Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: April 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Show of Strength

Barack Obama did what he needed to today, though he didn't seem to enjoy it very much. After Rev. Jeremiah Wright's appearance at the National Press Club, Obama didn't have much choice but to separate himself from his pastor. I'm not entirely sure what Wright's motives might be, but right now, in staking out extreme positions such as AIDS being an attack on blacks by whites and in cozying up to Louis Farrakhan can't be seen as much beyond an attack at Obama. Bob Herbert had some speculation about that Wednesday morning.

Although it barely changed anything in terms of the numbers in the race, Hillary Clinton's 9-point win in Pennsylvania last week may be hurting Obama in terms of his ability to close his hold on the nomination. His momentum doesn't seem to be expanding, and the whole contest just seems to be lingering when he needs to wrap things up. Obama needed to prove that he's a strong candidate in charge of his own destiny. And that's what he did. Standing up to Wright and addressing one more problem of his candidacy was his attempt to pull the momentum back in his direction. He seemed saddened by his task today, but he also seemed angry that Wright would try to back him into this kind of corner. I found him persuasive, but we'll have to wait and see what kind of reaction he gets. I linked to the Chicago Tribune above (and that link also includes video of Obama's appearance and statement) because it will be interesting to see what the Chicago reaction is by people who know both Obama and Wright. Will they take sides? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Guess It Was "No Deal"

I imagine no one will be particularly surprised to discover that I didn't tune in to see the Prez on Deal or No Deal. They were hyping it pretty heavily--at first I wasn't sure that he wouldn't actually be at the studio. But no, he taped a short segment for an Iraq soldier.

I missed this at the end of last week, but not only was he not a draw, viewers apparently actively stayed away. That episode tied the series' lowest ratings in that time period ever, down 27 percent from the show's average numbers. Ironically, in that "folksy" annoying manner he's got, Bush said, "I'm thrilled to be on 'Deal or No Deal' with you tonight. Come to think of it, I'm thrilled to be anywhere with high ratings these days." Is he now incapable of being anywhere close to decent ratings?

The Bushes apparently were working some sort of deal with NBC last week, because Laura guest hosted the Today show? How'd she do? I didn't watch that, either, of course, but I'm not entirely sure. Tom Shales seemed to have a disconnect of some sort with his headline writer. The head proclaims: "On 'Today,' Laura Bush Hits a Gusher," but his first line is:

If Laura Bush had a real, honest-to-goodness day job, she would be well advised to keep it. . . . For a president's wife, she was okay, but it's unlikely she'll be a candidate to take over for Oprah should Winfrey ever retire.

I'm not an oilman, but isn't a gusher supposed to be a good thing, something to you quit your day job over?

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Past in the Present

I'm completely punting tonight and doing nothing more than passing on a link to "Past Crimes and Present Friendships," the opinion piece on Sunday's Chicago Tribune by Brenda Kilianski, the playwright of Free Radicals, which closed just a few days ago (I'm not posting the poster again, but you're always welcome to take a look at it here). She talks about actions and their consequences. As usual, any responses you may have on the subject are welcome in comments.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Some Quick Complaints

We were out earlier tonight, and while we thought our car was safely parked, it had an encounter with a bird that earlier had apparently eaten something that disagreed with it. We debated whether or not we needed to go straight to a car wash or not. We were tired and wanted to go home, but we'll have to go out in the morning to get it washed before we can do anything else.

A subject came up a couple of weeks ago that I was reminded of tonight. Very few public restrooms these days have the old-fashioned cloth towel dispenser in which a cloth towel rolls out so that you always have a clean towel and then is collected by another roll in the bottom of the container. Maybe it's too late at night and I've had a martini or two too many, but I can't think of a better name to call it than "old-fashioned cloth towel dispenser." We were with some twenty-somethings the other night, and somehow (I wasn't there at the beginning of the conversation, so I have no idea how) the subject of these devices came up. A few of the younger people involved had never even encountered one before. It doesn't seem like a bad idea--surely it would cut down on the waste of bathroom towels. I don't know whether the towels are washed or simply thrown away, so you'd have to balance that against throwing away paper towels. Perhaps someone's done that, but I haven't seen it.

I also want to lodge a quick complaint against those new computer (or iTunes?) juke boxes. They entice you with a plethora of album covers, but then when you click on one, they offer just one or two tracks from it. I was looking at a digital jukebox tonight, and I clicked on the Talking Heads anthology, Sand in the Vaselene, and they displayed the full range of "And She Was." That's all. I haven't gone to pull that double-album CD off my shelf to look at it, but I don't need to double check to guarantee you that the CD has more songs than that. Jeff Buckley's Grace is given only "Hallelujah." I can understand if there's only a certain amount of room in a jukebox, but this is digital! An iPod is a tiny fraction of the size of the jukebox, but it appears to hold a hundred times the music or more. What's the problem? If they're going to entice me with a full album cover, I want full albums!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

How to Ruin a Congressional Campaign in One Easy Step

This is somewhat amusing, but the more I look at it, the more it appears that the protagonist isn't as clued out as he initially seemed.

