Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Quote of the Day
From a commenter at Washington Monthly:
"We must rebuild or God will have won."
On Bush and the US's Greatest Natural Disaster in 100 years
From the Manchester Union-Leader (Yes, that Manchester Union-Leader, the conservative one)Via AmericaBlog:
A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource to rescue the stranded, find and bury the dead, and keep the survivors fed, clothed, sheltered and free of disease.

The cool, confident, intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term, particularly in the months immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, has vanished. In its place is a diffident detachment unsuitable for the leader of a nation facing war, natural disaster and economic uncertainty.

Wherever the old George W. Bush went, we sure wish we had him back.
If you find him, you can have him.
Fair Game?
Kevin Drum has suggested, and it was brought up in the comments of yesterday's post, that criticizing the Bush Administration over a disaster like Katrina amounts to misplaced politics. I can understand that sentiment. The driving emotions at this point should be empathy and sorrow over the human loss, and a humble awe at the power of nature. But, we liberals believe what we do for human reasons, not political ones. And so when we oppose tax cuts or a needless, winless expansive war, it's not because the President is in the other party. It's because we lament the tolls that we know to be inevitable as a result of his policies. And, beyond that, we recognize the potential tragedies, even if not necessarily inevitable, that are worth guarding against. When those traumas and injuries to our national well-being do indeed come home to roost, it's entirely appropriate to reiterate what we believe about collecting and spending our tax money in a way that protects the most vulnerable among us, and entirely appropriate to hold the President and Congress responsible for their position gamble that such spending was not warranted.

Of course, I don't believe that the President and Republicans are pro-hurricane or pro-suffering. Senator Vitter is working just as hard, and feels just as bad, as Senator Landrieu. And I'm not suggesting that somehow a damaging hurricane would not have afflicted the gulf coast if only Democrats were in control. Far from it. Even if we had implemented climate change measures to get a handle on global warming as soon as we possibly could have, there would still be storms, and sometimes big ones. Climate change may not even be a direct factor in storm strength, even though some scientific speculation suggests it, and there seems little denying that we are entering a historical period of increased hurricanes of increasing intensity, whatever the reason.

So let's grant that Katrina and her strength were unstoppable by any government action, past or present. That seems more than reasonable to me.

But if the Congress and President had been willing to spend resources on the wetlands, as environmentalists and many Democrats have argued, instead of "allow(ing) developers to drain thousands of acres of wetlands under a policy adopted last year," the massive surge would have been mitigated somewhat by acres and acres of marsh to absorb and spread the strength of the blow.
The Mississippi used to deposit vast amounts of sediment that built up the Delta as the water reached the ocean and the current slowed, but now this silt gets carried straight out to sea through a channel. As a result, the coastline has shrunk dramatically since 1839; Louisiana loses 25 square miles of coast a year.
But, for the sake of argument, let's suppose an improved wetlands would not have helped this time. Then the Bush Administration still needs to answer for cutting funding that would have reinforced the levee. By all accounts, the flooding was not caused by water only pouring over the levee from the top, but from, essentially, busting through it in places by eroding the base after trickling over. Perhaps--and it is only that, a perhaps--the 2 major breach spots would have been atop the priority list in 2003 as the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project continued its work, had the federal funding not slowed to a "trickle" to allow for the President's tax cuts and war on Iraq.
When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.
Still, there's no reason to believe necessarily that work would have been completed in time to keep this from happening.

Every one of those things could have been done more cheaply to the federal budget than this current disaster will be. But, for the sake of argument, let's grant that we couldn't slow the hurricane season by curbing man-made climate change. Let's grant that a well-conserved wetlands couldn't have slowed Katrina. And let's grant that a fully-funded flood control unit and a fully-funded Office of Technology Assessment wouldn't have successfully fortified the levee to protect against the specific type of failure experienced here. Let's say that nothing the federal government did could have prevented the flooding of New Orleans, and the need for frantic rescue of stranded citizens was inevitable. Don't you think we could have used some more helicopters and national guard troops to help with that task at least? Don't you think, if you asked them, the LA National Guard would prefer to be at home helping their fellow Louisiana residents survive than in Iraq?

Sending them there was the President's decision. And liberals didn't oppose that decision and the stretching-thin of the Guard because we wanted to win political points. We opposed it because we believe, earnestly, that bad things can happen--foreseeable, addressable things--that will leave us unable to care for our own residents. Our point is not local, about this tragedy; it is global, about the priorities and ramifications of national policy. I don't point it out to win elections. If Republicans were to reverse course on their dangerous policies in response to this blast of reality, they would have, and deserve, my praise.

Can someone please explain to me why it is inappropriate to suggest that different policies, policies liberals believe in, may well have been a benefit to society this week? And that recognition is precisely why they are the policies we believe in? Giving the surplus "back to the people" in the form of tax breaks was all well and good, but there was hardly a place for overtaxed millionaires in Tennessee to individually go spend their refunds on some levee improvements in Louisiana. That's the kind of thing we only can do together. Call it what you will. But compared to what we now face, nationally, the C-word I'm thinking of is spelled C-H-E-A-P-E-R.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Too Depressed [not] to Post [2 UPDATES--6:45 pm central]
WWL has a blog. The whole city is under water. Or else on fire. It would be nice to hear an official on tv explain a systematic plan for repairing the levee and pumping out the water. They must have thought of that. But what I heard late last night is that the engineers were "huddled" in a room "brainstorming." Not a confidence builder.

No more today. Change of heart.

[UPDATE] After watching a news conf. of LA, FEMA and Army officials, sadness has given way to some angry questions. Since there's nowhere else to ask them, I post after all. I want to know:

1. Why was there not already a firm, confident plan for repairing the levee? (and why is nobody asking this question? [johnny and PrivateRadio is also asking]) Of all the anticipated disasters, this was at the top of the list. Yet the Army engineer said they didn't want to rush ahead with a plan before they had really thought it through to make sure it will work. So, they won't be starting likely until tomorrow. What else do they have to think about all the other days of the year that's so damn imporant? Why isn't there already a team that has this all figured out and has rehearsed its execution?

2. What is wrong with the few people that actually decided on purpose that they'd ride the storm out when they had other options? I'm seeing them on TV. Not poor, not without transportation, just stubborn. Now their asses have to be saved.

3. When N.O. is rebuilt, can there please be a new plan? A bigger, stronger levee would have cost a ton, but not as much as this is going to. Maybe some new building codes would be in order? And a new enhanced drainage/pumping system for the infrastructure of the city?

4. Short of that, do we really want to rebuild a city below sea level? Isn't that looking like a pretty stupid place for a major city right about now, if this is all we know about protecting and repairing it? Especially with the promise of increased hurricane strength that global warming would seem to threaten?

5. How many more of these record setting hurricanes does the region need to endure before the federal government begins to take seriously bigger questions of climate change? Most of the rest of the world is ready and waiting.

[UPDATE 2] More heartbreak, from the WWL blog:
6:41 P.M. - Efforts to stop the levee break at the 17th Street Canal have ended unsuccessfully and the water is expected to soon overwhelm the pumps in that area, allowing water to pour into the east bank of Metairie and Orleans to an expected height of 12-15 feet.
Turn for the worse
We may have exhaled too soon on the New Orleans disaster possibilities. Late tonight/early this morning, a confused CNN anchor took a call from the VP of Tulane Medical Center who claimed that, now with the rains ceased, and after escaping the storm with literally no flooding, they were finally starting to see water rise at an alarming rate--an inch every 5 minutes. It could only mean one thing - a breach in the levee. Sure enough, if they had checked the Times-Picayune blog would have seen that it's true, and a big one. Water seems to be streaming into the one part of town that had escaped damage.
The effect of the breach was instantly devastating to residents who had survived the fiercest of Katrina’s winds and storm surge intact, only to be taken by surprise by the sudden deluge. And it added a vast swath of central New Orleans to those already flooded in eastern New Orleans, the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes.

