Friday, April 30, 2004

Hack Job - STOP the Constitutional Amendment to Ban Same Sex Marriage

Because I may have caused you to sign the petition/pledge of the site linked above, I feel I should let you know that they're not filling up your--or my--inbox intentionally. Apparently the functionality of their e-mail list was changed by a hacker last night; if you're signed up to get their messages, you've probably gotten more than 50 this morning from a variety of folks in a sort of spiral effect--one person tried to unsubscribe but sent the message to the whole group; another person chided that person for doing so--by sending his message to the whole group; several people expressed their displeasure over this by sending their own messages--again, to the whole group; and now, as I post this, messages are showing up at a rate of about one every three minutes, alternately begging to be removed from the list and screaming at people who are "too stupid" to figure out that they're sending messages to everyone. If anyone ever wants to shut down the corporate world, this seems like a good way to start.

Reading Day

You Have Choices I Never Had

Alright, the link above is choice number one. It's an article by Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, discussing the difficulties today's parents face in choosing for their children. Even if you're not a parent, the article is a telling look at how the explosion of choices in the marketplace impacts our happiness with the things we end up choosing. It's also a good preview of the book.

Related, in that it talks about making choices for children too, is this article, Why the Atheists are Right About the Pledge, in which believer Melinda Henneberger considers the difficulties non-believers face in today's America by talking about it with her friends, a lapsed Catholic and a non-believing Jew, who are trying to raise their children with a religious background for the comfort it brings. Henneberger begins to see that Michael Newdow was, like it or not, right when he argued before the Supreme Court that we should remove the words "under God" from the pledge. May she be the first of many believers to realize this...

Finally, Friday should be Bill Maher day, but his show is on hiatus until summer. So, here's his current take on the campaign. He stretches my criticism of Bush's campaign tactics regarding Kerry's medals to a new level by calling the media on it: why are they cpvering this as if it's a real story? Wouldn't a good media include evaluation of the statements made by both candidates in its stories? If they're wrong on the facts, the media should be willing to say so, and to stand up for those facts. Isn't that supposed to be the role of the media in our country? If they're just passing on the most controversial or outrageous things the candidates, they're missing the point: give people context, give people honest evaluation, give people information. An election isn't a he-said, he-said story. There are facts being discussed, and the media should help people understand those facts rather than focusing so much on the bickering.

Hope you enjoy today's readings!

Thursday, April 29, 2004


Fineman: Kerry plans early veep pick

It's not supposed to come so quickly. This campaign season, however, has shown us nothing if not that things can come more quickly that we thought they would--the sudden ascendance of Kerry, the end of the contested primaries by March, the immediate onslaught of attack ads from an incumbent before Memorial Day--before April Fools Day, for that matter. Now Howard Fineman has sources saying we'll have Democrat VP candidate by the end of May, and that Sen. Edwards, Rep. Gephardt, and Gov. Vilsack are the top choices. Which's time to speculate: who would be the best choice? And who will Kerry ultimately choose?

New Nightmares

Cruel Detentions - The Supreme Court considers whether the president can throw away the key. By Dahlia Lithwick

Just as one national nightmare ends, another thrusts itself upon us, albeit in less publicized form. Dahlia Lithwick begins her piece on yesterday's Supreme Court proceedings, in which the justices contemplated the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, by meditating on the notion that the nation is dangerously close to the line between a free society and one that features internment camps.

Ridiculous, right? We're talking about terrorists, people who have been fighting against the United States, right? Probably. But a trial is a remarkable thing; given one, a man who everyone "knows" is guilty can prove to be innocent. If you don't believe this, watch Twelve Angry Men sometime. Without access to a trial, a wrongly-accused person has no recourse.

All of this seems very academic, still: it's not like these folks were locked up without cause, right? But to believe that, you must believe that the government that locked them up is telling you the truth--and we know, whether the administration is this deceitful one or another, that the truth isn't always what we're told. The government could tell you tomorrow that I've been locked up for plotting an attack on Woodfield Mall--without a trial, without the right to contact anyone, how would you know that I'm not an enemy combatant? (I'm almost fearful to type this, lest someone--hello, FBI agents!--think I actually am plotting such an attack. I'm neither smart enough nor cruel enough to do such a thing. With that said, I'll cross my fingers that no one else is, either. Imagine the shame of dying while trying on a pair of pants at Eddie Bauer!)

My point is this: you usually don't know you're on the slippery slope until after you start sliding down it. These cases represent an opportunity for the Supreme Court to prevent us from ever starting down a path that has a disturbing tendency to lead to totalitarian rule. The right to a trial, no matter the circumstances, seems like an unnecessary frivolity in the case of a terrorist. Give up one right or freedom, though, and they'll be back for more. We can't wait until they come for ours to defend the rights and freedoms of others.

I Am Not A Crook

'American Idol' judges say Stevens' ouster more appropriate

Guest host Gerald Ford said it best last night on American Idol: "Our long national nightmare is finally over."

OK, it wasn't as dramatic as all that, and I admit it was bittersweet watching John's farewell video, but it was time for Stevens to go. Did you see him trying to dance during the group singing that started the show? A sad spectacle indeed.

