Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: July 2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Take a Journey

Not much tonight, just a recommendation. Back twenty-five years ago, a cartoonist named William Messner-Loebs started a comic called simply Journey. It was an engaging and engrossing series about a fur trapper in the 1810s in what is now present-day Michigan. According to Loebs, it was a lot different two hundred years ago. I'll admit that this little capsule description wouldn't have been enough to draw me in back when the series was coming out, but consistent good reviews of the book were, and I was glad to have jumped on when I finally did. Journey brought Loebs mainstream attention, and it wasn't too long until he jumped over to big boys as a super-hero writer. For reasons I don't know, he focused on writing over drawing (he doesn't have an obvious super-hero style, but it's abundantly charming and appealing). For my money, although he did some good work for DC and Marvel, he never came close to matching Journey. As comics creators do, unfortunately, Loebs fell out of favor, and his work stopped appearing as frequently. Somewhere along the way, Journey seems to have been mostly forgotten. It was an important book in the development of independent comics, and although the name comes up every now and again, I'm not sure how many people nowadays have had a chance to see the work.

Now IDW has remedied that problem. They've released the first of two volumes that will collect the series. Go buy it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Random Thoughts

As I mentioned I might, I stopped by the Hopleaf for the Bookslut joint reading with Eddie Campbell and David J. Schwartz. The crowd was four or five times the size of that at Quimby's and, not surprisingly, had four or five times the hipster quotient, as well. Not to mention, there was more than one woman there, too. I was late getting there, and the room on the second floor was already overflowing. I could've stood in an entryway with others who were already there, where we could hear the speakers (or readers, as the case may be) but couldn't actually see them. I squeezed further into the room to see if I saw any familiar faces, but when I didn't see anyone I knew, I figured that I'd give the event a pass and live off the memories of the previous evening.

Uh, oh. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was indicted today on seven counts of receiving unreported gifts of more than $250,000. Stevens famously wore his Hulk tie (here's a photo thoughtfully provided in a post from Gen. JC Christian) whenever he wanted to SMASH on the Senate floor. Unfortunately, the Hulk may not have been the best role model for Stevens, as he's frequently on the run from the authorities. But would Stevens be experiencing the trouble he is if the Hulk movie had been more of a blockbuster this summer? Maybe, maybe not, since he couldn't even parley his tie to the Hulk into a cameo role, unlike some other Senate comics fans we know.

Bye-bye, Bennigan's. The nationwide chain is going down, unable to restructure its debt in today's whiny, psychological marketplace. Unfortunately, the whole company isn't yet on board with the new reality. As I post this, the Bennigan's Web site is still pushing their new Jameson BBQ Grilled menu, although it does admit that it's available for a limited time only. Yeah, I guess. Maybe they'd be better off taking the Jameson straight.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Crawling Out of My Cave

I need to get out of my shell more often. I've been distracted by my work load (amazing how that happens), and I haven't really been paying attention to other things in the world around me. I haven't been to a music show in almost two years, mostly because I haven't made sure to set aside the time to keep track of who's coming and then get the tickets. From time to time I'll notice a concert for the evening and think, "I would've considered going to that," but by then it's too late. Maybe I've got to check out the schedule to see who's coming and decide if there's anyone I should make an effort to see.

I almost missed an event tonight, although it was comics rather than music. I was browsing comics blogs today, and I'd come to Tom Spurgeon's Comic Reporter. Tom headlines his event posts as "If I Were in ---, I'd Go to This," and today he had "If I Were in Chicago, I'd Go to This," and as we don't seem to get a massive amount of comics events, I took a closer look. Eddie Campbell was appearing at Quimby's. No doubt best known for From Hell, he's created a wide breadth of excellent work over the years, including his Alec and his Bacchus stories (both "series" will finally be collected in one place over the next couple of years). Tonight he was talking about his latest book, The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard, which promises to be a sprawling epic of a tale but for some reason doesn't appear to be on the publisher's Website. Regardless, Campbell was absolutely delightful talking about his work, explaining how he built some of his images for his adaptation of Alan Moore's theatrical piece, The Birth Caul (which Campbell identifies as Moore's best work), describing some behind-the-scenes anecdotes that find their reflection in his published work, and expressing his enthusiasm for people who can put books together better than he can.

It was certainly an evening well spent, and I'm glad I saw the mention on Spurgeon's blog. If you're thinking that you might've made an effort to see Campbell if only you'd had the chance, if you're in or around Chicago, you've got a second chance. On Tuesday night, he'll be at the Hopleaf on Clark in Andersonville, sponsored by Bookslut, along with author David J. Schwartz. They'll be on the second floor. Even though I saw him tonight, I have half a thought to go to the Hopleaf, as well, because they have better beer than Quimby's does and I'm curious how much different the Bookslut crowd will be. I also have a vague memory of once having been on the Hopleaf's second floor, but I can't imagine when that would've been. I may have to show up just to prove that my previous visit hadn't been in a dream.

UPDATE--If you want more details about what Eddie Campbell talked about, surf over to this blog. As it happened, the blogger, Matthew Brady, was in front of me in the signing line, so the picture of him and Eddie Campbell was actually taken by me (without proper credit, unfortunately).

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Superhero Walks Among Us

In talking about comic book politics last night, I made the distinction about how the audience's knowledge of such potentially authoritarian characters as Superman and Batman can allow them to work in a fictional universe but that they could never have a place in our world. We have absolute trust that Batman has a strong enough moral character that he will always do the right thing. That seems like a bit of a stretch to anybody living in our reality. After sleeping on the ideas, however, I realized I was wrong. I don't know how many living, breathing people out there have the absolute trust of significant numbers of the public, but one of them's running for president.

If you don't believe that this is precisely how the press treats John McCain, you haven't been paying attention. There's plenty of evidence all through the Internet (Bob Somerby usually tracks the outrage, although on Friday he was beginning to wonder if the shoe was moving to the other foot), but for a quick primer, we can go back just about a month to a couple of columns that appeared in the Washington Post. On June 22, David Broder was primarily talking about Obama, but he squeezed in an endorsement of McCain:

McCain benefits from a long-established reputation as a man who says what he believes. His shifts in position that have occurred in this campaign seem not to have damaged that aura.

