Wednesday, December 29, 2004


You may be wondering why there have been so few posts recently. My employer has kindly given most of us this week off. While I have work to do from home, this welcome break from getting up early and dressing up has led to a certain slackening of nearly all my habits; I didn't shave after Christmas until today, for instance. (Those who experienced the Great Beard of 1999 will be happy to know that this one did not involve any sort of mental turmoil, just a healthy dose of laziness.)

If you're bored without my ruminations, you could do worse than the following:
Or, you could donate your money to victims of this week's disaster in Asia.

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See you in the new year.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Disc Compact

Negotiating the Dense and Boorish Clots, Or Shopping for Music: The Physical Fetish

I promised to provide an accounting of my gifts, and they'll follow in a moment. But as you peruse the list and see a huge number of CDs, you'd do well to read the article linked above, in which Brian James explains the reasons why, in this digital age, he continues to hoard so many albums complete with their artist-chosen tracklists and cover art. It may help you understand why I spend so much time, money, and thought on the little silver circles. He closes thus:
Years of thought and emotion are documented there in stacks of plastic and aluminum. As I've moved to new apartments and new cities and new states, my music collection may be the only thing that makes me feel that where I happen to be is home. It's unwieldy to be sure, but when I look at it as the metaphor that it is, its bulk and continued growth are not burdens to me, but comforts.
I can really relate to that.

Without further adieu, the promised gift-blogging:

'Twas quite a good Christmas for me, both personally (I got to see a great many friends, had two pleasant days with family, and capped Christmas with The Aviator) and in terms of gifts. Among them:

  • The first three seasons of Seinfeld on DVD
  • Return of the King, extended edition on DVD
  • Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous
  • The Honeydogs, 10,000 Years
  • Diana DeGarmo, Blue Skies
  • Beyond the Sea soundtrack
  • Elton John, Elton John SACD
  • Elton John, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy SACD
  • Beck, Sea Change SACD
  • Dogs Die in Hot Cars, Please Describe Yourself
  • Neko Case, The Tigers Have Spoken
  • Iron & Wine, The Creek Drank the Cradle
  • The Beta Band, The Three E.P.'s
  • The Decemberists, Her Majesty the Decemberists
  • Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3
  • Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
  • Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One
And also:
  • A subscription to Blender
  • A food processor
  • New black pants
  • New black socks
  • A new dress shirt
  • A new Eddie Bauer sweater
  • A new reviewer rank: As of today, 6307 and climbing!
If you'd like to hear about any of these, let me know and I'll review them. Hope your holiday was happy!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Happy Holidays!

And I mean that in the kindest, not-throwing-down-the-gauntlet-est way possible. Gift-blogging coming soon...

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Cheap and Tawdry, Take Two

Where's the Dioxin-Tainted Beef? - The Ukrainian prime ministerial debate

Students of the U.S. presidential debates of the last few decades will appreciate Benjamin Healy's satire of the recent debate in the Ukraine, but it's funny no matter what. Classic line: Yushchenko's final statement is "My opponent poisoned me. Also, Mary Cheney is a lesbian."

Indeed she is, Viktor. Indeed she is. Here's hoping you win the new election and find a dermatologist who can help you with that chloracne.

Worthy Cause

Petition Seeks to Free Fiona Apple Album

If you, like me, have been waiting since 1999's When the Pawn... for a new Fiona Apple album, you'll find the above article interesting. A petition is up on the Web trying to get Epic to release her new record, Extraordinary Machine, which has been finished since May of 2003. If you'd like to be able to hear it, or if you'd just like to add your name to the list so that I can hear it someday, visit

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Meet the New Boss

Sold! - Goodbye, Bill G. Hello, Don G. By Jacob Weisberg

It's been rumored for ages, and now it's official--Slate, workday reading material for educated office dwellers everywhere, has a buyer and is leaving the Microsoft nest to become part of the Washington Post family. The article above assures that there will be no changes to Slate's format or content, but this is a good marriage: Few newspapers have the online presence, or the quality stable of writers, which WaPo offers. Blogger Mickey Kaus may have to grovel a bit for his recent P.P.P.P.S. tantrum about a weekend WaPo article, though...

This leaves one question unanswered: what will happen to Salon? I love reading Cary Tennis and King Kaufman and a liberal ex-po-zay almost every day--and almost every day I sit through whatever commercial they've put up to "earn" the right to read the site for free. Without some infusion of cash, though, I don't know if Salon can continue on its subscription model while losing money. Paging George Soros...

Bigger and Better

Just in Time for New Year's: A Proposal for a Better Calendar

Perhaps you recall my twice-yearly notion that we should turn the changing of the clocks into a mini-holiday, giving workers an hour off with pay on the day we push time forward while continuing to turn them back in the middle of the night. Richard Conn Henry has a better idea: Let's change the whole calendar so that every year has exactly 52 7-day weeks in it, turn all the clocks in the world to the same time, and insert a "leap week" (he calls it Newton in honor of his favorite physicist) every five or six years to correct for the missing days. Henry proposes that this leap week would be vacation time for all. While that is, of course, a logistical impossibility (someone has to man the tills and stock the food at grocery stores, after all), the idea of some sort of worldwide, weeklong celebration has some appeal, no?

Add to that the fact that dates and days would forever remain fixed and I think this is a great idea. What day is Christmas? Sunday, December 25. What day is your birthday? Saturday, February 18. (Sorry to all of you whose birthdays would remain forever fixed on Monday.)

Henry wants to see this happen by January 1, 2006, which is something more than a long shot. But read through his logic, linked above, and then tell me: Why not?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Review Revue

It's been media month at our house, which means I've been watching a lot of movies lately and not telling anyone about them. (If you're looking for music reviews, look at the next post.) So here goes:

You really should see Monster, if only to find out how ugly makeup can make the otherwise lovely Charlize Theron. The film is well-acted, well-conceived--and absolutely chilling in its portrait of a woman so screwed up by life that she thinks turning into a serial-killing monster is perfectly logical.

It'll help if the next movie on Showtime happens to be The Italian Job, which will remind you what Charlize really looks like and probably entertain you to boot. A combination caper film and extended commerical on the virtues of the Mini, it has just enough of a plot and just enough humor to make it worthwhile. And who can resist Seth Green claiming that Shawn Fanning stole the idea of Napster from him?

Also good for a laugh, if little else, is Dodgeball. Predictable, and Ben Stiller is a bit over the top, but just tell me you don't want to watch Rip Torn throw wrenches at a skinny kid whose nickname in the movie is the oh-so-very-not-PC "queer bait."

What, you don't? OK, then watch Super Size Me. For 90 minutes, you'll question whether you can ever eat again, especially when our "I'll eat McDonald's for a month" narrator pukes up his very first meal on his new diet and when, later, he discovers how much weight he's gained and how much damage he's done to his liver. (The effect is compared to Nicholas Cage pickling his liver in Leaving Las Vegas, if that tells you anything.)

Had something more upbeat in mind? The Bourne Supremacy is just the ticket. Picking up the trail of Jason Bourne a few years after The Bourne Identity left off, the fast-paced film sees him begin to figure out who he was and what he may have done, while the machinations behind the program that created him are slowly revealed. Joan Allen makes a nice addition to the original cast, which is missing Chris Cooper after his death at the close of the first edition.

An older film also hit my radar--for the first time, believe it or not--in the form of Four Weddings and a Funeral. I had no idea this 1994 film--nominated for Best Picture alongside such titans as Pulp Fiction, Shawkshank Redemption, and Forrest Gump--also featured a gay couple as its paragon of true love. No wonder people think Hollywood is liberal! Anyhow, watch this and remember when Hugh Grant was a fresh new face and Andie MacDowell was the flavor of the moment.

Also finally saw Bend It Like Beckham, which is every bit as charming as you've heard. The movie confronts stereotypes about women, Indian people, and homosexuality--and is still both funny and touching. Catch it on HBO while they're still running it every few days.

Amid all this cinema, I did find time to read a book. The Plot Against America is the single most interesting and important novel of 2004. It imagines what would have happened if Charles Lindbergh had run against FDR on an antiwar platform in 1940 and won, and it's written from the perspective of a Jewish child. Fascinating in its own right, it's also extremely timely, whatever Philip Roth says about his intent in writing it. Just ask William Safire, who in this morning's New York Times contemplated a similar novel based on an alternate reality of the Bush presidency. Safire's novel sounds like a snoozer--and who really believes any Democrat would appoint Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz at the end of it?--but Roth's work is that of a master, and not to be missed.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

2004 Top Ten Albums

And now, the moment we've all been waiting for: here are my picks for the top ten albums of 2004. (Don't forget to check out Paul Allen's top picks at Pop Life as well.) As always, I reserve the right to reconsider this list in a few months after all my holiday gifts have been listened to and considered. Here we go!

1. Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters
A band that deals with overtly gay themes using whip-smart lyrics and danceable music really had no competition for this spot, did it? From the rollicking opener, “Laura,” to the coming-out-to-mom-at-a-gay-bar anthem “Take Your Mama Out,” to the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” the album kicks off with three solid radio singles and never lets go. There was no timelier song in the year of Janet than “Tits on the Radio,” no funnier song than “Music is the Victim,” no more danceable ode to a tryst mate who will never be anything more than “Better Luck,” no more glam-tastic paean to casualties of too many crystal hits at gay clubs than “Return to Oz.” I could go on rattling off superlatives about this album, but take my word: this is the wildest ride of the year.