Simon predicts, meanwhile, that the final two will be La Toya and Diana, while suggesting that Fantasia would replace Diana there if the competition were based strictly on talent. With only five contestants left, we can attempt to predict the order now, can't we? I'm guessing we say goodbye to Jasmine, George, then Fantasia, who unfortunately seems to have as many detractors as fans. La Toya will smoke Diana in the finale. Of course, if next week's theme is rap or polka, all bets are off.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Mixed Blessing

House Passes Tax Cuts for Married Couples

Don't get me wrong, my friends--especially my married ones. I think this is great news; you shouldn't pay more taxes because you're married, and I hope that if one day the powers that be see fit to allow me to marry, I won't pay more taxes for the privilege, either. But consider this from the linked article: John Tanner, D-Tenn., said future generations can expect to pay higher taxes due to today's tax cuts and budget deficits. "You all are witnessing a generational mugging," he said.

It's all too true, and if you read the article you'll see that sane proposals to help offset the costs of this tax cut (which is really a tax cut extension--it's been part of the law since 2001, and came up for renewal now) were rejected by Republicans, who march in lockstep against any suggestion that taxes be raised on anyone, especially those who make more than $1 million. Meanwhile, the alternative minimum tax wipes out most of the positive impact for taxpayers--in a fashion that one Slate writer notes is suspicious in its sweeping impact on blue states--and the G.O.P. is unwilling to talk about it. As we all know, I'm all for raising taxes, but not in the draconian way that the AMT will do it, hammering more people, year after year, until we fix it. Our convoluted system of deductions, like it or not, exists for a reason, and letting the AMT wipe that system out for more and more people isn't a sound way to conduct our nation's business.

Because I've voluntarily chosen to refrain from screeds on gay marriage, I won't detail the paroxysms of anger I feel when I realize that this tax cut, like every other aspect of marriage law, is held sacrosanct--we must uphold the sanctity of the marriage penalty, mustn't we? But I will mention that I attended my local Human Rights Campaign Meetup last night, the first one to be held--you may have noticed the logo right below the one for my beloved Timberwolves, who have a chance Friday to show all the naysayers they can win a playoff series. Anyhow...because one of the goals we at the table established for our next meeting--on May 25--was to double our attendance, I invite any of you interested in helping the cause of equality to join us at the next North Suburban Chicago Meetup, or to attend whatever Meetup happens nearest to you. Straight or gay, if you oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment and want to do something about it, you'll be welcomed with open arms.

Comic Genius

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Silly Season

Could this guy kill 'American Idol'?

It's that time of the week, when we stop focusing on the campaign trail or the Supreme Court and focus on what must be the most important issue facing the United States right now: Who will become the next American Idol?

The article above offers the possibility that John Stevens isn't just an untalented singer whose legions of giggling fans are messing with the show's ability to call itself a talent competition, but also the potential destroyer of the program. This is terribly bad news for Fox, which is doubtless hoping to ride this show to ratings victory for many years to come. After a brief spat of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire style overexposure--Junior Idol, really?--the team at Fox seemed to have found a way to keep the show going without running it into the ground. But they appear to have met their match in the form of little girls and older women equipped with unlimited time, a redial button or text messaging capabilities, and either an adolescent crush on the unthreatening, asexual Stevens or a longing for a time when unthreatening, asexual folk like Stevens were the norm in the entertainment world.

Please, do your part to save Fox tonight by voting for La Toya and Fantasia. Much as I'd like to dance on Rupert Murdoch's grave, gut-punch Bill O'Reilly, and give Sean Hannity a nice kick in the crotch, I'm not so ungrateful as to wish death on the network that gave us The Simpsons.

Decision Time

Supreme Court Hears Cheney Secrecy Case

OK, not really; we won't know until July what decision the Court, including Justice Scalia, will make. (I suspect we can guess his vote right now, though.) The Times argues this morning, unsurprisingly, that the Court should force Cheney to reveal the names of non-government participants in the deliberations of his committee, a group that many suspect includes such charming figures as executives from Enron and others who stood to benefit the most from a short-sighted, profit-driven energy policy. The Times is right; no president, Democrat or Republican, should be able to stretch the notion of privilege to allow regulations to be written by those who would like not to be regulated at all.

This morning's editorial also raises the spectre of a 5-4 vote, which would be, in this case, quite a blow to the Court. The four justices whose prudence we rely upon (Souter, Breyer, Ginsburg, and the good John Stevens) and the two who have shown, despite their vote for Bush in 2000, that they are not in his pocket (Kennedy and O'Connor) should band together in this case and prevent the radical trio (Rehnquist, Thomas, and Scalia) from doing more damage to the standing of the Court by rejecting Cheney's ludicrous argument that he answers to no man but himself and, perhaps, Bush.

