Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: December 2008

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Not Too Quick

Don't celebrate New Year's too quickly! Remember to add the leap second.

New Year's Hockey

Tomorrow brings the NHL Winter Classic, coming this year from Wrigley Field. This is a wonderful idea, playing professional hockey outdoors, just like when it started. Kids playing in the street or on ponds when they were frozen is how a love of the game begins. Tomorrow's match-up is between two of the original six, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. Playing in the cold brings a whole other flavor to the game, and you never know how it might affect the players or the action. Wrigley Field is also a fabulous venue, and I'm sure a hockey rink looks great from the stands.

This event has really captured the imagination of Chicago, and if nothing else, it's certainly worked as a PR stunt, bringing much needed positive attention to the Blackhawks. Maybe some of the people looking in will actually start attending games at the United Center.

Providing an inside look at how the rink at Wrigley came together, as well as a few other fascinating tidbits, was Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk pal Stuart Shea, on special assignment for Here are a couple of his articles. Head over to the Winter Classic site to find some more.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Sly Message?

I don't know who picks the candidates for annual Kennedy Center honors or how those choices are made. But it strikes me as more than a little coincidental that in the last ceremony presided over by the dismally unpopular lame-duck George W. Bush, held and televised during the long interregnum before the phenomenally popular Barack Obama takes over the office, the Kennedy Center has chosen to celebrate the guys who wrote and sang, "Meet the new boss; same as the old boss." The Rick Warren black eye is certainly more evidence that's trying to jump on that bandwagon.

By the way, the early buzz on the performances during the ceremony (which airs this evening on CBS) says to look out for Bettye Lavette's "gut-wrenching" performance of "Love Reign O'er Me." Dave Grohl predicted in rehearsal that she'd steal the show, and he apparently was right. Monsters and reports:

The Who's Pete Townshend himself agrees. In a Q&A on his blog at, the legendary axe-slinger said, "My favorite moment was when Bettye LaVette sang a very fine version of 'Love Reign O'er Me' at the Gala and Barbra Streisand turned to ask me if I really wrote it."

(I would've linked to the original, but you need to subscribe for access.)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hangin' Around at Home

We did the drive home today, which was pretty noneventful. And we made it into town in time to check out the UPS pickup center. If you've been following along on your own computer, you'll know that we've been having a bit of a problem with it. The package was sent on December 1 (due for arrival on December 2). Now, finally, a full four weeks after it went out, on the fourth trip out to the UPS pickup center when they promised it was there (the first of which occurred on December 4), we finally got our package. It was a bit worse for wear. It turns out that the package were a couple of documents in a regular business envelope that was then placed in some outer packaging (I'm guessing a flat UPS envelope). Yes, it is a bit odd that I'm guessing what the original packaging was, but I have to because at some point during its 28-day journey, the package had some trouble with a flame of some kind. The business envelope was charred at the corner, with about half an inch in both directions missing. The documents in the envelope and the label (which was now on the outside center of a very large padded envelope) were likewise charred. I don't know if it just got too close to a Christmas candle or what the problem might've been. Now that we have it, I suppose we'll never know.

Unfortunately, it wasn't all good news on our arrival home. It turns out that the plumbing problems we had last week weren't entirely solved. We found the toilet with dirty water in it, and a lot of dry silt in the bathtub, which had apparently leaked in earlier and dried out. Something's still backing up, even though the weather is warm enough that we know no pipes are frozen. That means they're plugged for some other reason. While I continue with my time off from work, it looks like it's back to waiting around for the plumber for me. Ah, the newfound joys of home ownership.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

More on the Coal Ash Spill

There's still not a lot of information available about the Tennessee coal ash spill. Officials from the TVA met with local residents today, a mere six days after the spill occurred. According to a brand new fresh blogger in the area (who started blogging in response to the spill), they weren't terribly helpful. When challenged with specific issues, "Come by the office if you have questions was often the answer given." It's obviously no secret how TVA officials earned their six-figure bonuses.

Dave Cooper has a post at Huffington Post in which he describes the situation first hand and provides some numbers:

Now TVA is saying that 5.3 million cubic yards of their coal ash mountain collapsed into the water. There are 200 gallons in a cubic yard, so that equates to about 1.06 billion gallons -- almost 100 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill of 11 million gallons in 1989.

. . .

It's hard to comprehend the enormous size of this spill. TVA's coal ash mountain was stacked over 50 feet high -- as high as a 5 story building.

If a dump truck can hold 20 cubic yards of dirt and ash, it will take 265,000 truck loads to haul away all the ash (they are taking it back to the power plant). If they fill one dump truck trip every 5 minutes and work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it will take about 2.5 years to clean up the spill. TVA has been telling the media it will be cleaned up in about 6 weeks - this is a ludicrous claim.

He's also got some video, which comes from the TVA website and is worth seeing to get an idea of what they're up against down there.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Undercovered Environmental Disaster

I've been holidaying with family in Kentucky, and Internet service has been spotty. I started writing this on a normal laptop, but the ISP deserted us about halfway through, so I'm now retyping on my Blackberry. My apologies for typos and the like.

