Thursday, March 31, 2005

Sin Tax Philosophy
As I indicated in an earlier post, I am thrilled that states are starting to levy higher taxes on cigarettes--especially in those states like KY that have such paltry cigarette taxes. But, there does seem to be a bit of a dilemma, doesn't there? What happens if the education and the deterring factor of the tax actually take hold and smoking seriously drops off? What happens to the tax base? Ideally, things like cigarette taxes would be reserved for medical costs that the state faces as a result of the dangers of smoking. But instead that money typically is piled into the general fund, along with the alcohol taxes (and here in TN there's a new proposal to add an entrance tax of a couple bucks onto strip club entry fees). My question is, is there a danger, even just a cultural one, in states getting too close, and too dependent, on its citizens engaging in activities that are unhealthy one way or another?

And this is especially on my mind having read a NYTimes story on states' new found love of gambling revenue. There are no direct costs that the state incurs as a result of people engaging in gambling abuse or addiction. So this is just a way to raise money. Like church groups that raise funds with a bingo game. Is this really a proper way for the state to raise money? On one hand, if it's going to be legal, it might as well have a healthy tax. But in this case, we have examples of gambling being made legal for the explicit purpose of shoring up the tax base since the public refuses to sacrifice as a community.
Because of gambling, South Dakota officials were able to push through a 20 percent reduction in property taxes a decade ago by increasing to 50 percent the state's share of gambling revenue from video lottery terminals, up from 37 percent.

A property tax reduction was also the main argument in Pennsylvania for legalizing gambling when the Legislature last year authorized slot machines at racetracks and casinos after years of intense opposition.
Is this just a good, clever way to fund the budget? (what's next, a state wide bake sale or silent auction?) Or does this mark--like I fear--the tacit approval of a funding system that requires fewer and fewer citizens to pay their fair share, so long as we can leverage that desperate (for a drink, a smoke, some action) minority for some extra cash? And then, to top it off, doesn't the state have to hope, deep down, beneath the public service announcements, for the ranks of that group to increase? The more the better?

To be clear, I am a strong supporter of a very hefty cigarette tax. It makes sense for many reasons-including a deterring factor for teenagers to start. But I do wonder if there is a downside (like, what is the state's real incentive to discourage smoking should the revenue start to outweigh the costs? or is that not even possible); and I wonder if it's not part of a troubling trend in state revenue streams.

On the other side of the spectrum is a federal tax proposal that doesn't make alot of sense to me (or to Kevin Drum), even though it's the option preferred by one of my heroes, Frank Zappa. Replace the income tax with a consumption tax, and send monthly rebates to cover the taxes on necessities.
Question
Why is MSNBC abusing me with an original composition played and sung by Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry? We can add musical crimes against humanity to his other offenses. Not even Fox News is covering it. Much less CNN.
Retiring?
Having never made the short list for the job, I don't know much about the protocol of being Pope. Is he required to keep the title until he dies? If not, why is nobody talking about him maybe stepping aside? Isn't he pretty well incapable of doign much of anything? I think even Southern Baptists would encourage a pastor to retire once he can't muster the breath to speak a single word...

On the other hand, a mute Baptist preacher just may lead the kind of church I could attend.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Culture of Life (again)
Matt Yglesias has never been more right correct. Today he hits the mark pointing to the logical contradiction tugging at the mainstream right-to-life philosophy, "(t)he line that abortion is murder, but killing stem cells for research purposes is legitimate science..."

At its heart is a fundamentally misguided notion--held by mostly men and some women--of women and womanhood, one which both beatifies her and her reproductive power, and would also like to control and limit her--to keep her in that place of adored, revered, encasement.

Our fascination with the near-magical wonder of child-bearing impels us to womb-worship. Her ovaries work in time with the glorious ocean and the mysterious moon, while the male half of the equation--the rather inglorious by comparison ejaculation--can happen any old time and place, for our benefit and pleasure. And our culture generally doesn't begrudge us doing just that. Still, you get the sense that if we could, we would remove males from the process altogether. Our perfect woman, Mary, was allowed to do just that, or so the story goes.

And so the woman bears, too, the weight of responsibility in George Bush's culture of life (a culture whose roots stretch back more than 2000 years), responsibility to cultivate not just a child, but our traditional awe at her beautiful (unseen) gift/power (perhaps beautiful *because* unseen? the male gift, out in the open, offers so little mystery as to be banal.). And so, a fertilized egg inside her comes wrapped with promises, threats, and the duty of protecting innocence and the soul itself. But, a fertilized egg outside her? As Matthew quotes John Danforth rightly pointing out, most of us, including conservatives, can clearly see the difference between "cells in a petri dish" and human life.

So, why the criminalizing distinction? Isn't this just another way for men to try and control women for the furtherance of their own deeply-ingrained mythologies? This contradiction--which would grant humanity to embryonic cells inside a woman, but deny it outside--would see the womb as the temple in which God Himself reaches out to touch mankind; the place where the soul itself is born. Males--at our best--can only manage that event in art, on chapel ceilings and the like. And so conservatives feel empowered to deny women the right to decide what they may and may not cultivate in their own bodies, primarily because they want to believe something magical happens in the womb and nowhere else.

Well, it is wondrous. But it is not magic. And that reverential mythology is not a justifiable burden to place on women, even as we adore and are awed by all of nature's biology. As Matthew says "you sort of have to be a man" to hold such requirements and beliefs, that would gladly suffer the destruction of embryos for research and for fertility clinics (for which hundreds of thousands of embryos are destroyed) and call it science, but would criminalize a woman for doing it, and call it murder.

If the Schiavo case has done nothing else, it has brought into full light the question of human life. I have been shocked, though I suppose I shouldn't be, to hear conservative TV pundits aghast at the reality--known to all the rest of us--that feeding tubes are in fact routinely removed; ventilators are turned off; determinations are made that there is no recognizable human life there. What gives a life its humanity? its capacity to commune with others? its memory? consciousness of its own existence? Is a faint heartbeat all that constitutes a human life? Does it require a womb? must it feel pain? joy? anticipation? Must it merely be an organism with the potential for such?

Will we let all cells that meet the minimum imaginable requirements hold the same place in our laws, and our religion, and our hearts, that a baby does, or a sibling, or a parent? I would suggest that, as argued in Matt's piece, we already do not, and we should not. And so long as we don't, we must not demand it of women just to further our own cultural-religious mythologies of the womb.

Let's be about the business of valuing, and honoring, human life with all of the dignity it deserves and desires. Human. Life. It is, today, struggling with decisions, disease, hunger, pain, poverty, war and hatred, sacrifice, cruelty, disaster and disability; and it dreams and plans--when it still has the will--for opportunity, freedom, justice, friendship, peace, community, love, family and beauty. It is in the pursuit of those things--both the great and the small, the joyful and the harrowing--that the fingertips of God touch us all. And the enactment of those things, not the reproductive chemistry of cellular biology, is the temple in which the soul is born. Care toward a dignified--even when difficult--human life is the duty of us all, not just the females among us. There is much to be done on that front.
More rights the right-wing should consider
Why should pharmacists and doctors have all the rights when it comes to refusing service for religious reasons? Here are a few more I thought of that should be next:
1. Bartenders/waiters refusing to serve alcohol: opposition to drinking
2. Judges refusing to hear divorce proceedings: no broken promises to God
3. Cabdrivers refuse to drive to strip clubs or casinos or bars
4. Movie theater box office workers refuse to sell tickets to R-rated movies
5. Fishermen refuse to pull in shrimp (god hates shrimp)

I'm sure I missed many--help me out.

The point is this: you're a pharmacist. I have a prescription. Give me my damn drugs. If you don't want to dispense legal drugs to people with prescriptions, don't be a pharmacist. It's kind of the job description.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

MGM v. Grokster
An analysis of the Supreme Court argument today is here.
Culture of Life
Billmon says it all with 2 quotes. Unbelievable.
Nutjobs at the Helm
Why are state legislatures always crazier, even, than the state population? The old days of voting for the reasonable, thoughtful candidates that won't do anything too stupid are over. Now it's divide and conquer to get elected, and then wreak havoc once you're in. Why bring this up today? The Michigan House passed (that's right, passed) a bill that would allow doctors the right to refuse service on religious or ethical grounds; like, for instance, if you don't really want to help gay people live.
The legislation permits doctors to refuse service to anyone on moral, ethical, or religious grounds (race is excluded). The Michigan House simultaneously passed legislation allowing health insurers and facilities to avoid providing or covering health care procedures that violate ethical, moral, or religious principles reflected in their bylaws or mission statement.
Between this and the new push to allow pharmacists the right to refuse to fill prescription contraception, I think the whole country is going stark-raving mad. The American Constitution Society has more on both stories.

