Wednesday, August 31, 2005

End of Science

FDA Official Quits Over Plan B Pill Delay
Creationism in schools favored

Maybe it's time to give up on not just New Orleans--which, if they have any sense, residents and officials will leave a lake so they can start anew on higher ground--but this entire mental cesspool of a nation. A top scientist at the FDA quit today because, once again, the agency ignored clear scientific evidence and caved to the Bush base by refusing to allow unrestricted sales of Plan B. Meanwhile, 42% of Americans identify themselves as having strict creationist views, 64% think it's OK if creationism is taught alongside evolution in schools, and 38%--almost 2 in 5--think evolution should be replaced with creationism.

It's official, then: cretinism is our national philosophy.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Like the Dylan Concert You Wish You Could Attend

Another day, another review as content...this CD just came out today!

This two-disc set is everything you hope you'll hear when you attend a Dylan concert. There are a few quality rarities from the Dylan songbook, the requisite traditional songs, and a lot of songs that are ordinarily recognizable to almost anyone but given a new spin. Anyone who has been to a Dylan show knows the experience of spending two or three verses trying to figure out which classic song Bob has completely re-imagined. There's nothing quite so radical here, but it's fascinating to hear all of Dylan's different takes on songs that fans know by heart. The sprawling "Desolation Row" is almost country-fied!

Because it sticks to a short time frame, 1959-1966, the tracklist of 30 songs also has time to portray Dylan's growth, from the home recordings that open the first CD to the Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 alternate takes that fill much of disc two. This is probably the most accessible of the Bootleg Series sets for casual fans, but true-blue, have-every-album fans will delight in the varied instrumentation and altered phrasing that pops up in song after song. A welcome addition to the Dylan discography!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Better Than The First

At long last, a new Amazon review...

If the up-and-down first SFU soundtrack left you hesitant to buy volume two, fear not: this well-chosen, well-ordered disc is superior to its predecessor in every way.

Beyond choosing a good slate of songs, the album's producers picked songs from memorable moments, making the disc ideal for both fans and non-fans of the show. "Lucky" will conjure images of the season four episode-ending fire that marked a turning point for the Fishers; "Transatlanticism" recalls the singalong with Claire and friends in the coach house; "Cold Wind," an excellent new Arcade Fire track, harkens back to the second-to-last episode and Brenda giving birth to Willa. Also present is the music from each of the most recent HBO promos, including "Breathe Me," which heralded the coming of season five and also provided a fitting conclusion to the series. Good luck forgetting the image of Claire roller-skating around a grocery store and tossing oranges during Nina Simone's "Feelin' Good," the song from the season four promo that opens this album.

One addition would have made this soundtrack perfect: the Pell Mell song, "Nothing Lies Still Long," that played every week during the "Previously on..." segment of the show. But there isn't a bad song here, and it flows wonderfully. If you're suffering Six Feet withdrawal, this disc is a must!


The bad idea behind our failed health-care system.

Mickey Kaus is vigorous today in his dissent against Malcolm Gladwell's latest contribution to the New Yorker. Gladwell's article is admittedly quick to turn from a throughgoing looking at the entire health care picture to an explanation of the faulty thinking behind Health Savings Accounts. On the other hand, while I know a lot about HSAs because I write about them at work, and Kaus knows about them because he's obsessed with understanding the ins and outs of every proposed health care system, I'm willing to wager that we're members of a distinct minority that have considered the implications of these G.O.Playthings before reading Gladwell's article.

Health Savings Accounts are a good idea in theory--and if your employer offers to switch you to HSA-eligible coverage and deposit a share of the cost savings into your HSA tax-free, you should jump at the opportunity, especially if you're a twentysomething with no child-birthing plans in the near future. But precisely because they seem like such a deal for well-employed twentysomethings, they're a bad plan for most Americans and for the country in aggregate. HSAs let those most likely to remain in good health opt out of the larger insurance pool, leaving a picked-over population to pay higher and higher premiums for the simple reason that they're growing older and more risky to cover. This is patently unfair to them--their own health insurance rates have always reflected risk-sharing with older, higher-risk folks--and it will be even more unfair as more people take advantage of HSAs in coming years.