2. Green Day, American Idiot
It was hard not to make this my number one. A rock opera about living in our times, laced with the bitterness of Bush hatred and including not one but two nine-minute, five-part epics, AI is stunning. Who among us thought, in the Dookie days, that Green Day was hiding within it all the components needed to create a modern masterpiece? That Billie Joe’s voice would one day be the perfect vehicle not for teenage loutish angst but for a searing look at what’s wrong with the world? That Tre Cool’s drumming could become a force of nature? Not me. But this album proves me wrong. It elevates its art form to a whole new level.

3. Black Keys, Rubber Factory
This year’s White Stripes, only without the self-indulgence and the goofy backstory. I don’t know how to describe this incredible album except to say that it sounds manly—deep voices, deep drums, a certain weight to the bluesy music. By the second song, lead single “10 A.M. Automatic,” I’m hooked every time, floating through the rest of the album in awe, as if I’m wrapped tight in its manly arms. (Huh. Maybe that’s why I love it so.) Rubber Factory sounds so much like a greatest hits album—every song is THAT good—that it’s hard to believe these 13 songs represent a single effort. These guys are for real.

4. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose
If you’re looking for an album that will speak to you, look no further. Loretta makes it clear from the start of the first and title track that she’s telling you her story, then reiterates the fact again on the final track of this Jack White (yes, of the White Stripes) produced gem. “Here’s the story of my life,” she warbles at the start of that final song, “listen and I’ll tell it twice.” She’s lying—the song starts from the beginning and runs through to the end, then ends itself—but you’ll want to start over again from track one the moment the music stops. Don’t miss “Portland, Oregon,” a Lynn/White duet that really gets the album rocking at track two.

5. Modest Mouse, Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Unless you’re living in a cave, you’ve probably heard Modest Mouse’s single, “Float On,” which sounds so much like summer it’s a wonder it wasn’t declared the official song of baseball and picnics. Modest Mouse’s fourth album was positioned as their breakout disc by their record company; the week it was released it could be had for $7.99 at Target and other stores, and even now you can get it for less than $10 in any number of places. At that price, it would be OK if the two songs on the promotional sticker—“Float On” and “Ocean Breathes Salty”—were the only really good songs on the album. That’s not the case, though. On first listen, this album sounds like a hodge-podge, but it’s one of 2004’s most rewarding records; listen again and again and patterns form, sonic connections between songs on opposite ends of the tracklisting become apparent, and lyrics—some of the most imaginative of the year—begin to resonate. Oh, and by the way, you enjoy it every time; it’s like a graduate-level course in writing great songs taught by an eccentric professor so riveting that you can’t wait to roll out of bed and rush to class.

6. Joseph Arthur, Our Shadows Will Remain
This ought to be the year Joseph Arthur breaks out into the mainstream. Won't you help him? Still full of brooding themes, and capped off with a song featuring the lyric, “Go away, leave us alone,” this disc also features a more accessible rock sound. Those tempted to hear more of his work after hearing his contribution to Shrek 2 would be well-advised to start here.

7. Elliott Smith, From a Basement on a Hill
Smith, who committed suicide late in 2003, probably ascended a few more critics’ lists this year because this is his final album. Because this is my first encounter with his music, however, I can attest that his death, while the impetus for purchasing the album, has nothing to do with its placement here. For that, thank the music, said by some to represent Smith’s answer to The Beatles’ White Album. You’ll hear signs of that here, along with signs of a tortured musical genius whose work in his last days ranks alongside artists in their prime. Which is what he was, really. The sadness that led to suicide is evident here—one of the standout tracks is “A Fond Farewell”—but it’s here in a way that’s embracing and lovely.

8. Iron and Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days
Continuing the lovely theme, this album from Iron and Wine is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. If you’ve heard anything, you’ve probably heard “Naked As We Came,” a track that should have been nominated for a Best Song Grammy. The whole affair is lush but spare, folky but rocking, with acoustic guitar guiding the way and Sam Beam’s voice practically whispering in your ear the feelings of domestic tranquility and turbulence common to all of us. More than any album this year, this one just invites you to love it.

9. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand
Everything is in its right place on this album, the debut from a Scottish rock foursome that is this year’s answer to The Strokes. Rock with precision, it’s also—somehow—maddeningly fun. Witness the lead single, “Take Me Out,” which was mainstream enough to be played during an early episode of Joey. It’s a good representative for the album as a whole: clever lyrics that can be interpreted in different ways, carried forward by carefully laid-out rhythms and vocals that wrap themselves up into a four-minute gem. This is an album of such gems, many of them with a sense of humor that is part of the magic of the disc. “Jacqueline” preaches the virtues of vacation: “It’s always better on holiday…that’s why we only work when we need the money.” “Michael” finds the singer hitting on Michael at a dance club, despite the fact that he’s a man, because he’s “the boy that everybody wants.” Homoerotic or campy? It hardly matters: FF may have a name from 1914 and a sound borrowed from rock and punk history, but the band’s unique blend of recycled sounds and new ideas is distinctly 2004.

10. Matt Pond PA, Emblems
At first listen, you’d swear that Matt Pond was just a pseudonym for Peter Gabriel; the similarity of their voices on several of the songs on this album is startling. This is music that builds; Pond’s voice is one of many instruments used to construct a series of richly textured songs. Another of the band’s five members is a cello player; her work adds a unique sound to the album, driving forward many songs with an intensity that only an instrument played with a bow can. The lyrics are deeply personal—surely some of the events related here actually happened to Pond—and the music suits this. Lush and layered, it cradles Pond’s words and emphasizes them. This is probably the least-known and lowest-selling record I bought in 2004—other than Radiant* and perhaps Olympic Hopefuls—but it deserves a much wider audience. It’s only $10 at Amazon!

2004's Best of the Rest

With the top ten list for the year set to pop up here on Friday, here are some other categories designed to honor music that didn't quite make the top ten (except in one case) or missed it by a mile. Paul Allen picks his winners in these same categories at his site, Pop Life--check it out!

Guilty Pleasure: I’m not prone to guilt, but there is something almost sinful about the second album from The Thrills, Let’s Bottle Bohemia. It’s self-centered bombast set to a jangly beat—and every time I put it in the player I can’t help singing along at the top of my lungs.

Soundtrack/Compilation: Garden State. Even without seeing the movie--I'll see it on DVD the day it comes out, I promise--the soundtrack is like some magical mix tape that Zach Braff plucked from musical heaven.

Disappointment: I have to pick just one? In that case, Matthew Sweet, Living Things. I shouldn’t have been stunned by how much I wasn’t captivated by this album—I didn’t enjoy The Thorns last year, either—but it really never clicked for me; the lyrics didn’t grab me, the hooks weren’t there, the music was bubbly but fell flat when it hit my ears. Also disappointing was the new Wilco album. I know, I know: It’s experimental and edgy and I just need to work harder to love it. Maybe one day it’ll click and I’ll be obsessed with the whole thing, even the twelve minutes of white noise, instead of always wanting to listen to “Kidsmoke” and “Late Greats” and maybe “Hummingbird” and call it a day. I guess I’m getting old; maybe if I heard Kid A for the first time today I wouldn’t give Radiohead the benefit of 80 spins like I did in college.

Cover Art: Most people would use this award to honor a great image, but all the bands with really great cover art this year are in my top ten. (Number one, eight, and ten are particularly good.) For me, this award is about a little band running along the back of an album, the one that said “CD Audio/SACD Stereo/SACD Surround” on the back of Elton John’s Peachtree Road. The multichannel layer of the album allows me to experience Elton’s latest work in a whole new way, as if the raindrops on the opening track are falling all around me and, later, as if I’m within the music rather than simply listening to it. It makes for an enveloping experience, enhancing a set of songs that, while not quite top-ten material, are definitely a welcome addition to my burgeoning Elton John collection. Elton has six other albums, including Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, on SACD, yet another reason to consider a super audio CD player as a last minute gift idea. Here’s hoping this is the start of a trend of releasing albums in SACD format the same day the regular release hits stores.

Greatest Hits: The new Seal compilation renders his catalog almost unnecessary, at least for a very casual fan like me; with all the hits from the early ‘90s and the new songs you’ve heard on the radio in one place, it’s a pleasant listen from start to finish, front-loaded with all the stuff you really want in case you just want a 20-minute dose. If nothing else, it fills the void in a collection that not owning “Crazy” creates; the CD also features “Waiting for You,” “Don’t Cry,” “Kiss From a Rose,” “Prayer for the Dying,” and “Human Being.”

Album Title: The Sound of Splitting Atoms, a seven-song EP by a band called Radiant*, which I bought at Waterloo Records in Austin, Texas for $1.00 the same day I found the first Shins album in a used bin. They were selling the CDs cheap to promote the band’s appearance at or around the South by Southwest festival, I think. The album itself is a sort of Coldplay/Radiohead clone that Brad and I really enjoy. It’s also almost impossible to find, at least in Illinois, making my $1.00 purchase feel like a steal!

Reissue: Technically not a “reissue,” but not really a proper 2004 release, either, Brian Wilson’s Smile is something special all its own. I can’t explain why I love it, but I do.

Surprise: I know it shouldn’t be that stunning, since I cheered her on from day one, but the fact that Fantasia’s debut album, Free Yourself, is actually good is just amazing to me.

Live: Classic show versus contemporary genius—how do I choose? Aimee Mann’s live album this year is a nice sampler of her solo career and shows off the fact that she has actual talent, even without the trappings of the studio. It’s well worth buying, and the tracklist on the DVD is even better than that on the CD. But Bob Dylan’s Live 1964, the 6th volume of the Bootleg Series, is a portrait of one of rock’s great artists at a pivotal moment in his career, making the change from folk to rock, and beyond its historic value it’s one of his most mesmerizing live shows. But why choose? Buy them both.

