Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: August 2007

Friday, August 31, 2007

More Republicans Bow Out

I'm not sure that the end of summer is traditionally a time when politicians pack it in, but it sure seems to be the hot trend this summer, particularly among Republicans. We've already seen Karl Rove resign (his last day was today), and then Alberto Gonzales offered his resignation, as well. But it's not stopping there. Tony Snow had previously announced that he'd be leaving when his cash dried up, and today he made it official: "I ran out of money." According to The Washington Post, his annual salary was only $168,000, so who among us couldn't have seen this coming?

The White House wasn't the only place Republicans were abandoning, though. The Senate saw some action, as well. Virginia's Senator John Warner disclosed his plans to step down at the end of his current term. This move was fairly widely expected, as the 80-year-old senator seemed to be neglecting his fund-raising chores in building up his war chest for another run. It remains to be seen whether it will help to undermine the position against the Iraq war he staked out earlier this week in calling for the withdrawal of troops. He's not losing any of the respect he's built up on military and foreign affairs matters, but he can't expect to have the same kind of clout he'd have if he were seeking another term.

More controversial was the information that Senator Larry Craig of Idaho would be making his own announcement about his future tomorrow. I never got around to writing about Craig and his airport restroom travails (although I'd intended to mention that a fish who was very intrigued by my bathing suit and kept swimming near it for about half an hour while I was in the ocean last week somehow reminded me of the senator), but the trajectory of his scandal is very intriguing. National Republicans wasted no time in distancing themselves from Craig and demanding that he resign. They were understandably upset that he was arrested in June and then pleaded guilty earlier this month without them knowing (it is quite remarkable that the whole thing remained under the radar for three weeks before it came out in Roll Call). But it's intriguing to compare Craig's situation with that of David Vitter, the senator from Louisiana, who admitted to some wrongdoing involving prostitution but has been protected by Republican leaders. It does seem pretty obvious that Republicans have made the decision that they'll sound the alarm for anything suggesting gay activity, but hetero mischief will be swept under the carpet. All I can assume from this is that if Craig had been apparently soliciting in a women's restroom, all would be forgiven. Glenn Greenwald has a much better breakdown of that comparison than I've got it in me to write tonight, but here's a key quote:

Whatever else one wants to say about the "family values" wing of the right-wing movement, the absolute last thing that it is is a principled, apolitical movement. And -- as the starkly different treatment for Craig and Vitter conclusively demonstrates -- these vaunted "moral principles," for which we are all supposed to show such profound respect, are invoked only when there is no political cost to invoking them, and worse, typically only when there is political benefit in doing so.

As you can probably guess, the whole thing is worth your time.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Home Again, Home Again

Another venture into the travel industry's "Summer from Hell" once again left us relatively unscathed. Of course, we're just ahead of the Labor Day Weekend rush, so things may get worse in the next few days. But even with small children in the seat behind us, and a baby only a few months old in the seat behind them, our flight was uneventful.

Back home, a quick look at the news brought some welcome developments. Just because Alberto Gonzales is taking his ball and going home next month, that's not enough to keep him from having to oversee a Justice Department investigation into his own questionable statements before Congress. To be accurate, I doubt he's actually overseeing the investigation himself--even the Bushies can't quite get away with that. But he's still in charge for a few more weeks, and it's nice to know that with all his power and influence, he doesn't have the ability to subvert the U.S. system of justice from seeking out what is true and just. We all know, of course, that this power of subversion is held in other hands, hands that are not afraid to use it, so don't get your hopes up. But still, it's the last weekend of summer, so we shouldn't worry about justice being denied. There'll be plenty of time for that after Labor Day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Not Much to Get Excited About

It's a sad day today, so I don't have much to say. It's the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast, of course, and the Prez trekked down to the area to acknowledge it. He announced that he was there "to remind people that we haven't forgotten, and won't." Not that you could really tell from the lack of a federal rebuilding effort, but it's a nice sentiment.

Also today, we discovered that CBGB founder Hilly Kristal died earlier this week, less than a year after he was forced to shutter his club. NME has some remembrances by those who played CBGB's (here and here), The Village Voice once again links to Lenny Kaye's remembrance of the club around the time of its closing. And New York magazine has what may be Kristal's last interview, granted when he was in the hospital about a month ago. Goodbye, Hilly. You didn't have a great show every night, but you had far more than your fair share.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

No More Cereal City

People of a certain age instinctively know that Battle Creek, Michigan, is home to Kellogg's cereal. Well, maybe it's not entirely instinct. We sat through myriad TV commercials that told us exactly that, not to mention the announced sponsorships of our favorite TV programs. So to some of us, Battle Creek seemed a magical place.

Several years ago, when driving from Chicago to Toronto or Detroit or some such, we drove through Battle Creek and noticed that Kellogg's had a museum--no, a celebration!--of cereal. Although we didn't have time to stop that day, we quickly arranged to make another visit to Cereal City. As a breakfast cereal afficionado almost since birth, I was in heaven. I could learn the history of how breakfast cereal developed, I watch some of those aforementioned TV commercials, or even have a handful of corn flakes hot off the assembly line (contrary to anything you might've expected, they're delicious). We went back to Cereal City a number of times and recommended it to anyone we knew who'd be in spitting distance of Battle Creek. Unfortunately, I heard last week that Kellogg's had closed Cereal City earlier this year. I never got a chance to check it out before a little while ago, but it appears to be true. This site confirms it but hasn't yet deleted the write up that already existed, so if you never made it to Battle Creek, you can see what you missed.

Goodbye, Cereal City. I'll miss you!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bye-Bye, Berto!

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, famed close friend and long-time protector of the Prez, has finally given up the ghost and packed it in. It's certainly been a long time coming. Not surprisingly, although pretty much everyone across the spectrum is not unhappy to see the attorney general go, the Prez remains steadfast, insisting that his pal was "a talented and honorable person" whose "good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons." Yeah, right.

We're not as well versed in our attorney general history as we are in presidential history, but it seems like Gonzales must be a prime candidate for worst U.S. attorney general in history. Given his history of loyalty to the Prez, it's hardly a surprise that he'd be more interested in functioning as Bush's personal lawyer than as the chief law enforcement officer of the nation. It also explains why he's held on to the job for as long as he has. But that just makes it more unclear of why Gonzales should resign now. Although he'll likely be the subject of more hearings and investigations when Congress comes back into session even after he's gone, for the moment, there have been no further implications or focus on him since the last set of hearings before the summer recess. At The Washington Post's campaign blog, Dan Balz wrote, "After he seemingly could do no more damage to the administration, President Bush's friend and confidant finally called it quits." I'm betting that he still had some more damage in him.

It's the last week of summer, so there's not a lot of attention being paid, but there'd be even less on Friday afternoon. I think we should all watch out for what comes next. After all, it's a long-time credo of the Bush administration that you launch your new products after Labor Day. With Gonzales out of the way, the path is clear for the third attorney general and Phase 3 of whatever they've got in store for the Justice Department. There have been rumors that Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff would take his place (google it--trust me, there are plenty of examples), but a CNN report quotes a congressional source who claims "senior administration officials are 'playing you guys,' referring to the media." The media likes to be played, certainly, and we can only hope that Chertoff stays at Homeland Security (not that he'll do any less damage there). One thing we can keep in mind, though, is that Gonzales's resignation does nothing to protect him against subpoenas or indictments. We haven't seen the last of Gonzales.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pop Culture Quick Hits

I know you've all been worried, but the weather forecasters were wrong, and we had a lovely day, and I actually got some surf time (by which I mean, I got to play and swim in the surf--I don't do surf boards). I'm so off balance and off my schedule that I even though I held a Sunday New York Times in my hands, it didn't even occur to me to check out Frank Rich's column. Not that it mattered, though, because Rich has the day off. Not directly in place of his column, though, is a lovely remembrance of Jack Kirby. It doesn't actually say a whole lot, but the recognition itself is nice to see. Anyway, without Frank Rich to plunder for a post, I've got some room for a few quick hits.

