Monday, May 31, 2004

Slaughter Rule?

Obama gets early boost from voters
Democrat leads Ryan by 22 points

Clearly it's too early to call any race over, but if you had to bet on any supposedly competitive Senate race, I think you'd have to pick Illinois. With a 52-30 lead, Barack Obama looks destined to take the place that national media--including, this week, the New Yorker--have chosen for him, as only the third African-American Senator since Reconstruction. This early in the election cycle, a quarter of Illinois voters already have a bad impression of Republican Jack Ryan, compared to only a tenth who view Obama unfavorably. And in a race where 18% of voters didn't choose either candidate, Obama still checks in over 50%. Good luck, Jack Ryan. I hope you kept your day job.

Summer of Slinging

Bush campaign accents the negative

Mudslinging, that is. According to scholars, no incumbent has ever run as negative a campaign as Bush/Cheney this time out--and they get high marks for deceit as well. Here's the best section of the article:

Incumbent presidents often prefer to run on their records in office, juxtaposing upbeat messages with negative shots at their opponents, as Bill Clinton did in 1996.

Scott Reed, who ran Robert J. Dole's presidential campaign that year, said the Bush campaign has little choice but to deliver a constant stream of such negative charges. With low poll numbers and a volatile situation in Iraq, Bush has more hope of tarnishing Kerry's image than promoting his own.

"The Bush campaign is faced with the hard, true fact that they have to keep their boot on his neck and define him on their terms," Reed said. That might risk alienating some moderate voters or depressing turnout, "but they don't have a choice," he said.

Back to me: Should it come as any surprise that Bush and Cheney are campaigning the same way they've governed? More importantly: Are the American people really going to be fooled by this? Can you win a second term by going almost exclusively negative to avoid your own nonexistent record of success?

Friday, May 28, 2004

Back in Fashion

To Tell the Truth

As Paul Krugman points out today, it's finally back in fashion to question the president's actions. The normally gun-shy press has been leaping all over the administration lately, uncovering more and more evidence that those of us who never trusted Bush and his cronies have been right all along.

For all of us, I'd like to just say this: We wish we hadn't been so right about this, because it would have been better for the country--but we were, OK? So can we finally do something about it and get rid of this bozo in November?

(While you're reading the Times today, check out Bob Herbert's column on Al Gore's speech this week--and why we should be paying attention.)

Thursday, May 27, 2004

2003 Revisited

Now that Fantasia Barrino has captured the 2004 American Idol crown, it's time to look back to 2003 and begin reconsidering the top 10 albums list from that year. (To refresh your memory, the old list is on the sidebar.) Below is a list of all the albums of new material (no greatest hits or live albums) that came out in 2003 and have, so far, made it onto my CD rack. It's only 41 albums, so picking 10 or so to honor as the best shouldn't be hard, right? Albums that I didn't have when I made the list are in italics. But before I narrow the list, I'd like you to tell me what albums from 2003 I'm missing. It's never too late to consider one more great album.

A Mighty Wind: The Album
Ryan Adams: Love is Hell (Pt. 1 + 2)
Ryan Adams: Rock N Roll
Clay Aiken: Measure of a Man
Belle & Sebastian: Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Death Cab For Cutie: Transatlanticism
Dido: Life for Rent
Kathleen Edwards: Failer
Everclear: Slow Motion Daydream
Flaming Lips: Fight Test
Fleetwood Mac: Say You Will
Fountains of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers
Guster: Keep It Together
Jayhawks: Rainy Day Music
The Jealous Sound: Kill Them With Kindness
Jet: Get Born
Annie Lennox: Bare
John Mayer: Heavier Things
The Minus 5: Down With Wilco
New Pornographers: Electric Version
OutKast: Speakerboxx/The Love Below
Liz Phair: Liz Phair
The Postal Service: Give Up
Radiohead: Hail to the Thief
Rooney: Rooney
The Shins: Chutes Too Narrow
Spymob: Sitting Around Keeping Score
Sting: Sacred Love
The Strokes: Room on Fire
Matthew Sweet: Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu (Japan-only album)
The Thorns: The Thorns
The Thrills: So Much for the City
Train: My Private Nation
Travis: 12 Memories
Rufus Wainwright: Want One
White Stripes: Elephant
Lucinda Williams: World Without Tears
Robbie Williams: Escapology (US)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell
Pete Yorn: Day I Forgot
Zwan: Mary, Star of the Sea

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Kindred Spirit...Sort Of

The Declaration Online

There were few greater joys during my first year as the editor of my college newspaper than puzzling my way through movie reviews written by the author of the article linked above, Neil Hultgren. Despite the fact that he sometimes left me with the feeling that he had some sort of disdain for my existence, I enjoyed reading Neil's work because he'd find a creative way to express his opinion and always approached a problem from a unique vantage point.

