Wednesday, June 30, 2004

. . . And the Hits Just Keep On Comin'
You've heard how great satellite radio is--mostly because it's free from the market pressures and corporate imperatives that have turned over-the-air broadcasting into mind-numbing mush. Well, I've been playing around with Internet radio lately, specifically a website called Live365.com, and I'm hooked. Live365 says it has 14,000 stations from which to choose, everything from streaming audio of over-the-air stations to hobby stations running out of people's basements. And with all those stations, the choices make satellite radio look like basic cable. I have been going back and forth between a classic jazz station, one that's all British white-boy blues, and one that's all Hammond organ jazz and funk. Also on my favorites list are two stations that broadcast nothing but airchecks from the classic Top 40 era. I have to listen to three or four minutes of innocuous advertising spots per hour, but subscribers can listen commercial free. So far, I haven't been asked to pay anything for the service. And if I had a little more disposable income, you can bet I'd be running my own station, too.

Recommended Reading: Via Salon's "Right Hook," an astoundingly vicious column about Fahrenheit 9/11 and the people who go to see it, from radio host and sometime Fox News contributor Hugh Hewitt. Hewitt seems to think the film will sink John Kerry, although the process by which he believes this will happen is as convoluted an exercise in reasoning as he accuses Fahrenheit 9/11 of being.

Reading Hewitt's rant (and ones from Michael Savage and Ann Coulter also quoted in "Right Hook" today), I can't help thinking we're headed for a season of unparalleled ugliness as the November election approaches. And you gotta wonder if the wingnuts won't simply refuse to accept a Kerry victory, if it happens. They've already demonized Kerry and his supporters as not just unfit to govern, but unfit to live in America. Some of them (Savage in particular) have characterized people like us as unfit to live, period. Exactly why do we think Hewitt, Savage, Coulter, and their ilk would accept an election result that goes against their wishes, if the alternative is serving under such a unbearable yoke?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Tell It, Brother . . . Amen
Like the old-time movie reviews used to say, you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cheer, at Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. And you'll be astounded, outraged, and praying that you never have to hear John Ashcroft sing again.

Some of the biggest laughs in the film come from the way Moore uses music to punctuate and comment on the footage. (If there's a soundtrack album, it's going to be great.) The brief segment on how Bush sold fear to the American people after 9/11, featuring an unintentionally hilarious promotional film for a personal "safe room" and a Today show interview with a guy trying to market a new safety device, is probably the funniest part of the film. But once the war in Iraq begins, the fun is mostly over. Moore mixes combat footage with soldier interviews, and this is where the film earns its R rating. Soldiers explain how they can crank up music on their headphones when going into battle, and one describes his favorite song. When Moore plays the song over graphic footage of combat casualties, it feels deeply obscene. Finally, toward the end, what feels at first like a veer off the subject to life in Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan, becomes the film's emotional heart. But Moore being Moore, he ends the film with one more humorous jab at Bush, and Neil Young's great "Rockin' in the Free World" over the final credits.

A friend who saw the film over the weekend remarked on the amount of audience participation at her screening--shouts of agreement and so forth, like Moore was preaching a gospel sermon. Not so much at mine--apart from the laughs, there was a sprinkling of applause when our representative, Tammy Baldwin, appeared briefly, and Britney Spears actually got hissed. And here in Madison, Moore is preaching to the largely converted, many of whom are eager to get the message. The 7PM show tonight was already sold out this afternoon. Nationwide, the film grossed more in its first weekend than Bowling for Columbine did in its whole run. Plus, it's showing on only about 800 screens across the country--in major metros and places like Berkeley, Austin, Ann Arbor, and Madison, no doubt--not like the 2,500 for a typical top-grossing film. It's going into wider release this weekend, and I am guessing it will keep up the momentum for another week or two.

I've been avoiding the reviews so I could come to the film as uncontaminated by other peoples' opinions as possible. In the Village Voice, Richard Goldstein sums up the early press reaction to the film, noting the oddity of Fox News and the New York Post holding back while ABC and NBC have gone after the film for "inaccuracies," all minor and more in the realm of disagreements over interpretation than factual error. And a lot of the criticism of the film, especially from TV networks--apart from blanket condemnations from right-wingers of the film's very right to exist--is going to center on these matters of interpretation, these details. And if some of them could be interpreted differently, so be it. The people who criticize the film ought try to explain the grief of the Michigan woman who lost her son at Karbala. Tell us why her suffering is OK, why she should endure it, how she should find comfort for it. And then tell the rest of us.

Will the movie change any minds? With all the wingnuts braying about it as evil propaganda, clearly they are afraid of just that. I walked out behind a group of young people this afternoon who were surprised at the labyrinthine nature of the Bush family's involvement with the Saudis, and I'd like to think I was witnessing a small political awakening. Fact is, it probably won't take too many similar awakenings to swing the election. I saw a survey somewhere in the last day or so that says something like 44 percent of people have made up their minds irrevocably to vote for Kerry and 43 percent for Bush, which means 87 percent of us are already set. So maybe the wingnuts are onto something. For once, let's hope they're right.

If you're reading this blog, you're probably going to see the movie already, and you don't need me to tell you to go. But go.

Fahrenheit 9/11, Showtime 4:15
Here's one way to briefly explain what happened in the Supreme Court yesterday: On the Padilla, Hamdi, and Guantanamo detentions, the president failed to uphold his oath to protect the Constitution, the legislative branch lost its nerve after 9/11 and let him do it, and so it was up to the judicial branch to save our asses--right? Well, yeah--but Jonathan Turley, writing in the Los Angeles Times today (registration required) calls yesterday's decisions a "near miss", and terms the court "dysfunctional" and its rulings "vaguely dishonest." And he reminds us that despite the 8-1 and 6-3 votes, four justices "seemed eager to find any implied authority from Congress to allow the president to declare citizens enemy combatants--ultimately relying on the resolution passed after 9/11"--the very resolution Turley characterizes as a case of Bush's autocratic ambitions meeting Congress' institutional cowardice. So on a different day with different circumstances, perhaps the outcome might be far less favorable to our civil rights and the Constitution as we have known them. In Turley's view, far from being a triumph of our fabled three-branch, check-n-balance system of government, the rulings actually serve to highlight how screwed up the system is at the moment.

I am off to see Fahrenheit 9/11 this afternoon (ah, the joys of working at home and setting your own schedule). I have avoided most of the reviews so I can form my own opinion--which I will share here either tonight or tomorrow morning.

Yes, We Have No Bananas
I'm sticking with my surmise of yesterday that the Bush Administration ends up with no worse than a push thanks to the happenstance of the Iraq handover occuring on the same day as the Supreme Court decisions on the Hamdi, Padilla, and Guantanamo cases. The decisive whacking of Bush's I-am-the-law approach to civil liberties isn't the banner headline it deserves to be today. In the political arena, where perception is reality, it doesn't have the weight of Brown v. Board of Education or the Dred Scott decision, although history is likely to show that it does.

And it was a decisive whacking. Even Antonin Scalia got some licks in, which I certainly didn't expect. Only poor Clarence Thomas voted to go down the line with Bush--which is quite something when you consider he votes with Scalia on everything, including what to order in for lunch.

What happens next, of course, is what matters most. The administration will likely attempt to get Congress to sign off on its unlimited detention policies, which would satisfy some of the legal objections that have been raised so far. It's a pretty good bet that there's nothing the Republican leadership in the House and Senate would like more than an up-or-down vote on something like that, which would permit them to accuse Democrats of coddling terrorists just in time for the fall campaign. So it'll be necessary to buck up our representatives' courage when the time comes. But for now, we've taken a step back from the banana-republic brink. With the times being what they are, that's good news.

Recommended Reading: Josh Marshall gets at something satisfying about Dick Cheney's recent outburst--that it reveals his character to a larger audience that may have not grasped it before. Anybody who's been paying attention for a while knows that Cheney is probably the true villain of the last 3 1/2 years, but not everybody pays attention. And it's not just that Cheney is a bad guy--as Marshall notes, Cheney knows what the administration is guilty of, and he can see the whole thing starting to unravel.

Family Business: Cheney said he felt better after telling Pat Leahy to go fuck himself. My brother Dan suggests that we all write letters to Cheney telling him to go fuck himself, because what's good for him is good for us. (The people at WhiteHouse.org have their own take on his remark, in poster size and on T-shirts.)

And finally, The Mrs. has lost, in recent years, her mother and a favorite cousin to heart disease. (And also our pal Dave, gone 20 years this spring.) So she devotes a lot of time and energy to our local American Heart Association Heart Walk, not just as a walker but as an organizational volunteer year-round. If you'd like to sponsor her efforts for the 2004 event, click here.