Indiana's second Congressional district is currently being served in Congress by Democrat Joe Donnelly. He's in his first term, having defeated Chris Chocola, the previous representative. I clearly wouldn't have been looking at the details of the Republican nomination, but it turns out that Chocola hadn't been alone. Tony Zirkle ran in the Republican primary in 2004 and 2006, and he's running again this year. Zirkle has been in the news this week, having appeared before a Nazi group on the occasion of Hitler's birthday. Yes, you read that right. Zirkle has claimed that he'd be willing to talk before any group that invites him, and, well, the Nazis invited him. He even argued with one journalist about whether they were actually Nazis or not.

He also told WIMS radio in Michigan City that he didn't believe the event he attended included people necessarily of the Nazi mindset, pointing out the name isn't Nazi, but Nationalist Socialist Workers Party.

Ah, that's much clearer, then.

As it turns out, though, Zirkle has apparently been a fringe candidate all along. Raw Story called him "an outlandish long-shot" who is not supported by the local party leaders. With moves like this, it's hardly a surprise that the Republican party is keeping its distance.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sales Announcement

If you've been saving your pennies, you may be interested in this. Comics don't come much more iconic than that. Although it's not perfect, this copy of Action Comics #1 appears to be in astonishingly good condition for a seventy-year-old comic book. And from what I can tell, this $1.1 million price tag, if it sells, would be the highest price ever paid for a comic book (by far). I've been trying to google around and find some comparisons, but either it's not covered very well or I just wasn't doing a very good job. Comics as rare as this don't often come on the market, and since the condition varies from one copy to the next, it's hard to be too precise in putting a value on such a thing. Various copies of Action Comics #1 keep pushing the value of the most expensive comic book ever. I'm having trouble finding it this morning, but I'm sure that I remember Marvel Comics #1 breaking a new record not too long ago. (This page seems to back that up, but the link it's got turns out to be a dead end.) So I'm not holding my breath on this copy of Action selling for the asking price, but it'll be big news if it does.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hillary's Not Close to Being Finished

As I got used to last night's new developments in the run for president, it all of a sudden struck me that we're wasting our time in trying to figure out how to get Hillary out of the race. She's not coming out--she's in it for the long haul. There have certainly been opportunities before yesterday's primary, but if there was still a chance at the beginning of the day yesterday, it's gone now. Obama needed to prove to Hillary that he was going to overwhelm her through the rest of these contests, but he didn't do that.

Look at this from her perspective. When you take into consideration the fact that none of the superdelegates are locked in yet, she's still in striking distance from Obama. It's unlikely that she could make up the difference, but it's not yet impossible. What she thinks she's got going for her, obviously, is the fact that no matter how firmly superdelegates claim to be supporting either of these candidates, they can switch their votes at the slightest whim. All of Obama's superdelegates can become Hillary's superdelegates at any moment. No, I don't think that's particularly likely, either, but it's not me who needs to be convinced. And because each one of these superdelegates is in play until the Democratic convention, there's virtually nothing I can think of that could entice Hillary to step off the stage. In fact, when you think about it, a convention floor fight would do nothing but strengthen her position--probably not enough to help her wrest the nomination from Obama, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, after all. Unless someone is going to sit down and have a firm heart-to-heart with Hillary (and, offhand, I don't know who a likely candidate for such a task would be), we're nowhere close to wrapping all of this up.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Last Chance to See Free Radicals!

Yes, it's time for the poster again.

We're down to the final three performances of Free Radicals, Brenda Kilianski's two-person show exploring how '60s radicals fit into modern times. (You never would've guessed it had anything to do with the '60s from that poster, would you?) This production from Stockyards Theatre Project must close on Friday night, so you've got tonight (Wednesday), tomorrow night (Thursday), and Friday to catch it. It's at North Lakeside Cultural Center, 6219 North Sheridan Road in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood. Tickets are still available, but the houses are filling up, so you might be best to make a reservation (which you can do at either of the sites above). Hope to see you there! Don't kick yourself for missing it.

It's All About Hillary

As expected by pretty much all the polls, Hillary won the Pennsylvania primary. She did a bit better than I expected--I figured her for about a 6 or 7 percent lead, and she pulled up to 10 percent. According to the AP, the victory was good for "staving off elimination" in the race for the Democratic nomination. Hillary herself, though, is spinning it as "the tide is turning," which may be a bit of an overstatement. I'm not sure what's going to change, particularly. She'll still be overwhelmingly behind, in both the popular vote and the delegate count. And without winning overwhelmingly tonight, she's got a lot less room left in which to catch Obama. Although they may be quiet for the next couple of days, I suspect that the calls for her to withdraw will continue to grow. Essentially, Hillary hasn't been doing much more than keeping her head above water, and now she'll be able to keep doing that for a while longer.

