Friday, April 29, 2005

Taco Tuesday

I'm often told that I have an unusual obsession with food. A friend was listing the pleasures of life the other day and named only two: Sleeping and sex. "What about food?" I asked. He said that was the perfect response from me.

So it should come as little surprise that, in preparation for this weekend's whirlwind wedding trip to Minnesota, I've compiled and placed in the armrest of my car a list of locations of both Taco John's and Beef-A-Roo that are convenient to the highway. Neither fast-food restaurant has any locations within an hour of home, so I naturally view this weekend as an opportunity to enjoy both. That's normal, right?


Thursday, April 28, 2005

No O.C.?

Bush to Announce Energy, Soc. Sec. Plans

Blah, blah, blah. We've already learned all we can from tonight's 7:30 CDT address/conference, which is this: Bush has a poor sense of timing.
It was only the fourth prime-time news conference of his presidency, and the White House asked television networks to broadcast it live — a request that some found hard to swallow. Thursday was the first night of the May ratings "sweeps," a barometer watched closely to set advertising prices. It also tends to be one of the most lucrative nights for the networks in terms of advertising revenue.
Will Fox show its independence from the Bush Administration by broadcasting The O.C. as planned? How else can we find out if Marissa and Trey fool around behind Ryan's back?

UPDATE: Fox and CBS have refused to cover Bush's song-and-dance tonight. All hail the greed of Rupert Murdoch! That's what we have to thank for our ability to watch Zach try to steal Summer away tonight rather than watching Bush try to steal our Social Security.

UPDATED UPDATE: They must have gotten Bush to move his show up by half an hour in order to make it on all the networks.
The O.C. will run two new episodes back-to-back next week!

Can It Be?

Vote for the Worst - American Idol 4!

Apparently this site has something to do with Scott's success in sticking around. It's not that people like him and want him to win--it's that they hate him, think he's terrible, and find it entertaining to watch him outlast his superior counterparts. Don't believe me? Look at this:

Time to move to the one-man, one-vote concept on American Idol. Anything else allows the show to be manipulated too easily, as Scott's continuing presence this season and Jasmine's top three showing last year clearly demonstrate.

It's Getting Hot in Here

Alabama Bill Targets Gay Authors

About 451 degrees, I think. Not satisfied with taking over every aspect of the real world, one Republican lawmaker in Alabama wants to ban books by gay authors and books that include gay characters.

A year ago, when people like me and Andrew Sullivan were saying that the upcoming election was about whether we would go down the road of the Christian Right seeking to control every bit of American life, people thought we were crazy. And they went and voted for Bush because they thought his issues (the war? taxes? I don't know what they were thinking) were more important and this fear of a bunch of religious wingnuts trying to use the government to push their agenda was unfounded. Well, take a look around. As Sullivan says:
This isn't just about gays, although we've felt the sting of the movement more acutely than most. It's about science, stem cell research, the teaching of evolution, free access to medical prescriptions, the legality of living wills, abortion rights, censorship of cable and network television, and so on. The Schiavo case woke a lot of people up.
This stuff is exactly what we were afraid of. And if more people don't wake up and take notice--and drive these people out of power in 2006--headlines like today's will seem commonplace rather than crazy. And this will no longer be the same country many of us know and love.

Shock, Shock, Shock

Stomp, Stomp, Stomp

I knew when they went to commercial what was about to happen, but I still leapt off the couch when Ryan turned to Constantine and sent him home. I'm not sure where this ranks among the all-time Idol upsets, but for the second time in three weeks we've heard someone give their final performance after being voted off and been able to tell immediately how much better he or she is than several of the remaining contestants. Constantine was not on top of his game Tuesday, and he was never one of my favorites. But he's shown growth over the course of the competition, and he can sing and put on a show. Someone else, who made the top three last night, has shown none of those qualities but persists nonetheless. Do people actually want to buy a Scott Savol record, or do they just want to see "the heart and soul of America" win the competition? There's just no way around this: SCOTT CANNOT SING.

As for questions about whether the show is fixed, Constantine's band did get a record deal this week, so it wouldn't be the craziest thing in the world if they accidentally left his phone off the hook during voting. People will certainly tune in next week to find out what miscarriage of justice will happen next!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Stomp, Stomp, Stomp

That headline is me crushing a cockroach, in this case Scott Savol, whose time must finally be up after last night's dreadful performance. Every week before this one, there has been someone else whose showing competed with Scott for worst-of-the-night honors; this week it wasn't even close. Scott will be dancing with his father by Thursday morning.

The others put on an interesting show, though. Carrie picked a song she loves--and fell fairly flat. Constantine picked a song he loves--and fell fairly flat, too. Anthony picked a terrible song that he happens to love--and fell flat. None of the three were as bad as Scott, but any of them were bad enough to be bottom-three worthy.

Vonzell and Bo stepped up to the plate, however. Bo's clever song choice--Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Wanna Be" is also the theme song to One Tree Hill, a staple of text-messaging teens everywhere--was marred only by those damned sunglasses, as his performance was spot-on. And while I cringed at the start of Vonzell's rendition of a Christina Aguilera softie, "I Turn To You," she found a way to make the song her own. If either Bice or Solomon go home tonight I'll be very disappointed in America.

