Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Obama on the Move? Or, Crappy Poll?
ARG polls IA, NH and SC every month. The new numbers (with June's poll in parenthesis) are below:

New Hampshire
Clinton....31% (34%)
Obama......31% (25%)
Edwards....14% (11%)
Undecided..13% (11%)
Richardson..7% (6%)

South Carolina
Obama......33% (21%)
Clinton....29% (37%)
Edwards....18% (22%)
Undecided..12% (13%)

Clinton....30% (32%)
Edwards....21% (29%)
Obama......15% (13%)
Undecided..15% (13%)
Richardson.13% (5%)

That's a 20-point turnaround in South Carolina, from down 16 to up 4. I don't buy for a second that this means Obama has "won" the foreign policy tussle he and Clinton have been having, not on substance anyway. "I was going for Clinton, until I heard Obama wanted to talk to Hugo Chavez and that changed my mind"? Doesn't make any sense. But if the polls are legit, something must be up.
Heard Just Now On CNBC
Apparently, Giuliani's presented some kind of health coverage plan. On CNBC a few minutes ago, the white Republican guy (Jack Burkman) defending Giuliani explained to the White Democratic guy (Julian Epstein) and the white news guy (John Harwood) that covering the uninsured would actually be really simple and no problem, but they aren't going to do it because Democrats won't be satisfied until we're all waving the Russian flag and working out in the wheat fields together. My rough transcription:

White Republican guy: This whole discussion of the uninsured is a trojan horse...
White anchor woman: not if you're uninsured
White Republican guy:...because it's something that sounds good but frankly it wouldn't cost much for the federal government to do this. This is not Julian and Hillary's agenda.
White Democratic Guy: You're advocating a government solution, Jack.
White Republican Guy: This is a trojan horse into the city. What they come with next are price controls. They start with something that is relatively small. Then they come with price controls on Merck and Mylan and Astral-Zeneca.
So, see? Republicans would be glad for the federal government to cover everyone in America, but dirty communist Democrats wouldn't be satisfied, so you get nothing.
Joke of the Day
Did you hear about Chief Justice John Roberts stumbling and foaming at the mouth? And that was just his school desegregation decision...

Yeah, you can use it.

Monday, July 30, 2007

What have you been reading, listening to, watching?

People are Dying
Tom Snyder and Ingmar Bergman, who have never before been mentioned in the same sentence.

Article 19 Recommendations
I've seen movies:
The Simpsons - The story is not so entertaining or creative (many episodes of the TV show are) but the jokes kept me laughing the whole time.

Harry Potter - Easily the worst of the films so far in my estimation. The story was thrown together and pointless. I can only assume the book had a great deal more to it.

I finished a book a few weeks ago I forgot to mention before:
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards - I wanted to read this because it's been so prominently displayed at the bookstore for so long I figured there was something great about it. An interesting premise and a few gems of observation, but overall kind of mediocre I thought. No serious complaints, but no real points of praise either.

Weekend Box Office
1. The Simpsons
2. Chuck and Larry
3. Harry Potter
4. Hairspray
5. No Reservations

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Yeah, everybody's already seen this all over TV and read about it all over the Internets, but just in case you missed it, here is the doctor's original story about Oscar the cat in the New England Journal of Medicine. I'm trying to have a heartwarming reaction like everyone else with a pulse, really I am, but mostly I find it creepy.

Friday, July 27, 2007

"Have You Seen This in Space?"
Via Boing Boing, this is a really funny take on the bizarre story about NASA astronauts apparently flying drunk as a skunk. You have to wonder on the timing, as this story has managed to overshadow the equally bizarre story about sabotage on a NASA computer bound for the international space station. Do you think they were just waiting? "If somebody starts asking questions about that intentionally-cut-wire business, we'll blind them with the drunk astronaut bit." But don't let me get side-tracked. This really is funny.
Why is Gonzales Lying?
I think this might be an easy one. Gonzales is lying to: a) cover Bush's ass and b) cover his own. It's telling (but not surprising at this point) to know that we have an AG who is so concerned about boosting the credibility of Bush's wiretapping scheme (by claiming everyone agreed without a fight) that he was willing to leave his own backside out there to twist in the wind. Now, of course, he's just scrambling. And I see the President is returning the favor.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Because the Public has a Liberal Bias
Interested in seeing how the Republicans will do in the CNN/You Tube debate format? Tough. Looks like many of them will be bailing. Like Josh suggests, I guess if the questions don't come from one of those Bush-style town hall audiences - you know, the ones where the "town" excludes everyone who fails a detailed screening process - then Republicans can't handle them.