Fast forward four years and we've got Neil arguing passionately, not for the virtues of American Beauty, but for fair treatment of the gay community at his new school, the University of Virginia. And once again, his solution to being treated like his kind of love is invisible is creative: he suggests that he'll return the favor, feigning a lack of understanding of any of the conventions of heterosexual love and marriage, including weddings and the rings that go with them. So kudos, Neil, on coming out and on engaging in the same sort of creative thinking about this new subject that you've always given to your old ones. And if that disdain I felt from you was just some sort of pre-outing self-loathing turned outward, feel free to drop me a line sometime.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004


In 'American Idol' Showdown, Fantasia Holds Decisive Edge Over Diana, According to New Knowledge Networks Survey

It's all over but the crying. After tonight's show, there can be no doubt. I won't dwell on Diana, who clearly felt the pressure and saw her voice give out on her during both the new Idol single and her last song, which she had knocked out of the park only a week ago. She'll have a nice career for herself. But Fantasia--well, what can I say that Simon hasn't said already? The finale offered the first opportunity to hear what the same song would sound like being sung by each of the two finalists, and you'd be hard pressed to find someone who didn't think Fantasia tore that song up. She felt it and she showed it. And while I didn't like the idea of bringing back songs from earlier in the competition, Fantasia both showed that she would take a risk with a new song on a night that Diana took no risks at all AND brought back what was at once her best and her most obscure song, "Summertime."

I've been taken to task for using such strong language in talking about the show, but there's no shame, I think, in using it here: If Fantasia Barrino isn't crowned the next American Idol tomorrow night, it will be a travesty the likes of which music hasn't seen since Steely Dan won the Grammy for Best Album instead of Eminem, and a travesty of a similar kind--the choice of safety instead of a mind-bending creativity and talent that can sometimes make you nervous. I doubt that the results will be as clear-cut as the survey linked above, which shows Fantasia walloping Diana 61-39; the text messaging effect and the limited number of calls that can go through for either contestant will bring it closer, I'm sure. But Fantasia has earned this. It'll be a real shame if she doesn't get it.

Behind the Times

What Bush Should Have Said - His Iraq speech was only a year late

Disclaimer: Where President Bush's smirking chimp appearance and clearly befuddled delivery once aroused angry passion when he spoke, they now lull me to sleep, acting as a sort of lullaby on the notion that anyone, no matter their skills, can one day become the leader of the free world. So while I watched his obscenely long address last night, it would be fair to say that I didn't absorb every nuance, if you can refer to such a thing when the speaker is so wholly without a sense of nuance in the first place.

With that said, I think Fred Kaplan's assessment of the address, and of Bush's position now, is a fair one. Maybe this was the perfect thing to say a year ago, but that ship has sailed. Today there is an emerging consensus among Americans and Iraqis: a whole lot of people in both countries think that America should get out of Iraq as soon as we can, and a whole lot of people in both countries agree that President Bush is thoroughly inept at handling this situation. With our credibility shot, it's time for new leadership of Iraqi operations. That starts with an increased role for the international community, ought to continue with a bit of regime change here in the United States this winter, and will hopefully, one day, result in an Iraq that Iraqis control. If that happens, at least this wayward adventure will have a happy ending for someone. But even if Bush had been right to invade Iraq--and I still think, on balance, he made a mistake, no matter how much good the invasion could potentially achieve in some far-off, unimaginable future--he's clearly bungled every opportunity since. American involvement in Iraq and in the international community as a whole will only improve when Americans send a statement to Bush and to the world that we won't stand for this kind of "leadership" and demand a new way.

If this sounds like a bit of ABB--Anybody But Bush--well, it is. There are many good reasons to vote for Kerry; I've outlined many of them, including the ways he would change the tax code, his more enlightened social values, and his commitment to making health care affordable and available for many more Americans. (You can surely find more by visiting his website,, and taking a look at some of his detailed plans.) But the single best reason to vote for John Kerry is (and will probably continue to be until this election is over) because he is not George W. Bush, whose categorical incompetence cannot be tolerated any longer. If we want to function in the world--if we want to function, as a nation, at all--it's time to drop the monkey and elect a higher form of primate.

End Game

Fantasia should win American Idol

In 48 hours it will all be over--and I couldn't be happier. While I want very much to see Fantasia Barrino crowned the next Idol, I think I want, even more, to have my Tuesday and Wednesday nights back.