But that would be true of anyone but Scott this week. Last year it was John Stevens who left in the six slot, finally ending an inexplicable run of good fortune and bad singing. This has got to be Savol's time to go.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Sopranos Effect

Watching TV Makes You Smarter

This article by Stephen Johnson has been widely discussed the last few days; I think it's worth judging for yourself. Johnson suggests that, as a society and as individuals, we've become more adept at following more complicated and more numerous plots in our television programming than we used to be. His argument, in its essence, is that TV--good TV, at least--is becoming like literature, capable of training the mind to think more effectively and actively. He suggests that the very things the moral values crowd decries--more sex, more violence, more of everything that really does happen in the world--are the things that are making TV (or at least programs like The West Wing, The Sopranos, and Six Feet Under) less and less like intellectual junk food and more and more like a sumptuous but healthy feast for the imagination.

A very good article, well worth reading, especially if you feel the need to justify watching American Idol to yourself.


Lucas announces two ''Star Wars'' TV series

George Lucas is planning two new cartoon series to fill in the gaps between Episode II and III and between III and IV. Who cares?

George Lucas will appear on The O.C. a week before III appears in theatres? Tell me more:
Meanwhile, a week before Sith opens, Lucas will play himself in a May 12 visit to The O.C. (Which, not coincidentally, is the show that premiered the Sith trailer a few weeks back.) In the episode, Lucas expresses interest in a graphic novel created by Seth (Adam Brody). Seth is forced to choose between taking Summer (Rachel Bilson) to the prom or letting Zach (Michael Cassidy) take her while he meets Lucas — and hottie book editor Reed (Marguerite Moreau) — for dinner. Guess which he chooses?
Oh, this is bad news, baby. I am hating Zach right now...

By the way, if you notice limited blogging this week, forgive me; I'm swamped at work and my final paper for class is due on Saturday morning; Saturday evening is the wedding in Minnesota. Unless the new Pope dies or Texas allows gays to marry, I'm going to try to resist my blogging temptations.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Friday, April 22, 2005

If I knew it was for you, I never would have given it to him in the first place! I would have taken a hatchet and smashed it to pieces!

'Seinfeld' inspiration offers soup line

I stayed up late last night because, just as I was saying goodnight, the "Soup Nazi" episode came on. Who can resist?

I understand that the word Nazi is a sensitive one, but today's news that the insipiration for the Soup Nazi will be introducing a line of soup called "Soup Man" in stores really sticks in my craw. I'm sure there are rights issues to be worked out with the show, but shouldn't this stuff be called "Soup Nazi" soup? Wouldn't that drive sales up?

That said, watching Elaine fall into a doorway after one spoonful of bisque makes me think I may have to try this new soup, whatever they call it.

Switch to Firefox

Microsoft Comes Under Fire for Reversal on Gay Rights Bill

If ever there were a day to download Firefox and dump Internet Explorer, it's today.

As James laments, the Washington State Senate, controlled by Democrats, failed to pass a non-discrimination bill there by ONE vote. Certainly a factor was Microsoft's sudden abandonment of a bill it had previously supported, probably under pressure from an evangelical leader who threatened a boycott.

Washington has been trying to pass this bill for 30 years. Illinois finally passed its version of the bill this year after a similarly long struggle. What is it about not being able to fire people for being gay that's so hard for people to accept?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Defining High Standards

Sony, Toshiba seek unified DVD format

And you thought I was thrilled about the civil unions in Connecticut? This is the kind of news that changes lives on a day-to-day basis! If the makers of Blu Ray and HD DVD can agree on a single format, we could all be watching movies in high definition in mere months--and without a war between two formats!

Of course, we'll have to make room for this new player, and our TV stand only has four slots--one for the receiver, one for the SACD/DVD player, one for the cable box, and one for the VCR. Looks like the VCR is going to have to bite the dust and we're going to have to get a cable box with a DVR. Or we'll have to get an HD DVD player with SACD capabilities and dump the current DVD player. Either way, my eyes and ears may be happy about this, but my wallet will surely cringe!

Big Step

Connecticut Approves Civil Unions for Gays

In case this news fell off the wires too quickly for you to see it, here it is again--Connecticut has become the first state to extend real legal rights to gay couples without a court order. It wasn't even close--the bill passed by a three-to-one margin in the Senate and 85-63 in the House. And a Republican governor signed it.

The bill gives gays and lesbians all the same rights as married couples--but only in Connecticut. They still can't file their federal taxes jointly, a sticking point that will eventually have to be worked out if more states go this route.

Unfortunately, the bill includes an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Still, this is a sensible compromise, one that should show the way to other states where gay rights are not anathema to the voting public. Illinois, for instance? And if the federal government eventually added a civil union category to its tax forms and amended laws implicating marriage to extend rights to gay couples--survivor benefits under Social Security, for instance--that would be OK with me. Yes, I believe that we should get the word--it describes something special in our culture, and denying it to gay couples denies us a measure of humanity. But if the word means that much to the other side, they can have it--as long as I can visit my partner in life at the hospital without restriction, know that he'll inherit my things if I die, and file my taxes with him. Call it whatever you want--I know what makes a marriage. All this administrative stuff is important, and well worth fighting for. But what you call my relationship doesn't change what it is.

Do NOT Insult Death Cab

Seattle's Own Death Cab for Cutie to appear on 'The O.C.'

