Sunday, April 30, 2006

Stephen Colbert is my hero

How he got this gig (h/t Atrios), I have no idea. What did they think he was going to do, be nice?

Colbert, who spoke in the guise of his talk show character, who ostensibly supports the president strongly, urged the Bush to ignore his low approval ratings, saying they were based on reality, “and reality has a well-known liberal bias.”


Colbert told Bush he could end the problem of protests by retired generals by refusing to let them retire. He compared Bush to Rocky Balboa in the “Rocky” movies, always getting punched in the face—“and Apollo Creed is everything else in the world.”

Turning to the war, he declared, "I believe that the government that governs best is a government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq."

Colbert also made biting cracks about missing WMDs, “photo ops” on aircraft carriers and at hurricane disasters, melting glaciers and Vice President Cheney shooting people in the face. He advised the crowd, "if anybody needs anything at their tables, speak slowly and clearly on into your table numbers and somebody from the N.S.A. will be right over with a cocktail. "

Observing that Bush sticks to his principles, he said, "When the president decides something on Monday, he still believes it on Wednesday - no matter what happened Tuesday."

Also lampooning the press, Colbert complained that he was “surrounded by the liberal media who are destroying this country, except for Fox News. Fox believes in presenting both sides of the story — the president’s side and the vice president’s side." He also reflected on the alleged good old days, when the media was still swallowing the WMD story.

Addressing the reporters, he said, "Let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions, he’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know--fiction."
Video here. Transcript here (also h/t Atrios).

That's funny stuff even if the president isn't sitting a few feet away. Sounds like the President was depressed when it was over, though...might want to see if Simon Cowell wants somebody to be a guest judge on American works in the movies anyway...


Clemente and Maddux

Picked up a copy of David Maraniss' new book on Roberto Clemente this weekend, Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero. Obviously haven't gotten through it yet, but I had to get it to add to my book shelf of personal hero biographies. My first World Series of interest was the 1959 White Sox-Dodgers one, primarily because Nellie Fox's TOPPS card that year was one of my favorites. But the first World Series I really cared about was the next one, the Pirates and the Yankees.

The Yankees destroyed the Pirates in three of the seven games. Major league versus Double A, anyone against the Royals today. But with Bob Friend and Vern Law on the mound in the others, the Pirates hung on to force a seventh game. The Yankees looked ready to win another high scoring game, but Hal Smith, the Pirate catcher, nailed a three-run homer in the eighth to bring them back and Bill "My Hero Forever" Mazeroski punched out the game-winner in the ninth to win the game 10-9 and the series 4-3.

That series was my first exposure to one of the most exciting players of my youth, Roberto Clemente. The argument when choosing the National League All-Star Team was always who you were going to stick in the third outfield spot with Mays and Aaron, Frank Robinson or Clemente. The Reds stupidly ended the argument by trading Robinson to the Orioles in the American League, but I always went with Clemente anyway. I'd seen him in the 1960 series. The guy just possessed an aura that even came through a tv set, and his skills were undeniable, the ability to hit pitches away and in the dirt down the right field line for extra bases, the arm that could fire bullets anywhere in the stadium, the flair on the bases, just the way he wore the uniform. So, when you'd find out the things he did to promote his Puerto Rican community, to help people in need, you weren't surprised. That's what obvious royalty obviously did. And when he died trying to deliver aid to earthquake victims, you weren't surprised either. Clemente was a hero on and off the field, and I'm glad to support an author of previous distinguished biographies who's decided to give the man his due.

The only thing I object to is the subtitle, the "Baseball's Last Hero" part. I'm second to none in bemoaning what has happened to the sport I loved, the corruption and egoism and hype and oversaturation of all sports (except that Winter sport where you ski then shoot targets). I watch very little and like even less. I could once tell you every Series winner going back before I was born. Now I can't tell you who won the last five. But I still pay attention to baseball for one thing. To see how Greg Maddux is doing.

Greg Maddux is no Roberto Clemente. As far as I know, he doesn't give to charity, and the idea that he will die trying to help disaster victims doesn't even register. So, in that sense, Maraniss is right. He doesn't equal Clemente in heroism. But the man just turned 40 and has won, at this writing, his first five games this season. Granted, that's not heroism either, but how he has done it is. Maddux's glory days were a decade ago when he had the monopoly on the NL Cy Young Award. But ten years later, without even the less than overpowering stuff he had then, he's still someone you just watch slack-jawed. Because he is a master of his craft, in the highest sense of mastery, just like Clemente.
I remember some hockey player one time saying he'd love to play just one game inside Gretzky's head, to see what he saw, to know what he knew, instants before anyone else on the ice did. I'd love to pitch one game inside Maddux's head. He doesn't overwhelm you like a Clemons or Johnson, he just knows you as a hitter better than you do yourself and knows how to get you out. As his command has declined, he has made himself even smarter, worked himself even harder, so at 40 he may not impress you with how he looks when he does what he does, but the results are still far beyond what we would expect.

The reason I would put such a beige-looking guy up there with Clemente is not just because he will likewise be a Hall of Famer. The reason is because he epitomizes excellence achieved by mastery, not overarching talent. Think of the values he represents. Knowing what you can do, even as that changes. Paying attention and being real. Understanding who you're dealing with and reacting accordingly to max out the results. Acknowledging all the help and support you get to make you who you are. Not overrating yourself but driving yourself to be the best you can be. Making the most of what you've got at any given time. In an age of blustery and overrated self-promoters, of artificial and superficial means to enhance one's skills, of the hype, corruption, and dishonesty today (and I'm obviously not just talking about sports here), to have someone still around who embodies those old American values and who shows that they still can lead to tremendous success is, to me, heroism, role-modeling, a hope that we can still apply the same virtues to pull ourselves out of this tailspin this nation is in. He's not Clemente. No one ever will be (so retire his number already, MLB). But we may never see another Greg Maddux either. And that, in its way, is just as bad.