You answer to us, you secretive, undisclosed-location-loving thug. Fork over your damned documents, and may the contents of them damn you to a quiet retirement in Wyoming.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Lean and Mean

Kerry Rejects GOP Questions About Medals

When I saw the headline for this article, I thought John Kerry was finally developing the spine he needs for this contest. Alas, his campaign thus far hasn't seemed to grasp the need to focus on a few things to develop his image for the American people. This medal controversy could be the moment to change that: it stands in sharp contrast to Bush/Cheney in so many ways. As MoveOn's new ad puts it, ""This election is about character. It's between John Kerry, who left no man behind ... and George W. Bush, who simply left." Regardless of questions about medals, service with valor should easily outstrip hiding behind privilege in the minds of voters. In any case, the only reason this whole medal thing is a controversy in the first place is because Kerry has been TOO forthright about it. If he wants to put an end to this, Kerry should, in a light, self-deprecating tone that indicates he understands how strange his speech can be at times, compare his own penchant for explaining too much about an issue to the desire of Bush and Cheney to say little or nothing about issues of importance, blatantly stonewalling reporters and denying access to everything and anything. With the Cheney case hitting the Supreme Court tomorrow, the time is ripe for this comparison between open, honest discussion, even if it makes life more complicated, and secretly selling the nation down the river, again hiding behind privilege (this time, executive privilege rather than the privilege of birth), and meanwhile selling policy based on sound bites rather than sound facts.

Kerry has clearly made serious missteps in the month-and-change since his march to the nomination ceased to be a newsmaker for him. It's time for him to get back in the game. A fierce response to the self-evidently hypocritical attack on his conduct during and after Vietnam could put him there with one swing.

Friday, April 23, 2004


'Idol' Insider: Aftershocks

Coverage of the AI brouhaha continues two days later; apparently Ryan Seacrest's show yesterday stirred things up even more. The best quote? "We went backstage and all the contestants were upset and in tears," Seacrest revealed. "John Stevens said to Jennifer after the show, ‘It should have been me.’"

Damn right it should have been you, John. Could you tell that to your fans? I doubt they're reading any of these articles, and if they are, I'm sure it's just inspiring them to send even more text messages next week.

Private Matters

Yesterday was a day for new things: a new CD, a new episode of Friends, and a new e-mail address.

Prince's new album, Musicology was the new CD; after a few listens, I can say that it sounds, to my novice ears, just like Prince should. It's nice to have something new and funky from the man in purple.

The new episode was a sad event. The writers are wrapping things up, obviously; we said goodbye to Janice with, appropriately, an awkward kiss, and Estelle's death gave Phoebe and Joey something to do for the episode while setting the stage for Joey's big break, the one that will propel him to L.A. in time for the start of his own show next fall.

But the episode's thrust, and the show's at this point, is clearly to complete the arc of Ross and Rachel, and they've left things at a point that is very frustrating. On one hand, it seems like nothing happened--Rachel was leaving for Paris at the start of the episode, and after all Ross's crazy machinations to get her back in her job at Ralph Lauren, she's still leaving. But we've seen how much Ross wants to be near her--he said he couldn't imagine not being able to see her every day--and also how much he wants her to be happy--enough to send her to Paris despite the pain it will cause him. In the 66 minutes or so of sitcom time that remain, I hope this growth brings them back together. Life may not always work out the way that it should, but I don't think the end of Friends can come without putting Ross and Rachel where they belong.

And now, the most exciting news: I've been granted a place among the beta-testers of GMail. I've got room for a gigabyte of messages, so feel free to write me at So far, it looks to be the most functional web-based e-mail interface I've ever used. I haven't yet seen the vaunted--and feared--targeted ads. I'll let you know when I do.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Kick in the Pants

Kerry's Missing Message . . .

Dear John Kerry,

I've been giving you a free pass lately, but it's time to say it: get it in gear, man! I'm all for letting your opponent hurt himself, but you've got to do more than join the chorus of critics when he fails to give an adequate answer to a question at his press conference--you've got to transcend that chorus by explaining what your answer would have been, why that's different, and--most importantly--why it's better.

You've got my vote locked up, and I'm the only one reading the obligatory article each day about how you blasted the president for this or that statement or action. Whoever's running things in your camp has got to drive the press in the right direction, so that stories with headlines like "Kerry offers substantially different vision" and "Kerry outlines plan to improve economy" and "Kerry offers Iraq strategy" and "Kerry offers muscular, multifaceted plan to battle terror" start appearing on the front page of the morning paper. You've got to master a couple great sound bites that offer a positive vision for the future that Americans can get excited about. It's clear to me and to anyone who's been paying attention that you're smarter, better-educated, more thoughtful, and better-prepared for the job of being president than George W. Bush.

But that's not enough--don't you watch American Idol? You've got to make people love you to win their votes, and you won't do that by explaining every day how stupid Bush is. Yes, you should have people whose job it is to expose a lie of Bush every day--The Daily Mislead is handling this work admirably--and those sorts of stories should get out. But guess what? 60 Minutes is exposing a lie a week, and you're still not leading in the polls.

It's not enough to watch your opponent make himself look ridiculous, because there are people on the other side who are just as fervently opposed to our way of thinking as we are to their reactionary madness. You've got to energize people with a positive message of hope. People can figure out the contrast between that and a war-mongering, gay-bashing, rich-people-serving corporation-disguised-as-a-man without you thumping it over their heads every day. Instead of hitting back every day, make it so obvious that you don't have to.

A few months ago, I wrote you a letter advising you to take a stroll through the FDR Memorial and consider the inspiration he provided for the nation in a trying time. I repeat that advice today, and beg you--give the American people what they really want: an upbeat but realistic assessment of how we can get from where we are to where we ought to be. The American people are ready to go there; they just need someone to follow. Show us that you're ready to turn the American boat into the shore and deal with the problems that plague us head on.