Through a free association that started with the Prez's comparison of Iraq to Vietnam, passed through someone's suggestion that he'd next bring a Yossarian comparison into the picture (unfortunately, I can't remember precisely who, and there were 12,600 hits when I googled yossarian bush iraq vietnam), and ended up with Joseph Heller's changing the name of his novel to Catch-22 to avoid confusion with Leon Uris's Mila 18, it occurred to me that novels have very little power these days to affect the culture. What's the last novel that's really made a difference to our national culture? Yes, Harry Potter sells boatloads of copies, and The Da Vinci Code sold untold millions, too, but did they enter our national dialogue? They're familiar, certainly, but they don't really have the depth to change the way we think about things. At one time, movies replaced novels for making such social comments, and they still try to, but the industry has changed to put such a stress on opening weekend that even the best movies often don't amount to much more than a flash in the pan. I'm not the first person to point this out, but cable series have jumped into that position of influence today. We don't spring for cable at Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk headquarters, so we've been doing a lot of catching up this week. We're too late for The Sopranos, of course, but I've been going to parties lately and noticing that I can't really fully participate in conversations without a better working knowledge of Entourage, Rescue Me, and Nip/Tuck. Maybe it's getting about time to spring.

I've also been catching up on a few videos that I hadn't seen yet. Did anybody else think that the video for Lily Allen's "Smile" is the first two acts of Brian Wood and Steve Rolston's comic Pounded? Does this mean that we should expect an answer video from someone else in which Lily Allen's spurned boyfriend comes back with a baseball bat?

This is a very minor issue, but we started to watch Thunderbird 6 late last night, and we were planning to watch until we saw some of the delightful Gerry Anderson Supermarionation walking. We watched for half an hour, though, and none of the puppets walked! Every time they needed to move from one place to another, the scene cut, and they were already there. After Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Stingray, had they finally figured out that these puppets couldn't walk very well? If there are any Gerry Anderson buffs out there reading this, is there a point when the puppets just stopped moving around very much? Any information would be helpful.

UPDATED--I've added a link to the Lily Allen video on YouTube.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Things You Shouldn't Think About at the Beach

I'm beginning to think it's personal. Chicago and Northern Illinois has been hit with a series of storms, but we escaped before the worst passed through on Thursday. Never fear, though--the rain has found us at the beach. We had a nice day on Friday, but this morning we woke up to thunder and drizzle. I took a look at the doppler radar, and the storms seemed to be spontaneously generating right on top of us. That's not what we expected, but it's giving us time to do some things we might not otherwise have done.

One of those things was to watch the first half of Spike Lee's excellent documentary about Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans, When the Levees Broke. This dredged up all the outrage, frustration, and helplessness sparked by the storm, but it also made me take a look at Katrina's place in our larger society right now. A major American city continues to struggle back to any sense of normal life, and it's really nothing more than a footnote in the failed presidency of George W. Bush. When it comes to anything that the disaster should've taught us about the larger state of our domestic infrastructure, we've closed our ears and eyes. Levees that can't withstand the pressure aren't particularly different than bridges that collapse, and neither of them will be isolated events as everything else in this country continues to age without any updates or improvements. But this isn't a conversation we're interested in having. We got a bit of lip service in the presidential sweepstakes after the bridge fell in Minneapolis, but for the life of me, I can't remember if anybody said anything worth paying attention to. The mainstream media is having too good of a time playing politics with whatever slight the Democratic frontrunners declared most recently or watching the smearing of the latest national figure to suggest that maybe keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely isn't the greatest idea.

We seem to slowly be sliding off the rails with no one in sight who can take charge and inspire change. Our troubles are large enough that every now and again people will stop and think, "Something's not right," but they're not so large that we can't build an intricate wall of denial to wish them away. We refuse to examine anything we don't want to know about, so whatever rot is setting in can slowly spread until there won't be enough left to salvage. How many more bridges have to collapse? What happens when the next American city is devastated by natural disaster--tornadoes, flooding, an earthquake?

But we don't want to think about such things. Especially while we're at the beach.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Republicans Eat Themselves

Traveling always makes me a bit off balance about the news. My attention is elsewhere, so I just get bits and pieces of what's going on, and its hard to tell what's significant and what's not. I saw yesterday's news about Republican national security maven Senator John Warner's call for troops to start withdrawing from Iraq by Christmas, which seems like pretty big news. He seems to be feeling his way slowly, and his argument seems to rely on the Pentagon withdrawing troops for appearances' sake as much as anything, but at least it's something. Proving that no one is immune from the Republican smear machine, however, right wingers sprang in to action, calling Warner irresponsible and backward and claiming that he "hurts the cause of freedom." I think the strategy is to shame him back inside the fold, and who knows, it might just work.

Unfortunately, that's related to the strategy that's been working so far. If the Prez can't force Warner to take his opinion back, there's always the option of ignoring him. For Dan Froomkin (who seems to be getting more and more difficult to find on the Washington Post Website), it all reminds him of late last year.

It was then, in the wake of the November election and the report of the Iraq Study Group, that the debate in Washington finally appeared to be shifting away from how to achieve victory and toward how to cut our losses.

Instead, Bush ignored public sentiment, overruled his military commanders and opted for escalation.

And now it appears that the only thing the surge has bought him is time -- nine months or maybe a year, during which he was able to postpone the inevitable.

What has that year cost America -- and Iraq? For starters, a year in Iraq translates to over 1,000 more dead American soldiers; over $100 billion more in direct appropriations; over 15,000 more dead Iraqi civilians; and countless grievous wounds and shattered families both here and there.

In light of the costs, having bought a year of time may not seem like much of an accomplishment. But if Bush can drag things out another year or so, he can wash his hands of the whole mess and leave it for his successor to deal with.

We've already got that happening with the Prez's recent comparison of Iraq and Vietnam, and even money says it'll continue with General Patraeus's report next month. The only suspense this time is whether the strategy will work again. As much as I hate to say, I'm not sure I see any reason why it won't.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Relatively Easy Travel

I'm at a new location, and I've been having trouble establishing and maintaining an Internet connection, so this will probably be shorter and sweeter than I would've preferred. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk and I were traveling today, and I was all prepared to talk about the airlines' "Summer from Hell," when all of a sudden we had a reasonable flight. O'Hare airport had too many employees more interested in maintaining their lines than in actually helping customers, We left the gate only about ten minutes late, and although we seemed to be in a line of about half a dozen jets waiting to take off, that line ran smoothly, and we were in the air at about the time we should've been.

Oh, sure, the seats were cramped, and they didn't have as full service a drink collection as we would've liked, but all in all not too bad. The pilot even seemed to have the correct grasp of the situation when he announced at the beginning of the flight that the service crew was there in an attempt to make our journey "somewhat comfortable." They're charging to make us somewhat comfortable, though. One thing that I noticed at the airport was an opportunity we were given when we checked in. Would we be willing to pay an extra $29 or so for a few extra inches of leg room in the cabin? We passed on the idea, but when we got on the plane, we were seated behind the emergency exit row. For various important and significant reasons, there's always more room in those rows, but it made we wonder if those were the seats they were offering at a premium price.

Although it was still a beautiful day in Chicago when we taking off, it was apparently only a couple of hours before storms moved in again in late afternoon, and from what I heard, these storms were worse than what we've been seeing in the area lately. Tornado warnings were all over the place, and one was actually reported in a western suburb. But most significantly for our travel agenda, only about an hour and a half after we left, O'Hare suspended all flights and evacuated the control tower. That's not entirely unheard of, but it's extremely rare. Fortunately for Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk and I, however, by that time we were well on our way in our somewhat comfortable flight that didn't seem like it had come from hell at all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Going Greene

What happens when history has already repeated itself as farce and is coming around for another pass? It can't really get more farcical. Today, after years of insisting that Iraq is nothing like Vietnam, the Prez spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City and told them that Iraq is like Vietnam.

The tragedy of Vietnam is too large to be contained in one speech. So I'm going to limit myself to one argument that has particular significance today. Then as now, people argued the real problem was America's presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end.

Setting aside the speciousness of the comparison, who precisely is arguing that if the United States Army would withdraw from Iraq the killing would end? The argument for withdrawal as I understand it is that Iraq is in a civil war and that the American presence ratchets up the emotions on various sides. If the U.S. pulled out, as the argument goes, they'd stop making things worse, but Iraq would still be in the middle of a civil war. Nobody's saying that the different factions would all of a sudden start getting along. There'd still be fighting. There'd still be killing. But the United States Army would no longer be in the middle of it.

