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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Rude Pundit Has Taken the Day Off, So it's Up to Me
(Warning--the following post contains explicit language, because sometimes nothing says "fuck off" like the words "fuck off.")

Jesus H. Christ. A Republican congressman told CNN this morning that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, and when the CNN anchor told him there was no evidence of it, he corrected her. "I'm sorry, but you haven't looked in the right places."

Like, for example, up the Congressman's own ass, because that's clearly where he got his evidence.

What is wrong with these people? What color is the sky in their world? How long can you keep lying before your tongue simply snaps off its roller? And if it's not a lie--if the guy actually believes Saddam was involved in 9/11, all evidence to the contrary--then he's a mental case who needs treatment for obsessive/compulsive disorder or something.

I realize this single joker is merely one spectacularly stupid specimen, but if there was a caucus of dumb on the Republican side of the aisle, he wouldn't be alone. In the aggregate, the Republican members of the House of Representatives are their own best argument for legalized abortion, made retroactive wherever possible. That our fellow citizens have placed such superlative dipshits in high office is enough to make even the most optimistic person abandon all hope. As for those of us who are not optimistic to begin with, well, it's time to resume drinking with both hands and wait for the end. A country where such rampant dumbassitude passes for leadership deserves its eventual fate on history's shitpile.

And we will end up on history's shitpile eventually, because the current generation of damn fools keeps breeding new idiots who will grow up to be just as stupid as their parents. Max Blumenthal covered the College Republicans' national convention for The Nation this week, and discovered plenty of privileged weenie boys (and girls) twisting themselves into self-justifying knots explaining why they aren't signing up to fight the goddamn war that all of them think is such a good idea. Earth to Fraternity/Sorority Row: your mothers or your little sisters in high school can organize "Support the Troops Day." Grownups go and fight in wars--and furthermore, real grownups don't ask others to do anything they won't do themselves. So either enlist--or shut the fuck up.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

News from the Frontiers of Necromancy
JB is back, of course, but I caught wind of this story and felt compelled to share. Now that's a chilly dog with a new leash on life! Thank you, thank you. If I keep this up, JB will never invite me back.

Yeah, yeah--some knucklehead is giving a speech tonight: I yield that subject to bloggers with greater intestinal fortitude than I can muster.

But how often do you hear of a dog shuffling this mortal coil back on again, for crying out loud? The part of me that admits to having paid to see Pet Sematary knows that sometimes, dead is better. But what about the other times? And don't forget--three hours for a dog is 21 hours for you and me. That's almost long enough to get through the worst of the celebratory GOP autoeroticism following the finalization of tonight's divorce from reality.

In the settlement, by the way, Dubya gets the house, the car, and the national media, while Reality gets the shaft. But isn't that always the way?

The thing that kills me, so to speak, about the Resurrection of Dog is that it happened in my own back yard. The Safar Center is a legitimate and serious component of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Another recent breakthrough in the Pittsburgh area involved the finding that adult stem cells appear to be just as fruitful as those taken from embryos. If this is borne out through further study, then the use of adult stem cells will completely disintegrate one of the Right's favorite arguments, not to mention opening astonishing new therapeutic opportunities.

Anyone who thought that Pittsburgh was dead might just have to flush the saline out of the Burgh's veins.

My thanks to JB for trusting me with the keys for another joyride. With a little luck, he won't even notice that I had to roll back the odometer and replace the dome light.

Less Interesting Than Liver Night on the Food Channel
My thanks yet again to Tom Herbst for filling in over the weekend. He'll be back. The Mrs. and I are back from rural western Iowa, where our cell phones didn't work, and where they practically rolled up the streets at 3:00 on Sunday afternoon. The fact that this nearly made us crazy tells us we've been living in the city too long, apparently.

Advance excerpts from Bush's speech tonight are out--and the whole thing makes me wonder why the hell he's bothering, and more to the point, why anybody at a TV network thinks dousing the nation with yet another bucket of such bilgewater is more valuable than showing I Want to Be a Hilton. In case you were thinking of watching it, here's a list of 10 things you can do that would represent a better use of your time:
1. Write and mail a check to some organization the wingnuts would oppose--Save the Atheist Gay Whale Stem Cell Researchers Social Security Preservation Caucus and Medical Marijuana Cooperative, for example.

2. Call your mom.

3. Pick your nose. (At least you'll have something to show for it after you're done.)

4. Pick your friend's nose.

5. Reorganize your CD collection in an entirely new way--by height of performer, for example, or autobiographically, like Rob did in High Fidelity.

6. Clean the little spout on the bottle of dishwashing liquid.

7. Make your neighbors think you're having sex while watching the speech. "Hard work, baby!" "Give me some more of that democracy on the march!" (It is not necessary to watch the speech to do this. Or to have a partner.)

8. Call your local TV station's news department and ask if their refrigerator is running.

9. Watch your favorite movie on DVD, but choose a foreign language audio track.

10. Blog.
The best pre-speech commentary I've seen comes from the Rude Pundit, who suggests that Bush is in the position of a man caught having sex with his wife's stuffed animal collection: there's absolutely nothing he can say that's going to convince anybody that things are going to be OK if we just stick with him. Over at Best of the Blogs, they've been assembling a drinking game.
11. Drink.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Thou Shalt Not (or Shalt Thou?)
In two landmark cases the Supreme Court today handed down obliquely contradictory rulings, thereby confirming that we are One Nation Under God except where we’re not.

Any argument that our legal system is based on the ten commandments is garbage and must be rejected outright. If any dissenters are reading this, please point me to the part of the Constitution requiring me to Honor my Father and my Mother. While you’re at it, I can’t seem to find the amendment about coveting my neighbor’s ox or wife, which some Conservatives, admittedly, consider a trivial distinction. Sure, the Commandments underlie some people’s notion of law, but as a legal framework the Commandments are a feeble codex emblematic of a primitive, paternalistic tribal society.

