Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: April 2009

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Record Store Day

What music are you planning to buy on Saturday? It's Record Store Day, so whatever you get, make sure that you buy it in a record store. It's seemed to me that record stores are getting fewer and farther between, a perception that's only reinforced when Stereogum opens its Record Store Day story by asking, "When's the last time you went to an actual record store? Like where you have to walk through a door and can't just click 'download'?" Is it that unusual nowadays to go to a record store and browse? Maybe it is. So that's all the more reason to hit the stores tomorrow.

This event just seems to be growing and growing--this year is chock full of record stores with special programming. Check the interactive U.S. map for who and where (or, outside of the States, here's an international page (with seventeen countries featured). Also, a number of artists are providing limited vinyl releases, mostly singles, but a few albums. Here's a list of what was scheduled to be available. Douglas Wolk helpfully offers his own run down of much of those releases at Pitchfork, although he also reports that the offerings from Elvis Costello and Modest Mouse, as well as a New Order reissue, aren't going to make the deadline by tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Who's Tea-Bagging?

Today is Tax Day. The right wing is going crazy with its tea-bagging--and they claim they're going to have tea party protests, too. I'd do a Google search to see if there are any good images from the demonstrations, but I'm afraid much of what I'd find would be "not safe for work," and I'd prefer to hold on to this job for the time being, thank you.

The protests are supposed to take their inspiration from the Boston Tea Party (which all of a sudden makes more sense when you realize Sam Adams was brewing beer and the plot was likely hatched down at the alehouse), but I'm not sure quite how far you get with the line, "Taxation with representation, but we're still mad about it anyway." Steve Benin may have the best explanation:

So, at some point in the future (we don't know when), some politicians (we don't know who) might find it necessary to raise taxes. Whose taxes would be raised? It's too soon to say. How much would taxes go up? No one knows.

But the mere prospect of a possible future tax increase has led untold thousands of activists, an entire cable news network, corporate lobbyists, conservative bloggers, conservative talk-radio hosts, and Republican officials to organize a series of national events. With extraordinary foresight, they've organized thousands of rallies to register their outrage, not at existing tax rates, but at tax policies that haven't been proposed, but might exist at some undermined point.

The best line about all of this, though, came from David Shuster Monday night on Countdown. He'd just discussed how one of the prime movers in the tea-bag movement was former House Majority Leader Dick Armey.

If you are planning simultaneous tea bagging all around the country, you're going to need a Dick Armey.

We'll be back with more family-oriented material soon, as long as the right wingers will lay off the blatant set ups.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mixing Media

I'm way behind on this. Eddie Argos had this picture on his blog back in February, and Art Brut announced it on their page a week before that. Jeff Lemire posted it last week, on both his blog and the Standard Attrition group blog. Heidi MacDonald picked it up from there. And now I'm mentioning it.

I have to admit that Jeff Lemire and Eddie Argos/Art Brut aren't the most obvious team-up, but it's not that surprising. Argos is already on the record about being in love with Lemire's Essex County trilogy (even though he's admitted that hockey and farming are not what draw him to read comics), having praised it up and down in his sometimes comics review column that I've mentioned before. He even told The Daily Cross Hatch that he wanted to write the soundtrack for an Essex County movie (no, there's no actual Essex County movie underway that I've ever heard). Although Art Brut was nothing close to the music going through my mind when I read those books, I've got to appreciate the enthusiasm. On the other hand, I've also noted my appreciation for Lemire and his work, so I'm glad to see him get the recognition and acclaim.

Art Brut vs. Satan is out on April 21, too late for Record Store Day, but buy it from your local record store (if you still have one) anyway. Aside from the lovely Jeff Lemire cover, you'll get a record produced by Frank Black/Black Francis/that guy from Pixies and featuring a song called "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake." Take a look at the video for the first single, "Alcoholics Unanimous," at the Art Brut announcement page. It's got that old Art Brut joie de vivre and bodes well for the album.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Case on Torture

This week's New Yorker has an interesting piece on Philippe Sands, the English law professor and barrister whose book Torture Team may have played a large part in getting the ball rolling in Spain on potential criminal charges against Alberto Gonzales, Douglas Feith, John Yoo, and others in the Bush administration for torture. Sands delved into the problem of torture during the Iraq War after seeing the Abu Ghraib pictures.