We don't let ministers practice medicine if it results in harm. We shouldn't let doctors practice religion when it results in harm to their patients either. We can only hope the Michigan Senate somehow has more sense.

Monday, March 28, 2005

MEDIA MONDAY--DELIRIOUSLY SLEEPY FROM LATE-NIGHT TRAVEL EDITION
What have you been watching, reading or listening to?

The Future of Innovation Technology at Stake Tomorrow
Will the Supreme Court change course on the Sony-Betamax decision? Will companies be held liable for all infringing activities that can be accomplished with their products? Arguments are tomorrow in MGM v. Grokster. Who's paying the bills? Mark Cuban.

The Coolest Radio Station Ever?
David Byrne has launched an online radio station that plays through a 3-hour playlist of what he's listening to/recommending these days. How often will he update it?
The song list will be updated periodically (how long is that really, in Earth time? Well, it depends on my listening habits.) As it reflects what I’m listening to, some songs will hang around longer while others will get dumped and replaced quickly.

Like many people, I listen to a wide variety of music, and some of it is, ahem, more appropriate at certain times of day than others. We here are not responsible for adverse affects from playing the wrong music at the wrong time. Hope some of this is enjoyable.
I found it easier to go through ITunes, since I use that anyway (under "radio", "eclectic"), but you can use any player. (thanks to--and thank god for--boing boing)

Springsteen inducts U2 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
I recently discovered Tim Riley's blog (he wrote my favorite book on the Beatles). He points to the hilarious and glowing induction speech the Boss gave earlier this month. This is the first I've heard of it. Read the whole thing.

Project Greenlight
Sorry, I may be the only one here who cares, but episode 3 premiers tomorrow night (on Bravo). I have become curious--maddening as that is in this case--about what happens with the director, John Gulager. Hopefully the people behind the show know there is a limit. As out-of-place as he may be in the professional film world, and as strange as some of his mannerisms, I'm tuning in to see if he can wrap his arms around this project and make it his own, whether or not it's successful commercially, and whether or not he wins over the entire team. I would prefer they fire him if the alternative is to continue demeaning him. If it keeps up like this for the next few episodes, they'll lose me. I'm more interested to see if he can make a film that he's happy with than one that anyone else is happy with. They've shown him to have an Ed-Wood-like capacity to be rather uncritical of anything he does. If that turns out to be the case, this show will be disappointing.

For the interested: there are blogs by some primary players who comment on each episode's happenings without giving away what happens next. Can't help but notice that while the 2 writers (including Marcus, from Deb's hometown!) are blogging the show, John is not. Makes me think they may have canned him. On the other hand, I was pleased to read Marcus's feelings that the show had really drawn out some of the antipathy toward Gulager beyond the way it really felt in real life. He also sounds like he has genuine respect and no ill-will (the kind you might have if an eccentric derailed your best shot at making it in the movie biz.) toward John.

So, either Marcus is just being courteous or the show may yet take a turn toward the humane and artistic. Since I'm guessing John is about to have the studio take a hard stand against him on casting his family in all the lead roles, it may get worse before it gets better.

Meanwhile, has anyone seen the new South Parks? I've managed to miss them all so far. Thumbs up, down, sideways?

Weekend Box Office
1. Guess Who
2. Miss Congeniality 2
3. Ring 2
4. Robots
5. The Pacifier

Out of ideas...top 3 films are all remake/sequels. I first saw the Tracy/Hepburn Guess Who's Coming to Dinner when I was in high school, and thought it was real funny and have always assumed the interracial relationship made for a fairly risky comedy subject in 1967. So, what's the point of redoing it now? Just some Bernie Mac Meet-the-Parents moments with Ashton Kutcher?

Lost in Translation
Kevin Drum reports that any Office-Space-on-TV hype for the new NBC (BBC ripoff) show The Office is way off the mark:
Long story short, the American version didn't do much for me. Unlike Office Space, in which we get parodies of recognizable types, The Office seemed to offer up parodies of parodies, or perhaps parodies of Martians. The characters barely even seemed to be recognizably human, let alone engaging mockeries of people we all feel like we've met at some point in real life.
I haven't seen it, and now I know not to. Anyone seen the British version?

Tom Waits' 20 "most cherished" albums of all time

From The Guardian (with Waits' comments on each), here's his top 6 (Frank Zappa and Elvis Costello make Tom's list further down..):

1. In The Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra
2. Solo Monk by Thelonious Monk
3. Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart
4. Exile On Main St. by Rolling Stones
5. The Sinking of the Titanic by Gavin Bryars
6. The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan

Friday, March 25, 2005

Jesus was an American, Right?
For those of you who don't give a rip about Baptist life or Baptist politics, my apologies. You have no need to read further. You'll just have more time to revel in the Wildcat love this weekend.

For Christians, this week is perhaps the most significant week of the year. I am ashamed to confess that when the President of the Southern Baptist Convention brought a convocation message to the Tennessee Baptist Convention this week, it was not a message about the miraculous Easter event. Matter of fact, the resurrection didn't even get an honorable mention (or any mention at all).

At a time when attention should be on the event that is the bedrock of the Christian faith, Southern Baptist Convention president, Bobby Welch, shows up to distribute literature about the upcoming (in June) Southern Baptist Convention meeting to be held in the Nashville. As if totally forgetting to mention Easter wasn't bad enough, the literature he handed out is covered with images of the American flag! The graphics are done in such a way that some of the people in the photos are literally wrapped in the flag. I was sickened and saddened. I was not, however, surprised.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Weekend
I'm off for a completely undeserved vacation this weekend. Mark has agreed to handle the guest post on Friday, so make sure you come around and comment on whatever he has to say. The rest of you who have guest-posted in the past please feel free to chime in over the weekend with posts. And maybe someone can throw in a Go Big Blue headline when warranted (just in case that's the lucky charm that's gotten them 2 wins so far.) I'll be back in time for Media Monday.
Draft Impending?
Stars and Stripes reports on the striking concerns of Army Vice Chief of Staff Richard Cody, who warns that the all-volunteer force we have now is stretched thin, that recruiting is "showing cracks", and that our present active military are not being adequately cared for. We have heard this kind of warning in political debates, but this is the first time I've seen such high-ranking military officials offer such a dire short-term outlook.
In the end, says Cody, it comes down to simple questions like, “What kind of Army do you want to have? Is service to this country important to you?”
[SNIP]
“The all-volunteer force is close to breaking right now,” said retired Maj. Gen. Edward Atkeson, now a prolific author on military affairs and a senior fellow at the Institute of Land Warfare. “When it does break, that’s when you’ll see the draft come back.”

Atkeson said cracks are already showing with the use of stop loss to keep troops in beyond their active contracts and massive reserve mobilizations.

“The worst-case scenario is that things just continue as they are.”
Hmmm, the same kind of doomsday language Republicans use about leaving social security unchanged. Somehow, I put more faith in the Major General's words.

Is there any doubt that some form of draft will eventually have to be implemented to avert a total military breakdown? Every month I see new stories about recruiting goals not being met, and no new stories about troop deployments decreasing. And this growing deficit promises to arrive much quicker than 2041. Why does this real crisis not warrant more reform-minded attention than social security? What is the Bush plan? Hope we can get out of Iraq in time to regroup and replenish?

I can think of 2 ways to make volunteer service more attractive:
1. Compensate military appropriately. Higher pay, better, more reliable benefits.

2. Make it less likely that they will die or lose eyes, arms or legs. Start with being more careful, deliberate, and honest about which conflicts we join, or start.
(tip of the hat to Doug for sending a link to this story)
Meanwhile...
The Bush Administration is putting the kibosh on officials who are starting to wonder why social security is getting reform attention when Medicare is in clearly worse shape. Kevin Drum has the answers.
Schiavo Politics
Over at Kos, they've picked up on a quote from David Sirotka in a Washington Post piece (note the misuse of "begs the question"!) in which he reaches a similar conclusion to the one I did earlier: that this is not the winner for Democrats that the polls imply. Of course Kossaks think he's wrong and that this will help usher out the arrogant GOP now that the public sees them clearly and disagrees.