In any case, the article above offers several reasons why Fantasia ought to win; as most of you know, that's been my opinion pretty much from the moment she sang "Something to Talk About" and earned a place among the finalists. But for contrarians, here is an article with reasons Diana should win; they seem a bit soft to me.

Either way, Fantasia is set; according to this article, Missy Elliott already wants to work with her, and Clive Davis is getting ready to work on the album. All that remains is to win the crown, if only to ensure that the show remains a talent competition in future years.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Open and Shut

The False Controversy of Stem Cells

Leave it to Michael Kinsley to make an issue that's been controversial for years seem simple. In this week's Time, Kinsley starts by offering a recap of how thinking on the issue has evolved in the three years since President Bush severely restricted stem-cell research. In short, Bush is out of step; even Nancy Reagan wants him to change his policy.

After summing up the developing public feeling on the issue, Kinsley proceeds to demolish any supposed rationale for the Bush policy. If you support the existence of fertility clinics, he says, you can't oppose stem-cell research--and, though it's never seemed this simple before, Kinsley is right. It is this simple. The end result for the vast majority of the embryos created in a fertility clinic is the same whether or not stem-cell research is allowed: they're destroyed. The question we should be asking isn't whether it's OK to destroy embryos; we apparently decided that a long time ago, judging by all the in vitro quintuplets being born, and the thousands of destroyed embryos their existence implies. We should be asking whether it's moral to restrict access to something that will be destroyed anyway when that something can be used to do research that has the potential to improve life for millions of people. If the answer to that question is controversial, this country is in worse shape than even Justice Scalia imagines.

Running Quickly

Exit Strategy - How to leave Iraq in three simple steps

This humorous piece oversimplifies the situation in Iraq, but it still does a good job of shedding light on the Iraqi predicament: as long as they keep killing us, we're forced to stick around and defend ourselves, but the moment they stop killing us--the moment they'll actually be ready to accept our help in making a better life--we're going to run like hell. Anyhow, it's pretty clear that Saunders is about as serious as Swift was about eating babies, but that doesn't mean the article isn't relevant--and rib-tickling.

End of the Innocence

Death of a Mafia bride-to-be

So close, now so far away. Last night's Sopranos brought Adriana within minutes of escaping the tangled web of deceit that has surrounded her since the day the government began pushing her to be an informer--in a brief daydream sequence, we even saw her leaving--only to bring an end to her life instead. As the article above points out, the impact on the show of this death is enormous. Christopher has chosen--apparently on the basis of his preference for a Hummer over a very used Chevy, if the scene preceding Adriana's death is to be believed--to be loyal to Tony despite his recent fury over perceived slights. Tony has chosen to kill someone who was practically a family member, several steps beyond having Meadow's wayward boyfriend (Jackie Aprile, Jr.) killed last season.

All this happens just as Tony was coming around, reconciling with Carmela and moving back into the house after a very long season of living in his mother's old house and, last week, at the Plaza. On a show that performs an amazing trick each week--making the audience care about people who are pretty despicable in their thievery and illicit killing--it will be hard to make people forget that Christopher betrayed his own soon-to-be bride, or that Tony Soprano could come down so hard and so quickly on someone he appeared to love like a daughter. As the Sopranos go to war with Johnny Sack and New York, as it appears they will, it's going to be hard not to root for Johnny.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Paul Collins, Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism

Not Even Wrong : Adventures in Autism

Those who know me will understand the depth of the following compliment: This book made me care deeply about a child and about parenting. As a person whose imagined future plans have almost never included children, my threshold for empathy with a memoir of parental experiences is pretty high--to me, you had a choice and you made it, knowing full well that your kid, like all kids, would one day be a bratty teenager. Maybe that's why this book works--because Paul Collins and his wife didn't have a choice about their son, Morgan, being born autistic.

The way that Collins blends a momentous year in the life of his family with a variety of stories about the history of autism and notable autists (including many whose conditions have been diagnosed posthumously, because autism wasn't understood at all until recently) works, too. We feel his pain and his growth, and laugh and cry with him, even as he gently gives us a textbook education in the development of society's understanding of the condition, from Peter the Wild Boy to Rainman and beyond.

Quietly, deftly, Collins also seeks to reshape the way we think about autism. For instance, he says, "Autists are described by others--and by themselves--as aliens among humans. But there's an irony to this, for precisely the opposite is true. They are us, and to understand them is to begin to understand what it means to be human. Think of it: a disability is usually defined in terms of what is missing. A child tugs at his or her parents and whispers, 'Where's that man's arm?' But autism is an ability and a disability: it is as much about what is abundant as what is missing, an overexpression of the very traits that make our species unique. Other animals are social, but only humans are capable of abstract logic. The autistic outhuman the humans, and we can scarcely recognize the result."

