Friday, December 30, 2005

Posts of the Year, 2005 (Part One)
The year at this blog has been a lot different than 2004. In '04, the entries would almost write themselves some days. I've had to work a lot harder this year. I have my opinion about whether the result is better, worse, or about the same, but I'm keeping it secret. You'll have to decide for yourself. One thing is certain: Adding Tom Herbst, the Sage of Pennsylvania, as a regular contributor has raised the average considerably. What follows is about half of my favorite posts of the year. The other half will appear after the holiday weekend.

January 20: "Never mind that a cursory reading of history could have predicted the whole cascade of debacle we've witnessed in this new American century. Our self-image, grounded in faulty recollections of history--others and our own--makes it impossible for us to believe our actions might make things worse, even when we mean well. Can't happen, we say. If it does, it must be an accident, or someone else's fault. We act for good, always. And we really believe it."

March 23: "So the Schiavo case continues to boil this morning. My guess is that Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nutjobs for Jesus, will pass something to get the feeding tube reinserted by dinnertime tonight--and some court will pull it back out tomorrow. Then it's off to the Supreme Court, and imagine the hair-raising spectacle that might result if the Supremes decline to intervene. Villagers with torches storming the hospital can't be ruled out."

March 31: "The first thing you notice after hitting the interstate out of the [St. Louis] airport is the number of billboards for Jesus. 'Jesus loves you,' 'Jesus is Lord,' and my favorite, giant white letters on a green background saying just 'Jesus.' The only billboards as ubiquitous are the ones for the various casinos in the area. There's either a lesson to be learned from that or a joke to be made about it, but I can't get the bat off my shoulder."

April 7: "The idea that humankind is capable of continuous, infinite progress has been around since the Enlightenment. But John Locke and the others didn't live in a society as unimaginably complex as our own. And so maybe they were wrong. Perhaps this is the way the world ends--with individuals battered by a hurricane of choices, small ones they are permitted to make but bigger ones made for them, until they retreat into a shelter of solipsism or fundamentalism to maintain the illusion that the world is still a controllable place."

April 15: "One of the many things [the Family Research Council doesn't] understand is that they didn't win the presidency by shutout last November. Favorite quote, from Tony Perkins of the FRC (who is not the actor who played Norman Bates in Psycho, but if the shoe fits): 'the liberal, anti-Christian dogma of the Left has been repudiated in almost every recent election.' Yeah, like here in Wisconsin where we reelected the arch-leftist Russ Feingold with a greater plurality than John Kerry got. Or in Illinois, where Jesus' golfing buddy Alan Keyes got wiped 2-1."

April 21: "Regarding the reader whose comment yesterday seemed to indicate that he thought that I was being cruel to [Ann] Coulter by saying she sucks as a writer, I'd like to apologize. Not to him, however. To say that Coulter merely sucks is an affront to everything else that sucks, so I apologize to everything else that sucks."

May 16: "The beliefs of these Kansas rubes are based on books written by barbarians between two and three thousand years ago--desert dwellers wearing animal skins who couldn't explain why it rained without recourse to magic. You can't blame the original desert dwellers for that, but you can certainly blame people who act like nothing has changed since about 95 AD. Like it or not, we know stuff now. One of the things we should know is that we can't base a modern, industrialized society on ignorance and superstition. Anybody who believes we can shouldn't be granted a driver's license--or a voter registation card--let alone the right to public office."

June 14: "One of the words that's thrown around a lot in celebrity trials is 'tragedy.' Isn't it tragic how Michael Jackson/O.J. Simpson/Robert Blake/Martha Stewart/Kobe Bryant had everything, but was brought low by adversity, just as less famous people, and sometimes even ourselves, are sometimes brought low? We're supposed to learn something from such 'tragedies,' apparently--something about humility, maybe, or about how we're all the same deep down, or about justice, or about equal protection under the law whether you're famous or not. If we'd actually learn these things, celebrity trials might serve some sort of positive function in society--but we don't, and they don't."

June 29: Max Blumenthal covered the College Republicans' national convention for The Nation this week, and discovered plenty of privileged weenie boys (and girls) twisting themselves into self-justifying knots explaining why they aren't signing up to fight the goddamn war that all of them think is such a good idea. Earth to Fraternity/Sorority Row: your mothers or your little sisters in high school can organize 'Support the Troops Day.' Grownups go and fight in wars--and furthermore, real grownups don't ask others to do anything they won't do themselves. So either enlist--or shut the fuck up."

July 7:
"It's been my theory for a long time that simply hitting a city like Dallas . . . instead of New York or Washington would have a powerfully terrorizing effect on Americans. Unlike the woman from Flint, Michigan, in Fahrenheit 9/11 who was sure Flint was a prime target and living her life accordingly, I walked around after 9/11 feeling pretty safe here in the upper Midwest, even though I live only a few miles from a state capitol building. Granted, we can't know how many other airplanes were supposed to crash into how many other buildings on September 11--but the psychological effect of being far from the site of the attacks softened the blow, for me at least. Four years later, if you hit us on the East Coast--been there, done that. Hit us in Boise or Little Rock--or Madison--and that's something else again."

July 23: "So last night I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt that said, 'Liberalism: the fear that somebody somewhere might be able to take care of themselves.' Boy howdy, what we really need is a return to the good old days when people either looked out for themselves entirely or starved to death. What we need, then, is to repeal the 20th century. Of course, if you're going to repeal the 20th century, you need to get rid of lots of 20th century shit. Civil rights legislation. Limits on nuclear proliferation. The New Deal. Free elections. And the goddamned Weather Channel."

August 2: "One of the most infuriating aspects of modern conservatism is its selfishness: Conservatives want what they want, and that's the end of the discussion. What somebody else wants doesn't make a damn bit of difference to them. Compromise is bad because it requires them to take something other than what they want, which is just like getting nothing at all. This selfishness comes in two flavors: A) the two-year-old-tantrum variety; and B) the moral absolute variety. The recess appointment of John Bolton is an example of the former. Regarding the latter--for all their talk about personal responsibility, conservatives often use moral absolutes to get them off the hook. What they want is (supposedly) all about what God or the Constitution or common sense demands, and neither they (nor you) have any control over it."

August 9:
"This is going to come as a shock to The Mrs., our family, and our friends, but James Dobson's Focus on the Family group has posted a helpful series called 'Helping Boys Become Men, and Girls Become Women' that addresses the question of how parents can keep their children from going homosexual, and after reading the series and reflecting on my childhood, I am pretty sure that I might be gay."

I'll put up the rest of the year's favorite posts next week. Quotes of the Year are here. I'll be away through the weekend, but stop back anyhow, as Tom may have something to say. Or visit The Hits Just Keep On Comin' for Kiss and Say Goodbye.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Seven Wonders
(This post has been slightly edited since it first appeared.)
I am really trying to avoid writing anything pithy or significant this week, so I'm doing another one of those Internet memes, to go along with the meme of fours from earlier this week. This one is the meme of seven:

Seven things to do before I die:
1. Visit the place where Wordsworth saw the daffodils
2. Visit San Francisco
3. Have at least one more glass of Kentucky Breakfast
4. Vote for the winning presidential candidate again
5. Own a house on a lake
6. Finish the book on 1970s music I abandoned six years ago
7. Get back on the air someplace

Seven things I cannot do:

1. Read a book with the TV on
2. Eat fried eggs
3. Watch Fox News
4. Work with any tool other than a pry bar
5. Keep my desk organized
6. Swim
7. Drink coffee

Seven things that attract me to blogging:
1. Having an audience
2. The process of deciding what to write about
3. Doing the writing
4. Doing the rewriting
5. Getting comments from readers
6. A sixth thing
7. A seventh thing

Seven things I say most often:

1. Damn cats
2. That's gonna leave a mark
3. Fucking Republicans
4. Christ, it's cold in here
5. Did you put dinner away?
6. Well, dammit!
7. Just the big soda refill, thanks

Seven books that I love:

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon
A Widow for One Year by John Irving
Top Pop Singles 1955-1986, edited by Joel Whitburn
Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson
The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella
Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick
Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do by Peter McWilliams

Seven movies that I watch over and over again:

1.-4. The four from earlier this week
5. A League of Their Own
6. Moonstruck
7. Magnolia

Seven songs I play over and over:
1. "Games People Play" by the Spinners
2. "So What" by Miles Davis
3. "Moonlight Feels Right" by Starbuck
4. "Always and Forever" by Charles Earland
5. "Lowdown" by Boz Scaggs
6. "The Philosopher's Stone" by Van Morrison
7. "The Love I Lost" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

Seven people I want to join in on this meme, whatever parts are applicable, either in the comments here or on their own blogs:
1. Tom Herbst
2. Commenter kn
3. TK from Paralysis of the Mind
4. j from Silent Speaking
5. He Who Shall Not Be Named (just to see if he'll know of anything he can't do)
6. The Mrs.
7. God (because I want to know what movies he digs)

Recommended Reading: Snooty Republican mom Kathleen Parker says that blogs are bad and that people she calls "bloggies" are snotty and impolite and should learn their place. As much as I hate linking to a blog that's mostly conservative, Outside the Beltway takes the bitch down. Snotty enough for ya, Kate?