Betty La Fea Mas Bella Update 1

I promised a few posts ago to give periodic impressions of the Univision attempt to remake the greatest telenovela of all time, "Betty La Fea," in its "La Fea Mas Bella" version. A week in, I can say that, if you didn't see the original, you're probably going to be enjoying this one. They didn't tamper much with the start of the show, although there are some kids in there that I don't remember and could do without, and the story and characters, while stereotyped and predictable, are too much fun to be bad if you just don't screw them up too much. It's still a little early, but most of the secondary characters look like they'll work out, and the hero is as good as or better than the prototype. The star is the heroine, however, and the actors playing her and her best friend aren't at the same level as the originals. They will be all right, though, and her transformation into the lovely swan should be fun. So, bottom line, it's worth the time, and I'll watch. So should you.


Akeelah and Dave

Watched a couple of movies yesterday. Paid money to see "Akeelah and the Bee," and it was well spent. Although I recently railed on movie critics, they basically liked this film, for good reason, but I'm not letting them off the hook because it highlighted the major problem with reviewers. Everything in this movie is covered in stereotype, syrup, and predictability, yet the actors, script, and director all pull it off. The key to a good movie isn't whether it deals with predictable plots and stereotyped characters; it's whether they are done well or badly. Too many movie reviews parrot a "saw everything coming" or "characters not original" checklist that automatically lowers the eventual grade. "Akeelah" shows that the key is what you do with the checklist plots and characters, and, as I said before, too many reviewers are too third-rate to move beyond the checklist. So, should you see a review of "Akeelah and the Bee" that pulls the same old tired critic crap like this, and I did, don't pay attention. The movie plays off the predictable plots and characters very well, adds its own touch, and pulls off a satisfying ending. If that's not good enough for you, you should be writing half-assed movie reviews.

The other movie was on one of the 87 HBO channels last night--"Dave." Now, I actually have a copy of "Dave," but I hadn't seen it in a while and it seemed like a good time. (It's been out there for over a decade now so I assume I won't be doing any spoilers here.) In its day it seemed just a little too Hollywood, too far-fetched, to have a corrupt, mediagenic President with an even more corrupt Chief of Staff, the latter subverting the Constitution to perform a coup after the former is incapacitated. Now both the characters seem a bit too simple, and their scandals have multiplied exponentially without any of the media or public reaction that the movie generates. So, in that sense, the movie is depressing now, that in a few years we have spiraled so far in our national decency and honor.

But "Dave" was always a movie about what government and its leadership could be and should be, and, in that sense, its appeal to our ideals and the American legacy of democracy and self-government can still cut through the calloused cynicism that we have built. Like "The American President," "Dave" calls for a President of real principle and empathy who understands that historians a thousand years from now will distinguish this country not for whatever wealth or empires it created but for what it extolled for human possibility. Like "Akeelah," "Dave" is a movie about hope for America despite its worst impulses and flaws currently on vivid display, that the American Dream hasn't vanished for most Americans.

Stereotyped and syrupy? Sure. No great speller has emerged from South LA, and no great impersonator has taken the White House back from the thieves who stole it with the media connivance and public approval that have cost us so much to date. But these movies show what the Dream is and how it has the chance of popping up unexpectedly and how, if we are ready and able to nurture it when it does, it might yet grow again into what this nation is supposed to be about.

So, I went to bed a little cheerier than I have most nights recently, thanks to these two films. They're good medicine. I prescribe them eagerly. At whatever dosage you need. If enough people take them, the prognosis for this country might still edge us out of the ICU.


Friday, April 28, 2006

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING!! On Friday, no less!

Don't let life get ya down!


Thursday, April 27, 2006

George W. Brezhnev

John Aravosis has nailed what should be the permanent perspective of the reign of Bush the Younger and his court:

I studied the Soviet Union in grad school, it was one of my main areas of expertise. I'm a hawk on defense. I hated the Soviets and there was little Ronald Reagan could do wrong vis-a-vis the evil empire, in my eye. And I'm telling you, what is happening in our country today is right out of the Soviet playbook. (It's also right out of the Nazi playbook.) You slowly criminalize dissent so that the public accepts infringements on civil liberties that it would never accept in one fell swoop (and, well, in the Soviet Union there was no slowly to it at all - it was pretty instantaneous). Has America become the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany? No. Have we started down the path to a more totalitarian government that no longer respects, that no longer fears, its citizenry? Absolutely. Do we tolerate today in America presidential policies that would have been unconscionable under any circumstance just ten years ago. Sadly, yes.
In its arrogance, authoritarianism, and incompetence, the Bush Administration and his cronies and sycophants have shown themselves to be an unfortunate match for Leonid Brezhnev, complete with the single-party, surveillance state and the Pravda/Izvestia media. As he says, we aren't there yet, but that's where this ends if better forces than we've had to this point can't be marshalled to stop them. One of the first things to do is apply this Brezhnev label at every possible opportunity. Draw the parallels and shout them out. We know where Brezhnev took his country. It's not over-the-top. They are.


Jane Jacobs

Others have written more heartfelt and knowledgeable eulogies for Jane Jacobs than I could. I enjoyed her books, even her less successful formats in later years, and respected not just her clear wisdom and thought but also the impact that one person could have on so much subsequent policy. One of the better tributes came from Alan Ehrenhalt at's blog. If you know her works, you'll appreciate it. If you don't, it will convince you to get to know them.


