Saturday, April 30, 2005

SS Topic #2: What is the Wage Index anyway, and how does it affect Social Security Benefits?
The national average wage index is used to compute social security benefits. It is a table of average wages and year-to-year wage growth. (you may notice that the last 3 years have been not only the only 3 consecutive years to register sub-3% growth, they are also the only 3 consecutive to register sub-4% growth over the last 50 years)

When you turn 60, your highest 35 years of income will be indexed, that is adjusted to translate each of those years' income into the language of present-day money. This is done by multiplying it by the ratio created when you divide the average wage of the year you turned 60 by the average wage of the year in question. So for a person retiring at 62 in 2005, the 1970 earnings are adjusted by multiplying the number by 5.5066 (because the 2003 wage index, 34,064.95 divided by the 1970 wage index, 6,186.24, is 5.5066.). They add up these adjusted earnings into one sum, and divide it by 420, the number of months in 35 years. This gives the Average Indexed Monthly Earnings number (AIME). This number is ultimately filtered through a percentage system that already benefits the lowest earners more than higher earners, and then multiplied for cost-of-living increases during a person's retirement to calculate actual benefits.

So, changing the index used to calculate the average earnings that will be the heart of the benefit calculation is no small adjustment. The index is used not to increase benefits while you are retired (like I had wrongly assumed, like the cost-of-living increase), it is used to translate earnings from previous years into a present-day context, to assure that if you managed average wages in 1970, it affects you just the same as being an average wage earner in 1990, even though obviously real earnings would be higher in 1990. It really affects this fundamental question: how much did you earn while you were working? Using the wage index, as they do now, will translate past earnings one way; using the price index would translate past earnings, thus answer that question, in a different (smaller) way.

Bush's plan, so far as anyone can guess, would still use the wage index to adjust the earnings of low-income workers, but would use only a price-index to adjust the earnings of maximum earnings workers (90,000 and above). Earners in the middle would see a combination of wage index and price index to adjust their previous years' earnings. This change would be phased in for future retirees.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Topic #1: Whose Benefits Get Cut, and by How Much? [UPDATED Saturday]
Kevin Drum starts us off with a handy uncomplicated chart, derived from analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Drum explains:
Basically, low income earners ($16K/year) currently get about 49% of their income replaced by Social Security. Under the Pozen plan, [ed: the Pozen plan is the inspiration for Bush's new tact.] this would stay the same. Medium income workers ($36K/year), however, would see their replacement rate fall from 36% to 23% by the year 2100. The replacement rate for higher income workers ($58K/year) would fall to 14% and for maximum income workers ($90K/year) to 9%.
That's plenty of cutting. And remember, we could do absolutely nothing and in 50 years--if the worst-case-projections of payroll tax revenue come true--everyone's benefits would be cut about 20 percent. (36 to 23 is a cut that's about double that).

Where do these goal numbers come from? The NYT says the goal is to shift the standard benefit increase from a wage-index to a price-index. But this would be a sliding scale, so the lower income you are (and that's measured at 16,000 a year), the closer your increase would be to the quicker-rising wage index. Upper income (and the top level is 90,000) would be increased with the price index.
Only people with the lowest wages would be distinctly better off under the president's plan than they would be if Social Security reserves were allowed to run out, as is projected happen in about 2040 or 2050. When there are no reserves left, enough money from Social Security taxes will be raised each year to pay about 70 percent to 80 percent of scheduled benefits.

Mr. Bush argues that people will still be much better off because the increased returns from the private retirement accounts he would create would more than offset the guaranteed benefit cuts.
Think Progress points out that Bush's definitions have changed slightly:
to sell his tax cuts, Bush implied that anything under $100,000 was “low income.” Now, to sell his Social Security package, anything over $20,000 is “better off.”
I'm all for providing greatest protection to the lowest income, and glad to see the President on board with that kind of thinking. I hope that any bill that happens to pass includes a progressive element. But doesn't this sound like the middle class really gets screwed here? And not for the sake of really uplifting the poor with real opportunity, but only for the sake of keeping the mostly impoverished from falling over the cliff into abject poverty once they reach retirement age?

[UPDATE-Saturday: Today's NYT puts a finer point on the reality of these proposed cuts and the President's reverse judo move that now has him self-appointed as champion of the poor, putting the Democrats in an awkward position, if they're smart enough to realize it.
President Bush has chosen to recast the 70-year-old retirement program as one that would keep the lowest-income workers out of poverty but become increasingly irrelevant to the middle class and the affluent.
[SNIP]
In his radio address on Saturday, Mr. Bush sought to cast himself in the Democrats' traditional role as a defender of the poor. "Benefits for low-income workers should grow faster than benefits for people who are well off," he said. "By providing more generous benefits for low-income retirees, we'll make good on this commitment: If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire into poverty."
This is so misleading it would be funny if I wasn't worried it might actually work. It's one [good] thing to say "Benefits for low-income workers should grow faster than benefits for people who are well off." I happen to agree. It's quite another thing to accomplish that not by increasing the rate of growth for low income workers (as he deceptively implies), but by cutting them dramatically for everyone else (many of whom have a good claim on that "low-income worker" moniker themselves.) But Democrats would make a big mistake in being cavalier about this just because they're winning on saving SS (from the President) so far. This help-the-poor game strikes me as a stroke of Rovian evil genius.]
Setting the Stage: The "Problem"
As we dive into the details of Social Security overhaul and phase-out proposals, let's keep in mind what reality is driving this charge. We want Social Security to pay for itself. Payroll taxes of today provide benefits of today, in relation to the amount the recipient contributed, back when they were offering payroll taxes. The tax rates, the caps, the benefit level calculations are all designed to keep that system rolling and stable. This year, and for many more years into the future, more money will be coming in than is going out.

But, if we do nothing at all--nothing--Social Security intake will only be able to provide benefits at about 75% of the current levels starting in the year 2052 (some still use the outdated 2042, but that projection has been revised).

So if the system needs changing at all, it is only tweaks here and there to make up that difference. Why do I say "if"? because projections are very conservative and based on pretty pessimistic assumptions. That's why, for example, the projected end date can just be suddenly moved out another 10 years. Reality eventually catches up to the low-ball revenue estimates. So it's reasonable to think that doing nothing will push us even further into the future than 2052.

So, the President, the one who does nothing about global warming projections that may drown our coastal cities in 150-200 years; the one that does nothing about North Korea and Iran getting weapons that could threaten the very existence of Western Civilization; the one that has done nothing to fix the budget he has left in such disrepair that the public debt in 2050 will be a far greater concern than some social security shortfall. In other words, our President has paid no mind whatsoever to any number of legitimate looming catastrophes; and yet, this potential fender-bender, almost 50 years down the road, has consumed the first 100 days of his second term.

So, even if he comes up with a helpful way to avoid that trouble for the even 100 years beyond that, that doesn't make him not still a moron and pathetic President.
Something Different: A little edumacation
I'd like to try something a little different this weekend. Because this Social Security plan involves alot of things I don't understand as well as I'd like, I will spend a few days posting exclusively about it as I educate myself (and you educate me). Hopefully by the time Media Monday comes around we'll all have a good handle on how the President's plan works, and what may be good and bad about it. As you find things that seem illuminating to you, post links in the comments, or email them to me and I'll get them online.

So come back throughout the day and the weekend and we can all learn how to talk to our Republican and Democratic and Independent friends from an informed perspective. Even if further inspection means we have to acknowledge parts of the President's approach we find agreeable.
Transcript
Of the Bush Press Conference. I didn't get to see it, but a quick scan over the questions makes me think it was pretty boring - not much to it. Tell me what I missed.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Slumping Yankees get Touchy-Feely
Haaaaa-aaaaa:
Chad Bohling, the Yankees' director of optimal performance, made his first appearance at Yankee Stadium yesterday. The Yankees hired Bohling to be a motivational and mental skills coach for the entire organization, although they have been vague about his responsibilities. He declined to be interviewed, saying that it is part of his agreement with the Yankees that his work remains confidential.
What's next, Yankees start broadcasting their games on the O Network? Or at least re-arrange the game-time schedule so they can all watch Oprah and Dr. Phil?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What's W Up To? [updated]
Bush to hold prime time news conference Thursday
Unexpected announcement? Trying to stop the bleeding on approval numbers? Details on Social Security? Entering the filibuster fray?

