Thursday, December 22, 2005

On a Break

The next few days will bring houseguests, a holiday concert at Orchestra Hall, two days of family celebrations, and preparations for still more guests. As I'll be too busy to write it, and you'll be too busy to read it, there won't be any new content here during the coming week. So enjoy the picture above, from my favorite scene in Brokeback Mountain, and go see the movie!

Have a happy holiday!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Rapid Expansion

Brokeback Mountain @

Operation Wide Release appears to be in full swing. If you want to see Brokeback Mountain over the holiday weekend, there are going to be plenty of places to see it. In Chicagoland alone, the movie looks to be expanding from 4 theatres in the entire area, including 3 in the city, to at least 6 in the suburbs alone, including Yorktown, Northbrook, Cantera, South Barrington, Lincolnshire, and Woodfield.

What better way to celebrate a holiday about procreation without sex than by watching a movie about sex without procreation?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Test Case

Box Office Mojo > News > 'Brokeback' Wrangles Strong Numbers in Expansion

Turns out I helped Focus Features decide to roll out Brokeback Mountain faster than planned:
Foley said that the expansion will be more aggressive than previously planned, with around 275 theaters set for Jan. 6 and about 400 for Jan. 13. The original intent was to be in 300 venues by the end of January.

Among Brokeback Mountain's encouraging numbers, Foley noted two theaters in conservative markets that Focus used as an experiment for the picture's crossover appeal: the AMC Yorktown 18 near Chicago and the Cinemark Legacy 24 in Plano, Texas—"one of the biggest grossing theaters in the nation for The Passion of the Christ," explained Foley. Brokeback Mountain ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the complexes, respectively. "[The movie] is playing to the smart set as well as the boomer set, the senior set and the gay community," Foley said.
Feel free to thank me when you see the movie at a theatre closer to your home!

Monday, December 19, 2005


Brokeback Mountain (2005): Reviews

After all the anticipation of these last few months, it would have been easy for Brokeback Mountain to fall short of my heightened expectations. And while I was slightly disappointed at how tame the love scenes between Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal turned out to be, that is all the more reason why this movie deserves a wider audience than any mere "gay cowboy movie" could expect.

It seems likely to get it: The suburban Chicagoland theatre where we saw the film had its small share of obviously gay and lesbian patrons, but the overwhelming majority of our companions were straight couples of all ages, skewing toward the older range. (We saw the movie at 5:20--the last matinee time--which may account for the early-bird-special appearance of the crowd.)

And without exception, the audience seemed to react appropriately to the material. That is, there were no gasps of shock when, 25 minutes into the film, Gyllenhaal and Ledger roughly dove at one another, clearly conflicted, and Ledger rolled Gyllenhaal onto his stomach to enter him. A few (off-screen) thrusts later, the most sexual scene in the movie was over.

That paragraph, by the way, was more graphic than the film. In case you were wary.

The rest of the film played out perfectly, with the music underscoring the majesty of the mountain surroundings that provide many of the scenes between the two lead actors with additional drama. And I know I was not the only person in the theatre reduced to tears by the end, watching Ledger deal with his regrets.

The final scene between the two actors--which you won't realize is just that at the time---adds an emotional heft to their entire relationship, showing both how connected they have been and how their internal conflicts about their relationship--particularly Ledger's--have denied them the only chance at happiness that life will ever present to either of them.

Heath Ledger's performance is a small miracle. While Gyllenhaal is more than competent, it is Ledger who is called on to convey the difficulty of being two people at once, and it is his character, against the odds, whose life shows more scars as a result of their separation. His sorrow--and, for a few moments with Gyllenhaal's character, his joy--is worn on his face, in his body, and behind his eyes, and Ledger manages to capture all of it. When he finally acknowledges these feelings to himself in the film's closing moments, using, appropriately, only three words, the pain is palpable.

It would be unfair not to mention the acting of Michelle Williams, who plays Ledger's anguished wife, or Anne Hathaway, whose Texas princess character brings a lift to the movie and Gyllenhaal's character that, of course, cannot last. Hathaway's facial expressions during a minor family dinner scene and during the all-important phone call near the film's conclusion contain oceans of information about her relationship with Gyllenhaal, and the final confrontation Williams has with Ledger demonstrates quite clearly the pain his frustrated life inflicts on those around him.

To say that this is the best movie I've seen in 2005 is probably unfair for two reasons. First, I haven't seen enough of the critically-hailed films of the year to know whether this is really the best. And second, I haven't seen a movie this good in a good many years, perhaps since American Beauty. It's that good. Go see it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Losing a Lion

'West Wing' Actor John Spencer Dies at 58

This is terribly sad news. I may have hated his character, Leo, at times, but I've always enjoyed the way John Spencer played the role. His Emmy acceptance speech in 2002 is, for me, one of the signature moments in the history of that award.

This does raise a question, though: What will The West Wing do about this? I suppose Leo could have another heart attack--in a way, that would be fitting, as that's how Spencer died--but his role had just gotten a lot juicier, as he was not only running for vice president but being asked to take the reins of the campaign from Josh. Maybe this sad event will inspire John Wells to call Aaron Sorkin for help in solving this problem, and Rob Lowe will be asked to return to run for VP as Sam Seaborn?

Then again, maybe not. Whatever happens, this much is certain: John Spencer will be missed.


Robert Novak Leaving CNN for Fox News

Suddenly all seems right with the world. And very right-wing at Fox News.

Major Defeat

Senate rejects reauthorization of Patriot Act

Well, this is quite a kick in Bush's craw.

As he would say, Let Freedom Reign!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

One More Good Thing


Forgot to mention this, but it's one more good thing that happened in the last week. Click on the link above and read the first correction. You may ask yourself, "Who would submit such a correction to Slate?" Wonder no longer: That was me. I've got an e-mail from Emily Bazelon to prove it, too!

Good Week

Brokeback Mountain @

It's been a very good week for me. I'm a good student--I got an A in another grad class, meaning my B-free streak is approaching a decade. I'm apparently a good employee--the normal raise announcement this week turned into a promotion. And now I know I'm a good gay man, too, because I have two tickets to a Saturday afternoon showing of Brokeback Mountain. I suppose I could have been a better gay man and flown to New York or San Francisco last weekend to see the movie, but I think helping the gross as the picture goes into slightly wider release qualifies, don't you?

We now return to your regularly-scheduled, slightly-less-boastful blogging.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Growing Buzz

'Weeds' scores second season on Showtime

Well, some networks know how to treat a good show, even if it has a small following: give it another shot. Showtime, rumored today to be looking into saving Arrested Development, has also picked up a second season of Weeds, meaning that the small but dedicated band of followers of the show will get to find out how the main character deals with the fact that her new beau is a DEA agent.

Won't you join us? It's not out on DVD yet, but I'm betting Showtime will release season one before the second season airs this summer. Don't you have five hours for a good show?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Shining Stars

Golden Globe Nominations

Ah, sweet Golden Globes. You toast the best movies AND television shows, and your tastes and mine frequently collide.

Look, for example, at the best comedic TV actress category! All four housewives and Mary-Louise Parker from Weeds were nominated. That's a clean sweep for shows I like. (Weeds also grabbed a nod for Elizabeth Perkins for her supporting role as a bitchy suburban mom whose perspective is changed when she finds out she has cancer, as well as a nomination for best comedy series.)

Or consider that in the best TV drama category, Rome got a nod that no one probably expected--and that Polly Walker got a nomination for playing Atia!

Of course, the big news this morning is that Brokeback Mountain is the early Best Picture favorite after nailing down 7 nominations, including best drama, best director, best actor, best supporting actress, best screenplay, best score, and best song. The overall Globe list seems a bit off, though, and I expect we'll see a few bigger movies (in terms of budget and Hollywood backing) pick up steam ahead of Oscar time. Still, leading the pack here bodes well for the gay cowboy movie...which opens Friday in Chicagoland.

I think the big surprise of the day, by the way, is how little attention Munich got. Steven Spielberg grabbed a best director nomination, but the movie itself got only one other nod, for best screenplay.

The season is upon us!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Top Ten Albums of 2005

Here they are: My choices for the ten best albums of 2005. Don't forget to check out Paul Allen's list at PopLife, and remember, there's always a chance I'll make a few revisions before making the list final early in 2006.

1. Fiona Apple:
Extraordinary Machine
From the first spin of the Jon Brion version, there was little question in my mind that this record would make the top ten, but it has more than earned the top spot. Weeks have gone by when I've had a hard time listening to anything else. I know all the words (pity the poor person who rides in my car when this is playing). Apple has done something remarkable here, stripping down her sound and her previously inflated language and arriving at something that still communicates all the emotion she needs to convey. Catchy couplets, great beats--this record has it all. Which is why Fiona is the first artist to capture the crown for two different years of my top ten list.

