Monday, July 31, 2006

Over the past few years, as the poor got poorer, the health care crisis worsened, wealth and media became more and more concentrated, and our political system was bought out from under us, prophetic Christianity lost its voice. The religious right drowned everyone else out. And they hijacked Jesus. The very Jesus who stood in Nazareth and proclaimed, “The Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.” The very Jesus who told 5000 hungry people that all of you will be fed, not just some of you. The very Jesus who challenged the religious orthodoxy of the day by feeding the hungry on the Sabbath, who offered kindness to the prostitute and hospitality to the outcast, who said the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children, raised the status of women, and treated even the taxpayer like a child of God. The very Jesus who drove the money changers from the temple. This Jesus has been hijacked and turned into a guardian of privilege instead of a champion of the dispossessed. Hijacked, he was made over into a militarist, hedonist, and lobbyist….sent prowling the halls of Congress in Guccis, seeking tax breaks and loopholes for the powerful, costly new weapon systems that don’t work, and punitive public policies.

Let’s get Jesus back.

The Jesus who inspired a Methodist ship-caulker named Edward Rogers to crusade across New England for an eight hour work day. Let’s get back the Jesus who caused Frances William to rise up against the sweatshop. The Jesus who called a young priest named John Ryan to champion child labor laws, unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, and decent housing for the poor – ten years before the New Deal. The Jesus in whose name Dorothy Day challenged the Church to march alongside auto workers in Michigan, fishermen and textile workers in Massachusetts, brewery workers in New York, and marble cutters in Vermont. The Jesus in whose name E.B. McKinney and Owen Whitfield challenged a Mississippi system that kept sharecroppers in servitude and debt. The Jesus in whose name a Presbyterian minister named Eugene Carson Blake - “Ike’s Pastor” - was arrested for protesting racial injustice in Baltimore. The Jesus who led Martin Luther King to Memphis to join sanitation workers in their struggle for a decent wage.That Jesus has been scourged by his own followers, dragged through the streets by pious crowds, and crucified on a cross of privilege.

Mel Gibson missed that. He missed the resurrection—the spiritual awakening that followed the death of Jesus.


What are you watching, reading, listening to?

Thumbs up on new music (new to me):
Moderate approval:
Dixie Chicks' Taking the Long Way
Elvis Cosello's The River in Reverse (w/ Allen Touissant)
Frank Black's Fast Man Raider Man

Big yippee:
Sufjan Stevens' Illinoise (I know this isn't new but I just around to hearing it and it's really fabulous.--Don

MTV Turns 25: with no fanfare, because you don't want to remind your demographic you're older than they are.

Weekend Box Office
1. Miami Vice
2. Pirates 2
3. John Tucker Must Die
4. Monster House
5. The Ant Bully

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Passion of Mel Gibson [UPDATED]

[UPDATE: Atrios says perfectly what everyone else is thinking, regarding Mel's anti-Semitic tirade: "He laid it out nice and clearly awhile back, and everyone agreed not to notice."]

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Kevin Drum has an essential post today which serves as a nice followup to my last, on the President's fairyland, binary-view military strategy. And he has a nice sequel.

We simply can't do this--advocating the destruction of infrastructure in the Middle East and decrying "calm". It doesn't just go against the American way. It's bad strategy. If you don't get to anything else today, read it.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Josh has video of the President's answer to David Gregory's piercing question this morning. You have to see it to believe it. Bush, of course, didn't respond to Gregory so you have to just appreciate the beauty of the question separately. But what he did say is remarkable and depressing, namely this: stability in the world is no longer a goal of America's foreign policy. Calm is over-rated. (that is not hyperbole, it's almost exactly what he said) He really believes that we can wash away hatred in the world and usher in a democracy and freedom and peace through a concentrated strategy of force, violence, and confrontation.

Things aren't going badly you see, this is just a part of the plan, our coherent foreign policy in action.

He simply lives in a scary-utopian fairytale dreamland of good and evil. In addition to being the worst ever, Bush is also maybe the least practical President ever?
I'm a little late - but Deb wrote in yesterday with her FF entries for me to post since she's out of town. Her contributions below! Happy Friday!

Frothy Friday

What a stunner: Lance Bass (N’SYNC) is gay . . .

As is Bill Clinton, according to gender identity expert Ann Coulter, whose column trash has now been removed from three newspapers in recent weeks.

Ladies, pass by Victoria’s Secret and head to The Container Store: men feel un-nurtured if we “let the house go” and find housekeeping a more powerful aphrodisiac than sexy lingerie. Unfortunately, this is not an article from 1952.

The Artist formerly known as the Artist, who was previously known as Prince and is once again known as Prince, getting divorced a 2nd time – not sure what he’s calling it.

