Friday, September 30, 2005

Friday Random 10: Turn Up the Radio
In only its second week, this Random 10 establishes the theme that anything can happen--but then again, that's why we like the Random 10 to begin with.

1. "Rings"/Cymarron/Super Hits of the 70s: Have a Nice Day, Vol. 17. A classic one-hit wonder from the summer of 1971, dredged from obscurity by Rhino Records on its indispensible series of 70s cheese. Except this version is a little faster than the 45 version that got the radio play, it's a slightly different mix, and it's a few seconds shorter. I've got the 45 in my archives somewhere, and as scratchy as it is, I prefer it.

2. "Friends"/Elton John/Your Songs.
From the soundtrack of an obscure movie for which Elton and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin contributed songs. They later disavowed their work, but this one's a keeper nevertheless.

3. "Wasted on the Way"/Crosby, Stills, and Nash/Daylight Again. One of their best songs, a 1982 hit about acknowledging your regrets and then letting them go. When I went to work for a little radio station in Illinois in 1984, I found that its manager had edited this song out of the tape library. He thought "wasted" was a drug reference. Needless to say, I restored it, and two years after that, in 1986, it was the last song I played on my last show before leaving the place.

4. "Beautiful Sunday"/Daniel Boone/Super Hits of the 70s: Have a Nice Day, Vol. 9.
The only thing I know about this song is that when it was released in Japan, it became the biggest hit in Japanese pop-music history up to that point. That, and it's a fine example of late-period (1972) American bubblegum.

5. "My Daddy Was a Jockey"/Westside Andy-Mel Ford Band/Live on the Westside. It seems that Daddy was a jockey and taught young Andy how to ride. "Put it in the middle then move from side to side," sings Andy. This isn't about horse racing, is it?

6. "More Today Than Yesterday"/Charles Earland/Charlie's Greatest Hits.
Hammond B3 organ soul-jazz, and on this tune, about as elegant and funky as that genre gets.

7. "Funkallero"/Bill Evans Trio with Stan Getz/But Beautiful. But Beautiful is an in-concert collaboration between Getz on tenor saxophone and Evans on piano, recorded in 1974 but unreleased until 1996. It resulted in some gorgeous ballads, as anyone familiar with the music of either performer would expect--and on a couple of the uptempo tracks, such as "Funkallero," Evans swings as hard as he ever did.

8. "Caravan"/Van Morrison/Moondance.
Morrison leaves little doubt that radio shaped his musical tastes as a young man; over the course of his career, he's written many songs touching on the power of the medium. This is probably the most famous one. This, or maybe the title track from Wavelength.

9. "I Know That You Know"/Sonny Rollins/Ken Burns Jazz: Sonny Rollins. How many artists who first came up in the 1950s are still playing big-ticket halls today--as opposed to county-fair tent shows or free summer festivals? Rollins will appear in Madison in a couple of weeks, and the cheap seats are $39.

10. "Writing"/Elton John/Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. In which two young, struggling songwriters search for inspiration to fill orders for the songs they've contracted to write. Struggling, yes--enjoying every minute of it, yes. Looking back wistfully years later once the struggles have ended in success--yes.

Recommended Reading: Lots of people used to think that the modern Repug Party wanted to roll us back to the 1950s, to return to the era of good family values, when the kids all behaved, and women and minorities knew their places. Then people decided maybe it was the 1930s, to get rid of the New Deal. But the fact is since at least the high days of Newt, the Repugs have had an earlier period in mind--the 1890s. Kevin Drum elaborates. Also, wish happy birthday to the Rude Pundit, who's two years in the blogging game today.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Professional Grade
Let me say first that unlike lots of people of my generation, I love both of my parents, unequivocally and without qualification. My relationship with them is not problematical or difficult. I don't blame them for damaging me in some way, profound or otherwise. (I'm responsible for the way I turned out--they may have started the job, but it was up to me to finish it.) But I confess to being amused by them sometimes, and wondering how they got to be like they are. I also have to acknowledge that my mother is an accomplished worrier, and an epic ranter. Which is where I get it from.

So anyway, one weekend after shortly I'd grown up and left home, The Mrs. (who may not yet have been The Mrs. at the time) and I were visiting my parents. My father did something relatively innocuous to set my mother off, and she responded with a rant that, even by her standards, was something special. It was like a fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach, is what it was. Over the course of several minutes, this rant repeated themes and restated them, weaved new themes against the old, and built to a majestic climax. My poor father could only stand there like a man in the rain as the rant beat down upon him. (He didn't seem to mind, having long experience in being ranted at.) As for The Mrs. and I, we listened in silent awe, and when it was over, we had all we could do to keep from delighted laughter at the sheer perfection of the thing. It was the first time (but not the last time) I observed to The Mrs. that when it comes to ranting, I'm strictly an amateur. Mom's a professional.

But even an amateur can recognize a good rant when he sees one. Hunter at Daily Kos provides one in response to some right-wing blogger's criticism of the Delay indictment, in which it was suggested that Democrats need to "step back from the edge" they're on by seeking to take Delay down. It deserves quotation at length:
Welcome to the world of the politics of personal destruction, you tubthumping, chin-jutting, Bush humping gits. Welcome to the nasty and partisan world that Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Hugh Hewitt, Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and a legion of insignificant lowest-rung toadies like yourselves nurtured into fruition daily with eager, grubby hands, and now look upon with dull-faced faux horror.

I know you hate me, and anyone else who dares disturb the thin strands of alternate reality in which George W. Bush is an intellectual giant, Saddam really was responsible for 9/11, the economy is getting better by the minute, and we capture the most very important members of al Qaeda on a weekly basis.

But here's some advice. You'd better start hating me more. This is the world you forged and, unfortunately for you, I'm beginning to take a fancy for it. Welcome to the politics of your own party, finally sprouting from the ground on which you planted the seeds and shat upon them.

Step back from the edge? You poor boy, asleep in the back of the car the whole trip, finally waking up and wondering where you're at.

Swift boats. Aluminum tubes. Niger uranium. "Mushroom clouds". Whitewater.

Vince Fucking Foster.

You can't even see the edge from here. You left it behind a hundred miles back.
As another Hunter, Hunter S. Thompson, famously said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." That's a professional rant right there.

(Technical note: It appears that Haloscan, the website that handles comments on this blog, has been having some problems today. It's made my blog extremely slow, at least on my computer, and other Haloscan blogs, such as Eschaton and AMERICABlog have been slow, too. I don't know if this is a problem I'm having or something systemwide, but if ut takes the site a long time to load and you don't get a "Comments" link, that's why. Thanks in advance for your patience, if necessary.)

Mighty Red for a Blue State
It's been a real wingnut jamboree in the Wisconsin legislature this week--lots of hymn-singing, soul-testifyin', and family-values protectin' going on. The party actually started on Tuesday, when on that day alone, the Repug majority in the State Senate (with the help of a few Democrat enablers) passed a comprehensive bill permitting medical practitioners to refuse to perform certain procedures if such procedures violate their religious or ethical beliefs. Another bill would require doctors to inform patients seeking an abortion that the fetus may feel pain as a result of the procedure--something that is by no means settled science. A third bill mandates abstinence education in public schools. Today, our solons passed a bill banning both reproductive and therapeutic cloning. And not just banning it, but criminalizing it. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has been one of the pioneers in stem-cell research, but the Jesus-freak Republican majority couln't be bothered to ask someone who knows the facts to walk up the damn street to teach them about it. They just clutched their Bibles, wiped crocodile tears from their eyes for all the dead babies, and voted their ignorance.

All of these bills are likely to be vetoed by Governor Jim Doyle if/when they reach his desk (although he hasn't made up his mind on the abstinence bill), but that shouldn't make anybody rest easy. Doyle, a Democrat, is up for reelection in 2006, and if I bet on politics, I'd take the field against him. His own party isn't entirely wild about him: There's talk of a primary challenge from the left because Doyle's been too cozy with business interests. (Politically, that sucking-up to business interests availeth naught, as it always doth.) Two Repugs have declared their candidacies so far: Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and Green Bay-area Congressman Mark Green. And even if Doyle vetoes the bills now, in 2007 they'll be back if either Walker or Green is in the governor's chair. And then, they'll become law quicker than you can say "Fighting Bob LaFollette is dead."

Roberts By the Numbers:
The Daily Aneurysm, September 14, 2005: [John] Roberts will be confirmed by the Senate by about the same margin [as in the Judiciary Committee]--all the Repugs and half the Democrats." The Associated Press, September 29, 2005: "All of the Senate's majority Republicans, and about half of the Democrats, voted for Roberts." OK, on the prediction scale, it wasn't exactly picking Roberts to be the chief-justice nominee in the first place, which would have been the real shocker, given his anonymity. But we actually got something right, which is pretty rare, so yippee for us. And so Roberts joins a surprisingly short list--he's only the 17th chief since 1789 (and that includes William Cushing, even though he served only two days in 1796). The list includes such historic figures as John Marshall, Roger B. Taney, Salmon P. Chase, and William Howard Taft. And if Roberts serves as long as Marshall, the longest-serving chief, he'll be in office until 2041, and given his youth, that's a possibility. If he lasts as long as the average chief, he'll serve until sometime in 2020.