It should be obvious by now that CNN is too afraid to actually allow a controversial question. But I suppose that for today's Republicans, mainstream is the new controversial.
The Health Care Challenge
Michael Moore wants all presidential candidates to take a pledge:
When Senator Sherrod Brown was running for a seat in the House of Representatives over 10 years ago, he saw something wrong with this. He pledged not to accept his free government health care until everyone in the United States had the same luxury. (He's still waiting.)

Brown reasoned that politicians should have the same privileges as those they represent. I know a lot of the Democrats running for President understand this principle. Monday night during their YouTube debate, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, and Bill Richardson all pledged to work for the minimum wage should they be elected president -- to show that they're in touch with the plight of everyday Americans, and to make sure they are personally invested in making sure the minimum wage in this country is a livable one. Good for them.

Now, candidates, how about giving up your health care too?
I am calling on each presidential candidate to pledge to refuse their free government health care until every person in this country also has it.
I wasn't aware that some candidates had pledged to work for minimum wage as president, but I like Moore's idea better. There's no reason any candidate for Congress or the White House should accept such great coverage on the backs of tax contributions from the many citizens who struggle to pay for bad coverage, or who struggle with none at all. Until every American is covered, they should be ashamed to make use of such great free coverage.

Yes, detractors would have a good point: we offer such security not because of what they "deserve" but to protect the office, which belongs to the people. The last thing we need is a representative who has to borrow money to pay a hospital bill - the work of the people could become compromised. But you know what? Washington's officials are so out of touch with the concerns of the middle class - and have learned to use the office to make so much money - that it's worth it, to at least educate them about how much health care actually costs. So, I wouldn't ask them to go without coverage, but I would ask them to forgo the free coverage the government provides and to purchase their own like most everyone else has to these days.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fun With Juries
From the Miami Herald:
During jury selection Wednesday in the case of inmate Terry Lee Alexander, all seven jurors admitted to attorneys that they have masturbated.

The awkward questioning was posed by defense attorney Kathleen McHugh, who faced 17 prospective jurors and asked point-blank who among them had never masturbated.

No hands went up.

Then, she went one-by-one, asking each prospective juror if he or she had ever masturbated.

All nine men said yes, two of the 10 women said no.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Attorney General testified today and expanded his already-impressive national embarassment status. Almost too many moments to choose from. But here's my favorite, and there's more here. Josh Marshall highlights a blatant refusal to answer the committee's questions here. Or just read Andrew Cohen (via Atrios):
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales deserves to be fired for his testimony Tuesday alone; for morphing into Jon Lovitz's famous "pathological liar" character (or maybe just one of the Marx Brothers) as he tried to dodge and duck responsibility before the Senate Judiciary Committee not just for his shameful leadership at Justice but also his shameless role in visiting an ailing John Ashcroft in the hospital to try to strong-arm him into renewing the warrantless surviellance program. Can anyone out there remember a worse, less-inspiring, less confidence-inducing performance on Capitol Hill? I cannot.
I am running out of words to describe how inept this public servant is and how awful is the message our government sends to the nation and to the world by allowing him to continue to represent us.
The point is, if they can't impeach Alberto, or at least try to hold him accountable, they'll never get to Bush/Cheney.
Hug an Entry-Level Worker Today
It's not much, and it took way too long, but the minimum wage increases today to $5.85. Kudos to Kennedy.

Take out rent, car payment and insurance and you'll still need to take a second job if you want to eat, but it's a start.

