Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Damn You, Diet Pop

Artificial Sweetener May Disrupt Body's Ability to Count Calories

Well, here's a study that explains everything. Apparently our bodies learn to count calories on their own and regulate our food intake based on qualities like sweetness. But artificial sweeteners confuse the body. It loses its reliable sweetness=calories connection, and all hell breaks loose.

Don't I know it. Since I started drinking more flavored beverages--as opposed to a strictly water, orange juice, or beer liquid regimen--my appetite has been out of sync with any actual calorie needs I have. While some of this represents eating out of boredom because I live in a suburban wasteland instead of a vibrant city and come home to an empty house at night due to the vagaries of work schedules, that can't account for my untold desire to eat. This study makes sense, though. I used to know restraint in my consumption of things like cookies. Today eating ten cookies doesn't sound crazy; neither does crumbling three Oreos into a couple scoops of ice cream every night after dinner. (Don't worry: I stopped buying ice cream.) It's not like I don't eat; the cereal consumption alone in our house would put most people to shame. It's like my body never says "stop," and if it does, it lasts about an hour. I ate enough chicken wings and cheese-covered fried potatoes last night that I should have been full until Sunday; by the time I got home an hour and a half later, I was staring into the freezer and thinking about food again.

Now I have a scapegoat. Damn you, diet lemonade. Out, out, damned diet iced tea! Be gone, heavenly mango tropical drink (only ten calories per can) and aspartame-sweetened salad dressings. I knew all along you might be giving me cancer, but I was OK with that--you were keeping me thin! But now you're making me fat AND giving me cancer? Hello, Sam Adams; goodbye, Diet Coke. If a beer with dinner can reteach my body to count its own calories, and perhaps make me too tired to shovel food into my mouth in the process, that's the drastic measure I'll have to take.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Half Blood Prince?

New Harry Potter title revealed by author

Yes, that's right. The next Harry Potter book--second-to-last in the series--has a name, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Still unavailable: a release date for the book, which J.K. Rowling isn't done writing.

However, this does allow us to open up early betting: who is the Half Blood Prince? Rowling says it isn't Harry or Voldemort, and also that she almost called the second book by this title, but decided to hold the information about the HBP's identity until now.

My bet is Draco Malfoy. Who better to be a half blood than Draco, who loves to sneer at Hermione over her own mixed origins? And this would certainly be in keeping with the allegories Rowling has created; those who seek a master race often turn out to be the very thing they wish to destroy. It helps that Draco has been around since the start; it's hard to imagine that Rowling had this important character all ready to go in book two and held him until now. I guess we'll find out sometime in 2005 or 2006. Any other guesses?

Bounce Back

High Court Upholds Block of Web Porn Law

After yesterday's repudiation of the Bush Administration's "because we said so" theory of jurisprudence, I owe the Supremes an apology. Despite the Cheney fiasco, which could yet turn out for the best, this was an OK term. Yesterday's decisions will probably be the ones that make it into the textbooks, after all. And not ruling on the merits of the pledge is a lot different from upholding it.

Today's porn ruling, though, raises one of the funnier spectres of the year. If you've got a 5-4 vote in favor of a civil liberty, you expect the votes of Stevens and Souter and Ginsburg, with Kennedy as the swing vote. But you also expect Stephen Breyer to be among the five on the liberal side of the decision. Today's unlikely fivesome instead includes none other than Clarence Thomas. Why am I not surprised that Justice Thomas favors unbridled access to pornography?

Monday, June 28, 2004

Faces of W

Blogbot 5000: A quick comparison...

As the GOP launches an assault on Kerry that includes two separate invocations of Adolf Hitler, the analysis above makes a good point: Bush, the incumbent, is running his campaign against Kerry rather than for himself. From a challenger, that's to be expected--you wouldn't be running if you thought things were going great. But shouldn't Bush be focusing a bit more on his own accomplishments?

Oh, that's right. He doesn't have any.

Hey, George, how does it feel to get smacked by the Supreme Court? Presidenting is hard, isn't it? Maybe it's time to hand over the headache to someone who can handle it. Look on the bright side! At this time next year you can be out clearing brush on the ranch, and John will have to deal with these terrorists. At least you'll know he couldn't possibly screw things up more than you have.

Weekend Update

Questions for Ronald P. Reagan: The Son Also Rises

Now that the Reagan nostalgia is done, his son is talking--and it won't make George W. Bush happy. Or Dick Cheney, who the younger Reagan says isn't a "mindful human being." Ouch.


This was quite a weekend. Carissa visited, and we spent Friday treating Chicagoland like some kind of tourist paradise. We went to the Strawberry Festival in Long Grove, where we feasted on confectioner's chocolates, drank strawberry wine, and devoured grilled chicken on a stick that tasted better than any meat I've ever eaten. Then we headed to Oak Park, where we toured the Frank Lloyd Wright house and studio and took a walk past the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway. (I've decided I want to live in beautiful Oak Park. Anyone interested in loaning me a million dollars to make this dream come true can contact me.) From there, we hopped on the Green Line and headed downtown for the Taste of Chicago, where $21 bought us 11 different treats, including some breaded ravioli, pierogies, Italian ice, waffle-cut fries, nachos, a cheeseburger, a hot dog, fried dough, and garlic-cheese bread. On the way home, we completed our tourist trip by stopping at IKEA, quite possibly Schaumburg's top attraction these days.