And then, of course, we have the moment when Collins sees an adult version of his son at a fast food restaurant and watches the reaction of people around him, then walks a few blocks, stops, sits down on the stoop of a church, and cries. "I can't bear the thought that someday, somehow, someone will be cruel to my child. Or pretend that he is not even there." His pain is palpable; you can't help but care about him and empathize with his struggle.

Destined to be a comfort to parents of autistic children, this most recent Paul Collins book is a worthwhile and exceptionally enjoyable read with or without such a personal stake. Even more than Sixpence House, this book perfects the genre of personal history and intense research into the arcane that Collins is creating for himself. Give him 200 pages of your time.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Hope for Politics

Race Against History

Barack Obama's campaign for Senate in Illinois is getting national attention--and for good reason. He's a unique candidate, with impressive qualfications and the ability to deliver convincing speeches rather than simple sound bites. And if the opinions being voiced by every expert in the nation have any basis in reality, he's a shoo-in; after winning a seven-candidate primary with 53% of the vote, and running against a weak candidate in Ryan, in a state that keeps tilting more and more Democratic, do you really think Obama will lose? Politics today often inspires cynicism. Take pleasure in the fact that, at least in Illinois, we have someone to make us feel hopeful.

Fair Fight

Kerry Considers Delaying Nomination

Bravo, John Kerry. I've been worried about the month after the Democratic Convention, when George Bush will still be raising unlimited funds from donors and you'll be stuck with your federal financing. If Kerry delays accepting the nomination for a month--until Bush accepts his--he can continue to raise and spend money in the same fashion as Bush rather than spending a month getting pummeled. Kerry promised when he was running in the primaries that he would take the fight to Bush every day, and this kind of bold move is a great way to show that he meant it.

Zero Tolerance

A Dash of Comma Sense

As I doubt many of you have been inspired by my excitement to read a book about grammar, here's George Will's column for today, which condenses a great deal of the message and humor of Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves into a few pages. But I still recommend the book...

Thursday, May 20, 2004

TV timeout

The next 'Idol': Fantasia or Diana

It was a television marathon last night. How would The West Wing wrap up its fifth--and weakest--season? (Pretty badly, despite potential Josh-Donna progress.) How would my beloved Timberwolves fare in their first game seven? (Well enough to win and move on to face the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, thanks to the MVP.) Would Jasmine Trias finally go home to Hawaii? (Oh, yes!)

At long last, American Idol is down to its final two. Only four more hours for Fox to stretch the limits of the advertising to programming ratio, though at this point I think we've learned that the limit is 1.00, since the entire show is dedicated to selling something, whether it's the new Tamyra Gray CD--didn't she knock it out of the park, by the way, on "Raindrops Will Fall?"--or the upcoming debuts of the two finalists. The only time during the show and the commercial breaks that isn't meant to sell a product is time spent selling other Fox programming. By the way, that four hours only includes the performance and results shows, while Fox is running two more hours of audition footage tonight and an hour special Sunday on the "Idol phenomenon." Maybe they really didn't learn anything from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

But I digress from the more important point: This competition should now belong to Fantasia. I don't know the format of next week's competition--last year it involved picking songs out of a hat and singing the new single, but who can guess how they'll fill two hours?--but knowing that Fantasia gets to sing last means I know she has the chance to bring the house down, and after the way she stepped up this week, you've got to believe she'll come through on Tuesday. I know there are all sorts of demographic reasons why Diana can win, from the fact that she's a bubbly teen to the disdain Fantasia's supposed arrogance inspires to the concerted effort by the Christian Right to prevent a teen mother from winning the competition, but I've got to believe that America as a whole is a place that recognizes and rewards talent and excellence. This season has had bumps--it should be Jennifer or La Toya facing Fantasia in the finale. Here's hoping Simon's final comment to Fantasia proves prescient, though.

Simon: "What does it say behind you?"
Fantasia: "American Idol."


Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Foregone Conclusion?

Poll: Edwards Makes Kerry Viable in N.C.

He won CNN's Veepstakes, and today he's lifting Kerry to a dead-heat in a state Democrats haven't won since Carter ran in 1976. Now that John Edwards has the total package--name recognition, boyish charm, phenomenal stage presence, southern credibility, and the ability to potentially wrestle a state out of Bush's grasp--is there any question about who Kerry will choose? Unless John McCain relents and joins the "unity ticket" proposed by Andrew Sullivan and Joe Biden last week, I think we're on a crash course for Kerry-Edwards. Which is good, because we need someone out there who makes sense when he talks. Check out Slate's new feature: Kerryisms.