McCain says what he means. The press believes it knows him and can trust him to do that. If he doesn't (and if he ever did, it seems he's gotten over it), the press knows that there's some explanation. They trust him. They've looked into his eyes and seen his soul. They know he'd never really do anything other than what they expect.

I'd remembered the Broder column, but when I was looking for it again, I also came across this little gem from Richard Cohen, which appeared in the Post a scant two days after Broder's pronouncement. After going through a litany of McCain's flip-flops, Cohen explains why they don't matter:

McCain is a known commodity. It's not just that he's been around a long time and staked out positions antithetical to those of his Republican base. It's also -- and more important -- that we know his bottom line. As his North Vietnamese captors found out, there is only so far he will go, and then his pride or his sense of honor takes over. This -- not just his candor and nonstop verbosity on the Straight Talk Express -- is what commends him to so many journalists.

Cohen is fantasizing wildly here. We have no idea whether or not McCain has a "bottom line" or, if he does, just where it might be. But we do have a fairly good idea of where Batman's "bottom line" would be, and if McCain is anything like Batman (and I'd be willing to bet that Cohen would say he is), then maybe their "bottom lines" are in about the same place.

If Somerby's right, we may see the press start to wander away from John McCain. But if the press stays true to form, we'll know it's because they're viewing McCain in the same way the rest of us look at idealized fictional characters.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Dark Ideological Knight

Here's some more Dark Knight, but maybe a different take on it than we're used to. Since we're in an election year, and all, it should've been expected that we'd start to see some political deconstructions of it. Super-hero comic books--or any sort of heroic vigilante fiction, really--have odd politics that can't be transferred directly into the real world. In comic books, readers have insight into the minds and motives of the heroes, and we know they are worthy of our trust. Although Batman might agonize over identifying the "right thing," we have full confidence that not only will he recognize it, he'll follow through to the best of his abilities. We'll accept actions from him--or from Superman, Spider-Man, or whomever else you might want to mention--that would otherwise be unacceptable. We know that they have a purity of motivation. In the real world, we know no such thing about those we consider heroes or, even more, those in positions of power who we don't consider terribly heroic. In the comics and the movies, we wonder when J. Jonah Jameson will stop using his newspaper as a club to attack Spider-Man. In the real world, if we had a faceless vigilante who called himself Spider-Man, I'd wonder when the authorities would start paying attention to the brave newspaper editor who was willing to confront the lawless threat or menace stalking our city.

So it's interesting when the pundits start to pull political messages out of The Dark Knight. Eric Alterman believes the movie

pulled off the neat trick of being both libertarian and fascistic, which is to say it is damn confused . . . not bad, but not consistent either.

Matt Yglesias takes Alterman on, falling back on his inner geek to argue that the situation isn't that simple:

Shifting a bit away from the issues of the day, though, one interesting thing about the film is what a difference it makes to rip Batman out of the context of the broader DC universe. The DCU's other anchor character, Superman, is far more powerful than Batman. And of course Superman's hardly alone in this regard -- Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, etc. all wield vast power and even lesser lights like the Flash outpace Batman by far.

In that context, Batman rather uniquely doesn't suffer from a substantial legitimacy problem. You don't look at Batman and say "no man should wield this much power" in a world where Superman can see through walls. It's those other guys who have legitimacy problems and Batman is one of the important checks on them -- especially on Superman, who specifically entrusts a kryptonite ring to Batman for that purpose. This does pose a "who watches the watchmen" issue explored in Tower of Babel and elsewhere, but in a basic sense we're supposed to be glad that Batman has so many gizmos not because we're naive about power but because in the context of all these super-powered super-heroes it's genuinely less threatening than such a person would be in the real world.

Of course, if you're interested in the plain vanilla reading of the film's politics, you can argue that Batman is a stand-in for George W. Bush. And the Wall Street Journal asserts that very point. Spencer Ackerman makes much the same point, but he doesn't see it as a good thing.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Disturbing Realization

I made it out to see The Dark Knight today, and I'm even home in time to sleep in my own bed tonight (although I did have to fill up the gas tank when I made it back to town). I've been trying to stay away from spoilers for this movie more than I usually do, and there were a couple of plot developments that actually did take me by surprise, so I won't give anything away here.

Although the story took a couple of turns I didn't see coming, I'd had plenty of warning that the film isn't called The Dark Knight for nothing. One of the themes is that Heath Ledger's Joker sets up challenges to the people of Gotham City to see how quickly they abandon their veneer of civility and revert to animal urges and instincts. Let me just say, I fear the movie is more optimistic on that count than I am, and that might cause me my own dark nights. It also annoyed me more than I expected to see Senator Patrick Leahy's cameo. He's a long-time Batfan, so I can't begrudge him his fun too much, but he plays a partygoer at an event that's invaded by the Joker. Refusing to cower in fear, when confronted by the villain, he retorts, "We won't be intimidated by thugs!" Although I guess his record on this matter is not so bad, more than a few of his Senate colleagues could stand to be less intimidated by a certain group of thugs I know of.

Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk (who wasn't interested in seeing the film until I noticed someone she knows who is onscreen) asked me what seeing it at an IMAX theater added to the experience. Unlike Batman Begins, the filmmakers weren't trying very hard to disguise Chicago as their stand-in for Gotham City, and I have to say the arial cityscapes were quite distracting for me. What a magnificent skyline we have.

The performances were good--Heath Ledger overcomes the hype, and the returning actors acquitted themselves well. Just by showing up to replace Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, Maggie Gyllenhaal makes her a more substantial character. Unfortunately, the screenwriters didn't bother to give her much to work with, so there's only so much she can be expected to accomplish. Aaron Eckhart is excellent as crusading DA Harvey Dent. At least at the beginning, it's a pretty cardboard character, but Eckhart makes his idealism believable and likable. I'm beginning to wonder if Eckhart might be one of the best actors working today: He's believable in almost everything he does. If you want proof, check out his absolutely despicable character in Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men. I can't place this, but I seem to recall at least one reviewer worrying that Eckhart's career would be over because his believability in that role would taint anything else he might do. That didn't happen, because every role presents us with a blank slate and fresh start for Eckhart.