But let me throw another couple of logs on the fire of political pessimism. Let's suppose Sirotka and I are wrong, and that the public is not, overall, impressed with the zealotry of protection and principle that Republicans are trying to present. Let's say a clear majority does in fact believe Congress is not standing on principle (hence, respectable), but on politics. That interpretation doesn't help much.

1. People want to root for those that champion their cause. Republicans may have picked up even more support among that minority who oppose right-to-die efforts. And the flock will have increased the fervor with which they show that support. That's more money, more volunteers, more determination to spread the total GOP message among those who may disagree with them on this one issue.

(And can you imagine what we'll have to listen to should the poor woman die tomorrow...on Good Friday? It's bad enough her legal fate is being sealed Easter weekend.)

2. Where will Republicans lose support over this issue? What is the profile of the person who previously voted Republican or crossed lines and will now be more likely to vote Democrat? Haven't the GOP already given that libertarian strain of Republicanism reason enough to bolt, well before this issue?

3. Even though a majority disagrees with congress, they're telling pollsters the GOP doesn't really mean it--"they're just playing politics". In truth, the modern Republican Party is run by fanatical madmen. Once the public realizes that then we're getting somewhere. Until then, the GOP is getting a pass on this issue from the very people that disagree with them. When we actually get the majority to oppose a Republican position, we want them to believe that those officials mean it, don't we? Now, we only have people believing that elected officials play politics. And they think both sides do that equally.

This is not a winner for Democrats, though not much of a loser either. Let's not drop the ball. Our winning issue of today is social security. Judging from the round-the-clock coverage, I'd say they've pretty well changed the subject. This religion and politics thing is not going to go away.
"Hot Tub" Tom Delay is smoking crack [UPDATED...for accuracy with help from the comments]
His logic (a must read...you won't believe it):

1. "Hot Tub" Tom Delay is under attack by liberals.
2. Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation is under attack by liberals.
3. Terry Schiavo is helpless under attack by liberals.
3.1 Her suffering is a gift from God to help uplift the righteous conservative cause.
4. These personal attacks on three innocent sweet Americans are cruel and inhumane and all part of the secret anti-conservative plan headed up by George Soros.
5. Vote Republican!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The least mad hypothesis

Wow. Mendel's theory of inheritance thrown out the window? What if RNA contained a "backup" copy of a species' standard genome that would allow an organism to "revert" to a healthy state should both parents contain the same genetic deficiency. Inheritance theory says this is impossible. But scientists now say that is the only decent explanation for the Arabidopsis. Wouldn't this change our basic understanding of evolution?

And if human RNA contained a similar escape button? Wouldn't we need only figure out a way to press it? And then, genetic disabilities be gone? Really, I'm just asking.

Link above is to the NYTimes story. The Nature article is here.
This is the best they can do?
The social security trustees' report is out. They plied the numbers (by, for instance suddenly deciding that we're all going to live longer than they thought we were last year) and the best they can do is roll back the year in which the trust fund runs out from 2042 to 2041. Naturally, the media's take bears a shocking resemblance to the White House statement: the deadline's getting closer!! Nevermind that they changed the rules, and that it's not getting much closer.

At Mother Jones' blog, Bradford Plumer covers some details, and points to this handy graph that shows that even with the strangely pessimistic new assumptions even the Trustees' report concedes that the long-term stability of the social security fund appears stronger than it did only last year.
Frist = Hypocrite
From DC Inside Scoop, a blog with enough self-loathing to have actually read Frist's book from 1989.via Atrios
"And, although Frist writes frequently about the ethical issues surrounding transplants--for example, the question of when death begins--he approaches these issues in starkly scientific terms, with little patience for religious objections.

"Near the end of the book, for example, Frist suggests changing the legal definition of 'brain death' to include anencephalic babies, who are born with a fatal neurological disorder but show just the slightest hint of brain-stem activity. Such a change would make it possible to harvest their organs for transplant--something the Catholic Church and pro-life groups oppose. 'Three thousand anencephalic babies were born a year, enough to solve our demand many times over--but we never used them.'
It's probably too much to hope that the brain-dead media will actually hold him accountable for this switch.
The Onion headline
"EPA to Drop "E", "P" From Name."
(from Kos)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Episode 2
Anybody else catch Project Greenlight episode 2 tonight? I'm predicting they will fire the director and go back and get their second choice in the next couple of weeks. It's hard to see how this could ever work. It was painful to watch tonight.
Repeating Mistakes
Here we go again with the poll numbers. Democrats are taking comfort in the public's disagreement with Republican intervention in the Schiavo case. But as usual we Democrats are determined not to learn any of the political lessons we have been taught.

Republicans are dead wrong on this issue. Of course. And a clear majority believes that they are. But, it does not translate into political capital. Why? Because people also respect Republicans for standing on this principle. Sure, in a poll people will claim it is all about politics. But when was the last poll in which a cross-section of Americans did not take the opportunity to question the motives of Washington politicians? Americans like to say that Washington does everything for political gain. Public cynicism is the new black. But deep in the American psyche, people want to have a protector in charge. The fact that Republicans go too far in that role only enhances their status as ultimate protector, even if there are surface disagreements over details.

I'm not saying that we should adopt the Republican stance. They're completely wrong and disgustingly inhumane here. I am saying that any idea that this is a political winner for Democrats, just because a poll says the public disagrees with Republicans, is a misguided one. So long as the Republicans are perceived as standing on principle, and protecting the helpless, they will hold the trust of the American people, even if the majority disagrees with them in their application.

Republicans (must) know this. Democrats would do well to learn. And as usual when I'm feeling pessimistic, I hope I'm wrong.
CSI Pressure?
In the local paper today comes the news -- shocking to me -- that the defendant in a horrific rape/murder/arson case in a dorm room at Western Kentucky University was found not guilty. I have no idea what the evidence was. The jury may well have come to the right decision. At the time of the arrests it seemed pretty clear. One person pled guilty and implicated/testified about the other. But the jury found the case lacking because there was no physical evidence. Of course, the criminal made pretty sure of that by burning the poor woman. And like I said, maybe the prosecutors found the wrong guy; I suppose that happens far too often.

But I can't help but wonder if juries these days have raised the standards of proof beyond the reasonable, thanks to TV shows like CSI that depict insanely complex, yet always conclusively solvable, layers of evidence. On top of that are the inevitable plot twists that thrive on making the least likely into the reality, week after week. So when a defendant can construct a fantastical, bizarre defense, who's to say that's not reasonable? Given the turns of Law and Order cases? The LA Times considered the same issue with regard to the surprising Robert Blake acquittal.
Juror Cecilia Maldonado was among the majority of jurors who said she felt from the beginning that the state had not proven its case. She said she would have liked more of the kind of evidence she has seen in the cases on "CSI."

"I just expected so much more," she said, acknowledging that such television crime shows created "a higher expectation" for her.
In the days of Perry Mason, did juries have a higher expectation that witnesses would be exposed or swayed to confess by a piercing cross-examimation? What relationship does our love of an interesting trial story have on our collective assumptions about evidence and proof?

It is at least in part a good thing. How many more prisoners have to sit in jail for 30 years before a DNA test exonerates them? Maybe these new standards will keep innocent people from being convicted (or prosecuted in the first place), even if they send more violent criminals back out into the public in the process. But that standard comes at a heavy price - literally. Most prosecutors can't begin to afford, in money or time, the kind of crime lab technology championed on television these days (and some of that is probably made up anyway). What juries are saying is that anyone can be reasonably assumed to be lying about anything. Testimony beyond that of the physical evidence inspectors means nothing. Even the wildest explanation can be plausible. Only your unseen irrefutable trail can convict you. And I would think that crimes rarely provide such a neat trail.

Monday, March 21, 2005

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

Twist Endings
Slate's David Edelstein suggests the 20 most absurd twist endings. I agree with many. His readers added some others which he posted. My favorite: Passion of the Christ ("He's not really dead!") What twist endings aren't on the list but should be?

Star Wars III
Lucas now says it will be "a real tearjerker"... I don't want to have a bad attitude about it. Really, I don't. If you haven't seen the trailer, it is here. It made me hopeful. "Tearjerker" does not.