This is the way it works. Bush won the right to make this pick when he won/stole the 2004 election. But that doesn't make it any easier to swallow, especially when you consider that long after Bush is rotting either in jail for his war crimes or Hell for his sins, his legacy will continue to screw up the United States of America.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Cork and Sprinkle
If you've come here tonight expecting rich bloggy goodness on the indictment of Tom DeLay, I'm going to disappoint you. Almost any of the big-deal blogs on my links list will be much richer and gooder than anything I could manage. I will simply rejoice along with everybody else on the left that one of the slimiest creatures ever to slither into Washington is finally paying for his hubris--although along with our satisfaction at this development, we'd best recognize that the torrent of high-n-mighty self-righteousness that's already spewing from the right wing is just a trickle compared to what it's going to be.

Nope, no politics for me tonight. Too much highway. Today I traveled from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, to Kalamazoo, Michigan--not a scenic ride, but the place names are poetic, at least. "Wauwatosa" is another of those Wisconsin place names unpronounceable by outsiders without help (it's "wau-wah-TOE-suh"), like "Waukesha," ("WALK-ee-shaw," not "wau-KEE-sha," as foreigners often guess), and the king of them all, "Oconomowoc." (When Wisconsin natives want to know whether someone else is a native, we just point to Oconomowoc on a map and ask how it's pronounced. If you're from Wisconsin, you know that it's pronounced exactly like it looks: "oh-CON-oh-moe-walk.")

The ride from Milwaukee on I-94 to Chicago (known locally as the Tri-State Tollway and Edens Expressway) was a new experience--I'm not sure I'd ever been that way before. Among the odd sights along the way: a sign along the Edens, obscured by overgrown shrubs, that read "Buy your TV from a technician!" (Hey kids, once upon a time, there were men who would come to your house to fix your TV when it broke!) I also passed a truck with the words "Kosher Meat Klub" stenciled on the driver's door. It figures, I thought--I was passing near Skokie, after all, the most heavily Jewish city in Illinois. It turns out that Kosher Meat Klub is a supermarket located on Burleigh Street in Milwaukee. The locals pronounce it "BURR-lie." In my family, we pronounce it "BURR-lee," because it happens to be my father's first name. (He is kosher, though, but only in the non-Jewish sense of the word.)

I also took the Chicago Skyway on this trip. It's widely assumed to be part of I-90, but because it was built and operated by the city of Chicago, it never became an official part of the Interstate Highway System. But it's impossible to miss once you get on 90 south of the Loop, and so everybody passing through Chicago ought to take the Skyway at least once. It's a spectacular high bridge that provides some impressive views of the southern end of Lake Michigan and the industrial heart of the Chicago area. It was nearly abandoned in the 1980s, but has just undergone a renovation, and in January of this year, was privatized--a group called SCC paid the city of Chicago nearly $2 billion for a 99-year lease. At $2.50 toll per car times the number of cars passing through in a day times 365 days a year times 99 years, I think the city got hosed.

Off the southern end of the Skyway, on I-90, you pass through the steel mill district of Gary, Indiana. I'm not sure how much steel they're making anymore, because it seemed pretty quiet down there this afternoon. Once you clear the mill region and rejoin I-94, the stretch of northern Indiana along I-94 beyond Chicago would get my vote for the ugliest interstate landscape in the country. But it's only about 40 miles' worth, and soon you're in southern Michigan. It's wine country along the first 60 miles or so, with several wineries located within a few miles of various interstate exits.

Pretty soon, you roll into Kalamazoo. The hotel in which I am staying is at the corner of Cork Road and Sprinkle Street, which I find unaccountably humorous. If there isn't already a liquor store somewhere on Cork Road, I may have to open one.

But not tonight.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Rambling About Rambling
Tomorrow is another travel day, so if there's a post at all on Wednesday, it likely won't be until late tomorrow night.

This is my last week of Monday-to-Friday travel for a while. I enjoy business travel generally, but even something you enjoy can start to wear on you after a while. For example, the sort of hotels I can afford on my expense account are rarely 100 percent right--the one I'm in at the moment is desperately short of electrical outlets. Other places I've stayed in lately have applied the phrase "continental breakfast" to food selections that are neither continental nor breakfast. On the subject of food, dining in restaurants is a treat when it's a choice, but not as much when it's the only option. After three or four days, I am generally ready to return to my own cooking--and today is the my ninth day away from home in the past 16.

One thing that never wears on me too much is driving, however. (In that respect, at least, I am a typical guy.) My car is a nice little home away from home, as long as the CD player and cassette bag are well-stocked (today it was Lucinda Williams, Van Morrison, and Steely Dan). I'm attuned to my car's sounds and her moods, and she responds to my every wish. (It's no wonder guys love their cars--we often have the kind of relationships with them we'd like to have with our wives.)

While I was out driving today, I saw several notable bumper stickers on other cars: "I'm for the separation of church and hate." So am I. "If guns are outlawed, can we use swords?" A Renaissance-Faire type of person, to be sure. Here in Wisconsin, you can pony up some extra cash beyond the regular license fee and get Green Bay Packers license plates. (I've got them. Surprised?) Many Packer plate owners personalize them. For example, there's somebody in my neighborhood whose plate reads NEEDTX--"need tickets." I saw a Packer plate today that read IH8DCB--which any Packer fan will instantly translate as "I hate da Chicago Bears."

Recommended Reading: Also on the subject of football, Wisconsin native Luke Winn of SI.com made a pilgrimage back home last Saturday for the Michigan game, and wrote about it on the site. To get a taste of the color surrounding the typical football Saturday in Madison, click here.

Shout Out: To Lil at The Insightful Pear, a blog with four links on the main page, one of them to the Daily Aneurysm. (You really need to get out on the Internet more, Lil.) Glad to have you reading. Now everybody reading here, go over there.

Hell's Frappucino
Good morning yet again from the road. I am in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee, and a place with a great deal of personal significance: The Mrs. is from here. I am hooked up to the wireless connection at the Panera Bread (which has become my office-away-from-home and deserves a shout-out) at the very mall that was the center of her adolescent universe. This is not the mall it was back in her day, however. In fact, it's not the mall it was when I was last here six months ago. A gigantic Crate and Barrel has gone up in the parking lot across from the mall's main entrance, which has the effect of obscuring the main entrance from the street, and more buildings are going up in the same area. I am not sure what kind of design effect they're going for here, but if I'd paid a premium to have my business visible from the parking lot, like the Applebees and Coldstone Creamery down the way, I'm not sure I'd be happy with bigger, newer buildings going up in front of it.

Later today, I'm going to have lunch with an old friend who's raising his family in the very neighborhood The Mrs. once lived in. Since her parents moved away 25 years ago, the neighborhood has turned over quite a bit, and there are lots of young families there once again. And what a neighborhood it is, full of fabulous, one-of-a-kind houses, built on land that once grew hops for the Pabst Brewing Company. When The Mrs. was growing up, Mrs. Davidson, of Harley-Davidson fame, lived in the neighborhood. (When we were dating and first married, I kept telling The Mrs. her parents were loaded, but she never believed me. But, dear, they were.)

Recommended Reading: At Salon this morning, be sure to read David Talbot's review of Christopher Kennedy Lawford's memoir, Symptoms of Withdrawal. America's appetite for inside Kennedy stuff never goes away, so this book is likely to be a hit. But Lawford's view is unique and his eye seems pretty keen, even as it makes you glad his family is not your family.

And take note also of LeftyBlogs.com, a site that collects local blogs in all 50 states. If you want to find out what's happening close to home, it's great.

Quote of the Day:
One of the most e-mailed stories at Yahoo News the last couple of days has been Bob Cesca's piece from the Huffington Post called "Bigotry in the Name of Jesus H. Christ," about the 14-year-old who got kicked out of a Christian school because her parents are lesbians. At Cesca's blog, Reality-Based Nation, he published an e-mail he received in response: "change your ways like i need to change mine or well both be talking about this over a frappucino in a fiery hell next to a mob of homos." I don't know, but there's something about the phrase "a frappucino in a fiery hell next to a mob of homos" that's just funny.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Burning Brightly
Not much will be happening on this blog today, as I'm traveling later on, and this morning I'm still in recovery from the weekend. And if you are not a football fan, go read Daily Kos (or this at The Hits Just Keep On Comin') and come back here tomorrow.

If you are a fan, you generally understand that every now and then, thanks to something that happens on the field, you become part of something bigger than a game itself. And the specific thing you have to understand is that in 110 years of football, Wisconsin had beaten Michigan only 10 times. The last time was in 1994. If you are a Badger fan, you don't expect to beat Michigan. And things went according to form for a while on Saturday night--Michigan led 13-3 at halftime, and Wisconsin was going quietly. But as we have learned during his years as coach, Barry Alvarez gives a good halftime speech. The Badger defense stiffened in the third quarter, and in the fourth, the team came from behind twice, the last time on a four-yard quarterback sneak by John Stocco with 24 seconds to play. After Michigan snuffed out its own last chance when their quarterback slipped on the wet turf, the Badgers had won it, 23-20.

In that paragraph, it's just another sports story. From our seats in Section Z2, however, it was far more than that.