Richard Nelson, concerned voter

Wednesday, April 21, 2004


Do 'Idol' Judges Serve A Purpose Beyond Saying 'You Suck'?

It was bound to happen eventually. Tonight, America finally eliminated a competitor who didn't deserve to go. While eliminating anyone prior to John Stevens was questionable, there's no question--none--that sending Jennifer Hudson home tonight was the wrong choice. Simon agreed, Paula agreed, Randy agreed, Ryan agreed--if Barry Manilow had come back out, he'd have said it, too, and already news stories are being posted decrying the fact that the best three singers ended up in the bottom three.

Give the show points for staging the selection well. Having George walk to the top three--knowing full well that he'd end up with the folks who had been wrongly placed on the bottom--and then switching him over was a dramatic way to make a point. That point was rammed home, perhaps a tad indelicately, as each judge basically said that John Stevens should have been sent home tonight. (He's the only one who received no praise tonight.)

Please, heed the words of the judges and vote next week--unless you're one of the maniacs who's been keeping John Stevens in business. In that case, please have your phone disconnected in the next week--and please, please, please, don't register to vote in November. If you're that poor a judge of talent, I really think you should stay home on Election Day.

Wry Analysis

Death Penalty: The Movie - The Supreme Court finds its happy ending. By Dahlia Lithwick

Every once in a while, I feel a duty to be sure that others know about a writer whose unique voice brings clarity to an otherwise baffling topic. Dahlia Lithwick, who writes the "Jurisprudence" and "Supreme Court Dispatches" columns for Slate, has such a voice. She parses the details of a case before the Supreme Court, lets you know how the justices seem to feel about it, explores the complicated terrain of precedent surrounding the case, and tosses this salad of information with a dressing that's a tart mix of wry humor, insightful opinion, informed prediction, and a qood explanation of the "So what?" of the case. Only Lithwick would suggest in writing that the Court is in danger of jumping the shark if there isn't a personnel change soon. Want to read more of her work? Start here.

Bandstand Boogie


Simon hit the nail on the head last night when he asked Barry Manilow, "What did you do to the girls?" It was unquestionably the night for the women on the show, as John Stevens gave his typical bland rendition to "Mandy" and George Huff had his second straight misstep. Diana and Jasmine both did better than they've done since the opening rounds of the show, and the diva trio was exceptional: how can you choose among the performances of Fantasia, La Toya, and Jennifer this week? I didn't. I voted for all three. Fantasia continues to show energy and versatility every week, and showing her motherly side can't have hurt her. La Toya may well be the best singer in the competition, as Simon said last night, and she's definitely confident up there. And Jennifer has made me proud to be on her bandwagon back when she was a wild card. The last three weeks have seen her develop into a solid top-three performer on the show.

Tonight's bottom three prediction: Diana, John, and (gasp!) George. After last night's improvement, I doubt we'll see Diana go, and George is still a strong performer overall. Which means...bye-bye, redhead. We won't miss you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004


Saigon and Saddam - The use and abuse of Vietnam analogies

Since we've talked in recent days about the similarities and differences between Vietnam and Iraq, here's an article that considers the way Vietnam has impacted U.S. foreign policy and thinking in the ensuing three decades.

Also of interest today: there's an article by Richard N. Rosenfeld in this month's Harper's that advocates the abolition of the Senate, or the conversion of it into a House of Lords style ceremonial body with less impact on governance than the House of Representatives. He calls this the logical continuation of the nation's gradual move toward more and more representative democracy and away from the notion that aristocratic interests should be protected from the majority. This, too, is something we've debated here. Unfortunately Harper's doesn't publish its content online, but if you're interested in discussing this topic I'll be happy to summarize Rosenfeld as best I can during the ensuing debate.

Monday, April 19, 2004

No Joke

Coke to Introduce New Mid-Carb Soda in U.S., Japan

Remember the humor piece from the New Yorker that I ran a few months back regarding the coming cola wars? Here's more proof it was based on reality. Can Coke Grovestand be far behind?

Friendly Fire

The Gospel According to George

Did anyone else catch Bob Woodward on 60 Minutes last night? The Watergate veteran made Bush look pretty good two years ago in his first book about the warrior president, but he made it clear last night that any sunniness he once felt for the man has evaporated faster than a puddle in the Iraqi desert.

None of this--Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, and now Bob Woodward--seems to have an appreciable effect on the polls, which continue to show a close race between Bush and Kerry. But each time another one of these interviews runs on 60 Minutes, or people see another headline about Bush's unwillingness to reconsider his positions, it gets people talking. Anecdotally, based on what I've heard at gatherings of family and friends, I think the nation is engaged in a reconsideration of Bush. John Kerry, now is the time to go positive: give people an alternative that sounds both reasonable and optimistic. The American people are ready for it.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Complete Picture

KILL BILL, VOL. 2 / **** (R)

It's finally here! After six months of waiting very impatiently, I'll be seeing the second volume of Quentin Tarantino's gory masterpiece this weekend. Judging from the reviews I've seen, including Roger Ebert's above, I won't be disappointed.

And I certainly wasn't disappointed last night. Did anyone else look at the lineup of the finalists and think, "Either the American people have gone mad, or they've lined up the bottom three quite literally on the bottom?" In any case, all hail the end of JPL!