Just a friendly reminder that Death Cab for Cutie will play on The O.C. tonight. Two songs, "Title and Registration" and "The Sound of Settling," are scheduled. If you're not already dying to find out whether Marissa and Ryan will finally kiss tonight, and whether Seth and Summer can survive Seth's deception regarding his graphic novel, and whether Kirsten will sleep with Carter, this musical incentive should be enough to get you to tune in.

Bad Boy

Staying power - How does Scott Savol keep his spot each week on ‘American Idol’?

OK, Anwar had been getting on my nerves for weeks with his camera-gazing and refusal to sing entire songs at a consistent level of quality. And while I was high on him initially (I had him finishing second to Nadia), his stock had dropped considerably in my eyes after several shaky weeks. But to see Anwar, with his winning personality and enormous voice, depart ahead of the obnoxious and vocally-challenged Scott Savol--a week after seeing Nadia suffer the same indignity--makes me think the rules of the game need to change. At the halfway point in each top 12, or thereabouts, America should get one chance to vote someone OUT--not to vote for our favorites, but to band together and shout, "Scott, you suck!"

Oh well. If everyone left in precisely the order they should, it wouldn't be very interesting, would it?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Sen. Jeffords Won't Seek Re-Election

Jim Jeffords will always be in my heart; he's the only person in power who has had the courage to abandon the Republican Party because of its rightward turn under Bush. His independence will be missed. Here's hoping the people of Vermont elect a true-blue Democrat to replace him!

So Long, Scottie

Wishful thinking? Let's hope not. Despite singing one of my favorite songs, "Everlasting Love," Scott was as dreadful as ever, missing notes here and there and everywhere. It wasn't his worst performance of the competition--there are so many others from which to choose--but it was definitely the worst of the night.

Memo to Anthony Federov: You are NOT Latino. Latin dancing, Marc Anthony, and Jon Secada are all fine interests for a young man to have, but you have taken it too far. That said, you are lucky to have made it this far, but last night you gave a very good performance that should keep you out of the bottom three.

That distinction should be reserved for Scott, Anwar--whose choice to sing "September" as a bass despite both his vocal issues in that range and the fact that the original is much higher didn't make much sense--and Carrie, who continues to deliver technically correct singing with no feeling, no emotion, and movement that suggests that her skin is layered on top of a tough metal skeleton. The fembot routine is not working for me! And for a person as obsessed with lyrics as I am, her comments after her song were a slap in the face--she doesn't know what the song is about, but it's interesting vocally? That explains, well, all of her performances up to now, doesn't it?

Constantine and Bo were both fine--Bo was better--but the spotlight was on Vonzell, who may finally be emerging as a real contender after sort-of-cheating by choosing a 1978 Chaka Khan song that just happened to be covered by her vocalist of choice, Whitney Houston, during the '90s. If Vonzell can outlast Scott, Anthony, and Anwar--who I think will be the next three to go, despite my preference for a Carrie crash--she'll be in fine shape to turn it up a notch for a few weeks and maybe even win this thing.

Without Shame

White House Renews Support for Bolton
DeLay Continues Attacks on Federal Courts

I don't get it. John Bolton's nomination is a noose around the neck of George Bush; the longer this drags on, the worse it will look for Bush if Bolton is defeated. Why not take him out back and shoot him and move on to the next crony?

And while he's at it, Bush might want to train his sights on Tom DeLay and fire away. He's beginning to sound insane:
"Absolutely. We've got Justice Kennedy writing decisions based upon international law, not the Constitution of the United States? That's just outrageous," DeLay told Fox News Radio on Tuesday. "And not only that, but he said in session that he does his own research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous."
I realize the Internet might be a bit complicated for an exterminator from Texas, but I think most people have accepted it as a valid research tool by now. Does anyone's process for writing a paper in school start with a trip to the library anymore?

I'm all for letting this administration crash and burn before it does any more damage to the nation, but unless Bush is far smarter than I imagine him to be, he seems to be making a mistake in letting both Bolton and DeLay continue to embarrass him. Combined with his Social Security disaster, the fall of these twin towers could have the reverse impact of the 9/11 attacks, plunging Bush into an approval rating hell from which he never re-emerges. We appear to be living in the moment when the political pendulum has swung as far to the right as it can, but Bush is playing this as if the country will continue to move ever rightward in lockstep with him and his most devout followers. It may be the last consequential mistake he gets to make.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Act of War

Liberal U.S. Catholics Dismayed at Choice of Pope

As I expected, the College of Cardinals chose John Paul II's right-hand man to be his successor. As I expected, the new Pope will be called Benedict XVI--a name that should indicate an approach designed to bring about peace.

Yet the choice of Joseph Ratzinger is nothing short of an act of war against those who remain within the Catholic Church, and those who have already departed it, who hoped for a course correction following the interminable and deeply conservative papacy of Karol Wojtyla. Some had hoped to see a relaxation of the outdated celibacy rules for priests; others dared to dream, in the days before JPII had appointed the entire group that would elect his successor, that women might one day be ordained and birth control deemed appropriate. Those dreams may have died long ago, but today's election is surely a very deep nail into the coffin.

And what of the Church's position on gays? Here's Reuters:
Since taking over the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as the Roman Catholic Church's chief ideologue, Ratzinger has denounced homosexuality and even branded other Christian churches as deficient.