Saturday we saw Fahrenheit 9/11, a brief review of which I'll provide now because I don't know if I can say anything lengthy about it. I really enjoyed the movie, of course, and it has many moments that are great cinema: Al Gore stopping one representative after another from contesting the election results that would make George W. Bush the president, Bush sitting with a befuddled look on his face for seven minutes after finding out about the World Trade Center, Prince Bandar saying things on TV that directly contradict what he says today about flights out of the country for relatives of Osama bin Laden, and Moore turning the Bush administration's key figures into characters on Bonanza to great comedic effect. But Moore also has a tendency to hit you over the head that can get jarring--and despite this, he fails to hit us over the head with what appears to be the thesis of his film, that Bush and his ilk used 9/11 to consolidate power and money for themselves and their allies while inflicting the damages of that consolidation on an unwitting American public and especially on those who can least afford the damage, the working class folks who make up much of the active military and reserves that has been asked to serve an unjust cause in Iraq. The movie has the goods to make this point, but Moore seems to get distracted from stating the logic behind his point, showing us how he got from A to B to C, by his loathing for Bush and his desire to use all the great footage he has. I understand the logic, but I understood it before I sat down in the theatre. He could have made it more clear for everyone. Then again, considering the likely audience for the film, he probably doesn't need to sell the "Bush is BAD" message. We bought that with the movie ticket.

A question to close this long post: Do you think, if they had known that Bush would be this vulnerable, the Democrats would have run someone else against him? Nothing against John Kerry, but would they have recruited Hillary or someone of her high profile to give Bush a star-powered beating?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Trek Theory

Court Won't Order Cheney Papers Released

Today's news that the Supreme Court won't be forcing Dick Cheney to turn over the records of his energy task force has me thinking that the Court may work a bit like the Star Trek movies. You know the theory, right? That the even-numbered movies are good, while the odd ones are terrible?

I think it works in reverse for the Court; in odd-numbered years, the members are inspired to do good work, while even-numbered (election) years bring with them some rulings we could do without. To wit: In 1957, the Court produced the Brown decision that mandated desegregation; in 1973, it produced Roe v. Wade; in 2003, it gave us the victory of Lawrence v. Texas. Meanwhile, in 2000 we got Bush v. Gore; in 1986 we had Bowers v. Hardwick (which Lawrence overturned); in 1896 we had Plessy v. Ferguson (which Brown overturned); in 2004 we have the Pledge case and this nonsense with Cheney.

I know there are huge holes in this theory, but it's amusing to me this morning to think that most of the cases I consider major victories have happened in odd years, while the ones that hurt progress tend to happen in even years.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Good Man, Bad Book

The Condensed Bill Clinton - Slate reads My Life so you don't have to

I thought I'd rush out yesterday to buy the new Bill Clinton book; I don't think my positive feelings about him are a secret to anyone who reads this site. But the almost savagely negative reviews and the awful writing in the excerpts I've seen have convinced me to hold off for now. After all, 957 pages is a rather big commitment. (It didn't help Bill's cause that Hillary's book still sits, unfinished, on my bookshelf.) Fortunately, the link above digs out some of the most interesting information from the book. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

How do they do it?

Fantasia, "I Believe"

You'd never guess that they rushed this single out. The muddy-sounding rendition we heard on television is eclipsed by this recording, which presents Fantasia at her best--her voice sounds strong and her attitude shines through. "I Believe" has new verses, which add to the depth and meaning of the song, and the backing vocals, provided by a choir and, according to the liner notes, by Tamyra Gray, (who also co-wrote the song) add a dramatic tone to the song. "Chain of Fools" reminds us why Fantasia won: she can take any song, by any artist, and make it her own. And as for the third song, "Summertime," there are no words of praise better than those of Randy Jackson, who called Fantasia's rendition the best Idol performance ever. Simon called Fantasia the best Idol contestant in the history of the competition. Her first single leaves little doubt that Randy and Simon were right.

Boston Public

Ryan Vows to Stay in Illinois Senate Race

Very public, apparently. Now I understand why Jack Ryan wanted to keep his divorce records sealed. I don't care about his sexual quirks--I wouldn't vote for the guy anyway. But he's a Republican, and those folks seem to have a code among themselves: We keep our perversions to ourselves. Jack was just trying to honor the code, judge! Why'd you have to unseal his public divorce records to the public so we could find out he's a public pervert?

Please, Jack, stay in the race; Obama was going to bury you anyhow. Now that you're a liar--you said there was nothing of interest in your divorce papers--and would be considered depraved by most members of your own party, you're pretty well sunk.

Prediction: We're going to see this get ugly quickly. Jack Ryan won't do it--even he's not fool enough to attack his ex-wife's character after she released a statement of support for him--but henchmen will say that she was in love with someone else when they split up and call her the liar. Just stay quiet, Barack. Unless the GOP uses this as an excuse to get Jim Edgar on the ballot, you're home free.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Sigh of Relief

Nader Taps Green Activist As Running Mate

On one level, I should be disappointed that Nader's VP pick makes it more likely that he'll get the help of the Green Party. As someone whose actual political sentiments border on Green, I think the party should endorse Kerry, who isn't perfect but does have a number of positions that would make him the best president the Greens could hope for in the current political climate and structure.

