't vote for a candidate with a felony record if somebody complains. Two former aldermen who've paid off their debt to society are being kept off the ballot for today's municipal elections. Well, sort of. Since the decision was only a couple of days ago, the ballots have already been printed (and early voting has already taken place), so their names are on the ballots, but any votes for them will be discarded. The (former) candidates in question are Virgil Jones in the 15th Ward and Ambrosio Medrano in the 25th Ward. They'll receive votes, but they won't count for anything.

If you were reading closely, you no doubt noticed the loophole I left in above. I wrote, "You can't vote for a candidate with a felony record if somebody complains." What if nobody does complain? Well, then you've got no problem. Percy Giles of the 37th and Wallace Davis, Jr., of the 27th each also have felony convictions, but they're eligible to run and, potentially, win. There were no official objections filed against Giles, and although someone did object to Davis's candidacy, whoever it was withdrew the objection, so there's nothing currently on the record.

Happy Municipal Election Day, Chicago!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Yay, Marty Won a Statue

I'm happy for him, I really am, even if there's not an exclamation point in the title. It's been far too long since he should've got one, so it's about time. He's been nominated five times previously (though not necessarily for the films you might guess). Three of those times he lost to an actor in the director's chair. He could've lost to Clint, the only actor up this year, but he lost to him last time, so I guess it's only fair.

But the whole Oscar season this year was just hard to get excited about. I guess there were a lot of good movies out there, but the quality was so spread out that there was nowhere to focus. If I'm not mistaken, Helen Mirren was the only Best Actor or Best Actress nominee who was nominated for a performance in one of the films up for Best Picture. Between the noms for Picture, Actor, and Actress, there were fourteen films represented.

I don't really have a problem with any of the winners, though I'm a bit disappointed that Peter O'Toole went home empty handed. Seeing him making the rounds of the talk shows this year, I'm not sure if he has any more movies in him. I haven't seen Venus yet, so I can't say for sure, but I'd have to wonder if a win this time around would've felt like the Academy owed him. He's given performances that deserve Oscars, so by extension he deserves an Oscar but doesn't have one. Whether this specific performance is Oscar-worthy is almost beside the point.

This may be somewhat masochistic, but for giggles, Don was hanging around The Corner to hear them bitch about the Oscars and Al Gore. Against my better judgment, I took a look, as well, and it was pretty funny. After a post insisting that she wasn't liveblogging the Oscars, Kathryn Jean Lopez made six more liveblog posts. But my favorite post came from Peter Suderman:

By making the theme "celebrating you" (as in celebrating the nominees), [Ellen DeGeneres] pretty much openly admitted what I suggested in my article Friday—that the Oscars are little more than an opportunity for Hollywood's power set to engage in a round of luxurious, public self-congratulation.

The Oscars are for Hollywood to pat themselves on the back? That's unbelievable! Thanks for going out on a limb to explain that to us, Pete!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Deja Vu All Over Again

As I've alluded to over the last little while, and as regular readers have probably noticed with the somewhat lighter posts over that same time, I've had a project at work keeping me very, very busy. As a result, I haven't had the time to keep up with the news as much as I'd like and as I usually do. So this week when I read Frank Rich, instead of nodding at his insights and chuckling at his wordplay, I became very depressed at the troubling collection of facts he featured. I haven't been completely out of the loop as to what's going on--I know about the crying judge in the Anna Nicole case; I saw bald Brittany; I'm aware that the Oscars are being handed out tonight in Hollywood. But I didn't hear the quote Rich takes from the former CIA agent on Olbermann. I didn't know that Congress heard testimony this week about a resurgent al Queda. What kind of dysfunctional news media do we have? (Yes, that is a rhetorical question).

We've seen this before, and Rich starts in a nostalgic mood, asking, "Where Were You That Summer of 2001?"

"United 93," Hollywood's highly praised but indifferently attended 9/11 docudrama, will be only a blip on tonight's Oscar telecast. The ratings rise of "24" has stalled as audiences defect from the downer of terrorists to the supernatural uplift of "Heroes." Cable surfers have tuned out Iraq for a war with laughs: the battle over Anna Nicole's decomposing corpse. Set this cultural backdrop against last week's terrifying but little-heeded front-page Times account of American "intelligence and counterterrorism officials" leaking urgent warnings about Al Qaeda's comeback, and ask yourself: Haven't we been here before?

If so, that would be the summer of 2001, when America pigged out on a 24/7 buffet of Gary Condit and shark attacks. The intelligence and counterterrorism officials back then were privately sounding urgent warnings like those in last week's Times, culminating in the President's Daily Brief titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." The system "was blinking red," as the C.I.A. chief George Tenet would later tell the 9/11 commission. But no one, from the White House on down, wanted to hear it.

The White House doesn't want to hear it now, either. That's why terrorism experts are trying to get its attention by going public, and not just through The Times. Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A. bin Laden unit, told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann last week that the Taliban and Al Qaeda, having regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan, "are going to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States" (the real United States, that is, not the fictional stand-in where this same scenario can be found on "24"). Al Qaeda is "on the march" rather than on the run, the Georgetown University and West Point terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman told Congress. Tony Blair is pulling troops out of Iraq not because Basra is calm enough to be entrusted to Iraqi forces - it's "not ready for transition," according to the Pentagon's last report - but to shift some British resources to the losing battle against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

Icing on the cake that I saw but that Rich didn't include (which may have been after his deadline) was Friday's statement from General Peter J. Schoomaker, out-going Army chief of staff, that it didn't really matter whether we got Osama or not. "I don't know that it's all that important, frankly," he told the Rotary Club in Fort Worth. "We know he's not particularly effective. I'm not sure there's that great of a return." There's nothing like lowered expectations. But Rich continues:

This is why the entire debate about the Iraq "surge" is as much a sideshow as Britney's scalp. More troops in Baghdad are irrelevant to what's going down in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The surge supporters who accuse the Iraq war's critics of emboldening the enemy are trying to deflect attention from their own complicity in losing a bigger battle: the one against the enemy that actually did attack us on 9/11. Who lost Iraq? is but a distraction from the more damning question, Who is losing the war on terrorism?

The record so far suggests that this White House has done so twice. The first defeat, of course, began in early December 2001, when we lost Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora.

. . .

That mistake - dropping the ball on Al Qaeda - was compounded last fall when Mr. Bush committed his second major blunder in the war on terror. The occasion was the September revelation that our supposed ally, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, had negotiated a "truce" with the Taliban in North Waziristan, a tribal region in his country at the Afghanistan border. This truce was actually a retreat by Pakistan, which even released Qaeda prisoners in its custody. Yet the Bush White House denied any of this was happening. "This deal is not at all with the Taliban," the president said, claiming that "this is against the Taliban, actually."

Maybe it's just me, but I don't see any wry laughs this time around. Frank Rich has simply given us a very sobering assessment of where we are now compared to where we were five-and-a-half years ago. It looks live maybe everything didn't change after all.



A couple of hours ago, Win Butler of the Arcade Fire smashed his acoustic guitar after the band's first song on Saturday Night Live (if it's not already, no doubt the performance will be available somewhere on YouTube in no time). As if to magnify the significance of the act, when the band returned for its second song, Butler was playing a mandolin, as if he had no other guitar. I suppose I'll have to find an Arcade Fire message board somewhere to learn what the words on that guitar meant. Maybe it said, "This machine kills fascists" in another language.

I don't know whether smashing a guitar means anything at all anymore. I did see Pete Townshend smash a guitar back in the day (actually, it was my day, but it was several years after Townshend's day), and I'm not sure it even meant anything then. Still, I smiled when Win Butler did it tonight. It doesn't always take much to make me happy.

UPDATE--As expected, the video's up. [Or not. See below.] It appears that Butler broke a string about two-thirds of the way through the song, so maybe the smash meant nothing more than that he was frustrated.

UPDATE #2--The words on Butler's guitar were "Sak vid pa kanpe." According to Wikiquote, that's a Haitian proverb (band member Régine Chassagne was born in Haiti) that translates as, "An empty sack doesn't stand up," which means a hungry person can't do anything. That reraises the question--if Butler saw the guitar as an empty sack, did he intend to smash it all along? Was the action a symbol after all?

UPDATE #3--Apparently NBC has had the video pulled, but a clip of the guitar being smashed is still available. And just because we can (for the time being, anyway), here's the second song they performed on SNL, "Keep the Car Running."

