Tuesday, August 31, 2004
For all my Gmailing friends, here's a helpful tool that alerts you when you have Gmail! No more checking every hour--or is that just me?
If you don't have Gmail, Google's version of e-mail with a full gigabyte of storage space and a better way of organizing messages, and you wish you did, e-mail me at RMN21879@gmail.com. I've got six invites to dole out.
I've been pondering it for weeks, and Julia Turner hits the nail on the head here. Why do I want to like Laura Bush in spite of her husband, and why do I lately find myself instead looking at her and seeing that same evil grin I often see George wearing?
It's because she's been, willfully or not, leading liberal America on for four years. As Turner points out, Laura's image as a librarian makes liberals swoon, and when our fears of George are at their worst, we want to believe that a reader like Laura couldn't possibly have married someone as dimwitted as George seems. Through her, he gains hidden depths. We've never seen them, but we believe they exist because, well, why else would this nice lady marry this seemingly incompetent baboon?
Lately, though, I've been looking at the things Laura Bush says in interviews and realizing that she's not the saving grace we've all been hoping she is. She may make calculated deviations from the party line to make her husband seem moderate, but in the end she's a marketing tool whose complicity in her husband's potential reelection can't be excused. I'm sure her speech tonight will be more of the same pablum about what a strong and decisive leader he is and what courage he showed by shaping up at age 40, under threat of divorce, and then getting his hands on the Texas Rangers using money gained from his family name and an insider deal, converting that interest in the Rangers into a greater amount of money by getting Arlington taxpayers to foot the bill for a stadium, and using his newfound fame and, again, his family name to become governor of Texas. OK, she may focus more on how he turned to Jesus to save himself from--well, she won't say what, though one gets the feeling he had a taste not only for the drink but also for nose candy back in the day. Through it all, by being married to Laura, George has made himself look acceptable, because how can we believe that such a seemingly great gal would marry a heartless dunce?
Believe it, and don't trust a word she says about how great her husband is. Smart women marry idiots all the time. There's no reason to pretend that's not the case here.
[Update: Still don't believe? Check out this scary-looking photo of Laura with the twins...]
Judging by the prominence of the placement of this story on the major media sites, no one really wants to tackle it; they're happy to bury the AP report somewhere on their site, but nothing more. Why not? A Republican who supported the Federal Marriage Amendment drops his reelection bid in the face of a tape of him calling a gay sex line trying to meet another man for a casual encounter and that's not news, but when a group of veterans puts together a smear campaign to bring down a fellow vet they can dominate the news cycle for more than a week? There are a variety of rules for deciding when something is newsworthy, I know, but whether something is true or not undoubtedly ranks near the top. You'd think that in the wake of the McGreevey affair this would be considered a pretty big deal--yet another politician forced to leave office because he might be gay. Rather than dealing with the allegations, as McGreevey did, Rep. Ed Shrock is simply dropping his Congressional career. Isn't that kind of response to the mere suggestion that you're gay worthy of at least a link on CNN's home page?
Something tells me Shrock won't be the last "outing" of this campaign. These things come in threes...
Monday, August 30, 2004
E.J. Dionne Jr. shares my skepticism about Dick Cheney's sudden discovery of his heart last week at a moment that perfectly coincided with the adoption of the harshest anti-gay platform the Republicans could have conceivably written. He uses the synchronicity of the two events to discuss his own feelings on gay marriage and, more specifically, those of his Catholic mother after she discovered that her godson is gay. As Dionne says,
When my mother discovered my cousin was gay--she was, I think, early among the relatives to know this--she not only accepted the fact, she embraced him and his partner. And she became a committed supporter of gay rights simply because she believed that any attack on gays constituted an attack on her godson.That story, for me, is the reason why my side of this issue will eventually win the day. I expect nothing less from my own family members than Dionne's cousin got from his, and in a world where more and more gay people are out to their families, it's harder and harder to imagine that intolerance will remain a politically expedient message very far into the future. As the Republican Convention dawns today, that's a reason to have hope.
This satire from Michael Kinsley sums up rather nicely just how ludicrous it is that the ads and assertions of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are being treated like one side of a two-sided debate where the facts are unclear. As many newspapers have now pointed out editorially, the group differs from all the other 527 groups that George W. Bush so loathes because, in addition to making personal attacks on someone's record, it does so using lies rather than uncomfortable truths. At least the Republican convention will distract people from this whole sordid affair; hopefully by the time Bush accepts the nomination the focus will be back on the issues. This election is too important to fritter it away dealing with time-wasting smears.
Saturday, August 28, 2004
I am writing to ask that you remove my name from your volunteer list. Please allow me to explain.
I support your candidacy because I believe strongly that Phil Crane should be replaced and that, given the choice, a Democrat is nearly always a better option than a Republican. For that reason, I will keep your sign on my lawn and vote for you in November.
However, as a gay man who contemplates daily what would happen if my partner were in a car accident, or how we can structure our finances to buy a home together that we both own, I cannot actively support a candidate with your position on gay marriage. Perhaps if you faced the difficult issues that we must face on a day-to-day basis you would understand how important legal protections are and how urgently our cause needs a voice from outside our community--a voice that it is within your power to provide.
I understand that opposing gay marriage is a sound political strategy in the 8th District, and I cannot blame you for it--not enough to withold my vote, in any case. But I hope that in your heart you understand the importance of this issue to the gay people in your district and to the people who love us. This may not be the sort of issue that wins you an election, but it is an issue that offers you the opportunity to demonstrate political and moral courage by standing up for the rights of a group of people who are denied those rights for reasons that, decades from now, will be thought as arbitary as the once widely-accepted reasons for condoning slavery or denying interracial marriages are considered today. It is also an issue so important to me that I cannot, in good conscience, call people and convince them to vote for you when my own feelings are mixed.
I wish you well and hope to celebrate your victory in November. I hope also that time and reflection will bring to you a change of heart on this important issue that will make a victory for you something more than a Pyrrhic victory for me.