But what are we to make of today’s decisions? Well, the only thing I can promise you is that Jay Sekulow will herald them as a resounding confirmation that we are a Christian nation despite Jefferson, Madison, and all the rest of those hacks.

Antonin "the Constiution is dead" Scalia, in accordance with Conservative tradition, scored a hat-trick by invoking the beloved Apocryphal Anecdote, exploiting the horror of 9/11, and dissing France, all in one opinion. Tony recounted how, on that fateful day That Changed Everything, he was attending a conference in Europe and was approached by a (naturally unnamed) European judge, who, according to page 46 of McCreary Co et al v. ACLU, said:
"How I wish that the Head of State of my country, at a similar time of national tragedy and distress, could conclude his address 'God bless __________.' It is of course absolutely forbidden."
This is the same Scalia who fumed about the unwelcome opinions of "like-minded foreigners" on page 65 of Roper v. Simmons. I gather from this that "like-minded foreigners" can speak up when they agree with Tony, but otherwise they should shut up and keep their godless barbarism to themselves.

Tony then muses that the model of a secular government that was "spread across Europe by the armies of Napoleon, and reflected in the Constitution of France" was a model not adopted by America. Scalia thereby proves once again that you can be educated and well-placed and still a dumbass. If Tony can point me to the Amendment commanding me to observe the sabbath, I'd really appreciate it.

Scalia touts himself as an "Originalist," which is a convenient way of saying "the authors of the Constitution meant what I say they meant." First of all, it must be stated that the literal interpretation of an author's intent is impossible even when it regards a contemporary document, much less a 200-year-old document explicitly designed to be adaptable and subject to judicial interpretation. Nuts to all that, sez Tony.

Decalogue fetishists would have us believe that this is about their religious freedom and the suppression thereof, but that's a hard case to make when the entire government is controlled by flock-flattering, far-Right zealots who can't go ten minutes without publicly high-fiving Jesus. In fact, what's going on here is the continuing effort to outlaw dissent and to eradicate diversity of view. This is clearly evident in the recent masturbatory efforts to deify The Flag, to pick just one example.

So what's next? Oh, I don't know. Probably some Republican flathead will introduce legislation formally recognizing Moses as one of the original signatories of the Constitution. Him or God.

Hell, why not both?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

I'll Have What She's Having
Shorter Kristin Breitweiser: "Up yours, Karl."

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Somewhere in sands of the desert
Today was, locally, the hottest day of the year, so I decided that it would be a fine time to build a sandbox for my son. Sure, I could have plunked down $25 for a vacuum-formed turtle or ladybug, but I wanted to give him the real thing, hand-made and painted. Sixteen square feet of gritty paradise, a place to get away from the travails of the 17-month-old grind.

Due to previous over-buying, I had on hand a stock of suitable lumber, so I got lucky there. I had to spring for paint and, of course, sand, neither of which I had in suitable quantity or variety.

Now, I know as well as you do that Wal*Mart is a blight upon the land, but I was faced with few options. The only other source nearby charges $3.75 for the bag of sand that's $2.25 at WM, and an equivalent gallon of paint is $10.99 vs. $7.48.

I'm not thrilled about it, but my finances are finite, so to Wal*Mart I went, knowing as I did so that I was fostering the death of the middle class and the out-sourcing of US manufacturing jobs, not to mention the squashing of local retailers and the undeniably negative influence that Wal*Mart has on the labor force as a whole. Sure, I saved about $22.00, but that's a small comfort if I'm contributing to the downfall of society. Or at least to the fast-approaching extinction of part of it.

Many (many, that is, outside of the mainstream media) have noted that Dubya's idiotic and regressive tax policies have shifted a disproportionate burden onto the middle class so that the wealthiest 1% (the whale-poop on the ocean of society, to riff on commenter Shark's imagery) can become even more obscenely wealthy. In essence, they (Dubya et al) are saying "It's up to you, noble middle class, to foot the bill and right the wrongs. God speed!"

A similar rallying cry has sounded re: Wal*Mart and the (quite lengthy and justified) litany of complaints against its abhorrent business practices, including, but not limited to, child labor violations, alleged discrimination against women, and abyssmal heath care policies. We on the lower rungs of the economic ladder are exhorted to shun Sam Walton and his progeny, whatever the cost or impact. But lately I've been thinking that the effort to form a grassroots campaign against the biggest retailer in the universe may be misguided.

Shlubs like me don't shop at Wal*Mart because we like seeing the Greeter or because we relish the thought of 18-hour work days in China. We shop there because we have to make ends meet and because sometimes the local Mom-n-Pop just doesn't carry a tile grouter and a punch bowl and a hundred-pack of diapers and a car battery all under the same roof, and our time is limited.

It seems therefore unreasonable to condemn the poor fool with few options when one could instead condemn rich fools with many options. If the beleaguered middle-classer can't fund the bulk of the tax bill, can he be expected to pay higher retail just so that he has less money?

The big problem isn't a myopically self-destructive middle class; it's a far-sighted ruling class fully aware of what an unfettered beast like Wal*Mart will do if allowed to run unchecked and all-too eager to let that happen.

No, I don't like it. But there's sand in the box, and sometimes that's all we can be sure of.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Counsel of L Ron
Earlier this week JB mused about Tom and Katie and wondered if this indicated that he’s jumped the shark. I don’t know about that, especially if he continues to allow dazzlingly charismatic guest-bloggers to sound off once in a while. I suspect that JB has at least a few good posts left in him.

But he got me thinking. I have no comment about Scientology as a faith, except to stress, for legal purposes, that I'm sure it's not a wacko cult founded by a hack scifi dullard who, according to several sources, identified religion as a sacred cash cow ripe for the milking. Perish the thought!

Honestly, 75 million year-old galactic overlords notwithstanding, Scientology strikes me as no more inherently ridiculous than Raelianism or any other evidence-free faith. And if someone concludes that Thetans are behind the failure of Battlefield Earth, who am I to tell him otherwise?

