Monday, February 28, 2005

MEDIA MONDAY
What have you been watching, reading or listening to?

Marc Broussard?
My students are recommending this guy heavily. I have heard only one track that someone brought to class, and it was very cool sounding, but it's not enough info to know if it's worth recommending. Anyone have his album, Carenco, or know anything about him?

Luaka Bop
Stevie T recommends David Byrne's label. Their list of artists is here. I own some Tom Ze, Os Mutantes (old school Brazilian rock from 60s...Kurt Cobain claimed they were a big influence on him), Zap Mama (they'll be in America touring during April btw), Bloque and King Chango, but not a big fan of King Chango. Also, the compilations are amazing from this label. I've only bought one I haven't really loved, and that's "The Only Blip-Hop Album You Will Ever Need, Vol. 1". The hilarious liner notes for that were almost worth it themselves. Asia Classics are fascinating and Cuba Classics are feverishly good. But Brazil Classics are the best--astonishing music, really.

If you want to listen to some Luaka Bop - try their online jukebox ("toybox"). I haven't gotten all the links to work, but if you have a Flash Player (of course you do) you can hear at least some playlists from their catalog. Check the African Mix for Zap Mama.

Who's a Good Sport?
Halle Berry. Other than Tom Green, no other actor ever showed up in person to receive their "Razzie" award for worst acting of the year. Berry got the award for "Catwoman." Her acceptance speech included "I want to thank Warner Brothers for casting me in this piece of shit." Good for her.

Oscarwatch?
This is pointless of course, but want to know the favorites for 2006 Oscars? Kris at Oscarwatch has predictions for the major nominations, plus lists of other contenders, even though none of these movies have been released yet. Interesting that Woody Allen made the top 5 list for screenplay for "Melinda and Melinda". Not sure if there is actual buzz/anticipation for his next film (I wouldn't believe it anyway) of if this is just for lack of any other contenders at this point.


Help Stevie T

In the Oscar thread comments below, Stevie T asks for our best 5 films of last year, in order. Scroll down and tell him your favorites. I think mine were:
1. Eternal Sunshine
2. The Aviator
3. Sideways (it's grown on me, the way Million Dollar Baby has grown against me)
4. Fahrenheit 9/11
5. Finding Neverland
But there are many that I haven't seen but would like to, those that got great recommendations from people I respect: Before Sunset, House of Flying Daggers, Ray, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, The Sea Inside, Tarnation, Hotel Rwanda, Bad Eduacation.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Oscar Thread
In case you care. Here's a ballot with all the nominees. Link to the winners here.

Article 19 is was rooting for:
Best Pic: The Aviator, or Sideways [UPDATE: D'oh!]
Best Dir: Marty [UPDATE: Craptacular]
Original Screenplay: Eternal Sunshine [UPDATE: Woohoo!]
Actress: Kate Winslet (even though she has no chance) [UPDATE: D'oh!]
Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett [UPDATE: Woohoo!]
Supporting Actor: Thomas Haden Church [UPDATE: D'oh!]
Chris Rock to get off a few jokes about Bush....[UPDATE: Hilarious]
Jamie Foxx not to over do it. [UPDATE: Well Done]

Saturday, February 26, 2005

M$B
I feel better knowing I'm not the only one more and more disappointed about Eastwood's movie the more I think about it. His specific complaints are a bit different, but Kevin Drum has a similar feeling (warning! spoils the ending!) to my recent Media Monday tirade. Hopefully Clint won't get an Oscar sweep tomorrow. Even if, at least there's Chris Rock and Jamie Foxx.
The Dumbest Laws
What are the stupidest laws of the land? Find them at dumblaws.com. Where else. And how best to combat their stupidity? Spend a summer breaking as many of them as possible. Via boing boing.

How many stupid laws have you broken this month?

Friday, February 25, 2005

THE "F" Word: Guest Post by B. Lewberry.

No. Not that one. The F word is fitness (let's call it Fitness Friday - even though that might sound a litte weird). Today's topic - obesity and exercise.

New government recommendations for exercise include 90 minutes a day of physical activity. Are we really getting that fat? The surgeon general says America is experiencing an obesity epidemic.

Despite the fact that we all know exercise is good for us, according to the CDC, the majority of adults do not get enough physical activity to enjoy any health benefits.

So I guess my general question is - If we know an inactive lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits are so bad for us, why are we still suffering an obesity epidemic? I'd like to lay the blame on Mayor McCheese and Nick At Night, but I think the reason is that we are a nation of drive-thru couch potatoes. Are we just plain lazy and gluttonous?

In the interest of full disclosure I should tell you that I'm one of the biggest offenders here - I have the phone number for Papa John's memorized but I couldn't tell you my wife's office phone number or the phone number for my children's daycare provider.

So what gives? And are you getting your 90 minutes & eating your vegetables?

In addition to your thoughts and comments, please feel free to let me know what sports/recreational activities you enjoy - I'll try to keep my postings at least remotely relevant. Many thanks to the grand blogmeister Don for inviting me to post.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Guest Posting Starts Tomorrow
I've decided to use Fridays for some guest posting, so some of our crew can be heard on their own topics, and in chunks larger than 1000 characters if so desired. I invited B. Lewberry to be up tomorrow and I've told him to post on any topic he would like, so everyone come by and see what he has to say. I may be contacting you soon to see if you're interested in future posting. If you are interested, let me know.
Chris Rock's Politics?
The last few weeks, conservative freakshow Matt Drudge has gone out of his way to try and get comedian Chris Rock fired from his Oscar-hosting duties on Sunday, because of remarks on a variety of hot-button topics. He seems to have forgotten that Rock is a comedian... but I digress. Slate's John Swansburg maintains that Rock's act is decidedly "red-state," making Drudge's mission especially foolish.
Though Drudge claims the academy "went to the gutter" by picking Rock, where it actually went was to the right. Rock may speak the irreverent language of blue comedy, but more often than not, his ideas are red-state red.

Take, for instance, the opening numbers in Bigger & Blacker, the HBO special Rock did in 1999. He begins with a discussion of the Columbine shootings, then recent, dismissing attempts to examine the shooters' psychology. "What ever happened to crazy?" he demands. He next turns to gun control, which he's against, and single mothers, whom he also doesn't like. "If a kid calls his grandma 'mama' and his mama 'Pam,' he's going to jail," Rock explains. To all the women who leave their kids at home so they can pop some bubbly at the club, Rock has this advice: "Go take care of those kids before they rob me in 10 years."

Sub a few $10 words for some F bombs, and this material could almost have come out of the hallowed jowls of William F. Buckley Jr.
Having seen Rock's show, and watched his comedy specials, I think this view is off by quite a bit. To be sure he is no partisan Democrat, but I never hear him as especially conservative, even when I occasionaly disagree with the implication of his joke (which, after all, is a joke anyway). Why is it anti-liberal to make fun of parents for regularly leaving their kids at home to pursue their own late-night social life? And to suggest--in a joke--that more parental attention can keep a kid from becoming troubled and anti-social?

Swansburg offers no evidence that Rock is "against" gun control (he may be, I don't know), and even less that he "doesn't like" single mothers. Most single mothers don't withdraw from their children to let grandma raise them, even if grandmothers play a heightened role. If Rock is critical of anything in that joke, it's of that unfortunate withdrawal from being a parent at all. Most all of us recognize that as a problem and a warning indicator for the well-being of the child's future. That is a long way from being generally critical of "single mothers."

So what is he talking about? Has anyone else gotten a more offensively conservative vibe from Chris Rock than I have? My radar for such things is usually pretty finely tuned. If he was on the college lecture circuit promoting childhood development theories, I may be a bit concerned of his direction. But he's, you know, a comedian. Sterotype and hyperbole are standard tools of the trade, no?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

4 Steps to Stupid
Step #1: Have a secret tawdry life and a job you're not qualified for.
Step #2: Keep a daily journal of your interactions with the White House and the press.
Step #3: Resign in disgrace after embarassing the White House communications staff, who want to admit to no interactions with you whatseover.
Step #4: Admit to Step #2, on your own initiative.
W Stands for Peace
Bush puts the world at ease yesterday:
"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. Having said that, all options are on the table..."
I feel better; how about you?
Durbin's onto the White House Hooker
The Illinois Senator has asked the President to launch a full inquiry into the White House/Press scandal.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Bush-Wead Tape
There doesn't appear to be a full trancript of the tape anywhere, but you would think the NYT scoop that broke the story carries all the most interesting parts. If you care.
Pending Legislation: A Glass .0001 full
Here at Article 19, we believe in the spirit of bipartisanship, reaching across the aisle to work with, and commend, the nutcases on the other side when it's called for. Every once and a while, the issue will come up in discussion that there must be *something* the Bush administration proposes we can get behind. I'm getting tired of saying the spiel about his unexpected commitment for money to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa (especially since he didn't really come through on that...), so here it is: some good news of agreement for Republicans and Democrats.