Richard Nelson, future constituent
[Update: I got a call from Melissa Bean's campaign manager. He is openly gay, and says that her full position--which is not detailed on her campaign site or by PVS--is that gays and lesbians should be able to have all the rights and benefits of marriage, such as hospital visitation and Social Security. She cannot support using the word "marriage" to describe these benefits, however.
Her campaign manager stressed that he believes Melissa will be a friend in Washington. I hope that he is right. Will I volunteer for Melissa between now and Election Day? That's something I need to ponder. Feel free to offer your thoughts.]
Thursday, August 26, 2004
It's another short week for me, which means another long weekend without posts for you. But I leave you with a piece, above, that Slate calls "low concept" but which strikes me, ironically, as perhaps the highest concept I've read about during these many months of slogging through campaign coverage. Don't worry; I'm not going soft on you. I'll be back Monday to flog McCain and Bush for failing to understand the meaning of the First Amendment and that you combat speech that's wrong with speech that's right, not by silencing everyone. But it's nice to remember, once in a while, that most of us are going through the world and trying to do the right thing.
Enjoy the article, and have a great weekend.
There was a moment, reading this "breakout book of 2004," when I put it down next to me and said out loud, to no one, "I really hate these people. They're despicable." And many of the characters in Langer's first novel seem, at first, to be truly terrible people. But by the end, I felt sympathy for, or even empathy with, nearly all of them.
This is a "big" novel, in the vein of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, tying a set of characters to a larger set of circumstances. (It's not as long as Franzen's "big" book, though--at 420 pages, with smooth writing, it coasts by quickly.) Langer's framework is more defined than Franzen's; he fits the action of his novel into the 444-day hostage crisis in Iran, ending it on the day Ronald Reagan took office. In those 444 days, the characters all experience major events, including a move from one part of a Jewish neighborhood to another, better one--or out of the neighborhood altogether. The characters are representatives of three tiers of a microcosm for society as a whole, each struggling to advance. Married doctors struggle to send their kids to the right schools and find happiness in a worn-out marriage; a widower struggles to maintain a middle-class lifestyle for his motherless daughters; and a single mother and her son attempt to take care of one another. (In one of the novel's most touching subplots, the son does odd jobs to accumulate enough money to send his mom back to college so she can fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher.)
Like Corrections, though, this novel often inspires antipathy for its characters and rueful thoughts about the realistic situations that transpire. It examines the impact of psychology, divorce, religion, capitalism, and even pornography on a culture, doing so at first through the eyes of the children but eventually giving the adults and their needs and wants a fair share of attention as well.
This is not a perfect novel; in places it feels over-written, and at times Langer would be better served by getting out of the way of his characters rather than narrating their conversations. The ending, while it ties things together neatly, does seem to rely on one coincidence too many to deliver the requisite warm feelings for all the characters. Still, this is a dynamite first novel, broad in scope and laser-focused on the feelings and changes of its characters and, by extension, a nation in transition. I look forward to good things from Adam Langer.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Remember when I asked how many of the G.O.P. delegates are secretly gay? It looks like the answer is "at least 12." Well, I suppose there's no way to know that for sure. But something tells me that the 12 G.O.P. delegates who bought discount tickets to "Naked Boys Singing" before the Republican National Committee declared the show unfit for Republican consumption are G.A.Y.
I hope, by the way, that this was said with irony:
The show's producer, Carl White, said the RNC's decision to drop the show runs counter to the reasons Republicans chose New York to host the convention in the first place.
"It's very disappointing to us," said White. "They say they picked us because of our equality, our diversity, our culture."
If you believe that, Carl, I've got a 9/11 memorial on some swampland that I'd like to sell to you. And here's a friendly bit of advice--you should do some more aggressive marketing. I was in New York for four days, and I had NO IDEA your show was running. Not that I'd have seen it anyway, right? I recommend a billboard right outside Madison Square Garden that looks something like this:
I hate to admit this, because over the past week I've really enjoyed watching the gymnastics competitions, but the article above is probably right. You couldn't watch the way the judging in these events worked and not question how this could be called a sport. On the biggest stage in the world, the judges elbowed out the competitors on an almost daily basis. First there were the altered start values for the high bar routines of two American men, which led to an ugly fall from the bar for one of them that knocked the Americans out of the top spot and knocked him out of the next rotation. Then the same judges who had stolen tenths from the Americans pre-emptively on the high bar took them quietly away from a South Korean on parallel bars, making Paul Hamm's all-around gold medal feel more like a cheap piece of tinfoil-covered chocolate hanging around his neck. Then they gave Svetlana Khorkina an excuse to question their judging by conferring for what seemed like twenty minutes before announcing any of her scores--as if she needed a reason to pout. And as if they hadn't caused enough problems, on the final night the judges were at it again, giving Alexei Nemov a ridiculously low score for a high bar routine that was a revelation of all that high bar could be, then raising it ever-so-slightly when the crowd refused to sit down and shut up.
And those are just the problems I gleaned from home over the course of a week. As Josh Belzman points out in the article, the fact that the athletes themselves don't know who will win or lose until the judges inform them is telling. A rational observer--say, their coach--should be able to tell a gymnast the moment they step off the apparatus what score they should expect. Not a wide range--the score. If it's an objective sport, as it purports to be, a routine with a start value of 9.9 that featured perfect execution except right there should have a corresponding final score, not a range from 9.5 to 9.8, and, by the way, if there's a tie, the guy whose score caused the most disagreement among the judges gets the medal. (That's what happened to poor Morgan Hamm on high bar. He tied for third and got nothing, a fact most newspaper and TV coverage has ignored because they can't explain it. Here's the explanation: more of the judges gave the other guy a higher score--but because they tied, that means more of the judges also gave the other guy a lower score to arrive at the averahe score he was awarded. The judges all agreed on the quality of Morgan's performance, though, so he gets to stare at twin brother Paul's silver medal, also the result of a tiebreaker.)