Cover Version: Almost by default, this goes to “Comfortably Numb,” the Scissor Sisters cover of the Pink Floyd song from The Wall. I say default because there weren’t many cover songs this year that came to my attention, but this would probably have taken the cake anyway—it reimagines the song almost completely, turning it into dance pop that’s nearly irresistible.


Kerry Campaign Head Admits Miscalculations
Don't beat yourself up, Mary Beth. All you did was fail to unseat the worst president in history despite a failed war, a sour economy, and the most motivated base your party has ever had.

You know, actually, go ahead and beat yourself bloody.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Phoning It In

Amazon Grace - If you're a holiday shopper, you must read this.

Brad and I bought a LOT of stuff from Amazon this year--like, almost four figures worth--so this info from Timothy Noah is quite appreciated. The info is this: Amazon's customer service number--which you'd never find on an invoice or sitting around on their site--is 1-800-201-7575. Don't say I never post anything useful.

Merry Xmas

Conservatives Take on Christmas Cause

The moral values spin on the election--debunked by most about a week after it gained currency--is back with a twist. Citing the results of the election as proof that Americans are fed up with political correctness (by which they mean efforts to use language that does not exclude people unnecessarily from public life), conservatives nationwide are pushing to reverse the trend of attempting to be inclusive of all Americans. They're offended by the fact that companies and municipalities are displaying signs that say "Season's Greetings" rather than "Merry Christmas," holding a "Holiday Party" or "End of the Year Celebration" rather than a "Christmas Party," and generally recognizing that this time of year means different things to different people. They'll have their nativities in the public square with a side order of you can keep your damned dreidel or your silly belief in the human spirit, thank you very much.

Isn't this a bit much? Your big days are federal holidays; your kids are automatically out of school and you're automatically home from work. Unless they're in private schools, Jews and Muslims don't get the same treatment for their major holidays. Can't you win gracefully? Yes, you're the majority in this country; there are more folks in the United States who celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday than those who acknowledge it as a time of good cheer regardless of faith or creed. But those of us on the outside have already, in the words of the Mormons who once stopped me on a busy street to perform their missionary duty, "heard the Good News about Christ." If you must continue to try to convince us to believe what you believe, that's fine--but can't we all agree that a sign on city hall isn't the most effective vehicle for doing so? An agnostic doesn't drive by a "Merry Christmas" sign and think, "You know, I should really get in on that whole Christianity thing." More likely, he thinks, "Oh, I should send out my holiday cards." And isn't that enough for you people? We all celebrate the birth of your savior; some of us do so while going out of our way to buy non-religious cards, non-religious gift wrap, and non-religious stamps, then put up a creche for camp value, but how does that hurt you?

So, for my part, I say enough is enough. You've got your federal holiday, the gifting tradition centered around your big day is such an important part of the economy that sales data requires seasonal adjustment, and everyone knows that the biggest reason we have sayings like "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" is to celebrate a holiday that originated with your religion. If you want to send cards with chapter and verse quoted within them, display signs that say "Jesus is the Reason for the Season," run about in the cold singing songs about your dear savior's birth, and whine about taking Christ out of Christmas, go right ahead. But if you want to start down the long and terrible road to a theocracy, go do it somewhere else. America was founded as a land of religious freedom, not religion imposed.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


PopMatters Music Feature | Best Music of 2004

Three days remain until the unveiling of this year's Highway 290 top ten. In the meantime, feast on this list of 100 albums from PopMatters, including their top fifteen:
15. Bjork, Medulla
14. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose
13. AC Newman, The Slow Wonder
12. Green Day, American Idiot
11. Interpol, Antics
10. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News
9. Madvillain, Madvillainy
8. Wilco, A Ghost is Born
7. The Streets, A Grand Don't Come for Free
6. TV on the Radio, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
5. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus
4. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand
3. Brian Wilson, Smile
2. The Arcade Fire, Funeral
1. Kanye West, The College Dropout

Monday, December 13, 2004

Bringing Balance

Ballots Wrongly Denied in Wash. Gov. Race
Here's a tiny bit of good news on the day Bush's return to office was made irrevocable: It looks like the Democrat will win in Washington's race for governor after all. 561 ballots in heavily-Democratic King County (Seattle, mostly) were incorrectly rejected; the margin for Christine Gregoire out of these ballots should be enough to overcome the 42-vote margin by which she trailed Republican Dino Rossi after the machine recount.

Sadly, this is just another sign of how desperate Democrats are for "good news" right now: We consider holding onto a governor's mansion in a heavily-Democratic state a pleasant surprise.

It's Really Over

The Only Votes That Really Count

Wonkette's mystery guest blogger reminds us that today is the day John Kerry's chances of becoming president in January move from extraordinarily slim to exactly none. As he says, "President Bush's second term will take one more step toward becoming reality as the Electoral College votes. The first step, of course, was that whole voting thing back in November; the last step is when the new Republican Congress makes failure to remove those KE '04 bumper stickers by Inauguration Day a crime punishable by death."

In a sign of how desperate for good news Democrats are right now, he also says this: "All this blue-state ire is cute, but really, we think Dems should just look on the bright side and be glad Bush operatives didn't take a page from Ukraine and poison Kerry during the campaign. Although actually, maybe that would have helped?"

Yep. "USA: Better at Democracy Than Ukraine!" Looks like we've got ourselves a slogan.

Friday, December 10, 2004


No snow? Minnesotans get creative

Just in case I was feeling sentimental about my former home, CNN has this today:
From snowmobiling on alfalfa to strapping on cross-country skis with wheels, Minnesotans are finding ways of coping with a frustrating lack of snow.
A "frustrating lack of snow" is not a phrase that has any place in my vocabulary. A sport that requires a motor or an extension of my foot beyond a normal shoe holds no interest for me. My feeling on trying to extend the season for winter sports by pretending to cross-country ski with rollerblades--a practice who enthusiasts frequently threatened to impale me on one of their poles during a late autumn walk in Minneapolis--or snowmobiling on alfalfa is therefore quite simple: These people are crazy. Throw a football around or shoot some baskets while the weather is still somewhat clement. If there's one good thing about global warming, it's the fact that there will be less snow to shovel, drive through, and yes, snowmobile on. With their snow gone, perhaps snowmobile enthusiasts will relocate, either further north--where they'll be Canada's problem--or to the South, where they'll be among enthusiasts of NASCAR, another pernicious motor sport.

Consider that your liberal elitist post for the week.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Not Just Raining: Pouring!

Israel provides legal recognition to same-sex couples
New Zealand adopts civil unions for all couples
Canada's high court clears way for gay marriage

All of these headlines are from today. Legal recognition of gay couples is also national policy in all of Scandanavia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. It will be the national policy of Britain and Spain very soon. As Andrew Sullivan said today, "Soon, it will become, I think, a defining characteristic of modern, democratic states that they acknowledge equal rights for gay citizens. Except, alas, in America?" We're looking less and less like the model for the rest of the world every day. And if this country doesn't stop being so backward, there are more and more options opening. Migrate to the Great North, anyone? The Holy Land? Middle Earth?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Malone says Kobe stabbed him in back

So now Karl Malone won't go back to the Lakers because Kobe said something mean about him--specifically that it's not fair to hold his return over the heads of teammates who are working hard while living under the threat that Malone will come back and take their jobs. While that notion is debatable--the new-look Lakers can use a motivating factor other than Kobe's desire to outshine Shaq--what's more interesting, to me, is the phrasing Kobe used during his vent: "They are here giving me 110 percent. It’s really not fair for us to sit around and speculate how long this is going to go on. I mean, you can’t sit up here and speculate for the remainder of the season whether or not he is going to come back. I mean, that’s not fair to the guys that are working here."

That's right--the rest of the Lakers are giving Kobe 110 percent effort. Not coach Rudy Tomjanovich; not the fans; not themselves. Kobe. And we're worried about how some 41-year-old who should have retired by now feels? How do his teammates feel about hearing that all of their effort is being made for the greater glory of Kobe?

While Kobe is directing the Lakers toward an eight seed and an early playoff exit, another Hollywood director's chances of winning Oscar gold are being panned by Michael Ventre--who usually prefers to write about the latest Kobe shenanigans. His article, "'The Passion' doesn't have a prayer," makes the case that the film will be ignored by the Academy not because Hollywood doesn't like Christians or because of ill-will toward Mel Gibson, but because it simply isn't a very good movie (some of the reviews, he points out, were savage), faced serious charges of anti-Semitism, and hasn't been properly timed or promoted to compete. Of course, when the nominees are announced a month after Christmas, there will be groups that will denounce the Academy for its failure to recognize Gibson's snuff film, but Ventre is right: the film has neither been set up as a contender nor should it have been.

If that's not enough content for you today, check out a Wonkette post from yesterday. Highly funny.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Slim Pickings

Grammy nominees list

It's been tough being a fan of alternative and rock music come Grammy time these last several years, and this year is no exception. With best album nods for Kanye West, Usher, Ray Charles, and Alicia Keys, it's a miracle there was room for Green Day in the top five. Loretta Lynn was relegated to the country album category, Brian Wilson and Norah Jones were exiled to the pop vocal album list, and Bjork, Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse, and Wilco got crammed into an alternative album list that also includes PJ Harvey. Heck, Grammy fave U2 couldn't bust into the song of the year category for "Vertigo," settling for a best rock song nod, though you can blame that on John Mayer's underwhelming but Grammy-baiting "Daughters."