"Gay and lesbian Catholics are going to be very hurt by this election because Cardinal Ratzinger was the lightning rod for so much of the anger they felt under the previous pope," said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the New Ways Ministry, a national ministry for lesbian and gay Catholics.
Ratzinger has argued in the past that violence against homosexuals was to be predicted if they pushed for rights. Charming, no? And he will tolerate no disagreement with his views: he is believed to want a pure church, made up only of believers in all the doctrine he espouses, even if that means a much smaller church.

Congratulations, Pope Benedict XVI. You're going to get your wish.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Silver Lining

The War On Judges

Yeah, they're threatening the lives of judges and attempting to dismantle the separation of powers at the foundation of our Constitution. But there is good news:
Now, says Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, the issue of judges is so important to his members that it's replaced gay marriage at the top of his agenda. "Every issue we care deeply about has the fingerprints of judges on it," he says.
I'll miss being your number one target, Tony. You always wanted to make sure I was a second-class citizen; now I'm a second-class issue! Is that enough for you?

Bless the Child

AMT — the tax we love to hate

Now that tax season is over, we'll probably stop seeing articles every day about the Alternative Minimum Tax and how it's turning into a scourge on ordinary people because it disallows too many deductions. But the government needs the revenue it generates--estimates of future deficits, already insanely high, take into account the extra money from the AMT, which helps to offset some of the largesse of the Bush administration's many tax cuts by wiping them out for folks with several children or big mortgages.

Well, here's a crazy idea: Why not get rid of those deductions for everyone? Stop letting people lop huge chunks off their taxes because they chose to procreate like mad; they already get the education of their offspring subsidized by their childless neighbors. Maybe people would think twice about having six kids, or at least think harder about how to feed all those mouths, if they knew that they wouldn't be paid $1000 a head for having children. And what does the mortgage deduction do? It allows people to buy bigger houses than they otherwise would, driving up prices and creating an endless upward spiral so that people rationally invest all their money in housing--and none of it in other, more productive endeavors that might bear real economic fruit and make our nation more competitive in the world. The price of a house might not double in five years if people knew they couldn't get a bigger and bigger discount on their new home--or second home!--by borrowing more and more money to pay for it.

If the government wants to create incentives for people to own their own homes--and I think that's a worthy cause, as home ownership has been shown to have myriad social benefits--it should focus on helping people to own their first home. Creating incentives for people to move around and buy bigger and bigger homes so they can win the real estate lottery, and encouraging child-rearing in a world that already has enough occupants, do not seem like goals that our tax code should promote.

Will I feel differently when I buy a home and want to deduct the oodles of interest I'll be paying the first few years? Perhaps. But if the playing field were level--if no one could deduct their interest--then the price I would pay for that home would be lower, and the incentive to leap from home to home--or buy a second home--and thereby artificially inflate the price of one of the few things every person needs, would go away.

My point is this: You should not be able to avoid taxation by profiteering, and the tax code should not be structured in such a way that it inflates the price of a necessary good beyond the means of ordinary people. So scourge away, AMT: A grateful nation awaits the results of your handiwork.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Bravo, Eric Berndt

Scalia Subjected to Probing Question, the Aftermath

Eric Berndt is the NYU law student who, on Tuesday, asked Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, "Do you sodomize your wife?" Wonkette has posted Berndt's letter to his classmates regarding the incident; it's linked above. In it, we learn that Berndt is gay, recently out of the closet, and ready to speak truth to power. As he explained in his letter:
I wanted to make him and everyone in the room aware of the dehumanizing effect of trivializing such an important relationship. Justice Scalia has no pity for the millions of gay Americans on whom sodomy laws and official homophobia have such an effect, so it is difficult to sympathize with his brief moment of "humiliation," as some have called it.
Good work, Eric. Though, as Wonkette hints, it may have been more productive to suggest that Scalia and his wife spend more time engaged in sodomy. Maybe the guy would loosen up a bit.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

On a Diet

Oberweis says he's running for governor in 2006

Thank goodness I've practically given up ice cream in my effort to return to my fighting weight. The nearby Oberweis Dairy--less than three minutes from home--is quite a temptation, but knowing that the insane prices are helping a bigot run for office, combined with my vigilance in the face of a growing waist, will make it much easier to forego a caramel shake or Oreo sundae.


Timberwolves Owner Says Sprewell-Cassell Experiment Failed

As if missing the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade didn't hurt enough, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor decided that yesterday would be a good day to stir things up and tell two of the team's stars during last year's great run, through the newspaper, that they should probably pack their bags. Something tells me that, having tried once to scale the heights of the NBA and failing, Taylor is going to be content to surround Kevin Garnett with B-list talent, let the team find its way into the lower half of the Western Conference bracket each year, and stop forking over big contracts to attract stars who could help KG advance in the playoffs. It's sad, but the team's best season may be behind it.

Photo Finish

What would Honest Abe say?

This article from the Chicago Tribune discusses the practice of painting historic murals using the faces of people known by the artist. I've been trying to find an image online that proves it, but you'll have to take it on faith for now: I have been guilty of taking part in such a scheme. Every day, people in Iowa see my face when they view a mural of the Corps of Discovery that accompanied Lewis and Clark. I'm the one carrying the fish.

Anyhow, I should quickly note that I had the bottom three pegged correctly this week--quite an event, considering my recent lack of success. How did Scott finish third-to-last, though? I don't understand how he's clinging to life while people with real talent are going home. Now we're down to five guys and only two girls. Next week's bottom three had better be Bo, Anthony, and Scott--and it's time for Scott to go.