Most fun to read headline of the week: Army dismisses gay Arabic linguist; bonus – he’s from Johnson City TN.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

return of a political jedi knight ...
Molly Ivins tells us desparate democrats what we should do. I think it's a great idea. If only we could convince him. My very inside source says it's unlikely but not unheard of. If he were four years younger, I'm told, he would jump at it. Therefore, I think we need to tell him why four years in age dont matter as much as four years in office. Below are excerpts from Ivins' article. Please click on the link above and read in its entirety:
Here's what we do. We run Bill Moyers for president.
I am serious as a stroke about this. It's simple, cheap and effective, and it will move the entire spectrum of political discussion in this country. Moyers is the only public figure who can take the entire discussion and shove it toward moral clarity just by being there.
Do I think Bill Moyers can win the presidency? No, that seems like a very long shot to me. The nomination? No, that seems like a very long shot to me. Then why run him? Think, imagine, if seven or eight other Democratic candidates, all beautifully coiffed and triangulated and carefully coached to say nothing that will offend anyone, stand on stage with Bill Moyers in front of cameras for a national debate … what would happen? Bill Moyers would win, would walk away with it, just because he doesn't triangulate or calculate or trim or try to straddle the issues. ... He is not afraid of being called "unpatriotic." And besides, he is a wise and a kind man who knows how to talk on TV.
One time in the Johnson years, LBJ called on Moyers to say the blessing at a dinner. "SPEAK UP, Bill," Lyndon roared. "I can't hear you." Moyers replied, "I wasn't speaking to you, sir." That's the point of a run by Moyers: He doesn't change to whom he is speaking just because some president is yelling at him
To let Moyers know what you think of this idea, write him at PO Box 309, Bernardsville, NJ, 07924.
Iraq Polls
No matter what Bush says, the American people want out, we want a timetable, and we're pretty sure we don't want to wait around for Iraq to stabilize. At least that's what we think we believe.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Straight-Talk Express Runs Out of Gas
McCain strips away the last vestiges of his maverick, independent persona and sides with Bush on the tyranny of signing statements.
Health of the Age-Advanced
(Via Atrios) This is, of course, not a relevant political story, sins of the father and all that. And, much as I'd like to ridicule, or even be creeped out, my true and most honest response (assuming this is not in fact a story of prostitution, and it doesn't appear to be) is respect and applause for the father of Senator Norm Coleman.

Something tells me that by the time I'm 81, I'll trade many legal repercussions for a late afternoon of sex in the car with a woman half my age. Frankly, it sounds like a good time. I have every reason to believe that occasional sex in the car is probably healthy--if not for the literal heart, then at least for the figurative one.
Predictions Coming True
In the lead-up to the Iraq War, Bush and Cheney predicted a number of things: that we would be greeted as liberators, that casualties would be minimal, that Iraqi oil would pay for the rebuilding effort, and that the beauty of democracy would unfurl across the region with all the infectious rippling of an e-mail virus.

Skeptics of this plan--those who one might in retrospect be called reasonable, thoughtful, correct, but who were at the time called soft, anti-troops and un-American--predicted that the war would be long and deadly, that the entire region could destabilize, that Iraqis would decry what they would consider to be our occupation, that Iran would be empowered, that elections would result in frightening theocracies, and that our troops would be caught in the middle of a religious civil war that would engulf Iraq, and get in the way of all the flowers and candies they're trying to throw our way in thanks.

I don't need to tell you who turns out to be right. It's only shocking that the Party and the Administration that was so dreadfully, painfully, tragically wrong have as much popular support as they still do.

Also surprising is the news highlighted in Dan Froomkin's colummn (via Atrios) that the President now has no problem blithely admitting that at this point we're not fighting terrorists in the war; we're trying to do hold down a civil war from in the middle of it.
A majority wants American troops to start coming home soon. What unqualified support there is for the war seems to come from people who believe it is central front in the war on terror.

But how will people feel about our troops being sent into the crossfire between rival Muslim sects? That is not the war anyone signed up to fight.
[National security advisor Stephen] Hadley explained...

"You've now seen the emergence of death squads and armed groups on right and left, and they're doing great damage to the civilian population. That's really what is new. It's something that we've seen occur since February, and it is a new challenge. This isn't about insurgency, this isn't about terror, this is about sectarian violence."
Incompetent, but loyal.
Yes, that describes me, but it also describes Condi Rice, according to conservative allies of dubya (emphasis mine):

"The president has yet to understand that people make policy and not the other way around," a senior national security policy analyst said. "Unlike [former Secretary of State Colin] Powell, Condi is loyal to the president. She is just incompetent on most foreign policy issues."

This morning, Kissinger Barbie failed to woo world leaders at a crisis summit on the current Mideast implosion. Apparently foreign ministers believe the US is dragging its feet in calling for a ceasefire to allow Israel to continue pounding Hezbollah/Lebanon. She responded, well . . . hmm . . . let us think about that for a few days and we'll get back to you.

When she headed over there (finally) this week, the cynic in me said, let's see if girlfriend can raise her odds for the WH or eliminate them. It appears the latter may be more likely.

So if shrub's allies prevail, who might succeed Condi and how much worse could things get?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hillary-Watch...or...Is this really what we need right now?
At the recent DLC meeting, Senator Clinton pushed her new legislative plan, called the "American Dream" initiative. It's full of Clinton-type goodies for regular working-class Americans:
The centerpiece proposal would provide additional support for college costs, with the goal of increasing the number of college graduates by 1 million a year by 2015. The proposal includes $150 billion in block grants for states to ease rising tuition costs and a consolidated tax credit for students. To qualify, states and universities would have to limit tuition increases to the rate of inflation.

Other ideas include requirements for employers to establish retirement accounts for all workers and a refundable tax credit for savers; "baby bonds" that would create a government-funded savings account of $500 for every child born in the United States; a refundable tax credit to help provide the down payment on housing; universal health care for children; and benefits for small businesses to lower the cost of providing health insurance to workers.
These all sound like fine ideas worth supporting, especially the last 2, health-care proposals. But my honest first response is: what is this, the 90s? It seems to me that we currently face a foreign policy disaster and nightmare. Yeah I know, this is a domestic initiative and the government has to do both at the same time. I just wonder if, whether we're talking about the '06 election or looking forward to '08, anyone will be able to hear such things.

