Saturday, July 30, 2005

Quotes of the Day
Digby: "I've written a lot about 'up-is-downism' and 'epistemic relativism' and 'bizarro world' trying to analyse the Republicans' alternate reality, wondering whether it comes from a full absorbtion into the field of public relations, a consciously created competing discourse or simple lying with a straight face. All of that is bullshit. It's a form of mass hysteria ---- along the lines of the Salem Witch trials or the audience at an NSync concert." (Read an astoundingly good comment sparked by Digby's post here.)

Mass hysteria, indeed. We've had nearly four years of it now--government by a party and its supporters who were terrorized beyond the point of rationality by September 11, to the point at which their irrational fears of the world and all the intellectual contortions they go through to live in that world start to seem like normalcy. Even to the point of anointing an over-his-head dry-drunk frat boy with powers approximately equal parts Churchill, Lincoln, and Napoleon.

Commenter Greta, on why my new over-his-head dry-drunk frat boy countdown clock may be premature: "Dems could win a majority in 06 and impeach the m.f. and the 4 horses he rode in on (after all, the anti-Christ is only supposed to rule for 7 years)."

Wish I'd said that.

Today in History:
On July 30, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee, by a vote of 21-17, approved a third article of impeachment against President Nixon, charging him with ignoring congressional subpoenas. Nixon resigned before the issue came to trial. Good times, good times. Let's do it again.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Atrios Is in My Head
It's Friday afternoon. The Mrs. and I are heading out of town to a concert in a little while, and my brain hurts. So rather than doing any extensive blogging, I'm going to try a technique made famous over at Eschaton--the minimalist link-o-rama.


Hilarious, but also disturbing.

Also hilarious.


Very smart.

So there's a boatload of tasty links--now it's up to you to provide the commentary. Have a fine weekend, one and all.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Frogs and Football
The weather has been lovely in Wisconsin this week. The heat wave broke Monday night, and the windows have been open ever since. The new bypass opened a couple of weeks ago, so there's not quite as much traffic noise now--the birds can drown it out, and they do.

Somewhere out in my front yard, a tree frog is buzzing. They have a high-pitched call that sounds as if it would come from a large insect rather than an amphibian, but frogs they are. (And they really do live in trees.) Although I have heard them every summer for as long as I can remember, I have never actually seen one.

You usually hear tree frogs up here starting sometime in late July. When I was a kid, my mother would greet the sound of the first tree frog by saying, "Six weeks till frost." (People say the same things about crickets and cicadas, I guess, but never around my house.) We're not really six weeks away from the first frost, but we're closer than you might think. Historically, our first frost occurs in this area during the last week of September--so the tree frog is only off by a couple of weeks.

Another sign of the changing seasons arrived today--Packers camp officially opened in Green Bay. We have other team sports up here, sure. We hunt, we play Texas Hold 'Em, just like everywhere else. But Wisconsin is, first and last, a football state. Maybe not a football factory state, like Texas or Florida, but a place that knows its football and relishes it. The Packers' first preseason game is two weeks from tonight, and although it means nothing, every football fan will watch at least part of it. Some of us will sit through it all.

Also today, the University of Wisconsin announced that football coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez will give up his coaching duties after this season. In Wisconsin, only Brett Favre is more beloved than Alvarez, who resuscitated the Wisconsin football program in the early 1990s and with it, the entire UW athletic department. The Badgers won three Rose Bowls during Alvarez' tenure--and to comprehend the magnitude of that accomplishment, consider that long before Alvarez was hired, many of us had given up hope of ever seeing one. If Alvarez wanted to run for Wisconsin governor next year, he'd probably win.

So we've got our tree frogs and we've got our football, and in a few days the calendar will turn to August. You think there's one more month of summer left? Nope. Up here, it's feeling like autumn already.

A Man Has Got to Know His Limitations: When it comes to blogging, I'm strictly an amateur. Digby and Publius are professionals. Go read now.

Don't Let the Screen Door Hit You
My online reading list often looks like the rest of my life--cluttered with things I mean to pay attention to but often don't, because I'm distracted by other things I have to pay attention to. This morning I resolved to read some of the things I've been meaning to read, and I found some stuff worth passing along to you.

The American Prospect
reports on the candidacy of Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran running for Congress as a Democrat in a solidly Republican district around Cincinnati. (The special election is next week.) You may have seen this race mentioned on Daily Kos and Eschaton earlier this week--both sites have reported on attempts to swift-boat Hackett, as Repugs suggest that his service as a civil affairs officer in Fallujah wasn't really all that great because he wasn't actually in combat. Never mind that he had to lead troops into Fallujah after we were finished blowing it up, thus having to deal with the unhappy, non-rose-petal throwing civilians who survived. And never mind that the soldiers who get blown up every week in roadside convoys aren't really serving in combat, either. Neither are the chickenhawks at home--and to his eternal credit, Hackett has used the word to refer to his opponent and to Bush. With about a week to go, Hackett is within five points. (In the last four elections, the Democrat has gone down by 44, 48, 51, and 54 points.) Swing State Project reports that his opponent is tanking and Hackett is winning the ground war--but remember, this is Ohio, so he'll need a lot more votes to win than his opponent will.

Earlier this week the Smirking Chimp reprinted an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer about the Christian Exodus movement, which is trying to bring enough fundamentalist hardcores to South Carolina to take over the state's government and turn it into a theocracy. And if the federal government tried to interfere, then they'd secede. How's it going so far?
The group's goal is to have 2,500 members in two upstate counties by September 2006, and as many as 12,000 by 2008. That, [Exodus founder Cory] Burnell said, would be enough to elect local candidates and snowball into a statewide force. Soon, enough right-thinking officials would be elected to force a confrontation with the feds.
Yes, but how's it going? Well, so far five families have moved. Even Cory Burnell is still in California, but he says he's going to move, really.