A question about the show occurs to me, though: does Ryan Seacrest know going into the results show who will be leaving? Obviously someone must know, if only to ensure that Ryan doesn't lie on the air, but it seemed like he didn't know last night which of the Jo(h)ns would be leaving until he told them. Just wondering what people think or if anyone knows the answer to this. Four days until we see what may be the last appearance of John Stevens!

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Firing Line

The Apprentice: Guest Starring George W. Bush

I've never watched The Apprentice, but this is an excellent use of the commercials. Check it out!

Flawed Democracy

American Idol gives too much power to the People

The author of the article above believes that something must be done about the way that Idol voting tends to reward performers who can attract a small but rabid fan base of people who will vote for them 700 or 800 times. Yes, I voted four times for Fantasia last night, but only because I watched the show later on tape, the phone lines were clear, and I had to watch the performance twice to realize its full depth. I, and those of you reading this, would never devote a full night to hitting redial to keep a geeky red-headed crooner in the competition.

Her suggestion is actually the way I thought Idol worked until I started watching it: let people vote people off the island rather than voting to keep someone. Why should I have to vote for Fantasia, Jennifer, La Toya, and George every week? I should be able to vote (maybe twice) for the demise of Jon Peter Lewis and be done with it. I know that such a system would mean I'd lose my beloved Fantasia sooner--she inspires more love than any competitor in this week's poll, but also tends to draw more viewer wrath from those who don't like her antics--but it would be worth it to keep the show from being taken over by untalented high school sophomores. And let's face it--part of the appeal of the show, at least in the beginning stages, is to watch Simon spew bile about the auditions and early competitors who don't measure up. Wouldn't you enjoy the chance to back up your own bile with a vote against the person you can't stand rather than votes for all the people who annoy you less?

Come to think of it, this may not be a bad way to run the U.S. presidential election!

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Feeling Randy


For the first time in memory, Randy Jackson gave the most insightful comment on Idol tonight. He called Fantasia's performance of "Summertime" the best Idol performance ever, and it's hard to imagine how he could be wrong. If you didn't know this was a competition, you'd swear you were watching a seasoned performer belting out her signature song. La Toya was also in a league all her own.

There is such a clear divide between the talents of Fantasia, La Toya, George, and Jennifer and the blandness of Jasmine, the uninspiring performance of Diana, the flat voice of John, and the ridiculous dancing of Jon Peter that the next four weeks of the show should be irrelevant. Only when the four serious contenders have to face one another will there be any question about who really belongs at the top and who should leave.

For now, though, I'd most like to see JPL ousted. I've been on the "Dump John Stevens" bandwagon, but tonight he wasn't nearly as dreadful as that preposterous Elvis impersonation. Simon said it all--that was horrible. John Stevens is still on my list of those who have to go, but of the four of them, he was the least offensive.

Father Figure

Mr. Bush's Press Conference

I didn't watch all of the festivities last night; I missed the opening statement, which critics seem to agree was the strongest part of Bush's hour at the microphone. What I did see was an extraordinary misadventure with both logic and the English language as our vocabulary-challenged president attempted to answer the questions of a press that rarely has the opportunity to address him in this kind of forum. More than looking like he had forgotten his script, Bush looked like he had forgotten where he was: he cast scowls at reporters, joked with the press as if they were on Air Force One rather than on national television, and leaned up against his podium in contorted poses that reminded me of a sixth grader giving a speech in class and trying to hide. Had he looked any more panicked, someone would have called a doctor.

The substance of Bush's answers, such as it was, also came up very short. Every bit of his reasoning is circular, and his assertions have grown tired. Give the man credit for his willingness to stay relentlessly on message, because you've got to give him credit for something, but begin to wonder: Is he stuck on message only because he lacks the intellectual firepower to think of a better one? Unable to imagine any way in which he could have done better during the last two and a half years, Bush conveyed the impression last night that he's out of ideas for the future as well, other than to believe in the fight he's started and hope against hope that imposing deadlines will actually result in a project being completed. Anyone who's ever worked on anything knows that "meeting" a deadline can be done in one of many ways, and one can only imagine the way that this deadline will be met: with a sloppy mess, cobbled together at the eleventh hour, perhaps technically a reflection of the assignment but wholly incapable of answering the real challenges beyond.

Indeed, last night Bush looked a lot like his father, and his "Stay the course" message was borrowed directly from papa as well. He seemed as out of touch talking about war in Iraq and life after 9/11 as his father did talking about the price of milk and seeing scanners at the grocery store. After watching him stumble repeatedly last night, it's hard to believe that Bush can capably lead the nation through the complicated tasks ahead. It's equally hard to believe that the son won't meet the father's electoral fate.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004


President preempts 'Idol' Tuesday night

Fox may offer a lot of support to the Bush Administration, but it apparently isn't enough to keep the president from scheduling his press conference tonight in the middle of American Idol. As a result, the show's schedule has been bumped back a day; we'll see singing tomorrow night and results on Thursday.