I've never heard a stadium that was louder than Camp Randall Stadium in the second half Saturday night. Eighty-three thousand fans, all standing, all screaming their heads off (I still don't have my voice entirely back), high-fiving strangers and debating strategy with them, signaling for timeouts, respectfully quieting down when Stocco was calling signals--I've seen a lot of sporting events in stadiums, but rarely has it felt less like being a spectator and more like living through the game with the team in real time. All of us there, we felt it. And when it was over, all of us there felt like we'd helped to make it happen.

Badger fans never clear the stadium immediately after home games--our band's postgame show, the Fifth Quarter, is a tradition--but on this night, the Fifth Quarter was more well-attended and raucous than usual. As the band was marching off at the end, the stadium lights went dark. Whether this was intentional, to clear the place, or unintentional, I don't know. But it was a great effect--the score, Wisconsin 23, Michigan 20, continued to burn brightly on the scoreboard as we headed out into the night.

The party inside the stadium continued all the way up State Street toward the Capitol. In restaurants and bars, we celebrated, and many of us, trying to be humble in victory, extended condolences to the Michigan fans we saw. Not all of them were gracious in defeat, but at least they were quiet, which is not how they began the night--indeed, one of the pleasures of the second half was not just hearing their silence, but watching their facial expressions and body language as the truth of what was happening became clearer. (So maybe I'm not quite as gracious in victory as I'd like to think I am.)

Now and then, football (and sports in general--take, for example, the Red Sox winning last year's World Series) can unite fans in a shared experience of joy that's not often equaled in this life. (I wrote about this phenomenon a couple of seasons ago, when the Green Bay Packers captured a playoff berth in the last minutes of the regular season in utterly improbable fashion.) It's why we watch.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Everybody Out
Back in the 1980s, when the Reagan administration started thinking about how to fight a nuclear war, one its most hilarious contingency plans was for the mail. If people had to evacuate a place, why, they'd just fill out a change of address card, and within a few days, they would start receiving their mail as normal. Now, anybody who bothered to think about it knew there was never a chance in Hell that their credit-card bill or their subscription to Wine Spectator was going to be redirected from their nuked hometown to wherever they happened to be a couple of weeks later. The naivete it took to believe such a plan would work was astounding, yet thoroughly American--optimistic, can-do, and failing to account for the possibility that circumstances might lead to chaos, and that chaos has its own agenda.

We tend to think in similarly naive terms about the process of evacuating our cities in case of disaster. Why, we'll just get in the car and drive a couple of hundred miles to Grandma's house, and everything will be fine. But we've seen two major cities evacuated in the last month, and even after the lessons of Katrina, the Rita evacuation didn't go smoothly. It took some people a full 24 hours to travel 40 or 50 miles in getting out of Houston--and some people became so discouraged that they turned around and went back. Cars stalled, gasoline was scarce or nonexistent, emergency services were snarled (in New Orleans, there were reports of cops abandoning their responsibilities to save themselves)--and authorities waited a long time to open southbound and westbound lanes of interstates to traffic going the other way. In addition, Houston residents were supposed to leave on a schedule by zone--but such a plan is a massive denial of human nature. When a disaster is coming and you need to get out, would you wait your turn to hit the road? And let's not forget that a significant percentage of any evacuated population is going to do so in a state of panic, which adds another level of uncertainty to the evacuation process.

When Hurricane Rita made landfall at category 2 overnight, it was good news for everybody along the Gulf. There's still going to be serious damage and fatalities, but less than there might have been. Before that fact is used to tout the sucess of Bush Administration's response to this emergency, and to whitewash its failures during Hurricane Katrina, let's remember one big lesson both hurricanes should have taught us: evacuation is an imperfect science. It's also probably an imperfectable one--but it should be improvable. If we've learned our lessons.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Friday Random 10: There's a New Kid in Town
Despite the blogosphere’s relative newness, several traditions have sprung up already. One of them is Friday Cat Blogging, in which the blogger posts pictures of his or her cats. Another is the Friday Random 10, in which you put your iPod on “shuffle” and list the first 10 songs that come up.

I don’t have an iPod. I am, like many guys my age, still wedded to round pieces of plastic, so most of my music lives permanently on big shelves. And as befits a guy still wedded to round pieces of plastic, I use my laptop to copy CDs for my library or for the car—I rip the music to the hard-drive, where it continues to live even after I’ve burned it to disc. So unlike other bloggers who do the Friday Random 10, I don’t have my whole library on iPod. I have about 600 songs on my laptop. It’s not a lot in a world where an iPod can hold thousands, but it’s a start. And it’s a representative sample of stuff I feel strongly enough about to take on the road. So this is an appropriate day to inaugurate the Daily Aneurysm’s Friday Random 10—because I’m on the road as I write this.

1.  “The Complainer’s Boogie Woogie”/William Clarke/The Alligator Records 25th Anniversary Collection. This whole Alligator sampler is a clatteringly loud electric blues record, the kind of thing you put in and a party instantly breaks out.

2. “On the Surface”/Rosanne Cash/Interiors. Interiors is a country album only in the sense that Cash has had some hits on the country charts. It’s way too intelligent to be just a country album.

3. “Stay With Me”/Rod Stewart and Faces/Storyteller—the Complete Anthology. One thing about the Random 10 is that you’re going to get some jarring transitions—like going from Rosanne Cash’s quiet introspection to the full-out rock-star raveup of “Stay With Me,” Rod Stewart’s most fully realized rock-and-roll record. And speaking of jarring transitions . . .

4.  “Big Paul”/Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane/Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane. Kenny Burrell is the swingingest jazz guitarist I’ve yet to hear. John Coltrane, meanwhile, is a giant of 20th century art who appeared on far too few lists of 20th century artistic giants around the turn of the millennium.

5. “Tennessee Flat-Top Box”/Rosanne Cash/King’s Record Shop. Here’s Rosanne again, with a tune written by her father (do I need to tell you his name?) and recorded in his trademark style. It’s about a young country singer who drives the girls wild, and Rosanne puts across the sexual undercurrent of it in a way Johnny Cash (there, I said it) could never do.

6. “New Kid in Town”/Eagles/Hotel California. It’s said by some that your life’s theme song is the one that was Number One on your 18th birthday, which means mine is by Andy Gibb. I’d rather pick this, which topped the singles chart on my 17th birthday.

7. “Some Guys Have All the Luck”/Rod Stewart/Storyteller—the Complete Anthology. (Is this thing really on random?) By 1984, Rod Stewart was betraying his considerable talent in favor of a celebrity lifestyle, and art be damned. This tune, which was on the air 21 years ago this month, was a big improvement over the stuff he’d been releasing.

8. “Alfie’s Theme Differently”/Sonny Rollins/Ken Burns Jazz: Sonny Rollins. The Ken Burns Jazz series of CDs does a great service by giving new fans an easy way into the work of various important artists. I recommend them, not as the only thing you need by any given artist, but as a place to begin learning more.

9. “Patches”/Clarence Carter/AM Gold: 1970. A tear-jerking tale of a poor family’s struggle and triumph set in the American South, delivered as only Clarence Carter could do. On my current road trip I’ve been mentally composing a post about Time-Life’s AM Gold series, so watch for it over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.

10. “Delaunay’s Dilemma”/John Lewis/Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano. Once again, I am left in awe by the knowledge that jazz players are often making up what they’re playing as they go along. In the case of this tune by John Lewis, the accomplishment of keeping his brain ahead of his fingers is major.

So that’s the Random 10 for this Friday. Feel free to contribute your own list, or comment, or your own life's theme song, actual or preferred.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Russ, Russ, Russ
Cripes, I leave Wisconsin for a few days and look what happens. Both Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl vote for confirmation of John Roberts in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kohl's vote is at least understandable--he may be a Democrat, but he's not exactly a staunch progressive titan. I was more surprised by Feingold's vote. With so much concern surrounding Roberts' record on privacy, I was expecting Feingold to be a strong "no." Shows what I know.

In remarks before the vote, Feingold said he takes Roberts' statements on legal precedent to mean he will not legislate from the bench, and especially that he will not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, or Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 decision critical to establishing the right of privacy. Feingold believes that Roberts has reservations about secret courts used under the Patriot Act. If Feingold is right, that's substantial comfort to those concerned about Roberts.

Despite the fact that he was planning to vote to confirm, Feingold spent more time in his remarks criticizing Roberts and the process than praising the nominee. He criticized Roberts for being less than completely forthcoming, especially by not releasing documents relating to his service in the solicitor general's office. Feingold said: "In fact, if not for Judge Roberts's singular qualifications, I may have felt compelled to oppose his nomination on these grounds alone." But, Feingold said, he's spoken to many people about Roberts, and they believe he's a good guy and a qualified jurist, hence the "yes" vote.

As Feingold closed his remarks, the wheels fell entirely off his wagon:
History has shown that control of the White House, and with it the power to shape the courts, never stays for too long with one party. When my party retakes the White House, there may very well be a Democratic John Roberts nominated to the Court, a man or woman with outstanding qualifications, highly respected by virtually everyone in the legal community, and perhaps with a paper trail of political experience or service on the progressive side of the ideological spectrum. When that day comes, and it will, that will be the test for this Committee and the Senate. And, in the end, it is one of the central reasons I will vote to confirm Judge John Roberts to be perhaps the last Chief Justice of the United States in my lifetime.
So, much as Feingold voted to confirm John Ashcroft as attorney general in 2001 in a sort of open-hearted reach across the aisle to the opposition, he's doing the same thing this time. And it's more vain hope than anything else. A candidate nominated by a Democratic president, with "a paper trail of political experience or service on the progressive side of the ideological spectrum" would be thoroughly borked by a Republican-led Congress, as sure as I'm a balding fat man. Why Russ doesn't see this, or doesn't choose to believe it, is a mystery. I guess it proves mostly that it's Democrats who are still clinging to the mummified remains of something called "bipartisanship," years after the Republicans figured out that it's for suckers.