I am reminded of the words of South Carolina Unionist James L. Petigru, who said after his state became the first to secede from the Union in 1860 that South Carolina was "too small for a Republic and too large for an insane asylum." But hey, if anybody reading this (especially in a blue state) thinks that Christian Exodus is a good idea, give me a call. I'll help you pack.

(Note: An earlier version of this post refered to "evangelical hardcores." "Fundamentalist" is a more accurate term for the folks being recruited by Christian Exodus. Sorry about that.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Harper's has posted an excerpt from Bill McKibben's article blogged below. Click at once.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

You Got the Wrong One, Baby, Uh-Huh
If you find yourself standing at the magazine rack in the next few days wondering what to buy, put down that self-improvement rag and pick up the August Harper's, where Bill McKibben contributes "The Christian Paradox: How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong." Just when I think about letting my Harper's subscription lapse, they'll print something like this, and I'm reupping for a couple more years.

McKibben isn't so worried about the fundies who think Jesus will be back any minute--he's more concerned about the influence of suburban non-denominational mega-churches, because they're the ones who are distorting Christianity to a massive extent. They might claim to be preaching truths unchanged for 2000 years, but they're really selling self-improvement therapy, just like the rest of our "culture of unrelenting self-obsession." (Professor de Zengotita, call your office.) This focus on the self warps the teachings of Jesus, who demanded that people love their neighbors as themselves--in other words, to focus on the needs of others just as carefully and intensely as they focus on their own. It's hard to square such an unambiguous command with support for wars that kill civilians indiscriminately, tax policy that screws the poor, or unthinking environmental degradation. But as McKibben notes, many American Christians don't know much about Christianity. Fourteen percent of them think Joan of Arc was Noah's wife.

Quote of the Day: John Aravosis at the inestimable AMERICABlog, responding to a poll saying that a majority of Americans now believe we won't win the war in Iraq, but that sending troops wasn't a mistake: "They didn't vote for John Kerry because he basically enunciated the same position they all hold today--they're against the war and they think it's a failure but they're glad we tried. Uh huh."

Monday, July 25, 2005

Chillin' With Satan
There's a simple test to determine whether something is political principle or political hackery. A politician getting ready to float an idea should ask: "If a member of the opposition were to say exactly the same thing I am about to say, would I find it politically acceptable?" If the answer is "yes, I would accept it," you are about to articulate a principle. If the answer is "no," you're a hack.

Cue Rick Santorum, hack: "I don't think your wife's activities should have any impact on what a judge is going to do. I certainly would think that he would tell you they don't, nor should they. It's the facts of a case and the law of a case." Santorum was on the Today show this morning discussing Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, and the fact that Roberts' wife is the former executive VP of Feminists for Life, an anti-abortion group, and still does pro bono work for the organization. Santorum, anticipating controversy over those ties, wants everybody to know that they're no bigger a deal than Mrs. Roberts' membership in the Book of the Month Club or the Catholic Ladies Quilting Circle would be, and that everybody should just chill.
July 25, 2010: Washington was abuzz today with news that Debbie Fnortner, the wife of Federal District Judge Axel Fnortner, nominated by President Feingold last week to replace impeached Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, is a former legal counsel for the Church of Satan. Mrs. Fnortner still does pro bono work for the church, but is no longer involved with the group on a day-to-day basis. On the Today show this morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "I don't think your wife's activities should have any impact on what a judge is going to do. I certainly would think that he would tell you they don't, nor should they. It's the facts of a case and the law of a case."
Still chillin', Senator?

If there were ever a case where something doesn't pass the principle-or-hackery test, Santorum's remark is it. I fully agree with Santorum that Mrs. Roberts shouldn't--and most likely won't--have any effect on the way her husband votes on the Supreme Court. But that's not the point. The point is that if the circumstances were exactly reversed--if the nominee were a liberal sent up by a Democrat--Santorum would run over his grandmother to get to a microphone to bitch about the political ties of the nominee's wife. The point is the hypocrisy.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't
A month after the new Supreme Court term begins in the fall, the court will consider an abortion case that could lead to the weakening or complete overturning of Roe v. Wade. But what does that mean, exactly? It wouldn't lead to an immediate national ban on abortion, as some people believe. Its immediate effect would be to return the abortion situation to its pre-1973 status: legal in some places, illegal in others--in other words, a state matter. (And also to signal the beginning of the grandest political brouhaha the Republic has ever seen, from sea to shining sea.) But for the Republican Party, far from being vindicated in their generation-long quest to re-legislate old-fashioned morality as it used to be, messing with Roe may mean they may end up screwed.

Writing in the Baltimore Sun (and posted at the Smirking Chimp), Michael Hill thinks that the end result of that fight is going to be big political trouble for Republicans.
The problem for Republicans is that it would throw the issue back into the arena of legislators who have to face the voters.

Since the Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, anti-abortion politicians have been able to castigate the Supreme Court for allowing the procedure. But they have never had to actually cast a vote outlawing it. And most polls show that in most states, that would be an unpopular vote.

"It would become a wedge issue for Democrats," says Johns Hopkins University political scientist Matthew Crenson.

With Roe as the law of the land, Republican opposition to the decision has been mainly symbolic--garnering the party support from abortion opponents--with little political cost to those not so fervent on the issue.
In other words, pure Bush-style politics: talking a good game but doing nothing of substance. But there's not just danger for the Repugs in doing something--there's also danger in doing nothing. Political experts Hill interviewed say that the Repugs will in trouble even if Roberts doesn't vote to overturn Roe.
[Political science professor Tom] Schaller, who has worked in Democratic campaigns, says Republicans are in a no-win situation.