Also, the Pulitzer Prize people considered giving The Onion an award for its post 9/11 issue, which contained some of the paper's best satire ever. This week's issue, featuring the Top 10 Stories of 2005, is almost as good.

And finally, I just found this today, although it's been up nearly two months: Calvin Trillin's poem about White House Values.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Quotes of the Year, 2005
The great thing about the blogosphere is that it not only picks up and points out the funniest, stupidest, and/or most profound things people say, it also generates a lot of them. Most of the following quotes were cited as a Quote of the Day in some post on this blog during 2005. Here are the 25 most memorable, now that the year is gone:
"I remember when being a Democrat meant something. When it meant saying we can take this family all the way to the homestead and no one ever gets kicked off the wagon."--Daily Kos commenter, January.

"Russ Feingold had a spine before Howard Dean made it cool to be a vertebrate."--another Daily Kos commenter, January.

"When I look around America's barrooms, church suppers, swap meets and strip clubs, I see that 'the American people' like the way things are going. . . . 'The people' don't give a rat's bunghole about social programs or the poor or other races or the planet or animals or anything else. They LIKE cheap gas and making life tough for queers. They LIKE chasing Thanksgiving Day Xmas sales. And when fascism comes, they will like that, too."--Joe Bageant, January.

"In the same way that the helpless, ineffectual [Alan] Colmes is a reassuring image to hardcore conservatives, [Tucker] Carlson puts a soothing face on conservatism for educated East Coast progressives – because even the biggest neo-Marxist wanker from Brown takes one look at Carlson and sees the one man in America he would feel sure of being able to kick the shit out of in a back alley."--Matt Taibbi, January.

"If Crossfire opened every show with 'and look what that crazy bitch said today,' followed by a shot of Paul [Begala] and James [Carville] laughing their asses off, Ann Coulter would be the leggiest assistant corporate attorney in Accounts Recieving right now." --XOverboard, January

"Time is warped. Space is curved. DNA is twisted. But this guy is just plain bent."--Spin Boldak, commenting on the Senate chaplain's claim that Social Security's problems are linked to abortion, January.

"A correspondent, unhappy that I did not simply agree with her fire-and-brimstone forecast for me, wrote 'I showed respect even though I disagreed with you and yet you have the audacity to call me intelligent.' Well, you have me there, Ma'am. My mistake."--Keith Olbermann, January.

"I don't want to hear any lectures about Christian values from the Republican Party. They are the Pharisees and the Sadducees." --Howard Dean, February.

"Terri Schiavo is now a mascot alongside Cassie 'She Said Yes' Bernal and all the other devotional objects cherished by religious zealots who fancy themselves persecuted because the eagle on the National Seal has not yet been replaced with a 3-D image of Jesus Christ."--Steven Hart, March.

"We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture." --Pastor Ray Mummert, intelligent design supporter, Dover, Pennsylvania, March.

"In a country where our jails are filled with poor black people, you've got to admit that it's pretty amazing to see rich, white dudes railing against the judiciary."--Dave Pell, April.

"My problem with this debate [over the Kansas science standards] is that this isn't about being pro-religion or anti-religion or faith-neutral; it's about institutionalizing stupidity as a valid lifestyle choice."--Hunter, Daily Kos, May.

"A large statistical majority of Americans would rather live their whole lives in perpetual fear of the devil than listen to ten minutes of common sense."--Matt Taibbi, June.

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

"It's hard to believe, but the leadership of the modern Republican party is now so insane that liberal Democrats can legitimately look back and say that Newt wasn't really all that bad. Yes, you heard that right. Newt. Wasn't. Really. All. That. Bad. I think I'll spend the rest of the day hiding under my bed."--Kevin Drum, August.

"The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond's version of the Rapture."--Mike Davis, in a 2004 column quoted by Facing South, reporting on hurricane response in New Orleans.

"Jesus Wants a Balanced Court."--sign outside motel in Wisconsin Dells, September.

"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."--Jesse Taylor, channeling Michelle Malkin, September.

"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."--Terry Goodkind, quoted in September.

"These are indeed true visions of superior womanhood, so long as your taste runs towards soulless harpies for whom the word 'crank' has multiple meanings."--David Neiwert on the Republican Women Calendar, October.

"The Iraqi people are so full of freedom they could burst. Sometimes an Iraqi will be so full of democracy they'll walk into a crowded area and explode."--Saturday Night Live, quoted at Daily Kos, October.

"Everywhere, in every profession that requires a broad span of actual real-world knowledge, the bogeyman of liberalism exists. Is it because those professions are truly liberal, or is it because knowledge itself is considered, by the right, liberal?"--Hunter, Daily Kos, November.

"We define our zero of wingnuttery as Charles Darwin’s classic 'The Origin of Species', and our zero of wankery as Steve McQueen, the only man to live through the 1960’s without ever having a stupid haircut. Moving upwards from our axis of wingnuttery we pass through lines of increasing wingnuttiness, while moving to the right from our zero-wankery line implies ever higher degrees of wankitude, until, after many, many sheets of graph paper, we find ourselves at the Burning Man festival. With this as our guide, we can objectively plot the wingnut and wanker ratings of any individual, and determine what relationship exists between these two seemingly unrelated characteristics."--The Poor Man on the wanker/wingnut continuum, November.

"'Nigga moments' [when ignorance overwhelms the mind of an otherwise logical African-American man] are the third leading cause of death among black men, behind (2) pork chops and (1) FEMA."--Huey Freeman/Aaron McGruder, The Boondocks, December.
And now, the Quote of the Year. It's a bit of an ringer, given that it was first uttered in 1954, but it remains staggeringly pertinent in the new millennium. It's Edward R. Murrow, portrayed by David Strathairn in the film Good Night, and Good Luck:
"We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men -- not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular."
Coming tomorrow: Posts of the Year, 2005, Part One.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Glorious Reappearing
I've heard every argument in favor of capital punishment, none of them compelling. And none overrides the raw fact that clunky judicial bureaucracy allows many false convictions, the exact scope of which is only coming to light with the spread of DNA testing. The arguments usually range from "cheaper than imprisoning them for life" to "society has to protect itself" to "some crimes deserve the ultimate punishment," etc. etc. etc.

Pro-death penalty liberals (of whom there are distressingly many) are particularly fond of that last argument, as though they've stumbled upon that transcendent tablet of justice whereon is graven society's ultimate law. The murder of children is one favorite, as is child molestation. Clearly these are monstrous crimes, and they speak explicitly about the value our society sees in protecting the innocence of childhood, such as it is. But it is less automatically clear that the prescribed and proper punishment must be death to the perpetrator.

My thesis is this: the killing of a person, after that person has been rendered harmless, is cold-blooded murder.

Even the worst offender, when permanently locked in a room by himself, is unable to harm those on the outside. He has therefore been rendered harmless, and his execution would serve no purpose beyond state-sanctioned retribution. And that doesn't even get into the mistaken execution of people wrongly convicted.

A citizenry that embraces an official policy of execution is only one step away from an official policy of torture. Maybe less than one step. And a nation that permits capital punishment has little moral authority even to condemn torture by its own government.