Sense and Nonsense on Censure

Paul Waldman at the Gadflyer has ripped on Russ Feingold for grandstanding his censure resolution without notifying his fellow Dems. He says it's ridiculous to think Senators would let consultants tell them what to do so Feingold's explanation for why he didn't forewarn them of his resolution is crap. He also says Feingold could have easily gone ahead and done the resolution after telling them even if they disagreed (counteracted, condemned, and took even more personally his rejection of their begging and whimpering for him not to do so). Waldman is also hawking a book so, if you're impressed with the wisdom, logic, and depth of understanding of both politics and relationships he is showing on this, be sure to get a copy.


Gore, TX Dems, 2000, and Predictions

One of Al Gore's biggest mistakes in the 2000 election was his failure to turn a giant spotlight on Texas and its Banana Republic status led by Bush II and cronies (despite all the Austin-blogging apologists who constantly try to sell us an outrageous bill of goods on the state's wonderfulness--I grew up in Oklahoma and we know). One of the major reasons I remember being given at the time was the fear that turning the guns on the state would destroy the Democrats in Texas. The dirty secret, of course, was that they had already done it to themselves. Now, as reported at Political Wire, a recent poll on the governor's race there shows Gov. Rick Perry (R) leading with 39%, followed by Carole Strayhorn (I) at 25%, Kinky Friedman (I) at 16% and Chris Bell (D) at 15%. Yes, that party that was so important to save is fourth, behind not just the Repubs but two Independents. It was clear at the time that that strong spotlight might actually clear some ground making a comeback by the Dems eventually possible, but the usual wiser heads prevailed. Now, here we are with Texas writ large nationally and a dead Democratic Party in Texas anyway. Not as big a misjudgment and screw-up as many others at the time, before, or since, but add it to the list when you read or hear about the importance of throwing those wiser heads overboard. It's time.


Bush the Younger and Osama--BFF

Both Steve Clemons and Susie Madrak, channeling John Dean, have recently noted the frequent coincidence of George W. Bush's need for political bolstering and Osama Bin Laden's subsequent appearances and threats. As others have noted, Osama has pretty much gotten the Middle East of his dreams, thanks to his friend George. Now, hooey and fan are really coming together, and up pops Bin Laden and allies with tapes and videos. The question is if, by summer, the fan is likely to be completely buried in hooey with more hooey on the way, what will Osama have to do to save the one man in DC who can keep things going Al Qaeda's way? And why should we not be very afraid of the answer?


Who Has the Biggest Adam's Apple?

Just saw that online ad for Coulter and her new book. Between her and Hannity on their covers, has the world ever seen two gayer-looking people? I know I'm not the first to mention this, but it does explain so much obvious insecurity and fakery housed in two bodies, doesn't it?


At some point...

...there needs to be a distinction made between being provocative by bringing up awkward/divisive subjects and making you think about them...and being provocative by yelling really loud. Via Debate Link, I see this article by Inside Higher Ed about 'controversial' speakers at colleges and universities:

Since the 2004 election, the American Association of University Professors has been reviewing the issue of controversial political speakers and it has now published a proposed statement reiterating the importance of inviting such people to campuses — and rejecting the idea that speakers must be balanced, person by person, as invitations go out.

The new AAUP statement rejects two arguments commonly given for disinviting Moore last election cycle and some controversial figures generally: that they lack balance or that their presence on campus could endanger an institution’s tax-exempt status.
As a commenter there pointed out, in general colleges seem to take the easy way out. Instead of promoting debate and an open forum, they hire these people (for much more money) to pretty much spew, make jokes, and leave.
The problem that isn’t being addressed here is that provocateurs like Moore and Coulter are brought in as speakers in the first place. They command high fees to present recycled tedious, predictable polemical rants that lack intellectual depth and rigor. They substitute cleverness and wordplay for genuine argument, and they offer little or nothing that is new or imaginative.

The money would be better spent on bringing in genuine scholars and intellectuals (our college has recently hosted W.S. Merwin and Seamus Heaney, for instance), in which case the need for this sort of policy would vanish.
I'll be honest: 1) I enjoy political discussion, but when I was in college I probably wouldn't have gone to see W.S. Merwin speak, and 2) I enjoy Michael Moore's movies (for the most part, anyway). However, just because I enjoy his movies doesn't mean I'm going to go see him talk (can you tell I didn't pay to see many lectures in school?) or buy his books. To an extent, if he would just shut his mouth a bit, his movies would resonate more...meaning, people would be more likely to give his movies a chance and truly listen to what he's saying in them if they didn't already know they despised him going in because he called W the "Deserter in Chief" or whatever every chance he got.

Bottom line, as
David says...
The reason that Ann Coulter and Michael Moore shouldn't be invited isn't because they are too controversial for our tender ears. It's because they are morons. I like having interesting speakers at Carleton, from all sides of the political divide (we had, among others, Jonah Goldberg and Derrick Bell this year). Frothing polemics are "interesting" only in the way a car wreck is.


I really hope this guy wins the nomination

Via Ezra and Digby, I see that The New Republic has a long profile on the waste of space that is George Allen. Granted, I've only read the blurb that Digby posted because I'm sure as hell not subscribing to TNR, but it's pretty much what one would come to expect from a racist, pseudo-Southern bully.