Beginning at midday, Lakeview residents watched in horror as the water began to rise, pushed through the levee breach by still-strong residual winds from Katrina.
Beginning at midday?? And CNN is just confirming it in the early morning hours. As bad as the devastation in Mississippi was, Tuesday morning the story may be the intense flooding of New Orleans after all. It could be a slow developing version of the worst-case. Even if they know how to fix the 2-block breach, they likely can't get the equipment in place quickly.

Monday, August 29, 2005

What have you been watching, listening to and reading?

Lewberry recommends the documentary Gunner Palace, now on DVD. It's on my list to see.
SteveP is reading, and fuming, about Iraq.
Stevie T recommends Internet radio station, and seconds StevenP's recommendation of the podcast 2 Media Mondays ago.

"Utopian Hippie Outpost"
NYTimes Link
Started by Ryan Schreiber in his parents' house in suburban Minneapolis in 1995, Pitchfork ( has emerged as one of the more important indie music tastemakers in any medium, with 125,000 unique visitors a day and only three full-time employees. Bands like Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene and Modest Mouse have all received digital love from Pitchfork and soon after have sold hundreds of thousands of records. Web-based record retailers like Insound report big spikes in sales every time Pitchfork fires up a bandwagon. (Last month, the site curated the much-acclaimed Intonation Music Festival in Chicago.)

And perhaps not coincidentally, Pitchfork is home to the kind of full-on rant-think piece-takedown that was once the specialty of long-and-strong journalism legends like Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs. If someone were going to make "Almost Famous" for the current age, the young journalist on the rise would probably be filing hourly to a Web site his mom never heard of.
The Greatest Living American Playwright?
Lindsay Posner says it's David Mamet. Sadly, Mamet may be losing some primary competition soon--Pittsburgh resident August Wilson is stricken with liver cancer.

Kanye West
5 stars from Rolling Stone for his new album. That doesn't mean what it used to mean, but it's still a rarity. Jon Brion (who produced the lost Fiona Apple album the studio rejected, and produced Rufus Wainright's great self-titled album which he nonetheless hates, and composed the fabulous music for Eternal Sunshine) produced it.

Weekend Box Office
1. The 40-year-old Virgin
2. The Brothers Grimm
3. Red Eyes
4. Four Brothers
5. The Cave

Anyone see the Brothers Grimm? A new Terry Gilliam movie should be cause for excitement. Why does this one make me nervous? Because it took forever to come out? I hope it's good--but I'm staying away until I hear something good.

Shocker: Gory Nude-fest found Wanting
Reviewing the new HBO series "Rome" for, Dana Stevens notes:
At least in terms of sheer volume of nude scenes per hour, Rome is the dirtiest series I've seen yet on HBO.
I know - how can this possibly go wrong? Apparently it finds a way. I guess trying to do for ancient rome what "Deadwood" has done for the wild west just isn't the formula winner HBO thought it would be.

Article 19 Film Recommendation: Broken Flowers
*************** (15 out of 19)
Jim Jarmush's newest film, with Bill Murray, allows you to use your imagination to fill in the true subject: a certain state of mind, and stage of life. Disguised as a detective story of sorts, the real investigation is the one you as a viewer conduct on the main character, in a film where dialogue is sparse. What is he thinking? What was their relationship like? What is she remembering about him? Jarmusch sketches the vague outline of shadows and invites you to suppose the structures that would cast them, all the while spinning a mystery. Be prepared for a quiet film, more like "Dead Man" than (like you may have heard) Lost in Translation, and you will like Broken Flowers as much as I did.

NPR's Fresh Air interview with Jarmusch about the film is here.

By the way, favorite Jarmusch films:
1. Mystery Train
2. Stranger than Paradise
3. Night on Earth
4. Down by Law
5. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai"

Article 19 Film Recommendation: The Aristocrats
I really can't give this one a number of stars. It's too much not-quite a film experience. I can only seem to echo what others have said. There are moments when I laughed very (very) hard. But you have to be prepared for a certain mood--I wasn't at first. I can only describe it like this: remember when you and your friends tried to out-gross and out-shock each other, like in junior high? with, i don't know, jokes about bloody clown suits? (or like the poetry of JM Stinson?) What this film confesses is that comics and entertainers have this underground running competition of sorts along those lines. Remember that SNL skit with Billy Crystal as the construction worker describing those "I hate when I do that" disgusting injuries? The Aristocrats aims for the same funny bone, but much much lower down.

In some ways, the film didn't live up to the hype, but that's probably the fault of the hype I think. The bottom line is that if you don't think that kind of humor is funny, with comedians trying to describe the things you would never do, say, or even really think about as if they did them daily (and that's the joke), then you may be like one of the 12-15 people or so that walked out of the theater when I saw it.

For me, some moments were incredibly funny: Bob Saget (who clearly participates in this competition often), the South Park kids, Kevin Pollack doing Christopher Walken come to mind.

The Weather Channel
That's where my head has been the last 24 hours or so. Maybe it's just me, but I don't see the attraction of the on-the-scene, rained-on reporters. How about we keep the satellite radar up to date to get some kind of global sense of what's happening, how bad it is, and where it's headed. The damage, or lack of, at one reporter's location really tells us nothing. If you want to do some hurricane reporting, talk to observers around the area who know what signs they're looking for (water levels, wind speed and then report on that like the news that it is. "The wind is blowing rain into Anderson Cooper's eyes" really isn't news, is it?

At any rate, the major New Orleans story seems to still be mostly unknown: whether the levees were completely overcome. Reports have water coming over in points, and some pump failure, hopefully not total. How many homes are damaged and lives lost remains to be seen.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Dear Katrina,[UPDATED]
Please don't hurt New Orleans. You can have Pat Robertson. He's much more sinful.

New Orleans sits below sea level, with levees designed to protect against 12 ft. surges, the kind a level 2-3 hurricane would provide. Katrina is a level 5. The main reason it's not a level 6 is that there is no such category. Back in May, Chris Mooney thought through the problems the city would and may face, problems too horrible to quote here. (link via Kevin Drum)

Read about global warming's impact on increased hurricane intensity here. (link via daily kos)

UPDATE: John at AmericaBLOG is, like me, confused and pissed that many, like the President, seem to be ho-hum while "one of the biggest disasters ever to face an American city" bears down. Is anyone reading the National Weather Service warnings?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Lower Still
Gallup has Bush approval ratings at 40%, easily the lowest of his presidency. 56% willing to say they disapprove. This is in line with other recent polls. Is it possible for them all to sink into the 30s? There has to be a floor of we-support-you-no-matter-how-bad-you-screw-up people. The important thing at this point though, as fun as it is to watch his approval tank, is that we tie him around the neck of congressional Republicans over the next 14 months. Kos has a run-down of Senate possibilities. He puts Tennessee at 7th on the list of potential pick-ups.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Below Average Teenager
Just in case you forgot (I'm reminded every MWF by the mostly creative minds in my classes), you--like me--are too old to contribute to this world. The best thing we can do is to just stay out of the way of 16-year-olds like Peter Ash, who apparently isn't even an average youngster.
Peter Ash, of Lawford, Somerset, attached a generator to his hamster's exercise wheel and connected it to his phone charger.

Elvis does the legwork while Peter charges his phone in an economically and environmentally friendly way. . . ."I thought the wheel could be made to do something useful so I connected a system of gears and a turbine," he said.

"Every two minutes Elvis spends on his wheel gives me about thirty minutes talk time on my phone."

The teenage inventor was given a C for his project and has been awarded a D overall for the course.
What's a kid got to do to get an A these days?
A network should lose some of its broadcasting rights, or be heavily fined, for mistakes like this one. Hopefully, Fox News at least faces a hefty lawsuit over it. Kevin Drum picked up on the story as well and has some more quotes, and some spot-on advice.
The End of Diplomacy
On the heels of John Bolton's recent unraveling of an expected UN agreement, as I posted yesterday, Steve Clemons, writing at TPM, points to an editorial in The Independent:
With the arrival of the hawkish Mr Bolton to do the bidding of George Bush at the UN, relations between the US and the UN have never looked so bad. . . .judging from his few weeks in New York, Mr Bolton is not at the UN to negotiate. Since Madeleine Albright, President Clinton's UN representative, the US delegate has arrived with a rocket in his or her pocket. In the council, if the other delegates do not like what the Americans want, the US no longer hesitates to act without UN blessing.