Anyway, here, right now, are my picks in the top categories. Let's see someone else get their list out half an hour after the nominations:

Record of the Year: I pick Green Day's "American Idiot," would be content with "Let's Get It Started" from the Black Eyed Peas, and doubt either will win.
Album of the Year: Again, Green Day, but unless there's some sort of demographic process of elimination that gives GD the prize, this will go to Usher or Kanye.
Song of the Year: In a category with no songs I loved, I'm guessing Kanye wins with "Jesus Walks."
Best New Artist: Franz Ferdinand isn't even nominated! Doesn't matter; you don't get 10 nominations and not win this trophy, do you, Mr. West?
Best Female Pop Vocal: Good category for me. It'd be fun to see Gwen Stefani win for "What You Waiting For?" but I wouldn't be stunned if Grammy-mongers Norah Jones or Sheryl Crow took this.
Best Male Pop Vocal: Prince's "Cinnamon Girl" should win this and probably will.
Best Pop, Group: It's old now, but everyone loved No Doubt's "It's My Life" when it came out.
Best Pop Vocal Album: Ray Charles vs. Brian Wilson vs. Norah Jones. Wilson should win, but Charles is dead, so you never know.
Solo Rock Vocal: Ryan Adams' rendition of "Wonderwall" is begging for this trophy.
Rock Performance, Duo or Group: Should be "American Idiot" or Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out," but could go to U2 for "Vertigo."
Best Rock Song: "American Idiot," "Vertigo," and Modest Mouse's "Float On" compete here. I'd love to see the latter win something; if there was a catchier song this year, I didn't hear it.
Best Rock Album: Should and will go to Green Day, the only one of the bunch also nominated for the big prize.
Best Alternative Music Album: Franz and Mouse should be duking it out, but they'll give it to Wilco instead, right?
Best R&B Album: I include this only to express my hope that Prince will win.
Best Country Collaboration: Norah Jones and Dolly Parton take on Jack White and Loretta Lynn. This is a win-win situation, but I hope Loretta wins here.
Best Country Song: This should be another win for "Portland, Oregon," the White/Lynn duet that gets Van Lear Rose rocking.
Best Country Album: Loretta Lynn. No question.

More music news shortly: This year's top ten (or so) list should be up on the 17th.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Mucking About

Tree growers try to stem tide of artificial offerings

Not gonna work with me, folks. I was raised a real-tree devotee, but this weekend was probably the last straw for me--and I didn't even put the tree up or chop it down. Brad and I joined my family on Saturday morning for the annual tree-chopping event; we tried a new place in Harvard, Illinois rather than heading west to Oregon--also in Illinois--as we had in the past. Brad and I drove for an hour and a half to meet my family there, despite the fact that Brad wasn't feeling well, and arrived to find ourselves in a mud pit from which my car will not soon recover. Neither will my shoes, or my coat, which received--along with my face and neck--a nice spittle coating of mud thanks to an errant snowball that bounced in one of the plentiful mud puddles that comprised the path for the horse-drawn carriage that we didn't ride. And we did this for what? So my mother can vacuum pine needles every day for a month, shoo the dogs away from the tree, and crane her neck to water it every day? She may be willing to make these efforts, and to put up with the post-decorating rash that inevitably accompanies decorating a real tree, but I'm not. In any case, we ended up going home after the sawing was done because Brad still wasn't feeling well, so I don't know how the tree looks now. But I know this: I felt bad about missing a chance to have my mom's pasta, but not so much about missing the chance to mess with a pine tree for a few hours. My fake tree at home looks just fine to me; it's been up a week and a half and thus far not a needle has fallen.

We did watch a good movie while Brad was recuperating, and I'll pass along my recommendation now rather than writing a real review because, though we rented it from Netflix, it's on HBO tonight at 6:00. Shattered Glass is excellent. It deals with the fall of Stephen Glass, a journalist whose articles for several magazines were all the rage until someone discovered the truth about how he got such great quotes from his sources. It's marvelously acted; you can't ask for a better trio than Hank Azaria, Peter Sarsgaard, and Hayden Christiansen. OK, you can. But this movie is still worth watching. It's on HBO at 6 PM Central, or you can catch it at 9 on the Pacific version of the channel. Let me know if you end up watching!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Passive Aggressive

Rumsfeld to Stay on as Defense Secretary

Interesting timing to announce this move, which would have attracted a few days of water cooler chatter across the nation if it came on a Tuesday. But at least it's appropriate: Friday is "Take out the trash" day at the White House, according to The West Wing, and keeping Rumsfeld around despite the fact that his strategy for Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster is surely a garbage move. Doing it on a Friday just lets the Bushies tweak the noses of their opposition one more time: "Look, we can keep this guy you hate AND do it in a way that makes it hard for you to make a big deal about it." I'm telling you, Chief Justice Ashcroft or Thomas isn't far behind this kind of move. Happy weekend.


Allison Janney dives into a new 'West Wing'

After tearing into John Wells for more than a year regarding his hatchet job on my former favorite show, I have to now give him credit for making the show more interesting this season. Maybe it's the fact that all my other appointment shows are on hiatus or off the air, leaving WW on a Sopranos- and Six Feet Under-less playing field, but I think this season, and especially the most recent episodes, has been the best for the show since before Aaron Sorkin's departure, perhaps since Rob Lowe was on.

Promoting Allison Janney was an inspired move; she's been the conscience of the White House for at least three years and now she gets to see what it's like to have to make the decisions rather than try to spin them. (Of course, I have a soft spot for the idea of putting the reporter-in-chief in charge of the whole operation.) And while I cringed at every cast addition, so far this year every actor they've paraded through has worked in a way that the stunt casting of Matthew Perry never really did. Kristin Chenowith's brief appearances as Toby's adviser were pitch-perfect, and Jimmy Smits is playing his new role with aplomb. And who could complain about the return of Tim Matheson? Say this for the show: They've figured out how to amp up the drama this season, put all of the characters in new situations, and ease the audience into all sorts of transitions. Dule Hill got to talk and got a new job, and there appears to be something brewing again between his Charlie and Zoe. Leo's heart attack has finally freed him and us from his perpetual crankiness. Donna's response to her newfound fame and notoriety has been interesting; I only hope they deal with it more fully in the future. And the prospect of Josh leaving the team to help Hoynes run for president, while Will pushes Bingo Bob and even Al Bundy and Hawkeye get in on the act, should make for a delicious February sweeps arc of episodes about the primaries. I'm a bit concerned about the return of MS, a possibility raised in the last moments of this week's episode and heightened by seeing Martin Sheen on a stretcher in the preview for next week, but my reaction tells me this:

A year ago, I'd have been worried that Wells was about to destroy the show. Now, I'm willing to give this new direction a chance. I only hope my newfound confidence--or at least lack of derision--for Wells proves well-founded.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Local Play

Chicago Tribune | CBS and NBC shut door on church ad

It looks like the UCC ad story has found its way to the major media; this morning it was on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. Here's hoping we see a storm of editorials tomorrow from major newspapers condemning the networks for their cowardice in the face of conservative Christians. Otherwise, Alan Wolfe may be right:
Alan Wolfe, a professor of religion at Boston College, said he was surprised that networks would shy away from a message of inclusiveness.

"CBS and NBC seem to be afraid, not of stirring controversy, but of alienating potential viewers, the kind, moreover, that like to organize boycotts and write letters," Wolfe said. "There may be a new form of political correctness arising in America, one in which attempts are made to avoid violating the sensibilities, not of women or racial minorities, but of conservative Christians."
And some people thought another four years wouldn't be so bad.

Required Viewing?

'Finding Neverland' Wins First Award in Oscar Race

Here's the top ten this year from the National Board of Review:
Finding Neverland
The Aviator
Million Dollar Baby
Vera Drake
Hotel Rwanda

I've only seen one of the ten, Kinsey. I saw five of the ten in 2003, a list that left out Return of the King, and I've seen nine of the ten from 2002 and 2001, despite those lists also ignoring the LOTR movies. I'm betting on seven for 2004: Neverland, Aviator, Closer, Sideways, Kinsey, Vera, and Ray. Let me know if you see any of the ten and whether they're worth seeing!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I Never Knew - U.S. senator wants Annan to resign as U.N. leader

I usually mock the notion of a liberal media, but it's pretty clear how CNN feels about Norm Coleman calling for Kofi Annan's resignation, no? Here's the picture of him they ran:

I'd say they're not fans of Senator Coleman, wouldn't you?

Risque, Part Deux

CBS, NBC Refuse Commercials From Gay Friendly Church

Here's more info on the refusal by CBS, NBC, and UPN to run an ad from the United Church of Christ expressing tolerance for gay and lesbian couples:
"It's ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based on fear and deception by both parties seen on all the major networks, an ad with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too controversial," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president.

"What's going on here?"

The ads had been scheduled to run from today until Dec. 26.

The ad has been accepted and will air on a number of networks, including ABC Family, AMC, BET, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, History, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel and TV Land, among others.

"We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome of committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line," says the Rev. Robert Chase, director of the UCC's communication ministry.

CBS and NBC's refusal to air the ad "recalls the censorship of the 1950s and 1960s, when television station WLBT in Jackson, Miss., refused to show people of color on TV," says Ron Buford, coordinator for the United Church of Christ identity campaign. Buford, of African-American heritage, says, "In the 1960s, the issue was the mixing of the races. Today, the issue appears to be sexual orientation. In both cases, it's about exclusion."

