Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: October 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

BBC Radio Rocked

I'd heard that BBC Radio was under some amount of fire for a racy stunt from Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, but until I read this post by Kevin Drum, I hadn't realized that the crisis had largely been drummed up by the Daily Mail.

Half a million people were listening to this. The reaction was....nothing. Literally. Apparently there were a grand total of two complaints after the show aired.

In other words, the public had spoken, and they couldn't have cared less. So what happened next? Answer: a Mail on Sunday reporter alerted Sachs' agent, who asked for an apology from Brand and got it a week after the initial broadcast. Still, no one cared. The next day, though, the Mail splashed Brand all over its front page and has been giving him front page treatment ever since. It's sort of like the Fox News 24/7 loop whenever they get their hands on something useful to rile up the rubes.

The Daily Mail seems to have gotten what it wanted. Brand has resigned from his BBC show, and a major BBC executive is out, as well. Jonathan Ross, a major media star in Britain--would it be misleading to compare his popularity to a sort of mashup of David Letterman and pre-Sirius Howard Stern?--has been suspended without pay, a move that will cost him an estimated $2 million.

And people say the printed press is dying.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Inequality--It's the American Way

Wow. It's pretty amazing what's coming out of the conservative movement these days. In the company of a number of middle-profile conservatives (Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved,etc.) at a rally in Minnesota, radio talker Dennis Prager announced that equality is not an American value. We appreciate the clarification.

I first became aware of Prager when we lived in LA and he was a local radio host. Although he was clearly on the right, he insisted on calling himself a "passionate centrist." It didn't take too long to figure out that he was able to pull off what might seem like a challenging task by simply defining the center as wherever he happened to be. He apparently never had to worry about tracking the changing political moods of the American people to know whether he needed to track left or right to remain in the middle. He also never really had to face up to the intellectual bankruptcy of passionately believing in a constantly shifting position. It was intriguing, though, to see how Prager's "center" always seemed designed to piss off the left and reassure the right.

Even knowing what I did about Prager, when I first saw this statement come up on some blogs, I wondered if he was somehow taken out of context. It appears not. He said the same thing in a column two weeks ago:

The left subscribes to the French Revolution, whose guiding principles were "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity." The right subscribes to the American formula, "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Boy, that's some selective reading of the Declaration of Independence. Because some, like Prager, need to be reminded of the text of that august document, here's an excerpt:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Hey, look at that! There's the word equal in the very same sentence as Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. And equal even comes first! Whoever would've thought that the Declaration Independence would be caught pushing un-American values? Does that mean that this founding document of the American nation is actually over to the left of the passionate American political center? Imagine that.

Because this is the Internet and because we can, go to this page, where you can gawk at a JPEG of the most frequently reproduced version of the Declaration or the original (but sadly fading) document.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Slip of the Tongue?

Given the way that John McCain has run his campaign, the last thing we ought to expect at this point is straight talk. But would you believe it? That's exactly what we got from Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economic advisor for the candidate, in a piece from CNNMoney. You're forgiven if you believe it must be a mistake of some kind. Talking about McCain's plan for health tax credits, Holtz-Eakin answers criticisms that younger people will abandon employer health insurance systems:

"Why would they leave?" said Holtz-Eakin. "What they are getting from their employer is way better than what they could get with the credit."

Well, yes, precisely. A different criticism of the plan is that McCain will start taxing employer-funded insurance and counter-balance that with a $5,000 tax credit. The problem with that is the fact that a family's health insurance usually costs over $12,000. If you lose the employer insurance, the $5,000 isn't going to get you very far. Holtz-Eakin claims that people won't want to leave the current system (and he's right--why would they?) but he ignores the fact that, without tax incentives, many employers are likely to stop providing the coverage they now offer as a benefit. Like it or not, many people (the common estimate is 20 million) will find themselves without coverage whether they like it or not. Let's see how far they get with a $5,000 tax credit. As Holtz-Eakin insists, they'll find that what they used to have was "way better than what they could get with the credit."

On a side note, it's annoyed me for awhile when McCain keeps insisting that he isn't going to raise anybody's taxes. Yes he is--he's going to tax us on income that isn't currently taxed, so even if our rates don't go up, our tax bills will. But I guess admitting that would require some sort of straight talk that doesn't slip out by mistake."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hot Senate Action

Alaska's Senator Ted Stevens was found guilty on all seven counts of his indictment. Although the trial revolved around gifts and services he received from various sources, the actual lawbreaking was his lying about them on his Senate financial disclosure forms. Which is a lesson to us all not to misrepresent ourselves on official forms. Stevens, of course, is up for reelection for his eighth Senate term, but that may have become a bit more difficult as a result of today's development. Of course, it's also possible that it may not. Although she claims the reputation of going after Alaska's old boy's club, Sarah Palin has worked closely with Stevens and called today "a sad day for Alaska and for Senator Stevens and his family." If Stevens is reelected, he probably won't be forced to give up his Senate seat before all of his various appeals are exhausted. Now that he's been found guilty, will he be forced to switch out his lucky Hulk tie for lovely Abomination neckware?

Is Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell really having to fight to keep his Kentucky Senate seat? That's what some are saying. Bruce Lundsford is apparently giving him a run for his money, and that's certainly welcome to see. Any insight from readers who happen to be on the ground in Kentucky is certainly more than welcome.

This isn't exactly under the subject of hot senate action, but North Carolina readers should watch their step if they want to vote a straight ticket. The New York Times tells us that North Carolina ballots require a specific vote for a presidential candidate even if the voter wants to vote just Democratic or Republican. Anything that makes voting more difficult undermines the system. But who would ever want to do that?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Free Tacos!

Once again, Taco Bell had their World Series offer, Steal a Base, Steal a Taco, offering customers a free taco for the first stolen base in the series. Well, bases have been stolen, so now they're paying off. On Tuesday afternoon from 2:00 to 6:00, they're giving out free taco. Don't miss yours!