Sands said that he read the protestations of innocence from Bush Administration officials, who blamed a few "bad apples" for the incidents, with the eye of a barrister. He recalled, "I could spot right away that they were speaking as advocates of a cause. So I decided to find out what really happened."

He was able to get access to a number of people involved, actually conducting interviews with Feith and others. The more he explored, the more unhappy he became.

"I spent two years trekking around the country, finding out that they were manifestly untruthful," Sands said. "I've got a particular bugbear about lawyers," he added. "If not for lawyers, none of these abuses would have ever occurred."

One of the Spanish lawyers trying to bring the charges has given Sands credit for identifying "who the targets were." It's far too soon to know what will become of these efforts, but for the time being, those particular ex-Bushies should probably keep all their traveling domestic.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

He Called It

Although he had them defeating Louisville for the national championship, Barack Obama picked North Carolina to go all the way. Is there anything this guy can't do? Watch him work it out.

Monday, April 06, 2009

It's My Blogoversary

Four years ago, I started this blog up as sort of a whim, as an argument with myself that, as a writer, I should be writing. The blogoverse was much different back then. Although there were people who were making money with their blogging, it wasn't seen as the professional concern that it's since become. Daily Kos has turned into a monster of sorts; Talking Points Memo is a full-fledged journalistic operation; and they're not the only two, by any means. A number of bloggers have taken professional positions with magazines or organizations that allow them to put all their energies into blogging.

My ambition was to expand awareness of myself as a writer, and I may or may not have done that. I realized very quickly, though, that in as fast-paced an online world as we were even four years ago, that I had to provide regular updates to get people coming back. Although I rarely made this promise explicit, I vowed to myself that I'd have at least one thing posted (more than that if possible) every day as I was getting established. I figured that I'd do that for a while, and then once I had some sort of a following, I could maybe let up. Partly because my following never really numbered more than a handful and I was still looking to expand, I've put up content for every day of the last four years. Sure, sometimes I complained (although I hope I never got too whiny), and sometimes there wasn't very much, but there was always a daily presence on the blog.

Now we've reached a point, though, when Jim Henley (still at least ostensibly my compatriot at Howling Curmudgeons, although posting at that site has withered quite a bit itself, lately) can write a post about bloggers who post too much (even if it was helping to set up his later April Fool's post and is thus not trustworthy as a serious post itself, his point is still a good one). As much as I enjoy blogging (and, even when I've gotten annoyed with it, you can safely presume that I've enjoyed it or I wouldn't have kept it up this long), I can't be one of those guys. Since I started blogging, I've been promoted in my regular job to a position with more responsibilities and demands on my time, and I simply can't keep all of it up. If you're one to look at posting times, mine were mostly live--that's when I really wrote and posted (although that Hulk baseball one was a lie; I really put it up just a bit after 2:00 AM, but I didn't want it to be right on top of the previous post). When you add those times with the extra hours I've been putting in at work, it all adds up to me being spent.

So I'm not stopping blogging, but I am ending my commitment to have a new post every day. I'm no longer going to sit up and refuse to go to bed until I've written something. Maybe I'll start getting some sleep and posting ideas that aren't so worn and threadbare. It's possible that this might even be a good thing. (I'm sure Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk will be pleased.)

I went back to look at a few of my earliest posts, and I was pretty upfront with the idea that I didn't necessarily know what I was getting into. That's the case now, too. I'm not sure which way this will go. Will I rarely write something new to go up? Or will the lack of a solid deadline free me up to write almost as frequently as I have been doing? I don't know. I guess we'll find out.

Batter Up!

Another Opening Day. Go Red Sox!

More Doom and Gloom

Sorry. It's hard to escape it these days. put up an interview with Nobel-Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. It originally appeared in Der Speigel before the G-20 conference, and it touches on many of the same criticisms that we've been hearing, but I guess we just need to keep seeing those criticisms over and over until we start taking them to heart.

Many people are comparing the financial crisis to the Great Depression. Will it really be that bad?