Unfortunately, HSAs are so wonky in nature that they require financial advisers to structure correctly; hence the accusation, often made, that they are nothing more than another tax shelter for the rich. But they are more than that, as Gladwell ably points out. They represent an attempt to shift the paradigm of health care by encouraging consumers to reduce their utilization of the system. Deductibles, which have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, haven't stopped people from visiting the doctor; HSAs, by placing the full price tag for care in front of patients and asking them to take money out of an account that could otherwise grow tax-free (or their own pocket) to pay for it, are intended to prevent many doctor's visits by getting people to think twice about the cost of a visit.

That's fine if the visit being reconsidered is frivolous, but how many twentysomethings will forgo needed care and checkups, then use the extra wages from their employers to buy a flat-screen TV or an Xbox instead? Creating an additional "moral hazard" to visiting the doctor is not the answer; lowering the cost of care by eliminating the layers of bureaucracy designed to prevent patients from accessing care without the approval of an insurance company, and using the savings to fund additional slots in medical schools and residency programs until the supply of doctors meets the demand for care, is. If more people read and consider Gladwell's article, maybe our national conversation can begin to move in that direction.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Reviews by Richard Nelson

Thanks to everyone who has expressed their sympathy in the past week. Things are still not back to normal in our house, but we're slowly adjusting to the empty place in the living room and in our life. It's hard to believe that a week ago at this time we were so glad that Raider was going to have surgery--we finally knew what was wrong and how to fix it! We had no choice, but one does wonder what one would have done differently given the opportunity. I don't think we could have loved him more than we did...

Anyhow...I thought a return to blogging might do me some good. And I have good news--for me, at least. I checked my Amazon reviewer rank just now and discovered that, without posting a review since early June, I've climbed to number 3,185. I don't know what's spurring on the sudden climb (I've improved twice in a week), but I'll take it. (I suspect all the reviews I wrote of Bob Dylan SACDs more than a year ago are slowly passing the 10-vote threshold, which I've heard gets them an extra point in Amazon's secret formula.)

A review of the Six Feet Under finale, which I've now watched three times, should be coming sometime soon. [Update: After typing away for a while, I've realized that any review I might write would not do the finale justice. So I'll say only this: Frances Conroy deserves a trophy for her work on this episode, which was the finest finale of any series I have ever watched. The last ten minutes were positively incredible. And the extra info offered on HBO's Web site provided a final grace note to the most satisfying conclusion Alan Ball could have conceived. If you loved the show, I don't know how you wouldn't adore this finale.]

Friday, August 19, 2005

Bad News

I've been blogging less this week due to a heavy workload, but I've also been preoccupied with concerns at home. Raider, our pet rabbit, started showing signs of illness on Sunday--he appeared to be having convulsions and trying but failing to urinate. We took him to the Animal E.R., where we were told he had a urinary tract infection. Two days of syringing antibiotics later, we took him in for a follow-up, where we were told his fever was down and he seemed to be improving. Wednesday night he started having terrible diarrhea and sat miserably on our bathroom floor, panting and refusing to take more than a nibble of food. Thursday morning he seemed a little better, but we took him to the vet again. They kept him to test his urine and do an X-Ray to look for possible bladder stones. Alas, a bladder stone was the culprit, and the vet said he could do surgery that day to fix it.

Raider woke up from surgery and appeared fine, the vet told me, but an hour later he had died. This is not uncommon among rabbits given anesthesia, but not performing the surgery would have condemned Raider to a life of miserable pain and suffering that would have ended within days or weeks, whereas this gave him a chance to have a happy life again.

We buried him last night in the front yard of my parents' house. He was only three years old. We know we gave him a good life--the right diet, plenty of freedom to roam the house, and lots of love. But we're both devastated to have lost the third part of our little household so suddenly and so early in his typical lifespan. So please forgive me for a lack of posting this week, and probably next week.

Everything in the house reminds us of Raider--the empty spot where his cage used to be, his favorite spots in every room to curl up or sprawl out, and his perch at the top of the stairs, where he'd watch everything that happened and decide when it was worthwhile to run down and try to beg for a little taste of an oyster cracker. The place he occupied in our daily routine was so much bigger than we realized--he was the last one we each said goodbye to every morning and the first one to greet me when I entered the otherwise empty house at night. We miss him.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


'Six Feet Under' Laid to Rest Gracefully

Frazier Moore does the show justice with his review of the finale. Read it and appreciate, at once, what a good show he describes and what a good job he has done of it.