At first glance, Bush's proposal to cut farm subsidies 5% across the board sounds revolting. Who needs help more than farmers?? But it would seem that most of those subsidies have been going to corporate farms entities, not so much to family farms. It is a trade-off that's for sure not all good, and it will result in increased produce prices, but may cut back some of the extreme advantage corporate farm businesses have, and will give farmers in countries around the world a chance to compete in their own back yards. And by cutting the cap from 360,000 to 250,000, those on the wealthier end of the scale will be effected more dramatically.

More important is the Rural America Preservation Act, co-sponsored by Republican Senator Grassley and Democrat Dorgan. This would accomplish the more important element of closing loopholes that now allow savvy farm businesses to claim they are many, many entities, each deserving of a subsidy. This practice encourages and rewards sprawling farm growth which is bad for the family farmer and for the environment.

A wide coalition of feel-good unity supports this legislation, including President Bush, Bread for the World and OxFam, as well as the conservative Citizens against Government Waste.

The question, of course, is to which piece-of-crap legislation will this get attached? Perhaps just the overall agriculture appropriations bill.
Political Insanity [UPDATED]
You must see this new Internet ad targetting the AARP. It would be a great parody effort if it weren't the real thing...Really, it's not a joke.

Who's responsible? The people that brought us the Swift Boat ads have gotten back together for this encore. Josh Marshall also sees Karl Rove's hand in it, and also has information on the group, USANext, that is sponsoring the ad, which accuses the AARP of being anti-military and pro gay marriage. Yes, that AARP. Senior Citizens. As Digby says:
The AARP sold their members down the river with that ridiculous drug company giveaway last year and look what it bought them. Gay bashing and treason.
Nice folks to deal with, huh, Republicans.

[UPDATE]USANext has taken down their ad. I'm under no illusion that is was removed for any good reason. But perhaps we'll learn why in the next few days.

Monday, February 21, 2005

MEDIA MONDAY

[House cleaning first: Kenny B wrote a nice tribute in honor of Article 19's one-year anniversary on Friday. In the comments I put down some thoughts and questions about the future of the blog and would appreciate your input.

What have you read, heard, or watched over the last week?

"Freedom of Expression®: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity"
Professor Lessig links to a new book by Kembrew McLeod, available online here through a creative commons license. Kembrew has trademarked the phrase "freedom of expression®"...you know, to make a point. You can see the hilarious trademark certificate on page 2. Among the great info in the first chapter is the true story calling into question the copyright of "Happy Birthday to You," a song originally titled "Good Morning to All," now owned by Time-Warner, and not scheduled to enter the public domain until 2030.
The Hill sisters based “Good Morning to All” on an existing melody, and the lyrics were spontaneously generated by a bunch of five- and six-year-olds. Because the melody, first published in 1893, is now in the public domain and the lyrics weren’t even written by the Hill sisters, there is little reason why the copyright to “Happy Birthday to You” should still be enforced. But that hasn’t stopped the song’s stewards from taking every measure to prevent others from singing it without paying royalties.

In the mid-1990s ASCAP sent letters to Girl Scouts and other summer camps, informing them that they had to purchase a performance license in order to sing certain songs. The fact that such a notice hadn’t been issued before illustrates the rising level of entitlement among copyright owners by the end of the twentieth century. Under the guidelines set forth by this ASCAP letter, songs such as “This Land Is Your Land,” “God Bless America,” and, of course, “Happy Birthday to You” could not be sung at the summer camps without buying a license. US Copyright law defines a “public performance” as something that occurs “at a place open to the public, or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.” For instance, around a campfire.
They Might Be Appealing to Children [UPDATED]
Will kids really enjoy They Might Be Giants' new recording "Here Come the ABCs"? Or will their parents just enjoy hoping that they do? Either way, it's pretty fun. I heard them perform "Alphabet of Nations" on Conan last week. The lyrics:
"Algeria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Dominica, Egypt, France, The Gambia; Hungary, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Libya and Mongolia; Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Suriname; Turkey, Uruguay, Vietnam, West Xylophone, Yemen, Zimbabwe" [Repeat]
No, West Xylophone is not really a place.
[UPDATE] In searching around I found a wikipedia devoted to They Might Be Giants. It is an online encyclopedia that anyone can add to or edit. Amazing compendium of TMBG resources.

NYT on new Tori Amos
I went through a Tori Amos phase once, well ok it was maybe a week (or just one really long afternoon, I don't remember). But I haven't really kept up since. I wouldn't mind hearing her new recording, reviewed in today's Times:
"The Beekeeper" is a generous, even overstuffed album, 19 songs and 79 minutes long, with an elaborate scheme involving six "gardens" of songs inspired by the six-sided cells of a honeycomb. (Ms. Amos has no fear of preciousness.) The lyrics are still collages of impressions, though usually with enough clues to piece them together. But "The Beekeeper" is also her most down-to-earth album in years, because Ms. Amos has decided she doesn't have to pack every impulse into every song. Sometimes, now, a simple melody and a steady groove are enough.
It concludes, "Ms. Amos is finding ways to make her songs more approachable." I don't remember "unapproachable" being the way I would describe her songs; was this really a problem? I think of Sonic Youth as sometimes unapproachable. Tori Amos I think of more as just creepy. But whatever.

On the other hand...
Cinecultist (to her surprise) disagrees with the reports I've seen that say "Hitch" is terrible. And apparently the SF Chronicle agrees that it works. Until I hear more I'm not believing it.

Bedtime for Gonzo
Author Hunter S. Thompson is dead. I like the fact that he created an adjective (gonzo) for his type of journalism but so far as I can tell nobody else was ever described using that word. Still, news reports refer to him as practicing "gonzo journalism" as if it were a school or method that existed outside him. Maybe it does, but I've never heard the word used anywhere except for him.

I read his funny column regularly. Here is the last one, in which he proposes a new sport, pitched to Bill Murray over the phone at 3 am. "Shotgun golf" would be a combination of golf and skeet shooting.
The game consists of one golfer, one shooter and a field judge. The purpose of the game is to shoot your opponent's high-flying golf ball out of the air with a finely-tuned 12-gauge shotgun, thus preventing him (your opponent) from lofting a 9-iron approach shot onto a distant "green" and making a "hole in one." Points are scored by blasting your opponent's shiny new Titleist out of the air and causing his shot to fail miserably. That earns you two points.
Relink--Harry Partch
I linked to this in my piece on tuning, but in case you didn't want to wade through all that it's still appropriate for Media Monday. Harry Partch is one of my heroes as a composer. He lived for years as a hobo, jumping trains and riding across the country, and wound up teaching composition in California where he made his own instruments to accomodate the tuning systems he developed. There is a fabulous site - here - that lets you see many of the instruments and play (scroll down and click on "play instrument" so you can hear not only his interesting tuning but sounds as well. The "boo" is a personal favorite.


Weekend Box Office

1. Hitch
2. Constantine
3. Because of Winn-Dixie
4. Son of the Mask
5. Million Dollar Baby

Could the major box office choices be any worse? I have seen 1-star reviews of Hitch, Constantine and Son of the Mask. And, as for #3, are we just doing product placement right in the title now? Did Kroger have a rejected bid on the dog's name?

Also, has there been a "comic book" movie to come out sine Spiderman 2? I only ask because I saw--in the newspaper ad for Constantine--one of those one-line superlatives you always see. This one said "the best comic book movie since spiderman 2!!" Hmmm. How stupid do they think we are?

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Guess What? Tuned Pianos Aren't Really in Tune (Music lecture #2)
Admitedly this topic has less practical value for you than the last post on music. But it's something that fascinated (and surprised) me when I first found out about it, so maybe you'll be interested as well.

***Note Names and Octaves***
We have to start with a couple of basic facts. A note is a frequency, distinct for its number of vibrations per second. 440 vibrations/sec, famously, is known as "A" in our letter-based naming system. What we consider "higher" and "lower" pitches are really faster and slower vibrations--the faster the vibration the "higher" the pitch, although there is nothing literally high or low about them. We have simply graphed sound onto a spatial metaphor of up-down.

So, how/why does our musical alphabet start over once pitches achieve a certain height? What makes all the "A"s sound so much the same, whether they're "high" A's pr "Low"???

Though it's a bit more involved than this, and there is some controversy over the psychoacoustics/neurobiology of how it all works in our brains, the basic reason is that the waves/frequencies of the 2 A's, or any two pitches with the same name, are related by the simplest of ratios, 2:1, known as the "octave." 440 vib/sec and 880 vib/sec (the next "A" up) are going to have much in common:

1) a sound wave "emits" (sort of) resonating frequencies above the fundamental pitch (called overtones) at 2, 3, 4.. times its frequency. So in a very real sense the 880 A is "contained" in and is a part of the 440 A.