Is 12-tone music dead?
Kyle Gann considers the ongoing (lack of) usefulness in teaching twelve-tone composition to college students. I can identify. Much of what we teach music students borders (or jumps headfirst) into the realm of the useless. But I would give up a handful of archaic things (for you initiated few: like 4-part chorale writing, which consumed 80% of my theory classes as a student) before bypassing 12-tone approaches in my own theory sequence. Even its perceived uselessness can be an important tool toward understanding the mindset and aesthetic of mid-20th century classical music.

But as a composer I can also attest that 12-tone can be an instructional compositional outlook as well, as a gateway toward serialism, an approach which need not be taught so rigidly as it typically is. It takes a little flexibility and creativity, but teaching 12-tone as a relevant tool can indeed be done. And given its dominance over classical music so recently, I think skipping it is a mistake. For you non-musicians, it would be somewhat akin to skipping dadaist art in art classes just because the students find it too weird. That having been said, I am not arguing against more attention to relevance--my entire teaching style is built on it. I'm just saying it's up to us to demonstrate to them what is, or can be, relevant. Not the other way around.

We should start by listening to the music our students listen to (there are some entire theory courses today that could have been made up of exactly the same material in 1830. Last year, I had a colleague tell me he teaches his theory courses like they are history classes...ugh!). Not only does that make is easier to connect topics to relevance (how would most of today's music theory teachers even know what counts as relevant?), it builds credibility with our students when we have to convince them--in their present state of knowledge (ignorance)--of a connection that may not be intuitive; that is, when we have to teach. Still, the suggestion to teach plunderphonics is one I endorse, and teach myself. But why not privilege the techniques of the 1950s over those of the 1650s? Even when the relevance to today is not experienced on the surface.

Movie reviews I haven't read
I don't like to read reviews before I see films. Usually the preview gives away too much as it is, and reviewers give away even more. But here are NY Times reviews that oscarwatch says are positive assessments. Beyond that, I don't know what they say. If you don't share my hangup, you may want to read...
--Manhola Dargis on Millions (the preview has already convinced me to see it, barring a spate of reviews I hear are negative...)
--AO Scott on Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda

King of Pop?
Article 19 favorite Jody Rosen, writing in the Nation, tries to remind us how Michael Jackson became famous in the first place--as a genius songwriter and unparalled singing talent. Chris Rock has a funny joke, told in the context of ridiculing Jackson's penchant for little-boy relationships (of some kind or the other): "Remember when we argued about who was better, Michael or Prince? Prince won." Rosen's doesn't address the comparison himself, but his heralding of Michael's musical career certainly calls that conclusion into question.
(T)he Jackson who emerged as a solo artist in the late 1970s was preternaturally sleek, charismatic and confident, a perfect superstar for the post-soul era. He was the first performer to assimilate disco, which had dominated the charts for a couple of years, into a wholly personal style, combining its sumptuous grooves with the songcraft and vocal expressiveness of classic soul. You can hear that style budding in "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)," the huge 1979 dance hit recorded with his brothers, and then bursting into flower on his solo breakthrough, Off the Wall (1979). The album was Jackson's first with producer Quincy Jones, and to many purists it's his best, an irresistible mix of suave soul, soft rock, pop and funk.

But it's Jackson's singing that propels Off the Wall. Here was the sound that would conquer the pop charts across the world: the limpid falsetto voice, strangely higher at age 21 than it was at 13, which could dip into a buttery midrange or explode into squeals, hiccups, grunts, "hee-hees" and other James Brown-on-helium exhortations.
His musical promise and undoubtable influence make it that much more sad--no, pathetic really--that his legacy will be forever equated with strangeness and perhaps even criminal behavior; pathetic both for the one who will be remembered, and the ones doing the remembering. Michael Jackson has become famous now only for being famous. The prequel to Courtney Love. His talent and his genius slayed by his own hand (the one with the glove I suppose), with a little help from this age of the voyeur we live in. Read the whole thing.

New CD Releases
Only three more long weeks until that new Mariah Carey comes out we've all been waiting for. I'll see you at Tower Records at Midnight. Until then, maybe the new Yo La Tengo (3-disk retrospective), or the new Beck next week will actually be worth picking up.

Weekend Box Office
1. The Ring Two (I liked the first alot--very spooky--but the second can't be any good. If you see it and I'm wrong, let me know.)
2. Robots
3. The Pacifier
4. Ice Princess
5. Hitch

You have to go down to # 11, The Upside of Anger, to find something that looks worth seeing (that I haven't already seen). And that has Kevin Costner in it.

Project Greenlight
The new season may be worth watching--I caught the first episode over the weekend. The interesting thing about this show concept is watching the process of making a movie, and rooting for a first-time director to jump-start a career. The failure is that it typically devolves into a clash between studio mentality/demands and artistic wishes, so it's less about the logistics of making a film and more about the logistics of marketing a film. Since the director is new, he has virtually no pull in this process, and rarely wins these battles. (A more interesting show may be to watch the process through with an established director...).

This season, this clash promises to be even greater. The director they chose, at Matt Damon's behest, was clearly the most talented but may be a nightmare to work with. He's a middle-aged eccentric loner recluse. His wishes are not so much career-related; he wants to make a good interesting film. He is exactly the kind of project this show was designed to promote--the talented and opportunity-less.

Either he will thwart the studio with his strangeness, or they will crush his fragile spirit. The first would be interesting to watch. The second, not so much.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Republican Senate votes for more abortions
The Senate voted down a bill 53-47 that would have helped cut down on unwanted pregnancy by promoting programs that provide education and greater access to prescription and emergency contraception. Over the weekend I heard a representative of Planned Parenthood speak about the bill, offered by Harry Reid and HIllary Clinton, and it makes so much good common sense that I find myself surprised that even this republican Senate could not support it.

And while I was concerned when I heard headlines a few months back that Senator Clinton was "softening" her stance on reproductive rights, I was encouraged--at that same meeting--to read her entire speech on the subject. It is fabulous and right on point. Check it out.
This decision, which is one of the most fundamental, difficult and soul searching decisions a woman and a family can make, is also one in which the government should have no role. I believe we can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women. Often, it's a failure of our system of education, health care, and preventive services. It's often a result of family dynamics. This decision is a profound and complicated one; a difficult one, often the most difficult that a woman will ever make. The fact is that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
She went on to point out that most women spend a far greater percentage of their adult lives trying not to get pregnant than they do trying to conceive. This legislation would have made that effort simpler, more effective and more accessible. The consequences of keeping it more difficult is nothing less than a higher abortion rate. That is happening as well.
Where's the Outrage? [Three Updates]
UPDATE #3: Think Progress (via Kos) catches White House press secretary McClellan saying the exact opposite of the truth in response to a question about Bush's signing of the Texas Futile Care Law. Of course, we expect that kind of thing from the people that brought us the Clean Air and Healthy Forests initiatives. Should the Schiavo story continue, we can look forward to Bush himself contradicting his former self and misrepresenting the truth about the 1999 law.

UPDATE #2: Liberal Common Sense (via Talkleft)has a profile outline of the federal judge hearing the Schiavo case.

UPDATE #1: Kevin Drum has the poll numbers (not that I will ever trust those again) to show that Americans by large margins are not buying either the content or the motivations of Republicans intervening in the Schiavo case; and the Carpetbagger (via Drum) points out how the religious right has succeeded where war, devastation and national security threats have all failed: in getting President Bush to cut short a vacation. At least we know where his priorities are.

While republicans yell and spin their heads over the Schiavo case, and run roughshod over the separation of powers in the process, it is worth remembering that loved ones and care providers make difficult decisions every day about maintaining futile care and living with dignity.

That dignity is not commensurate with a persistent vegetative state, and certainly not with political power-brokers inserting and removing a feeding tube on national television. That's why George Bush as Governor signed into law the Texas Futile Care law. And because of that law, 6-month old Sam Hudson was taken off a ventilator over the objections of his parents last week.

I don't hear Tom Delay screeching about that though.

The only possible difference is vegetative state vs. terminal condition. Why the Republican congress and the right-to-life folks (who were supporters of the Texas law) have decided that there is a possibility Terry Schiavo will return and regain consciousness and health, despite all medical promise to the contrary, is beyond me. Parents and families grieve and even disagree through these horrible situations every day. There's no reason to drag this one through the press, and change federal law to try and "win." If states and state courts can't decide the definitions at the heart of these struggles, what can they do?

Delay is a world-class prick.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

First Sighting Last Night
A Bredesen for President bumper sticker.