Now Mr Bolton is at the UN with a mission. At the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama famously decreed the end of history. We could be witnessing the end of diplomacy.
Clemons concludes:
America in the past has generally demonstrated capacity to be a great leader of others -- a planning nation, a strategic nation, a complex systems integrator in war and peace -- but now the obsession with doing things alone is a rejection of leadership and guarantees future weakness.
How many more Republican administrations will it take to render the US-UN rift unfixable? At any rate, as the Independent writer alludes, President Clinton still left dues unpaid, so Democrats have been far from ideal in global cooperation and we didn't exactly enter a Bush presidency with a strong UN relationship. Still, this new Bush-Cheney-Bolton path has us on a trajectory toward total isolation. With the economies of China and India rapidly gaining, and Europe inching (albeit 2 steps forward, 1 step back) toward more economic unity, isolation is not where we want to be. Will I live to see the day the US must approach the UN with hat in hand? Or at least with tail firmly between legs? That may be a stretch, but it is not a stretch to say that our demands and isolation will soon become less of a threat to the well-being of the UN and more of a threat to the well-being of the US.

Sorry for my language, but can we please get someone with some goddamn long-term world-view sense in a position of influence in DC?

Steve Clemons, by the way, has his own blog--The Washington Note--specializing in foreign policy politics topics that's always a good read.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Republicans with Imagination
Rick Santorum: the worst Senate candidate of 2006?

Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's office acknowledged yesterday that it cannot locate public statements of the senator questioning the Iraq war, despite the senator's claim last week that he has publicly expressed his concerns.

But Santorum said that doesn't mean he hasn't made the comments.
Kos is right. What does it say about Bush that Republicans are now scrambling to pretend like they never really agreed with him?
Bolton Making Us Proud
Unconfirmed recess appointment UN ambassador John Bolton is wasting no time being a pain in the ass.
Less than a month before world leaders arrive in New York for a world summit on poverty and U.N. reform, the Bush administration has thrown the proceedings in turmoil with a call for drastic renegotiation of a draft agreement to be signed by presidents and prime ministers attending the event.

The United States has only recently introduced more than 750 amendments that would eliminate new pledges of foreign aid to impoverished nations, scrap provisions that call for action to halt climate change and urge nuclear powers to make greater progress in dismantling their nuclear arms.
The proposed changes, submitted by U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton, touch on virtually every aspect of U.N. affairs and provide a detailed look at U.S. concerns about the world body's future. They underscore U.S. efforts to impose greater oversight of U.N. spending and to eliminate any reference to the International Criminal Court. The administration also opposes language that urges the five permanent members of the Security Council not to cast vetoes to block action to halt genocide, war crimes or ethnic cleansing.
Read Bolton's proposed edits at the Huffington Post here. I've never, of course, supported the idea of leaving the UN. But maybe we're nearing a point where they could do more good without us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Iraq Constitution Details
When Bush uses its adoption as proof of victory for democracy and human rights, don't believe the hype. Fred Kaplan at Slate investigates what it actually says:
Article 2 reads:

"Islam is the official religion of state and a fundamental source for legislation.
(a) No law may contravene the essential verities of Islamic law.
(b) No law may contravene the principles of democracy.
(c) No law may contravene the rights and basic liberties enumerated in this constitution."

Already, we have a contradiction that would befuddle the most probing judicial review (assuming the constitution provided such a thing, which it doesn't). For women especially, Islamic law itself contravenes the principles of democracy and basic liberties. So, which clause takes precedence?
What's more:
the constitution (or at least the part that has been released) says nothing about how the country is to be governed. . . .Nor does the document lay out the powers of parliament, the precise division of powers between the central and regional governments, or the existence of a branch that interprets the law.
Kaplan concludes:
As one indication of the situation's bleakness, it's a toss-up which course would be worse—that the constitution be turned down or that it be rammed through. Either way, it is not at all clear—with or without this constitution—what kind of government, what kind of nation, this war and this process have wrought.
I wonder how Scalia would resolve these inconsistencies from an "originalist" point of view. After all, the authors of the text are right there, for the asking. That should settle it, right?
First Day Back
School! Ack! The biggest positive surprise of all: feeling like a competent adult again. After a summer that has challenged that at every turn, I had forgotten what it's like to have some sense that I dependably know what I'm doing at something. Other big surprise: Nobody at Belmont is from Nashville anymore. I've met 65 students so far today individually. I ask them all where they're from. Only 3 are even from TN: 1 Cookeville, 1 Memphis, 1 Murfreesboro. When I was a student here, every other person was from Middle TN. It's a more pronounced phenomenon each year. Also, only 1 Josh this year (last year, everyone was named Josh). But I have about 6 Jessies or Jessicas.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

It's the women, stupid
I wonder who's got it right, Bush? (via Atrios)
Q Does the administration's goal -- I'll ask you about the Iraqi constitution. You said you're confident that it will honor the rights of women.


Q If it's rooted in Islam, as it seems it will be, is that still -- is there still the possibility of honoring the rights of women?

THE PRESIDENT: I talked to Condi, and there is not -- as I understand it, the way the constitution is written is that women have got rights, inherent rights recognized in the constitution, and that the constitution talks about not "the religion," but "a religion." Twenty-five percent of the assembly is going to be women, which is a -- is embedded in the constitution.
Or Reuel Marc Gerecht, former CIA Middle East specialist, defending the Iraq constitution draft on Meet The Press (my emphasis):
In 1900, women did not have the right to vote. If Iraqis could develop a democracy that resembled America in the 1900s, I think we'd all be thrilled. I mean, women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy.
I wonder why Gerecht didn't just talk to Condi? Or maybe she hasn't heard that going backwards on women's rights is one of the noble causes kids are dying for? When exactly did we agree to that? As much as we all knew it was happening when this crappy war went down, I can't believe we just went to war and killed tens of thousands so that we could get rid of a despot and install a repressive theocratic regime amid Taliban-style chaos. I'm no Saddam apologist, but which one do you think poses a graver threat to American security? Once this constitution goes live, I hope the question Americans are asking is, "we went to war for this?" Obviously, I hope Bush and Condi are right...but given their track record...
Picture of the Day
Via TalkLeft and Democratic Underground

Bill Moyer, 73, wears a "Bulls**t Protector" flap over his ear while President George W. Bush addresses the Veterans of Foreign Wars. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)
Actually, yes I have been asleep
I know everyone has already seen this--and it's a tribute to Media Matters that it's gotten so much mainstream attention. In the old days, that fool Pat Robertson could argue for the assassination of a world leader and only his cult members would have heard it. No reason for me to say more--Doug's got it covered.

How far does a nutcase like Pat have to go before he's no longer taken seriously as a God-people spokesperson? I know, you may be saying "but I'm a God person and I don't take him seriously", but next time there's a news channel panel on some religious-based political question, Pat will be sitting right there behind the desk. If Falwell's already booked, that is.

Jesus' General approves of Robertson's announcement ("Unfortunately, Jesus' love of mayhem is no longer taught in the churches.") and has written a letter, complete with hilarious would-be-scripture and priceless graphics.
More God and Science (and more flying spahetti monster)
The NYTimes is running a 2-part series on scientists and religious faith (or the lack of).
Since his appearance at the City College panel, when he was dismayed by the tepid reception received by his remarks on the incompatibility of good science and religious belief, Dr. Hauptman said he had been discussing the issue with colleagues in Buffalo, where he is president of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.

"I think almost without exception the people I have spoken to are scientists and they do believe in the existence of a supreme being," he said. "If you ask me to explain it - I cannot explain it at all."
I'm sure this series grows out of the intelligent design debate, and it is a good read, but it rather missing the point as far as I'm concerned. I don't really care if scientists and science teachers do or do not believe in God. What I need them to believe in is science.