2) Their similar waves at a 2:1 ratio will create a regular, periodic "beat" 440 times a second. No other frequency above 440 will create so many regular events as 880 will, just like no other frequency slower then 440 will create so many regular events per second as 220 (the next "A" down) will. The sound we hear in their combination is a fairly simple wave because of that.

Tuning, then, is a matter of achieving the desired ratio between frequencies, finding those that have enough in periodic common (or close enough that we can't tell the difference, which is really really close) to be experienced "in tune" with one another. But we can't just use 2:1 to tune an entire piano. Starting with A and using 2:1 ratios up and down will merely tune all the A's to each other. What will we do about the other pitches?

***The Perfect Fifth***
The next ratio within a 2:1 octave with the most consonance between waves/overtones is 3:2, experienced in our naming system as the distance of a "perfect fifth." It is the interval found between the first note of a major scale and its fifth note. The same distance separates the first and fifth notes of a minor scale. Because of its consonance, almost every mode we ever use (with very very rare exception) employs this interval as its 5th. Even other cultures that use completely different tuning systems, or scales with more pitches than we do, will still likely make prominent use of the 3:2 interval. Like the 2:1 octave, it is such a consonant "in tune" sounding interval (you can hear it between C and G), that some hearers will not recognize the presence of 2 distinct pitches when they are played together.

***Octaves and Fifths within our our note-naming/scale/key system***
Our naming system on modern keyboards works like this: there are 12 different pitch names (pitch classes): ABCDEFG, interspersed with 5 "black keys." The smallest distance between any 2 pitches by this system is called a "half step," that is the interval between any key on a piano and the very next adjacent key (or the very next fret on a guitar). Each half-step is theoretically the same "distance," which really means the same "ratio" between the 2 frequencies. Once you "ascend" 12 of those distances, through all of the pitch classes, you arrive at the octave (2:1), or the same pitch-name you started with, and the pattern continues--theoretically forever. So our tuning system (equal temperament, it's called) operates under the principle that every octave (2:1) is identically divided into 12 equal intervals/ratios (half-steps). It is the reality that allows us to play any tune in any key, and for it to sound exactly the same in any case.

The perfect fifth is found on the keyboard as a distance of 7 half-steps (7 frets). As you know, 12 and 7 do not have a common multiple, except for 12 x 7. Likewise, if you start with any pitch, say A, and ascend a perfect 5th to E, and then ascend a perfect 5th from E to B and then from B and so on, you will eventually arrive back at an A, but not until you have landed on each of the other pitches one time. It is called the "circle of fifths." It begins on any one pitch and ascends (or descends) the distance of a perfect fifth until it arrives back on the pitch it started with.

***The Plan***
So, theoretically, you should be able to tune a piano--after all the A's are in place--by tuning all the fifths up from A (E) at a 3:2 ratio, and then all the fifths up from E (B) and so on, until all the fifths are perfectly in tune and the circle has been completed back to A.

***Here's the problem.***
If you're quick with math, or just a good guesser, you may have anticipated the problem. By the time we get to the end of that process and are ready to make the circle complete with the A's we started with, a 3:2 interval would not put us back there. The truth is that tuning in natural 3:2 fifths will not land you on pitches/frequencies that allow the octave to be divided equally among 12 half-steps. And you would not arrive, after 12 3:2 intervals, at a pitch we would recognize as the same on which you started; not even really close enough you could fool people. But our theoretical naming system, the one that allows us to play the same tune in any of the 12 keys, requires that the fifths do ultimately arrive at the starting point, so that, all octaves (2:1) being considered equivalent pitches, there are only 12 different notes.

Imagine there is a perfect size for a slice of pie. You cut into the pie and carve out perfect slices until the last part left is too small or too large to allow even perfect slices at the end. That is the piano tuner's dilemma. Perfect fifths must create a complete circle to make our system of notation work on a single keyboard. But tune properly, they don't.

So what do we do? The same thing we would do if we were pie-cutters and 12 people expected correct-sized slices. We cheat and hope they don't notice.

Our perfect fifths are fudged slightly smaller than 3:2. They are not in tune in any natural sense. They are close enough that we can't really much tell the difference, especially now that we're all used to it. But multiply that difference by 12 and you've got something much much worse than the Mayberry band. By squeezing each fifth only slightly, we allow the smallest interval (the half-step) to divide the octave in 12 equal parts. That makes all the keys sound identical, even if none of them are perfectly in natural tune. So, the next time some hoity-toity musician tells you your piano isn't in tune, you tell them theirs isn't either.

***Addendum***
Keyboards have not always been the way they are now. In fact, today's equal temperament didn't come around until the 19th century. Prior to that, well-tempered tuning allowed music to be played in all the keys on a single instrument, but they sounded different from one another because some of the fifths were perfect, but not all. In Bach's younger days (1700), a keyboard was designed to be played in only a few closely related keys, so most keyboard instruments had more than one keyboard, to facilitate playing in non-standard keys. The compromise equal-tempered tuning system we use today allows total flexibility for the instrument but was met with more than a little controversy. Tuning by whole number natural ratios was considered to be the harmony of God and the universe. Like most technical innovations, this one was met with some resistance. A fascinating recent book entitled Temperament details the story of its slowly evolving, bumpy acceptance.

At any rate, tempering is one reason why Bach wrote The Well-Tempered Clavier, a keyboard work of preludes and fugues in both the major and minor modes and in all 12 keys: because with this new instrument, he could.

But the compromise is not all good news. We miss out on some beautiful (and challenging) sounds. Many composers, beginning in the last half of the 20th century, have experimented with tuning systems that depart from equal temperament and employ ratios based in "Pythagorean", whole number, "Just Intonation." Harry Partch was a renegade American composer who designed and built his own instruments to accomodate his compositions that used such tuning systems. (A fabulous site about him and his instruments is here--scroll down and press the "play instrument link underneath the diamond marimba, or the "boo.") If you want an introduction to music that is based on Just Intonation, try the "Harp of New Albion" by Terry Riley, a solo piano work from 1986, in which the piano is tuned at whole number intervals from the tonal center. You can hear a juicy excerpt here (2 MB file), but you must promise to turn it up and listen closely...and note all the high ringing pitches that emerge over time--those are overtones, excited by the tuning precision that allows the vibration of many strings up the piano, even those that are not struck with the keys. We can achieve something similar on our equal tuned pianos with the pedal down (allowing the sounds to ring and encouraging some basic overtones), but nothing with the clarity and brilliance of this.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Article 19's One-Year Anniversary! Thank-you Don!
Fellow Blog-readers, by my search of the archives, it was one year ago today that Don started Article 19 for us to enjoy. It's hard to imagine Don has been posting several posts daily for us to enjoy. I was trying to think of a big way to say thanks to Don for creating an environment where we can stay in touch and share ideas and thoughts. Steam-rollin' him while he's asleep doesn't seem to cut it anymore, and he is pretty selective about his hookers (dude, it's like make up your mind!) Anyway, Don spends a lot of time managing the blog for us and we should give our thanks in the comments below. I also want to see people come up with some suggestions about how to celebrate this anniversary. Perhaps we could all work to invite 5 other people not already readers of the blog to come visit. Maybe we could plan an actual physical get-together/Article 19 convention somewhere when we reach our 19th Month of Article 19's existence? Maybe we could send a letter to the White House seeking news credential for Article 19, along with Don's "pictures." Anyway, let's thank Don for the great year and make plans to keep this a great place to visit. -- Kenny B
Today's Gannon Report and Some Unavoidable Truths
This is one of those stories that just keeps on giving. The major revelation yesterday was that Gannon was clearly in a WH briefing as far back as February, before his "news service", "Talon," was even invented. Inquiring minds want to know how and why.

Today's revelation is that despite being brand new to the very idea of journalism and representing a news service that was essentially created at the time he began, Gannon had major news scoops correct and before most other press, including such national security issues as when the war in Iraq was scheduled to begin. And there are others.

I have been hesitant about getting too upset over the press credential angle (even though I will confess to reveling in the salacious outing of such an annoying conservative. It's a character flaw of mine, no doubt). In principle, I think Ari Fleischer is right when he says that we don't want the WH determining who gets in from day to day to cover the Office of the President. It shouldn't be near-impossible for a citizen of journalistic intentions to receive a WH briefing. I'm talking about sitting in there and listening and raising your hand to ask a question. And we would rather err on the side of inclusion than risk the dangers of its solution. At least unless and until more people clamor to get in than we have room for. Then they'll have to rethink the WH "day pass" process, which is what Gannon/Guckert got every day.

But let's be real honest about what we are staring at here. And someone may as well say it.

Jeff Gannon was sleeping with someone in the White House (or Pentagon), in return for access and possibly money. Either that, or he became real buddy-buddy with someone in the know who delighted in slipping him information because Gannon was such an unabashed Republican. Even national security information. Even though he was demonstrably *not* a journalist, or even a hack with media experience. He had to know somebody. Even if you could get in without special help, you can't get all those scoops without it. I don't see any other explanation. It's fair to demand to know who it was.