Pots and Kettles

On the most recent Sound Opinions (I'll post links to the stream and podcast when they're online), Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot took Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks to task for selling "Everybody's Happy Nowawdays" to AARP. (I talked about that a few weeks ago.) DeRogatis went into even more detail last weekend in the Sun-Times. I've never been a proponent of bands selling their music to advertisers, and I agree with the arguments DeRogatis presents, but I fear that those are arguments that have long been lost. When you look at the financial deck is stacked against artists dealing with record companies, the bands have to make money somewhere. (For a bit more in-depth argument, you might check out a two-part report on Morning Edition a couple of weeks back about selling songs for commercials featuring Randy Bachman [who, even though he defends selling "Taking Care of Business" to Office Depot still refused to lease it out for a toilet paper ad] and The Spinto Band).

One of the points DeRogatis made in the Sun-Times and on Sound Opinions is that "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" isn't actually about being happy, but any irony the song has is lost in a commercial in which everybody's having a great time celebrating their birthdays. Thus the song is cheapened. He may be right, but any credibility that idea has slipped away when the Sound Opinions producer faded down Buzzcocks and brought up the next segment. Admirably, Sound Opinions solicits feedback from listeners, and the show features messages from people who call in. But how do they introduce this offer of two-way interaction? With one of the most heart-wrenching ballads I know about the barriers technology can erect against communication and the frustration that can cause, the Replacements' "Answering Machine." Cleverly, the producers fade the song out before Paul Westerberg sings, "I hate your answering machine."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Talk About Bad Timing

A couple of days ago, Tony Blair announced that Britain would be withdrawing more than 20 percent of the British troops currently on duty in Iraq (yes, the actual numbers are 1,600 out of 7,100 troops, but it's the principle that counts). Blair says that he can do it because things are going so well in the British sector, and the White House has been quick to agree. (Why things are going well enough that the Brits can withdraw but poorly enough that the U.S. has to up its presence is a whole other issue that I'm not going to get into here.)

But the day after the withdrawal was announced, the British Defense Ministry had another little statement to make. It turns out that Prince Harry's unit is being transferred into Iraq just as the troop reduction goes into place. For his part, Harry is reportedly thrilled. He threatened to leave the armed forces if his unit went into combat without him. This is not unprecedented--Prince Andrew flew helicopters during the Falklands War twenty-some years ago. For its part, the palace is concerned that the prince may be an enticing target, so they're trying to keep the details of his location and his specific duties under wraps. If all goes according to plan, Harry and his troops are scheduled to rotate out after they've completed six months.

This is an interesting precedent, though. Were the two British announcements at all related? Instead of escalating the U.S. presence, what if the Pentagon (or its bosses at the White House) started bringing more troops home and dropped the U.S. military presence in Iraq? Would that mean Jenna or Barbara might join up to serve? Somehow I've got a feeling they'd rather enjoy partying with Prince Harry.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Now That's Some Kind of Urban Renewal

It wasn't so long ago that Chicago's Cabrini Green, the public housing project that ultimately morphed into a high-rise ghetto, was an area to be avoided. It was not unknown for a sniper to find a nice little perch in one of the buildings there and pick off cars or pedestrians passing by. I drove a friend to the Gold Coast area from the freeway a few times, and the direct route took us right along the southern border. He gave me the option of a roundabout way, but unless the sniper had been active in the previous couple of days, I'd just go straight there.

If you're not in Chicago but are of a certain age, you may have encountered Cabrini Green as the setting for the TV show Good Times. I can't say whether or not it was ever actually named as the Evans's residence, but the establishing shots the show used were all Cabrini.

Several years ago, however, the experiment of high-rise public housing was finally recognized as a failure, and the city of Chicago started tearing the project down and relocating the residents who lived there. At least, they said they were relocating them. At the very least, they evicted them so they weren't around anymore. I came across this report from six-and-a-half years ago announcing federal funds for remaking the area. Most of the buildings are gone now, and most of the residents have had to find housing elsewhere. Although this was intended to be a mixed-income area and a small percentage of new housing on the site was to be public housing, I'm not sure exactly how that's worked out.

Shockingly, although perhaps not given that the ghetto was surrounded by some of the most desirable real estate in the city, property values started going up almost as soon as the wrecking ball came into sight on the horizon. The latest thing I've heard is that the former Cabrini Green area is now becoming one of the hottest, most sought-after Chicago retail districts. An article earlier this week in Crain's Chicago Business identified stores just north of this real estate racking up sales of $400 per square foot, which it points out is "second only to North Michigan Avenue's Magnificent Mile." It sure beats a sniper pointing his gun out the window.

Intriguingly, given that people would drive blocks out of their way to avoid this area just a few years ago, city planners are starting to worry about retail outlets causing choked and overly congested traffic. I don't drive through there often, but as it stands, traffic is slow. If you start adding more and more retail to draw people in, there's no question that it will soon become overcrowded. Once that happens, it becomes more trouble than it's worth to shop there. And people stop coming. And stores start closing. And the pendulum starts swinging back.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Walter Reed Scandal

I'm way behind on this, but if you haven't been following The Washington Post's series on the travesty of patient care for vets at Walter Reed hospital, you should catch up. It started here, but when I ran a search of "walter reed" a couple of minutes ago, more than two dozen hits came up since Sunday. This will give you a taste:

The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.

They suffer from brain injuries, severed arms and legs, organ and back damage, and various degrees of post-traumatic stress. Their legions have grown so exponentially -- they outnumber hospital patients at Walter Reed 17 to 1 -- that they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army. The average stay is 10 months, but some have been stuck there for as long as two years.

It's amazing how nobody had any kind of clue about this. Tony Snow pointed his finger at the Pentagon, apparently forgetting that the boys over there answer to the President. For its part, the Pentagon was on the case making quick fixes almost immediately, and apparently with nowhere else to pass the buck, they vaguely took responsibility:

[Army vice chief of staff Gen. Richard A.] Cody blamed "a breakdown in leadership" for the troubling conditions but said no one has been fired or relieved of command. He did point to lower-ranking officers and noncommissioned officers lacking "the right experience and the authority to be able to execute some of the missions."

Nobody looks good in this. The Bushies are responsible because it's their job to oversee operations and guarantee proper, dignified care for those we've asked to sacrifice themselves for the nation. But nobody on Capital Hill deserves to be let off the hook, either. They visit the wounded and the recovering troops at Walter Reed and other hospitals--how could they have missed this? The best answer is that they just weren't interested enough to pay attention to what was in front of them. As unappealing as that possibility is, it's an awful lot better than they were aware of it but callous and uncaring to the point where they ignored it.

Now that everybody's watching, of course improvements are being put into place. But what are we going to do to make sure that those improvements don't slack off as soon as we shift our gaze? Will we have a similar series in another couple of years?

Well, until then, don't forget to Support the Troops.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Not So Inevitable John McCain

Although I said last night that I expected John McCain to fade as the time to cast actual votes got closer, I did at least expect him to remain competitive for at least a little while. Maybe I was giving him too much credit. Edward Luce at The Financial Times takes a close look at a recent FOX poll (yeah, I know). Among Republican voters polled, McCain comes in second with 22 percent, well behind Giuliani at 34 percent, but still somewhat ahead of the so-far unannounced Newt Gingrich at 15.

(It just occurred to me that this is a great presidential campaign for one-named candidates. We've got Barack, Hillary, Newt, Mitt. Rudy works to some extent.)

I’m not sure what's happening to McCain. He sure seems to be pandering to conservatives, calling for the overturn of Roe v. Wade (although he hasn’t always taken that position). And although he's supported the war and currently supports the escalation, he called Don Rumsfeld one of the worst secretaries of defense the nation has ever had. He said that without any apparent irony that it would reflect badly on his support for the Prez—you know, the guy who actually hired Rumsfeld and never provided proper oversight. You’d have thought that he might've said something about that earlier, when he was a majority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Whatever's going on with McCain, he's not quite as attractive a candidate--for anybody—as he was seven years ago. But wait until he breaks out the bus again—will all be forgiven?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Not the Land of Milk and Honey

Our pal Don at Article 19 linked to an article in The Hill in which Southern Baptist poo-bah Richard Land waxed eloquent on the Republican presidential field. Although being a Southern Baptist poo-bah should be enough reason these days to allow him entry to the newspaper of Washington insiders, but he's hawking a book. As head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (and if you think there's something Orwellian about that name, you're not alone), Land has set himself up as a primary spokesman for Southern Baptists, and by extension, evangelical conservatives. I suspect he believes that he shapes opinion in that realm, as well, so if he's got something to say, there's no doubt that it will be influential.