Quick Hits

Barack Obama returned to Denver over the weekend, where he was greeted by a crowd of more than 100,000 people. According to Fox News (which was the only place I could find a photo quickly), even Obama was surprised by the reception. Unlike the McCain campaign, which has been caught inflating the numbers at its rallies, the Obama campaign initially estimated the crowd at 75,000, but they had to push their numbers upward. Estimates by local police confirmed that attendance. As far as can be determined from reports, the Decemberists didn't make an appearance here, either.

I asked this question to a group that often e-mails about politics, but I didn't get an answer, so I'll try it here to see what happens. It's been noted that Sarah Palin has turned out to be a drag on the McCain ticket. At the time that she was named his running mate, there were also stories that McCain would've preferred Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge but that they were effectively vetoed by the Christian right. Mitt Romney had his detractors, too. So was there anybody McCain could've chosen for his running mate who wouldn't have hurt him?

Changing the subject a bit, when I was over at Kevin Drum's blog at Mother Jones, I noticed a link to an interview from April with Dave Wakeling of the Beat. During the early '80s, the Beat were among the elite of the pop world. (In the U.S., they were known as the English Beat due to a trademark dispute, but I never bought into that and bought all my Beat recordings on import.) Here's what Dave had to say on the lasting appeal of ska:

It comes in a post-punk period, or a post-angst period, where people still might feel a sense of protest, but they're sick of feeling miserable about it. I suppose reggae has always been a hopeful way to protest, and just because the world's tragic doesn't mean it's not beautiful. And so it seems to follow like that. This fourth wave seems to be a little like that too. Like, we're still mad, but we want to party, and we want to be upbeat.

The whole interview is a fun read if you were ever a Beat aficionado--and if you weren't, now's a good time to become a convert.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More of the Same

Is it me, or do things just seem a bit slow at the moment? Obama is far enough ahead that he doesn't really want to make any news, so he's out campaigning, but I didn't really see anything that he's doing to make waves. The McCain campaign, on the other hand, is getting more and more desperate. I've got nothing to add, but take a look at what the McCain campaign--or its associates, at least--have been up to in Pennsylvania. David Kurtz and Josh Marshall talk about the false mugging of Ashley Todd and the complicity (and denials) of McCain's Pennsylvania campaign here and here. If that's not enough, Kurtz discusses a mailer targeting Pennsylvania Jews that warns of how an Obama victory could be a harbinger of another Holocaust. Unsurprisingly, reports of whether the mailer had the authorization of the state campaign differ.

Even with the McCain hijinks, the campaign seems to me to be taking on a sameness. Maybe tomorrow will bring something different.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Day of Reckoning

Not that he's looking for any sympathy from me, but I can't help but feel somewhat sorry for Alan Greenspan. He's certainly responsible for the poor decisions he's made over the years and the blind trust he seemed to put into the markets, but he's seeing the basic tenets of his beliefs being proven wrong right before his eyes. Here's how he explained it before Congress on Wednesday:

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: The question I have for you is, you had an ideology, you had a belief that free, competitive -- and this is your statement -- "I do have an ideology. My judgment is that free, competitive markets are by far the unrivaled way to organize economies. We've tried regulation. None meaningfully worked." That was your quote.

You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. And now our whole economy is paying its price.

Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?

. . .

ALAN GREENSPAN: You have to -- to exist, you need an ideology. The question is whether it is accurate or not.

And what I'm saying to you is, yes, I found a flaw. I don't know how significant or permanent it is, but I've been very distressed by that fact.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: You found a flaw in the reality...

ALAN GREENSPAN: Flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working?

ALAN GREENSPAN: That is -- precisely. No, that's precisely the reason I was shocked, because I had been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.

Greenspan was an acolyte of Ayn Rand, part of her personal circle. I don't know precisely how close his current ideology hews to Rand's objectivism, but most people presume that he hasn't strayed very far. And now Greenspan is shocked (and, I don't believe, in a Claude Raines/Louis Renault kind of way) that the world doesn't work the way he thought it did, the way he believed he'd always observed it to work. Nothing is as it seems. Instead of solving the economic problems we're facing, the free market is exacerbating them.

Even though I know that it's healthy to come to grips with reality and that people like Greenspan are responsible for their own disappointments, there's part of me that recognizes how devastating it can be to see one's system of belief fall apart in front of you. And that makes me sad for Alan Greenspan.

Friday, October 24, 2008

This Bowls Me Over

I don't suspect I'll be making a habit of this, but here's something I came across this evening, and I just had to share. Thrill to David Bowie guesting on Cher's variety show. We lived in a very different world thirty-three years ago.


With each passing day, it seems that John McCain's effort to become president of the United States is becoming more and more inept. There's no consistent message, there's no clear strategy, and it seeming more and more that there's no real desire to win. Via Kos, here's McCain's latest instance of shooting himself in the foot:

John McCain's election night watch party might be missing John McCain. Instead of appearing before a throng of supporters at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix on the evening of Nov. 4, the Republican presidential nominee plans to deliver postelection remarks to a small group of reporters and guests on the hotel's lawn.

Aides said Thursday that the arrangement was due to space limitations and that McCain might drop by the election watch party at some other point.

What? There's not room for McCain at his own party? My understanding of such things is that if there's room far anybody, there's room for McCain. I was never one to have a terribly high opinion of John McCain, but I did think better of him than that he'd just give up without even owning up to the fact. Kos argues that McCain owes it to the supporters who continue to work hard for him to at least make an effort, and he's right. But what I find even more surprising is that he's not only giving up on himself, but he's giving up on every other candidate sharing the Republican ticket with him. This will cause reverse coattails that will actively shrink the vote and harm Senate, House, and local campaigns.