Will an actual prostitute ask a question again? Or just the usual media whores?

[UPDATE: According to Scott McClellan, via TPM, we're going to hear some details about Social Security, and some thoughts on rising gas prices. Josh has THE question that must be asked. If we had an actual press corps, they would ask it just like this:
Mr. President, will you guarantee that all the money that you and your predecessors (Clinton, Bush and Reagan) have borrowed from the Trust Fund will be repaid in full with interest, as prescribed by law? And if so, why are you trying to convince people that Social Security runs into any difficulties at the end of the next decade?
But of course, they won't. I want to hear his horrible and ridiculous thoughts and plans and explanations, but I dread hearing their horrible and ridiculous questions. Maybe one of these days they will pleasantly surprise us, but it will take more than one gutsy reporter. He could shrug off one.]
Wheel Spinning
I'm getting a bit tired of conversations regarding Democratic core beliefs, even though I've engaged in them myself. They have 3 parts: 1) Republicans' beliefs are real simple and catchy; 2) Do we have core beliefs on the other side?; and 3) What the hell are they?

Even though this has been a near-constant liberal blogosphere issue ever since the election, and a bit before, this week Kos weighed in again, and now Yglesias and Kevin Drum too.

I have 2 mild beefs with this whole thing right now, and I'll be darned if they don't contradict one another, as is--some would say--my specialty.

For one, can we just get off the idea that it's a good and admirable thing that Republicans see the world through an overly simplistic set of (mis)understandings that lend themselves to the same, non-responsive (dis)solutions for every situation? One of the main reasons their policy anticipations are almost always wrong is that they do in fact emanate from such simple models of human/economic/governmental/cultural/environmental behavior. Their simplicity and their portent for error are not unrelated Republican phenomena. Because their ideas are so simple, they remove almost all hope of ever being right.

My second concern is this: how hard can it be for us to come up with simple expressions of our core beliefs? (and of course we have them)

We believe in a taxation system in which everyone pays their fair share. Republicans believe in lowness, we believe in fairness. People that have more should pay more and should have fewer loopholes not more. Businesses should have to pay for all the commercial rights and protections we as a government afford them. Close tax loopholes and ensure that those with the most contribute the most to the country's needs.

We believe in honoring workers, the engine of the economy: their sacrifices, their contributions, and their determination to provide for their family. That means the stability of a responsible wage, health coverage, family leave. It means respecting the right to organize, and providing high-quality necessities of preserving family life: education, clean air, water and food, safety.

We believe in helping those who most need help.

We believe in promoting peace and democracy throughout the world. That means international cooperation and leading by example.

We believe in our responsibility to future generations. Paying our public debt, not ravaging the environment, providing quality education and the opportunity for higher education.

We believe in personal freedom and equal rights under the law for all Americans. Even if you're gay. Even if you're not religious. Even if you're religious but not the conservative kind. Even if you're black. Even if you're a woman.

So, part of me thinks we have simple beliefs too. Part of me thinks it's idiotic to demand simple beliefs. By offering 6 instead of 3, maybe that's something of a compromise.
Staging
One of the phonies that helped usher 3 citizens out of a White House Social Security tour event in Denver (because they had an anti-war bumper sticker on their car)has been identified. You won't be shocked to know it's a Young Republicans leader, Jay Bob Klinkerman (no, really) who falsely presented others as Secret Service agents.

Of all the things that haven't seemed to generate as much outrage as is warranted with the Bush Administration, this staged "public" events fiasco is at the top of my list. Once it became known, it really should have been a source of such shame that the public opinion forced them to stop and apologize profusely, and for weeks. Campaign events are one thing, but this is a sitting President taking his ideas directly to the people, at taxpayer expense, and denying the right of half the population to even sit and listen to what he has to say.

Is there a chance Bush could be heckled? Damn straight there is. But that comes with the job, doesn't it? Absorbing the blows of dissent with poise and understanding is one of the tough tasks that gives citizens confidence and builds an aura of real leadership. I remember Sandy Berger and Madeline Albright being heckled relentlessly at Ohio State when they went there to explain and defend the Kosovo War.

If there is a disruption, legitimate security should be there to allow the event to proceed. But I thought America was designed to stand against prior restraint. And I had assumed the American people cared enough about principles of freedom that they would respond with a total refusal to accept this kind of anti-American cynicism from their elected leaders. I guess I was wrong, but I really honestly don't get it.

Maybe the Secret Service, at least, will not tolerate being impersonated for politics. But I'm losing faith in even that.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Baptist Joint Committee Alum writes an Op-Ed
Those of you familiar with the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs (a Baptist separation of church/state ally and watchdog) may want to read a Baltimore Sun op-ed(free reg. req'd) penned by Melissa Rogers, former counsel. Matthew Yglesias offers a snippet and wishes there were "more op-eds like that."
Happy Birthday! (The-Universe-Is-Sooo-Freaking-Huge edition)
The Hubble telescope is 15 years old. If you've never browsed the pictures at the Hubble online gallery, you should. Here's one of my favorites, Stellar Spire in the Eagle Nebula.
Deference?
Kevin Drum relays Senate Democrats' plan in response to Frist's threat to end filibusters through a majority vote rule change. Far from a shutdown, Senate leader Reid says the response will be to demand action on Democratic agenda items; no more deference to the majority agenda, as has been the practice. My question: why haven't we already been doing that?

Monday, April 25, 2005

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

Doug recommends The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (film || book)
Walter recommends the vocals of Eva Cassidy
Lewberry says you're better off with the acting of Carmen Electra than the acting in the film Elektra.

Poll question of the day!

With Hitchiker's Guide opening in theaters this weekend, it got me thinking: what is the best book that was made into an equally (or close) good movie?

2 TV Pitches
#1. You already know I watch and like (so far) Project Greenlight on Bravo (ch. 56 on Comcast for you Nashvillians). The producer is using the show's blog to beg for more viewers to raise the flagging ratings. Now that he thinks they finally have a decent film (or so they are saying), he's worried the TV show, an essential part of the contest deal, will be what kills it. He asked fans to pass the word, so consider it passed. As much as Gulager's own personality can get in his way, I love his outlook on the process: that without the trust in a director's vision, even if it seems super-risky,the filmmaking is done by studio committee, and the result is necessarily bland, at best. It remains to be seen whether this bland version of the film "Feast" is all they will have to promote, or if more if his voice will creep in to the final stages of shooting and editing.

Project Greenlight airs Thursday nights, but replays throughout the week. You can catch the show from episode 2 forward on May 1.

#2--Monday is DocDay on the Sundance Channel. Tonight is the last installment (of 4) of The Staircase, a real-life courtroom drama that staggers with a harrowing story. Tonight begins the defense case. The documentary was shot while the trial was ongoing, with incredible access to especially the defendant's side. Even if you have missed the first 3, this last one will be interesting and worthwhile. No matter the underlying truth, the developments in this story have been shocking and agonizing.

King of America 2-Disc re-release tomorrow
Elvis's 1986 release has always been a favorite. I can't bring myself to pay the money for an album I already have, even if there are alot of extras. But Amazon's price (13.99 for the set) is tempting.

Rolling Stone Recommendation
Bruce Springsteen's new CD gets 4 1/2 stars. You can catch him in a 2-part interview on NPR's Morning Edition tomorrow and Wednesday.