As ridiculous as that comparison is, though, I'm more intrigued by the paragraphs that followed it.

The argument that America's presence in Indochina was dangerous had a long pedigree. In 1955, long before the United States had entered the war, Graham Greene wrote a novel called, "The Quiet American." It was set in Saigon, and the main character was a young government agent named Alden Pyle. He was a symbol of American purpose and patriotism -- and dangerous naivete. Another character describes Alden this way: "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."

Why do I get the feeling that neither the Prez nor whoever it was writing these words for him ever read The Quiet American? They didn't even bother to rent the Michael Caine/Brandon Fraser movie from 2002. When that film came out, I told anybody who would listen that it portrayed all the reasons why the U.S. shouldn't go into Iraq (I would've written it in my blog, too, if I'd been blogging by then). Obviously, we did go into Iraq, and the film can provide a good primer on what went wrong. But as Frank James of the Chicago Tribune's Washington blog The Swamp points out:

Bush seemed to be seizing on Greene's idea of U.S. naivete on entering the war and trying to turn it around and apply it to those now calling for a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

But Greene wrote his book about the way America bumbled into Vietnam, not how it left it.

By reminding people of Greene's book, Bush was inviting listeners to recall the mistakes his administration made in entering and prosecuting the Iraq War. Did he really want to do that?

He goes on to cite some previous comparisons of Alden Pyle to the Prez himself. Karen Tumulty of Time magazine's similarly titled Washington blog, Swampland, points to comments by historian Robert Dallek in yesterday's LA Times:

"It just boggles my mind, the distortions I feel are perpetrated here by the president," [Dallek] said in a telephone interview.

"We were in Vietnam for 10 years. We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than we did in all of World War II in every theater. We lost 58,700 American lives, the second-greatest loss of lives in a foreign conflict. And we couldn't work our will," he said.

"What is Bush suggesting? That we didn't fight hard enough, stay long enough? That's nonsense. It's a distortion," he continued. "We've been in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II. It's a disaster, and this is a political attempt to lay the blame for the disaster on his opponents. But the disaster is the consequence of going in, not getting out."

So should we find out whether The Quiet American makes good beach reading?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Just Another Annoyed Rant

I have to tell you, I don't have a whole lot to talk about tonight. I'm finding it more and more exhausting to be outraged about something new every single day. Over and over, I see some new line in the sand the Prez is willing to waltz across and think, "I can't believe they'd do that." But I almost immediately catch myself and realize, of course I can believe it. Everything is political with this White House, and there doesn't seem to be much they're doing just because the policy outcome is the right thing to do.

A good example lately would be all the political maneuvering going on about General Petraeus's report to Congress next month. First there were reports (denied by the White House) that the administration wanted to put Petraeus's testimony into private session, but Congress would have no part of that. Now it turns out that, entirely by coincidence, without any kind of ulterior motives of any sort, Petraeus will testify on September 11. This isn't outrageous, particularly, but it is pretty ridiculous. How stupid do they think we are that we'll just swallow that whole? Unfortunately, that gets a pretty quick answer, too. We're obviously stupid enough that we'll put up with everything they've fed us so far without doing anything much of anything other than complaining.

On the bright side, a recent CNN poll found that a majority in the country expects Petraeus's report to overstate progress in Iraq. All right, so maybe we won't believe whatever it is Petraeus has to tell us, but that still leaves hanging the question of what we're going to do about it. The Democrats won't stand up to the White House (and the mainstream media's not even interested in trying to), so even though we can recognize that we're in a dangerous situation, we're just falling back on trying to ride out the remaining months of the Prez's term. Even if we manage to pull that off successfully, there's no guarantee that the next president, either Democrat or Republican, will roll back the authoritarian tendencies of this administration. How many people are willing to say, "This is far more power than I need, so I'm giving some of it away"?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dark Avenger of the Senate Skies?

Here's a news flash! The White House has refused to turn over documents subpoenaed by the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning the NSA eavesdropping program that did an end run around FISA. Oh, wait. That's not a surprise at all. The subpoena's original deadline was July 18, and it's been moved twice after the White House said it needed more time (because finding documents is hard!). The vice-president's office is apparently up to its old tricks of claiming that it's exempt from orders to the executive branch because it's not really part of the executive branch. (And if you remember the veep's office backing off that claim because even they couldn't make it with a straight face, you're right. So?)

Although Leahy doesn't seem to be doing much more to pressure the White House than to say, "Come on! These are real subpoenas. You can't just blow them off," at least he's pointing out that at least his committee issued subpoenas. When the Senate was run by the Republicans and Arlen Specter sat as Judiciary chair, they were intending to do some investigating, but according to Leahy, Dick Cheney told the Republicans on the committee that "they were not allowed to issue subpoenas." Talk about putting a crimp into your plans! If you've been thinking all along that the Republican Congress wanted to get to the bottom of administration wrongdoing but the mean, old White House wouldn't let them, you get a box of gold stars and a copy of the Constitution. (Feel free to fasten the stars directly onto the Constitution. We're not using many of the provisions of the separation of powers, anyway.

Leahy needs to take a tougher tack on the White House than impatiently waiting for the administration to honor the Senate subpoena. If nothing changes, it ain't gonna happen. This is definitely not the way Batman would handle it. Take a page from the Darknight Detective, Pat, and realize that the investigation is not going to happen unless your committee makes it happen.

That last paragraph isn't the non sequitur it seems to be, by the way. Patrick Leahy is a huge Batman fan, and he recently finished up shooting some material for the new Batman sequel. He's already lent his voice to the Batman animated series, and he reportedly appeared in the two previous Batman movies. Batman is known for his tremendous sense of right and wrong, and if it's wrong, he won't stand for it as far as he can help it. Leahy needs to take a lesson.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Rove in Hindsight

It's Sunday, so I guess it's time again to look in on Frank Rich's subscription-only column. Karl Rove was on three of the four network Sunday talk shows this morning (basically all the ones that didn't feature a debate by the Democratic presidential candidates), so it only makes sense that he appear in Rich's essay, "He Got Out While the Getting Was Good," as well.

Back in those heady days of late summer 2002, Andrew Card, then the president's chief of staff, told The New York Times why the much-anticipated push for war in Iraq hadn't yet arrived. "You don't introduce new products in August," he said, sounding like the mouthpiece for the Big Three automakers he once was. Sure enough, with an efficiency Detroit can only envy, the manufactured aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds rolled off the White House assembly line after Labor Day like clockwork.

Five summers later, we have the flip side of the Card corollary: You do recall defective products in August, whether you're Mattel or the Bush administration. Karl Rove's departure was both abrupt and fast. The ritualistic "for the sake of my family" rationale convinced no one, and the decision to leak the news in a friendly print interview (on The Wall Street Journal's op-ed page) rather than announce it in a White House spotlight came off as furtive. Inquiring Rove haters wanted to know: Was he one step ahead of yet another major new scandal? Was a Congressional investigation at last about to draw blood?

Perhaps, but the Republican reaction to Mr. Rove's departure is more revealing than the cries from his longtime critics. No G.O.P. presidential candidates paid tribute to Mr. Rove, and, except in the die-hard Bush bastions of Murdochland present (The Weekly Standard, Fox News) and future (The Journal), the conservative commentariat was often surprisingly harsh. It is this condemnation of Rove from his own ideological camp - not the Democrats' familiar litany about his corruption, polarizing partisanship, dirty tricks, etc. - that the White House and Mr. Rove wanted to bury in the August dog days.

What the Rove critics on the right recognize is that it may be even more difficult for their political party to dig out of his wreckage than it will be for America. Their angry bill of grievances only sporadically overlaps that of the Democrats. One popular conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, mocked Mr. Rove and his interviewer, Paul Gigot, for ignoring "the Harriet Miers debacle, the botching of the Dubai ports battle, or the undeniable stumbles in post-Iraq invasion policies," not to mention "the spectacular disaster of the illegal alien shamnesty." Ms. Malkin, an Asian-American in her 30s, comes from a far different place than the Gigot-Fred Barnes-William Kristol axis of Bush-era ideological lock step.