But a report out of Washington this morning that Nader was meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus and announcing his running mate this morning made me nervous enough that Nader's choice makes me happy. Nader has said his candidacy will help Kerry, and while this is a dubious claim at best, he may believe it in his heart. But choosing a black running mate, which the article seemed to suggest he might, would have been a divisive move, one that clearly would have aimed to peel away black voters from the coalition of Democratic voters who, I admit, tend to have more in common because they disagree strongly with parts of the Republican platform than because they agree strongly on the contents of the platform of the Democrats.

There is a time and a place for a reexamination of what holds the Democratic Party together; there is a time and a place for the same consideration of what constitutes a Republican. Clearly, the two major parties both hold together a collection of voters whose interests are very different. Nader's belief that the system needs a heavy dose of change is probably right.

This is not the time to try to make a point about that need. It's not the time to consider how both parties--or several parties, all with realistic opportunities to win seats in the places where decisions are made--can develop platforms that focus on positives rather than negatives. It is the time to stop and start over with someone different, whose positions may not perfectly embody the beliefs of the people who vote for him but who will put a stop to the wholesale and unmandated reinvention of what America means that George W. Bush has undertaken since he was thrust into office. Kerry isn't perfect, and the boat he's commanding on this electoral mission has a few more holes in it than the one he piloted in Vietnam and the one he sailed during his Nantucket vacation this weekend. But this is the boat we've got right now, and the mission is too important to waste time trying to build another one--or vainly attempting to drain all the water from the sea and refill it with another substance, which approximates the level of quixoticness in Nader's quest this year. Nader says he's going to help Kerry. Thank goodness he didn't do something that would have proven, disastrously, that he didn't mean it.

Friday, June 18, 2004


Love Actually

If you enjoy romantic comedies, it's hard to imagine that you won't enjoy this one. If you're an Anglophile, it's even harder: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, and Liam Neeson take turns on screen throughout the movie. So if you're just looking for a pick-me-up, or a romantic movie night, search no more. Here it is.

With that said, Richard Curtis goes a bit overboard here--and the DVD extras reveal that he wanted to go even further. The movie juggles at least eight subplots; is it any wonder Curtis had a hard time cutting it down to two hours and 15 minutes? A few subplots are clearly meant as comic relief of a sort; I particularly liked the couple that met while working as body doubles for a movie, an occupation that required them to spend long periods of time simulating all manner of sex acts with one another; when they finally fall for one another (this gives away nothing in this movie, by the way--the plots are pretty much telegraphed to the audience in the first ten minutes) they experience awkwardness just kissing. It's a sly commentary on culture and a funny moment at the same time.

Other subplots are sadder; Liam Neeson's wife dies at the start of the film, and he deals with his own grief and that of his stepson mostly on his own. And while it's clear that Alan Rickman will eventually succumb to the temptation of his secretary--even Emma Thompson, who plays his wife, warns him about her--it isn't clear until the end that he'll do so in a way that raises and then devastates his wife.

Which brings us to the primary fault with the film: the ending. There are a great many happy moments, including the wrap of the Colin Firth subplot (another one that starts out sadly), but there are also many loose ends left untied. After witnessing the devastation of Emma Thompson, we get a 15-second outro from her subplot that tells us nothing about how she and Alan Rickman dealt with his infidelity. A subplot involving Keira Knightley wraps clumsily, with Curtis asking us to accept that one kiss from a married woman can quell an obsession and make everything right. The whole thing races to close within the allotted time, as if Curtis is fearful his audience will have to leave for the bathroom if he lingers any longer.

This should have been a high-profile mini-series. Really. There's nothing about it that demands the movie theatre screen, and Curtis clearly had enough plot to fill six or seven hours if he tried. The footage he left out and shows on the DVD would have made for a better movie, and the loose ends he leaves could have been wrapped up more effectively given more time.

Alas, that's not what happened. Don't get me wrong: you'll enjoy this movie. The airport scenes at the start and end of the movie, showing ordinary people embracing their loved ones as they arrive at the gate, will make you smile at the beginning and probably prolong your happy tears at the end. But when you stop to think about it afterward, you'll wish you could have stayed with these characters longer and known more about them. Curtis could have given you that, too.

New Goal

The Secret Life of Newt Gingrich

As the article above explains, Newt Gingrich has something of a new career on his hands these days: he's ranked number 488 among Amazon reviewers. As far as I can tell, I currently have no ranking; a friend who has written six reviews and received 39 helpful votes is ranked number 23447. Newt's 137 reviews have received more than 2,000 helpful votes. Folks in the top 25 have written hundreds or even thousands of reviews; number one, Harriet Klausner, has written more than 7,000 reviews and garnered more than 40,000 helpful votes.

Where is all this leading, you ask? To my new life goal, of course: to crack Amazon's top 1000. Right now this would require over 700 helpful votes. My 19 reviews have attracted a measly 7 helpful votes, but many of them are only a day old. (Curious about what I've reviewed? You can find it all here. Dedicated readers of this site will probably recognize quite a few reviews.) Given time, I'm sure the current group of reviews will garner more votes for me. Meanwhile, you'll probably notice a lot more reviews being posted here in the future; I've always meant to review every book or movie I consume, but I'm hoping the motivation of that little "Top 1000 Reviewer" symbol next to my name will motivate me to new levels of dedication.