All I know from first-hand experience is that, in 1992, during a 90-minute session with a so-called "Clear," I saw him open and smoke an entire pack of Marlboro Reds. As far as I'm concerned, smoke 'em if you got 'em, but doesn't that seem a trifle excessive for an hour and a half?

Verily, thou cannot judge the validity of a faith by the pinkness of its adherents' lungs, but the whole scene creeped me out. And that was just the at the meet-n-greet! What would I have seen once I'd signed the contract?

I excused myself at the earliest opportunity and never darkened their door again. I received a few subsequent entreaties, but ultimately I think that they sensed that my finances made me an unsuitable acolyte, and they left me alone.
All in all, it was easier to cut loose from Scientology than from AOL, which last night contacted me for no less than the sixth time since I cancelled my service.

So what's the point of all this? Not much, but if Ms. Holmes is serious about her interest in The Church, I hope that she owns stock in Philip Morris.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ouch, Babe
Don't mean to intrude on Tom's gig here, but I've got to pass along some Quotes of the Day on Rove's atrocious comments last night.

John at AMERICABlog, on Rove's motivation: "Look at the last few days. George Bush's numbers are collapsing. He couldn't get a 'Fridays Off' law passed in Congress. . . ."

Jeff Popovich at Best of the Blogs: "I'm sure, however, that the MSM will discover another missing white woman before they durbinize Rove." (Jeff collects some more worthwhile comments here.)

Atrios, jumping off from John's post: "For the record, my motives aren't to get more troops killed. If those were my motives I'd ship them off to a war on false pretenses without sufficient equipment to keep them safe."

Yeah, something like that.

Karl Rove, Excretory Orifice
But everyone knew that already. In his continuing effort to heal the nation and to foster bipartisan bridge-building, Karl Rove dropped this subtle whopper while yoking his boundless charm to the machinery of Republican fund-raising. Here's the nugget, which you may have seen already:
"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."
It hasn't been widely reported, but while the Towers were still burning, all of the nation's Liberals convened to hatch new ways of hating America and coddling evil-doers. Props to Karl for identifying the underlying Liberal strategy.

Quick! Deify The Flag before them durned Liberals tie a rope to it and run it up a pole!

Harry Reid has already called for an apology, but he'd better not hold his breath. It should be clear that Karl's remarks are intended to yield two main effects: one, to gratify Conservatives; two, to piss off Liberals. By that measure, Karl is two for two, but he can hardly be commended for taking a risk. I mean, if Dubya's myriad atrocities haven't already driven away every last supporter, a little nostril-flaring and Liberal-bashing can't hurt, can they?

At this point, it appears that Godwin's Law is the only thing still working for the Bush Administration. No matter how many Iraqi civilians Bush murders, no matter how many million$ he personally stuffs up his wealthy chums, and no matter how many children he leaves behind, you sure as heck can't compare this administration to other murderous tyrannies. Just ask Senator Durbin, right, Dick?

In other news, ecology activist Robert F Kennedy Jr is getting suitably spanked all over the internet for his breathless condemnation of the evils of Thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines). His article is so colored by wishful thinking and conspiracy-mongering that one can only conclude that Kennedy is on a desperate quest to destroy his own credibility.

The rise in incidence of autism is truly puzzling, but shame on him for leaping onto the bandwagon with an argument that amounts to "I really, really, really believe it."

To date no causal link has been established between Thimerosal and autism, yet Kennedy and other true believers don't let that stand in the way of their unshakable certitude. Autism is a frightful condition given almost supernatural status by its misty on-screen portrayals (of which Rain Man is only the most obvious). But spirited condemnations are no substitute for actual evidence, so activists would do well to temper their passion with science.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Holy Orders
The House passed the flag-desecration amendment again this afternoon, for the sixth time. It's headed for the Senate next, probably before the Fourth of July, where it's frequently been ignored and has never passed before. This time, however, it almost certainly will pass. Then it goes off to the state legislatures for ratification, which is quite nearly a foregone conclusion, given that more than the required two-thirds of the state legislatures have asked Congress to pass such an amendment. So we'd better resign ourselves to the most trivial Constitutional amendment since Prohibition becoming law sometime next spring.

Interesting word choice, "desecration." From Dictionary.com: "Desecrate: to violate the sacredness of; profane." And also: "to violate the sacred character of a place or language; 'desecrate a cemetary'; 'violate the sanctity of the church'; 'profane the name of God'." It's clear that in order for something to be desecrated, we have to consider it sacred. Now, you can argue that the American flag is a symbol of our civil religion--but that presumes a subtlety of thought not generally found amongst our solons, particularly in the House of Representatives. Nope--what we're seeing here is more post-9/11 conflation of America's purpose with God's will, elevating the national symbol to the status of a religious icon, and equating the defacing of it with blasphemy, a religious offense.

Ratification of the amendment is not the end, it's the beginning. It opens a hellacious can of worms--because after ratification, Congress will have to decide just how to regulate flag "desecration." Burning the flag is an easy thing to prohibit. But what if it's not burned? What if it's sliced to ribbons, stained with something, dragged on the ground? Does the bumper sticker I saw the other day, which showed the stars in the flag replaced by the block letters "GOP," constitute defacement? If I sew a flag patch on the seat of my pants, do I desecrate the flag by sitting down? If any of the amendment's supporters had bothered with two minutes of hard thinking, they might have seen just how dicey the whole proposition really is. But that won't stop them from blundering into gray areas as if they knew what they were doing.