. . .

Forced to pick a single symbolic episode to encapsulate the collapse of Rovian Republicanism, however, I would not choose any of those national watersheds, or even the implosion of the Iraq war, but the George Allen "macaca" moment. Its first anniversary fell, fittingly enough, on the same day last weekend that Mitt Romney bought his victory at the desultory, poorly attended G.O.P. straw poll in Iowa.

A century seems to have passed since Mr. Allen, the Virginia Republican running for re-election to the Senate, was anointed by Washington insiders as the inevitable heir to the Bush-Rove mantle: a former governor whose jus'-folks personality, the Bushian camouflage for hard-edged conservatism, would propel him to the White House. Mr. Allen's senatorial campaign and presidential future melted down overnight after he insulted a Jim Webb campaign worker, the 20-year-old son of Indian immigrants, not just by calling him a monkey but by sarcastically welcoming him "to America" and "the real world of Virginia."

This incident had resonance well beyond Virginia and Mr. Allen for several reasons. First, it crystallized the monochromatic whiteness at the dark heart of Rovian Republicanism. For all the minstrel antics at the 2000 convention, the record speaks for itself: there is not a single black Republican serving in either the House or Senate, and little representation of other minorities, either. Far from looking like America, the G.O.P. caucus, like the party's presidential field, could pass for a Rotary Club, circa 1954. Meanwhile, a new census analysis released this month finds that nonwhites now make up a majority in nearly a third of the nation's most populous counties, with Houston overtaking Los Angeles in black population and metropolitan Chicago surpassing Honolulu in Asian residents. Even small towns and rural America are exploding in Hispanic growth.

Second, the Allen slur was a compact distillation of the brute nastiness of the Bush-Rove years, all that ostentatious "compassion" notwithstanding. Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove are not xenophobes, but the record will show that their White House spoke up too late and said too little when some of its political allies descended into Mexican-bashing during the immigration brawl. Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove winked at anti-immigrant bigotry, much as they did at the homophobia they inflamed with their incessant election-year demagoguery about same-sex marriage.

Finally, the "macaca" incident was a media touchstone. It became a national phenomenon when the video landed on YouTube, the rollicking Web site whose reach now threatens mainstream news outlets. A year later, leading Republicans are still clueless and panicked about this new medium, which is why they, unlike their Democratic counterparts, pulled out of even a tightly controlled CNN-YouTube debate. It took smart young conservative bloggers like a former Republican National Committee operative, Patrick Ruffini, to shame them into reinstating the debate for November, lest the entire G.O.P. field look as pathetically out of touch as it is.

The rise of YouTube certifies the passing of Mr. Rove's era, a cultural changing of the guard in the digital age. Mr. Rove made his name in direct-mail fund-raising and with fierce top-down message management. As the Internet erodes snail mail, so it upends direct mail. As YouTube threatens a politician's ability to rigidly control a message, so it threatens the Rove ethos that led Mr. Bush to campaign at "town hall" meetings attended only by hand-picked supporters.

So does that mean it's a happy ending? As Karl Rove saunters off into the sunset, do we get our country back? It may be a bit easier, but it still will take a lot of work on our part. Just because YouTube makes it harder for politicians to maintain a handle on how they are perceived doesn't mean that we'll be able to see right through them. We need to pay attention. We need to remain engaged. And we need to pull back everything that's been taken away from us.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Polar Bears Are Still Out of Luck

Maybe I've just been looking in the wrong places, but it sure seems to me that this is a story that's been underplayed. Sea ice in the Arctic is the lowest level recorded since satellite measurements were started during the 1970s. It's roughly 1.5 percent below the previous low measured on September 21, 2005. That measurement was taken at the end of the melting season, but given that that was in September and now it's only August, that means that we've got another month of melting yet to go this year.

Have we become inured to the idea of global warming? It's been over a year since Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth galvanized our concern, but a year can be a long time, and we've got other things to worry about. The announcement of this fact was made on Friday, so it was bound to get lost over the weekend, but it seems like it had an even lower profile than we might've expected.

Although the AP article I linked to has this in the bottom of the story, the most striking facts comes from an interview with Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Although there are some natural processes at work, what Serreze calls "greenhouse warming" must be factored in, as well. Perhaps even more significantly, the melt rate is currently faster than computer models had projected. Where the prediction had once been a complete melt off of summer ice in the Arctic between 2070 and 2100, Serreze said that the current rate would result in an absence of ice in the summer by 2030. That's right, scientists are now suggesting that in a little more than twenty years from now, there will be no sea ice in the Arctic during summer months. Sure, that sounds significant now, but the mainstream media couldn't quite find its way clear to provide prominent coverage. Maybe worrying about such things is too 2006.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Cheese Stands Alone

How long until the Prez is left all alone in the White House? Not even a week after Karl Rove decided to remove himself from the fray, Press Secretary Tony Snow announced that he's getting out of Dodge pretty quickly himself. Via Think Progress, he let it slip to Hugh Hewitt that serving his country doesn't pay well enough, so "when my money runs out, then I've got to go." Although Atrios points out that Snow makes $168,000 a year in his post, let's don't forget that Snow is used to TV money. A salary in the low six figures is pocket change to a guy like him. He'll no doubt run right back to FOX News if they'll have him (like they might not). Of course, he'll have to shift back into "fair and balanced" mode rather than mindlessly defending the President (oh, wait, this is FOX News we're talking about--nevermind). Think Progress has a list of administration officials who've bailed left since the election, and they also point out that Snow said more would be coming soon. I don't know why, but for some reason I've got a feeling that one of them is not going to be Alberto.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Facing Down September

I'm curious about whether September provides any sort of watershed for Iraq or not. We'll have an interesting couple of factors coming together. We're supposed to be getting the much-hyped report on the surge from General Petraeus next month, but don't forget that much of the impetus for a fresh new September report was that a number of Republicans up for reelection in 2008 were worried about being saddled with a useless war that's draining our resources and stamina. There was a lot of talk at the time that the Prez would have to put up in September or he'd have to come up with some other viable alternative.

Since then, most Republicans have toed the line and have continued to support the Prez's war. But as we get closer to September, the number of incumbents concerned about their chances for staying in Congress will have to start expanding. Can Bush, especially without Rove, wrangle the Republican congresspeople to keep giving him what he wants, or will those Republicans have to start showing the folks back home that they're independent players, not beholden to or controlled by anyone? Will Republican self-preservation trump a lame-duck president?

While we wait to find out, it's becoming more and more obvious that the Prez is in this for himself. We're still a few weeks out, and the administration is starting to act as though it never had any intention of offering a make-or-break report. I have a feeling that at least a few congressional Republicans realize that the public is way ahead of the Prez on Iraq even if the Democrats aren't. Constituents won't fall for this. It'll be interesting to see which politicians catch on to that fact, and which ones will be willing to throw their political careers away by standing beside the Prez.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A New Front for Fear

Summertime, and the living is easy, or so I've heard. But if that's the case, why do we get woken up by distressing morning newspaper headlines like this: "Iranian Unit to Be Labeled 'Terrorist'"? This move, which the Prez can take unilaterally, is ostensibly to squeeze the Revolutionary Guard financially, but it also doesn't hurt in ratcheting up the war fever, raising the fear of Iran as the next unstoppable power in the Middle East.

Despite being stuck in the Iraqi civil war for the foreseeable future, this fearmongering threatens to open a new front for our already overstretched forces. But not to worry, because the Prez's war czar was busy laying the groundwork for reinstating the draft. There's no way we can keep up the commitment we've got now in Iraq without getting more troops from somewhere, so we certainly can't go picking fights elsewhere. Of course, this being the Bush administration, there's no reason to believe we won't.

I'm not the only one concerned about the escalation, of course. Thursday's Washington Post had reaction from allies and members of Congress (on page 9). Before we take too much reassurance from that, though, we should keep in mind that this administration has never much listened to the international community, and the Democrats in Congress have already showed how willing they are to stand up to the White House.