And don't worry: my primary goal in public life is still to boot Bush out of office, and my primary goals in my own life are still my relationship, my job, my family, and starting grad school next winter. This is just a bit of icing for the cake.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Done Deal

Kerry Gets Advice on Running Mate, No Decision Yet

Memo to John Kerry:

Just pick Senator John Edwards already. So what if he might upstage you during the campaign? He'll connect with more voters than any other possible choice, help you in a few states in the South, help a couple Senate candidates in the South, and bring with him the love of a fawning media. (See Eric Alterman for more on this last point.)

Besides, he can only overshadow you until November. After that, you get to be the president! How can Edwards beat that? So calm your swelling ego, finish having these base-thrilling meetings with Gephardt and Clark and Graham, and do what you know you have to do: Give us John-John. We've been waiting since February.

And in case you missed it, The Note had this to say today:

The Kerry campaign has used Edwards so effectively as a surrogate that they may have boxed themselves into the corner of having to explain to the Democratic world why they DIDN'T choose him after all.

Even aides to several leading contenders admit that the Edwards boomlet is real. They believe that Senator Kerry has seen polls that show how Edwards helps him in states like Wisconsin and Florida. Those Democrats with close ties to the Senate and House races think an Edwards on the ticket could enhance the prospects of an Erskine Bowles victory in North Carolina and help Inez Tennenbaum in South Carolina.

No other contender can be said to have such a broad-based constituency of elite supporters, and a second ring of "enthusiasts," such as Walter Mondale and Hillary Clinton, both of whom have been heard of late making the case for why Edwards would be a strong pick.


Bush Disputes al Qaida-Saddam Conclusion

Well, there's a shocker: a group collects the evidence, judges it, and determines that Bush was wrong. Does Bush then acknowledge his error? No--he insists he was right, all evidence to the contrary be damned. Frankly, this attitude is so commonplace in the Bush White House it's surprising it's considered news anymore.

I guess that means this buried gem isn't news, either, but it does confirm that Bush is not just delusional, but pretty much insane:

Asked whether he was disappointed that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had improperly held an Iraqi prisoner in secret for more than seven months in violation of the Geneva Conventions, Bush replied: "The secretary and I discussed that for the first time this morning. ... I'm never disappointed in my secretary of defense. He's doing a fabulous job and America's lucky to have him in the position he's in."

Yeah, that's right--we're lucky. Lucky that Rumsfeld helped the Administration make mincemeat of the Geneva Conventions and put American soldiers who are captured at great risk of being tortured. Lucky that Rumsfeld had no apparent plan for post-war Iraq. Lucky that Rumsfeld has aided and abetted Bush in decimating our international stature. Remind me to send him a thank-you card.


Elephant (2003)

Not many people saw this movie in theatres, which is probably a shame; I think the mood of the film would be enhanced by being trapped in your seat the entire time. Gus Van Sant takes advantage of the fact that you already know what his movie is about: a high school shooting. He uses your knowledge to his advantage by playing on the tension you inevitably feel as you wonder, "Will it happen now? Now? Now?" Framing his shots to limit your view, he lets you wonder, all through the movie, what is going on just outside the frame--and eventually forces you to think about how, if many of the kids you're watching would do the same and think about things outside of their own small worlds, the tragic end of the movie might never arrive. But the movie doesn't offer solutions nearly as neat and tidy as that; it simply allows a day to unfold before your eyes, lets you see the world as it's experienced by both the killers and their victims, and shows both how hard it is to see the signs that someone is capable of such a massacre and how easy it might be if people would only pay attention.

And then there's the kiss, which has caused Van Sant no small amount of frustration. Without ruining the tension for those of you who choose to give 80 minutes to this movie, I can tell you that at one point the two killers, about to head for school to act out their plan, get in the shower together--or does one ambush the other? I'm really not sure if the first occupant of the shower knows the second will join him; I don't think we're meant to think that this has happened before. But he walks in, joins his only friend, and says, "Today's the day we're going to die...I never even kissed anyone, did you?" Then the two friends, alienated by the rest of the world, are kissing; the shot lingers long enough to make it clear this is more than a quick kiss goodbye--more like an extended, naked make-out session in the shower.

And then it's over, and the rest of the movie unfolds, including one event, which I'd love to discuss with anyone who sees it, that made me reinterpret the whole friendship between the two killers and their individual reactions to what happens in the shower.

I've made this movie sound like it's filled with action, which isn't fair to those who might consider watching it; much of the 80-minute length of the film is ordinary stuff, like walking down long hallways and playing football and developing film and playing the piano, and much of this plays out without dialogue. I was proud of myself at the end for not speeding up the movie to get down those hallways or get that film developed and clipped; the slight boredom I felt gave my dread an opportunity to build. In the end, this is not an easy film; it won't tell you what you should think about it, and you may not be able to decide on your own what to think, either. I know I haven't. But I'm thinking about it, and that's got to count for something.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Game Afoot

Kerry Gets Early Newspaper Endorsement

Is it really only June? Ask the Philadelphia Daily News, which has already endorsed John Kerry for president, calling on voters in Philadelphia to encourage their friends to register to vote so the heavily-Democratic area can tilt the swing state of Pennsylvania into the Kerry column. I appreciate the sentiment, but I worry that it leaves the paper open to charges of ABB--Anybody But Bush. And while I think that's a perfectly plausible reason to endorse Kerry, after the convention I'm sure he'll have a more defined platform on which to run--and on which to be endorsed. I hope this doesn't start a trend. Encourage people to register, definitely; that much should be automatic. But an endorsement will do Kerry a lot more good in October.