As someone who has family living in Middle Tennessee (and more driving into the area today and tomorrow), I'm vaguely concerned about the coal ash spill in Eastern Tennessee. The spill occurred on Monday when a dam on the ash holding pond that contained waste from the Kingston Fossil Plant gave way. Even though I've just been one state north in Kentucky, I didn't hear anything about it until I was browsing blogs on Christmas Day. Early reports said that the spill contained 1.7 million cubic yards of sludge, from 2.6 million stored in the pond, but there didn't seem to be many details. More recent reports (such as that New York Times story I linked to above) reveal that the spill actually contained 5.4 cubic yards--twice as much as officials even thought was in the pond. The Times is calling it "the largest environmental disaster of its kind in the United States." What kind of conditional language is that? Hilzoy at Washington Monthly tells us that it's already larger than the Exxon Valdez spill.

Is the toxic waste moving? It's hard to tell from the news reports. As of this writing, the New York Times had nothing more current than this link from Friday. There's nothing much from Saturday that I could find anywhere, and by this time the Sunday papers should be on line. Has this disappeared from the Sunday papers? I know there's a holiday weekend, and all, but this is ridiculous!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Boxing Day!

I hope it's not symbolism of any kind that, now that it's not Christmas anymore, we've lost the picture of Captain and Mary Marvel helping Santa in the previous post. We'll just hope that the server is back up soon. Until then, experience the true meaning of Boxing Day and be kind to your servants.

In some countries, today is also known as St. Stephen's Day. Although we often sing "Good King Wenceslas" as a Christmas carol, in truth it's a St. Stephen's Day carol:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen . . .

It also reinforces the true meaning of Boxing Day by reminding us that it pays off to help those less fortunate:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

And who doesn't want to find blessing for yourself? So give to others less fortunate even if it's an act of selfishness yourself.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Not So Fast

It was entirely my fault. I should never have revealed that I was optimistic that UPS had actually found the package that they lost track of three weeks ago. No--I should never have been optimistic about it in the first place. On what grounds should I have been optimistic in the first place? Just because they claimed that they had it? What was I thinking?

Yesterday, UPS left a notice on our door that they'd tried to deliver the package. I called UPS, gave them the number on the notice, and asked if it could be held at the UPS pickup location where we could get it today. No problem, they told me. And, sucker that I am, I mistakenly thought that meant there would be no problem.

So I went out to the pick-up location, bright and early this morning. I took them the notice, and they said that they had the package. They asked me for I'd, so I pulled out my driver's license. The clerk asked me about a name other than the one on my license, and I looked at him quizzically. He encouragingly identified an address in my neighborhood that was, likewise, not the address on my ID. I told him that I didn't know what he meant just as another clerk brought a package that corresponded with the name and address I'd just been given. The driver had given me the wrong notice the day before. So some poor guy had received a notice on Monday. For all I know, he signed that notice so the delivery person would leave the package yesterday. Instead, the delivery person tried to drop it off with me. When I called to have the package held for pick up, I guaranteed that he wouldn't get a third delivery attempt, at least not today. I hope he wasn't waiting for it as a Christmas gift.

As for our package? Who knows. UPS insists that they now have it, if they can ever get it into our hands. At this point, though, I'm not holding my breath.

Problems Looking up as Holiday Season Approaches

As I mentioned last night, we've been having plumbing problems at Talk, Talk, Talk, Talk, Talk central. Sewage was backing up into our toilet bowl and bathtub. It's generally not a good idea to have such a problem when the city is undergoing subzero temperatures and other people's boilers breaking and pipes bursting. I had to go through five plumbers until I found someone who could come today. I was on two lists of "We'll give you a call if we ever come up for air" (and, to their credit, one of those did call back about two-and-a-half hours later to let me know they were sending someone over--I had to tell them to cancel, because I already had someone. What the plumber who came found was that tree roots had grown into the pipe leaving the building, and cold water that was moving slowly froze in the pipe. It's unusual for waste water to freeze, because it's just moving through and never staying in any one place to freeze. I figured that there had to be some other obstruction involved. Everything's running fine for now, so that's one less thing to worry about.

Speaking of good things, the UPS package I complained about not coming three weeks ago has shown up. When I wrote that post, I didn't know that we'd have to consider it lost and then take steps to get the contents replaces, but that's what we've been living with ever since. We found out today that the package has ostensibly been found. We asked UPS to hold it for us to pick it up, and as I've told everyone who I've talked to, I'll believe it when I see it (I had to go out there twice in the past for this package and came up empty both times). But, even without holding the package in my hands, it sure feels like I'm believing it already.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Quick Hits

After last night's post, I was looking forward to a nice, relaxing day today. I don't know why it was a surprise to me, but no such luck. I woke up this morning to waste water backed up in the toilet bowl and the bathtub; it had overflowed the toilet a bit, but not enough to keep the water from drying out (but not the "waste" part of it, though). It was exceptionally cold in Chicago today, though, and plumbers already had their hands full with broken boilers and burst pipes. The best I could do was get the plumber to call again tomorrow morning to see what appointments might be available. But last night's post whined enough, so that'll be enough of that. Here are some quick hits, instead.

As an illustration of how cold it was in Chicago today, the park district closed down some of its skating rinks to keep people off the ice and out of the air. The official high yesterday was five degrees, but it only did that well because the temperature rose a bit shortly before midnight.