GOP Takes a Chance on Weakened Tax Cuts

It's official: The GOP doesn't give a damn about balancing the budget. Here's Tom Delay explaining why every Republican should vote with him:
"The moderates need to read the Republican philosophy," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, told a reporter when asked why moderate GOP senators should support the plan. "What we believe is you don't have paygo for tax cuts."

Paygo, of course, means finding money in the budget to pay for something before you start doing it, whether that something is a new program or a new tax cut. Which forces me to ask: Is DeLay right? Is this the new central tenet of the GOP? I could have sworn growing up they were the party of fiscal responsibility, or at least that was the claim they made. Can you make statements like this one and still claim to be serious about cutting the deficit? Can you read quotes like this and not vote for a Democrat this fall?

Idol Fantasy

In light of Tuesday night's performances on American Idol, allow me to make this public proclamation: if tonight's results show sees the end of Fantasia's run, I will not watch this season's finale. If the voting procedures aren't changed, I will never watch the show again. I tried to vote probably 100 times last night and succeeded exactly once. Either Fantasia was getting so many votes she didn't need mine, or this system is even more fatally flawed than it already appeared.

I wasn't sure if I was overhyping Fantasia in my mind, so I brought a Whitney Houston CD in the car this morning and listened to "The Greatest Love of All," the third song Fantasia sang last night. Clive Davis said last night--to Jasmine, after her botched rendition of "Saving All My Love For You"--that no one can be better than Whitney, but he was wrong. Fantasia's rendition of "Greatest" had more passion, more emotion, more heart, and more excitement than Whitney's. She does more than hit the right notes; she hits the feelings in a song in a way that makes her younger competition look and sound like a couple of virginal robots.

Speaking of which, making Jasmine sing "All By Myself" was a cruel joke. For one thing, La Toya sang the same song earlier in the season (it's available on, I think) and nailed it. For another thing, lines about when "making love was just for fun" don't sound right coming from her. She's just a kid, plain and simple. Sweet and nice, perhaps, but probably only the sixth or seventh best singer this season. As Simon said, it has to end tonight.

But with folks like this guy around, Fantasia will probably go home tonight. Don't worry, Fantasia. I'll buy your record the day it comes out; so will a million other people. How many people will really want to sit through a whole CD of Jasmine or even Diana?

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Andrew Sean Greer, The Confessions of Max Tivoli

The Confessions of Max Tivoli

In attempting to find words to describe Andrew Sean Greer's new novel, I discover none, so I refer you to the words of the New York Times and of John Updike in the New Yorker. For its portrayal of pre-earthquake San Francisco, its deft weaving of history with the tale of a man aging backwards, and its unique meditation on the endurance and importance of loving someone no matter the circumstances, I have little doubt that this book will make many year-end best-of lists and not a few prize shortlists as well. This is a remarkable reminder of the power of fiction.

Battleship Sunk

Locked in Abu Ghraib - The prison scandal keeps getting worse for the Bush administration

It looks like it's game over for the Bush presidency. As Fred Kaplan reports in Slate, if the investigations coming to light this week are true--and it sure looks like they are--then the horrific images of abuse we've been treated to these last few weeks were the result of a program that the administration not only knew about, but ordered. It doesn't matter that what the United States has done pales in comparison to daily life under Saddam. We're supposed to be better than this, whether Senator Inhofe thinks so or not--and most of America agrees. And as the revelations about Bush's refusal to go after Zarqawi when he had the chance, and Zarqawi's subsequent string of violence, including the beheading of Nicholas Berg, make clear, it's hard not to see Bush's hands and imagine the blood dripping from them.

As Kaplan points out, there's precious little Bush can do to stop the onslaught that he has created. Firing Rumsfeld would make Bush the flip-flopper; there goes not only his negative ad campaign against Kerry, but also the only real reason--his resoluteness in the face of circumstances that would make others reconsider--that people, other than his loyal fundamentalist base, still support him.

The last time a presidency crashed and burned, in 1992, most of us were too young to appreciate the spectacle. The time before that, 1980, many of us, including me, were too young even to know who the president was. Take time out, this time, to watch the flames dance. And hope--pray, if you're so inclined--that we never witness a train wreck like this again.

Monday, May 17, 2004


It's the happiest day of the year today, even if John Kerry wins on Election Day. Click here to read Howard Dean's op-ed regarding gay marriage, and click here for Andrew Sullivan's op-ed about the importance of this day. Tomorrow there will be legal challenges, battles in the other 49 states, and backlash; today, we celebrate.