"The guy is horrible," she complains. "He drove around with a Confederate flag on his Mustang. I can't believe he's going to run for president." Another classmate, who asks that I not use her name, also remembers Allen's obsession with Dixie: "My impression is that he was a rebel. He plastered the school with Confederate flags."


...when his father was on the road, young George often acted as a surrogate dad to his siblings. According to his sister Jennifer, he was particularly strict about bedtimes. One night, his brother Bruce stayed up past his bedtime. George threw him through a sliding glass door. For the same offense, on a different occasion, George tackled his brother Gregory and broke his collarbone. When Jennifer broke her bedtime curfew, George dragged her upstairs by her hair.

I honestly think this guy has a chance at the nomination. As Digby said, he's actually dumber than W is, and he's a less fake version of the fake Southerner that W's always tried to be (and he didn't even go to Yale). There are enough backwards-ass racists who will be voting in the Republican primaries (especially in the South)...people who still hate McCain for a) having that biracial kid that W's people said he'd had during the 2000 campaign (doesn't matter if it's not true), and b) disagreeing with W about anything. They'll vote for Allen in a heartbeat. And I say, go for it. Either Allen wins the entire South, gets trounced over the entire West and Northeast, and loses the electoral college about 310-230, or he wins and I get to move to Vancouver. Either way I win.


Wow...make it THREE times in one week...

From Firedoglake:

Ron Wyden has long been a big supporter of progressive energy policy within the Senate. He’s on CSPAN-2 right now passionately filibustering against the "outrageous boondoggle" (as he calls it) for the oil companies that his amendment seeks to take away. It’s quite heroic.

Not that you won't see this part too when you click on the link, but...
What does the Wyden Amendment do?

It prohibits the Department of Interior from providing any additional royalty relief as long as the price of oil is above $55 per barrel while providing an exception in cases where royalty relief is needed to avoid supply disruptions because of hurricanes or other natural disasters.

Why do we need this Amendment?

With oil selling for more than $70 a barrel — $15 a barrel higher than at the price the President said incentives weren’t needed — Congress should not continue giving away more taxpayer money for unnecessary subsidies to benefit profitable energy interests. We should prohibit further royalty relief and save our citizens hardearned tax dollars for more worthy uses. President Bush has repeatedly said that “With $55-a-barrel oil, companies don’t need incentives to explore for oil and gas.” Today, the price of oil is well over $70 per barrel and yet oil and gas companies continue to receive taxpayer subsidies to explore. According to U.S. News & World Report the Federal government will “dole out $7 billion in breaks to the oil industry over the next five years.” And if that isn’t bad enough, the amount of that subsidy “could increase fivefold.”

How much do these subsidies cost?

We’re talking about subsides for oil and gas companies of as much $35 billion.

Basically, Wyden's calling for an up/down vote on this so everybody is forced to reveal that they side with the oil companies instead of their constituents. I highly doubt it will work, but little by little, it appears that Democrats are realizing that it's okay to stand for something even when you know you won't win the vote. We should start a "Good Congressmen" with all the other Good lists, but...well, that would take some time (well, not that much time since there aren't that many of them), so for now let's just say that Senators Wyden and Feingold are definitely on the list.


STOP THE PRESSES: Democrats show backbone twice in one week...

From AMERICAblog:

Developing story coming from the top House Democrats. They are filing a lawsuit against Bush and his administration to prevent implementation of the "Budget Deficit Act of 2005." That's the legislation which Bush signed even though the House and Senate passed different versions (basically because the Republican illegally changed the legislation).

This is pretty big news. The lead plaintiff is John Conyers, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. He is joined by 10 other ranking members of the other House Committees: Dingell, Rangel, Miller, Oberstar, Frank, Peterson, Thompson, Stark, Brown and Slaughter.

Wow. This is probably bad because I might actually start to expect this sort of know, actually calling Republicans on the illegal things they do...


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bring on the unleaded cooking grease...

Round-trip, I have about a 65-mile commute to and from work. Quick math...let's see...65 miles x 5 days a week...divided by 23 mpg or so...thought the Rav4 was going to get better than that when I bought it, but I'm a bit stuck with it for a while...but I digress...that means I'm using about 14 gallons of gas per week just for commuting...never mind errands, et al. Right now, that's $42/week for gas...about $180/month. Now, I'm paying no rent right now (thank you, in-laws), and the other bills are minimal, so that's really not all that bad for me...but start to throw in rent/mortgage and maybe what's likely to be an obscene electricity bill for the summer months (it's gonna be a hot one), and you can see that something's gonna have to give for a lot of people. And honestly, I don't know what realistically can be done about it with oil/gas holding as much power as it does.

Lance Mannion wrote a good post about the gas crisis yesterday.

We all should be driving less. Even those of us who are forced by circumstances to live where long car rides are necessary and unavoidable can cut down. We have it in our power to decrease the demand. This actually began to happen after the gas crisis, but then Ronald Reagan became President partly by promising us two cars in every garage and a third in the driveway and all of them big and fast. I don't remember what he said about chickens in pots.


President Bush has finally noticed that folks are not happy about the high price of gas. He has responded by being his usual compassionately conservative self, promising to help by doing things that will make his rich oil buddies richer.