Let's think back to the Clinton years. Remember when Republicans screamed bloody murder because WH staff didn't dress up? Clinton didn't always wear a jacket and tie in the oval office? And now this Bush team at best leaked classified information to a blabber mouth because he was on their side, and at worst leaked classified information to a blabber mouth because he was screwing them (and was on their side). Treasonous blackmail, treasonous prostitution, or just plain old treason. Take your pick.

"We screw with our ties on." Do you think that's what Bush had in mind with the promise to restore honor and dignity to the White House? It's hard to see much else.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Michael Jackson Art
Via Boing Boing, check out artist Jason Huntley's portrait of Michael Jackson, made out of children's cereal. Many layers of weirdness.
Gore to run? [UPDATED]
Al Gore is giving a speech today in LA on environmental/global emissions issues, marking the first day of the Kyoto Treaty enactment. If I see a transcript I'll link to it. Previews of the speech have Gore referring to the Bush administration's "moral cowardice" on the subject.

Part of me hopes Gore can get into the race in 2008. He would definitely be my choice as who-would-make-the best-President. But for his sake, and ours, I mostly hope he stays away. The man has endured enough undeserved, misplaced ridicule and my sense is that people would not vote for him this time around.

But who else, Hillary? Warner? Boxer? Edwards? Anybody want to be one of the first on the Bredesen '08 bandwagon? If he didn't have such a nasally, reserved speaking style he might actually have a chance. He would make a better general candidate than primary though, having gotten his conservative credentials by choosing spending restraint through knocking 300,000 people off of their health care.

[UPDATE: Alternet has coverage of the Al Gore speech, though I haven't found a link to the entire speech yet. It's a good start.]
More "Good Health!"
While you're out in the sun to help ward off skin cancer, you may want to consider drinking daily coffee, to help with liver cancer (since you're drinking all that wine to help your heart). But be sure to mix in a cup of decaf with regularity. Unless you want rectal cancer, that is. No, really. Good health!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

City of Wireless Love
The Mayor of Philly plans to make the entire city the world's largest wireless hotspot.
"Just as highways were a critical infrastructure component of the last century, wireless Internet access must be a part of our infrastructure for the 21st century," Mr. Street said last month in a speech before the United States Conference of Mayors.

Most municipally run Internet systems are in small rural towns, many of which provide service at below-market rates. Philadelphia is proposing to charge $15 to $25 a month for its service, half of what private servers now charge, and even less for low-income users.
Very cool.
If Gannon was a Democrat...
What with Media Monday and all, I skipped over the new revelations uncovered by americablog in the "Jeff Gannon"/JD Guckert story: namely that not only were those scandalous websites owned by him, and not only did he go live with an escort service targeting men in the military, he was himself the "escort." So, the man who asked easy questions of the White House, who got daily WH credentials despite writing for a brand new "news organization," with a $50 GOP-led 2-day journalism seminar as his only training, was in fact a whore. And not just a metaphorical kind. A bona fide hooker. With leaked classified documents related to the outing of a CIA operative (Valerie Plame).

It is worth pondering which parts, if any, of this story are worth pursuing. Kevin Drum fears that this kind of "scalp-hunting" game helps Republicans, because of the things they care about, but does not help Democrats. I'm especially on his side when it comes to the gay angle. We're the ones that aren't supposed to care whether he's gay. Prostitution, now that's another story. And I know, there is no shortage of hypocrisy in his homosexuality. But I would prefer we not tag on that "gay" modifier , as if it carried an extra indictment all by itself. It does not.

While Democrats wrestle with what kind of fuss to make about this, we at least should not let Republicans say one word. This is an internal soul-searching moment. Because we know damn well what Republicans would do, if the naked online photos were on the other foot. As Joe Conason says, via Kos,
Imagine the media explosion if a male escort had been discovered operating as a correspondent in the Clinton White House. Imagine that he was paid by an outfit owned by Arkansas Democrats and had been trained in journalism by James Carville. Imagine that this gentleman had been cultivated and called upon by Mike McCurry or Joe Lockhart—or by President Clinton himself. Imagine that this "journalist" had smeared a Republican Presidential candidate and had previously claimed access to classified documents in a national-security scandal.

Then imagine the constant screaming on radio, on television, on Capitol Hill, in the Washington press corps—and listen to the placid mumbling of the "liberal" media now.
Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post has actually weighed in on the x-rated twist. Also, Digby thinks it's a story. He makes a good case, but I'm not sold. I would like to know how "Gannon" got such access and with a pseudonym. That's the part that doesn't wash for me. And if it turns out that his credential-express pathway was paved by a former client, who is in the White House, then we've got something to talk about. My guess is less conspiratorial: I'll bet they'd let just any damn conservative who wants in the WH briefing room and has the nerve to ask. And that our Jeff has that compartmentalizing thing down, just like Clinton did. I hope "the conservative guy" would appreciate the comparison.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Hockey? [UPDATE/Nevermind..]
[UPDATE] The Commissioner has cancelled the season. So the free stanley portion of this post is relevant. The rest is not.

Avid reader RT (you'll never guess!) sends a link to an organization determined to award the Stanley Cup to the best hockey club playing, even if the NHL cancels the season. Freestanley.com is looking for challengers. They anticipate it going to a junior or minor league hockey team this year. If they have their way, that is.

And while trying to think of a good way to frame my dismay over not having any hockey to go to this year, in a post about "free stanley," there comes word of a breakthrough in negotiations. No, really. So there is a chance that a 28-game season will still be played. But should they? Here in Nashville at least, I'm thinking that it will lead to constant "who cares" news reports filled with shots of empty seats. Even if attendance is the same as last year, they could report it that way.

So, I have a plan. I sent it to Predators owner Craig Leipold. I call it "free hockey." It goes like this: give away the tickets for those 14 home games, and continue to refund the season ticket holder money as if the entire season had been cancelled. Ok, maybe charge 20 bucks for seats down front. Otherwise, give em away. The bad press that the next 2 months offer a team like Nashville's, where the public sobbing over no hockey has been pretty well nonexistent, will be far worse than if the season was cancelled anyway.

If they play the rest of this season to an empty crowd (and don't you know that the local press will be demanding more accurate attendance numbers than they have, frankly, in years past?), then the first chapter of the death of hockey in Nashville will have been penned. As I told him, cribbing from Bill Clinton, it's the fan base, stupid.
Text of Dean's Speech
At Saturday's DNC meeting.
Poor People Stuff
I'm not an advocate of faith-based funding initiatives from the government, though there are surely worse things. Still, it would be nice if people at least knew that the President was only giving lip service to the idea as a political ploy (with the occasional big first-term grant to a church group in a swing state).

But hey don't believe me, listen to David Kuo, who makes now the second deputy director of the White House faith-based initiative to have resigned in dismay and come out talking about it:
No administration since LBJ's has had a more successful legislative track record than this one. From tax cuts to Medicare, the White House gets what the White House really wants. It never really wanted the "poor people stuff."

...In December 2001, for instance, Sen. Daschle approached the Domestic Policy Council with an offer to pass a charity relief bill that contained many of the president's campaign tax incentive policies plus new money for the widely-popular and faith-based-friendly Social Services Block Grant. The White House legislative affairs office rolled their eyes while others on senior staff yawned. We had to leave the offer on the table.
....
Conservative Christian donors, faith leaders, and opinion makers grew to see the initiative as an embodiment of the president's own faith. Democratic opposition was understood as an attack on his personal faith. And since this community's most powerful leaders - men like James Dobson of Focus on the Family - weren't anti-poverty leaders, they didn't care about money. The Faith-Based Office was the cross around the White Houses' neck showing the president's own faith orientation. That was sufficient.
Still, this guy prefaces everything with the standard "but Bush is a great man, full of sincerity and compassion..." like they all do before exposing him to be just the opposite.

Monday, February 14, 2005

MEDIA MONDAY - VALENTINE'S DAY EDITION
What have you been reading, watching, listening to?

Lewberry recommends Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (definitely on my list to see), and bows down to the King in love song supremacy.

Final Million Dollar Baby Thought: New Characters, Please.
This film has stuck with me for 3 weeks while I tried to sort it all out. And I have some level of respect for any movie that can generate such passion, thought and conversation as this one has. It drew me in early on with a smart, understated though predictable script, at least the first hour. But it also dragged me through a handful of needlessly offensive turns along the way. Maybe knowing Clint is such a Republican makes me more sensitive to it, I don't know. It irks me to not be able to defend a film under attack by Rush and the Christian Right. Obviously, I dislike it for mostly different reasons than they do. Namely, the cynical caricatures of poor Southern women like Maggie's mother, cartoonish depictions of cheating evil foreign women like her strongest opponent (didn't Rocky cover that basic ground in, what, sequel #4?), and a general confirmation of the tired misogynist narrative that demands the suffering of any emerging heroine to allow the promotion of a strong male introspective lead.