The Topical and the Simplistic
The New York Times investigates Ridley Scott's new film on the Crusades. Money quote:
[B]y dwelling on the extended, turbulent holy war known as the Crusades, Sir Ridley said he hoped to demonstrate that Christians, Muslims and Jews could live together in harmony - if only fanaticism were kept at bay.
Well, that sure sounds easy. Step #1: remove all obstacles, big and small. Step #2: Success!

Cohen for Nobel
Over at Talk...Myself to Death, Doug points to the effort underway to nominate songwriter Leonard Cohen for the Nobel prize in literature. I don't know Cohen nearly well enough, but all of my smartest students always love him, a good sign I should investigate further. So far as I know, his most popular breakthrough (at least the one I know best) is the song Hallelujah, sung hauntingly by Jeff Buckley and later on the Shrek soundtrack (of all places) by Rufus Wainright, an Article 19 favorite. Bono, among others, has also covered the tune. A nice, comprehensive web tribute to Cohen, including a list of more htan 1,000 covers of his songs, is at lenoardcohenfiles.com

Documentary Watch
BoingBoing profiles the new documentary about Enron, "The Smartest Guys in the Room":
The movie convinced me beyond any doubt that Skilling and Lay are cold-blooded criminals who wiped out the life savings of countless people, deceived 20,000 employees, and ratcheted down the global econonmy, but I doubt they'll ever go to prison. Even though the duo embarrassed and angered the politicians they placed into offce, such as George W. Bush, Lay and Skilling will live out their lives as buck-passing, finger-pointing, chaffeur-driven gazillionares. The only thing they regret is getting caught.
Weekend Box Office
1. The Interpretor
2. The Amityville Horror
3. Sahara
4. A Lot Like Love
5. Kung Fu Hustle

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Editorial of the Day
From the Lexington Herald-Leader: "Injustice Sunday:" (via TalkLeft)
[O]ne defining trait of the political and religious extremists who lead the radical right is an arrogance so strong that it does not allow for the possibility that their current reign will ever end. It is this arrogance that leads them to ignore negative poll numbers and continue their quest to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominations so that Dubya will be free to do his extreme makeover of the federal judiciary.

Thus, we in Kentucky get the "privilege" of hosting Injustice Sunday, with its assault on truth, mainstream Christianity and the concept of a fair and impartial system of justice.
Updates from the anti-freedom, anti-justice Frist event as I find them.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Colbert King says it like it is
The Washington Post columnist takes on the religious right's attack on judges and Democrats, especially Family Research Council head (and psycho) Tony Perkins, the host of Frist's controversial Sunday pandering event.
Where do those on the religious right get off thinking they have the right to decide who is in and who is out? Who appointed them sole promoters and defenders of the faith? What makes them think they are more holy and righteous than the rest of us?

They are not now and never will be the final arbiters of Christian beliefs and values. They warrant as much deference as religious leaders as do members of the Ku Klux Klan, who also marched under the cross.
Harry Reid warns of theocracy, and King compares it to the KKK. That sounds about right.

And finally on this issue, Andrew Sullivan provides this quote from JFK and rightly points out was intended to address anti-Catholic sentiment but today would bizarrely be considered an example of anti-Catholicism:
"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference ... I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish -- where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source -- where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials."
Talk like that, framed centrally within our Constitution, was once the purview of the Presidency. Today, it would relegate one to fringe status. What the hell has happened to us?

On the positive side of fringe development though, it looks like independent and socialist-leaning Vermont congressman Bernie Sanders will become the next Senator from the great state, replacing retiring Senator Jeffords. Smartly, Democrats look to be stepping aside so there's no threat of a split.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Congratulations! You're reading at a 6th Grade Level! Right Now!
Kevin Drum points to this fun site, that analyzes the text of any web address or document for "readability." A variety of scales (results below) indicate Article 19 is written between a 6th and 7th grade level (Flesch-Kincaid Grade), that it's written at the level of "most popular novels" (Gunning-Fog Index), but at least my Flesch Reading Ease number is where it apparently should be: in the 60s. Now we have hard data confirming your suspicions, and the allegations of conservative friends (like I have those): I am contributing to the dumbing down of America!

Before you blame too much of it on me though I note that whitehouse.gov scores a 5.82 on the grade level index.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Mailboxers
You know how your mailbox is constantly under attack from hoodlums, ruffians, hooligans, ne'er-do-wells, and even terrorists? Now there's an answer. Via boingboing, Mailboxers come in 3 flavors: "The Stinker" applies a smelly skunk oil onto the bat of vandals, which they will hopefully transfer to their brand new upholstery; "The BatGrabber" deploys a hidden nail system to grab the bat right out of the criminal's hand as his car drives on!; "The Tattler" is an alarm system that alerts those inside whenever the mailbox has been opened. All very afforadable (and attractive!)
Activist Judges
Americans disagree with Delay and Frist, about judges and about filibusters. Republicans really have become a fringe, paranoid bunch of extremist ideologues. Luckily for the 80% or so of us not like that, the overreaching is starting to catch on.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

New Food Pyramid

Check it out at pyramid.gov. I'm sorry to say that the little bitty yellow sliver represents the oils and discretionary (read, tasty) foods you may eat. I'm not entirely sure why everyone says the new pyramid is so confusing. It does customize based on your age and your self-reporting daily exercise level. But the only part that confused me is brown rice being listed as a dark green vegetable. But what do I know.
The Nerve of W
There ought to be a new word to describe the gall, the blunderheaded nerve that only George W seems capable of displaying. Maybe "werve." I dunno. But during the signing of the credit-card driven, corporate legislation known as the bankruptcy bill, Bush unleashed this wervacious doozy (via TPM):
"If someone does not pay his or her debts, the rest of society ends up paying them."
Josh Marshall has an appropriate response.
Not Boltin'
Like Mike Tyson's intent to crawl back in the ring, Bush and Rove shake off their beatings at the hand of Social Security and Iraq, determined to pummel their (political) enemies no matter the stakes, the consequences, or the facts at hand. It would seem they are applying the same punch-drunk philosophy to the Bolton nomination, as Bush has reiterated his confidence in the "serial abuser" up for UN ambassador.

Laura Rozen has a little background/info on Voinovich to contextualize his unexpected hesitance to follow orders, and she points to more layers of sludge oozing out of Bolton that I hadn't heard before, including his attempt to fire a Justice Department attorney for having the nerve to take maternity leave. Steve Clemons offers links to the transcripts of staff testimony before the committee.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Your Genetic Journey
Apart from the rampant pornography (sorry, couldn't choose just one link), the next best thing the Internet should be good for is the convenience of collective learning, compiling data from a wide variety of sources with efficiency and speed.

Perhaps the most fascinating example of that yet, though not without controversy, is The Genographic Project, A National Geographic endeavor profiled in the NYTimes: (via The Loom)
The National Geographic's program, if it succeeds, will create a collection of blood samples 100 times larger than the Human Genome Diversity Project did. Dr. Spencer Wells, a population geneticist at the society who is leading the program, said he hoped to head off charges of exploitation by offering money to the tribes for education and cultural preservation.

Many indigenous peoples believe their ancestors have always lived in their home territory, a credo that will not be supported by genetic analysis of their blood samples. Dr. Wells said that he would "tell people up front" that some of the results may contradict what they believe. "The idea that we have all come on a journey from a common origin is intriguing to people," he said.
The project will ultimately give you the chance to trace your DNA across tens of thousands of years of human migration. The interactive map already available astonishes in breadth and ambition. Select a time period, then an area where significant archaelogical findings yielded a particular genetic development, then follow the lines tracing that genetic marker across the globe, many of them all the way to the present day.