The UCC has a long reputation for welcoming gays and lesbians. Although its individual churches are mostly autonomous, many offer blessing services for same-sex couples. In 1972 it became the first mainstream denomination to ordain an openly gay man.
This is really quite startling. CBS is the network that brought us Richard Hatch, the gay man who won the first season of Survivor, and its parent, Viacom, owns Showtime, home to the almost-pornographic Queer as Folk and the lesbian-centricThe L Word. NBC makes hay with Will & Grace anchoring its Thursday lineup, and its Bravo channel is home to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and delivered Boy Meets Boy last summer, the first gay-themed reality show. Yet these two nets won't run an ad expressing tolerance for gays and lesbians, while Fox--whose only cracks at gay-themed programming have been deemed too exploitive to air, and whose parent company helped get the current, not-exactly-gay-friendly administration re-elected--and ABC Family, which you'd expect to reject the ad on "What about the children" grounds--are willing to air UCC's message. As Rev. Thomas asked, "What's going on here?"

Josh Marshall weighs in again here. You can watch the ad yourself at, though the site appears to be quite busy this morning. Perhaps that's a good sign that people are paying attention to this.

Too Risque

Talking Points Memo

Follow the link above to a post from Joshua Micah Marshall about the United Church of Christ's new ad campaign. The ad in question shows a variety of people--including a gay couple--attempting to enter a church and being turned away by bouncers. The ad then makes clear "that -- like Jesus -- the United Church of Christ seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation."

So what's the trouble? CBS, NBC, and UPN--so far--won't run the ad because it's "too controversial." The ad doesn't feature the language above; all it says is "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." It's a brave ad campaign, yes, and it tells us something about UCC that we otherwise may not have known. But controversial? Why?

Well, here's the explanation from CBS: "Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an explanation from CBS, "and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."

More on how to act against this blatant censorship when I have it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

End of an Era

Reports Have Jennings Losing in 'Jeopardy'

Get thee to a TV at 3:50 today. We're not likely to see another Jeopardy champ like this for a while.

Land of Metaphor

Packers might be Super after all

I don't follow football too carefully--though a recent development at home has made me more inclined to watch than usual--but I know good writing when I see it, and this article from Dan O'Neill is the real deal. I especially love the line, "The Packers stumbled out of the gate like an Oliver Stone epic." Nothing like demanding that your readers are keeping up with the latest news rather than reaching for the same old shopworn cliches time and again.

For the record, I'm hoping this is the year Peyton Manning takes the Colts to the Super Bowl. Like any self-respecting gay man, however, I'm much more concerned with the February 27th Oscar telecast than any football game. And after seeing Kinsey over the weekend, I have to hope that it will take the big trophy--if only because it would honor the man who changed the way many Americans think about sex and sexuality and made it possible for someone like me to live the life I'm living rather than living a lie. It doesn't hurt that it's also a well-written, well-acted, thoughtful and funny movie. If you haven't already, go see it. There will be plenty of time to suffer through Christmas with the Kranks and the mightily-maligned Alexander on DVD later.

Seeping In

I Know You Are But What Am ISP? - NetZero taunts AOL with copycat ads

Seth Stevenson has now identified two ad campaigns predicated on mocking the ads of the competition. The first was the stir between Miller and Budweiser following Miller's "President of Beers" ads; Bud, mocked for trying to be a king in America, shot back that Miller was owned by a South African company. The two companies have continued to joust, with Miller's new referee spots also coming in for mocking by Bud.

In today's article, Stevenson notes the new NetZero ad, which parodies the ridiculous AOL ads that show a mother dumping her child on a stunned executive before demanding from AOL pop-up blockers, spam filtering, a safe browsing experience--all of which you can get without AOL--along with an Orwellian monitoring system so she can abdicate her parenting duties and still snoop on her kids' online activity. In any case...NetZero has created an ad that uses AOL's own words against it, pointing out that it offers essentially the same service for less than half the price.

Last night I saw Jared on my screen, and apparently Subway is in on the act, too. Remember those abominable ads for the new McDonald's Chicken Selects? With their stupid "Keep away from my chicken" tagline? Jared uses the line to discuss the enormous fat content in the new product, pointing out the low fat content in Subway's chicken sandwiches. (There's something about the way Jared says the words "grams of fat" that makes it sound like we'd be eating them straight off his formerly-flabby gut; I think that explains his continuing career as a pitchman.)

Why the rundown? I think all of these ads got their cues from the campaign season we just completed, and I don't see the fad dying off just yet. Wasn't the recent campaign all about using someone's words against him? How many times did we hear the number "87 billion," for example? (And how many times didn't we see Kerry use Bush's claim that he "never said that" about Osama bin Laden against him when there was clear proof he was wrong? Could explain the results, no?)

Of course, this troubles me. First, I don't want to think about the campaign anymore, and the use of these tactics immediately triggers an association chain in my brain that leads inevitably back to Bush v. Kerry. But second, and more importantly, I don't want to see the expansion of these scorched earth tactics to every facet of daily life, and seeing them used in ads is therefore troubling. Granted, NetZero and Subway have a point; AOL's product is without redeeming value at any price point and the Chicken Selects, while tasty, are also a heart attack waiting to happen. But the sort of "They're owned by foreigners!" nastiness employed by Bud is akin to the race- and gay-baiting used by the Republicans in every recent campaign, and to see it operating out in the open and on the airwaves rather than in undercover, direct-mailed, Rove-ian fashion is a disturbing sign that our national discourse is about to drop a few more rungs on the civility ladder. I suppose, as long as it doesn't mean naked body parts on TV or men kissing one another in the streets, it won't bother the "moral values" voters, but I don't remember anything in the Bible about Jesus delivering the sermon of win at any cost or announcing that the greatest commandment is to prey on people's fears and insecurities.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Best and Most Likely

Court Declines to Hear Gay Marriage Case

That's what this result is. It's not surprising that the Supreme Court avoided hearing a gay marriage case: it's a political grenade and there's really no way the Court could overturn the Massachusetts court's interpretation of that state's constitution. Nevertheless, this is the best possible result. Hearing the case would have offered the Court the opportunity to invent a reason not to allow gay marriage, a precedent that might have derailed supporters of the Federal Marriage Amendment but would also have been difficult to overcome anytime in the near future because Bush will likely anoint a few high priests--I mean, appoint a few justices--before his new term is up, and they're not likely to be friendly to gay rights. It would also have offered the Court the chance to narrowly approve of gay marriage--say, 5-4--and thus give FMA backers just the ammo they need to get a public that hasn't yet processed this issue behind their backward-looking amendment. By ducking the case entirely, the Court instead lets Massachusetts marriages stand, letting the results of that state's experiment with equality inform the debate in the rest of the nation and giving citizens a break from landmark gay rights verdicts that reduce this issue to partisan howling rather than the thoughtful consideration and conversation that will eventually bring about a new consensus.

Yes, this is the new, patient version of Richard. Four weeks out from an electoral disaster, what other choice do liberals (or gays) in America have?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Apocalypse (Almost) Now

Nicholas Kristof tackles a tough topic in the wake of our bruising election: What do these red-staters believe? Well, this, for one thing:
The "Left Behind" series, the best-selling novels for adults in the U.S., enthusiastically depict Jesus returning to slaughter everyone who is not a born-again Christian. The world's Hindus, Muslims, Jews and agnostics, along with many Catholics and Unitarians, are heaved into everlasting fire: "Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and . . . they tumbled in, howling and screeching."

Gosh, what an uplifting scene!

If Saudi Arabians wrote an Islamic version of this series, we would furiously demand that sensible Muslims repudiate such hatemongering. We should hold ourselves to the same standard.
Kristof isn't some far-left lunatic; he's proven himself quite sensible. So it's good to see him--and not Michael Moore--making this point, because it bears consideration. If these are the folks who returned Bush to office, and they believe they're living in the end times, well...

Isn't it possible they voted for Bush because they think he's better qualified to bring the world to an end? He certainly appears to be trying!

In any case, Kristof notes the hypocrisy in proclaiming the apocalypse and profiting from it:
Now we have the hugely profitable "Left Behind" financial empire, whose Web site flatly says that the authors "think this generation will witness the end of history." The site sells every "Left Behind" spinoff imaginable, including screen savers, regular prophecies sent to your mobile phone, children's versions of the books, audiobooks, graphic novels, videos, calendars, music and a $6.50-a-month prophesy club. This isn't religion, this is brand management.

If Mr. LaHaye and Mr. Jenkins honestly believe that the end of the world may be imminent, why not waive royalties? Why don't they use the millions of dollars in profits to help the poor - and increase their own chances of getting into heaven?
I could answer that question, but the cynicism might melt your computer screen.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, and when you look around the table at your evangelical relatives and find them staring at you with a mix of pity and contempt, try not to be freaked out. They're just thinking about how you're going to be tossed into a flaming chasm by Jesus and feeling (a) bad that you won't repent your reality-based ways and (b) superior. Don't worry; next Thanksgiving, they'll be able to give you the same look. And the Thanksgiving after that, and after that, and after that...