2. Antony and the Johnsons: I am a Bird Now
The first song on this album will give you chills. Antony's story of gender confusion (in Britain, the statement "I am a bird" can be taken to mean both the creature that flies and a woman) is dramatic and bold, and he has the voice to match, a trembling instrument that unites the record amid multiple guests, including Boy George and Rufus Wainwright. Not everyone will enjoy this--"Fistful of Love" is probably the most accessible song and even it might throw people for a loop--but those who enjoy it will adore it.

3. Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
In breadth and depth, this record outshines everything else on this list, and it's tough not to give Sufjan the top spot based on effort alone--so many lyrics that so specifically evoke something about Illinois, so many instruments both written into the music and then played by one person. The research for this album, which is the second of a proposed 50 (one for every state), was clearly voluminous. And the music itself is sheer beauty, so much of it that it can sometimes be hard to listen to the whole album in one sitting. But it all flows, and it pretty much all works, too. When you see this somewhere on every critic's list in the country (it's already number one on the editors' list), don't say I didn't warn you.

4. Bright Eyes: I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
Conor Oberst had the audacity to release two new albums not in one year, but on one day this January. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn was good but uneven, but this album is flat-out great. He's found a folksy style that works with his odd voice, and even the partly stuttered storytelling he uses to open the album works better here than it did on Lifted. The final song, "Road to Joy," aping Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, is one of the year's true delights.

5. Martha Wainwright: Martha Wainwright
Apparently the Wainwright family is determined to dominate my CD shelves and my top ten lists for years to come. While the stunner on this album is the shocking and beautiful "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole," I think of it not in terms of songs but as a whole experience: haunting and lyrical and aflame with passion.

6. Garbage: Bleed Like Me
OK, this pick has none of the artsy cred of my first five, but it's still something special: a good, solid rock record that gets into your head and jangles around for months. I knew I loved this album when I was on a flight from D.C. to Chicago, equipped with my discman (I know, how retro of me) and several CDs, and I chose to plug my headphones into the armrest instead because United was featuring this album and I hadn't packed it.

7. Iron and Wine: Woman King EP AND Iron and Wine/Calexico: In the Reins
Releasing a six-song EP and a seven-song mini-album is about the same as releasing a full album, right? Mr. Consistency Sam Beam has made three solid records in the last two years, and as a result he finds himself at number seven on this list for the second year running. The EP is probably the better of the two, but in combination, these thirteen songs make a statement: Iron and Wine has the potential to be on this list for years to come.

8. Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better
An album that at first doesn't seem like an album at all, because every song could be on the radio. This is weird because it doesn't "build" to anything--it just keeps going strong for 13 songs. Folks who talk of a sophomore slump haven't actually listened to this record more than once or twice; it digs in and takes hold in a way their debut, for all its shiny songs and perfect beats, never did.

9. Aimee Mann: The Forgotten Arm
This wasn't supposed to be on this list. But as I listened to it again to pick a song for my possibly-to-be-produced compilation of the year, I found myself crying during the song "I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas" and I knew I couldn't ignore that. This album tells the story of a relationship between a boxer, John, and his lover, Caroline. Like the last Aimee Mann record, Lost in Space, it dwells on addiction issues and the difficulty any two passionate people have in making it work with one another. And while some of the songs sound wispy at first, in the end the power of the album, when given a chance, is undeniable. For a lyrics person like myself, I guess there's no way to leave this album out of the top ten.

10. Sigur Ros: Takk
And yet, I can pick this album, sung in Norwegian, to follow Aimee Mann. I don't know what Jon Thor Birgisson is singing about, but I know that he sings with emotion and power. Those qualities come through in any language.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Every year I hope to see something I really like threaten to dominate the Grammys, and almost every year I'm disappointed. Yes, I own the Gwen Stefani and U2 albums that came out late last year, but I never listen to them anymore, mostly because they're just not that great. Yet there they are, holding down 40 percent of the album of the year slate, up against Kanye West, Mariah Carey, and Paul McCartney.

Poor Fiona Apple got a single nomination (for best pop vocal album, where she's up against McCartney, Stefani, Sheryl Crow, and Kelly Clarkson), and while there are several categories where I own all the nominated songs or albums, only the best alternative album category could be called exciting for me, with Arcade Fire, Beck, Death Cab for Cutie, Franz Ferdinand, and the White Stripes duking it out. (Even there I have qualms--they couldn't find a better fifth album than the mediocre offering from DCFC? I can think of several off the top of my head: Bloc Party, Sufjan Stevens, Antony and the Johnsons, Bright Eyes, Martha Wainwright, Sigur Ros...)

I suppose I should accept that my tastes and those of both the public and the Recording Academy don't dovetail. Let this serve as fair warning that the list I post tomorrow will bear little relation to the one the Grammys have posted this morning.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

2005's Best of the Rest

It's that time of year again--time to unveil my choices for the best music of the year. The top ten albums list will appear on Friday; today I'll note my choices in some special categories. A similar list appears on Paul Allen's music blog, PopLife.

Best Soundtrack:
TV Series: Six Feet Under, Volume 2: Everything Ends
TV Movie: Bob Dylan, No Direction Home
Motion Picture: Brokeback Mountain

Six Feet Under, Volume 2: Everything Ends: An excellent collection of songs from the last three seasons of a great show. If you’ve seen the final season, you’ll want to own this just for the recording of Sia’s “Breathe Me,” though songs from Radiohead and Arcade Fire that closed pivotal episodes in the show are also included, as are the songs used in the show’s stylish pre-season promos.

Bob Dylan, No Direction Home: A great portrayal of Dylan’s growth during the most “important” part of his career. The most accessible of the seven volumes of the Bootleg Series, though volume 4 is also indispensable.

Brokeback Mountain: A very recent album, and haunting to hear even without seeing the movie that it accompanies. The tender “I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye,” sung by Teddy Thompson, will put tears in your eyes. Original songs written by Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin, including that one, add to the experience of an album that conveys a remarkable amount of emotion. Gustavo Santaolalla’s acoustic contributions are also excellent, as is Rufus Wainwright’s “The Maker Makes.”

Best Greatest Hits:
Melissa Etheridge: Greatest Hits--The Road Less Traveled

A strong retrospective of Melissa’s career that focuses most of its attention on her early work, much to its benefit. A few too many brand-new songs mean a few too few old ones, including none from the underrated Skin, but if you were to have only one CD from her in your collection, this would definitely be the one to get.

Best Reissue:
Belle & Sebastian: Push Barman to Open Old Wounds

I’ve taken quite a liking to B&S recently, and this neat double album gave me a cheap and easy way to get seven of the band’s EPs for less than $15. Not quite If You’re Feeling Sinister, but still well worth having!

Best Live Album:
Morrissey: Live at Earls Court

I feel bad for the new Bob Dylan bootleg recording, Live at the Gaslight 1962, and for the new Wilco live album that is still growing on me, but this Morrissey album is incredible and would probaly win this category no matter what the competition. It gives new life to a bevy of songs from his most recent album and revives several old Smiths songs as well. Indeed, while I’d usually push a studio album over a live one any day, this might be the best way to really get into Morrissey. It’s done the trick for me!

Biggest Disappointment:
Weezer: Make Believe AND Dave Matthews Band: Stand Up

When I saw these two albums scheduled for release on the same day this spring, I thought, “Wow! It’s a late-‘90s revival!” Turns out it was a chance for two artists who did great work and attracted great followings in the ‘90s to put out some less-than-stellar stuff that almost immediately found itself sitting on the shelf.

Best Cover Art:
Aimee Mann: The Forgotten Arm

This isn’t cover art—it’s a book! Complete with painted illustrations of the story told by this concept album, this is the most attractive CD package of the year. And the music isn’t half-bad, either.

Best Album Title:
Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better

Considering that the band initially planned to call this Franz Ferdinand, just like their last album, this certainly wins the award for most-improved!

Best Surprise:
Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine

The surprise isn’t that it’s good, it’s that it exists at all. After all the record company drama surrounding this album, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that it would finally see the light of day a few months ago. How pleasant a surprise? Find out Friday!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Red-Blooded Males

The straight dude’s guide to ‘Brokeback’

Dave White offers some good advice for all my hetero friends who will be dragged--or will drag themselves--to see Brokeback Mountain when it finally expands beyond its annoyingly limited release this weekend. It's pretty funny, but to it I will add this: If you've ever watched Six Feet Under, you've probably already seen more than this film will throw at you. And if you've caught an episode of Queer as Folk? It will be years before they find a way to get that much man-on-man action on the big screen.