I haven't given that much thought to the question, but I am starting to wonder about what McCain might be planning for the future. If he doesn't make it into the White House, he'll have two more years in his Senate term. Will he serve them out, or will he follow his the precedent he seems to be making here and bail? Will he disappear from public life? From the way things seem to be going, will he have a choice?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

On Obama's Return Home

The occasion of Barack Obama traveling to Hawaii to spend some time with his grandmother has given rise to an interesting meme across Greater Blogistan. Andrew Sullivan posted this picture:

It's Obama's grandparents, and it's actually been cut to fit the blog format (although it's still too big for this blog on at least some browsers--sorry). As you can see here, the original also included Obama's mother as a girl. It's striking, if you weren't already aware of it, how much Barack Obama looks like his grandfather, Stanley Dunham. I'd seen a picture of Dunham as a young man in his army uniform on TV at some point, and his smile was the same we've come to know from Obama (unfortunately, I poked around and couldn't come up with that picture online). That family resemblance inspired a handful of other posts from Sullivan and a variety of other bloggers reflecting on the Dunhams' decision to embrace their daughter and her biracial child in the early 1960s. I don't know everything that went into that decision (although we do know that the Dunhams weren't initially happy with their daughter's decision to marry an African man), but we should remember that this wasn't necessarily an obvious resolution for the time. It wasn't unheard of for sons or daughters to be disowned and shunned in such circumstances.

The most affecting post on these ideas I came upon was this one by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The final paragraph is certainly worth quoting:

We often give a pass to racists by noting that they were "of their times." Fair enough, and I know Hawaii was a different beast, but still, today, let us speak of people who were ahead of their times, who were outside of their times. Let us remember that Barack Obama learned the great lessons of life from courageous white people. Let us speak of those who do what normal, right people should always do when faced with a child--commit an act love. Here's to doing the right thing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Batter Up!

There are no Red Sox in this year's World Series, so my interest level is below where it would've been, but a World Series is a World Series.

This cover would've been more appropriate if Tampa Bay hadn't cut its satanic ties this year. Actually, all we know is that they apparently cut them, since they're no longer the Devil Rays, but wouldn't it be just like Ol' Scratch to trick us into thinking one thing when the truth is another?

Blago Better Watch His Back

Now that was interesting. I just saw this attack ad against Marty Ozinga, a Republican running for Congress against Democrat Debbie Halvorson (for the seat currently held by Republican Jerry Weller). It was paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rather than the Halvorson campaign, but the attack tied Ozinga to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who's already been tainted with corruption (and may ultimately be pulled down by it) and is none too popular with the people at home. What makes this blogworthy, however, is the fact the Blagojevich is a Democrat. I'm not sure exactly how the DCCC is set up, but I can almost guarantee that no one would do such a thing without checking first with Rahm Emanuel, the head of the Democratic caucus and (coincidentally?) Blago's successor as representative from Illinois's Fifth District. If the governor's situation--not to mention clout--has deteriorated to this point, he's in much bigger trouble than I realized. But guys, let's not get him mad too quickly, though. If Obama comes out of this thing as the winner, we'll need Bloga to appoint Obama's replacement in the Senate.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two More Weeks

For as weird as this election has been, I'm starting to find it mighty tedious. I'm tired of John McCain's desperation (which I'm afraid is going to do nothing but get worse), and I'm tired of Sarah Palin's obliviousness (although I did find it funny when she wouldn't even take questions from the fake reporters during her lame appearance on SNL). Over the weekend, I talked to a friend who had voted earlier and is consciously ignoring the rest of the campaign, and he might just have the right idea.

The whole campaign seems to be getting lopsided, and I find it hard to take the Republicans seriously, but I'm also not overly confident that the Democrats will quite pull it off (because I've seen them not quite pull it off in the past). Still, it's hard to argue against some of the crowds Obama was getting over the weekend. He talked to 100,000 people in St. Louis, and the Decemberists were nowhere in sight. Of course, according to Sarah Palin, the crowd was probably not pro-American. Further making that same point is the fact that, according to the Columbia Missourian, only fifteen people came out to see McCain's plane land. Perhaps I'm not the only one finding all this tedious.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Goodbye, 2008 Boston Red Sox

Tonight it was do or die, and the Boston Red Sox died rather than did. When you set yourself up to play with no margin of error, you have to be at the top of your game. The Red Sox allowed the Rays to romp all over them in Games 3 and 4, so they had to take Games 5, 6, and 7 to advance. Games 5 and 6 fell into place, but they finally came up short in Game 7.

I didn't get a chance to see the entire game. I was helping at the box office for the Women's Performance Art Festival, and I had to wait until the show was far enough under way to leave my post. I was following the game on my Blackberry, but I didn't actually go across the street from the Prop Thtr to watch the game until the sixth inning, when the score was still 2-1. Unfortunately, not even the army of Irish fiddles we walked into at Chief O'Neill's Pub could help fend off the Rays after the Red Sox had let the situation get too far out of control.

Congratulations to the Tampa Bay Rays, who exorcised their satanic influences and went all the way to the top of the American League. They'll face the Phillies starting on Wednesday. For all your victory cigar needs, check out Tampa's finest smoke emporium, El Sol Cigars in Ybor City. Be sure to tell the proprietor that Doug sent you.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Art of the Comeback

The postseason Red Sox do seem to need to get their backs against the wall before they start concentrating. They parked against the wall on Thursday, and they remained that way tonight. So instead of the 3-1 deficit they were looking at on Thursday morning, the series is now tied 3-all. There's one more game on Sunday night at Tropicana Field, and the winner will advance to face the Phillies in the World Series. Finally the Red Sox bats have gotten into action in this Championship series, and the pitching has at least kept up with them--much better that Games 3 and 4 with the Rays' combined winning margin of 22-5.