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

We're Doomed

Bush Economic Adviser, Friedman, to Leave

If you doubt that the Republicans are circling the wagons around Bush and the worst ideas that have been fluttering through his administration, this should convince you:
Republicans who favor "supply-side" policies, such as low taxes and deregulation, had warned that Friedman would be more interested in balancing the budget than supporting Bush's tax-cutting package.
Heaven forbid! Fiscal responsibility from a Republican? That's so last century.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Amazon Update About You: Reviews

Because I don't want to talk about the shameful Artest brawl this weekend, or the shameful controversy of a BCS system incapable of handling five unbeaten teams, or the shameful fact that three weeks after the election it looks like we're sending more troops to Iraq when they should have been sent either a year ago or not at all--because, in short, the news, important or otherwise, is depressing, revel instead in this: Without writing a review in nearly two months, I've slowly but surely crept up the Amazon food chain, and today--more than a month before my deadline to hit number 10,000--I'm now ranked 7,690th. At this rate, they're gonna be sending me that Top 1000 hat sometime in 2007. Which is when, at this rate, I'll need it to cover a completely bald head. Such sweet serendepity.

Friday, November 19, 2004


Protect Every Child

Click on the link above to add your name to the list of people sponsoring the bill John Kerry will introduce on his first day back in the Senate to provide health care for every child in America. Here's hoping this is how Kerry plans to use his incredible list of supporters and donors. Being able to prove he has millions of people behind him when he proposes new legislation can only help his chances of getting the media and his Congressional colleagues to treat these issues with the seriousness they deserve.

No, Really?

Report: Election took mental toll on gays

I'll bet that comes as news to anyone reading this.

Seriously, the article offers a good explanation:
"Putting the civil rights of one group to a vote takes an enormous psychological toll on members of that group, as well as on communities and on families," said Dr. Glenda Russell, a psychologist and the author of the report. "I've heard many stories about fear, sadness and a sense of loss from people all over the country."
Sense of loss? Two weeks of feeling like I was at a funeral is more like it.
The report outlined strategies to help people work through those feelings. It said LGBT people should analyze the homophobia present in the campaign, take action to resist anti-gay efforts and draw on the support of heterosexual allies.

Steven Fisher, communications director for the Human Rights Campaign, agreed that it's important for LGBT people to reach out to their straight friends and family.

"It's not simply a fight for LGBT Americans," he told the PlanetOut Network. "It's a fight about fairness and equality, and we need to draw more non-LGBT friends into the fight."
Which is why all of your support is greatly appreciated, and why we need you to speak out to yourstraight friends and family to keep the momentum for equality going.

If you'd like to see the report itself, which looks pretty interesting, here it is. (It's a PDF, so be prepared to wait a few seconds.)

Thursday, November 18, 2004

I Want a Wedding

Not for the reasons you're thinking. This isn't about commitment, or attention, or having a big party--I can do without the last two of those three and already have the first. It's about this:

Yes, this is T-Fal

And this:

No more hand-cutting for me!

And this:

I, too, could come home to the smell of good cooking...

Insurance benefits, hospital visitation, filing taxes together--all of these are good reasons why I think it should be legal for Brad and me to get married. But pointing a scanner at all of these items and having them show up at my house wrapped in expensive paper? That takes the (wedding) cake. Being denied the right to have other people buy everything I use in my kitchen is just plain wrong.

"What brought this on?" I'm sure you're wondering. Blame my weekly lunch-hour trip to Target and the fact that the skillet I used last night to make dinner had to be covered with a random lid I found among the cookware because it didn't have a proper one.

Lovable Bunch

There she is, the new chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, looking for all the world like she belongs in an insane asylum. Pictured behind her, from left: Majority Leader Bill Frist, thinking that if she's this happy, Viagra must really work; third-in-command Rick Santorum, grimacing as he imagines the widespread man-on-dog action that would surely result if Dole's efforts to keep Republicans in power should fail; and number two man Mitch McConnell, wondering if hyperactive Liddy could teach wife Elaine Chao, the current Secretary of Labor, a thing or two.

Oh well. At least Norm Coleman lost.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Sleaze Update

Dole Picked to Head 2006 Senate Campaigns

The Republicans played it smart, choosing Elizabeth Dole by just ONE vote over sleazebag Norm Coleman. A shame, for reasons stated earlier. I suppose anything that derails Coleman's ongoing quest for national prominence is a good thing, though, right?


2:28 P.M.: Someone (James, I think) suggests in a comment that I should consider Ray LaMontagne's Trouble for my 2004 list.
3:06 P.M.: After discovering that BestBuy has the album for $8.99, I order it online to pick up after work.
3:42 P.M.: BestBuy confirms that the CD is ready and waiting for me!

No wonder my boss calls me a music slut.

I Love Lists

'Like a Rolling Stone' Named No. 1 Song

I guess it's kind of unfair to expect Rolling Stone magazine to name any other song than this one as the best of all time. With the number one song having the magazine's name in the title, and the number two song, "Satisfaction," coming from a band with the same name, it looks a bit suspicious. But who can argue with the results? The greatest songwriter of all time (Bob Dylan, for those who are scratching their heads) would of course write the greatest song.

Look forward to more lists in coming weeks. 'Tis the season!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


Intolerance Is Not a 'Value'

The writer of this article captures my reasons for loathing, above all else about George W. Bush and his party, their willingness to use people's fear of homosexuality as a tool in a political campaign. After a moving story about a wonderful teacher he had as a child who, years later, finally came out, the writer imagines how the evangelicals who delivered for Bush might treat that teacher today if he lived openly with his partner.
In the new world order dictated by champions of "moral values," this wonderful, caring teacher might be branded dangerous. Emboldened by national conservative leaders, the town's evangelicals -- and there are plenty of them -- could well have raised a hue and cry to keep this teacher and "his kind" away from their children. And the town's young people would have been denied the chance to have their lives shaped by a remarkable educator.
By supporting Bush, Republicans who don't agree with these sorts of behavior have given their approval to it nonetheless, helping Bush to victory even as he worked to gain votes by having his surrogates stir up the worst impulses in potential voters. The ill effects of that frenzy-whipping won't just disappear:
Here's what Republicans of conscience have to understand about the machinations of Karl Rove and company. Fear isn't some emotion that can be easily bottled back up after it's been -- viciously -- unleashed. It isn't a once-every-four-years vehicle that can be wheeled out for a few months, then stowed back in the garage to be retooled for the next election cycle. Encouraging fundamentalist preachers to pound their pulpits and inveigh against gay people has consequences. It puts men and women in communities across this country at personal and professional risk. There's nothing more despicable than creating a phony political issue (just how many gay couples are clamoring for marriage certificates in the state of Ohio, anyhow?) and preying on people's prejudices.

So now it's up to discerning Republicans to wrestle with this quandary: You won all right, but at what cost? What happened to the party that once shared Abraham Lincoln's faith in the "better angels of our nature"?
The writer doesn't take it quite far enough, though. It's also up to discerning Democrats to ask why WE didn't make this issue an appeal to those same better angels. Why, if we were going to go down to defeat by not fighting fire with fire on the gay marriage issues, couldn't the Democrats have stood up and said, for instance, "You may not approve of homosexuality. You may cringe at the sight of two men kissing. But we as a people have decided that the rules that govern our public life and the dictates of our religious beliefs are separate things, and this separation has served us well for more than two centuries. We as a nation have also continuously moved toward inclusion and equality and away from division and inequity. By granting same-sex couples the same rights under the law as opposite-sex couples, we continue down this road to inclusion and equality. We do not have to morally approve of a person's choices to offer them rights that others take for granted. We are wise enough as people to decide for ourselves how we deal with those whose choices we disapprove of on an individual basis; we are accomplished enough as parents to teach our children the ways in which we hope they will choose to lead their lives. We are strong enough as a nation to offer equal rights to all our countrymen and women without fearing for the moral fabric that binds us together."

But no Democrat said that, or anything like it. They ducked and dodged the issue, thinking they could drive it from people's minds. If they had played it up instead, and presented it as an issue of basic fairness in keeping with a long national tradition, could things have turned out any worse electorally than they did anyway? And wouldn't the party at least have had its dignity as a comfort for the cold months and years to come?

Anyhow, I highly recommend the entire article. Pass it on to Republicans who don't vote that way because they hate gays and lesbians, but because they believe in some other aspect of the G.O.P. platform and hold their noses on the anti-gay vitriol. They're the folks we need to take their party back.

Monday, November 15, 2004


Coleman, Dole Each Claim Enough GOP Votes

Seems like only yesterday that Norm Coleman beat former VP Walter Mondale for Minnesota's Senate seat, the beneficiary of a plane crash that killed Paul Wellstone and backlash against an emotional farewell rally that dominated the all-too-brief campaign between he and Mondale. Yet here he is, two years later, challenging Elizabeth Dole to run the Republican Senate campaign in 2006 and position himself as a power broker in the party he so casually joined just eight years ago.

Don't get me wrong--I don't like either of these folks. But if I'm the Republican Party, I'm grooming Dole, not Coleman. Minnesota may be trending toward the G.O.P., but Coleman isn't safe by any means; Dole, on the other hand, will hold onto her seat in North Carolina as long as she wants it, and giving the otherwise thuggish party a female face could improve its image among the suburban women who are helping the Republicans paint the country red.

So, yes, I'm hoping against hope that Coleman finds a way to get the job, becomes majority leader two years hence when Bill Frist goes back to being a surgeon, and has his ridiculous mug and preposterous voice broadcast around the nation as a representation of all that it means to be a Republican. I look forward to hearing him talk about the importance of families and discussing why his wife is never around. I long to hear Garrison Keillor lampoon him for a national audience, just as he did for in the dark days after Coleman won his seat. I yearn for the opportunity to watch Al Franken run against Coleman and show that behind all the jokes, he has more substance on his worst day than Coleman has displayed in his entire life. Yes, Norm Coleman as the face of the G.O.P. seems just about right.

This picture is on MY Web site, and this is the best I could do! See that weird grin? That's because I don't have a sincere bone in my body!