To Volvo or Not to Volvo

Animal Therapy: The Good and the Ugly

Earlier today I commented on Jon's blog that I was "willing to give Ford the benefit of the doubt and believe that this is just bad timing of an announcement they would have made no matter what." But I now have reason, based on this from Marty Kaplan at The Huffington Post, to believe that Ford, in announcing that it would dramatically reduce its advertising in gay publications, really did sell the gay community out to protect itself from an American Family Association boycott.

It's depressing to think that a company that has been honored for its commitment to gay rights would backslide like this in order to pander to the far right, but that's apparently what we've come to in America. Just this morning Andrew Sullivan remarked ruefully that when he left Britain 21 years ago for the United States, "there was no question that America led the way in equal rights for gays." Today gays in Britain are registering to enter into civil partnerships that both the law and the populace treat as equal to the marriages that they are in everything but their legal name. And in America, automakers are afraid to advertise to the gay community for fear of reprisals from a vocal and backward-thinking minority of people who believe in fairy tales.

Canada, England, South Africa, Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandanavia: every day the list of places to which I'd willingly move if not for family and friends I prefer not to leave behind grows longer. Because if the AFA can do this with Ford, it can do it with plenty of other companies, too. There are plenty more religious-righters than there are gay folk. Who will stand with us?

'Tis the Season

All Recipes | Cookie | Big Soft Ginger Cookies

I bake many things, but only two typically inspire recipe requests. As I'm taking my chocolate chip butterscotch cookie recipe to the grave, I'll offer a link to this one, which I got from my best friend, the internet.

I should note that the dough for these cookies is just about the stickiest substance imagineable--good luck actually getting the cookies onto the baking sheet. Forget about the old two-spoons method; you'll be using your hands. Fortunately, the dough tastes great licked straight from your fingers--just be sure to wash your hands before you keep working.

Also, where the recipe calls for two tablespoons of white sugar (for rolling the dough in prior to baking), I substitute, oh, a healthy third of a cup split evenly between red and green sugar sprinkles and white sugar. This makes the cookies more festive for the holidays and a little bit sweeter, and they still stay incredibly soft for days and days.

Don't be surprised if you end up doubling the recipe the second time you make these--they're that good!

Curing What Ails You

Seniors Seeking Medicare Info Get Sex Line

The headline pretty much sums up what the Medicare drug plan has been since the day Congress passed it by one vote: one big clusterfuck. Will fiascos like this prompt any changes, though?

Probably not in the program. But very likely in the makeup of Congress next term...

Monday, December 05, 2005


If you're like me, waiting on pins and needles to finally be able to see Brokeback Mountain, then this may help you to deal with the long days ahead, waiting for the limited release schedule to open wide enough to reach, in my case, Chicago and its suburbs. If you enter this URL-- the "Open URL" window on Windows Media Player, you can listen to the entire soundtrack--free. The tracklist is available here if you want to know what you're hearing.

Force of Nature

Animal Therapy: Best Friends

Jon's post--and specifically the picture of his (male) dog humping another (male) dog--reminded me of last night's Desperate Housewives and some questions it raised. Andrew, Bree's son, finally returns after being sent back to camp near the start of the season. And with blame for his mother for his father's death in his arsenal, he has no trouble deciding that he's above Bree's authority--so much so that he has Justin, his sometime paramour from last season, come over to spend the night.

Here's where the questions come in. Andrew explains his hatred toward his mother by saying that when his mom told him he would go to hell if he didn't change after he told her he " liked guys," he realized she would one day stop loving him and he decided to stop loving her first. This is an interesting mental process, certainly, but I doubt it's one with which many gay men relate. And yet it's happening on a show created and controlled by Marc Cherry, who has made no secret of his homosexuality or his strong relationship with his mother, who he credits with giving him the idea for the show.

This revelation is preceded by Andrew's attempt to kiss Justin, which Justin rebuffs for fear that Bree will walk in. He promises to make waiting until Bree is asleep worth Andrew's while--and then this concept is dropped. I know this is a very prurient question, but what happens between these two?

The question is important not only because I wanted to see two men making out on network TV, but because of the way Andrew constructs his talk about his sexuality. He doesn't say he told his mom he's gay--he says he told her he "likes guys." This is not the same thing. I've said before that I think bisexuality is often just a stop on the train to gay, but in this case it's important to know whether Cherry is espousing the same view. Andrew told the priest last year that he's not gay--he's just not going to stop fooling around with guys when the mood strikes him. But Justin appears to have real feelings, and not just carnal desires, for Andrew--feelings he expressed to Gabrielle last season. Is Andrew manipulating Justin? Will he go so far as to seek Justin's help as he tries to send his mother for a fall?

This, finally, is important because while there has been a flowering of gay characters on television in the last decade, the bloom is currently very much off the rose. A show with 27 million weekly viewers that features a gay or sort-of-gay character is one of TV's few windows onto gayness for most of America (by which I em>mean the "most of America" that doesn't subscribe to HBO or Showtime, didn't watch or Queer as Folk, and probably won't buy a ticket to see Brokeback Mountain, either). And so it matters quite a bit how that show's "gay character" is portrayed. Right now, the only main character who dabbles in the love that dare not speak its name is also up to some rather unspeakable deeds, including attempting to destroy his own mother and quite possibly manipulating an innocent person into having sex that is based not on love (as the innocent seems to believe) but on simple, base desire. Lest we forget, Andrew also hit Mrs. Solis while driving home last season, and showed no remorse afterward.

I'm concerned, then, that Cherry is taking his grand opportunity to offer some sort of positive portrayal of homosexuality and not merely squandering it but turning it on its head to show same-sex attraction as part of a pathological personality. I realize that Cherry's mission is to make good TV, not to subtly change the hearts and minds of viewers. I realize that DH probably isn't on the must-DVR list of many folks who harbor great hostility against gays, as their churches have already warned them of its sinful nature. And I realize that the show has featured a great many screwed-up characters, only one of whom has shown interest in making it with a member of the same gender. But there's a difference between portraying Andrew as a gay guy who lies about his sexuality sometimes, hates his mom, and feels no remorse about killing an old woman with his car, and portraying him as a sorta-bi guy who pretends to be gay to get a little no-strings attached action from a guy who clearly wants more while engaging in the aforementioned other negative behavior. For the sake of tried-and-true gays everywhere, I hope Andrew is bi and playing on Justin's hopes. Making that cruelty another aspect of his pathology, rather than simply making him both the bad guy and the gay guy on the show, would enhance both the show's portrayal of gays (by playing up Justin's innocence at the hands of a lying manipulator) and the show's storyline. That's a win-win Cherry should grab with both hands.

If he does it after a scene where Andrew and Justin make out on camera, well, so much the better!

Bought and Paid For

Corrupt Intentions - What Cunningham's misdeeds illustrate about conservative Washington. By Michael Kinsley

You've got to love Michael Kinsley. He takes a depressing subject (Congressional corruption) and makes it funny without losing the point.

Kinsley notes what I've often thought when I hear about the paltry amounts for which our representatives seem willing to sell out their principles:
Members of Congress are among the world's greatest bargains: What are a couple of commodes compared with $163 million of Pentagon contracts?
What indeed? Why do people making the maximum contribution of $2,000 to a campaign buy influence worth so many times that amount? Why will members of Congress sell out their nation so cheaply?

I think it's a cultural phenomenon. Members of Congress are people, too. They circulate in crowds with money, often more money than they themselves possess. As wealthier folks leave the private sector loaded with cash to "represent" their fellow citizens (often by reducing the taxes of their corporate pals), those in Congress who don't come from such backgrounds are forced to scramble to keep up or look like paupers on the House and Senate floor. "Why should I have so little while they have so much?" these members of Congress must wonder. They calculate all the long hours spent traveling, reading arane language, being pilloried by the opposition, and wonder why their salaries aren't higher.

And then they realize it--they have access to the biggest pool of money in the country, the federal budget! Who could resist? It's so big no one can read it all, so loaded with additions from colleagues that no one will notice one more. And it's the one thing they can sell without giving up their gig in Congress and the feeling of "giving back" that comes with it. (The only faster way to make a buck is to get a book deal, but unless you've got name recognition like Obama or Clinton, that's hardly a viable route, plus you face all manner of pesky questions of influence--just ask Newt Gingrich.)

I'm not pardoning what Duke Cunningham and others--on both sides of the aisle--have done. (I leave that to President Bush, whose last weeks in office will no doubt be very busy ones.) I'm just asking, should we really be surprised?

Friday, December 02, 2005

5 Weird Habits

Animal Therapy: 5 Weird Habits

Jon has forced me to discuss five of my strange habits. Don't be surprised if you see some relationship between mine and his.