Although given the venom I heard directed toward him this morning at a breakfast of county Democrats, Phil may have to change parties--in name in addition to his spiritual transformation--to have any help.

This isn't the style I saw yesterday, but there are some Bredesen for Pres goodies here.

His second term had better be an improvement.
Go Big Blue! Part 2 (of 6?)
It's all about the defensive rebounding. Cincy's going to miss plenty of shots. Can KY keep them from gobbling up the offensive glass and putting back the easy ones?
Tipoff around 7:10 Central.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Chicks in the News: Guest Post by Deb

Don’s generous offer to allow guest posting on Fridays has resulted so far in three well written commentaries on meaningful issues: B Lewberry’s treatise on exercise and health, Kenny’s missive on racial profiling, and Doug's discussion of memory and legacy. All thoughtful, first-person accounts on issues that are poppin’ fresh from the headlines, and made us ponder our own behavior related to the topics.

I think this dangerous trend toward evocative posts on socially relevant issues that shape our very lives has to stop. I mean geez, it’s Friday. And I’m just the fluffhead to derail the trend and set an appropriate Friday tone with observations on Chicks in the News.

Here a chick: I wish there were some sort of medical device to measure degrees of hatred so I could know for certain if I hate Karen Hughes more than I hate other sanctimonious conservative women. Wolfowitz wasn’t the only toady to get his reward for loyal servitude this week with a prime appointment. Karen comes off the mommy track to grace the State Department as undersecretary for public diplomacy. Public diplomacy, even as we are so admired throughout the world. I loved the fake Hughes quote on Wonkette, and I edit for FCC standards: “We need to stab these mothercluckers in the eye with the generosity and compassion of the American people!" She looks like a gym teacher, but will surely win hearts and minds.

There a chick: Media Monday has not yet touched on one of the hottest TV shows dominated by chicks. I’m not talking about “Desperate Housewives,” please, I’m talking “The L Word” on Showtime. If all lesbians looked like these babes, you guys would probably be SOL as even straight girls would reconsider. Jennifer Beals looks awesome, her castmates are all gorgeous with fantastic wardrobes and hairstyles, and their relationships are as complicated and sexually charged as any hetero-based TV dramas. I know how you guys dig the girl-on-girl thing, if you’re not already Tivo-ing every episode, check it out.

Everywhere a chick chick: I hate to re-toot Showtime’s horn, but if you’ve liked “Curb Your Enthusiasm” I have to recommend “Fat Actress,” Kirstie Alley’s new Showtime reality comedy.

Yes, she’s gained some weight in the past few years and is trying to shed it – it happens to the best of us. But she’s still beautiful and more importantly funny, dealing with the topic of overweight, the last bastion of fair game discrimination and derision. I admire her attitude and courage to confront reality with humor, I’m so glad to be able to laugh at her on TV again, and I’m relieved to remember that most real women don’t look like Paris Hilton or Hillary Swank.

Share your favorite Chick story with us.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Bastards
Our State House passed the anti-gay marriage amendment to the Tennessee Constitution today by a whisker, 96-7. That's how many reasonable people there are in that circus. It will be on the ballot next year. Same-sex marriage is already against the law here, so I suppose I agree with Tennessean columnist Larry Daughtrey who speculated the legislature is aiming its efforts at those heady criminals who--though they wouldn't think of breaking a law--would never dare break a constitution.

Only 2 Nashville reps. were among the 7: Rob Briley and Janis Sontany.

This can't be good news for Harold Ford. But not unexpected.
Steroids
I think it's a good decision for congress to hold baseball's feet to the fire, though they're obviously about 10 years too late. But, really, of all the things there are to talk about, wall-to-wall live coverage of a congressional hearing on the dangers of steroid abuse? Listening to the wailing of committee members about the threat of setting a bad example for the children would make you think that every other high school locker is spilling over with needles, that football players, debate team members, and the marching band, are all sneaking off between classes to shoot up illegal testosterone.

I understand that steroid abuse can be a harbinger of severe depression and a variety of ill health, as well as being illegal. And I know that we should draw attention to what we can--the celebrity of pro athletes makes this spotlight possible. But don't you figure that other harmful, illegal things are higher on the list of destructive teenage activities? You wouldn't think so listening to TV and Capitol Hill today.

Can some of you in high school education comment on the stat I heard today that the CDC estimates 1 in 16 high schoolers have tried steroids? With half of high schoolers being female, so smarter than that, that means 1 in 8 males. Does that sound right to those of you on the ground?

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with talking about harmful stuff, and the bad examples set by adults. But it's strange to me how much attention this is getting, and how ominous the warnings suddenly are (to justify the attention, I suppose). We would do better convincing more young men that their life does not depend on--and that they have more to offer than--just a career in sports.
Go Big Blue
Tipoff at 11:20 central time.
Cats up by 8 halfway through the first half.
Cats up by 8 at halftime.
Cats up by 12 with 9 minutes to go.
Cats definitely gonna lose. Up by only 5 with 4 minutes to play.
Cats luck out. They wouldn't have beaten many teams today--looked awful.
(Is anything happening besides sports today? There are baseball players on my CSpan this morning.)
Derek Smalls Weighs In
Guest-blogging for Josh Marshall for a couple of days is none other than Harry Shearer. His first post already contains some probing insight and questions:
I’m amazed that a salient fact about Dan [Rather]’s last few years escaped notice during last week’s barrage of Rathermania and Ratherphobia. Namely, what other distinguished personage of such lengthy service in the public eye suddenly decides, in the last few years of his career, to change the side of his head on which he parts his hair? That, my friends, is plain weird. Sure, he changed the haircut, opting for the youthful short-and-semi-spiky look, and, after a lot of to-and-froing with the dye bottle, allowed himself to go gray, then white. But all that could have been consistent with the right-side part we’d come to know and....know. Somehow, Dan decided--and you’ll hear from the clips that these are decisions to which he gives long and thoughtful consideration--that all that was not enough, that the twilight of a long life on camera had to be marked with a migratory part. And nobody asked why. Until now.
You may want to keep a close eye on TPM through the end of the week.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Blake not guilty?
Has anyone paid attention to this one? Can you explain how this could happen? I was thinking it was a slam dunk, and didn't pay much attention. But what do I know - I thought OJ was guilty (Kobe too).
George Bush is on Crack (but we already knew that), Part 2 of a Series
His logic goes like this (to be performed as a dramatic reading):
1. Social Security will go broke - insolvent! insolvent! We must do something for the children!
2. Private accounts carved out of payroll taxes will do nothing for the solvency issue!
3. We must have private accounts carved out of payroll taxes, for the children!
4. I don't want to talk about solvency! Give me private accounts!
5. Democrats are irresponsible - they don't even have a plan!
6. I don't have a plan! It would be wrong of me if I did!
7. Social Security will go broke - insolvent! insolvent! We must do something for the children!

Repeat.
Lack of Communication
Italy is bolting the Iraq coalition? Their people are still against the war? Haven't they heard that through our collective efforts, democracy is spreading throughout the Middle East? Like wildfire? Maybe they don't get CNN out there. Success! Success!
A Smorgasbord of Shame
Check out notproud.com. An online service for public anonymous confessions of wrong-doing. Conveniently ordered by major sin group. I think I have an understanding that some unhealthy kind of voyeurism is at the heart of interest in reading such things (oh, do i). But what exactly is the motivation for posting such announcements?

It is a truly bizarre place. And, in case you're at work, you might not want to go read what's in the "lust" category. Come to think of it, you might not want to read that wherever you are.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Happy Ending: Media Monday Update
Thanks to assistance from Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, who enlisted the intervention of their lawyer, Peter Paterno, Sony has agreed to drop the case against Beatallica. www.beatallica.org should be up and running again soon. This is a fantastic development in the name of creation and humor. Details and more links at boing boing.
Republicans Against Bankruptcy Legislation
Those of you in-or from-Nashville may know of Dave Ramsey, a local debt management/financial planning consultant with a radio show that has gone national. He makes good sense in general, so long as he's not talking national policy. But even he has come out against the Republicans on the bankruptcy bill.