All of this is crazy talk. Sure, football games occasionally get decided on an abberant holding penalty or pass interference call, but you expect that over time it all works out, the referees do their best, and the better team wins. A runner might get called out at second when the replay shows he's safe, or the umpire might call a ball strike three. But again, over time there's an expectation that the better team will emerge with the victory. The same is true for basketball, hockey, running, swimming--all the things we think of when we think of sports. But there's no "over time" in gymnastics--the Olympics are the main event, and the judges aren't just there to make sure the athletes follow the rules: they're deciding, actively, who wins and who loses. If there's absolutely no transparency behind how those decisions are made, then Belzman is right: this is not an Olympic sport we're watching, it's just a circus with prizes.
This morning's Note suggests two questions that Dick Cheney better get ready to answer now that the cat's out of the bag regarding his disagreement with President Bush on gay marriage:
1. Mr Cheney, it is not like you and the president disagree on gas prices--some people see this as a fundamental and very personal issue. Are you saying you will support your boss even though he wants to discriminate against your daughter as long as you are confident that the effort will fail? Are you aware that yours and the presidents re-election supporters have said they won't give up on this issue no matter what happens in Congress this year?Seems reasonable to me. Meanwhile, the debate over whether this is intended to reassure moderate voters that they can back Bush or represents the honest answer of a man who slipped momentarily into his role as a concerned father continues. Based on the question Cheney was asked, as quoted here, it's hard to see this a political, as I first thought:
2. Mr. Cheney, what would you say to other families who don't want their loved ones to face the proposal being pushed by the president? Vote for us anyway because the president will drop it next year? Vote for us because other issues are more important? What would you say to those families?
Cheney spoke in response to a questioner who asked, “I would like to know, sir, from your heart--I don't want to know what your advisers say, or even what your top adviser thinks--but I need to know: What do you think about homosexual marriages?”Will this have an impact on the party as a whole? Doubtful. But at least it puts the issue back on the table in a more positive light. Here's hoping Cheney gets those two questions above at one of his town hall meetings and has to answer them. I'd love to hear him denounce his own crazy supporters. Better yet, it would be great to hear him tell the crowd that if he weren't on the ticket and still had a gay family member, he'd vote for the other guy, too.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
So it begins. The Bush-Cheney campaign had to eventually start moving toward the center in preparation for November, and apparently now they're going to try to do it.
Dick Cheney acknowledged that his daughter, Mary, is gay, something he and Lynne have often hesitated to do in public. He said, "Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue our family is very familiar with. With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is freedom means freedom for everyone ... People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to." Cheney went on to talk about reserving marriage for the states and why Bush supported a constitutional amendment.
I'm glad Dick is ready to play the friendly dad and chat about his daughter, but this really doesn't change anything of substance. He thinks people ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship. Does he think they should be free from the fear that they will lose their job or their housing for doing so? Does he think they should pay higher taxes for less benefits because they do so? Does he think they should worry that they will be unable to visit a partner in the hospital because the government does not recognize their relationship?
If he wants to talk about this issue, Dick Cheney should talk about the very real problems that face gay Americans and how he proposes to solve those problems. Freedom to have a relationship with anyone doesn't mean anything when you're fighting with a hospital administrator or losing your house because you can't inherit your partner's share of your home without paying enormous taxes on it. Just because Cheney thinks this is a matter for the states to solve doesn't mean he should get a pass on suggesting how they should solve it. If he really thinks this issue is important--and since it's in the family, he ought to--he should be willing to talk about the protections he thinks states should offer to his daughter and others like her.
It's a hell of a bully pulpit you've got there, Mr. Cheney. You're brave enough to use it to start a war or savage your opponents--but do you have the guts to use it to make life better for your own child?
This dissection of President Bush's moral cowardice strikes me as spot-on, and if John Kerry adopts this as his modus operandi for framing everything that Bush has done since becoming president, I think he wins in a walk.
I've been thinking about how much this election matters to me quite a bit lately. My friend Paul wrote something in an e-mail the other day that I think bears repeating: "The real reason I don't want [Bush] to win is that it's fundamentally against what I teach my kids and what I grew up believing. Namely that if you are a genuine, compassionate person most of the time and do the right thing within the rules, your reward will be greater than that of those who manipulate and lie and act selfishly. Basically, Bush winning upsets my whole worldview."
That statement may not fully explain the anger at Bush that so many people today feel, but it seems like a good start to me. Beyond his policies, beyond his henchmen, beyond his personal idiosyncrasies that drive his detractors crazy, there's this nagging feeling that Bush is running around the country claiming to be every good thing that his administration is not. From the very beginning, he trumpeted himself as a compassionate conservative. Translation: I'll spend less than a Democrat, but no one will get hurt as a result. The real result, of course, bears so little resemblance to that promise that it sounds like a joke--and indeed, that's how focus groups sometimes react to a straightforward description of a Bush policy: They don't believe it. The results of Bush policy are 180 degrees from the compassionate conservatism he sold: less jobs, less help for those who need it, and far more spending. He manipulated the electorate with a catchy slogan, lied about the impact of his tax cuts, and selfishly handed our nation's surplus--and, with it, our future fiscal footing--to his biggest campaign contributors.
Because all of this is true, any way you spin it, and because his administration has quietly but effectively worked to change regulations that protect workers (the overtime law, ergonomics rules), the environment (Clear Skies Initiative, anyone? Kyoto?), and consumers from the excesses of the titans of capitalism, and because he also wishes to rewrite both the tax code and the social contract to reflect a "money belongs with the rich" philosophy that values wealth but not work--because of all this, the fact that Bush still stands a chance this November, and will almost certainly garner nearly 50 million votes, does more than upset me. It forces me to question the wisdom of everyone around me. On what grounds does someone argue for another four years of this? How can there be 50 million people who will show up on November 2 and pull the lever for this man and for the policies he's shown himself to favor? How can America even be contemplating another four years of motives so vile they can be hidden in plain sight because no one will believe them when they're discovered? Is this what we want our children to learn?