He doesn't offer a lot of surprises, but he's got a couple. Giuliani doesn't have a chance, according to Land, but only partly because he's seen as too socially liberal. It's his private life, which includes three marriages, that will do him in among Christian conservatives. (Land mentions the same roadblock to Newt Gingrich, if he tries to enter the race.) In regard to McCain, I suspect that Land has it right. McCain can't have both the conservatives and the moderates. Conservatives are leery of McCain's socially moderate policies in the past, and moderates are nervous about his buddying up to Falwell and the religious right. Land says that McCain's maverick streak (such as it is) makes conservatives nervous--they want to know what they're voting for. I believe that McCain's run for the presidency last time and his knack for keeping his name in the news in the seven years since is what's making him the frontrunner. People know his name, and they recognize it in the context of a presidential contender--of course he's polling well twenty-one months before the election. As the actual primaries get closer, I suspect that he'll fade. Not the least of his problems is his age--he's already older than Ronald Reagan was when he took the oath of office. Reagan was 69, while McCain is already 70, and there are still a couple of years to go.

The surprise that I did find was Land's apparent openness to Mitt Romney. He claimed that evangelicals are ready to be convinced about Romney's conversion to conservative values. Conversion is what evangelicals do, after all. But I'm not quite sure that Land's insistence that Romney's Mormon religion is not a "deal-killer" quite rings true. I guess it's always possible that people can become more open-minded, but many evangelical Protestants don't believe that Mormons are actually Christian. No matter what they claim, I firmly believe that they won't pull the lever for anyone who's not Christian in their eyes. If evangelical leaders are assuring Romney differently, then they're lying to him.

I suspect that the openness to Romney is actually a dodge to build him up as a viable opponent to McCain. Once McCain is weakened, evangelicals are hoping that there will be room for one of their own to step into the fray. And Land is quick to offer either Sam Brownback or Mike Huckabee as possibilities.

Both men are considered long-shots at this early stage of the game, but Land said impressive fundraising or gains in the polls could open a door to either candidate through which social conservatives might run.

"They don't have to convince other social conservatives they're one of them," Land said. "They just have to convince other social conservatives they can win."

Land goes on to say he believes Huckabee in particular "could catch fire."

Watch out, Mitt Romney. One of these days, that welcoming pat on the back by evangelicals might well be accompanied by a knife.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The President Who Cried Wolf and Other Fables

The Bushies are crying wolf again, and Frank Rich is calling them on it. You hardly need me (or Frank Rich) to tell you this is an old trick of theirs--we wouldn't be fighting in Iraq right now without it. But as with the original boy who called wolf, the message is beginning to get tiresome, and people are catching on.

Maybe the Bush White House can't conduct a war, but no one has ever impugned its ability to lie about its conduct of a war. Now even that well-earned reputation for flawless fictionalizing is coming undone. Watching the administration try to get its story straight about Iran's role in Iraq last week was like watching third graders try to sidestep blame for misbehaving while the substitute teacher was on a bathroom break. The team that once sold the country smoking guns in the shape of mushroom clouds has completely lost its mojo.

Surely these guys can do better than this. No sooner did unnamed military officials unveil their melodramatically secretive briefing in Baghdad last Sunday than Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, blew the whole charade. General Pace said he didn't know about the briefing and couldn't endorse its contention that the Iranian government's highest echelons were complicit in anti-American hostilities in Iraq. Public-relations pandemonium ensued as Tony Snow, the State Department and finally the president tried to revise the story line on the fly. Back when Karl Rove ruled, everyone read verbatim from the same script. Last week's frantic improvisations were vintage Scooter Libby, at best the ur-text for a future perjury trial.

Yet for all the sloppy internal contradictions, the most incriminating indictment of the new White House disinformation campaign is to be found in official assertions made more than a year ago. The press and everyone else seems to have forgotten that the administration has twice sounded the same alarms about Iranian weaponry in Iraq that it did last week.

In August 2005, NBC News, CBS News and The Times cited unnamed military and intelligence officials when reporting, as CBS put it, that "U.S. forces intercepted a shipment from Iran containing professionally made explosive devices specifically designed to penetrate the armor which protects American vehicles." Then, as now, those devices were the devastating roadside bombs currently called E.F.P.'s (explosively formed penetrators). Then, as now, they were thought to have been brought into Iraq by members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Then, as now, there was no evidence that the Iranian government was directly involved. In February 2006, administration officials delivered the same warning yet again, before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

. . .

Let's not forget that the White House's stunt of repackaging old, fear-inducing news for public consumption has a long track record. Its reason for doing so is always the same: to distract the public from reality that runs counter to the White House's political interests. When the Democrats were gaining campaign traction in 2004, John Ashcroft held an urgent news conference to display photos of seven suspected terrorists on the loose. He didn't bother to explain that six of them had been announced previously, one at a news conference he had held 28 months earlier. Mr. Bush played the same trick last February as newly declassified statistics at a Senate hearing revealed a steady three-year growth in insurgent attacks: he breathlessly announced a thwarted Qaeda plot against the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles that had already been revealed by the administration four months before.

But a large operation such as the Iraq war demands more than one lie to sustain it. Although none of us can be quite sure why we entered the war, what we were trying to accomplish, or why it's so important that we stay, we're certainly aware that the official explanation has shifted from one pretext to another.

Oh what a malleable war Iraq has been. First it was waged to vanquish Saddam's (nonexistent) nuclear arsenal and his (nonexistent) collaboration with Al Qaeda. Then it was going to spread (nonexistent) democracy throughout the Middle East. Now it is being rebranded as a fight against Tehran. Mr. Bush keeps saying that his saber rattling about Iran is not "a pretext for war." Maybe so, but at the very least it's a pretext for prolonging the disastrous war we already have.

What makes his spin brazen even by his standards is that Iran is in fact steadily extending its influence in Iraq - thanks to its alliance with the very Iraqi politicians that Mr. Bush himself has endorsed. In December the president welcomed a Shiite leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, to the White House with great fanfare; just three weeks later American forces had to raid Mr. Hakim's Iraq compound to arrest Iranian operatives suspected of planning attacks against American military forces, possibly with E.F.P.'s. As if that weren't bad enough, Nuri al-Maliki's government promptly overruled the American arrests and ordered the operatives' release so they could escape to Iran. For all his bluster about doing something about it, Mr. Bush did nothing.

It gets worse. This month we learned that yet another Maliki supporter in the Iraqi Parliament, Jamal Jafaar Mohammed Ali Ebrahimi, was convicted more than two decades ago of planning the murderous 1983 attacks on the American and French Embassies in Kuwait. He's now in Iran, but before leaving, this terrorist served as a security adviser, no less, to the first Iraqi prime minister after the American invasion, Ibrahim al-Jafaari. Mr. Jafaari, hailed by Mr. Bush as "a strong partner for peace and freedom" during his own White House visit in 2005, could be found last week in Tehran, celebrating the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution and criticizing America's arrest of Iranian officials in Iraq.

Even with as low of an opinion of the Bush administration that I hold, I have a hard time imagining that anyone in that organization wanted to achieve anything in Iraq like what they have. Likewise, I really have no idea what the purpose of the continued fabrications could be. But their current result, strengthening the Iranian position while we insist that Iran must not only be contained but diminished, cannot be denied.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Profiles in Courage, 2007

Senate Republicans again squashed hopes for any discussion of the Iraq war in that chamber. Sure, it was a non-binding resolution that would've forced nothing whatsoever on the Prez and his beloved escalation, but the Republican filibuster reveals that party's true fear of addressing any aspect of the Iraq situation at all. The non-binding resolution passed the House on Friday, so they're on record (for what that's worth) against the surge. That thumbs down provides a greater contrast to the Senate Republicans' discomfort in even allowing the subject to come up.

