Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What's Happening?
I'm on vacation this week. The good news is that for the first time, our regular Myrtle Beach stay is offering free wi-fi. The bad news is that it's pretty spotty. So, what's going on in the world? Are we going to get one or other of the VP announcements before the weekend?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Outside the Box?
Barack Obama's vice presidential search team has floated the name of a member of President Bush's first-term Cabinet, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, as Obama's running mate.

Veneman, 59, has a biography that could be suited to Obama's unifying message. A Republican raised on a California peach farm, she rose to become the nation’s first female agriculture secretary. In 2002 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was treated successfully. Today she serves as executive director of the United Nations children's agency, UNICEF.
We need to win soooo badly, that it seems to me Obama has some leeway here to choose a VP that might otherwise meet with lots of disapproval from the left. There is certainly nobody he could choose that would make me vote for McCain, or not vote, or pick Nader or Barr.

As Agriculture Secretary, she was not exactly a friend of business regulation. But she might send a message about Obama's commitment to women and family issues (UNICEF), and shows he is not an old school partisan - good for the independents. Still, does she pass the most basic test: ready to be President? Seems like a pick that would be a little too cute. You can read more about her here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Court
I had a dream last night about the election. Just before the conventions, Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement and the issue of the Court came front and center for the rest of the campaign. In my sleep, anyway, this was a great development for Obama.

Even presuming nothing so dramatic actually happens, the effect might not be such a bad idea. What do you think? Could Obama make gains by playing up the rightward jolt a McCain presidency would give the Court? Or would it bring out social conservatives in a year they may be otherwise inclined to stay at home?
For Obama to Win
I basically agree with Nate's list at 538.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama's Berlin Speech
You can read it here.

It's hard to believe the American people might let this moment pass by, and elect the uninspiring guy whose idea for the economy is to keep doing what's got us into this mess, whose idea for the war is to continue it, and whose age frankly makes it a virtual certainty that he will be a less focused person by the end of his first term than he is even today. No telling what a second term would hold, or who might be running the show. But the polls are tight and not especially headed in the right direction, so who knows.
Too True?
Via TPM, check out what they are actually selling at the official McCain campaign store! Ha! What's next, official McCain urinal cups? Toilet paper?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The "Dark" Part
Last night, I caught a late show of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight. Still mulling what I think of it over all, but worth pointing out - if you didn't know - that this is not a movie for children to enjoy, like other recent superhero movies might have arguably been (Spiderman franchise, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Superman, even X-Men, etc..). Each of those may have had some ignorable innuendo and language that put it over the PG edge into PG-13.

This film is dark. There are some seriously disturbing thoughts, scenarios and ideas here. I'm not (necessarily) complaining. Just warning that this is not an especially fun film to sit through. Ledger's powerful Joker is not of the Jack Nicholson variety. If I was less than, oh, 15 or so, it would have given me pretty bad dreams for a week.
Nashville in the News
God help us.
It started when Juana Villegas, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who was nine months pregnant, was pulled over by a police officer in a Nashville suburb for a routine traffic violation.

By the time Mrs. Villegas was released from the county jail six days later, she had gone through labor with a sheriff’s officer standing guard in her hospital room, where one of her feet was cuffed to the bed most of the time. County officers barred her from seeing or speaking with her husband.

After she was discharged from the hospital, Mrs. Villegas was separated from her nursing infant for two days and barred from taking a breast pump into the jail, her lawyer and a doctor familiar with the case said. Her breasts became infected, and the newborn boy developed jaundice, they said.
They accuse Democrats of being unpatriotic for our dissent - though usually the big-wigs leave it to others to conduct that kind of branding. But today McCain crossed a line I don't think I've ever heard from a presidential candidate himself.
It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.
That's a pretty nasty charge, putting political ambition over the well-being of the troops and the country...

But isn't it even worse if we pull the logical inference out of it? If he says Obama would win a campaign by losing the war, doesn't that implicate American voters in that ill-framed tradeoff? After all, the only way losing the war could turn into an electoral victory is if *we vote for it.*

Monday, July 21, 2008

What have you been reading, listening to, watching?

Who's seen Batman already?
The Rest of the World v. The American Electorate
I may just be letting my natural political anxiety show here, but I am afraid the big spectacle being made of Obama's trip overseas may have some backlash here at home... I just figure that Europe liking a left-of-center American candidate will make most Americans like the candidate less. Not that it would make any sense, mind you.