Best of all? You can help with the building of the genetic atlas by providing your own DNA (anonymously) to discover your genetic lineage perhaps as far back as 60,000 years. If the participation kit didn't cost $100, I would probably do it.
Voinovich!!
The Republican just announced in committee his intention to vote NO on Bolton or at least his inability to vote yes at this time, pending new information. If a vote is pressed, this would tie up the committee. He absolutely shocked the Republicans and Democrats in the room. Holy cow. True surprises happen so rarely in these things that this one was worth hearing (some people play music at work, some people play C-Span audio...). Wow. It doesn't kill the nomination, but it would keep it in committee until somebody changes their mind. Shocking. and good.

Laura Rozen has some quotes and play-by-play at War and Piece.

Steve Clemons at The Washington Note has also been all over this story and promises to stay there.
White Smoke
Pope Benedict XVI is former Cardinal Ratzinger, a 78-year-old German conservative. The bad news is that as a teenager he was a Hitler youth. The good news is he was drafted into the movement against his will. Or at least that's what he says.

UPDATE: Over at Kos, CT says it's wrong to hold any relationship with the German Army against the new Pope. It sounds like he's right.
Article 19er has a new blog!
Article 19 reader and frequent commenter Doug Tonks has his own fabulous blog! Go check it out and tell him what you think. www.talkinthetalk.blogspot.com

Monday, April 18, 2005

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

More R. Crumb
The NYTimes has an account of the artist's recent appearance and q/a at the New York Public Library.

Worst moment in lyric-writing ever?
At least the worst one that nevertheless can get stuck in my head in a seemingly endless loop.
"My heart's on fire-uh, for Elvi-ra"
An Oak Ridge Boy was being interviewed on local TV at 6:30 this morning and even though they didn't play any music, my deranged brain still started playing the damn song and hasn't stopped. I don't know which part of my cortex houses that sort of self-on-self crime (maybe the same that brands Coke), but I wish I could starve it to death sometimes.

Is there a worse moment I'm forgetting? Submissions accepted.

Project Greenlight
Not much to say about the specifics of last episode except that it's difficult to watch. The poor guy is so honest in front of the camera ("I'm not really good with, uh, human interaction."), and lacks some essential communication abilities apparently behind the camera (we don't see as much of this as we do hear people complain about it) that I can imagine his name coming to signify a prototype. This guy's really the Gulager of the bunch. Or even the prestigious verb-form. He Gulagered his way through that presentation.

This episode does highlight for me what must be the essential artistic difficulty in making a studio film. It's not the collaborative aspect, thought that can clearly be the source of trouble; it's the fact that by the time you can actually sample some of the work (like when John finally saw a rough cut of some of the dailies edited together) for pacing and whatever, alot of it is already done. Those scenes are shot and have gone by.

I would think any artist can identify with him when he's having to watch that cut for the first time and feels like a complete failure. It's not his failure at working with other people that has him depressed by episode's end; it's his sense that his work here may in fact stink. There is an inner revulsion that knows this is not what he had in mind. Though hardly an artist myself, it is exactly the feeling I've had upon hearing every piece of music I've ever written performed for the first time on its proper instruments, and all the way through; and, for that matter, the same upon reading for the first time any essay (or even many blog posts!) I've written: a voice that says "how could I have really written those things, in that order, and thought it would make any sense??" At least with music and essays --though I rarely take the kind of proper time with blog posts-- there is time to re-work and edit. That is where the real artistry comes in, in my opinion.

Convincing my composition students to get notes and rhythms down on paper so we can edit them later once we have a sense of the timing and unfolding and effect of it all together would seem to be one of the hardest lessons to learn. They approach writing as if they really should be able to--or indeed have to--make all of the right decisions as they compose. But I don't think I've written anything of substance in any medium that I didn't have to at some point rip apart, rearrange, add to, or delete from--or all of the above.

So, the fact that Gulager was turned off by the first cut of his work tells me that he is his own harshest critic and knows what the timing and look of the finished product should (not) be. And that is the best, most hopeful sign I've seen yet. I'm just not sure how you fix that in a film, now that so many scenes have already been shot. All indication from those involved is that he does find a way.

Attention Marylanders!
And I know there are some of you out there. Elvis Costello is playing a show with Los Lobos' David Hidalgo at the Rams Head on April 24. I would bet this will be a fabulous show. I've been to the Rams Head once before and remember it being quite small. An intimate night with Elvis Costello and the Pick-ups! I expect a full report.

Another positive review for Aimee Mann's "The Forgotten Arm"
This one from Paste Magazine. It's tempered with this strange warning about the concept album:
Mann has time over the course of the record to develop nuance and believability. This freedom is a blessing and a curse: while the emotional payoff of the album proves more satisfying than anything she’s done so far, the individual tracks don’t stand alone as well.
The album's great but the songs are only so-so? I haven't heard it "The Forgotten Arm" yet, but this seems like a nonsense argument.

The Liberal Media
What the hell is wrong with NBC? Revelations? More anti-science religious propaganda masquerading as family entertainment. (free Salon pass -or subscrip.- required). Did anyone watch?


Weekend Box Office

1. The Amityville Horror
2. Sahara
3. Fever Pitch
4. Sin City
5. Guess Who

I didn't expect Sahara to drop off already; I thought the word-of-mouth was pretty decent. On the other hand, have heard nothing but pans for the Amityville remake. Summer blockbusters on the way, including Hitchiker's Guide which opens before the month is up.

Article 19 Film Recommendation: Melinda and Melinda ************** (14 out of 19)
I caught the new Woody Allen film over the weekend. It's an interesting idea, exploring the comedic and tragic approaches that can be taken with the same basic story. The funny parts are very funny. But it could have been more ambitious. Will Farrell steals it.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Question Defended
The NYU law student who registered his disapproval with Antonin Scalia during a Q & A session at the school by asking the justice "Do you sodomize your wife?" wrote a defense and explanation of his tactic. It's a must-read.
The Stupidest Study Ever?
Swiped from Political Animal. I'm no psychologist (still), but does this really sound like it proves that people who feel excluded have less self-control? And also, does that really need to be proven?
In the study's first experiment, 36 undergraduate participants completed a personality questionnaire. Then, researcher Roy Baumeister, PhD, of Florida State University, and his colleagues told a third of the students--selected at random--that their scores indicated that they would likely end up alone in life (socially rejected). Another third were told that they would have rewarding relationships throughout life. In a control condition that was negative but not based on social rejection, the final third were told that they would be accident-prone as they got older, and that this would negatively affect their life.

Then, to measure self-regulation, the researchers said they'd give each participant a nickel for every ounce they could drink of a healthy but bad-tasting beverage flavored with vinegar. People who can self-regulate well are more likely to perform such unpleasant tasks for future rewards, the researchers theorized. (emphasis mine)

As it turned out, people who were told they'd be alone in life were less able to regulate their actions--they drank 2.23 ounces on average less than those who anticipated future social acceptance, and 2.15 ounces less than those who were told they'd be accident-prone.
Why would performance of "unpleasant tasks for future rewards" be an indicator of self-regulation? I don't get it.
Brain Branding
Years of advertising have left their mark on your medial prefrontal cortex. Wherever that is.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Social Justice Sunday
In a rapid response to Senator Frist's planned event on April 24, attacking our judicial system and Democrats as un-Christian, a coalition of religious organizations, including the Clergy and Laity Network, have deemed April 24 Social Justice Sunday, "inviting citizens of all faith traditions to protest this unprecedented attack."

George Lakoff has joined the call for this response in a DailyKos diary entry:
There are more religious progressives than right-wing fundamentalists. There are more of us than of them. They may be better organized, but this is changing and that change starts April 24. This is our test. Will we stand up to them? Will we write to our ministers, priests, imams and rabbis asking them to join us in speaking out?
I am fully supportive--it's time for religious and non-religious citizens who are motivated by the theme of social justice to work together and to speak up, pressing reasonable folks--particularly religious ones (there really are some)--to rethink their strict political alliance and to consider the true calling of their faith. This kind of initiative encourages an alternative enactment of those beliefs.