Harry Reid said, "The Senate is not done with this issue," and although he promised that the non-binding resolution wouldn't come up again, he didn't say just what the next move would be. He could do worse than to take John Averosis's advice to put the Prez's actual plan forward for an up-or-down vote. No one could have an excuse to filibuster, because then they'd be preventing potential support for the Prez. There's no need to insist on any other resolutions, because this one lets the Senate focus on the unadorned issue. And this also gets the Senate, particularly those Republicans who are up for reelection in next year, on the record one way or another. And it also doesn't force what many see as the awkward issue of cutting back funding for the troops. They'll have to face that down at some point, but there's no reason to let it get in the way of a straight yes-or-no vote on sending more troops to Iraq.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Comings and Goings Within the Blogosphere

Although Glenn Greenwald has been writing for Salon for a little while now, earlier this week he made it official and took down his shingle over at Unclaimed Territory. He's moved the whole thing, lock, stock, and barrel (but not archives, they're where they've always been) over to Salon. And to make sure they get their money's worth, he's been tearing it up this week. He's been writing posts about General Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, not only distancing himself from Bushie rhetoric about Iran's involvement in Iraq, but downright contradicting it; about FireDogLake's coverage of the Libby trial and the notice and respect it's been getting from the mainstream media (even National Review has been using it as a primary source)--will this force the media to reevaluate its stereotype of liberal bloggers as dirty, stinking, hippies?; about David Broder's, and by extension the Washington media establishment's desperation for the Prez to pull out of his popular opinion death spiral. His best (and most provocative, or is that redundant) blog title so far has to be "Neoconservatives hate liberty as much as they love war." Just as he did at Unclaimed Territory, he's making his new Salon blog a must-stop destination on the blog rounds.

While you're over at Salon, be sure to read Amanda Marcotte's explanation for why she held a position as a staff blogger for the John Edwards campaign for just a little over a week. She blogs at Pandagon (which is currently switching servers, so no link), but for a brief, shining moment, she moved to the higher-profile Edwards blog gig, but then the right-wing smear machine targeted her. Her experience was not pretty. Why would a bunch of right wingers care who blogged for John Edwards? Amanda has her suspicions:

Whether or not it was the intention of the right-wing noise machine to throw more obstacles in the way of Democrats who want to play to their pro-choice, pro-gay rights feminist constituents -- it's also plausible that the right-wing noise machine was working on pure misogynist emotion -- the episode has had a chilling effect on the future of Democratic outreach to feminist communities, particularly the younger ones that flock to computers for political information as earlier generations flocked to television sets and newspapers.

. . .

The liberal blogs are slowly but surely building a fundraising structure that is already beginning to have substantial influence on elections. They helped Jim Webb become a senator and Joe Lieberman become an Independent. Blogs also provide a method of disseminating progressive ideas to people, while the mainstream cable news channels carry on for weeks at a time on topics such as Anna Nicole Smith's untimely demise. Liberal blogs are issue-oriented and good at parsing out complex ideas that don't fit well into the sound-bite-driven mainstream discourse. They are a good fit for wonky Democrats. It's therefore unsurprising that conservatives might want to dissuade Democrats from hiring them.

It's a cautionary tale, but the caution we should really be taking from it is to be more prepared the next time the right wing cranks up its smear machine.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Quick Hits

"Hey, you got salmonella in my peanut butter!" "No, you got peanut butter on my salmonella!" There's a recall of peanut butter focusing on the Peter Pan and Great Value brands. People in 39 states have gotten sick, so check the stock number printed on the label or jar lid if you've got either of them in your pantry. Fortunately, I've got nothing to worry about. I'm allergic, so peanut butter can kill me with or without salmonella.

I was wondering why Al Gore was on the Grammys the other night giving an award to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but now it all makes sense. He's turning into a concert promoter. Today Gore announced what may be the biggest rock show ever. Called Live Earth, it's intended to call attention to global warming, and it'll be all over the world on July 7. The Chili Peppers have signed up (did the Grammys guarantee that Gore could get whoever won the award he was presenting?), along with a host of others. They're promising more than 100, although they haven't released 100 names yet. (Cameron Diaz also took part in the announcement, so does that mean there's no Justin?)

In case you didn't notice, that date is 7/7/7, so they really have no choice but to feature shows on all seven continents. That's right, Antarctica's getting a show, too. I guess Snow Patrol (who has been announced) is pretty much a lock for that one. The location is To Be Determined, but I hope they make sure it's not on an ice shelf that might break off and float away from the continent. It would be awfully embarrassing to have the first major rock show (and I saw major, because there's really nothing to do in Antarctica, and I can't imagine that someone stationed down there at some point hasn't organized a bar band to play for the other people whiling away their off-duty time) on the continent, and especially a show focused on global warming, to not actually be on the continent.

Last night, I wrote about a bogus quote by Abraham Lincoln that's been making the rounds. I've been immersed on a Civil War project at my day job, and since we're sort of on the subject, there's something I want to share. I've been doing a fair amount of research on the Internet, and I've found some interesting sites. But this one seemed to have an extremely intriguing premise. In case you were wondering, here's how Xena, Warrior Princess, stacks up as a military commander against various Civil War generals, such as Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest (and if you want a hint, she doesn't come out too badly).

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Do People Really Have to Say Something Before We Can Quote Them?


Here's something that's hilarious. Yesterday on the House floor, Rep. Don Young misquoted Abraham Lincoln, after this bogus Lincoln quote led off Frank Gaffney's column on Tuesday in The Washington Times: "Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged." had the background of where the quote came from six months ago. J. Michael Waller wrote it in an article in Insight in 2003. According to, here's the sentence that Waller used to lead off the article:

"Congressmen who willfully take action during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs, and should be arrested, exiled or hanged," that's what President Abraham Lincoln said during the War Between the States.

But it was all a big misunderstanding. Waller didn't mean to suggest that Lincoln actually said that. allowed him to explain:

The supposed quote in question is not a quote at all, and I never intended it to be construed as one. It was my lead sentence in the article that a copy editor mistakenly turned into a quote by incorrectly inserting quotation marks.

Additionally, I filed my story with the lead sentence ending in the words "Civil War," which my southern editor switched to "War Between the States."

Oddly, you are the first to question me about this . I'm surprised it has been repeated as often as you say. My editors at the time didn't think it was necessary to run a correction in the following issue of the magazine, and to my knowledge we received no public comment.

What reasonable person would think that a statement followed by the phrase, "that's what President Abraham Lincoln said during the Civil War" was something that President Abraham Lincoln said during the Civil War?

Damn editors. They wreck everything.

Just for the record, clarifies that, in this context or any other, Abraham Lincoln never called for Congressmen to be hanged. He can continue to hold his place in our hearts.

UPDATED--To remove the link to Gaffney's column, which, as far as I can tell, has been obliterated from The Washington Times Website.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Winter Storm Warning

I love living in a northern city. We've had some snow here, and although the wind is blowing it around a lot, it doesn't seem that bad to me. It's winter, so we're going to get snow, and actually, we've been quite light on that count so far this year. But what I really like about being in a city that knows it might snow is that for the most part, people take it in stride. As an example, Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk had planned an informal event at the old homestead tonight, but she wasn't sure if she'd start to get some cancellations. Well, she got a couple, but for the most part everybody came. The weather's miserable, the streets are messy, but people are willing to make the effort and go out. There are a number of places I've lived where it would have turned out quite differently.

I'm a bit mystified that the streets aren't as clean as I'd expect. We've only got four, maybe five inches in our part of town. There's some wind, but it doesn't feel like its overpowering, swirling the snow in all directions. I guess that's what's going on, though. Certainly we had the local news shows tell us that things are dire outside. Lake Shore Drive is closed at its south end. Traffic is crawling along the freeways. But I can't imagine that the city of Chicago isn't doing its utmost to keep the streets as clean as humanly possible. With a mayoral election a scant two weeks away, Richie Daley knows better than to allow anything less. (Of course, he might be a bit more worried if he actually had a viable opponent.) Maybe things will be better in the morning.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Those Little Music Awards from Last Night

I hadn't intended to talk any more about the Grammys, but I noticed something last night that nobody else seems to be talking about. Maybe it was just me, but I figured I'd pass it along if anybody else wants to get into conspiracy theories.

There were various show pieces on the broadcast last night, and one of the most noticeable was Gnarls Barkley doing an unfortunately slowed-down version of "Crazy." Cee-Lo and DJ Danger Mouse started out on a small platform, and they were wearing airline pilot uniforms. At one point Danger Mouse disappeared (and could be seen hightailing it up to the stage in the background), and Cee-Lo continued alone until he, too, started walking up to the stage. Once he got there, the scrim (or whatever it was) lifted, and a huge orchestra and choir of background singers could be seen.