Rice Is Top Candidate to Replace Powell -Sources

Three years ago, this news--that a fine man with an understanding of the politics in the world's most troubled region was being replaced as America's top diplomat by a narcissistic woman whose expertise is a relic of the Cold War--would have stirred in me a passionate anger as well as a deep and abiding fear that an administration once merely inept was about to run the ship of state aground. Now that the ship is sitting on a lonely island, isolated from any reality as understood by the rest of the world, I find myself surprisingly resigned to the news that Colin Powell, in whom I once placed my faith that the Bush Administration would not recklessly invade Iraq, only to see that faith scorned and spurned, is leaving his post and that Condi Rice is likely taking over. Can Wolfowitz as (non-Senate-confirmed) National Security Adviser be far off? [UPDATE: Well, it's going to be Hadley as NSA, not Wolfie. So it's the liar about the uranium and friend of Dick Cheney rather than the rabid neocon and friend of Dick Cheney. Six of one...]

Oh well. At least Barry Bonds is still the National League MVP.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Ownership of Capital

Evangelicals Want Faith Rewarded

George W. Bush keeps talking about spending his newly-earned political capital--like the surplus, he's probably already spent it four different ways--but the Christian Right has news for him. They consider themselves responsible for his win and expect to be treated accordingly. They've caught on to the game I described yesterday:
In recent days, some evangelical leaders have warned in interviews that the Republican Party would pay a price in future elections if its leaders did not take up the issues that brought evangelicals to the polls.

"Business as usual isn't going to cut it, where the GOP rides to victory by espousing traditional family values and then turns around and rewards the liberals in its ranks," said Robert Knight, who heads an affiliate of Concerned Women for America, a Christian conservative advocacy group.
And if you don't think they're dead serious about having things their way this time around, consider this:
Bob Jones III, president of the Christian conservative Bob Jones University in South Carolina, recently urged Bush to purge moderates from the White House.

"If you have weaklings around you who do not share your biblical values, shed yourself of them," Jones said in a letter to Bush after the election. "Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ."
Jones is referring not only to peripheral characters, but to the president's two closest advisers:
Adding wrinkles to their relationship with the White House, some evangelical leaders worry that Bush's circle of advisors includes aides who are insufficiently committed to conservative social values.

Some see Andrew H. Card Jr., the president's chief of staff and a former Massachusetts state legislator, as too moderate. They note that Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a lesbian daughter, has said that the issue of same-sex marriage should be left to the states, in contrast to evangelicals' call for a constitutional ban.
Their first target, though, is Arlen Specter. While I was hoping Democrat Jim Hoeffel would pick Specter off, I have to confess that I feel a bit safer knowing he's slated to become the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Which is why, apparently, the evangelicals who feel they own President Bush want him to push Senate Republicans to pass Specter over for the chair in favor of someone who observes the party's anti-choice orthodoxy.

The result of this fracas will tell us much about the power evangelicals will wield during this administration. Keep your fingers crossed that Specter holds on and gets the chairmanship. Anything else will mean very bad news for the future.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Tragic Loss

Hugh Grant Signals End to Acting Career

There are those who will suggest that I mean the title of this post facetiously. I do not.

Hugh Grant is not the best actor alive. He's not even close. But there's something about him that makes many movies better than they would otherwise be. Love Actually, Bridget Jones' Diary, Notting Hill, Two Weeks Notice, and even the deeply-flawed Nine Months all benefited from his considerable charm.

And let's not forget Sense and Sensibility, in which he played Emma Thompson's love interest and eventual husband. Perhaps it was the fact that he had Ang Lee directing him, but ol' Hugh was completely convincing. And in About a Boy, he had to carry the whole movie alongside a child actor. He owned that role and made the movie one with which I wouldn't willingly part. He even got a Golden Globe nomination and won an Empire Award! He may not be the person you think of when you think of high-quality cinema, but light comedies have their place as well, and the world of light comedies will be considerably poorer for the loss of Hugh Grant.

Cooler Heads

Frank Rich: On 'Moral Values,' It's Blue in a Landslide

Frank Rich's post-mortem of the election nails the real meaning of the electorate's choice, ranging from discussion of the 22-percent bloc of moral values voters to the 59 percent of Californians who supported stem-cell research and pointing out, for the first time since the election, that the Republican Party ALWAYS uses "moral values" to win the votes of poor, rural folk and then promptly ignores those folks' wishes once the election is over. Look at Bush's first few days since winning: He's sent Rove out to claim he's going to push the anti-gay amendment again, but everyone knows he doesn't have the votes, even after winning more seats. Meanwhile, he's pushed Congress to work on privatizing (eliminating) Social Security and talked about major tax reform. Which do you think the Republicans are more likely to actually deal with? Tax reform is a political cash cow; corporations will pony up any amount of money to be able to influence the legislators who will potentially rewrite the tax code. Brokerage firms will shell out big bucks to get their hands on more money from every employee in America. And the rural values voters who expect Bush to somehow conjure up a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage? The Republicans, for all their flaws, know better than to go looking for blood from a turnip. Follow the money and it's obvious what sort of legislative calendar we can expect for 2005.

The question is this: When will these "values voters" catch on to the game and start voting their financial interests rather than casting symbolic votes based on their moral beliefs that have no chance of actually changing anything? When will they realize that a tax code that treats their family and other families fairly is more important than whether someone else can get married, or have an abortion, or burn a flag? When will they stop trying to use the ballot box to turn back time? Until Democrats find a way to speak the truth about these issues--that however much these folks disagree with the Democratic social platform, the Republican one is just a sucker game to con people into voting for their own continued poverty--in a way that doesn't condescend, the Republican strategy will continue to work.

Tits in a Twist

TV Stations Cancel 'Saving Private Ryan'

Maybe this will teach the FCC to heap excessive fines on broadcasters who allow the accidental appearance of bare flesh or a curse word during a live event. When a major network can't air a film that, whatever you think of it (and I called it Steven Spielberg masturbating on film back in 1998, when Shakespeare in Love beat it for Best Picture), celebrates the contributions and heroism of veterans--when a network can't air such a film on Veteran's Day--something is seriously wrong. It's time for the FCC to start policing the airwaves to ensure that broadcasters don't present fiction as fact--CBS, Fox, can you hear me?--rather than going on witch hunts against entertainers who let the occasional f-bomb fly.

I applaud the ABC stations that refused to air the movie tonight. They may not intend it this way, but their action looks to me like a protest against the FCC's recent behavior. As the AP explains:
The FCC has stepped up enforcement of its decency standards for certain content following this year's Super Bowl halftime show, in which one of Janet Jackson's breasts was exposed.

Profane speech, which is barred from broadcast radio and television between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., is defined by the FCC as language that is "so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance," or epithets that tend "to provoke violent resentment."

The guidelines say the context in which such material appears is of critical importance.
One might think that the context of a war movie would make it okay for the incidental "fuck" to find its way into America's living rooms. Won't there be a little graphic in the corner warning viewers that this program is "TV MA" and hence the skittish should look elsewhere for their evening dose of mind numbing?

Oh well. It's a scary new world in which we live.
Cole cited recent FCC actions and last week's re-election of President Bush as reasons for replacing "Saving Private Ryan" on Thursday with a music program and the TV movie "Return to Mayberry."

"We're just coming off an election where moral issues were cited as a reason by people voting one way or another and, in my opinion, the commissioners are fearful of the new Congress," Cole said.
Forget the fact that broadcasters are now fearful of the power of the moral values crowd, that they think Bush's election somehow gives a mandate to prudes and sensitive-eared folk everywhere. "Return to Mayberry?" If this is where the country is headed, maybe it really IS time to move to Canada.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Brilliant Writing Alert

The Truth About Cats and Dogs - Bark if you love Justice Souter! By Dahlia Lithwick

If you've never read anything about the Supreme Court before, today would be a good day to start. The case is seemingly trivial, but that Dahlia Lithwick--she's a genius. Enjoy.

So It Begins... Music / Best of 2004

When I was a kid, I thought the holiday season should start September 18th. That would give everyone three months and a week to get ready for Christmas. I've always loved a countdown, I suppose.

Nevertheless, I'm a bit shocked to see Amazon's Best of 2004 list during the second week of November. The decision to post the list today may make good business sense right now--I'm pretty sure the inclusion of Modest Mouse in the top 10 accounts for the people who gave my review of Good News For People Who Love Bad News helpful votes today, and thus implies added traffic for the whole slew of albums--but think of how this will look as a historic document! I'm hard pressed to believe that U2's new album and Eminem's new album wouldn't make the top 100 for the year if they held eligibility open another week. Instead, it appears that most of the choices hail from much earlier; I'm pretty sure they cut it off at the end of October, which also exiles Elton John. I'm not arguing with the albums Amazon did consider--far be it from me to dispute a list when I own seven of the top ten albums and plan to buy an eighth--but I'm not sure it makes sense to pretend November never happened, especially when so many artists release albums then to capitalize on the holiday rush.

With that said, Paul and I have agreed to cut off our own list eligibility during this month for the purposes of our December list-making. Paul cut himself off after yesterday's releases; I'm considering doing the same but also open to including U2, Eminem, and Rufus Wainwright among the eligibles by waiting to close the door until November 23. This leaves less time for reflection and for an album to either grow on me or bore me, so we'll see.