Friday, May 14, 2004

He Knew

The Buck Stops … Where?
The image of George Bush as an incurious oaf is disturbing enough, isn't it? Now we find out that he knew about the abuse in Iraq months ago and did nothing about it. Worse, he had several chances to take out Zarqawi--the guy who cut off Nicholas Berg's head on camera--before the war in Iraq ever started. Can you guess why he didn't?

That's right: Bush didn't go after the only terrorist camp in Iraq because eliminating it would have undermined his case for war there, and he was bound and determined to have that war no matter what. An attack on the camp in 2002 would have eliminated a dangerous threat--and potentially saved thousands of lives by allowing us to avoid war in Iraq.

Until now, I thought it would be appropriate for Rumsfeld to resign because he failed to recognize the importance of the abuse taking place in Abu Ghraib and had failed in so many other important ways during the run-up and aftermath of this war. Today, I'm forced to strengthen my position: President Bush, the blood of thousands of Americans and Iraqis is on your hands. You have failed the American people by your judgment and by your lack of judgment. You have lost our confidence. The time has come for you and Vice President Cheney to step down. And take Rumsfeld with you for good measure.

As Ohio Goes...

Kerry Edges Ahead of Bush in Ohio

So goes the nation. Kerry leads by seven points in Ohio--with or without Nader in the race. Considering the onslaught of negative ads from Bush, for Kerry to be tracking around 50 percent is remarkable. If he can win Ohio...well, I'd be willing to bet that if Kerry wins Ohio, he'll be the president in January. Yes, it's still early, but Bush is hemorrhaging support.

Jasmine Trias isn't, though. Every media outlet in Hawaii is doing its best to keep her on American Idol, as this article details. Fox may not be willing to release the details of voting, but the numbers from Verizon, Hawaii's phone company, don't lie: When Hawaii has the third-highest call volume in a big portion of the nation, something is up. It may take a tsunami in the Pacific next Tuesday night to prevent Miss Trias from claiming the crown.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

More Regime Change

OK, the old comments will be gone sooner than I originally said. In fact, they're gone--now. Hope you like the new site.


Apparently Blogger is now offering comments. This post should let us find out what they look like...and now that we know, let's use the Blogger comments from now on. I'll keep the old ones around for a while for reference.

Regime Change

Dancing Alone

OK, now even Thomas Friedman is convinced: It's time for Bush to go. Utterly lacking achievements on any other front, this administration's signature issue and accomplishment was supposed to be its success at waging war. But an utter lack of humility, and of willingness to listen to the opinions of anyone not in lockstep with its vision of the world, has caused Bush, Inc., to botch even the one thing it looked like it might do right. The willingness to pander to your base above any other concern may win you an election; it may even help you in the mid-terms. But Bush's poll numbers are in the toilet; you can't spit without finding someone who's run the numbers and noticed that nobody with approval numbers this low at this point in his term has ever been re-elected. I know, I know: Bush is special because he never got elected in the first place. But as long as Kerry can cling to the mantle of acceptability, it's hard to imagine that a plurality of American will decide they should let Bush keep his job when he's done so much to make it harder for them to keep theirs.

Of course, elections turn on who turns out, which could explain why Jasmine Trias wasn't even in the bottom two last night despite two wretched performances on Tuesday. Were all the adults too busy getting ready for the Frasier finale to watch and vote for La Toya and Fantasia? Check out this article; at the bottom of the page you'll see voting on who should go and who will win. Diana has a good shot now. One thing seems certain: people will vote again next week. Everyone I've talked to about the show thought this week was a given--Jasmine was going home. No one will be taking that for granted again next week.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Long Flight Home

Was this the last dance for Jasmine?

By this time tomorrow, Jasmine Trias will be on a flight back to Hawaii, or Simon Cowell's head will have exploded. She's snuck through to this point, but last night Jasmine was outclassed by such a large margin by all three of her competitors that seeing her stay on the show would cause a bigger outcry than the ouster of Jennifer Hudson. (Speaking of J-Hud, wouldn't she have been great last night?)

At the end of the show last night, I was left saying to myself, "Wow. Diana could actually win this thing." I think I've gotten so used to the week-after-week competence of La Toya and Fantasia that Diana's emergence is more exciting to me. Nevertheless, I hope Fantasia and La Toya survive to the final two--but check back with me this time next week. You never know.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004


That's the Ticket

Andrew Sullivan explains why recent atrocities in Iraq make a Kerry-McCain ticket more likely than ever--though still, he's quick to say, a stretch. Is Sullivan right? Would Kerry-McCain win in a romp? I think so: Kerry, despite his lackluster campaign thus far, has a 50/50 shot right now as it is. Adding McCain would bring Kerry droves of independent voters, fire a symbolic shot across the Republican bow, and energize people who have been holding out for a more credible alternative to Bush-Cheney. They'd surely take such swing states as McCain's home state of Arizona, lock up the Pacific Northwest, and likely put to rest any Bush ambitions in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. Incumbents tend to win big or lose big. With McCain on the Kerry ticket, I think we can assume it would be the latter.