1) I hate to go into any restaurant on my lunch hour to pick up food that I'm not going to eat at that restaurant. I will eat food I'm not really excited about rather than get out of my car, especially in the winter. Corner Bakery, Chipotle, Subway, Quizno's, Jimmy John's, and Panera would get a LOT more of my business if they had a drive-thru window. Indeed, I might never go to a McDonald's or Wendy's again.

2) Related to item 1, I will do anything to complete as many possible errands while getting out of the car as few times as possible. This could mean walking across a very long parking lot to get from one store to another if they're located somewhat close to one another. It could mean altering where I buy certain items. But I hate to drive around aimlessly, or feel like I've spent 30 minutes in the car to accomplish only one thing. This is why my plans for a shopping trip often sound as if I'm headed off to war. In both this and in item 1, you see my desire to start my car as few times as possible; I think someone told me when I was learning to drive that starting a car wastes more gas than letting it run for a little while, and that stuck with me in some deep part of my brain.

2.5) While driving I also seek to avoid left turns, particularly unprotected ones but also ones that involve a restrictive turn arrow, at all costs. I hate trying to figure out if I have enough space before the next oncoming car to turn left AND trying to figure out if there's room for me on the other side of the road at the same time. And I hate knowing that there's enough room for me to turn and being forced to listen to an arbitrary red arrow rather than my own eyes.

3) In direct contrast to Jon, I am e-mail obsessive. If you write to me, chances are you will get a reply, often so fast you'll wonder if I was just sitting and waiting for your e-mail, possibly with a reply half-written. I wasn't, but I have my e-mail set up to tell me when I receive a new one, and when I do I will drop whatever I am doing to read it. Then I'll realize what I want to say in reply, so I'll just write back immediately. If I don't, though, you will never get a reply. I will put a star next to your message, or flag it for reply, but though I will see it ten more times I will never answer. So if you've been waiting more than two days for a reply, you should probably send your message again.

4) I panic when I am without water, even when I'm not thirsty. There must be water at my desk (at work and at home), water on the coffee table, and water in my car at all times. The only exception is when I eat breakfast; after orange juice and tea, a glass of water might seem a bit obsessive and also rather redundant.

5) I eat dessert for breakfast. A lot. If I make a pie or cake or cookies for a special occasion and there are leftovers, I will eat the leftovers every day for breakfast until they're gone. Many a post-birthday week has seen me eating chocolate cake, complete with vanilla ice cream, day after day at 6:30 in the morning. What's worse--I feel no remorse while doing this and often question why others don't do the same.

I'm not going to "tag" anyone else to do this, but feel free to list your own weird habits in the comments below--or comment on mine.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Abandon All Hope

Fox guestimates

My notion that Fox's standing pat with Idol on Tuesday and Wednesday could somehow save Reunion is now defunct, based on this new information: That '70s Show and Stacked will air in the post-O.C. timeslot on Thursday nights. Which makes sense until you remember that '70s stopped being good a long time ago and Stacked has no appeal to the audience of The O.C. (or anyone with half a brain). Couldn't Fox have made a deal with the producers: We'll keep your show on the air all season if you share the DVD profits with us? Looks like it's too late now.


South Africa's high court approves gay marriage

There's no shame in being behind Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands on the social curve; they're enlightened countries and one expects them to lead the way in social progress. But South Africa? This is a country that had apartheid what, 11 years ago?

Spain has gay marriage. Some form of recognition of same sex unions exists throughout Scandanavia, and much of Europe, including Britain, France, and Germany. And yet here in the United States, a piddling four states offer anything with any teeth in it (marriage [without the federal benefits] in Massachusetts, civil union or domestic partnership in Vermont, Connecticut, and California). This is a shameful state of affairs. Perhaps seeing people they've actually heard of (Elton John, George Michael) getting hitched in Britain will make a difference in America? I'm not getting my hopes up.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Standing Pat

Fox Keeping 'Idol' on Tues., Wed. Nights

This is all fine and dandy--but if Fox isn't moving Idol to Thursday nights, why would it cancel Reunion? Nothing else will bring better numbers in the 9/10 PM time slot on Thursdays.

I will grasp at this straw and hope someone at Fox is reconsidering...


White Sox, Konerko agree on 5-year deal

Hmm. A lineup with Konerko and Thome in the middle, Jermaine Dye and A.J. Pierzynski straddling the twin sluggers, and Scott Podsednik leading off? Plus four starting pitchers who threw complete games during the ALCS and a fifth (Brandon McCarthy) who showed tremendous promise as a starter? The only sad thing about this news is that it leaves Frank Thomas with nowhere to go. The rest of the White Sox, however, should start pondering another World Series...

Help Me Out

Keep Reunion On Air Petition

Do me a favor and sign the online petition above. I can't live if I don't find out who killed Samantha! (And how Craig ended up in a wheelchair, and how Will went from being a jailbird to a soldier to a priest, and...)

Thanks for your help!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bending Over Backwards

Panda Cub Makes His Debut at National Zoo

Even in dark times, there is something about this panda cub that can make me smile. I highly recommend that you watch the video to see Tai Shan (or Butterstick, as Wonkette would prefer we call him) play for the cameras.

Increasingly Worrying

Homosexuality destabilizes society: Vatican paper

Anyone who wondered why I didn't take communion during my grandmother's funeral this weekend, look no further:
The Vatican newspaper said on Tuesday that homosexuality risked "destabilizing people and society," had no social or moral value and could never match the importance of the relationship between a man and a woman.
That's right: my relationship of six years, and all of the efforts both of us have put into it, have no social or moral value. Years spent caring for one another and sharing life with one another in the context of a loving partnership have no social or moral value, and in fact risk destablizing society.

I salute you with two middle fingers, Mr. Ratzinger. You chose a name of peace for your papacy, but in publishing this new document on homosexuality, you have declared war. You will not win it.

Monday, November 28, 2005


Highway 290 Revisited: George Gets It

OK, so Bree didn't quite kill George--more like allowed him to kill himself by only pretending to intercede--but she did find out about his role in Rex's death and that was her motivation for allowing him to die. I think this qualifies as an accurate prediction, don't you?

I was also wrong about Desperate Housewives going on a post-sweeps break, but I'm more than happy to be wrong about that!


Part of Supreme Court facade collapses

Which part? The one where we pretend Alito won't vote to overturn Roe v. Wade or the part where we pretend it's improper to ask him about it?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Taking a Break

I had planned to continue posting through the holiday weekend. However, my father's mother died early this morning after a long eight-year struggle with Alzheimer's. I'm going to take a break from work, from school, and from this and be with my family. I'll be back next week.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

George Gets It

Bart Dispenses Creepiness on 'Housewives'

I have no spoiler info on this, but the sudden appearance of articles profiling Roger Bart, who plays creepy pharmacist George on Desperate Housewives, has got me believing we're about to see his departure from the show. Bree isn't stupid--she knows he's crazy, and now she's seen him flip out and steal and burn the car of a man with whom she merely danced at dinner. I predict that next week she figures out George's role in the disappearance of Dr. Goldfine, realizes that he killed Rex as well, and finishes George off in the final minutes before the show takes a post-sweeps break.

None of the Above

Too Many Choices - Why seniors won't sign up for the Medicare prescription drug plans. By Barry Schwartz

For the two years that I've been writing about the new Medicare drug plan for work, I've thought that someone could write a great article about how this is a Paradox of Choice situation, where too many choices will cause seniors to ignore the program altogether. Now the author of Paradox has done just that. And he makes a great comparison between the drug plans and the myriad investment options many employees must choose among in their employer-sponsored retirement plans. In both of these cases, and in many others, having too many choices leads people not to make a choice at all--which is, in effect, the worst choice they can make.

If only I could convince all of America to read the book...

Monday, November 21, 2005


Fuzzy, cute and a sellout in two hours
Tickets to see National Zoo's panda cub now being hawked on eBay

The mainstream media are so casual in their ignorance of the real story sometimes. Take this breathless paragraph:
By early evening, a dozen tickets were being hawked on eBay. One seller was asking $500 for six tickets, promising 10 percent would go to the ASPCA. Another wanted $199 for two tickets, with a percentage going to Greenpeace.
Wow! Someone is asking $100 a ticket to see the cutest baby panda alive!

What's more astonishing is what some people are offering for a ticket:
I just love pandas! I really, really, really want to see Tai Shan.

If you can get me a ticket to see Tai Shan between now and December 30, I will (I can't believe I am saying this) give you a handjob, with my hands. Maybe, if you are cute, a BJ. I am serious about this. I really want to see this panda.
Are you telling me that the fact people are offering sex for panda tickets isn't more interesting than people offering to donate the proceeds of their ticket sales to charity? Or the fact that someone else has offered up two tickets for exactly the service this desperate panda lover is offering in exchange?