The difference, of course, is that I'll go back and revise later. The original 2003 list, for instance, included several albums that were later surpassed by albums from last year that hadn't even reached me yet in December. If you scroll down the sidebar today, it's the final list you'll see, not a list made with incomplete knowledge of what albums from 2003 I would eventually come to love. (Figuring out when to stop revising is difficult, but that's another discussion.) Because today's list from Amazon is probably the final word from them on 2004, folks browsing five years from now wondering what good albums from 2004 they may have missed out on will be out of luck. Maybe I'm the only person who does this sort of thing. I tend to think not. I hope, if Amazon insists on foisting its list on us weeks before Thanksgiving, they'll revisit it around St. Patrick's Day. Releasing an album in November shouldn't doom it to a list-less oblivion.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Clarence Thomas is Crazy, But...

Ashcroft, Evans resign from Cabinet

Blue-staters, fear not: Today we have evidence that whatever deity the red-staters elected to run our country last week has at least a few thimbles of our sensibility. John Ashcroft--also known as the first sign after the 2000 election fiasco that Bush would be a divider rather than a uniter--is done as attorney general. But as you weather this new development, here's something to cling to in this swiftly-changing world: He's still nuts. Here's a bit from his resignation: "The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved." Does that mean we have nothing left to fear? Maybe Ashcroft should have put out this memo, rather than a bunch of terror alerts, while Bush was running for office.

If you'd prefer to remain fearful despite Ashcroft's new confidence in his own work, there's always this: "I believe that my energies and talents should be directed toward other challenging horizons." Chief Justice Ashcroft, anyone? Why not get serious bang for the buck and use Johnny boy to bust up two terms' worth of unity promises, George?

Monday, November 08, 2004

Long Week

Ending Our Losing Ways

Week one of the soul searching is nearly complete. The article above offers some ideas about how the Democrats can recalibrate our party and win elections again. If that's not enough for you, Slate has just gone to town with this theme, asking writer after writer to weigh in on just how the causes we believe in--equality in civil rights, fair treatment of workers, stewardship of the environment, etc.--can be turned into an electoral advantage.

If you're sick of all of that--and I know I am--you can read this interview with Ellen DeGeneres. It's a wonderful interview--Ellen is great on either end of these chats--and one of the first times I've seen her talk frankly about her relationship with her girlfriend and about how she, as America's new daytime sweetheart, feels about an election in which her love was demonized. Here's the most political I've ever seen her get:
Phillips: "Are you surprised by the sexual orientation, gay marriage, that these are such hot buttons issues in American in 2004?"

DeGeneres: "Am I surprised? No. No. You know, I wish that I wasn't seen differently. I wish that people looked at me and just saw that I was a good person with a good heart. And that wants to make people laugh. And that's who I am. I also happen to be gay. And I would love to have the same rights as everybody else. I would love, I don't care if it's called marriage. I don't care if it's called, you know, domestic partnership. I don't care what it's called. I mean, there are couples that have been together, 30 years, 40 years. And all of a sudden, they lose their house, you know, the taxes kill them, because it's different because they're not married. Everything is taken away just because. You know, with Sept. 11, there are a lot of people that lost their partner and didn't get the same benefits. It's not fair. And at the same time I know there are people watching right now saying, you know, it's sick it's wrong, it's this. And it's like, I can't convince them that I'm not sick or wrong, that there's nothing wrong with me. You know, I can live my life and hope that things change, and hope that we're protected as any other couples, should something happen to me or Alex.
If anyone can quietly change the hearts and minds of middle America, I'm hoping it's Ellen. I guess we'll see.

Meanwhile, I've moved on to my own manner of distracting myself from politics: Today, I registered for my first graduate class on my way to a master's degree in journalism. Because I'm doing this part-time, it should take me right up through the end of the Bush Administration. (I'd include a link to a countdown clock here, but do you really want to think about the 1,533 days we've got left?)

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Direct Appeal

Well, Karl Rove is a genius. How do I know? Because a friend of a friend left this comment on an earlier post today: I find your blog very insightful (even if I don't agree with all of your views) but one question I have is this: You voted for Kerry, but wasn't Kerry also a proponent of "Preserving the sanctity of marriage as between a man and a woman" just like Bush?

Rove forced Kerry to explain his position in a way that made it sound, at least to the commenter meaninglessness, but instead of directing Bush to the same "middle ground," he put him where he puts him on every issue: Wherever the people he's appealing to want him to be. Rove's background in direct mail advertising taught him to use the power of lists--lists of churchgoers, lists of veterans, lists of divorcees, lists of everything. Direct mail pieces about how Bush would "protect marriage" were targeted to those who would be interested in hearing about it, while Bush himself struck a conciliatory (and confusing, for some) note a few weeks before the election by suddenly saying he was OK with civil unions. This as Bush's on-air ads denounced Kerry as a flip-flopper!

The question posed by our commenter deserves an answer, though. Yes, Kerry said he wanted to preserve the sanctity of marriage, in that he believes the word "marriage" should refer only to the union of a man and a woman. But there's this to consider, part of his civil rights policy:
Protecting Gay and Lesbian Families: John Kerry believes that same-sex couples should be granted rights, including access to pensions, health insurance, family medical leave, bereavement leave, hospital visitation, survivor benefits, and other basic legal protections that all families and children need. He has supported legislation to provide domestic partners of federal employees the benefits available to spouses of federal employees. He was one of 14 Senators -- and the only one up for reelection in 1996 -- to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Kerry also denounced "Don't ask, don't tell," supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and is a cosponsor of hate crimes legislation. All of these are important issues to the gay community.

Was Kerry perfect on gay issues? No...but we gave him a pass on the word marriage because, well, no other presidential candidate was ever so supportive. Says Eleanor Clift: President Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act when he was in the White House, advised Kerry in a phone call early in the campaign to find a way to support the state bans. Kerry never considered abandoning his principles to that extent, but he also didn’t take seriously enough the threat." Why not? Why didn't Kerry sell out the gay community for votes? For all the bashing he's endured as a flip-flopper, why didn't he put a finger in the air, feel the wind blowing against his position, and close the gap between he and Bush on the issue? Probably because Kerry is comfortable with gay people, comfortable with the idea of gay people, and unwilling to use us as a political pawn. He showed his comfort level when he mentioned Mary Cheney in the debate. Say what you will: Kerry is not a moron. If he had thought his remark would create the kind of furor it did, he wouldn't have said it. He doesn't view referring to someone's declared sexuality as an insult.

Bush, on the other hand, can't even use the word "gay" or "lesbian" in public. He talks about how we can "profess tolerance," how we can "respect someone's rights," but he also encouraged his surrogates to use the gay issue aggressively, and mentioned not once during the campaign a single thing he would do as president to improve the lot in life of a gay or lesbian person. Kerry, in the third debate--after mentioning Mary--had this to say:
The president and I share the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe that. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.

But I also believe that because we are the United States of America, we're a country with a great, unbelievable Constitution, with rights that we afford people, that you can't discriminate in the workplace. You can't discriminate in the rights that you afford people.

You can't disallow someone the right to visit their partner in a hospital. You have to allow people to transfer property, which is why I'm for partnership rights and so forth.
In other words, for Kerry, this is a semantic issue. "Marriage" is what is always has been--a man and a woman. But the rights that go with marriage? Property rights, visitation rights, the right to work without fear that someone will discover your sexuality and fire you for it? Kerry believes in these rights. Bush doesn't.

The elephant in the room is Bush's comment to Charlie Gibson on Good Morning America, right? Here's what he said: ""I don't think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that's what a state chooses to do so." That's not an endorsement of civil unions, folks. The implication is clear: If a state can choose to offer people civil unions, it can also choose not to offer them, right? And that's what eight states did this week: chose not to offer civil unions, now or anytime in the future, at least until they re-amend their constitutions.

Many in the gay community looked at Bush's comments and said he'd given us what we wanted, that both candidates now supported civil unions. But that's not what happened. Bush muddied the waters in terms of his position, made himself seem more compassionate than his party, and got even gay pundits saying he and Kerry held identical positions. But his words didn't proclaim any deeds that would follow from them; he didn't suggest that states that offered civil unions would also be able to allow gay couples to file federal taxes together, or obtain any of the other federal benefits that accompany a heterosexual marriage. Kerry suggested that these rights should apply to all legally-joined couples, no matter the sex of the two partners.

And, by the way, Bush wanted to AMEND THE CONSTITUTION to ensure that, in a generation, when the momentum has fully shifted on this issue, it won't be easy to undo the damage he's done. Maybe he didn't think the amendment had any chance of passing; maybe it was just a political tool to help him drive out his base. Does that make it any better?

Ralph Nader said after the election, according to Clift, that Kerry failed to draw real distinctions between himself and the president:
Nader offers a plausible if self-serving analysis for what went wrong for Kerry and the Democrats. He blames the “Anybody but Bush” mindset that led Democrats to set aside their issue differences with Kerry and give him a free ride. “Leave Kerry alone—make no demands on him,” that was the mantra, says Nader. The party’s various factions—labor, liberals, women, environmentalists—took a holiday. “They allowed Kerry to adopt ambiguous wishy-washy positions and they deprived him of the key to victory, which is bright lines,” says Nader.
Nader may or may not be right about Kerry's defects as a candidate and the party's failure to make its positions clear. But however he articulated his position on gay rights, Kerry always made sure that he stood on the side of equality, if not in name then at least in fact. I may believe that the word "marriage" should belong to all of us, not just heteros, but if I'm in a car wreck tomorrow, I don't care what they call our union--I just want to know that the hospital will call Brad and he'll be there with me, and that if I die he'll be taken care of. John Kerry wanted to give me that. George Bush used the very idea that I might have that to scare voters who have never met a gay person into voting based on it. If that makes them the same, I don't know what could have made them different.