Russ, I love ya, and if you run for president, I'll be with you from the back roads of Iowa to the convention. But you were wrong on Ashcroft, and you're wrong on Roberts. Roberts' refusal to release documents sets a bad precedent, and the idea that he can't say anything substantive about anything that could conceivably come before the court is silly at best and dangerous at worst. (To Feingold's credit, he noted this peculiar situation in his remarks.) The stakes of this nomination--30 years of Roberts as chief--make it too important to take Roberts largely on faith. Yet, in the end, that's what we're left with. The chief-justice-presumptive is a blank slate. What any of us "knows" about Roberts is actually stuff we project upon him based on the lens through which we look.

Feingold remodeled his house in my neighborhood not long ago, and I am guessing he would never have hired a contractor who was similarly secretive about what he'd done in the past and vague about what he'd do in the future. Why that's OK for a Supreme Court justice, I don't know.

Squaring the Circle
My thanks to the people who have carried on the existence-of-God debate below. For what it's worth, here's one more take from me.

It's easy to disprove/disbelieve the existence of a god who is big and powerful enough to create the entire universe but who also capriciously answers prayer, granting (for example) an athlete's wish to perform well while (for example) refusing to spare Texas from the most destructive hurricane in American history. If these are typical demonstrations of that god's priorities, then he's not worthy of belief. Further, the argument from evil is powerful evidence to me that a personal god of this sort can't exist. Never mind that God must permit rape, murder, disease, and other evils to exist for purposes only he can understand, or that (to his supposed credit) he suffers along with the hurricane victims. If he were the god his believers make him out to be, his nature wouldn't permit him to stand idly by and let such things happen. I have heard plenty of arguments why I'm wrong about this, and none of them are persuasive. (Recommended reading: Mark Vuletic, "The Tale of the Twelve Officers.")

But even if we're not talking about a personal god, and we perceive God instead as something like the fundamental life force of the universe--why should that being's existence be any more likely than that of the easily-disprovable personal god? If there is a fundamental life force whose existence is open to the perception of human beings, shouldn't it be reasonably easy for humans to perceive it? Clearly it's not, because some people perceive it and others don't, and even those who perceive it will describe their perceptions differently from others who do.

(This problem is powerful evidence for the likely non-existence of a personal, Christian-type god, too. If the single most important fact of human existence is that humans were created by God and owe allegiance to him and to his laws, why aren't his existence, his laws, and their meaning crystal-clear to every human being? An omnipotent, omniscient being could certainly make it so. An omnibenevolent being would want to.)

I have been trying unsuccessfully to find an article I read online somewhere that gets at the ultimate problem: if we can't define what we mean by "god"--and from the discussion on this blog alone, it's pretty clear that we can't--then that failure of definition is persuasive proof for his non-existence. If we can't define a concept--like a squared circle, for example--we can't talk meaningfully about it. And we sure as hell can't order our lives in some way based upon it. And if each one of us is left to define god for ourselves, even talking about god, beyond talking to ourselves, is meaningless.

And anyway, even if God existed at one point, he's dead now, and here's the proof:
God is love.
Love is blind.
Ray Charles is blind.
Therefore, Ray Charles is God.
Find over 300 similarly humorous proofs here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Good Night and Good Luck
Not much time to blog until tonight, as it's a travel day today, but here's a quick one.

As you know, I'm not a big go-out-to-the-movies guy. I'm a DVD guy. But this fall, there's one movie I will definitely be going out to see: Good Night and Good Luck, a film about Edward R. Murrow's battle with Joe McCarthy. The movie opens in a few locations this week and nationwide on October 14. It's co-written and directed by George Clooney, who also stars as Murrow's producer, Fred Friendly. (David Strathairn, one of the great chameleon-like actors we've got, plays Murrow.) The official film website is here; excerpts from a Premiere magazine article about the film are here.

Murrow's a particular hero of mine, and one of the most important (and interesting) characters in the history of media. Sent to Europe in the late 30s by CBS to arrange talk and cultural programs, he realized that he had to report on what was happening there as World War II approached, and in the process was instrumental in creating modern broadcast journalism. Bob Edwards, formerly of NPR, recently wrote a biography of him. The definitive bio is by A. N. Sperber. The Murrow Boys by Stanley Cloud tells the story of the news operation Murrow built, and of the people who made their reputations in it: Walter Cronkite, Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood, Bill Shirer, and others.

So go to the library already. I'm outta here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Damn Hippie Kid
I greet you this morning from Crystal Lake, Illinois. It's about 50 miles northwest of Chicago, straight in the path of the exploding generica of Lake in the Hills, which is gradually rolling up from the south. Yet the character of this place seems a lot different. Unlike the prefabricated "edge city" a couple of miles away, Crystal Lake is a real city with a real history, and therefore a more tangible sense of place.

If you come in from the west, like I did yesterday, the city pops up out of the farm fields like dozens of other medium-sized midwestern cities, although it's never been a farming town itself. Its big industry was ice harvesting, in the days before electric refrigeration; in the days after, it became a resort town, "a miniature Lake Geneva," according to one local historian. After O'Hare Airport began expanding in the late 50s and early 60s, all of the northwest suburbs of Chicago began to grow, even the ones as far from the city as Crystal Lake. The leading edge of the sprawl is actually moving beyond Crystal Lake now, out toward Woodstock, Marengo, and Huntley. Nevertheless, it will probably be a few years before the last working farms in the western part of McHenry County are converted to developments--which, barring a depression and/or a revolution, they one day will be.

(Digression: The last working farm in DuPage County, southeast of here, was paved over and developed probably 20 years ago. It was owned by a family that now farms just up the road from the farm I grew up on.)

I've actually been to Crystal Lake at least once before. About 10 years ago, I was a candidate for a radio job in the Milwaukee area, and was asked to interview with the station's owner, who lived out here. He was one of those guys who's already made a fortune and doesn't really need to live on the dead run through 18-hour days anymore, but he's addicted to the adrenaline and slightly suspicious of anyone who doesn't share that addiction. We had a pleasant-enough lunch, until the very end, when he looked across the table at me and asked, "Would you consider getting a haircut?" I was so taken aback by the question that I could only stammer out a flustered "sure." I'd just had a haircut, actually, and I couldn't figure out why my hair was such an issue with him. I finally decided it was because he'd lost a girlfriend in high school to a guy with hair like the Beatles. Long story short: I was offered the job, accepted it, and then gave it back a couple of weeks later. It wasn't entirely because of the hair thing--the more I learned about the place, the more it looked like a train wreck waiting to happen--although I could see that this owner was going to be the kind of guy who parachuted into his stations and raised holy hell over things he didn't understand. Been there, done that, ain't going back. The day after I bailed on the job, I registered for the teacher ed program at the University of Iowa.

Recommended Reading: The Rude Pundit asks the obvious question--how come nobody's talking about the fact that John Roberts would never have been nominated to the Supreme Court if the Bush Administration didn't know precisely how he would rule on every question likely to come before him?

Also: Pandagon has become one of my daily must-read blogs--Amanda Marcotte is forever finding topics nobody else writes about, and Jesse Taylor's takes on politics are always thought-provoking. Last night, Jesse defended the use of curse words in blog posts, and it was one of the best fucking posts I've read in a goddamn long time.

What, too obvious?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Fish Ain't Bitin' . . .
. . . and so I'm parachuting back in for a quick post. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. published an essay in the New York Times yesterday called "Forgetting Reinhold Niebuhr," which seems mighty appropriate to some of the discussions taking place on this blog lately. Thanks to Blackdogred at Best of the Blogs for catching it first.

We've been talking some here about the value of reason and evidence to produce conclusions. Niebuhr's discussion of original sin reads like a gold-star example. The idea that we're born with the capacity to do wrong certainly seems proven based on the evidence humanity has provided throughout recorded history. Once you accept your essential imperfection, it becomes a lot harder to unilaterally impose your will on other people. After all, you could be wrong. Indeed, what's so utterly maddening to me about America's religious right is their inability to accept their imperfections and their obliviousness to the possibility that they, too, might be wrong. For all their talk about being poor struggling sinners, they don't really believe that's what they are, or they'd display more of the humility that would have to come with such knowledge. And for all their talk about doing God's will, they're really doing their own. The belief that they can ask forgiveness for their sins and the assurance that they will receive it becomes a blank check to do anything they want.

The arrogant, politicized religiosity displayed by the religious right makes it easy to disbelieve in their god. It's harder to disbelieve in Niebuhr's. Quote of the Day, from Blackdogred: "[Niebuhr] is a welcome reminder of what theology can be, even if you disagree with most of it. It is theology worthy of not believing in."