And have no doubt, they will learn. They'll learn that if you lie big enough no one can call you on it, and that if your ideas sound crazy or craven enough, no one will believe you think them, no matter what the evidence says. They'll learn that when you win, no matter what tactics you use to win, even if you call a hero a terrorist, your first priority should be to collect what's due to you--and you should never worry about those you've defeated. They'll learn that you should never, ever, ever apologize for anything. They'll learn that if you pretend to be something people like, you can sneak through all manner of things of which those people would never approve if they had the time to understand them. These are not just the ingredients of a bad citizen--they're the makings of a disobedient and dreadful child. Is that really the choice 50 million Americans want to make again, knowing now what we could not know then, that this man who claimed to be a compassionate conservative would turn out to be a role model for spoiled brats everywhere? If it is, well, that really upsets my worldview.
One of the great failings of "objective reporting" is that when someone lies in a newsworthy way, you have to report what they say. There's very little way to make it apparent to readers that the person in question is lying through his teeth without losing objectivity. Such is the case with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth; they're all saying things that are patently untrue, yet the media is obliged to report what they say because it is, in every sense of the word, news.
Applause to the LA Times for saying in print that this news is also a boatload of crap. Here's hoping John Kerry's attempt today to move on from this bunch of nonsense to the real issues of the campaign will work. As Kerry put it:
"The Bush campaign and its allies have turned to the tactics of fear and smear because they can’t talk about jobs, health care, energy independence, and rebuilding our alliances – the real issues that matter to the American people. They have no plans, no positive vision and no understanding of an urgent and undeniable truth--a stronger America begins at home."
Monday, August 23, 2004
Good friend, indeed. Maybe Dole should remember that Kerry is running against the son of a man that Dole doesn't particularly like. Or that Kerry volunteered to be in a position to be wounded three times in the first place.
In any case, what's next? Will we start rehashing the Spanish-American War? Perhaps we can start debating slavery again and turn back the clock to the Civil War--oh, wait. Alan Keyes says we already are, because the abortion debate is really about slavery. (He's down 41 points, though, so I guess what he thinks isn't terribly important to this election.)
Please, candidates, can we talk about the issues of OUR time? Bush, if you want to fundamentally change the way we pay our nation's bills, say so, and explain why you think it's the right way. I may not agree, but I'll listen to that. Kerry, if you think you can prosecute a more efficient war on terror, explain why, and people will listen. Elections have been mudslinging fests for years, but isn't this election important enough to actually debate ideas rather than dental records and the depth of shrapnel in a man's leg? I don't care if Bush was in Alabama or what Kerry did in the Mekong Delta; I care what either of them will do if we give them four years to run the country. I don't think I'm alone in this. Hasn't Bush won enough from this little feud? He never fought, yet he's the one whose partisans have turned Vietnam into a campaign issue. He should call a truce while he's ahead and spare the nation a gutter game that threatens to sink our politics even deeper into the mire. If he does, even I will have to admit that he did the right thing--and the smart thing, by forcing Kerry to stop using the smears against John McCain to tar Bush. We'll know soon enough. [Update: Bush wants ALL ads from independent groups, from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to MoveOn.org, to stop, saying they're bad for the system. I wonder how Kerry will respond to this? He's got a lot of big money behind him right now, but those Republican fringe groups can scare up cash in a hurry...]
Thank goodness there are only 71 more days of this. I don't know how much more I can take.
As if the U.S. political landscape weren't already littered with the detritus of Vietnam, now the primary fictional political realm of the land will be littered with memories of a fictional Korea. In what Brian must consider wonderful news, a sputtering West Wing is bringing on Alan Alda as--what else?--a Republican with presidential aspirations. Let me say this now, loud and clear: I will not continue to watch this train wreck of a TV show if they try to carry it on with a new (Republican) president. The show ends when Bartlet's done. And, if they don't get their act together, maybe sooner...
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Anyone who doubts that the institutional Catholic Church is a bit too intolerant of change should read the article above. No contraception--fine. Marriage for straights only--OK. No abortion or euthanasia--got it. I can understand all of these positions, even as I disagree with all of them. But no communion unless you can stomach wheat? This is a bit too heartless even for the Pope.
Don't believe me? Take it from eight-year-old Haley, who says, "I'm on a gluten-free diet because I can’t have wheat. I could die." In the face of this, her mother's reaction strikes me as a bit silly: "I'm hopeful. Do I think it will be a long road to change? Yes. But I’m raising an awareness and I’m taking it one step at a time."
That's crazy. This is all crazy. Now I say sacrament, schmacrament, but this little girl clearly wants to participate in the traditions of her family's church, and I think we can all understand that. To tell her she's not really doing so because the communion wafer might kill her is cruel.
Not enough? Fine. I leave you with this gem:
The church has similar rules for Communion wine. For alcoholics, the church allows a substitute for wine under some circumstances, however the drink must still be fermented from grapes and contain some alcohol. Grape juice is not a valid substitute.Something tells me we're at the end of the line for Catholicism.
A week ago at this time I was seeing the first stunned posts indicating the Governor McGreevey was about to shock New Jersey and the world with his announcement. Years ago that wouldn't be nearly enough time to look back and reflect, but with the news cycle of today that week feels like a lifetime. So it seems appropriate, today, to look at the reaction of someone who understands all too well what it can mean for a man to suppress his homosexuality: Arianna Huffington, whose former husband did just that.