So overall, I enjoyed the experience and I'm glad I saw it in IMAX. The movie is too long (two-and-a-half hours), and although it doesn't particularly drag, it doesn't need all that time. The momentum drives us through so it didn't particularly bother me, but there were still a number of loose ends by the time the movie wrapped up. And given how he treated his employees, I'm surprised that the Joker always remained well stocked in henchmen. But I'd recommend it--even if only to see where you fall on the Gotham City Human Nature Optimism scale.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Vague Concerns

I suppose I should be more enthused by Obama's triumphant speech to a couple of hundred thousand Germans in Berlin. It was a pretty good speech, well delivered. And it's not just John McCain's comments bringing me down.

I would rather speak at a rally or a political gathering any place outside of the country after I am president of the United States.

I'm not sure whether McCain said this today because he's already filled his quota of political speeches in other countries or because he really does forget that he campaigned in Canada just over a month ago.

No, it's nothing McCain's doing to make me feel uneasy, but it all seems to be too easy for Obama. McCain and his campaign seem to be flailing, and--tightening polls notwithstanding--Obama seems to be looking more and more inevitable. The problem with that? I don't believe in inevitable. I want to see Obama work for and earn the presidency, not just coast to victory because McCain's running a lame campaign. I don't believe that Obama will coast to victory, because I think if it looks too much like a fait accompli there will be a backlash.

Of course, maybe I'm just rambling and don't know what I'm talking about. It's probably just the phase of the moon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dark Knight Dominates

Wow. That's some kind of juggernaut. The Dark Knight has been breaking records left and right, and Tuesday saw another one fall. This movie has become the fastest film to get up to $200 million in earnings. And that's after the biggest weekend opening ever, the biggest opening day, and, according to Nikki Finke, seven other records. I was thinking of going to see it at the IMAX down at Chicago's Navy Pier, but except for some 1:00 AM shows they've just added, everything there's sold out until Monday morning. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk has little (if any) interest in seeing this, and I've got no intention of coming home from downtown by myself at 3:30 in the morning, so if I'm going to see this in IMAX in the next few days, it's going to mean that I've got to go out of town (fortunately, gas prices have slipped down just a bit). We'll see how things develop and whether or not I'll need to pack an overnight bag. If I do make that leap, though, the IMAX experience will have an awful lot of expectation to live up to. It had better be worth it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New Rules

This is a pretty funny video, and unfortunately fairly accurate, but there's something about it I find disquieting. Why do I fear that this year's election could be decided by insurance company rules?

Fest Fest

It's that time of year again in Chicago. This past weekend was the Pitchfork Music Festival, and in a week and a half comes Lollapalooza. Except for the fact that I'm not much of a festivalgoer (the last time I went out for one was WOMAD in the early '90s, I think; I'm much happier watching bands in the clubs), it's an embarrassment of riches.

I wasn't at Pitchfork, but Jarvis Cocker was who I most would've liked to have seen. I heard Public Enemy was pretty good (they performed Nation of Millions all the way through), but Flavor Flav is hard to take seriously these days (in truth, being hard to take seriously is the whole point of Flav, but now that he's got so much reality-show baggage, it's hard to even make the effort). The scuttlebutt was also good on Animal Collective and Cut Copy, who were delayed in getting to the stage but who reportedly made up in energy what they had to give up in performance time. For first-hand wrap ups, check out Greg Kot in the Trib or Jim DeRogatis in the Sun-Times.

As for Lolla, I'm not going there, either. But if I were going, I'd be curious to see Radiohead (to find out if I'd like them any more than I did when I saw them open for P. J. Harvey while they were touring their first album; I wasn't impressed at the time, but I have enjoyed their albums since, so I'm willing to give them a second chance), the Rage Against the Machine reunion, Kanye, Gnarls Barkley, Bloc Party, Lupe Fiasco, Gogol Bordello, the Raconteurs, The National, Black Lips, Broken Social Scene, and various others (see, I told you it was an embarrassment of riches). I'd also try to check out Mark Ronson to see what he did, exactly. I know him for his work as a producer with the likes of Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen. I've heard one song credited to him--a cover of Kaiser Chiefs' "Oh My God"--but that featured a guest vocal by Lily Allen and sounded like it should've been called a Lily Allen single rather than a Mark Ronson one. And if he is more of a producer than performer, would that mean that one should expect special guests at the performance? Speaking of special guess, there are also rumors that some local presidential candidate might make a surprise appearance (my money would be on him showing up during Wilco's set on Saturday evening). I also have a feeling that I've heard a rumor about Al Gore dropping in, too, but for the life of me I can't remember where U might've heard that). From all evidence (especially if you don't mind hobnobbing with massive crowds outdoors), this will be the place to be on the first weekend in August.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

All in the . . . Timing

This weekend is bringing the big X-Files sequel. Are you excited? Are you going to stand in line? Is it going to be massive?

I say no to all those questions. Given all the problems we're facing these days, is there really a desperate need for metaphorical paranoia just waiting to be filled?

Shifting Sands

The ground under the presidential campaign is moving. After our recent back and forth over Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's assertion that he supports Barack Obama's plan for quick U.S. withdrawal from his country, it seems that the idea is now starting to stick. After al-Maliki met with Obama, even Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, who released the "clarification" of al-Maliki's earlier statement to Spiegel, seemed to be won over by the talk of withdrawal. He didn't say anything about 16 months, but he did say that Iraq would like to see the U.S. military presence gone by the end of 2010. By my count, that's 23 months after the next president takes his oath of office.

Although the coverage of the John McCain campaign is, unsurprisingly, focused primarily on McCain's criticism of Obama, his shifting position on the U.S. presence in Iraq is slipping through. Reporting on the candidate's visit with the Bush clan at Kennebunkport, the New York Times includes this little tidbit:

But Mr. McCain, who met privately with the first President Bush for 20 minutes, also appeared to embrace, if only in passing, the possibility of withdrawing most American troops from Iraq by the end of 2010. Asked at the news conference if it was conceivable that enough progress could be made in the next two years so that American troops could be fully withdrawn, Mr. McCain replied, "Oh, I think they could be largely withdrawn, as I've said." Previously, he had envisioned that in a McCain administration, most troops would be out of Iraq by 2013.