Still, that backlash will be nothing compared to what this will cause. Do the DNC and Obama campaign have nobody on staff that can tell them how poorly the Hollywood-class endorsement route will play among the voters we need to convince between now and November? Are they *trying* to lose? Actively forgetting how hard Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, and Ben Affleck worked to elect Kerry in 2004? Remember that big tour through the swing states?!

It's real simple. Scarlett Johannson couldn't save Woody Allen at the box office, Affleck couldn't save Daredevil, and they are not going to get Barack Obama elected. The people we have to go after don't want entertainment celebrities telling them who to vote for. In fact, they would seem to resent it. I don't see how the DC Democratic political culture could be so star-struck they wouldn't notice they're handing Republicans fodder for their favorite stupid charge: elitism.

If he wants to close the deal on the election, the only relationship Obama should be having with the music and film industries is telling them to stop peddling smut and violence to kids. People love that. All of this rock-star-candidate stuff was great fun and exciting and provided necessary energy for the fund-raising and primary stages. But the campaign is in a different phase now, the one where he has to simultaneously look both presidential and genuinely in touch with working people. (Kerry got 1 of those 2, Bill Clinton 2 of 2.) I'm afraid the plans for Germany this week, and Denver in August - which might be exciting for a partisan supporter like me to watch - nonetheless work against both goals.

Then again, I have never been correct about a political prediction yet, so we will see how the polls develop this week. Hopefully, this isn't the time I'm finally right about something.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Times Change
Remember back when stuff like rape was so funny to joke about? That was way back in the 80s. John McCain was giving speeches back in the rape-jokes-are-funny era. Of course, he doesn't remember back that far. Maybe he can get this guy to work on piecing that time period back together for him. Or this guy.

That McCain camp is classy, no?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Community Schools
The American Federation of Teachers has elected a new President, Randi Weingarten. Earlier this week, she gave her first address and is calling on our nation's schools to take on a larger role. From the AFT press release:
A key aspect of Weingarten’s proposed solution is the expansion of the community school model—schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together all the services and activities they and their families need under one roof.

“Imagine schools that are open all day, and offer after-school and evening recreational activities and homework assistance; high schools that allow students to sign up for morning, afternoon or evening classes. And suppose the schools included child care and dental, medical and other services the community needs.”
I'm sure many schools do something on the way to this already, but this is a pretty broad challenge to make schools into full-service community centers. I imagine something along the lines of what churches do for many people - and did for me when I was younger. Maybe because of that I have mixed feelings about it, though I can't quite put my finger on what bugs me - if anything. Is this a really good idea for serving the community and bringing parents and everyone else to a greater sense of ownership over our community schools? What do you think?

Either way, though, isn't it just pie-in-the-sky rhetoric? Wouldn't we need dramatically larger facilities and greatly increased staff (and once it comes down to it, won't the AFT itself argue for higher teacher salaries over using an increased school budget for, say dental care)? Not only that, around here we have a problem with promoting exclusively community-based schools: segregation. I'm all for an overhaul - could things get much worse? But it's hard seeing enough political will playing out on all sides to make much of anything truly change, let alone something like this happen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Guess What: TV is Bad
This makes lots of sense. I only wonder the age range for which it remains true that background TV might distract from the brain's development. Why think it effects only the little kids?
[I]n the new study, researchers say the disruptive effects were "real but small," amounting to a few seconds in many cases. For instance, kids played about 90 seconds less in the half hour with the TV on — they looked momentarily at the screen, then went back to their toys.

But researcher Daniel Anderson, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, says he's concerned the effects could be cumulative.

"It's that situation that I'm most concerned about, when you look at TV as being a disruptive influence hour after hour, day after day, week after week, year after year," he says.

Perhaps most significant: When the TV was on, kids of all ages played with a given toy — a jack-in-the-box, a baby doll, blocks, a toy telephone, a school bus with toy passengers — for about 30 seconds, on average. Without TV, it was 60 seconds.

Researchers say solitary play, especially with toys, offers many benefits. It allows children to practice planning ahead and develop cognitive skills.
Obviously it's even more important with very young children to remove that distraction, but since we know that the brain continues to develop for several years, it makes you wonder if background distractions can hamper you later in life as well. I also wonder if music can have the same disruptive impact.
Late Night Deep Thought
Hogan's Heroes is highly unrealistic. Maybe even moreso than Gilligan's Island.