Here's what I think will happen. I am guessing that Congress will institute federal penalties for flag desecration, because leaving it to the states to enforce leaves too much room for lax virtue. (States' rights bad, federal control good. John C. Calhoun spins in his grave.) After all, some of the blue states would most likely take a laissez-faire approach to it. So they'll most likely put the feds in the business of punishing people for what is more a thoughtcrime than anything else. After all, the total number of flag "desecration" reported in the United States in 2004 was one. There's no epidemic of flag-burning incidents--and there never has been. (The scattered incidents during the Vietnam protest era didn't constitute an epidemic.) So in the end, this amendment only incidentally protects the physical object that is the American flag. It's a broader symbol of the culture war, a law the Republicans are passing because they can, and because it keeps the culture war alive.

On this subject, Tom Herbst observed one day recently in the comments:
It’s ridiculous that a nation purporting to cherish the freedom of expression should choose to restrict that freedom in so pointedly ironic a fashion.

The symbol is not the nation, and I will not be told what to worship.

A cloth symbol touted as more important the rights it used to represent? Now that’s an American Idol.
Tom will be taking the blogging wheel here tomorrow. (And keeping at least one hand on it at all times. What he could be doing with the other hand, I'd rather not think about.) I'll be back sometime next week.

(If you haven't responded to my question about the movies you find yourself watching again and again, scroll down to "You Don't Like This Car?" and click "Comments.")

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

You Don't Like This Car?
"It's 106 miles to Chicago; we've got a full tank of gas, half-a-pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses."

"Hit it."


In yet another development guaranteed to make guys like me feel old, it's been 25 years this week since The Blues Brothers premiered in theaters. And for guys like me, the movie is absolutely essential. In fact, it's my favorite movie of all time.

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi's Blues Brothers act took a long time getting together. They had appeared in utero, so to speak, in January 1976, during Saturday Night Live's first season, doing "I'm a King Bee" in bee costumes, but with their trademark fedoras and sunglasses. Later, Aykroyd and Belushi often warmed up SNL audiences with the Brothers before the show went on the air. Their first official appearance on the air was on April 22, 1978 (on what I believe to be the greatest single SNL episode of all time).

At first, audiences weren't sure how to take them. I remember my own reaction when seeing them for the first time in the spring of '78--is that supposed to be a joke, or are they serious? Today, we see the Blues Brothers as icons and Aykroyd and Belushi as major figures in the history of American comedy, but that came later. Confusion about what the Brothers were supposed to be lingered for quite a while. After a couple of appearances late in the 1977-78 season of SNL, they played some shows around the country that summer and recorded Briefcase Full of Blues. The album went to Number One in the fall of 1978, much to the consternation of blues purists and rock critics. They didn't care that the album was seriously intended by Belushi and Aykroyd to be a tribute to their blues heroes, or that it featured the likes of Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn, who were in fact real blues heroes.

Two years later, the movie was similarly dissed by many critics, although as the Chicago Sun Times notes in its weeklong series on the film, Roger Ebert liked it. His erstwhile partner, Gene Siskel, called it the best movie ever made in Chicago. Big box-office aside, the soundtrack album was also a smash--"Gimme Some Lovin'" was the lead single, and both "Jailhouse Rock" and "Sweet Home Chicago" got considerable airplay.

Shortly after the movie came out, my brother and I, with our respective girlfriends, drove an hour from our hometown to see it at the Orpheum Theater here in Madison. I couldn't tell you how many times I've seen The Blues Brothers from start to finish since. (Eight or nine, if I had to guess--not a lot in a world where some individuals have seen Titanic or Dirty Dancing literally hundreds of times, but a lot for me.) And whenever I surf past it on cable, I tend to watch it to conclusion--so I have seen the concluding car chase maybe 20 times or more over the years. As I mentioned, it's my favorite movie, and it's got that famous 106-miles-to-Chicago line. I have no idea what it means, precisely, but in that scene, Joliet Jake and Elwood were (and are) the Coolest Guys on Earth. And ever since I first saw that scene, it's been my personal gold standard for what it means to be Cool.

(Blues Brothers 2000, Aykroyd's sequel released in 1998, is not nearly so cool. The story, which revolves around the reunited band going to a blues contest in New Orleans, is nearly a carbon copy of the original. It's docked points for including an adorable child, and for declaring the Blues Brothers Band the winners of the contest even though their butts are clearly kicked by the Louisiana Gator Boys, led by B.B. King and Eric Clapton. Indeed, the Gator Boys get the two best numbers on the soundtrack, "How Blue Can You Get?" and "New Orleans.")

The great thing about the original Blues Brothers is that it's dated hardly at all, despite its age. Oh, the bit with the American Nazis is clearly out of 1980, but the rest of the movie is timeless. And any movie that features Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, and "Sweet Home Chicago" amped to a level bluesman Robert Johnson could never have imagined is something that deserves to be seen again and again for the next hundred years, at least.

Other Movies I Have Dug: Since I'm on the subject, here's a short list, mostly in alphabetical order, of some other movies I find myself watching over and over.

A League of Their Own (1992): Technically a chick flick, yes--but Tom Hanks is hilarious, Geena Davis is gorgeous, and the baseball showdown at the end remains dramatically satisfying even after you've seen it a few times.

Double Indemnity (1944): Barbara Stanwyck is smokin' hot and Fred MacMurray makes you forget kindly Steve Douglas from My Three Sons in this convoluted film noir classic.

Magnolia (1999): I will watch anything writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson does, but nothing he did before or has done since has come close to this. Magnolia promises you in the first 15 minutes that it's going to be the most audacious thing you've ever seen--and then delivers beyond your expectations.

Moonstruck (1987): Also technically a chick flick, but to a farm boy of Norwegian extraction, that whole Noo Yawk Italian thing is as exotic as Africa. I watch it in spite of Nicolas Cage, who's fairly unbelievable as Cher's one true love.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975): Absolutely essential, and all the more interesting for the ad hoc way in which it was made, funded by members of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and others, mostly because they really wanted to see it. Take note of Graham Chapman's performance as King Arthur: he wasn't just a comic, he could really act.