Closet Fan

David Gregory, Dancing Queen

After seeing the footage of David Gregory dancing along to Hilary Duff's concert on this morning's Today Show, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to take him seriously as a White House correspondent or guest on Sunday morning's The Chris Matthews Show again. I do, however, feel a strange new kinship for him...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Interesting Idea


Walter Kirn, who has taken over Andrew Sullivan's blog for the week, has an interesting idea about discourse in America--we should stop talking about politics and start talking about ourselves, the things we do, the things we actually know. It's an interesting idea and an interesting post. Take a look.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Extraordinary Revisions

Fiona Apple fashions a different 'Machine'

Looks like Fiona's going the Dave Matthews route--rather than releasing the album listeners have already heard for free, she's reworking the same songs I've already heard on the online version of Extraordinary Machine with a different producer and releasing it under the same name on October 4. Busted Stuff, anyone? Not to pre-judge, but if past results are any guide to future performance, removing Jon Brion from the picture won't increase my appreciation of an album I already love. (Of course, that won't keep me from adding the release to my must-have calendar!)

Thursday, August 11, 2005


'Sopranos' Adds Eight 'Bonus' Episodes

Can't really ask for better news than this, can you? According to HBO, there will be a run of 12 episodes starting in March. Then there will be a break until January 2007, then 8 more episodes--and the article states that "the premium cable channel avoided tagging the newly announced episodes as part of a seventh season and also declined to label them the final ones." How long can the series carry on? Only David Chase knows, but this will put him at 85.

This is starting to make the 63 episodes of Six Feet Under, and even the 83 episodes of Queer as Folk, look a little stingy. If a series with a star as expensive as James Gandolfini and a creator as fickle as Chase can carry on, why couldn't these others?

Still, this is fantastic news, even if it does mean we won't know Tony and Carmela's ultimate fate until I'm 28. Considering that I couldn't legally drink when the series started, that's quite a long time to drag out six seasons. When they're six seasons as splendid as these, they're worth the wait.

Sunday Shocker

A change in direction in store for West Wing?

Amid all the summer interest in Six Feet Under and Queer as Folk, I haven't forgotten about two more mainstream dramas that I also enjoy. Both have made headlines recently.

The West Wing is moving to Sundays at 7:00 Central for its final season. We've all been assuming that Matt Santos (played by Jimmy Smits) was destined to succeed Jed Bartlet, but Tom Jicha of the Sun Sentinel says not so fast:
The West Wing white paper on handling the election between politicians played by Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda is in flux. It has been widely assumed Smits would win -- partly because he is a Democrat, like the other regulars, and partly because he has made more of a commitment to the NBC drama, which moves to Sunday in the fall.

Alda, however, has gotten caught up in the spirit of the contest and has made it known he would be available for more episodes. "It's funny," NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said. "They went in with a pretty clear idea when they made these deals with Jimmy and Alan. But they're kind of getting the fever a little bit. Alan, who initially said, `Oh, I'm only going to do X number of episodes,' said, `Well, I could do more if you want me to.' All of a sudden, I think collectively they're going, `We thought the election was going to go this way. Maybe we could let it seek its own course.'"

The uncertainty has already resulted in a significant change of plans. Election Day was going to be early in the fall. Now it will probably be postponed until deeper into the season. The longer it is delayed, the more possible it is that Alda's Republican candidate could win. This is considered to be the series' final year, so a late-season upset would not entail casting a whole new support staff for an administration of a different party.

"They just want to see how much fun they have with this thing," Reilly said. "They've got some really good surprises in store."
Would the show's creators prefer an alternate reality where the people choose a "reasonable" Republican? Is that a better stab at Bush?