We'll keep an eye out in case this turns into a full-fledged embrace of Obama's vision of the U.S. presence in Iraq.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Clarifying al-Maliki

The al-Maliki/16 months story just keeps on giving. The New York Times writes that, after the Iraqi statement (that wasn't actually released through Iraqi government channels) claiming that al-Maliki's remarks had been translated incorrectly, Spiegel clarified that the translator had been provided by al-Maliki's office and, just for good measure, provided a copy of the untranslated comments to the Times. Funnily enough, the Times translation ("Obama's remarks that — if he takes office — in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq") wasn't that different from what Spiegel had printed originally. Meanwhile, the Times also clarified some of what brought about the Iraqi "clarification." Officials of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad pointed out that the al-Maliki's statement was being interpreted in the United States as support for Obama's 16-month timetable. After some period of persuasion, the Iraqis came to realize that, despite this being pretty much what al-Maliki said, it must not have been what he really meant. Ah, the wonder of second thoughts. The fact that the second Iraqi statement was so wan, however, may suggest that those "second thoughts" didn't tell the whole Iraqi statement, either. Obama and al-Maliki are reportedly scheduled to meet on Monday. Where will al-Maliki's stated position stand after that?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

I know, it's far too easy a title. And it's been a question that's been around for quite a while as well, at least since "Should we have even gone in the first place?" became sort of moot. But all of a sudden, we've got a new angle from which to look at U.S. involvement in Iraq. In an interview appearing in the German magazine Spiegel, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said that, although he wasn't trying to get involved in the American presidential election, he pretty much sided with Obama over McCain as to how soon U.S. troops should leave.

Clearly, this is significant. Although al-Maliki is most likely discussing this for reasons of his own national election, it has pretty clear implications for us. The U.S. position has always been that the military is not occupying Iraq so much as helping the country. If al-Maliki says, "Thanks, we appreciate the help, but we think we can take it from here," the only reason not to withdraw is because we're, y'know, occupying Iraq.

The Obama campaign wasted little time in putting out a statement to the effect of, "Yeah, we agree." McCain's spokesperson did a little dancing, arguing that al-Maliki, unlike Obama, has always said that conditions on the ground should determine when the U.S. pulls out, and he's pretty much said the same thing again, following up with a statement from the campaign itself that timing isn't really that important, anyway. Well, al-Maliki hasn't contradicted his point of view about conditions on the ground, but his point seemed to be that timing is important. The most interesting response, however, may well have come from a professed Iranian Iraqi government bureaucrat which claimed that al-Maliki's statements had been mistranslated by Spiegle. Unfortunately, he doesn't explain what precisely was translated incorrectly, or what the correct translation would be. Further adding to its credibility problems is the fact that the statement came out from the U.S. military rather than any sort of Iraqi government entity. Yeah, nothing odd going on there.

Whether al-Maliki will stand up for his statement or fold under sure pressure that he's getting from the Bush administration, the timing of this, coming as Obama is starting a tour of Iraq and Afghanistan, can't be a coincidence. If Obama and al-Maliki get together to talk at some point over the next few days, they'll certainly be having some intriguing discussions.

UPDATE--I've made a couple of corrections to fix typos and clarify a point that actually conveyed the opposite of what I intended.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Q but No A

Not many answers tonight, only questions and more questions.

What's really the difference between a line and a horizon? Is the actual trick here that, by definition, you can never reach the horizon, that no matter where we are, the horizon stays the same distant away at all times?

I've spent a couple of summers in Central Texas and I know that this isn't something that one does by choice, so why is Netroots Nation, essentially a convention of progressive bloggers (formerly Yearly Kos), holding it this year's meeting in Austin in July? I like Austin, and I wouldn't have any problem spending a weekend there, but not in the summer if there was any way I could avoid it. At least, I suppose, Netroots Nation isn't in Austin in August.

Did Robert Novak force Phil Gramm out of the McCain campaign? Novak claimed Gramm was back in favor after calling us a "nation of whiners" last week. Was Gramm's resignation from the campaign today a response to Novak's story?

Does this whole exercise remind you too much of an old Larry King column for USA Today?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Waiting for Dark Knight

Well, it's after midnight, so there are handfuls of people out there who've already started to watch Batman: The Dark Knight. I haven't seen a lot of movies lately, but I haven't had great luck in guessing out my superhero movies this summer. After what I think is months of not going to the movies (I could be wrong, but it's possibly that I've only been to one in 2008), I went last weekend to see Iron Man (which would be that previously mentioned one). I figured that it came out way back in May and was unlikely to hold onto its theater space as the summer progressed. I figured that I could see The Incredible Hulk this weekend if I wanted to. Not quite. Iron Man has been doing pretty good business, so it's still around. The Hulk, on the other hand, which came out six weeks later than Iron Man, is--according to Moviefone--playing at precisely one theater within the Chicago city limits. I may still try to catch it at that one, but we'll have to see if it seems worth the trouble.

Meanwhile, Batman's coming to town with a vengeance. It's playing all over everywhere at most times of the day and night. And while most theaters, after tonight's midnight showings, don't have the movie opening before about 10:00 in the morning, IMAX has set up an orgy of Bat-indulgence. The IMAX at Navy Pier is going for a show every three hours all weekend long. Yes, that includes 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00 in the morning. Did I mention that they're sold out? In fact, many of the showings all over town for this weekend are already sold out. I've been thinking that IMAX may be the way to go to see Dark Knight, but I'm also starting to get a funny feeling that August may be the way to go, as well.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Even More Linkblogging

It's summertime, which means easy living, jumping fish, high cotton, etc., etc. Here are a few more stray items.

I'm not sure exactly what Liddy Dole was up to, but boy, was it strange. The Senate was considering a bill that would, among other things, triple funding for international AIDS efforts. The bill was already named after the recently deceased Tom Lantos and Henry Hyde, but Dole wanted to add Jesse Helms, one of the most notorious foes of AIDS research and funding (even if Bono ultimately talked him in to supporting funding to combat AIDS in foreign children). Needless to say, the AIDS community was up in arms, but I can't imagine that conservative supporters of Helms could be happy about this, either--could they want Helms's legacy to be associated with an issue he so vociferously opposed? The AP story reporting the bill's passage makes no mention of the proposed name change, which didn't make it through. Is this Liddy's passive-aggressive way of suggesting that she doesn't really want another term?

Am I the only one who thinks it would be wonderfully entertaining to watch Maureen Dowd engage in a little "harmless teasing" of John McCain?