Not to get ahead of ourselves or even to risk echoing John McCain that "we've got them right where we want them," as we discussed the other night, this fits completely with the Red Sox's path to victory in 2004 and 2007. What we didn't really get into (because, as I said, we don't want to get ahead of ourselves) is the fact that once the Sox got into the Series, they swept both the Cardinals and the Rockies. I don't think it's wise to expect that against the Phillies, but on the other hand, it's also wise never to ignore history.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Women's Performance Art Festival

I need to work on my time management skills. Earlier this week, I mentioned that Stockyards Theatre Project's ninth annual Women's Performance Art Festival was coming up this weekend and I'd be providing details soon. Well, not soon enough, apparently. It's Friday night, and the first night went very well. There's still time to catch one of three more shows, one on Saturday night at 7:30 and two on Sunday at 3:00 and 7:30. If I counted right, there are eighteen different acts still to appear over the three shows. The shows' segments include one-acts, dramatic and comedic scenes, dance, music, stand-up comedy, monologues, and sketch comedy, with each show featuring a different configuration. Check out the details of the line up here.

It all takes place at the Prop Thtr at 3502 N. Elston in Chicago. It's a nice place with friendly people, and we all hope to see you there. As always, in the interests of full disclosure, Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk is the managing director of Stockyards Theatre Project (that's Francesca Peppiatt, for you googlers out there), and I'm a member of the board of directors. So this is hardly a nonbiased plug for the show, but that doesn't mean it's not worth your time.

Friday, October 17, 2008

There's Still Baseball in Boston

Boy, these guys don't seem to like breathing room, do they? The Boston Red Sox in Game 5 once again faced elimination and once again came together to pull out a victory. But this is nerve-wracking.

I'll admit that earlier tonight I'd resigned myself to getting eliminated. It would've been disappointing to have been swept in Fenway, but the Sox bats were cold, and the pitchers were getting manhandled. Under such circumstances, it's not always possible to be the masters of your own fate. That's why the Sox had to turn it around tonight. And although they got a slower start at it than I'd like, they got the job done when they needed to.

According to a story at the Red Sox site, the seven runs the team was down in the bottom of the seventh was the second-largest deficit to be overcome in postseason history. The Athletics (when did they start using A's as a nickname?) came back from eight runs down against the Cubs in Game 4 of the 1918 1929 World Series. They then went on to win the whole thing in Game 5.

Do the Red Sox thrive on this kind of situation? It sure looks like it. The two World Series they've won in the last five years have been the result of situations exactly like this, 0-3 against the Yankees in 2004 and 1-3 against the Indians in 2007. There are still two more wins they need against the Rays on Saturday and Sunday to move to the next level, but the fact that they've made this their proven road to success sure goes a long way to reassure us that they're capable of doing it again.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe the Plumber

Joe the Plumber
Went to the bar.
A couple of drinks on the house
and John McCain was calling him his old friend.

So how was the debate for you? I heard it on the radio, so I missed the facial expressions that were so entertaining on the recaps. What I've been hoping for (even if I never really thought I was going to get it) in these debates is a John McCain meltdown. He seemed to show tonight that he was capable of such behavior, but, alas, we never actually saw it. What we did see, I thought, were a lot of lost opportunities for Obama to capitalize on McCain's misstatements or dropped points. For instance, on the heated subject of personal attacks, Obama mentioned Sarah Palin's statement that he "pals around with terrorists." McCain said that his campaign has repudiated every negative comment that's been made about Obama, but if he's turned his back on this one from his very own running mate, I haven't seen it. Instead of pressing the point, however, Obama simply allowed it to pass. Toward the end of the discussion on taxes, McCain said that they shouldn't raise anyone's taxes, which was the obvious cue to mention that McCain's health-care plan includes a new, never-before-attempted tax on employee benefits.

I suppose that Obama's gameplan was probably to come in and consolidate his support. He's in a good enough situation that he doesn't need to expand his appeal if he can hold what he's already got. A safe, conservative strategy in which he didn't get ruffled was likely his primary goal tonight. Mission accomplished.

McCain, on the other hand, needed to make something happen. It's possible that he didn't even have it in his own hands to change the dynamic. However good he might've been, it may not have mattered unless Obama screwed up--and, oh yeah, Obama didn't. Trying to come up with something, McCain went all in with Joe the Plumber, who apparently previously resided somewhere in left field. One mention of the man who was meant to represent middle America might've been fine, but McCain kept bringing him up so much I had to wonder if Joe was going to be replacing Bill Ayers as the centerpiece of his anti-Obama campaign. McCain really did, at one point, refer to his "old friend Joe the Plumber." But how does Joe rate as a surrogate for "regular people"? His problem with Obama's tax plan is that it will raise taxes on a business he's trying to buy worth more than $250,000. That's good for him to be in such a positive economic situation, but how much of the public can really identify with his problems? Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Joe the Plumber doesn't seem to be the Game ChangerTM McCain was looking for.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Red Sox Wax Nostalgic

Yes, I've been watching and cheering on the Red Sox in the American League playoffs, but until this evening, I didn't have a whole lot to say on the subject beyond just recapping what you can find on any sports page. The past couple of games, though, the first in Fenway against the Rays in the postseason, have seen a horrible collapse. The pitching has been horrible, and there's been no hitting whatsoever to make up for it. What we're seeing is not a team of champions. They've climbed out of worse holes than this, but it's never a good idea to make a habit out of it. The first two games were well-played, but Games 3 and 4, as I said, the first of the series they've played in Fenway have been embarrassments.

Last year, when the Red Sox won their second World Series in four years, an odd sentiment started getting some traction. These new winning Bosox somehow weren't the "real" Boston team. It was somehow more fun, this subset of fans insisted, when the team (and their followers) couldn't win for losing. The idea popped up in various places, but a good summation was found in the Boston Globe a year ago as the World Series loomed.

[S]houldn't it feel better than it does?