My only problem with this--and I hesitate to ruin the mood of cooperation and fighting back--is that it comes too late and expects too much. The right-wing politico-religious empire has spent decades organizing, indoctrinating, and fanning very specific flames, and the Family Research Council has likely spent many months organizing this specific event, designed to take advantage of that network. I would have preferred a response date in a month at least, to give a chance for this to be implemented. Lakoff's challenge to the progressive religious community:
Will they put signs on their places of worship celebrating "Social Justice Sunday?" Will we organize and hold candle-light vigils and marches on the evening of April 24? Will we invite the media to sermons on Social Justice Sunday and to vigils?
is about as unrealistic and unaware as I can imagine. I'm for it, and will do everything I can to help its presence here in the 'ville. But, The kinds of things that are needed to make something like this remotely effective require time and strategy.

Reactionary is sexy. An organized, compelling and competing vision is sexier.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Right On
Part of Harry Reid's statement (via Atrios)on Bill Frist's planned assault on American values (Front-page headline in today's Tennessean: "Anti-Democrat Christian Event to Include Frist"). I was skeptical of Reid, but he has won me over in a big way as leader with his strong principled stances:
God isn’t partisan.

As His children, he does ask us to do our very best and treat each other with kindness. Republicans have crossed a line today. America is better than this and Republicans need to remember that. This is a democracy, not a theocracy. We are people of faith, and in many ways are doing God’s work. But we represent all Americans, regardless of religion. Our founding fathers had the superior vision to separate Church and State in our democracy. It is a fundamental principle that has allowed our great, diverse nation to grow and flourish peacefully. Blurring the line between Church and State erodes our Constitution, and our democracy. It is a blatant abuse of power. Participating in something designed to incite divisiveness and encourage contention is unacceptable. I would hope that Sen. Frist will rise above something so beyond the pale.
Frist's recent maneuvers and this in particular represent political pandering at its most crass (and that's saying something).
THE TAXMAN COMETH - a guest post by B. Lewberry

In my last guest posting, I had indicated my intention to create a theme to my postings - sort of a "fitness friday." However, since today is tax day, and since I am Article 19's official tax jockey, I've been tapped to talk a little bit about taxes. Don - thanks once again for letting me ramble on.

This day in history

Couldn't we have picked a better day than April 15 as the last day of the year to file taxes? Its the day the Titanic sank (and even worse, the day the Molly Brown survived the sinking of the Titanic, giving rise to the terribly crappy broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Its the day Lincoln died. The day Castro visited the U.S. The day the 1st Infantry withdrew from Vietnam. The day Leona Helmsley began to serve her 4 year prison term. Talk about bad cosmic vibes! If days could have karma - you'd want to stay at least 50 yards away from the train wreck that is April 15 at all times. We should have probably declared April 15 to be a federal holiday rather than the day we file our taxes.

How then did April 15 come to be known as tax day? Until 1955 taxes were due on March 15. Congress chose the new date to give IRS employees a break.

Mo Money: Wacky Taxes in Tennessee.

So all of us, presumably, have filed our taxes (or at least we've filed for an extention). And we're feeling bad when we finally see exactly how much of our hard earned money has been turned over to the Feds. But wait...there's more. Like most states, Tennessee has tried to figure out all sorts of ways to raise revenue. As a result, there are all types of taxes that most folks have never heard of. Tennessee taxes just about everything. There are taxes on soft drinks (both on the bottlers and for those who sell set-ups for mixed drinks). There are taxes on gifts, inheritance, tires, all kinds of professions and businesses, tobacco, liquor, beer, coin-operated amusements, etc. etc. OUCH. Tennessee also has an income tax, albeit on unearned income from receiving interest income from stocks, bonds etc... by the way....this tax is due April 15!

My favorite of these strange taxes is the unauthorized subatances tax , a.k.a, the "crack tax." The unauthorized substances tax is a state excise tax levied on controlled substances (marijuana, cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, etc.) and certain illicit alcoholic beverages (untaxed liquors and spirits). It took effect July of 2004. All you drug dealers can rest easy...if you choose to purchase the tax stamp, the process is completely anonymous. Just remember to affix the stamps to your drugs before you sell them. Once the tax due has been paid and the stamps affixed, no additional tax is due even though the unauthorized substance may be handled or possessed by other individuals in the future. Well that's some good news!

IRS Policy on Weight Loss (welcome back to fitness friday)

I'm returning to the topic we discussed in my last guest posting. After doing my 1040 and practically itemizing myself to death, I have come to the conclusion that what we, as Americans, should be allowed to deduct what we spend on our attempts to lose weight and stay physically fit. After all, we're an obese nation, right? So I looked into it a bit. Shouldn't we reward healthy behavior?

Well, no. In Rev. Rul. 79-151, the IRS held that an individual’s “cost for participating in a program designed to help (individual) lose weight is not deductible as a medical expense under section 213 of the Code, but it is an expense the deduction of which is prohibited by section 262. Section 262 provides that no deduction shall be allowed for personal, living, or family expenses. Rev. Rul 55-261, 1955-1 C.B. 307, question 9 at page 310 holds that “ordinarily, fees paid to a health institute where the taxpayer takes exercise, rubdown, etc. are personal expenses.”

“Such fees,” continues the text of Rev. Rul. 79-151, “may be deductible as medical expense only when the treatments by the institute are prescribed by a physician and are substantiated by a statement by the physician to be necessary for the alleviation of physical or mental defect or illness of the individual receiving the treatment. Furthermore, Rev. Rul. 55-261, question 16 at page 312, holds that amounts expended for the preservation of general health or for the alleviation of a physical or mental discomfort that is unrelated to some particular disease or defect are not expenses for medical care.” Don't forget that note from your doctor.

So I'll leave you these questions. We give tax breaks for all kinds of things, like owning a NASCAR track or producing bows & arrows. In fact, last year Congress passed tax breaks that will give businesses $143 billion back over 10 years. If someone gets a tax break for importing Chinese ceiling fans.....then shouldn't we be allowed a deduction for the money we pay in pursuit of physical fitness? Doesn't that save everyone money in the long run? And now that you’ve filed that 1040, what other expenses do you wish the IRS allowed as a deduction? Why?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Legion of Doom?
Eric Rudolph will spend the rest of his life in jail--which is what he deserves and can only be a small downgrade from being on the run from the FBI the last few years, living in the woods.

I don't believe in the death penalty no matter, and I don't think it's a deterrent to crime, but in this case it may have been a deterrant to trial. Prosecutors got a confession, defense saved his life. It's a judicial win-win.

And talkleft has a brief profile of the incarceration that faces him. Like the secret lair of a bad superhero show, the facility that will likely house him in Colorado is also home to many other evil masterminds:
Richard Reid, "Shoe Bomber" - along with:

THEODORE KACZYNSKI, 56, the Unabomber, serving four consecutive life sentences.

TERRY NICHOLS, 43, now serving life for the Oklahoma City bombing

CHARLES HARRELSON, 59, the father of actor Woody Harrelson, is serving two life sentences for the murder of a federal judge.

RAYMOND LUC LEVASSEUR, 51, member of a U.S. radical group, serving 40 years for bombing buildings and attempted bombings in the 1970s.

EYAD ISMOIL, 27, serving 240 years for driving the rental van holding the bomb in the World Trade Center attack.

YU KIKUMURA, 46, Japanese Red Army terrorist, serving 30 years for transporting bombs in preparation for an attack on a Navy recruiting center.