Check out the poll at the bottom of the article, by the way. When I took it, 60% of voters thought John Stevens should be the next to go. Based on a quirk of the Idol website, however, I think it will be Jennifer Hudson, followed by Jasmine Trias. So far, two contestants in succession have been eliminated from each of the first and third rows; first, the person who is alphabetically first in that row (Leah LaBelle and Amy Adams), then the person who is alphabetically last (Matt Rogers and Camile Velasco). Wouldn't it be odd if such a strange pattern continued with the second row the next two weeks? The ultimate progression of this pattern would dictate that George Huff will face off with John Stevens in the odd prospect indeed. I guess we'll find out.

Big Man

Timing of Clinton Memoir Is Everything, for Kerry

This is the trouble with electing youngsters to the presidency. Bill Clinton remains a vital figure in politics and public life after his time in office is finished, capable of stealing the spotlight from anyone at any moment. Can you imagine what an event the publication of his memoir will be?

I hope you do it in a timely manner, Bill, so as not to interfere with Kerry's bid to boot your unfortunate successor out of the White House. In the meantime, the next time you feel like calling someone and reading a chapter to him, look me up.

Monday, April 12, 2004


For Singles, April Really Is the Cruelest Month

John Fox is definitely onto something here. He explores the math and logic behind the tax structure that allows married people with children to make more than $47,000 without paying taxes while taxes on a singleton start at only $9,300. The math makes the unfairness evident; the logic shows that single filers get hit harder because they--we, in my case--don't agitate for better tax treatment as loudly as married, child-rearing folks do.

I'm not arguing that the couple with two kids should be driven into poverty, or even buying generic cereal, by a higher tax rate, though I'm not a big fan of the enormous tax credits we give to people on a per-child basis, for this among other reasons. It just seems that our tax system is, more and more, being weighted against letting people who aren't already at the top make any forward progress. Why am I paying my top tax rate on my measly interest income from a savings account while people with dividends get a massive break on that income? Isn't it more in the interest of a better America that people my age can eventually save enough to buy a first home than it is that people whose income comes from their accumulated wealth can build another one? And isn't it more important to make life livable for those of us who are already here than it is to encourage people to add more children to a planet with an already unbearable population? Throwing a pile of tax credits at a big voting bloc and aiming benefits at big political donors may help win elections, but it's not a good way to create a healthy future for America.

Hit It Big

Man Bets Life Savings, Wins $270,600

While on principle I have issues with gambling and don't take part in it, I have to admit there's a certain appeal to the idea of betting everything on red and knowing you have a 50-50 shot of walking away with twice what you had to begin with.

There's also a certain appeal in having $135,000 in possessions to liquidate. Something tells me my car and CDs would fetch a bit less than that.


The New York Times > Opinion >A Justice's Sense of Privilege

If people had to spend even a week in Antonin Scalia's America, there's no question in my mind they'd storm the Supreme Court and leave with his head on a stake. How can he even pretend to feel justified in having journalists stripped of their tape recorders and having the recordings erased? Is he Nixon?

Speaking of folks who are entirely too smug in their foolhardy behavior, the Times also has a good analysis of Bush's refusal to change his tune about Iraq and 9/11. It's almost hard to believe the polls show the guy losing the election.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Frying Pan

Condi Lousy - Why Rice is a bad national security adviser. By Fred Kaplan

Agree or disagree, but Fred Kaplan makes a very compelling argument that Condi Rice isn't doing her job--and doesn't even understand what it is. Since the media as a whole wants to fawn over her testimony, it's heartening to know that someone saw through the slippery rhetoric she used to evade the heart of the matter yesterday.

Timberwolves Plow Over Kings Into 1st

With only three games remaining, my beloved Minnesota Timberwolves have the best record in the Western Conference. If they can beat Golden State tonight on the tough end of a back-to-back on the road, they'll be in good shape to not only start on their home floor, but keep home court advantage as long as they survive the playoffs.

Could this be the year the Wolves win a playoff series? Can Garnett, Cassell, Sprewell, and the rest get it done? What do you think--who will win the NBA title this year?

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Punctuated Equilibrium

Grammar God!
You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

If your mission in life is not already to
preserve the English tongue, it should be.
Congratulations and thank you!

How grammatically sound are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Take the quiz above. If you don't score as well as me, perhaps you should order the same book I ordered today: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Winner of the British Book Award, it's on its way to America--and my house. Count on a carefully-punctuated review in the near future.

Pop Psych

I've been contemplating the words of Donald Rumsfeld that I quoted yesterday: "At a time and place of our choosing." The Rice testimony today shows how out of control we felt as a nation after 9/11; Bush tapped into this feeling by saying over and over that this challenge wasn't our choice, but we would deal with it anyway--it was the work of this generation. But that wasn't a very easy task, and Bush didn't rally the nation around limiting the threat of terror; the government just made us scared to fly and suspicious of our neighbors. I'm not blaming them--I don't know if anyone would have done better.

But attacking Iraq may have been about control. We looked at this one thing we couldn't control at all--al Qaeda, and terror in general--and it frustrated us. So we looked for something else that we could control. Iraq and Saddam Hussein seemed to fill the bill--we'd already kicked their butts once, and it seemed likely we could do it again. We had things there relatively under control already, and we just knew that, at a time and place of our choosing, we could deliver the death blow.