The subhead to the AP story above shouldn't be about eBay--it should be about Craigslist. That's where the real panda ticket action is.

And who can blame the Craigslisters for wanting to see this guy?

All Brand New

A new era dawns. Caesar is dead. The Harry Potter movie series is more than halfway completed. I have written my 1,000th post, and today I will greet my 25,000th visitor.

So I have made a few changes to the blog today. I've moved the books I've read recently closer to the top of the page, and sorted them so when I finish one, it moves to the top of the list rather than the bottom. The next big change should come next month, when I post a top ten albums list for the year and relegate the rest of my 2005 purchases (currently listed in the order in which they were made on the sidebar) to the dustbin of history.

Hope you enjoy the changes.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Beyond Mediocrity

America's Least Wanted - Another Bush earns his place on a Rushmore for the rejected. By Bruce Reed

The Has-Been puts the Bush family achievements in perspective:
It's an awesome achievement for one family to produce two of the four most unpopular presidents in modern times. If there were a Mount Rushmore for rejection, the Bushes would have half the place to themselves.
Only two presidents in modern times have had disapproval ratings higher than the Bushes, who are tied at 60 percent: Richard Nixon at 66 percent and Harry Truman at 67 percent.

There's an important difference, though: When each of the other three hit his personal low point, his term was about to end, one way or another. Truman's worst approval ratings came just before Eisenhower replaced him in 1953. Nixon's darkest hour was just before it dawned on him to resign in 1974. And Bush I was at his worst in 1992, just before Bill Clinton sent him back to Kennebunkport for a long vacation.

But this Bush threatens to stay in the White House for another three years, barring an impeachment or resignation. I realize that, after deducting his vacation time, this only means he'll be spending another six weeks in D.C., but still: That's a long time for things to get worse. Two months ago, Reed notes, Bush's disapproval number was 56; now it's 60. Will it be 64 in two more months? 68 in four? With 36 months until the election of his successor, Bush has time to flirt with a disapproval rating above 100, if only such a thing were possible. He can certainly give Truman and Nixon a run for their money.

No Kidding

Harry Potter Poised for Box Office Victory

I can verify this headline--as if anyone would have trouble believing it. We were planning to see the movie Saturday afternoon in an IMAX theatre; it was supposed to be a birthday treat. Guess what? Sold out. But not just on Saturday afternoon: Every single bloody IMAX showing for the entire weekend. Including the ones that start at 9:30 AM.

Has anyone seen the movie yet? What did you think?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Wee Wee-Wee

Mini-Porn Could Be Mega-Business

This alleged new trend I simply cannot understand. Under what circumstances, exactly, would one want to use a cell phone or an iPod as a porn-viewing machine? Despite the arguments made for this trend's success in the article above, I'm dubious for a pair of reasons. First, I don't know how a screen that's two inches by two inches will offer viewers anything they actually want to see. Second, I don't see how making porn more portable will appeal to most people. Does one really get a hankering for some good S&M while riding the train home from work? And if one did, where would one watch it? Certainly not in the middle of the train, where the passenger in the next seat over could watch. No, one would be in the bathroom, holding the tiny screen close to one's face with one hand while using the other for...

Ahem. I think you can see my point: Even if there is a demand for portable porn, it's hardly a demand that, once met, will lead to anything good. I have no problem with people watching porn in the privacy of their own homes--and doing what they will while watching it. But we hardly need to encourage people to take this private activity into commuter train bathrooms and workplace bathrooms and, my goodness, the possibilities are endless. If you're so aroused that you need to relieve the tension in one of these locales, you don't need porn to help you.

Flailing Away

Another Set of Scare Tactics

E.J. Dionne has the president's number--57 percent of the American people think he misled us into a war in Iraq. And he brings up a point that has been absent from the debate as Bush calls those who question the war unpatriotic:
There is a great missing element in the argument over whether the administration manipulated the facts. Neither side wants to talk about the context in which Bush won a blank check from Congress to invade Iraq. He doesn't want us to remember that he injected the war debate into the 2002 midterm election campaign for partisan purposes, and he doesn't want to acknowledge that he used the post-Sept. 11 mood to do all he could to intimidate Democrats from raising questions more of them should have raised.
Dionne notes that few Democrats had the courage to stand up to Bush (Paul Wellstone did, but his plane crashed). And while Democrats should be chastised for that failure of courage, it's also fair to remind people that when he forced a vote on the war in Iraq weeks before the 2002 election, Bush had an astronomical approval rating, and the nation was still in a post-9/11 mood for blood that is only now beginning to retreat in favor of reasoned debate.

But Bush is in a different position now, and his ranging attacks on anyone who dares to criticize the way the war began just won't play with the public. The folks who said, last year, that Bush deserved to be re-elected so he could be called to account for his first-term actions may have had a point. It's not worth letting the Supreme Court turn into Vatican West, but there is a certain consolation in getting to watch this terrible president, and his terrible crew of cronies, forced to deal with the mess they've made.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Violent Night

HBO: Rome - Episode 11: 'The Spoils'

We were down to two shows rather than three last night, as The West Wing is gone for the rest of November. But two was definitely enough.

On Desperate Housewives, creator Marc Cherry returned as a writer and director, and the results were both exquisite and surprisingly violent. I saw it coming, but it was still shocking to see George hit Dr. Goldfine over the head, smash his skull into a stone railing, and throw him into a river. Will Bree catch on to this pattern of everyone who stands in George's way ending up dead?

Worse than that was the spectre of Eva Longoria falling down the stairs as she tried to escape an ice-cream starved Caleb, possibly losing her (suddenly desired) baby in the process. The last fifteen minutes of the show gave her character a new depth, one I hope she retains. Of course, losing the baby could provoke bigger changes--how will Carlos react? I can imagine the fight now.

No amount of DH violence could have prepared me for the bloodbath that was Rome. The show began with a killing in broad daylight and proceeded to an ending that foretold blood in next week's finale, as Brutus agreed to hold the knife that will end Caesar's dictatorship. In between, the attempted execution of Titus Pullo turned into the bloodiest scene I've ever seen on television, with arms, legs, and heads cut off by Pullo as he defended himself (and the honor of the 13th legion) and a final bloody stake driven through the torso of an executioner by Vorenus when he finally decides to come to the aid of his onetime partner in soldiering.

These two episodes set up a night of reckoning six days from now. Bree will surely notice the disappearance of her trusted adviser, Dr. Goldfine, and Gaby's pregnancy status will also surely be resolved. And in the finale of Rome, we all know that Caesar will meet the blade of Brutus, but what role will Vorenus, whose participation in Pullo's escape was specifically forbidden by Caesar, play? How will Octavian respond? And how will the show set up its second season? As Rome has gone on, it has improved by leaps and bounds, finding a stride so quick and well-measured that I'm tempted to call it the best show of the year. Here's hoping the first season finale will live up to the high standard the series has set.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Already? Music: Best of 2005

Amazon has already released its list of the best CDs of 2005. I'm happy to report that I own six of their top ten, and that three of them will make my own top ten next month. (And yet I only own 17 of the top 100...)

Enjoy the first of many lists to come!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Utter Disaster

FOX Poll: President Bush's Ratings Continue to Suffer

Last week CBS had Bush's approval rating at 35; this week Fox has him at 36. Either way, that's bad, and approaching my bet that Bush's approval rating would drop to 33 percent in a major poll.

Internally, it's more bad news: Bush has the approval of only one in ten Democrats, one in four independents, and only 72 percent of Republicans. 84 percent of Democrats say they disapprove of the job Bush is doing. That's practically off the charts.

And look! The Republican agenda is falling apart. The House had to delay a budget vote. Alaska drilling is suddenly off the table again, though we're not in the clear on that yet. Social Security "reform" was deemed dead until 2009 by the Republican chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Iowa's Chuck Grassley.

And it's not getting better for Bush. Having Scooter Libby on trial gives Democrats a constant excuse to remind the public of the lies that led us into war, and that war continues to grow more unpopular as it drags on. High energy prices this winter will leave the public in a grumpy mood; instead of the political arguments at holiday dinners that were all the rage a year ago, many families will be united by their anger at the current state of affairs and the president who brought us here.

Oh, yes, 33 percent may not be the floor for this president. He needs some good news, and quick, or we may be talking twenties.

Anticipation Builds

Potter franchise heats up with 'Fire'

This review promises that Goblet of Fire will be a feast for Harry Potter fans. Only a week to go!