Consider Alan Dershowitz. Back in 2003 he declared that torture can be okay if it's authorized by the higher administration and done with sufficient justification. The "ticking time bomb" describes a mental model in which BadGuyA may have information about an imminent, catastrophic attack. According to the Dersh, we are therefore justified in torturing BadGuyA for the greater good. Specifically, in the hope that numerous lives will be saved.

It's a fatal mistake to create official policy based on the most extreme what-if scenario. If you don't believe me, then ask Donald Rumsfeld, who has famously declared "I don't do hypotheticals." However, anyone relying on the "ticking time bomb" is going directly against Rumsfeld's Golden Rule.

Emperor Dubya and his surrogates are grabbing guys off the street in many different countries and then "rendering" them to torture-o-philic nations without any pretense of an immediate (ie., a justifying) threat. Of course, Emperor Dubya has put us in a state of perpetual threat, so it's at least consistent--though morally disgusting--to argue that any suspected terrorist might have information that might save people.

If torture is wrong, it's wrong, regardless of circumstances. If, depending on circumstances, it's not wrong, then it must be expressly justifed on a case-by-case basic. But torture-apologists want it both ways: "It's always wrong except when we say it's justified, and when it's justified we're off the hook."

If you feel that you're justified in cauterizing some fellow's genitals, then you need to accept the consequences of your actions, even if you're "correct" in carrying them out. That's the key, I think. Emperor Dubya's minions, and Cheney in particular, want carte blanche to torture at will without ever being accountable.

I am aggressively opposed to the death penalty, but to defend my own life or my family I would readily kill someone if no other option were available. And then I would accept the penalty for that killing. I wouldn't hide behind Gonzales or lawyerly equivocations or so-called non-policy memos advocating murder with no consequences.

Back in 1988, in what can only be called truly offensive move, Bernard Shaw asked Michael Dukakis this famous question:
Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?
Dukakis should have called Shaw out for being an asshole, but instead he tried (admittedly, in a lame fashion) to field the question that more or less secured Papa Bush's victory.

Mike should have said that his pain and anger would inspire him to execute the rapist personally. And then Mike should have said that an enlightened society doesn't create laws based on extremes of emotion, be it joy or sorrow or rage or fear.

If we flatter ourselves to believe that we are in any way an enlightened society, then we absolutely must reject any legislation wrought in the throes of societal panic. Perhaps our distinguished Senate will consider this when working to renew the PATRIOT act in the coming weeks.

By the way: sorry I've made nary a peep outside of the "comments" box lately. I'll post a little explanation tonight, but I'll warn you that it's nothing exciting.

The Sign of Four
It's going to be a quiet week this week, in Lake Wobegon and everywhere else. Some people are working and some are not, and a lot of those who are working are not working very hard. Present company included, although later in the week, I'll put up this blog's annual list of posts and quotes of the year. (On the subject of yearend stuff, the Poor Man has posted his collection of yearend awards. They're better than anything you'll see here, so go read.)

On another subject: Before Christmas, Kevin Drum noted a new Internet meme that's floating around--for lack of a better name, call it fours. In the interest of keeping things quiet this week, here's my contribution.

Four jobs you've had in your life: gas station attendant (pumped the gas and did your windows for no extra charge), radio station operations manager, data entry clerk (for one day), educational product developer.

Four movies you could watch over and over: The Blues Brothers, High Fidelity, Double Indemnity, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Four places you've lived:
Platteville, WI; Dubuque, IA; Macomb, IL; Davenport, IA. (I don't get around much.)

Four TV shows you love to watch: Seinfeld, NYPD Blue, 24, NFL Primetime.

Four places you've been on vacation:
Cape Cod; Memphis; Bayfield, WI; Springfield, MO.

Four websites you visit daily:
Eschaton, AMERICABlog, Salon, Smirking Chimp.

Four of your favorite foods: sugar, salt, fat, microbrew.

Four places you'd rather be: Door County, Iowa City, the Blue Ridge Parkway, on the air at WCFL in Chicago, circa 1974.

If you're avoiding work this week, feel free to contribute your responses to one or more of these fours in the comments.

Recommended Reading: One blogger who didn't take Christmas off was Steve Gilliard, who had some great posts over the weekend, one of which sparked this nugget of brilliance from one of his commenters: In a year when much was made of the positive influence of certain women surrounding He Who Shall Not Be Named--Bar, Condi, Karen Hughes--women like Terri Schiavo, Cindy Sheehan and Katrina ended up kicking his ass.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Good Health and Happiness, and Cocktails for All
It's comin' on Christmas, as Joni Mitchell sang so many years ago. (James Taylor's singing it this year, in case you're a fan.) The weather outside, at least in Wisconsin, is anything but frightful--the cold wave that's lasted all month broke yesterday, with temperatures in the mid 40s melting a lot of the deepest Christmas snow cover we've had in five years. Today's a bit cooler and it's foggy, damp, and gray, but that's OK.

I went out to run an errand or two just before noontime. A surprising number of people appeared to be finishing their Christmas shopping at Walgreens. I'm not criticizing them, though, because I've done that. After all, if you're not supposed to wait until the last minute, why are the stores open on Christmas Eve?

At Walgreen's, I spotted the Chicago Tribune in the newspaper rack--they headlined the New York Times story I mentioned earlier today in memorable fashion: "Nation's Phones Tapped." That ought to simplify it for people: Hey, America, your perception of yourselves as law-abiding citizens who therefore have nothing to worry about will not protect you anymore. This is not the country it used to be, and you need to start doing something about it.

But there will be time enough to worry about that in a couple of days. For now, things are quiet in my little world. I brought the last few Christmas cards in from the mailbox (none of them were this one, thank goodness). As is usual for The Mrs. and I on Christmas Eve, a fire is burning in the fireplace, bread is baking, and the Jack Daniels is flowing. This year, I'm also making time to watch football, since the NFL is playing most of its weekend's games today. The Packers and Bears play tomorrow. Despite the Packers' miserable season, thousands of Wisconsin families will make time in their holiday celebrations to watch. It's what we do.

Something else I do every Christmas is to reread E.B. White's famous 1952 Christmas greeting. If you're a writer, you probably know E. B. White for his famous book The Elements of Style. If you're not, you may know him as the author of Charlotte's Web. White's greeting is both a wonderful word-painting of the way Christmas used to be, and timeless. I put a bit of it at the top of this blog, but if you'd like to read the whole thing, it's here.

If you didn't read Wil Wheaton's painful account of his family Christmas at Salon yesterday, you missed his translation of what he means when he says "Merry Christmas," or "Season's Greetings," or "Happy Holidays" this time of year: "I'm not religious, but I hope you have joy and love in your life, good health and happiness." If you've read this far this year--and I know you're out there, in Iceland and Australia and New York and Pennsylvania and Iowa and Arizona and lots of places in between--I hope you do, too.

Family Responsibilities
On Christmas Eve, visions of sugarplums tend to distract the American family from its usual viewing of cable TV and the Internet, so it's too bad the New York Times picked today to publish a story saying that the scope of information-gathering through warrantless wiretaps apparently was far, far broader than has been revealed, or admitted by the White House, so far. The Poor Man has a guess on how the wiretaps worked--and although I don't understand all of it, I'm with Steve Gilliard in believing that sooner or later, it's going to come out that people like Cindy Sheehan or Joe and Valerie Wilson were targeted. What we've learned about the wiretaps so far, says Steve is "the tip of the iceberg." "When we get finished, we will be nostalgic for Nixon."

"Will be"? That ship sailed from this dock a long time ago.

Recommended Reading: In the first of a gazillion year-in-review pieces I will likely be pointing you to, Media Matters is out with their list of Most Outrageous Statements of the Year. The list (which they tried to limit to 10 and just couldn't) is a who's-who of conservative dumbitude, with all the usual suspects, but my favorite statement is from Tim Wildmon of the indecency-fightin', Ford-boycottin', much-much-better-than-you American Family Association: "Liberals 'don't have the kind of family responsibilities most people have, and certainly not church responsibilities.'" (So if you're a liberal and you are scrambling to get ready for a house-full sometime this weekend, relax. Nobody expects you to get it right.)