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Gone Fishin'
Back on Tuesday. In the interim, there's seems to be another debate on the existence of God starting in the comments at this post. Carry on.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Situation Normal, No Matter What
Kevin Drum notes that several commentators see Bush's pledge for massive reconstruction of the Gulf Coast as the kind of thing a Democrat would do. Well, not entirely. Headline on an AP story this afternoon: "Bush Rules Out Tax Hike to Fund Recovery." More evidence that Katrina really hasn't changed anything for the philosophical geniuses running the Bush White House. (Salon: "No joke: The Heritage Foundation believes that necessary steps to rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are to allow drilling in Alaska and support school vouchers. If nothing else, you have to give these guys credit for chutzpah.")

No immediate sacrifices will be required of you, America--only the involuntary kind that will come when the bond market snaps like a twig and the economy goes 1929 on your asses, and even then, you can count on the Republican Party to make sure the richest get first crack at the lifeboats.

It is, to borrow an appropriate phrase from Hunter S. Thompson, bad craziness. Another Hunter, over at Daily Kos, has finally flipped out. Between Rove's reconstruction and the Great Crescent Controversy involving the Flight 93 memorial, it's the end:
That's it. I'm done. You might as well kill me now, because it's the Apocalypse. All life on this planet is no doubt mere days away from coming to an end, because really -- mankind couldn't possibly get any stupider. Not possible. . . .

This, finally, is the long-awaited Apocalypse. Clearly, Terri Schiavo was the glue holding the last threads of the universe together, just as Tom DeLay had foretold in his Holy But Questionably Legal Checkbook Prophesies.

And I really, honestly feel fine, now that I'm adjusted to the notion.
Like the quote up top says, once you give up hope, you really do feel better.

A Joke: "Judge Roberts, what's your position on Roe v. Wade?" "I really don't care how people got out of New Orleans."

Today at The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Nobody Loves Me But My Mother, and She Could Be Jivin' Too.

Failure Options
The Mrs. and I watched Apollo 13 again last weekend, the 1995 movie about the 1970 accident aboard the moon-bound spacecraft and how NASA got the astronauts home safely. One of the most heroic aspects of the space program was the way it showed Americans tackling the nearly impossible with the calm expectation that we'd find a way to do it. That spirit is epitomized in the film by an exchange between a NASA official and flight officer Gene Kranz, played by Ed Harris. Waiting out the spacecraft's reentry, the NASA official says, "This could be the worst disaster NASA's ever faced." To which Kranz responds, "With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour." As Kranz says elsewhere in the film (and as he titled a book he wrote about his experiences), "Failure is not an option." In Gemini and Apollo days, people joked that the spacecraft and its systems were built by the lowest bidder--but nobody believed that the workmanship was actually shoddy or that the marketing of the product was better planned than its actual performance. NASA had the best-qualified companies building their stuff, the smartest guys they could get running their missions, and the best-qualified pilots flying them. So why not expect to do the impossible? If anyone in the world was going to be able to do it, it was those guys.

Thirty-five years later, do we still honestly believe that Americans can do whatever we set out to do, no matter how difficult? We still talk the game, but there's talk, and then there's action. If the NASA guys who brought Apollo 13 home had talked about doing it as much as the Bush Admininstration talks about the six impossible things it's trying to do at any given moment, the astronauts' frozen corpses would still be in orbit. And as far as Bush's commitment to hiring the best-qualified people to run the missions, two words: Michael Brown.

So when Bush ladles out the rhetoric about the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast, you have to wonder if it will happen the way he says it will. Can we really make it a better and more prosperous place than ever before? We could, maybe--if that were the real goal of the project. Rebuilding is going to happen, but it's almost certainly secondary to the real goal--restoring the political prestige of Bush and the Republicans. That's because Karl Rove is heading the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast.

Karl Rove? Bush is kidding, right? God, this is awful. The reconstruction was already going to be another opportunity for Bush cronies to profit, just like Iraq--only now the patronage is going to be handed out with an eye toward spinning it for maximum political gain. And if it's handled as effectively as Iraq has been, well, hey, there you go.

I'm late on mentioning this post, originally put up late Wednesday night by Josh Marshall, but it's right on:
If there's nothing else this decade has taught us it is that there was never and never could have been any Iraq War separated from the goals and intentions of those with their foot on the accelerator. Anything else is just a sad delusion. That's why the whole mess is as it is now: fruit of the poison tree.

Same here.

Maybe you want to spend $200 billion on rebuilding the Delta region too. Fine. Something like that will probably be necessary. But don't fool yourself into thinking that what's coming is just a matter of a different chef making the same meal. This will be Iraq all over again, with the same fetid mix of graft, zeal and hubris. Cronyism like you wouldn't believe. Money blown on ideological fantasies and half-baked test-cases.

You could come up with a hundred reasons why that's true. But at root intentions drive all. You'll never separate this operation or its results from the fact that the people in charge see it as a political operation. The use of this money for political purposes, for what amounts to a political campaign, tells you everything you need to know about what's coming.
And that was before Rove was put in charge of it.

Although Democrats are trying to hold the administration accountable for what it should have done but didn't in responding to Katrina, that story is now officially old news. The reconstruction effort is now the story, and the Democrats are screwed into an extremely bad knot politically where it's concerned. Criticize the effort in any way and be characterized as not caring about the fate of the Gulf Coast. Never mind if it balloons the deficit. Never mind if it further lines the pockets of Halliburton. Criticize it, and you hate the victims, and furthermore, you have Lost Faith in America. You watch.

One of the saddest things I've learned about my country in the last 35 years is that the same place that once could land men on the moon is now sorely challenged by running a one-car funeral. And when something bigger happens, well, it's Katrina bar-the-door.

Quote of the Day: Found on the way to something else, from science-fiction writer Terry Goodkind: "Reason is a choice. Wishes and whims are not facts, nor are they a means to discovering them. Reason is our only way of grasping reality; it is our basic tool of survival. We are free to evade the effort of thinking, to reject reason, but we are not free to avoid the penalty of the abyss we refuse to see."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Teaching 9/11
Alternet has republished a piece from The Nation about how various textbooks teach the events of September 11. For what it's worth, I had to deal with this issue in a social studies review book I developed earlier this year. It took me quite a while to satisfactorily tweak my approach, knowing that almost any attempt to discuss historical events that are still within the realm of memory can be controversial--and knowing also that my audience for these short pieces would be eighth-grade students in a Southern state. So I kept it dry and factual, intending as much as possible only to narrate and not explain, along the lines of the following:
On the morning of September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four airplanes. Two were deliberately flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York, causing the buildings to collapse and killing over 2,700 people. Another was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C, killing over 100 people. A fourth plane, which crashed in Pennsylvania killing over 40 people on board, was thought to be headed for either the White House or the Capitol. The coordinated attacks were the largest terrorist strike ever on American soil.

In the days following the attacks, the administration of president George W. Bush announced that the country would fight a war on terror--in other words, that it would take military action against terrorists and any country accused of aiding them. The first country to be attacked was Afghanistan, in October 2001. Its government, known as the Taliban, was believed to have sheltered and aided Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader who ordered the September 11 attacks. The Taliban was quickly overthrown, and a democratic government installed.
And so on. I explained who Osama bin Laden was, and gave a bit of the history of Al Qaeda, in the same style. Then it came time to explain the Iraq War. How do you explain a war that many Americans supported because they believed something that turned out to be false? Very carefully.
Following the Afghan campaign, the Bush administration began planning for a war against Iraq, which it accused of arming terrorists and possessing weapons of mass destruction. (Many Americans also believed Iraq had been involved in the September 11 attacks. None of the terrorists were Iraqis, however, and no conclusive proof exists that Iraq had any connection to the events of September 11.) The United States built an international coalition against Iraq, although participation from other countries was far less than it had been in 1991. The vast majority of the troops and money were provided by the United States, and the United Nations refused to authorize the war, as it had done in 1991.

In March 2003, the Iraq War began with air strikes. Ground forces moved in a few days later. In less than a month, Iraq fell and Saddam Hussein was removed from power and arrested. A temporary government was installed in Iraq. However, Iraqi insurgents continued to fight against American troops. Elections to establish a permanent government were held in January 2005, although the insurgent attacks continued afterward. As this book went to press, the future of Iraq remained unclear--whether it would become a stable, democratic state, thus setting an example for other countries in the Middle East, or whether it would continue to be an unstable, war-torn place.
There are a couple of potentially controversial statements there. First, the one about there being no evidence that Iraq had anything to do with September 11, which is still being contested by a few Republican diehards. And second, the speculation about Iraq's future. Any suggestion that the mission might ultimately fail can give conservatives a case of the fantods.

Nevertheless, I feel as though I did the best I could do under the circumstances, although putting myself in the shoes of a conservative (thinking it safer to stand inside their shoes than to live inside their heads), I can imagine being criticized precisely because I kept the tone so measured and factual when discussing the events of September 11 itself. After all, there's a school of thought (if you can call it "thinking") that the attacks on that day were an Irruption of Insensate Evil That Must Be Taught as Such. I suppose I could also be criticized for paragraphs (not reproduced here) suggesting that Islamic extremism has roots in particular political and social contexts, instead of discussing it as an obvious Irruption of Insensate Evil--because to try and explain the attacks as anything else is "excusing the hijackers."