One line worries me, however. I know a certain John Williams partisan who will not be pleased to read this:
Patrick Doyle contributes the best musical score of the series, one richly symphonic yet with a pop overlay that reminds us we are in a world of fantasy.
Oh well. We finally get to see Voldemort! What's a new composer compared to that?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

WMD at NYT No More

Times and Reporter Reach Agreement on Her Departure

Judith Miller is done at the NYT.

First Democrats win all over the map, then the woman who helped push bad (and by bad I mean not faulty but flagrantly untrue) intel into circulation through the nation's best newspaper packs her bags. Is this a great day or what?

Voters to Bush: Go to Hell

St. Paul: Coleman sweeps Kelly out of office
DFLers punish Mayor Randy Kelly for standing with President Bush, and usher in Chris Coleman in a 69 to 31 percent landslide.

The results of yesterday's elections shouldn't be all that surprising, but Democrats have grown so used to election night bloodbaths that it's difficult to resist the impulse to rejoice at the nearly clean sweep we witnessed yesterday. Yes, quasi-Republican Michael Bloomberg retained the mayor's office in New York City, and Texans added a ban on gay marriage to their constitution. But in Virginia a gubernatorial candidate who got help from Bush on Monday went down in flames on Tuesday, and in New Jersey Democrats consolidated their hold on the state a year after McGreevey's indiscretions made that hold a bit tenuous.

The best news, to me, is the news I've linked above: In St. Paul, the "Democratic" mayor, who endorsed Bush in last year's election, was ousted in a 69-31 landslide by another Democrat. Denizens of the quieter of the Twin Cities got quite loud in their anger at Randy Kelly's betrayal of his party and the sentiments of his citizenry (St. Paul went for Kerry by a margin of 3-1). Here's hoping other politicians get the message and continue the process of distancing themselves from Bush even as he and Cheney come out swinging against those who accuse them of condoning torture and intelligence manipulation. These guys deserve to be left twisting in the wind for the next three years.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Stop the Madness

Why Am I Still Getting E-mails from John Kerry?

Emily Messner is keyed in on an issue that seems earth-shattering every time I open another long-winded, donation-link-laden e-mail from John Kerry, an experience that I've had about once a week for the past year. (I delete the messages from my work account as soon as they come and yet I still have 12 hiding in my inbox.)

I would have been thrilled to see you win, John; just last night I saw a snippet of Fahrenheit 9/11, where Bush dresses up like a fighter pilot and declares victory in Iraq, and wondered how stupid the rest of the world must think we are for re-electing the doofus. But that doesn't mean I want to keep being reminded of it by you. Go about your business in the Senate. Come up with some great legislation and get yourself some actual cosponsors rather than pretending that the people on your e-mail list can cosponsor a bill with you. If the pain of losing our attention is too great, you can always buy yourself some happiness with Teresa's money.

But please: stop sending me e-mails. You had your chance in 2004 because we couldn't find anyone better. In a mission that should have been simple--dump the doofus--you failed. It's someone else's turn now.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Crazy Canadians

North of border, gay marriage spurs social revolution

Katherine Kersten is the Star Tribune's answer to accusations that it's a liberal rag. In this case, however, the cure is far worse than the disease. Every few days, a new example of Kersten's line-toeing mendacity appears on the paper's Web site, screeding against this or that bit of the "liberal agenda" or "setting the story straight" regarding the war in Iraq or the benefits of going to church or having 11 children.

Today she's claiming that gay marriage in Canada is destroying the very fabric of our enlightened northern neighbor's society. She draws this conclusion from one conversation with a like-minded zealot so she can close her piece with this bit of nonsense:
If someone tells you same-sex marriage won't affect your marriage, tell them to look north. The evidence is building.
No matter what Kersten and other scaremongers like her tell you, the only marriages same-sex marriage will impact are mine and others like mine. The reasons for this were neatly (and extensively) outlined by Dale Carpenter last week in an excellent series of posts at The Volokh Conspiracy. They're quite long, but well worth reading, especially if you plan to spend the holidays with more "traditional" members of your families and would like to discuss this topic without resorting to shouting. Carpenter lays out an excellent path for same-sex marriage advocates to follow in convincing the hesitant but fair-minded among us that this change, while it may appear radical and scary, can be viewed as both logical and as part of an effort to rejuvenate the idea that marriage is the ideal status for adults. If that's not an idea that can appeal to the most tradition-focused among us, what is?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Numbers Game

CBS News | Poll: More Bad News For Bush

A few other items of note from the CBS poll that put Bush's approval rating at 35 percent. The poll has Bush's favorable rating at 33 percent, with Cheney's falling all the way to 19 percent. That's right--only one in five Americans view Dick Cheney favorably. Cheney's unfavorable rating is 44 percent, while Bush's is 51 percent. More than half the country not only disapproves of the job he's doing, but actually views Bush unfavorably!

Of course, the links at the bottom of this poll have headlines including "Majority believe in ghosts" and "Majority reject evolution," so it bears remembering that a lot of the people being polled are, well, morons. Nevertheless, it is gratifying to see that even the morons are coming around...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

An Amendment I Can Support

The Right to Privacy—Stick It In!

Dan Savage makes a suggestion that is so splendid someone should have thought of it sooner: If we're going to spend so much time arguing about whether the Constitution includes a "right to privacy," why not simply amend the Constitution and explicitly add one?

As Savage rightly notes, such a right would be quite popular, and it would be fun to watch Republicans try to explain their non-support. Yet by supporting it, they would alienate their base of social conservatives, who believe that none of us have an inalienable right to have sex in the privacy of our homes, or watch porn in the privacy of our homes, or use birth control. Finally--a wedge issue that works for Democrats! Between this and stem cells, we could once again be the majority party!

This may be the best strategy I've yet heard for reversing our nation's present political woes and expanding liberty at the same time.

I Love the Nightlife

CNN Ousts Evening Anchor and Embraces Rising Star

Goodbye, Aaron Brown. Just looking at you made me think of stale, old-man coffee breath.

Hello, Anderson Cooper, you silver-haired devil, you. Two hours every night? Maybe this will give you more time to tell Jerry Falwell about the fact that we pay taxes, too...

You'll certainly give me a reason to consider watching CNN from 9 to 11 at night. Because who wouldn't like to drift to sleep looking at a face like this?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Getting Close

CBS News | Bush's Job Approval Hits New Low

Remember when I bet that Bush's approval rating in a major poll would slide all the way down to 33 percent? You should all be glad you didn't take me up on it.

Tonight's CBS poll shows Bush at 35 percent. It's only a matter of time now...

Reason to Believe

HRC | Alito’s 1971 Gay Support Raises Hope

Well, this is a shocker. A paper written by a committee chaired by Alito during his senior year at Princeton included the following statement (the emphasis is mine): "The Conference voted to recommend that the current sodomy laws be changed. The Conference believes that no private sexual act between consenting adults should be forbidden. Of course, acts of a coercive nature, acts involving minors, and acts which offend public decency should still be banned. Discrimination against homosexuals in hiring should be forbidden."

If Alito continues to agree with his statement in 1971--and I find it hard to believe that someone who was for gay rights in 1971, when it was barely being discussed, is against them now--this would be very good news. Elsewhere in the paper appear the words "privacy is a value of fundamental importance" and a long statement about how privacy, while little-discussed before 1971, is a value that has much to do with liberty and toleration, and also sometimes comes into conflict with the value of community. Thus, the paper states, "we regard it as one important value among many."

How Alito construes privacy in his jurisprudence will be among the most important decisions he makes. Does he continue to believe in privacy as not only a value, but a right? Does it still extend to homosexuals? Would he have voted with the majority in Lawrence v. Texas? These are important questions that I hope he will answer before he becomes a justice. Because while we may not be able to stop him from significantly restricting Roe v. Wade, it matters a great deal what logic Alito and his conservative colleagues use to do so. To put it vividly, the Right seems to regard the right to privacy as bathwater in which babies have been drowned, as the holding in Roe was based in large part on that right. If Alito can find a way to save the baby without draining the bathwater, though, it may not be ideal to pro-choicers, who will have to fight state-by-state to protect a woman's right to control her own body, but it will be a lot cleaner for us than a world without the tub of privacy in which so many other important cases--Lawrence and Griswold v. Connecticut among them--currently soak. An Alito who respects the right to privacy as fundamental and emanating directly from the text of the Constitution is a justice far less frightening to me than he otherwise would be.

Heady Times

Lick for the Stick? - Wonkette

I thought I'd seen it all when Octavian slept with his sister on Rome this weekend. But this tops it: A Craigslist poster is offering his two hard-to-get tickets to see the National Zoo's new baby panda in exchange for "a discrete blow job from a cute young lady." And he, um, boasts: "It'll only take 5 minutes or so of your time."