"If Roberts votes to overturn Roe, there will be wholesale defections from the GOP, especially among white women," he says. "If he votes to uphold Roe, the conservative base will be in an uproar because this is the first nominee of the post-evangelical era. Either way, there will be a Democratic windfall."
Your mouth to God's ear, Professor Schaller. There's an excellent chance that the future of Roe will be at least partially decided by the 2006 elections, when we'd expect to collect the windfall. However, we've heard this sort of thing before: how the extremism of the Repugs will eventually be revealed to even the most obstinate voters through some extreme political event, and it hasn't happened yet. I'll believe it when I see it--but I hope I get to see it.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Why Does the Weather Channel Hate America?
So last night I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt that said, "Liberalism: the fear that somebody somewhere might be able to take care of themselves." Boy howdy, what we really need is a return to the good old days when people either looked out for themselves entirely or starved to death.

What we need, then, is to repeal the 20th century.

Of course, if you're going to repeal the 20th century, you need to get rid of lots of 20th century shit. Civil rights legislation. Limits on nuclear proliferation. The New Deal. Free elections.

And the goddamned Weather Channel.

Last April, GOPUSA warned the faithful that the Weather Channel was on the evil bandwagon of those who believe in global warming. And last week, Renew America columnist Chuck Baldwin blamed the Weather Channel for spreading panic in Florida with its hyping of hurricanes.

There are legitimate reasons for criticizing the Weather Channel for the hyping of hurricanes. The on-camera meteorologists were visibly geeked-up during the weekend Dennis hit Florida. (I haven't seen such a manic glow on so many faces since last year's wine festival.) Their descriptions sometimes got cutesy or purple, and there's something vaguely ridiculous about a guy standing in a horizontal rainstorm, holding onto his hat, saying "The rain is really coming down out here, Kristina." And as a Floridian, Baldwin makes some legitimate points about the way such drumbeat coverage can, indeed, cause fear. But he's also a wingnut, and so he finds a political agenda in it as well: "[P]erhaps they are attempting to create fear and panic to the point that we lose our will and common sense and become mindless servants to 'the experts.'"

Picture the production meeting: Intrepid, studly on-camera meteorologist Jim Cantore, his cameraman, and his producer--a skinny guy with glasses and a goatee who attended some east-coast university--strapping on the rain gear in the hotel. As they get into the van to head for the beachside location, the producer says, "Now remember, Jim--be sure to create as much fear and panic as you can. We've got to do our part to cause people to lose their will and common sense. Because when we do, the liberals win."

That's another thing we'll need to get rid of--experts. Meteorologists? Screw 'em. Look out the window. If it's wet, it's raining. Real Americans don't need anybody to tell them what to do. And if they do, they ought to go to the only sources worth trusting--like, maybe GOPUSA and Renew America.

I'd rather stand out in a hurricane.

Back to you, Kristina.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Yugo to Mars
Thirty-six years ago this week, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. Upon the astronauts' return, President Nixon called it "the greatest week since the Creation." While that's an exaggeration, it's not an especially large one, if you consider that for eons, every earthbound creature could only look up at the moon. Actually getting a few of us there has to rank with our greatest technological accomplishments.

The American space program, from its paleolithic beginnings in the 1950s through JFK's challenge to reach the moon and up through the Apollo program itself, was always characterized by a relentless can-do spirit. Think Gary Sinise in the movie Apollo 13, dumping out a pile of everything onboard the crippled orbiter in hopes of figuring out a way to patch it up and get it home. While there were setbacks along the way, few people doubted that the United States would succeed in reaching the moon.

Thirty-six years removed from the space program's greatest triumph, NASA is trying to get the space shuttle off the ground for the first time in 2 1/2 years--and they're having a hell of a time. It's a malfunctioning fuel gauge this time, but it's been other stuff in the past--faulty heat-shield tiles, leaky fuel tanks, buggy computer programs. While the can-do ethos might be alive among those working on the program, from the outside, it looks like they're bumbling along, keeping their fingers crossed, and hoping for the best. Just like you do when your car is on its last legs and you're trying to keep it alive.

That car analogy is actually a pretty good one. During the 1960s, astronauts and other NASA personnel joked about flying in equipment that was built by the lowest bidder, but when it came time for the equipment to perform, it nearly always did. Good old American know-how, even at the most inexpensive level, was always going to be enough. However, even when the shuttles were relatively new, they seemed more like Yugos than reliable American cars--and now, in addition to that, they're ancient. Discovery, the one they're trying to get off the ground next week, was first launched in 1984. When Columbia was lost in 2003, it was 22 years old. Do you know anybody who still has a Yugo--and if so, is it reliable? Although the shuttle systems have been continuously updated, the basic concept was devised while Apollo flights were still going to the moon.

In the 1960s, critics charged that it was frivolous to waste money on the space program while so many crying needs went unmet on Earth. We don't talk that way anymore--ignoring crying needs to spend money on frivolities is part of our lifestyle now. You can argue that the shuttle program is a lot more useful than the Apollo program was--launching satellites, doing scientific experiments, and so on. But you can also argue that if there's one place where privatization really is appropriate, space exploration is it.

The real failure of the shuttle program is, for old-time space geeks, the utter lack of adventure in it. Part of what attracts people to stories of explorers, from Leif Erickson and Marco Polo to Robert Peary and Neil Armstrong, is the spectacle of people testing human limits to do what no one else has ever done. There's not much of that in trucking satellites to geosynchronous orbit. When Bush floated his Mars exploration trial balloon last year, the one thing I could find to recommend it was the possibility of reviving that sense of adventure. Those of us who followed the exploits of the Apollo crews can well imagine how it would be to follow the exploits of humans trying to land on Mars. Yet that sense of adventure has a short shelf-life: Once we reached the moon in 1969, later Apollo missions were greeted by yawns. For all my vivid memories of the early 1970s, apart from the near-disaster of Apollo 13, I can scarcely remember the other missions. Five other Apollo missions reached the moon. Three scheduled flights were actually canceled, and the program ended in December 1972 with Apollo 17.