Raising Arizona (1987): The only Nicolas Cage movie in which I can't see him acting, which tells you something about Nicolas Cage. The funniest Coen Brothers script, not counting . . .

Fargo (1992): I grew up around people who sound a lot like the characters, and in winters like the one in which the movie takes place. Favorite line: "Prowler needs a jump."

Your turn. Which movies do you find yourself watching over and over again, and why?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Talk Amongst Yourselves
If Guantanamo is marginally less bad than the Soviet gulags or Nazi concentration camps, is that something to be proud of? If we're not quite as bad as the terrorists, is that reason to feel good about ourselves?

In terms of her future electoral prospects, does it matter that Hillary Clinton isn't a lesbian if the right-wing noise machine spends the next year screaming that she is?

Would you be surprised to learn that the Katie Holmes/Tom Cruise relationship is actually a 5-year, $25 million contract that stipulates no sex? Would you want to bet on which of them doesn't want to have sex with the other?

Now that this blog has stooped to addressing Katie and Tom, does that mean it has jumped the shark at last?

Tell the whole class. . . .

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Weird, Wild Stuff
Thanks to somebody named James Poulos over at The Citizen Journal, we can identify yet another liberal atrocity that is Harming America: fonts. Honest. His article's headline belongs in a Hall of Fame somewhere--"Bad Words: The Case Against Decadent Fonts." And once again, the boys and girls over at The Onion have to work just that much harder to keep satire ahead of reality. Remember when conservatives used to make fun of liberals for seeing subtexts in absolutely everything? Now conservatives are seeing them all over the place--and every last one of them is an excuse to tell people how they should think. Which they hated when liberals did it after seeing subtext in everything.

Also providing big fun this morning: Tha Shizzolator. Take any website you like and translate it into Snoop-Dogg style urban lingo. I suggest the American Family Association (www.afa.net), the Family Research Council (www.frc.org), or the Traditional Values Coalition (www.traditionalvalues.org). Or even this fine blog.

If, rather than big fun, it's stone sickness you want, go here.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Boot Up Your Toaster and Butter a Floppy
The best metaphor I have yet seen for the political divide in this country, the way people look at the same events and draw diametrically opposite conclusions, is that we're like Windows and Mac. You can't make one of them work with the other's stuff. But even though the metaphor is just a week or two old, it may be outdated already.

Take the case of the recent speech by Dick Durbin of Illinois, about which Billmon wrote so effectively yesterday. Liberals see Durbin's description of interrogation atrocities at Guantanamo as the reporting of information Americans need to hear; conservatives (and some liberal groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League) denounce the speech as perfidious America-hate. And each side is equally flabbergasted at the other's response.

Take the case of the Terri Schiavo autopsy. Liberals take news that the poor woman's brain was shriveled like a peach pit as evidence that the save-Terri people were hysterical; conservatives take news that the poor woman's brain was shriveled like a peach pit to proclaim that it was possible she could still think and feel. (After all, it isn't like her brain was totally gone.)

Take the case of Iraq. Liberals see the ongoing insurgency as evidence of the need for an exit strategy. Conservatives see the ongoing insurgency as evidence of the need to keep from formulating an exit strategy.

These are not simple cases of Windows/Mac-style incompatability. No, it's like one side has Windows and the other has a toaster or something. Nothing you can use with one is much good with the other, and it's probably a waste of time trying to make one do the job of the other. And to risk another kitchen metaphor, you gotta wonder how much further the pressure cooker can be cranked up before the lid blows off.

Recommended Reading:
Lots of it.
--Orcinus listens to the rhetoric on the right that seems to call for those who disagree with the Republican meme on Guantanamo to be eliminated.

--TGirsch at Lean Left talks about code words, both Republican and Democratic--although, as usual when it comes to rhetorical dishonesty, Republicans do it better.

--The Rude Pundit speculates that if we're getting to a tipping point where the public starts to believe that Bush is a liar and his supporters are fanatics, cable news executives eager to please their audiences might decide it's good business to actually report that Bush is a liar and his supporters are fanatics.

--Daily Kos and its readers bat around the Wisconsin Assembly's vote yesterday that would make us the first state in the nation to ban the morning-after birth control drug RU-486, used for emergency contraception. During the week of Fighting Bob LaFollette's 150th birthday, our wingnuts prove yet again just how far over the edge they'd like to take us.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

All Hail Billmon
Who nails it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Potted Plants and Other Strange Fruit
It's late afternoon in America, and we're still completely out of our minds. Here's your proof.

Item: So Terri Schiavo was well and truly a vegetable, like we thought.
Comment: I can't wait to see how the wingnuts spin this one. There's utterly no chance any of them will admit they were wrong. If all else fails, her condition and her death will be Hillary's fault.

Item: We're down to about a dozen senators who aren't willing to sign on as co-sponsors of the lynching apology bill passed earlier this week.
Comment: The most craven excuse for refusing to sign on comes from Thad Cochran, from Mississippi, the state that led the nation in lynchings: "I can't apologize for something I didn't do." Never mind that he signed on to co-sponsor earlier apologies to ill-treated Native Americans and interned Japanese-Americans.

(I am quite surprised to see Charles Grassley of Iowa on the list of non-sponsors. True, he's a Republican, and the state went for Bush in 2004, and the state's Republican Party is particularly odious, but Iowans are simply too decent in the aggregate to sit still for this. Grassley is undoubtedly hearing from constituents by the dozens on this, and I'd expect him to get on board.)

Item: The flag-burning amendment is apparently close to passage.
Comment: Thank goodness we have our priorities in order, and that the single gravest problem facing the nation at this moment has finally gotten the attention it so richly deserves.

Yep, totally out of our minds.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Blank Slate of Our Attention
At one point yesterday afternoon, I counted nine different channels on my cable system carrying live coverage of the Jackson verdict: MSNBC, Fox News, Headline News, CNN, Court TV, E, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Last night, Jackson coverage ran largely wall-to-wall for six hours on the major news channels. If TV had covered the Downing Street Memo to the same thorough degree--or damn near anything else having to do with Iraq since the fall of 2002, for that matter--Bush would have had to resign over it.