Monday, June 28, 2004

We hand over sovereignty to Iraq two days early, something the Iraqi prime minister supposedly decided on over the weekend, but it just so happens we do it on the same day the Supreme Court issues decisions in the Hamdi and Padilla cases. You gotta hand it to the Bush gang: They can play the media like Paganini, so bad news drowns in something that makes Bush look better.

Recommended Reading: With the end of the Supreme Court's term this week, the justice retirement/death watch begins, and we can start wondering whether a court appointment will be tossed into the campaign mix. Stuart Taylor of the National Journal imagines what might happen a few years from now if court appointments remain the ultimate battle royal.

We Got You, My Pretties
One of the umpteen e-mail newsletters I get is from Cecil Adams, the World's Smartest Human, author of "The Straight Dope," which appears in alternative newspapers across the country. In the newsletter, Adams revisited the question of whether The Wizard of Oz is really an allegory for the Populist movement of the 1890s. From there, I took off to another link that examined the question in greater detail, and then it was on to other topics. I am rarely surprised by synchronicity anymore, but it was still mildly weird, clicking over to Salon, to find that I was going back to Kansas again so soon. Earlier this spring, I mentioned an article in Harper's by Thomas Frank, who was trying to figure out why his home state of Kansas and the rest of the Great Plains have become so reliably Republican, despite the fact that Republican policies are destroying its economy and way of life. At the time, Frank was working on a book about the topic, which has just been released, and he sits for an interview with Salon today. His analysis of the cultural divide--not merely the simplistic red-state/blue-state divide we hear so much about--seems pretty persuasive to me. And also depressing, as it becomes clear the Democrats can't do a damn thing about it, because they're partly responsible for it.

(Digression: The persistence of the Wizard of Oz/Populism tale is laid primarily at the door of social studies teachers, who use it as a way to get high-school students into a subject that is otherwise dry as dust to them. I did it when I was student teaching, only to find that my kids were much more interested in the urban legend that one of the Munchkins hanged himself on camera and that the shot remains in the film--a legend they continued to believe even when I slowed the film down frame by frame and explained what they were seeing. A more contemporary legend, that Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album synchronizes in spooky ways with the movie, hadn't trickled down to them yet.)

Recommended Reading: When I was in radio, I used to do a feature called Signs of the Coming Apocalypse--when we took note of things that seemed to mean we couldn't go on much longer. There was a beauty in the New York Times last Friday. It's not a big thing, but then, signs of the apocalypse often aren't. It's just another indication of the profound ideological discipline of the Bush Adminstration, and how even if we throw them out in November, we won't soon be hosing the stench off our body politic.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Fuck You, Indeed
Headline: "W. House on Cheney Obsecenity: These Things Happen." And these things comment on themselves. If it had been Al Gore during the Clinton Administration, the sanctimonious braying of the wingnuts would have been audible worldwide without a radio.

Do You Kiss Your Mother With That Mouth?
For being the moral guardians of our nation and all, some of our most prominent conservatives have nasty little mouths on 'em. Dick Cheney's suggestion to Senator Pat Leahy that he go fuck himself (for which Dick says he has no regrets) is just the beginning.

(Historical digression: The first thing I thought of upon reading Cheney's refusal to apologize was the incident in 1856 when Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner gave a two-day oration condemning Southern attempts to spread slavery to Kansas, and South Carolina Senator Preston Brooks came over and beat the hell out of him with his cane, right on the Senate floor. Brooks never apologized, and although he did pay a fine, Southern senators blocked every attempt to expel him. (There's a detailed history of the events here--scroll down a bit to find it.) Brooks became a hero in the South, and I would guess, if I had the stomach to venture over to Free Republic or other right-wing websites, that Cheney is being similarly lionized for his language. And here we sit, on the verge of our own civil war, but with no outlet to do anything about it.)

Cheney isn't the only conservative to unload an f-bomb lately. Bowtied weenie Tucker Carlson of CNN's Crossfire is hosting a new show on PBS that was set to debut this week. Rory O'Connor of MediaChannel.org wrote about the show, and criticized PBS's general shift to the right in general and Carlson in particular, although in fairly mild terms. O'Connor quoted Carlson as saying he's befuddled as to why he got the show in the first place--even though his father used to run the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Carlson took offense to the piece, as O'Connor reported in a subsequent column, and "Tucker concluded with the last refuge of the inarticulate, sputtering 'fuck you!' before abruptly terminating our otherwise fascinating conversation."

As Wonkette observed earlier this week when first reporting the Cheney incident, "We agree! Go fuck yourself--while it's still legal!"

O'Connor's piece on Carlson's reaction mentions a recent incident in which a New York Times reporter called a female reporter for L.A. Weekly a "cunt." In my opinion, no other word in English is as demeaning of its target as that one. But wait--it can be a term of endearment! University of Colorado president Elizabeth Hoffman says so, and she's a medieval scholar. UC has been rocked this spring and summer by scandals involving the sexual abuse of female students and student athletes by football players. At the center of the storm was female placekicker Katie Hnida, who left the football program after claiming she had been raped by fellow players and was told that the coaching staff would back the male players' story. She is one of three women now suing the university. In a deposition, Hoffman was told by one of the attorneys taking the deposition that one of the players had referred to Hnida as a cunt, and asked Hoffman if she objected to the word. Hoffman called it a "swear word," but also said that its meaning depends on the circumstances in which it is used. When she was asked if it could ever be used in a polite context, Hoffman replied: "Yes, I've actually heard it used as a term of endearment." Nearly universal condemnation followed, as it should have, given the utterly brain-dead nature of Hoffman's remark. By way of weaseling off the hook, a spokesman for Hoffman said that we should remember that the university president was a medieval scholar, and that we should defer to her judgment because the word goes back as far as The Canterbury Tales. Hoffman didn't go on to suggest that the athlete who called his female teammate a cunt had just come from a medieval literature class, but it wouldn't have been much more ludicrous if she had.

From what I can gather on the web, the flap over Hoffman's etymological lesson lasted three or four days a couple of weeks ago and then disappeared. But if I were a Colorado alum, I wouldn't be touting it much these days. The school declined to fire the football coach who presides over the renegade program, making lots of noise about regret and repentance and accountability while not talking about the fact that they'd owe him several million dollars on his contract if they fired him. And then the university president tried to excuse away something for which there's no excuse.

I love college football as a spectacle, but not as a business, or as a matter of public policy. What's gone on this summer at Colorado doesn't help.

Status of mojo: Well, clearly better.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Does This Mean Illinois Is No Longer a Swing State?
I cannot tell you how much pleasure it gives me to see that Jack Ryan, millionaire ex-husband of Seven-of-Nine on Star Trek: Voyager, quit the Illinois Senate race today. I love it when self-righteous Republicans get caught practicing the kind of thing they preach against. From Ryan's campaign website: "The breakdown of the family over the past 35 years is one of the root causes of some of our society’s most intractable social problems--criminal activity, illegitimacy, and the cyclical nature of poverty. As an elected leader, my interest will be in promoting laws and educating people about the fundamental importance of the traditional family unit as the nucleus of our society." Presumably, one way to strengthen the traditional family unit is by boinking your partner in public. Who knew?

The saddest thing about Ryan's departure is that it wasn't necessary for him to drop out in order for the Democrats to reclaim the seat currently held by Republican Peter Fitzgerald, another millionaire who bought the seat six years ago but decided to return it unused. Democrat Barack Obama, one of the first candidates nationwide to be explicitly endorsed by Howard Dean's Democracy for America organization, was the betting favorite to win anyhow.

Status of mojo: Boinking found therapeutic.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Skyrockets in Flight
A reader, looking over the Useless Web Poll regarding whose comeback should be next, wonders who the Starland Vocal Band was. Only one of the quintessential acts of the 1970s, quintessential thanks to the way they turned a single hit record into Grammy Award glory, a TV variety show, and ultimately, a return to the obscurity from whence they sprung.

The Starland Vocal Band (possibly the most uncool group name ever) were proteges of John Denver, back in the days when being a protege of John Denver meant something in the music biz. Their record, "Afternoon Delight," was distinctly Denveresque without a whiff of rock feeling at all, and close vocal harmony that was pretty retro even back then. But it also featured subject matter and lyrics that were surprisingly explicit for 1976. The subject: a nooner. The lyrics that got noticed included:
Started out this morning feeling so polite
I always thought a fish could not be caught who didn't bite
But you've got some bait a-waitin' and I think I might
Like nibblin' a little afternoon delight
And also:
Thinkin' of you's working up my appetite
Looking forward to a little afternoon delight
Rubbin' sticks and stones together makes the sparks ignite
And the thought of rubbin' you is getting so exciting
Tame now, fairly hot then--and enough to get the record to number one on July 10, 1976, and Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Vocal Arrangement. (They won only the latter, beating out, among others, Queen's operatic "Bohemian Rhapsody.") The group also won for Best New Artist, beating out Boston, Wild Cherry, the Brothers Johnson, and Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, making that year's slate of nominees a veritable who's-who of "Where are they now?" acts. And in the summer of 1977, they got their own limited-run variety show on CBS, best remembered for the fact that David Letterman was one of its writers and frequently appeared in sketches. What was missing were more hit records. They never returned to the Top 40, although a few more singles made the lower reaches of the pop chart through 1980, when the group broke up.