The House version of the bill is HR 685. Of course, it will pass. But I'm interested to see how some Democrats will vote, especially Harold Ford. He aspires to hold Frist's Senate seat. I just don't see how a yes vote joining Republicans really helps him out, other than making him able to claim the mantel of bi-partisanship. Since none of his potential opponents are required to vote, I would expect them to appeal to lower and middle-class voters by hammering him should he vote yes. I could be wrong, but I feel like states like ours are crawling with Dave Ramsey types that cross party lines.
Alan Greenspan is on Crack
Here's his logic as I read it:
1. I supported Bush's tax cuts for the rich because I thought that "large surpluses would stretch into the future."
2. I was wrong about that. We have deficits instead.
3. Deficits are bad for the economy.
4. As more people retire and collect social security, our practice of running deficits will become even more problematic.
5. I still like the tax cuts.
Conclusion: we should cut social security benefits.

Read the story of his testimony today and see if you can find a hint as to whether he's smoking crack or if he's using it some other way.

Monday, March 14, 2005

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

Lewberry recommends DVDs: The Blind Swordman: Zatoichi and Word Wars. He also suggests you leave Halle Berry-Sharon Stone fights where they belong: in the forefront of your imagination and off of your TV.

Project Greenlight
I watched this show last season on HBO, even though it has lots of I'm-embarrassed-for-you-cringe-moments, which normally I hate. This season it's on Bravo and starts this week. I still think it's funny that Ben Affleck gets to help decide which script seems most promising and worthy of effort and money. I'm not saying they should fire him - it's his show. I'm just saying it's funny.

Tim Riley on Pete Townshend on Petra Haden singing The Who Sell Out
I don't know The Who well at all. Or Petra Haden. But this seems to have interesting people interested.

Heard Live over the Weekend
Caught 2 interesting bands over the weekend at Exit/In. VHS or Beta (kind of like if Tears for Fears and The Cure had a love-child.) was an opening act for Ambulance, who I really liked. They both seemed a bit annoyed with the Elliston Place crowd, because there was not much dancing (the former), and because a good 1/3 of the audience trickled out before the show was over (the latter). But that's what you get in this town when you don't start until after 12. Even on a Friday.

Woody Allen
I've always been a big fan, but even I have been unable to see the last film or 2 (not sure really how many I've missed). Crimes and Misdemeanors is the last brilliant one I think. But others since have been nice: Husbands and Wives, Alice, Mighty Aphrodite, Manhattan Murder Mystery. I even thought Everyone Says I Love You had some nice moments. But I can't escape the feeling in most of the last 10 or so that if I hadn't known it was his film, and wasn't trying to search for redeeming qualities, that I would have really--really--disliked them. (Here's a list of all his films)

AO Scott in the Times thinks that just the opposite is true: that we expect too much, and all the wrong things, because they are Woody Allen films:
even his most successful movies have been held up against, and have suffered in comparison to, the standard of his earlier work. Not an aesthetic standard - it is hard to deny that his skill and resourcefulness as a filmmaker have grown over the years - but one that is more invidious because it is impossible to live up to. His newer movies - 25 years' worth! - are found wanting because they don't live up to our memories of what the earlier ones meant to us.

Which was what, exactly? In the 1970's, Mr. Allen seemed to be a representative man, always a dangerous position for a popular artist. For one thing, he crystallized a distinct ethnic identity in the midst of a generational odyssey from lower-middle class provincialism to worldly success and cultural prestige - from that noisy shack under the Coney Island roller coaster in "Annie Hall" to the labyrinthine Upper East Side apartment where so many of his subsequent films were shot. But more than that, his high-strung, nebbishy, woman-crazy persona embodied a newly emergent urban male type, one prefigured in the comic strips of Jules Feiffer and the novels of Philip Roth. And Mr. Allen's particular blend of high culture and low, his autodidact's ardor for Dostoyevsky and Ingmar Bergman coupled with his roots in Borscht-belt standup, represented something new and potent on screen, a sensibility at once romantic and cynical, utterly silly and striving after some kind of intellectual seriousness.
[SNIP]
There is also the intimation that the world he conjured up so brilliantly - of anxious, white, erudite New Yorkers falling in and out of love as they haunted revival houses, used book stores and the paths of Central Park - no longer quite exists, either as a social milieu or a cultural reference point.
Manhattan remains my favorite film of all time I think. And anyone would could write Love and Death, or Hannah and Her Sisters, should be heard just for the chance to run across the occasional poignant or hilarious (or both) line, even inside a mostly craptacular movie. All this comes up now because his newest film, Melinda and Melinda, is set for US release this weekend. I'm hopeful - and will probably see it - if for no other reason than Will Farrell.

Million Dollar Baby: A Liberal's Disappointment
Boston College law professor and friend to Article 19, Kent Greenfield, expresses his wariness about the film as a guest poster to the American Constitution Society blog here. Warning: It is a spoiler. He addresses many of the issues that have concerned me in earlier posts, but he says it way better. Meanwhile, the NYT profiles the film's screenwriter for, among other things his complex characters...

The Northeast vision of the poor South is really shockingly, cynically stupid.

More on Beatallica
Boing Boing posts on the band and its plight can be found here. I only recently actually heard the music. Mash-up is probably the wrong word for it. It's really arrangements of Beatles songs in a different style and with significant changes to the lyrics. Echoes of the Beatle versions can be heard throughout (melodies, counter melodies and background vocals). It's in a funny place between a cover and a parody. Kinda like Weird Al, but funnier in a more creative kind of way. And without the permission Weird Al gets, whether he needs it or not.

Listen to SxSW Music Online
In the comments, Doug and Stevie T recommend (and I agree!) the South by Southwest Music Festival site that lets you listen to tunes for free.

Metacritics on New Music
Highest reviews of new and recent music releases on Metacritics:
1. Antony and the Johnsons--"I am a Bird Now" (87/100)
2. LCD Soundsystem--"LCD Soundsystem" (87/100)
3. Roots Manuva--"Awfully Deep" (86/100)
4. Bright Eyes--"I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" (84/100)
5. Buck 65--"This Right Here is Buck 65" (84/100)

Weekend Box Office
1. Robots
2. Pacifier
3. Be Cool
4. Hostage
5. Hitch

Haven't seen any of the top 5--and no plans to. You?

Beatallica
Arrangements of Beatles classics in the style of Metallica. With some lyrics changed to indicate Metallica influence. Sadly, Beatallica is under a cease and desist order (thanks, Sony) to keep them from distributing the music online. It's great fun, though. "And justice for all my loving..."; "Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band.."

Sunday, March 13, 2005

IT'S AWESOME BABY!!!
Do you think you've got what it takes? Are you king of the brackets or just sweet sixteen? I'm throwing out an invitation to all Article 19 readers - join my tourney pool. The group password, which you'll need when you join us, is: itsawesomebaby

Its free, so you got nothing to lose. Plus you might win some fabulous prizes -ok the prizes are most likely beer -but it's still free. You'll need to register with cbssportsline, which takes all of 2 seconds. Then you can join in the fun, b/c its awesome baby. The pool will have live updates so you can check your progress while the Zags (a 3 seed this year) continue to win! The brackets will be posted tonight.

Brackets are here. --don
Kentucky
Bad day for the commonwealth in hoops. But a decent, overdue day in public health/tax policy:
Kentucky's 3-cent-a-pack cigarette tax - the lowest in the nation - will rise to 30 cents on June 1 as part of a tax overhaul passed by the General Assembly this week.

The hope is that the increase will help solve the state's fiscal woes.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a physician who originally proposed a 31-cent increase, called the move "historic."
Why not make smoking ridiculously expensive? In a tax devoted to health care? There's virtually no cigarette tax level that would be too high for my taste. Or better yet, just buy out all the tobacco farmers.

As for the hoops team, I've thought all year the Wildcats have benefited from a weak league and some smoke-and-mirrors coaching magic from Tubby. At this point, 2 wins in the NCAA tourney is all we fans can ask. 3 would be great. 4 would be amazing. It takes 6 win the whole thing. As long as Duke doesn't win, I'm content.
Where've you been?
Try this form (via Yglesias and others) - generates html that announces where you've been (in bold), where you've lived (underlined), and where you live now (in italics). Mine is below. Which one would you most like to change? I wouldn't mind seeing California one of these days. Also, New Mexico.

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C /

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Momentum of Freedom
Great cartoon from Tom Toles.
What do I know about Trade?
Not very much--unless you count the sting of my brother having traded our Johnny Unitas football card for a few Star Wars cards back when we were kids. Still, I was skeptical of the argument I've heard a few times that Greenspan/Bush are allowing the dollar to weaken on purpose, and should, to improve our trade deficit, since it makes it cheaper to buy US goods. Do I have a counter-argument? No. But I do have evidence. The dollar is still weakening. And the trade imbalance has never been worse than the stretch we're in.