Meanwhile, because the people demand more flying spaghetti monster, you can now display your (and your fellow citizens') inability to disprove its existence with a snappy bumper sticker. Or if more traditional religious art appeals to you, you may want to see this. Both links, of course, via BoingBoing.

Monday, August 22, 2005

What have you been reading, listening to and watching?

Robert Moog, inventor of the analog music synthesizer.

Because winter's coming
Scroll through pictures of the amazing structures at the "17th Annual China Harbin Sun Island Internationl Snow Sculpture Art Fair". Harbin is apparently China's northernmost point. We're not just talking about a chiseled out ice goose here. How about a walk-in replica of the Beijing Summer Palace? (via boingboing)

Six Feet Under
A beautiful ending--not too event-driven dramatic for a conclusion, but not too empty. Like it was bound to, the finale opened and closed the arc on some conflicts a good bit faster than they would have if there were more to come, which was a little weird in spots. Still, perfectly intensely emotional, with themes befitting the show. I will really miss the characters, which is a strange kind of feeling to have, what with them being fictional.

The legacy of the show will be less in its often profound treatment of death as in its thoughful and unapologetic presentation of a gay couple as primary characters (without the fact of their homosexuality being the only issue they are allowed to laugh and fight about *cough* willandgrace *cough*), and its many interesting, strong, 3-dimensional women characters--the young, not-so-young, and in-between.

Now, just 20 more episodes of the Sopranos and then we can all give up on non-animated TV fiction for good.

Article 19 Video Recommendation: Badaaaass!
**************** (16 out of 19)
Don't know how this would play if you haven't seen the Melvin van Peebles film it's about, but I thought it was fabulous and alot of fun. Son Mario pulls no punches and is spectacular playing him, in what must have been a strange role. Hopefully this rekindled some interest in Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song. For Six Feet Under watchers (sorry, it's a theme the last couple of weeks) who want to see the bizarre Arthur again, the actor who played him is in this in an almost equally strange performance.

Weekend Box Office
1. The 40-year-old Virgin
2. Red Eye
3. Four Brothers
4. Wedding Crashers
5. The Skeleton Key

Broken Flowers (#13) started here this weekend and I was sure I was going to see it but didn't have the chance. It, and Gus van Sant's Last Days, are priorities for the next week. Can anyone recommend either? Also, thank goodness The Dukes of Hazzard fell to #8 in its 3rd week. Here's hoping a similar drop next week will save us all the spectre of a sequel.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Republicans against the war
A few are notably changing their mind in public. For starters, Senator Chuck Hagel and National Review writer Andy McCarthy. Better late than never, as they say, but that's the only kind thing I can think of to say about wankers who towed the party line when they knew better.

Of course, it's a moot point anyway, since the opinions of Americans matter not to the jackasses making the decisions around here.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Do you really have health insurance?
TPMCafe's Warren Reports blog grew out of the bankruptcy bill debate. It's a shame they don't post more often because their focus--the financial difficulties of the middle class--seems especially important these days, and especially relevant to Democrats' chances of regaining control of the legislative agenda. The damage Republicans have done to the well-being of the working middle class, the backbone of the economy, is as demonstrable as it is inexcusable.

The newest Warren Reports post tells us what we fear is true: we may not be as insured as we think we are.
Because of soaring healthcare costs, more consumers are turning to associations — including obscure trade groups, unions and chambers of commerce — to buy health insurance at discounted group rates. Though some associations offer legitimate policies, others have hidden clauses that cap benefits at low amounts so that policyholders can face unforeseen rate increases with little financial protection in a major illness, critics said.
Experts estimate that up to 10 million people nationwide are covered by such policies. The plans may promise 100% coverage, but the fine print may set a cap on costs, such as $200 a day for a hospital visit, which at some hospitals today can run $3,000 or more.

Friday, August 19, 2005

TV Hosts show some nerve?
Back in the late 90's, Keith Olbermann dropped (or was dropped from, who knows) his MSNBC show because he refused to do all-Lewinsky shows all the time. Now, he's back for a second run and was recently chastized for his Peter Jennings eulogy rant about smoking and cancer. I saw the bit and it was a little over the top and, well, weird--the graphic description of his own painful, bloody, roof-of-the-mouth tumor from years of pipe smoking (he continues to encourage people to quit smoking and share their stories with him online). My favorite part of the performance, coming at the very end of his show, was that it made very awkward the intro to the premier show of the dreadful Rita Cosby. The exchange was hilariously chilly.

Then on Wednesday night, Keith introduced a story on that honeymoon cruise death by saying it was "another edition of Stories My Producers Forced Me to Do."

Now comes word that Bob Costas, who fills in for Larry King occasionally and has been all week, would not do the show last night because it was to be all about the missing girl in Aruba and coverage of the BTK killer.

Good for them both. Maybe someday lots will feel that way. Probably not.
Savings Milestone
The Department of Commerce calculates the personal savings rate of Americans like this: after-tax income - total spending = savings. In 1984 the rate was 10%. In 2002 the rate dropped below 3%. This June, our savings rate fell to 0%. Yup, zero.
The United States is on track to record a savings rate for the year below 1 percent, which would be the lowest since the depths of the Great Depression, when the rate turned negative.
But, really, don't worry. Nothing to see here. Just smoke and mirrors. You've still got your house, right?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

In Slate, 3 legal ethicists claim The White House and John Roberts "violated federal law on the disqualification of judges".
Federal law deems public trust in the courts so critical that it requires judges to step aside if their "impartiality might reasonably be questioned," even if the judge is completely impartial as a matter of fact. As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in a 1988 Supreme Court opinion, "the very purpose of [this law] is to promote confidence in the judiciary by avoiding even the appearance of impropriety whenever possible."
So, maybe Supreme Court nominee Roberts shouldn't have heard and considered arguments in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld while he was being courted by the White House about the high court vacancy. Needless to say, Roberts ruled in Bush's favor.
Roberts' vote was not a mere add-on. His vote was decisive on a key question of presidential power that now confronts the nation. Although all three judges reached the same bottom line in the case, they were divided on whether the Geneva Conventions grant basic human rights to prisoners like Hamdan who don't qualify for other Geneva protections. The lower court had held that some provisions do. Judge Roberts and a second judge rejected that view. The third judge said Geneva did apply, but found it premature to resolve the issues it raised. Hamdan has since asked the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Roberts did not have to sit out every case involving the government, no matter how routine, while he was being interviewed for the Supreme Court position. The government litigates too many cases for that to make any sense. But Hamdan was not merely suing the government. He was suing the president, who had authorized the military commissions and who had personally designated Hamdan for a commission trial, explaining that "there is reason to believe that [Hamdan] was … involved in terrorism."
Sure, he probably would have done the same thing no matter what. But you have to wonder--did that case come up in the myriad of interviews conducted around that time, before it was decided? Was the White House using Hamdan as a part of the interview process? Is there any question that, had Roberts indicated a problem with the President's argument in that case, he would have been passed over?
Jose Luis Betancourt got 24 years for drug trafficking. Then, he lost his lottery winnings, because the court found he bought the ticket with drug proceeds.
I suppose I have been misled. All this time I thought drug trafficking was a lucrative crime. I thought it was an illegal way to strike it rich. But, this is what drug dealers do with their money? Buy lottery tickets?
Back to School
Via AmericaBlog, USATODAY has some uplifting new information. Students feel unsafe, sense their school's priorities are athletics, not academics, and are generally unprepared for college, especially the boys who spend 2 hours less a week than girls preparing. 60% of the college population is now female.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Be aware that the Rapture Index has reached 153, nearly a year high and firmly in the "fasten your seat belts" range. So, be on the look out. Six Feet Under watchers may remember though that one potential feature of the rapture could be the sight of naked people ascending through the skies. You may want to position yourself accordingly (women's colleges, etc.)

