Monday, January 31, 2005

A Bowl of Chili, Please, and I'll Take it to Go
Thank goodness Super Bowl week has finally arrived. Last week, the sports media provided continuous updates on Philadelphia Eagles' wide receiver Terrell Owens and whether his injured ankle would permit him to play in the big game. Outlets such as ESPN seemed slightly embarrassed to be devoting so much time to it, but they couldn't help themselves--it was literally the only story available during the off-week prior to the game.

Now that game week is here, the stories will increase in variety, but not necessarily in importance. The biggest is likely to be the announcement of whether Owens will, in fact, play (it will most likely come on Thursday). My first Super Bowl prediction is this: Owens won't play, having been convinced by cooler heads that it would be better to miss the game and collect the remaining millions on his contract than it would be to play, be largely ineffective (which he almost certainly would be), and risk further injury. Besides, even if he doesn't play, Owens will have kept the sports media focused almost exclusively on him for over a week--an accomplishment he most likely cherishes almost as much as he would a Super Bowl ring.

Now, my other prediction. It's only Monday, but I already know I am making chili for the game. The only question in my mind is which recipe to use. And it's only Monday, but I already know who's going to win the game--the only question in my mind is the actual score.

Once each decade, a team comes along against whom it's madness to bet: the Dallas Cowboys of the early 90s, the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s, and the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s. Should New England win on Sunday, they'd join those early-90s Cowboys as the only team in the Super Bowl era to win three times in four years. The Eagles are a good team, but the Patriots are a great one. I don't think the game will be one of those Super Bowl blowouts, 55-10 or 52-17, but barring wholesale arrests or mass food poisoning, just as a New England victory over Pittsburgh was a mortal lock last weekend, a New England victory over Philadelphia is a mortal lock this Sunday.

I'm Outta Here: Politics has been my hobby for many years, but when the average day's political news makes a person want to beat his head against the wall of his office, it may be time to reconsider his hobby, especially if he lacks the skills to patch drywall. So this blog is going on hiatus for a couple of weeks, although I may post if something comes along that's simply too good to pass up.

If anyone's looking for me, I'll be in the bar.

Fish Out of Water
One of the major accomplishments of the Bush Administration is that they've raised the bar for "holy crap" moments--the sort of stories that slap you upside the head and leave you gasping. After absorbing so many in four years, it can take an especially hefty whack to get our attention. Behold, one hefty whack:
[W]hen told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes "too far" in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.
Holy crap, indeed--that's fertilizer for fascism.

As to what might be responsible for these attitudes, I'll make a couple of wild guesses. As the scholars quoted in the AP article linked above suggest, not doing enough to teach the First Amendment (and the whole Constitution) is surely part of it--but even when the Constitution is taught, it isn't always taught in a useful way. To millions of Americans, the Constitution is almost like a fetish object. Everybody knows what it is and claims to venerate it, but far fewer people know that it's a document arrived at through political processes that was designed as a template for other political processes--in other words, we treat it like a dead artifact instead of a living document, as if it sprung whole from the brain of the gods and is to remain eternal and unchanging. And when we do treat the Constitution as a living document, we want to mess with it in ways that illustrate our profound misunderstanding of what the Constitution is for, with amendments against flag burning or same-sex marriage.

We're far less likely to acquaint ourselves with the ways the Constitution protects us on a daily basis, and how its protections have functioned throughout our history. A living document is only alive when people can sense that it's alive. When I was student teaching (eight years ago now), I had to teach a district-mandated curriculum called "The Law and You" for a week. This was supposed to be where my freshmen learned about the legal system. But the curriculum dwelt on things easily tested by multiple choice and short answer questions, like the difference between the circuit court and the district court, how many judges are on the Iowa Supreme Court, and so on, and I knew my kids well enough to know they were going to go face down in such material--and so would I. So I decided to teach them about the law by examining cases that would seem real to them--trespassing, hit-and-run, censorship of the school newspaper, and so on. We tied the discussions to the broader legal issues involved, and to ideas of civic responsibility, too. My reward came the day a student known mostly to me for sleeping in class came up after the bell and said, "Are we doing this again tomorrow? I love this!" We took something dry and impersonal and made it real and alive--and if I could do it with traffic laws, it could be done with the Constitution and Bill of Rights, too.

So we aren't taught about the Constitution in a way that makes it vital and alive. But we've got another related problem, and it's with our point of view. Because we're taught from birth that the Founding Fathers were geniuses, and that the system they designed has been self-evidently perfect from the first day, we believe that there's no way the system could ever run off the rails. By treating our political institutions as snapshots of perfection, we lose our ability to critique them when necessary. And so, if the government ever takes it upon itself to censor newspapers, for example, it must have a very good reason for doing so, and who are we to say otherwise? If the heirs of Washington and Jefferson do it, it must be OK. Right?

But maybe there's a more immediate reason for why young people seem to us so careless about their rights. Think about the world your average teen has grown up in over these past several years. They've been repeatedly told by parents, teachers, political leaders, and other authority figures how much danger they're in--from strangers, drugs, sex, and, for the last three years, terrorist evildoers under the bed. Some authority figures are fond of suggesting that bad thoughts--political, sexual, cultural--represent the worst dangers of all. Why shouldn't kids who've been brought up on such talk think that the people charged with protecting them from danger should have the right to do so by any means necessary, even if it's by censoring opinions and thoughts that used to be OK? After all, this is an era like no other, right?

You don't need me to tell you that we ignore the Constitution and Bill of Rights at our extreme peril, even if they're so much a part of our lives that we take them for granted. Fact is, these documents affect our everyday lives to such a degree that the rights we enjoy because of them make us like fish who don't know they're wet. At least until the pond dries up.

There Will Be No Spelling Tests in Heaven
Keith Olbermann first got noticed as co-host of the Sunday night Sportscenter on ESPN in the mid 90s. After battling with his bosses, he left ESPN for MSNBC in 1998, almost at the precise moment the Lewinsky hit the fan, battled with his bosses there, and quit in disgust about a year later. He landed at Fox Sports for a while, where he did the most erudite sports highlight show in the history of TV (utterly wasted on Fox) but swiftly quit after--you guessed it--battling with his bosses. He was a columnist at Salon for a while in 2002, but now hosts Countdown on MSNBC. He's getting a reputation as the prime-time news host with a brain--for example, he was the only one to cover accusations of vote fraud in Ohio with anything other than tongue-clucking and head-shaking--and as a result, Countdown is enjoying a growing fan base amongst intelligent viewers of liberal bent.

Once, on ESPN, after reporting that an injured athlete's status was "day to day," meaning that on any given day, the athlete might be able to play or might not, Olbermann remarked, "But aren't we all all day to day?"--a remark both funny and smart, and miles ahead of the usual blather that passes for wit on ESPN. (Olbermann claims to be responsible for introducing catch-phrases into sports broadcasting, a transgression for which he believes he could be sent to Hell.) His wit is on display at his blog, Bloggermann. Lately he's been tracking his battle with James Dobson and the forces of good as they attempt to slay Spongebob Squarepants and all who would stand with him. In a post last week, Olbermann reported on an e-mail campaign against him orchestrated by Dobson.
Firstly, you wouldn’t think a member of this group could misspell "Christian," but sure enough, one of the missives had the word as "Christain" three times. I think just about every word you could imagine was butchered at some point (and we’re not talking typos here - we're talking about repeated identical misspellings):

Spong, Spounge, Spnge - presumably meaning "Sponge."

Dobsin, Dobsen, Debsin, Dubsen, Dobbins - presumably Dr. Dobson.

Sevility— I'm not sure about this one. This might be "civility," or it might refer to the city in Spain.

The best of them was not a misspelling but a Freudian slip of biblical proportions. A correspondent, unhappy that I did not simply agree with her fire-and-brimstone forecast for me, wrote "I showed respect even though I disagreed with you and yet you have the audacity to call me intelligent."

Well, you have me there, Ma'am. My mistake.
We're adding Olbermann to the blogroll.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Mom's Right Again
"When you are angry and tempted to write a letter, write it, then put it in a drawer overnight before you send it." Did your mother ever tell you that? It's good advice. Billie Miller of Ridgecrest, California, probably should have taken it. Billie is the one who wrote to the local paper blasting liberals and criticizing the paper for printing their words, and who concluded with, "Either you are a good conservative with God or you are not with God." People from around the world responded with a blizzard of letters (Atrios links to them here), and yesterday, Billie wrote again to climb off that earlier letter. Of course, conservatives are going to hit the roof screeching how liberals intimidated this good Christian into backing down. But if Billie was intimidated, it wasn't in any immoral or unethical manner. In fact, it was a textbook example of how a free society works. The best remedy for bad ideas is better ideas. Billie exercised the right to free speech (albeit while suggesting that free speech should be denied to others people with differing views), and so did the community--and the community's ideas prevailed.