Okay, it's all fine so far. From what we could see, the orchestra and singers seemed to be dressed to match the same airline milieu. But it was hard to tell, because the broadcast director shot it so oddly that, at least as far as I noticed, we never got a close look at the details. We saw a few cutaways to the drummer, who seemed to be dressed as an airline steward, but the actual strings and such of the orchestra seemed to be wearing something else that I couldn't quite catch. It would've made sense for the singers to be dressed as stewardesses, but it also looked like they might be all in orange such as what a ground crew might wear. But we never got a close-up of them. Instead, the show mostly kept an extremely, almost uncomfortable tight close up on Cee-Lo. That was sprinkled with shots of the drummer and then long shots of the entire stage. This was clearly a huge production number, but the Grammy broadcast was insisting on keeping us from seeing it. Was there something there that we shouldn't have seen? Was something not approved for broadcast?

The other musical numbers were jammed full of medium shots, so why not this one--especially when there was something to actually look at. I probably wouldn't have noticed anything unusual if the close ups of Cee-Lo weren't just so very, very tight, and if we'd ever had any variation, if we'd seen Cee-Lo from any other angle or distance. Rather than having a comfortable close up, these seemed framed to make sure that we saw nothing in the background. But it didn't look like the airline theme was risque in any way. It didn't seem like there was some unapproved message they were trying to get across. If this wasn't intentional on the part of the Grammy broadcast director, it was certainly some really awful directing.

Since I'm already talking about the Grammys, I'll weigh in on the Dixie Chicks. I've never been a Dixie Chicks fan, and from what I've heard of and about their "Album of the Year," I'm not interested. But I've got nothing against them and I did think hey got a raw deal with the reaction to Natalie Maines's statements. It seems to me, though, that they were celebrated last night not so much for the work they did and the album they produced but for having been dissed by the country music establishment. Giving them Grammys in this context does not celebrate the message they wanted to impart as much as it gets their back after people were mean to them. I'm as happy to get their back as anybody else, but last night there just seemed to be too much of a self-congratulatory, almost narcissistic tone from the Grammy voters themselves. If they were sending a message to Nashville (and trust me, I am so fine with that), don't worry--they got it when the Chicks won for Best Country Album. But to make the whole evening a celebration of a fair-to-middling album by a group that was scapegoated unfairly was going overboard.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Iraq and Obama

As events start to move faster and faster, they can't help running into each other and influencing each other for better or worse. If nothing else, sheer juxtaposition forces one issue or event to comment on another. Frank Rich this week offers a mash-up of the Republican filibuster against the Senate's impotent anti-surge resolution and Obama's announcement of his presidential candidacy. He headlines his piece with a command: "Stop Him Before He Gets More Experience."

If time in the United States Senate is what counts for presidential seasoning, maybe [Obama's] two years' worth is already too much. Better he get out now, before there's another embarrassing nonvote on a nonbinding measure about what will soon be a four-year-old war.

History is going to look back and laugh at last week's farce, with the Virginia Republican John Warner voting to kill a debate on his own anti-surge resolution and the West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd seizing the occasion for an hourlong soliloquy on coal mining. As the Senate pleasured itself with parliamentary one-upmanship, the rate of American casualties in Iraq reached a new high.

In what was perhaps a backhanded slap to Timothy Noah, Rich takes a look at various plans to leave Iraq and assesses their chances.

But he has no messianic pretensions and is enough of a realist to own up to the fact that his proposal has no present chance of becoming law. Nor do any of the other end-the-war plans offered by Congressional Democrats - some overlapping his, some calling for a faster exit than his. If a nonbinding resolution expressing mild criticism of President Bush's policy can't even come to a vote in the Senate, legislation demanding actual action is a nonstarter. All the Democrats' parrying about troop caps, timelines, benchmarks, the cutting off of war funding, whatever, is academic except as an index to the postures being struck by the various presidential hopefuls as they compete for their party's base. There simply aren't 60 votes in the Senate to force the hand of a president who, in Mr. Obama's words, "is hellbent on doing what he's been doing for the last four years."

Obama points out, however, that quickly passing an endgame may not be the primary point of the various resolutions.

The real point of every Iraq proposal, Mr. Obama observes, is to crank up the political heat until "enough pressure builds within the Republican Party that they essentially revolt." He argues that last week's refusal to act on a nonbinding resolution revealed just how quickly that pressure is building. If the resolution didn't matter, he asks, "why were they going through so many hoops to avoid the vote?" He seconds Chuck Hagel's celebrated explosion before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when "he pointed at folks" and demanded that all 100 senators be held accountable for their votes on what Senator Hagel called "the most divisive issue in this country since Vietnam."

That's why Mr. Obama is right when he says that the individual 2008 contests for the Senate and the House are at least as important as the presidential race when it comes to winding down the war: "Ultimately what's going to make the biggest difference is the American people, particularly in swing districts and in Republican districts, sending a message to their representatives: This is intolerable to us."

This is another instance in which events are likely to overtake one another. Whatever the Senate is or isn't able to do, the as the situation deteriorates in Iraq, that will have an influence of its own. Rich expands on the idea.

My own guess is that the Republican revolt will be hastened more by the harsh reality in Iraq than any pressure applied by Democratic maneuvers in Congress. Events are just moving too fast. While senators played their partisan games on Capitol Hill, they did so against the backdrop of chopper after chopper going down on the evening news. The juxtaposition made Washington's aura of unreality look obscene. Senator Warner looked like such a fool voting against his own principles ("No matter how strongly I feel about my resolution," he said, "I shall vote with my leader") that by week's end he abruptly released a letter asserting that he and six Republican colleagues did want a debate on an anti-surge resolution after all. (Of the seven signatories, five are up for re-election in 2008, Mr. Warner among them.)

What anyone in Congress with half a brain knows is that the surge was sabotaged before it began. The latest National Intelligence Estimate said as much when it posited that "even if violence is diminished," Iraq's "absence of unifying leaders" makes political reconciliation doubtful. Not enough capable Iraqi troops are showing up and, as Gen. Peter Pace told the Senate last week, not enough armored vehicles are available to protect the new American deployments. The State Department can't recruit enough civilian officials to manage the latest push to turn on Baghdad's electricity and is engaged in its own sectarian hostilities with the Pentagon. Revealingly enough, the surge's cheerleaders are already searching for post-Rumsfeld scapegoats. William Kristol attacked the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, for "letting the Joint Chiefs slow-walk the brigades in."

Washington's conventional wisdom has it that the worse things go in the war, the more voters will want to stick with the tried and true: Clinton, McCain, Giuliani. But as Mr. Obama reminds us, "Nobody had better Washington résumés than Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld." In the wake of the catastrophe they and their enablers in both parties have made, the inexperienced should have a crack at inheriting the earth, especially if they're clean.

We'll see whether Obama can stay out in front of events, especially as the pace seems to pick up.

It's a Return!

Over at the Grammys, the Police are back. And so, mysteriously enough, is Sting's faux Jamaican accent.

New Trends in Breakfast Cereal

I've been eating an odd cereal for breakfast lately. I've had cereal for breakfast on most days since I was a little kid. My mother, not wanting to get up at the break of dawn, which I had a tendency to do at the time, would leave a bowl of cereal on the table and a glass of milk to pour over it in the fridge so I could make my own breakfast from a young age. Although I've gotten over it a bit as I've gotten older, for a long time it didn't feel entirely like I'd had breakfast if it didn't include a little bit of cereal. Consequently, when there are new cereals, I'm curious to give them a try.

One cereal that bored me as a kid but that I've actually come to enjoy as an adult is Special K. Like a lot of product lines, lately, they've been trying to expand the brand with variations on the theme. They've added pieces of freeze-dried strawberries, vanilla-flavored with almonds, and fruit and hard pieces of yogurt, among other things. But a new version has come on the market, and it seems an odder choice than these others, which at least make some sort of breakfast sense. The new product is Special K Chocolatey Delight. There are actually pieces of some sort of chocolate substance mixed in with the Special K flakes. Now, I'm not sure exactly how the government defines chocolate, but I can only guess that it's for some other substance than what's in this cereal. The name is "Chocolatey Delight," and the come on on the box promises "chocolatey pieces." You know they're only using that y at the end of the word because they have to, because whatever these pieces are, they're not strictly defined chocolate.