Cripes, it's a wonder anybody tries to teach 9/11--but as The Nation notes, few teachers ever get that far, at least in general survey courses. The gap between the present day and the most recent time period taught seems to be about one generation--when I was in high school 30 years ago, survey courses rarely made it past the Korean War; today, the social studies standards in a few states mention the Reagan Era, but practically nothing later. (My inclusion of 9/11 and the Iraq War in my book was based on a broad interpretation of a particular history standard in the state for which the book was written. The standard didn't specifically mention those events, but it required students to understand concepts of American foreign policy from the 19th century "to the present." So I took a shot. I'd like to think there's at least one teacher down there who appreciates the effort.)

If I'd followed through and gotten a job teaching social studies after getting my certificate in 1997, I'd be starting my ninth year in the classroom this fall, and I'd likely be facing the teaching-9/11 dilemma up close. It's also likely that I'd have been in a classroom somewhere on September 11, 2001. Jay Bullock of Folkbum's Rambles and Rants is a teacher who was there, and who had to figure out how to use the Mother of All Teachable Moments. It's definitely worth the click.

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'
Still on the road in Minnesota, and I would be feeling slightly guilty for not blogging on the Roberts confirmation hearings this week were it not for one thing: the hearings are a formality. All the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee will vote to confirm, as will half the Democrats (including at least one from my state, probably Herb Kohl); Roberts will be confirmed by the Senate by about the same margin--all the Repugs and half the Democrats. Never mind that he appears to be, where the right to privacy is concerned, the white Clarence Thomas. In the end, the right to privacy is the right that matters most to the largest number of Americans--the simple right to be left the hell alone. Much that we prize in our lives flows from this right. And so Justice-to-be Roberts, like Justice Thomas and many other purported guardians of virtue, represent a threat to much that we prize in our lives.

Quote of the Day: Right-wingers are losing their minds over the winning design of a contest for the memorial to the victims of Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11. The winner is called "Crescent of Embrace," and because the crescent is a prominent symbol in Islam, the wingers are screaming that it's a memorial to the hijackers rather than to the victims. I haven't been following the controversy all that much because it makes my head hurt, but it seems to be the usual right-wing brouhaha--50 percent straw-man polemics, 49 percent overheated bloviation, and one percent legitimate gripe. There are lots of other crescents visible in American life--as Think Progress observes, a crescent is part of the Christian Coalition's logo--so this is just more opportunistic dumbitude. Perhaps the designers should have been a bit more sensitive in naming it--calling it "Crescent of Embrace" probably wasn't so smart--but anybody who suggests that the designers would prefer to memorialize the victimizers aboard Flight 93 in favor of the victims is interested mostly in swinging a political bludgeon, as opposed to making a serious argument. Michelle Malkin has taken time out from calling for the mass internment of anyone who's ever eaten falafel to swing her well-used bludgeon, but to spare you from actually having to read it, Jesse Taylor at Pandagon has a summary that's also our Quote of the Day:
Shorter Michelle Malkin: the best monument to Flight 93 would be a giant hyperintelligent missile that tracks down terrorists and tells them they believe in a whore's religion right before they die. Preferably with the corpse of Todd Beamer strapped on.
Yeah, baby . . . let's roll.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Deity's Disproportionate Interest in Basketball and/or Squash, and Other Observations From the Road
Greetings from Coon Rapids, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb which, despite its rustic name, has neither coons nor rapids anymore, and is in fact franchised generica as far as the eye can see. My thanks to all who kept the level of discourse astoundingly high during my recent scarcity. You don't even need me anymore, really.

I make the trip up to the Twin Cities from Madison four or five times a year, sometimes more, and a trip like that can quickly become a blank. Yet only a failure of curiosity or imagination requires a person to think of the trip as dull. Here's what there was to notice along the way:

--From the west side of Madison, U.S. 12 gets you to Interstate 90/94 at Wisconsin Dells. Before you get to Baraboo, you climb the Baraboo Bluff, which is steep enough to have different weather at the top--often it’s much cooler there than down below.

--After Baraboo, you reach the south edge of Wisconsin Dells. For most of a hundred years, it’s been Wisconsin’s premiere tourist trap, although it’s a lot more subtle now than it used to be. Instead of doing it with T-shirt shops and Indian ceremonies, it traps tourists today with giant waterparks and movie multiplexes that make it unnecessary for visitors ever to poke their heads outside their climate-controlled cocoons to see the original attraction, the Dells of the Wisconsin River.

--Farther up 90-94, standing right next to the highway, are the rock formations that are symbolic of Juneau County. They must have been part of the islands in some giant antediluvian lake, but now they stand exposed to the wind as it whistles across the sandy, open spaces of central Wisconsin.

--Up toward Black River Falls you skirt the edges of cranberry country. Cranberries and potatoes love the sandy soil in central Wisconsin. It used to be said that there was something else in the soil of central Wisconsin, madness both latent and not, described memorably in Michael Lesy’s weird and disturbing book Wisconsin Death Trip, which was made into a weird and disturbing film a few years ago.

--Beyond Black River Falls, the topography gets more rugged where the glaciers didn't reach. The interstate crawls up, down, and through the hills past Osseo, up toward Eau Claire, past Menomonie, and on toward Minnesota. There are some lovely rural vistas up this way--the highway rolls away in the far distance and lopes up the next hill, as cows graze on the hills alongside.

--There’s poetry on the map in western Wisconsin, which is the home of several hyphenated school districts that go way back. You drive through at least three of them along the interstate: Osseo-Fairchild, Eleva-Strum, and Baldwin-Woodville. Go a bit farther west, off the interstate, and you’ll find Melrose-Mindoro and Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau. The people who created the latter knew something about poetry: the district is made up of the towns of Galesville, Ettrick, and Trempealeau, but they realized that “Galesville-Ettrick-Trempealeau” wouldn’t scan nearly so well.

--“Trempealeau” is the loveliest county name in Wisconsin. It’s pronounced “TREMP-a-low,” and it’s a lovely place, too, tucked between the Mississippi’s picturesque east bank and the hills. But on the poetry scale, it gets some competition from Minnesota. The TV last night was scrolling counties affected by weather warnings, and it mentioned Blue Earth, Yellow Medicine, Faribault, and Kandiyohi.

--Once you get to St. Croix County, within 20 or 30 miles of Minnesota, you feel like you’re climbing a very gentle slope on your way to the border. You’re certainly traveling through a place that’s on the move--St. Croix is the fastest-growing county in Wisconsin, as the suburbanization of the Twin Cities continues eastward. East of Hudson, condominiums are blooming in fields that grew corn and hay a year or two ago.

--After passing Hudson’s sprawling stretch of generica, Interstate 94 drops you quickly toward the river that marks the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota. It’s not the Mississippi--it’s the St. Croix River. It’s very wide here, and the river bends around the point at which the I-94 bridge crosses it. The view of water and sky is spectacular on both sides of 94.

--Almost immediately after crossing into Minnesota, you start climbing again, out of the valley of the St. Croix. There’s a pause in the suburbanization for a moment--the first mile or two of Minnesota seems more rural than the last two miles of Wisconsin. But pretty soon the condos and strip malls bloom again. You can take the measure of the sprawl when you arrive at Interstate 494/694, a loop which at one time represented the outer limits of the Twin Cities. No longer.

--After a few miles on 694 North, you come to the suburb of Mahtomedi, which seems incongruously Arabic in an area settled mostly by Scandinavians. It’s pronounced “mah-toe-ME-die” and not “mah-TOM-ed-ee,” which was my initial guess, and it's actually derived from two Indian words, mato and mde, meaning "gray bear lake." Its location along what's now known as White Bear Lake means it's always been a vacation spot, from the chautauqua days of the 1880s to the gangster days of the 1920s, when some of the most famous names in crime used to hang out--and hide out--in the region.

--Later on, when crossing into the suburb of Ramsey (the fastest-growing city in Minnesota), you notice that you are driving on Dysprosium Street, perhaps the least euphonious street name in America. But the next street over is Barium Street, and a look at the map reveals Helium Street, Iodine Court, Cobalt Circle, Argon Street, and streets named for krypton, potassium, tungsten, xenon, fluorine, and vanadium. As some cities name their streets after presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Jackson) or trees (Elm, Oak, Maple), Ramsey has named its streets after elements. It's likely that the city (and nearby Ramsey County) were named for Minnesota's first territorial governor, Alexander Ramsey, but a chemist named Sir William Ramsey won the Nobel Prize in 1904 for discovering the so-called noble gases--which include helium, krypton, xenon, and argon.

There's history and curiosities wherever you go, not just along the roads lesser traveled, or the ones not taken. You just can't let yourself be fooled into failing to look.

Quote of the Day: From a sign outside a motel near Wisconsin Dells: "Jesus Wants a Balanced Court." You can't make this stuff up.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

And Now for Something Completely Different
I haven't figured out how to secede yet, but I still want to. I am planning to spend the day in a football coma, and there will likely be no posts here until late tomorrow night or Tuesday due to travel. But here's something that's been sitting in the can for a while to tide you over in the interim.

I heard somewhere the other day that the edge of the observable universe is something like 14 billion light years away. That doesn't mean the universe is 14 billion light years across or anything--it's just the limit of our sight in any direction. What it actually means is that the universe is about 14 billion years old.