In 2 years, it will be $7.25.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What have you been listening to, watching, reading?

Topic of the Day
Compare and contrast the final episode of the Sopranos with the final book of the Harry Potter series. Go.

Weekend Box Office
1. Chuck and Larry
2. Harry Potter
3. Hairspray
4. Transformers
5. Ratatouile
11. SiCKO

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Will the press's coverage of Hillary be so supremely stupid that they push me closer toward supporting her? From the Washington Post:
She was talking on the Senate floor about the burdensome cost of higher education. She was wearing a rose-colored blazer over a black top. The neckline sat low on her chest and had a subtle V-shape. The cleavage registered after only a quick glance. No scrunch-faced scrutiny was necessary. There wasn't an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable.
Your modern-day media at work.
President Cheney!! Run for your lives!!!

Friday, July 20, 2007

The NYTimes polls women about Hillary.
The poll showed that women’s views tend to shift depending on their demographics. Their support for her is most pronounced, for example, among unmarried and less-affluent Democratic women. More than 8 in 10 working women say she understands their problems.

The older the woman, the more negatively she views Mrs. Clinton: 27 percent of those under 45 view her negatively; 33 percent of those between 45 and 64 view her negatively; and 40 percent of those 64 and older view her negatively.
I don't have a clue what to make of this, but I think it's interesting.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Potter-Mania and Elitist Snobbery
Sorry my blogging pace has truly been horrendous lately. Duty and Life call, sadly. But I have to post something in advance of Potter-mania. With the new book coming out, I've heard stories on NPR; it's on the news, it's in my inbox (30% off!!). I've never read one of the books, but I know plenty of grown-ups and kids alike who think they're just swell. I have a couple of questions: first, who here has read one or more books and what do you think? Are you constantly aware you're reading literature intended for children?

But more importantly, I'm wondering this: let's suppose they are not the greatest books ever, that the literary quality, however one might decide such things, is seriously lacking. Even if so, is there a downside? Isn't it better for kids to be obsessed with reading *something* as far as their brains and attention spans go than receiving all their sensory info through TV, their brain activity through video games, and their experience with the written word primarily through text messages?

I would think these books could be quite the gateway drug to future reading, and it's hard to see that as a bad thing. But apparently some are still worried about people mistaking JK Rowling for actual literature. From Kevin Drum, I read this Charles Taylor column in the LATimes complaining about discontented highbrow snob Harold Bloom, who 7 years ago complained in the Wall Street Journal:
I feel a discomfort with the Harry Potter mania, and I hope that my discontent is not merely a highbrow snobbery, or a nostalgia for a more literate fantasy to beguile (shall we say) intelligent children of all ages. Can more than 35 million book buyers, and their offspring, be wrong? yes, they have been, and will continue to be for as long as they persevere with Potter.

A vast concourse of inadequate works, for adults and for children, crams the dustbins of the ages. At a time when public judgment is no better and no worse than what is proclaimed by the ideological cheerleaders who have so destroyed humanistic study, anything goes. The cultural critics will, soon enough, introduce Harry Potter into their college curriculum, and The New York Times will go on celebrating another confirmation of the dumbing-down it leads and exemplifies.
To be fair, Bloom earlier in that piece made the same concession that I just did: that it's better than not reading. But I think this takes the wrong view of the role of children's literature. I may just not be in the know - but which kid's books *are* considered great literature? Tolkien? Rowling readers, how would Potter compare there? Even then, that seems unfair. The kids I knew who read Tolkien, read the ring books in junior high and high school. I think I was 13 when I read the Hobbit. But it looks to me like Potter readers are younger still...a nephew under 10 was all set to get the new book at midnight.