So, what's the plan now?

Friday, March 11, 2005

GUEST POST: KENNY B
Thanks for guesting on such short notice--Don

How much of our freedoms are we willing to give up for our own sense of safety, property values, etc? Or I should say, how much of OTHER PEOPLE's freedoms are we willing to give up for our own safety. My wife and I are expecting to soon move to East Nashville, a historic area that is reviving but still has a reputation for crime and poverty.

Recent local news stories have heralded the Nashville police efforts to crack down on crime by a high number of traffic stops. (For the life of me I cant find them on the web now, but I read them). These stories and opeds laud the fact that police are stopping a huge amount of automobiles in east nashville and also searching more cars which is leading to more drug and weapons charges. During this love fest, no one has raised the issue of whether this is also showing an increase in illegal stops and search and seizures. (which helps no one because the cases get thrown out, or if not, we have allowed someone's rights to be trampled on).

My time in Boston at a criminal defense clinic taught me a lot about the well-founded lack of trust minorities have of the justice system. Many of our cases started with improper searches of minorities or their vehicles. I launched some novel theories to attack the traffic stops based on a new law in which Massachusetts required police officers to identify the race of everyone they stopped on tickets. A freedom of information act request revealved shocking statistics. In one of my cases, in the three months prior to my client being pulled over, officers had stopped more than 90 percent black or hispanic individuals. Yes, this was a predominantly black and hispanic area, but not 90 percent.

It seemed to follow what I learned from my law school colleagues. In my criminal procedure class, the professors asked people who had ever been stopped to raise their hands, and about 75 percent did so. He began saying, how many have been pulled over twice, three times, ... and hands began to drop. When he got to six, every black law student's hand in the room was still up. They each had a story to tell that would make you gulp.

Everyone says they are against racial profiling and acknowledge that it exists generally. But they never seem to be willing to admit that a specific situation indeed is ever really profiling. They expect the proof to be that some police officer on the CB says, hey there's a minority, pull him over. Of course, that type of proof is never there. What we are left with is a whole country of people who admit racial profiling is awful, but 90 percent of the country think that it only happens in someone else's neighborhood. As I was going to tell a judge (until my law school supervisor correctly cautioned me): Prosecutors and Judges acknowledge racial profiling in speeches and at weekend cocktail parties. But Monday thru Friday in criminal court, they'll be damned if they ever see a case of it.

A Tennessee lawmaker is asking police to keep the same records of stops here. But, my question generally is how do we convince white middle class types to stand up for civil liberties when they rarely have the type of threats to their liberties that minorities do? In this homeland security area, where do we draw the line even if it means the bad guys get away?
--Kenny B

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Bankruptcy Bill Passes the Senate
75-24. Clinton abstained with Bill in the hospital. Matthew Yglesias observed yesterday that Indiana Senator Evan Bayh's vote on the correct side of the cloture vote in light of his likely Presidential run in 2008. But with the vote on the bill, Bayh returned to the dark side (where, frankly, he looks more comfortable) as one of 75 voting yes on bankruptcy tightening.

Why bother trying to hold up a vote if you're just going to cave when it gets there?

Presidential Scorecard...
Voting with the credit industry: Bayh, Biden, Hagel, Frist, McCain, Santorum.

Voting with reason and good sense: Boxer,Feingold, Kerry

Headed the right way, but saved by her husband's operation: Clinton.

UPDATE: If Matt is right (he probably is) that Bayh's vote demonstrates some political cunning, what does Hillary's abstention demonstrate? Makes you wonder how she would have voted.

Anyway, if Bayh's a genius for voting againstthe bill (tapping the Democratic base, like with the Condi vote) and a genius for voting for the bill (political cunning), that pretty well makes him a genius no matter what he does. Must be nice. The only way to blow it now would be to announce that he "actually voted against the bill before voting for it."
Article 19 Topic Revisited: Mis-use of Logical Fallacies
I don't suppose there's any reason in resisting the will of the people on this point, at least if it means I am being needlessly snooty just because I had a Philosophy class or 2 in college. Kevin Drum is tired of being battered over misusing "begs the question," especially when it's misused way more than it's properly used. Maybe it's time for us complainers to just shut up about it. Anyway, people who make as many mistakes as I do probably can't afford to nitpick.
More Greens for God
Link
The association [of Evangelicals] has scheduled two meetings on Capitol Hill and in the Washington suburbs on Thursday and Friday, where more than 100 leaders will discuss issuing a statement on global warming. The meetings are considered so pivotal that Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, and officials of the Bush administration, who are on opposite sides on how to address global warming, will speak.

People on all sides of the debate say that if evangelical leaders take a stand, they could change the political dynamics on global warming.
Lieberman and the Bush Administration are on opposite sides? That sounds like news.

More enviro(funda)mental logic:
"We're not adverse to government-mandated prohibitions on behavioral sin such as abortion," he said. "We try to restrict it. So why, if we're social tinkering to protect the sanctity of human life, ought we not be for a little tinkering to protect the environment?"
Moderate and progressive religious leaders need to step forward and take the lead on this issue. Of course, I'll be glad to see something good happen for the environment either way, but reasonable religious folks need to see more than just new faith-based arguments. They need new leaders to follow.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Religious Holiday
Consider this an open thread - no posting until maybe late tonight. What's on your mind? Mine is focused on one thing - it's Elvis Costello at the Ryman night. I assume people that go on a yearly religious pilgrimage feel a little bit like I do today. Does anyone else have pseudo-spiritual artistic experiences? I want to know about them. Or whatever else you're thinking about.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Article 19 Activity Time
Wanna try the experiment that produced the budget wish list in the post below? Here you go. Here are the instructions laid out in the study questionnaire.
As you may know, the White House proposes a budget to Congress. In this survey, you will make up a budget for 17 major areas of the budget. We’re not including some big entitlement programs like Medicare or Social Security, which by law cannot simply be adjusted year to year. For these 17 areas, a budget of about $912 billion has been proposed for 2006. Please imagine that you have $1,000 of your tax money to divide among these 17 areas.
Here is how your $1000 is presently allotted, by the President's '06 budget:
--Education.............................................$75.23
--Energy: Conservation--Developing Renewable Resources..$2.37
--Job Training and Employment...........................$7.87
--Medical Research......................................$32.04
--Veteran's Benefits....................................$34.46
--Homeland Security.....................................$29.96
--Housing...............................................$32.92
--Environment and Natural Resources.....................$30.72
--UN and UN Peacekeeping................................$2.48
--Military Aid to Foreign Countries.....................$8.97
--Humanitarian and Economic Aid to Foreign Countries....$15.56
--State Department......................................$6.66
--Space Program and Science Research....................$27.10
--Federal Administration of Justice.....................$45.12
--Transportation........................................$76.22
--Defense/Military......................................$478.96
--Iraq/Afghanistan Supplemental.........................$93.36
--Deficit Reduction .....................................$0.00

To see how the respondents adjucted the budget (made up of about 30% independents, 33% Republicans, 35% Democrats), check the study here. I listed the increases/decreases that a majority agreed upon in my post below.

This is probably more properly an exercise in psychology rather than a gauge of true public priorities; some of these categories are more explicit in purpose (veteran's benefits) than others (transportation). Still it's interesting. These programs, at 910 billion, amount to less than half of the total budget which is over 2 trillion. Still, if you wanted to balance the budget using only these 17 program areas, and if my math and understanding are correct, with the proposed deficit at 390 billion, you'd need to bring that deficit reduction number up to about $428.57 from 0---almost half of our allotment. Which would you increase? Which would get cut?
Spring Break C-Span Watching [UPDATED]
We discussed the evils of proposed bankruptcy reform below. The Senate is pushing through the bill, and have killed all reasonable amendments, including one to exempt military personnel, to carve out a safety net for those who file bankruptcy due to medical catastrophe, and Kennedy's amendment to raise the minimum wage, among others. In an hour or so, at 1:15 central time, the vote on cloture will occur. Democrats are in a caucus lunch at this time. If they cannot stay united and defeat the cloture vote, this bill will pass the Senate and will have smooth sailing in the House. Krugman discusses the importance of this vote today:
When everything else goes wrong, Americans can still get a measure of relief by filing for bankruptcy - and rising insecurity means that they are forced to do this more often than in the past. But Congress is now poised to make bankruptcy law harsher, too.