We need a bold, confident and sensible plan to start the process of putting the world back together. We need to fundamentally change the way we think about energy, national security, and the environment. Will people really vote based on some relatively small-program life-cushioners? With the world ablaze and US 30,000 troops injured or dead? Are we that easy? And yes, yes, I know we have to address more than one thing at a time. But do you see any evidence to believe that Americans can think about more than one thing at a time? I guess what I'm trying to say is, doesn't this plan, as a campaign strategy, really sound out of date?

Monday, July 24, 2006

What have you been listening to, watching, reading?

Article 19 Film Recommendation: The Lady in Water
I know, this movie has been getting plenty of bad reviews of late, but I wanted to see for myself before the negative buzz got too loud. The first thing to know is, this film is horribly marketed, and in a misleading sense. It is not a horror film, or a psychological thriller. To put it plainly, it is a fairy tale. A bedtime story. A children's story, even. And therein lies the problem. The Lady in Water offers plenty of grownup subject matter, some genuine Hollywood-style fright, and some grownup humor (there are more purposefully funny moments than purposefully scary ones), but the story they carry is essentially a child's story, complete with preposterous details, and some breakdowns in basic logic. If you've read reviews referring to the movie as "silly" it's because of an inability to look past those elements. I found this split-personality of the film to be pretty unavoidable. I'm not even sure I can refer to it as a failure of the movie---it's so much a part of what the story is.

There were definitely failures though--starting with the distraction and, depending on how you look at it, the egotism of Shyamalan having cast himself in an important role. But also, some of the humor didn't work (at all). And even some of his trademark timing in suspense was pretty clunky. All of that added together leave you with more than one moment of.."why" when watching The Lady in Water. It's a children's story that's not for kids, with creature-suspense elements that for the most part just don't work so well.

That having been said, I can say some good things about it, starting with Paul Giamatti, who is just right here and single-handedly gives the film a chance. But 2 other things make this not-so-great movie experience better than most failures. And, depending on what you like, and can look past, may make it worth a watch:

1) Shyamalan's sense of a film's drama being--like a detective story--as much a gradual revelation of the truth as it is about actual events unfolding seems an entirely unique film aesthetic, at least the extent to which he takes that challenge. If you enjoy that kind of construction like I do, in which a story builds a gradual picture of the truth, then you may enjoy sitting through this on some level, despite its other many short-comings.

2) I'm a softy, and something of a sentamentalist, we've established that time and again here. But, the *idea* at the heart of The Lady in Water is a beautiful one. It is a theme that is not new to the director: the idea tha what appear coincidences or accidents may be coordinated agents in a larger drama; that ordinary acts may lead to extraordinary, even heroic, consequences; that anyone (if not everyone) may have a role to play in the unfolding of those events of great consequence. And that role may not be immediately apparent. It's a beautiful idea, and that idea *is* the film.

Some movies fail because, despite their moments of real beauty (or humor or whatever), there is no idea holding them together, no real reason for their existence. If Lady in the Water fails, it's by being mostly only a beautiful idea, and with too few well-executed moments along the way. And given that the film's mission was a mash of self-referential, suspense-laden, detective-story, children's fairy tale, it could be that much better execution may have been impossible.

Weekend Box Office
1. Pirates 2
2. Monster House
3. Lady in the Water (I saw it, and will type something up about it later today)
4. You, Me and Dupree
5. Little Man
12. An Inconvenient Truth (yet another million dollar weekend. See it if you haven't yet. It's still playing here in Nashville, but this could be the last week. Oh yeah, and take the kids.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Cool Down
After getting your blood pressure up with anti-science below, cool down with a despondent smearing of anguish and shame, brought to you by James Wolcott. We live in seriously screwed up times. I can only imagine this is what it felt like to be awake for the tenure of Nixon, but I can't believe it was any worse. January 2008 2009 (ugh) simply can't get here fast enough. God only knows how much worse things will be by then. I only hope I live long enough to see the world recover from 8 years of George W.

I can't believe we re-elected him.
Anti-Science Blood-Boiling Options
You have 3 choices for this week's anti-science (anti-Earth?) link. Make your choice based on just how angry you'd like to get.

1. For a medium simmer, try crazy Senator Inhofe's latest tirade.

2. To get a good low boil happening, check out the latest change in NASA's mission being made on your behalf.

3. But to really get steaming mad, read Peggy Noonan. And just think about her main point here: just in case--on the off chance--civilization as we know it ceases to exist because of global warming, there's only one group to blame. You'll have to read it to find out who. But be ready to blow your top.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Charles Barkley is My Role Model
Frothy Friday

Tattooed rocker / Baywatch bimbo love story #1: wedding bells for Pam and Kid.

Tattooed rocker / Baywatch bimbo love story #2: one less bell to answer for Carmen and Dave.

Poor Christy Brinkley: maybe everyone’s shocked because they still cling to hope SOMEONE may be immune to infidelity.

NOT WORK SAFE w/ volume up – Was I the last to see this hilarious version of Lebowski? It’s edited to the most frequently used expletive in the movie.

Question once asked by a former coworker of mine: are all the words in the dictionary? They are now, since 100 new words have just been added to Merriam Webster’s, including “supersize” and “unibrow.” Meanwhile, Time Out New York has a preview of a future batch including “celebuskank.”