But here's the thing: "Afternoon Delight" lives on not so much as art--you won't hear it on oldies stations a lot--but as an artifact of that summer. The Mrs. has never forgotten the day she and a friend were being driven somewhere by the friend's reluctant older brother when the song came on the radio and the three of them ended up trying to harmonize to it. As for me, I can't hear it without remembering the whole summer of 1976, the year I was 16, and everything that goes with the summer of your 16th year, cars and jobs and girls and softball, almost every minute of it bathed in a Top 40 soundtrack unmatched by any other summer of the 1970s.

If you want to sample a little "Afternoon Delight" for yourself (the song, I mean--you're on your own for the kind they're singing about) and explore the Starland Vocal Band's oeurvre in startling depth, click here.

Status of mojo: Improved.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

"W" Is for the "Whole Wide World," Which Hates Us Now. Silly World!
Hello, all you boys and girls! I would like you to meet Steve Perry. Steve Perry wants to see if you know your ABCs! Do you know your ABCs? Good! Let's practice them now by clicking here!

Status of mojo: See earlier post.

Little Things Mean a Lot
It's a lesson I learned pretty early in my working life: It doesn't take much to make employees feel valued--and it also doesn't take much to make them feel like serfs.

Story number one: When holidays like Christmas or July 4 fall on a Sunday, the official legal holiday is the following Monday. I once worked for a guy who made his receptionists work full eight-hour days on those legal holidays "just in case someone is working and they call." Even though the burden fell on just a couple of employees, it showed all of us how much the owner valued us as human beings.

Story number two: My wife's company is in the final stages of a computer system changeover that's been in the works for over two years. Lots of people are working lots of overtime these days, so the company has started buying takeout food for those laboring into the evening.

Little things mean a lot--one way or the other. Sometimes they're strictly local in nature. One business owner happens to be an ass, while another realizes that $75 worth of Chinese food now is a good investment for later. But sometimes, thanks to the circumstances, you can draw wider lessons from such incidents. The Center for American Progress reported yesterday (scroll down to the bottom after clicking) on Guest Services, Inc., the company that runs the cafeteria for the House of Representatives. The entire federal government shut down in memory of Ronald Reagan on June 11--but now Guest Services is requiring its employees to count that mandatory day off as either a vacation day or sick day. Dennis Kucinich and several House colleagues are pressuring the company to reverse its decision.

This story is not getting covered anywhere. A Google News search turns up nothing; the American Progress story links to a squib at Roll Call that's accessible only to paying subscribers. So we don't know why Guest Services is doing this, but we can guess. Because their hands are tied--we'd like to pay them, we really would, but we have a responsibility to our stockholders. Because it would be irresponsible to pay people for not working. Because corporations in America have all the power of medieval divine-right monarchs, and nobody lower than God can make a corporation do something it doesn't want to do.

How about this: They're doing it because they can. "This company is using this national day of mourning to extract compensation from its workforce," Kucinich says. "This is just a question of fairness. They are the lowest paid workers on Capitol Hill. . . . Why should they be punished?" Because they don't have the power to avoid it.

Little things mean a lot. And this story says a mouthful about the state of common human decency in America today.

Recommended Reading: Here's an online petition that seems worth the effort--a letter to the Iraqi people, to be published in various Arab newspapers on August 1, apologizing for the suffering that we've brought to their country. Signing it is the least any of us can do.

Status of mojo: A little rust, taillight broken, radio gets only one station, but gas mileage still OK.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Missing: One Mojo; Size: Fat
You may have noticed I only put up one new post here yesterday, and that it was pretty short. Sunday's post had nothing at all to do with politics or current events, and Saturday's three posts seem distinctly half-hearted now as I reread them.

It's blogger burnout. I suppose it was bound to happen eventually. It's just too damned much work remaining outraged because there's too much outrage around us every day, and I'm exhausted.

I am thinking about going on hiatus until I get my mojo back. It could come back later this week; could be later this summer; could be 2005; could be 2009. I don't know.

If you need something current to read today, I recommend either this or this. If you need something current after today, any of the links on this page will do. If you're looking for me, I'll be reading this, and looking for other stuff like it.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Don't Inhale. Don't Blow Either.
It was kind of warm and nostalgic watching Bill Clinton on 60 Minutes last night--nice to remember a time when the economy created 22 million jobs, the country was mostly at peace, the president could speak in complete sentences, and the biggest national problems we had regarded extramarital blow jobs. But the interview was mighty light on the genuinely newsworthy, and will be remembered largely for the personal revelations, the scene we all had to imagine before now, when he told Hillary the truth. And the interview won't convince anybody who already holds an opinion about Clinton, one way or the other, to change it. From what I've been able to glean, his book won't change any minds either. Salon's Geraldine Sealey has a summary of the interview and her impressions of it here.

Recommended Reading: Tim Harper of the Toronto Star on the influence of religion on the 2004 presidential election. He cites some poll numbers from a recent edition of Time magazine:

Respondents who call themselves "very religious" back Bush over Kerry, 59 per cent to 35 per cent; and those calling themselves "not religious" back Kerry over Bush, 69 per cent to 22 per cent.

Should a president be guided by his personal faith in developing policy? Again the gulf--63 per cent of Democrats say "no" while 70 per cent of Republicans say "yes."

Bush's "intense religious views" worried 2 per cent of those who will vote to re-elect him, but worry 34 per cent of those who told the pollsters they would vote Kerry.

Similarly, only 5 per cent of Bush voters agreed the president's faith made him too closed-minded, while 65 per cent of Kerry backers agreed with the statement.
"United We Stand"? I don't think so.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Rockin' Out
Changing the subject on a day that's shaping up to be all Bill Clinton, all the time:

I have been spending lots of time at Reelradio.com lately, a website that archives classic airchecks from the golden age of Top 40 radio. A couple of definitions for the non-radio geek: an aircheck is a recording of a radio show, and the golden age of Top 40 radio was approximately the mid 1960s to the late 1970s. Top 40 was hit radio, playing the most popular songs over and over, generally on the AM band, and its greatest stations were in the country's biggest cities. (The classic Top 40 I listened to was all from Chicago.) This is the radio I was weaned on, the kind of radio I wanted to do--and the kind of radio that was pretty much gone by the time I got behind my first live microphone.

Radio has changed a lot since then. For example, stations are more narrowly targeted to a specific slice of the audience today--if you are the kind of person who listens to album rock, you won't mind hearing "Enter Sandman" by Metallica at 10:30 in the morning. The classic Top 40 era equivalent of a song like that would never have been on the air at that hour. Because there were fewer stations in those days, audiences were broader and less homogenous than they are today. Many classic Top 40 stations varied their music mix throughout the day, going softer and lighter during middays when the audience was thought to be older and more female, and rocking out at night when the kids were listening. This is known as "dayparting." Many stations do a limited amount of it today, but not on the scale of the classic Top 40 era.

The broader nature of the classic Top 40 audience also meant that stations ran more news. It can be surprising to listen to an aircheck from, say, 1969, and hear a five-minute newscast every hour and twice an hour in the early morning and late afternoon. This practice was going the way of high-button shoes by the time I got into radio in 1979. Today, most music stations run a little bit of news in the morning, but it takes an event the size of September 11 to get news on at any other time of the day.

Radio personalities are a lot more constrained now than they were then. During the classic era, every announcer was encouraged to express himself (and it was almost always "him" in those days). The most successful personalities were always bigger than life, cooler than life--genuinely outsized. Today, most radio stations muzzle their personalities' personalities after 10AM--DJs are told to just shut up and play the music. As a result, most stations' listeners can tell you who hosts the morning show, but they'd be hard-pressed to name one or two of the station's other announcers.

So anyway, here's a list of five classic Top 40 DJs who influenced me once I got into radio myself:

1. Larry Lujack: During the classic era, Lujack was the top jock in Chicago, bouncing between mornings and afternoons at both WLS and WCFL, the two top-40 flamethrowers that duked it out for supremacy from the mid 60s to the mid 70s. He could do more with less than almost anybody on the radio, thanks to his dry, acerbic wit. You couldn't imitate him, but you could be inspired by him, and I was.