Via Boing Boing, a new Black Canary Barbie is making waves on the other side of the Atlantic. Calling her "S&M Barbie" and making special note of her "kinky fishnets," The Sun whips up quite tizzy. My favorite part is this quote from an appalled Christian group: "Barbie has always been on the tarty side and this is taking it too far." Indeed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Just Some Linkblogging

I can't tell you why, exactly, but I'm sitting here tonight with nothing much to say. Maybe it's because Chicago's hitting the 90s and I tend to get sluggish when the temp goes up. Maybe it's because I've spent too many late nights sitting here writing things like this and I'm exhausted. Maybe it's something else entirely--like I said, I can't really tell you why.

Obama and McCain both gave foreign policy addresses today--Obama repeated his desire to bulk up U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and McCain shifted his position to argue that we need to bulk up U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

We could go back and talk about that New Yorker cover, but after you point out that if the target of the lampoon says, "Yeah, that's pretty much what we think," by definition it's failed as satire, there's not really a lot more to build on.

Glenn Greenwald goes over the depressing reasons why the Democratic Congress has so little interest in investigating Bush administration crimes and misdemeanors--they're complicit. Nothing especially new here, but it's nice to see a lot of the arguments in one place. It also gives us reason not to get our hopes up by reports that the House Judiciary Committee may consider Dennis Kucinich's impeachment resolution. According to Molly K. Hooper in CQPoltiics:

Conyers said he wants a public discussion of the issues being raised by Kucinich, but does not plan to take any action on the resolution. "We're not doing impeachment, but he can talk about it," the chairman said.

I suspect we should take Conyers at his word on this one.

A couple of days ago, Mark Evanier linked to recollections in Variety from Lorenzo Semple, Jr., about the origins of the Batman TV show (which hasn't officially been released on DVD but is available in pirated form--or so I understand). Evanier points out that Semple's version doesn't completely agree with stories producer William Dozier told over the years, but memories more than forty years old have a way of doing that.

Hmmm. This isn't too bad for having nothing much to say. And since I'm linkblogging anyway, go check out our friend Lori Howard's self-help blog. She established it about a year ago, but she's made a new commitment to updating it more regularly.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Now That's Funny

I was planning to write something about this whole New Yorker flap, but when I was looking around the New Yorker home page tonight, I noticed something I hadn't seen earlier today. Now, it's possible that it was there earlier, but it's exactly the kind of thing they might add after a day like today.

I'm late to the game on this, so you may well have seen this around (it's not like it was scarce today). The latest its cover of The New Yorker has caused quite a stir. Although I found Barry Blitt's image surprising at first, it's pretty clearly meant to be satirical. It's The New Yorker, after all, which is not exactly the National Review. Unfortunately, with virtual no change, the image could very well grace the cover of that conservative stalwart (and if you don't believe me, just ask Jonah Goldberg. Much of the blogosphere--and ultimately the Obama campaign itself--was up in arms, and New Yorker editor David Remnick was coming out to defend his publication. This is the context in which I noticed that if you click on the cover at the issue's Table of Contents you'll be taken to a slide show of other Blitt covers. See, he's got progressive values--he's not attacking Obama.

And that's the problem with the cover. Blitt isn't intending to attack Obama, but without building their own contexts of the magazine and the artist, it's impossible to know. Britt told The Huffington Post:

I think the idea that the Obamas are branded as unpatriotic [let alone as terrorists] in certain sectors is preposterous. It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is.

Yes, those ideas are ridiculous, but that's what's so frustrating about them: The fact that they're ridiculous has done very little to slow their viral distribution. In Remnick's interview with Huffington Post, he explains:

What I think [the image] does is hold up a mirror to the prejudice and dark imaginings about Barack Obama's — both Obamas' — past, and their politics.

Unfortunately, "holding up a mirror" doesn't help us recognize anything that we didn't already know was there. The image does nothing to illuminate or offer insight into the situation.

I hate to fall back on the old cliche of the media being out of touch, but I think that's what happened here. Remnick and Britt don't realize how full of vitality these potentially toxic ideas are outside of Manhattan. In defending the image, Tom Tomorrow passed along what he would've expected from such an image:

Personally I'm not sure why the conversation about this goes any further than, "Oh yes, that was a mildly amusing reference to those crazy right wing emails everyone has heard about," before moving on to other topics.

The difference between Tomorrow's experience and ours here at Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Central is that we haven't just heard about "those crazy right wing emails," we've received them from (who we'd previously assumed to be) moderate friends. When we've called them on it, the senders have defended their actions and argued the truth of the content they passed along. These are lies that have resonance, and passing them along seemingly uncritically serves no one's interests except those who oppose Obama. Of course, it's not the responsibility of The New Yorker to support one candidate over another or try to help anyone get elected, but they're not providing good satire, either. For satire to be effective, it should be extreme to some degree, but this is almost a literal depiction of the smears going around against the Obamas. As I wrote before, readers have to understand the context of The New Yorker as a somewhat liberal entity, and those who see the cover without being able to supply that context will have no reason to do anything but take it at face value.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Musings on Taste and Art (Which Probably Lead Nowhere)

I've been thinking the last few days about whether various artistic tastes are based on anything. We've been reruns of what seems to me a fairly indifferent TV show that's been widely praised, and there were also what seemed to me some fairly questionable awards at the 48-hour film presentation we attended last night. I'm not really interested in talking about the details of any of that, because that gets too close to an "I'm right and they're wrong" point of view that ultimately doesn't end up in anything much more than an "Am too--are not!" type of argument. What I'm more curious about instead is how do we build our individual artistic tastes. You can learn about an artform, which can give you a recognition and appreciation of various aspects of it, but I believe that influences taste only a bit. Generally, as you mature, your tastes become somewhat refined, but can you have any success in attempting to refine them in a certain direction? There are certain qualities that you can look for in art, but while recognition of them may help in appreciation, it doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be moved more or less by them. Or does it?