Down here on the ground, nobody knows how many different species live on Earth. Something like 2.1 million species have been classified, but there could be many millions more, and that's only counting this moment in time. There have been five different mass extinctions in the last 450 million years, which wiped out anything up to 95 percent of the species extant at the time. Some scientists think that 99 percent of all the species that ever lived on Earth are now extinct.

Figures like these are often trotted out to explain why the universe just simply had to be designed by somebody who set out to do that very thing. Something so complex couldn't have come about through wholly natural processes--as William Paley famously put it 200 years ago, if we find a watch on the ground, we naturally assume that it was made by a watchmaker, and so we should also assume that our complex universe was made by an intelligent designer.

There's nothing in intelligent design theory that explains the nature of the "watchmaker" who put the universe together--although the majority of people pushing to have it taught in American public-school science classes are Christians, and many of those posit a very specific sort of God, who hates sin, rock music, and Democrats. A lot of those believers think that the Earth was whipped up in a bit less than a week some 6,000 years ago, and that fossil evidence which would contradict that figure was placed there by the devil. Some Christians, notably, the Catholic Church, accept the concept of "theistic evolution," in which evolution is the process by which the world has reached its current state. Such denominational differences demonstrate why intelligent design, if it ever gains wide acceptance, is destined to be torn apart by the same schisms that have wracked Christianity for 1500 years to little good purpose. (For purposes of this argument, I'm not much interested in the creation myths of other religions--it's the Christian view of the question that has the most impact on people in this country, whether they're believers or not.)

Having forgotten most of what I learned in Sunday school, I consulted a few Christian websites to find out precisely why God is supposed to have created this unimaginably complex universe in the first place. The answer seems to be that God created it for his own glory, mostly, all the better to create a feeling of awe amongst human beings when we contemplate it. And so lots of Christians look at the astounding size of the universe and think, "Wow, that's so glorious that God really must be great, all right." But if the universe as it is was created in part to create a feeling of awe amongst human beings, does it really need to be as big and complex as it is?

There really is a point in all this ramble: Unlike proponents of intelligent design, I think the unimaginable age and complexity of the universe is a fine argument for the lack of a designer. Why would the designer need to make galaxies no one could see until a few decades ago in order to impress the desert-dwellers of the 9th century B.C.? Why would he need to make microscopic life forms that went extinct before the invention of the microscope? If the universe really was designed by some intelligence, his project management skills leave a little bit to be desired. A designer who would whip up a creation whose size and age are measured in un-graspably vast numbers, and then populate one insignificant corner of it with people who average less than six feet tall and live only 70 years, seems to be going to a lot of unnecessary trouble. Intelligent design only makes sense if the universe really is 6,000 years old--and then you've still got the complexity issue. Why do we need so many species, some microscopic in size, some that live in areas humans can barely reach? On the scale of cosmic time, the average human being views the universe as if he were passing by a keyhole at high speed for only a second or two. It seems to me that we could be rendered awe-stricken by a lot less.

(Anyone reading this far who thinks the argument can be resolved by saying "God has his purposes and we are not intended to know them" is reading the wrong damn blog. Consider yourself whacked over the head with a large scientific tome, and then go away.)

Far from representing an awful bowing--and I mean "awful" in the old sense, "full of awe"--before the wisdom and glory of a creator, believing in the intelligent design of the universe seems to glorify humanity more than it glorifies God. It permits people first of all to take credit for figuring out the purposes of God--which in the next breath they're fond of saying we're not meant to know. And it also raises us above the level of other species, not only on this planet but in the universe. Quite an egotistical act, really.

The idea that the universe as it is was created through natural processes over billions of years is, to me, awesome enough without worrying myself over the existence of some entity who made it happen. It has the added benefit of taking the human ego out of the picture--and human ego has gotten us in plenty of trouble since our forebears grew legs and crawled out of the seas. So I'm inclined to trust natural explanations for why we're here--if only because they lack the prejudice that can come from overrating your own importance.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I Can't Stand It Anymore
(Beware: Post contains language your mother and mine wouldn't approve of.)

This makes me sick.
Top Democrats expressed unhappiness at the announced congressional investigation, to be run by a panel comprised of more Republicans than Democrats. The committee "is not truly bipartisan ... cannot write legislation, and will not have bipartisan subpoena power," Pelosi said.

In a letter to one Republican, Reid pressed for a wide-ranging investigation and asked: "How much time did the president spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation? Did the fact that he was outside of Washington, D.C., have any effect on the federal government's response?"

McClellan brushed aside Reid's suggestion, saying the senator would not have engaged in "such personal attacks" if he were aware of Bush's efforts both before and after the storm.

Pelosi, speaking at a news conference, said Brown had "absolutely no credentials" when Bush picked him to run FEMA.

She related that she urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Brown.

"He said, 'Why would I do that?'" Pelosi said.

"I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.' And he said 'What didn't go right?'"

"Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," she added.

McClellan disputed Pelosi's account of the meeting, and later, Brown sidestepped when asked whether he had offered his resignation.

It fell to Ken Mehlman, head of the Republican Party, to counterattack. "While countless Americans are pulling together to lend a helping hand, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are pointing fingers in a shameless effort to tear us apart," he said.
"What didn't go right?" ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?

"Tear us apart?" This country needs to be torn apart. We're being governed by a mentally ill idiot and a party dedicated to whitewashing his serial failures by lying, and on a scale unprecedented in human history. It's a banana republic with better TV channels. What, precisely, is the value of keeping it together?

The whole bunch of them--from Bush, Chertoff, and Brown to McClellan and Mehlman--can thank their lucky stars there's no such thing as justice, because if there was, they'd be swinging from goddamn lampposts. As would their enablers in the media. And as for the 54 million idiots who are directly responsible for them thanks to the choice they made in the voting booth last November--fuck them too.

Screw it. I'm going to secede from the Union. And this blog will be on hiatus until I figure out how.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

FEMA's Folly
This morning, Salon's Farhad Manjoo details how the Federal Emergency Management Agency failed not only in the runup to Katrina, but in the response in days following. The picture is astounding: You've got the whole damn country wanting to send help--as Bush frequently reminds us, that's the sort of things Americans do, take care of their own--but FEMA declined help, held back responses, stonewalled, or just plain ignored repeated offers of help. It's like nothing so much as a three-year-old asserting its independence who cries out, "I can do it myself!" Except FEMA can't, because the devolutionist gomers who provide what passes for philosophical thinking in the conservative movement have made it damn near impossible for FEMA to be useful anymore.

Reader KN takes it from here.
We need our federal government to take the lead in responding to national disasters. State government agencies such as MEMA (Mississippi Emergency Management Agency) deal with maybe only one disaster a decade and therefore cannot build the expertise of a federal disaster management agency, which is called upon more frequently. Most state governments also can't afford the level of expertise needed right now in New Orleans. Conservatives might say that states would be able to afford it if more tax dollars went to them than to the federal government. Perhaps, but all states bear responsibility for the burden, because all states are affected. For example, last year the bulk of US corn and soybean exports went through the port of New Orleans, and 250,000 tons of coffee are imported through New Orleans annually. We get 25% of our fuel supplies from the area. Look for prices to rise on all sorts of products all across the country. The sooner New Orleans is up and running (and I don't just mean the port), the better off all of us will be.

As the Salon article shows, the Bush administration's ideology of a small federal government has led them to all but dismantle FEMA, once a model federal agency. As a result, thousands of people have needlessly suffered and died. Folks, somebody ought to be impeached over this.

(Take notes, my dear social Darwinian friends: Can we now see how cooperation is a human evolutionary development?)

In related news, every person in the country should be asking themselves this question over breakfast this morning: If our government couldn't handle an impersonal hurricane, of which everyone had fair warning, is it ready for a major terrorist attack?
Short answer: No. And anybody who says it can doesn't know what they're talking about.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Homeless NFL Team Seeks Place to Flop
On the list of problems facing New Orleans at the moment, one getting a disproportionate amount of attention is the plight of the NFL's New Orleans Saints. Lots of things matter more, but the Saints are a timely story, with the NFL regular season opening this weekend.

The Saints' immediate problem is where to play this season. The likeliest choice is probably the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Rightfully fearing minuscule crowds in San Antonio, which is over 500 highway miles from New Orleans, the NFL would prefer the team play all 16 games on the road. That almost certainly won't happen. They'll have to land somewhere, and it won't be for just a year. The Louisiana Superdome will require massive repairs after Katrina, and if they're undertaken at all, they won't be completed in a year. If the Superdome must be demolished--a clear possibility--it may be even longer before the Saints can find a home in the city. In addition, corporate support in the form of sponsorships and luxury-suite and season-ticket buys, all-important for any NFL team, have been dwindling in New Orleans over the past several years anyhow. Katrina isn't going to help. Ergo, the speculation that the Saints have played their last game in New Orleans. If the Saints play this season in San Antonio, they might just end up staying permanently.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper published an editorial over the weekend begging the Saints to not to leave the city. In it, the paper summons up the same arguments used in other places and at other times when a pro sports team is threatening a move: Saints fans have packed the Superdome year after year despite terrible records, pro sports brings a city together, etc., etc.