When it comes to actual numbers, MSNBC estimates that, at this point, Hillary has netted ten on Obama, with eighteen still to be allocated. Their total delegate count (including superdelegates) puts Obama at 1719 and Hillary at 1588. There are just under 900 delegates (again, including the superdelegates) yet to be assigned. To even tie Obama, she needs to get about 60 percent of the remaining delegates. You don't have to believe me, just check out MSNBC's Chuck Todd.

So what happens next? As I suggested above, nothing much beyond just more of the same. This time, we've only got eleven days until the next contest, caucuses in Guam, and then it's just three days beyond that to the Indiana and North Carolina primaries. It may be early for predictions yet, but I suspect that Hillary will keep up there, too. More status quo, but even more impossible for Hillary to catch Obama.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Here We Go

The six weeks of inanity is finally coming to an end. Pennsylvania's voting today. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Democratic primaries, we've been building this up for so long that it can't possibly end up being anything but a disappointment. I suspect that the primary will have an effect on the dynamic of the race, but it's going to be very slow in unfolding. Nothing short of a big Obama win will at all slow Hillary down for the moment. We noted last week that Governor Ed Rendell has been lowering expectations, defining even a 4-percent victory by Hillary as a big win when it comes to Pennsylvania. Does that mean that if Obama barely comes out on top, that it's Hillary holding her own? Not that I'm a big-time prognosticator, but I'm expecting Hillary to win in mid-double digits. Without a dramatic win (and I mean really dramatic) by one side or the other, the delegate counts won't really shift--Obama still won't be able to put it away, so Hillary won't be absolutely ruled out. In fact, because superdelegates can change their announced or intended votes up until the time they actually cast their ballots, maybe there's no way she can be absolutely ruled out before the convention. The primary strategy of her campaign right now seems to be "You've got to be in it to win it." Is she hoping for an Obama meltdown that will leave her standing alone in the field? That seems to be her best chance for victory at this point.

Meanwhile, Obama is also lowering expectations for his chances in Pennsylvania. Either way, somebody's going to do better than expected. Let's promise to meet back here in a few hours to see who's up and who's down.

Monday, April 21, 2008

And . . . ?

How precisely are we supposed to react to yesterday's New York Times expose on the Pentagon and the White House's campaign to influence American attitudes about Iraq (both before and after the U.S. invasion) by influencing the network TV military analysts who explain and comment on it. Should we be shocked (shocked) . . . and stunned (stunned)? Should we be outraged? Although it's nice to have some specific details, what part of this did we not already know? The administration was lying to us about the war? You're kidding! And they were persuading military experts to go along with them? Who could ever have expected that?

The more we talk about the administration's lying to us, the better our discourse is, I suppose, but it sure seems that we get more and more blasé about the whole idea. Here's part of the extremely lengthy (but worth it) article. See if any of it officially pushes you over the edge:

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

We may not have thought it through in its specifics, but there's not any part of that which should be surprising in any way. If we've been paying attention to the situation at all, we certainly know all of this already. But although we can get our dander up about what's been done, ultimately we suck it up and go on to something else. This article was getting some notice over the weekend, but now that it's been on the record for about 48 hours or so, I'm not seeing a whole lot of action over it. We've pretty much just shaken our heads in despair, thrown up our hands in frustration and then resignation, and shifted our attention to whatever's going to be the next thing (when is Obama going to put a flag back in his lapel?).

At least a couple of the analysts themselves have had second thoughts over the situation.

A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as independent military analysis.

"It was them saying, 'We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,' " Robert S. Bevelacqua, a retired Green Beret and former Fox News analyst, said.

Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. "This was a coherent, active policy," he said.

As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, Mr. Allard recalled, he saw a yawning gap between what analysts were told in private briefings and what subsequent inquiries and books later revealed.

"Night and day," Mr. Allard said, "I felt we'd been hosed."

I know the feeling. So now what?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Quick Hits

So, did everybody make it out to a local record store yesterday? No, Best Buy doesn't count. I stopped by Reckless Records on Milwaukee in Wicker Park (yes, I recognize the irony in linking to the Reckless Web site while talking up the importance of bricks-and-mortar record stores). I picked up used copies of The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, a collection of Talking Heads extended remixes, and the second Keane album. The Name of This Band . . . is special to me for a couple of reasons, but one of them is that when I was an exchange student in Japan, a few friends and I trekked up to Osaka for a Heads show (or just a trip to Osaka, as the case may be). As it turned out, it was jut a few days after the Tokyo show that was captured for posterity on this album. If you got anything at a record store yesterday, tell us about it in comments.