Whether it's for the adventure in it, or if we find a reason for going that's as motivational as beating the Russians to the moon, I am guessing that it's unlikely that we'll do any more significant space exploration in our lifetimes. In fact, I'd put the odds that we'll do any significant space exploration in the next couple of centuries at 10-to-1 against. We're going to have to figure out how to live when the oil supply runs out, and that will take a good long time. Only after that, if any of us are left, will we have the luxury of looking up at the moon and the stars and making plans to go there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Hey Mexico, You Can Have It Back
I swear that I am not making this up.

Cue KTK at Lean Left: "You only have to scratch the surface to see the typical Texas gender-stereotype Sex Panic at work."

Perhaps the Great Dark Pit of Dumbassitude really is bottomless.

No, wait, "bottomless" . . . that's immoral, too.


Whose Side Are You On?
That Supreme Court nominee John Roberts is fairly wingnutty goes without saying--after all, he got the gig, didn't he? But he's sufficiently non-scary (at a glance, anyhow) to pass for the kind of mainstream, bipartisan jurist Bush wants to give the appearance of nominating. So that makes Lindsey Beyerstein's point at Political Animal worthwhile--the goal for Democrats on this nomination probably shouldn't be to defeat it. In a straight up-and-down fight, we lose, and furthermore, this nomination isn't really worth filibustering. (Wait until a liberal justice retires. That'll be Armageddon time.) Instead, the Dems should have two other goals on the Roberts nomination. First, to use the confirmation process to express the party's vision of what constitutes a qualified Supreme Court justice, and second, to establish and expect party discipline, which means punishing those who failed to stand with their party and for its vision after the vote is taken. In other words, to store up a can of whoop-ass with Joe Lieberman's name on it, just in case.

Surely that would be smarter in the long run than knee-jerk opposition now. I got one e-mail last night already and two today from advocacy groups begging me to help oppose the Roberts nomination--and that can't help but give conservatives a club with which to bash us: "You damn liberals, you'd be opposed to anybody Bush nominates." Whether, and how fast, liberals should come out against the nom has sparked some discussion in the blogosphere today. Billmon had the first take; Armando at Daily Kos took issue with part of it.

Karl Who?: For now, I'm continuing to stand by my prediction that Karl Rove is going to get away with it--especially now that the Roberts nomination has come along to take up some of the airtime that would otherwise be devoted to Rove. I am glad to see, however, that the meta-story of the wag-the-dog aspects of Bush's announcement (in prime time, fer chrissakes) is getting some play. Just like in The Wizard of Oz, seeing the levers move takes the mystery out of the Great and Powerful One. Such clumsiness in attempting to redirect the news cycle--effective though it's been--indicates that maybe Rove and his operation are a little bit rattled these days.

The Rude Pundit, who's become the first blogger I read on a lot of days now, raises a good point about the Rove scandal--for the first time in a long time, the Democrats are on the side of the argument that can be summed up in a soundbite, and it's the Repugs who have to resort to tortured explanations that most people don't have time to hear. Of course, the Democrats will find a way to screw up this advantage, but it's nice to have it going for us as long as it lasts.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Whooshing Beyond Relevance
It's by no means cutting-edge commentary to criticize ESPN these days. The network has come in for plenty of rips in the last couple of years as it has expanded its horizons beyond sports-- and moved further and further away from what it claims to be. Nevertheless, away I go.

Sports junkies have known for a long time that if it's sports news you want, the network's flagship Sportscenter show is not necessarily the place to find it. The show is junked up with pointless interview and game-show features, redundant promos and repetitive wrap-ups, and endless whooshing graphics until you get a headache. (Most egregious use of graphics: on the Top 10 Plays feature--usually the most entertaining two minutes of the show--the graphics often obscure the spectacular play they accompany.) The contrast between Sportscenter and the network's ESPNews channel--which presents mostly compact, info-jammed half-hours the likes of which ESPN used to present on its main channel--couldn't be more profound. Their Sunday NFL Countdown show, which used to be vital viewing for football hardcores, has been similarly junked up with shouting analysts, music videos, and comedy bits, rendering it almost completely unwatchable.

In addition, ESPN has junked up its schedule with "original entertainment" programming, some of which has only the most tenuous connection with sports as most people conceive it to be. And it's only going to get worse--they're getting ready to launch something called ESPN Hollywood, and you can probably imagine what that's going to be like. Viewers got a little taste of it last night with the "red carpet" show leading up to the network's self-congratulatory ESPY awards, in which anchor Stuart Scott openly leered at Serena Williams' breasts--and then joked about how he was leering at Serena Williams' breasts. The ESPYs themselves, which have somehow proliferated for 13 years now, were one of the first junk entertainment products the network ever launched--and it's hard to accept that we might be living in a world where some of our fellow creatures consider such a hype to be must-see TV.

ESPN can scarcely cover anything without hyping it anymore. The major league home-run derby has become a fixture of the All-Star break, but if you've ever watched it, you know how incredibly dull it is. And what makes it worse is lead anchor Chris Berman's blowhard commentary, which makes it clear that he knows how dull the show is, but it's his job to try and save it. (I have been a Berman fan for a long time, and I still think that he's one of the top TV guys on pro football--but let him get involved in covering anything else and he wants to be one of the great TV sports essayists of old, Heywood Hale Broun or Jack Whitaker, and the results are painful.)