LUIS FELIPE, 35, leader of New York's Latin Kings gang, who ordered the murders of six gang members from his jail cell and is serving a life sentence.
Do you think they sit around and develop evil plots to escape and take over the world?
John Edwards Sighting
The former VP candidate guest-blogged on the bankruptcy bill blog. 2 features: it includes the sentence "I was wrong." and it promotes his new web site (if you're wondering about his new Presidential strategy): www.oneamericacommittee.com

With his lack of experience and exposure, I don't see how he has a chance, running from so far on the outside. It's not like Al Gore who had a long Senate career and 2 terms as VP. He could come back any time and be viable. But Edwards has to get back in the news doesn't he? He's podcasting, which is interesting, but I don't see that generating a flood of attention.
News Update: Sanity
The Connecticut legislature passed a civil unions bill: tax benefits, hospital visitation, inheritance rights, and family-leave privileges.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

2008, liberal media style
Hillary? In trouble--a new attack book said to "sink her candidacy".
Feingold? Just announced his second divorce, so "his Presidential hopes have ended".
Newt? (that's right, Newt...) On his way to victory in NH... "He's a top contender".

At least a Gingrich-Clinton race would be a bit more exciting than Frist-Edwards.
Correction/Apology
Steven P informs me that he was the recommender of Sister's Keeper during Media Monday, and here I was assuming it was Stevie T. Apologies to both. Steven P also sends a link to rinf.com, a very cool "alternative media" site. Check it out.
Wednesday Topic: Socialized Health Care
Blogger at my morning post, and it's not worth re-typing in full, but here's the idea. Kevin Drum started a conversation on the health care system in France and points to happy stories of efficiency, convenience and of course virtually no cost to the sick/injured individual. Does anyone have any international health care horror stories? Or is it all joyous and light? I don't have any direct experience, so I can't have too much of an opinion, except a general skepticism that there must be some downside. But, I do know enough to agree on this point: if we were starting over on a new health care system with the goal of excellence, efficiency and convenience, I don't know if we would turn to a system that looks like France, but I know we wouldn't run with anything like what we've got now.

Read Kevin's posts here, here and here. [UPDATE: and here]
Anyone have personal health care experiences out of the country, good or bad?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Out of the Closet (into the jail cell)
Local news...extremely local. A Nashville man was beaten to death last night after he discovered his wife's boyfriend living in the closet (he had been there for a month...). If you can't afford a hotel room, I think you really can't afford an affair... Hiding in the closet can only work for so long, and now jail awaits. Is being mad and getting revenge (for being thrown out of the house) worth the few minutes of satisfaction? Now that years and years of prison face you? You've got to wonder just what the plan was, if not a decision that it would indeed be worth it.

Why "extremely local"? The incident occurred at 5454 Incline Drive, just a stone's throw away from the ol' stomping ground.
Bolton in Trouble?
Laura Rozen at War and Piece has been watching the Bolton hearings (he's nominated by Bush to be UN ambassador), in which Republican Carl Ford said that he had "never seen anyone so abusive to a subordinate" as Bolton. If you want to know what's happening there, give it a read. (via Kevin Drum)

UPDATE: Chafee (the only Republican thought likely to vote no in committee--and only one is needed) says he's still voting yes, so it's probably a done deal. Sounds pretty cowardly--people who think he may switch parties are dreaming. He's GOP through and through. This vote is just a case in point.

If Chris Shays' gamble doesn't pay off though, and he's run out of the leadership, persona non grata in the Republican Party, he may be the one to jump ship. I'd take him.
Mario Cuomo
A great moment on Bill Maher's show last weekend, in an interview with Mario Cuomo. Bill was noting Cuomo's religious convictions as a Catholic, despite his not agreeing with many of the pronouncements of the church. He seemed to think that "picking and choosing" the things you want to believe from a religion was somewhat missing the point. I'm paraphrasing, but the exchange went something like this:

Maher: Why would you buy the raisin bread if you're just going to pick out all the raisins?
Cuomo (after an appropriate dramatic pause): you do it for the bread, Bill.

Maybe you had to be there, but it was the perfect response, and in one phrase summed up the barriers that separate the decidedly non-religious, the radically fundamental religious, and the religious/spiritual like Cuomo who recognize a difference between the calling of faith and the rules of a religion. I'm not sure that anyone in any one of those three categories truly understands the thought process of those in one of the other two.

If you miss Cuomo like I do, and want to relive the glory days, here is the text to his famous Convention speech from 1984.
Ha!
A campaign for a new stadium name baseball's newest team, the Washington Nationals:
Taxation without Representation Field! I like it. (via Yglesias)

Monday, April 11, 2005

MEDIA MONDAY

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

Doug recommends Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich
Stevie T Steven P recommends, tearfully with allergies, "My Sister's Keeper"
Lewberry recommends "Bloody Sunday"
George W. Bush recommends The Knack.

Rare Music Site
Check out chromewaves.net -- each week there is a new rare mp3 posted; only one per week. I'm sorry I missed last week, a Radiohead cover of EC's "I'll Wear it Proudly."

"You Gotta Fight the Powers that Be"
Hopefully saving the legacy of Public Enemy from becoming Flavor Flav's bizarre reality-tv romance with Brigitte Nielson, the Library-of-Congress-appointed National Recording Preservation Board has tapped the great rap band's most accomplished recording, "Fear of a Black Planet" for inclusion in the National Recording Registry. Each year, since 2002, 50 recordings have been selected for preservation. The 2004 entries were announced last week. In addition to Public Enemy's 1989 album, Article 19 favorites include Nirvana's Nevermind, The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, James Brown Live at the Apollo, Glenn Miller's In the Mood, and especially Harry Partch's US Highball. You may remember, in a troublesome post from way back when, I pointed to a great Harry Partch site--he experimented with tuning ratios that were based on Pythagorean ratios and other whole number approaches, not the equal-tempered system we use today. He constructed his own instruments to that end. You can view the first 2 years of the registry here.

Book Recommendations Please [UPDATED]
A little prematurely--because there are still 4 weeks left until my grades are turned in and it's officially summer--I am looking forward to having the time to read actual books for a month or so at least, once May gets here. I still have a book about the great flu epidemic to finish, and after that I want to read something new - new authors, new topics. So what do you suggest? I would like both fiction and non-fiction suggestions, but prefer to avoid books about the present state of world, or American, affairs. I already think about that too much, and don't want to be as depressed as that makes me, not so early in the summer. It will already be a cloud hanging over my news-junkie intake.

UPDATE: Metacritics says the way to go is: Fiction: Ian McEwen's Saturday; Non-Fiction: David B's Epileptic. But I would prefer to get recommendations from people I could blame thank more directly, so jump in.

Doc-Day and the other Peterson case
Not that I'm suggesting you give your Monday over to TV, but if you get the Sundance Channel, Monday is Documentary Day. I only found that out last weekend when I caught the first installment (of 4) of a new film called "The Staircase," about a North Carolina man charged with murdering his wife--he claims she fell down the stairs. It is absolutely riveting and horrifying. In the spirit of The Thin Blue Line, or Brother's Keeper, or Paradise Lost, it's a case study in a justice system fixed on a target, and you watch developments as they unfold. He may be guilty--I don't know how this true story plays out. But if he's innocent, this drama is about the most terrifying thing I can imagine happening (beloved wife dies in his arms from a brutal accident, and then he's helpless against charges that he is responsible), second only to if he's guilty, in which case he has her entire family fooled into supporting him strongly. (If you know how the trial turns out, don't tell me!)

Straight Men Heart Broadway
Finally, men have found a broadway show they want to see. It seems to be taking hold as a compromise: the wife wants to see a show; the husband says ok, so long as it's Spamalot.
[A]vid theatergoers, including many gay men, will go to see almost any musical regardless of subject matter, young straight men not in the habit of seeing plays seem to need some assurance that they will find something familiar and likable. And what could be a safer bet than a guy movie like "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"?
Still, Harvey Fierstein wonders about the state of mind of the 20-something male who would attend:
"If I were of frat boy age and I had $100, would I opt for a Broadway ticket or would I want to spend that on booze and drugs?" Mr. Fierstein asked. "Even I, and I am as gay as a pink leather piƱata, would choose booze and drugs."
Weekend Box Office
1. Sahara
2. Sin City
3. Fever Pitch
4. Guess Who
5. Beauty Shop

15. Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda (opened in Nashville this past weekend; I went to see it, but had the time wrong and missed it...maybe this week)

Anybody see any of these?