The first order of business is to admit it to ourselves: 2004 was more meaningful. Back then, and in the 86 years that preceded it, we knew who we were. We were hapless, though never hopeless. We were the ones that always had something to overcome - a curse, a seemingly in surmountable deficit, a little-brother syndrome.

In the end, until that fabled October, we usually lost, but that was OK. In defeat, we had identity. We got to be the luckless loser. A team, its city, and indeed, an entire national following, thrived on it.

So maybe in going back to Fenway and suffering through these dramatic losses, the Red Sox are just giving the people what they want. I hope those people are enjoying themselves.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Oh, No! Not More Quick Hits!

Yes, I'm afraid so. It's tax time (if you filed for an extension back in April), and as much as I'd like to devote more time to this blog, Uncle Sam takes precedence (actually, he demands it).

Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate. As you've probably noticed if you've read this blog for any length of time, I've often fallen back on New York Times columnist and Princeton economics professor Paul Krugman for commentary when it comes to economic policy and it's implications. I certainly respect Krugman's views and (usually) his ease in explaining sometimes complicated concepts, but I'll also own up to some amount of laziness and a lack of wider readings in economics (and you've got to admit that that grin in his eyes is disarming, to say the least). Never mind that, though, because this morning Krugman was named the 2008 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Congratulations to Dr. Krugman! I suspect that this newfound respectability will do nothing to dissuade me from continuing to quote him here.

The Dow was way up today, breaking a record with a 936-point rise, more than 10 percent and the single largest point-gain in history. It busted right through the barrier of 9,000, hitting heights we haven't seen since, oh, last Thursday. If it keeps it up, we might even see 9,500, which disappeared from view--not even a week ago.

Part of that is tied in to the now certain injection of hundreds of billions into the banking system. My breath is still bated while we wait to see how it all comes together.

Bwa ha ha ha ha. John McCain's brilliant yet inscrutable plan advances apace. In Virginia Beach today, McCain had this glass-half-full observation (warning--that link will take you to an actual John McCain campaign Web page):

Let me give you the state of the race today. We have 22 days to go. We're 6 points down. The national media has written us off. Senator Obama is measuring the drapes, and planning with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise taxes, increase spending, take away your right to vote by secret ballot in labor elections, and concede defeat in Iraq. But they forgot to let you decide. My friends, we've got them just where we want them.

Apparently falling behind in formerly red states has been the strategy all along. It's so crazy, it just might work! Or not.

I'll have more on this later, but this weekend will see Stockyards Theatre Project present its ninth annual Women's Performance Art Festival. Friday, Saturday, and two shows on Sunday will provide a wide variety of performances and art forms. This year's theme is "Buried Dreams, Hidden Treasure." There's more information here, and as I said, I'll have some more details myself tomorrow.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Quick Hits

It appears that European countries have agreed to inject cash into their banking systems, a move that most economists have been promoting lately. In the very last paragraph of the New York Times story linked above, it's reported that the Bush administration will be following suit.

This may turn the markets around, but for the first time many observers are calling for tougher times ahead even if they do. But for what it's worth, as of this writing, the Hang Seng and most Asian markets are up by a fair amount (the Hang Seng is up by more than 7.5 percent; the Nikkei is closed for a Japanese holiday, so it's still listing Friday's major drop). Europe has been open for a bit more than a hour, but most markets there are up substantially, too. I guess we'll see whether that's changed by the time you read this.

As a taxpayer, I'm a partial owner of AIG now, right? So why do they keep sending me spam?

Last night we discussed Sarah Palin and her troubled relationship with the truth. Tonight, Andrew Sullivan took up the same subject.

[S]he publicly denies reality, insists on repeating that denial and is unable to deal with real world the way psychologically healthy people do. That's why I called her lies "odd lies." They are not the lies of a devious politician. They are much more troubling than that. They reflect a psyche unable to process fact when it conflicts with a delusional self-image. She is even worse in this psychotic denialism than Bush. She is a politician who can only survive in a propaganda state.

Imagine that.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Peas in a Pod

I'm certainly not the first to notice a similarity between George Bush and Sarah Palin, but I was particularly struck by a pair of descriptions I saw today. First, we had a baffling statement about Bush on Saturday morning in the New York Times:

[A]s he spends his last months in office trying to avert a global economic collapse, Mr. Bush has been telling people privately that it's a good thing he's in charge.

"He said that if it was going to happen at all, he was glad it was happening under his presidency, because he had a good group of people in D.C. working for him," Dru Van Steenberg, one of several small-business owners who met with Mr. Bush in San Antonio earlier this week. The president expressed the same sentiment, others said, during a similar private session in Chantilly, Va., the next day.

"He said that whoever was going to take over in January was going to have a huge crisis on their hands the day they come into office," Ms. Van Steenberg added. "He thought by this happening now, that perhaps everyone could see signs of improvement before the next president comes into office."

A bit later in the day, that description of Bush to the rescue came back to me when I heard about Sarah Palin commenting on the Troopergate report from Alaska that was issued late Friday. That report said that, although she didn't break the law as governor in firing her state police commissioner, she did abuse her power and act unethically in pursuing her vendetta against her former brother-in-law. When she was asked today if she had abused her power, she replied:

If you read the report, you'll see that there's nothing unlawful or unethical about replacing a cabinet member. You've got to read the report, sir.

She's falling back on the report that accuses her of abuse of power to clear her name of abuse of power! Like the current president, she seems to erect her own reality and then live quite contentedly in it. We need to make sure that the next administration doesn't blow off the reality-based community in favor of its own way of doing things. Because reality sure isn't going to blow the nation off.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Down Doobie Doo Down Down

Wow. The week's finally over. In terms of the Dow, it may not mean anything more than we now have two days (or is that three--the market isn't open on Columbus Day, is it?) in which the market isn't going to go down any further. But for the past several days, we've really seen what a roller coaster can be like. Here's how the New York Times sums it up:

It was one of the wildest moves in stock market history, and perhaps a fitting conclusion to the worst week in at least 75 years. The Dow and the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index both closed down 18 percent for the week. The Dow has never had a week that bad in its 133-year history. The S.& P. has fallen slightly more only twice before — in 1929 and 1933. This month was the first time that the S.& P. had fallen by more than 1 percent for seven days in a row.