And finally, speaking of celebuskanks: DB, here’s a more affordable option for you than a sex robot.

Gan bei -

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I'm taking answers in the comments to the following, throwing it up there for grand speculation. I do want to know what you seriously think.

Why did the President decide to speak to the NAACP today? You can read the speech here.

I can think of a few reasons that make sense:

1. Wanted to support some rare issues where the NAACP agrees with the GOP in the hopes of confusing them in mid-term election voting, like school vouchers, and faith-based funding. He didn't mention gay marriage that I saw, but that would have been the same kind of thing.

2. Wanted to make it look like he's done more than he really has on some issues: in supporting AIDS treatment and prevention in Africa, supporting Pell grants (not sure how he could mention that with a straight face), and promoting home ownership among the African-American community.

3. Just simply wants to improve his image with a gracious speech that aims to build some bridges.

4. Things couldn't get worse? After Katrina African-Americans offered Bush a microscopic 4% approval rating. Could it just be he thought what-have-I-got-to-lose?

I have another idea. I think he was kinda hoping to get booed/heckled. It's a political reverse jujitsu move that would have capitalized on the best Republican strategy they've ever had: to divide the country based on race. Then on the news when it sounds like he made a good-faith effort to reach out, those Reagan Democrats they really crave will just see angry black people not respecting the President. Luckily that didn't happen, apart from some Larouche supporters causing a bit of trouble. Of course Bush still wins here because he looks gracious and looks like he made progress toward community-building or some such thing.

But what do you think? He's turned them down every year so far. Now, he decides to go. Why did he really do it?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A different kind of Presidential poll
From Gallup: (via MyDD)
Republican winners? Giuliani (my prediction) and Rice (shocking--does nobody pin the Bush foreign policy nightmare on her?) Democratic winners? Edwards, and Clinton, and Gore. The 3 Dems are basically tied here. I'm a bit surprised Gore doesn't have some space ahead of Hilary.
"How much must America pay for the education" of President Bush?
I'm not asking. Pat Buchanan is.
I agree with Kevin. To me, the notion of ridding the world of Hezbollah sounds just delightful. And if I thought that Israel could push a button or launch just the right series of military attacks and then be able to wipe their hands and know, well, we're done with that problem, then I'd be all for it - and would be willing to withstand some damage being done in the process. But this idea has about the same relationship to reality as befall dreams of ridding the world of "terrorists," or, I'm reminded of the constant local police refrain that we will now--for our next trick--root gangs out of our high schools. (Here's a newsflash: all it takes is a couple of disaffected teenagers angry at some other disaffected teenagers and you've got yourself some gangs. Good luck curtailing that.)

You know, they don't have printed team rosters or a limited physical quality or a precise chemical makeup. It's not like ridding the world of polio. It's like saying we want to rid the world of angry hate. You can't change just one thing. And the way you go about addressing it affects the shape, makeup, motivations, determination, resources of the other. I just don't think going after it with a bigger, more heavily-armed version of angry-hate is likely to work.
Who's the Target?
So, guess how Target makes all its money?Elizabeth Warren relays the news that 75% of their profit comes from their lending strategies--credit card deals. That means finance charges, late fees and over-limit penalties. And guess which group pays most of those: affluent upper-middle-class or the poor and working class? Geez, is our entire economy built on bilking the almost poor? And there's another element to this reality:
Is Target in the low-cost baby-stroller business or the high-cost credit card business? By a vote of three-to-one, the profit line says it is all about credit cards. That means that Target cares about tariffs and trade laws, immigration policies and all the things that keep their stores running. But they are even more interested in the laws of consumer credit. If they want to protect their biggest source of profits, then Target becomes a big ally for the credit card companies in the battles over credit card disclosure laws and interest rate regulation. Target has a real interest in every law that lets creditors squeeze debtors for repayment.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I try not to bother you all with my emotional state. But how can you look at the news today and not be terribly depressed and pessimistic? The dilemma is this: there is only one story (layered and complex as it is) right now. The rest, except ok maybe the impending environmental disaster that could threaten the well-being of Earth's entire population (don't get me started...), are decidedly trivial. So I can either write about other things--politics, the weather, stem cells and gay marriage--and we can pretend it's not going on, or tackle it head on and realize there's really not much I can say.

Even if a cease-fire could be achieved in the next week, which seems highly unlikely, we are left with Arab-Israeli relations (and by extension Arab-US relations) as strained, contemptuous and prepared for violence as they have been in a long time. Iran is emboldened and empowered; Hamas won a Palestinian election and is coordinating with Hezbollah; and Iraq is a bloody mess of civil war. In terms of a hoped-for peace, it's like we've turned the clock back to 1979. Only now the militant Arab world--in the streets anyway, if not the governments--sounds more determined, stronger, and with better weapons in its violent hatred for the West. And Israel no doubt feels stung by recent withdrawals/concessions and looks determined now to persuade through military might.

This doesn't seem to me a small chapter in this conflict. This outburst won't be overcome for many years. I hope I'm wrong, but legitimate peace in that region feels as far away as it has in my memory. Maybe it's impossible?