To pick an older example completely at random (basically because it just popped into my head), I never really enjoyed Miami Vice as a TV show. Many of the people I knew swore by it, but it just didn't do anything for me. I can't completely remember, but I suspect I saw an episode when it started but wasn't overly impressed, so I didn't make an effort to see it again. I didn't, that it, until friends and critics started talking it up. On at least two occasions, I consciously decided to watch it to see if I could tell what people saw in it. Both times, without even realizing it at first, my attention lapsed and I picked up a newspaper or magazine or something. About ten minutes later, after I'd missed some important plot developments and no longer knew what was going on, I'd realized that I'd stopped watching. I never made a decision to stop, it just sort of happened. For reasons that are not at all clear, that show--which was considered compelling viewing by many people (some of whom I even respected)--couldn't hold my attention, even if I was intentionally trying to watch it.

Another example for me is REM. I got the first album when it was new, and it just didn't resonate with me as it seemed to among my friends and the critics. They put out more and more music, but it just did nothing for me. But then they put out Out of Time, and all of a sudden, I was a fan. A while after that, I saw one of their earlier albums in a used CD bin and picked it up--I was a fan now, after all. I took it home and played it, and nothing. I still didn't like the earlier stuff. I knew people with whose tastes I normally agreed with who considered the '80s REM albums among their favorites, and I've got no reason to argue that they're simply not that good, it's just that they don't move me.

There are a number of other examples I could give, and no doubt you could, too. What do other people see that I don't? And conversely, there are other instances in which I see something that others don't. I can't help but wonder if I had more training in psychology or something if such disparities could be explained. Anybody who has an explanation is welcome to offer it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

New Venues

A few weeks ago, Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk was involved in making a 48-hour film. Earlier this evening, awards for the Chicago-based films were given out. I'm not particularly interested in getting into the details of all that (although for those following at home, Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk's film won for Best Director), but I was very enamored of the location where the films nominated for awards were shown: The Portage Theater.

What a fabulous place! It's an old-time movie palace, celebrating the theater's 82nd year in business. According to the theater's Web site, it seats almost 2,000 people. But then the questions start--how can it possibly be close to breaking even? Tonight's event had 300, maybe 400 people, and we barely put a dent into the seating. A space of that size must be hugely expensive to light and cool (or heat, depending on what time of year you're there). My suggestion is that perhaps there's city money coming in to allow the use of the theater for community events. The Web site says that the Portage is the new home of the Silent Film Society of Chicago, but they can't provide enough funding for the whole place.

Regardless of how the theater pays for itself, it's great to be aware of a new one, particularly one that plays so many older movies. We'll definitely be going back to visit the Portage again.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

McCain's Birth Control Problem

Although the initial response I saw about the McCain/Fiorina flap focused on the idea that McCain was embarrassed to discuss Viagra, it started to make sense fairly quickly that he was trying to avoid discussing birth control. Although I know there are pockets of resistance, and abortion remains a contentious topic, I'd pretty much assumed that the availability and acceptability of birth control was essentially settled. Unfortunately, most of those pockets of resistance are the very voters McCain is trying to woo, so it should only be expected that he's got no good response to Carly Fiorina's assertion that medical coverage should include birth control. We can't know what McCain's personal attitudes toward birth control are, but, any "maverick" tendencies to the side, it's not at all a surprise that he's voted against it on the Senate floor. But even reading all about this left me completely unprepared to see the actual video of the exchange. It went viral fairly quickly, so you may have seen it already, but if you haven't, I'll link to Don's embed of it. It truly was astonishing to me to see how completely lost, how nonplussed he is in his reaction. He even admits at one point that he's "ducking" the question. Not only is it a fascinating political and sociological artifact, the video is endlessly entertaining, as well.

When it comes down to it, McCain is actually walking a number of tightropes--some of them perpendicular to each other--in his candidacy. He has a lot of people with sometimes conflicting opinions that he has to keep happy. He can't offend the religious right, but avoiding a discussion of birth control is not likely to endear him to many independent (or Republican, for that matter) women. I think we're going to see many more situations like this as the campaign progresses. It'll be fun.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Who Speaks for McCain?

Not his spokespeople, apparently. Phil Gramm, of course, made his statement about "mental recession" and "a nation of whiners" (although he was presaged on that count by about thirty years by Elvis Costello: "When your money's in the minus / And you suffer from your shyness / You can listen to us whiners"). The jokes not only write themselves, but you've probably been reading them all day. McCain ultimately stepped away from the remarks in an almost Popeye-like statement: "Phil Gramm does not speak for me. I speak for me." I guess that defeats the purpose of sending Gramm out to speak for him, then. Not addressed, however, is whether or not Gramm actually thinks for McCain, as well. If not, then the Republican candidate may be in need of a new brain, as well. Fortunately, however, also according to Gramm, at least the Iraq War won't be a problem--Gramm also said that when McCain pushed the Bushies into supporting the surge, Iraq became McCain's war, and oh, by the way, he won it.

But Gramm isn't the only spokesperson causing problems. Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, has also been hitting the hustings and apparently making it up as she's gone along. On Monday, she decided that McCain should support covering birth control in medical insurance plans. Unfortunately, he's already voted against exactly that. As if that's not enough, she's also portrayed him as outside the battle to overturn Roe v. Wade. Once again, that doesn't quite jibe with McCain's position to, y'know, overturning Roe v Wade. Perhaps she doesn't speak for him, either.

Making it all even more complicated, Mother Jones caught an instance in which Fiorina seems to be tarring Gramm (although not by name and somewhat elliptically) with at least partial responsibility for our current economic mess. If, as has been suggested, McCain picks Fiorina as a running mate, pulls the election off, and installs Gramm as treasury secretary, he'll have set up some of the administration turf wars necessary to truly become a third Bush term.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

That's Okay, We Weren't Using That Fourth Amendment, Anyway

Wait a minute, maybe we were.

Despite the fact that there were no real surprises today--the various amendments failed and the FISA rewrite passed by a more than 2-1 margin--it's still disappointing and depressing to watch it happen. You may have already seen Professor Jonathan Turley on Tuesday night's Countdown with guest host Rachel Maddow--the clip's been all over the Net today. If you haven't, it's definitely worth a look. He spells out what was going on here in clearer language than I've seen elsewhere. Essentially, it all comes down to this administration committing felonies by monitoring American communications without a warrant. The Senate today (and the House before it) not only agreed to ignore that law breaking but retroactively made the actions legal, allowing Bush, the next president, and whoever is elected president after that to eavesdrop on anyone they want without a warrant to their hearts' content.