Warren Buffett recently made headlines by saying America is more likely to turn into a "sharecroppers' society" than an "ownership society." But I think the right term is a "debt peonage" society - after the system, prevalent in the post-Civil War South, in which debtors were forced to work for their creditors. The bankruptcy bill won't get us back to those bad old days all by itself, but it's a significant step in that direction.

And any senator who votes for the bill should be ashamed.
This is a difficult issue for Democrats because so many Americans are convinced that any and all financial debts are moral issues. And, since we are all in a land of equal opportunity, any request to come out from under those liabilities is not a sign of weakness and suffering so much as it is an immoral act of irresponsibility. This bill in many ways sums up the Republican surge of the last 12 years. There is still a chance the cloture vote can be defeated. 41 votes are needed. Stay tuned. A helpful blog devoted to the bankruptcy bill is here.

[UPDATE] The cloture vote passed I'm sorry to say, 69 -31. Democrats voting to keep the Republican war on the poor rolling along included: Nelson (FL), Nelson (NE), Carper and Biden (DE--home of MBNA), Lieberman (CT), Byrd (WV), Landrieu (LA), Lincoln and Pryor (AR), Stabenow (MI), Johnson (SD), Conrad (ND), Kohl (WI), and Salazar (CO).

In truth, there are only 31 Democrats in the US Senate. Mental note for 2008: Clinton voted for poor people; Biden voted to strengthen the hammer of the credit industry.
$1 Billion
That is our national interest payment on the federal debt. Every year? Every month? No. Every day. Representative Gene Taylor of Mississippi says it is immoral to do this to future generations. Meanwhile, a new study (pdf file)shows that if voters could change the federal spending budget in their own way, revenue neutral, what they would most increase is payment on deficit reduction. And what they would most decrease is the defense budget. So they vote for Bush. Go figure.

Programs the majority of the public would cut in spending:
--Defense (on conventional war expenses) 31%
--Iraq and Afghanistan supplementals 35%
--Transportation 18%
--Justice Administration 21%
--Space Program and Science Research 5%

Programs the majority of the public would increase in spending:
--Deficit Reduction
--Education (39%)
--Energy (1090%)
--Job Training and Employment (263%)
--Medical Research (53%)
--Veteran's Benefits (40%)

Monday, March 07, 2005

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

Doug enthusiastically recommends Art Brut's single, "Formed a Band"! Their official home page appears to be here.

Lewberry recommends the documentary The Weather Underground, now on DVD.

"When I Was Four I Knew I was Weird."
The Guardian has an intervew with Robert Crumb, who is about to have a retrospective art showing in London. He is one strange bird. The documentary about him, Crumb, is one of the more disturbing film portraits I've ever seen, perhaps most of all when you realize that he is the normal one of his family. I have a hard time being moved much by his very honest artistic expressions when they are so clearly that of a racist and a textbook misogynist. And that's just how his wife describes him. If all he did was marvel over the butt of Serena Williams--as he does here--without drawing pictures of himself having sex with headless women, he might be a more charming neurotic.

Famous Wrappers
Edward Sozanski of the Philadelphia Inquirer offers his closing thoughts on The Gates
Give the artists credit for creating a spectacular public event. Yet as the 7,500 orange panels began to come down Monday, I couldn't help but wonder: Does public art now have to be bad to be effective, accepted, even loved? Because as art, the big-footed, 16-foot-tall "gates" - gallowslike frames hung with pleated fabric panels that arched over 23 miles of park walkways - defined banality.

Yet the $20 million installation inspired what amounted to a worldwide pilgrimage to see the latest creation by the world's most famous wrappers of buildings and girders of islands.
The Atkins Diet Opera
Link
Opening in Oxford on Friday, the production - which extols in rhyming couplets the virtues of avoiding carbohydrates - is one of the high-spots of an annual tour of Ig Nobel award-winners, given as ironic counters to Nobel prizes for those who carry out research 'that should never be repeated'.
The Smallest Studio with the Smartest Plan and the Biggest Library
Today's NYT tells the story of one of the only remaining independent film studios, Lions Gate, which released Fahrenheit 9/11 among others. It won't last forever, a likely takeover target. Note its place in box office and video charts below...[UPDATE: "independent" shouldn't be confused with "quality", I suppose, having read Ebert's defense of his 1-star review of Lion's Gate's Diary of a Mad Black Woman. He's being accused of not "getting it." It sounds like I probably wouldn't get it either.]

Weekend Box Office
1. The Pacifier
2. Be Cool
3. Hitch
4. Diary of a Mad Black Woman (Lion's Gate)
5. Million Dollar Baby

Weekend Video Rentals
1. Saw (Lion's Gate)
2. Taxi
3. Ray
4. The Notebook
5. I [Heart] Huckabees

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Read this
I don't know if it's true or not. But if it is, it's one of the damnedest things you'll ever read, a diary from DKos. Read it through to the end....

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Non-Starters
I like Robert Reich--he's a smart guy, committed to making government work for lower and middle class folks. So, I clicked the link with anticipation when I saw the headline that promised his new plan for improving schools. But, here's his plan: undo all property tax school-funding systems and replace them with a national "wealth" tax in which we would pool one-tenth of one percent of our assets and allocate them to school districts based on their size and need with the goal of lowering class size and attracting quality teachers everywhere.

Letdown.

Listing the reasons why this will never happen would take longer than explaining the plan itself, starting with the predictable (and maybe appropriate) public recoil over federalizing the public education systems.

This reminds me of Paul O'Neill's "plan" to fix social security and Medicaid by instituting a new system that would guarantee every American a one million dollar annuity at retirement.

These are serious and intelligent men, living in the real world, right? Aren't there enough possibilities for action here on Earth that they could be working on? I can at least imagine that O'Neill may have hoped that, in the haze of social security options no one likes, his bold solution could gain bi-partisan traction in a thinking-outside-the-box kind of way. He would have been wrong, of course, but still.

But what is Reich's excuse? Is this kind of utopian "planning" ever useful? And how? When was the last time we undertook such a fundamental change, no matter how good an idea it may be? Maybe there are examples of this kind of thing being embraced that I am missing. But right now, I would think Marketplace might want their money back for that effort, and I would like my last 5 minutes back...

Friday, March 04, 2005

Legacy and Memory: Guest Post by Doug
I've been thinking lately about legacy and memory. This was caused by a recent work project I was researching. We were looking for biographical information about various people, some I'd heard of and many I hadn't. One name that was new to me was Jose Yglesias. We didn't find enough about him to include him in the project, but I did find enough to make me wonder why information was so hard to come by.

Yglesias was a writer of fiction and nonfiction, and his work appeared in the highest-profile newspapers and periodicals: The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, et al. He died at age 75 not quite ten years ago. (I wonder if we'd have more information if he'd survived a little bit longer into the Internet age.) He was prominent enough that upon his death, he rated a mention in Time magazine's Milestones column, but he seems to have fallen into obscurity fairly quickly. He has left a bit of a trail behind: His son is novelist and screenwriter Rafael Yglesias (he adapted his novel Fearless for the Peter Weir/Jeff Bridges film), his stepson is author and Columbia film professor (and former SDS activist) Lewis Cole, and his grandson is American Prospect staffer and blogger Matthew Yglesias (who I'd add to the Blogroll at left, if I were Don). But except for suggesting that the elder Yglesias really did have writing in his genes (although any influence he had over Cole would've been of the nurture rather than nature variety), his descendants don't really tell us much about the man or his work. Jose Yglesias's father was a cigar-maker in the Ybor City section of Tampa, so I asked a friend of mine who works in Ybor City if he could nose around and find out anything about him. Even after checking with local libraries, he came up mostly dry (some of the info the reference librarian gave him was incorrect, to boot). I'm sure there's information to be had, but I'm not exactly sure how to go about getting it.

All this certainly begs the question of what legacy we leave behind and how we are remembered, but I'm more intrigued by how those of us who are still here remember. What do we owe to the memory of those who have gone before us? How can we make sure that people or things that are no longer with us remain in the public memory? Who are some writers, artists, or performers that you want to keep from fading into obscurity?

As for me, I'm intrigued enough about Jose Yglesias that I've ordered his first novel, A Wake in Ybor City. I'll let you know what I think.