I wonder if this new end-of-the-world development could be related to new 50-state Bush approval numbers. My favorite (July 11 results in parenthesis):
Approve 43 (47)
Disapprove 52 (50)
Reasonable Doubt [UPDATED]
It has just occurred to me that there are just too many objects staying on the ground. The theory of gravity can't possibly account for all of them. And, anything that strong and versatile to hold down big things and small, heavy and could I ever muster the strength to get off the ground (albeit barely) when I jump? I have developed a new theory called the intelligent magnet. Only an all-knowing, all-powerful benevolent being could pull off this trick of keeping us close but letting us experience slight freedom.

Also, saving that, we may just be brains in vats imagining this whole thing.

Or, possibly, only I am real, imagining us all held down to the ground.

I believe that all of these alternate theories should be taught in science classrooms. Let the children decide.

That's about how much sense intelligent designers make. Last week, I found out from a biology professor at my own school, writing a letter to the editor in the Tennessean (scroll down to find it), that biologists have been lying to us, and confess their sins only to each other:
In their more frank moments, fellow biologists who dismiss intelligent design will admit that random mutations acted upon by natural selection are just insufficient to account for the diversity of life, past and present. From a strictly scientific viewpoint, the theory of evolution does not deserve privileged status.
I suppose they partake in these frank moments at private biologist meetings, where they are fed grapes and given hot oil massages by the world's sexiest models, believing them to be gods. Why else would they keep their big lie such a secret?

They might as well come clean: if it weren't for the hot babes, secretly worshipping them, they could be honest about their misgivings over evolution. In that event, they could also get around, finally, to forwarding my theory that I am actually in control of all things. Or we could just all agree to relegate the intelligent creator theory and other ontological questions in philosophy and religion classes along with the brains-in-vats discussions, where they usefully belong.

[UPDATE: Commenter E. Michael points to another important theory, that of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Notice the helpful graph comparing the global temperature increase to the precipitous decline in the pirate population.]

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Family Values
A pickup truck ran over wooden crosses erected at anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan's campsite on Monday night, in the latest sign of tension over the peace vigil outside vacationing President George W. Bush's Texas ranch. . . .The small, white wooden crosses erected at the site are hand-painted with the names of soldiers killed in Iraq., True Majority, and Democracy for America are working together to host candlelight vigils around the country on the 17th in support of Cindy Sheehan. Find one near you here. In Nashville, the Parthenon at 7:30 is the place to be.
Why Fight Roberts?
Democrats are in a tricky spot. Judge Roberts seems destined for confirmation with no real suspense. Opposition could seem like mere political obstructionism. That reality is made more depressing the more we learn about his views. Today's news brings this:
Referring to a Supreme Court ruling issued earlier that year that struck down an Alabama school prayer law, he said, "The conclusion ... that the Constitution prohibits such a moment of silent reflection - or even silent `prayer' - seems indefensible."

The Alabama law, ruled unconstitutional by a divided court, mandated a one-minute period of silence for meditation or prayer.
and this:
As an assistant White House counsel in 1984, John Roberts scoffed at the notion that men and women should earn equal pay in jobs of comparable importance, and he belittled three female Republican members of Congress who promoted that idea to the Reagan administration.
Here's the problem: if Democrats go along with the widespread public impression that Roberts represents a centrist, moderate view, that opens up the chance for Bush to nominate a more egregiously right-wing justice at the next opportunity. The solution must be a united Democratic front. Painting Roberts honestly as a Rehnquist conservative with many views outside the mainstream is a necessity. As such, the job mustn't be left only to Senators Kennedy, Shumer and Boxer. The campaign at hand is not to defeat Roberts' nomination--that seems impossible. The purpose is to present him as a replacement for Rehnquist, which he is. Then the message going forward can be clear: we still await Bush's replacememnt for Justice O'Connor.

Monday, August 15, 2005

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

Six Feet Under
Wow - Sunday is the last episode ever! Wrapping up a series like this is bound to be difficult. I'm not thrilled with a few of the late turns--like sending David over the edge, and tying it to the trauma he experienced last season (which never really worked for me anyway). I had liked that the show would make David and Keith, the interracial gay couple, the strongest and most stable relationship this season. Still the emotion of the last few episodes has been powerful, and I know they have to build the drama and apprehension for the ending, which I hope is not marked by cataclysmic events. The show doesn't need that. Either way this has been one of the best seasons, right up there with 1 and 2. Also, I loved the Arcade Fire song that went with the closing credits of the last episode. Like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under seems to know just what music to play at all times.

If you've never seen it, rent the first season

PodCasting Question
Last week, StevenP recommended Jeff Black podcasts, and I heard an NPR story on the same soon after. It made me wonder: how many of us actually download and listen to podcasts? I've never used it myself. Are there any recommendations? Favorites?

DVD Release this week
Sin City--I never got around to seeing it in the theaters so hope to catch it on DVD soon.

Article 19 Film Review: Wedding Crashers
************ (12 out of 19)
I thought it was really funny. The end was unfortunately pretty dumb, even for a farce like this. And a couple of scenes/characters were more over-the-top than the rest of the movie demanded, but none of that really matters. Vince Vaughn is hilarious.

Weekend Box Office
1. Four Brothers
2. The Skeleton Key
3. Dukes of Hazzard
4. Wedding Crashers
5. Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo
Is anyone else stunned that a film executive agreed to a second Deuce Bigalow movie? Rob Schneider's not even on SNL anymore. I can't see where there's an audience for this terrible idea.

Article 19 Book Recommendation: Norwegian Wood
I've been putting off writing about my first Murakami novel, trying to think of something good to say. Not until I got to the "about the author" page at the end did I realize that the book represents his attempt to pen a straightforward love story , apparently a break from his typical, more adventurous narrative style. Problem is, the promise of that style is what made me want to find a book of his to read in the first place.

There's nothing wrong with Norwegian Wood. But nothing special about it. I expected music and culture of the 60s to play a big role (per the back cover's description) in the themes and content, but really it didn't at all. The story could have taken place during any time. I'll try another one of his newer books before I decide that he's just not for me.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Is this for real?
Via Talkleft, Christopher Walken has announced his candidacy for President in 2008. Of the United States.
Because Mr. Walken is currently contracted for more than one film production, the Walken campaign manager Michael Hansee admitted that there would be relatively minimal publicity at this early stage. "[Mr. Walken] has a full plate right now, acting in a number of different films, and can't start any personal campaign work until these obligations are fulfilled," he commented. "We're looking to spread the word and build a little support base with our site, in preparation for a full campaign in early 2007."

The campaign website is patriotic-themed, with the tag-line "To Get America Back on Track." Hansee stated that the campaign is hoping to drum up early support through their online presence, much as Howard Dean did in the 2004 race.
Whether he's serious or not--and there's no mention I can find of any party affiliation or if he's running as an independent--his #1 platform position has just got to be "more cowbell". If he ran on that, I'd probably vote for him myself. "I've got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell."

Friday, August 12, 2005

Humanitarian War
Matt is right. So is Kevin. Really, what is the plan for victory?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

FedEx Furniture
Via BoingBoing, Jose Avila didn't have money to buy home furnishings, so he built everything he needed out of sturdy FedEx boxes and documented it online. The pictures are hilarious. Of course, FedEx isn't amused--corporations never are; it's one of their biggest flaws--so they're suing Jose for, of all things, copyright infringement under DMCA. The age old question: what's funnier, the original idea or the inevitable over-reaction?
"An evil, adult version of schoolhouse rock"
Matt Taibbi is a politics reporter for Rolling Stone. I caught him on the Daily Show a few weeks ago, and he's a funny, intelligent young person, forced to cover the John Kerry campaign in '04, which he apparently did on one day in a gorilla suit just to quell the monotony. And although he disappointed Kevin Drum (and me) with the article that promised to blow the lid off of the Ohio shenanigans in the Presidential election, Taibbi is generally compelling. A fabulous example is his new story on the inner workings of congress from the perspective of one of the most successful amendment-passers in the House of Representatives, none other than Bernie Sanders, independent from Vermont. Taibbi followed Sanders around, wanting to lay out the real bill-making process in today's Washington.