But it's summer, so we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads about such things. Let's just go back to the beach. But be sure you save room in your wallet for your new draft card.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bye-Bye, Karl

I meant to put this up last night, but for some reason, it seems to be taking me a bit longer to write some of these posts lately, and I ran out of time before I could get a second post up. But delaying this by about twenty-four hours has made the whole situation a bit more surreal.

So, while the Prez escapes down to Crawford for his annual August getaway, his brain, his architect, his master of evil, or whatever you want to call him, wanders off into the sunset. I know we're in the summer doldrums and all, but doesn't it seem like there should be a bit more something surrounding all this? It's being widely reported, of course, but it sure doesn't seem like the end of an era that it certainly is. There's obviously more going on here than any of us on the outside can see; it can't be a coincidence that he's leaving at the same time he's been ducking a congressional subpoena, and that's not his only legal concern. Marcy Wheeler provided a nice summary of possible reasons for Rove's bidding adieu to Washington, and spending more time with his family is way down at the bottom of the list. Although not all of the reasons involved potential jail time, Wheeler did identify three legal issues still hanging around Rove's neck: the fired US attorneys, the Abramoff affair, and a Special Counsel investigation into the insistent politicization of every governmental function. He doesn't get to walk away from such investigations, so whatever he's mixed up in can come back to haunt him regardless of whether he's in Washington or Texas.

Best of luck, Karl!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Remembering Tony Wilson

You may or may not have ever heard of Tony Wilson, who died a few days ago at age 57 of kidney cancer, but he played a major role in pop music during the last two decades of the 20th century. A TV presenter in the UK, when punk was overwhelming the British Isles, he jumped in and set up his own record company, Factory Records, which put Manchester on the map as a musical mecca and became home to Joy Division and New Order, Happy Mondays, the Durutti Column, A Certain Ratio, and various other bands. He had a knack for self-promotion and somehow placed himself atop the whole Manchester scene from the late '70s on, which, of course, included such luminaries as Buzzcocks, the Smiths, Oasis, the Stone Roses, Magazine, the Fall, James, Inspiral Carpets, and many others. Wilson was one of the owners and the impresario of the Hacienda, a Manchester disco that factored into various musical movements and was, in its day, possibly the highest-profile club in the UK.

A vaguely accurate biopic, 24 Hour Party People, was made a few years ago with Steve Coogan as Wilson. It captures the spirit of the era pretty well, if not exactly the facts, and is probably as good a place to start as any in finding out about Wilson's influence. Pitchfork has also collected a few videos of Wilson, including a clip of him introducing the Mondays at Coachella earlier this year. And NME has a number of tributes from various artists who were associated with him over the years. Of course, you could always go back and listen to some of the albums, too.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

More Iraqi Intrigue

It's all about the fake-out these days. There is not logical, rational storyline for American war policy, there's only the fabricated tissue of lies justifying the U.S. presence in Iraq. In today's column, "Shuffling Off to Crawford, 2007 Edition," Frank Rich describes how the cover story became a little bit more difficult to maintain lately.

This came into sharp focus last weekend, when our military disclosed, very quietly and with a suspicious lack of accompanying White House fanfare, that it had killed a major terror culprit in Iraq, Haythem Sabah al-Badri. Never heard of him? Usually this administration oversells every death of a terrorist leader. It underplayed Badri's demise for a reason. The fine print would further expose the fictional new story line that has been concocted to rebrand and resell the Iraq war as a battle against Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda - or, as Mr. Bush now puts it, "the very same folks that attacked us on September the 11th."

To understand how, revisit the president's trial run of this new narrative, when he announced the surge in January. Mr. Bush had to explain why his previous "Plan for Victory" had gone belly up so quickly, so he came up with a new premise that absolved him of blame. In his prime-time speech, the president implied that all had been on track in Iraq after the country's December 2005 elections until Feb. 22, 2006, when one of the holiest Shiite shrines, the gold-domed mosque in Samarra, was blown up. In this revisionist history, that single terrorist act set off the outbreak of sectarian violence in Iraq now requiring the surge.

This narrative was false. Shiite death squads had been attacking Sunnis for more than a year before the Samarra bombing. The mosque attack was not a turning point. It was merely a confirmation of the Iraqi civil war that Mr. Bush refuses to acknowledge because American voters don't want their troops in the middle of one.

But that wasn't the only new plot point that the president advanced in his surge speech. With no proof, Mr. Bush directly attributed the newly all-important Samarra bombing to "Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents," cementing a rhetorical sleight of hand he had started sketching out during the midterm election season.

In fact, no one has taken credit for the mosque bombing to this day. But Iraqi government officials fingered Badri as the culprit. (Some local officials told The Washington Post after the bombing that Iraqi security forces were themselves responsible.) Since Badri is a leader of a tiny insurgent cell reportedly affiliated with what the president calls "Al Qaeda in Iraq," Mr. Bush had the last synthetic piece he needed to complete his newest work of fiction: 1) All was hunky-dory with his plan for victory until the mosque was bombed. 2) "Al Qaeda in Iraq" bombed the mosque. 3) Ipso facto, America must escalate the war to defeat "Al Qaeda in Iraq," those "very same folks that attacked us on September the 11th."

As a growing chorus of critics reiterates, "Al Qaeda in Iraq" is not those very same folks. It did not exist on 9/11 but was a product of the Iraq war and accounts for only a small fraction of the Sunni insurgency. It is not to be confused with the resurgent bin Laden network we've been warned about in the latest National Intelligence Estimate. But this factual issue hasn't deterred Mr. Bush. He has merely stepped up his bogus conflation of the two Qaedas by emphasizing all the "foreign leaders" of "Al Qaeda in Iraq," because that might allow him to imply they are bin Laden emissaries. In a speech in Charleston, S.C., on July 24, he listed a Syrian, an Egyptian, a Tunisian, a Saudi and a Turk.

Against the backdrop of this stepped-up propaganda blitz, Badri's death nine days later was an inconvenient reminder of the hole in the official White House narrative. Mr. Bush couldn't do his usual victory jig over Badri's demise because there's no way to pass off Badri as a link to bin Laden. He was born in Samarra and was a member of Saddam's Special Republican Guard.

If Badri was responsible for the mosque bombing that has caused all our woes in Iraq and forced us to stay there, then the president's story line falls apart. Far from having any connection to bin Laden's Qaeda, the Samarra bombing was instead another manifestation of the Iraqi civil war that Mr. Bush denies. No wonder the same White House "fact sheet" that left out Mr. Gonzales's foiled Sears Tower plot and, for that matter, Jose Padilla, also omitted Badri's name from its list of captured and killed "Senior Al Qaeda Leaders." Surely it was a coincidence that this latest statement of official Bush administration amnesia was released on Aug. 6, the sixth anniversary of the President's Daily Brief titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."

And so the president, firm in his resolve against "Al Qaeda in Iraq," heads toward another August break in Crawford while Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan remains determined to strike in America. No one can doubt Mr. Bush's triumph in the P.R. war: There are more American troops than ever mired in Iraq, sent there by a fresh round of White House fictions. And the real war? The enemy that did attack us six years ago, sad to say, is likely to persist in its nasty habit of operating in the reality-based world that our president disdains.

Unfortunately, as I've been pointing out lately, disdaining the reality-based world seems to be working out pretty well for the Prez these days. Congress has proven itself to be not worth much in standing up to him, and we certainly can't depend on the mainstream media to do anything worthwhile. Until the Bush administration finds there's some sort of cost to ignoring the reality-beased world, they're never going to accept it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Wishing and Hoping

By the way, despite my previous post about being oblivious to current events, I'm not so out of it that I haven't noticed that the right-wing media seems to be looking forward to another 9/11-level terrorist attack. Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote on Thursday:

America's fabric is pulling apart like a cheap sweater.

What would sew us back together?

Another 9/11 attack.

The Golden Gate Bridge. Mount Rushmore. Chicago's Wrigley Field. The Philadelphia subway system. The U.S. is a target-rich environment for al Qaeda.

Is there any doubt they are planning to hit us again?

If it is to be, then let it be.