Nice to hear Nadia sing "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" one last time, though. One of my favorite songs--though I don't agree with the sentiments expressed, being much more demanding than that--and Ms. Turner does it proud. She was my favorite going in and I'm sorry to see her go.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

If Elected, I Will Not Serve

Repeal the Gay Ban

I've never been an outspoken opponent of the ban on gays in the military. Why rock the boat when I've got an easy way out of the draft? But now that age has become my exemption (if there were a war requiring a draft today, we would draft 18- to 25-year-olds), I think it's high time the military, if not the rest of the nation, acknowledge that gays and lesbians are every bit as capable of defending the nation in times of peril as anyone else.

Fortunately, I'm not alone in this thought. From the lead editorial of the Washington Post this morning:
The military wastes a lot of money making sure that gay soldiers are either deeply closeted or ex-soldiers. According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, the services have spent $190 million recruiting and training replacements for gay service members kicked out during the past 10 years. More than 750 of the 9,488 men and women discharged from the military during that time, moreover, "held critical occupations"; many had training in languages important to the war on terrorism. The gay ban, in other words, is as self-defeating as it is demeaning to people who want to serve their country at a time of great need. It is long past time for it to go.
Opponents will say repealing the ban on openly gay soldiers is one more step down the road to acceptance of something that they can't abide--equality for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. And they're right--this would be one more big step in that direction. That's exactly why it needs to happen as soon as possible.


Savage Love by Dan Savage

Via Andrew Sullivan, this statement from Dan Savage really gets the problem gays and lesbians who grew up Catholic have with Mother Church:
What's maddening about this pope's signature gay bashing is this: When the pope—the dead one, the next one, the one after that—says something stupid about homosexuality, straight folks take it to heart. The church's efforts have helped defeat gay rights bills, led to the omission of gays and lesbians from hate-crime statutes, and helped to pass anti-gay-marriage amendments. But when a pope says something stupid about heterosexuality, straight Americans go deaf. And this pope had plenty to say about heterosexual sex—no contraceptives, no premarital sex, no blowjobs, no jerkin' off, no divorce, no remarriage, no artificial insemination, no blowjobs, no three-ways, no swinging, no blowjobs, no anal. Did I mention no blowjobs? John Paul II had more "no's" for straight people than he did for gays. But when he tried to meddle in the private lives of straights, the same people who deferred to his delicate sensibilities where my rights were concerned suddenly blew the old asshole off. Gay blowjobs are expendable, it seems; straight ones are sacred.
Were truer words ever spoken? Why is it that while papal decrees regarding divorce and contraception are routinely ignored by all but the most fervent of Catholics, his contempt for gay marriage inspires them to write laws? How would you like it if your nation tried to pass laws governing who you could love and, until recently, how you could love them in part because an old man wearing a cape told them they should?

Let's Drop Another Boy

The switch is complete on Idol. Vonzell and Constantine proved last night that they've grown by leaps and bounds, outshining Nadia and Bo and hopefully keeping themselves safe for another week. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Constantine was clearly on his game last night. He delivered the best performance of the night with "Bohemian Rhapsody," followed by Vonzell's rock-solid and exciting "Let's Hear it For the Boy." Shockingly, Anthony pulled off a decent rendition of "Every Time You Go Away" and may also avoid bottom three status.

Carrie and Anwar continued down their long, robotic road. Anwar seems programmed to wobble his head about and float around the right notes, while Carrie sounds the part but still looks like she's putting on an act rather than really getting into her songs.

But the bottom three this week ought to be Bo, whose "Freebird" was tired and boring; Nadia, whose song started out well enough but collapsed under the crushing weight of repetitive lyrics; and Scott, whose back-talk to Simon--"I had the courage to do this when millions of people out there didn't. I think I rocked"--should be the last word he gets on the matter. He never found a key to call his own during the song, and I actually cringed several times during the lower notes of "She's Gone." He's gone, if you ask me.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Battle Joined

Bill Clinton Bashes Man Behind 'Stop Hillary' Push

I really hate the headline to this article. Bill Clinton is not "bashing" Arthur Finkelstein. He's "bashing" a party that would treat Finkelstein and his newly-minted husband like second-class citizens:
Clinton called one of the leaders of the ["Stop Hillary"] movement, New York powerbroker Arthur Finkelstein, "sad," after reports over the weekend that the Republican consultant married his gay lover.

"Either this guy believes his party is not serious and is totally Machiavellian in his position or there's some sort of self-loathing there," Clinton said. "I was more sad for him."

The New York Times reported on Saturday that Finkelstein, who has worked to elect strongly conservative Republican politicians, married his male partner in a civil ceremony in Massachusetts in December. The Republican Party opposes same-sex marriages.
I know there are those who disagree, but I think if you're going to get married based on a law your party opposes, and uses as part of a base-inspiring attack on the judiciary, you probably shouldn't turn around and play hatchet man for that party. There's a special circle in my vision of Hell for people like Finkelstein.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Prescription for Change

Ailing Health Care

Paul Krugman, apparently convinced that the Social Security debate is all but over, has moved on to health care. Today he starts what he promises will be a weeks-long effort to explain what he thinks we ought to do to fix our bloated, expensive, and inefficient health care system. He says he'll explain how the wonderful innovations that continue to make health care more and more expensive can be harnessed in a system that costs less and provides better care for more people.