Meanwhile, it's looking more and more possible that the final season of The Sopranos, slated to begin airing in March of 2006, will be longer than the ten episodes we were initially promised. David Chase seems to be getting a second wind, and reports indicate that he may extend the final season to twenty episodes. This would be quite a reversal--instead of getting an abbreviated final season, we'd get an extended one. Maybe HBO will divide it in two as they did Sex and the City?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Unfair Criticism

Gas prices seen above $2.10 through 2006

This is completely (OK, only somewhat, actually) unfair criticism of the Bush administration. But here it is:

When I lived in the Quad Cities in the summer of 2000--the last sunny gasp of the Clinton era--I worked across the river in Iowa and frequently bought gas there. I once paid less than 90 cents a gallon that summer. 90 cents! This morning, on the way to work, the Mobil down the street from me (where I always end up buying gas despite the fact that they're the only Fortune 50 company without fair policies for their gay and lesbian workers--some activist I am) was charging $2.58 a gallon.

At roughly five percent inflation--and that's generous for the last five years--my 90 cent gas would cost $1.14 today. Even taking into consideration the difference between eastern Iowa and suburban Chicagoland, $2.58 a gallon represents the price of gas more than doubling, in real terms, during Bush's presidency.

Is it any surprise that Clinton's approval ratings that summer were in the high 50s, while Bush's this summer are in the low 40s?

Zero Tolerance

Conservative group yanks support from Roberts

This article is short enough to post in its entirety, yet it raises a few serious questions:
A conservative group in Virginia said Tuesday it was withdrawing its support for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' confirmation because of his work helping overturn a Colorado referendum on gays.

The group, Public Advocate of the United States, is one of the first conservative organizations to announce anything but support for the judge.

Eugene Delgaudio, the president of the group, said in an interview that he hopes his stance will prod others.

''I know that others feel the same way. I know they believe as I do. They're just not going to act,'' the 50-year-old Northern Virginia man said. ''But once I've done it, then they can't claim that no one's opposing Roberts.''

''We can't take our limited resources and put it toward a candidate who is not a strict constructionist when we were told he is,'' Delgaudio said.

This is not the first time Delgaudio has gone up against the Bush administration. He criticized Vice President Dick Cheney last year after the vice president, when asked about gay marriage, said, ''Freedom means freedom for everyone.''

Delgaudio said then: '''Freedom' is not embracing perversion.''
Question One: What level of acceptance of gays is acceptable to "conservatives?"
Question Two: At what point does a group go so far that it ceases to be called "conservative" and starts being called loony? I'm no fan of conservatives, but I still feel bad that people with bona-fide opinions and thoughts about the world have to be lumped in with crazies like Delgaudio. Not that it seems to be slowing down their progress toward world domination.

Apparently Bush can nominate the blandest judge in America and still bring out the kooks on both sides. Good to know.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Reading List

Harry Potter bewitches Guantanamo Bay prisoners

Prisoner of Azkaban, indeed. Either they're reading the books to try to imitate Sirius Black's escape from the Dementors, or these prisoners and I share some of our literary tastes.

Speaking of which, you may have noticed that the 5-book paperback set has been on my "nightstand" for a few weeks now. After I finished book six, I ordered the set, as I didn't have the first four books in the series in any format. Impossible, you say? I borrowed them all from a friend during a weeklong book binge at the end of the summer before my senior year of college. We actually tracked one of the four books down and took it from another of his friends who had been borrowing it, so obsessed was I, so intent on finishing what there was of the series before classes resumed.

Anyhow, I'm now at the start of book four once again, remembering things that Hollywood hasn't since spoon-fed to me and feeling my anticipation for the movie version of Goblet of Fire growing. And, speaking of Azkaban, I'm wondering if anyone else has thought about the differences between the book and the movie? I think this may be one of the few times that I prefer the images from a movie to the storytelling in a book; Steve Kloves and Alfonso Cuaron found an elegant way to deal with plot elements, like Hermione's time-turner, that Rowling seems to struggle to keep under control. The stones thrown by Hermione and the ferrets she uses to lure Buckbeak are inventions of the movie that speed things along, as is her role in Harry's casting of the Patronus that saves his life and that of Sirius, telling him that no one is coming to save him and spurring him to recognize that he saw himself, not his father, at the water's edge. None of these things happen in the book, and I missed them when I reread it. Funny that two men would take it upon themselves the enhance the role of a female character created by a woman, isn't it?