Matt Yglesias had an exciting day today. On Friday, he wrote a post that was less than complimentary of the Third Way organization. Although he opened the post claiming that this was a "neat organization," he later admitted that "their domestic policy agenda is hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit." The post didn't get a lot of attention, but someone at Third Way was unhappy. That person contacted the Center for American Progress, which hosts Yglesias's blog, and made a complaint. Jennifer Palmieri, CAP's acting CEO, wrote a post in response reminding us all that Yglesias doesn't speak for CAP, and as a matter of fact, CAP has a nice working relationship with Third Way. The comments section went wild--there are 661 comments there as I write this. There was a lot of discussion around the blogs, too. Was Matt being censored? Was this just a way to get Matt to be more careful about whom he criticized? It looked like Palmieri had hijacked the blog, but then it turned out that Matt posted Palmieri's post himself and didn't have a big problem with it. By the time that came out, however, the perception of a chilling effect had already lingered, whether Matt felt it or not. This may not have a long-term effect, but CAP's reputation (for itself and for its Think Progress blog) has been tarnished for the moment, at least.

Recently I've been getting a number of hits by people searching for "Tammy Souza" because I mentioned her once in a post. She used to be a weather forecaster on the local Fox affiliate, but she left recently. Apparently the people searching for her are having a hard time finding information. Their first problem (and why they come here) is that they're misspelling her name (as I did, myself). If you google "Tammie Souza," you'll find that she's now chief meteorologist at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in Tampa.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Christmas Crunch

I don't know about anybody else, but the holiday season seems to be doing nothing much beyond making me even busier than normal. I'm getting ready for some holiday time off, and it goes without saying that I need to get ahead a little bit before I take off, but I've had virtually no opportunities to squeeze just a little bit more time into the things I need to do. My weekend was almost nonstop. We got a few inches of snow on Thursday night, but I haven't had time to get any shoveling in until Sunday evening, which gave the snow plenty of time to pack down as people walked all over it because it hadn't been shoveled yet. I'm posting this at about 4:00 in the morning because I haven't had a proper opportunity to sit down and write before now. If you've noticed that some of my posts lately haven't been models of being content filled, now you know why. Will it lighten up a little bit as Christmas approaches? Boy, I sure hope so, but I can't say I expect it particularly. Maybe what I'm missing is a good night's sleep--I can't precisely remember the last time I had one. I'm not going in to work tomorrow (or, more accurately, today--although I generally consider it to be the previous day until I go to bed), so it is possible. Let's all cross our fingers, shall we? If there's anything to report tomorrow, I'll be sure to let you know.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Last-Minute Stocking Stuffer

Who doesn't love meet, especially at Christmas time. And if, for any reason, you can't actually have meat, what's the next best thing? To smell like meat! Now, thanks to the good people at Burger King, you can do exactly that! For some reason, the hamburger outlet is continuing its creepy big-headed king promotions by pushing a new body spray, which it calls Flame. Perhaps this is the scent of the king himself, flame-kissed meat patties with a hint of plastic. The site features a variety of images, but the most disturbing is undoubtedly the king lying (almost completely in the buff) in front of a fireplace on a bearskin rug with only a corner of his cape between us and his privates.

I suppose somebody out there might want to argue that despite what I might think, it's actually a very effective ad campaign--because, after all, here we are, talking about it. And it's a long-established cliche that the only bad publicity is no publicity. Who am I to argue that this isn't true? It strikes me, though, that any time I've heard anybody talk about the commercials, it's always in the context of how repulsive and strange they are. I don't know if anybody's stopped going to Burger King on their account, but it makes me less likely to go. The floor is open for anyone who's like to argue the plastic-head Burger King in the affirmative. And if that's the way you're swinging, don't forget to pick up your Flame body spray while supplies last!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

New Trends in Martinis?

We were out earlier last night, and I had occasion to order three of them in two different places. We were with another martini drinker, so we had a baseline from which to compare. All three of my martinis sported a sheen of crushed ice along the top of the drink.

I don't remember where precisely, but somewhere I read that a martini should have a little bit of tiny crushed ice to prove that it really was nicely chilled. I've never really bought into that. I don't need to have ice to prove anything--I simple sip can tell you how cold (or not) it is. And aesthetically, ice in a martini says nothing to me so much as diluted gin. But even if a small amount of ice crystals are desirable, I certainly don't need to have enough crushed ice in my drink to crunch my way through to the last drop. Oddly, the other martini drinker in our party never seemed to have any noticeable ice crystals in his drink. So why did my drinks--mixed by the very same bartenders--have more in common with Icees than with cocktails?

Despite my title at the top of the page, I like my martinis just as they are--I need no new trends. If nothing else, bartenders, at least scoop the multitude of ice out with a spoon or ladle or something. I want a nice, bracing drink, not a drink that's getting weaker and weaker the more you look at it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Props to the Zamboni

The weather forecasters are telling us that we're getting a bunch of snow overnight in Chicago, and it's already started outside my window. I should be going to bed to get decent sleep for what promises to be a challenging drive into work tomorrow morning, but I can't escape my compulsion to blog. I'll keep it quick, though, as I pass along one of the saddest videos I've ever seen.