There've been a couple of interesting profiles in The New York Times lately that I haven't had time to link to. This one on Joe Simon, creator (or co-creator, as the case may be) of Captain America is a prelude to his appearance at the New York Comic Con this weekend. Simon offers opinions on the new Captain America ("The new costume, with the pistol and knife, and the old shield design going down to his privates, that's not Captain America") and the recent Siegel copyright case ("That's great, Jerry Siegel started it . . . We always felt 'we wuz robbed'"), and he shows the "Last Supper" painting he created when he heard of plans for Cap's death. The article also includes an odd, unexplained cameo appearance by Todd McFarlane.

The other intriguing piece is last Monday's profile or Professor Irwin Corey, who seems to have barely slowed down in his age. I hadn't realized quite how radical he has been throughout his career. He cowrote a musical about a union organizer and was blacklisted from network TV. He claims he was even too left-wing for the Communists: "When I tried to join the Communist Party, they called me an anarchist." And, oh yeah, there's video of him performing, too.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Record Store Day

Hey, it's Record Store Day! I can't think of a better date for it. Go to your local record store and, what the heck, buy a record or something. A number of local record stores have scheduled special events at their locations, so you may have to go to the actual Web site to see what's nearby and what you may enjoy. There are too few decent record stores these days, so support the ones that are left!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Did You Feel the Shaking?

Yeah, I'm late in talking about this morning's earthquake off the New Madrid Fault. It hit at 4:37 this morning, but apparently the epicenter was 230 miles away from Chicago, so it must've been weakened considerably by the time it got here. I don't doubt that it would've been noticeable for the people who are awake, but I'd expect mostly light sleepers would've been roused in Chicago. There are people in town who claim to have been wakened by the quake, and I don't doubt them. A 5.2 is certainly large enough to wake someone up who was closer to the epicenter. An aftershock of 4.6--not huge, but no slouch--came in later this morning at 10:15.

More than a dozen years, I experienced a quake at about the same time of day that was truly worthy of waking up over. The Northridge quake in January 1994 was a 6.7--it doesn't necessarily sound like a lot more, but it was. Each number on the Richter scale is twice as powerful as the one beneath it. A 6 is twice as powerful as a 5. We lived in L.A. at the time. I woke up after the shaking started, and I believed we were going to die. We didn't, and our apartment wasn't damaged very much, especially compared to those of other people we knew, but it was plenty traumatic enough.

The New Madrid fault, which today's earthquake was close to, is a monster waiting to strike again. It's responsible for the largest couple of quakes ever recorded in the continental United States. Back in the winter of 1811-1812, magnitude-8 quakes--or even as many as five--hit between December and February. It's said that the Mississippi River flowed backward for a time. The area was sparsely populated at the time, so it's not as well-known as it might be. We're almost two hundred years away from this event. That's a long time for energy in the fault to build up. Earthquake faults don't stay inactive for everywhere. I'm just saying.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Radical Coverage

The Chicago Tribune has some video up of Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk and playwright Brenda Kilianski talking about the Stockyards production of Free Radicals. I'm talking to a Web fu consultant to see if I can get a more direct link, but for the time being, you can check it out on Chris Jones's blog, Theater Loop. Scroll down to the video player, and then click on "Free Radicals"--What becomes of a 60s radical. As I'm writing, it's the second video on the list. If I'm able to summon down better Web fu from above, I'll update with a better link that doesn't leave you wandering around the page in hopes of finding your treasure.

Including tonight's show, Free Radicals has only five more performances (this Thursday and Friday, and then Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of next week). Don't miss your chance to see it in its world-premiere run!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Racial Undercurrents

A while back, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was taken to task for suggesting that some white voters "are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate." I was in a couple of conversations today in which that viewpoint was raised. It seems odd that this is somehow a subject we shouldn't discuss. We can hope that the number of such people is small, but we can hardly deny that they exist. We want to acknowledge that race is a factor in the election this year, but we don't want to admit that this is one of the ways race will manifest itself as an issue.

One response I've heard to this point is that, yes, such voters are certainly out there, and they're likely to come out to the polls. But their numbers won't be overwhelming (because if they are, we've got far larger racial issues than we're willing to recognize), because in the locations where they might be a strong enough minority to affect the vote against Obama, the Democratic candidate wouldn't be expected to take the day, anyway. So although they would bring Obama's nationwide vote down, they would be unlikely to make any difference to the electoral vote. Could that be little more than wishful thinking? I certainly hope so, but I suppose we can't really tell until we have a black candidate in the first place.

Rendell did seem to be floating the idea as part of the Clinton campaign, but it has always seemed like a strange point to make in Clinton's favor. If these theoretical voters aren't enlightened enough to vote for an African American candidate, what makes anybody so sure that they wouldn't have exactly the same reaction to a female candidate for president? Many people are willing to vote for a woman for governor or senator, but are they really prepared to vote for one to be the leader of the free world?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Are We There Yet?

Do you get any blogging dispensation for Tax Day? No, I didn't think so.