As a liberal elitist who, by definition, Hates America, you'd expect me to shake my head over the stupidity of this spectacle, which has captured so much of the attention of "real," non-elitist Americans. (It would be hard to pick the single stupidest moment, but Fariba Garmani's releasing of doves as each not-guilty count was read would have to be right up there.) You'd expect me to say that anybody who watched the nightly reenactments on the E channel or kept vigil at either the courthouse or Neverland Ranch should have their voter registrations revoked. So I really don't need to say those things.

One of the words that's thrown around a lot in celebrity trials is "tragedy." Isn't it tragic how Michael Jackson/O.J. Simpson/Robert Blake/Martha Stewart/Kobe Bryant had everything, but was brought low by adversity, just as less famous people, and sometimes even ourselves, are sometimes brought low? We're supposed to learn something from such "tragedies," apparently--something about humility, maybe, or about how we're all the same deep down, or about justice, or about equal protection under the law whether you're famous or not.

If we'd actually learn these things, celebrity trials might serve some sort of positive function in society--but we don't, and they don't. There's a terrific essay in Salon this morning about the "tragedy" and the "lessons" of the Jackson trial--and how this sort of American tragedy has very little to do with tragedy in its classic form.
Much as classic tragedy is exact and rigorous, this American tragedy is messy and arbitrary. It is tragedy crossed with melodrama in its most degraded expression (the soap opera). It is tragedy for people who crave the frisson of morbidity much more than any catharsis. Classic tragedy is hopeless because the tragedy is preannounced and inevitable. American tragedy is hopeless because it assumes that we all are. One type of tragedy is moral; the other is cynical. We hear the rhetoric of the lawyers knowing that it's just that--rhetoric--and knowing that everybody knows it. When both parties are somehow guilty, not only innocence but truth itself becomes "impossible." Any truth will always be subjective, muddy and ultimately unsatisfying, like a negotiated, artfully worded statement. The truth is then beside the point: the point is just to win, to put one over the other guy. In classic tragedy, everything is known, everything is understood in its very terribleness. In this form of American tragedy everything is ultimately unknowable and impossible to understand.
A tidy resolution to such "tragedies" is the last thing we want, really, because when there's no doubt, there's nothing to talk about. But when ambiguity remains, TV talking heads and people around cubicles at their offices can bat it around endlessly, until the next trial, when the cycle begins anew, and another "tragedy," with all its non-lessons, unfolds on the blank slate of our attention.

I am guessing that there was something very much like our obsessions with celebrity justice, something that misdirected citizens' attention from the meaningful to the trivial, at some point before the fall of the Roman Empire. And when the Empire fell at last, many people never saw it coming, because nobody ever mentioned it on the fifth-century equivalent of Court TV.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Rudely Yours
I had hoped to post many funny bits this morning from Matt Taibbi of the New York Press, who was supposed to appear at our local Borders last night. However, he's been covering the Michael Jackson trial for Rolling Stone, and since that circus isn't over yet, he's stranded in California and couldn't make it. Too bad, because the guy's been hot lately. Here's a taste of his most recent column:
Progressives in this country have always maintained a kind of fuzzy belief that fundamentalists will eventually just disappear, as if by magic, that the phenomenon of grown men and women believing in devils and witches and angels will inevitably be outgrown, the way children outgrow Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Marx. When some pastor in rural Alabama takes the pulpit to denounce SpongeBob Squarepants as the agent of the Evil One, we figure no response is really necessary--folks will figure out the joke on their own, somewhere down the line.
But it never happens, says Taibbi, and it never will, because it never has before.
This is a mistake, and it is the same mistake people have made for centuries: underestimating the American zeal for superstition, for boobism, for living the intellectual lives of farm animals. A large statistical majority of Americans would rather live their whole lives in perpetual fear of the devil than listen to ten minutes of common sense.
I've been linking to Taibbi's work here for a couple of years, but lots of people had never heard of him before last March, when his column entitled "The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope" caused fabulous outrage. A sample:
29. New Pope inevitably ambitious cleric burning with earthly vigor and secret desire to undo dead Pope's legacy.

28. Bears everywhere shitting in woods.

27. We'll never get to hear his hilarious post-tracheotomy rendition of "Come on Eileen."

26. Pope recovers and survives until 2009; New York Press columnist Matt Taibbi beheaded by passing garbage truck, March 2, 2005.
But it wasn't Taibbi who lost his head in the resulting outrage--it was the paper's editor. Taibbi, however, to his eternal credit, didn't apologize then, and still hasn't. And in this media day and age, that's nothing short of a miracle. Nobody at Borders knew if he'd be rescheduling his book tour appearance here. Hope so.

Recommended Reading: Speaking of rudeness, I now happily direct you to this post from the Rude Pundit, who takes on the tsk-tsk brigade's criticism of Howard Dean:
But surely there's some confusion in the ranks, when such a prominent, public face of the party takes off the gloves. More than anything, it's like a bunch of Missouri high schoolers around the lockers in 1963, when the first guy walked in after summer break with long hair. Sure, sure, everyone teased him for being gay or girly. But then everyone saw the Beatles on Sullivan, and barbers went broke.
This is the thing Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of them don't get--all across the country, millions of us have Howard Dean's back, and we'd have Biden's back and Pelosi's too, if they'd ever do something brave.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Chasing Every Dime
Certain ideas seem self-evidently good. One of them is community WiFi. Many communities, such as Madison, are offering such service. It can make coming downtown more attractive--bring your laptop and hang out in the coffee shop or on a park bench for a whole afternoon. It can also help bridge the digital divide people used to care about--in this case, between people who can afford high-speed access and those who can't. Who could have a problem with that?