Anyway, my real question follows, and assumes that more reading youngsters today will likely translate into more reading adults in the future. Does the explosion of kids reading Potter mean that *more* people will eventually be on a track to read highly regarded literature than would otherwise? Or does it mean that *fewer* people will be on that track because they'll be conditioned to read more popular, I dunno, trashy novels. Could Potter stunt your reading growth? It seems like a preposterous idea, but otherwise I can't see why even the serious set would do anything but cheer cheer cheer the phenomenal growth of Rowling's creation.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I'm Confused [UPDATED]
Yesterday, I thought the great news of the day was that Democrats in the Senate were going to force Republicans to actually filibuster all night if they want to kill an amendment that would start bringing the Iraq War to a close. Now it sounds more like it's the Democrats who would have to debate all night. I don't get it. Is there no way to make Republicans filibuster on the floor if they are going to refuse to end debate? If anyone understands the ins and outs here, I'm all ears. Either way, if you're wondering what to watch at 1 am tomorrow morning when you can't sleep, it's called C-Span 2.

[UPDATE:I'm watching it, and I'm still confused. The speeches are fair. But all the procedural crap that happens between them is a snoozefest. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, this ain't. On the other hand, I'm learning the names of the Senators in alphabetical order, and that's got to come in handy.]

Monday, July 16, 2007

American Educated about Outside World
I am the American, and I learned that Japan doesn't yet have a jury system. I recently saw an excellent new movie that takes on Japan's current court system, criticizing it for being highly biased against the accused. It's called Soredemo Boku Wa Yattenai or I Just Didn't Do It, and is by Masayuki Suo, the director of (the original Japanese) Shall We Dance.

This article from today's NY Times talks about Japan switching over to a jury system. I had always assumed that Japan's court system was just like ours, since we pretty much gave them their constitution and all.
What have you been watching, reading, listening to?

I hate reality shows. I made the mistake of watching one episode of Top Chef on Bravo, and now I have to see how it turns out. What's your guilty TV pleasure these days?

Weekend Box Office
1. Harry Potter and the Case of the 30-year-olds playing Teenagers
2. Transformers
3. Ratatouile
4. Die Hard and the case of a 50-year-old playing a 30-year-old
5. License to Wed
9. SiCKO

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bush Will Veto CHIP Expansion
Democrats in Congress - with some Republican support - have a reasonable idea: let's increase the cigarette tax on the federal level from $0.39 to $1.00 and use the money to expand the children's health insurance program to include some 4 million more children. Today's NYTimes tells us the Bush Administration will veto this proposal, because he opposes tax increases (even on cigarettes!?) and for another more disgusting reason:
“The proposal would dramatically expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, adding nonpoor children to the program, and more than doubling the level of spending,” [White House spokesman Tony] Fratto said. “This will have the effect of encouraging many to drop private coverage, to go on the government-subsidized program.”
God forbid a parent who sneaks over the President's "poor" line gets some health care security with public support...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Less Thompson is More Thompson
Fred D. Thompson has decided not to formally announce his presidential campaign this month and may wait until September to end the suspense for Republicans, according to several sources in his campaign.
If the announcement comes in September, it will leave Thompson's candidacy in limbo for another seven weeks. But aides noted that Thompson is doing well in national and state polls and receiving relatively good press...."Why change what's working?" one adviser asked.
Republicans know that there will be a general election, right? With debates and scrutiny and all the rest of the spotlight. Instead of preferring a candidate in polls who is hiding from all of that, you would think they would want to support one who can withstand it.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Unlikely Synonyms
In school, I learned about synonyms, antonyms and homonyms, i.e., words that mean the same thing, words that mean the opposite of each other, and words that sound the same. You probably did too. Recently I've learned that my nieces and nephews are learning that words sounding the same are called "homophones." What gives? What's wrong with homonym? Doesn't the uniformity of "nym" count for anything? Is our children learning?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Religious Test For Office
The Constitution says explicitly that there will be no religious test for federal office, as it should. But professor Stephen Prothero - whom I've criticized elsewhere - may be onto something in a new essay urging a different kind of religious test for elected officials.
I want to be sure that our future presidents know enough about the world's religions to run our foreign policy, and that U.S. citizens know enough to hold their feet to the fire.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has written that she had a gaggle of official economic experts at her beck and call but only one informal expert on religion. Today we continue to appoint ambassadors to Muslim-majority countries without requiring that they have any training in Islamic studies.
Our presidents should be able to answer very basic questions about Christianity, Judaism, Islam and the religions of Asia. So should the citizens who elect them.
Your Senate At Work
Republicans just successfully defeated an amendment in the Senate - using a filibuster - that would have eased the burden on troops by mandating more time off between deployments. For all the talk of Republican defections from Bush and their willingness to move in a new direction (not to mention their hot air about supporting the troops), when push comes to shove, most of them do whatever Bush and Rove tell them. Exceptions are Smith (OR), Snowe and Collins(ME), Hagel (NE), Coleman (Scared shitless of Franken - MN), Warner (VA), Sununu (NH).