And he's up-front about how this will be achieved:
To get effective reform, however, we'll need to shed some preconceptions - in particular, the ideologically driven belief that government is always the problem and market competition is always the solution.

The fact is that in health care, the private sector is often bloated and bureaucratic, while some government agencies - notably the Veterans Administration system - are lean and efficient. In health care, competition and personal choice can and do lead to higher costs and lower quality. The United States has the most privatized, competitive health system in the advanced world; it also has by far the highest costs, and close to the worst results.
This should make for a very interesting next few weeks.

Hello, Mayor Daley

New York City honors same-sex marriages

Last year, Mayor Daley of Chicago spoke out in favor of gay rights, telling listeners they should stop blaming gays and lesbians for their own marital problems. David Orr, Cook County Clerk, will give you a domestic partnership license for $30 and says he'd be happy to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples if the law allowed it.

Mayor Bloomberg of New York has just done them one better, requiring the nation's largest city to respect the marriage and civil union licenses obtained by same-sex couples in other jurisdictions. I suppose this makes him an "Activist Mayor," in the parlance of the G.O.P.; were it not for the fact that Bloomberg is a nominal Republican himself, I'm sure Tom DeLay and John Cornyn would be making veiled threats on his life on the floor of Congress. But this marks the second time in a week that elected officials have pushed for broader rights for gays and lesbians; the Connecticut Senate passed a bill creating civil unions there last week as well. When rights are extended by elected officials, what does that do to the "activist judges are ruining America" argument?

So, Daley and Orr, the ball's in your court! Are you going to let Chicago be outdone by New York? By a Republican? Or are you going to show us all who's boss? Marriage--legal, the kind that means the same thing as anybody else's--could be just a flight to Toronto or Boston away for Cook County residents.

Friday, April 08, 2005


On Not Mourning the Pope - Thoughts over the grave of John Paul II. By Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is always interesting, even when he's disagreeable. But today he hits the nail on the head regarding the Pope, whose body was finally buried this morning. He says of the fact that the Pope apologized for multiple errors in the history of the Church: "They are and were admissions that the Roman Catholic Church has been responsible for the retarding of human development on a colossal scale." But even as he admitted these past errors, John Paul II refused to consider the possibility that his own positions on matters of sex were just as fallible as the positions of prior popes for which he apologized, and likely to do just as much harm. Thus the final words of Hitchens on the subject:
Unbelievers are more merciful and understanding than believers, as well as more rational. We do not believe that the pope will face judgment or eternal punishment for the millions who will die needlessly from AIDS, or for his excusing and sheltering of those who committed the unpardonable sin of raping and torturing children, or for the countless people whose sex lives have been ruined by guilt and shame and who are taught to respect the body only when it is a lifeless cadaver like that of Terri Schiavo. For us, this day is only the interment of an elderly and querulous celibate, who came too late and who stayed too long, and whose primitive ideology did not permit him the true self-criticism that could have saved him, and others less innocent, from so many errors and crimes.
Amen. Rest in peace, John Paul.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Stop Short

Nikko Smith Voted Off 'American Idol'

Last night proved that I cannot predict the will of the people or the writers of The West Wing. Who'd have thought Vonzell would be in the bottom three while Anthony sat comfortably in the safe zone, even as he admitted his performance was as hideous as Simon Cowell said it was? And who'd have thought Scott would beat the rap of his bad singing and colored past and outpoll Nikko, whose voice may lack a certain something but who at least puts on a show?

At this point, with eight finalists left, I think it should be noted that only Bo, Carrie, and Constantine have escaped being in the bottom three. Whether this means they'll end up in the top three remains to be seen, but it certainly gives them a leg up for now. A Bo-Constantine finale actually looks possible, but let's all hope it doesn't happen, OK?

As for WW, who could have predicted that Leo would be the Democratic nominee for VP? Yes, Matt Santos has had this presidential nomination in the bag since the day Jimmy Smits joined the cast, but John Spencer looked like he was on his way to a nice retirement, not another four years in the White House.

It's a cute move, but I don't think it's going to last: There's got to be campaign drama, and Leo having to leave the ticket for health reasons or some such nonsense would spice up the months between the season premiere and the November election. If Leo does stick around, he'll be one of the chosen. It looks like C.J.'s headed to prison (and off the show) for leaking info about the secret shuttle--how will that be handled next season? What will Toby do about it? Leave the show, one way or another, is my guess.

The writers certainly have plenty of storylines to close before January. Is Charlie really going to marry Zoe? (A lame duck White House wedding would make a nice Christmas episode for the show.) What role will Donna and Will have in the Santos campaign, and in a potential Santos White House? Will Josh and Donna EVER talk about their feelings for one another?

To find out the answers to those questions and more, I'll be back watching next season. Will I stick with the show post-Bartlet? I'd like to say no, but if Santos wins, and Josh is his chief of staff, and the Donna plotline hasn't been resolved, I'd have a hard time tuning the show out. In a world that will be free of Six Feet Under, Queer as Folk, and, soon, The Sopranos, I suppose I should be happy if the show keeps coming back for more and I'm left with more than The O.C. to watch.