2. Bob Dearborn: Dearborn was the anti-Lujack--completely pleasant, thoroughly professional, yet cool in his own way. What I took from Dearborn was his professionalism. His shows were smooth and seamless--you'd rarely hear the kind of starts and stops that were a part of Lujack's style. Everything got done on time the way it was supposed to, but you never got the sense that Dearborn was scrambling to get it all in.

3. Fred Winston: Another guy who was impossible to imitate (which raised eyebrows when he opened a consulting service for DJs in the 1980s), Winston was probably the most drop-dead funny personality I knew in the classic era. Whenever I tried to do humor on the radio, I was unconsciously trying to live up to Winston's example (and, of course, failing). It didn't hurt that he had one of those impossibly resonant DJ voices, which made his absurd bits even funnier.

4. Kris Erik Stevens: Speaking of resonant DJ voices, I was kidding around with The Mrs. the other night, doing my own classic Top 40 DJ voice. (Don't ask why.) The voice, it occurs to me, is basically my impersonation of Kris Stevens, who was the quintessential nighttime guy. He was capable of cranked-up energy when his station was rockin' out, but could also cuddle up and whisper in your ear when playing a ballad.

5. Bob Collins: I never heard Collins in his top 40 days, only later on Chicago's WGN, where he did call-in shows that were liberally spiced with music and comedy. What I learned from Collins was comfort--nobody ever sounded more at home on the air. I always tried for (and rarely achieved) the kind of casual, making-it-up-as-we-go-along ambiance that was so natural for him.

Lujack and Winston are still on the air in Chicago. Lujack co-hosts a morning show via satellite from New Mexico and Winston does afternoons on an oldies station. Dearborn hosted the national NightTime America show in the 80s and has been living in Canada in recent years; Stevens still does voiceover work nationwide; Collins died in a plane crash about five years ago. But they're all still in their prime, along with lots of other radio legends, at Reelradio.com.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

See You On Six
You realize, of course, that if you read this blog on a regular or semi-regular basis, you're going straight to Hell. Now, for the first time, we offer you the opportunity to find out just what level of Hell you're going to. That's right--we're not talking about any one-size-fits-all Baptist Hell, either--we're talking about a travel destination famed for centuries: the one and only Dante's Inferno. Find out which circle you'll be spending eternity in by taking a simple test. Be honest--because if you lie, it's only going to be worse.

And Now, Gossip
A couple of weeks ago, I linked to an article on Capitol Hill Blue that described reports of increasingly strange behavior by Bush--paranoia, mood swings, emotional rants, and so on. Earlier this week, CHB followed up with comments from Dr. Justin Frank, director of psychiatry at George Washington University, whose new book, Bush on the Couch, raises similar questions about Our Maximum Leader's mental competence. Salon got into the subject as well earlier this week, reviewing Frank's book and two others purporting to examine the president's head.

There are a couple of problems with all this analysis. First of all, it's hard to learn secondhand what's really going on in someone's mind--any clinician would tell you that firsthand observation is necessary to get truly solid insights. However, a president of the United States is one of the most widely observed people on the planet, so it's certainly possible to get some kind of picture, albeit a blurry one, because some people who make firsthand observations are willing to talk. Which leads to the second problem: Because people with access to the president want to keep their access, whatever firsthand observation of a president you can lay your hands on is usually anonymously sourced, which instantly harms its credibility. The original Capitol Hill Blue piece about Bush was criticized for its exclusive reliance on unnamed sources.

So you should probably read this with many grains of salt at hand. (When you get there, scroll down a bit to the second set of boldface headings: "Walter Storch/Controlling the News/Part 39.") It's yet another anonymously sourced piece, it's two months old (I only just found it today), and it's on an obscure website. But the picture it paints of Bush and his administration is far more frightening than CHB's original article. How much of it is true? Maybe some of it, maybe none of it. So why mention it? Because what if some of it is true?

History Lessons
It was the philosopher Santayana who said something like, "Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it." (That's the only thing I know about Santayana.) History really does teach us lessons we can use in the here and now, provided we bother to listen to them. That's not something Americans are particularly good at, as I've noted here before. For example, one of the chief architects of 20th century America, Henry Ford, famously said, "History is more or less bunk." Americans are much more into making new starts and never looking back. But just because we aren't interested in history's lessons doesn't mean they don't exist. I came across several history lessons on the Web this morning.

Let's start with the biggest one. Few accusations are more inflammatory than the one that says the United States is sliding toward fascism under George W. Bush. It's not something to be thrown around lightly (although I confess I've done it a time or two). That we could be going the way of Nazi Germany violates so much of what we believe about ourselves that we don't want to think it, or hear others talk about it. So it's worth reading a sober analysis from Online Journal that says the slide is indeed happening here.

And while we're poking around on the World War II shelf of history's closet, do you remember hearing how the Japanese bombed the United States as far west as Detroit with incendiary bombs two or three times a day during the final months of World War II? Me neither, because the U.S. government censored reports of the bombings. Earlier this week in Slate, Liam Callanan told the tale, and drew a lesson from it regarding contemporary censorship of war news.

Our third and final tale doesn't have a lesson attached, but it's damned interesting anyhow. We can all conjure up the scene in our heads, like it was a movie: A small suitcase is opened; the president finds an envelope inside; he tears it open, reads a code inside, enters the code into a communication device, and launches a nuclear apocalypse. Well, now it can be told: the code is believed to have been 00000000.

Recommended Reading: My colleagues over at Best of the Blogs have really been rockin' the last couple of days, analyzing the Bush/Cheney response to the forthcoming 9/11 commission report. Lots of good stuff was posted on both Thursday and Friday of this week, so I suggest you go over there now.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Close observers of the situation in Iraq have known for a long time that the June 30 sovereignty handover date, while it may look like a milestone in history, won't necessarily mark an historic and decisive break with the past. But simple people who think they live in simple times believe otherwise: Hey, only 12 days until June 30, the bright new day on which everything that is good about America will suddenly burst into flower in the desert.

Christ, I can barely type such nonsense.

TomDispatch has a great post on what Iraqi sovereignty is actually going to look like. Hint: not much like "sovereignty" looks in places where it really means something. The bulk of the post is devoted to an article by SUNY-Stony Brook professor Michael Schwartz, who demonstrates how much control the United States intends to maintain. Ultimately, he says, the Iraqi prime minister (currently Iyed Allawi, eventually somebody else after Allawi gets blown up by a car bomb) will be as much a figurehead as Hamid Karzai is in Afghanistan, where the real power is wielded by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. So even though Paul Bremer is hanging up his proconsul sword and buckler, John Negroponte will be putting a set of his own.

Khalilzad is a figure with connections deep into the oil industry. Syndicated columnist Ted Rall has insisted that Khalilzad's easy movement between the American government, the American oil industry, and oil-producing countries in Central Asia indicates that control of those oil supplies is an ultimate goal of Bush's entire Middle East project. Rall claims that the bombing of Afghanistan was done not so much to punish the Taliban for 9/11 as it was to clear the way for an oil pipeline deal that was postponed after the Clinton administration placed sanctions on the Taliban in 1998.

One of Rall's early columns about Khalilzad is here; a more recent one is here. Not everybody buys Rall's analysis--Spinsanity took it apart in this 2002 post. But regardless of who's involved, how deep, and why, it's clear that Central Asia's oil is something that gets everyone's attention. This week, leaders of Russia, China, and the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan met in Tashkent to "address regional concerns," including energy and security. At the moment, the U.S. has bases in some of the former Soviet republics, but we (and Vladmir Putin, for that matter) insist that they're temporary. (Temporary like the war on terror is temporary?) Afghan president Karzai attended the meeting as an observer, and you can bet that if the United States didn't want him there, he wouldn't have gone. So at the moment, everything's nice and friendly between them and us. But it's easy to imagine, as years pass, things getting a little more fractious. Clearly, Russia and China will have something to say about America's long-term plans in the region. And so we may end up in a familiar position at some future time: thinking of Russia and China as adversaries, and more formidable ones than the Afghans or Iraqis.

With everything that's gone on in the world in the last three years, the Chinese have been very, very quiet since the spy plane fiasco in 2001. Maybe the way you get to have a civilization that lasts for thousands of years is to resist the temptation to meddle, sit quietly, and wait for events to unfold until you have exactly the combination of circumstances that makes action the most useful course to you.

Recommended Reading: Conservative moral clarity: the most flexible substance on Earth.

The Dog That Didn't Bark
So Vladimir Putin says Russia had evidence that Saddam Hussein was planning terrorist attacks on the United States after 9/11, and that he passed it on to us. OK, so then why didn't Bush sound the alarm when he was trying to sell the war in Iraq? Why'd we get all the talk of what Saddam could do or might do if there was evidence that he was going to do something? It defies belief that an administration looking to go to war would fail to latch on to so perfect a ready-made pretense. It also seems unlikely that the existence of this Russian intelligence could have remained secret for so long.