Republicans.

Daily Kos reports that a congressman from Texas has proposed a bill that would make it illegal for municipalities to offer free wireless networks to citizens. The telecommunications companies (many of whom have been pushing similar legislation at the state level in various places) scream that such municipally funded competition is unfair, and so it must be stopped. This idea is out of the same playbook as Rick Santorum's bill introduced last spring to keep the National Weather Service from handing out its information free, when there are perfectly good private providers who could make money by selling it.

We must not stand in the way of a company's ability to make money, must we? How will America remain great if our multi-billion dollar corporations are not permitted to pursue profits unfettered by antiquated notions of the common good? If there's a dime to be made, it's wasteful if nobody makes it. Remember, if corporations can't control everything to their private advantage, then the terrorists win.

I'm Just Wondering. . .
. . . what happened to the supposed part of the filibuster deal that said either Bill Pryor or Janice Rogers Brown was going to be defeated? It looks like Pryor is going to be confirmed, too, possibly as early as today.

. . . what good was the filibuster deal, exactly, if it permitted the worst high-profile nominees to be confirmed in exchange for the as-yet-theoretical right to block one of two lower-profile nominees?

. . . what are the odds that Priscilla Owen, Pryor, or Brown will be appointed to the Supreme Court within the next year, now that the Repugs have effectively snookered the Democrats into abandoning the right to filibuster them specifically?

. . . why the hell did the New York Times wait until the day after Brown was confirmed to run a profile on her, which makes it pretty clear that her legal philosophy is batshit crazy?

. . . how badly is the "tsk, tsk" faction of the Democratic Party screwing the party by shushing Howard Dean? (See "firing squad, circular.")

. . . how stupid is it for the former state chairman of the party in South Carolina to say of Dean's pretty-white, pretty-Christian remark, "That's not the way you distinguish someone's politics," when a significant percentage of Republicans have distinguished themselves as Christians?

. . . if we'll ever know.

. . . if we'd like the answers were we to find out.

Self-Promotion Department: New this week at The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Mix and Match and Don't Know Jack.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Mommmmmm! He Called Me a "Christian"!
You must go and read this right now. I'll be right here when you get back. . . .

Very good, yes? You should also read a post over at Lean Left that is the finest takedown of the biblical literalists and their unbiblical political beliefs I've seen in a very long time. I'll be right here with a nice Quote of the Day when you get back. . . .

Quote of the Day: Howard Dean called the Republicans "pretty much a white, Christian party" yesterday. In response, the QotD comes from GOP chairman Ken Mehlman, who said, "We gotta get ourselves beyond this point where when we disagree about politics, we call the other guy names." So calling Republicans "white" and "Christian" is name-calling, now, apparently. But we won't know for sure until we hear whether Joe Biden approves of it or not.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Talk Amongst Yourselves
I can't do all of the work around here all the time. . . .

Monday, June 06, 2005

You'll Feel Better When You're in Heaven, But Dope-Smokers Go to Hell
Of all the pandering stunts John Ashcroft engaged in as Attorney General, his desire to prosecute medical marijuana users always struck me as one of the worst. Never mind the inconsistency of an unreconstructed Confederate arguing for federal intervention in a state issue. What's worse is the jackbooted intrusion by the feds into the lives of people with cancer or AIDS, who already have more than enough to worry about. Yet the Supremes voted 6-3 today that federal laws banning medical marijuana take precedence over the laws legalizing it in 10 states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington).

John Paul Stevens wrote the majority opinion, but he suggested that all was not bleak for medical marijuana's future. "More important than these legal avenues is the democratic process, in which the voices of voters allied with these respondents may one day be heard in the halls of Congress." In other words, don't worry--Congress could, after all, legalize medical marijuana.

One wonders what Mr. Justice Stevens is smoking. Medical marijuana won't have a chance at being legalized by an American Congress until after the Rapture.

Most Appalling Product of the Year:
The rubber-wristband craze, which began with the yellow Lance Armstrong "livestrong" bands, clearly jumped the shark a long time ago, but this is the worst example I've seen yet.

(This post appears in a slightly different form at Best of the Blogs.)

Friday, June 03, 2005

Quiet Days at the Drop Edge of Yonder
It's been positively gorgeous here in Wisconsin since we got home after the weekend. Summer's arrived, right on time. On my usual daily routes around the west side of the metro area, I pass by a couple of parks. And even on days as gorgeous as yesterday, there's almost never anyone in them.

I've noticed this every summer for several years, but I thought it again this morning while reading an interview in Salon with Richard Louv, who's written a book called Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Louv believes that kids (and society) have lost something significant not just because they spend so much time in front of screens, but because they have so few opportunities for unstructured exploration of the natural world.

Among the most interesting observations in the interview: The average kid today is permitted to roam an area only one-ninth as large as that of a kid 20 years ago. I grew up on a farm (35 years ago, to make a charitable estimate), and I can remember my brother and I taking off for the woods in the back of beyond, by ourselves, and being gone for hours at a time. We had to tell where we were going before we went and we were warned to be careful, but there was no assumption, as there so often seems to be today, that something horrid would befall us if we were unsupervised for too long. But my brother's kid, who's almost 13, probably wouldn't be permitted to do the same thing today. (Even if my brother would let him, his grandmother--our mother--would not.)

OK fine, you might think, but very few people live on farms anymore, and besides, the world was a safer place then than it is now. Well, maybe not. Louv notes that the number of child abductions by strangers, which has never numbered more than the low hundreds in any given year, is lower now than it was in the late 80s, and that one study shows kids are safer now than at any time in the past 30 years. But perception is reality, even when it's badly skewed by sensational TV coverage of kidnapped children, and so the quest for "safe" spaces goes on. But the outdoor spaces we create, Louv says, are not kid-friendly as much as they're lawyer-friendly, as our litigious society seeks to punish anything that might carry even a hint of danger.