Well, OK, let's see. Attendance figures are verifiable, and they aren't as great as the paper makes them out to be. The team has drawn in excess of 90 percent of capacity since 2000, but attendance was down last year--and in the mid 90s, the team struggled to fill half the available seats. As for the idea that a team "brings a city together," that's impossible to quantify, and may end up being one of those things everybody knows but nobody can prove. But even if you concede that those arguments have some merit, there's little doubt that one of the newspaper's arguments is far less defensible.
The Dome is wrecked, and it is a place known for misery right now. But it can be refurbished. Its rebuilding can be a hopeful sign to the hundreds of thousands of residents who have been scattered across the region by Hurricane Katrina - people who have lost not only loved ones and homes, but their entire community.
"It can be refurbished." Yes, but by whom? Modern sports economics requires municipal and state governments to pay the majority of the price--if not all of it--for sports stadiums. Saints owner Tom Benson isn't going to write a check for $500 million to build a new place to play. But in a city as devastated as New Orleans, with thousands dead, many more thousands homeless, and challenges as yet unimagined remaining to be faced, the very last thing the city and state should be spending money on is a facility for an NFL team. And at the moment, I'd guess that idea brings the city together in a way the New Orleans Saints never could. And I'd guess further that residents of New Orleans need to see several dozen other hopeful signs first before they can permit themselves the luxury of hoping for a new stadium.

Nobody likes the idea of their team moving to another city. But reality, like Katrina herself, is a bitch.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Only Thing Missing Is "Kiss Your Ass Goodbye"
For many years, when I was younger and could live on less money, I was a radio broadcaster. And when it came to working on the air, bad weather, be it tornadoes or blizzards, was my absolute favorite thing. Part of it was ego: Only when the weather is bad can your typical dumbass disc jockey be sure people are hanging on his every word. But part of it was a visceral understanding that providing information on weather events, information which can mean the difference between life and death, is the reason radio stations are licensed to begin with. So in my career, I read a lot of weather bulletins--even when the various corporate suits who ran the stations I worked at would have preferred I tell people turn over to the Weather Channel and play another Led Zeppelin tune.

The typical bulletin from the National Weather Service, although it can contain information about dramatic events, is usually fairly dispassionate in tone. In fact, these bulletins generally read like prepared scripts with blanks to be filled in. But the hurricane warning issued by the National Weather Service Sunday morning before Katrina struck, quoted by NBC's Brian Williams at MSNBC.com, is anything but.
1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005






It's been a week since Katrina made landfall, and I am over a thousand highway miles from New Orleans, but that bulletin scares the hell out of me--still.

And the administration is still trying to claim they didn't know how bad it would be?

(Cross-posted at Best of the Blogs)

5:44 Isn't Nine Minutes After Anything
Wow, "Chief Justice John Roberts." Three years ago the guy wasn't even a judge. Of course, five years ago the head of FEMA was a superintendent of horse judging. So just because there's lots of reasons to believe you might be underqualified for a gig doesn't mean you should stop dreaming. The way Bush is going, he'll be picking random dudes off the streets for cabinet posts in a year or so.

It's possible that the Roberts thing might be a brilliant political move. Every current sitting justice has problems in terms of becoming chief--too old (Stevens), too liberal (Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter), not sufficiently wingnutty (Kennedy), too controversial to be confirmed (Scalia, Thomas), so since Roberts is already widely assumed to be sailing through the confirmation process, why not take advantage of that fact and give him the big chair? But it's possible that it might also be stone stupid politics. The Chief Justice's passing gave Bush the subject-changing moment he desperately needed after the Katrina debacle, but by rolling it into the Roberts story, which is old news by this point, he gives it away.

Whatever it is, it permits us to play "guess the new associate justice" for a few days. It's safe to assume it will probably be one of the people Bush interviewed for the slot Roberts got. But Salon raised an ugly possibility yesterday in a War Room post: Janice Rogers Brown. Try this one for political size: Brown, who's pretty much batshit crazy, is also African American. Don't put it past the Bush gang to spin her as some kind of gift to the poor African Americans of New Orleans. Which would raise the bar for satire yet again.

I don't know what's going to happen, though, and I'm trying not to think too much about it because it's a holiday. I'm trying to stay out of politics entirely, so I've been killing time with a website found by accident called We Made Out in a Tree and This Old Guy Sat and Watched Us, which is a place for people to post random bits of overheard conversations, weird advertising signs, strange translations from foreign languages to English, and other oddments. It's lovely, really.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

September Song
There is still a whole lotta Katrina out there to talk about, and we'll get back to all the trouble in the world, probably tomorrow.

Katrina surely represents a life-altering event for those in the middle of it. (It is likely to alter the lives of all of us in some ways before it moves from being news to being history.) But other life-altering events, smaller in scope and more personal, but no less important, are taking place all over the country at the same time, and they're happening to the youngest among us.

The first day of school arrived in Wisconsin this past week. With no children of my own, I unplugged long ago from the rhythm of a schoolkid's year, and I'd forgotten all about it. Then, on my way back from the bagel shop Thursday morning, I saw backpack-laden kids lining up at bus stops.

The fateful day comes a bit later now than it used to here, and much later than it does in other places. (The Mrs. and I have friends in Kentucky whose kids usually start school the second week in August, and our nephews in Michigan have been back for over a week already.) Wisconsin passed a law a few years ago, mostly at the behest of the hospitality industry, forbidding schools to open before September 1. This was intended to cut down the premature exodus of minimum-wage waitstaff, housekeepers, and other seasonal employees at the end of the summer tourist season. Curiously, it doesn't seem to bother anyone that the law makes it necessary for schools to stay in session until mid-June, well after the start of the summer tourist season.

When I was the same age as the backpacking bus-riders in my neighborhood, I never dreaded going back to school. Because I grew up out in the country, by the end of August I wouldn't have seen a lot of my friends for almost three months, and as a result, I was usually quite ready to go back. And because schoolwork was never all that hard for me (at least not until advanced algebra), I didn't mind it.

I know how it feels to wait for a bus on the first day of school, all expectant and fired up and ready to go. But for several consecutive years when I was in grade school, the bus failed to show on the first day. It got so my mother knew exactly which administrator to whack upside the head, so the problem was generally rectified by the second day. Why she never preemptively whacked anybody so they could get it right on the first day remains a mystery unsolved.

The bus was on time at least once, however--on my first day of kindergarten. It was 40 years ago this fall. One snapshot from that morning is as vivid as if it had been taken last week. I am standing at the screen door of my house. I am clutching a red-and-blue plastic mat to lie on during "resting time," the only thing we were required to take to kindergarten. The door had one of those aluminum grates in it, with a letter "B" in the middle, and I am peering between the bars, waiting for the bus. As I wait for the unfamiliar school bus to intrude on the familiar view through the window, I seem to myself very, very small, and the world seems a lot bigger than it ever had before.

I would attend kindergarten, first grade, and half of second grade in one of those classic, early-20th-century public school buildings, brick on the outside, wood and granite tile inside that made every voice echo, huge windows, bulbous yellow suspended light fixtures. I know now that it was a normal, human-sized building by adult standards, but in my memory, perspective is distorted--ceilings are a mile high, hallways are yards wide, and I'm a tiny creature looking up from very close to the floor. Which, in fact, I was.

Of all the other first days, fourth grade stands out. I'd moved to a different school by then, one with all the advanced features of enlightened 1960s design: carpet on the floors, soft lighting, bubblers in every room (which was the thing that impressed my friends and me the most). I was in Mrs. Goodmiller's class that year. Everybody encounters a teacher along the way who is as warm and friendly as a grandmother. Mrs. Goodmiller was mine. My most vivid memory of that day is of Mrs. Goodmiller telling us about one student in our class, David, who was new in our school. He had just recovered from open-heart surgery. (I am guessing that he had transferred to our school because it didn't have any stairs to climb.) On that day, I decided that I would go out of my way to make friends with David. As it turned out, David and I would go through a lot together--and put each other through a lot--as friends, fighting like demons and rebuilding our friendship several times in the next 15 years. He would be my college roommate for a while, and a groomsman in my wedding. His heart trouble finally killed him at age 23, and I've never had as close a friend since.

First day of junior high, first day of high school, first day of classes in college (both times)--not so vivid. A lot has disappeared down the memory hole, and I sometimes mourn the loss of it. When I see kids lined up at the bus stop, there's something inside me that wants to say to them, "Make sure you remember everything, because when you're old, you'll want to." But it's an impulse not really worth acting upon. First of all, you can't remember everything. And second, when you're six or nine (or 12, or 14, or 18), the only thing more absurd than the idea that the days you're having are worth remembering is the idea that you'll age to the point at which you'll want to spend your time remembering.

I said to The Mrs. the other night, "I endure the rest of the year just so I can live through September and October." So here's a warning, which I should make annually, that my tendency to look back, always pronounced, is even stronger during this time of the year. Which means we'll be time-tripping again in this space before November comes. You can bet on it.

Recommended Reading: There are now apparently two explanations designed to deflect the blame from the Bush gang's staggering incompetence: the Katrina disaster either was two events, the hurricane and the flood, and the administration just couldn't have been expected to deal with both, or the confused response was the result of a power struggle between the feds and the governor of Louisiana. If neither of these explanations takes the heat off, there will be new ones, although that may not be necessary. The death of Chief Justice Rehnquist will change the subject quite a bit, proving again my theory that George W. Bush is the luckiest politician, and quite possibly the luckiest man, in American history.

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