I hate to be on the opposite side from Ebert on this one, and other people I like and respect. And I understand his position that here the characters are true to themselves (even if I disagree that they necessarily are). But, and I hate to dust off the feminist language, why do we need more stories and characters - snappy script and good acting or not - true to such a patriarchal archetype? Even if he had avoided the offensive side characters, this film would still suffer from its basic determination to make Clint the main character. There are already enough stories told from a decidedly male perspective. But do even the ones that are ostensibly about the determination of a tough woman of little means have to be told that way? And do they really still have to be so egocentric on that count that the suffering and demise and ridicule of most every other character must follow? Save of course the black man, dependent on Clint's kindness, who needs nothing more than a cot and his friendship.

There I said it. I hope I'm overreacting. Probably am.

Want a job in music?
Pick up the oboe.
As John Mack, the dean of American oboists, put it, "People are running around like headless chickens saying, 'Where are we going to find people?' "

The lack of a permanent, full-time principal may not be readily obvious to the concertgoer, accustomed to hearing the orchestra tune to the oboist's pitch, a plaintive A. But the instrument has some of the most prominent solo material in symphonic music.

Observers of the oboe world - which would mean just about no one but oboists - say the sudden raft of openings appears on the surface to be a confluence of health problems and retirements.
The oboe is one of the most delicate, difficult-to-play instruments in the world, certainly in the symphony. The harsh sound is exposed, and it's given important things to play regularly. The little-known fact I like the most about the oboe is that one of its close relatives is the accordion: the oboe is a double-reed instrument, like the bagpipes; the accordion is a free reed, which isn't alot different. Hoity-toity meets the polka.

Peaches en Regalia
A site devoted to the legendary Zappa instrumental. Includes a MIDI version that is shockingly accurate, and plays when you visit, so turn your speakers up. Also plenty of info on the tune, both nerdy and otherwise. While I'm at it, here's the best web resource for Zappa I know (watch out, there's some naughty words in there..). It has complete lyrics, "every word spoken on every album," and more. There's even a lyric search function. If there is not enough Zappa in your life (how could there be?), then this site is for you. Just looking at the album covers makes me want to put Lumpy Gravy, Uncle Meat, and Weasels Ripped My Flesh into the CD changer as soon as I get home. Probably not much of a 2/14 selection I admit...

When will the madness end?
How many more old TV shows can be made into movies? Fat Albert, SWAT, Starsky and Hutch, Charlie's Angels, The Brady Bunch....ugh. And there's Bewitched, Dukes of Hazzard and now Miami Vice to look forward to. Can reality movies be far behind?

I hate the Grammy Awards...
Though I happened to flip by Melissa Etheridge performing a fabulously intense tribute to Janis Joplin. But I'm glad I missed the rest. And how is it even over? What with all the awards they give out...full list of winners here, if you care.

2/14 POLL [UPDATE]
For discussion: in the spirit of the day, what are your favorite love stories, love songs? Songs/stories about love? Not talking about grand, spiritual love. I'm talking romance here people. And remember, when reaching for that bitter sarcastic response, your spouse and/or lover may be reading...you never know.

[UPDATE] - My Picks:
1. You can't go wrong with Casablanca. Hate to be cliche about it, but it's got the right mix of romance and spunk, even though the romance ends bittersweetly.
2. Manhattan is also a favorite, also with something of a bittersweet ending. But the romance was cuter before Woody Allen ran off with this daughter in real life. Have to replace it with Annie Hall, a much better Valentine's Day movie.
3. I know this will peg me a sentimental fool (or is that already obvious), but I am one of the few that thought Shakespeare in Love was a proper best-picture recipient, a beautiful and funny love story and statement on love.
4. Like Water for Chocolate, also a winner.

Not sure about songs, that's tougher.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Being "in a key"
Kevin Drum offers appreciation for anyone who can explain the musical concept of the "key of F Minor" or the "key of G Major" in a way that makes sense. I offer this explanation (instead).

First things first, there are 2 separate ideas at work in the phrase in question, that are basically unrelated and we should keep distinct. "F Minor", "G Major", etc... have, first, the name of a pitch (F, G, Eb, whatever) and, second, the name of what we call in the bidness a "mode" (minor, major are the 2 most common and there are others you don't much hear about..). The pitch and the mode convey 2 completely different phenomena, both at work. So being in G Major tells of a central pitch (G) and provides a map to the other pitches above and below it (in this case, the pattern we call "major") that are in play.

So let's take the pitch first, that the key is named for. Being in the "key of F..." or the key of G..." refers to the pitch that is experienced as the musical center of a piece/song/whatever. All "tonal" music, by definition, has such a pitch center.

What does it mean to be the tonal "center"? For starters, put music in the same category as literature and film in this sense: it is a narrative art that unfolds over time. And like other Western narrative art forms, the controlling metaphor is that of a journey. The tonal center, which we teach students to think of in terms of a "home" or base of departure and arrival, is experienced most recongizably as beginning and ending points in that journey.

Of course, a musical narrative is not a journey with only one direction like most stories we know, with one scene following another. Music is typically full of repeats, refrains, and reminders. And while those surface elements (like melodies that keep coming back, or a repeating chorus for example) are the most recognizable and memorable, and are the things that distinguish one piece in F from another, the tonal center - the key - functions as a more fundamental, deeply buried element of musical narrative. It is the thing that gives each departure and return a sense of arrival with each return of the tonal center, and a powerful sense of closure when it sounds an ending.

But key is a concept that's easier to grasp as experience than explanation. Try this experiment: sing Happy Birthday all the way through for yourself. Or our National Anthem is another good example. And when you get to the very last note, the very last word ("you" or "brave"), instead of singing the note you know is correct for the tune, make the last note a repeat of the previous one ("to you" or "the brave" on the same pitch, rather than falling down to the proper note at the end). The last note will sound incorrect. But it doesn't sound incorrect to you just because you know how the song really goes. It also sounds incomplete, as though the song isn't quite finished. That's because the tonal center (the last note in both of these cases) is avoided.

If you sing them as I suggested, the words come to an end, the meter/rhythm comes to closure, but the tonal center of the piece is thwarted. (Melodies don't always end on the tonal center; in fact, the chord structures--especially the bass--establish the "home key" most strongly. But melodies often reinforce it.)

So, being in F, or in G, means that the pitch F or G is functioning as the tonal center that establishes closure in a musical narrative.

As for the second element--"major" or "minor"--that refers to the other notes: the pattern of steps above and below the tonal center that identifies the other pitches in the color palette being used in a given piece. This is the "mode" or "scale" of 7 different pitches (7 in Western tonal music, anyway) including the tonal center, that make up the primary cast of characters in a musical narrative. Start with "C" on your piano and play up or down on the white keys only and you will have the pitches of "C Major." It is a pattern of steps/distances/intervals away from the center. Using the same pattern from a different pitch as the center, you will still have "major" as the "mode," but a different pitch will be functioning as the tonal center. That is why you can sing happy birthday recognizably starting on any pitch, because tonal music is not made up of notes; it's made up of interval-patterns.

As you may have guessed, "Minor" is a different pattern of steps from the center than major, and one that offers a different harmonic effect. Between the 2 primary modes, major and minor, we manage to convey a variety of conflicting emotions, including both happy and sad (I won't bore you with the reasons for that) and so the development of other modes as musical standards has never really happened. That's why people like me get excited when someone like Sting writes a tune in a mode other than major or minor. He does it occasionally. Early Pearl Jam was a mode festival as well. Bartok and Debussy experimented with modes extensively.

So am I saying Western music only ever has 7 notes? No, of course not. But, let's face it our tuning system only has 12 different pitch-classes (A through G plus the black keys). More music than you might think does in fact use only 7 different pitch-classes from beginning to end. Occasionally even fewer than that get used. But being "in F Major" doesn't limit you from ever stepping outside the parameters of those pitches.

Shifts and slight alterations in mode are common (chromaticisms, they're called). If you want a good example that's pretty easy to hear, brush off your copy of Magical Mystery Tour and play track number 2, "Fool on the Hill." They shift the mode early on, when they get to the line "But the fool on the hill sees the sun going down and the eyes in his head see the world spinning round." That phrase is in "minor" even though the rest of the tune is in major. So, the mode shifts, abruptly in this case, and then abruptly back after that phrase. But, the tonal center doesn't change (they sing the "home pitch" at the end of the phrase, on "round"--it helps make the shift from minor back to major a smooth one).

If you read this far, you know now a couple of things--hopefully what "the key of F Major" means on some level, but for sure you also have a glimpse into why I don't get dates...