Quote of the Day: Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist Michael Sneed is reporting today that Alan Keyes is planning a bid for Illinois governor in 2006. Hey, all he has to do is turn 21 percent of the 70 percent who voted against him last time, but once you've convinced yourself that Jesus is coming back, you can get yourself to believe anything is possible. Fly Trap gets QotD for its campaign advice to Keyes, including a suggestion to consort with hookers and sterilize them against their will. "And don't forget to do your darndest to lose the few mental faculties you still possess. If Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kentucky taught us anything, being a right-wing nutjob is just not enough to secure the V in today's GOP."

Middle Eastern Wild West
A quick surf through the cable news channels this morning finds them all palpitating at the spectacle of the Iraqi election this weekend. Even National Public Radio got into it this morning, with a report on Iraqi expatriates in Australia who were casting their ballots. It seems to me if they're going to let people who don't live in Iraq vote in Iraq, then all of us in the United States ought to be able to vote, too. According to Costofwar.com, every household in the country has invested more than $1440 in the war--so where's my ballot?

There has already been lots of optimistic prattling about what a turning point this represents for Iraq, and for the war effort--but the vapidness of said prattle is probably unfair to the concept of "prattle." Remember how the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 was supposed to be a sign of the end? When it wasn't, the killing of Saddam's sons became the latest sign of the end. Then it was the capture of Saddam himself. Then it was the transfer of sovereignty. Then it was the Battle of Fallujah. Each of those has been followed by more fighting and little progress. So take those failed milestones, mix them with the predictions of civil war that have been coming from informed observers for over a year, shake well--and then tell me which outcome you'd bet on following the election: the bright dawn of Iraqi democracy, or more fresh hell?

If ever there was a weekend to turn off your TV--at least the news channels--this is going to be it. Mainstream media outlets will be able to find Iraqis who are eager to vote, and who believe that the elections will, in fact, deliver what Bush promises they will. It's unlikely they'll talk to the Iraqis who believe the delegates to the National Assembly have already been chosen and the election is just a show. And they'll certainly be unable to talk to the Iraqis who are going to be blown up in attacks on polling places--attacks the United States is unable to stop.

Better you should read stories by journalists who have gone beyond the cordon sanitaire of Baghdad's Green Zone and gotten out into the country, beyond the reach of the spin doctors. Christian Parenti is one of them--he was embedded with both the 82nd Airborne and the Iraqi resistance, he hung out with Iraqi family members waiting outside Abu Ghraib for news of prisoners, and has written a book called The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq. Parenti declares the election a sham, because at least half the population lives in lawless areas where there will be no vote. Furthermore, the U.S. military is rounding up men between the ages of 18 and 40--and you can bet there will be no absentee ballots for them wherever they are detained. Out in the provinces, he says, daily life is "an extreme version of the Wild West." It's "a war of all against all," with crime, drug use, and prostitution rampant. People whose lives have been ravaged by all that won't, in all likelihood, give a damn about the election.

But don't you worry, Mr. and Mrs. America. Iraqis in Australia are voting. It won't be long before the whole place is like Connecticut, only with more sand.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Hey, Stupid, Wake Up
Regular readers of this bilge may know that I am an occasional contributor at Best of the Blogs, where I posted this morning on an article from the Financial Times by Michael Lind, the point of which is that while the United States is trying to bring the world into line behind us, at the point of a gun if necessary, the world is going about its business without us. Furthermore, China, Russia, and the EU feel no sense of responsibility to account for us in their plans--as well they shouldn't. It ain't their job to look out for us. The consequences of such a reordering are potentially enormous. The economic consequences alone will likely be the first ones we face, and the storm could begin literally any day.

These consequences are well-known to those of us in the reality-based community--but we're not everybody. (If we were, President Kerry would be getting comfortable in his new office right about now.) Two of my Best of the Blogs colleagues, Jeff Popovich (in a post) and Vicki Meagher (in a comment), remind me that what seems self-evident to the reality-based community is not self-evident to the "large swath of the American public who think we're really kicking ass in the world," and that the point needs reiterating. Better believe it does: Take a look at those surveys that suggest a large percentage of Americans think the rest of the world supports Bush and the Iraq war, for example. Or ask any random person on the street where the U.S ranks in world infant mortality figures, for example. (Answer below.) There are a million things we just don't know, and we just don't care, and won't, until the morning the fertilizer hits the ventilator, and then millions will wonder why nobody told 'em.

Dude, it was in block letters four inches high--how much more notice do you need?

Also in response to my post, BotB contributor Leftcoast quotes Seymour Hersh on the economic crisis that's almost inevitable if the United States continues to act as if China, Russia, and the EU are its, well, bitches. Dr. Thompson urges us to "Abandon all hope. Prepare for the Weirdness. Get familiar with Cannibalism." This may be a time to embrace the disaster--because if forestalling it requires waking a somnolent public and getting through to a government firmly resolved to ignore reality, disaster is what we're going to get.

Answer: The newsmagazine The Week (which I highly recommend) reported last week that the U.S. now ranks 44th in worldwide infant mortality. We've slipped behind Cuba. No, no--the Cubans are supposed to be able to beat us only in baseball.

Everybody Duck
Cast your memory back into the misty realms of history, to a half-forgotten era, when the world was a far different place than it is today. A colossus of a man stood astride it, and basked in the adulation of millions as he spoke in bold and lofty terms of mission and calling, promising that the world that was would be transformed, through hard work and steadfast belief, into the better, brighter world that will be.

Remember that time?

One week ago?

This morning, the AP's lead political writer, Ron Fournier, writes that "after setting lofty second-term goals, President Bush is suddenly lowering expectations." Even taking into account, as Fournier's piece does, that other presidents have done the same thing as reality catches up with rhetoric, this is quite amazing. And fairly stupid politically, if you think about it. Although we tend to think of the second Bush term as four more years of hell, it's really only about 18 months of hell, because he'll be able to accomplish precious little in the months before the 2006 elections, and not much at all once his lame-duck status becomes a primary factor after that. But by scaling back expectations so drastically, it's as if he's accepting his lame-duck status one week into his second term.

Not that I'm complaining or anything. The less he tries to do, the less trouble he'll get us into. But it seems pretty strange that the very man whose supporters act as if he were FDR, Patton, and Jesus rolled into one doesn't buy his own hype.

Milestone: Based on the web counter at the bottom of the right-hand column, we will most likely go over the 10,000-visit mark sometime today, and we're close to reaching 15,000 page views. Honesty compels me to report that's about as many people as read Kos or Wonkette in an hour, so this is one of the less-populated corners of the Internet. But I am grateful to the intrepid explorers who have hacked their way through the underbrush in order to find this oasis.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

I Heart Ana Marie
Wonkette live-blogs the presidential news conference this morning:
10:03 Iraqi freedom will require "commitment of generations," i.e., "We will be drafting your grandchildren."

10:17 Ah. The Japan comparison. Not sure that's super relevant or comforting. First, we were there seven years. Second: we dropped TWO NUCLEAR WEAPONS on them. Of course they were willing to cooperate. They were glowing.

10:23 Oh, well, if he's "constantly reminding" them about liberty, nevermind. America: Like your mom, but about liberty.
A reader of this blog likes this one: "10:15 How many people have to die before 'the world is safer without Saddam....' starts to sound hollow?" How many, indeed.

Also funny today: When it comes to laughing at butt-clenched religious conservatives, Mark Morford has it down.

Krusty and Krabby
After a couple of days away from this blog, I am feeling plenty damn curmudgeonly this morning.

Item: Will Lester of the AP leads a story this morning with the following: "Some of President Bush's bedrock supporters — Southerners and rural residents — have lost confidence in the likelihood of a stable, democratic Iraq."

Comment: Thanks a lot, bubbas. You delivered this idiot to us for four more years, and now you're starting to open your eyes? When the draft comes, it should take your children first.

Item: The right-wingers have decided that defacing the Constitution with a ban on same-sex marriage is the biggest, most importantest thing facing the country at the moment, and they're willing to withhold their support for the destruction of Social Security in order to get it.

Comment: The Dobson/Falwell mob got snookered by Bush and Rove--they voted for Bush thinking their every bigoted wet dream was going to come true within a couple months of the inauguration, but they didn't see that same-sex marriage is like almost every other cultural issue to Bush--a subject for good, symbol-laden talk, but not anything he's willing to act upon politically. (Witness his chicken-hearted phone call to Roe v. Wade opponents, earlier this week, instead of walking across the street to appear before them in person.) Now that they've had the scales ripped from their eyes, they're pitching a fit that would do a five-year-old proud: "I want my Constitutional amendment and I want it now!"