Becoming Impossible

Dream of owning home slips further from some
Once-affordable cities too pricey for low- and moderate-income families
Housing prices are far outstripping salary increases for low- and moderate-income jobs, putting the American dream of owning a home beyond the reach of teachers, firefighters and other community workers in many cities, said a study being released Tuesday.
Being a professional writer is kind of like being a teacher--it doesn't pay like being a doctor or lawyer. So I, too, feel the pain of watching the home-ownership dream looking more like a fantasy.

Where is all this money coming from? That is all I want to know. Prices can only rise if there are people out there who can afford to pay them--or banks foolish enough to give money to people who really can't afford the payments to which they're committing.

I don't want much--a decent house, with a garage for both our cars and enough space inside for both of us, that's close enough to the places we work that we can actually spend time in it rather than driving to and from it. Oh, and a neighborhood that's safe and doesn't look like it recently survived a war or natural disaster (portions of Streamwood, I'm looking at you). Do I have to move to a small town and take a job delivering mail to make this goal manageable? Because right now, getting those things at a price that we can afford is going to mean moving to Huntley, or beyond. (Minnesotans, imagine moving to Monticello. Or Chisago City. Never heard of them? Exactly.)

And how will those of you who plan to have kids manage it?

I hope these worries and fears all look silly when I'm looking back on them from my mid-thirties. But something will have to change for that to happen.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Laugh or Cry

Oil Prices Surge to $64, a New Record

Is it just me, or should someone be paying more attention to this and less time clearing brush?
Crude oil for September delivery climbed $1.63, or 2.6 percent, to settle at $63.94 a barrel this afternoon on the New York Mercantile Exchange after trading as high as $64 a barrel. Oil prices have risen about 47 percent this year.

The new record price was reached on the same day that President Bush signed an energy bill that was four years in the making. The bill provides incentives for domestic oil and gas producers, but does little to curb consumption.
I guess you know the situation is bad when economists start giving sarcastic quotes to the Times--and get them published:
"Other than the weather, and hurricanes, and refineries going down, and Saudi Arabia and Iran, and strong economic statistics, there really is no reason why crude oil prices should be so high," Ms. White said. "It must be speculation, don't you think?"
Here's some speculation--if these prices keep going up, and housing prices keep going up, more and more ordinary people are going to become fed up with Bush's unwillingess to lead the nation's economy in a more sustainable direction. The top tax rate will be back up to 39% by 2009. Maybe we can spend some of the money on developing a more energy efficient nation?

Shared Sacrifice

War Is Swell - A vacation guide to the war on terror. By Bruce Reed
Bruce Reed's "The Has-Been" blog is a delightful addition to Slate's offerings, and today's entry is a good example of why. I'll post the whole thing and hope that you'll take it upon yourself to read it here--the indictment of Bush is damning and deserved--and visit Reed's blog in the future. (The boldface is mine.)
Winners and Losers: Next Monday marks the 60th anniversary of America's victory in World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, America and its allies needed just three years and nine months to win the bloodiest war and defeat the gravest threat to freedom in human history.

What of our time? Nearly four years have passed since the Sept. 11 attacks – and we've not only yet to win the war on terror; we can't even decide what to call it.

What happened? In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, every American felt the same surge of patriotic anger their grandparents had felt 60 years earlier on Dec. 7. We were ready for four years of Liberty Bonds and Victory Gardens. Instead, over the past four years, our biggest collective sacrifice has been watching reality shows on television.

Sixty years ago, FDR summoned all Americans to do their part for the war effort. This year, the Bush White House summoned a Duke expert on wartime public opinion. The administration concluded that the way to maintain public support for a war is to keep telling the people we're winning. So much for that theory.

FDR and Harry Truman had a better way to maintain popular support for a war: actually winning it. That's a novel concept for Americans under the age of 50, who've been conditioned to believe that wars are won in an instant (like Grenada and the Gulf War), or drag on until the American people lose interest (like Vietnam and Iraq).

Thirty Days: Democrats sometimes criticize President Bush for being obsessed with the war on terror. His real problem is just the opposite: he's not obsessed enough. Bush is making history in August 2005 exactly the same way he did in August 2001: by taking a month off for vacation.

Unfortunately, the enemy is not on holiday. You won't see Osama bin Laden clearing brush outside his cave on the Pakistan border.