Even when the network covers real competitive games (and by this I do not mean poker, billiards, extreme sports, or lumber sports), they manage to offend a discerning viewer. The network has always had an east-coast bias, which is natural given that the majority of anchors, producers, and production assistants come from the Philadelphia-to Boston corridor. There was a time when they tried to hide it, but no more. When ESPN landed major league baseball in 1990, they pledged to broadcast a game from every stadium in the bigs during each season. In recent years, howevcer, they've become the national flagship station for the Yankees and Red Sox, broadcasting most of their games live and hyping the others, trying to turn regular-season games into High Drama. They began their grossly overhyped "50 States in 50 Days" tour at Fenway Park last night by fawning over the Yankees and Red Sox as the best rivalry in sports--which it isn't. It's the best rivalry in east coast sports. In other parts of the country, the best rivalry is something else. Nevertheless, if ESPN could sign the kind of exclusive-rights deal with the Yankees or Red Sox that NBC has with Notre Dame football, they'd do it in a heartbeat.

The 50/50 tour is a way to get through the dog days of summer. They're going windsurfing in Oregon and to the Buick Open golf tournament in Michigan, to football practice at the University of Nebraska and to the Brickyard 400 in Indiana--all representative events in those states. In Wisconsin, however, they'll close the series by visiting the Highland Games and Celtic Fling in West Allis, a Milwaukee suburb. I guarantee you that there are people in West Allis who've never heard of this event--and when you think of the top 10 ethnicities in Wisconsin, Scots aren't on the list. Germans, Norwegians, Poles--those we've got. If ESPN had bothered to think of Wisconsin as anything other than flyover country, it might have dawned on them to visit a high-school football game, or Packers camp, or go to some damn fishing hole already.

There are a few things ESPN does extremely well: NFL Primetime is the best sports show on TV, because it has two anchors who never argue with each other and keeps its eye entirely on the ball. In a world full of arguing-sportswriter shows, Pardon the Interruption is clearly the smartest one. NFL Live loses points for being the conduit for analyst Sean Salisbury at his most unpleasant, but gets them back for packing itself with solid information. Over on ESPN Classic, the SportsCentury series is extremely well-made, even when discussing athletes who aren't going to be enduring figures in sports history. (Curt Schilling--are you kidding me?) And the network has a few Sportscenter anchors who are better than the show on which they appear: John Anderson, Steve Berthiaume, Fred Hickman. But that leaves a lot of other hours to fill and a lot of other people to fill them--and ESPN doesn't seem to make consistently good decisions in accomplishing either one.

Quote of the Day:
"To many, President Bush firing Karl Rove would be the equivalent of the Pope firing God."--Dave at Electablog.

Look Over There: This afternoon on Best of the Blogs: "Take One and Call Me in the Morning." (If it's not at the top, scroll down to find it. Links to individual posts are iffy at BotB these days.)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Stop Worrying and Love the Blob
I have never really understood the phenomenon of people who are enjoying some sumptuous dessert saying, "I can't have any more, it's too rich." Until now.

I've finally finished Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It by Thomas de Zengotita, and it took me longer than it might normally have because I frequently found myself stopping, saying to myself, "I can't have any more, it's too rich." Mediated is the kind of book best read when The Mrs. is out of the house, because I found myself wanting to read great chunks of it to her aloud.

De Zengotita's premise is twofold (and I will probably distort it severely in summarizing it): First, that modern life is so drenched in media that absolutely everything that humans experience, individually and as a group, is eventually subsumed in the media torrent and spit back at us like a packaged commodity we can choose to buy or not, a phenomenon he calls the Blob. When we shop this vast parade of options, depth becomes an enemy--there's no time for it. Instead, everything we experience is surfaces without edges. And this leads to the second part of the premise: That because absolutely every experience human beings can have can be reflected back at us somewhere in some sort of media representation, we no longer really live our lives independently. Instead, we perform our lives, like method actors--we shop from an endless supply of guises to create a person known as "me." All of the representations out there are aimed at us individually, and so we come to have what de Zengotita calls a "flattered self." The world really is made for each of us alone, sitting in front of our TVs or computer screens or plugged into our iPods. De Zengotita is a good-enough writer to make this and all of the accompanying groundwork for it seem so obvious that you can find yourself wondering why you didn't think of it yourself.

One of the book's biggest "why didn't I think of that" moments came for me in the chapter on politics. De Zengotita explains George W. Bush in terms of an action/adventure hero. There's the moment early in every Steven Seagal movie, for example, where Seagal is playing catch with his son or hugging his wife, a scene intended to set up the vengeance fantasy later in the film, after the evildoers kill the son or kidnap the wife. In our post-9/11 world, it's left to Bush to play the Seagal role, which accounts for the "bring it on" swagger and his other Texas county sheriff-isms--it's all part of the role. But it's de Zengotita's comment on Bush's most adoring audience that captured my attention:
Above all they don't think about what they really mean by highly charged phrases that cement their political identifications, that make their hearts beat as one with their leader's. When they talk of love of country and pride in being American, what happens is that very rich and deep and, above all, specific feelings for family and friends and neighborhoods, for places they vacationed as children and hung out as teenagers, places where they courted their wives and husbands, places where they lost them, too, all the places they belong to--the particular smell of a school hallway, the mood of an empty intersection at the center of town, when you stop at the traffic light, just before dawn--a host of genuine attachments like that get projected onto the giant geopolitical categories presented to them in the media. The striking symbols and stirring anthems, images of people-like-us suffering, images of people-like-them enraged, on and on, until you can no longer distinguish between what you identify with directly and caricatures of that larger reality that concerns the Leaders of Big Entities to whom the media attends.
In other words, hate my country (in whatever way I as an individual define "my country," and if my definition doesn't match yours, that's your problem and not mine, especially if it allows me to hate you with as much venom and justification as I hate foreign enemies) and you hate my grandmother and the '74 Dodge Dart I used to own, and nobody messes with my family. On one hand, patriotism is probably at its most honest when it's expressed in terms of the things we value the most. On the other, however, you can't think rationally about, say, geopolitics in a complex world if all you can see is people who have some kind of grudge against you personally. There's no distance.