In preparation for the NHL's Winter Classic taking place in a couple of weeks at Wrigley Field, a couple of Zambonis were delivered. One of them, unfortunately, had trouble getting off the truck, and, well, you'll just have to click through to see. I don't know why the Zamboni (be sure to capitalize it, because it's a registered trademark) seems to be such a universally beloved device, but it is. Sarah Palin is even on the record as wanting to name a child after the vehicle. A year or two ago, I was with my six-year-old nephew at a skating rink. At one point they cleared the rink to clean it off, and out came the Zamboni. I'm not sure who said it, but somebody exclaimed, "Who doesn't love a Zamboni?" My nephew, his eyes wide, replied in a whisper, almost under his breath, "Nobody." He was right.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deliver Us from Rick Warren

I suppose that Barack Obama can be friends with whoever he wants to, but I sure don't see the appeal Rick Warren has for him. I hadn't gotten around yet to talking about Warren's recent interview at Beliefnet, but Sarah Posner has a nice write-up at Tapped:

"They can't accuse me of homophobia," says Rick Warren, the celebrity preacher and icon of the "new" or "broader agenda" evangelicals, in a new interview with Beliefnet editor Steven Waldman. Pastor Rick protests that he's not a homophobe because he's given money to people with AIDS. He has gay friends and has even eaten dinner in "gay homes."

. . .

Warren dodged Waldman's question about whether he supported civil unions or domestic partnerships, answering instead, "I support full equal rights for everyone in America," adding that he only opposes a "redefinition" of marriage. He went on to say he's opposed to gay marriage the same way he is opposed to a brother and sister marrying (that would be incest), a man marrying a child (that would be statutory rape), or someone having multiple spouses (that would be polygamy). Pressed by Waldman, Warren said he considered those crimes equivalent to gay marriage.

Well, at least he didn't compare it to bestiality. That's very big of Warren to be for equal rights for everyone as long as one group of people aren't allowed to get married. Nothing says equality like differing standards. And it's also commendable that not only us Warren willing to go into a gay home to eat food, he already has. The real question, however, is whether he'd leave his grandchildren with a gay babysitter. Now that would be open minded.

So it comes as not a little disappointment that Warren has been invited to deliver the invocation at Obama's swearing in at the inauguration. Not that I think it will make any difference, but Warren hinted strongly that he couldn't in good faith vote for Obama. Does that mean that he doesn't believe Obama is fit to be president? If not, it's certainly close. People for the American Way had a nice response:

Pastor Warren, while enjoying a reputation as a moderate based on his affable personality and his church's engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa, has said that the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance. He has recently compared marriage by loving and committed same-sex couples to incest and pedophilia. He has repeated the Religious Right's big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors. He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists. He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion.

Just the guy you want to have to prove that it's no longer business as usual in Washington. Nothing about those views are reminiscent of any part of the problems we've been facing for the past eight years. This certainly isn't the biggest issue facing us these days, but moves like this from Obama give Warren credibility and respectability he wouldn't otherwise have. That's not change we can believe in.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I Think I'm Turning Japanese, I Really Think So

The Fed dropped the federal funds rate to a range between 0 and 0.25 percent. So that's money for nothing, but chicks for free is still being confirmed. (I have no idea why economic crisis makes me cite old MTV references. It's sad, really.) A strategy of 0 percentage rates was attempted in Japan when that economy was in trouble, but it's not clear that the strategy helped much. This doesn't sound promising, but as I say time and again, I'm not an economics guy. So one more time, I fall back on Dr. Krugman:

This is the thing I’ve been afraid of ever since I realized that Japan really was in the dreaded, possibly mythical liquidity trap. You can read my 1998 Brookings Paper on the issue here.

Incidentally, there were a bunch of us at Princeton worrying about the Japan problem in the early years of this decade. I was one; Lars Svensson, currently at Sweden’s Riksbank, was another; a third was a guy named Ben Bernanke. I wonder whatever happened to him?

Seriously, we are in very deep trouble. Getting out of this will require a lot of creativity, and maybe some luck too.

Yikes! Well, if this is the direction we're going, we might as well get something fun out of it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Anybody but Reid

Over at FiveThirtyEight--which I haven't been following as closely since the election, I must admit--Nate Silver, in response to a comment be a reader, makes an unfortunate but true point:

Harry Reid has been exceptionally ineffective as the Democrats' majority leader.

The number of cloture votes skyrocketed in the 110th Congress following the Democratic takeover of the Senate and Reid's assumption of the majority leader position. The Senate voted on 112 cloture motions in the 110th, exactly double the number (56) of cloture votes in the 109th Congress, and two-and-a-half times as many as the average number of cloture votes (44) over the previous nine Congresses.

. . .

There are basically two mechanisms that a majority leader can employ to limit filibusters: firstly, he can threaten to block votes on certain of the opposition party's legislation (or alternatively, present carrots to them for allowing a vote to proceed), and secondly, he can publicly shame them. Reid managed to do neither, and the Senate Republicans did fairly well for themselves considering that they were in a minority and were burdened by a President with negative political capital.

I don't imagine the culture of the Senate changing in the new Congress so long as it's under Reid's direction, and Reid is highly unlikely to be replaced.

. . .

The bottom line, however, is that the Republicans are filibustering more and more often because they can get away with it. If Reid can't get them to pay a greater public price, then the Democrats ought to find somebody else who can.

It should be noted that Harry Reid has made a couple of gutsy, effective moves, such as the time he forced the Senate into a closed session to discuss the unfinished investigation into intelligence failures before the Iraq War. The fact that, even after this dramatic demonstration, the Senate Intelligence Committee continued to drag its feet only underscores the futility of Reid's leadership.