FDR worked himself to death during World War II. Woodrow Wilson did the same in World War I. George Bush is in no such danger.

If winning the war against radical totalitarianism were Bush's single-minded obsession, he'd listen to John McCain: stop Washington from spending like drunken sailors, ask every American to give something back, and hire a defense secretary who stands up for his troops instead of blaming them.

It's no surprise that a national tragedy like September 11 would make the President feel a divine calling. It's harder to understand why, when the moment cries out for another FDR, Bush thought God was calling him to be Calvin Coolidge. ... 9:19 A.M.

Dead, Not Gone

On 'Six Feet Under,' Grief and Authenticity

I will try to watch Nate's funeral again tonight and not be moved to tears, but I'm not making any promises.

Last night's episode effectively showed a slew of perspectives on the death of Nate, many times showing several in the same frame. Watching the Fishers (and the Chenowiths and the Sibleys) wound one another as they processed their individual and collective grief was a heart-rending experience for someone who has grown to love them.

The show has two episodes left, but it will all be epilogue, if you ask me; a way to explain what comes after the Nate era in these people's lives, which is what the main body of the show has chronicled. We'll learn the custodial fate of Maya, and find out if David and Keith keep Durrell and Anthony, and maybe even see Ruth take back George, the devil she knows, rather than continuing her heretofore fruitless quest to live man-free.

But the soul-crushing site of David following his mother up a grassy hill to bury Nate, followed by Rico, George, and Keith fumbling with his shroud-wrapped body before a jeans-and-t-shirt-clad Claire pitches in to help lower him into the ground, is what will stick with me forever, no matter what the next two-odd hours of the show reveal.

That's not to say that what remains won't be interesting. John Doyle states it thus:
Among TV critics and fans of the series, there is widespread speculation about how the series will conclude now that Nate is dead. Given the events and themes of past seasons, it seems likely that the only people to find happiness and love are the gay couple, David (Michael C. Hall) and Keith (Mathew St. Patrick). They have adopted children now and are already discovering a depth to their relationship that wasn't there before. That would make sense for Six Feet Under -- the characters who emerge with dignity and contentment are two gay men who form a family with adopted children. From the beginning, Six Feet Under took a cold look at American family life. It might end with an alternative vision of what American family life could and should mean.

The Nate Fisher character and his story amounted to Alan Ball's dramatization of the meaningless life of the familiar American male figure and his fumbling attempts at creating a happy family. Now he's dead, paving the way for a more meaningful sort of American beauty to emerge.
Of course, I long to see happiness for David and Keith, but more than that, I find Doyle's point intriguing. How the show treats each of its characters in its concluding hours will say much about Ball's vision of America, a vision that has enchanted me since I saw Annette Bening slapping herself for crying during American Beauty. Is the gay couple with kids the one best equipped for modern life? Is the "familiar American male figure" doomed to failure? Ball may think so. It will be interesting to see how he expresses this thought.

Friday, August 05, 2005

C'est Tout

Showtime's 'Queer as Folk' ends its 5-year run

That sound you'll hear Sunday night at 10:00, just as you're headed off to bed, will be my soft tears falling (and depending on how the show ends, possibly my loud sobs of sadness) as one of my favorite shows comes to an end. Sunday marks the finale of Queer as Folk. I know this show is not everyone's cup of tea, probably for the reasons Ray Richmond cites in his review of the finale:
It provides a satisfying capper to a series that perhaps hasn't received sufficient credit for paving the way to greater content freedom in television. What proved shocking at the turn of this century is no longer a big deal, in part because "Queer as Folk" has taken gay sexuality literally out of the closet and plunked it down in our living rooms -- often with brazen candor. A behavior once considered scandalously taboo as far as TV was concerned is now just another piece of the landscape, and creator-producer-writers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman deserve significant credit for single-handedly engineering the transformation (as does Showtime for bravely giving it the platform). While the soap opera-esque "Queer as Folk" wasn't always great television, it has been revolutionary nonetheless.
The five years of QAF coincide quite neatly with an important five-year period in my life, and as I've chronicled previously, the show helped me deal with the events of those years. It gave to me what straight people take for granted--an opportunity to see my life and my relationships projected on the screen. And while the five-year saga of David and Keith on Six Feet Under has probably been the more realistic and representative (at least until the kids showed up this season) one, the twists and turns between Brian Kinney and Justin Taylor have captivated me just as much, if often for very different reasons.