Of course, if they want to withhold support for the president's Social Security plan, well, welcome to the team. Never mind the whole Spongebob thing.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Time Out
Posts are going to be light to nonexistent here from now until Wednesday at least, as I have other reponsibilities that are keeping me away from my computer for a while. In the interim, you might want to head over to the website of a newspaper called The Beast, based in Buffalo, New York. It's got some pretty funny stuff, including real op-ed columns by the likes of Matt Taibbi, a favorite of mine, and fake news like you'd find in The Onion. A recent issue features a list of the 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2004. Some excerpts: Dick Cheney is "The kind of guy who starts talking cannibalism the minute he steps on the lifeboat." George W. Bush: "Appears to be only dimly aware that he is destroying the future, but seems to think it’s kind of funny." Donald Trump: "Is to dignified wealth what Michael Jackson is to competent childcare."

The piece (author sadly uncredited) suggests a fitting punishment for each person on the list. For instance, for Mel Gibson, "Neurodegenerative illness that could have been cured through stem cell research." For Nicole Richie, star of the Fox series The Simple Life, with Paris Hilton: "10-page pictorial in Stuff sans airbrushing, and no Oxycontin for a whole week." And so on. Harsh, but hilarious.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Coming Back to Get Us
It's a quiet morning here in Wisconsin--if you don't count the guys with the giant gas-powered snowblowers who felt the need to clear the walkways outside my condo at 4AM. (They'll be back tomorrow, I'd wager--out my office window at the moment is a scene of Arctic splendor.) It's a good morning to reflect on the fact, oft stated but easily forgotten, that while the Shi'ite Repugs currently running the country might think they can make of history whatever they want, they can't erase the names or the legacies of the people who have fought, are fighting, and will fight against their meanness of spirit.
...the renegades, the outcasts....the iconoclasts, the trail blazers, the visionaries and those we thought had lost their way...only to find that they had gone out so far in advance of us, sometimes to the good and sometimes to the bad, that they had to come back to get us....
Kid Oakland and the readers of Daily Kos are in the process of assembling a list. That Oakland . . . dude can write.

If you're interested in helping a good fight yourself, go here and see if your Senator is on the Judiciary Committee. Then get in touch with him or her first thing Monday morning and express your opposition to the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general. According to Liberal Oasis, only one Democrat, Ted Kennedy, has said how he will vote, and at this moment, all he will say is that he's leaning toward a no vote. It's important that Democrats hold the line and vote against Gonzales as a bloc--so much so that committee chair Arlen Spector has gone on record saying he's worried about the effect of a united Dem opposition. So get in touch already. The vote is going to be next week. The best thing to do is to call your senator's Washington office. E-mails are dime a dozen (although it couldn't hurt to send one, too), and if you write a snail-mail letter, it won't get through in time. All Congressional mail is still being irradiated to kill anthrax, and can be delayed for weeks before somebody actually reads it.

Predictions Sure to Be Wrong:
I will go into less detail with my football picks for this weekend because there are only two games tomorrow, and because I was pretty wrong last week--although in the two games I picked correctly, Pittsburgh over New York and Philadelphia over Minnesota, I nailed the number of points scored by the winning team. (One must tout his successes even when modest--it's the American Way.)

Philadelphia over Atlanta. It's going to be cold and windy in Philadelphia with some snow. You'd think this favors a team that runs the ball, like Atlanta, but some experts say it actually favors a passing team, like Philadelphia. The more you listen to experts, the less you think you know. Philadelphia 21, Atlanta 14.

New England over Pittsburgh.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady reminds me of Bart Starr, the great Packers quarterback of the 1960s, who is still my favorite football player of all time. Like Starr, Brady rarely makes mistakes, runs the offense like it was a Ferrari, and is capable of carrying the team on his back when necessary. And after watching the Patriots' defense befuddle Peyton Manning last week, I am convinced that a Patriots' win is a close to a mortal lock as anything in recent years, no matter how talented the Steelers are. New England 28, Pittsburgh 17.

Keep in mind that at least one of these predictions is likely to be wrong, and also that one of these games could very easily be a blowout, rather than the fairly close games I am predicting and fans would like to see. That's because I have been listening to experts all week, and they've rendered me stupid.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Quotes of the Day
Friends, meet George Dallas McKinney, newly nominated chaplain of the United States Senate: "Part of the problem that we're seeing now with Social Security has to do with the fact that 40 to 50 million people who have been killed through abortions have not taken their role as productive citizens."

As Spin Boldak wrote at World O'Crap: "Time is warped. Space is curved. DNA is twisted. But this guy is just plain bent."

The joke of the day comes courtesy of Vicki Meagher over at Best of the Blogs:
Q: How many Bush Administration officials does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: None. There is nothing wrong with the light bulb. It's improving every day. Any reports of its lack of incandescence are a delusional spin from the liberal media. That light bulb has served honorably, and anything you say undermines the lighting effect. Why do you hate freedom?
Recommended Reading: Thomas Frank, author of What the Matter With Kansas?, talks to In These Times.

Arrogance and Condescension, Scorn and Shame
So Bush's second inaugural is history, and likely to be consigned to the oblivion that has awaited all but a handful of inauguration speeches in American history. It was full of lots of high-falutin' language, but if your spouse or a parent talked about his accomplishments and plans in language similarly disconnected from what you know to be real, you'd put 'em in a home.

The Internet-as-firehose metaphor is pretty apt this morning, with so much inaugural analysis floating around. Here are some links from my trip around the 'sphere:

The best analysis of the speech I've read yet comes from David Corn of The Nation, who heckles the president during the speech. There's another good deconstruction of Bush's text at Perrspectives.com.
In one short speech, Bush encapsulated all the defining traits of his presidency. The rhetorical flourishes of his global crusade for freedom, a post-facto rationale for the war in Iraq, only amplified the arrogance and condescension that have earned America scorn abroad and produced shame for Americans at home. The meanness of spirit and the mocking tone of opponents was also present, as was the staggering hypocrisy and irony were on display. And, as usual, Bush called forth God in ways that devalue our democracy and insult our history.
Armando at Daily Kos wrote about the catchphrase from the address, "the calling of our time."
If ever the phrase "watch what we do, not what we say" was appropriate, it is now. The Bush Administration has proven time and again that its words are meaningless, even on those rare occasions when they are true.
(On Inauguration Day, Dick Cheney found time to rattle his saber at Iran, which prompted Armando to remark, "Coming from the de facto President of the United States, I think those words may have some significance.")

At Best of the Blogs, Jerry Bowles captures the meaninglessness of what Bush says versus what his administration does in one simple photograph and two sentences from the inaugural--after which there's nothing more to say.

Turning back to Kos, Kid Oakland noted that the inauguration signifies the utter failure of the Ameican press. Media Matters' scoreboard of conservative commentators versus liberal commentators on the cable channels yesterday only underscores that failure.

Recommended Reading: One more inaugural moment, which might make you laugh, albeit in a sort of how-dumb-are-these-dipsticks way. But this is not quite so funny. It's a look inside the mind of somebody who was no doubt utterly fulfilled by Bush's inauguration yesterday. Bring a flashlight, because it's dark in there.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Cascade of Debacle
Bush said the other day that he saw his reelection as an "accountability moment." In voting booths from Dixville Notch to Guam, Americans held Bush accountable--for one brief second. Because a plurality of the voters gave him a thumbs-up rather than a thumbs-down, he considers his slate wiped clean, and whatever mistakes he may have made in his first term (even if he acknowledges none of the biggest ones explicitly) are not just erased from history as if they'd never happened, but resoundingly transformed into the right thing to do.

That's not the way the reality-based world works, however. Out here, human beings cannot escape the consequences of their actions so easily. But reality doesn't stop millions of Americans from doggedly believing our country is exempt from the consequences of our actions--and particularly from the consequences of our history. Just as our ancestors could reinvent themselves if they chose, simply by traveling over the next ridge to set up a new homestead, we believe we can still do the same, metaphorically. And what historical memory we do possess is often highly selective--we like to credit ourselves forever for the good we have done (even when we're no longer doing it), and we often refuse even to acknowledge the wrongs we commit, let alone learn from them. These, I am convinced, are some of the primary traits that make Americans Americans in the 21st century.

If we're lousy at using our own history to guide our path in the present, we're even worse at using other people's history as a guide. For example, Bob Dreyfuss of TomPaine.com posted a long excerpt earlier this week from an article by Patrick Lang, who points out how the current plan to reorganize Iraq like an American-style democracy ignores the 20th century history of Iraq. Seen in the light of history, civil war seems almost inevitable--barring some kind of ahistorical miracle, that is.

But when it comes time to bet on what will happen, Americans will bet the ahistorical miracle almost every time, because history doesn't mean anything to us. So when the civil war breaks out, many Americans will claim they never saw it coming, or will place the blame for it on backward desert-dwellers who aren't wise enough to know what's best for them. Never mind that a cursory reading of history could have predicted the whole cascade of debacle we've witnessed in this new American century. Our self-image, grounded in faulty recollections of history--others and our own--makes it impossible for us to believe our actions might make things worse, even when we mean well. Can't happen, we say. If it does, it must be an accident, or someone else's fault. We act for good, always. And we really believe it.