Over the last few days, the Republicans have put the Democrats on notice that they have no interest in changing their obstructionist ways. One move I've felt he should make for quite some time is to dump the virtual filibuster. Under current Senate rules, the mere threat of a filibuster is as effective as a filibuster itself. If you've ever seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, you now that that's no way to filibuster. Reid should make filibustering senators stand up and continue talking if they want to hold on to the floor. If you're not suffering, then you're not filibustering. Unfortunately, Reid isn't likely to make such a confrontational move. So we may be in for two more years of Republicans having far more influence than their minority numbers should suggest.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Making Connections

We just finished watching Walk the Line (actually, we ended up watching it in two parts, but part two was tonight). Although he gave a reasonably good performance, I didn't think Joaqin Phoenix's Johnny Cash was imposing enough. Although I know that part of the point of the movie was to show us Cash's human side, there was always an aspect of him that made you wonder if he might've shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Phoenix's Cash might've written the line, but he didn't have the dark corners in his character to make you think he'd actually try. Reese Witherspoon did a good job with June Carter, at least as far as her public persona went. This was the June Carter that the audience saw, although I suspect that people closer to her knew a more complex woman.

But that's not what this post is about. It was inspired by a scene set in the offices of Columbia Records. In the background, on the wall, was a framed cover of Dylan's Blonde on Blonde album. It was small, and even more out of focus than usual. But something about it caught my eye.

It was reminding me of something else, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Intriguingly, once I recognized what it really was, I also realized what it was reminding me of. And then I started to wonder--surely I'm not the first person to notice this, but had it ever been acknowledged that the Blonde on Blonde album cover was an influence on the appearance of the Fourth Doctor?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

New Bottle, but Same Old Wine

Somehow, I missed the memo about how Rick Warren was a new breed of evangelical who wasn't as dogmatic and extreme to the classic Jerry Falwell-type model. He may talk a more casual game, but I don't see the difference in substance between him and the old-line Moral Majority standard bearers. His forum with the presidential candidates was tainted by accusations of favoritism toward McCain and even cheating to give McCain a leg up. In an interview with Cynthia McFaddin after the forum, when asked whether he could vote for either candidate, Warren responded, "I don't know. I don't know if that's a good question to ask." Well, it's an excellent question if one is masquerading as an objective mediator without preexisting bias.

A bit over a week ago, Warren was spending some quality time with Sean Hannity and opined that attacking Iran would essentially be a just war. In a discussion of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Warren said, "The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers." No one seemed to mention the fact that Ahmadinejad is actually a representative of his own government--perhaps God made a mistake with the government of Iran.

It's not quite clear what the November election will mean for the religious right, but we can only hope that, among other things, it will relegate leaders like Rick Warren, who are angling for greater mainstream acceptance, to the margins where they belong.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Show of Strength

To demonstrate who's still got the muscle in Illinois politics, Governor Rod Blagojevich today established a new state record album cover.

Friday, December 12, 2008


America's pin-up sweetheart, Bettie Page, died on Thursday evening after having been hospitalized for a number of weeks. She was 85. You can read an extensive obit on her Web page, or check out some of the other coverage in the mainstream press. Although it wasn't always the case, Bettie's now prominent enough for her death to be covered in the LA Times, CNN, the BBC, the New York Times, and the like. She even gets the full Richard Corliss treatment in Time.

Although I knew the dates, I never really did the math completely enough to realize that a big portion of Bettie's modeling career occurred when she was in her thirties. She was a Playboy centerfold at thirty-one. You can see a variety of those pin-up shots in a Google image search (although a few of those are actually pictures of Gretchen Mol, who played Bettie in The Notorious Bettie Page from a few years ago). She was in her mid-thirties when she dropped out of public view and into several decades of obscurity. Those in the know realize that her modern-day reemergence was to a large degree sparked by her image appearing in Dave Stevens's The Rocketeer. Given the iconic status of her image from the mid-50s, since reentering the public eye, she's shied away from photographers interested in snapping her as an older woman. She doesn't have to hide from the cameras any longer.

Numbers Tell the Story

The economy just seems to be getting worse and worse. Thursday saw new jobless claims, which are seasonably adjusted at 573,000, at their highest level since, well, since the year I graduated from college. There were fewer people in the job market in 1982, so the percentage was higher then than now, but in terms of sheer numbers, that's how far you've got to go back. It wasn't just to avoid the poor job market, but I opted out of looking for a job at that point by staying in school and entering a graduate program. Still, things looked pretty dire for friends who were striking out on their own.

Paul Krugman calls this report "terrifying," pointing out that we're now losing jobs at a rate of 600,000 or 700,000 a month. That's not a good long-term trend (in fact, Krugman labels it a "nosedive"). There's no reason to expect that we're hitting a bottom of any kind, as the pink slips just keep on coming. Bank of America alone is looking to cut as many as 35,000 jobs over the next three years. Is that long-term enough for you?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Senate Speculation

In the run up to Obama's election, I took part in some discussions about who Rod Blagojevich might choose to fill what we hoped would be an empty senate seat. In my calculations, I always considered the politics of the potential pick rather than who could pay the highest fee. Silly me.