Maybe next week -- if there's a public outcry -- I'll explain how, in an invention of convenience that allows us to play with any of the 12 pitch-classes as a tonal center with one instrument, we fudge and approximate all the tuning. That's right, tuning is a natural phenomenon, but our pianos are not in tune with themselves.

{edited somewhat...believe it or not this was even less readable before...thanks for help from a reader.}
random numbers rule the world.
For the record, I don't believe in any of this crap. As soon as it's proven in some convincing way, I'll be the first to eat crow. Until then, it's still creepy. via boing boing.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Support the DNC!
It's official - Dean is the new Chair! I've added a link in the left column to allow you to show your support of this new directon with a little coin. If you've never made a political donation, this is a good time to start and know that small amounts are important. If we want to build a Party that's beholden to its citizen supporters, and not corporate donors, then we supporters have to show up. So if you have 25 bucks to spare (or 19!) or are willing to eat mac and cheese a couple of nights to help bring the goal of a 50-state, bottom-up Party, use the link on the left, which lets you donate throug actblue.com.

If the idea of national politics makes you squirm abit, then track down your State or county Democratic Party and give a small donation and offer to volunteer. Let them know that the selection of Dean as chair has allowed you to feel good about being involved!

Kos says in under 3 hours this actblue link has totaled over $30,000.00 in contributions from more then 650 donors.
Kevin Drum's Answer
To my question of how rolling back the income tax cuts could help social security (since SS is funded by payroll taxes not income taxes), Kevin says:
First answer: it has nothing to do with shoring up Social Security. You're right that SS funding is 100% (actually, more like 99%, but let's not get into that) via payroll taxes.

Second answer: the big problem we have in the future is that SS will go into the red. This will cause a bigger deficit. In order to prepare for that, we should be shoring up our general finances, and income taxes help that. If we don't do this, then when 2018 rolls around, we either have a *really* big deficit or else we need a *really* big tax increase. Increasing income taxes now makes the pain of dealing with 2018 smaller.

We should actually be doing three things right now. First, trying to get rid of the deficit so we're in better shape when 2018 comes. Second, dealing with Medicare, which has a huge funding gap. Third, shoring up Social Security. Those are listed in order of priority, and SS is very definitely the least important of the bunch.
So I don't have to start over understanding this mess. The effect is not direct, except that once the money going out *begins* to be larger than the money coming in to social security, the trust fund will be needed for benefit payments, and those bonds will come due. Assuming the government has to pay that bill with the general fund, it will add to the deficit if there is still one. So, propping up the budget with more income tax revenue would help us be in a position to pay the difference between payroll tax revenue and social security benefits without driving the budget into an even scarier hole. But that wouldn't help social security pay for itself, so it's more like addressing the symptoms not creating a cure (if you consider the illness to be the inability of SS to pay for itself).

Either way, so long as Bush is President, rolling back the income tax cuts is impossible. So other than to be reminding people of that Bush screw-up (the tax cuts) there's no sense in bringing it up as a legitimate political option right now.

Addendum: In asking Kevin to help make sure I understood the line between income taxes and social security I, jokingly, offered to repay his kindness by helping him with any music theory burdens keeping him up at night should he have any, since that's my expertise. In his reply, he added:
Well, if anyone could explain what a key is (as in "F Minor" or "G Major" or whatever) in a way that actually makes sense to me, that would be great. I understand it technically, but have never really been able to make sense of it. I have a feeling it's one of those "sunset to a blind man" things.
So, I'm going to give that a try this weekend and will post my answer here, explaining to him what a "key" is. That's actually a pretty scary question. Hopefully I'm better at that kind of thing than when I taught my very first class in Pittsburgh many years ago, and found myself trying to explain what "rhythm" *is* in some sort of precise absolute definitional way. I ended up, unexpectedly, having to try and discuss what "time" *is* and you can imagine what all kinds of hell that ended up like. As if anyone anywhere has a freaking clue what time is. It was a nightmare. So with the issue of "what is a key"?, I somehow have to couch it in the grand, metaphor-rich contexts that its powerful effects deserve, without being too bizarre and/or esoteric. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Jeff Gannon gets his own Fox reality show!
Joke alert!! But, it's a good one....
What sways independent voters? Pictures of themselves.
Check this out (via BoingBoing):
In a study conducted one week before the 2004 presidential election, a representative sample answered a series of survey questions about John Kerry and George Bush, including their vote intention.

The study consisted of three groups of respondents: one had their own photograph morphed into a picture of Bush, the second had their photograph morphed into a picture of Kerry, and the third was given un-morphed photographs of the two candidates.

The photographs of the respondents were acquired long before the study began; consequently none of the 200 respondents realized their own photographs had been morphed with the candidates.

The results demonstrated that respondents were significantly more likely to vote for the candidate with whom their face had been morphed (for both Bush and Kerry). This effect was stronger for people who did not have strong party affiliations (i.e., independent voters) than for strong partisans.
Sample pictures are at the site. If the candidate looks more like you, you're more likely to vote for him/her. I can see that happening in a race where the 2 candidates were essentially unknown to you. But with known quanitites like Bush/Kerry? A bit scary.
Question/Ignorance [UPDATED...NOT SO IGNORANT]

[UPDATE--After watching Sunday's Meet the Press, I thought my basic understanding of social security, its problems and potential solutions, was blown all to hell by Ted Kennedy. The post below was a question about it to try and pick up the pieces. But while I was at it, I decided to send a short version of the question to the economic expert I've been reading on social security, Kevin Drum, who writes the fabulous Washington Monthly blog. I thought maybe others of his readers may have the same very basic question. But what do you know, instead of having to wait for him to decide to write on that, he just wrote me back about 10 minutes later with a helpful reply. I wonder if Peter Jennings does stuff like that? Anyway, later in the day, I'll post his reply. Luckily it confirms my understanding, rather than making me start over.]

I have tried to educate myself about social security, to fully understand the arguments. I am no economist. I last actively balanced my checking account in 1989. But I consider myself a quick study. Still, many details escape me. And right now, it comes down to one basic question, which may itself reveal reams of misunderstanding, but I could use the help here. Google hasn't done the trick.

My understanding of how the government can be in debt, but the social security trust fund is in surplus, is that they get their funds from different places. Social security benefits are funded by payroll taxes--paid by employers and employees. And the general fund is filled by federal income taxes. Because the general fund has run such astonishing deficits, the social security fund is usually raided to help fund programs and forestall some of the borrowing from elsewhere. But the trust fund (essentially represented by the retirees of tomorrow) is assured the money (Subject to Bush's deciding not to honor the trust...).

My question is about a possible solution to the minor problem we face, on down the road. I heard it most recently from Senator Kennedy on Meet the Press: roll back 1/3 of the President's tax cuts for the wealthy and social security will be solvent for many more years beyond present estimates.

But if social security benefits are paid with payroll taxes, how will rolling back income tax cuts have any effect? Is it just that the improved budget situation will increase employment and in so doing raise payroll tax revenue? I get the feeling Kennedy and others making this argument mean there is a more direct benefit. Maybe he just means we would have to borrow less (or hopefully not at all) from the social security fund for general programs if we had more income tax revenue? But if we're counting on all the bonds that make up the fund being good anyway, why would that help? I know that rolling back the tax cuts would be good for the economy generally, so I know it will have wide-ranging benefits. But it's hard to see how it would directly impact the Social Security situation.

I'm not dissing Ted. I love him. I just don't get it, and I want to. Who gets it and will help me out?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Thursday Reading Assignment
It's pretty obvious by now that I think Talking Points Memo is the place to go for the politics of Social Security and the substance of the surrounding policy issues. So I won't try to summarize or steal a quote. Go there and read this new post about the difficulties in ascertaining a Republican representative's position on the President's "plan." As in the last 4 years, the GOP playbook is filled with words that say one thing but mean the opposite.

Come back and tell me what you think.
Meet Romanesko
If you are not already familiar with it, Romanesko is a blog by Jim Romanesko dealing with news/media-related issues. Links and quotations fill the bulk of the site. Here is the post dealing with the Gannon/Guckert affair. But you should take a look a the whole site. It's really good stuff on the business of journalism.

It is an extension of "Poynter Online," whose tag is "everything you need to be a better journalist," a web site of the St. Petersburg Poynter Journalism Institute.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Question Answered
Earlier I pointed to the question some prominent bloggers (but hardly anyone else) have been asking: does the President intend to honor the treasury bonds, the IOUs, that make up the social security trust fund, or does he plan on pretending that the fund, accumulated in bonds since the payroll tax increase in 1983, does not exist. Bush's answer today?...What trust fund?
Some in our country think that Social Security is a trust fund -- in other words, there's a pile of money being accumulated. That's just simply not true. The money -- payroll taxes going into the Social Security are spent. They're spent on benefits and they're spent on government programs. There is no trust.
Josh Marshall believes the President has violated his oath of office.