He then links to the video of a quite audacious speech from Nancy Pelosi (who, on a side note, pisses me off something awful. Why can't she be like this all of the time? Can she now retract every word she said about the censure issue and try again?) in which she verbally gives him the finger (sorry, not using the correct blogspeak...she basically told him to go Cheney himself).
Where have you been, Mr. president? The middle class squeeze is on, competition in our country is affected by the price of energy and of oil and all of a sudden you take a trip outside of Washington, see the fact that the public is outraged about this, come home and make a speech, let's see that matched in your budget, let's see that matched in your policy, let's see that matched in and you're separating yourself from your patron, big oil, cut yourself off from that anvil holding your party down and this country down, instead of coming to Washington and throwing your Republican colleagues under the wheels of the train, which they mightily deserve for being a rubber stamp for your obscene, corrupt policy of ripping off the American people.
Good. It's nice to see Democrats at least occasionally stand up to the president...even going over the top with it and being, dare I say, a bit shrill. You'd think it would have gotten easier as his approval rating slipped below 50%, but apparently they needed to wait till it hit 30%. Oh well. It's at 32%, so I guess everybody's almost playing the same ballgame now.

But are the solutions offered by Democrats (the short-term one: a
gas tax holiday made up for in the budget by cutting tax breaks for oil companies) any better? Do they need to even offer solutions since they're not in power? Is there actually a good solution out there that doesn't involve bacon fat or removing every member of every branch of government and starting over? All I can say for sure is, it's probably a good idea if you didn't a) propose solutions that were blatantly cutting oil companies a break, or b) ignore reality.


Under federal quality—air quality laws, some areas of the country are required to use fuel blend called reformulated gasoline. Now, as you well know, this year we're going—undergoing a rapid transition in the primary ingredient in reformulated gas—from MTBE to ethanol…

Yet state and local officials in some parts of our country worry about supply disruption for the short term. They worry about the sudden change from MTBE to ethanol—the ethanol producers won't be able to meet the demand. And that's causing the price of gasoline to go up some amount in their jurisdictions.

And some have contacted us to determine whether or not they can ask the EPA to waive local fuel requirements on a temporary basis … So I'm directing EPA Administrator Johnson to use all his available authority to grant waivers that would relieve critical fuel supply shortages. And I do that for the sake of our consumers.


In last year’s energy bill, Congress actually eliminated the requirement that cleaner
reformulated gasoline contain MTBE or ethanol. MTBE makers—including ExxonMobil—decided to stop shipping its product after Congress refused to give them a deal absolving these big water polluters from product liability lawsuits. But the companies have known about that congressional decision for nearly a year. They could have arranged a smoother transition to new gasoline blends. But scarcity drives up prices—and oil profits.

Then again, he's made it this far ignoring reality...


At least this means they're not gay, I guess...

Digby posted about this earlier...

Former FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford, Dr. Janet Woodcock, deputy operations commissioner, and Dr. Steven Galson, director of the FDA's drug evaluation center, are to testify in court-ordered depositions to be taken by attorneys for the Manhattan-based Center for Reproductive Rights Wednesday through Friday in Washington, D.C., and Rockville, Md.

The women's group seeks to force approval of over-the-counter sales of Plan B, which can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.


In the memo released by the FDA, Dr. Curtis Rosebraugh, an agency medical officer, wrote: "As an example, she [Woodcock] stated that we could not anticipate, or prevent extreme promiscuous behaviors such as the medication taking on an 'urban legend' status that would lead adolescents to form sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B."
...and I was going to say something snarky about it...but there's really no way for me to top this.


Jurass Finish First

If you only knew
The trials and tribulations we been through
But if you only knew
We're real people, homey, just like you
We're humble, but don't mistake us for some corny-ass crew
What we do, is try to give you what you ain't used to
(Soul music, somethin' we can all relate to)

I figure I can stop talking about Pearl Jam for a bit...just long enough to mention another group that has an album coming out soon...after almost four years, Jurassic 5's next album, Feedback, is finally dropped on June 27. Thank god. No hip hop group has shown more progress, maturity, and potential than these guys in just two albums, but since their last album came out in the fall of 2002, I was getting pretty antsy.

Here's a little bit about Jurassic 5's history...actually, no, here's a little bit about the history of me knowing about J5. In the fall of 2000, my roommate and I visited a friend of ours in the dorms, and he was almost literally bouncing off the walls...he had just found out that some group called Jurassic 5 was coming to town in a couple weeks, and he could not stop raving about them. So I did what I normally did when this guy told me about a band/group...I went out and student charged...I mean, bought...the cd. Holy moly. Some friends came over one night, and I threw the cd on...the conversation pretty much halted for the next 45 minutes or so...creative lyrics, creative beats, and creative song subjects (L.A.'s celebrity culture, basketball, positivity), culminating in a 5-minute song, "Swing Set", with nothing but the DJ's mixing together a bunch of old swing records. The whole album (Quality Control) was phenomenal. And this says nothing about the impression their live show left on us a couple of weeks later. It was our turn to bounce off the walls. I've seen them 5-6 times since then, and they've never disappointed...if anybody needs to put out a live DVD, it's these guys.

And together, we show you how to improvise
Reminicent of the Wild Style '75
Cause it's the brothers on the mic occupying the drums
We're taking four MC's and make 'em sound like one