I'm not saying what could or should be done to avert relapses in conflict when, essentially, a thousand-year war is going on. I sure don't know how to solve or avoid it. But, remember when Clinton was President and we seemed on the precipice of a new sweeping Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement? Remember when the world seemed to actually believe in diplomacy--I'm talking about as recently as the 1990s? Remember when we were capable of at least trying to utter the phrase "honest broker" in reference to ourselves? Now 6 years later, we have a confrontational, combative and planless President, on a mission from God he seems to think, and with 3 years of a needless, provocative war under his belt. I can't help but believe that the masterminds of September 11, 2001 like what they see today, and consider all to be going according to plan.

It's depressing to watch.
More on Superman
As a Media Monday addendum, last night Doug added his review of Superman Returns, something I hoped for in an earlier post. If you've seen the film you should read it. Thanks, Doug!
President Bush Is On Crack
What's Wrong With Him??

I refer back to the standard question: WICDT (What if Clinton did that?)

Monday, July 17, 2006

What have you been reading, listening to, watching (apart from civilization falling apart at the seams)?

The Barry Manilow Dilemma
You may frighten the criminals, but you'll also annoy the townsfolk.

Who Will Voice the Word of God in Audio Version of The Bible?
Samuel L Jackson, of course. I just wish we could have gotten Isaac Hayes.

Article 19 Film Recommendation: Wordplay
If you've ever gotten in a routine that involves the NYTimes crossword puzzle, you will like Wordplay. This documentary is a tribute to the crossword obsession--particularly the pinnacle of crosswordery, the Times. It's not the most fabulous documentary ever, but it's fun--you hear from some well-known people (including Jon Stewart, the Indigo Girls, Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina, and Bill Clinton who has by far the best things to say in the whole film). Told through the lens of the 2005 National Crossword Puzzle Tournament, you will learn 3 things from this film:

1. No matter what you think, you are not very good at the NYTimes Crossword. There are people - humans mind you - who finish the Sunday Times puzzle in 8 minutes. and a weekday Times puzzle in 3 or less.

2. The people who create the puzzles have a very...uh...interesting set of mental skills. One of my favorite parts of the film is watching one of the regular NYTimes puzzle constructors explain his idea for a puzzle and get started on it.

3. The people who can quickly complete the puzzles have an even more...uh...interesting set of mental skills. It's not just a wicked vocabulary and memory for cultural tidbits, though that's a big part of it. These folks anticipate, filling in gaps with letters that make sense before they even look at the clue. They're antonym machines, plus they know which choices are likely to make the best crossword answers, letter-wise, in the context of the space. And they seem to think of all that stuff pretty much simultaneously.

New TVLand Show
You may have heard about Mr.T shedding his trademark gold chains. I read today that he's also got a new reality show starting up, called--you guessed it--"I Pity the Fool." Best as I can tell, on this show, Mr. T goes around to fools in need and offers the kind of spirited advice that only Mr. T could. It sounds to me like a cross between "Queer Eye", "Dr. Phil", and pro wrestling.

Weekend Box Office
1. Pirates 2
2. Little Man
3. You, Me and Dupree
4. Superman Returns
5. The Devil Wears Prada
11. An Inconvenient Truth

Friday, July 14, 2006

If Only There Was Some Theory To Explain This...
The average temperatures of the first half of 2006 were the highest ever recorded for the continental United States, scientists announced today.

Temperatures for January through June were 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average.

Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri experienced record warmth for the period, while no state experienced cooler-than-average temperatures, reported scientists from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. [Heat Map]
This warming coupled with less than average precipitation caused moderate to extreme droughts in almost 45 percent of the contiguous United States. However, some areas, such as the Northeast of the country experienced record rainfalls and severe floods.
Oh well, I'm sure it's not part of an ongoing trend, nothing with any worrisome consequences.
Frothy Friday
[bumped to the top - didn't mean to post over Frothy Friday!--Don]
Hello, Newman: overwhelmed postal worker has bags of undelivered mail at home.

All that glitters is not Mr. T: The former television action star shed the piles of gold chains that were his signature look after witnessing the destruction from Hurricane Katrina.

Probably a good investment, considering the market this week: Goldman Sachs Group, the blue chip investment bank, wants a Netherlands man to change the name of a sex-themed Web site called

Carly Simon's Top 10: Her #s 9 and 10 are among mine as well.

Who's a slut now? NY Times investigates, this time it's not about Congress (although Katherine Harris fits).

It's too damn hot and humid for heavy beverages, so I'm thinking gin & tonic this weekend. Cheers.
Why would I look at a 6 and call it a 9?
Because Republicans told me to. Our national media blows. (via Atrios)
The reporters who write on these matters literally don't understand the issues they are reporting, even though the issues are not all that complicated. Notwithstanding the fact that this bill expressly removes all limits on the President's eavesdropping powers -- and returns the state of the law regarding presidential eavesdropping to the pre-FISA era, when there were no limits on presidential eavesdropping of any kind -- Charles Babington and Peter Baker told their readers in The Washington Post -- in an article hilariously entitled: "Bush Compromises On Spying Program" -- that "the deal represented a clear retreat by Bush" and that "the accord is a reversal of Bush's position that he would not submit his program to court review."

Anyone with a basic understanding of what FISA was and of the conflicts in play could read the Specter bill and see that the last thing it does is entail "compromises" on the part of the White House. Nobody who knows how to read could read that bill and think that. At this point, I believe they don't even read the bill. It's hard to see how they could read the bill and then write that article. Instead, it seems that they just call their standard sources on each side, go with the White House-Specter assessment that this is some grand "compromise" on the ground that it is a joint view of both warring sides, and then throw in a cursory ACLU quote somewhere at the end just to be able to say that they included some opposing views. But the reporters who are writing about this - and I mean the ones writing in the pages of our country's most important newspapers - don't actually have any idea what they're talking about.