Five minutes around the table with Cintra Wilson's family would likely kill a guy like Wildmon. Wilson, last spotted as an embedded member of the White House Press Corps, tells her family Christmas tales at Salon. Her family is a mixed bag of new-agers, Scientologists, Muslims, and Episcopalians--but they all find time to go to church together:
On Christmas Eve, we all, including the Muslim contingent, go to Mark's boyfriend's service at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, but not before taking several swigs from my father's flask in the church parking lot. Last year Dad got the last laugh by filling his flask with a homemade habanero vodka scorching enough to make my mother involuntarily weep throughout the service. My brother-in-law perceived this as divine retribution, since, being a Muslim, he resented having to listen to an Episcopalian service delivered by homosexuals.
Next time I have to go to church, I'm going with them.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Things That Will Always Be
Imagine someone--say, a member of Congress--being shocked when a jolly fat man in a red suit comes down his chimney tomorrow night. "Yes, I know it's Christmas, but I didn't expect that."

Absurd? Not really. People do it all the time.

Item: Samuel Alito once argued that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, but that it should be done piecemeal rather than all at once. In addition to this, released documents also show he once stated that he believed the Attorney General of the United States should have blanket immunity from lawsuits when authorizing domestic wiretaps.

What will happen as a result: During his upcoming confirmation hearings, Alito will be asked about his past statements on Roe and on wiretaps, and he will say that they won't necessarily affect any future rulings he might make. This will convince many senators that he means what he says. At his first opportunity, however, he will rule in precisely the way that could have been predicted from his record. Senators will claim to be surprised by this.

And don't get me started on the story that Iraqis are protesting the election results, claiming the whole thing was rigged. I've been predicting civil war for almost three years, and this is the opening bell.

How come one dumb bastard with an Internet connection can predict this stuff, but our leaders always seem blindsided by it? Beats me, just askin'.

Who Who?: We watched the original animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas last night, which is another big holiday tradition at our house. According to this website, the song sung by the Whos in the town square is an adaptation of a song sung in an isolated Norwegian town called Hu. I'm not sure I believe it--but wherever it came from, the song is really quite lovely:
Welcome Christmas
Bring your cheer
Cheer to all Whos far and near
Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp
Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we
Religious nattering aside, that's what Christmas is all about: It doesn't require commitment to a particular creed to show love to your loved ones, and enjoy the fact that they love you back.

Politics Under the Tree
Once again, we're in pre-holiday mode at the Daily Aneurysm. The Mrs. is off work until Tuesday and getting ready to do the rest of the Christmas baking and deliver some gifts; I get to go holiday beer-shopping later today, but I also have some actual work to do.

We'll be visiting my family on Christmas Day, and seeing some of The Mrs.' family over New Year's. At Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte has a post about seeing the family at Christmastime, and she asks the question: "Are you the errant non-conservative in your family? How do they deal with you? How do you deal with them?" With my family, it's not a problem, because we don't talk about politics much. I have never known whether my mother and father tend Republican or Democrat--Republican if I had to guess, but I believe they voted for Kerry, and I hope they took my advice in 2000 and voted for Gore. My mother is pro-choice, which surprised me when she said so, mostly because she said so. My youngest brother and his wife are highly anti-Bush, although I'm not sure whether that translates into being Democrats generally. My other brother is about as liberal as I am. My father-in-law and his wife are thoroughly Republican, although they're more the old-line country-club variety than the Fox News/Free Republic variety.

A lot of Amanda's respondents talk about their families' racism or sexism. I occasionally catch a whiff of racism from my parents, but it's never anything extreme. I chalk it up to their generation, and the likelihood that, given the time and place in which they were born, raised, and have lived, neither of them has ever had any significant associations with someone of another race. On the other side, my in-laws seem to think that the biggest problem minorities have is a failure to learn good manners. As for sexism, on my side of the family it's never been an issue. My father was liberated before most people knew the meaning of the word; my mother started working outside the home when my youngest brother went off to school. The Mrs.' family was more traditional. Her mother didn't aspire to do anything beyond raising her family, but they didn't raise The Mrs. to believe that was the only appropriate role for a woman. (Honesty compels me to report that The Mrs. was clearly not raised to be a homemaker. Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

So I don't expect any raging political discussions either this weekend or next. We could probably have better and more passionate discussions about football--my sister-in-law comes from a long line of Chicago Bears fans.

At Salon, Wil Wheaton talks politics with his family--and it doesn't go well.

How do you deal with the politics of the people in your family?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The White Flag
I've never doubted that the 9/11 terrorists did what they set out to do--they terrorized the bejeezus out of the American people. Now, that's not what everybody expected to happen. Remember how, in the weeks following the attacks, people said with straight faces that "everything will be different now"? Irony is dead, people will head back to church, and Americans will approach life with a new seriousness. That's what we expected, but none of that happened. The one thing that did happen is the one thing we swore we wouldn't allow--for a while, we were scared shitless. Never mind that we promised to stand strong, fight back, and never give in. Never mind that it was our president, He Who Shall Not Be Named, who promised it the loudest. We--and he--were quaking in our collective boots.

But here's the thing, see. Lots of us have gradually gotten over it. We understand that any given person is much more likely to be hit by a rogue meteorite than to be killed by a terrorist. The specter of terrorism isn't pretty, but we don't dwell on it.

You know who never got over it? The administration and its supporters. The Left Coaster had a stone brilliant post last night, in the form of an open letter to Harry Reid, in which Eriposte characterizes their response to their fear thusly:
I fervently hope, that as the most prominent Democratic spokesperson, you will also hasten to point out the toxic message of support that Bush and his patsies send to dictators and communists everywhere with their actions. A message that:

A capitalist liberal (libertarian) democracy is merely a theory that is unsustainable under threat of war or terrorism

I strongly reject this terrible message and I urge you and the Democratic Party to do the same. I sternly reject the notion perpetrated by Bush and his cronies that somehow American's admired liberal democratic traditions cannot be sustained in wars and in the fight against terrorism. President Bush, in his words and actions, has demonstrated that he is always quick to raise the white flag of surrender and cut and run from America's fundamental governing principles and philosophies. The words and actions of Bush and his blind supporters in Government and the media, regrettably, help America's enemies perpetrate the myth that people worldwide should abandon dreams of liberal democracy because such democracy is not possible under threats to the people's security. I simply and soundly reject this false notion and act of surrender to terrorists and communist dictators everywhere, an act that also deceives all our children - the future of America - into believing that you cannot have a liberal democracy in this world as long as there are terrorists around.

I find it disappointing, but predictable, that with some notable exceptions, the reaction of Bush Republicans is one of surrender. I am saddened that their act of surrender to terrorists and communists around the world will lead even America's biggest fans to doubt the viability and stability of liberal democracies. History has shown that Bush's cronies are grievously wrong and that their cowardly views are a repudiation of America's great values. I urge you to remind Americans of this simple fact.
Let me make sure, Dear Reader, that you caught the money shot there:
President Bush, in his words and actions, has demonstrated that he is always quick to raise the white flag of surrender and cut and run from America's fundamental governing principles and philosophies.
Shorter Left Coaster: Throwing over the established Constitutional order isn't a hard necessity required by the circumstances of a changed world--it's a panicky act of cowardice.

Hey, I think I can finally get my head around the Democrats' 2006 slogan, the one I criticized a couple of months ago--"Together, America can do better"--provided they start prefacing it with "The Republicans are a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys."

Recommended Reading: Atrios was especially good today on the subject of the administration's seriousness about waging a real fight against terrorism.

Also: Fox News anchor John Gibson, one of the major generals in the war on the war on Christmas, came completely unhinged on the air last night when a guest challenged him on the utter bogosity of the war. News Hounds (slogan: "We watch FOX so you don't have to") has the transcript.

Outside, Looking In, Liking the View
The employment firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas is out with its list of Most Unbelievable Workplace Events of 2005, documenting the year's weirdest employer/employee relationship issues. One of them involves a security company with a rule prohibiting employees from socializing outside of work hours. Can't go to lunch together, can't go to each other's weddings. And as if that isn't weird enough, the company's employees challenged the rule--but the National Labor Relations Board refused to overturn it.