This undoes part of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and clearly Congress and the President don't have the power to just blot out any part of that document. This is unconstitutional on its face. Unfortunately, we currently have a Supreme Court that may ignore that inconvenient truth. Perhaps that's Barack Obama's true secret plan, to fill the court with justices who will find this legislation unconstitutional (because his other potential secret plan--to pursue criminal charges against the telecoms and those responsible in the administration will likely be thwarted by a bevy of pardons offered by Bush on his way out the back door). The ACLU has already announced that it will challenge the law, but that could potentially take years to wend its way through the court system.

Regardless of that, the Democratic Congress lived up to its 9 percent approval rating (what do you want to bet that that 9 percent is made up of a preponderance of Republicans). The Republicans were only too happy to go along, but the responsibility for this acceptance of presidential lawlessness should be laid entirely at the feet of the Democratic leadership (which now also includes Barack Obama). It's not exactly the kind of action that makes me look forward to the next Congress, in which Democrats will likely gain seats in both houses and, if Obama is elected, be serving with a Democratic president. They may be assuming that there's nowhere else for many of us to go--who else should we support if not the Democrats?--but it sure does drain the enthusiasm right out of me. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

FISA, Finally

So it's come to this. Voting was put off on Tuesday, apparently so senators could pay their respects to a bigot who deserved no respect. Wednesday is expected to bring the actual vote on the FISA overhaul, and there's not a lot of expectation that it won't pass overwhelmingly (because who doesn't like a good warrentless wiretap, when it comes down to it?).

There's still some fight left, though. Blue America and sponsored a full page ad (PDF) in the Washington Post today that spells out some of the details of what this bill does and doesn't do. As she's been doing all along, Christy Hardin Smith was organizing responses such as calls to senators. Glenn Greenwald also describes a few ongoing efforts to address the erosion of constitutional rights.

It's worth pointing out yet again that Barack Obama has come around to the side of warrentless wiretaps. We'll all have to decide for ourselves whether it's because he might want to take advantage of such extended powers if he gets into the White House. Regardless of his motivation, there's no reason to believe that attitudes will suddenly change when the new administration--whether Democratic or Republican--takes office in January.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Speaking of music, I was in Barnes & Noble a couple of times today, and I swear that the music they were playing, their in-store soundtrack or whatever they might call it, was somebody's iPod. I was in for a few minutes at lunch, and I wasn't paying close attention, but all of a sudden I noticed I was hearing "Crosseyed and Painless" by Talking Heads. That wasn't even a hit. That wasn't even a single. It was smack in the middle of Remain in Light's side one. I didn't have a lot of time at lunch, so I don't know what else might've been on the playlist, but even as musak gets more intriguing and diverse, that's one one of the most unexpected songs I've ever heard in that context. The only time that was close was a few years ago when I was in a Cub Foods and heard a variety of '80s alternative songs, including The Smiths' "Panic" (I was certain that I'd blogged about trying to get my fellow shoppers to join in a rousing chorus of "Hang the DJ," but it must've been a pre-blog e-mail). Anyway, what made me think Barnes & Noble was actually piping somebody's iPod over the intercom was that I went back this evening to pick up a couple of things I didn't have time to wait in line for this afternoon, I heard some more unexpected music--not quite as obscure as "Crosseyed and Painless," but nothing I'd heard in a store before. First, there was "Once in a Lifetime," the single from Remain in Light, but it was joined by the Beat's "Save It for Later" and the Jam's "Going Underground." Oh, sure, there were some clinkers, too, like "Private Eyes" by Hall and Oates, but I was glad for the '80s playlist while I bought my copy of Mojo's New Wave special (which I'd intended to buy before I walked into the store, so I was not influenced by the music, although the sales clerk ringing up my order was smiling like she assumed I was).

Monday, July 07, 2008


Remember about thirty years ago when Some Girls came out and we all called the Rolling Stones dinosaurs? Disco was big (and getting bigger), and punk hadn't been filtering into the hinterland for very long (I was still living in Nashville at the time). In terms of punk and new wave, by that point I only had the Stranglers, Elvis Costello, and Talking Heads, I think.

Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk and I were discussing the other night what had preceded all that stuff and whether or not there was anything worth listening to. I have to admit that I didn't remember a whole lot. I recall some of the stuff I didn't especially like--Saturday Night Fever was huge, but I could never get excited about that (in fact, I was so unenthused that I never even saw the movie until after I was married). After "Piano Man," Billy Joel didn't really break nationally until "The Stranger," but he regularly came through Nashville and had a fairly large following, but I never cared for him, either. Fleetwood Mac was fine, but I could never get very excited about them. Eric Clapton had come out with Slowhand, and all I could wonder was where were those fabulous guitar solos we'd seen (and heard) with Cream and Derek and the Dominoes? Slowhanded out of existence, as far as I could tell.

So who did I like? Well, David Bowie was quite busy at the time (although later details about his biography suggest that he may not have exactly been aware of that). Station to Station was out in '76, and then he bookended '77 with Low and "Heroes," which was very powerful stuff. I was liking Queen at the time, although News of the World seemed a bit of a come down from A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. I think I was into 10cc just about then, too, although for some reason I came to appreciate 1976's How Dare You much more in college (which started for me in '78). Steely Dan was pretty good, with Aja being their most recent at that point. I'd been a long-time fan of Jethro Tull, but I was somewhat disappointed with their folkier, English countryside direction (and, truth to tell, they never recovered from it). Even though I was only a Genesis fan in theory (I liked them well enough, but I didn't actually have any of their albums), I'd been enjoying Peter Gabriel's first solo record. And I'd recently started following Supertramp. (I was often accused of going against trends and disliking something merely because it was popular--one girlfriend even claimed that if I'd been older when the Beatles were together I wouldn't have liked them because everybody else did--but I'll proudly state that I was disappointed by Supertramp's 1979 Breakfast in America before "The Logical Song" became a hit.) So that was a handful of stuff, but what else was there? What am I forgetting? (And what am I not forgetting but just not bothering to mention it because I didn't like it much--Jackson Browne, I'm looking at you.)

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Don't Go There, Barack!