It's going to be bad, very bad. We're experiencing the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and we haven't reached the bottom yet. I'm very pessimistic. Governments are indeed reacting better today than during the global economic crisis. They're lowering interest rates and boosting the economy with economic stimulus plans. This is the right direction, but it's not enough.

The American government has committed over a trillion dollars to save the banks and $789 billion to boost the economy. Do you think this is too little?

I do. More than $700 billion sounds like a lot, but it's not. On the one hand, a large part of the money will first be given out next year, which is too late. On the other, a third of it is drained away by tax cuts. They don't really stimulate consumption, because people will save the majority of that money. I fear that the effect of the American economic stimulus plan won't be even half as big as expected.

At least governments worldwide are bracing themselves against the recession, as opposed to the global economic crisis where they accelerated the recession through their savings policy.

That's right. That's why I'm confident we'll get off lighter than during the Great Depression. On the other hand, there's a series of developments that make me very anxious. The state of our financial system, for example, is worse than it was 80 years ago.

Well, maybe it's not completely doom and gloom. Read it all to get a hint of how we need to address our problems.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

New Trends in Same-Sex Marriage

California might not have been able to pioneer on the issue, but apparently the heartland is coming through. On Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the state's ban against same-sex marriage that's been in place since 1998. California, of course, briefly allowed same-sex marriage when its own Supreme Court upheld it, but voters passed Proposition 8 to overrule the court. It's certainly possible that voters in Iowa might attempt a constitutional amendment to accomplish the same thing there, too, but the specifics of Iowa law means that such a vote couldn't take place for at least a couple of years. That means there will be at least that long for gay and lesbian couples to get married in Iowa, but there's another factor to consider, as well. Attitudes are changing, and--so far, at least--they seem to be moving toward tolerance of same-sex marriage. Nate Silver worked out a model to determine the point at which states are more likely to vote on against such a ban than to support it. He used three variables:

1. The year in which the amendment was voted upon;
2. The percentage of adults in 2008 Gallup tracking surveys who said that religion was an important part of their daily lives;
3. The percentage of white evangelicals in the state.

He found eleven states likely to defeat a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage right now. More importantly for the subject at hand, however, Silver predicts that Iowa would be willing to vote against a ban in 2012, which may well be their first opportunity to do so. Is same-sex marriage here to stay in the heartland? Very possibly the answer to that is yes.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Sliding Further Down

Unsurprisingly, unemployment for March was up again. Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, Robert Reich wrote today that conditions are worse than we've previously thought. It's a depression.

The March employment numbers, out this morning, are bleak: 8.5 percent of Americans officially unemployed, 663,000 more jobs lost. But if you include people who are out of work and have given up trying to find a job, the real unemployment rate is 9 percent. And if you include people working part time who'd rather be working full time, it's now up to 15.6 percent. One in every six workers in America is now either unemployed or underemployed.

Every lost job has a multiplier effect throughout the economy. For every person who no longer has a job and can't find another, or is trying to enter the job market and can't find one, there are at least three job holders who become more anxious that they may lose their job. Almost every American right now is within two degrees of separation of someone who is out of work. This broader anxiety expresses itself as less willingness to spend money on anything other than necessities. And this reluctance to spend further contracts the economy, leading to more job losses.

He has some ideas of how to address the problems, although they aren't particularly different from much of what we're hearing from others. It's nice to see them listed out, nice and neat.

This is still not the Great Depression of the 1930s, but it is a Depression. And the only way out is government spending on a very large scale. We should stop worrying about Wall Street. Worry about American workers. Use money to build up Main Street, and the future capacities of our workforce.

Energy independence and a non-carbon economy should be the equivalent of a war mobilization. Hire Americans to weatherize and insulate homes across the land. Don't encourage General Motors or any other auto company to shrink. Use the auto makers' spare capacity to make busses, new wind turbines, and electric cars (why let the Chinese best us on this?). Enlarge public transit systems.

Meanwhile, extend our educational infrastructure. So many young people are out of work that they should be using this time to improve their skills and capacities. Expand community colleges. Enlarge Pell Grants. Extend job-training opportunities to the unemployed, so they can learn new skills while they're collecting unemployment benefits.

Finally, accelerate universal health care.