Fortunately, that rule isn't widespread. For example, I went out for drinks last night with some colleagues from my old corporate job. We wouldn't be covered by the security company's rule anyhow, because, with few exceptions, everyone I was with last night has left the company since I did. We call our group the Alumni Association.

It's too simple to say some people are wired for corporate life and some are not. Sure, some people take to it like a Republican to lying--they thrive on its rhythms, take its peculiarities in stride, and live happily ever after without looking back. Others simply can't handle it at all, out of an aversion to hierarchy, or neckties, or something. The vast majority of people, however, are sufficiently wired to handle it for a while, but the life of the wiring may be finite. How long your wiring lasts depends on the sensitivity of your crap detector.

For example: How well you can handle motivational rah-rah will determine how long you last. The more you can swallow, the longer you'll last. I have a friend who was working for a small, privately held company that was purchased by a large corporation. The corporation sent some of its well-dressed executives from New York out to the provinces to aid the transition, and in the process, they unleashed a full barrage of MBA motivation-speak, to the point at which longtime staffers found themselves restraining laughter in meetings. "We're too smart for that nonsense," my friend said. And they were. People who are paid to write and think well--as these people were--have a professional obligation to avoid cant and boilerplate in their work, so what makes bosses think they'll be motivated by it? If you can put that sort of thing in its place--either as background noise or words to live by--you'll last longer than if you can't.

The amount of tolerance you have for hierarchy will determine how long you last, too. The CEO of one company I worked for had his own private bathroom, but to his credit, he rarely used it, and more than once I found myself talking to him while we stood at adjacent stalls in the men's room. But the same company had a rule that one particular conference room couldn't be used unless one of the people in the meeting was at a sufficiently exalted level on the organizational chart. That meant it got used a couple of times per week, while groups of 25 or more crammed themselves into rooms meant for a dozen almost daily--which seemed to fly in the face of the we're-all-in-this-together spirit with which we were supposed to work. If you can suppress your egalitarian impulses--or live with the absurdity of certain hierarchical preogatives--you'll last longer than if you can't.

Whether you keep the job at arm's length or not can also help determine how long you'll last. For example, at one company I resolved to skip company parties and other occasions of forced socializing, but that was only part of my strategy. I also determined not to give my life to the place--not to take an emotional interest in what I was doing. I'd gotten emotionally involved at other places, and that involvement became an energy-sucking monster that entangled me in office politics and generally made it hard to leave work at work. However, I discovered after a while that keeping an emotional distance had a negative side-effect: I found myself crossing over from "not emotionally involved" to "not giving a damn." By the time I made this discovery, however, I already had one foot out the door, and within a few months, the rest of me followed. If you can find the right balance between emotional involvement and emotional distance, you'll last longer than if you can't.

In one way or another, every member of the Alumni Association decided after a while that it was time to move on. Some did it to go home and raise their children; others did it for a better opportunity somewhere else. And some of us did it to cut the corporate cord entirely. Someday, I may have to go back to corporate life, but I'm not looking forward to it. Right now, the view from my dining room table, where the laptop sits, looks pretty good to me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Going Down for the Third Time
Too much news . . . war without end . . . too much commentary . . . the surveillance state . . . too much information . . .media frenzy signifying nothing . . . not enough poetry . . . drowning in it . . . must disengage . . . talk amongst yourselves . . . back tomorrow . . . perhaps. . . .

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Blog Storm
Pick any of the major blogs and prepare to be swamped in bloggy goodness. Reaction and news involving the illegal wiretaps is the biggest blog event since Terri Schiavo last spring. Actually, the buzz involves more than just the wiretaps themselves--it's also about how Republicans are trying to explain them away, and what Democrats are saying in response. It's even about who the government has been looking at.

It's a motherlode of information and commentary, really. And that's not all of it. Intelligent Design got dissed bigtime by the court today, as the Dover, Pennsylvania, ruling was announced.

I haven't been this happy in months. Truly, Christmas has come a few days early.

Throw in Iraq, shake well, and you get this: Congressman John Conyers has submitted bills in the House that would censure Bush and Cheney, create a select committee to investigate the administration's crimes, and make recommendations regarding grounds for impeachment. The After Downing Street folks have a website up, CensureBush.org, that has the details and will continue to provide information on the effort. The website offers a link to contact your own representative and ask them to sign on as a co-sponsor and/or support the effort. Your assignment is to click the link and contact your representative, wherever you live in the United States. It looks to me like we're at a moment when public opinion and pressure might actually make a difference, particularly if members of Congress--especially Republican members and Democrat backbenchers--find themselves drowning in demands for answers. After all, it's not just liberals who are criticizing the administration this time--it's bipartisan.

If you want to do something, this is a start. If you have your own blog, post about the Conyers resolutions, and then submit the URL to Big Brass Alliance.

Holy Crap
And I'm not talking about my beloved Packers losing 48-3 last night. Only because I turned it off after halftime am I up and blogging so early in the morning. That, and because this blows my mind:

Over at Political Animal, Kevin Drum is speculating--credibly, it seems to me--that the reason the administration didn't go to the FISA court to get approval for its wiretapping program is that it doesn't involve wiretaps in the conventional sense. The program may be some kind of massive data-mining operation that involves monitoring e-mails and telephone calls by the millions, thus making it impossible to get individual warrants, as the FISA court requires. (The Poor Man has more on what it might involve.)

Remember Total Information Awareness--the data-mining program formerly headed by disgraced Iran-Contra figure John Poindexter, that was supposedly abandoned a couple of years ago? Remember how we guessed it wasn't dead, but would simply go underground? It looks to me like that's precisely what's happened--and that for the last year or two, the administration has been conducting an international fishing expedition that presumes anybody who's made an international phone call, or perhaps even sent an e-mail from an IP address in one country to an IP address in another, might be a terrorist.

Recommended Reading: Newsweek lays the stomp and whipsong on He Who Shall Not Be Named for, among other things, meeting with the publisher and editor of the New York Times two weeks ago and asking them to lay off the story about the wiretaps--not out of concern for national security, Jonathan Alter writes, but to keep the paper from revealing his illegal act. (At Attytood, Will Bunch lays some stomp and whipsong of his own on the Times.)

Quote of the Day: (Actually, yesterday, since it's only 6:00 in the morning right now, and today's likely to be another long and interesting day.) From the Rude Pundit, during yesterday's press conference: "Talking to Iraqi ex-pats who visited him in the Oval Office after voting, and who demanded the head of Saddam Hussein instead of a trial, Bush says that he told them that it's important to follow the rule of law, that the legal process is what distinguishes Iraq now from tyranny. Man, can this motherfucker lay down the sarcasm or what?"

Monday, December 19, 2005

Behold the Terrible Majesty of This Day
When you step back and look at it dispassionately, the profound awfulness of this administration, demonstrated by their actions on a single day, becomes positively breathtaking--and that's accounting for all the profound awfulnesses they've perpetrated before.

--He Who Shall Not Be Named stood up in front of the press this morning and said that open debate on the law is helpful to terrorists.

--In discussing the wiretaps on the Today show this morning, what the Attorney General of the United States told Katie Couric amounted to an assertion that HWSNBN can legally exercise dictatorial powers.

(Then Katie, a dim bulb who should never be permitted within 100 yards of a news story that wouldn't appear on the cover of People magazine, characterized the controversy over illegal wiretaps as legal scholars and Constitutional experts versus "Americans" who "don't want another September 11." In other words, real Americans support the president, and it's only college types who are upset about this. Which, I suppose, might actually be close to the truth.)

--And Dick Cheney's going on Nightline tonight to push the utterly false assertion that if we'd spied on people like this before 9/11, we might have stopped the attacks.

If you're reluctant to believe that the revelations of the illegal wiretap program doesn't represent a quantum leap in the administration's tactics, consider this: The wiretaps could have been legalized if the adminstration had just asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, which approves something like 99.98% of such requests. That the wiretaps had to be done illegally, without the court's approval, indicates that there's more to them than we yet know. And so you have to ask: Who could they have been looking at, and what could they have been looking for, that was so far off the charts there was a risk that the most compliant court on the planet wouldn't approve?