Quotes of the Day: "A Brazilian woman has given birth to a seventeen pound baby. At least someone out there in the world is more uncomfortable than John Kerry and the rest of the Dems are today."--Dave Pell, Electablog.

From Wonkette, Live-Blogging the Coronation: "11:58AM: Four more years, minus about a minute. Just keep the bourbon coming." "12:11PM: On Iraq war casualties: 'deaths that honored their whole lives.' Yeah, all 19 years."

This afternoon on Best of the Blogs: Going Souljah.

Good Luck, Suckers
On this morning when we will make official and irrevocable the worst failure of popular will and critical thinking in American history, the pessimism about our future is thick enough to drown the strongest political swimmer. (One example: Rick Perlstein in the Village Voice, "The Eve of Destruction.") First, a ceremony of investiture, then the bacchanal: a parade of military might that would do the Soviet Union proud--one in which marchers have been instructed not to look directly into the face of the king--followed by a series of inaugural balls as obscenely lavish as anything a Roman emperor ever threw for himself. And then, at least two and probably four years of scorched-earth government by a man and a party accountable to no one and utterly without shame. More soldiers to be slaughtered; more citizens to be pushed into poverty; more rights to be trampled upon.

Despite the headline on our local reactionary rag about how Bush is looking for unity in a divided nation, despite the stories on how his inaugural address will stress themes of hope and freedom, no one not already drunk on the Kool-Aid thinks that a word he will say or a promise he will make today is anything other than bullshit. This man and his party are all about tearing down, not building up; about limits and control, not freedom and opportunity; about war and death, not peace and life. They couch it all in rich religious language, but the values upon which is it is built are so far from Christian that even a hellbound atheist puke can smell them.

Irrevocable proof that there is no God will come when Bush isn't struck dead by lightning the moment he takes the oath; a just God, if he existed, could do nothing else.

Web Note: At Spinsanity, Ben Fritz, Bryan Keefer, and Brendan Nyhan have spent nearly four years monitoring political-speak by politicians of all stripes and by the media, looking for bias and spin. Now they are riding off into the sunset, saying that the process of fact-checking is alive and well in the mainstream media. Thus, they feel they can shut down their site and continue with other projects. Theirs was one of the first political sites I read regularly, and I have been grateful for their work over the years.

Of course, on this pessimistic morning, the thought occurs to me that they could just as easily have said, "We give up. The thought of four more years of calling this pack of dipsticks on their lies is just too much to bear. Good luck, suckers--we'll be at the bar."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Another Argument for Returning Alabama to the Cherokees
You may have read about the letter, uncovered by a blogger last week, by Mac Holcomb, sheriff of Marshall County, Alabama, which was posted on the county's website. It talked about how good it was in the 40s and 50s when family, God, and country were all that mattered, and homosexuality was universally considered an abomination. At AMERICAblog, John Aravosis picked up the original blog post on the letter--and yesterday, John got a tape of the sheriff, talking live to Sirius Radio talk-show host Mike Signorile. As an example of state-of-the-art red-state redneck dumb-assitude, the Signorile interview is glorious, so listen now.

You may find the sheriff's ignorance appalling, but keep in mind that he will probably get appointed to a federal judgeship by the time Bush leaves office. (Which will happen only four years from tomorrow.)

Recommended Reading: Another good one from Joe Bageant, a correspondent embedded inside the mind of Red State America, on his Scotch-Irish forebears and how their descendants are still shaping this country in their image.
Within their smoky cabins [Scotch-Irish settlers] lived a quick-tempered, hard drinking, volatile lifestyle, one that anthropologists say can still be seen in American trailer courts today. So the next time you see one of us drunkenly kicking in a neighbor's car door in some trailer court parking lot at 1 AM, try to remember: That's not a brawl you're witnessing, it's cultural diversity.
In a related story, a bunch of Bageant's relatives apparently showed up for jury duty in Memphis recently.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Wired Up
The ethics of blogging has become a major discussion topic over the last few days. Should bloggers be held to the same standards as journalists? Should they be held to some other consistent set of standards? There are two posts at Daily Kos that are worth reading, if this issue interests you: one by Kos himself, and one by a contributor, analyzing a review of Hugh Hewitt's book Blog. The review seems to suggest that because bloggers don't need to have "credentials" in order to reach a wide audience, they are somehow interfering with public discourse. This, of course, is wack. And not just wack, but an attitude that's at least 230 years out of date. The United States was founded on the idea that an engaged citizenry was smart enough to govern itself, and the conversation going on amongst bloggers and blog readers is part of that tradition. Do bloggers occasionally misrepresent or misinterpret issues? Of course, but so do citizens in a democracy. Would it be good if people weren't led astray by such misinformation? Well, yes, it would be great if we possessed perfect information all the time, but we don't. And there was never a time when we did--not even when people assumed that, for example, the New York Times and CBS News were impartial organs of truth, and that newspaper columnists possessed a degree of wisdom unavailable to their unwashed readers.

A more reasonable goal--instead of marginalizing the blogs to protect mainstream media's turf, which is what both posts view as the ultimate goal of the mainstreamers shouting about blog ethics--is greater literacy on the part of the public in regards to the public's business. It would help if people could differentiate between an analyst who knows what he or she is talking about versus one who does not--or if people could, at the very least, reliably tell truth from lies, especially when the information to do so is easily available. It seems to me that blogs are more likely to contribute to such literacy than from-the-mountaintop pronouncements of the mainstream media will. I shudder to think how stupid we'd be without the Internet and the blogosphere making it easier to know what's going on than it was in the days when the mainstreamers ruled. (Of course, "stupid" is a relative term. Even while wired up to the Internet and the blogosphere, the electorate still chose four more years of Bush.)

Those of us who know a little bit about the blogosphere know that the "ethics" charges against Kos and Jerome Armstrong are garbage--but we also know that we'll never hear the end of them. And we have a choice--we can keep trying to rebut them, but how well has that worked so far? XOverboard has another suggestion. Maybe the best defense, when wingnuts bring up garbage like this in the future--as well as other nuggets of arrant nonsense that we and they both know are garbage--is that we should suppress our natural tendency to rebut by reason, and just call them on it.
We've raised Ann Coulter to new heights by trying to counter her. She doesn't care. Michael Moore is delegitimized by the Right by means of sarcasm and humor. Dean was destroyed by jokes about the scream. If Crossfire opened every show with "and look what that crazy bitch said today," followed by a shot of Paul and James laughing their asses off, Ann Coulter would be the leggiest assistant corporate attorney in Accounts Recieving right now.

The right-wing bloggers don't want to hear our rebuttals. The President doesn't want to hear the Democrats' counter-proposals. History will never look back on this time and discuss how changes were made through the art of rational bipartisan discussion. But I'm damn sure history has a chance to look back on this era... and laugh.
We might as well laugh, because it might help. Not a bad mission statement for this blog, actually.

Monday, January 17, 2005

No, Really, We Like Black People, Honest
So, are you enjoying your Martin Luther King holiday off work today? You don't have the day off today? You're not alone. Seventy percent of businesses don't close on MLK Day; what's even more surprising is that 40 percent of state and local government offices don't, either, despite the fact that all 50 states recognize the holiday.

To vast numbers of white Americans, this isn't a real holiday--it's just another Monday. Earl Ofari Hutchinson takes note of the history of MLK Day, and how Ronald Reagan was extremely reluctant to sign the bill authorizing it because he feared that King might have been a Communist. Reagan's reluctance gave millions of white Americans the right to think of MLK Day as the black person's holiday--but even when white Americans celebrate King's legacy, they often sanitize it into yet another feel-good American story. Writing at Working for Change, Geov Parrish says that the holiday's iconography, such as "I Have a Dream" at the Lincoln Memorial and the police dogs and firehoses in Birmingham, helps people ignore King's more radical positions against imperialism in Southeast Asia and exploitation of working people at home, and helps paper over the racial prejudice that's still endemic in the United States. "[F]or white America, King's soft-focus image often reinforces white supremacism. (See? We're not so bad. We honor him now. Why don't those black people just get over it, anyway? We did.)"

When it began, the Republican Party was the greatest friend black Americans had ever had. The GOP was the party of Lincoln, after all, and the shadow of the Great Emancipator loomed over it for almost a hundred years after the Civil War--even though the party did not cover itself in glory on racial issues. But with the historic political realignment of the 1960s, when the South flipped from being solidly Democratic to solidly Republican for reasons having much to do with racial politics, Lincoln's shadow faded. Since the days of Nixon, there's been precious little reason for an African American to vote Republican, but that hasn't stopped the Policy Committee of the House of Representatives from publishing the 2005 Republican Freedom Calendar, touting all the ways in which the GOP has advanced the cause of freedom for black Americans during the 20th century. Over at the Gadflyer, Paul von Hippel stopped laughing hysterically long enough to debunk the calendar's many flawed assertions.