We certainly can't know what's going to happen next, but on Thursday night, public radio's Marketplace ran a very helpful segment about how, whatever we might be going through at the moment, it's not a replay of the Great Depression. While that's not greatly reassuring, it is somewhat reassuring, and these days, we should be happy with what we can get. You can read a transcript of the segment or listen to it at the link.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Big Night for No Age

A couple of days ago, No Age guitarist Randy Randall wrote about taping a song for Craig Ferguson. He'd worn an Obama T-shirt to the show, which he kept on throughout rehearsal. He said that five minutes before the taping, however, that because of the equal time rule, he wouldn't be allowed to wear the shirt on the air. Instead of walking out, which was his initial impulse, he decided to turn the shirt inside out and write "Free Health Care" as his message instead. I think primarily through Stereogum, the story got out and made a few higher-profile blogs. The band had been told that the performance would air on October 27, but CBS (or the Ferguson staff) decided to jump on the publicity and air it tonight. Ferguson introduced them by talking about the controversy (paraphrase: "Yeah, stick it to the man--oh, wait a minute, I'm the man . . . well, stick it to me anyway!") and mentioning that part of the point of punk bands is to rock the boat and cause trouble. No Age may have some short-term frustration if they were preparing their own publicity push for later in the month, but if they're able to capitalize on this notoriety, they'll get quite a bit more attention than they would have in a late October appearance wearing an Obama T-shirt.

In a serendipitous but unrelated (or was it?) development, over on ABC tonight, Foals appeared on Jimmy Kimmel in a rerun from a couple of weeks ago. There'd have been no reason to mention it, except that guitarist Jimmy Smith was wearing a No Age T-shirt (that's a link to the T-shirt, not to Foals). What would Jung and Sting say?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Are Print's Days Numbered?

New York magazine had a very sobering and discomfiting article about the New York publishing industry (and by "New York publishing industry," I mean publishing books in the United States, of course). It's optimistically titled, "The End."

[P]retty much every aspect of the business seems to be in turmoil. There’s the floundering of the few remaining semi-independent midsize publishers; the ouster of two powerful CEOs—one who inspired editors and one who at least let them be; the desperate race to evolve into e-book producers; the dire state of Borders, the only real competitor to Barnes & Noble; the feeling that outrageous money is being wasted on mediocre books; and Amazon .com, which many publishers look upon as a power-hungry monster bent on cornering the whole business.

The whole article is not that stark, fortunately, but it does describe how the publishing business is going to have to change (although precisely how it will change remains to be seen).

Meanwhile, Todd Allen reads into a whole different portent about the death of print. It's not a pretty picture.

Speaking of not pretty pictures, for no particular reason, here's the cover to the first issue of a not-quite-successful-enough humor comic book from 35 years ago. I believe this is the first time I became aware of Basil Wolverton's art (although I discovered some of his early Mad magazine covers at about the same time). Yes, this is a fairly typical example of his work.

What's Going On?

This campaign is getting far too surreal for my liking. McCain has started making odd declarations--does he really think we all share some sort of imprisonment? Or is it just a flashback? And why is the McCain campaign running ads in support of Obama? That can't be an effective strategy.

But don't worry. Jonathan Martin says that the McCain people are claiming to have some big story they're announcing in the morning. That's sure to change everything!

UPDATE--Jonathan Martin follows up on McCain's big announcement. Apparently Obama has worked with Bill Ayers in Chicago in the past. Consider yourself rocked to your foundation.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What a Disappointment

I wanted raised voices. I wanted clenched teeth! At best, we were left with a little bit of seething. Of course, the seething might go up as McCain realizes he lost another debate to That One. Jake Tapper on ABC said that the McCain campaign is planning to use "That One" as a rhetorical device out on the trail. Can that possibly be true? Could we be so lucky? (The claim hasn't made it to Tapper's blog yet.) If so, you go, girl!

I'm also not sure that McCain was doing himself any favors arguing that we need a "steady hand on the tiller." He's not talking about himself, surely, is he? He is? Has he ever met himself? (Although in his favor, he only seethed tonight rather than let go any blows.)

The only other thing I've got to say is that by the time we got to the end, I was more than ready to see it go. Tedium has a way of doing that to me. At least the streets of Nashville will be clear for traffic tomorrow.

Does anybody else have any thoughts?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Vague Economic Dread

No, I don't really have anything much to say about the economy, but how can I possibly ignore it? That would make me far too much like the McCain campaign for my liking. The Republicans are waiting for the whole thing to blow over so they can turn the page on it and focus on Obama's deficiencies, but with a drop of 370 points in the Dow today (and collapsing close to 800 points at one point during trading) and ending below 10,000 for the first time in four years, I've got a feeling that we'll be talking about this for a little while longer, anyway. As I type, the Nikkei is down 3 percent overnight, but it has the worst performance of the Asian markets. Will Tuesday be better? Somewhat, probably, but it's not for nothing that the Primitives have been running through my brain for the last couple of weeks.