Monday, July 14, 2008

What have you been listening to, watching, reading? C'mon I know you've been seeing summer movies, reading summer books, and going to summer concerts. We want to know about them.

The Beatles Were a "Christian Band"?
That's (kind of) what John Lennon said in a 1969 interview recently broadcast for the first time.
Christians around the world had been dismayed by Lennon’s boast in an article in London’s Evening Standard about the popularity of the Beatles, but the singer says he was misunderstood.

“It’s just an expression meaning the Beatles seem to me to have more influence over youth than Christ,” he says. “Now I wasn’t saying that was a good idea, ‘cos I’m one of Christ’s biggest fans. And if I can turn the focus on the Beatles on to Christ’s message, then that’s what we’re here to do.”

He blames “the hypocrites” for being too “uptight” in reacting to his comments. “If the Beatles get on the side of Christ, which they always were, and let people know that, then maybe the churches won’t be full, but there’ll be a lot of Christians dancing in the dance halls. Whatever they celebrate, God and Christ, I don’t think it matters as long as they’re aware of Him and His message.”
Lennon actually tells the interviewer, “I’m a Christian, Mohammed, and Buddhist. Whatever you’d like to call it. I believe in Christ and Buddha and Mohammed and God.”
Of course, the next year he would release "God" on the Plastic Ono Band, in which he said quite specifically "I don't believe in Jesus", "I don't believe in Mohammed", and "I don't believe in Buddha". So, I guess there's something for everyone.

Weekend Box Office
1. Hellboy 2
2. Hancock
3. Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D
4. Wall-E
5. Wanted
I saw...
16. Mongol...pretty good.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Obama Hits Back on Iraq
With an op-ed in Monday's NYTimes.
In this campaign, there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with the thoroughness they deserve. Unlike Senator McCain, I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea, and would redeploy our troops out of Iraq and focus on the broader security challenges that we face. But for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.

It’s not going to work this time. It’s time to end this war.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Be Careful in Those Great Seats
I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often.
Doctors and family members say a 7-year-old boy who fractured his skull when he was struck by a foul ball at Wrigley Field was recovering and expected to live.

Dominic DiAngi of suburban Frankfort was sitting behind the Cubs dugout Thursday afternoon during a game between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds when a foul ball off the bat of Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly struck him in the head.
Hockey finally put nets up that erase most - but not all - of the danger of flying pucks. It doesn't affect the vision of the game one bit and makes lots of sense. Maybe it's not doable in the danger areas down the lines of a baseball field (the backstop is well protected), but you shouldn't have to worry that such a typical occurrence (a foul ball) will kill your child.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Great Moments on the Straight Talk Express
I never thought there would be occasion to enjoy watching John McCain's face, but the contortions he goes through trying to answer - or trying not to answer, I should say - a reporter's question about health insurance companies that pay for Viagra, but not for women's birth control, are priceless. I've watched three times already. Note, by the way, as you watch this CNN coverage, that Carly Fiorina *is his national campaign chair.*

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Don't Forget that Cholesterol Screening...
...for your 8-year old.
The new guidelines were to be issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday.

The push to aggressively screen and medicate for high cholesterol in children is certain to create controversy amid a continuing debate about the use of prescription drugs in children as well as the best approaches to ward off heart disease in adults.

But proponents say there is growing evidence that the first signs of heart disease show up in childhood, and with 30 percent of the nation’s children overweight or obese, many doctors fear that a rash of early heart attacks and diabetes is on the horizon as these children grow up.
I'm sure the drug companies are not excited about this. The NYTimes issued an editorial today that I basically agree with. I would only add this: if this was an example of our increased medical knowledge about early prevention, we could celebrate. But it sounds more to me like an example of the stress of today's toxic diet and zero-activity rate on children. I suppose the truth may be somewhere in between.
Whew..Just a Dream
It turns out that the woeful economy we thought we were going through is just in our heads. So sayeth McCain's top economic adviser. Get to work you bunch of "whiners"!

It's a good thing, too. Because I was starting to think that the unemployment rate had really climbed back to 5.5%, that home foreclosures were really skyrocketing, that health care costs truly were exploding and that gas really was over $4 a gallon. The old imagination running wild I guess.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Boredom and Imagination
I had a long conversation last night with a colleague who teaches something of a philosophy of art class. We were discussing attitudes - our own and our students' - toward art, observation, beauty, fiction....you know, standard Tuesday night conversation.