We're finally within a week of the voting in the Pennsylvania primary. It's just been forever since we had any actual polling, and we're having less and less content to focus on. I'm sick of the whole thing, and we've still got almost seven months before the actual election. It's going to get more and more annoying, and I suspect that once we get it down to one Democrat and one Republican, it's going to get extremely slimy.

Even with what the pundits insist are body blows to his campaign (who could imagine that anyone in this country in this time during this economy could actually be bitter?), Obama seems to be holding his own. It's common wisdom that Hillary needs an impressive victory in Pennsylvania, but a couple of weeks back, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was telling Russert that in Pennsylvania, 4 percentage points can count as a big win. Way to lower expectations. If they're not careful, they're going to be doubling back on themselves. For Hillary to get a win of any sort, or even to not lose too badly, is a victory under the circumstances. Hillary needs to beat Obama decisively and make a dent in his delegate lead. We're getting near the end. Staying alive is not a successful strategy.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Wilds of Chicago

Chicago had an adventure this afternoon. After reports of cougars and mountain lions in the north part of the Chicago area for the last couple of weeks, an actual cougar was spotted on Saturday morning in Wilmette, just a couple of suburbs north. But then this afternoon, a cougar was not only spotted in the city itself, it was shot and killed by police. This happened on the North Side, so in a couple of days, the same cougar could be in both places, but could it travel the 10 or 15 miles without otherwise being spotted? The Chicago Tribune has some speculation:

Animal control officials were not sure if the cougar was wild or an escaped pet, though they noted that it is illegal to keep the animals as pets. It's unclear how a cougar could have traveled south into Chicago from Wilmette, but the areas are connected by a Metra train route.

It's true, people ride that train between Wilmette and Chicago all the time, so why not the cougar. Of course, The Sun-Times reported that the Wilmette cougar was spotted near the "L" station, and the CTA is cheaper than Metra, so . . .

At the same time, I don't recall ever crossing a massive bridge to get from Chicago to Wilmette, so I'd say there's pretty much uninterrupted land between here and there, too. If it's the same cougar, maybe it made its way on foot. But whether we ever figure out just where the cougar came from, I somehow suspect that this guy had nothing to do with it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Just Teasing

This is extremely minor stuff, but it's just bugging me, so therefore, I'm passing it on. A while back I got the latest (at least, I think it's still the latest) U2 compilation, 18 Singles. I'm not entirely sure what the organizing principal behind it was, because U2's been around for more than thirty years, and they've released a lot more than 18 singles in that time. I picked it up primarily for their cover (with Green Day) of Skids' "The Saints Are Coming" (because, when it comes down to it, I just love Skids). I talked about Skids and that song back when the U2/Green Day cover was new, so I won't repeat myself here. But the fact that I got the CD (yes, I'm still ensconced in that old-fashioned technology) pretty much for the one song meant it wasn't burning to find it's way into my changer. I did finally take it out this weekend and looked through the booklet.

As I said, U2 has had an extensive career by this point, and any time you get a compilation release, you can't avoid the nostalgia factor. There's an early picture of the band from 1980 on the front cover, probably from some early sessions for the first album, Boy. The back of the CD case is from about the time of Rattle and Hum in the late '80s, but the back of the booklet is another 1980 shot, apparently from a different session than the front. And open it up to the credits page, the last spread in the booklet, and you get another pic from those halcyon days of 1980. So this must be a collection focused pretty much on the early days, yes? Uh, no. The earliest single is "New Year's Day" from 1983. Nothing from Boy, not even "I Will Follow." Nothing from October. Certainly no "11 O'Clock Tick Tock" (has that song ever appeared on a U2 album?).

So in summation, U2's 18 Singles equals lots of early U2 imagery, few early U2 songs (and nothing before the late early period). Thanks, guys.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Avoiding Politics

It amazes me whenever anyone argues that the Olympics should not get involved in political issues. The Olympic torch should be respected, and protestors should set aside their differences for the good of the athletes. I'm fine with the idea that we can overcome our differences to compete with each other on a different field. I don't have a problem with respecting the Olympic movement or the torch itself. But let's don't have any illusions that scheduling the Olympics in Beijing is not a political act in and of itself. I don't think the Olympic committee was necessarily aiming to make a political statement by allowing China to host the Olympics, but you can bet China was making one by making the bid. And we're all making one if we go along with China and pretend that we see nothing wrong with its human rights record or its past and current activities in Tibet.

Certainly, it's a complicated situation. Sunday's New York Times has an article that delves into the layers of conflict. By speaking out against China's human rights record, are the protesters forcing China to become even more recalcitrant? Part of the problem is that the West is buying into China without concern over China's policies. In the Times, a China expert from Germany's Council on Foreign Relations spells out the situation:

"The country is economically so attractive and by now so powerful that any measures we take will be met with painful countermeasures," he said. "The Olympics are important to the Chinese, but not as important as Tibet. Sovereignty and stability will always outweigh public relations."