On this, the seventh anniversary of Bill Clinton's bogus impeachment, it's become clear that the current administration is actively criminal in a way Bill Clinton could never have imagined. And it's clear as well that we've got to take Bush and Cheney down just as the Repugs tried to take down Clinton--while we still can.

Recommended Reading: The Huffington Post's blog might be the most frustrating blog on the Internet, because more than any other site, it encapsulates what's good and bad about the blogosphere in a single place. Great pieces from talented writers with interesting things to say, like Eric Boehlert and Robert Dreyfuss, share space with people who seem to get paid by the word--Cenk Uygur and Trey Ellis, I'm talkin' to you--who don't have anything especially original to say. So amidst the tripe, you may have missed a lengthy piece from novelist Jane Smiley on the idea that while lots of people tend to see Bush as a complete fuckup, perhaps everything is going according to plan after all.

And also: I was just wondering the other day what's become of Joe Bageant, who escaped his fundamentalist Bible-Belt raising to become a corrosively funny liberal commentator. It seems he's been working on a book, with the quintessentially Bageant-esque title Drink, Pray, Fight, and Fuck: Dispatches from America's Class Wars. And writing a piece at Smirking Chimp about the Left Behind series, NASCAR evangelism, and how the Democrats are clueless about all of it.

Channel Surfing
(If this is your first visit to this blog, click here.)
Being a (relatively) normal and (fairly) well-adjusted individual, I note rather than mourn the deaths of celebrities. So I can't say I'm mourning the unexpected death of John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry on The West Wing--but I'm noting it more than most. As I wrote over the weekend, McGarry, as White House chief of staff, was a pragmatic but principled manager who offered the sort of leadership we'd all like to see in the real White House. As an actor, Spencer never seemed to work at it--but he'd been like that when he was on L.A. Law, too.

The West Wing hadn't done well by Leo the last couple of seasons, giving him a heart attack (which is what killed Spencer) and moving him out of the chief-of-staff's office, then rather implausibly making him Jimmy Smits' running mate in the ongoing election storyline. But in the most recent episode, broadcast just last weekend, it looked as if Leo was going to take a more central role in managing the campaign. So The West Wing finds itself in a bit of a pickle.

The season's final episodes are yet to be shot--nine have been aired so far and, based on the exhaustive West Wing Continuity Guide, five more are either produced or in the production process. The campaign story arc is currently about 60 days removed from Election Day--so if the producers intend to write Leo out, they'll be doing so perilously close to the election. There's no obvious choice to replace him (the Pennsylvania governor, played by Ed O'Neill, maybe?), so the transition is likely to be an awkward one, no matter what. According to producer Lawrence O'Donnell, the writers won't start trying to figure it out until after the holidays.

Meanwhile, in the parallel presidential universe of Commander in Chief, things are not so good either. According to an acerbic syndicated TV column that ran across the country last week, the takeover of executive producer Steven Bochco apparently hasn't made the show any less simplistic or preachy, and the ratings are trending down. That hasn't stopped some people from continuing to view the show as part of insidious plot to make Hillary Clinton president, as a Google search quickly reveals. I'm guessing that the people making this accusation have never actually watched the show, as they'd see pretty quickly how silly it is to imagine any parallel at all between their supposedly vicious and amoral Mrs. Clinton and President Mom.

And finally, Fox has ratcheted up its on-air promotional push for 24, which returns for a new season on January 15. It isn't a show whose primary purpose is to examine the workings of government, but it's more topical than either The West Wing or C-in-C in one important way. For several seasons now, special agent Jack Bauer has shown he's willing to commit torture and various other illegal but putatively useful acts to save the country from Insensate Evil. But before anyone cheers Bauer's do-what-is-necessary-no-matter-what methods, they ought to be sure they understand what they're seeing. The first time the show depicted government agents using torture (in the third-season opener), it seemed far-fetched. Now, not so much. Last season, agents at CTU used it frequently, even on each other. (The scenes where it was used on people viewers knew to be innocent were the most disturbing in the history of the series.) However, the overriding message that seemed to come from most of the torture scenes is that torture doesn't work. It's doubtful that the producers intended to send that message--they're usually too busy trying to figure out where the story is going to go, because in previous seasons, they haven't known how it's going to end until after they started. But by putting it on our TV screens, they remove it from the realm of the theoretical, which it is, for most of us. To see it practiced and see its effects, even in a fictional setting, is useful in helping us gauge it for what it is, and isn't.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Zombie Nixon Walks Among Us
(If this is your first visit to this blog, click here.)
It's my bloggy responsibility to talk about the revelation this week that, on 30 different occasions, the White House simply ignored the law and permitted the military to spy on Americans, including peace groups. But I couldn't do it as well as the Poor Man: It's Nixon all over again, and it's every bit as bad now as it was 30-plus years ago.

The single most memorable line of Nixon's famous post-resignation interviews with David Frost was his justification for many of his actions in office: "If the president does it, then it is not illegal." With so many old Nixon hands prowling the corridors of the Bush White House, it's no wonder such thinking is back in vogue. Spying, torture, it doesn't matter what the law says--the presidency is not a coequal branch of government, it's a law unto itself. And therefore, the president need only decide that something needs to be done, and that's it. L'etat, c'est moi.

Russ Feingold has it exactly right, in response to Bush's angry and defensive radio address today:
Feingold said it was "absurd" that Bush said he relied on his inherent power as president to authorize the wiretaps.

"If that's true, he doesn't need the Patriot Act because he can just make it up as he goes along. I tell you, he's President George Bush, not King George Bush. This is not the system of government we have and that we fought for," Feingold told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Right. And if they really believe the president's power is unlimited, this past week's "capitulation" on the torture ban and the "defeat" of the Patriot Act reauthorization are just minor inconveniences, and more a problem of PR than a threat to standing policy. And if this administration was dissuaded by bad PR, it wouldn't have lasted three weeks in office.
The president had harsh words for those who talked about the program to the media, saying their actions were illegal and improper.

"As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have," he said. "The unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk."
Keep in mind that many of those he calls "enemies" are American citizens, engaging in Constitutionally protected activities that are a threat only to a rogue administration more concerned with consolidating power and protecting its collective political ass than in effectively fighting terrorism.

So the best we can say about all this is that Bush is channeling Nixon at his worst. The worst we can say about it is that he's basically declared that we're now living in a dictatorship, as the Rude Pundit described it so well yesterday. Bush made clear this morning that he intends to do whatever the hell he feels right, and furthermore, that he has the power to do it. If you disagree, then you're with the terrorists.

Whether Congressional Democrats will be cowed by Bush's defense remains to be seen, but what we already know is that his defense will certainly embolden his Repug enablers in Congress. So I am not optimistic that Congress will formally investigate the spying. That would require the Repug leadership to show nonpartisan, for-the-good-of-the-country statesmanship, and they don't have it in them.

And what if they did? As the Poor Man observes, the administration has no respect for Congress' rights to check and balance. Just as the only way to get a stubborn mule's attention is to whack him in the head with a two-by-four, the only way to get the administration's attention would be to impeach it. Everything else they can ignore. But as long as Bush doesn't get blown by an intern, all we're likely to get from Congress are ineffectual Democrat peeps, which can be negated by Repug officals and pundits linking arms and chanting "9/11, 9/11."

Adding to the likelihood that the spying revelations will cost the administration little save temporary embarrassment is the fact that it's Christmastime, and also that the story has emerged, like all the rest, as part of the daily firehose of news and information. Thus it's possible that the transcendent importance of this story will be lost on a majority of Americans.

But missing it or ignoring it doesn't make it any less malignant. And so, like frogs in the pot of slowly heating water, millions of Americans may never perceive that the temperature has risen a little bit more, but all the same, it brings them just that much closer to being cooked.

So Long, Leo: Sad news today that John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry on The West Wing, has died of a heart attack at age 58. During the show's best seasons, his character's sure-and-steady guidance of the White House staff, pragmatic yet principled, was one of the reasons so many of us wished Jed Bartlet was the real president of the United States. The current West Wing storyline has Leo running for vice president and about to take a greater role in managing the campaign--and with some of this season's episodes yet unshot, the story is about to take a turn nobody expected.