She said something that frankly shocked me. The last few semesters in this course, on the first day's discussion, students almost unanimously deride the value of imagination. They consider it a "pointless" resource, and using it a "complete waste of time".

Needless to say, I don't get to have discussions like this in a music theory class, so I didn't see it coming.

For a generation enthralled with role-playing games, virtual reality, and networks of friends and relationships even that exist on the fringe of the imaginary, I would have thought imagination played a key part in their existence. But it would seem the opposite is the case. Indeed, I am left having to assume that any person who fully discounts the usefulness of one's imagination - the fundamental muscle of creativity - simply doesn't have one, or at least not much of one.

Is this possible? Is there a population surge among the un-imaginative?

The second part of our conversation hinged on a question of mine that seemed like a logical follow-up to this revelation. Given that I *know* most of them are not spending lots of time productively on the outside of their brains, what do they spend all of their time doing, if not exercising their imaginations in some way or another?

She asks them that question, she said (see, I told you it was logical), and to a person, her students respond that they spend most of their time looking for ways to avert boredom. Their default position (in life) is bored disinterest.

Now, I'm not trying to disparage the youth here in a "the-kids-today" rant. That's the most tired, predictable, silliest drivel ever to mark growing old. For the most part, I consider that kind of nonsense to be sheer jealousy. What is more pathetic than the ravings of those that envy the beauty of youth? I'm not immune to it, obviously. But I try to keep it to a minimum. No, my trouble here is that I associate that kind of attitude - that would decry the value of imagination, hence stumble day-to-day in dreary boredom - with the jaded older set, those who prefer to lift up the glory of imagination's counterpart: reality (otherwise known as "the reeeal world"). I would not have thought students today to be so thoroughly disconnected from their imaginations....already.

And so I have questions.

Do you think they are telling the truth? Or did they simply not want to admit to or discuss their imaginations? Were you bored in college? (the stage of my life when I was *least* like that) Did you - or do you - think the imagination holds no value? Does this sound like young people you know? (no names, please) Do you think young people have always been like this and I'm just crazy? If not, to what do you attribute this phenomenon? What - if anything - might be the antidote?
It seems like this FISA bill would have been an easy one to argue against on principal, without concern that the GOP smear machine would accuse all Democrats of being wusses. But, they're caving rather than fight. Having watched this interview last night, I can assure that you probably don't want to watch Jonathan Turley explain just how horrible this is, but just in case:

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

RFK Jr's Energy Manifesto
This is a couple of months old, but a great read. In Vanity Fair, Robert Kennedy, Jr. discusses our energy opportunities in a "manifesto", offering the next President some very specific advice that's pretty educational to a nimrod like myself.
There’s a second thing the next president should do, and it would be a strategic masterstroke: push to revamp the nation’s antiquated high-voltage power-transmission system so that it can deliver solar, wind, geothermal, and other renewable energy across the country. Right now, a Texas wind-farm manager who wants to get his electrons to market faces two huge impediments. First, our regional power grids are overstressed and misaligned. The biggest renewable-energy opportunities—for instance, Southwest solar and Midwest wind—are outside the grids’ reach. Furthermore, traveling via alternating-current (A.C.) lines, too much of that wind farmer’s energy would dissipate before it crossed the country. The nation urgently needs more investment in its backbone transmission grid, including new direct-current (D.C.) power lines for efficient long-haul transmission.

Monday, July 07, 2008

What have you been reading, listening to, watching?

Weekend Box Office

4.Get Smart
5.Kung Fu Panda

Doc Watch
I saw 3 a couple of weeks ago.

Note by Note is a beautiful, fascinating look inside the Steinway & Sons piano factory in New York. It follows a single concert grand, starting as a long piece of wood from an Alaskan lumberyard through the year-long process it takes to make it a finished Steinway. The clear highlight is meeting the people who work with such obvious pride and skill at their jobs, which are shockingly un-automated.

My Name is Albert Ayler uses lots of first-person speaking from the subject himself to explore the music and psyche of one of my (anti-)heroes. Some of the footage is astounding - I had never actually seen film of him playing before - and the audio is revealing. I learned lots about him I didn't know, but still I have to say, I was a bit disappointed in the film.