Missing the Point

Reads, Chortles, & Smirks - Why nobody's learning anything from Lynne Truss

I agree with most of what Timothy Noah has to say today about Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It's true that I learned a bit of publishing history from the book, but very little that I didn't already know about the rules of punctuation and grammar. And it's true, probably, that the most compelling reason to read the book is that it makes the punctuation-savvy reader feel good about him- or herself. If the simple rules being extolled in the book are news to you, you probably won't enjoy being insulted for your abuses of the English language, right?

But Noah goes on to suggest that readers would be better off picking up a different book, about something they know nothing about. I have to ask: Aren't the people reading Lynne Truss also the folks most likely to be reading any book? Don't you think they--we--read plenty of books about subjects we know little or nothing about? I'd like to think the reading list on the sidebar shows me to be a reader willing to learn more about a variety of topics, from sociology to autism to the history of science to media criticism to more sociology--not to mention all the new avenues of learning fiction brings into my life.

I don't think this pattern is atypical for people like me, the sort of people who are reading Truss and laughing. The book was a two-day indulgence amid a sea of learning about new topics, and Noah should acknowledge that it's a harmless and quick read for the people he's hoping will direct their reading toward topics in which they have less expertise. A 204-page book that reads as breezily as a magazine article--Noah uses the book's short stature against it--is hardly going to block me from other pursuits. Is it so terrible to, once in a great while, read something that makes me feel good about the fact that I know a lot about something?

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Undue Influence

Kerry: Bush's Vatican appeal 'inappropriate'

You're damn right it's inappropriate. Asking the Catholic Church to bring itself to bear on the issues in an election, and complaining that bishops aren't supporting his agenda of discrimination against gays and stripping choices from women, is beyond what even I would expect from George W. Bush. I knew he wasn't a smart man. I didn't know he was so thoroughly without principles.

I predict this will not cause middle-of-the-road voters to look kindly on Bush. Regardless of their position on the issues, I don't think many swing voters believe America should be lectured by the Vatican.


Bitter at the Top

I scoffed when I started reading today's David Brooks column, but--despite the partisan slant he buries in the writing--I think he may be on to something as he contemplates the thinking behind the great political divide among college-educated folk. If he is, though, these divisions run deeper than any policy issue--perhaps too deep to be overcome. Too bad Brooks offers only the observation. I'd like to see his idea for a solution.

Monday, June 14, 2004


President Bush Welcomes President Clinton and Senator Clinton

Kind words all around this morning in Washington as Bill Clinton returned to the White House to see his portrait unveiled. I may not like 43, but he is occasionally capable of gracious behavior and a humorous line or two.

Note that even the news coverage points out the disconnect between's Bush's "restore honor and dignity" rhetoric during the 2000 election and his message today.


Supreme Court Preserves 'God' in Pledge

I should be happy; the pledge doesn't impact my life, while the fate of John Kerry's bid for the presidency does, and a ruling against the pledge would surely hurt Kerry as Bush comes out swinging for God. But I can't help feeling disappointed in the Court. To dismiss a case of such controversy and importance on a technicality--that Michael Newdow's complicated custody status vis-a-vis the child whose pledging the case concerned meant that he lacked standing to bring the case--is the kind of "prudence" that usually goes by another name: cowardice.

Perhaps Breyer and Ginsburg and Stevens and Souter felt that pouncing on the opportunity to decide such an important case without Scalia would be in bad form; perhaps they, like me, believe excising two words from the pledge could cut two points--or more--from John Kerry's support in November, and they want to retire under a Democrat. At least I can revel in this: only three justices put their names to the separate opinion that the words "under God" are constitutional. That means that five didn't. And that means that, one day, this is a winnable fight.

Watching the Wheels

Hitting on all cylinders, Pistons 1 win from title

Is it just me, or did the wheels come off the Lakers last night? Even in the postgame interviews, Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson said the right things, but you could see in their posture and hear in their voices that they have an inkling that they're about to discover a new sensation: watching another team hoist the trophy right in their faces.

Of course, the Lakers could make history and come back from being down 3-1, as no team has ever done in the NBA Finals. But considering that Detroit has outplayed the Lakers in every game of the series, only losing game two because Kobe hit a fluke shot with two seconds left in regulation and owned the five-minute overtime, it's hard to imagine how Phil gets their old bones moving in a new direction that results in three straight wins. It's much easier to imagine the Pistons closing this thing out on Tuesday. My fingers are crossed.

Friday, June 11, 2004


A widow's heartfelt farewell

I've clubbed Ronald Reagan's legacy into the ground all week, and I could go on; Fred Kaplan's piece in Slate demonstrates yet another important area in which Reagan was short-sighted. But today I'd like, instead, to say how sad I am for Nancy Reagan, whose body language this week shows how devoted she was to her husband and how devastated she is to be going on without him. When I see her standing there, touching the casket that holds the man she loved for half a century, I can't help but imagine the pain I would feel in a similar circumstance. We don't agree about much, Nancy--though I'm looking forward to your advocacy for stem-cell research. But today, my heart is with you.