Huffington gets it. She asks an important question in the wake of the resignation: "What if the world were a more welcoming place where gay people could have in their lives all the 'good things' and the 'right things' without having to pretend they're straight?" She quickly expands on this question, moving from McGreevey's situation to that of many gay men and women in America:
But even if Jim McGreevey did not want to hold public office, if he just wanted a marriage and children--natural urges, perhaps as powerful as the sexual one--the easiest (and indeed the only legal way) to do so remains opting for a heterosexual relationship. So the human costs we only got a glimpse of on Thursday--a shattered marriage, the anguish inflicted on his parents, his wife, his daughters--are not just the result of his personal choices but of the roadblocks society continues to place in the path of the complete acceptance of gay men and women.Huffington uses the event to call for a development that she and I both know is still some time away: "So until the final curtain falls, let’s seize the moment to reaffirm, loudly and without reservation, that to be gay is to be normal--whether you’re a governor or a gardener, a public figure or a very private one." Perhaps one day this optimistic call will be answered, but for now we live in a world where most politicians of the homosexual variety suppress the truth--and a great many openly gay people with much to contribute to the political process opt out of it because their sexuality might disqualify them in the eyes of some voters. I know I viewed my coming out as the death knell for any political ambitions, though events since have given me some hope that one day I might sit on a city council or village board and contribute to my community. But that day is still a far-off hope, not a reality to be taken for granted. If we can learn that from McGreevey's coming out, and work to make things different for those who come after him, we'll have made some decent lemonade out of this bitter lemon.
There's plenty of serious stuff going on today, but you deserve a bit of frivolity, right? The bear in this article sounds suspiciously like Homer Simpson in a bear costume, particularly as he was caught by using doughnuts, honey, and beer as bait.
Anyhow, I didn't post yesterday because I was at the company picnic. Afterward I spent five hours making phone calls for Melissa Bean, the Democrat running to replace Phil Crane in the 8th District in Illinois. My calls revealed a lot of people who are ready to dump Crane; after 35 years of ineffectiveness, I guess that shouldn't come as a surprise. An article in this morning's Daily Herald showed that yesterday's debate between the two candidates demonstrated that Bean is a better fit for the district, but the paper hasn't put the article online. You'll hear more about Bean, though; her race may be the only close one in Illinois this fall, and it represents one of a few opportunities for Democrats to pick up a seat in the House. I'll be doing what I can to help make it happen.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
E.J. Dionne, Jr., raises excellent points in this column about how John Kerry should be hammering away at Bush about his hidden-in-plain-sight belief that the tax system should favor millionaires. Dionne also notes that the Bush campaign has now resorted to calling Kerry a flip-flopper for standing by his vote on the war, which hardly makes sense.
Kerry isn't playing the game the way Dionne would like him to, which raises questions about what he plans to do between now and November. Thus far, it appears his strategy is to stand to the side and watch Bush's death spiral. Can this work? Can Kerry just wait for Bush to self-destruct and make plans for his inauguration between campaign stops?
I'd like to believe that anti-Bush sentiment is fevered enough to ensure a Kerry victory even if he remains silent from now to Election Day, but it's apparent to me that he'll have to climb down from his lofty perch and actually engage Bush again before this campaign is over. When he does, I hope Kerry is wise enough to take Dionne's advice and explain why his tax plan is better than the one Bush has been sneaking through since he came into office. When Kerry gets into office, he needs to have a mandate to start fixing things.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Nicholson Baker's latest book is likely to be one of the most-discussed tomes of the season because he has chosen a subject sure to attract attention: killing the president. The short novel (it weighs in at only 115 pages) is a transcript of a hotel-room discussion between two people, Ben and Jay, about the wisdom of assassinating George W. Bush. Jay contends that Bush deserves to die for what he has done in Iraq, among other things; Ben, called by Jay to help him with an undescribed situation, finds himself fending off these arguments with the notion that this violence will only beget more violence.
Baker's book is, it should be said, not terribly good. The writing is smooth and the characters and their relationship to one another are revealed through their dialogue, and Baker has brought together an interesting hodgepodge of facts to create Jay's argument for his plan. But Baker has also taken the easy way out by making Jay clearly deranged. Ben's task in the novel is not to argue that Bush deserves to live but to argue instead that his death would do no good, and while that may provide a fleeting thrill to Bush-bashers everywhere--"You can't even argue against the idea that he deserves it!"--it's actually a disservice to the reader. No one even tries to defend Bush, making the book as unbalanced as its main character, and even I can see that this is a flaw. I may disagree with everything Bush has ever done, but I'd still give him a lawyer if he were on trial for his life. Baker doesn't.
Well, here's as good a reason as any other to believe this is Kerry's race to lose, as many pundits have decided of late. According to the article, every winner of the presidency has been the man whose blood is more blue. Whlie this is both stunning and somehow plausible, I have to question it: What about rematches? John Adams and Thomas Jefferson ran against one another twice, with different results in 1796 than in 1800; Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland also waged two battles, with Harrison ousting the incumbent in the first (despite losing the popular vote) and Cleveland returning for a second stint in office after besting Harrison in their second electoral duel. Maybe the study counts only the first winner?
In any case, I find it particularly interesting--albeit completely irrelevant to anything important in the election--that researcher Harold Brooks-Baker says, "Every maternal blood line of Kerry makes him more royal than any previous American president." Also that he's a distant relative of Richard the Lionhearted. Does this mean that Sean Connery (who played Richard in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) will join Kerry on the campaign trail?
Friday, August 13, 2004
Yesterday was an interesting day to be gay. The morning brought the expected bad news from California that 4,000 couples were no longer married as the California Supreme Court invalidated all the licenses given by San Francisco to same-sex couples during February and March. That, it seemed, was enough to chew on for one day, but around 2:30 Wonkette suddenly had a post about Governor McGreevey in New Jersey that seemed to indicate things were about to get hairy.