On to the Next Series

After some quite unnecessary drama in the top of the 8th, the Red Sox joined the Rays and the Phillies in winning their series in four games. Now we're on to the league championship series with the Dodgers going to Philadelphia on Thursday and the Red Sox taking a trip to Tampa. I feel pretty confident about the Phillies coming out on top for the National League, but we'll have to see about the Rays and Red Sox. I expected the Rays to come out on top of the White Sox, but they did it much more smoothly and easily than I thought they would. I've said it before, but I've been waiting for them to fade for months now, and they just won't do it. The Red Sox have it in them to beat the Rays, but will they pull it out? I know that I certainly hope so, but I fear I'll be on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happens.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Next Phase

We're less than a month out from the election, and it looks like things are about to ramp up. For some reason, the McCain campaign told the Washington Post on Saturday that they were getting ready to go negative against Obama after Tuesday's debate. It appears that they're not exactly poker players, or they would've held their cards closer to their chests. Obama was ready with a response for Monday, rolling out an ad calling McCain "erratic in a crisis."

Although that sounds like a reasonably good argument, my first thought upon reading that is that Obama is baiting McCain, prodding him in preparation for the debate. McCain seemed unwilling to even acknowledge Obama in the last debate and didn't do much more than that when they met on the Senate floor this week. He seems extremely tightly wound, and some poking from his presidential opponent can't do much to calm things down.

Before I had a chance to write this up, though, word comes tonight that the Obama campaign is really getting ready to play hardball. A new push is bringing McCain's dealings as a member of the Keating Five back into the spotlight. Here's the intro:

During the savings and loan crisis of the late '80s and early '90s, McCain's political favors and aggressive support for deregulation put him at the center of the fall of Lincoln Savings and Loan, one of the largest in the country. More than 23,000 investors lost their savings. Overall, the savings and loan crisis required the federal government to bail out the savings of hundreds of thousands of families and ultimately cost American taxpayers $124 billion.

Sound familiar?

In that crisis, John McCain and his political patron, Charles Keating, played central roles that ultimately landed Keating in jail for fraud and McCain in front of the Senate Ethics Committee. The McCain campaign has tried to avoid talking about the scandal, but with so many parallels to the current crisis, McCain's Keating history is relevant and voters deserve to know the facts -- and see for themselves the pattern of poor judgment by John McCain.

A new 13-minute video spot will be introduced at noon on Monday (a preview is available now).

From the looks of things, if McCain has been seething already, he'll be in fine form on Tuesday night. We might even get to see one of those infamous blow-ups we've heard so much about.

The Promised Land

Watch the dogs on Main Street howl as The Boss plays an acoustic gig for Obama in Philadelphia.

Via Atrios.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Whooda Thunk It?

I'm sure there were some people who thought the Brewers would outlast the Cubs in the postseason, but I sure don't know any of them in Chicago. As I write this, the Brewers are fighting to stave off elimination again, down 5-0 to the Phillies after the 3rd. It may all be over soon.

Meanwhile, The Red Sox and Rays have a chance to move on to the championship series this afternoon and tonight. The White Sox have a chance to keep Chicago alive in the postseason, but I'd be very, very surprised if they had a three-game winning streak in them at this point.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Quick Postseason Update

Wow, this could be quick. All four playoff series leading to the championship series of each league are on track for sweeps. Interestingly, two series are being led by the home teams and two by the visiting teams (although all series switch fields for their third games), so home field advantage means either everything or nothing, depending on the series.

The Cubs, who, if not necessarily dominating the National League, at least remained commandingly in charge throughout most of the year are folding before the middling Dodgers, and they could lose it all in Dodger Stadium tonight. Although they've shown us in recent years under Lou Piniella that they can do what it takes during the regular season, they've yet to show us that they've begun to master postseason play. It's almost a cliche that the post season is different than regular play, but the dynamics have a whole different life here than they do there. When you've got 162 games, you can afford to ride out the ebbs and flows that come with the game. Now that we're at the end of the year, we've shifted into win-or-go-home mode, so every game becomes important. Cubs fans don't have a lot of patience for a shaky team at this point, particularly when they feel a century of history hanging over them and when someone somewhere already seems to have decided that this was their year. They're not out of it yet, but they'd better find more success at Dodger Stadium tonight than they have at Wrigley this week.

Of course, the West Coast might prove very positive for the Cubs, as it has for the Red Sox. Now there's a team that seems to have mostly figured out the postseason. Although they went 1-8 against the Angels in regular-season play, they're now 2-0 at Angel Stadium, which pushes their multiyear postseason winning streak against LA/Anaheim to 11 games. The series shifts over to Fenway tomorrow night, so we'll have to wait until then to see what happens next.

The bad news just continues for Chicago, as the White Sox just dropped two against Tampa Bay in Tampa. I have to admit that I never had high hopes for the Central Division leaders, whether they'd ended up being Chicago or the Minnesota Twins, but I expected they'd at least make a series out of it. They'll live or die at US Cellular Field tomorrow night. Oddly, I haven't heard much about a Red Line World Series lately. While I never expected them to move on to the championship series, it would be nice if they at least won one against the Rays. Speaking of the Rays, they continue to surprise. I've written before, I believe, that I expected them to fade all through they season, and that never happened, leaving them with a final record just a tick below .600. The post season is different, I kept telling myself, but so far, it hasn't seemed terribly different for these guys. They've still got a way to go before they win it all, but they look much stronger on that count than I'd have ever expected.

I must admit that I've barely been following the other National League series, only keeping track of winners and losers. As far as that part goes, though, the Phillies are two up against the Brewers, as they change venues to Milwaukee tonight. Will the home field make any difference for the Brewers? If it doesn't, then it's all over and the Phillies advance. Before the last few days, I was expecting the Cubs to defeat them for the league championship, but they should be able to beat the Dodgers if the Cubs can't come back. Are the Phillies World Series bound? I'm not doing the betting thing, but if I were, that's where my money would be.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Late to the Library

I should've had this up earlier in the week, but at least it's here at all. We're winding down Banned Book Week, which started on Sunday and officially ends on Saturday. According to the American Library Association, the ten most challenged books of 2007 are:

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
TTYL by Lauren Myracle
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The most challenged authors last year are:

Robert Cormier
Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Mark Twain
Toni Morrison
Philip Pullman
Kevin Henkes
Lois Lowry
Chris Crutcher
Lauren Myracle
Joann Sfar

Look for any events you can participate in before the week is gone entirely; most of the items on this geographical list are library displays bringing attention to banned books, so there's still plenty of time to get more informed.