So I can only conclude that the Putin statement is garbage--another pre-emptive PR strike at the 9/11 commission's report, another attempt to bolster the discredited notion that Iraq and Al Qaida were some kind of two-headed monster. Bush said just this morning that he never claimed 9/11 was orchestrated by Iraq and Al Qaida working together--but he didn't have to. The administration made dozens, perhaps hundreds, of statements implying such a link. To try and get off the hook this way is like a guy claiming he never had an affair with his assistant because he never explicitly said he was having one, even though he was repeatedly seen going into a motel room with her at 2:00 in the afternoon with no luggage.

What does Putin gain from this? Maybe this is a payoff for something Putin got during the G-8 meetings last week. Or maybe the payoff is yet to come, somewhere down the line. Stay tuned.

Recommended Reading: It's impossible to describe. You'll just have to read it.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Open Wide
Links and summaries, 25 words or less:

Link: "Cut and Run: Transfer of Power in Iraq, My Ass," by Alan Bisbort of the Hartford Advocate.
Summary: Nothing is really going to be different in Iraq after June 30, except that things might get worse. (18 words)

Link: The "Get Your War On" strip Bisbort mentions.
Summary: "People act like June 30th is the Iraqi Democracy Rapture." (10 words)

Link: "Rumors of the Neocons' Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated," by Jacob Heilbrun of the Los Angeles Times.
Summary: Bush never admits he's wrong, so what makes anybody think he'll stop taking advice from the neocons, especially once he's safely reelected? (22 words)

Link: "Nine Eleven" by William Rivers Pitt.
Summary: Just like you have to let your personal past go to start healing, our country should do it, too, before our condition gets terminal. (24 words)

Link: "The Document Sean Hannity Doesn't Want You to Read," from the Center for American Progress.
Summary: Eat this, Truth Boy. (4 words)

It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
Last week I wrote about the possibility that the end of the world may be occurring this weekend. Nevertheless, I think it's probably just a coincidence that I spent some time this morning at Conelrad.com, a fascinating website that examines how our fears of a coming end of the world during the Cold War affected all aspects of popular culture: movies, TV shows, popular music, and more. It's an incredible time-waster.

Popular culture of the 1950s and 1960s reflected the nuclear fears of the era in ways both obvious and subtle. It's easy to see it in certain episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits--but the site's authors maintain that innocuous TV shows like I Dream of Jeannie, The Munsters, and Mister Ed also reflected a world shadowed by the atomic bomb. So did popular music. The site includes an exhaustive list of atomic-themed records (some with audio clips available), and tells the story of the most astounding one of all--"Fallout Shelter" by Billy Chambers, an obscure B-side recorded at the height of the death-record craze of the early 1960s, in which a boy's father says there's no room for the boy's girlfriend in the family shelter, so the boy chooses flaming atomic death with her instead of saving himself.

Besides being a riot, Conelrad.com is an important online museum of popular culture. But what about that name? "Conelrad" was one of the ancestors of today's Emergency Alert System, perhaps better known as the Emergency Broadcast System, a method designed to broadcast official news and information in the event of a nuclear attack. Several years ago, as EAS officially replaced EBS, I wrote a piece about Conelrad and its successors and submitted it to NPR's All Things Considered as a commentary. They didn't run it, but you can read it here.

Knowing What We Know and Seeing What We Have Seen
Salon reprints a speech this morning given by law professor Stephen Holmes "to several hundred U.S. intelligence analysts from various agencies at their request." It's an analysis of the impact of the Iraq war on worldwide opinion, especially in Europe, and a forecast for the direction of American foreign policy after Bush is safely back in Crawford.

For a brief moment after 9/11, we had the sympathy and support of the whole world--remember the famous French newspaper headline "We Are All Americans"? (The French--the perfidious French!) In the following months the Bush Administration pissed away that international goodwill, but Americans could still rely on Europeans to understand the difference between the idiots running our government and ourselves as individuals. Holmes says of the situation today:
America's critics continue to distinguish between the U.S. administration, which they fear and despise, and the American people, with whom they feel sympathy.

But the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison may have finally changed that. If the American electorate, knowing what it knows and, above all, having seen what it has seen, proceeds to reelect George W. Bush in November, the moderating distinction between the American administration and the American people will be eroded or perhaps erased--with what violent consequences no one can predict.
Not exactly a comforting thought if you have plans to visit Europe in the next few years.

As for the direction of American foreign policy after Bush, many Europeans think that even if John Kerry continues the war on terror in about the same way Bush has, the simple fact that his administration will not have to "conceal embarrassing blunders or to continue failed policies" will be positive. Others hope he might tear up the script and start over at rebuilding alliances with Europe. But the challenge is still going to be enormous, particularly because Iraq is going to be a disaster even in the best-case scenario. If you were a European leader, would you want your country to have a share of this?
With extraordinary luck, Iraq could become, in a few years, something like Bosnia without the high representative of the E.U. It would have a weak central government because, given the fragmentation of the society, no all-Iraqi government can be simultaneously representative and coherent. Periodic elections would serve only to reinforce the independence of the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions, and the government would constantly be in delicate negotiations with local and tribal leaders. Such a pseudo-state would be considered successful if it could protect its cabinet members from assassination, if most foreign fighters were evicted (breaking the lethal marriage of convenience between transnational terrorists and nationalist insurgents) and if neighboring powers were not driven to dispatch military forces into the country. But it would be at best a corrupt, criminalized and disorganized polity, festering, unsafe and characterized by violent weakness.
One possible result of this best-case scenario is a "contamination" of the concept of democracy throughout the entire Middle East--pretty much the opposite of the neocon master plan that got us into this mess. Some best case.

Recommended Reading: Jim Hightower charts the successes of "the people's media"--radio, the Web, and the alternative press--and its success at countering the corporate line spouted by the major media outlets. It's a long list of good news--and it mentions a former college classmate of mine, Sly Sylvester, currently doing mornings at WTDY here in Madison.

Quote of the Day: from Antonia Zerbisias, writing in the Toronto Star about the right-wing outcry over Michael Moore's film Fahrehneit 9/11: "The irony is, they complain about Moore being allowed to inflame partisan emotions during an election campaign when these right-wing gasbags never stop doing exactly that."

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Caught in a Loop
Spotted in the checkout line at the supermarket this afternoon, on the cover of the Weekly World News: "Dick Cheney is a Robot!" Which means this is clearly just a software error.

Cheney's insistence on links between Iraq and Al Qaeda--reiterated on a day when the 9/11 commission became the latest body to say there's no evidence for such links--has gone way beyond where it could be considered an alternate interpretation of facts in evidence, and into pathology. There's clearly some reason why Cheney and his staff continue to stick to this discredited assertion, but I'll be damned if I can guess what it is. Does his pacemaker need an adjustment? Or has he just cracked up under the pressure? It sure looks like it. Nevertheless, I still think he'll remain on the ticket in November even if they have to hook him up to a car battery each morning to get him out of bed. In the Bush Administration, being half nuts doesn't disqualify you from anything. In fact, it probably helps.

Enough With the McCain Talk, Already
It's time for another round of speculation about John Kerry's running mate, which means it's time for yet another bit of breathless talk about the Kerry/McCain dream ticket. And that means it's time for me to pipe up again and say, "Fuggedaboudit."

Yes, I know that a Kerry/McCain ticket beats Bush/Cheney nationally 53-39, and Kerry/Anybody Else is much closer. Yes, I know that picking McCain would be a powerful statement of unity against Bush. But McCain opposes Kerry on many issues, including abortion--and as was reported during the 2000 campaign, McCain's senatorial voting record at the time was similar to that of then-North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. Winning an election is one thing; governing after it's over is another. Presidents spend enough of their time putting out fires within their administrations, and that's when everybody belongs to the same party. With Vice President McCain, the fires would be that much hotter. And besides, McCain said today--for the third or fourth time--that he doesn't want the gig. So stop it.

The fact that the Kerry people have talked to McCain is encouraging, though, because it says something about the campaign's willingness to think outside the box. However, I'm afraid that when the time comes, the campaign will lose its nerve and blow the choice. The first article linked above lists some current possibilities, so here's my stab at handicapping them.