There are reportedly six candidates for the post who are referred to in the Blagojevich wiretaps, and there's been a fair amount of speculation about their identities. By now, Jesse Jackson, Jr., has been identified as Senate Candidate #5, who was allegedly represented by an "emissary" who offered to pay $1 million for the position. Not too surprisingly, Jackson denied the allegation. My Internet connection is causing me all kinds of problems tonight, so I haven't had an opportunity to find links for actual confirmation, but a local TV station reported that Senate Candidate # 1 had been positively identified as Valerie Jarrett, #2 as Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and #4 as Deputy Governor Bob Greenlee. If I find firm links, I may add them tomorrow.

In the meantime, Chris Cillizza runs down the presumed candidates for Blagojevich's appointment in those halcyon pre-arrest days that seem so far away now. He also handicaps those candidates and how they might be faring now that reality has changed entirely.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Taken Into Custody

We woke up this morning to the news that Governor Rob Blagojevich had, as the header says, been "taken into custody." The reporters weren't exactly sure about what the story was, but they knew that the Feds had been out to Blago's house and left with him. I won't go into the details here--this story has been all over the news, and the blogs, and the rest of the Internet, and everything that hot stories tend to be all over--but this is pretty unbelievable to me. It's not unbelievable that the governor was arrested, because pretty much everybody I talk to has believed him to be corrupt for ages, and it was hardly a secret that Patrick Fitzgerald was investigating him. But for him to be so blatant in trying to sell Barack Obama's senate seat is just staggering to me. The pure arrogance that he believed he could do such a thing with impunity. I'm not sure that he so much believed he wouldn't get caught as that it wouldn't make any difference if he did. I guess now's our chance to find out.

It appears to me that, posting bail aside, Blago is ready to go full-speed ahead in finding a replacement for Obama. It's his pick--and his pick alone--until he's no longer in office. Although resignation seems to be the responsible move to make, I think we can assume that responsibility is essentially irrelevant to Blago and take that option off the table. He's still apparently waiting for the right price (an empty senate seat is "golden," after all). Will the Illinois legislature rise to the occasion of getting him out of the way before he names a name, or will state legislators consider this business as usual themselves? They've got to appear as if they're concerned, but they may not really be. What they likely will be, though, is afraid that Fitz might turn his X-ray vision on them next, so we may discover that appearances are everything. In the meantime, test your skill and see how easy it is to tell Blago from Tony Soprano (here's a hint--Tony Soprano's quotes are better written).

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Is NBC Backing Out of Prime Time?

It was announced a couple of years ago that Jay Leno would be leaving The Tonight Show to be replaced by Conan O'Brien in 2009. There was some question as to what exactly Leno would do, and it was understood that he was fielding offers from ABC and Fox to do late night for them. Although it wasn't clear that this was related to the Leno situation, earlier today, NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker suggested that his network might program fewer hours of prime time. On the surface, that sounded like suicide, but a few hours later, it became clear what he was talking about. Jay Leno's moving to prime time. NBC is taking five hours out of its weeknight schedule and giving it to him. Starting in fall 2009, he'll be on every weeknight at 10:00 (9:00 central). Bill Carter tells us in the New York Times that the final hour of the evening has been suffering in the ratings, and that this is one way to address that. But doesn't it seem like answering the problem by giving up is just . . . giving up.

Perhaps network TV is in much worse shape than I've realized. It's under siege from cable, which is featuring more original programming every year. Maybe there's simply not much life left in the networks--we still tune in out of habit, but habits are made to be broken, and as the years progress, new viewers are coming up that never formed that habit to begin with. But every chip that forms in the facade of traditional TV weakens it and makes room for new ones. I can't help but thinking that we're a little bit closer to the end of TV as we've known it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Dark Days for Print Journalism?

[UPDATED--Tribune Files for Bankruptcy]

Although I'd been hearing rumors to this effect for a while now, the news slipped out today that the Tribune is facing possible bankruptcy. I'm not sure where the flurry of news stories started, but earlier today both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times wrote about the Trib's cash problems. The Tribune itself wrote a story admitting that the company had hired bankruptcy advisors and faced "a Monday deadline on $70 million of unsecured debt." The Journal suggests that bankruptcy filings could come as early as this week, though the speculation I've previously heard is that the debt is likely to be restructured by the Trib's creditors, although restructuring to put debt deadlines off can't go on indefinitely.

All this comes just a month after Henry Blodget explored similar debt problems facing the New York Times, which owes a payment of $400 million in May and had only $46 million on hand in November. Again, short-term issues may have short-term solutions, but the long-term trend is dire. Advertising revenue is down across the board. And none of that even takes into consideration the economic downturn.

So will the future of journalism turn out to be an ad hoc collection of blogs that report on whatever the bloggers feel like? That would be exciting, wouldn't it? Or something.