Did I mention that the calendar is the latest example of partisan propaganda being funded by tax dollars? It's paid for by a House committee, so that's our money they're using. First Armstrong Williams, next the Social Security Administration (although the Bush gang has elegantly denied that it will use the agency itself to spread lies about the program's solvency), and now this. The party is the state and the state is the party. In other words: We're all Republicans now.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Snookered Again
News item: The Dean campaign paid $3,000 a month for services during the presidential primary season last year from a consulting firm that included Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos and Jerome Armstrong of myDD. When Armstrong got the gig, he quit blogging entirely. Kos posted a prominent notice on his website announcing that he was working for Dean. All of this was widely known in the lefty blogosphere at this time last year. The response to the mention of it yesterday in a column in the Wall Street Journal, one of the most influential organs of the Mighty Wurlitzer of Conservative Noise? Gasping horror! Oh, the humanity! Those goddamn corrupt liberals!

The Repug media has snookered us again--by giving huge play to the story at the precise moment the Bush Administration is in trouble for paying columnist Armstrong Williams to push the No Child Left Behind Act in his newspaper column. The lobbing of this story into the weekend news hole proves to me that the Repugs understand the mind of modern journalists better than the journalists themselves. Reporters can now write about the two incidents as equivalent, thus giving their reporting the "balance" they crave like crack whores crave the pipe. And the administration's use of tax dollars for partisan propaganda is obscured by the smoke.

And there's something else to think about here. Until recently, mainstream media outlets treated the blogosphere as something worth notice only as a curiosity--the product of adolescent wankers who were sublimating their inability to get laid by obsessively following politics. At the political conventions, mainstreamers gawked at the bloggers in attendance like inner-city kids gawk at farm animals in a petting zoo. It wasn't until some right-wing bloggers helped debunk the CBS story involving forged memos about Bush's National Guard service that the journalistic capabilities of the blogosphere got any traction in the mainstream media. Never mind that lefty bloggers influenced the grassroots runup to the Democratic presidential campaign in a historically unprecedented way, or kept issues like the Niger uranium story--or for that matter, Abu Ghraib--rolling long after mainstream news sources would have preferred going back to obsessing over the Scott Peterson trial. The blogging phenomenon was just political noise until the right made a spectacular splash with it, and then suddenly, blogging was news and the right-wingers were the stars. And when the mainstreamers are looking for the someone to anoint as the preeminent expert on political blogging, who do they call? The only blogger who's written a book about it--Hugh Hewitt, who happens to be a first-degree wingnut and Fox News commentator.

There are times when the shape of what we're up against in a conservative media environment looms so large that I despair at the likelihood of overcoming it. Still, I'm not ready to give up yet. Let a thousand Josh Marshalls bloom, and anything can happen.

And a thousand Wonkettes, too, although you should know that not long ago, a right-wing blogger announced that Wonkette is not a blog, but "a production unit of Gawker Media." (The guy was apparently upset that Wonkette gets more hits per day than he does.) Whatever she is, she's plenty damn funny. A correspondent wrote yesterday suggesting better names for the inaugural balls than the ones Bush has picked. Ana Marie suggested that in addition to he Unfunded Mandate Ball and the Indefinite Detainees Ball, the Republicans should host "The Abu Ghraib Electrodes Attached to Your Ball." And in a post about Ted Kennedy calling Barack Obama "Osama" in an appearance the other day, Ana Marie says Kennedy might be onto something: "For Republicans, mangling pronunciations and being confused about the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden wins you re-election."

Gaspipes and Chin Straps
Last year in late December and early January, I posted two or three entries on my beloved Green Bay Packers, and the various miracles by which they secured an NFL playoff spot, advanced to the second round, and were eliminated. This year, the Packers' December ride did not provide much joy. Yes, to end up with a record of 10 wins and 6 losses after starting off 1-and-4 was impressive, but it became clear during the winning streak that the Packers' pass defense was pitiful, and that if an opponent was of a mind to throw the ball, we wouldn't have a prayer. The first indication was a November game against the Vikings, in which a comfortable lead melted in the fourth quarter and required a last-second field goal for Green Bay to win. A few weeks later, the Packers were destroyed by the pass-happy Philadelphia Eagles, and if the good St. Louis Rams team had showed up in Green Bay instead of the poor one, they might have lost to them as well. Yet most bigtime NFL experts, on ESPN and elsewhere, kept saying the Packers had an excellent chance to go deep into the playoffs. Knowledgeable fans in Wisconsin knew better.

After Green Bay's six-game winning streak ended in Philadelphia on December 5, the wheels began wobbling on the wagon. Close wins over Detroit and Minnesota were overshadowed by a bad loss at home to Jacksonville, and it became clear they were running on fumes by the time they met the Vikings again in the playoffs last week. In that game, the defense was charateristically horrid, and when it wasn't (for a brief time in the third quarter when the game seemed tantalizingly within reach), Brett Favre was. You gotta wonder if Favre's tendency to choke in the playoffs in recent years is related to pressure: He's won one championship, he knows his clock is ticking, and he wants another title so badly it interferes with his ability to function when the pressure is greatest.

So anyway, the Packers took the gaspipe, but the playoffs continue this weekend. The divisional round might be the best weekend of any season--four games in two days with good teams and lots on the line. Here's how I see them:

New York Jets at Pittsburgh: The Jets are lucky to be alive after last week's game--they gave San Diego a chance to tie it in the last 15 seconds thanks to a stupid penalty, and then saw the Chargers' kicker miss a potential game-winning field goal in overtime. But the Jets got a game-winning kick of their own, and a ticket to Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Steelers are an amazing 15-and-1, and they've done it with a rookie quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. Someday he's going to wake up and realize where and what he is--but probably not until next week. Steelers 20, Jets 7.

St. Louis at Atlanta: The Rams are the most overrated team of our generation--they are 1-and-1 in Super Bowls since 2000, yet to hear people talk about them (including the Rams themselves), you'd think they had won five in a row. Still, they're good enough to win this game--Atlanta went 11-and-5, but against a pretty soft schedule, and lost to some of the softest teams on it. This game has the potential to blow all the bulbs on the scoreboard. Rams 41, Falcons 36.

Philadelphia at Minnesota: It has been my position for a long time that the Vikings, despite their talent, don't win consistently because they lack guts. When the going gets tough, they start pointing fingers instead of tightening their chin straps. (I still think that's true even after last week.) I'd like to see them get killed in this game, but they won't--it'll be competitive. Philadelphia hasn't played a meaningful game in over a month and they're missing their top receiver, Terrell Owens, but they've got guts enough to handle it. Eagles 27, Vikings 17.

Indianapolis at New England: Peyton Manning of Indianapolis is in the midst of what's probably the best season any quarterback ever had, but the defending Super Bowl champions are the one team he can't seem to beat. New England is missing its top pass defenders, which is good news for Manning, but this is likely to come down to New England's solid offense against the Colts' suspect defense. Outdoors in the cold, it's hard to pick against the Patriots, but it's even harder to pick against Manning. Colts 27, Patriots 24, maybe in overtime.

These predictions are for entertainment purposes only--no wagering.

Recommended Reading:
For you non-football fans, a purportedly real college paper about Oedipus.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Id Versus Ego
Mr. Id speaks:
The electric light bulb.

The automobile.

The airplane.

The computer.

All great inventions that have changed the destiny of humankind. But friends, I have learned of a new invention that will make them all seem the puny work of weak minds. It represents the fusion of two of the very staples of life into a single, powerful entity for which, I now realize, I have been waiting my entire adult life.

It bears the unwieldly name of B-to-the-E.

It is beer. With caffeine.

Anheuser Busch launched it last October, but it's newly available in my area. Hot damn.
Mr. Id, meet Mr. Ego:
Don't get so excited. Anheuser Busch describes the beer's taste this way: "Well balanced with select hops and aromas of blackberry, raspberry and cherry, B-to-the-E will offer a lightly sweet and tart taste." Not that there's anything wrong with that--both Mr. Id and Mr. Ego like beers with a slightly fruity character--but given that this is Budweiser we're talking about, the flavor is not likely to be complex or subtle. Which makes Mr. Ego think that B-to-the-E is probably closer to a fruit-flavored malt beverage like Smirnoff Ice or Mike's Hard Lemonade than it is to beer. Indeed, a Pittsburgh newspaper columnist, writing about B-to-the-E, says it "tastes like someone dumped a shot of Mountain Dew into a beer." The columnist also says that B-to-the-E resembles Hop 'n Gator, "the original lemon-lime lager" from 35 years ago that has been relaunched recently. Mr. Ego thinks that the word "lager" should probably not be appended to "lemon lime" under any circumstances.
Whoops, here's Mr. Id again:
It's beer. With caffeine.
I think he's going to want to go out for lunch today.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Quiet! Neo-Marxist Wanker at Work
Washing up in the surf today is the BBC's December 31 list of 100 Things We Didn't Know This Time Last Year. It's very British, which means some of the references will zoom over the heads of Yanks, but lots of it is pretty interesting.
Germany has an 18-year-old MP - Julia Bonk, a member of the Saxony legislature. Her name is not funny in German.