Speaking of Republicans helping good causes, Nancy's Reagan's plea over the weekend is a promising development in the battle over stem cell research. I can't imagine it will make any difference in Bush's policies, but I'm betting it will remind a few people that Bush doesn't always make policy decisions based on what's best for the country, instead choosing to look inward and ask himself what his strikingly conservative version of Jesus would do. Let's hope they remember that in November.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Hit Me Up

John Kerry for President

I could have sworn this was supposed to be the week John Kerry didn't ask for money. Obviously I was wrong: this morning I got a call asking me if I could pledge $100 to the campaign. Do they know what I bring home? I finally settled on (another) $25 contribution; feel free to join me above.

That was the second weird phone experience of my morning. The first came at 4:45 when my voice mail chime went off. No one calls at 4:45 unless it's important, I thought, so I checked the message. Suddenly, eerily, I was hearing my own voice: the message was from me to my landlord, from more than a month ago. How did that end up coming back to me--and in the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning?

We went downtown again this weekend to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It was a night of firsts--first symphonies, that is, as the orchestra played Mahler 1 and Prokofiev 1. The performance was phenomenal, but the highlight of the night was this: on our way to Italian Village last weekend, Brad and I ran into a security guard who needed $6.75 to take the train home; he had lost his wallet. The guy was dressed in uniform and he had a badge--plus, with Brad there, I couldn't pretend I didn't hear him. The guy even said that if we gave him a business card, he'd send the money when he got home, so I gave him one. Fast forward to this weekend: we're headed down Monroe to Italian Village, hoping this time we'll get a table with enough time to eat before the concert (we did, and it was great!), and who do we see? He started his story again, but we cut him off. After insisting that he wasn't the same guy (to which I responded, "You've even got the same badge number"--thank goodness for my freaky memory), he finally grinned and blessed us, caught and grateful that we were able to laugh about it rather than calling over one of the nearby police officers. As we walked away, Brad and I agreed that it was worth seven bucks to catch the guy in his lie.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Dumberer Than Dirt

The Misunderestimated Man
How Bush chose stupidity

It's Friday, so here's something fun: an article that considers whether President Bush's well-chronicled troubles with the English language are really indicative of a larger problem. The answer, of course, is yes, but there's more to it than that, according to Jacob Weisberg: Bush wears his stupidity like a shield, deflecting difficult charges by appearing not to know what's going on. This, strangely, makes it very difficult to stop him, and hard to criticize him without also feeling sorry for him. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 06, 2004


Just Drop By - How Friends became palatable after the ironies of Seinfeld

If you thought I'd be writing today about Bush's speeches to the Arab world yesterday (Thomas Friedman's column on that general topic is great, by the way), or about the fact that American Idol has become a diva-fest (and rightly so, I've decided, after George's bland performance of "Cheek to Cheek" last night--though I'll miss him), you must not have been paying attention to me these last, oh, ten years. I woke up this morning dreading the fact that in a few hours, one of my favorite shows--a show I started watching before I could drive--will be over tonight.

Of course, I'm not the only one writing about this topic today.

The previews are, as usual, both promising and confusing--how can we see the door to the jetway close before Ross catches Rachel, but also see him talking to her in the airport and telling her not to get on the plane? And what of the scene, shown for weeks during teasers, where Rachel tells Ross she's sorry as she heads for the jetway door? Judging by these scenes, and the apparent chronology they would have to follow--Ross chases Rachel, tells her not to go, she says she's sorry, she walks away, the door closes--we're being led to believe that she gets on the plane for Paris, and once that jetway door closes, what can she do? Cry all the way to France?

With all this evidence, I'm left fearing the worst--an unhappy ending for Ross and Rachel's ten-year relationship--while believing that the show's creators would never close the story that way. In any case, my hopes for tonight:
* Monica and Chandler get to hold their baby before the end of the show. The look on her face--and his--would be priceless.
* Joey's move to L.A. is explained in advance of his spinoff show.
* Phoebe's husband, Mike (Paul Rudd) makes one last appearance on the show. His presence on the show during the ninth season kept it afloat when a lot of the plot was pretty serious stuff.
* Gunther makes one last appearance. If Janice can get a final moment in the sun, why not Gunther? He's been hanging around for ten years. (Which is pretty unbelievable, when you think about it--how many people work in one coffee shop for a decade?)
* Ross and Rachel end up together. I don't care if the show ends with a wedding, a kiss in a hotel in Paris, Rachel deciding to stay in New York--as long as the writers find a way to make it clear that these two have chosen one another, I'll be satisfied.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Gregory Maguire, Wicked

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

The title of this wonderful book should probably include a question mark--Wicked? Because that’s the question we’re meant to ask ourselves as we read this chronicle of the life of the Wicked Witch of the West. Was she really wicked? Or did we just catch her at her worst, last moment in The Wizard of Oz?