What's All This Then?
(This post has been edited and expanded since it first appeared.)
In the annual letter that goes with our 2005 Christmas cards, The Mrs. and I mentioned that I spend a lot of my spare time shouting into the void on the Internet. So I am guessing that in the next week or two, lots of people who know me personally but who have never visited this website will be checking in. Which means it's time to address some likely-to-be-asked questions.

What is this site of yours, anyhow?
It's a blog, which is short for "weblog." When blogs first began appearing on the Internet in the late '90s, they were defined as "online diaries." Some bloggers treat them that way, reporting on their lives and feelings in detail. Sometimes this can make good reading, and sometimes it's just dumb. Topic-oriented blogs soon followed, and one of the richest veins of "the blogosphere," as we like to call it, is the political blog. That's what this blog purports to be. There are thousands--and I do mean literally thousands--of political blogs on the Web. This one is very modest, but its purpose is similar to that of the big boys--to provide running, real-time commentary on what's happening in government and society. By reading this blog, you'll find out what I think, and you'll find lots of links to columns and posts on other blogs that tell you what those writers think. (I contribute to another political blog, Best of the Blogs, and I have a non-political blog about music and radio called The Hits Just Keep On Comin'. And, just maybe, a little too much time on my hands.)

How long have you been doing this? The Daily Aneurysm actually started in February 2003, without a name. In the runup to the Iraq war, I found myself ranting about politics in my personal journal. Some of the rants read pretty well when I got done and seemed to deserve a wider audience, so I started posting them on my website, which I'd used previously to warehouse other writings of the same sort. (Not that anybody was actually reading them, of course, but at least there was the theoretical possibility that they might.) The rants became more frequent as the war drew nearer. About the same time, I was reading Best of the Blogs one day when I was moved to comment on one of the site's posts. Since the Haloscan comment software everybody uses has a place for you to put your URL, I put mine on the comment. A few days later, I was surprised to find that Best of the Blogs had added my name and URL to its blogroll. This was sufficient motivation for me to start updating my own website with new commentary every day. (Best of the Blogs invited me to become a guest contributor a couple of years ago--their first one ever--and I've maintained the connection ever since.)

I have read some of your articles and I notice that you're a liberal. What's up with that? Every now and then I run into someone who knew me way back when, and they're surprised to learn I'm a liberal. Well, back in the day, especially in college, I was pompous, arrogant, lacking in empathy, and utterly convinced of my own rectitude--so I understand the mistake. But yeah, in my mid-20s, when I finally figured out my political opinions, they were liberal, and they remain so. Pro-choice, pro-gun control, anti-war (but I approved of the war in Afghanistan), in favor of free speech, gay rights, and other stuff under the rubric of live-and-let-live. Economically and politically, I'm a New Dealer: as FDR believed, improving the lot of the poorest among us is the most effective way to improve the lot of all of us.

I have read some of your articles and I notice that you don't have nice things to say about God and religion. What's up with that?
Hey, I went to Sunday school as a kid, and I belonged to a church as recently as 1994. I won't bore you with the story, but in a process that took several years, I ended up fairly well-convinced there's no God. But even before that, I was bothered by the toxic effect religion had on many people--and since 2000, I've become about half-convinced that toxic religion is going to be the death of this country. I know that millions of Americans belong to progressive denominations that don't spend all their time hating gay people and the poor and worshipping fetuses and George W. Bush. But those people aren't in charge of the government, or working to make sure their control of government and society is made permanent.

(By the way, around here we refer to Bush as "He Who Shall Not Be Named," or "HWSNBN" for short.)

Such language you use sometimes. What would your mother say? I believe that one way to do effective political battle with the other side is to make fun of them when they do or say stupid things, and that's often my primary goal when I sit down to write. I'm often rude, sometimes crude, and occasionally R-rated, because sometimes nothing gets a point across like Anglo-Saxon four-letter words. (Sometimes, I use them just because I'm angry.) And my mother doesn't have Internet access, thank goodness.

How do you find the time to do this? For the first six months of its existence, I wrote this blog mostly at work. (I had a corporate job I hated, and writing was more fun than working.) In October 2003, I bagged my corporate gig and started working at home. The freedom to read and write on my own schedule kicked my blogging into overdrive. Now, I spend a couple of hours every morning reading news and other blogs, and then writing. On any given day, I rarely know precisely what I'm going to write about, although there may be an idea or two floating around in my head when I sit down. The entries ("posts," as they're known to bloggers) sometimes take half-a-day to percolate, and sometimes they almost write themselves. Usually, they're somewhere in between.

How many readers do you have? That's hard to say. I get roughly 1,000 hits (visits) per month, which is about equal to the number of people who click the major political blogs by accident in a given hour. So this is not exactly one of the busy corners of the web. The number of hits has been trending up lately, though.

Who's this Tom Herbst guy, whose byline I see every so often? Tom is a longtime reader who made such a pest of himself--er, I mean, had such a unique and intelligent perspective on current events--that I made him a regular contributor, whenever he feels like it. He claims to be a normal family man with a wife and kids living in Pennsylvania, although he and I have never actually met. Things being what they are on the Internet, of course, he may be a one-legged lesbian living in Jamaica. Then again, I could be, too.

I want to respond to something you say on here. How do I do that?
There's a link after each post labeled "Comments." Click it and tell the whole class what you think. You can comment anonymously, if you want. If you'd prefer to e-mail me privately, there's an address in the right-hand column.

I'm glad you've found your way to this outpost, and I hope you'll come back, participate--and if you're not persuaded by my arguments, I hope you'll at least be entertained by the way I make 'em. And now, let's get on with the show.

Friday, December 16, 2005

That's My Neighbor
The Senate's refusal to reauthorize major provisions of the Patriot Act is why we love us some Russ Feingold up here. The Patriot Act was bad law, drafted in haste and passed in an atmosphere of panic after September 11, when the number-one priority of Congress was to get its business done so that members could go out to the Capitol steps and sing "God Bless America." Russ Feingold was the only senator who read the whole thing--and thus, the only one who can say that he knew what he was voting on. Unlike all 99 of his colleagues, many of whom would have voted, in those fearful days, to make George W. Bush dictator for life if he'd asked them to.

On the reauthorization, Repugs could probably have gotten a three-month extension of the act, to permit more time for debate and dealing, but they demanded the up-or-down vote now, even after it became clear they were going to lose. Either they thought their usual methods of strong-arming and demagoguery would work this time like they've always worked before--or (and this is, to me, the more compelling reason) they're still panicked. They're still seeing terrorists under every bed, still convinced that if they don't rein in as much of the Bill of Rights as possible, Osama bin Laden is going to do a double somersault into the well of the Senate with a suitcase nuke in his hand and a dagger in his teeth. So they had to have the vote right now right now RIGHT NOW or risk the loss of precious bodily fluids and all else America holds dear.

When you see grim-faced Repugs on the TV shows tonight, or read them ranting on the Internet or in the newspaper about how Feingold and the Democrats gave away the War on Terror, keep this in mind: Even if the Patriot Act were to disappear forever, ongoing investigations under the act can continue--and some of those investigations, like the war on terror itself, seem poised to continue eternally. And many law-enforcement officials believe that existing laws, in place before September 11, were more than adequate to fight most kinds of terrorist threats. We could have caught Mohammed Atta, for example, without the law-enforcement powers the Patriot Act provided, if we'd used them properly.

Meanwhile, over in the House of Representatives yesterday, Jo Ann Davis, Representative from the State of O'Reilly, stood up for candy canes.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican Party: with a few exceptions (today they're Hagel, Murkowski, Craig, and Sununu), Wrong on Everything.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Who Are You and What Have You Done With George W. Bush?
(Edited to add link to Michael Scott's post.)
Yesterday, He Who Shall Not Be Named took responsibility for going to war on Iraq based on faulty intelligence. Today, he accepted John McCain's call to ban cruel, inhumane, and/or degrading treatment of terror suspects.

Who is this man?