Music Mania

The power of a Columbia House membership is a frightening thing. It allows whim-buying of an order that I rarely achieve even in a used-CD shop; witness today's order for proof:
Modest Mouse: The Moon & Antarctica
Mandy Moore: Coverage
Billy Bragg/Wilco: Mermaid Avenue
Tori Amos: Tales Of A Librarian: A Tori Amos Collection
Alison Krauss & Union Station: Live
Stereolab: Emperor Tomato Ketchup
Toad the Wet Sprocket: P.S. (A Toad Retrospective)
Björk: Greatest Hits
Neil Young: Decade

By my count, that's nine albums and eleven discs of music, all purchased to combine the benefits of reduced shipping, a buy-two-get-five-free offer (though somehow, I'm buying two--one of which is a double album--and getting seven), and the need to complete my membership requirements after using the initial offer to get all the Bob Dylan SACDs.

Want to get in on the madness? Drop me a line and I'll even let you have some of the free CDs they'll give me when you join.

Thursday, June 10, 2004


Cooking Up Excuses With the Pentagon - How to torture alleged terrorists and get away with it

This article, by former U.S. Army officer Phillip Carter, is a good follow-up to a recent post, Least Among Us. If we stop taking things like the Geneva Conventions seriously, it will only hurt us in the end.



I'm quite disappointed that the national media haven't picked up on this effort by Catholic Senators to clarify how their positions correspond to the Church's official stances on a variety of issues. As Senator Dick Durbin explains, "Unfortunately, recent media attention has focused on one or two priorities of the Catholic Church, while obscuring others. This has made it more difficult for Catholic voters to understand the full range of issues that have been identified by the USCCB as priorities for public life. What we have done today is to use the criteria established by the U.S. Catholic Bishops to give voters an insight into the voting records of Catholic senators." Considering the cloud of coverage about this issue as it relates to Catholic John Kerry we've seen recently, you'd think this would merit a mention, wouldn't you?

Aided by a media that presents their words to a national audience, bishops and cardinals in recent months have happily declared that they will not offer communion to politicians who support a woman's right to choose; some have also said that any politician who supports gay marriage or anything like it should not be allowed to receive the sacrament. One went so far as to tell parishioners they should not present themselves for communion if they planned to vote for such a politician. Yet these bishops say nothing about politicians who support wars, the death penalty, and policies that hurt the world's poor; all of these issues are also supposed to be crucial to one's Catholic faith. Bishops of the Church have vocally supported a position that puts it distinctly on the side of Republicans when, in fact, the stated positions of the Church would favor neither party. The media should be willing to examine this fact and the reasons behind it, whatever they are. To continue to report the statements of these leaders as if they're important but treat them as unimportant by failing to do the background work they demand is not only sloppy journalism--it's an abdication of a Constitutionally-protected responsibility.

Fever Pitch

Memorializing Ronald Reagan

If this article from The Hill is to be believed, there's nothing that can stop Ronald Reagan from peering out of your wallet at you by next year. Finding an easy target in Alexander Hamilton, Reaganites have decided the $10 bill is the place for their man.

Frankly, this is good news; I don't use much cash anymore, but when I do, the ten is the bill I use the least. ATMs deliver stacks of twenties--emblazoned with Andrew Jackson, a founding Democrat with whom I also have issues related to the Trail of Tears--and if I need change for a twenty, it's likely I'm looking for fives (Lincoln--no problem there) or ones (Washington--hard to argue against him, too). Who needs a ten?

Still, Hamilton doesn't deserve this disgrace. It's bad enough he died at the hands of Aaron Burr--though being involved in a duel today would probably disqualify a man from ending up on currency. We're talking about a giant in the creation of our country, whose belief in a strong central government and a firm fiscal footing for the nation guided the nascent republic through its formative years and provided it with the structure that one day allowed it to become a world power. To replace such a man--a thinker and a doer, whose legacy as Treasury Secretary alone would be enough to warrant his inclusion in the monetary canon, to say nothing of his contributions to the Constitution's eventual shape--with a man whose basic message was that "government is bad" would be an injustice to our nation's history and a victory in a current political battle that should never be fought on such common ground as the currency we carry in our pockets. Name a highway after Reagan; name an airport, too. All presidents deserve such honors, no matter their politics, because they have served the nation in a job that takes years off of lives. But paper money is a place where we honor those who history has deemed the giants of the republic. History has not yet had time to make that decision about Reagan--and there are many of us who believe that, given time, it will not view him in the same rarefied light as the other men whose faces peek from our wallets. In a year that has seen the politics of the nation dragged ever further into the depths of ill will and distrust--witness the breaching of a gentleman's agreement in Texas to limit redistricting to once a decade, for example--let's remember that some things are rightfully kept off the table out of common decency and a recognition that we ought not do to others what we would not want done to us by our opponents if they should one day take power. (That's the basis of the Geneva Convention, too--and we've seen what some of our leaders think of that.) Would Republicans like to see Bill Clinton on money anytime soon? I think not. Don't shove Reagan into our back pockets, either.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Back in the Game

Six Feet Under just as dark as last year

The Sopranos, too, can apparently kill off someone every week--witness Adriana and Tony B.--but there's nothing quite like Six Feet Under. After seeing a bad review in EW, I'm encouraged by this more positive outlook for the season. Here's hoping that David and Keith find a way to work it out and Nate and Brenda rekindle the flames of their weird brand of love. I have no idea where the show will go this season, but I'm ready for the ride.