(Although, as de Zengotita argues elsewhere, we've got nothing but distance in our lives now--ironic distance. See what I mean about my risk of distorting his ideas?)

De Zengotita explains why people like their busy, overscheduled lives, why politics has turned into advertising, why the words "like" and "whatever" punctuate our speech the way they do, and much else about the way we live now. You really need to read it. But not all at once.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Game Over
It's interesting how fast the Rove scandal transformed itself over the course of this week. Monday and Tuesday, with Scott McClellan getting his brains beat out by the White House press corps and the mainstream media finally on the case, we dared to hope that we might finally see somebody in the administration doing the perp walk so many of them richly deserve.

Wednesday the Repugs started fighting back, as their big-lie talking points turned the truth on its head and were being regurgitated by the usual suspects--the Wall Street Journal, RNC chief Ken Mehlman, and dumbass reporters who can't tell spin from fact. After watching the spectacle all day, Josh Marshall reflected on the tactic early yesterday morning and called it "terror by grand moral inversion, the lie so total and audacious that it almost knocks opponents off their feet."

And in the end, that's the problem Democrats have in responding to the scandal, the news media has in covering it, and Mr. and Mrs. America have in making up their minds about it. They simply can't process the idea that the people in charge of the country would simply make shit up in such a broad, blunt, fantastical way, and so they blink and fumble and try to find their way back to familiar, comfortable ground--which means they end up crediting the administration as being more truthful than its critics. A corollary problem is that when the Repugs come up with their opposite "interpretation," and that interpretation is played equally with the facts of the case in the ever-lovin' "fair and balanced" journalistic ideal, Mr. and Mrs. America start thinking of the whole thing as yet another political pissing match that has nothing to do with them.

And so by late yesterday, it started looking like the momentum had turned, and that the Repugs were going to win this one, too. This morning we got the capper, at least for the moment--a report that Rove testified that he got Valerie Plame's name from Robert Novak, and not the other way around, which is what we've been hearing for two years, and what most people in a position to know believe actually happened. Whether Rove lied or whether he didn't, this revelation from somebody in a position to know what the grand jury heard is going to be enough to send the wingnuts into a victory dance, make the mainstream media back away from their aggressive reporting on the scandal, and confirm for Mr. and Mrs. America that this is simply another he-said, she-said Washington controversy, and they shouldn't let it interfere with their weekend. The headline on the AP story says a mouthful: "Rove Learned CIA Agent's Name From Novak." Not "Rove Claims He Learned CIA Agent's Name From Novak"--he learned it. End of story.

Now it's possible that Rove could still end up being indicted by the grand jury, and if that happens, then the game goes into overtime. Salon noted yesterday that short of an indictment, Rove will never be fired. But if that doesn't happen, we can mark down July 15 as the day he got away with it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Your blogger quite nearly retired without a peep this week--having gone without blogging since last Thursday morning and not missing it a bit, I thought about just letting this website trail off into insignificance, like pets.com or, oh, I don't know, MSNBC. But I'm back, if only to point you to the Rude Pundit, who gets at the nuance-free fact at the heart of the Rove affair:
And so it is that Karl Rove now hides behind his attorney when it comes to what Rove revealed to Matt Cooper, parsing words worse than Clinton ever did. As it stands now, Rove's defense against treason rests on the notion, put forth by his lawyer, that Rove never gave Matt Cooper the actual name "Valerie Plame," that he just told Cooper that Joseph Wilson's wife was a CIA agent working on weapons of mass destruction. . . .

So Robert Luskin's defense of Rove is truly bizarre, as if there's some existential notion of identity being attached only to names, that without a name, Valerie Plame could not, in fact, be identified. Or, to go more absurdist, that sans name, Valerie Plame doesn't even exist. Kinda makes the definitions of "sexual relations" and "is" seem rather quaint.
And that's the ultimate point of the Rove affair. If Bill Clinton got impeached for "sexual relations" and parsing the definition of "is," then Rove and his boss ought to be cast adrift on a raft in shark-infested waters with prime rib tied to their necks.

The mainstream media seems to be catching on to the true meaning of Rove's actions, although some of them (the Los Angeles Times, for one, as Best of the Blogs noted earlier today) prefer to frame the controversy as entirely political. Cable networks are running unscientific polls showing that wide majorities think Rove should quit or be fired. Nevertheless, for now I am going to stick by my prediction of a week or so ago that Rove will suffer no consequences as a result of this. But I'd like to be wrong.

Meanwhile, Elsewhere on the Internet: While I've not been blogging over here much lately, I have been busy over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin', where I've posed a simple question that needs an answer: why do we listen to our old records, or attend concerts by the people who recorded them? It seems like a simple question, but my suspicion is that the answer isn't so simple. I'm working on mine at the moment, but I'd like to know yours too.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

What We Value
I really need to get back to work this morning, but I wanted to check in on the London bombings, and on terrorism in a larger sense. That the bombings are reportedly the work of Al Qaeda shouldn't surprise anyone--coordinated attacks at rush hour are their signature. (Digression: when the whole country was freaking out over anthrax in October 2001, I was absolutely certain that Al Qaeda had nothing to do with it. Scattered, random attacks are not their style. Dozens of envelopes full of anthrax spores arriving in the mail on the same day at state capitols or Congressional offices--that would show the necessary panache.)

We don't have much in the way of mass transit up here--a pretty good bus system serves Madison and several surrounding suburbs, but for the nearest commuter train system you have to go to Chicago. If I were a train commuter, I think it would be only natural to take my car for the next few days. Security has been beefed up on American transit systems, as it should be.