Disasters: Governors Tom Vilsack of Iowa or Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas are fine geographic ticket-balancers but disastrous otherwise. In another era, geographic balance might have been enough (and I do worry that Kerry still doesn't quite get how different this election is from all the others in our lifetimes). Now, though, Al Gore and Dick Cheney have transformed the vice-presidency into a higher profile office since Dan Quayle killed time between rounds of golf. The stature gap between either Vilsack or Sebelius and Cheney (or Guiliani, or James Baker, or whoever the Repugs run out there if the stink on Cheney becomes too great to wash off) on the debate stage would be worth a lot of votes to the Bush ticket. Another pretty bad choice would be Senator John Breaux of Louisiana, who was nearly named to Bush's cabinet, led the negotiations on the 2001 tax cut, and was thought to be a leading candidate to switch parties that year after Jim Jeffords left the Republicans. 'Nuff said.

Better, but still not great: Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, who's pure DLC and little threat to stand for much that's progressive; Dick Gephardt, who could hold his own in stature terms with Cheney (although he's too gentlemanly for the street fight this campaign is going to be), but whose utter lack of charisma would bring the ticket's charisma average down to near zero; Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, whose credentials as ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee would help, but who is only slightly more colorful than Gephardt; and Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who has the advantage of coming from that most critical of swing states, but who also has the disadvantage of not being Bob Graham.

The A-List: Bob Graham, the Florida senator and former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who would be a fine choice given the intelligence failures of Bush; John Edwards, who seemed to start grasping the stakes of the election about the time the primaries began and who is the choice of most Democrats in a recent poll, although the same poll shows he would give no boost to the ticket.

My choice: Wesley Clark. Despite his lack of political experience, in an election likely to be decided on issues of war and peace, having a general on the ticket, and one who's actually won a war at that, would be positive, and stature wouldn't be a problem. (Imagine how he could exploit Cheney's dubious record as an armchair general.)

If you'd like to find out which prospective running mate fits your personal criteria, try the Washington Post's Veep-O-Matic. When I ran my major criteria through it, it made Clark my top choice (which I already knew). It also gave me Gephardt and Nelson, plus former senators Max Cleland (who would be my second choice behind Clark) and Bob Kerrey. The Veep-O-Matic also gave me Hillary Clinton and Tom Daschle (!), even though none of my criteria included "doesn't have a chance in Hell of being selected."

--I Never Said That
--Wait a Minute, Wait a Minute
--Let Me Finish
--Hold On, Now
--Stop Interrupting for One Second and Listen to Me
--I Never Said That

I taped John Podesta's appearance on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes last night so I could watch only that segment this morning and thus not waste a whole hour of my life on the entire show. As it turned out, I wasted about 10 minutes of my life this morning. As I noted in my post on Monday, Hannity controls the microphone, and he started interrupting Podesta no more than five seconds into his first answer, piled interruption on interruption every time Podesta tried to continue, and then had the balls to turn around and criticize Podesta for interrupting him. The sum of Hannity's rant was this: I always tell the truth, Podesta, and because you never criticized Bill Clinton for lying under oath, who are you to criticize me, and besides, what about the First Amendment and the fact that I always tell the truth?

In the end, you gotta wonder why liberals even bother with Fox News, where we'll never be treated fairly, never get equal time, never get a reasonable forum where our ideas can be discussed rationally. It's an especial waste of time and effort trying to engage in an intelligent dialogue with a preening fascist like Hannity, who's never wrong and never in doubt. We help to legitimize people like him just by showing up.

Recommended Reading: Aaron McGruder's The Boondocks has been taking on the deification of Ronald Reagan this week, and today's strip is especially funny. Elsewhere, Black Commentator locates Reagan in history alongside the white Redeemers who took control of Southern state governments during Reconstruction, paving the way for the Jim Crow era.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Brilliant Lights, Dim Bulbs
The Supreme Court's 2003-2004 term is set to end in about three weeks. That means any day now, we're going to get the court's ruling on the cases of the Guantanamo detainees, Jose Padilla, and Yaser Hamdi, and we'll find out, as I wrote last week, whether the Supremes think we're still a nation of laws and not of men, or if that concept is one of the things that changed after September 11. Last March, the Boston Phoenix published an article about the cases (which I just came across today) in which the author makes a point about just how important these cases are, and what's at stake.

We have two types of rights in this country. One type is our familiar civil rights: the right to privacy, the right be safe from unreasonable searches and seizures, to come and go as we please, to be free of racial profiling, to read whatever library books we like in peace. Everybody knows that these rights are under assault by the Justice Department through the Patriot Act and other means. The other type of rights, which the author calls "threshold rights," are also under assault, and this assault is far more dangerous. These rights are structural, which makes any changes in them extremely far-reaching.

Threshold rights enable civil society to know what government is doing and to rein in abuses. Think of it this way: temporary restrictions on some forms of privacy enable the government to know what you are doing, which is troubling enough. Threshold rights enable you to know what the government is doing, and that’s why they form the core of democratic society. The degree to which a society protects threshold rights speaks to whether it is free and open, and whether self-correction can occur without violence. If the press is free, the electorate has open elections, and the courts are performing their sworn duty, even a president who tries to assume the powers of an emperor can be dealt with.
The article goes on to detail the ways in which the Justice Department has sought to erode these threshold rights, especially the right of habeas corpus, which requires the executive branch to disclose the legal basis for the detention of a prisoner and produce that person in public, so a court may decide whether the detention is constitutional. It's "the brilliant light that protects Americans from the gulag." And Ashcroft has been trying like hell since September 11 to turn it off. Without the right of habeas corpus, it's a short step to Soviet-style show trials--confess and you get a public trial; refuse and you go into the military justice system and you may never be seen again. There's evidence that the Justice Department has already played such a game with a couple of accused terrorists, Iyman Faris and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri.

This is an important article, albeit a lengthy one. Read it before the decisions come down.

Recommended Reading: I could have made Kathleen Parker of the Orlando Sentinel one of the choices on my poll about right-wing media celebrities who deserve an ass-kicking. Parker, you may remember, is the columnist who suggested, as the Iraq war devolved into horrible chaos last April, that a good solution would be to "nuke the Sunni Triangle." She can usually be found putting a benign face on the self-evidently awful, and always with the chirpy, self-satisfied tone of a suburban mom who thinks she's well-informed because she watches Fox News during her 15 minutes on the treadmill in the morning. Take her report from inside HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson's surveillance command post during the Reagan funeral. She describes the sophistication of the surveillance techniques used to monitor activity of all sorts in the DC area, across the country, and around the world. She even tells how Thompson called up a video image of her own house with a couple of clicks. She calls the technology "chillingly Orwellian," but just when you think she's finally ready to consider the real-world implications of living in what amounts to a Panopticon, she decides it's all just fine with her: "So it goes in the age of terrorism." The government isn't watching you--it's watching out for you, which makes it OK. (If her allotted word-count wasn't already used up, you'd half-expect her to add something like, "If you don't have anything to hide, you don't have anything to worry about.")

For those of us not converted to Parker's childlike faith in the good intentions of the government, her piece is useful for showing just how closely we're all being watched. Excuse me--watched out for.

I think I'll go out on my deck and flip the bird at the sky.

One more thing: I wrote on Sunday that I'd like to see mainstream people of faith start to stand up against the fundie nonsense coming out of the American government, and against the policies such nonsense justifies. A group called Faithful America is making an effort. They're trying to raise money to run an ad on Arab television apologizing for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, and I applaud them for it.

Better Looking Than Jenna, Smarter Than Barbara
Wait, wait, wait. George W. Bush said something nice about Bill Clinton yesterday--and the Earth didn't spin off its axis and crash into the sun? At the dedication of Bill and Hillary's official White House portraits, not only did Bush praise Clinton for his "incredible energy," "great personal appeal", "deep and far-ranging knowledge of public policy," and "forward-looking spirit," he even said nice things about Hillary. And his tongue didn't snap off its roller once.

During the first year of Clinton's term, Rush Limbaugh earned nearly universal condemnation for showing a picture of Chelsea Clinton on his TV show and calling her the White House dog. She was 12 at the time, and we all looked geeky when we were 12. Chelsea is 24 now, and nobody's making dog jokes anymore.

Recommended Reading: You'd think that after 3 1/2 years of continuous stimulation, my gag reflex wouldn't kick in as strongly as it did yesterday, when Pastor Ashcroft stood in front of the congregation to announce, "The American heartland was targeted for death and destruction by an Al-Qaida cell." Liberal Oasis retched too--and they think the announcement of a thwarted bomb plot in Ohio might be "Swing State Fearmongering," as whoever wins Ohio in November is likely to win the election. Paul Krugman has more on Ashcroft--and how every time he or his department is handed a defeat, it stages another high-profile terror event.