For those who have only one general impression of hip hop (it's obnoxious, it's violent, it's angry, it's stupid, it's pointless, you can't understand the words, it's not real music, impression that, sometimes, is pretty much dead on...especially now that hip hop has reached it's "hair metal" stage, like when the quality of mainstream rock music took a massive nose dive in the late-'80s), let me explain what good hip hop sounds like.
  • Good hip hop, in the form of Jurassic 5, The Roots, Outkast, Mos Def & Talib Kweli, Kanye West (he's unbearably cocky, but he's very very good at what he does) Ozomatli, Atmosphere, Jay-Z, and even some of Eminem's work, is politically relevant. It talks about human events and real-life more than any other genre of music. It's the best (though definitely not the only) forum for protest music at the moment.
  • Good hip hop paints a picture of the doesn't just dwell on diamonds and women (like most of the 'hair metal' rap on the radio right now), or 'gangsta' might acknowledge the presence of those factors, but as I said above, it gives you a glimpse of real-life to go along with the fantasy.
  • Good hip hop is schooled in the history of music. Being that most hip-hop songs samples songs from the past, there is an opportunity to show your own tastes and knowledge more than in any other form of music. For example, The Roots liberally sampled early-'70s funk on The Tipping Point. Mos Def had a song on The New Danger that was a take-off of a blues riff, not to mention the fact that half the songs on the album were performed with his hard rock band. Talib Kweli sampled hard rock music on The Beautiful Struggle (with limited success, but hey, he tried it). Hell, Andre 3000 did a song with Norah Jones on his half of Outkast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below.
  • Going along with the last bullet, good hip hop is the most innovative-sounding music on the market today. Outkast remixed Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" (and that's to say nothing of their science-fiction themed album, Andre 3000's unique outfits, their extremely creative beats, lyrics, and concepts, and the innovation that was the in-house stripper pole that Big Boi revealed on MTV's Cribs). On the last Handsome Boy Modeling School album, not only were famous DJ's and MC's asked to collaborate, but so were Linkin Park, Hall of Hall & Oates, and Jamie Cullum...not to mention Father Guido Sarducci and The Ladies Man from SNL. Kanye West took the "Diamonds Are Forever" theme from the Bond movie and turned it into an anti-diamond mining song.
  • Last but not least, of course, good hip hop, well, sounds great. Like my protest song qualifier ("Does it rock?"), to be good hip hop, it has to make you groove...and that comes from somebody who can't really do anything besides move his head and tap his feet (though probably not at the same time).

How does Jurassic 5 check out on the Good Hip Hop checklist? Politically relevant? Check (See "Freedom" and "I Am Somebody" from Power in Numbers). Real-life themes and forward-looking lyrics? Check (see, basically, their entire catalog). Well-schooled? Check (Nelly Furtado was a guest on Power in Numbers, not to mention hip hop pioneers Big Daddy Kane and Kool Keith). Innovative? Check (see the aforementioned "Swing Set" and their absolutely PHENOMENAL new video...seriously, this kind of thing makes me giddy as a music nerd). Sound great? Check check check.

Yo, Seldom travelled by the multitude
The devil's gavel has a cup of food
My culture's screwed
'Cause this word is misconstrued
Small countries exempt from food
'Cause leaders have different views
You choose
What mean the world to me is bein' free
Live and let live and just let it be
Love peace and harmony, one universal family
One God, one aim and one destiny

The last thing I should mention about Jurassic 5 is that, in the span of just two albums, they did something that only the best music groups can do: they progressed significantly. If Quality Control was about introducing themselves to the world with great beats, great energy, great lyrics, positivity, and a focus on old-school rap techniques, then Power In Numbers was about taking all of those tools at their disposal and saying something important with it. It's a darker album, but it's extremely relevant. You still had your "We're happy, and we love old-school hip hop" songs like "What's Golden" and "High Fidelity". Those types of songs make the album go. But you also had "Freedom" (from which the lyric sample above was drawn). You also had their anti-fake, anti-gangsta song, "One of Them". You also had the Nelly Furtado collaboration, "Thin Line", about the drama associated with hooking up with a friend. You had "I Am Somebody", which is a song about self-esteem and happiness (that somehow avoids being cheesy). You had "If You Only Knew", which shows that they grew up around the same negativity and gangsta culture that most rappers did, only they've done what they could to move on. Refreshing, no? Again, their music takes in all the influences that have come before, but it never stops looking forward.

It appears that, from what I've been able to dig up about it, Feedback will feature a similar progression. The first single is going to feature Dave Matthews Band (with thom they've toured on a couple different of which was the Vote for Change tour in 2004)...a decidedly non-generic turn for a hip hop group to take. Beyond that, the visual presentation of Jurassic 5 took a very unique step with this video. It took four years for them to put this album together, but it appears that that wait will be very much worth it. If every hip hop group progressed and stayed positive like J5, the world of hip hop in general would have a much different (and more optimistic) perception and a much brighter future.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Maybe press briefings will be worth watching now...from your new press secretary (hat tip, AMERICAblog):

– “George Bush has become something of an embarrassment.” [11/11/05]

– “The president doesn’t seem to give a rip about spending restraint.” [The Detroit News,

– “At one point last week, he stunned a friendly audience by barking out absurd and inappropriate words, like a soul tortured with Tourette’s.” [

– “He recently tried to dazzle reporters by discussing the vagaries of Congressional Budget Office economic forecasts, but his recitation of numbers proved so bewildering that not even his aides could produce a comprehensible translation. The English Language has become a minefield for the man, whose malaprops make him the political heir not of Ronald Reagan, but Norm Crosby.” [

I'm just kidding. This will be a disaster like everything else, but it was a funny thought.


No Follow-Up Pirates Rant. Bummer.

They're now a meager 2-1 following a Tuesday Pirates Rant.

Best 5-17 team in the league!! the general manager gets an extension for, in his fifth full year, putting together a team that's on pace to go 37-125, I'll never know. Hopeless.


Tuesday Pirates Rant - Best 5-16 Team in the League!

Before I get to the ranting, I'd like to point out that the Pirates are now 2-0 on Tuesdays after I lay the Rant Hammer down. And 3-16 in all other games. In other words, if they go to 3-0 in those circumstances tonight, I'll be writing a follow-up rant tomorrow to see if I can single-handedly lead the Bucs to their second (that's right, second) 2-game winning streak of the season. I do what I can.