That the September 11 attacks accomplished one of their primary goals--scaring the living hell out of Americans--is pretty much beyond debate. What's debatable, I suppose, is how accustomed we've really gotten to the threat of terrorism at home since then. One one hand, if something were to happen again, especially if it were a smaller attack than 9/11, it would be horrifying, but maybe to a lesser degree than September 11 was. (Think of the national reaction to the Challenger disaster in 1986--and compare it to the much more muted reaction the Columbia disaster in 2003.) But it's just as easy to argue that we Americans still possess a deep streak of naivete--either that or a powerful ability to avoid confronting our own mortality. So it's entirely possible that, instead of a comparatively muted reaction to another strike on us, we might react more strongly than we did in 2001--accelerating our ongoing rush to police-state fascism, for example.

I haven't followed much of the news from London this morning, apart from frequent mentions of it on ESPN Radio, of all places. ESPN midday host Colin Cowherd was talking about terrorism when I popped the radio on a while ago, and noted an attack on civilians like the one in London has a more potent terrorizing effect generally than an attack on a government building like the Pentagon might have. "I can't get into the Pentagon," Cowherd remarked--and indeed, an attack on such a place, awful though it would be, takes place at a remove from the personal experience of most people. Which is why an attack on a commuter train--a place that's much easier for most of us to imagine--is a fiercer thing. Because his gig is sports talk, Cowherd segued into the idea of terrorism at sporting events. He mentioned that according to the 9/11 Commission's investigations, one potential terrorist target was Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. For a terrorist, the symbolic value of hitting a stadium where Americans play a uniquely American game would be enormous. Soccer, golf, basketball--those are worldwide sports. Football is all about us.

It's been my theory for a long time that simply hitting a city like Dallas--and never mind hitting the football stadium--instead of New York or Washington would have powerfully terrorizing effect on Americans. Unlike the woman from Flint, Michigan, in Fahrenheit 9/11 who was sure Flint was a prime target and living her life accordingly, I walked around after 9/11 feeling pretty safe here in the upper Midwest, even though I live only a few miles from a state capitol building. Granted, we can't know how many other airplanes were supposed to crash into how many other buildings on September 11--but the psychological effect of being far from the site of the attacks softened the blow, for me at least. Four years later, if you hit us on the East Coast--been there, done that. Hit us in Boise or Little Rock--or Madison--and that's something else again.

I've got no big wrapup for this--it's just some random thoughts before I plunge back into work I'm getting paid for. If you've got any thoughts, please share them.

Recommended Reading: I haven't been following the scandal involving California congressman Randy Cunningham very much. Only enough to know he apparently received enough financial benefits from contractors, real estate agents and so forth to make him look crooked even by Republican standards. As the story linked above notes, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has started an advertising campaign in his district criticizing him, but according to the Gadflyer, their newspaper ad is stone stupid. The ad is almost a parody of how Republicans think Democrats would talk, stressing that Cunningham has forgotten his "California values." Author Paul Waldman raises an interesting point--when was the last time you heard anybody from a blue state touting that state's values? California values? Oregon values? Wisconsin values? That's red-state talk, and primarily Southern talk at that.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The blogosphere is rockin' with analysis on the Rove affair and with speculation on the Supreme Court nominee, so this site needn't try to do what others are doing better. And besides, I am up to my eyeballs in remunerative labor with little time to blog at the moment--a situation that may last for the remainder of the week. So if you want anything to happen on this site, it's up to you to make it so. Maybe we can get something started with these:

Name one blog you need to read every day to feel like you know what's going on.

Name a blog you've started reading lately that you think other people should read, and tell the class why.

Name the most overrated blog you know of. (Not counting this one. We've never been shy when it comes to touting how much we suck, and there's no reason to start now.)

Name a non-political website or blog you visit on a regular basis, and tell the class why you like it.

Low-fat, low-sodium, low-carb, or some combination of the three?

Boxers, briefs, or commando?

Carry on. If you're lurking here, bite the bullet and comment. You needn't leave your name. Especially if you go commando.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Wishing, and Other Crap
Instead of a July 4 Address to the Nation today, I offer a couple of predictions:

Prediction #1: Even if Karl Rove was the one who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, a year from today Rove will still have his job. Nothing will come of it--no indictments, no resignations, and in fact, very little publicity at all.

Reasoning: For the same reason the Downing Street Memo isn't getting any traction--because it involves events that took place a year or two ago, it's perceived as old news. In addition, if the official word of Rove's involvement comes later this week, it'll be up against news of Bush's Supreme Court announcement--and if there's any coverage of Rove by the mainstreamers, at all, it'll likely get lost. (And imagine what will happen if this is the week they find whatever parts of Natalee Holloway haven't been eaten by fish.)

Prediction #2: Whoever Bush nominates will be confirmed.

Reasoning: My e-mail inbox has been filling up since Friday with exhortations from MoveOn, the ACLU, Americans United, and from friends telling me what I can do to save the court--sign petitions, call my senators, write letters to the editor, and even to e-mail Bush asking him to appoint a moderate (insert bitter chortle here). The mobilization is a necessary part of the democratic process--but nobody should have any illusions about its likelihood of success. There will be massive amounts of political blood and treasure invested on both sides, but in the end, it's all for show. The unhappy fact is that Bush could nominate James Dobson himself and all the Democrats in the world couldn't stop it. Whatever slim chance we had to stop this nomination went out the window with the filibuster deal earlier this summer--the senators who brokered the deal have already made clear that anyone less extreme than the godawful Janice Rogers Brown will be fine with them, thus the seven Republicans in the group (and Joe Lieberman) can be expected to vote with Bush no matter who he sends up. End of discussion.