But aside from all that, how does the cereal taste? We've had Cocoa Puffs, Cocoa Krispies, Count Chocula, and probably many others that escape my mind right now for years, so it's not as though chocolate has never been a part of breakfast before. But I'm not afraid to admit that I've never had a bowl of Special K and thought, "If only there were some chocolate in here" (though it wouldn't surprise me in the least if someone actually had). In my mind, the chocolatey pieces don't really add that much to the breakfast experience, but they don't detract from it, either. The big problem they do have, though, is that they don't float. Some of the pieces may be on top of a flake of Special K, or something, but for the most part, all the chocolatey material sinks to the bottom of the milk and is difficult to pick up on your spoon. I sometimes had to move them to the edge of the bowl and then eat them from there.

All this may not be the problem that it sounds, though. According to this article from the end of last year in USA Today, Special K Chocolatey Delight is expected to serve more as an after-dinner snack rather than a breakfast cereal. So, what, are we supposed to eat it straight out of the box, with no milk, at all? The best place to sell before-bed snacks might not be the cereal aisle. The article mentions that there's now a Life Chocolate Oat Crunch cereal, as well, but I haven't tried that one yet. The best line in the article comes from a nutritionist at Stanford: "Is cabernet going into cereal next?" I don't doubt that it's in the pipeline.

Here's the Special K Website. It's a flash site, though, so I don't know how to offer a link any more specific than the home page. If you're interested, you'll have to click through to find the Chocolatey Delight yourself.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Obamania (or Obamamania for the Syllablephilic)

Tomorrow's the big day. (Actually, it's today--I started writing before midnight but didn't finish until after.) You can watch the live stream of his announcement from his Website. Even though I'm still not convinced it's not too soon (he's barely been a national figure for two and a half years), I'll shut up about that from now on (probably). He's getting in for better or worse, so instead of being perceived as sniping from the sidelines, I'll just watch and let things play out.

He's done well in a couple of possible dust ups, essentially ignoring the Washington Post front-page story on his admission (from more than a decade ago) that he'd used drugs in the past, thus not encouraging it to get any traction, and forcefully responding to the ridiculous charges that he was some sort of radical Muslim sleeper agent, making Insight and FOX News look ridiculous for hyping the unsubstantiated charges. The claim even has its own page at as an urban legend.

I expect that this isn't the last we'll hear of the radical Muslim innuendo, and it may present a bit of a challenge to Obama to credibly rebut the charges without slipping into an implication that he's distancing himself from Islam itself. The dangerous charge is that he went to a Madrassa as a child and has thus been trained in anti-Americanism. In and of itself, it's not a dangerous charge that he was ever raised as a Muslim, although it's not true. The problem comes in the fact that to some people (though not people who were ever likely to vote for Obama or someone like him in the first place) equate the two, being Muslim means being anti-American. That's the mud his opponents are trying to sling at him. I've been impressed so far, and I'm curious to see how this develops.

If you're ready to jump right in, you can start getting your Obama merch right here. And don't forget, he's got the Joe Biden Seal of Approval for his cleanliness.

Friday, February 09, 2007

If I Copy Myself, Is It Still Plagiarism?

There must be something in the air, because all of a sudden I'm stumbling over talk of plagiarism and copyright all over the place. I linked to a couple of things the other night, but the subject just keeps growing.

Eddie Campbell elaborated a bit more on his previous post about Lichtenstein and plagiarism, and that's certainly worth reading. In more recent comments to that previous post since I initially linked to it, Neil Gaiman recommends Richard Posner's recent book, The Little Book of Plagiarism and points to a review in the Los Angeles Times (although, if for no other reason than to prove that I can do my own Googling, here's The New York Times's review, which is a bit more standoffish). By the way, Gaiman notes that Posner presided over the appeal of his lawsuit against Todd McFarlane. You can read the explanation, the resolution, or the resolution of the appeal. If you're really interested, you can read Posner’s actual decision on the judge's own Website.

A bit above Neil's response, another commenter recommended an essay by Jonathan Lethem on plagiarism and appropriation in the February Harper's. Unfortunately, it's awfully long and I'm writing this awfully late, so I've just had a chance to skim it. I'll write more about it later if it warrants it. But if you want more before then, Dirk Deppey, in Wednesday's Journalista post, passes on a link to the Open Source radio show, which featured an interview with Jonathan Lehman Lethem (it hadn't yet been recorded when Deppey linked, but it's been done and is online now). Just for good measure, Deppey opens the post with an almost ten-year-old quote by Mary Bono to the effect that when Sonny Bono was preparing the now famous U.S. copyright extension that bears his name, he really wanted to do away with copyright altogether any limitations on copyright, allowing the rights of ownership and control to continue forever. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your outlook, she's been informed that this would unconstitutional. Life is full of disappointments.

What am I doing? I've got to go to bed.

[Edited above to correct an error in which I said exactly the opposite of what I meant. I really should've gone to bed earlier.]

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Quick Hits

In support of the Republican senators rising up almost in unison and voting to prevent discussion of bipartisan (so much for that) resolution against the escalation of troops in Iraq, a White House spokesperson offered the following statement: "All sides have a right to be heard in this debate." And they wonder why political satire is dead.

A development late Wednesday saw seven Republicans, five of whom voted against floor debate of the resolution opposing Bush's escalation of the war in Iraq, proclaiming themselves so desperate to debate and vote on that resolution that they're threatening to add it as an amendment to any other bill that makes it to the Senate floor. Unfortunately, even those five senators changed their vote, there are still 40 senators left who voted against debate. Sixty votes are what's needed to allow the resolution to reach the floor, so potentially the 40 Republican senators could be defeated. Unfortunately, they were joined in their Nay vote by a particular independent senator who, although he caucuses with the Democrats, seems to be at odds with them more and more often. No, I'm not going to tell you who that senator is--you'll just have to guess.

In an e-mail discussion with which I was involved today, one respondent wrote, "Cheney is a pragmatist – The guy deals with things as they are." Does this sound like a pragmatist to you?

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." — August 26, 2002

"My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." – March 16, 2003

"We know he's been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." – March 16, 2003

"In Iraq, a ruthless dictator cultivated weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. He gave support to terrorists, had an established relationship with al Qaeda, and his regime is no more." – Nov. 7, 2003

"I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." - June 20, 2005

"Bottom line is that we've had enormous successes [in Iraq] and we will continue to have enormous successes." - January 24, 2007

(Yes, this is pretty much the response I gave in e-mail, and it's sort of chintzy to tart it all up as part of a post, but I couldn't pass up the possibility of putting that research to work in the blog.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Pining for Recognition as High Art

This week in Time, Richard Corliss writes about comics after the closing of the "Masters of American Comics" exhibition at New York's Jewish Museum and the Newark Museum. He's got a lot of interesting things to say, about comics in general and some of the specific artists and comics that appear in the art show. But finally, toward the end of his essay, he answers the question I had about the timing of his piece:

But if you're wondering why I withheld this survey until after the exhibition closed, I'll tell you. One reason is that the New York-New Jersey show was far from iddeal [sic]. The L.A. museums were a car-drive away, and everyone drives out there. Back here in Manhattan, Newark might as well be New Delhi. As Spiegelman wrote to the show's producers: "While swell for New Jersey residents, placing the first half of the 20th century's comic strip artists into the Newark Museum is, from the perspective of this provincial New Yorker, the equivalent of hiding them in a Federal Witness Protection program." The Jewish Museum also censored some of Crumb's more robust drawings, provoking Spiegelman to withdraw his art from the show he had helped inspire.

But mainly, something in me is suspicious about using this show to elevate the pedigree of comics. It's the venue as much as the works that compels visitors to think that a comic strip can be taken as seriously as a Lichtenstein. I agree with [Raymond] Pettibon, who writes, "For fans of comics the Museum of Art is as foreboding and scary a place as the Comics Convention is for lovers of art." As fascinating and as vindicating as it is to see all this wonderful material on museum walls, the enterprise speaks to two slightly neurotic trends in our culture: the need of so-called High Art to reach down, and the need for so-called Low Art to be placed on a pedestal.

. . .

It's akin to the argument that tries to make movies art by defining them as pictures seen on a wall (museum pieces) rather than illustrated stories. Yet Ingmar Bergman and Preston Sturges, to name just two great "directors," are primarily not visual stylists but writers. Similarly, Kurtzman and Spiegelman are remarkable less for their draftsmanship than for conjuring a world and giving it narrative shape, density and bite. You don't see their work so much as you read it.