Ducks have regional accents. London ducks shout out a rough quack to be heard above the urban din; those in the West Country make a quieter, softer sound.

Lord Baden Powell [founder of the Boy Scouts] wanted a section on the dangers of "self abuse" in his Scouting for Boys. His original manuscript read: "A very large number of the lunatics in our asylums have made themselves ill by indulging in this vice although at one time they were sensible cheery boys like you."
You'll want to look at the whole list, if only to find the full names of the kids on Scooby Doo, Where Are You?

Also worth reading today is Matt Taibbi's take on Tucker Carlson. He's got a show on PBS and he's reportedly getting one on MSNBC, but Matt says that just as Alan Colmes is Fox News Channel's idea of a liberal, Tucker is CNN's idea of a conservative.
In the same way that the helpless, ineffectual Colmes is a reassuring image to hardcore conservatives, Carlson puts a soothing face on conservatism for educated East Coast progressives – because even the biggest neo-Marxist wanker from Brown takes one look at Carlson and sees the one man in America he would feel sure of being able to kick the shit out of in a back alley.
And why is that?
He has never been believable as a hatemongering brownshirt; his political ethnicity is probably closer to traitor than demagogue. You'd know exactly which side of the desert island to search for Carlson, if he were ever to be stranded on one with the Barnard French faculty and the Tuscaloosa chapter of the Klan – he'd be on the left bank, passionately misquoting Baudelaire.
There's a whole week's worth of Quote of the Day right there.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

You Will Feel Pretty, or Else
In Reno, Nevada, a few years ago, Harrah's casino adopted something called a "beverage department image transformation policy." This was a dress code on steroids. It required female employees to get an "image consultation," which included a makeover. A photo would be taken after the makeover and added to each woman's personnel file so that her supervisor could determine whether she was properly made up for her job. Bartender Darlene Jesperson, a 20-year veteran of Harrah's, refused to comply because she said the policy made her feel like a sex object, and that wearing makeup diminished her effectiveness in dealing with unruly customers. The company suggested she apply for a position with the company that didn't require makeup. (Something behind closed doors, presumably, where customers wouldn't see her.) No thanks, she said. You're fired, they said.

A lawsuit followed, which eventually made it all the way to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. And just before New Year's, the Ninth Circuit sided with Harrah's and threw out Jesperson's lawsuit. The court said she failed to prove that Harrah's policy put an unequal burden on female and male employees. Females were required to wear makeup and to wear their hair teased, curled or styled. They were also to wear stockings and nail polish. Males were forbidden to wear makeup or nail polish, and were to maintain short hair and trimmed fingernails. By finding no unequal burden in those rules, the court declared that a rule enforcing makeup for women is equal to one forbidding makeup to men.

As if it weren't astoundingly goofy enough already, the ruling seems to contradict a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that forbids employers to use particular hair and/or makeup styles as a condition of employment.

The capper to this is that the Ninth Circuit is widely considered to be the most liberal federal court in the country. (It's the one that ruled that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional.) If any court in the land could have ben expected to rule for the right to appear in public just the way you are, it would have been this one.

Just another black-is-white, up-is-down moment in the New American Century. You can read some other commentaries on the case here and here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Virginia Asshat Gets Feelings Hurt, Magically Acquires Clue
The guy who proposed the Virginia bill making it a misdemeanor for a woman to fail to report a miscarriage to law enforcement has withdrawn the bill after getting shredded by bloggers across the Internet. John Cosgrove claims his bill was misunderstood and that he really didn't mean to be so harsh on women. Jeez, you think? A Planned Parenthood lobbyist said, "It’s very confusing as to why he did not understand the bill the way everyone else did." (It wasn't reported whether the lobbyist was winking when he said that.)

Cosgrove's feelings were hurt by the hundreds of e-mails he received, and he complains of the website that first blogged on his bill: "[T]hey never talked to me prior to going on the Web," he said. "I was absolutely mistreated on this." Mean old bloggers . . . not fair . . . I'm telling!

The best part of the story linked above is its quaint explanation of blogs:
Opposition to the bill, HB1677, was generated by "blogs," personal Web sites set up by individuals who post information and encourage discussion about topics of interest to them. . . . Political blogs proliferated during the 2004 presidential election. Many have survived and are becoming powerful tools for generating grassroots responses on public policy.
This just in: Blogs are written using "computers."

That's "Taking Care of Business That I Keep Putting Off." And away we go.

Kos wrote yesterday about talk-show host Ed Schultz, which sparked a discussion of liberal talk radio in general, and reminded me that I've been wanting to write about Air America for a while.

I wouldn't call myself a dedicated listener to our local Air America affiliate, though. It's not that I'm uninterested; it's just that after spending an hour or two every day (at minimum) reading and blogging about politics, I often prefer sports-talk radio instead of more from the political firehose. I was a fan of Unfiltered (8-11AM Central), featuring Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead, Oxford-educated co-host Rachel Maddow, and rapper Chuck D, at least until our local affiliate dumped it, and I enjoy Randi Rhodes (2-6PM). She makes me laugh and nod in agreement, but occasional moments of over-the-top stridency have made me go away, too. I've been less enamored of Morning Sedition (5-8AM), mostly because I don't care much for the "morning zoo" radio concept in the first place; and I'm often surprised by how dry Al Franken's show can be (11AM-2PM). I've caught only scattered bits of Air America's nighttime programming, not enough to have an opinion.

Even though I'm not glued to the network day and night, I'm glad it's there, even if I do experience a bit of cognitive dissonance now and then when I remember the local affiliate is owned by Clear Channel. Gross wingnuttery has gone unchallenged on the air for so long that it's accepted as if it were oxygen; that liberal ideas have a similar chance to reach the as-yet-unchurched can only be a good thing.

Recommended Reading:
Imagine a terrorist attack that wiped out everybody in the House of Representatives except for five members, and that three of them were wingnuts Tom DeLay, Ernest Istook, and Tom Feeney. Under a new rule passed quietly last week, those three men--constituting a majority of the representatives able to attend a session--could do the nation's business for a matter of months, until special elections could be held to reconstitute the body. Congress has been debating various "doomsday" plans since September 11, and some scholars claim this one is unconstitutional. I am sure DeLay and Company see only the potential power-grabbing beauty of this plan, so it would serve them right if the only ones left actually turned out to be Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank, and Sheila Jackson Lee.

On Another Matter: I have noticed that participation in the Useless Web Poll has been way down in recent weeks. Should I keep it on the site, or bag it for a while? Use the poll (at least one more time) to help me decide.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Feral Dogs at the Gate
To continue with this morning's line of thinking, about whose values should be adopted by the country as a whole: Maybe trying to bridge our cultural gaps is futile. To build a bridge requires some common ground on which to lay the foundation. But some smart person will have to tell me where the common ground lies between liberals and conservatives, blue staters and red staters, and/or North and South, because I can't see it anymore. And maybe you can't, either, by virtue of who you are.

Here's Joe Bageant, a writer we've linked to a couple of times previously. He's a lifelong Southerner from Winchester, Virginia, and his most recent article is called "A Mean and Unholy Ditch."
The hardest thing for garden variety American liberals to grasp is what a truly politicized and hateful place much of America has become---one long mean ditch ruled by feral dogs where the standards of civility no longer apply. The second hardest thing for liberals is to admit that they are comfortably insulated in the middle class and are not going to take any risks in the battle for America's soul ... not as long as they are still living on a good street, sending their kids to Montessori and getting their slice of the American quiche.
This liberal disconnect from reality can be manifested in something as simple as a wish that we can all get along, or as complex as the discussions we have over choosing a new chairman for the Democratic National Committee, or in the little film on George Lakoff and the concept of framing that is being shown at this month's Democracy for America Meetups. When we aren't holding hands and singing "Kum-Ba-Yah," we're talking in rational terms about packaging our message to motivate our natural constituency to find its way home to us, while out in the provinces, the opposition is motivating voters through the kind of raw, intense hatred liberals can't summon up for anything or anyone. One reason we're getting our butts kicked is that you can't win a fight if you don't understand what kind of fight it is--and if you're unwilling to find out what kind of fight it is.