I know, that's not the kind of thing Jimi Hendrix was talking about, but that song's stuck in my head today so thought I'd make use of it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Give me a break.

Maybe you're not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but the Baptist preacher at Ken Lay's memorial service went way overboard in the other direction. I hope he has engaged a security guard.
Not Really What I Needed Today
World War III. WTF!?
Tom Cruise Can't Fight the Emmys
Not sure if it's ever been established as true the story that Tom Cruise pressured Comedy Central into pulling South Park's Scientology episode. But nonetheless, with Mission Impossible III's run over, the network is re-airing the show on Wednesday, July 19. This became essential when, hilariously in my opinion, the episode recently received an Emmy nomination...
(thanks to reader LE for the tip!)
Ok This Is Funny
The Connecticut Republican challenger to Lieberman/Lamont has a bit of an embarassing story to tell. Sure, it's overblown here but always fun to have a little laugh at GOP expense.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Article 19 Book Recommendation: The Omnivore's Dilemma
If you can only bring yourself to try one of my Media Monday suggestions so far this year, you should make it An Inconvenient Truth. If you can manage a work of fiction, you should get Julian Barnes' George and Arthur, the best novel (and it's a page-turner) I've read in a while. But if non-fiction is your thing, or if you can even imagine giving it a try, you should definitely read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma.

The book's premise is a simple one. He sets about enjoying 4 meals: 1) A fast-food meal from McDonald's, 2) A meal prepared from ingredients all grown "organically", particularly at some big industrial organic farms; 3) A meal from items grown at Polyface Farm in Virginia, a "management-intensive grazing" farm; and 4) A meal made entirely of items he hunted/gathered himself. Leading up to each he tells its story, from the ground up. It's a rumination on agriculture and industry, on biology and economy, public policy and the environment, health and ethics, and in the process paints a complex and troubling (for me) picture of the relationship we have to our food--something that is so essential to who we are, and says so much about what we value, and yet is something most of us think little about.

Here are some of the lessons I learned with a few choice quotes:

1. Cheap food isn't so cheap. The food and agriculture industry's ability to deliver modestly priced food--from grocery stores to fast-food meal factories--is built on a complex set of compromises that are not without a price. We're all paying now, or will have to in the future, for the toll our cheap-food obsession has on the public health (in the form of increased diabetes, obesity and heart disease), on the environment (the toxic pollution of pesticides, the soil depletion from an agricultural monoculture that no longer rotates crops), and in lost energy (it takes about 6 pounds of corn to create one standard McDonald's meal for a family of 3, not counting of course the corn that went into the fuel that transported everyone and everything to their golden arches rendezvous point).

And with global warming so much in the forefront, think about this: how much fossil fuel do you think is burned to process/harvest/transport your food from the nether-reaches of the world to your local market? Answer: alot. In the meal I ate last night from items bought at the local Kroger's, the fresh asparagus came from peru, the wild caught salmon from Alaska, and the fruit from California. That's alot of gas burning just so I can have basically low-cost food and a full complement of choices to give me the foolish impression that everything is in season all the time.
The food industry burns nearly a fifth of all the petroleum consumed in the United States (about as much as automobiles do). Today it takes between seven and ten calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver one calorie of food energy to an American plate.
2. In terms of direct consumer cost, our cheap food really is cheap. An interesting statistic he throws out: it's estimated that we in the US pay about 10% of our disposable income on food. That's not just low. And it's not just the lowest anybody pays in the world right now. It's the lowest any society has ever paid . So many other things have taken over as necessities to be paid for, we can hardly be bothered shopping for anything but the lowest sticker price, so long as it's basically tasty. He tells the story of Polyface Farm eggs, which sell for about $2.20 a dozen but are by all accounts the most animal-friendly, environmentally sound and indeed tastiest eggs you will ever purchase.
As things stand, artisanal producers like Joel [Salatin, who runs Polyface Farm] compete not on price but quality, which, oddly enough, is still a somewhat novel idea when it comes to food. "When someone drives up to the farm in a BMW and asks me why our eggs cost more,...well, first I try not to get mad. Frankly, any city person who doesn't think I deserve a white-collar salary as a farmer doesn't deserve my special food. Let them eat E.coli. But I don't say that. Instead, I take him outside and point to his car. 'Sir, you clearly understand quality and are willing to pay for it. Well, food is no different. You get what you pay for.'

Why is it that we exempt food, of all things, from that rule? Industrial agriculture, because it depends on standardization, has bombarded us with the message that all pork is pork, all chicken is chicken, eggs, eggs, even though we know that can't really be true. But it's down-right un-American to suggest that one egg might be nutritionally superior to another." Joel recited the slogan of his local supermarket chain: "'We pile it high and sell it cheap.' What other business would ever sell its products that way?"
3. If we would just help, nature has pretty good systems for handling the issue of sustainability. But we don't.
Raising animals on old-fashioned mixed farms...used to make simple biological sense: You can feed them the waste products of your crops, and you can feed their waste products to your crops. In fact, when animals live on farms the very idea of waste ceases to exist; what you have instead is a closed ecological loop--what in retrospect you might call a solution. One of the most striking things that animal feedlots do is to take this elegant solution and neatly divide it into two new problems: a fertility problem on the farm (which must be remedied with chemical fertilizers) and a pollution problem on the feedlot (which seldom is remedied at all).