Hmm. Five minutes to see this cute face up close:

Of course, "Butterstick" (his real name is Tai Shan) would probably let out a roar if he knew about this. (Be sure to check out the photo gallery WaPo has kindly assembled--he's really growing up!)

Crony to the End

Pardon My Perjury - The secret of Scooter's confidence? By Mickey Kaus

Mickey makes a great point about the elaborate nature of Libby's lying. He made up an incredible story, in every sense of the word, because he knew there would be no consequences if he was caught in his lie:
Who would take such an idiotic risk before a much-feared special prosecutor? One answer: Someone who knows he'll be protected in the end. Someone who knows, for example, that he'll be pardoned.
Kaus points out that Libby defended Marc Rich, who was eventually pardoned by Bill Clinton as he left office. Does anyone really believe that Bush won't offer a similar pardon to Libby as he departs office, and to anyone else who may be swept up in the Fitzgerald net? Second-term presidents on their way out of office are accountable to no one but themselves...especially after the November election is over. If Libby isn't acquitted, look for multiple appeals to keep him out of prison, followed by a December 2008 pardon. You heard it here first!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

White Men

Another Lost Opportunity

The New York Times writes about Sam Alito this morning in less than glowing terms, but it saves the real wrath for the man who nominated him:
...this nomination is yet another occasion to bemoan lost opportunities. Mr. Bush could have signaled that he was prepared to move on to a more expansive presidency by nominating a qualified moderate who could have garnered a nearly unanimous Senate vote rather than another party-line standoff. He could have sent a signal about his commitment to inclusiveness by demonstrating that he understood his error with Harriet Miers had been in picking the wrong woman, and that the answer did not have to be the seventh white man on the court. But he didn't, any more than he saw Sept. 11 as an opportunity to build a new, inclusive world order of civilized nations aligned against terrorism.

Anyone who imagines that the indictment of Lewis Libby and the legal troubles of Karl Rove will be a cue to bring fresh ideas to the White House should read the signs. With more than three years to go in this term, the bottom line is becoming inescapable. Mr. Bush does not want to change, and perhaps is not capable of changing. The final word on the Supreme Court is yet to come, but the message about the presidency could not be more disheartening.
Hard to imagine another three years of this, isn't it? Hard not to think about becoming an expatriate for a few years, even...

Monday, October 31, 2005


Bush picks conservative for Supreme Court - The Changing Court

No time to comment--Halloween is a serious time at work--but I agree with Pat Leahy. This pick is "needlessly provocative"--which, after the bruising he took from his base for picking Harriet Miers, is probably exactly why Bush made it. Samuel Alito may be more congenial than Scalia, but congenial doesn't change the vote count. I smell a filibuster...

Friday, October 28, 2005

Top Notch

US Department of Justice, Office of Special Counsel

My respect for Patrick Fitzgerald is at an all-time high today. I watched his press conference over lunch, and as he explained Libby's actions, and how he allegedly lied about them, Fitz laid out his case in a manner that was understandable. He made clear what a serious set of crimes (obstruction, false statement, and perjury) the indictments represent. And he threw cold water on the talking point that any indictments that did not include breaking the 1982 law that protects covert agents would be a technicality, using the words, "That talking point won't fly" and explaining the importance of truth to our justice system. He was serious, humble, judicious, and fair. I hope they pick up big clips of his statement on the network news tonight and over the weekend. It will help persuade the American people of the importance of this investigation and the seriousness of the misdeeds committed by Libby--and by other players to be named later...

Stolen Thunder

'Star Trek' Actor George Takei Comes Out

Here I thought the most exciting news of the day would be the frog-march of Scooter Libby. But Sulu being gay? That's blockbuster-level stuff!

It is a bit insulting, though, that AP chose this photo as the one to run with the coming out story:

The rose-colored glasses, the fey expression--it's all just a bit too "gay" for a man coming out at age 68. Sort of says, "Duh--why didn't people figure this out on their own?"

[UPDATE: Here's a link to the full interview in which George Takei comes out and discusses his childhood, his partner, and his family. It's a good read.]

Sing a New Song

Leak probe details to be released at noon ET

I think Patrick Fitzgerald has let having a holiday named after him get to his head. Rumor has it he's going to indict Scooter Libby today and continue investigating Karl Rove. This is, of course, a wonderful development, if true: Bad news for Bush today with the promise of more bad news in the future. But it begs the question: Is today really Fitzmas?

I hereby propose that today be declared the "First Day of Fitzmas." As in, "On the first day of Fitzmas, my lawyer gave to me, a Scooter and further scrutiny." We can only hope there will be eleven more days of torture for a White House so willing to inflict it on others.

This sing-song approach to the whole thing also raises a new question: What if Fitzgerald's goal in going bird by bird rather than indicting the whole flock at once is to get one of the birds to sing? Would Libby squawk on Cheney, Rove, and others to save his own feathers?

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Flak Magazine: Harriet Miers's Original Intent, 10.27.05

The link above leads to the alleged first draft of the letter Harriet Miers gave to President Bush today. It's quite probably the funniest thing you'll read all day!

Another Possibility

Answered Prayers - How Bush lost the Miers fight. By John Dickerson

John Dickerson offers a good analysis of how the Miers nomination went down in flames, but what's most interesting is something that makes me reconsider my earlier prediction:
Is there any good news in this for the White House? Inside the West Wing, the fever might break: Aides have suffered day after day as Miers' chances diminished; now they can fight for a new, presumably more defensible, pick. Also, a replacement nomination—which officials say may be announced as soon as tomorrow—gives Bush an opportunity to change the story line of conflict inside the GOP. A new choice the right applauds may bring the fractured party back into line. "If he chooses a solid conservative, this is the opportunity he needs to shore up the base on the one issue that unites all," says a senior Republican strategist. "It wont just shore them up—they will be excited because they will think, rightly, they got it done."
Announcing a nominee on the same day his staff is eviscerated by indictments? Sounds like typical Bush to me. In that case, though, it can't be Mahoney...unless he's met with her in secret and determined that he knows her heart and her character. Clement? Jones? Heaven forbid, Brown? We might find out tomorrow...

Reluctant Prediction

Miers withdraws Supreme Court nomination - The Changing Court

I predicted this wouldn't happen until next Wednesday, but here we are. So I'm reluctantly predicting that Wednesday will still be a big day--the day Bush appoints Maureen Mahoney to the Supreme Court. Read her brief bio and you'll see that she's basically John Roberts without the penis--appointed by Bush I to a circuit court, but never given a vote; an impressive record of litigating before the Supreme Court; law clerk to Rehnquist. No one would argue that she's unqualified. Her name has been bandied about on both sides, winning mentions on the mostly left-leaning Slate and the obviously right-wing as a strong contender with a good background.

Please note, I'm not saying I would support Mahoney, but she'd be a pick Bush could trot out and compare with Roberts without being laughed out of the room. She'd be confirmed, probably without too much trouble after Miers softened the ground for her.

Justice Served?

Well, it looks like the indictments may wait until tomorrow, meaning this won't be Fitzmas. But we can spend the day celebrating anyhow. Not only are the White Sox champions, but every news agency is reporting that Harriet Miers has withdrawn her name from nomination to the Supreme Court...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Day of Deliverance?

The next 24 hours are shaping up to be great ones for the city of Chicago. Tonight, our White Sox are set to deliver the city from an 88-year curse by winning the World Series--in a sweep, no less. And tomorrow, if some of the rumors flying around are correct, Chicagoan Patrick Fitzgerald is set to deliver the nation from evil, indicting Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. If these two events come to pass, these will be two days long remembered in the city's, and the nation's, history.

Merry Fitzmas Eve!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Paying Attention

Consumer Confidence Unexpectedly Falls

I don't understand how this news is unexpected; even the article refutes its own headline:
"The unexpected decline means optimism is under more pressure than we thought," said Patrick Fearon, senior economist at A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. Fearon believes all the political uncertainty is also weighing on consumers' confidence.

"There is certainly more going on than just hurricanes and a resulting spike in gasoline prices," said Fearon. He noted President Bush's drop in approval ratings, political unrest in the Middle East and concerns about the Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers "could weigh on people's attitudes."
Three major hurricanes have reminded us we're at the mercy of nature just as home heating prices have risen. Gas prices have dropped, but they're still very high by recent standards. Oh, and people are starting to realize, with Bush's nomination of a crony to the highest court in the land and the rumblings of criminal activity within his White House, that the country, already dangerously off course, is being steered by a bozo. Yeah, that might take a toll on consumer confidence, mightn't it?