Barack Obama isn't handling his latest press flap as smoothly as he might. Before the holiday weekend, we talked about how Obama's statement on withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq had been skewed by a press corps more interested in scoring points with McCain than in reporting the news. Now, Obama's admitting that he's "puzzled" about how his words were so misinterpreted. There's nothing puzzling at all. It's because journalists are looking to cook up controversy and make their stories more exciting. Obama said he was willing to "refine" his withdrawal policy. Refine means change, and change means flip-flop. It's no more confusing than that. The press would also much rather cover a horse race than a landslide, so it's worth their while to shake things up a little bit. As I wrote on Thursday, Obama should have no expectation of receiving objective coverage of his campaign. If he thinks that the press doesn't take sides, he should take a closer look at the 2000 and 2004 elections.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Torture or Grandstanding?

It seems that Christopher Hitchins wasn't close enough to the war on terror and needed a little bit of extra insight. So he did what we've all thought about doing at one time or another, I'm sure, and had himself waterboarded. I have to say, I'm not entirely sure just what he was trying to accomplish. On a small level, he was apparently not sure whether waterboarding would qualify as torture. Although one might think that that's ground that's been covered quite thoroughly (I had a round up of a small amount of it a couple of years back), but there are still a number of people (including the attorney general) who refuse to acknowledge that fact. I suspect that they're aware of the truth but pretend they're not for ideological reasons. And Hitchens was a member of their company. After experiencing it for himself (twice, just to see if he could handle it better the second time), he's changed his tune--yep, it's torture. But who does he think he's going to convince? I've been convinced for some time, as I suspect most people have. I didn't need one more person undergoing to procedure to tell me what it's like. And those people who deny that it's torture for ideological reasons haven't changed their ideology. Is Rush going to say that he'd believed none of this was any worse than fraternity hazing, but not that Hitchins has spoken, he sees the whole thing differently? I'm certainly not going to hold my breath waiting. Still, at least Hitchins now has a story he can tell the grandkids.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Have a Happy Fourth of July!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Obama's Adventures in Journalism

The holiday weekend is almost upon us, which is fortunate, because not too many people are paying attention to the news. If they were, they might have the mistaken impression that Barack Obama is flip-flopping on Iraq. He had a press conference this morning and said that he'd pay attention to advice from the military about the best way to pull out of the occupation, which caused the press to come down with the vapors and hallucinate that Obama had said that perhaps he wouldn't really pull out after all. I'm not certain, but I have a feeling that McCain was holding back the invites for his Fourth of July BBQ spectacular until he saw who went above and beyond in reporting this story--if you don't believe me, check out the McCain campaign's helpful statement that Obama had come around to his way of thinking, as if the Democrat had just said that the U.S. should maintain a 100-year (or more) military presence in Iraq, after all. Greg Sargent takes a look at some of the skewed coverage, which we should start getting used to. Not that it's a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention, but Obama has no business expecting fair, even-handed coverage of his campaign. The liberal media is far more in the pocket of John McCain than it is willing to give Obama a fair shake. Obama doesn't seem the type to court the press, palling around with them, feeding them steaks and donuts. It's too bad that this is exactly what a 21st-century press corps pays attention to instead of dull, boring news or current events.

This and That

A few links to get us set for the big patriotic holiday weekend. Christy at firedoglake has a video of Russ Feingold quickly summarizing the FISA situation from his back yard back in Wisconsin. He makes a suggestion that sounds vaguely familiar:

I tease some of my colleagues, I say, "we can celebrate the Constitution on July 4th, and maybe when you come back you'll decide not to tear it up."

Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald responds to the Obama campaign's obfuscations about how thoroughly the candidate has changed his opinion on the FISA bill, going back to some actual statements Obama made against Bush's attempts to expand presidential surveillance during the primaries. Of course, there's always the argument that he's only doing what he has to, moving to the middle to win those fickle independents. Ian Welch, also at firedoglake, takes a look at why that trick never works, taking special note of Democratic presidential candidates who started out respected and ended up punchlines (you know you can think of a handful of examples yourself). This is a strategy McCain and the Republicans will definitely employ before we're all done, particularly now that he's installed a Rove disciple to oversee the details of his campaign. The reorganization must've been a bloody one if McCain had to be out of the country when it went down.

On the up side, it seems like the Wes Clark flap has blown over. He didn't come out of it unscathed, but he survived to fight another day. What happened to him is only a small example of what the Republicans no doubt have in store for Obama and his allies.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Bush Legacy

A couple of newspaper pieces over the last couple of days seems to be suggesting that we just might be focusing on the wrong things this election cycle. Writing in the Boston Globe on Tuesday, Andrew J. Bacevich argues that the Bush administration has changed the basic understanding we have of the United States. For voters concerned about backing off from that, between the candidates there's really only one answer:

The challenge facing Obama is clear: he must go beyond merely pointing out the folly of the Iraq war; he must demonstrate that Iraq represents the truest manifestation of an approach to national security that is fundamentally flawed, thereby helping Americans discern the correct lessons of that misbegotten conflict.

By showing that Bush has put the country on a path pointing to permanent war, ever increasing debt and dependency, and further abuses of executive authority, Obama can transform the election into a referendum on the current administration's entire national security legacy. By articulating a set of principles that will safeguard the country's vital interests, both today and in the long run, at a price we can afford while preserving rather than distorting the Constitution, Obama can persuade Americans to repudiate the Bush legacy and to choose another course.

This is a stiff test, not the work of a speech or two, but of an entire campaign. Whether or not Obama passes the test will determine his fitness for the presidency.

Sure, it's an easy generalization to make, but if that's the case, why isn't everybody talking about these issues? Why is our dialogue instead dominated by such questions as how far to expand the president's surveillance powers? I don't think Bacevich's truths are quite so self-evident as we might like to believe. As if on cue, the New York Times published a story on interrogation techniques from Gitmo:

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of "coercive management techniques" for possible use on prisoners, including "sleep deprivation," "prolonged constraint," and "exposure."

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.

. . .

The only change made in the chart presented at Guantánamo was to drop its original title: "Communist Coercive Methods for Eliciting Individual Compliance."

Although the story suggests that the trainers making this presentation may not have known the origin of the chart, somebody in a position of power knew this, and they signed off on it. (And somewhere, Angela Lansbury is smiling.) This is the legacy the Bush administration is leaving behind it, and it will have had eight years to work itself into the power structure. Such poison won't dissipate by itself; it has to be flushed out.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Happy Canada Day!