We want to trade with China, and we want to sell into their market. Just because they don't respect the rights of their citizens shouldn't be enough to put us off cheaper goods or higher profits, should it?

I don't think that we're going to be able to avoid the hypocrisy of the Olympic Committee, but we should call it for what it is. The committee has made a huge political statement in vouching for the respectability of China by allowing it to host, but now they're trying to cut off all further political discussion as unseemly or something. The international community should continue to compete in the Olympics, but we can't be expected to leave our principles on the exterior of the stadium.


It's far too late to be blogging, at least after the week that I've had. I wanted to write about the airline industry, but my imagery skills are not at their finest at the moment, so I had to catch myself from writing about the "airline industry trainwreck." It's probably best to stick to just one mode of transportation at a time. And I should try to keep this post short and sweet.

The air travel business is not in the best shape lately. The FAA hasn't been keeping the best track of safety issues, so we're all of a sudden we've got to play a lot of catch up. It took whistleblowers to convince Congress to take a look at the issues of flight safety, but once the airlines knew they were under surveillance, they decided maybe inspections aren't the worst thing to do, after all. True enough, but when you have to inspect the whole fleet at once, you can't avoid disruption. Various airlines have had different levels of inconvenience, but American Airlines seems to have almost come to a standstill. The AP suggests that more than 3,000 flights have been canceled this week and a quarter of a million fliers have been affected. If that's the number of passengers, it caused even larger ripples among those who on the ground but somehow associated with those the travelers.

But the cancellations aren't the only problem. Frontier Airlines became the fourth airline in the past month to file for bankruptcy (ATA, Aloha Airlines, and Skybus were the other three). None of the bankrupt airlines are major players, but they function as a canary in the coal mine. Higher fuel costs added to safety concerns are causing problems all the way around.

Although this issue hasn't been entirely absent from the news, it hasn't had the high profile that I'd expect for a disruption at this level. Imagine if this had been going on in a different country, say the former Soviet Union. The press would be all over themselves to note the crumbling infrastructure and speculate on what it might've meant for the broader economy. We've got no such speculation here, of course, but that doesn't mean the situation doesn't carry the same dangers.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Another Opening of Another Show

We went out to the opening of the latest Stockyards Theatre Project show tonight (yes, Stockyards has had a very busy spring). This one is Criminal Hearts, a dark comedy by Jane Martin. It's a fun show, skewed just the right amount. Here's the blurb:

When an agoraphobic wife on Chicago's Gold Coast encounters a female burglar one dark night, how far will she go for friendship? or revenge? In this quirky, comedic mix of Thelma and Louise and The Grifters, it is possible a gun is a girl's best friend.

Come see Lori Howard, Janel Palm, Levi Petree, and Andrew Strenk at Chicago Actors Studio at 2040 N. Elston Ave (barely north of Armitage) in Chicago. They're playing on Thursdays through Sundays through May 10.

And don't forget Free Radicals, Stockyards' previous production. Not counting Friday night's performance, Free Radicals finishes up its run after two more weeks of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday performances.

[Obligatory disclosure to everybody who didn't get the message a few weeks ago: Yes, if you guessed that we've got some connection to Stockyards, you're right: Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk is Managing Director of Stockyards, and I serve on the Board of Directors. That doesn't mean you don't have to see either or both of these plays.]

Thursday, April 10, 2008

More on Yoo

When the Yoo torture memo was finally declassified last week (an act that's still not getting nearly the exposure it should), I saw a few commenters who mentioned the fact that he'd avoided to mention Youngstown Co. v Sawyer, a case decided by the Supreme Court more than fifty years ago. Not being a lawyer, I obviously didn't recognize the significance of that, but today, fortunately, looseheadprop at firedoglake spelled it all out for us. It's not been superceded by other case law or Supreme Court decisions, and it pretty much spells out the limits of presidential powers during wartime. I'm not going to quote anything because looseheadprop offers copious quotations, so you can follow the link to get as much as you want. You'll also quickly understand why Yoo didn't include it as a precedent for his legal theory about how the president could do anything he wanted to. It's because it blows his theory out of the water. I'm afraid that I'm too tired at the moment to be any more lucid than that right now, so you'll just have to make your own conclusion after reading it yourselves.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Are the Petraeus Hearings Just More Distractions?

I missed the Petreus hearings earlier today, so I'm trying to play catch up this evening. As I'm looking through some of the reaction, though, I'm not finding that much. It's possible that I'm simply looking in the wrong places, but The New York Times and The Washington Post aren't exactly slouches. Am I misreading to feel that the whole thing is an anticlimax? Are either Petraeus or Crocker even bothering to pretend there might be an end to any of this? Even a number of Republicans are getting annoyed, but they're also resigned to their powerlessness in the face of administration intransigence.