Not only do we misunderstand the fight we're in, we don't clearly see what kind of country we live in, either. Not long after the election, I invoked the medieval theologian William of Occam, famous for formulating Occam's Razor, which was "keep it simple, stupid" for the 13th century. Occam reminds us that the simplest explanation is the most likely to be correct. And so Bageant says:
When I look around America's barrooms, church suppers, swap meets and strip clubs, I see that "the American people" like the way things are going. Or at least half of them do. They like World Championship Wrestling and Confederate flags and flat screen television and they like the idea of an American empire. "The people" don't give a rat's bunghole about social programs or the poor or other races or the planet or animals or anything else. They LIKE cheap gas and making life tough for queers. They LIKE chasing Thanksgiving Day Xmas sales. And when fascism comes, they will like that, too.
Whether that America is really what the other side would choose, if given perfect information and a free choice, doesn't matter, but we liberal types act as if it does. They line us up in the crosshairs while we're wondering if they really like the gun they bought.

Don't get me wrong--as an erstwhile civics teacher, I love the promise of America as the Founding Fathers understood it. As a good liberal, I admire the ideal of a diverse populace living together in peace and harmony. And so, I respect the impulse that drives people who want to find a way to bridge our cultural divide and heal the body politic. However, I also think you've got to know when the patient is dead--and if this one is, all our time spent praying over the body is wasted. Perhaps we ought to bury it and move on.

Red-State Values
Georgia: The Southern Baptist Convention sees the Asian tsunami as "a great opportunity" to convert the various heathens in the region to Christianity.

Florida: Two men with guns crash a 15-year-old's birthday party and kill two guests.

Mississippi: Murder/suicide gone awry results in shootings at a hospital.

Virginia: A bill before the legislature would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor if a woman fails to report a miscarriage to law enforcement within 12 hours.

(That last one is a mindblower of the first degree.)

Honesty compels me to report that one could probably find stories of similar ilk from Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Oregon, and California, all states that are resolutely blue. But these stories, read in tandem with stories about the Democratic Party's ongoing atttempts to strengthen its position with Southern voters, make me twitchy. It's one thing to modify the party's rhetoric to resonate better with Southerners, but let's not go accepting the conservative frame that the South is somehow more American than other parts of the country, and that its values are the ones everyone should subscribe to. Soft on privacy, harsh treatment of women, religious bigotry, guns under every mattress--I don't think so. Why should we want to be like them? Why shouldn't we expect them to be like us?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Hyperreality TV
The Mrs. is a Tom Clancy fan. Me--not so much. I don't read a lot of fiction, for one thing, and when I do, my taste runs to T. C. Boyle and John Irving, not to Clancy's swashbuckling techno-military thrillers. But a few years back, I picked up Clancy's Debt of Honor and promptly began staying up far into the night reading it. The novel's riveting premise is a coordinated Japanese attack on the American financial and political systems, and its climax is astounding--or it was in 1996, anyhow: the crashing of a 747 into the Capitol in Washington, leaving it in ruins and Clancy's hero, Jack Ryan, elevated to President of the United States.

Shortly after September 11, I caught The Mrs. rereading Debt of Honor. "How can you stand to read that again now?" I asked. There's too much reality in reality, I said, for me to take any more of it with my off-hours diversions. That's still largely true, except for one thing: Must-see TV around our house includes the Fox series 24, which has its fourth season premiere tonight. It's far from being escapist entertainment: If anything, it's more real than reality. 24 is hyper-real, with its plots regarding chemical weapons, rogue nukes, and terror cells operating on American soil. (Its third-season premiere last fall began with a graphic torture scene that seemed incredible at the time, but is entirely believable now.) So there's a plausible argument that the same impulse that took Tom Clancy off my list should probably drive me to start watching The Bachelorette instead of 24 again, although it won't. In the Times, Frank Rich says this season of 24 deals with the war on terror we should be fighting, as opposed to the snipe hunt in Iraq. So in addition to the adrenaline rush 24 provides (all-cliffhangers, all the time, as Rich puts it), the ambitious plots and the mindblowing twists, there's the knowledge that on TV, good always triumphs in the end. So 24's war on terror has a lot better odds for success than the real one.

Recommended Reading: Also on the subject of truth and fiction, Paul Krugman discusses the bad novel he's planning to write.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Nixon
This blog is going on hiatus until Sunday, but this analysis of the Gonzales confirmation hearings today at Daily Kos ought to provide enough nightmare fuel to get all of us through 'til then. It's the most frightening thing I have read in a very long time. And I mean frightening, in the sphincter-clenching, oh-my-god sense.

The man who is going to be the nation's top law enforcement officer told the Senate Judiciary Committee--frequently--that he believes that if the president thinks a law is unconstitutional, then he can ignore it. If that is true, the rule of law is dead. The president becomes like a medieval monarch, who can do whatever he wants and dare somebody (like the courts) to try and stop him.

Just as only the bravest courtiers dared to speak the truth to the medieval monarch, so only the bravest around our king will dare speak the truth to him. Gonzales clearly doesn't think of himself as that kind of guy. He said he didn't believe it was his job as White House counsel (or that it will be his job as AG) to tell the president what he may not want to hear. So if the president wants to break the law, Gonzales doesn't believe it's his place to say he should not.

The last president who tried to act unilaterally in this way was Dick "If the president does it, it's not illegal" Nixon. But he did it in an era when the Democrats controlled the Congress and could make him pay. There is no such firewall today.

If every Democrat in the Senate voted against Gonzales, he would still be confirmed. And you can bet that maybe a dozen Democrats will give Bush cover for this awful nomination by voting for it. And then they will be complicit in whatever comes as a result of it. As one commenter to the Kos post put it: "I have the nasty feeling that there are some BIG things planned for the next 4 years. Getting this guy in as AG is foundational for future unilateral Presidential action."

But hell, we're all complicit for letting it get this far. As Mark Danner put it in the Times today, "We're all torturers now." By lacking the will to say no to Bush throughout his first term and last November 2, and by electing representatives without the courage to say no to him now, our hands help strap down the victims, unleash the dogs--inflict the pain. They're our victims. And so, perhaps we will deserve whatever bad things come our way in the future, as a consequence of our cowardice.

I want my goddamn country back.

A Loathsome Finale
The readers of this blog have spoken, and so it is with pride in our democratic system that we crown Sean Hannity and his pals at Fox News, in the aggregate, the Most Loathsome Conservatives of 2004.

When I nominated Hannity for the award in December, I noted that "the truth is not in him." So it's only fitting that we'd announce the award today, when Salon and other media outlets are reporting Hannity's egregious misrepresentation of the words of U.N official Jan Egeland, who criticized wealthy nations for slowness to respond to the tsunami in Asia. Hannity has also been criticizing various Hollywood types for their slowness to give money to disaster relief. Fact is, people on the left generally got on board the relief bandwagon long before those on the right did, as many in the blogosphere have already noted. Many lefty websites had posted links to relief organizations long before supposedly "Christian" right-wing organizations did. Although a coordinated effort has taken a bit longer than it did after September 11, various Hollywood types have already donated money and plan to donate time and talent to relief efforts. NBC is gearing up to present a benefit concert for tsunami relief, to be broadcast across its family of channels on January 15--which is more than Fox has done.

Hannity's criticism of the left on tsunami relief is a textbook example of life in the right-wing echo chamber, where believing in something makes it so. In other words, you just make stuff up. But hey, if it works for the president . . . .

Dressed for Success
As the Social Security debate gets rolling, Josh Marshall has two posts on the subject that are must reading for anybody who wants to understand the strategy and the stakes. First: Karl Rove has told Congressional Repugs that if the Bush plan isn't given bipartisan cover, it's in trouble, which means that Democrats need to stick together in opposition. (Marshall has a list of those Dems most likely to waver. If anybody reading this blog is represented by one of them, or has friends and family who are, get busy.) Second: This isn't about reforming Social Security at all--it's about destroying it, which has been an extremist Republican goal practically since the program's inception.

Getting rid of Social Security. Getting rid of the United Nations. Government through tribalism and fear of "the other." Triumphalist Christianity. No more "activist judges." Traditional family values. None of this is new stuff. It's all been simmering on the right since the days of FDR. Only in the last 25 years has it moved from the loony precincts to the respectable ones. But it's still the same agenda, only in a more expensive suit.

There's a plausible argument that the South actually won the Civil War, only it took 130 years to claim its victory. Perhaps there's an equally plausible argument that maybe, 40 or 50 years later than it expected, the John Birch Society is going to win its war against modernity, too.

Quote of the Day: In the first post I linked above, Josh offers a priceless interpretation of a quote from Congressman Tom Cole about how Bush's Social Security scheme must not fail, because it would mean serious repercussions in other areas, including foreign policy: "If Social Security is preserved, it would be a win for the terrorists."