Lawmakers: Daylight-Saving Time Saves Fuel

I'm all for the proposal to extend daylight savings from the end of March to the end of November, but I think some lawmakers are confused about what it does:
"The more daylight we have, the less electricity we use," said Markey, who cited Transportation Department estimates that showed the two-month extension would save the equivalent of 10,000 barrels of oil a day.
DST doesn't create more daylight--it shifts the clock so the "times" the sun is up better correspond to when people are up and about. You could save just as much--more, in fact--energy if everyone got up with the sun, regardless of the time on the clock, and went to bed when it went down or soon thereafter. It's our insistence on sleeping through morning daylight and staying up late at night--which I'm part of, just like everyone else--that costs us all this extra energy. DST is just a scheme to move the daylight back in the day so we can use it after we're done working each day.

If they're serious about saving energy, lawmakers should institute a national lights-out at 10 PM. Local news and late-night TV aren't all that great anyhow, and if you just can't fall asleep at 10, there are plenty of things you can do in the dark...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Moving to Monday

SFU Production update

The link above leads to an interesting interview with Alan Poul regarding the upcoming final season of Six Feet Under. Here's the most interesting chunk:
HBO.COM: What are some of the themes we'll be seeing this year?

ALAN POUL: Well, most broadly put, the show always has to do with life in the midst of death--or death as the part of life. And also with people's notions of a family. We've tried to stay true to those themes through five seasons. But in one change, this season has a lot of focus on parenting.

It becomes an issue with all the major couples.

Parenting, relationships between parents and children, ideas about what constitutes good parenting and creating families out of unorthodox structures are all issues that will play a more central role this season than they have in the past.
This should be interesting. Does it mean David and Keith will adopt, or consider adopting, a child? Poul also says "the ending will involve life and death and will involve darker turns for some people and lighter turns for others." Could a show created by a gay man have a happy ending for a gay couple?

Speaking of gay-themed shows, the move of SFU means it won't conflict with the concurrent final season of Queer as Folk, starting on Sunday, May 22 on Showtime. It's going to be a fantastic fabulous summer!

Demographic Flip

Kansas Voters Approve Gay Marriage Ban

The news comes as no surprise. What is surprising is this:
Some Kansas voters, like 24-year-old Eric Hetzel, saw the amendment as a way to protect the traditional definition of marriage, enshrined in Kansas law since 1867, from legal challenges.

"I am a Christian," Hetzel said. "I believe in the Bible and what it says that marriage is between a man and a woman."

But Byron Defreese, a 65-year-old retiree, called the amendment "total foolishness."

"I don't know how this is going to defend my marriage of 43 years," he said. "I think it's a diversion from the real issues."
Aren't young people supposed to be the ones who heavily support gay rights? Aren't the elderly supposed to be the people standing in the way?

And people wonder why I hate religion.

Boy, Oh Boy

Impossible dream - American Idol

That was rough, dawg.

Seriously, musical night on American Idol may have been the roughest show in the two years I've been actively watching the competition. (And yes, I remember Gloria Estefan night.) No one really shined, and there were some perfectly ghastly performances. Scott's opening number was embarrassingly bad, and Anthony's up-tempo reimagining of "Climb Every Mountain" was dreadful. Have you noticed that Anthony spends much of every song sort of sing-talking? Or that Scott only hits the notes he has to hold for more than a quarter note, leaving the rest of them in a tangle of flats and sharps that Paula's hearing appears to balance while the rest of us hear cacophony?

If they're not the bottom two, there's really no justice to this show. Otherwise, an indifferent week, in which Constantine was an unlikely hero, delivering the only really captivating performance of the night, though he did miss that last note. Vonzell was good, Anwar hit almost all the notes this time, Bo and Carrie and Nadia were consistent but forgettable, and Nikko chose a great song, then half-delivered on its promise.

Look for Nadia to end up in the bottom three with the aforementioned boys this week, but expect one of the boys--probably Anthony, rounding out this year's anti-teen revenge for Jasmine and John last year--to go home.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

I Love Capitalism

Google unveils satellite map feature

Why would I use such a title? Because the war for dominance among the search engines has been all good news for users. Huge e-mail accounts, free of charge; ever-improving search results, free of charge; and now, after maps that pinpointed nearby businesses and maps that display traffic conditions, we have a free mapping tool that uses satellite photos. If you don't think that's cool, try it. Enter your address, and when the regular map appears, click on the "Satellite" link in the upper-right corner. It's your neighborhood! Zoom in--it's your street! Look, isn't that the pool the neighbors put in last year?

And I can imagine how useful this will be when we start looking for a house. Does the neighborhood have a lot of trees? Large lots? Narrow streets? Wide easements? Nearby parks? These are questions a map doesn't quite answer. I think I'm in love.

Princes of the Church

The Price of Infallibility

Thomas Cahill (author of How the Irish Saved Civilization and many others) writes today in the New York Times about Pope John Paul II's legacy within the Catholic Church. What Cahill has to say, while somewhat myopic in its focus on American and European Catholics, is damning:
But John Paul II's most lasting legacy to Catholicism will come from the episcopal appointments he made. In order to have been named a bishop, a priest must have been seen to be absolutely opposed to masturbation, premarital sex, birth control (including condoms used to prevent the spread of AIDS), abortion, divorce, homosexual relations, married priests, female priests and any hint of Marxism. It is nearly impossible to find men who subscribe wholeheartedly to this entire catalogue of certitudes; as a result the ranks of the episcopate are filled with mindless sycophants and intellectual incompetents. The good priests have been passed over; and not a few, in their growing frustration as the pontificate of John Paul II stretched on, left the priesthood to seek fulfillment elsewhere.
If the cardinals--nearly all chosen by John Paul II--fail to choose a successor willing to change direction, Cahill says, "He may, in time to come, be credited with destroying his church."