Project Greenlight
Finally caught last week's episode (#4) last night (they've moved the date to Thursday). I am starting to wonder what relationship the show actually has to the reality of the making of this film. Obviously every conflict is played up to make for drama, and the preview scenes from next week make filming look like a disaster. And yet, when I read the participants' blogs (written now after the fact - with the film presently in post-production), they refer only to the great job John does. Producer Chris Moore, who does not come off as a Gulager fan by any means, writes "I think you guys will all see that John did a great job." Screenwriter Marcus Dunstan says that Gulager "embraces each of the actors as part of his creative family" and writer Patrick Melton says, of the upcoming weeks of shooting, "it's finally time to...watch John spin his magic."

They don't sound like 3 team members who felt like Gulager failed, or is hopeless as a director. So, either they hyped the sense of disaster to keep us watching the show, or they're lying now so there's at least a chance someone will go and see it. Either way, it makes for decent TV but one of the stupidest movie marketing plans ever. You can't badmouth a movie project for months on national TV and then expect people to actually want to go see it. And if they are just going to try and put on a happy face now in public, or online, to control the damage, it's too late if the film does actually suck.

I suppose there is a third option, that they are telling the truth in both instances, and things dramatically turn for the better in the next few weeks. That's what I'm hoping for, and the reason I watch the show. If/when those hopeful things are actually happening, they would do well to put them in the show.

If you want to catch up, on Thursday (Bravo Network) they will show episodes 3 and 4 at 3 and 4 pm Eastern time before the new episode (#5) at 10 pm. On May 1, they will back up and show from episode 2 on. So get those VCRs ready.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Tennessee Legislature Update
The good news? I received an email update tonight saying that a compromise voting rights bill will be up for a vote in the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday at 3:30 (anyone who can attend the hearing to show support is encourage. Davidson County Democrats will have people there). This is the result of a considerable effort of grassroots, organized lobbying to improve the laws which presently keep convicted felons from being elegible to vote without extraordinary effort in petitioning a circuit court judge. Sadly this first step will not cover those still on parole or on probation, only those who have completed their entire sentence (that was the compromise), but it is still a first step.

The bad news? Our legislature seems intent on intruding on marriage. The predictable gay marriage amendment will be on the ballot in 2006, but beyond that there is a bizarre covenant marriage bill pending that would be a new marriage option (like choosing the power windows on the car) making it more difficult to get a divorce. Presumably, conservative churches would counsel their members that if they are not ready to enter into that special super-promise marriage, then maybe they're not ready at all. But really, they just want to end the scourge that is divorce.

But my favorite, while they're at it, is new legislation that will entitle a person to damages should their spouse cheat.

What exactly do they hope to accomplish by trying to force couples to stay together? When did this become part of the job of government: building a higher bureaucratic wall around divorce, and trying to threaten unhappy spouses? I'm all for marriage--I think we should let more folks who want to enter into a personal covenant of love and commitment and family join in the party; but I'm just about sick of these yahoos who run for State office and see it as nothing more than a chance to turn their sunday school discussions into new law, come Monday.

If they insist, though, maybe they should explore some of the many areas in which the job of government and the cares of religion definitely intersect: in helping those who can't help themselves, and treating every person with dignity and respect.

We have a health insurance system in shambles, a struggling education system that lags behind almost every other state in almost every category, and a revenue system that would be laughable if it weren't so borderline cruel. And these bozos insist on trying to solve all our problems by tinkering with marriage.
Cutting their losses?
Both kinds of Republicans are starting to distance themselves from Hot Tub Tom Delay:
The crazy wacko right-wing kind, like Santorum:
"I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it."

and the slightly less crazy right-wing kind, like Shays:
"He is an absolute embarrassment to me and to the Republican Party," Rep. Christopher Shays (R) of Connecticut told a constituents at a townhall meeting in Greenwich on Saturday.

"Do I think Tom DeLay will be the majority leader by the end of this term? No," Shays went on to say. "I don't think Tom DeLay is going to survive."

And even his cohorts are tiring of his self-righteous posturing:
"Everybody is lying," [Jack] Abramoff told a former colleague...."Those S.O.B.s," Abramoff said last week about DeLay and his staffers, according to his luncheon companion. "DeLay knew everything. He knew all the details."

Let's not forget which Republicans voted in caucus to change the ethics rules to let him keep his leadership position.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Nature Hikes and Unavoidable Truth
The sun is out, 75 degrees--so I'm thinking I have to get outside, right? So, about 1.25 miles into a 2 mile trek at the park, it occurs to me that I really am an avid indoorsman.
Saturday Multiple Choice Quiz
Guess which of the following is true:
A. Long-time conservative Republican consultant marries his gay lover in a Massachussetts civil ceremony (was concerned about benefits)
B. Bush's EPA choice reluctantly agrees to end a program that tests the effects of bug spray and other pesticides on infant children.
C. Republicans seek mass impeachment of all judges who do not believe in a "living constitution," apparently preferring a dead democracy.
D. All--of--the--above

Friday, April 08, 2005

Nissan
Sad to say, my fabulous Nissan Sentra may have to be replaced one of these days. I am only about a half of a week away from crossing over 175,000 miles. I assume that eventually something will go wrong with it (though maybe not!). I have assumed that when the mournful day comes, I will find another Nissan, and why not, given how well this one has held up?

But today, I got a reason why not. Nissan has come rushing to the aid of none other than Tom Delay with 5 grand for his legal defense fund. Other companies can be found at the new anti-Delay site, dropthehammer.org. It shares info on the dense layers of corruption that surround him.

Is there a responsible inexpensive car out there, for when the need arises? Or do all the automotive companies support Republicans to avoid increased emission standards?
Changing Odds
The thing about the lottery is, it's just too easy to win. At least they're doing something about it - because that game was really getting boring. Win win win win win win win.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Question
Our earliest known ancestor is believed to have been uncovered in Chad in 2002. The skull is dated at 6 to 7 million years old. Originally thought to be more closely-related to the ape, many scientists now believe Toumai leans on our side of the family.

This kind of thing always makes me wonder just what exactly goes through the mind of a biblical literalist (there are more of them than you would think) upon hearing this kind of information. Do people who believe life is roughly 7,000 years old (and that Noah lived to be 950), or whatever the going calculation is now, think that the carbon dating system is just profoundly inaccurate? A rather inconvenient contemporary failure in light of the truth laid out in Genesis? Or do they think that fossils are God's way of testing our faith? In other words, are today's scientists inept, or are they involved in a grand anti-God conspiracy, or are they just being actively fooled by the Big Man himself, who no doubt chuckles as they dig down and "uncover" more and more stuff they think is really really old?

And, a student recently brought up a "scientific study" that claimed that the human gene pool "bottlenecked" just at the time of "the great flood." (I deftly sidestepped that minefield..). Seriously, what are they thinking? How does the inner logic work? All humans were wiped out except for some on a boat with all of the animals? That's a bit more severe than a "bottleneck", wouldn't you say? Nevermind the more important question...where the hell do they think all the water came from? There's only so much water on the biosphere that is Earth. It doesn't come to us from outer space. If there was enough water to cover all land, wouldn't water in fact be covering all land? I mean, sure, if the icecaps completely melt, and every cloud empties out all of its moisture, I wouldn't want to be in any proximity to the coast, or the Mississippi River. And New Orleans would be pretty well screwed. But, all the humans and the animals wiped out? I don't think so. Anyway, didn't the recent tsunami teach us that animals have a way of anticipating and getting out of the way of such things? Wouldn't God have been in on that feature?