I'm Not the Only One

- First Read -

I'm not the only one who sees the impasse over documents as the Krauthammer strategy at work:
With Bush making it clear on Monday that he won't turn over documents about the decision-making process, Strickland says, some Capitol Hill insiders are privately questioning whether the White House and the Senate are playing out a strategy suggested in a Washington Post column to withdraw Miers' nomination in a manner designed to let all involved save face. Last Friday, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who called Miers' nomination a mistake, laid out the exit strategy that centered on "irreconcilable differences over documents." He wrote of her "honorable" withdrawal, "The Senate cannot confirm her unless is has this information. And the White House cannot allow release of this information lest it jeopardize executive privilege."
Any predictions regarding what day this will all come to an end? I'm hesitant to pick a date, as Patrick Fitzgerald can blow any and all Washington plans to hell on a day of his choosing this week, but I think next Wednesday or so is seeming reasonable. Bush can hardly afford to let the nation see Miers at her Senate hearings if she's performed as badly as reported in her private meetings. Better to lose on "principle" than to lose because your nominee is flat-out unqualified.

Monday, October 24, 2005


Document dispute snags Miers nomination - The Changing Court

Last week I wrote about the Charles Krauthammer strategy for bringing the Miers debacle to an end. And guess what? It looks like I wasn't the only one to notice.

Yesterday on the Sunday talkers Senators from both parties called for documents from Harriet's time as White House counsel, a request that they just know the Bushies will deny. Besides making hypocrites of the Republicans who wouldn't release memos from the Reagan years but now have no problem requesting documents that could reveal the inner workings of the current administration, this request puts the nomination in an interesting position, as Tom Curry notes:
Bush's statement [refusing to release the requested documents] sets up a standoff that could sink the Miers nomination — because senators won't be able to determine on what issues Miers worked and thus won't be able to figure out on what future cases Miers would need to disqualify herself, if she wins confirmation to the high court.
How far will Bush let this go? And who will he nominate next if he and Harriet finally have the quiet conversation they should have had weeks ago? Senator George Allen mentioned yesterday that he'd have preferred Janice Rogers Brown, Harvie Wilkinson, Michael Luttig, or Karen Williams--and his fellow Republicans likely have plenty more suggestions. Will Bush feel compelled to find another woman, or will he give his base the finger for hurting the feelings of his work wife and nominate Gonzales? We could find out sooner rather than later; Miers looks about as doomed as Scooter Libby right now...[update: Mickey Kaus points out that the rationale being used to scuttle the Miers nomination, executive privilege, will extend to Gonzales as well, meaning he won't be her replacement. Meanwhile, Slate's newly-inaugurated Miers-o-Meter gives her nomination a 75% chance of success. I beg to differ...]

A Wink and a Nod

‘Housewives’: Is prisoner a murderer? - Desperate Housewives

Did anyone else notice that Felicity Huffman danced on top of a bar last night to the same song she once danced to on Sports Night? My boogie shoes, indeed.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Even in Kansas

Kan. Court Nixes Illegal Gay Sex Ruling

No wonder social conservatives hate judges. Even in Kansas--where social issues are a surefire electoral winner--judges refuse to cave in to those who would let the law treat homosexual behavior differently than heterosexual.

While not the ideal case for proclaiming equality, this case, which involved sex between two developmentally-challenged boys, ages 14 and 18, did showcase how far the other side is willing to go. Punishing the 18-year-old with a 17-year sentence rather than a 15-month one because the "victim" of his crime was of the same sex cannot possibly be constitutional. It may be wrong to have sex with anyone that young, but it doesn't suddenly become 13 times more wrong when the two parties have the same genitalia.

Fortunately, the Kansas Supreme Court agreed unanimously, saying, "Moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate state interest." Can we just accept that those words are an appropriate interpretation of every constitution, state or federal, in the nation? It would save us a lot of time.


Miers: The Only Exit Strategy

I'm not a fan of Charles Krauthammer, but he has a good idea today for bringing an end to the farce that has been the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Basically, he suggests that because she has no paper trail, the documents she produced during her time at the White House are the only way for Senators to fairly judge her qualifications. Yet letting the Senate see these documents would violate executive privilege and chill the ability of future staffers to offer candid advice to the president. Thus, we're in a separation-of-powers dilemma: Which branch's needs supersede? Saith Charles:
Hence the perfectly honorable way to solve the conundrum: Miers withdraws out of respect for both the Senate and the executive's prerogatives, the Senate expresses appreciation for this gracious acknowledgment of its needs and responsibilities, and the White House accepts her decision with the deepest regret and with gratitude for Miers's putting preservation of executive prerogative above personal ambition.

Faces saved. And we start again.
Sounds like a plan to me.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Total Control

Russell Shaw: Law Profs. Debate: What Would Happen if O'Connor Takes Back her Resignation? | The Huffington Post

The post above reflects a question I've been asking myself lately: Couldn't Sandra Day O'Connor just stop this whole Miers charade by taking back her resignation?

Leaving aside the fact that O'Connor wants to retire and has valid (family) reasons for doing so, this raises a constitutional question, and in these contentious times, we're going to need an answer eventually: Is it possible for a justice to make his or her retirement conditional not just on the selection of a successor, but an appropriate successor?

Think of it: Poor John Stevens, rather than trying to hold out for a possible Democrat in 2009, could rest his 85-year-old bones AND effectively decide who would replace him. If Bush nominated Michael Luttig, Stevens could withdraw his resignation. Hell, he could send the President a letter that reads, "I hereby submit my resignation, effective upon the confirmation of [insert name of liberal judge or lawyer here] as my successor." Why not? Who can stop him--the Supreme Court? He's on it!

You can see why this could be problematic. Yet most of the experts Russell Shaw polled seem to think O'Connor could pull back her resignation, and that if Bush tried to nominate someone new anyhow, his approval rating would take a dive. Now, I know I wouldn't approve of most of Bush's potential nominees--especially those chosen out of anger that his best gal pal was rejected by the Senate--but still, I can't follow down the dangerous road that allowing a justice to rescind a retirement would represent. Because let's face it, there are worse things than letting Bush pick O'Connor's replacement. Like letting Scalia and Thomas choose theirs.

No Roll

Miers Says She'll Give Senators More Info

I've got to hand it to Arlen Specter and Pat Leahy--they're refusing to roll over for Harriet Miers, and that's a good thing. In essentially handing a student back a paper and telling her to do it over, they've also told her that her answers to many questions are simply unacceptable. Her B.S. response to the question of how she'd deal with cases involving the Bush Administration--considering her current position as its lawyer--was met with a bipartisan "Hell No!" and a demand for more clarity about when she would recuse herself from cases. Asking how someone would rule may be off limits, but asking her when she would acknowledge herself to have a conflict of interest is a good way to ensure that, even when it's up to her to decide whether to recuse herself, she's made public statements to which she'd be wise to adhere. Considering that she's proven wily enough that Specter says he's looking forward to the hearings, where a stenographer will write down Miers' responses so she can't deny them later, we'll need this kind of clarity if we're to shame her into recusing herself from the inevitable Bush-related cases that will come before her as a justice.

That, of course, assumes that Miers doesn't suddenly realize that she not only forgot to pay her bar dues, she hasn't quite paid her dues to get a seat on the Supreme Court. Considering that she thought Bush was the best governor EVER, though, I have a feeling she'll be raising her right hand and promising to tell the truth soon enough.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

New Digital Divide

Subsidize analog TV conversion: senator
Blu-Ray winner in DVD war: industry group

We're moving toward a new digital divide in this country, between people who care about the developments chronicled in the two articles above--and can afford to buy fancy new TVs to take advantage of them--and people who view TV as a mere link to the outside world, essential to have but not worth spending extra for quality.

While I'm on the former side of this divide, I do have sympathy for the latter: The government is planning to make it impossible for you and your old TVs to receive a signal without buying an adapter. If you cared enough about TV to get yourself a digital adapter, and could afford one, you'd just get a new TV!

Of course, government could have solved this problem. It could have told TV makers that they could not sell analog-only TVs after a certain date--a date that should have been set a few years ago. It could have made it clearer to consumers that the cheap analog TVs they were buying in the last few years would become useless without an adapter soon. In exchange for deregulation, it could have required cable companies to offer a low-cost basic package that would ensure that even those on fixed incomes could receive what's currently available over the air, or mandated a special rate for people on Social Security who purchase the lowest tier cable package. (Clearly, if you can afford HBO, you can afford to pay what the cable companies are charging.)

But government, knowing full well that this deadline was looming, did nothing. And a lot of people bought a lot of TVs that will require adapters as a result. Which, apparently, the government will provide. Even I don't like this kind of big government.

At least it looks like the DVD format war will be won by the better competitor. Apparently--much as it pains me to admit this--there are some situations where market forces can work without getting government involved.