It is a sensational read, confirming every bad thing you have ever imagined about our elected officials, and then some. Both a primer and a horror show, he describes a meeting of the all-powerful Rules Committee, "perhaps the free world's outstanding bureaucratic abomination -- a tiny, airless closet deep in the labyrinth of the Capitol where some of the very meanest people on earth spend their days cleaning democracy like a fish."
The Democrats generally occupy a four-seat row on the far left end of the panel table, and during hearings they tend to sit there in mute, impotent rage, looking like the unhappiest four heads of lettuce to ever come out of the ground. The one thing they are allowed to do is argue. Sensenbrenner gives them just such an opportunity, and soon he and McGovern fall into a row about gag orders.

In the middle of the exchange, Sanders gets up and, looking like a film lover leaving in the middle of a bad movie, motions for me to join him in the hallway. He gestures at the committee room. "It's cramped, it's uncomfortable, there isn't enough room for the public or press," he says. "That's intentional. If they wanted people to see this, they'd pick a better hall."

Sanders then asks me if I noticed anything unusual about the squabbling between Sensenbrenner and McGovern. "Think about it," he says, checking his watch. "How hard is it to say, 'Mr. Sanders, be here at 4:30 p.m.'? Answer: not hard at all. You see, a lot of the things we do around here are structured. On the floor, in other committees, it's like that. But in the Rules Committee, they just go on forever. You see what I'm getting at?"

I shrug.

"It has the effect of discouraging people from offering amendments," he says. "Members know that they're going to have to sit for a long time. Eventually they have to choose between coming here and conducting other business. And a lot of them choose other business . . . That's what that show in there was about."
At this point (this point being 15 years removed from the 21-year-old version of my idealism), there's no reason to be shocked. Still, I'm struck by how little, ultimately, it matters whether a majority in Congress supports your initiatives or not. In a representative government, you would think that's the goal, but it's really just one small step somewhere in the middle of the process.
Yankees Suck
Now trail the Red Sox by 5 1/2 games and are 4 1/2 games out of the wild card. True, there are still 50 games to go, and the Yanks seemingly have 40 of those against Tampa Bay, but I still feel good that once October rolls around, New York is left out of the playoffs. Should be fun.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Article 19 Fill-in-the-blank activity
Apropos of the strawberry milk-flavored post below, use this thread to share bizarre culinary experiences.

"The strangest (blank) I ever had was (blank)-flavored."

If you don't have any good actual experiences, you can make some up.
"The New Iraq": All Hell Breaks Loose
Armed men entered Baghdad's municipal building during a blinding dust storm on Monday, deposed the city's mayor and installed a member of Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia.

In continuing violence, the United States military announced today that four American soldiers were killed on Tuesday and six others were wounded when insurgents attacked a patrol near Baiji in northern Iraq. Two Iraqi policemen and four civilians were killed in a suicide car bombing today in western Baghdad, the Interior Ministry said.

The deposed mayor, Alaa al-Tamimi, who was not in his offices at the time, recounted the events in a telephone interview on Tuesday and called the move a municipal coup d'├ętat. He added that he had gone into hiding for fear of his life.

"This is the new Iraq," said Mr. Tamimi, a secular engineer with no party affiliation. "They use force to achieve their goal."
It's hard to tell the bad US-installed political leaders from the good, but I'm pissed the Times would blithely refer to the Shiite militia this way:
The militia has been credited with keeping the peace in heavily Shiite areas in southern Iraq but also accused of abuses like forcing women to wear the veils demanded by conservative Shiite religious law.
Positively Taliban-esque, no? We're well on our way to accepting order at any cost, especially the Democratic reforms we supposedly hold dear. In whose hands are we leaving this country?

Meanwhile, our Secretary of State is off the ranch (via Kos):
Rice told TIME she believes the insurgents are "losing steam" as a political force, even though their ability to kill and maim at will appears undiminished. When Rice points to "rather quiet political progress" while the country remains embroiled in chaos, even some of her backers cringe.
quiet, indeed.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Via BoingBoing, the Nissui company has decided to add strawberry milk flavor to their...well, I can't even type it. You have to read it and imagine the delectable taste for yourself.
Estate Tax
We can add to Senator Frist's list of failures. His promise to repeal the estate tax (the death tax, he calls it) has run into a typical congressional problem: legislators will have less money to work with if the repeal is successful. So, he hasn't been saving this political favorite for a rainy day; he hasn't brought it up because there aren't enough votes for it.

But proponents aren't giving up. Senator Kyl, who really should be a 2006 target by Democrats, if a decent candidate can be found, is determined and leading the charge to amend the tax, if it can't be ended. His starting point is to raise the exemption to $3.5 million (it stands at $1.5 million at present), meaning only 0.3 percent of estates would be taxed at all. And that's only the beginning. The NYTimes reports:
Where Mr. Kyl's plan really implodes is in its drive to cut the tax rate on big estates by some two-thirds, to 15 percent. A $3.5 million exemption, together with a top rate of 15 percent, would cut the taxes of America's wealthiest families by some $550 billion during its first 10 years. That would be nearly as bad as repeal itself.

Mr. Kyl contends that a 15 percent estate tax rate is fair, because it is the same as the capital gains tax rate that is applied to investment profits during one's lifetime. That's a false comparison. The capital gains tax law does not allow you to exempt a huge portion of your profits before the tax rate is applied. The estate tax law does. Once the $3.5 million exemption and other deductions were factored in, a 15 percent tax rate would translate into a mere 6 percent levy on a $20 million estate.
The Republican plan in the old days was to cut the size of government. Cutting taxes like the estate tax fit in with the overall strategy of cutting and even ending spending programs. But now that they are in charge, they have found themselves as fond of over-spending as any Democratic congress ever was. As long as the GOP leadership remains in place, I predict they will have a harder time actually cutting taxes, with the exception of the occasional election-year high-profile cut (secretly offset somewhere else by an increase). Still, they will talk about their desire to cut taxes all the damn time.

Do you think that, like with the Bolton appointment, Bush-Cheney are getting tired of Frist not being able to get their initiatives passed?
Equal Time
Via Washington Monthly, Chris Mooney asks USAToday why they give opposing-view space to crackpot and inaccurate ideas.
Just because your editorial page takes a stance in favor of evolution, that doesn't mean you have to publish nonsense as a rejoinder. But USA Today just did that today with this op-ed, from a Utah Republican (not a scientist), which has the gall to claim: "There is zero scientific fossil evidence that demonstrates organic evolutionary linkage between primates and man." Absolutely outrageous.
I can't agree more. I absolutely loathe the modern media equal time/crossfire approach to every issue, just because a significant percentage of Americans want to believe that the theory of evolution is wrong (mostly because they don't understand it). I'm reminded of an example Michael Kinsley once gave about the foolishness that CNN's Crossfire became while he was still a host, when the topic was extra-terrestrial intelligent life and producers argued over the proper liberal position, for or against. At some point, the job of the journalist should include evaluating the reasonable relevance of dissenting voices, instead of habitually quoting any fool.

I'm looking forward to Chris's upcoming book, The Republican War on Science.

Monday, August 08, 2005

What have you been reading, listening to, watching?

Deb recommends the new Harry Potter but has some questions.
Lewberry recommends the book "Kitchen Confidential" if you're into cooking or restaurants; he also says stay as far away from Alexander as you can.

Rest in Peace
Not just Peter Jennings who I liked ok, but also Ibrahim Ferrer of Buena Vista Social Club. He was 78.

Hoping to see
Jim Jarmusch's new film, "Broken Flowers" with Bill Murray. Wait, I don't mean I hope to see it with Bill Murray. I mean the film has Bill Murray in it, and I hope to see it. Slate has a review I haven't read but skimmed enough to know they liked it. What are you hoping to see? Will the new Broadway version of The Producers be any good? I loved the original so much I kinda hate to see it redone.