Today on Best of the Blogs: It's What's For Dinner.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Right-Wing Weenie Boy to Get Ass Kicked on National TV; Grateful Nation Waits in Expectation
Last week, former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, founder of the Center for American Progress, told an interviewer that when people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity "get so distant from the facts . . . it tends to corrupt the dialogue." As MediaMatters.org reported, Hannity blew a gasket and has challenged Podesta to appear on his show to "explain one example where I--where I said something that was so false." Tomorrow night is the night. On the face of it, this looks like shooting the proverbial fish in the proverbial barrel for Podesta, although we have to keep in mind that Hannity controls the microphone. Podesta will doubtless be armed with dozens of falsehoods by the time the show hits the air tomorrow night at 8:00 Central on Fox News. Talk about yer must-see TV.

Be Merry, for Tomorrow Ye May Die
So the Supreme Court upheld the use of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. The decision announced today (on Flag Day, yet), which dismisses Michael Newdow's case on a technicality, was by a vote of 8-0. The ruling doesn't say one solitary thing about the church/state separation issues underlying the controversy--which disappoints me, but it won't disappoint the triumphalist right all that much, because they won't mention it. Their preferred headline will be "Supremes Uphold God," or something like that.

But if Michael Tomasky of The American Prospect is correct, conservatives had better enjoy the pledge decision while they can, because they're about to have a very bad week. They're going to be defeated on Guantanamo, Padilla, and Hamdi, and Tomasky says more devastating revelations regarding the prisoner abuse scandal are due in days from the Red Cross. Maybe we're about to see a rebuke of the burn-it-all-down mentality of the modern conservative movement. May it be only the beginning.

Recommended Listening: Twenty-five years ago, when I was a little baby disc jockey in Dubuque, Iowa, I had a colleague there named Bob Smith (which was, in fact, his real name, and still is). Quickly realizing what it took lesser intellects longer to discern, Bob soon left Dubuque and radio for the more lucrative precincts of corporate communications, but he continued to do voiceover work as the years rolled on. He's the most skilled mimic and impressionist I've ever had the pleasure to know, and he's got a new website showcasing his work.

Quote of the Day: "My father crapped bigger ones than George Bush."--Ron Reagan Jr., April 2003.

Don't Know, Don't Care
A survey came out over the weekend with some interesting data on how young people in America relate to politics. The Leon and Sylvia Panetta Institute found that only 19 percent of American college students think politics is very relevant to their lives; 43 percent think it has little or no relevance. At the same time, the students rate 9/11 as a more important event in American history than the JFK assassination, the stock market crash of 1929, or Pearl Harbor.

The second piece of data certainly seems to confirm the first. To believe in the transcendent importance of 9/11, but at the same time to dismiss politics as mostly irrelevant to real life, is evidence of how widespread the mistaken notion is that 9/11 was an out-of-the-blue event no one could have predicted, like a meteorite crashing through the roof on a clear day. (If you go back and reread news articles and commentary pieces written while the Twin Towers were still smoking, you'll quickly see that millions of Americans experienced 9/11 in just that way.) What's harder to figure is the continuing belief post-9/11 that politics is irrelevant. If 9/11 was the wakeup call people thought it was at the time, surely such a transcendent event might give one pause to reconsider how one's government does its business both domestically and abroad. Why hasn't it? Certainly, our culture's tendency to absorb everything, no matter what, and spit it back at us processed, defanged, and as just another facet of the status quo, is a major part of it. (I'll link again to a tremendous 2002 essay on the subject by Thomas de Zengotita in Harper's.) Some of it is likely due to the American default position we learn in civics class--that our government is trustworthy because it's small-d democratic and thus it would never intentionally steer us wrong, so we needn't worry about it. Some of it is a flat failure of critical thinking--for all the emphasis placed on thinking skills in public education these days, people seem less able to think critically now than they could a generation or two ago. In other words, we aren't always able to match effects with causes, even simple ones. More complex ones--like the ones involved in contemporary politics--require more time and effort than many people have to spare, or are willing to devote.

What we do about this is a problem. Leon Panetta's soundbite solution is pretty generic: candidates and educators must do a better job of promoting political and civic involvement. How, specifically, do we do that in a culture where so many other things seem so much more interesting? Howard Dean, Joe Trippi, and others in the progressive universe would tell you that the Internet is the key. John Kerry is trying to adopt Dean's Internet strategy, but his campaign is clearly not as comfortable with it as Dean's was. The Kerry campaign doesn't seem to respond to events as quickly as the Dean campaign did, and its e-mails soliciting funds have the feel of old-fashioned snail-mail fundraising letters. To a recovering Deaniac, it's just another bit of evidence that at a critical moment in history, when we had the chance at real change, we lost our nerve. If the Internet is really the key to energizing people, especially the young, then our failure of nerve in 2004 is nothing short of catastrophic.

Nevertheless, among the students in the Panetta survey, Kerry has a solid lead over Bush in presidential preference. Kerry even leads when Ralph Nader, favored candidate of the critical-thinking-impaired, is factored in, although a quarter of those surveyed say they're undecided. But will the students who favor Kerry actually turn out to vote? We can guess that Bush's student supporters will. In the typical university setting, which is not generally going to be congenial to Bush, wouldn't those who self-identify as Bush supporters be somewhat more likely to engage politically than those who simply get their political opinions from the air that they breathe? And won't they be more likely to make up the next generation of committed activists? Thus, I think the Panetta Institute survey is cause for real depression. If 9/11 couldn't transform young Americans into fully participating citizens, and John Kerry can't play Pied Piper in the right key, what's left?

Recommended Reading: LA Weekly reports on the Take Back America conference held earlier this month in Washington. Dean and Trippi are prominently featured--but reporter Brendan Bernhard wonders if all the talk of united action to defeat Bush won't eventually lead to more polarization, as everything in life, from choosing a vacation destination to picking a long-distance provider, becomes a political act.

Speaking of political acts, officials at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks fired a student DJ last week for celebrating Ronald Reagan's death on the campus radio station. Over the weekend the inevitable backtracking began, as campus administrators reinstated the DJ pending an investigation, and made all the appropriate noises about defending free speech. It turns out, says the station's GM, that the DJ was fired for entirely unrelated reasons and not for what he said on the air. Everybody who believes that, raise your hand. Now, let's see a show of hands from those of you who believe the guy got sacked for failure to follow the national media's reverential lead.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Courage to Say the Unsayable
Strange though it may seem to you, I occasionally watch the Inspiration Network, the fundie religious channel. I was watching on the night of September 11, 2001, when the network's--ahem--godfather, Morris Cerullo, proclaimed "We didn’t know this was going to happen, but God knew it was going to happen, and God is in control." (If I'd had a brick, it would have gone through the picture tube.) INSP is the TV home of Rod Parsley, the sweatiest man in evangelism, and is one of the many outlets broadcasting the weekly "prophecy news update" anchored by Jack and Rexella Van Impe, who have been predicting that Jesus is coming back within a few weeks, really, we mean it, you better get ready, since the late 1960s at least.

But my favorite INSP personality is John Hagee, the corpulent senior pastor of San Antonio's Cornerstone Church. In addition to being a thunderous preacher of hell and damnation, he's been a movie producer (low-rent ripoffs of the Left Behind series) and is also--I kid you not--an Internet service provider. Like any good fundie these days, Hagee is foursquare behind George W. Bush, and like many good fundies, he's utterly incapable of seeing irony. This morning, for example, he was demanding that "politicians who use the blood of American soldiers to get themselves elected" shut up. Beats me who he could have been talking about. Whenever he preaches a political sermon (which is fairly often), he reiterates that America is a nation chosen by God to do God's will in the world, and, by extension, that George W. Bush is God's representative on Earth.

After I turned Hagee off (a few minutes of him is usually enough), I came up here to my office to catch up with the world, and I found a couple of posts on ICH News with which the Reverend Mr. Hagee would violently disagree. First, from Ghali Hassan, in "The Fallacy of Righteous America." Yes, Hassan says, Americans are fond of saying we're always on the side of justice--but we also are the ones who define what we mean by justice. Needless to say, our definition is different from, say, the Vietnamese, or the Iraqis. And even liberals who wouldn't subscribe to Bush's moral code--that because all of his actions are directed by God, none of them are immoral--get sucked into our skewed vision of "justice" thanks to cheerleading media coverage and a disinclination to think about how others in the world perceive us. Yes, there's a moral absolute where justice is concerned--but it ain't what we're practicing.

Sheila Samples ponders Bush's warmongering God and wonders what's happened to the God she knows--and, more specifically, to the people who believe in the God she knows. A lengthy excerpt is warranted:

It's faith-shattering to realize that the wondrous salvation offered by that ancient and most wonderful man of Galilee--teachings that have endured over a span of more than 2,000 turbulent years--are suddenly meaningless. Surely, those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ are under a spell; they are bewitched by a shallow destructive fool who petutantly demands special treatment and obedience because he is--Praise God--"born-again." Is there not one Christian who will dare to point out that, in his foolish crusade to rid the world of evil--a task that only God can perform--Bush has murdered more innocent people in the last two years than all terrorists combined?