It took virtually no time for many in the reactionary media, Drudge, FOX News, right talk radio, to celebrate Bykosky's vision. And it was awfully thoughtful of Bykosky to suggest some possible sites for the projected deaths of thousands of Americans. All of a sudden, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson's statements after 9/11 don't sound quite so odious.

Comics Days

It's that time of year again when, if Chicago isn't exactly the center of the comics universe, it's a point on the comics map, at least for a few days. Wizard magazine is holding their annual comics convention, Wizard World Chicago. The big convention, of course, is Comic-Con International, which was held two weeks ago and just seems to get bigger and bigger--you could barely avoid it if you followed entertainment news. But Wizard World Chicago is local, and I could wrangle a free pass, so that's the one I'm attending.

Every year Wizard World seems to shrink a little bit, and this year is no exception. On Thursday's Preview Night, there were already retailers selling hard-cover collections of comics for half price, which is highly unusual. Sometimes prices would be lowered on Sunday before everybody went home, but this low this early is something I haven't seen before. Of course, although that doesn't necessarily auger well for the future of this show and possibly of the comics industry itself, it does provide a lot of great deals for me.

The other problem at Wizard World is that the programming is uninspired, to say the least. Unless you're jonesing to get detailed accounts of Marvel and DC's publishing plans for the next year, there's not much of interest in the panels. I swear, the roll-out of upcoming plans for their titles (Will Batman fight the Joker this year? Is Spider-Man going to have a face-down with Venom? This is the place to find out!) becomes more and more like going to a home appliance convention to see Whirlpool introduce their new refrigerator and dishwasher features. As Jason pointed out at Howling Curmudgeons, the next Batman movie has been shooting in Chicago, and although he didn't mention it, Angelina Jolie has just come into town to shoot another major comics film, but no actors or filmmakers have been announced on the program. If Wizard ever had the pull to get anybody like that to show up at their con, those days are behind them.

But anyway, that's where I'm off to in a few minutes. If I'm not quite as attentive to current events as you might expect, that's because my focus has gone to a large, uncomfortable convention center in Rosemont.

By the way, if you want to enjoy some aspects of the con from your own computer, check out Todd Allen's run down on convention models (sometimes referred to as "booth babes" in the vernacular). [Full disclosure: Todd and I were part of the winning team at yesterday's comics trivia panel.]

Friday, August 10, 2007

Hey, Ma Bell! Leave Those Kids Alone!

There's an unfortunate Web story circulating at the moment, one which we should study for potential hints of how the Internet's future might shape up. Pearl Jam was the headliner for last weekend's Lollapalooza, and very unsurprisingly, Eddie Vedder had some critical things to say about the Prez. Parts of the weekend were webcast by AT&T, and for some reason, those comments were dropped out of the webcast. I write "for some reason" because AT&T insists it was all a big mistake. They were running the webcast on a delay to cut out any profanity, and the censors incorrectly cut out the wrong thing. Here's one description of the situation:

Following a rendition of Pearl Jam's song "Daughter" during the show at Chicago's Grant Park, Vedder transitioned into the Pink Floyd classic, singing the Bush lyrics to an enthusiastic crowd that shouted "No more war!" and held up homemade anti-war signs.

The first time Vedder sang "George Bush leave this world alone," the lyrics were transmitted to users on AT&T's Blue Room Web site. The second two anti-Bush verses were cut.

Pearl Jam has video on their Web page to check it out yourself. I suppose that you can believe no one was acting to cut out the presidential criticism on purpose if you want to. But it sure is quite a coincidence that no other parts of the show would get cut out. And an e-mail went out today to Wired, the Sun-Times, and other outlets claiming that similar political cuts plagues AT&T coverage of the Flaming Lips and the John Butler Trio at June's Bonnaroo Festival. So far I haven't seen confirmation of that charge, but it unfortunately sounds believable.

This incident brings more attention to the issue of net neutrality. Although critics of net neutrality point out that this censorship actually has nothing to do with that issue, in reality it's all about the implications. Internet service providers such as AT&T are arguing that they should have more control over net access, that they should be allowed to give preferred treatment to some sites over others. Despite all the protestations by AT&T, their treatment of Pearl Jam here just shows how we can expect corporate ISPs to treat equal access if the concept of net neutrality is abandoned. How many more "mistakes" will take place if ISPs are granted the power to choose what we can easily surf to and what might be more difficult?

It's also worth noting that AT&T is providing the Internet service for all you folks who own iPhones. Don't be surprised if criticizing the Prez is more difficult on an iPhone than you might expect.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

It's Vacation Time

The Prez today had a press conference in which he said Congress should look at their Spending priorities if they need to find more money on bridges, because raising taxes is never the answer. Oh yeah, and we should cut taxes, too. Scooter Libby was held accountable for his wrongdoing. Alberto Gonzales hasn't done anything wrong. If you just look in the right places, you can find that everything's going great in Iraq. And the economy's doing great.

Then he promptly went on vacation. He said that the Iraqi "leaders are learning to be leaders." And apparently they're learning from the best, because they're famously on vacation for the month of August, themselves. Congress, by the way, started their vacation earlier this week.

Of course, maybe Congress and the Prez are right, that Washington is not the place to be in August. Toward the end of last week, Trent Lott, Senate Republicans' second in command, warned everybody that Washington probably wasn't a safe place to be for the next month or so. "I think it would be good to leave town in August, and it would probably be good to stay out until September the 12th." So it's not just a vacation--it's good national policy.

Me? I've got too much to do. There's no vacation for me for the time being.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

That's OK, I Wasn't Using My Constitutional Rights, Anyway

Chicago's been hot (boy, has it been hot), and August is a slow month anyway, so I'm a bit tardy getting to this. If you've already seen it elsewhere, I'm sure you'll agree that it deserves as many airings as we can give it.

In The New York Times on Monday, James Risen explains how the surveillance legislation Congress rolled over and passed on the weekend is actually worse than we thought. Writing that the new law "broadly expanded" government surveillance power, Risen continued:

Congressional aides and others familiar with the details of the law said that its impact went far beyond the small fixes that administration officials had said were needed to gather information about foreign terrorists. They said seemingly subtle changes in legislative language would sharply alter the legal limits on the government's ability to monitor millions of phone calls and e-mail messages going in and out of the United States.

So if a foreign country is involved, it doesn't matter who might be involved in the conversation (or e-mail correspondence), the government just needs to determine if "the target of the government's surveillance is 'reasonably believed' to be overseas." And up until now, this surveillance required a court-approved search warrant--from an extremely lenient court, but a court, nonetheless. Who needs to approve it now? The attorney general or the director of national intelligence. That's right, that tower of moral authority, Alberto Gonzales, gets to decide what's necessary to monitor and what's not. Yeah, I can see him ending surveillance left and right.

If Alberto decides he needs to monitor certain communication, it only stands to reason that he'd be able to order the telecommunications industry to bend to his whims. Of course, it might also make sense that that same telecommunications industry doesn't want to be at Alberto's beck and call to do his bidding, so that sets up another bit or irony in all of this: we're depending on the phone company to defend out constitutional rights.

We've got friends and relatives in Canada, and right at the moment, we've got relatives traveling in Japan and France. Although I can't imagine why anyone would want to monitor any calls I might have with any of them, I guess from now on we've got to assume that the government may be monitoring any or all of those calls. No more George W. Bush jokes, I guess. For the time being, though, let's just hope that the people at the phone companies keep their focus on our civil rights and protect us from the authoritarianism our Democratic Congress invited into our living rooms.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

No More Velvet Mornings

I missed this over the weekend, but Lee Hazelwood passed away on Saturday after a two-year fight with renal cancer. He's probably best known for writing and producing Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walking," only one of a series of tracks he made with Sinatra, sometimes joining in a duet and sometimes staying behind the producer's board, but he had an extremely intriguing solo career, as well. The oddly timed bass run on "Boots," which stood out on the radio in 1966, gives a slight hint of some of the weird places Lee's music took him, and "Some Velvet Morning," with its shifting time signatures and tone and its offbeat instrumentation, may provide a more telling hint.