Maybe that's why we're so impatient as a nation for this to be over. Whether Bush and his administration lead us to believe it or not (and I think they did), we believed as a nation that beating up on Iraq would be a lot easier, and a lot more satisfying, than trying to beat up Osama. That makes all the violence and death that continues to take place there not only tragic and disturbing, but psychologically painful to our idea of ourselves as a nation.

For that reason, the Iraq experience may turn out to be good for America. 9/11 could have taught us a bit of humility--we're not invincible--but it taught us anger instead. Iraq was supposed to let us take out our anger--and now, it, too, is trying to teach us humility. Will we listen?

Navel Gazing | A mash note to the blogosphere

Arianna Huffington loves me. And all bloggers. She loves our tenacity, the way we'll stick to something we believe in rather than dropping it. It's worth going through the day pass process to read her love letter about blogging.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004


Bravo has eye for 'Straight Girl'

It was bound to happen; a new Fab Five will help women on a new show patterned after Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I think they're missing the boat by switching genders, though. Can't they come to my house? I could use new furniture, new clothes, new shoes, a cooking lesson, and a new regimen of "product" to improve my looks. Let's make all the gay men as fabulous as possible before working on the impossible task of all the straight men and women in the world.


Two-Front Insurgency

William Safire discusses recent events in Iraq in his column today. He argues that the U.S. must resolve itself to take the fight to those responsible for recent attacks on our troops and hold fast to the deadline of June 30 for turning the country over to a new Iraqi government.

He asks questions at the end of his column that make me wonder if he understands the very freedoms we're supposed to be bringing to Iraq. Read his column, then ask yourself, "Does the fact that we've been lead into a war under false pretenses mean we should abandon our tradition of free speech and accept whatever a president says and does in an election year?" Safire is right that "these are the times that try men's souls." But he ignores the fact that we're in such times because, "at a time and a place of our choosing," as Donald Rumsfeld is fond of saying, we chose to fight back against the wrong enemy for the wrong reasons. Ted Kennedy is right to call this Bush's Vietnam--it's a war being fought without the wholehearted support of the American people, and that lack of support leads to problems. The solution in this case isn't for the American people to blindly support the president. It's for him to give us a reason to support him.

High Fidelity

The times they are a changin'

People are talking about Bob Dylan this week after commercials featuring him debuted over the weekend. He appears with a supermodel in a commercial for Victoria's Secret.

This is not the reason people should be talking about Bob. I've finally made my way through all 15 of the remastered albums, released last year on Super Audio CD. Say what you will about SACD versus DVD-Audio; the improvement in clarity and the added richness in sound present on these albums are undeniable. And because the entire collection was released in hybrid form, even folks who don't want to buy a new stereo just for Bob Dylan can enjoy the improved audio on the CD layer. You'll miss a few highs and lows, but you'll still benefit from a desperately-needed remastering that, to re-use the explanation I've given over and over regarding these albums, makes you feel like you've been listening to Dylan through a door all these years and have finally been let into the room with him.

My only complaint is that the remastering effort doesn't include Time Out Of Mind. It's hard to justify including Planet Waves, Street Legal, and Infidels while ignoring a work that won Album of the Year in 1997. But it seems likely that there will be a second round to this undertaking, in which case all will be forgiven.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Fired Rice?

The Buck Doesn't Stop

Richard Cohen's column today explores the fact that no one in the Bush Administration resigns or is fired for mistakes. He makes good points about Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, who have both been wrong so often and about so much that it's hardly news anymore, but it makes me wonder: What will happen to Condi Rice if her testimony goes badly Thursday? The world will be watching and focused, and you never know: She could screw up royally by revealing troubling details, come off as cold and condescending, admit Bush was still trying to figure out the way from his bedroom to the Oval Office on 9/11, or all three. If she does--if she testifies under oath and doesn't perjure herself, basically--what will Bush and his folks do with her? No one has yet been fired for lying to or misleading the American people. Wouldn't it be ironic if someone were fired for telling the truth?


Clinton, UN Announce Cheap Generic AIDS Drug Plan

George Bush talks a good game--occasionally--while Bill Clinton does good things. It was ever thus, and ever shall be. The latest example: Bush said he'd help AIDS sufferers in Africa, and Clinton is actually helping. Why, why, why do we have term limits for the president?

Time For Me To Fly

Fly the Partisan Skies

It's good to be able to post something from David Brooks, who suggests today (with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, I hope) that in addition to separate radio networks, liberals and conservatives need separate airlines. His column makes good hearted fun of the bitter political realities of our day.

Speaking of making fun, Barry Bonds has been the target of a great deal of mockery and speculation over the course of the off-season. I know, I know: his records are tainted by the fact that he may have been given steroids by his trainer. Nevertheless, it's hard not to be amazed by him. Check out his stat line from last night:
B. Bonds lf 3 2 3 3 1 0 0 1.000
That would be 3 at bats, 2 runs, 3 hits, 3 RBIs, 1 walk, 0 strikeouts, 0 runners left on base. Oh, and he's batting 1.000, and the three hits were a home run and two doubles. We're talking about a guy whose on-base percentage has been over .500 the last three seasons. Numbers like that testify to a batters-box acumen that's second-to-none. Steroids or not, there's no one in baseball as amazing as Barry.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Wholly Holy

Belief-O-Matic: a quiz answering "What Religion Am I?"