This is an argument I have made in the past: if the church does not reflect what its members believe, it will not endure. At the very least, to continue down the road of John Paul II will be to turn the church into a refuge for the anti-intellectual, anti-science crowd in America. John Paul II was a very learned man--who happened to cherish throwback notions about sexuality. His successors, born in different times, will have to be exceedingly more ignorant to hew to the course he has set. Time will tell, but this lapsed Catholic is not optimistic.

Flip and F***

Real Time with Bill Maher - New Rules

That title refers to a popular piece of dorm furniture when I was in college, but it's also what America's religious teens are doing, apparently. As Bill Maher noted on Friday night (and yes, it's true):
In a setback for the morals/values crowd, a new eight-year study just released reveals that American teenagers who take virginity pledges wind up with just as many STD's as the other kids. But that's not all. "Taking the pledge" also makes a teenage girl six times more likely to perform oral sex, and four times more likely to allow anal.
I'd comment on this, but Maher said it best:
...armed with limited knowledge and believing regular, vaginal intercourse to be either immaculate or filthy dirty - these kids did with their pledge what everybody does with contracts. They found loopholes. Two of them, to be exact.

Is there any greater irony than the fact that the Christian right actually got their precious little adolescent daughters to say to their freshly-scrubbed boyfriends, "Please, I want to remain pure for my wedding night, so only in the ass... And then I'll blow you, I promise." Well, at least these kids are really thinking outside the box.
I had to go to the local megachurch to vote this morning, and it gives me great pleasure to know that trading science for religion, while getting these folks a really big building, is also turning their kids into undercover porn stars. How many more failed experiments like this before the big churches give teenagers condoms at youth group?

Buried Bias

Cousins' marriage highlights relationship controversy

Far be it from me to judge who anyone loves, but methinks CNN and/or the AP could have found a better sentence to conclude an article about two first cousins who married each other than this:
"People don't like what they don't understand," said Smith, who fell in love with her husband after seeing him at a family reunion.
Maybe that part about scoping out romantic prospects at the family reunion is the kind of thing that makes people a little uncomfortable?

Monday, April 04, 2005

Super Seth

Death Cab for Cutie Appearing on 'O.C.'

If they won't make Seth and Ryan kiss, this is the next best thing.

One Potato, Two Potato

Taco Time International Mexican Quick Service Restaurant

Something terrible is happening on the outer edges of Chicagoland.

Once upon a time, there was a Taco John's at Spring Hill Mall. Its presence there, while never confirmed visually, brought me comfort and the crazy hope that, as the chain expanded its territory outward from its small-town, middle America roots, we'd see more potato oles coming our way.

Yesterday, we had a hankering for those oles, and got all ready to go to the one suburban Taco John's. Lo and behold--it is now Taco Time. This restaurant, from Oregon, is apparently on a faster track to take over the Chicago suburbs, with plans to open a store at Woodfield next month. Can your local mall be far behind?

This is a sad development. While Taco Time features MexiFries, they're really just seasoned tater tots. See?

Whereas a potato ole is almost a seasoned tater tot, but shaped differently, seasoned better, and somehow just tastier.

I will get over this disappointment--but we may be stopping at a Taco John's on our way home from the wedding in Minnesota at the end of the month!

Friday, April 01, 2005

Moral Opposition

Ill. Druggists Must Dispense Birth Control

Governor Blagojevich may be many things, but timid is not one of them. Putting an emergency rule in place to force pharmacists to provide birth control pills to patients with prescriptions opens up a can of worms that needs to be opened, though, as other states pass laws allowing medical professionals to refuse treatment for any reason. Being a doctor or a pharmacist is a special duty, and it does not allow room for discrimination between those of whom one approves and those one does not.

Fortunately, this is one issue that Democrats are probably on the right side of politically. I don't think there are many people who think pharmacists should hassle and lecture women who have been prescribed birth control pills. Pandering to people's interest in their children may be effective politics, but trying to force people to have them isn't.


O.C. Watch: It had to happen! Seth and Ryan's first date

Entertainment Weekly follows up that tantalizing headline with this: "No Way! C'mon. Seth and Ryan will never be an item on the ''O.C.'' -- especially since Marissa and Alex already used the same-sex plotline. We were just April foolin' ya." As the Seth-Ryan hookup is one of my recent notions of nirvana, I find this joke quite unfunny. April is the cruellest month, indeed.

Want In?

Google doubles e-mail space

All this innovation--they also added rich text today--and G-mail is still invitation only! I've got 50 invites left, so let me know if you want one. It really is the best e-mail program I've ever used, particularly for conversing with other G-mail users.

Serious Day

Pat Buchanan Doused With Salad Dressing

On a day with such serious stuff in the news--Terri Schiavo's impending burial, the Pope's approach to death--journalists appear to be getting lazy about the small stuff. How can you write an article about Pat Buchanan being covered in dressing and not tell what kind? The image of this incident won't be complete for me until I know whether we're talking creamy ranch, a bright red French, or an oily vinaigrette.

Personally, I'd go with the French. Seems ironic, somehow, and shows up better on camera...