Great Beyond

Many Still Troubled by Reagan's Legacy

This article reminded me just how deep bad feelings against Ronald Reagan run in some places. If there is an afterlife, I wonder what Ronnie will have to say to all the people who died of AIDS during his presidency while he stood by and pretended nothing was happening because he thought doing so would help him politically.

Anyhow, here's an even deeper indictment of the man, as if you need my help finding them by now. If they don't bury Reagan soon, he's liable to be buried in the avalanche of paper being used to remind people just what he did while he was president--and why very little of it deserves our praise.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Penny Pinching

Republicans Mull Putting Reagan on Money

They had his name on a building, a ship, and an airport before he died, so it's no surprise that Republicans want Ronald Reagan's face on money now that he's gone.

Here's a surprise: I agree. Put his face on the penny. Lincoln has the five-dollar bill already, and Illinois would surely submit to having another "favorite son" on the penny. Besides, what could be more appropriate? As future generations are reduced to hoarding small change to pay their bills in the face of a national debt that will be left to them to pay off, they can look into the stacks of coins they've accumulated and see the smirk of the man whose fiscal recklessness put them in that position.

Warranted Praise

'Harry Potter' Box Office Tally Raised

I'd like to think I had a little bit to do with the $93.7 million haul for the latest Harry Potter film this weekend. At $12 a pop, a pair of IMAX tickets must really help the gross.

The movie was worth every penny. There's been a lot of hype surrounding the fact that Alfonso Cuaron directed this film, replacing Chris Columbus; the change--and its success--are evident from the opening shot of the movie, as Cuaron dives through the Warner Brothers symbol and rushes into the action. The suggestive first flicks of the wrist we see as Harry casts spells beneath his bedsheets mark a new tone for the film, and that tone carries through the film; this is still an epic fantasy series, but it now has undercurrents of seriousness and meaning, particularly as we watch Harry come to terms with who he is by learning to face the Dementors. Hermione also weaves quite a spell onscreen, both literally and figuratively. Emma Watson has the character down cold, and while Daniel Radcliffe experiences the most character growth and a fair amount of acting improvement, she's the real scene-stealer. Watch the look of recognition on her face during the time-shifting scene before she tosses the stone through the window, or the look she gives to Harry and Ron when she appears midway through a class thanks to Dumbledore's assistance. Without digging into the whole film, I think it's fair to say this is the best installment of the series so far.

A quick question: am I crazy, or did Cuaron compare Lupin's plight as a werewolf to being gay? Cuaron has explored issues of sexuality before--the threesome scene in Y Tu Mama Tambien, for instance--so I regarded Lupin's words and actions as he left Hogwarts carefully. He talked about letters flooding the school from parents who don't want their parents taught by such a "monster," and said he's used to it. He was exposed for his nighttime behavior, the content of which is something he was born with and has to make serious effort (an elixir, for one thing) to undermine. And that suitcase he was packing had some pretty fancy shoes in it. This wouldn't be the first time Harry Potter's saga has been interpreted to include a gay-related theme; A.O. Scott reads it as resembling a story of growing up gay and confused (as Harry does) and suddenly discovering that there's a whole other world filled with people like you (the wizarding world, for Harry). I wonder if Cuaron knew of this interpretation and thought it would be sly to include his own show of sympathy in the film?

Fire With Facts

MSNBC - Altercation

As the lovefest for Reagan enters a third day, there's a clear undercurrent; historians have had a chance to take a look back and realized that much of the Reagan worship portrayed in the media runs contrary to reality, and that his stated ambitions as president failed to match his actions on a regular basis. While there are plenty of articles about this to choose from--apparently every newspaper, knowing this day would come, has been getting ready to offer a somewhat balanced picture of the Reagan years--Eric Alterman's blog today marshals some nice facts, including the fact that Bill Clinton--who, time will show, history will judge the more successful president--was more popular than Reagan. Republicans, it turns out, aren't more prevalent, or more popular--they're just louder.

Monday, June 07, 2004


Not Even a Hedgehog - The Stupidity of Ronald Reagan

Is it unconscionable that I wasn't terribly sad to hear that Ronald Reagan--the President who replied to my letter when I was eight years old by sending a glossy mini-magazine about the White House--died on Saturday? For all the worship he receives from the general public, most pundits seem to acknowledge that he was in many ways inept and that he created the modern-day, deficit-spending, government-averse Republican party. (William Saletan's explanation of "Reagan's Law" is brilliant.)

So I pretty much think the guy was a buffoon, but that's not why I wasn't especially sad; I'm patriotic enough that I'd be sad to see even our current buffoon drop dead. I'm just glad that Reagan was able to die without suffering any longer, and hopeful that he didn't really know what was happening anymore when he passed on. On a more cynical note, his timing is better than I expected; I thought he would die sometime in October, three or four days after they parade Bin Laden out of the Oval Office and two weeks before the election, just in time to cancel a couple of the debates. (Howard Fineman argues that Reagan's death is good for Bush, but it would have been almost inarguably better for him to give the eulogy at an October 30 funeral. Can you imagine a better way for Bush to suddenly appear to rise above the fray of the campaign and invoke his ties to a man who, right or wrong, some folks believe belongs on Mount Rushmore?)