Standard Operating Procedure is Errol Morris' new film, about the Abu Ghraib scandal. It's another haunting work by him, wrenching and powerful and so very disturbing. Somehow, he managed to make an entire film about the public characters of the scandal and still leave the impression that the subject of the story should be not those in the pictures, but those never pictured, whose actions remain a mystery. Even without pointing to much evidence of it directly, we are left knowing that something truly horrible was taking place in the prison, having almost nothing to do with the pictures we all saw and found abhorrent. The "real torture", someone says, was taking place behind the closed doors. I highly recommend it, but I don't think I could ever watch it again.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Holding Serve
Imagine if Major League Baseball instituted a new rule: only pitchers can bat. The notoriously weak hitting hurlers would ensure a defensive duel. Extra inning games would be the norm as team batting averages of .100 would struggle to score a single run.

That's a little what watching men's tennis is like these days. For some reason, I'm keeping an eye on the Wimbledon final. Basically, it's just a matter of waiting for a player to break serve, to have a chance to win. 48 games in to the match and it's only happened 3 times (a worse batting average, even, than most pitchers). Unless and until it happens a 4th time, nobody will ever win. Ever.

There are many reasons to prefer women's tennis that I won't go in to here. But, this is another.

[UPDATE: Of course, as soon as I type that, Federer gets broken in the 49th. But still, for such a close championship match, "the best ever", they are saying on my teevee, it sure can get boring.]

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Gay McPride
McDonald's great sin, by the way, was sponsoring the San Francisco Gay Pride parade last year.
The Ted Kennedy Health Reform Act
You know that overhauling our health care system is where he wants to leave his legacy. Even in the hospital for brain surgery, he was making plans for his final act.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy's office has begun convening a series of meetings involving a wide array of healthcare specialists to begin laying the groundwork for a new attempt to provide universal healthcare, according to participants
Kennedy's committee has held two meetings so far - one with healthcare coalitions, the other with physicians' groups. Eight more will be held by the end of the month. The meetings are attended by aides for committee members of both parties, said Craig Orfield, a spokesman for Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the ranking Republican on the committee.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Come On In, the Water's Fine?
File this one under knowing-too-many-stats. A huge and impressive cleanup of the Cumberland River over the last dozen years has led to a yearly pr event demonstrating the cleanliness of the water as area swimmers throw on life vests and take a lap across. I'm sure it is, as they say, clean enough to swim in. For my money though, Councilwoman Emily Evans might want to abandon the precise statistics, you know, because of the imagery.
Emily Evans, who started organizing the event last fall, said the river was safe and pointed out that every swimmer would wear a life vest.

Evans, one of five council members who swam, also said sewage overflows into the river have decreased from 2.3 billion gallons in 1989 to 16 million gallons in 2007.
That's quite a decrease..I suppose...but come on, don't tell me there are 16 million gallons of sewage flowing into the river. It might not be much by river standards, but it sure sounds like plenty.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Announcing the Big Gay Mac?
In my inbox, I just got word from Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association - the freaks that started the boycott of Disney, and Ford (for advertising in gay magazines) - that he will have a "major announcement concerning McDonald's" on Thursday. I wait with bated breath.
Are You at Risk for Diabetes?
The NYTimes blog on health often has some interesting bits in it. Recently, a piece outlined the "11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating" (and in fact I'm not, with the exception of a little blueberry action). But I also recommend their post yesterday on diabetes. A recent study shows that more than 1 in 4 Americans is either diabetic or in a pre-diabetic stage. Included is a simple and brief questionnaire to help you evaluate your risk level. Remember to answer all the questions honestly... unlike when you get asked about how many fruits and vegetables you are eating, when you are clearly lying through your teeth.
Obama's Week
In case you missed it, Obama is giving a series of speeches in the runup to July 4. Yesterday's speech was about patriotism. Today's is about faith, specifically expanding and changing the focus of the President's faith-based funding program.

This part of the campaign might be a little bumpy for those of us who are unabashed liberals, not that there was anything in the first speech I find objectionable. (and not much in the second either) Like Atrios says, Obama's not trying to get our vote anymore. He's got it. Others still need to be convinced if he's going to win. It makes perfect sense, and doesn't mean he's excessively pandering. It just means he's shaping emphasizing his convictions with strategy.