The most notable instance of potential censorship, of course, has been Sarah Palin's inquiries into taking books off the shelves at the Wasilla public library (although she didn't want all of these books banned), but fortunately that didn't result in any actual censorship. But there's always somebody who doesn't want somebody else to read something, so we should all remain vigilant. The Banned Books Week site has a list of resources with suggestions of what can be done this week and throughout the year.

Although they're not tied in to Banned Books Week, as far as I know, this also provides a good excuse to remember the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund as a worthy cause. The Fund has been fighting for the First Amendment rights for comics professionals for more than twenty years, stepping in to defend those who need it. Unfortunately, it seems that it's a never-ending battle, and it's not one that comes cheap. Slip them a few bucks, if you can.

How Did It Go?

So we've had our one and only vice-presidential debate. What did you think? I thought Joe Biden came off very well, and that wasn't a sure thing going in. He knew what he was talking about, and he presented it in a matter-of-fact way.

And then there was Sarah Palin. She didn't trip over her own words (mostly). She didn't blatantly embarrass herself. So all in all, it can be considered a big win from her point of view. But come on, now. This is the vice presidency that we're talking about. Shouldn't we have a higher standard for qualification that simply not embarrassing yourself? I don't have any idea how viewers are going to score this. Did Palin's folksiness win new converts? It turned me off (although that's pretty predictable, really), but I understand that there are those who find it endearing. (Again, is endearing really what we're looking for in a vice president?) She had no answers of substance, unless you count untruths. And yet, George Stephanopoulos said Biden won, but only just barely (which is more of a stand than he was willing to take online, where he wrote:

My gut tells me there will be a partisan response to this debate with Democrats arguing Biden won, and Republicans reassured by Palin's performance;

that's some insightful gut you've got there, George--way to go out on a limb). Yesterday Michael Bérubé wrote that liberals always make the mistake of believing that debates should go to the smartest people. Somebody (on PBS I think) pointed out that, if the debate was scored by traditional debate scoring mechanisms, Biden took it in a walk. But the general public doesn't look at it like a debate judge. Too many people see Palin's avoidances, obfuscations, and untruths but ignore them (or don't recognize them in the first place) because they're paying more attention to her confident manner and perkiness. How could Biden have possibly competed with nothing more than facts and common sense?

Thursday, October 02, 2008


I've got nothing to say about this, other than it sits atop a serious article in the Washington Post, but this has to be the most surreal headline I've seen in ages:

"Dementia Patients Find Comfort in Robot"

It's the Freakiest Sno-o-o-ow

Get out the sleds! It's only September, but it's already started to snow.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be) it's on another planet. The Phoenix Mars lander has identified snow falling in the Martian atmosphere from clouds two-and-a-half miles above the surface. In a masterpiece of understatement, James Whiteway of Toronto's York University said, "Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars." I'm relieved that we've settled that issue. I'm sure a number of people are certain they saw it snow on Mars in Santa Claus Versus the Martians.

The snow seems to be evaporating before it actually reaches the surface, but if there's snow, it's possible that at warmer times there's rain. Part of the lander's mission was to identify water on the surface, but although ice has been found, there's nothing in liquid form. The lander (and its mission) only has a few weeks of life left. It's powered by solar panels, and the sun has begun to go below the horizon. Once the sun no longer rises for the season, Phoenix will shut down forever. So let's hope the snowfall becomes measurable soon.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

As Planned (This Time)

Congressional leaders added a whole lot of sweeteners to the bailout bill and pulled off a victory in the Senate. One of the new aspects added by the Senate was raising FDIC insurance from $100,000 to $250,000 to cover greater amounts of money from a single depositor in a single bank. Businesses and anybody else who has more than $100,000 in the bank no longer have to be as careful about spreading it among banks to keep it all insured. Another new aspect was $150 billion in tax cuts (specifically in extending current tax breaks that were getting ready to expire). To draw Republicans, you always need tax cuts. The final tally was 74-25 (Ted Kennedy was the only senator not present to vote); Obama, Biden, and McCain all voted yes.

Will all this be enough to draw a handful of votes in the House (without pushing corresponding votes away)? We'll be able to find out soon, likely before the week is out. It will be hard to tell how many House members have been enticed by the changes to the bill and how many were freaked out by Monday's largest point drop in Dow Jones history. That's got to be sobering if you're theoretically responsible for keeping the economy going. I suspect that the House will want to put some sort of stamp on it themselves, which will necessitate sending it for another pass by the Senate.

As for my own position, I'm going to vote for a bailout myself and (once again) defer to Krugman:

I think that Congressional leaders know that it’s a bad bill, but feel compelled to defend it, because they’re (rightly) scared of the financial consequences of a second rejection. And to some extent economists like myself are in the same position; I think I called it the “hold your nose caucus.”

So am I for the bill? Yuk, phooey, I guess so. And I’m very angry at Paulson for putting us in this position.

And the Hits Just Keep on Coming

Here's some light posting tonight. As we wait to see what happens when the Senate takes a crack at a "new and improved" bailout bill, here are a couple more videos from the Palin/Couric hit parade, courtesy of Talking Points Memo. In the first, she mocks Joe Biden for being old (and watch Cindy McCain get a real kick out of that) and then tells Katie that of course that's not what she meant. And although it's hard to compare what's more or what's less embarrassing than something else, it will be hard to top Palin's response to Couric's question about what newspapers or magazines she read in Alaska prior to joining the Republican ticket. Apparently the correct answer is, "Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America."