For 20 years (and for the next 15 years), if I understand it correctly, workers and employers have paid surpluses toward social security benefits on the promise that the excess would allow them to receive guaranteed benefit security when the big numbers of the baby boom generation retire. True, that money hasn't been just sitting in cash in a bank account or big jar somewhere. The government has borrowed from it almost every year (except 1999 and 2000) to help the general fund meet its expenses. But those payroll taxes (a far more regressive tax than the income tax, by the way) would never have been raised for the purpose of the general fund. They were raised on the backs of a promise to help stave off a potential problem. Now, Bush is telling payroll tax payers they have no right of expectation to receive redemption of those bonds. You have been funding basic government operations all along, even though that's what the federal income tax is intended to do.

We can only hope that reasonable and wise members of Congress will not allow this covenant to be broken.
New Cancer Cures?
I understand why we haven't studied every possible cancer cause and cure thoroughly. There are natural herbs in China, Brazilian insect-dung cocktails, the venom of some rare snake in Central Africa, that who knows could carry the prevention or destruction of tumors. These things take time to go through and test--natural compounds, synthetic compounds, everything the world has to offer and that scientists can put together.

But dontcha think they could have gotten to carrots before now?
Wow
Atrios links to Rep. Louise Slaughter's letter to the President asking him to explain the credentials of "Jeff Gannon". I never thought for a minute that anyone in Congress would actually look into this, as they should. Maybe maintream press coverage isn't out of the question now? From her letter:
In light of the mounting evidence that your Administration has, on several occasions, paid members of the media to advocate in favor of Administration policies, I feel compelled to ask you to address a matter brought to my attention by the Niagara Falls Reporter (article attached), a local newspaper in my district, regarding James "JD" Guckert (AKA Jeff Gannon) of Talon News.

According to several credible reports, "Mr. Gannon" has been repeatedly credentialed as a member of the White House press corps by your office and has been regularly called upon in White House press briefings by your Press Secretary Scott McClellan, despite the fact evidence shows that "Mr. Gannon" is a Republican political operative, uses a false name, has phony or questionable journalistic credentials, is known for plagiarizing much of the "news" he reports, and according to several web reports, may have ties to the promotion of the prostitution of military personnel.
Scroll down to yesterday to read my outline of the scandal, with helpful links.
Smoking Discrimination?
I have a question. Is it legal for employers to discriminate against smokers when hiring, for the purpose of keeping health care premiums down? If it is, is it a good idea? If it's not, should it be? Just asking.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Today's press corp would be funny if it weren't so disturbing [UPDATED]
Follow along now (I'm reading through blog obsessions so you don't have to...):
1. Rush Limbaugh spewed his usual stuff about Democrats, this time about Harry Reid, who he says is claiming soup lines are imminent. He was being sarcastic, or metaphorical, whichever. It's his way of accusing Reid of caring about poor people.
2. "Talon News" reporter Jeff Gannon took it literally. And as he is a credentialed WH reporter, asked the President about it, mentioning the "soup lines" comment, which of course he never really made: "How are you going to work with people [like Reid] who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?" Gannon asked.
3. According to World O' Crap, this is the same Jeff Gannon subpoenad in conjunction with the Plame leak.
4. It turns out Jeff Gannon has no training or experience, posts on his own website, The Conservative Guy, and oh yeah that isn't really his name.
5. It turns out Talon News (and "Jeff Gannon") fulfills none of the requirements that should qualify them for credentials, unless being an arm of the GOP does that nowadays. David Brock's letter to the White House requesting they deny "Gannon" credentialed status is here.
6. Enterprising bloggers now believe that Gannon's real name is James D. Guckert, who has an address associated with Bedrock Corp. in DE, the same company that hosts Gannon's website.
7. According to Atrios, other domains, beside jeffgannon.com and conservativeguy.com, hosted by Bedrock/Guckert/Gannon include hotmilitarystud.com and militaryescortsm4m.com (presumably m4m means men for men...).
8. Oh yeah, did I mention Guckert/Gannon has a picture of himself in his underwear up on his AOL account?
No. Really.

The Internet can be an unforgiving place...
[UPDATE] He's given up. That didn't take long. Damn, if I don't feel sorry for him now.
It's Over
Barring a last-second entry into the race by Bill Clinton himself, Howard Dean is the DNC chair. Everyone else has dropped out.
Intra-blogosphere Squabble [UPDATE]
I never understood how Jonah Goldberg, who rose to media prominence out of his defense of mother Lucianne (friend/advisor to Linda Tripp...) and her Clinton-hating cohorts, has stayed on in respected conservative pundit circles. It just doesn't seem like the kind of credential that could or should lead to a syndicated column.

Middle East expert Juan Cole (University of Michigan!) has had enough. Their spat began over the weekend after Goldberg took Cole to task for saying the Iranian elections in 1997 were more democratic than the recent Iraqi elections. Cole's response is here. To give you an idea, it starts like this:
"I think it is time to be frank about some things. Jonah Goldberg knows absolutely nothing about Iraq. I wonder if he has even ever read a single book on Iraq, much less written one. He knows no Arabic. He has never lived in an Arab country. He can't read Iraqi newspapers or those of Iraq's neighbors. He knows nothing whatsoever about Shiite Islam, the branch of the religion to which a majority of Iraqis adheres. Why should we pretend that Jonah Goldberg's opinion on the significance and nature of the elections in Iraq last Sunday matters? It does not."
And then it gets better.

Jonah, unbelievably, explains why he's not on the front lines himself. Does he even know who's fighting there now?

Cole's disbelief over Jonah's excuse for not fighting is here.

Cole's most recent smack-down here helps to raise more general questions of authority and today's media, as well as raising this logical but underpresented argument: young men (Goldberg was one in 2002) who believe their country must go to war and argue for it, but do not volunteer to go themselves, are cowards and hypocrites.

[UPDATE] Goldberg's "final" response is here. Cole's "final" rebuke is here.

I still don't understand Jonah's ascendancy on the right. I suppose being anti-Clinton-enough is enough. It's one of the reasons why I try not to write too authoritatively about, well, anything except my own exasperation and confusion over what's happening and why.

Monday, February 07, 2005

MEDIA MONDAY
What have you been reading, watching, listening to?

Mark recommends School of Rock (on DVD now!); Doug concurs!

The Vicious Circle of Confidence
I'm thinking about Sideways again as I am reading that Paul Giamatti, and his character, are the subject of a current feud about which group identifies with his trademark portrayal of insecure loserdom more completely: the (drunken) critics who love the film? Or the academy voters for whom it all hits so close to home they had to deny him an acting nomination. I bring it up not because I care, but because in that light, Miles/Paul reminds me of a passage in "Talking it Over," (a great book which recently got a kind of disappointing sequel) by Julian Barnes, one of my favorite authors:
I don't have what is referred to as an outgoing personality. When I meet people I like, instead of saying more and showing I like them and asking questions, I sort of clam up, as if I don't expect them to like me, or as if I'm not interesting enough for them. And then - fair enough - they don't find me interesting enough for them. And the next time it happens I remember this, but instead of making me determined to do better, I freeze again. Half the world seems to have confidence and half the world doesn't, and I don't know how you make the jump from one half to the other. In order to have confidence you have to be confident already: it's a vicious circle.
That truth is one of the reasons movies like that are so difficult to pull off (I do really like Sideways though), and why I recoiled at the montage when I first saw it--because it seemed to gloss right over that improbable leap. Either way, I'm skeptical about coming-out-of-their-shell movies. It takes confidence to make confidence. I simply am not a big believer in the ability of personalities to fundamentally change, even if the promise of love and redemption is staring them right in the face. And, invariably, it is.

Test your knowledge
Filmbrain's Screen Capture Quiz. Email him your guesses. Or I'm sure he won't mind if we speculate out loud here. Answer will come next week. I have no clue what it is.

Bad DVD Watch
Bill Wyman hated The Village more than I did; I thought it was fair. And his critique left me unable/unwilling to offer a defense of the film. He's probably right. I didn't think it was great, but apparently I'm a sucker for suspense and a big twist here and there, no matter how foolish. Wyman reports that the new DVD offers no salvation for the movie. Warning: his review is a complete spoiler! If you haven't seen The Village yet, and might, don't follow this link.


Executive Reading List

I've hardly had a chance to read anything lately, but President Bush has an interesting recommendation, after the Bible that is: Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons. I would like to think this is the kind of excerpt that riveted our leader's attention:
...you could once again hear students drunk on youth and beer being funny or at least loud as they stood before the urinals.

Two of them were finding it amusing to move their hands back and forth in front of the electric eyes to make the urinals keep flushing. One exclaimed to the other, "Whattaya mean, a slut? She told me she's been re-virginated!" They both broke up over that.

"She actually said that? ‘Re-virginated'?"

"Yeah! ‘Re-virginated' or ‘born-again virgin,' something like that!"