And hairy they got, as you no doubt know by now. I thought McGreevey's speech was a good one under the circumstances, perhaps better on video than on paper. And while the pundits on Hardball were anxious last night to contemplate whether Republicans should demand an earlier resignation and an election rather than standing by and letting McGreevey pass his office on to another Democrat for the remaining year of his term, I don't think that's the most important issue this morning. (He did the right thing, though; in such a moment of shock, the last thing New Jersey needs is a rapid-fire election that would surely create quite a furor.) What I couldn't stop thinking about was his poor wife, who stood by his side but will surely be facing him in a courtroom proceeding, hopefully a friendly one, very soon. She had to have known this about her husband, right? There must have been some sort of understanding, right? They have a young child; how will they handle this new reality in light of their parental responsibilities?
For all of that, I must confess that I'm impressed by what McGreevey did. Yes, he did it because the threat of a lawsuit pushed him forward, but he managed to keep it under wraps until an hour before he made his announcement, and while his motives are questionable, he certainly did what he thought was best for the state; he could have stuck it out in office and dragged the state through the mud. And McGreevey looked so relieved as he stood there, telling the world the truth about what he had done and who he is. The look on his face and the seeming weight lifted from his shoulders as he owned up to reality was the best advertisement for coming out I've seen in years. Were it not for all the other corruption and scandal surrounding his administration, I'd be sad to see him resign; as it stands, I hope he finds peace in his future and happiness in his late start on a new life.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
I feel mixed emotions as I read about the ratings and creative difficulties that have NBC execs thinking about pulling one of my favorite shows from the air after this year. Part of me wants to say "I told you so" because I knew losing Aaron Sorkin would hurt the show. Another part of me wants to cheer this possibility because I could reclaim another free hour on Wednesday nights during a time when I'll probably be busy with grad school. Yet another part of me could care less because I've been spoiled by the quality programming on HBO and no longer live or die by this old standby.
Still, there is a tiny part of me that hates the idea that The West Wing might die, even if the sentiments of this paragraph from the article linked above are true:
True, true, all too true. C.J. was obnoxious this year, Leo's behavior made me want to throw John Wells out a window, and Josh became, as the Times notes, insufferable. Abby annoyed me, Bartlet annoyed me, Toby annoyed me. The whole Will working for the VP thing was silly. And sending Donna to Gaza, nearly killing her, letting a beloved character like Fitzwallace die in service of a stupid plot development--all of these are reasons to rejoice that WW might bite the dust.
In Mr. Wells's first year the ratings dropped even further. Instead of the stylized rapid-fire dialogue created by Mr. Sorkin for White House figures on the edge of personal or political crises, the series turned contrived and convoluted, critics said. Some White House staff members, already smug in the Sorkin years, turned insufferable. The series, which had confined itself almost entirely to the White House in its early years, branched out into plots involving terrorism and foreign intrigue.
Still, I hold out meager hope that this season will bring back all that was good about this once-mighty show, even as the producers pledge a swing to the right and a focus on the upcoming fictional election (the one on the show, not the one in November). And if that doesn't happen, there are more terrible things I can imagine than another free hour on Wednesday evening. Like waiting until 2006 for The Sorpanos to come back.
I've been thinking lately about what albums from 2004 might earn a spot on the site's sidebar at year's end. So has Amazon.com, apparently. The link above leads to the 30 albums they've enjoyed so far this year. I've got five of them, and I'd say three or four are a good bet to make the top 10. There are a lot of new releases yet to come, and my list will change, as will Amazon's. But it's fun to start thinking about this...
OK, this will be the last day--probably--that I rail against Alan Keyes. Jim Thompson, former Republican governor of Illinois, said of Keyes, "His views are very conservative. Some of his positions would make me uncomfortable as a voter." Thompson declined to endorse Keyes.
This is yet more proof that the Illinois G.O.P. has been hijacked by a small fringe element that is obsessed with fighting a culture war to enshrine their notions of Biblical law into the laws of the United States. So I implore Illinois voters: if you can't stomach a vote for Obama, who's going to win no matter what you do, please, at least vote for the Libertarian and show the Republican Party that you won't stand for extremism. (Yes, Dad, I'm talking to you.) His name is Jerry Kohn (an odd Spoonerism of John Kerry) and you can learn more about him at www.Kohn2004.org, but I think all you need to know is that a vote for Kohn will send a message to the Republican Party that it can't field candidates like Alan Keyes and expect the support of mainstream Illinoisans.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
The eyes of the nation are upon Illinois, and it's not for any good reason: They're watching Alan Keyes make a fool of himself. Witness the final paragraph of the LA Times editorial today: "We are often called upon to wonder whether politicians are cynical or stupid. The Illinois Republican leaders, in their case, have made that choice unnecessary."
The Times also calls Keyes a "wildly inappropriate candidate" who "has a tendency to follow any idea right off the cliff of logical consistency" and whose "zealous speaking style" hints at an "emotional turmoil that might lead a job counselor to try to direct him away from a career in politics."
And that's just what they'll say about him in print. The Illinois Republican Party has broken faith with the people of the state by making us the laughingstock of the nation. I didn't expect much from them, but I expected better than this.
We're finally starting to hear whispers about what George W. Bush might do with a second term as president, and it's kind of scary. Yesterday he suggested that replacing the income tax system with a national sales tax would be a possibility.
To be sure, there are some who think this is a good idea. They also supported tax cuts for the wealthy and tax cuts on stock dividends that reward wealth over work.
Sales taxes are, by their nature, regressive. Proponents argue that they tax consumption rather than earnings, suggesting that because we choose to consume a certain amount of goods and services, we can also control our level of taxation. But some purchases cannot be avoided: even the poor must buy food and clothing, for instance. Unlike our system today, intended to draw more upon the disposable income, however much that may be, of each household and less upon money the household requires for necessities, a national sales tax would siphon off money from precisely the people and places that need it most.
It would be easy to dismiss Bush's suggestion; after all, it doesn't have the kind of widespread support that such a major overhaul of our entire tax code would appear to require. But Bush has managed, in three and a half years, to begin a fundamental shift in the tax code away from taxing wealth and toward taxing work instead--a move that is not in the best interests of the great majority of people in the United States and that does not have broad-based appeal at any but the least contemplative level. If he wins this election, he might consider a national sales tax his due...