This biological absurdity, characteristic of all CAFOs, is compounded in the cattle feedyard by a second absurdity. Here animals exquisitely adapted by natural selection to live on grass must be adapted by us--at considerable cost to their health, to the health of the land, and ultimately to the health of their eaters--to live on corn, for no other reason that it offers the cheapest calories around and because the great pile must be consumed.
You want beauty? Consider this explanation of what happens to the ground when a cow he follows, Budger, does what he has evolved to do: eat grass.
The moment Budger shears the clump of grass, she sets into motion a sequence of events that will confer a measurable benefit on this square foot of pasture. The shorn grass plant, endeavoring to restore the rough balance between its roots and its leaves, will proceed to shed as much root mass as it's just lost in leaf mass. When the discarded roots die, the soil's resident population of bacteria, fungi, and earthworms will get to work breaking them down into rich brown humus. What had been the grass plant's root runs will become channels through which worms, air, and rainwater will move through the earth, stimulating the process by which new topsoil is formed.
But we feed them corn. Because it's cheaper and faster. Lots, lots cheaper. In fact, it's cheaper to buy corn than it is to grow corn. Lots cheaper. So, why would anyone grow corn you ask? Because we pay them to. Just enough. So if they want to make any money, corn farmers have to do the one thing economics 101 says you should never do if your production costs exceed the sale price: make more. Lots more. Guess what that does? Makes it even cheaper. It's a nasty cycle that's given us more corn than we know what to do with. But because it's so cheap, big business is willing to spend hand over fist to devise ways to convince you and me to consume it. So they learned to process it. And we learned to eat it. Your McDonald's meal is over 50% corn.

Along the way, we impoverish the farmer, pollute the land, sicken the consumer, threaten the public health and, at best, agitate, mistreat or torture the animals.

4. There is no utopian answer to the dilemma "what do we eat?" in the real world, but we can do better. Mainly by being more aware of the choices we make in eating, being aware that it is an agricultural act, an ethical act, a political act. We can choose value the land and the sacrifice of animals that went into our meals. We can choose to purchase foods when possible that build a stronger sense of local community, rather than obliterating it in a global food mono-culture.

I should say, even though you can't tell it from this recommendation, that the book is not in the least preachy. It recognized real dilemmas and portrays an honest journey from someone who himself admits he doesn't always have much awareness about his food. It is a powerful and personal meditation on the dozens of issues that arise when considering with some seriousness "what are we eating?"

I haven't yet come to terms with how and whether this book will change my own eating habits (that's a hard thing to do, obviously) but the thoughts it raises will stick with me for a long time.
Director of Irony
I'm not a huge fan of Rahm Emanuel (congressman, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and former Clinton advisor)--mostly because of his cover-his-backside jabs at Party Chairman Dean for not sending all the Party's money to flood a few individual House races. But, this response of his, to the news that the President has a Director of Lessons Learned--no kidding--and he got a raise, is fabulous.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Will Internet Gambling End?
The House passed a bill today that would outlaw online gambling, by outlawing fund transfers and credit card purchases, and working with Internet providers to block access to gambling sites.

I have no doubt that so many people gamble online now, especially playing poker, that there would be wide dismay if the bill becomes law. Trouble is, it's hard to marshall pro-gambling forces around, say, a candidate. Who's going to run on that platform? How do you send a secret signal to this pack of could-be-voters that a vote for you is a vote to keep the door open to their favorite poker sites?

If you're the online gambling industry lobbyist, where do you start?
Excellence in Head-Butting
Slate's Explainer evaluates Zidane's headbutt techniques:
Impeccable. Experts in self-defense and mixed martial arts say Zidane's head butt was a flawless demonstration of the form. He positioned his feet close to his opponent and stepped into the blow, contracting his abdominal muscles to curve into the attack. He was also careful to keep his chin down as he approached, which helped him land the strike with the top of his head as opposed to his brow or face.

Monday, July 10, 2006


2007 Release
Michael Moore updates the progress of his new documentary, "Sicko", a "comedy about the 45 million people without health care in the richest country on Earth."

Like it or not
Inconvenient Truth gets something of a positive endorsement by none other than a conservative Baptist, writing for (extremely) conservative Baptist Press. Here's my favorite sentence: "Like it or not, Al Gore is helping to remind Christians of an important duty."

Article 19 Film Recommendation: Superman Returns
I'm curious what a real Superman/comics afficionado (that's you, Doug) thinks about Superman Returns. I thought it was good, but not great. The special effects were remarkable--some very cool things to watch, and beautiful images. The story is fun and mostly standard for this kind of thing, with a few things to think about (though they don't quite bear fruit for me) if you're so inclined. Much has already been made of the Christ references in the film, and I was skeptical about that going in--sounds a bit much like a 9th-grade English class response. But it's pretty unmistakable.

So, what's my problem with the movie? If the action and writing are fun and pithy (though tries too hard to fit in with the earlier Superman movies...I prefer the Batman Begins approach, willing to carve out some new angles. This new Superman looks and sounds as much like the Christopher Reeve version as he can manage), the effects are marvelous and the acting is just fine? Why do I so prefer the Batman films, or the Spiderman series?