And just because I'm a stickler for accuracy, and it really annoys me to see easily checked facts misstated in a high-profile venue such as Time, I have to point out that Corliss goes on to incorrectly identify Jack Kirby as the artist on Spider-Man when we all know that it was Steve Ditko. And further, Corliss also mentions that Spider-Man's writer, Stan Lee, is a multimillionaire who owns the copyright on the character. While I don't doubt that Stan has more than one million, it seems to me that Marvel Comics may have felt it important to hold on to Spidey's copyright themselves.

Earlier in the article, Corliss trots out an old quote from Art Spiegelman about Roy Lichtenstein:

"I have all sorts of issues with the idea that a Lichtenstein painting of a comic book panel is art but the original comic panel it draws on is not considered art," he told TIME's Jeanne McDowell for a 2005 story we did on the exhibition. "I hate that whole attitude and way of looking at this stuff. Lichtenstein did for comics what Warhol did for Campbell's Soup - it had nothing to do with comics. It had to do with exploiting the form without any of the content."

I couldn't ask for a better segue. Over on his blog, Eddie Campbell (the From Hell artist, not the country and western singer) was talking just the other day about the issue of borrowing in Lichtenstein.

David Barsalou, whose web site instigated the Globe piece, has amassed 85 pairings of Lichtenstein originals with their comic book panel 'sources'. Showing them side by side like this is useful for an understanding of the iconographic connections, but it does miss the essence of the exercise, that is that Lichtenstein took a tiny picture, smaller than the palm of the hand, printed in four color inks on newsprint and blew it up to the conventional size at which 'art' is made and exhibited and finished it in paint on canvas. In theory it was like painting a view of a building, or a vase. He worked through a long series of the same kind of thing before applying the particular treatments he had devised, such as the mechanical dots, to other kinds of images, ultimately including abstract images as in the brushstroke series. I find his whole project quite astonishing and invigorating. It was good for art. Hell, it was even good for the comic book medium, setting a precedent for it to be taken seriously.

He wrote about it at length, so check out the link. And while you're there, don't miss the stimulating discussion in response to his post in the comments section. Those, in turn, inspired Campbell to respond with a very interesting post earlier today about plagiarism. He's for it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Still Remembering Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins's memorial service was held Sunday in Austin. With lots of laughter and Marcia Ball singing "Great Balls of Fire," it sounds like an appropriate remembrance. Over the past few days, not surprisingly, a lot of people have been remembering in print, as well.

Maya Angelou related the first time they met. She'd been asked at the last minute to introduce Molly at a political function.

I spoke glowingly about Ms. Ivins for a few minutes, then, suddenly, a six-foot-tall, red-haired woman sprang from the wings. She strode onto the stage and over to the microphone. She gave me an enveloping hug and said, in that languorous Texas accent, "Maya Angelou and I are identical twins, we were separated at birth."

I am also six feet tall, but I am not white. She was under 50 when she made the statement, and I was in my middle 60s, but our hearts do beat in the same rhythm. Whoever separated us at birth must know it did not work. We have been in the struggle for equal rights for all people since we met on that Waldorf Astoria stage. We have laughed together without apology and we have wept when weeping was necessary.

E.J. Dionne was another to extol her virtues:

Boy, will we miss Molly Ivins, the writer and happy agitator who succumbed Wednesday to cancer -- a disease, she said, not sparing herself from her own lashing wit, that "can kill you, but it doesn't make you a better person." Yes, we will remember her for being raucously funny, always at the expense of the wealthy, the powerful or the Texas legislature.

But because she made you laugh and broke all the rules of polite commentary ("I believe in practicing prudence at least once every two or three years"), Molly made you forget how deadly serious she was about politics, democracy and social justice.

More than just about any other columnist I can think of, Molly was a genuine populist, to make proper reference to a word she couldn't stand to see misused by charlatans. She believed in lifting up the underdog and hated it when the wealthy made excuses for injustice.

Joe Conason got into the act, as well, noticing an intriguing detail in the days after Molly's death:

Even her favorite goat, the president of the United States, understood that he must pay tribute to the tough Texas wiseass who saw right through "Dubya" and the political culture that produced him. I bet that would have made her chuckle.

. . .

What distinguished Molly from the few who might be considered her peers today were her indefatigable liberalism and her unfashionable idealism. Most political columnists, especially when they achieve her level of mainstream success, with syndication in more than 300 newspapers, tend to cultivate a certain emotional distance from such passions. They definitely prefer not to be tagged as liberal, perhaps because most newspapers continue to be controlled by conservative Republicans.

But she didn't pretend not to care, and she didn't pretend to be a centrist or an aloof observer. She despised pretension and pomposity of all kinds. (Indeed, she was as likely to make fun of herself as anybody else.) Just as she wouldn't dull down her prose to satisfy censorious editors, she saw no reason to soften her opposition to prejudice, poverty and war so she would seem more moderate.

In The New York Times, Paul Krugman talked a bit about her but collected a handful of quotes featuring Molly on the Iraq War. Thanks to the generosity of Wealthy Frenchman, we can enjoy it outside of the Times subscription blackout.

Speaking of The New York Times, in Editor & Publisher, Greg Mitchell recounts the beginning of the end of Molly's tenure at the paper of record, all of which revolved around the phrase "gang pluck." And even a generation and a half later, they could do no more than allude to that phrase in their own obituary. It's a great, if unfortunate, story.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Secrets of Scooter Libby

One topic I've been following, though I've been writing about it very sparingly, is the Scooter Libby trial (firedoglake remains the best outlet for in-depth coverage, particularly posts in the "Libby Trial Live Blog" category. In his New York Times Sunday column, Frank Rich also provides some commentary on the Libby trial. Instead of offering blow-by-blow coverage, though, he focuses more on the overall implications of the trial for the Bush administration and how it seems to be making a few people nervous. You can guess one powerful administration official he discusses by his title: "Why Dick Cheney Cracked Up." The strain is apparently getting to the vice president.

In the days since Dick Cheney lost it on CNN, our nation's armchair shrinks have had a blast. The vice president who boasted of "enormous successes" in Iraq and barked "hogwash" at the congenitally mild Wolf Blitzer has been roundly judged delusional, pathologically dishonest or just plain nuts. But what else is new? We identified those diagnoses long ago. The more intriguing question is what ignited this particularly violent public flare-up.

The answer can be found in the timing of the CNN interview, which was conducted the day after the start of the perjury trial of Mr. Cheney's former top aide, Scooter Libby. The vice president's on-camera crackup reflected his understandable fear that a White House cover-up was crumbling. He knew that sworn testimony in a Washington courtroom would reveal still more sordid details about how the administration lied to take the country into war in Iraq. He knew that those revelations could cripple the White House's current campaign to escalate that war and foment apocalyptic scenarios about Iran. Scariest of all, he knew that he might yet have to testify under oath himself.

Mr. Cheney, in other words, understands the danger this trial poses to the White House even as some of Washington remains oblivious. From the start, the capital has belittled the Joseph and Valerie Wilson affair as "a tempest in a teapot," as David Broder of The Washington Post reiterated just five months ago. When "all of the facts come out in this case, it's going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great," Bob Woodward said in 2005. Or, as Robert Novak suggested in 2003 before he revealed Ms. Wilson's identity as a C.I.A. officer in his column, "weapons of mass destruction or uranium from Niger" are "little elitist issues that don't bother most of the people." Those issues may not trouble Mr. Novak, but they do loom large to other people, especially those who sent their kids off to war over nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and nonexistent uranium.

The overreaction of the Bushies to Joe Wilson's editorial in The New York Times has always been suspicious. If there were really nothing to Wilson's claims, why couldn't the administration simply ignore it? Or even better, prove him wrong? Why did they instead decide it was a better strategy to crush him? Well, there's been plenty of speculation, but this trial just might provide some answers.

If the war had been a cakewalk, few would have cared to investigate the administration's deceit at its inception. But by the time Mr. Wilson's Op-Ed article appeared - some five months after the State of the Union and two months after "Mission Accomplished" - there was something terribly wrong with the White House's triumphal picture. More than 60 American troops had been killed since Mr. Bush celebrated the end of "major combat operations" by prancing about an aircraft carrier. No W.M.D. had been found, and we weren't even able to turn on the lights in Baghdad. For the first time, more than half of Americans told a Washington Post-ABC News poll that the level of casualties was "unacceptable."