Hazelwood seemed to follow where his music took him, and after the collaboration with Sinatra, he showed up in Sweden, where he recorded the album (and Swedish TV special), "A Cowboy in Sweden." He left the recording both in the 1970s, but his music had a resurgence in the UK during the '90s. Although I knew some of the music already, that's when I started taking notice, as well. His name (along with Leonard Cohen's) was invoked often in discussing Tindersticks, a comparison that band encouraged by putting his picture on an early limited-pressing single, "A Marriage Made in Heaven," that invoked the classic Nancy/Lee duets.

During that time, Hazelwood picked up the nickname, "Psychedelic Cowboy," but to me his work seemed to me far more steeped in marijuana smoke than anything much stronger than that. His songs and performances had a languid feel of too many late nights. If you don't have a joint handy, a glass of whiskey would also make a good accompaniment. On the wagon? You can always go with a hot, strong, cup of black coffee. Wherever he is now, I hope Lee is partaking in the indulgence of his choice.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Time That It's Always Been

Today's date snuck up on me, but when I posted in the wee hours of this morning and saw the date stamp, I realized that I'd need to put something together. I'm sorry that this didn't get posted to take the top blog position for most of the day, but we do what we can.

If the date doesn't immediately ring a bell for you, today is the sixty-second anniversary of the first of only two atomic bombs ever dropped as an act of war (so far). I'm very much in the camp that believes the bombs were not necessary to end the war. Japan was very much a defeated nation before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Although there was some expectation that the Japanese would never stop fighting if their land was invaded, all it took was for Emperor Hirohito to appeal to the people to accept defeat. The fact that they didn't battle against the occupying U.S. Army puts the lie to the notion of a never-surrendering Japanese culture of war.

The most prominent proponent of the argument that the atomic bomb wasn't necessary to end the war is Gar Alperovitz, who wrote the books Atomic Diplomacy and The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb. Here's an article he wrote on the continuing controversy a couple of years ago for the sixtieth anniversary. While I was googling around on the subject last night, I also came across this more recent article on the implications at the time of the decision to use the weapon. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the question of necessity is going away any time soon. Let's just make sure that the discussion remains in the current context and that there won't be a need to update our arguments.

The War's Going Great, Thanks!

Does our dialogue about the Iraq war have anything much to do with reality these days? I've been writing about this a couple of times already, but you've got to give the Prez a healthy dose of respect for consistently confounding reality-based considerations, assumptions, and actions. His latest gambit in Iraq is to keep pushing the point at which we have to make a decision about our possibilities and intentions there further and further into the future. Atrios has been doing a good job of tracking Friedman Units predicted by various people, and I believe we've now been delayed until sometime in 2009 before we'll have enough definitive information to make a final determination.

Frank Rich wades into all this in his latest column, "Patriots Who Love the Troops to Death," correctly identifying our current discourse as a farce. Although he acknowledges that there aren't quite so many Iraq hawks as there once were, they haven't all disappeared. And they aren't so ashamed that they're keeping their opinions to themselves.

Some of them are busily lashing out. . . . Some are melting down. Some are rewriting history. Most seem more interested in saving their own reputations than the American troops they ritualistically invoke to bludgeon the wars' critics and to parade their own self-congratulatory patriotism.

It was a rewriting of history that made the blogosphere (and others) go berserk last week over an Op-Ed article in The Times, "A War We Just Might Win," by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack. The two Brookings Institution scholars, after a government-guided tour, pointed selectively to successes on the ground in Iraq in arguing that the surge should be continued "at least into 2008."

The hole in their argument was gaping. As Adm. Michael Mullen, the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said honorably and bluntly in his Congressional confirmation hearings, "No amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference" in Iraq if there's no functioning Iraqi government. Opting for wishes over reality, Mr. O'Hanlon and Mr. Pollack buried their pro forma acknowledgment of that huge hurdle near the end of their piece.

But even more galling was the authors' effort to elevate their credibility by describing themselves as "analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq." That's disingenuous. For all their late-in-the-game criticisms of the administration's incompetence, Mr. Pollack proselytized vociferously for the war before it started, including in an appearance with Oprah, and both men have helped prolong the quagmire with mistakenly optimistic sightings of progress since the days of "Mission Accomplished."

You can find a compendium of their past wisdom in Glenn Greenwald's Salon column. That think-tank pundits with this track record would try to pass themselves off as harsh war critics in 2007 shows how desperate they are to preserve their status as Beltway "experts" now that the political winds have shifted. Such blatant careerism would be less offensive if they didn't do so on the backs of the additional American troops they ask to be sacrificed to the doomed mission of providing security for an Iraqi government that is both on vacation and on the verge of collapse.

But it's not just the questionable way the hawks build up the war that Rich addresses but also their tactics against their critics.

It's also the tic of Mr. Kristol's magazine, The Weekly Standard (and its Murdoch sibling The New York Post), to claim that the war's critics hate the troops. When The New Republic ran a less-than-jingoistic essay by a pseudonymous American soldier in Iraq, The Weekly Standard even accused it of fabrication - only to have its bluff called when the author's identity was revealed and his controversial anecdotes were verified by other sources.

A similar over-the-top tirade erupted on "Meet the Press" last month, when another war defender in meltdown, Senator Lindsey Graham, repeatedly cut off his fellow guest by saying that soldiers he met on official Congressional visits to Iraq endorsed his own enthusiasm for the surge. Unfortunately for Mr. Graham, his sparring partner was Jim Webb, the take-no-prisoners Virginia Democrat who is a Vietnam veteran and the father of a soldier serving in the war. Senator Webb reduced Mr. Graham to a stammering heap of Jell-O when he chastised him for trying to put his political views "into the mouths of soldiers." As Mr. Webb noted, the last New York Times-CBS News poll on the subject found that most members of the military and their immediate families have turned against the war, like other Americans.

As is becoming clearer than ever in this . . . endgame, hiding behind the troops is the last refuge of this war's sponsors. This too is a rewrite of history. It has been the war's champions who have more often dishonored the troops than the war's opponents.

Mr. Bush created the template by doing everything possible to keep the sacrifice of American armed forces in Iraq off-camera, forbidding photos of coffins and skipping military funerals. That set the stage for the ensuing demonization of Ted Koppel, whose decision to salute the fallen by reading a list of their names in the spotlight of "Nightline" was branded unpatriotic by the right's vigilantes.

The same playbook was followed by the war's champions when a soldier confronted Donald Rumsfeld about the woeful shortage of armor during a town-hall meeting in Kuwait in December 2004. Rather than campaign for the armor the troops so desperately needed, the right attacked the questioner for what Rush Limbaugh called his "near insubordination." When The Washington Post some two years later exposed the indignities visited upon the grievously injured troops at Walter Reed Medical Center, The Weekly Standard and the equally hawkish Wall Street Journal editorial page took three weeks to notice, with The Standard giving the story all of two sentences. Protecting the White House from scandal, not the troops from squalor, was the higher priority.

All of this is pretty self-evident, and yet these are the tactics that are winning the debate these days. The media has jumped on the bandwagon and is presenting the skewed administration view of the war effort as the only reasonable position to hold. Even when the media mouths the anti-war arguments, as Tim Russert did on Sunday's Meet the Press interview with Defense Secretary Robert Gates (transcript here), they don't much challenge the normal nonsensical platitudes they're given in response. And so the Bushies successfully continue their holdout against the reality-based outlook.

(While we're on the subject of Russert, he uses a Bushism [apparently seriously and on purpose] that I've never fully understood, misunderestimated. I have no problem understanding that this means underestimated incorrectly, but does it imply that there's a correct way to underestimate something?)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Caving--It's What the Democrats Are Good For

The Prez has thwarted the reality-based community once again with another dispiriting victory out of pretty much nothing. There's no reason to explain it beyond the Democrats apparently cowering in fear.

You may recall that the Bush administration has been accused of illegally wiretapping various communication without a warrant. In an opportune development for the Bushies, they now will be able to legally listen in to various communications. It's not too much of a mystery how this came about. Pretty much it just boils down to Bush insisted, and the Democrats caved. You can read here about the Senate's ignominy on Friday night, and here about the House following suit on Saturday.

Just in case anybody needs a primer in the situation, we've got a president with historically low poll numbers demanding that Congress approve an unpopular program. Oh, so if we put it that way, the whole situation is so much more understandable. Can someone remind me why it's a good thing to remain part of the reality-based community?