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Snow Day
I am taking a snow day today. Read this, and I'll be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Random Notes About Nothing
Note #1: You know you're getting old when an athlete you remember as a fuzzy-cheeked youth is elected to the Hall of Fame in his sport. With Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs going into the baseball Hall today, I am ancient. I remember the day in 1982 when the Cubs acquired Sandberg, who was the unknown commodity in a trade involving several major league starters. Cub fans are always leery of having their pockets picked since the team traded away future Hall-of-Fame outfielder Lou Brock for pitcher Ernie Broglio (who won maybe one game for the Cubs) in 1962. On this day, fans were complaining about the trade on a talk-show I was listening to. But one guest on the show said, "Watch this kid Sandberg. He could be a good one." He was.

Note #2: I have to attend another going-away party for a former colleague tonight. I don't work at the company anymore, but they still invite me to these shindigs--although at the rate the place has been hemorrhaging employees since I left, pretty soon everybody I know will be gone. (Then I have no idea what I'll do for a social life.) This one is being held at a local chain restaurant called Quaker Steak and Lube, which is supposedly America's biggest, or largest, or best, or only, or some damn superlative, I forget which, motorsports-themed restaurant. Which would explain the truck chassis out front that looks like something you'd find up on blocks in somebody's yard. (Of course, for lots of motorsports fans, a vehicle up on blocks is like a birdbath is to other people.)

(BTW, what's up with "Quaker Steak and Lube"? That would be the worst business name in the world were it not for Fifth Third Bank, a handle of unsurpassed awkwardness, and one for which there is no rational explanation.)

Recommended Reading: Orcinus on the Washington governor's battle, and how Repugs have pursued the same strategies there as in Florida in 2000. This time, however, they're losing their minds because they're not getting their way. One reason is that the Republican secretary of state is unwilling to play partisan games like Katherine Harris did in Florida. Expect a primary challenge, son.

Vertebrates for America
One topic buzzing on Daily Kos this morning regards Russ Feingold's purported exploration of a 2008 presidential run. The conversation-starter came from U.S. News and World Report's "Washington Whispers," which is an unsourced political gossip column, so don't confuse it with an announcement--but I could see it. Feingold is as utterly principled a politician as I have ever observed up close. There are no skeletons in the man's closet--if there were, the Repugs would have found them in two tough campaigns to unseat him. But if he's going to be a successful presidential candidate, Democrats will have to get over the idea that someone who calls himself liberal is unelectable. One commenter to the post says it's about time the party did it.
you know what I'm sick and tired of hearing? "He's too liberal." The American fucking people are liberal. They support a woman's right to choose. They oppose drilling in ANWR. Hell, on issue after issue, a majority of Americans will side with liberals over conservatives time after time. Social Security? Yup. Education? Got that one too. Iraq War? Yup, though that one took some time. Gay Marriage? Throw in Americans who support civil unions and we outnumber them 2 to 1.
The problem, as this guy sees it, isn't what Democrats stand for--it's that they don't stand up for what they stand for.
I remember when being a Democrat meant something. When it meant saying we can take this family all the way to the homestead and no one ever gets kicked off the wagon. I remember when a person who wanted to kill Social Security couldn't be elected county nut shaver, when people who knowingly endanged American lives were tried for treason and thrown in prison where they belong.

Oh, and I understand you aren't dissing Feingold. I read you loud and clear when you say "The trick is to frame it right, which I think Feingold could do, if anybody," but don't you EVER fucking say being liberal is a PROBLEM. I am a liberal, like FDR, MLK and LBJ before me, and I will not have my desegregating, prosperity bringing, poverty ending, womens liberating, facism destroying, champion of civil rights self be marginalized because you're afraid of the big bullies at the campaign playground.
"We can take this family all the way to the homestead and no one ever gets kicked off the wagon." A neater summation of New Deal Democracy you are not going to read anywhere. It would be the Quote of the Day if it weren't for this from another Kos reader: "Russ Feingold had a spine before Howard Dean made it cool to be a vertebrate."

Monday, January 03, 2005

À Votre Santé
Some people likely have the day off today, but for most, it's back to work, as the holidays are well and truly over. The 109th Congress returns to Washington this week; the new and even-more-wingnutty Wisconsin legislature is back in town today. Bush is beginning his PR push for the destruction of Social Security, and the countdown to the farcical Iraqi elections is on. (Of course, all the TV morning shows were giving blanket coverage to the new book by Amber Frey, who had something to do with the Laci Peterson murder case--so how bad could things be?)

A battle that's looming, but not looming yet, is over the Supreme Court. It's likely that the first vacancy will be for Chief Justice, and the smart money is on Antonin Scalia to be elevated to the post. A suggestion emerged today that runs counter to the conventional wisdom, advising Democrats to let the Scalia nomination go forward unhindered. Reason: His elevation to Chief will not change the ideological balance of the court, at least not until his replacement as associate justice is named. Furthermore, his polarizing style will likely keep him from building the kind of opinion coalitions Earl Warren built for landmark rulings, so he's not likely to be very effective. Given all that, the thinking goes that Democrats would be smarter to save their energy and ammunition for a more meaningful court fight. (Whether they'll be smart enough to do that or not is an open question--many of the interest groups that make up the Democrat coalition have been spoiling for a Court fight since 2001, and may be unwilling to sit on their hands when the time comes.)

Josh Hammond at Best of the Blogs made a similar point in a post this morning, and I'm persuaded by it. The heavyweight fight will indeed come later--but if I had to guess, I'd bet it will be far later than we imagine, and not over Scalia's replacement at all. Because I am guessing Bush's first nominee will be someone the Senate will be reluctant to grill too closely--like maybe Orrin Hatch of Utah, who's been mentioned for the court for years. Hatch is a wingnut, sure--but he's a longtime member of the World's Most Exclusive Club with a lot of personal relationships, most notably with Ted Kennedy, his closest friend in the Senate. It's hard to imagine how such a nomination could be defeated. John Ashcroft is another possibility, although less likely than Hatch, I think.

The reason for this guess is not rocket science. Bush and the Repugs don't want to fight the promised nuclear war over judicial appointments in 2005--not when Bush's political capital has to be used to dismantle Social Security first. Next year--an election year--might be more opportune time to fight a Court battle, especially given the political pressure James Dobson has promised to bring to bear on certain senators who don't toe his line on judicial appointments.

Meanwhile, keep wishing good health to Justices Stevens and Ginsburg.

Recommended Reading: The Fly Trap reports on the astounding dishonesty of the administration's deficit numbers. Coming next: Bush announces that two plus two equals five. Also, World O'Crap has more of the Wingnuttiest People of 2004.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Stop, Hey, What's That Sound?
Gotta give up more love to Frank Rich of the New York Times. In his latest column, he talks about the annual Kennedy Center Honors. At that December event, Elton John, who had previously gone on record criticizing Bush and the war, was happy to make nice with him. Rich uses the event as a place to start thinking about the disconnect between Americans at home and the war in Iraq. We are asked to do nothing, suffer nothing, sacrifice nothing, while the war takes place out of sight. Rich contrasts that with World War II, when FDR encouraged the sale of war bonds, mostly to give Americans the sense that they were sharing in the burdens of the war. One of the things that made World War II "the good war" was that sense of sacrifice. Ask anybody old enough to remember, and they'll tell you about it.

When entertainment icons swallow their political opinions and share the stage with Bush, the disconnect only strengthens. Rich doesn't get into the Vietnam Era, but in those days, entertainment figures were often involved in the antiwar effort almost by default. Even if you didn't care about what was happening in Vietnam, if you had a radio, sooner or later you were going to hear somebody singing about war and peace and revolution and justice. In the end, it was damn near impossible to avoid having an opinion about the war. Not so today. By skillful programming of your TV remote, CD player, and/or iPod, you need never let the war intrude on your private sphere--and so you're not required to care, let alone do, suffer, or sacrifice anything.

You can argue that the protests of the 1960s, although they drove LBJ from office, didn't do a great deal to end the war--after all, it went on full-blast for almost five years after Johnson's decision not to seek reelection. But at least they helped do that much. It's hard to imagine public outrage reaching a similar kind of critical mass in today's America.

This half-baked philosophizing is a result of my head being in 60s mode as the new year begins. I've finally gotten around to reading They Marched Into Sunlight by David Maraniss, about the 1967 Dow Day protest at the University of Wisconsin, and a bloody attack on an American battalion in Vietnam that occurred on the same day. So you can probably expect a return to this topic in the next week or so.

Quote of the Day: from Matt Taibbi in the New York Press, about Time magazine's sycophantic Person of the Year issue, praising the Dear Leader, George W. Bush.
One even senses that this avalanche of overwrought power worship is inspired by the very fact of George Bush's being such an obviously unworthy receptacle for such attentions. From beginning to end, the magazine behaves like a man who knocks himself out making an extravagant six-course candlelit dinner for a blow-up doll, in an effort to convince himself he's really in love.
Maybe we need a new feature called "Apt Metaphor of the Day."

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?