It's possible, of course, that each of these uncharacteristic acts represents much less than advertised. As Michael J.W. Stickings observes, the transcript of yesterday's speech makes this talk of taking responsibility less straightforward than it was played in the mainstream media.

HWSNBN claimed that everybody was wrong about the prewar intelligence, but that doesn't exonerate anyone involved in the decision. (You have to wonder if Barbara Bush ever said to him, "If everybody jumped off a bridge, George, would you do it too?") And besides, not everybody was wrong--as George Clooney told a British newspaper, "I hate it when smart men and women are saying, 'Well, if I knew then what I know now . . . .' The fact is: I knew it then and I don’t have national security clearance." Me and you, George. And most of the people who read this blog, I am guessing. And furthermore, the problem in the runup to the war wasn't so much that intelligence and the gathering of it were faulty, but that the administration looked selectively at the intelligence it got. So to blame the intelligence but not to acknowledge the distortions, as Stickings observes, makes any remorse over intelligence failures sound insincere. Finally, even while the president was taking responsibility, he was dodging it: Either he had to go to war because of 9/11, or it was nasty ol' Saddam wno made the choice for war, not the United States. We're to take our pick, apparently.

And on the torture thing, I am suspicious. All we've heard for weeks, mostly from the mouth of Dick Cheney, is that accepting McCain's position and disavowing torture would jeopardize our precious bodily fluids and be Bad for America. It's doubtful that this sudden rollover represents Junior's declaration of independence from Uncle Dick, so something else must be going on. Maybe Cheney's ticker has finally crapped out, and this is their way of telling us. Or maybe--and this is more likely--they've figured out a way to do what Cheney wants while maintaining either the bare appearance of legality or, at least, plausible deniability. Based on what we've seen, from Abu Ghraib to the secret prisons in eastern Europe, it seems pretty clear that the torture genie is out of the bottle, and genies don't go back in easily. So when we hear that we're going to stop doing it, that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to stop.

Or maybe they think McCain is a lock to win the White House in 2008, and they'll do what they want between now and then, figuring the whole mess will land in his lap eventually. Or maybe they're just lying. With this crowd, who the hell knows? The last thing it's likely to be is what it looks like it's supposed to be.

Late Addition: Over at Best of the Blogs, Michael Scott speculates about what it is.

Lost in the Fog
I've written here before that it takes a lot more work to be well-informed today than it used to. The world is more complex and it moves faster than it did a generation ago; plus, little things that happen largely out of public view seem to have greater impact now than when the world was (comparatively) simpler. The problem is that many people--perhaps most people--haven't adapted to this. They still think it's possible to be well-informed by skimming the newspaper at lunch or watching CNN for half-an-hour each night. Well, it ain't. That doesn't stop people from advocating simple solutions to complex problems. "Just say no" is a fine example--whether it's saying no to drugs, like Nancy Reagan recommended, or saying no to sex, like the abstinence education advocates recommend. Such solutions are destined to fail precisely because they're blind to the inherent complexity of the situations they're designed to fix.

The other way people respond to complexity is not to respond at all, but to partially opt out. This is the norm, I think--"yes, I know that it's important that I learn about budget earmarks and their effect on the deficit, as well as the disproporationate way in which they distribute federal dollars, but I've got to make cookies for the bake sale, pick up my husband at the airport, and finish a sales presentation before tomorrow morning. I'm sorry, but someone else will have to worry about it." They don't opt out entirely, because the next time they see something on the news about the federal budget process, they may remember something about the subject--"you know, it seems to me I read something about that not too long ago, but I can't remember what." But they don't know enough about what they seem to remember to act on it, or to know how it affects them.

Larry Beinhart has a name for these "I seem to remembers." He calls them "fog facts": Things that people know and which are easily verifiable, but have disappeared in the cascading sequence of news stories that follow, one by one, on any complex topic. But Beinhart also lays blame for the proliferation of fog facts on modern media and the way it structures its coverage of complex stories. Sometimes, Beinhart argues, the media doesn't want to report certain facts. Both of these tendencies play right into the tactics of the current administration, which is pushing programs and policies that couldn't be sold honestly. So it spins out a lot of fog which, given the way the media covers government, tends to obscure the facts within. And people think, "Gee, it seems to me I recall that somebody said that there were no WMDs in Iraq before the war started, but I don't remember for sure about it. But I know Bush said there were." Because he said it hundreds of times, but those who said there were no weapons got nothing like equal play for their stories.

There's an interview with Beinhart and an excerpt from his book, Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin at Alternet today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I'm Not Officially Here
Really, I'm not. It's a snow day. So this can't be a blog post you are reading. No way.

Religious groups, including the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Church of Christ protested at the U.S. Capitol today, asking Congress to restore budget cuts that will cause direct harm to the poor. The Washington Post asked Focus on the Family why it thought no religious-right groups were participating. Spokesman Paul Hetrick tees it up:
"It's not a question of the poor not being important or that meeting their needs is not important, but whether or not a baby is killed in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, that is less important than help for the poor? We would respectfully disagree with that."
And Wonkette hits it out of the park: "In other words, poor people, if you're cold and hungry this Christmas, the right would love to help you. You'll just need to find a womb to crawl into first."

These twisted idiots weep for the babies, the poor, innocent babies, but all they can muster for needy people--some of whom, no doubt, toe the religious right's political line to the letter--is "we'll get back to you." Sick. And at Christmastime, doubly so.

What would Jesus do? Well, first of all, he wouldn't be an asshole.

Recommended Reading: A former Fox News producer explains that yes, the network's use of religion, often as a "gotcha" tactic on unsuspecting guests or a framing device for reporting, is deliberate. Which is why the War on Christmas is back for another boffo year--and will be back every year until the end of A) time or B) Fox News.

But you didn't hear it from me.

Snow Day
We're supposed to be getting up to six inches here today, so that's excuse enough to take the day off. You'll have to talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic: Is this real, or a fake? Discuss.

Back tomorrow, unless it snows some more.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Mrs. Dick's American History Propaganda Show
So Lynne Cheney went to a couple of elementary schools today to teach the kiddies about the parallels between this week's elections in Iraq and our own early struggles for democracy.

Hand me my gun--there are fish in that barrel.
"Two hundred and seventeen years ago, we held our first vote under our Constitution," Vice President Dick Cheney's wife said. "We started then on the path the Iraqis are walking now."
Our path was somewhat different, however. It wasn't laden with improvised explosive devices planted by some of the same people who are supposedly being represented in the new government.
The elections also pave the way for amendments to Iraq's new constitution. To win Sunni Arab support for the constitution, the Sunnis were promised they could propose amendments to it during the first four months of the new parliament's tenure. Cheney said that was "a very important historical parallel" with America's early democratic struggle. "We did much the same thing in terms of our Constitution," Cheney said in an interview on CNN. "Many were reluctant to ratify (it) until they were told there would be amendments. ... So there are indeed many parallels and I look forward to talking with kids about it."
Boy, the parallels are stunning. Remember how America's first permanent government was chosen in a violence-torn election by the tiny minority of American citizens permitted to vote by the French occupiers who had overthrown the British? Remember how when the American Constitution was written, the delegates from Rhode Island and Connecticut threatened the other 11 states that they would withhold support from the Constitution if they weren't given the right to amend it? Remember how they tried--and how the majority turned on them and started a civil war with a few months of the new constitution's ratification, even before the occupying troops went home?

There were lots of parallels before that, as you may recall. Remember how the French, who had hated the British and wanted to overthrow them in an important region for many years, launched their shock-and-awe campaign? Remember when the jubilant Americans pulled down the statue of George III? Remember how a retired French general ran the American Provisional Authority for a year or so before handing sovereignty over to a cadre of handpicked American collaborators, many of whom hadn't actually lived in America for years?

Lynne Cheney's insistence that there are "many parallels" between what happened here--a popular upwelling of democracy that was guided at the top by a few intellectual disciples of John Locke but was sustained by thousands of people at the grassroots--and what's going on there--the imposing by force of a governmental system derived from Enlightenment principles on a fractious region where the Enlightenment never occurred--is as fantastical as her husband's insistence that we would be greeted as liberators.

They have a Constitution and we have a Constitution. As parallels go, that's pretty much it.

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