Of course, in case you haven't noticed, there's an election going on, so this was a great place to distinguish yourself if you happen to be running. As expected, McCain thinks everything's going pretty well over in Iraq, and both Clinton and Obama think the troops should come home quickly. Will much more be accomplished when Petraeus and Crocker talk to the House? I'm not betting on it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The World Is How We Say It Is

I drove home listening to BBC News tonight, and I heard a couple of things that were just complete non sequitors. Does anything make sense these days?

The first report was about the Olympic torch, which seems to be all over the place these days. It's running into problems as more and more people are protesting Chinese treatment of Tibet. (Is anybody else sensing echoes of the 1936 Olympics, or is it just me?) Those Chinese are right on top of everything--they're not going to be undermined by any stupid protesters. In fact, in the story linked, Beijing Olympic organizing committee spokesman Sun Weide defiantly insisted, "No force can stop the torch relay of the Beijing Games." The story then went on to report:

The Paris relay started to go wrong almost from the start, despite the presence of 3,000 police along the route.

It was cut short with the torch finally carried by bus to the relay's end point.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe cancelled a ceremony to welcome the torch relay after Green party activists hung a Tibetan flag and a black banner depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs from the city hall.

Nope, no force can stop the relay at all.

Another report concerned the British inquest that determined Princess Diana was killed unlawfully. I can't find any reports about how the papers have been responding, but according to the radio, they pretty much line up with Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police commissioner who led the inquiry.

I just hope that this can bring closure to what has been a traumatic event for many people. . . .

I do hope everybody will take this verdict as being closure to this particular tragic incident and the people who've died will be allowed to rest in peace.

That's what I'd expect to happen from a finding of unlawful killing--closure and putting it all behind us. There's nothing like declaring a death not an accident but the responsibility of others acting illegally to bring about a response of "There's nothing more we need to know."

Monday, April 07, 2008

Keep It to Yourself

You mean people get paid for writing this stuff? But other than that, the less said about this, the better.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Cover Up

A while back I was having lunch, and the conversation turned to cover versions of songs. As many such conversations go, it didn't take long until we started talking about the Beatles. Depending on how much of a purist you are, there may or may not be any Beatles covers that you like. How do you feel about Richie Havens's "Here Comes the Sun," for instance? We split on whether there were any good covers whatsoever on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band soundtrack (I'm not a purist, and there are actually a number of Beatles covers I like, but--even though I haven't seen the film since I sat through it in horror decades ago in the theater upon its release--I voiced a resounding NO!), and then we didn't really talk in too much detail about other examples. Unfortunately, we didn't have this to talk about. I do like the Siouxsie and the Banshees' version of this song (but then again, I like the vast majority of the Banshees catalog), but I've got to admit, there's something about this one that's awfully darn appealing. Not appealing enough to get my vote, but, y'know. What other covers by presidential candidates should we look for? It's my blog, so I get the easy one, but what's next after Obama's "Take the Skinheads Bowling"?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sure, It's Easy to Hate the War

Needless to say, there's quite the antiwar sentiment around these days. I'm not sure there's anybody who doesn't agree that war is a bad thing that we'd rather not have--even George W. Bush and John McCain (although they specify that war is really bad but unfortunately necessary anyway). How do you approach the subject in any way that can shed new light or understanding. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk and I were talking about how someone can approach antiwar drama in our present climate. She said that there are a number of her fellow playwrights who are trying to come with "war is bad" plays, and while you can't really fault the premise, so what? We all agree that war is bad. What next? That appears to be the tougher part. I haven't seen Stop-Loss, yet. It seems to approach the issue through the stories of those fighting the war and being taken advantage of by the government and the military. Despite their understanding of the agreement they've made to fight for a certain period and to come home, the rules for reassignment are getting changed after the fact. One way into talking about a subject that seems saturated is to find a personal story that can draw people in and engage an audience, but like most things, that's easier said than done. We don't necessarily have to come up with something new to say, some new angle on how war's dehumanizing or some other obvious assertion. But we have to make people feel and care, maybe even enough to do something (although what they do is fodder for a whole other series of posts--if not a entire blog). That's a plenty tough assignment for all those "War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things" playwrights.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Blogger Issues

Blogger wasn't wanting to work for me this morning, and that seemed like a good real-life metaphor for the fact that I really didn't have that much to say. I don't know if it's spring, which finally feels like it's sort of coming down on us, or if the regular job is getting more and more full and distracting, but there just wasn't anything I much felt like writing about. I'm still outraged about the John Yoo torture memo, but when you get down to it, there's really nothing we didn't already know there except for the specifics, but it would be nice if someone outside of the blogosphere seemed at all concerned about it. And wouldn't it be nice if presidential power were actually an issue in the presidential election? But my opinion on that isn't terribly far removed from the comment left by charlesofcamden. Who's going to be the first candidate to say, "I think that's far more power than I really ought to have"?