More on Gore TV
Douglas Rushkoff, a former Current TV insider, blogs about the idealism that gave rise to the idea, and his disappointment in the outcome. (via BoingBoing)
It wasn't a cable channel we were talking about, but a movement. And those of us who were ready to lend a hand - everyone from Steven Johnson to Scott Heifferman - were imagining something more like or than MTV. In fact, the whole idea of putting the thing on television seemed rather superfluous. Why not let this thing evolve more naturally online, where people can post text, photos, or video, and where collaborative filtering could be used to select front-page pieces?
Then, from what I can tell, the opportunity arose to buy a cable TV channel. And then focus shifted a bit towards raising the money, making the deal, and becoming a real cable channel. And I'm sure there are realities to all this that are far beyond what I can imagine. I've never raised money, never done a multi-million-dollar project, never had to deal with investors. But television is a powerful force - a powerful medium. A very strong flavor to bring into the recipe.

But it's also *last* century's big medium. It's not the best platform for a participatory media movement. And so the priorities of the project, understandably, shifted to the priorities of TV: looking cool, creating an aspirational culture, and so on.
I finally caught the They Might Be Giants documentary a few nights ago. Not the most professional looking doc you'll ever see, but lots of good stuff, clips and interviews. I wasn't really aware, or else had forgotten, the role they played in early MTV, when all the videos were headbanging bands and then this quirky duo playing music like nobody else suddenly was pushed into heavy rotation.

Weekend Box Office
1. Dukes of Hazzard (ugh)
2. Wedding Crashers
3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (still?)
4. Sky High
5. Must Love Dogs

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Good news
A vaccine has been developed that is successful against the deadly strain of avian flu that has been found in humans in Asia and Russia.
Health officials have been racing to develop a vaccine because they worry that if that strain mutated and combined with a human influenza virus to create a new virus, it could spread rapidly through the world. (The vaccine cannot lead to such a situation because it is made from killed virus.)

Tens of millions of birds have died from infection with the virus and culling to prevent the spread of the virus. About 100 people have been infected, and about 50 have died from this strain of the avian influenza virus, called A(H5N1). So far there has been no sustained human-to-human transmission, but that is what health officials fear, because it could cause a pandemic. And that fear has driven the intense research to develop a vaccine.
It's worth pointing out, in this Bush-driven anti-science climate, that these so-named "health officials" are government employees. This wasn't driven by supply-and-demand market force capitalism. Supposing this vaccine saves us from a massive pandemic death-watch (and there are still plenty of questions about whether it can and would), it will be due government-funded research, primarily at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, part of the NIH, not because Pfizer or Merck gives a damn about a disease nobody yet suffers.

But there are questions still about the logistics of this vaccine. As the Institute director said: "We don't have all the vaccine we need to meet the possible demand. The critical issue now is, can we make enough vaccine, given the well-known inability of the vaccine industry to make enough vaccine?" There's also this fact: the vaccine would work to keep you from getting infected, not cure you once the virus is ravaging your body (or enticing it to ravage itself, as these things go). So, we need the organized will to produce and implement the vaccine before it spreads over the world, including and especially the poorest most vulnerable world regions.

For those of you interested, the company producing the vaccine, Sanofi-Aventis has a stock ticker symbol of SNY. But there are lots more steps to be taken in the testing process.

Also, last question, do they actually expose test subjects to this deadly avian flu virus to see if they get sick? They would have to pay me some serious cash for that. Maybe there's a safer way they can still test your resistance.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Moment of Silence
This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of the first atomic bomb, dropped on Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people. 140,000. If it's not too corny for you, this is a decent day to hope (or pray, if that's your thing) for something as simple and generic as world peace. Lots of bombs out there.
Time for another prime-time address to the nation?
61% of Americans now disapprove of the way the President is handling the war in Iraq. Only 34% approve. And job approval has reached a new low of only 42%, entering that territory that consists solely of the people that would never, under any circumstance, say they disapprove.

Meanwhile in an attempt to change the subject to something he really sucks at--the economy--Bush got through the entire radio address this morning without, as Atrios points out, even bothering to mention the bracing loss the military suffered this week.

Does he think Americans just might forget that we're in Iraq? There are some weeks when you can't as President just decide what to make the message of the week. When more than 20 marines are killed in a week thanks mostly to the largest roadside bomb attack yet, the story of the week is Iraq. Our President's message about it? Not really thinking about it. Love him or hate him, Ronald Reagan would have never ignored a loss like that in a weekly address.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Nashville Predators signed Paul Kariya. At 30, he's the youngest person in the NHL to have more than 700 career points. Turned down lots of bigger offers, and could have gone to any team in the league. There is actually a little hockey excitement in the air today.
Visible from Space
This is scary:
Commander Eileen Collins said astronauts on shuttle Discovery had seen widespread environmental destruction on Earth and warned Thursday that greater care was needed to protect natural resources. . . ."Sometimes you can see how there is erosion, and you can see how there is deforestation. It's very widespread in some parts of the world," Collins said in a conversation from space with Japanese officials in Tokyo, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Collins, making her fourth shuttle flight, said the view from space made clear that Earth's atmosphere must be protected, too. "The atmosphere almost looks like an eggshell on an egg, it's so very thin," she said. "We know that we don't have much air, we need to protect what we have."
Krugman on Bush-Science
Followup to the last post about Bush's spanking by the Nat. Science Teachers Assn., Paul Krugman writes about the PR campaign waged by the anti-science forces:
You might have thought that a strategy of creating doubt about inconvenient research results could work only in soft fields like economics. But it turns out that the strategy works equally well when deployed against the hard sciences.

The most spectacular example is the campaign to discredit research on global warming. Despite an overwhelming scientific consensus, many people have the impression that the issue is still unresolved. This impression reflects the assiduous work of conservative think tanks, which produce and promote skeptical reports that look like peer-reviewed research, but aren't. And behind it all lies lavish financing from the energy industry, especially ExxonMobil.

There are several reasons why fake research is so effective. One is that nonscientists sometimes find it hard to tell the difference between research and advocacy - if it's got numbers and charts in it, doesn't that make it science?

Even when reporters do know the difference, the conventions of he-said-she-said journalism get in the way of conveying that knowledge to readers. I once joked that if President Bush said that the Earth was flat, the headlines of news articles would read, "Opinions Differ on Shape of the Earth." The headlines on many articles about the intelligent design controversy come pretty close.
"Intelligent Design" is their newest vehicle, but the goal is the same: discrediting any science that either impedes big business, or that questions any literal reading of the Bible. Those special interests are your modern Republican Party.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Disappointed? Of course. Stunned? Surely not.
The National Science Teachers Association issued a statement condemning Bush's recent remarks in support of teaching "intelligent design" in science classrooms (via The Loom):
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the world's largest organization of science educators, is stunned and disappointed that President Bush is endorsing the teaching of intelligent design - effectively opening the door for nonscientific ideas to be taught in the nation's K-12 science classrooms.

"We stand with the nation's leading scientific organizations and scientists, including Dr. John Marburger, the president's top science advisor, in stating that intelligent design is not science. Intelligent design has no place in the science classroom," said Gerry Wheeler, NSTA Executive Director.
I'm thinking we should just get rid of science altogether in the classroom. It's all so uncertain and theoretical.
Novak Unglued [UPDATED]
Apparently the evil Bob Novak just lost it on CNN and walked off the set with Carville giving him a hard time and being set to ask about the CIA leak case during the next segment.

[UPDATE: CNN suspended the prince of darkness.
A CNN spokeswoman, Edie Emery, called Novak's behavior "inexcusable and unacceptable." Novak apologized to CNN, and CNN was apologizing to viewers, she said.

"We've asked Mr. Novak to take some time off," she said.
I guess he's a wee-bit stressed]
Free Textbooks
Jimbo Wales, the founder of the amazing Wikipedia, is guest-posting at Lessig's blog this week about his vision of the future of open-source content. Today's post suggests that one of the next areas to tackle is textbooks.
An open project with dozens of professors adapting and refining a textbook on a particular subject will be a very difficult thing for a proprietary publisher to compete with. The point is: there are a huge number of people who are qualified to write these books, and the tools are being created to leave them to do that.
I'm all for it. Textbooks are an enormous burden. They cost too much; they are written in either a purposely uninteresting style, or a disgustingly campy attempt to seem contemporary; they offer narrow dogmatic approaches to complex problems, or else they over-complicate matters where there's not really much there (usually to help a topic fill a "chapter"). Worst of all, textbooks are never willing to turn a questioning eye back on their own discipline.