So...the Pirates did something that is pretty hard to do this week...I can't actually prove that it's hard statistically, but it seems pretty damn weird. From Monday-Sunday, they went 1-5, scoring 17 runs. Twelve of those runs came in one game (not surprisingly, their one win). In other words, in their losses last week, they averaged 1.0 runs/game. Ouch. The pitching has started to come around, as only one starter (Paul Maholm) had a bad start. Even Ian Snell and his 9.00+ ERA had a good start Saturday night. Of course, the Pirates got shut a guy in his third major-league start. And of course, Ollie Perez started this week off with a stinker.

The most depressing news of the last week has not been that the Pirates are in the middle of their second 5-game losing streak of the season (that's right...there have been more 5-game losing streaks than 2-game winning streaks)'s that
they turned a $22 million profit last year. That's pathetic. I always believed that they were plugging their revenue-sharing funds back into their minor league system and their scouting, coaching, etc., efforts. Silly me. Instead, they (along with the Royals) were abusing and ruining the revenue-sharing system. Good luck getting that back on the Collective Bargaining Agreement next time...I'm sure Steinbrenner will let that happen. Way to go.

Other fun points of interest...

  • While the pitching has gotten much better (though that's not necessarily saying a lot), the Pirates have still managed to give up at least one run in the 1st inning in 13 of 21 games this season. The one time they scored first last week (Tuesday), they won.
  • Jason Bay is second in the majors in walks this season...meaning those great free agent signings (Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa...both hitting below .240) aren't exactly doing what they were supposedly brought to Pittsburgh to do: protect Bay. Who knew? I mean, who could have possibly predicted that two hitters in their mid- to late-30s would start to decline? Especially after their stellar numbers last season?
  • If you want a big, long, post about what adjustments the Pirates should be making, click here. I barely had the energy to read that post, much less think of creative ideas of my own. Of course, the best idea for improvement at the moment might be...I dunno...DON'T GIVE YOUR GENERAL MANAGER A CONTRACT EXTENSION FOR PUTTING THIS WASTE OF A TEAM TOGETHER.
  • And of course, just in case things weren't discouraging enough, the tease that is The Thought of Mark Cuban Buying the Pirates reared its ugly head again this morning in the Post-Gazette....

"I think one of the reasons McClatchy won't sell is, that if you can deal with the abuse that goes with losing, you can make $15 million or $20 million a year," he said on Patrick's show, mentioning figures that McClatchy has disputed as the Pirates' profit. "Would you put up with the abuse for $15 million or $20 million a year? ...

"Not me. Oh, no. I'd have to win. Winning vs. losing money, I'd take winning every time."

I need to talk about Pearl Jam or something again...this is just making me pissy.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Internets, Internets, Internets

Three Internet-related (but in no other way related) bits...

  1. Is it bad that two different people sent me this article today and told me to hold onto it just in case?

  2. The more I read about this, the more I realize how crazy important this is. Do what Matt Stoller (and Taylor Marsh and Digby) say.

  3. Anytime something is labeled "The dumbest thing I have ever read on the Internets", it probably needs to be read.



I've heard it said a lot, that you tend toward being liberal as you're growing up all sunny-eyed and optimistic...and when you have money and a family of your own, you wise up and turn much more conservative. I always knew this wasn't me, but I guess I always somewhat accepted the logic for maybe the population as a whole. But I don't anymore.

It's been made very clear over the last 4.5 years (since 9/11 changed everything, of course) that Republicans have one weapon for gaining support--fear of boogeymen. This being the case, why is it that you're supposed to tend toward conservative when you 'grow up'? In theory, when you grow up, you mature...and learn that it's pretty futile to fear and hate just for fear and hate's sake.

Then again, as
Greenwald posted today, maybe it's not fear they're built on, but rage:

Here is Powerline on the reporters who broke the NSA story: "Throw 'em in the slammer." Townhall columnist Ben Shapiro: Howard Dean, John Kerry and Al Gore all belong in prison for "sedition." Powerline: Jimmy Carter is "on the other side." Karl Rove says Dick Durbin is on the side of terrorists. Michael Reagan thinks Howard Dean should be hanged. Charles Johnson of LGF said this weekend: the media is helping Iran get the bomb by weakening our country (by reporting on what is going on in Iraq), and are therefore "becoming a major liability in the clash of civilizations," a post which led his readers, needless to say, to spew sentiments about McCarthy and the media such as this:

Law-and order, red-state, non-nuanced, thinking Americans would expect the law to be enforced, the sentence to reflect the treasonous actions of the convicted, and the execution to be public.

Come to think of it, seeing the world with the eyes of a scorned 8-year old does even less to back up the "you grow conservative when you grow old" argument. Surely...surely...people will catch onto the fact that these people are either a) mentally handicapped, or b) crap-peddlers who don't believe a word they're saying. How I still manage naivety from time to time, I'll never know...


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Movie Critic Critic

For reasons really unknown to me, I've seen a lot more movies over the last year or so than I usually do. Most are "indies," not because I'm necessarily snooty that way, not necessarily, but because those lately have had the best stories and performances. One interesting thing about many of them has been the absolutely wondrous performances of the kids in them--"Spanglish," "An Unfinished Life," "Millions," "Dear Frankie," "About a Boy," and the best movie in millenia, "In America." You find yourself hoping against hope that these kids stay away from Haim-ism, which mutated into Ryderism, or its latest variation, Lohanism.