It may just be a Superman thing. As much as I have the reputation otherwise among friends and family, I'm not one of those mid-movie questioners. Suspended disbelief is one of my favorite states. So this didn't bother me so much during as after the movie: Superman simply has too much power. I mean, he can turn back time by making the Earth spin backwards (Superman I), put out fires with his breath, fly as fast as he ever needs to, lift anything he wants, can see through most anything, and according to this film, can really hear, well, everything--floating above the Earth at the ready, listening to every cry for help, again, God-like.

So, why isn't he listening to Lex Luthor devising his plan? Why doesn't he fortify his hideaway better, or, I don't know, put it on the moon, since he knows Lex knows about it? Why not turn back time more often, since he can? I mean, no doubt people died and Metropolis suffered alot of destruction essentially because of him and his feud with Luthor. Sure, he saved the random falling person while he was flying to the disaster point. But tell that to the people that surely didn't make it, or to the city that has to rebuild for something that was really his fault (I won't ruin the reason why Luthor is even out of prison, easily the stupidest plot point in the film.). So, his powers are god-like but his decision-making abilities are suspect. And that would make for some interesting drama, that conflict, except that it's never acknowledged.

I like the Batman and Spiderman characters because they're so human. There's a bit of personal angst there driving their super-ness. They're imperfect as people and as heroes. Their burdens are multiple and complex; plus their powers are limited. Sometimes they have to, you know, out-think the other guy, not just blow really hard. Superman's human-like troubles revolve around his love for Lois, which reduces him to an emotional 13-year-old at times. With that weakness and Kryptonite, the plot options are pretty limited.

So, it was fun. But for superheroes, I prefer Batman (abit darker and more clearly fallible character), Spiderman (more anguish balancing alter-egos), or even X-Men (more stuff to think about, although the Magneto character clearly suffers too from too much power.) And if you're going for the mythological, Christ-reference approach with Superman, go all the way, and for grander purpose. Not just some passing religious imagery.

Weekend Box Office
1. Pirates 2 (record-setting)
2. Superman Returns
3. Devil Wears Prada
4. Click
5. Cars
12. An Inconvenient Truth (still pulling $1 million weekends. If you haven't seen it yet, you must!)

Since last week, I've seen Superman Returns, read The Omnivore's Dilemma, and bought a handful of new CDs, including Frank Black's new 2-CD album. SO, lots to talk about over the course of the day.

But, what have you been listening to, watching, reading?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Don't Laugh....
...But I've been reading USAToday again. I'm on the road - headed back home (wireless Internet would seem to be in every hotel now - hooray!), so the only paper to pick up 5 hours away from Atlanta was our national fluffy (week-)daily. And guess what? Just like last weekend, there's front-page good news! Is this some kind of USAToday strategy? Or just a coincidental couple of random days?

The news is this: young Americans are volunteering more.
College graduates, shaped by such events as Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are applying to service organizations such as AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps in record numbers.

Many service programs are reaping the benefits:

•Applications to Teach for America, which recruits graduates for underserved urban and rural areas, hit almost 19,000 this year, nearly triple the number in 2000.

•This year, the Peace Corps took 7,810 volunteers — the largest number in 30 years — from more than 11,500 applicants in 2005, up more than 20% over the year 2000.

•AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), which pairs recruits with non-profit organizations, has had a 50% jump in applicants since 2004.
Ok, so there was bad news too. But I had to search for that!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Joe Biden
Nothing like a bizarre racial comment to start off a presidential campaign.
Remember, You Were Slaves
Pastor Dan has a must-read diary at Kos, putting an already harrowing story into a powerful frame. I first found this story at Bartholomew's Notes on Religion at Slate. Jesus General has made a mockery of the shameful people at StoptheACLU, but this is a seriously horrifying tale of the human capacity to do collective harm, and in the name of, you guessed it, religion. There's much shame to go around here. Nearly an entire city's worth.
Howard Zinn on Patriotism and the 4th of July
His piece ends this way:
Instead of being feared for our military prowess, we should want to be respected for our dedication to human rights. I suggest that a patriotic American who cares for her or his country might act on behalf of a different vision. Should we not begin to redefine patriotism? We need to expand it beyond that narrow nationalism that has caused so much death and suffering. If national boundaries should not be obstacles to trade- some call it "globalization"-should they also not be obstacles to compassion and generosity? Should we not begin to consider all children, everywhere, as our own? In that case, war, which in our time is always an assault on children, would be unacceptable as a solution to the problems of the world. Human ingenuity would have to search for other ways.
Calderon wins, by less than 1/2 of 1 percent.
After hearing from a friend in Mexico, I'm not entirely sure whom to root for anymore in the Mexican presidential election, but I do know that, now that the recount is underway, it's close. With 85% of the votes counted, the liberal Obrador was actually ahead, and buy a full percentage point. Now with 95% 97% in, the lead is down to 0.51% 0.19%. The results from the original tally on Sunday night showed the conservative Calderon ahead by a point or 2.

You can follow results here.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Suspicious [UPDATED]
I don't suppose there will be an autopsy.

[UPDATE: Yes, there was. It's coronary disease.]

Monday, July 03, 2006

Vacation Blogging
Sorry I skipped Media Monday today--at the beach with the family and not much blogging time. But there is wireless Internet here, so here's what I've been reading about:
Mexico voted on a new President yesterday, and with 1% spreading the conservative from the liberal candidate a recount is in order, but it's not looking like this will turn out well. And of course, the exit polls were wrong, fueling all sorts of accusation.

Lieberman bailed the Democratic Party.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion
You can read my guest post at Talk2Action, about the folly of the Republican's "Public Expression of Religion Act" here.