UPDATE--According to the Trib Website (and I guess they'd know), the Tribune Company has filed for bankruptcy. I'm surprised--I really thought they were going to be able to put this off (even if only temporarily). This is more than the newspaper itself, of course, but most of the media giant. Besides the Chicago daily, the Tribune Company owns the L.A. Times, the Baltimore Sun, and various other newspapers; WGN, Los Angeles's KTLA, New York's WPIX, and twenty other TV stations in Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington, Denver, San Diego, and other markets around the country; and WGN radio and cable TV. The Tribune Company also owns the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field, but somehow they've kept those properties out of the bankruptcy filing. They're looking to restructure. Read the official statement.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Random Thoughts

Chicago's MeTV and MeToo show a lot of old TV shows (and have a Website that's been under construction for at least a couple of months), and I've recently been watching a fair amount of Route 66. For a show where the two main characters are out driving the Mother Road and looking for America, they sure do spend a lot of time near the water. A fair number of the odd jobs they pick up along the way involve working on boats. But even so, they always work their way back to their Camaro Corvette.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Canadian Government on Hold

A couple of days ago, we talked about an attempt by the parties in Canada that tend more to the left to bring down the minority Conservative government that was brought into office less than two months ago. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was facing a no confidence vote in the coming week, and the only way to avoid it was for Governor-General Michaëlle Jean, the representative of the crown, to prorogue, to suspend Parliament.

Whatever Harper may have needed to do to get that result, he did it, and he got it. Parliament is on hold until January 26. There will be no vote of confidence next week. Harper has dodged a bullet. There's no telling what might happen once Parliament comes back into session. The same no confidence vote might be in the offing, but Harper has the better part of two months to shore up his strength and undermine the liberal coalition that has formed in opposition to him. Support for Harper collapsed in response to an economic package he was proposing, so there's now time to pull it back in and retool.

Unfortunately, suspending Parliament like this means that, well, that Parliament's suspended and can't do anything. No one in Ottawa is voting on economic stimulus packages. Canada cannot respond to the economic downturn it's experiencing with its neighbor to the south and with the rest of the world. Presumably Governor-General Jean didn't make her decision to give Harper more time lightly. She may have thought he had a better chance to make his government work than the coalition did. She may have felt that the nation didn't need another election so quickly. Whatever her reasoning, Canada runs the risk of paying a significant price for having a paralyzed government at this extremely tenuous time.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Intellectual Evolution

While we were away at Thanksgiving, we had a chance to catch up on some back issues of Macleans, a national newsmagazine in Canada. There were a number of interesting tidbits, but one article in particular caught my attention. I'd expected to get to it over the holiday and never did, but I'd better highlight it soon before it's completely stale.

In its issue immediately following the U.S. presidential election, Macleans ran a fascinating article on how current technology is contributing to an actual rewiring our brains. This is more pronounced in children and youth than in adults, and the rate of change is astonishing.

In the process of navigating so much frenetic brain activity, kids are rewiring their brains, customizing them for speed and multi-tasking. But in reinforcing the neural pathways for these skills, some neuroscientists suspect they've been suppressing others—creating the very kinds of problems, albeit in a subtler form, teachers are seeing at the Arrowsmith School.

Every new technology--from books to television--has brought with it fears of a resulting mind-melt. The difference, in the case of digital technologies, says Dr. Gary Small, a renowned neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, is the unprecedented pace and rate of change. It is creating what he calls a "brain gap" between young and old, forged in a single generation. "Perhaps not since early man first discovered how to use a tool," Small writes in his new book, iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, "has the human brain been affected so quickly and so dramatically."

There's quite a bit of other details in the article, and the implications are intriguing. If these alterations are legitimate, will they continue exponentially? Will our grandchildren's brains work in a substantially different ways than ours do? What will be the unintended consequences. Will the next generation relate to their world in ways we don't even imagine today? Hmmmm . . .

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Local Boy Makes Good

A sometime Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk commenter who in some places goes by the name JasonF has a story to tell. He was just surfing the Net, minding his own business, when he chanced upon a post over at Balloon Juice. That post, which was on the potential for union busting amid the possible auto industry bailout, triggered something in him, and he was inspired to post a comment. But this was no ordinary comment. No, this was a comment in the form of a three-act play (a very short three-act play, mind you, but a three-act play, nonetheless). Special format comments like that naturally bring attention, and sure enough, JasonF's comment caught the eye of John Cole, proprietor of Balloon Juice. He was so impressed that he took the play and made a post out of it the next day (noting that it originated in comments). Needless to say, JasonF was thrilled.

That's all very exciting, of course, but someone who sometimes comments on my posts being featured on someone else's blog is not usually enough to devote a post to myself. You guessed it--there's more to this story. On Tuesday evening, Rachel Maddow was talking about the very same thing on her MSNBC show, and she mentioned that she'd been reading Balloon Juice (and reading it deeply). She then mentioned the three-act play that one of that blog's commenters had written and proceeded to read the entire third act! (Here's a transcript.) JasonF was even more excited by that. He's achieved an odd, anonymous sort of fame. No one knows who he is, exactly, or quite what he's done, but they know something has happened. It reminds me of the Lone Ranger, actually. Who was that unknown blogger/playwright?

Nice job, Jason!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Generalized Frustration

Well, actually, not so generalized. We're dealing with bank screwups here at Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk headquarters, and we've been forced to juggle finances to keep everything running smoothly. We were looking to transfer some funds earlier today, and our bank representative (who was actually being quite helpful, so I don't mean to criticize him unduly) told us that he couldn't guarantee we could do it in less than a couple of days. Global economy? What's that? We finally figured out that we could go around a 24-hour-plus bank-to-bank wire transfer by sending cash through Western Union (although even the Western Union attendant said that he could guarantee that the money would arrive at the bank today, but he had no power as to how quickly the bank would process it). And sure enough, the money was where he said it would be. Forget these twenty-first century firms with all their fancy "technology," we got what we needed from the company that ran the Pony Express out of business.