I don't much mind creationists on principle. There's nothing logically inconsistent with believing in evolution and believing that some intelligent being created all life. It's the belief that the big guy must have done it in the way, and time scheme, laid out in The Book that seems so crazy to me. The beginning of Genesis is so clearly a 5-act play. A metaphor. A tradition. An amalgam of ancient stories. So what's the problem? Why is it impossible for a beautiful (or at least interesting) mythology to be worthy of sacred text? Jesus (their favorite) seemed to like passing on the capital-T Truth through story-telling. Why could he not have picked this up from his Dad?

I just don't get the insistence that God went to such pains to tell his story of creation through first and oral and then a written tradition, passed down through translation of language and custom, but then decided to muddy up the system with these pesky fossils. If I sat down with a literalist for an hour or so, could I at least understand the logic that tries to hold that all together? Does anyone have a clue what that structure of beliefs might look like?

UPDATE: Nevermind, I did a little googling, and now I'm kind of sorry that I asked.
Democrats show some spine!
Democrats are not backing down. Read Nancy Pelosi on Bush's insistence that there is no trust fund. (via kos). Atrios has Rep. Defazio getting in on the act, and the two are not only making strong arguments, they almost sound like they have similar talking points. If I didn't know better, I'd think Democrats may be part of an organized team. Imagine that...

And here is Bush himself smirking over the IOU's he has forced onto us.
Wahoo!
Looks like the Sox may get their first win in style: by helping Rivera blow his second straight save. He came in leading 3-2 in the ninth. Now Boston is up on the Yankees 6-3. Yesterday, the Sox blew it in the bottom of the ninth after they had tied it in the top. we'll see about today.

UPDATE: Game over - Sox win, 7-3. This still probably won't quell the panic that has already invaded after 2 games.
Should he stay or should he go?
It's finally become chic in the media to search for evidence of Hot Tub Tom Delay's lack of ethics.
---His pacs have paid his wife and daughter half a million dollars.
---His 1997 trip to Moscow was sponsored by Russian government lobbyists.
---Working for Tom Delay has helped 11 lobbyists rake in 45 million for their firms in 2 years. But, really, his support for their bills was based entirely on principles, not on financial interest.

But the bigger statement I'd like to make is: SLOOOOW DOOOOOOWN. Let's not run him out of town so fast that we don't have him to kick around in the '06 leadup.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Ha Ha
Read the April Fool's day editorial at Scientific American.

In retrospect, this magazine's coverage of so-called evolution has been hideously one-sided. For decades, we published articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True, the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics about it. Where were the answering articles presenting the powerful case for scientific creationism? Why were we so unwilling to suggest that dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago or that a cataclysmic flood carved the Grand Canyon? Blame the scientists. They dazzled us with their fancy fossils, their radiocarbon dating and their tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles. As editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence.
I didn't know you could use April 1 for smart-ass day, but I like it. Wish I had thought of that myself.
Americans Heart President Bush
Not.
Making plans
You may have heard that a new study of teenagers and sex is out. Lots of things to talk about there, from parenting concerns to health issues. But I couldn't help but focus in on one sentence:
Almost one-third say they intend to try [oral sex] during the next six months.
What does this mean? Is there like a sign-up sheet, or a waiting list somewhere I don't know about? Or a big oral sex festival scheduled in 5 months? And if so, does anyone have the address?
In Case You Missed It
While we were out having a grand old Media Monday, contemplating interesting art, challenging music, films good and bad, Texas Senator John Cornyn was out smoking crack. Or at least that's the only explanation I can come up with for his decision to blame activist judges for inciting anti-judge violence. Is he insane? What more can you say about these folks when they think a judge shot and killed in Georgia by an angry defendant has only himself to blame for belonging to the same profession as some judges who would later anger Tom Delay (and God)?

Kos has a nice rundown of what some bloggers (including John Conyers!) are saying about this.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Topic: Socialized Medicine
Start with Kevin Drum here and then here and here. Follow all the links in between and then tell me what you think. Has anyone had horrendous experiences in other countries to counter these happy stories? Not having any direct experience myself, it's hard to have an informed opinion. On this point, though, I definitely agree: if we were starting a health care system from scratch and wanted it to be efficient, and make sense, we wouldn't come anywhere near the mess we have now.
MEDIA MONDAY
What have you been reading, listening to, watching?

Lewberry recommends "The Legend of Ron Jeremy" but didn't enjoy "How to Draw a Bunny," a film I have heard mixed things about--I think it's a love it-or hate it kind of film.

Statistically Improbable Phrases
Amazon has a feature Kevin Drum pointed out a few days ago--not sure if it's new, but I had never stumbled across it. For many books that have been scanned into their database system, they provide phrases that appear in the book which are least likely to appear any other book. They are stastically improbable phrases. So, that Rick Warren book, the Purpose-Driven Life, that has been in the news, has SIPs like "real fellowship" and "defeating temptation." And Al Franken's most recent book has SIPs like "corporate speeches" and "insolent pleasure." Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler offers such phrases as "butter curler" and, surprisingly improbable, "empty grave." Once on the book's page, click on the phrase to see how many times is occurs in that book, and how many times it occurs in other books. I'm sure there's a use for this feature, but until I think of it, it's still fun to play with.

Beck Review
Paste Magazine gives the new album 3 1/2 stars:
But it doesn't seem like they mean it. I still haven't heard it myself.

Aimee Mann
Interview with Salon about her upcoming concept album. It sounds like the kind of thing Elvis Costello would have thought about, and then thought better of. Still, I look forward to it. I'm a fan. Thought Magnolia (the music and the film) was fabulous.

Video Releases
There is an impressive list of films coming out on video this week, including Sideways, Spanglish (which wasn't the greatest, but I liked it better than most seemed to) and The Corporation, the style of which is a little odd, but it's interesting once you get accustomed to it.

Pulitzers Announced
Fiction: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Drama: Doubt, a parable by John Patrick Shanley
History:Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer
Biography: de Kooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan
Poetry: Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser
General Non-Fiction: Ghost Wars by Steve Coll
Music: Second Concerto for Orchestra by Steven Stucky
Link I haven't read, seen, or heard a single one, but at least now I know to be on the lookout.

Unusual Art
Johnny Beinart sculpts creatures out of doll parts, and Mitch Fincher builds amazing structures with pennies.

Nerd Watch
liningup.net takes you to the ticket line waiting for the next Star Wars film to premier. Yes, it's 6 weeks away. Apparently the way it works: you sign in for time, and the ticket priority list will be based on the amount of time you spent in line. So you need not be there the entire 6 weeks to et into the first showing, just more of it than most anyone else. via boing boing, who points out that those in line are answering the pay phone: (323) 462-9609

Forbidden Apple
Via Atrios, the NYTimes discusses a never-released album by Fiona Apple, produced by Jon Brion (the part that got my attention), and put to death by Sony for lack of a big hit. Despite their bets efforts, the Internets have got it, and it's a downloading favorite that has critics impressed.
The beats are often waltzes and oom-pahs, not hip-hop or punk; the arrangements are full of cellos, horns, bells and vintage keyboards. Ms. Apple's piano and voice are still at the center of the music, but now orchestras and show bands sprout around her, adding layers of whimsy and artifice.
Weekend Box Office
1. Sin City
2. Beauty Shop
3. Guess Who
4. Robots
5. Miss Congeniality 2

Actually, there was a buzz in my classes today among the students who had seen Sin City over the weekend. Given that most of them are conservative Christian types, I was surprised, but it made me curious. There seemed to be some genuinely thought-provoking discussions going on about it, but maybe it's nothing. Has anyone seen it? Matt Yglesias really liked it. Metacritics scores it a 75 out of 100, which means it has received "generally favorable" reviews.