It was urgent, therefore, that the awkward questions raised by Mr. Wilson's revelation of his Africa trip be squelched as quickly as possible. He had to be smeared as an inconsequential has-been whose mission was merely a trivial boondoggle arranged by his wife. The C.I.A., which had actually resisted the uranium fictions, had to be strong-armed into taking the blame for the 16 errant words in the State of the Union speech.

What we are learning from Mr. Libby's trial is just what a Herculean effort it took to execute this two-pronged cover-up after Mr. Wilson's article appeared. Mr. Cheney was the hands-on manager of the 24/7 campaign of press manipulation and high-stakes character assassination, with Mr. Libby as his chief hatchet man. Though Mr. Libby's lawyers are now arguing that their client was a sacrificial lamb thrown to the feds to shield Mr. Rove, Mr. Libby actually was - and still is - a stooge for the vice president.

. . .

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of Colin Powell's notorious W.M.D. pantomime before the United Nations Security Council, a fair amount of it a Cheney-Libby production. To mark this milestone, the White House is reviving the same script to rev up the war's escalation, this time hyping Iran-Iraq connections instead of Al Qaeda-Iraq connections. In his Jan. 10 prime-time speech on Iraq, Mr. Bush said that Iran was supplying "advanced weaponry and training to our enemies," even though the evidence suggests that Iran is actually in bed with our "friends" in Iraq, the Maliki government. The administration promised a dossier to back up its claims, but that too has been delayed twice amid reports of what The Times calls "a continuing debate about how well the information proved the Bush administration's case."

Call it a coincidence - though there are no coincidences - but it's only fitting that the Libby trial began as news arrived of the death of E. Howard Hunt, the former C.I.A. agent whose bungling of the Watergate break-in sent him to jail and led to the unraveling of the Nixon presidency two years later. Still, we can't push the parallels too far. No one died in Watergate. This time around our country can't wait two more years for the White House to be stopped from playing its games with American blood.

Will the Libby trial provide the impetus to begin the Prez's exit from office? So far things don't look good for Scooter, but we've got to see how much further things get before we'll know what other consequences may develop.

Thanks this week to truthout for Rich's column.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

After the Game

I said last night that if the Bears team that beat the Seahawks and the Saints came onto the field that they'd leave triumphant, but that team didn't show up. Rex Grossman has been an inconsistent quarterback, although he'd really risen to the occassion during the playoffs. Unfortunately, he didn't rise to it tonight, and his team didn't come out winners.

Congratulations to Tony Dungy, the first black coach to take his team all the way to a Super Bowl victory, and his champion Indianapolis Colts.

The Requisite Super Bowl Post

Chicago's big day has arrived, and there's nothing else this city can talk about. The sports bet line has the Colts up by seven, but if the Bears come together, they won't be beaten. It's unfortunate that the team hasn't always been in sync throughout the entire season, but they've certainly come together during the playoffs, and if the team that beat the Seahawks and the Saints comes on the field, they'll leave triumphant.

As always, the mayors of the two cities have put together a wager. The haul Richie Daley put on the table is not bad. Here's the Sun-Times' description:

The booty laid out at the Cadillac Room at Soldier Field would take a moving van to truck down to Indy.

It includes such Chicago staples as cheesecake, ribs, burgers, sausages, nachos, pizza, beer, wine, nuts, hot dogs, Italian beef, popcorn, pretzels, coffee, candy and cinnamon rolls.

But, Daley has also thrown in 18 new items, including a shirt, belt buckle, necktie, cufflinks, kabobs, catfish, English muffins, pasta, catfish, corned beef hash, caramel cake, sandwiches and a whole pig on a spit. There's even a pastel drawing of Millennium Park by an award-winning senior at Whitney Young H.S. and a chair and ottoman with the Bears' color and logo left over from the Suite Home Chicago street furniture program.

Not too bad. For his part, Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson has put a number of events on the table, such as tickets to the Indy 500, to the Big Ten basketball championship, and to a Neil Sedaka concert with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Sure, you might've expected Indy 500 tickets, but Neil Sedaka? These guys really know how to put up a wager. The city of Indianapolis Website has the full details of both the Chicago and Indianapolis bets.

As for Bears fans who didn't make the trek to Miami, they can still have most of the pleasures of a home game at Soldier Field. The NFL refused permission for the Chicago Park District to show the game on Soldier Field's video screen--to protect the all-important ratings, don't you know. You don't get $2.6 million for a 30-second ad by letting people watch the game where Nielsen can't count them. But all is not lost. The Soldier Field parking lots will still be open, making any and all tailgaters welcome. Since we're looking for a high of 4 degrees, with wind chill potentially dipping down to -20, outdoors on the lakefront is certainly the place to be.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

You're Getting Warmer

Last night I mentioned the report on global warming due on Friday from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Well, it's out, and you can take a look at the Summary for Policymakers (in PDF). Although the details don't seem so different from previous reports, scientists' commitments to them are much firmer. "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal," the report states, and it's "very likely" (which the report defines as greater than 90 percent likelihood) that humans are responsible.

We finally seem to have reached a point where many people will pay attention to these reports. This is the fourth report the IPCC has released since 1990, and in that time the reports have only become more certain. Some of the details have shifted, but doubt about these findings is much less than it once was.

Perhaps the most unsettling finding is that global warming is here, and no matter what we might do, it's not going away anytime soon. According to The New York Times:

<[Climate scientists] said the world was in for centuries of climbing temperatures, rising seas and shifting weather patterns — unavoidable results of the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.

. . .

Moreover, the warming has set in motion a rise in global sea levels, the report says. It forecasts a rise of 7 to 23 inches by 2100 and concludes that seas will continue to rise for at least 1,000 years to come.

Even so, some scientists suggest that the report soft-peddles the likely extent of rising seas.

Dr. [Drew] Shindell, a climate expert at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies who emphasized that he was speaking as an individual, said, "The melting of Greenland has been accelerating so incredibly rapidly that the I.P.C.C. report will already be out of date in predicting sea level rise, which will probably be much worse than is predicted in the I.P.C.C. report."

For their part, the scientists who put the report together seem to be leaning on a distinction that isn't quite clear to me:

The panel said there was no solid scientific understanding of how rapidly the vast stores of ice in polar regions will melt, so their estimates on new sea levels were based mainly on how much the warmed oceans will expand, and not on contributions from the melting of ice now on land.

Other scientists have recently reported evidence that the glaciers and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic could flow seaward far more quickly than estimated in the past, and they have proposed that the risks to coastal areas could be much more imminent. But the climate change panel is forbidden by its charter to enter into speculation, and so could not include such possible instabilities in its assessment.

The scientists who are predicting the extent and effects of global warming won't take into consideration how the melting polar ice will affect things because they don't want to speculate. Perhaps the prediction of just how the ice will melt is too much to speculative to pin down, but how is the proper response to that to ignore its effects altogether?

Needless to say, news outlets near oceans are more concerned with how high the seas will rise than others. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports:

Experts are looking at predictions of sea level rise over the next 50 years from 2 feet to 10 feet.

A rise of 10 feet could swamp the state's highly populated coastline and send salt water spilling into the freshwater Everglades, said a leading South Florida-based scientist.

"It's an outlying estimate, but a 10-foot rise is within the realm of possibility," said Stephen P. Leatherman, director of the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University. "If that happens, not only do you have rising water to the east, but you have saltwater encroachment in the Everglades. It essentially becomes part of the ocean to the west of us."

"At that point, forget about Everglades restoration ... Most of this area is maybe 10 feet above sea level, so if you're talking about a 10-foot rise, and rising tide on top of that, then it's all over."

But the Sun-Sentinel also found naysayers:

"This is ... a U.N.-backed body that quite frankly is an advocacy group for controls on carbon emissions," said Tom Harris, executive director of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project, a leading clearinghouse for challenges to the science behind global warming. "We haven't seen the science they're drawing on in this report, and we're not going to see it tomorrow.

"There're over 10,000 reports that come out in any year on climate change ... and this group doesn't represent at all that many of the leading scientists in the field. Our own scientists have raised questions about the data they've seen from the IPCC."

Taking global warming more seriously means that we have to move from a report, even one getting more respect than it has in the past, to actual measures we can take to blunt the effect of rising temperatures. Until this discussion turns into action, we're not going to get anywhere.