Plus, they cost a ridiculous amount. Students are required to have books, so I'm obligated to make use of them. Then, the kids feel a safety net about not coming to class or not taking notes/paying attention because they feel like they can always study the book at the last moment, refusing to grasp the fact that much of what I teach is either not in the book, or is on some level contradicted by it.

An open source textbook project would allow constant self-criticism and revision. And it would be free. But most importantly, being a free Internet resource would make the textbook a clearly supporting guide to the actual "course" taking place in the classroom, rather the other way around--as many of my students seem to approach--as if the purpose of class is to illuminate and help them understand The Book.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Article 19 Family Update
Many of you have followed the trevails of talented, witty, charter FOB (friend of the blog) Deb, who has been unemployed for way too long. Until now, that is! Congrats to Deb on landing a fabulous job befitting her abilities. Sadly she had to leave Tennessee to accept, but still, hearty Article 19 congratulations. I'm sure everyone feels the same.
I have to admit to being befuddled by Frist's back-flip, 2-and-a-half-twist stem cell somersault from last week and it hasn't made any more sense in retrospect. Hasn't the guy gone out of his way for a few years now coddling up to the religious right? Schiavo, Justice Sunday, all that stuff? Now, the leading persecutor of cartoon characters, James Dobson says he feels "stabbed in the back by somebody that I thought was a friend … [And] that is what I think has happened here. This is not personal ... Sen. Frist has not put the knife in my back. But it’s essentially placed in the backs of all pro-life and pro-family people around the country."

So, what exactly is Frist's plan, politically? '08 is shaping up to be a GOP war between the McCain-Giuliani faction and the religious wackos. Having positioned himself on the side of the wackos, hasn't he effectively burned the bridge to the only base he had? Being their only champion seemed like his only ticket to Republican relevance as a Presidential candidate. Now what? With that and all of his Senate failures, only utter delusion would compel him to forge ahead with a campaign for the nomination, so far as I can see.

Does anyone else see something of a plan that I'm missing?
Wolcott on Gore TV
He's not impressed with Current, and wants his German newscasts back. To be fair to the new network, James--like me, sadly--isn't exactly in the target marketing age group. I don't really get the jeans the kids wear nowadays, so I guess there's no reason I would like their television right? Still, I'm guessing a good bit of Wolcott's problems have to do with their limited programming, being new. Surely that will get better.
The channel only launched yesterday and I've already seen snippets of the pod about the young hip pretty female minister four times while channel-surfing. Who's going to sit and watch a channel where the same segments are repeated like hotel in-house informercials? Even interesting segments don't withstand that kind of scrutiny. Especially when there isn't a single live broadcast or even newsbreak to break up the monotonous self-generating loop rhythm.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Hackett Results:
Hackett (D) 55,151--48%
Schmidt (R) 59,132--52%
100% reporting

Updated 9:57 Central. Oh well. It's a remarkable accomplishment to come this close in this red a district with this high a turnout. But nobody will remember that for too long. Still hopefully foreshadowing of what's to come in Nov. '06.
Special Election Day [UPDATED]
In Ohio's 2nd District. We could use a miracle there and that's what a victory would be. Even a single-digit race (in a district that went for Bush by 30) really should send a strong message, but I don't know that anyone listens to those anymore. Keep your eyes open. When I find updates, I'll let you know. Polls close at 7:30 eastern.

[UPDATE: DKos diarist calebfaux reports that news is saying turnout appears to be low. In a district that skews Republican 65-35 (at least), I can't think that high turnout would be a good thing, so I suppose it's good news. But producing a win would take a monumental turnout swing. Essentially, we have to hope that everyone who voted Kerry last time (or who regrets the Bush vote) is motivated, and everyone else doesn't really notice there's a race on. With all the money and attention it's getting, I just can't imagine that perfect storm happening. My money says that turnout only appears light compared to the Presidential election, and because so many (I'm guessing) have voted early. My prediction is Schmidt wins 58-43. If it's worse than that I promise to give up all pep rallying on such longshots.]

Monday, August 01, 2005

What have you been listening to, watching and reading?

Against the grain
If only more content owners had this kind of marketing sense. Instead of fighting online consumers to make it as difficult and expensive to obtain their product as they can, there's a better way. A couple of stories this weekend point to the success of strategies that get music and books to consumers and let the desire for more take over. First, Naxos, a classical recording label, is making every one of its recordings available for streaming online for a fee, even to libraries that can pass on the service to its users. Belmont subscribes to this service.
Has the service affected CD sales?

"Our CD sales are certainly holding their own," says Bisha. "In fact, this is a wonderful way of reaching people with our catalogue.

"People may listen to things they really like, then go out and buy a copy to play at home or in the car."
Second, the NYTimes reports on a new study investigating the effect of used-book sales on new book sales:
When used books are substituted for new ones, the seller faces competition from the secondhand market, reducing the price it can set for new books. But there's another effect: the presence of a market for used books makes consumers more willing to buy new books, because they can easily dispose of them later.

Used books, the economists found, are not strong substitutes for new books. . . . Moreover, the presence of lower-priced books on the Amazon Web site, Mr. Bezos has noted, may lead customers to "visit our site more frequently, which in turn leads to higher sales of new books." The data appear to support Mr. Bezos on this point.
It's simple really. The bigger the role your product plays in my life, the more likely I am to spend some of my resources getting more. And as I develop favorites, and follow more closely, the more likely I am willing to spend more to have new current products. That economic reality is one the simple-minded, anti-Napster forces have never really gotten their heads around.

Al Gore TV
Current launches today. Not that I get to see it.

New on Video
Downfall, which Doug recommended at an earlier Media Monday, is out on video this week.

The Aristocrats[UPDATED]
Wow, does this look great or what? Being released unrated, it will probably be a while before it comes to the 'ville here. From the NYTimes review:
"The Aristocrats" is a work of painstaking and penetrating scholarship, and, as such, one of the most original and rigorous pieces of criticism in any medium I have encountered in quite some time. It is also possibly the filthiest, vilest, most extravagantly obscene documentary ever made.
[UPDATE] From Slate:
OK: It's not much of a joke. And yet to hear a real master tell it—and 75 different comedians tell the joke, or portions of it, in The Aristocrats—is like contemplating a Picasso painting of an apple. The inventiveness of the performance obliterates the banality of the material. What's more, the variations are endless, and endlessly anatomized: the difference between the way men and women tell the joke, how it plays into the racial politics of comedy, and so on. . . . Hegel says that when the human spirit achieves perfect self-knowledge, it becomes transparent to itself and transcends the trappings of mere consciousness, and at that point history ends. The Aristocrats is the stand-up version thereof—an absurdist aufhebung. Which is just a fancy way of saying that it shows comedy disappearing, almost literally, up its own ass.
Being sick for several days now has confirmed my worst fears: tv sucks. There isn't even a decent news channel to set it on anymore. And the weekend is worst of all. Saturday afternoon, MSNBC and CNN both had "people in the news" hour-long specials. Who were they profiling? John Roberts? No. How about Eminimem on one channel and Whitney Houston on the other. I've been slightly saved by HBO, which showed Bill Maher's new standup special "I'm Swiss" -- it is hilarious and highly recommended, and the new Six Feet Under episode last night. What a great show. There are only 3 episodes left in the entire series--if you saw last night please no commenting on the story (some won't have seen it yet). It's starting to become clear how things are going to wrap up. I've got a post mulling around in my head about why it's such a great show that I'll get out one of these days.

Weekend Box Office
1. Wedding Crashers
2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
3. Sky High
4. Stealth
5. Must Love Dogs

Anyone seen that penguin movie? Is it for kids? or just g-rated? Also, looks like The Island is going to be a bust.