To add insult to injury, TPMmuckraker reported on Friday that the House had reached a compromise with Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell on a bill that wasn't as draconian as the one we're ending up with, but the Prez refused to honor McConnell's agreement. Apparently, he and his staff accurately determined that the Democrats hadn't yet been played extensively enough. There was room to squeeze more out of the Democrats, so the Bushies had little choice but to squeeze accordingly.

What is there to do if our elected representatives don't have the determination to stand up to an unpopular, lame duck president? How do you strengthen a party that continually decides that the wisest course of action is to roll over and play dead? That's not a rhetorical question, by the way. My fear is that the only realistic answer is "nothing," but if anybody has any more positive suggestions, I'm all ears.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


In addition to YearlyKos, you might as well add Lollapalooza to the list of cool things in Chicago I won't be attending this weekend. Already today I wouldn't have minded seeing the Polyphonic Spree, the Rapture, Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem, and Fema Kuti. There are two more days' worth, and the schedules are chock full of more interesting bands and performers. I'm not really up for the whole festival vibe, and although the weather is cooling down, it's still too hot to be penned up with a mass of strangers. And although there are a number of people I'd be interested in seeing, there are no must-sees in the bunch (although, to be completely honest, I'm not exactly sure who that would be at the moment).

Tickets might seem expensive ($80 a day or $195 for all three days), but I counted more than twenty bands that I'd consider buying tickets for if they were touring on their own, and that doesn't even count some that I've heard of but don't know that much about but would be curious to sample. If I bought tickets to see the bands I'd like to see at club shows, my budget would be higher than it would if I saw them all outside at the same place.

If anybody here is going to Lollapalooza this weekend, have a great time (and if you've already gone, I hope you enjoyed yourself). Regale us with your adventures, and let us know who had a good set and who maybe should've stayed at home. If you made any new musical finds, we want to know about it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Meet the New Boss

On Wednesday morning, Avedon Carol posted a link over at Atrios's place to a post that touches on something that I've been thinking about for a while. Although we've been paying some attention to the symptoms of the rightward lurch the Prez has inflicted on our country, nobody's much talking about the shift in philosophy and attitude that's come with it. The executive branch has asserted a variety of new powers, and the legislative branch has done little or nothing in response. Who's to guarantee that the next president, whether Democrat or Republican, will have any interest in rolling these expansive new abilities back, in bringing the checks once more into balance?

The problem has recently been exemplified in the transition in the U.K. from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown. The new prime minister had been hyped as an alternative to Blair and was expected to put some distance between himself and Bush. But then he visited Washington. Although he was not as effusive as Blair had been, he did very little to suggest that he intended to introduce any sort of shift in policy. Dan Froomkin asked if Brown was "Bush's new poodle" and highlighted this exchange from the Bush/Brown press conference:

New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg tried to explore any differences between the two leaders, noting in his question to Bush that "the prime minister has referred to terrorism as, quote, 'a crime,' and he's referred to it in part as a law enforcement issue. So for you, I'm wondering, does that underscore any sort of philosophical difference when your 2004 campaign took issue with somewhat similar descriptions from John Kerry?"

Bush brushed the question away. "Look, people who kill innocent men, women and children to achieve political objectives are evil, that's what I think," Bush said. "And what's interesting about this struggle -- and this is what I was paying very careful attention to when Gordon was speaking -- is, does he understand it's an ideological struggle? And he does."

Rutenberg asked Brown: "Do you have the same philosophy as the President, in terms of terrorism?"

Brown: "Absolutely."

Bush: "What do you expect the answer to be, Rutenberg? Come on, man."

Brown: "Absolutely."

Will Brown ultimately come into line with what the British public seem to want? Maybe or maybe not, but the situation offers a note of caution. A new election and a new president isn't a guarantee that the creeping authoritarianism of the last few years will be rolled back. In one of the posts I linked to above, Lambert at Corrente suggested a question to be asked of the various Democratic candidates at YearlyKos: "What is the Democrats' plan to restore Constitutional Government?" That's a question desperately in need of an answer.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


While this might be most meaningful to those in the sphere of Howling Curmudgeons, it should be of interest to anyone who lives in or visits the larger Chicagoland area. Manny's Deli is a fine restaurant where they make a fine sandwich. I bring it up today, though, because Matthew Yglesias is extolling the virtues of Manny's over on his site. He had a pastrami sandwich at the Midway Airport outpost a while back and has been looking for an excuse to get back to Chicago for more ever since (his reason is YearlyKos, which is at McCormick Place this weekend and appears to be far more massive than I'd have ever expected). I must admit that I've never sampled Manny's airport fare but, given that it's in an airport and all, it can't possibly be as good as the real location in the South Loop. If you're in Chicago or will be visiting Chicago for any reason, do yourself a favor and stop in. The food is great, and it's plentiful. In fact, although Matt has a picture of a sandwich in his post, it's obviously not a Manny's sandwich. If it were from Manny's, the meat would be cut thinner and piled much (much) higher.

At the Manny's site, they seem to be refurbishing their trade dress. On the main page, it's called Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen, but on many of the links, it's the older fashioned Manny's Coffee Shop & Deli. It's been a couple of months since I've been there, but I wonder if they'll have a new sign out front the next time I go by.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Consumerist Complaints

Here we are on the cusp of August, and it's hot in Chicago, so it almost goes without saying that I'm in a bad mood. Here are a couple of things I feel like complaining about.

I've long been a Levi's man when it comes to jeans, but lately the Levi's I've gotten haven't seemed as sturdy and well made as they have in the past. So I've started branching out with other brands. None seem as strong as the Levi's I remember from my youth, which means I've still got a problem in settling on jeans that are good enough. But right now, I want to talk about the jeans I had to replace last week. I'd bought a pair of Lee jeans six to nine months ago. I'd already had to mend a couple of belt loops that had come loose, and there was a small hole near the back pocket that had been fixed. But lately two more belt loops had come undone, and the material near the back pockets was tearing. Having them for less than a year, this seemed unacceptable, but only to the point where I'd just try to avoid Lee jeans in the future. But then something happened that made them completely unwearable.

It was the weekend, and I'd arranged to meet some people at a show. I was later getting up than I'd intended, so I got dressed and went to meet them at the theater. I didn't notice anything unusual in putting my jeans on. Along the way to the theater, I stopped to get gas, and then I found a parking place. I walked up a few blocks to meet my friends, and since we were early, we stopped at a bar across from the theater for a beer before the show. Once we got into the theater, I decided to use the restroom before the show started. When I went to unzip, I noticed a gash in my jeans roughly parallel to the zipper, about three inches long or so. It wasn't on a seam, but was in the middle of the fabric. There was no way I could miss it when zipping or unzipping, so I know it hadn't been there an hour earlier when I got dressed. The fabric had to have torn for no apparent reason. Quite frankly, it looked like it might've been cut by a knife, but--being a guy and all--I think I would've noticed a knife (or any equally sharp object) lunging toward my crotch. Since we were going to be sitting in a dark theater, I figured I'd be OK as long as I kept my program in my lap. I did change out of them (never to put them on again) as soon as I got home, though. Needless to say, I won't be buying any more Lee jeans.

Sorry to come off like Andy Rooney, here, but something else has bugged me for a while. Does it annoy anyone else that when you buy solid deodorant or antiperspirant, the final third or so is unusable? To make it easy to use, the manufacturer imbeds a good deal of the solid mass into the plastic container. Once it's used up to a certain level, you can no longer apply it normally--if you try, you just get the plastic container scraping against your skin. There's no way to get at that deodorant short of digging it out with your fingers and then applying it to your underarms by hand. Not the most efficient way to apply antiperspirant, let me tell you. So when you get a solid and look at the net weight, you know that there's a quarter to a third of that weight that you're just going to throw away. The manufacturers know that (and you know it, too if you bother to think it through). Let's all boycott solid antiperspirants and just buy roll-on!

Although it's been forecast that temperatures are going to be getting even a bit hotter over the next few days, let's hope that my mood's not held hostage to it. I could stand to be a little more relaxed.