Beyond being compulsively readable, filled with moments of recognition as the Witch moves steadily toward an end we’ve already seen on film, this book tackles serious issues on many levels. The Witch’s father is a preacher, fighting to protect “unionism” from the new “pleasure faith” while also balancing it with the pagan tendencies and folklore of Oz culture. The presence of talking animals in Oz—remember the Cowardly Lion?—gives Maguire the makings of a civil rights struggle dedicated to fair treatment of these high-functioning beasts, as well as raising questions about the proper dividing line between man and animals and whether either has a soul. Maguire’s Oz is filled with political intrigue and romantic tensions, re-imagining the Yellow Brick Road as a tool in the Wizard’s assault on the freedoms of Munchkinland and the Good Witch of the North as a spoiled noblewoman, wooed by many, who started out as the Wicked Witch’s college roommate. The magical shoes, the flying monkeys, and even the Witch’s green skin all have fascinating explanations.

It is a measure of the book’s success that I want to watch the movie again with all this back story in mind. Maguire has used one classic to create another, and in doing so, he has amplified both.

College Try

2-for-1 Voting

Thank you, Bruce Ackerman, for giving me at least one reason to like the Electoral College. In his piece today, Ackerman suggests that if Ralph Nader is serious about wanting to unseat George W. Bush, but insists on running for president himself, the responsible thing for him to do is choose the same slate of electors as John Kerry. If he did this, Nader and Kerry's votes would be pooled together for the purposes of choosing each state's electors, who would then cast electoral votes for whichever of the two (Kerry, of course) got more votes in the state.

Since America refuses to make it easier for third parties through, say, runoff voting, this would be a good way for Nader to make a respectable showing without hurting the nation. It would probably increase his numbers because people would be able to vote for him and know they'd be voting against Bush at the same time--heck, I might even vote Nader if I knew my vote would help Kerry as well. (Of course, Republicans protesting Bush's socially reactionary positions who can't quite pull the lever for Kerry, including members of my family, might not feel as comfortable voting Nader.)

As Ackerman points out, this is pretty much the way the Electoral College system was meant to work. If you don't like that...well, maybe you should join me in calling to have the thing abolished. In the meantime, I hope Nader is paying attention today. This suggestion could bring his campaign relevance and excitement while guaranteeing that he doesn't spoil another election.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004


Simon finally said it: La Toya and Fantasia are in a different league. After the last two nights of American Idol performances, including Monday's reprise of everyone's best song, it's hard to fathom that the upcoming bottom three could be anyone but Jasmine, George, and Diana. It's hard to imagine that Jasmine wouldn't be the one to leave the show, too. George and Diana weren't perfect tonight, but they were interesting; Jasmine was the performer whose songs fell the flattest. She's out of her depth now.

Grace From Will

Time for Bush to See The Realities of Iraq

There are few greater joys than watching conservatives splinter against themselves. George Will, one of the most sensible and well-spoken of conservatives, today questions whether there is real thought behind the Bush policy in Iraq, and offers up these money quotes:

"This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts."

"Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue. Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice. "

I think he could have left out the word "political" in the second sentence of the second quote, but otherwise, bravo, George.

Monday, May 03, 2004

And CBS stands for Country's Best Sitcoms, too...

Acronymble - KFC tries to put one over on us. Again.

John Kerry's going to war against the attacks on his biography. Kevin Garnett is the league MVP. Thank goodness someone is focusing on what's really important. Seth Stevenson tackles the switch to "Kitchen Fresh Chicken" in the article linked above; I've been wondering for months when someone would write about this change.

Police State

Fighting for Free Speech Means Fighting for . . . Howard Stern

Last week we saw the Supreme Court consider whether prisoners have the right to a public hearing regarding the reason they're being held; this week we see that prisoners are hardly the one folks whose rights have been reinvented under the gaze of the Bush White House. Howard Stern may be, at times, disgusting, but his on-air ramblings represent freedom of speech perfectly--we have a right to say things that others may not like. Today the F.C.C. is after Howard, and his right to talk about flatulence and sex may seem like an unnecessary frivolity. As I said Thursday, "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."