If you're straight, and if you promise not to impute onto my character the misdeeds of the characters in the show, I'd recommend that you give it a try on DVD. It's not always "great television," as Richmond says, but it works, and while it amps up the drama by packing every damn thing that can happen to a gay character into its 83-episode run, where else on TV can you see those things happen? After Sunday, unfortunately, nowhere.


The Novak Thing Just Keeps Getting Worse and Worse

Today marks the start of year three of this blog. I can't promise that I'll maintain my posting frequency through a busy fall of filling in for my boss and taking a class with a heavy reading and writing load, but I can promise that I won't curse and walk off the set. Guess that's one more way I'm a better man than Robert Novak.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Pro Bono

Roberts Donated Help to Gay Rights Case

We all know John Roberts is a lawyer's lawyer--he can argue any side of any case. But this still has to be considered good news.
he lawyer who asked for Roberts' help on the case, Walter A. Smith Jr., then head of the pro bono department at Hogan & Hartson, said Roberts didn't hesitate. "He said, 'Let's do it.' And it's illustrative of his open-mindedness, his fair-mindedness. He did a brilliant job."
The case involved, Romer v. Evans, was one of the critical gay rights cases of the last two decades, overturning a voter-approved constitutional amendment in Colorado that had made it illegal to pass laws banning discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Jean Dubofsky, lead lawyer for the gay rights activists and a former Colorado Supreme Court justice, said that when she came to Washington to prepare for the U.S. Supreme Court presentation, she immediately was referred to Roberts.

"Everybody said Roberts was one of the people I should talk to," Dubofsky said. "He has a better idea on how to make an effective argument to a court that is pretty conservative and hasn't been very receptive to gay rights."

She said he gave her advice in two areas that were "absolutely crucial."

"He said you have to be able to count and know where your votes are coming from. And the other was that you absolutely have to be on top of why and where and how the state court had ruled in this case," Dubofsky said.

She said Roberts served on a moot court panel as she prepared for oral arguments, with Roberts taking the role of a Scalia-like justice to pepper her with tough questions.

When Dubofsky appeared before the justices, Scalia did indeed demand specific legal citations from the lower-court ruling. "I had it right there at my fingertips," she said.

"John Roberts … was just terrifically helpful in meeting with me and spending some time on the issue," she said. "He seemed to be very fair-minded and very astute."

Dubofsky said Roberts helped her form the argument that the initiative violated the "equal protections" clause of the Constitution.

The case was argued before the Supreme Court in October 1995, and the ruling was handed down the following May. Suzanne B. Goldberg, a staff lawyer for New York-based Lambda, a legal services group for gays and lesbians, called it the "single most important positive ruling in the history of the gay rights movement."

In the blistering dissent, Scalia, joined by Rehnquist and Thomas, said "Coloradans are entitled to be hostile toward homosexual conduct." Scalia added that the majority opinion had "no foundation in American constitutional law, and barely pretends to."
The challenge now, of course, will be for Roberts to resist the siren song of Scalia. Perhaps theory number three from below will apply? Or maybe mean old Nino will just scare Johnny boy away...

I'd like to know, by the way, where in the Constitution it says that Coloradans are "entitled to be hostile toward homosexual conduct." As far as I can tell, such an opinion has no foundation in American constitutional law, and barely pretends to.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hopes and Fears

The Souter Factor - What makes tough conservative justices go soft? By Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia's back! How I've missed her. (She was on maternity leave.)

This thorough article explores the various reasons why Supreme Court justices tend to drift to the left during their tenures. I, of course, prefer theory number three--seeing the light--but think the "mean ol' Nino" theory has merit as well. There's no point trying to excerpt, though--any article by Dahlia is a must-click. Enjoy!

Listing Left

Poll Examines Supreme Court Priorities

Always nice to get a poll that shows the American people aren't universally backward.
Almost two-thirds, 65 percent, are opposed to overturning
Roe v. Wade, but there also is public support for some restrictions on abortion. Almost three-fourths favor requiring women under age 18 to get parental consent before being allowed to get an abortion.