Our really legitimate chance to stop this nomination was on November 2nd, 2004, and we failed. So now we have to take our medicine on this nomination--for the next 30 or 40 years. To believe anything else is wishful thinking, and as we used to say back on the farm, "Wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which one fills up first."

Recommended Reading: For a fitting July 4 Address to the Nation, click here. (If you get asked to register, enter the e-mail address mqxea@trashmail.net, and use the password trashmail. Fake registration info from BugMeNot.com.)

Saturday, July 02, 2005

A Balanced Diet
Haloscan's comment software is messed up this afternoon--so to keep you from missing Tom Herbst's take on yesterday's post, I'm promoting it to the front page.
Your points and Kamiya’s are good and can’t be made often enough. We are a culture proudly defensive of its own vapidity, and the dumber we become, the more beligerent we become at the fact that it took us so long to achieve this level of dumbness in the first place.

The trick in dealing with the ever-increasing torent of trivia is to make the choice to avoid as much of the idiocy as possible. That means no Survivor and no American Idol, for starters, or at the very least don’t obsess over them. Ditto for sports; no one needs 168 hours of baseball each week and a like amount of ESPNews and twice that much Fantasy Baseball.

We’re so addicted to self-distraction that we willingly reject CSPAN’s coverage of the Bolton debate in favor of CNN’s seventh rebroadcast of their Jessica Simpson retrospective. We aren’t born stupid; we’re trained to it, like orangutans trained to think that a tire on a concrete floor is a lush rainforest.

To drink from the firehose, we must retrain ourselves to isolate the important part of the stream; the rest is useless spray.

One upon a time The Discovery Channel was consistently worth watching, and it offered truly educational and generally entertaining programs. Their slogan was “Explore Your World,” challenging the viewer to investigate what lies beyond the living room. Now, thanks to William Campbell, the slogan has become “Entertain Your Brain,” an exhortation to ignore anything that doesn’t amuse or distract. Even The Learning Channel has become TLC, an abbreviation less associated with learning than with Tender Loving Care or Left-Eye Lopez. These channels (and their ilk) are responsible for and symptomatic of the dumbing-down of society.

Just as you can talk to your friend in a cacophonous stadium, you can discern your future in a the din of for-profit media saturation. It isn’t easy to avoid the firehose’s spray, but it can be done.

Drink responsibly.
Tom's right about this. It's not necessary to watch C-SPAN all the time. Neither is it necessary never to watch E or VH1, or even American Idol or Survivor. But you need to balance your media diet enough so that you remain smart enough to be able to watch C-SPAN--and to understand what you're seeing--when necessary. (Like when the battle royal over the Supreme Court starts--which is another blog post entirely.) Although that means making choices about what to watch, it also means pushing back from the trough when you know you've had enough.

Friday, July 01, 2005

"Nothing will ever be the same again." Remember how many times you heard that after September 11? Irony is dead, people said. Seriousness is in. Everyone will turn back to God and the churches will be full. Bart Simpson will respect his elders. Britney Spears will cover her navel. Remember "terror sex"--the supposed phenomenon of people engaging in sex as a way of finding connection in the face of the apocalypse?

Remember how none of these things turned out to be real? Church attendance spiked for a few weeks, but was back at pre-September levels by Christmas 2001. Neither Bart nor Britney changed their ways. And "terror sex," which should have led to a baby boom in the summer of 2002--a boom that never occurred--apparently didn't exist outside the experience of a few previously hard-up magazine writers. And seriousness, which was uncool before September 11, quickly became again--and is still uncool now.

In Salon yesterday, Gary Kamiya (who's a positively brilliant writer and never gets credit for it, outside of this blog anyhow), analyzed the vapidity of cable-news culture, where missing white girls and shark attacks become events of transcendant importance, and issues of war, peace, prosperity, and politics are treated like icky-tasting medicine, or ignored entirely. Kamiya also remembers the post-9/11 assumptions regarding The New Seriousness, and charts how far off the radar they've fallen as we approach the fourth anniversary of 9/11. American culture is just as aggressively dumb as ever--only now, what we are ignoring is far more important, with far more dangerous consequences, than what we were ignoring before September 11.

How did it happen? The most persuasive analysis I've seen is one I return to every now and then on this blog--that there's simply too much going on in the world for one event, no matter how horrific, to make a significant dent in our collective consciousness. It's the firehose effect: We are drowning in information, drowning in images, drowning in options. This effect is so intense, so all-encompassing, that eventually, the firehose itself becomes the sum total of our reality. The fact that defines our existence is that everything--10,000 years of accumulated human experience, not to mention the new stuff that each day brings--is coming at us from all directions at once, faster than we can take it all in. It takes all of the energy we can muster to focus on whichever droplets catch our attention--football, 17th century art, woodworking, political activism, you pick it--yet in the end, they're all secondary to the existence of the firehose torrent itself.

In light of this phenomenon, it's hard to see how the cable channels could be much different than they are--fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, CNN's gotta pick out the shiniest, most jangly droplets from the firehose, which are the missing teenagers and the runaway brides. This is the world we're in--and we haven't been in it long enough to figure out how to cope, so we just go with the flow. And the result (at the moment, anyhow) is that our culture is just as empty as it ever was, September 11 or no September 11.

Recommended Reading: I have been running a one-man Thomas de Zengotita fan club for quite a while--he's a contributing editor at Harper's, and in his 2002 article "The Numbing of the American Mind," analyzed the firehose phenomenon, and explained why 9/11 didn't--couldn't--change everything. He's since published a book called Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It. I'm guessing, although I haven't read it yet, that the book incorporates the main ideas of the article. He's got a way of making the complicated seem simple--only the more you think about how simple he makes it, the more complicated it can seem. Which, come to think of it, is a fine metaphor for what the firehose does.

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