Republican revisionists aside, history will not be kind to Reagan; in the right place at the right time to watch the Cold War end, he accomplished precious little else during his eight years in office--unless ballooning the debt or lying to Congress about selling weapons to revolutionaries counts as achievement. I hope his soul lingers this week, suddenly restored to the lucidity he possessed back when he was president (of the Screen Actors Guild, not the United States--he surely wasn't with it by then), able to hear the kind words that will be heaped on him by those who fetishize him because he seemed able to smile through anything. And I hope, out of kindness, that his soul flees the scene on Saturday. This campaign season will see his ideas excoriated for the fluff and pandering they were during his presidency and remain as carried on by Bush, and teachers in future classrooms will no doubt heap something quite unlike praise upon the man as they explain to their pupils how he started the chain reaction that allowed them to be born indebted for the sins and spending of their fathers. It already worked that way in the Bible. Reagan made sure it worked that way in America, too.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Enlightened Philosophy

Bushido:The Way of the Armchair Warrior

This week's Shouts and Murmurs in the New Yorker is priceless. Who knew that there was a coherent philosophy behind everything the Bush Administration does? Once we all learn to think like armchair warriors, we'll understand that anything is possible--once you abandon reason, logic, and basic math.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Least Among Us

It's Not the American Way

There's so much going on in Washington these days--George Bush is even hiring a lawyer to help him fend off the investigators looking into who leaked Valerie Plame's name, while CIA head George Tenet is resigning--that it's easy to ignore the recent release of more information about the case against Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen--like me and, more than likely, you--who has been held without trial for two years and who allegedly confessed to several terrorist plots under these conditions--without a lawyer present, because until this March, he wasn't allowed to have one. Fortunately, Richard Cohen is paying attention in the article linked above.

As Dahlia Lithwick points out, it no longer matters what Padilla did or did not do. The government cannot bring his case to court using the evidence it has because that evidence was obtained unconstitutionally--under duress, without a lawyer present, without informing the "defendant" of his right to remain silent.

In the mania that followed September 11, a lot of things happened that would never have taken place in saner times. The Patriot Act's privacy-invading provisions, random searches of old women in airports, and unlimited detention of prisoners without formal charges or even information about their whereabouts for loved ones--these are not hallmarks of the American system. Timothy Noah may be right: "Let America be America again" may be a dud of a slogan for John Kerry's campaign. But in the face of these sorts of affronts to our constitution--and that is what they are, as Cohen and Lithwick clearly show--it's hard not to appreciate the sentiment.

Weekend Agenda

Lightning Strikes

It's only Thursday morning, but thanks to a "flexible schedule," my thoughts are turning toward the weekend--and toward finally seeing the third Harry Potter movie. Can the hype be true? Early reviews indicate that Alfonso Cuaron (of Y Tu Mama Tambien fame) has brought an adult touch to the film, with details like the one mentioned in the first paragraph of the linked article showing the ways that our heroes are growing up and a darkness that makes the third film more exciting and action-packed than the first two. Something tells me this isn't going to be the feel-good romp that the first movie was, but I anticipate leaving the theater more thrilled than by either of the first two films. It sounds like someone has finally captured the breathless feeling of reading the books and translated it to the screen, and that should make for a memorable weekend indeed.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Dark Lining

The Onion | Gay Couple Feels Pressured To Marry

Leave it to the Onion to find the dark lining to the silver cloud of legalized marriage for gays and lesbians. Even I have been on the receiving end of some of the questions posed in this article since the Massachusetts revolution last November. Which is all fine and dandy and makes me feel good, but still--who knew not answering nagging questions like "When are you going to get married?" was a side benefit of being gay?

Land of Lincoln

Abolish the Penny

Finally, William Safire and I agree about something. The man who has spent months attempting to persuade us all that everything is wonderful in Iraq finally takes a break today to say something that makes sense: It's high time we stop making pennies. I don't know if his inspiration was a West Wing rerun or a bad experience in line at 7/11; either way, he's right about several things, including these two: (1) We'd save a great deal of time if we didn't have to wait in line behind people fishing their pockets and purses for pennies, and (2) We'd save a great deal of money when all the prices set a penny below the dollar ($9.99 and the like) dropped to a nickel below the dollar ($9.95 and such).

Of course, I view the elimination of the penny as a stopgap on the path toward a cashless society, which I hope I live to see. But all great change starts small--except the penny, which used to be worth a piece of gum and today isn't worth much of anything. It's time to change our change.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Reversal of Fortune

Dooh Nibor Economics

If only you could argue like Paul Krugman does and get away with it, John Kerry. You'd win this election in a walk! Today's Krugman column offers a sound bite that could really resonate with the public--Robin Hood in reverse--if only the Republicans wouldn't cry out, "Class warfare!" However true it may be, you don't often gain points in an election by shouting, "He started it!" Nevertheless, this is a point that needs to be made: the Bush policies pit the rich against the rest and undermine the fiscal and political stability of the country. Deficits as far as the eye can see and a vast class of the citizenry developing a deep (and increasingly warranted) disdain for those who control the machinery of capitalism--what does that sound like a recipe for to you?