These are awfully ambitious, and I can't say that I'm excessively hopeful all of it will come to fruition. But this has to be the direction we try to go.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Now We're Talkin'

The indictment against Rod Blagojevich has come through, and there's more to it than there looked to be back in December. There are 16 felony counts here, which could lead to serious prison time if he's convicted. Because he probably couldn't get a contract for a TV commercial to announce he's going there, Blago and his family are reportedly already in Disney World.

The previously expected charges--which included the attempts to sell Obama's senate seat, the plan to force the Trib to fire a reporter Blago didn't like, and various shakedown efforts for "campaign contributions"--were supplemented by efforts to blackmail a Congressman (unnamed in the indictment but reputed to be Rahm Emanuel), and a long-time conspiracy with Tony Rezko and other, put into place before Blago even took office, to use the governor's office to rake in the dough that would be collected and then distributed among the participants after Blago was out of office. Take a look at the statement released by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office, or take a look at the actual indictment.

Not surprisingly, Blago released a statement of his own saying that he's "saddened and hurt but . . . not surprised by the indictment." Oh, and by the way, he wants to remind us that he's innocent.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

April Fool's Wrap Up

So it turns out that the Conficker virus didn't have much of an effect after all, although this story out of San Francisco suggests that the infected machines are still out there and may show themselves at some point in the future. If it was some sort of an April Fools' prank, it sort of fell flat.

But were there other decent April Fools' activities this year? A lot of them certainly seemed heavy handed to me, nothing especially nimble enough to trick us into falling for them, but some clever nonetheless. A very nice joke came from Trent Reznor, announcing the new Timbaland-produced Nine Inch Nails album, giving a little (or a big) tweak to Chris Cornell. The Guardian had an interesting idea, transferring all their archives into Twitter tweets. Not believable, particularly, but some of their examples were funny:

A mammoth project is also under way to rewrite the whole of the newspaper's archive, stretching back to 1821, in the form of tweets. Major stories already completed include "1832 Reform Act gives voting rights to one in five adult males yay!!!"; "OMG Hitler invades Poland, allies declare war see for more"; and "JFK assassin8d @ Dallas, def. heard second gunshot from grassy knoll WTF?"

National Public Radio usually goes for something today, but I have to say I wasn't overly impressed--their efforts in previous years have slipped past my guard. Morning Edition went for a story of Econoland, a new theme park run by The Economist. All Things Considered tried a bit of an end run, hiding its April Fools joke inside listener comments on a story yesterday about an Illinois whale farm that was too over the top for my money.

The funniest joke I heard came from a very unexpected source. Glenn Beck made himself the butt of the joke today by going back on his frequent warnings that Obama and the Democrats are leading us to socialism. No, he's just discovered that the road is one to fascism, instead. He says that it's a course we've been headed to since the days of Teddy Roosevelt more than 100 years ago. If this isn't a joke and Beck is correct, at least we can take heart in the fact that, if we've been moving toward fascism for more than 100 years and this is as far as we've got, at least we're not very good at it. On the other hand, if Beck has identified an actual threat to our society, well, there can only be one response.

UPDATE--The best April Fool's joke was one I didn't see until April 2. Steven Grant described how Rupert Murdoch is in the process of buying DC Comics out from under Time Warner. He set it up in a way that left me going, "I don't think that's true." Well done!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I've been checking the computer tonight in advance of the big Conficker attack on April 1. (Surely some newscaster somewhere has mispronounced that word--who's got the video?) I was able to access the Web sites of McAfee and Symantec, which are supposed to be off limits to infected computers, so I guess I'm OK. Of course, nobody knows what it might do if it's indeed activated on April 1. It's actually not too bad an April Fools' prank to make the whole world quiver over what damage might occur and then have nothing happen--would that mean that Conficker was never a danger, or is it just waiting until a day when no one's watching to go crazy. CNET is live-blogging the day as midnight progresses across the globe, promising that it will be "updated continually," but as of this writing, we're going on three hours since the last update, which basically said nothing much seems to be happening. My favorite headline on the issue comes from a Washington Post blog on Friday: "Conficker: Doomsday, or the World's Longest Rickroll?" I guess we'll find out soon.