Just one Christian. Just one with the courage to say the unsayable--that George Bush has no knowledge of objectivity nor values . . . that he likely is unable to even pronounce "metaphysics," let alone understand its spiritual implications, and is unable to form a philosophical concept of a true God. Is there not even one Christian who misses God and His blessed influence in everything around us--the poetry of life, the music, the sun-lit laughter inspired by goodness and mercy--the sheer joy of reaching out to help those in need--the most vulnerable among us?
There didn't seem to be any at John Hagee's service this morning, as they applauded his pro-war, pro-Bush rant. And his church reportedly has 17,000 members.

It's one of my standard shticks here that more liberal Christians need to stand up against the fundamentalist nonsense that distorts nearly everything Bush's government touches. It's one thing for me to do it, but I'm a hellbound atheist puke. Non-fundie Christians have far greater moral authority, but they'd best get busy before it's too late. Samples cites several examples of the extreme theocratic ideas lurking out there in the Bush-believing Right. In that light, it makes the choice between Bush and John Kerry seem pretty stark. On another level, however, the choice between Bush and Kerry isn't much of a choice at all. Columnist Charley Reese wrote this past week that Kerry and the Democrats are "tweedledee to the Republicans' tweedledum," and he's right. We are not going to get the throwdown between competing visions that the country really needs to have in 2004--the kind of thing we'd have gotten with Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, or even John Edwards as the nominee. Instead, we're getting a debate over nuance, and in Reese's view, Kerry is doomed to fail if he fights the campaign on that basis: "Somebody in his campaign had better tell him quick that the American voting population is not into nuances. They want a choice between bourbon and scotch, not a choice between brands of scotch." And the religious dimension of the campaign--the hijacking of the government by a fringe religious group that represents 20 percent of the population at the most--is a rail Kerry dares not touch. Too bad--because I'd argue that it subsumes all the other issues: war and peace, the economy, the environment, civil rights and social justice.

Past and Future: Andrew Greeley looks back to 1933 Germany and wonders how much 2004 America is like it. And Riverfront Times, the alternative weekly in St. Louis, tells the story of a St. Louis-area man who got a late-night visit from the Secret Service because he wrote an e-mail saying he'd be happy if Osama bin Laden eliminated Bush. Was his e-mail being scanned? Probably. By whom? Nobody's quite sure. Will the same thing happen in the future, in other places and to other people? Book it.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Goodnight, Sweet Prince--Now Get the Hell Off My TV
Here's just the thing for the C-SPAN repeat tonight: Ronnie! The Reagan State Funeral Drinking Game. My guess is you'll be hammered in half-an-hour. Before the drinking starts, you might want to read Salon's inimitable Eric Boehlert and his analysis of the week of fawning Reagan coverage. Boehlert raises a point that crossed my mind today also: "President Clinton left office with higher approval ratings than Reagan did, and a USA Today poll last year found that more Americans consider Clinton to be 'the greatest' president than think Reagan was. Does anyone think that if Clinton were to die in the current media climate, his critics and criticism of him would effectively be banned from the airwaves?"

I think not. Plus his corpse would be hung from a lamppost like Mussolini.

This next item is absolutely the last goddamn link to something about Reagan on this blog: "Pennies from Heaven" by Charles Pierce, a first-person account of what Reagan has learned after less than a week in the Great Beyond. "First of all, most of that 'family values' stuff is bunk. Really. You'd be amazed at how few people up here actually care that somebody's ass is showing on HBO. . . . You should hear Aquinas and St. Augustine laughing at Pat Robertson. They all get together to watch the 700 Club the way kids used to get together to watch the Stooges."

I don't believe in Heaven, but that last bit makes me wish I did.

The View Out the Window of the Bus
Everybody's got Reagan on the brain today. Thank goodness they're planting the man tonight and we can all get on with our lives. Here are some samples from my e-mail inbox this morning.

"A possible headline for your blog--'Reagan: The New Diana.' Do you remember such hubaloo in your lifetime over a president who died of natural causes? Geez, enough already."
Short answer: No. Nixon's funeral services in 1994 were held entirely in California, and were unique because of his unique place in history. I don't remember LBJ's funeral in 1973, or Truman's in 1972, or Ike's in 1969. But unlike those funerals, this time, we're not mourning a man, a husband, a father, or even a president. We're mourning a potent political symbol at a moment in our history when everything is politicized. So the unseemly rush to put Reagan on the 50-cent piece, the $10 bill, and/or the $20 bill (all proposals introduced in Congress this week over Nancy Reagan's objections) is not so much about honoring Reagan the president as it is an excuse for Repugs to dole out political punishment to Democrats, win or lose. It's a game of Mine's Bigger Than Yours, and they're baiting the opposition into it because they can.

"If the 1984 presidential election had been held in 1983, I doubt Reagan would've been re-elected. You'll recall that the unemployment rate was a whopping 11%, some 250 Marines were killed in a terrorist attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut...and, to divert attention away from that tragedy, Reagan ordered an attack on Grenada. There was also the James Watt fiasco that year." [Watt banned the Beach Boys from the July 4 National Mall concert because he feared they would "attract the wrong element"--a decision Reagan overturned.]
I remember 1983, with Beirut and Grenada coming on top of each other--and let's not forget the Soviet shootdown of the Korean airliner at about the same time, either, and the ongoing nuclear freeze movement. I can still remember the free-floating sensation of dread I felt every time I turned on the news, as if the world had come unhinged in some significant way and it was only a matter of time until those Russian missles came raining down. It hadn't and they didn't, of course--and as my friend went on to note in his e-mail this morning, things turned around, at least for Reagan and the Republicans, in 1984.

Dread (over something unrelated to my social skills, anyway) was a new experience for me then. Now, it's clear to everybody that our world has come unhinged in a significant way once again. But as anybody of progressive bent who's lived through the last three years can tell you, it's possible to build up a tolerance for dread. Yet when you step back and survey the wreckage, sometimes your tolerance leaves you and the proportions of the disaster become breathtaking. At Best of the Blogs this morning, Jerry Bowles suggests we use this national day of mourning to step back--but also to look forward, and think about how we can begin to recover.

When contemplating the proportions of the disaster, it's easy to start feeling that surely, things can't go on like this forever. We must be hurtling toward a terminal point of some sort. No matter what the point might represent--from the terrorist attack that results in suspension of the Constitution and martial law, to the Rapture the fundies keep dreaming about, to an asteriod pancaking the planet--the idea that at some finite moment we are going to end this era and begin another can be weirdly comforting. Surely it's more comforting than the alternative, which is that things become more chaotic and things keep hurtling even faster but we never end up anywhere, like we're all riding an out-of-control bus that never crashes, but just keeps careening endlessly through the streets.

So here's some (potentially) good news: The endpoint may be coming, and damn soon. From San Francisco (where they should know if anybody does), Mark Morford draws together the various threads of apocalypse that seem to be all around us and finds the possibility that sort of doomsday mega-event, a comet or asteroid impact or suchlike, may befall us in the next few weeks, perhaps as early as next weekend.

Figures it would be on a weekend.

As I first read Morford's column and clicked some of the links included, I got another little shiver of dread, an older kind, not the familiar "Christ, what's Bush done now" dread, but the kind I used to get from reading Frank Edwards books (or the Book of Revelation) when I was a kid--the dread that comes from realizing that while some things are just too weird for our minds to comprehend, they could happen anyhow. But the more I think about the chance that The End is Near, the less I dread it and the more I feel like saying "Bring it on." I don't expect the world to last forever; neither am I afraid of dying. And if the world is going to go, we'll have much less regret should it go by way of some natural disaster than because of some human-induced stupidity. I'm not suicidal by any means--but if we have to go sometime, and we do, and it's our misfortune to have that time be now, then so be it. Why fight it?

Of course, then I clicked Morford's last link, and it was back on the bus again. Maybe.

In the summer of 1999, I wrote an article for the local alternative weekly in Iowa City about the coming of the millennium. (The paper no longer exists, and to put the article on the web I'd have to type it in, so don't expect to see it anytime soon.) The gist of the article was that believing an end is coming soon actually frees us from the need to solve our problems. (Remember when Watt, Secretary of the Interior, told Congress that "my responsibility is to follow the Scriptures, which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns," which was interpreted as saying there was little need for long-term management of forests or oil reserves?) It's a lot harder to accept the idea that the journey is all there is--that there's no destination, and so we have to deal with our problems rather than assuming that after a while, they (or we) will no longer be a problem. Now maybe, we're not wired to do that. Maybe our mortality makes it impossible for us to take the long view even if we're inclined to. But who can deny that we'd be better off if we could?

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