Maybe I'll find something I want to write about later. One good thing about the Bush administration is that there's always something new coming along to outrage us. And it's a Friday, so in a few hours, keep your eyes out for any information or documents they might want to release with a low profile. With luck, Blogger will allow me to get online to pass along my outrage.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Constitution Protects Only So Far

Is there room anymore for outrage? I'm getting awfully tired. These days outrage seems to shift to resignation far too quickly. The release to the public of the John Yoo torture memo on Tuesday demands so much more than throwing up our hands. In a sense, it's the foundation piece for the contempt that the current administration (and the GOP in general) has shown for the concept of the United States as a nation of laws. Although this memo has previously been referred to, this is the first time that we've seen it in black and white. And evil doesn't get much more banal than this. Read it yourself (in two parts) if you want the full experience. It appears to be fairly straightforward, but if you follow them closely, the arguments turn back on themselves and become quite convoluted.

At its heart, the memo claims that the president is immune to certain laws that get in the way of fighting terrorism. And not only particular laws, but aspects of the Constitution, as well. That's quite a trick. The Constitution defines the American government and spells out its structure. The office of president was created by the writers of the Constitution through the Constitution. According to John Woo Yoo, though, the president has superseded that document. War powers granted to the president by Congress, another body created by the Constitution, trump limits written into the Constitution. That's some trick if you can pull it off.

Although the subject at hand is fighting terrorism through torture and our own terror tactics, in essence this is a legal argument putting forth that if the president (or his representative) does it, it can't be illegal. And is this Congress making the argument? The courts? No, just the president's lawyer. It's exactly the same if I had to defend myself in court and my lawyer insisted, "Whatever Doug may have done, it can't be illegal because, well, he's Doug." No, somehow I don't think that would fly, either.

Although later administrative memos have set aside the letter of this memo, it's quite clear that the spirit of it is still in full effect in the White House's day-to-day activities. I've got to get to work this morning, but there's plenty more commentary from Glenn Greenwald, Christy Hardin Smith at firedoglake, and a lot of other people if you do a quick Google. In fact, I'm sure you can find plenty of other columnists writing on the subject to fit to any political position you'd prefer.

POSTSCRIPT--Aargh! John Yoo wrote the various torture memoranda, and John Woo is a successful film director. I hate typos.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Nothing Much, Really

So, did anybody get caught by a good April Fools joke yesterday? The title of my post yesterday wasn't one. Although I didn't spell it out directly, though, that discussion about too much anti-Hillary commentary and not enough pro-Obama would serve as a good jumping-off point for elaborating on the virtues of Barack Obama as a presidential candidate. I'm a bit concerned that the comments section remains empty.

Amanda Marcotte from Pendagon has a new book out, It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. It features an old-time Marvel Comics (oops--sorry, it was still Atlas back then) character, Lorna the Jungle Girl. As I type this, the Grand Comic Book Database suggests that Lorna hasn't actually appeared in her own story in the last fifty years, but according to Don Markstein, it doesn't seem likely. Markstein also says that Lorna was cocreated by artist Werner Roth. It looks like Roth's art could be gracing Marcotte's cover, but jungle girls don't exactly fall into the realm of my comics expertise. The credits on the copyright page simply identify Lorna the Jungle Girl and Marvel Comics. Apparently there are illustrations inside the book, too.

Thanks to CG for pointing out the fact that the parachute found in Washington state last month did not belong to hijacker D. B. Cooper. Instead, it may be tied to an air crash from just after World War II. Of course, had you yesterday called the man who originally packed Cooper's chute, Earl Cossey, he would've told you that he'd confirmed that the chute was indeed Cooper's. A couple of Web sites ran with that information until they noticed the date on the calendar.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Hillary's Staying

So Hillary called The Washington Post recently to make sure they (and by extension, everyone else) knew she isn't planning on leaving the presidential race. More and more people have suggested that she withdraw, and I suppose she felt she needed to stem the groundswell. Despite the fact that a couple of weeks ago I suggested somebody needed to tell her to give it up, I'm having second thoughts. Although all the attention seems to be on Hillary to pull out, part of the problem is that Obama has not clinched the deal. Although he seems very likely to pull out a majority of elected delegates, he's not going to be able to finalize the nomination with just that. The winner is going to need superdelegates, and while I presume that they're going to go Obama's way, we're not really going to know who wins until a preponderance of superdelegates votes for or endorses one or the other.

As I was thinking this over, it occurred to me that lately that--even though I like Obama--I've been writing about what's wrong with Hillary, not why Obama deserves support. We need to be moving the discussion over to Obama winning more than Hillary losing. Obama may be able to gather a few more superdelegates (and he got another endorsement on Monday), but he's not going to do get another chance at gathering more elected delegates for three more weeks, and it seems like two weeks after that with the North Carolina primary before he actually starts expanding his lead. So therefore, Obama's campaign and supporters need to make the case for why Obama at all, not just why the math seems to be in Obama's favor.