That helped solve one of our problems, but we've still got to work our way through other problems with the bank. We've been looking for a document, and various people at the bank have told us that it's being sent to us, that it's being processed, and that they're not sure where it is or what's being done with it. Finally, about 2:00 this afternoon, the helpful bank clerk I mentioned above was able to get a tracking number from UPS. I've been checking that number, and until just a few minutes ago, it said that our package was on schedule to be delivered on time on December 3 (and yes, that time stamp below is accurate). While I've been writing, it's gone past 11:00, or midnight EST. The tracking page on the Web says that the package is still on its way to us, but apparently they've given up on claiming it will arrive on December 3 (technically, though, it's still before midnight in Chicago, so I'm still willing to accept it as a Wednesday delivery for another few minutes). What can brown do for me? Not much, apparently. Right now, I'm signing off to go call UPS again to talk to a real person.

UPDATE--So apparently, after promising me that the driver of the truck with our package could not finish the day without attempting to deliver every package on the truck, UPS sent the driver back to the warehouse without having made any attempt to deliver it whatsoever. I ask again, what can brown so for me? Absolutely nothing.

New Politics from the North

I'll be the first to admit that my coverage and commentary on the recent Canadian elections were abysmal. I started out with the best intentions to discuss what was going on north of the border, but it just never quite worked out. Would I have any credibility if I said that I'd done that on purpose? If I said that the election just didn't seem that important to me?

As it turns out, that election wasn't as significant as it seemed at the time. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper expanded his support, but he was still left heading up a minority government. Harper was lucky, though, that he scheduled the election to come and go before the economy started into the obvious rut it's been in for the past several weeks. Would his numbers have held if the election had been delayed by even just a month? It's hard to say for sure, but the parties to Harper's left are certainly beginning to wonder. The Liberals and the New Democratic Party--neither of which are as strong as the Conservatives by themselves--have agreed to join together in a coalition government if they get the opportunity to replace Harper. And whether or not that opportunity is presented falls largely to Canada's governor-general, Michaëlle Jean. The governor-general is the representative of Canada's sovereign, Queen Elizabeth. The Globe and Mail has a useful examination of the issues facing Governor-General Jean and the choices she might make.

This looks like it will be offering quite a bit of intrigue in the next few weeks. Will Canada move from a right-wing government to a lefty government without a new national vote? It could happen.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Any Common Sense in the Air?

We're back in Chicago after spending Thanksgiving with family in Jacksonville. We had rain yesterday, and the temperature was dropping (the area is under a freeze alert tonight), but for the most part, the weather wasn't an issue. Returning to Chicago, though, was another matter. We've got snow, and the temperature's in the 20s. Just in case we'd forgotten, it is December. Fortunately, the weather didn't cause us any problems coming in (which wouldn't necessarily have been the case yesterday), but that doesn't mean everything was smooth in the friendly skies.

If you've flown recently--or listened to the complaints of those who have--you realize that the airlines have started to charge for baggage. As I understand it, this was initially a response to skyrocketing fuel prices, but once you institute a charge, it's hard to rein it in again, so don't expect the airlines to let up just because fuel prices have recently sunk. Not surprisingly, making it more expensive to check baggage had a simple--and pretty predictable--result. People want to check less baggage. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that they bring less luggage. They just cram it in to bags they can carry on. And when you've got more carry-ons, the overhead bins become more jammed, and it takes more time to force bags into a tighter space. All of this would seem to go with the territory, but on our flight today, the flight attendants started complaining that passengers were taking too long to get their carry-ons settled and pointed out that the plane couldn't leave the gate until everybody was seated. So we're all kind of stuck, aren't we?

Will the airlines realize that their actions have set up the current situation--and if they actually do, will they do anything to remedy it? Don't count on it. As American automakers have already demonstrated, why bother to serve your customers when alienating them is so much easier?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Will We Always Have Books?

Did anybody else read James Gleick's defense of publishing and books in today's New York Times and fail to be reassured? He titles his essay "How to Publish Without Perishing," and his subject is Google's plans to digitize all the world's books and make them available online. Although the title is optimistic enough, it's not really clear Gleick shares that outlook. At one point, he writes:

Publishers may or may not figure out how to make money again (it was never a good way to get rich), but their product has a chance for new life: as a physical object, and as an idea, and as a set of literary forms.

Well, we'll see, won't we? One type of book he acknowledges that's pretty much over is reference books--encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc. He does have higher expectations for literary works of great writing, though.

It is significant that one says book lover and music lover and art lover but not record lover or CD lover or, conversely, text lover.

There's reading and then there's reading. There is the gleaning or browsing or cherry-picking of information, and then there is the deep immersion in constructed textual worlds: novels and biographies and the various forms of narrative nonfiction - genres that could not be born until someone invented the codex, the book as we know it, pages inscribed on both sides and bound together. These are the books that possess one and the books one wants to possess.

Is it just me, or does Gleick's entire argument boil down to: We'll always have books--people love books!

As a member in good standing of the publishing industry who's worried about his long-term prospects, that doesn't give me a whole lot to hang on to. As crass as it may be, it's that profit motive he so easily disregards that keeps the industry moving.