_Just over half of those polled, 53 percent, said they support civil unions for gay people, while 36 percent said they favor gay marriage — a slight increase on both measures from a year ago.

_By almost 2-1, people think it's more important to conduct stem cell research that may result in medical cures, than to avoid destroying potential life of embryos involved in such research.
OK, the fact that three in four Americans favor requiring a pregnant teenager to talk to her parents before having an abortion is a bit dismal--it would be nice if everyone had a family situation that made this feasible, but they don't. And it's sort of sad that two years after Massachusetts only one in three Americans support gay marriage. But 53% support for civil unions means that there's another sixth of the population that can't quite wrap its head around gay marriage, but understands the fundamental issue of fairness at stake. It may take time, but I think by the 2012 election another sixth may join the civil union numbers and we may be at the point where a presidential candidate can propose/support legislation that would recognize civil unions at the federal level without being laughed off the stage.

(Note that I think civil unions are a bunch of BS--separate but equal is never really equal and all that--but would accept them as an intermediate step provided that they have practical value in terms of taxes and inheritance and other legal rights.)

(Note also that in 2012 it will have been eight years since the first gay marriage in Massachusetts and seven since the entire nation of Canada treated gay marriage as the equivalent of any other marriage. Damned accents and blistering cold!)


Toyota planning 10 more hybrids

Well, this seals it, doesn't it? Toyota is already well on its way to being the number one auto brand in America and the world. With more hybrids on the road than all the American automakers combined at the end of the decade, will there be any question about it?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Flavor Saver

Wonkette: Tastes Like Chicken

Wonkette is trying to figure out what flavor a proposed ice cream in her honor should be, and this suggestion is just too perfect not to share:
"Decisively Democrat": include a little of every flavor without committing to exactly what flavor the ice-cream is. The result: a treat that tries to fit everyone's taste but, as a result, is so mixed up it appeals to no one.

It's Hillary-licious!
Where can I order some?


Surprising death on 'Six Feet Under'

If you don't want to know who died, don't continue reading this post. Look at the picture of the Fishers at the funeral of Nathaniel, Sr., back when Claire was a screwed-up high schooler, David was a tormented, closeted gay man, Nate was living in Seattle and working in an organic grocery store, and Ruth was beating herself up over her affair with hairdresser Hiram.

Still here? NATE IS DEAD--or, as the Tribune put it yesterday morning, "Nate kicks bucket on Six Feet Under." As the series has focused on him the most--he has top billing in the cast, and the biggest drama of the series has always concerned his plot, whether his relationship with Brenda, his marriage to Lisa, or his AVM--this is quite a shocker.

I am happy. Nate's dalliance with "that ferret-faced" Maggie, as Brenda referred to her, was the last straw. Nate has fallen ass-backwards into all kinds of good things--a job he was actually good at and had an ownership stake in despite no effort or training on his part, a daughter who appeared out of the blue and gave his life purpose, and, in the past season, a wife, Brenda, who is making real progress and really trying to make their complicated relationship work. Watching Nate, on what would end up being his deathbed, telling Brenda that they were through--while she sat there, seven months pregnant and ready to forgive him for cheating--sealed the deal. He had to go.

Killing off the main character of the series is a bold move, even if it does come three episodes from the end. Surely Nate's ghost will populate at least the next two episodes--next week is to be his funeral, in a neat bit of parallelism, as the show began with the funeral of his same-named father. But while his actions will surely haunt the other characters, particularly poor Brenda, he's done. Done whining about how he's as beset with troubles as Job, done alternately self-flagellating because he didn't do enough to make Lisa happy and self-pitying because his life isn't perfect. Done spouting off about his latest craze, whether it be the recent fascination with "green" funerals and Quakerism or his former jogging mania. Done sleeping with women who make him feel momentarily OK, deciding he's in love with them, and then running off again.

I hope this bodes well; the show's creators said some characters would have darker endings, some lighter ones, and I'm rooting for David and Keith to come out on top. Alan Ball is a gay man, so I have reason to be optimistic; the show may have revolved around Nate, but it's David who has made the biggest leap forward these five seasons, from closeted and scared to out and committed and parent to two adopted kids with Keith.

Three weeks left!