"Maybe she thinks that's what morning-after pills do!" They both broke up again. They had reached that stage in a college boy's evening at which all comments seem more devastatingly funny if shouted.

Urinals kept flushing, boys kept disintegrating over each other's wit, and somewhere in the long row of toilet stalls somebody was vomiting.
Maybe he would like Lynne Cheney's fiction as well? What are you reading?

Weekend Box Office
1. Boogeyman
2. The Wedding Date
3. Are We There Yet?
4. Hide and Seek
5. Million Dollar Baby

Aviator is the best pic nominee with the most bucks now, but Clint's movie is moving up. Anyone seen the Deniro movie? Are we ever going to see him in a serious dramatic role again? After all the Fockers and Analyzing this and that, now a big budget suspense/thriller...

SAG Awards
Were given out Saturday night. Jamie Foxx and Hillary Swank look to be Oscar locks. Not too bad a thing, except for Swank's acceptance speeches. Ugh. Sideways winning the ensemble cast over Aviator and Million Dollar Baby may throw the Best Picture Oscar back up in the air. Not just between those 2 anymore. A split could give Sideways a path. Full list of winners here.

Yes, this means I had nothing better to do on Saturday night.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Democrats: The alternative Social Security solution
In a recent meeting of local activist Democrats, I was struck by one particular set of complaints. Opposing Bush's social security plan in public is difficult, they said, because there is no alternative "solution" on the table for us to champion that will take care of the "problem," which is acknowledged by all even if we take it out of the realm of "crisis."

It leaves me wondering what it takes to get the press, and in turn the people supposedly on our side, to recognize and pounce on the President when he makes an about-face. In what seems to me to be enormosue news, the White House is no longer claiming that changes they are proposing in the program would do anything whatsoever to repair problems in solvency. So, in truth, not only is there no crisis, but the changes on the table are not a solution for whatever difficulties the future offers. And they are apparently no longer even designed to be one.
In a significant shift in his rationale for the accounts, Bush dropped his claim that they would help solve Social Security's fiscal problems — a link he sometimes made during last year's presidential campaign. Instead, he said the individual accounts were desirable because they would be "a better deal," providing workers what he said would be a higher rate of return and "greater security in retirement."

A Bush aide, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity, was more explicit, saying that the individual accounts would do nothing to solve the system's long-term financial problems.

That candid analysis, although widely shared by economists, distressed some Republicans.

"Oh, my God," one GOP political strategist said when he learned of the shift in rhetoric. "The White House has made a lot of Republicans walk the plank on this. Now it sounds as if they are sawing off the board."
Why do we have to scroll to the end of the story to get to this news? Why is it not the headline? As Josh Marshall is saying often, and well, Democrats most certainly do offer an alternative, that of keeping social security intact, as opposed to dismantling it. Even the President himself says that his changes would fundamentally shift the program from a "defined benefits" to a "defined contributions" approach. Assuming (as the White House now does) that this shift would do nothing to address the non-crisis of future insolvency, why would anyone vote for it?
SpongeBob finds a religion
Doug sends this link and writes "Who knew the United Church of Christ had a sense of humor?" Indeed the UCC has continued its determination to promote its true tolerance, and take deserving shots at the ridiculous Dobson in the process.
Joining the animated fray, the United Church of Christ today (Jan. 24) said that Jesus' message of extravagant welcome extends to all, including SpongeBob Squarepants - the cartoon character that has come under fire for allegedly holding hands with a starfish.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

"Deep Throat" Unmasked? [UPDATE: Article 19 Exclusive!!]
Would be a shocker, but author Adrian Havrill now believes the secret informant to Woodward and Bernstein is someone we know all too well. First name, George. Last name, Bush.
Did Bush have motivation? You bet. It was Richard Nixon who urged Bush to leave a safe seat in Congress, hinting there would be a position as assistant Secretary of the Treasury waiting for him if he failed to win a Senate seat held by Ralph Yarborough. When Bush lost, Nixon reneged and asked him to take the U.N. slot instead but teased him by hinting he would be the replacement for Spiro Agnew in 1972. Instead, he was given the thankless task of heading the Republican National Committee in 1973. The elder Bush got his revenge in the end, by standing up at a cabinet meeting in August of 1974 and becoming the first person in Nixon's inner circle to ask the President to resign.
Supposing this is proven true while W is still the President. How would old-school Republicans respond to the news?

[UPDATE!] Article 19 has deduced the true identity of Deep Throat! And no, it isn't George Bush! My big clue: John Dean says that he has learned Deep Throat is ill! The obit is already written. And who is now ill?? The Pope! I was suspicious of my next door neighbor, who has really been coughing lately, but then I thought: how would John Dean know Mr. Watkins is sick?? But damn near everyone knows that the Pope is on his deathbed. It's simple logic people!

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Social Security question of the hour
Has Bush committed to defaulting on the Trust Fund? That's what Kevin Drum and Josh Marshall want someone (anyone!) to ask.

After all, as they both say, the only thing that is scheduled to happen 2018 (really 2020 now)on our current course is that we stop adding to the trust fund and start having to remove from it to meet current benefit levels. That surplus fund wouldn't actually run empty until 2052. Of course, there's not much actual money in there since Bush has raided it for the general fund, but the debt to the fund is still acknowledged, right? The bonds are still good? That's what they want to know. Me too.

If they're planning to act like that Fund never existed, then we really do have a problem in 2020. But it's not a Social Security problem, it's an out-of-control Republican budget problem. And since we'd have to borrow 2 trillion dollars to simply get the President's idea off the ground and allow present workers to fund their own private accounts, rather than funding current retirees (and the Trust Fund), that budget deficit problem, and all the economic nightmares that come with it, will only get worse. Way, way worse. That's not even counting the considerable administrative costs that are sure to accompany a big government behemoth like Bush is suggesting.
Gay Marriage, Again
Here we go, via Atrios... But did 2004 teach us that ultimately this is a bad kind of decision for gay rights? Would there have been all those state referendums making it unconstitutional if it weren't for court rulings like this one?
State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan said that the New York State Constitution guarantees basic freedoms to lesbian and gay people, and that those rights are violated when same-sex couples are not allowed to marry.

The ruling said the state Constitution requires same-sex couples to have equal access to marriage, and that the couples represented by Lambda Legal must be given marriage licenses.
Maybe basic civil rights are too important to worry about political calculations; maybe I should applaud every decision that affirms equal rights under the law. But if it's just overturned, or if 3/4 of the country rebels against it in a way to make it harder to achieve, doesn't that push us that much farther from meaningful gay rights? What's a gay marriage, or a civil unions, supporter to do anymore?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Boo Hoo
90% of millionaires are worried that rising health care costs will reduce the number of servants they can afford during retirement from 3 to only 2. What to give up--the gardener? The cook? The maid? Egad!

Wanted: former chef with landscaping experience.

Otherwise who will dust the chandeliers? And what will the grandchildren think?

Ok, that's not really what they are worried about, but it feels close.
An Open Letter to Howard Dean
Governor Dean (soon to be Chairman Dean),
Amid the frenzied talk to taking back our Party, and taking back our country, yadda yadda, that we have engaged in during the past 2 years, I am writing to plead with you to save us from a great menace that goes unnoticed for 364 days a year: the Democratic response to a state of the union address. Jeez Louise! Could we have picked a more boring method, setting, deliverer, tone and message than we do year after year?? The President gets austere, he gets a distinguished audience obliged to show respect, he gets to imagine the most emotional possible characters in America today and bring them right to the hall!

I'm begging you with everything I've got, Governor (and hey there could even be a $25 DNC donation in it for you...). Save us from the humiliating, the pointless, the remote-control-killing (aaack! Pelosi's on every channel!), the brutal half hour that is the response to the State of the Union.

How? Big ideas, Howard, like you always promote. Next year, YOU deliver, or at least orchestrate, the response. In a big place. With a big enthusiastic audience. Of real people. Let's demonstrate real difference, not just try to hog the TV long enough to keep right-wing pundits from praising the President.

And while I'm at it. How about the response actually respond! We've got quick thinkers and decent technology, right? The SOTU speech is released right before it's given. We can surely work in direct references to his lies by the time the response is given, not generic rehearsed blah written days ago. Hell, show clips of Bush telling those lies (a la the Daily Show) on a big jumbotron to remind people of his worst moments before you bash them.

As it is, we're treated to 90 minutes of pomp + circumstance, lies and deceptions, all peppering fundamentally bad policy that's wrong for America....then right-wing pundits get on the talk shows (Chris Matthews had Republican speech-writers David From and Pat Buchanan, "balanced" by moderate, trying-to-sound-fair journalists Norah O'Donnell and Jon Meacham...WTF??) to praise the President's soaring language, high ideals and (well-rehearsed) confident delivery.

Next year, I say we give them something else, not that they have to consider, cursorily, but that they can't forget. I'm talking about kicking ass, taking names, and doing it in front of people who love it.