Among other things, that means my supposedly centrist-like Senators, Alexander and Corker, voted to keep stressing the troops, no matter what it takes, in support of Bush's war.
Rest in Peace, Doug Marlette
Kudzu was never my favorite cartoon, but had its funny moments. More importantly, Doug Marlette - its creator - was a good guy who cared about preserving America's First Amendment freedoms and was a strong defender of all true Baptists in that pursuit. Now, he's also a tragic reminder that car accidents can happen at any time. He was on his way back to his home in Oklahoma from his father's funeral in North Carolina.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Return of Great News From the World of Science
Guess what's good for you? That's right - smoking!
"Our analyses confirmed prior reports of an inverse association between cigarette smoking and Parkinson's disease," the study said.

"Although we found that current smokers and those who had continued to smoke to within five years of Parkinson's disease diagnosis exhibited the lowest risk, a decrease in risk (13 percent to 32 percent) was also observed in those who had quit smoking up to 25 years prior to Parkinson's disease diagnosis," it said.
On the other hand, now they say drinking wine is good for your teeth, and this pill will help you stop both smoking and drinking, making it, I suppose, the first pill more likely to cause both Parkinson's and tooth decay.

Just shoot me.

Monday, July 09, 2007

What have you been reading, watching, listening to?

Weekend Box Office
1. Transformers
2. Ratatouile
3. Die Hard 16
4. License to Wed
5. Evan Almighty
9. Sicko

The Evan Almighty people have to be hating life. Who knew that making the biggest budget comedy in history could be risky? Sicko is probably a bit of a disappointment in ticket sales so far, at least compared to F/911. But the per-screen average is still higher than most in the top 10. And I have to think that word of mouth will keep it from falling too far off right away. I plan on seeing it a 2nd time myself.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

What's the Biggest Factor in Violent Crime?
Today's Washington Post reports on an emerging answer to that question that will be the most interesting and maybe surprising thing you will read all week. (via Kevin Drum)
Eventually Everybody Does Madonna
A real Live Earth highlight. If you didn't see the movie Spinal Tap, you won't get it (also you're a bad person).

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ron Paul Mania Comes to Nashville
Saw a handful of Ron Paul for President signs on the streets today, maybe celebrating his smackdown of McCain in recent fundraising reports.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Live Earth
Are we watching the concert tomorrow? I notice that Gore is opening with a surprise show in DC, at the National Museum of the American Indian. I suppose that may help inform people about global warming, and that there is in fact a National Museum of the American Indian. Here's hoping my DC friends will be able to attend and will come back with a full report.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

You Really Must See SiCKO
I would put it right up there with An Inconvenient Truth as essential civic viewing. I know, I know, what I wrote a few days ago about my dwindling optimism about the effects of such things. But the important question Moore asks here - the most important he's ever asked in a film I believe - really should change everything, if enough people saw it and thought seriously about how to answer it.

The only thing I'll say about the content is that the bit that's gotten the most coverage - his trip to Cuba - is a small part of the film and probably the least effective. There's much more to it.

If we can be exposed to a scientific perspective, like that showed in Gore's film, and fail to respond with committed national environmental action *and* be exposed to a personal perspective of suffering and need, like SiCKO demonstrates, and fail to respond there too...there's not much to say for us.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Happy Canada Day Yesterday