As I read the Louv interview this morning, I thought about the kids I know--specifically the nephews and niece we visited this past weekend. I don't know much about their play habits, but I know something else about them that relates to the idea of kids being disconnected from the natural world around them. Their family van is equipped with a DVD player, as is the van the kids' grandparents drive. I realize why parents install this technology, and I can even justify it a little bit when I remember that young children have to be strapped into the car today, and that in the olden days, we could roam at large in the back seat. But, strapped in or not, between the DVD player and their video games, my two oldest nephews never have to look out the window when they travel--and that has a cost, too.

Between about 1968 and 1977, my family took an extended car vacation almost every summer. I remember visiting the Black Hills, Mackinac Island, Abe Lincoln's home, and other places around the Midwest--and seeing not only the destinations, but the sights along the way. Sometimes it was only farms and billboards flashing by on the Interstate, but even that could give you a sense of where you live, and by extension, who you are. Counting license plates could teach you geography, as could following your route on the road map. And when you're stuck in the car for six or seven hours, you even find yourself carrying on real, extended conversations with your parents--which also gives you a sense of who you are. What replaces these experiences?

Maybe Louv's "nature-deficit disorder" is a natural outgrowth of a very American idea--that wild places left wild are at best wasted and at worst dangerous, and that they exist to be tamed. And maybe our preference for the manufactured reality of a DVD instead of the actual reality out the car window is a side-effect.

I think one of the things I'd better do this weekend is take a walk, because it's been too long.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

He's Also to Blame for Disco
Because I was a child Watergate geek (watched the hearings during seventh-grade social studies class, followed the resignation drama minute by minute during a summer week at Grandma and Grandpa's house), it obligates me to weigh in on the revelation of Deep Throat's identity. I am not especially surprised that it was an FBI official--Nixon had tried to get the FBI to sign onto the coverup fairly early on, and the agency wasn't as compliant then as it's been in recent years. (FBI director L. Patrick Gray was a Deep Throat candidate himself.) It's pretty amazing that the secret remained secret for such a long time, given the number of people who've tried to learn it over the years, and I'm kind of sorry to see it revealed prematurely, before Deep Throat's death. If there's been a better real-life mystery in our lifetimes, I'm not sure what it would be.

Neither am I surprised at the Repug spin--that Mark Felt is a traitor--although I am surprised at the lengths to which they've stretched it. Media Matters reported yesterday that Pat Buchanan (another Deep Throat candidate), Rush Limbaugh, and former Nixon aide Ben Stein all claimed that those who brought down Nixon were ultimately responsible for the fall of Vietnam and the Cambodian genocide. Limbaugh's claim that we would never have lost the war but for Nixon's resignation shows astounding ignorance of the history of American involvement in Vietnam. It would have taken more than two more years of Nixon to win that war--it would have taken a time machine, because the war was already largely lost long before the Watergate affair.

I also think we're going to find that Bob Woodward embellished Deep Throat a little bit for dramatic purposes. For example, Woodward portrayed him as a heavy smoker, although Felt quit smoking in 1943. Just as a couple of weeks ago, the Newsweek/Koran flushing story quickly devolved into a flap over journalistic practices, it';s not hard to imagine the broader historical import of Deep Throat getting swamped in fake outrage over the ethics of anonymous sourcing, stoked by people clueless about journalism. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with journalistic practice understands that good reporters always have more information than they can report--information that guides what they can report--and that such information often comes from sources whose identities can't be revealed.

(Here's a plug, by the way, for All the President's Men, in which the Deep Throat character first appeared, and The Final Days, Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate books. They're dramatic and involving enough to read at the beach this summer.)

Recommended Reading: Over at Political Animal, they've been coming up with an alternate list of Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Not that such an activity is natural--it's conservatives who wish for book burnings, not liberals--but you'll find some interesting suggestions nevertheless.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Reading List
Many, many thanks to Tom Herbst for keeping the fire lit over the holiday weekend whilst I was off at the lake with the family. I did without e-mail for five days (actually almost six, since I didn't check it until this morning, even though we got back last night) and without news of any sort between Friday night and Monday morning. And enjoyed it.

Appearing in my e-mail this morning is a forward from a friend of a list, compiled by the conservative magazine Human Events, of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. It's most interesting, and headed up by The Communist Manifesto--because if there's one thing the old-line conservatives at Human Events hate, it's the damn evil Commies. A few of them are still pissed at Harry Truman for losing China--which explains the inclusion of Quotations from Chairman Mao on the list. It's kind of funny to see them dissing Mao, though, given how American conservatism got from where it was after the Goldwater debacle of 1964 to where it is today by never losing sight of the prize and taking advantage of its opportunities in a doggedly persistent way not unlike that in which Mao took power in China. And their Commie-phobia causes them to utterly miss the point of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique.

The intellectual blinders that conservatives have to wear to keep their heads from exploding out of cognitive dissonance lead them to some bizarre observations about the books they find harmful. They blame John Dewey's Democracy and Education for "nurturing the Clinton generation" as if none of them ever attended an American school following World War II. (They're right about its "pompous and opaque prose," though.) They take out after the Kinsey Report as if to blame it for exploding their cherished belief that they were brought by the stork or found under a toadstool, and not because Mom and Dad did the nasty. (And also for making it possible to talk about homosexuality, because if we ignored it, it certainly would go away.) But their pull-quote from Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil is the blindest of all. They criticize his view that "Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of the strange and weaker, suppression, severity, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and, at the least and mildest, exploitation," when that's the very thing corporate conservatism seeks to do.

John Stuart Mill's On Liberty got only an honorable mention from Human Events, but to me, it might be the most egregious inclusion on the list. That's the essay in which Mill explored the idea of the tyranny of the majority and of the right to individual freedom in the face of state control, which makes it as relevant now as it was when he wrote it some 160 years ago. As is another famous Mill quote, not from On Liberty: "Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservative."

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