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
The latest top story from The Onion sounds so real it's hard to remember it's (sort-of) fiction. You can guess, I assume, that Kerry's one-point plan is "the removal of George W. Bush from the White House." Observe this gem:
"Politicians make a lot of campaign promises," Lance Radda said. "Sure, this not-being-Bush policy sounds good now. But how can we be sure that Kerry will deliver on that promise once in office?"We sure can, John. We sure can. We can, and we will. We can, and we must.
Kerry addressed Radda's question.
"I promise you, here and now, that I will enact my one-point plan on the day I enter the Oval Office," Kerry said. "For the last three and a half years, we've had George W. Bush, and today I have this to say: We can do better!"
It comes as little surprise that the choice of Alan Keyes to run against Barack Obama is being greeted by jeers nationally and at home. He's just not a suitable candidate for office in a state that isn't in the thrall of the far right. His choices in his first day of campaigning made that clear: he called Obama's vote against a ban on partial-borth abortion "the slaveholder's position" and, arguing against gay marriage, said, "We as human beings cannot assert that our sexual desires cannot be controlled." Keyes said doing so would "consign us to the realm of instinctual animal nature--and we are not there."
Are the voters of Illinois, as a whole, really against abortion--even in the case of rape or incest, even if giving birth endangers the life of the mother? Do they really think gays and lesbians are acting like animals by loving people in accordance with their innate desires? And, more importantly, do they really care about these questions more than they care about creating jobs, having a stronger foreign policy, and building a better America that includes everyone rather than only those whose behavior and beliefs conform to some ultra-right party line? Keyes is angry that Obama won't have six debates with him because three of the debates he was supposed to have with Ryan were to be held during August. He should be glad Obama doesn't refuse to debate him at all. Alan Keyes, for all his eloquence, clearly has nothing to say that's worth hearing.
Monday, August 09, 2004
While Alan Keyes presents no real worries for Barack Obama, the Illinois Republican Party should be very worried about becoming the laughingstock of the nation and turning off moderate voters for years to come. Bill Maher joked on Friday that the same party that couldn't find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has now proven its incompetence at a far easier task--they couldn't find a black man in Chicago.
And that's a sad fact for the party to face--that it sought a black man to run against Obama because...well, it's hard to say what Republican leaders were thinking. Already it appears that many party leaders, former contender Kirk Dillard among them, are distancing themselves from Keyes, letting on that they realize his positions are deeply polarizing and, at least in Illinois, very unpopular. You can bet the ever-popular Jim Edgar won't be out campaigning for this right-wing nut job.
Keyes is a man without a place, which makes it almost appropriate that he swoop into a state three months before an election to run for office: His "conservative" views put him firmly in the mainstream among white men in Mississippi, while the color of his skin would make him unelectable there; meanwhile, anyplace populated by people who would elect a black man to the Senate has, in reaching that state of enlightenment, also soundly rejected Keyes' bombastic pronouncements about the rule of law being the rule of God. And yes, that's what he says--take a look:
By nominating Keyes, the Illinois G.O.P. has revealed itself as a cynical and desperate institution, uninterested in appealing to the voters of the state of Illinois and incapable of adapting to a world that has grown beyond the tired and outmoded platitudes of its new standard-bearer. The resounding defeat to which Keyes will be treated this fall will be a well-deserved thumping for a party that, in this state, should already have learned its lesson.
Friday, August 06, 2004
You'll have to scroll deep into the article above to find this gem:
The Republican National Committee chairman says the party's national convention later this month will have its most diverse delegation ever--but he won't release the identities of the delegates.Any guess how many of the delegates are gay? Better yet, any guess how many of them are honest about it?
While Republican Chairman Ed Gillespie was boasting about the gains the GOP is making among blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans, he said the national party has left it up to individual states to decide whether to publicize delegates' identities.
His reason: Web sites that invite protesters to "show them the kind of welcome they can expect in New York."
Of the 4,788 delegates and alternates to the convention, Republicans said 171 delegates are Hispanic (297 including alternates), 165 delegates are black (290 with alternates) and 76 delegates are Asian-Americans or Pacific Islanders (104 with alternates).
Thursday, August 05, 2004
Malapropism or Freudian slip? You decide. Today President Bush had this to say: “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”
And here I thought the sign on John Ashcroft's door that says "Secretary of Screwing Over the American People" was just an honorary thing.
I think Chris Suellentrop nails the trouble with the Bush campaign this time around in this article: rather than talking about what he wants to do, Bush spends all his time talking about the things he's so proud of doing--or, more to the point, saying--during his first term. He won't lay out a second-term plan. And this is scary, Suellentrop says:
After the 2002 midterm elections, when Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill objected to another round of tax cuts for the rich, Vice President Cheney told O'Neill to discard his worries. We won the midterm elections, Cheney said. "This is our due." As much as liberals dislike President Bush's record over the past four years, it's the prospect of another four years that terrifies them. What they want to know--what keeps them awake at night--is what President Bush hasn't answered yet: What are you going to do next? This time, what will be your due?Can you imagine what four more years might be like? Fortunately, we probably won't have to, if the crowds turning out for Kerry and Edwards are any indication. When you're a Democrat getting mobbed in a hotel parking lot in rural Missouri--the part where they pronounce the "A" at the end--you've got to believe your message is reaching people.
Congratulations to Paul Allen, who correctly guessed that the upcoming event referenced last week was this site's first birthday. A lot has changed since that fateful day, both in my understanding of HTML and in my life. I got a job, applied for graduate school, switched presidential candidates, and gave away a lot of hard-earned money to causes I believe in and habits I should probably curtail.