In this most religious of weeks (Passover, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter all appeared on my calendar this morning), here's a chance to consider what religion fits best with your personal beliefs. The quiz above is pretty quick and the results are interesting. If you're so inclined, post yours in the comments below.


End Daylight Saving Time

I don't necessarily agree with the site above, but his idea is interesting: convert the U.S. from four times zones to two, merging East and Central together, and stop changing the clocks every spring and fall.

But wouldn't it be more fun to keep daylight saving but change the way we implement it? We live in a nation that spends more hours at work than almost any other. Why not make the switch to daylight saving really meaningful by letting people enjoy the benefits rather than losing sleep? We should flip our clocks forward at 4:00 on Monday afternoon, cutting out the last hour of the workday for many workers and the first for many late shift workers. (We can keep the falling behind where it is--who could object to an extra hour of Saturday night?) Why not making Daylight Saving Day a day people love?


Canary in the Moore Appeal? - Does the House candidacy of Roy Moore's lawyer presage a presidential run by the Republican Nader? By Timothy Noah

It's hard to deny Timothy Noah's logic. Wouldn't it balance the presidential race if Roy Moore, the Ten Commandments judge, ran for president and took Bush's legs out from under him on the right? Seems like just about every race these days goes to the candidate who keeps out semi-serious challengers on his end of the ideological spectrum--see Perot's effect on the 1992 race, Nader's impact on the 2000 election--so it would be nice to see Nader and Moore offset one another so the American people can get down to the business of legitimately choosing between Bush and Kerry. Even more than we can't afford four more years of Bush, we can't afford another election where the guy who ends up in the White House and those who think like him get less votes than people on the other side.

Friday, April 02, 2004

The Real Deal - Choose or Lose - John Kerry: Your Questions, His Answers

Here's a chance to learn about John Kerry right from the source: the link above leads to an interview with John Kerry in which he takes questions from young people about a variety of issues. (If you want to know why I can tolerate his position on gay marriage, skip to page five.)


Report: Midwesterners Binge Drink More

This news must come as a shock to anyone who went to high school or college in the Midwest. Midwesterners were the only people who hoarded food and hiked up prices for gas on 9/11 as people tried to stock up for disaster; apparently we also drink as if there will be no tomorrow.

The best news here is that the Quad Cities is in sixth place on the list of binge drinking cities. I wonder if that survey includes the folks at Augustana?

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

The counterintuitive title of this book makes sense by page two, which is only the first of many wonders Schwartz makes happen over the course of this deceptively thin and breezy tome. Paradox explains why we feel like we have less time even as technology continues to promise to make life easier. In a nutshell, it's because we have too many choices and invest great amounts of time and mental capital in making decisions that were far simpler or simply didn't exist in the past. Schwartz start with examples like buying jeans--slim fit? baggy fit? classic fit? relaxed fit? tapered leg? button fly? zip fly?--or choosing phone service--AT&T? MCI? countless baby Bells? myriad cellular providers?--but quickly demonstrates that our choices in every area of life, including where to live, who (or whether) to marry, what to do for a living, and much more have expanded to a degree that we not only spend more time contemplating our choices, but experience far more regret afterward--or sometimes, he argues, choose not to choose at all because thinking about all the choices we must forego in order to choose just one paralyzes us--or makes the option we like the best seem less appealing.

Schwartz also notes that the increased array of choices combines with the human imagination in dangerous ways that make us sadder. Life gives us choices with fixed qualities--a good job with potential in a city far from home or a decent job with little potential that's close to home--but we compose our own options by assembling aspects of the real choices into fictional options that we then compare with reality. What a surprise that, as we learn of more and more choices, reality falls further and further short! I can't have it all: live close enough to family and retain the freedom to use distance as an excuse to avoid obligations, live in Minneapolis and also in a house with Brad, work with people I loved working with and also return to Illinois. Yet in times of distress, I (and all of us, Schwartz says) tend to compare the situation that troubles me not with a real alternative but with a fantasy constructed from several conflicting components. This is not a useful way to deal with whatever it is that troubles me, or any of us.

Fortunately, Schwartz closes the book by offering useful suggestions for understanding the problems unlimited choices pose in our society and dealing with them in our own lives. His book isn't perfect--it gets a bit redundant at times--but it's a fascinating take on a topic that plays a bigger role in modern life than many of us realize.



OK, what the hell is America thinking? I understand that Amy Adams isn't the greatest thing since sliced bread--but how are she, Jennifer, and La Toya the three worst people on the show?

Oddly enough, MSNBC had a poll yesterday asking who should be the next contestant to be booted. Can you guess the three people who got the most votes? I'll give you a clue--two of them are men whose names start with "J," and the third is Camile. Apparently the people voting for John Stevens and Jon Peter Lewis don't have computers. You can place your own votes here (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Speaking of things that are inexplicable, try this: guests during the first 24 hours of Air America (yes, I've been listening) have included G. Gordon Liddy, Pat Buchanan (twice), Ralph Nader (who hung up on Randi Rhodes when she wouldn't stop screaming at him), Ben Stein, Al Gore, Bob Kerrey, Michael Moore, and many more. Some of these names are no shock--but Buchanan? Twice? Saying that Dick Cheney is obsessed with Iraq? That's a bit surprising.