I'm pretty sure that all of this has made me a better person; I'm certainly calmer and happier than I was back then. A year ago I was at the start of what was still, at that point, an experiment in living together; today I'm in what can only be called a stable long-term relationship. My political convictions have grown even as my rage about them has subsided. And, over 87,000 words later, I'm still enjoying this self-appointed task of filtering the world through my mind and spilling out the results for public consumption. I hope you're enjoying reading it.
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Sometimes I just want to give the finger to the Bush-Cheney campaign. Here's Matthew Dowd's kindly pre-emptive response to the inevitable questions about what kind of bounce Bush will get from his convention, courtesy of Wonkette:
"I know this is a question that will come up, about what kind of bounce do we expect at our convention. Looking at it historically, incumbents usually get a bounce that's equal to about two-thirds of what the challenger's bounce is. So if you want to put that in your calculus: Incumbents get two-thirds of what the challenger got as their bounce. So two-thirds of zero is -- and my math is pretty simple here -- is zero. So, that's our expectation on our bounce."
To see why Dowd is full of it, take a look at the electoral vote counter to your right. 328-210 doesn't look like zero to me. You've got to hand it to Dowd, though: he made any bounce Kerry might have gotten look puny by (cunningly, and with full knowledge that his prediction wouldn't come true) forecasting a 15-point jump after the convention; now I'm sure he'll get front page coverage for his stunningly self-effacing, and conveniently expectations-lowering, prediction about his own convention. Here's hoping he turns out to be right, and Bush really doesn't get a boost...not that it matters either way. Kerry's gonna blow Bush out of the water in the debates.
Monday, August 02, 2004
I also saw Peter Krause on the second night of the revival of Arthur Miller's After the Fall. The play is very interesting, with flashbacks within the main character's mind taking place on stage and a single set used throughout despite multiple location changes. The way these effects were handled alone made the experience worthwhile. Carla Gugino--TV's short-lived Karen Sisco--stole the show as Maggie, a Marilyn-esque character, and Jessica Hecht--Carol's lover Susan on Friends--was excellent as Krause's first wife. Krause himself was shaky at the start, and generally delivered stilted soliloquies, but amid the action of the play his dialogue was convincing and compelling, despite--or perhaps because of--several moments that seemed to channel his work as Nate on Six Feet Under. This wasn't the best play I've ever seen, but it was definitely worth seeing. Next time I'm in New York, though, I'll get tickets to one of the big, popular, rousing shows; the fact that I didn't see Aida or Wicked or even The Lion King will probably eat at me a bit when I look back on this trip, even if I did feel compelled to watch the convention my first two nights in town.
- This may sound perverse to some, but the best speaker of the convention may well have been Al Sharpton. The man knows how to make a point and deliver a line. After delivering a stirring address of principles, he responded to George W. Bush's questions about black voting patterns with one of the best lines of the convention. "You said the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is true that Mr. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, after which there was a commitment to give [freed slaves] 40 acres and a mule. That's where the argument, to this day, of reparations starts. We never got the 40 acres. We went all the way to Herbert Hoover, and we never got the 40 acres. We didn't get the mule. So we decided we'd ride this donkey as far as it would take us." As he pointed out, this has been an effective strategy thus far: "It was those that earned our vote that got our vote. We got the Civil Rights Act under a Democrat. We got the Voting Rights Act under a Democrat. We got the right to organize under Democrats."
- John Edwards was, of course, one of the highlights of the convention, but it was sad to see his buoyant energy trapped behind a podium. His normal walking around and gesturing was missing, and it made this speech less exciting and energizing than the ones he delivered in Iowa. Still, he laid out a compelling case.
- While the long Kerry introduction was a bit much--there were too many layers--his daughters were wonderful. I hope America saw them, because they made him seem more human. And Kerry himself delivered exactly the address he needed to deliver. He addressed the concerns voters have expressed about him:
- Is he strong enough? Yes. He explained his stance on military action and showed that he understands the new realities of the war on terror.
- Does he believe? Yes. He put forward a wonderful explanation of his feelings on faith, proclaiming that his religion isn't on his sleeve but in his heart, guiding his actions. If that's not enough for a voter, he or she is already lost to Kerry (and to science, and the teaching of evolution, and the idea that church and state should be separate).
- What will he do? I think we now know what Kerry would like to do in office: middle-class tax cuts, a roll-back of the Bush cuts for the top 1%, chopping the deficit in half, and expanding health care coverage to almost every American while helping those who already have insurance to obtain lower premiums and drug prices. It's going to be tough to do--maybe impossible with a Republican Congress. But it's a vision for a better America that should resonate with many Americans, catching a kitchen table issue that Bush and the Republicans have ignored.
And he addressed all of these issues forcefully. Kerry did rush toward the end--Bill Maher called his race to finish on time for the networks on of the most shameful spectacles ever seen in American politics. As he said, and this is paraphrase because the show transcript isn't up yet, "The man is laying out a plan to rule the globe. He shouldn't have to rush so people don't miss the first two minutes of Elimidate!"
Speaking of Maher, his return to HBO for the remainder of the election season was excellent. He talked to OutKast's Andre 3000, who is working to get young people to vote for the first time in this election; Andre talked with Al Sharpton about this at the convention to great effect.
Bill's guests included Republican representative David Dreir, former Canadian prime minister Kim Campbell, and Michael Moore. It was a shoutfest, to be sure, but Moore's film was used to make some good points about our military recruiting, and especially about Bush's response--dazed and confused--to 9/11 when he found out and sat stunned in a classroom.
The most stirring event of the night, though, was Ralph Nader's appearance at the end. Moore and Maher got down on their knees and begged Nader not to run; when that didn't work, Campbell outlined a strategy by which Nader could have more influence, by proclaiming himself an evaluator of the two candidates on his issues and giving his appraisal and endorsement before Election Day. When Nader demurred from this, Maher nailed him: he produced a photo of O.J. Simpson and told Nader he could learn a lot from him. A man who was a beloved legend his whole life destroyed his legacy with a single terrible act. Such is the fate that awaits Nader if we get four more years of Bush on his account.