But look at that list again. These were all good movies beyond their kid stars. I put my money where my mouth is by getting the DVDs, which, yes, have been rewatched. Yet, if you judge by the bulk of the critics' takes on them, the first two especially, you would never have gone to the theater to see the great performances, much less decide you want them on hand for repeated viewing. The same would be true of the almost childless last year's Best Picture, "Crash," still being trashed by LA critics.

I've bitched about movie critics for years, going back to Ebert's mindless refusal to credit Redford as any more than a pretty face in the 80s. But I think we've reached a critical mass on critical badness (or is it madness?) with all the sites and sources for movie reviewing now, and it's got to be having an impact. You can see it. Look at what happened to "An Unfinished Life" and another gem this year, "The Ice Harvest," done in at the box office in great part by the jaundiced, self-impressed rantings of the folks aggregated at

It's not that misguided or flatly stupid reviews or reviewers are new. It's that we've had the "Animal House" effect in action, you know, where something really good and new is produced, something people aren't used to but really like, and every third-rate wannabe copies them, to worse effect almost always, and tainting the whole enterprise. That's what this explosion of critics has done in the aftermath of the success of Siskel and Ebert. They adopt "the tone" and apply it badly, sometimes making it clear that they either didn't see the actual movie or just really didn't understand it, which is, of course, the movie's fault. And, unfortunately for the movie business, so much of a movie's success depends on its reception in NY, LA, and DC, where reside some of the worst specimens. I've read that "Crash" marketers deliberately underplayed their roll-out in those cities to avoid the predictable and cynical word vomit of the reviewers there to allow word-of-mouth and sanity to overcome the verbal stench.

I don't know what we do about it, probably nothing. You can learn to offset the idiocy if you work at it, to see through the lunatics, but who wants all that trouble when ticket costs are so high? One promising angle comes from the multiple roll-out formats that some producers and distributors are moving toward, theater-DVD-cell phone-etc. all at once. This may "flash" works through the system before our "guardians" can protect us. But, when Hollywood is worried about its continuity, it should spend some time focusing on the idiot reviewers themselves, doing scorecards (for instance, trashed movies that win Best Picture), challenging directly, and so on. There are too many of them now, doing too bad a job, threatening the future "An Unfinished Life" or "The Ice Harvest." That will hurt us all, and those losers should never have that kind of power.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Priests Need Sin

One of the lessons that non-DC Democrats are finally glomming onto is the phenomenon of people with certain self-images and careers fighting against "evil" needing the "evil" in order to maintain their self-images and careers. Police and prosecutors need crime and victims. Priests and the loudest, most self-impressed ministers need sin and sinners. It is absolutely not in their interests to see the "evil" actually vanquished. If anything, they need to hype it and help it at every opportunity. Police and prosecutors wait for crime to happen so they can catch "bad guys"; look at how much of their budgets go into prevention. Look how the Catholic Church tells hormone-intensive teenagers to abstain and then calls them sinners when the hormones win; we know how much they approve of contraception. (We won't get into how cool the Church is with sin in its priesthood.)

The same dynamic is at work in the Democratic Party Establishment and all the long-term, self-absorbed interests backing them. In no version of reality does retaining people like Lincoln Chafee or Joe Lieberman in their current election tussles further what real Democrats want for this country. But there's the Sierra Club, there's NARAL, there's the Democratic Party braintrust with their own particular brand of wisdumb to get the Chafees and Liebermans returned to the Senate. It's hard to understand unless you understand that priests need sin. These groups and sellouts need a Republican Senate that does what this one does, and they need Vichy Dems who will determinedly compromise away basic principles. Otherwise, what real Democrats want might actually happen and then where would they be??? This way, it's "save yourselves, save yourselves, oh, and keep the money rolling in." As Thomas Frank and others have pointed out about the Repubs, ending abortion, getting school prayer, and so on will completely neutralize the key constituency returning the Bush types to office. It's time people recognize that about the Dems "in power" as well.

It's not odd, in fact, it's common, for once justifiable institutions to become so dependent on their enemies for survival that they lose sight of what they were created for to begin with. But it's still nothing to support. As Kos and Firedoglake and others are screaming now, it's time to throw them out. They've become what they were supposed to fight.


DAMN...I missed it again...FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Stan's getting tired of my belated Friday Cat he sent Nikki to flip me off in his place. Happy weekend!


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Habits of the Heart, Habits of the Democrats

The last couple of days have seen some thoughtful posts from three of the more thoughtful writers on the right, that is, correct side of reality, Michael Tomasky, Digby, and Billmon. Tomasky started it off by issuing a call to Democrats to reclaim their civic republican roots, Digby replied by pointing out the traditional problems with reliance on civic republican ideals, and Billmon unintentionally (?) threw water on the whole discussion.

By emphasizing the points and potential of our tradition of emphasizing the "common good," Tomasky highlighted a theme lacking in good part from Democratic thinking (although Clinton did sound the theme). He frequently weakened his argument with dubious references and weak linkages, which Digby, while very sympathetic, nails as he always does. One example of Tomasky's problem was a line that started "Amy Sullivan demonstrates . . . ," which is always a blinking light "superficial, superficial, superficial." The woman makes Kevin Drum look deep, and her examples of Democrats's recent strength--Bush's weakness on Social Security, Katrina aftermath, and Dubai--were not the pillars of newfound Democratic power that she or Tomasky seem to feel they are. Another problem was the casual tossing by Tomasky of the specific periods and contexts in which civic republicanism has been at its most influential in our history. The "common good" is most clear at times when we all face a common threat and, hopefully, have common goals to meet it. When our needs are more individual than collective, the "common good" is a matter of debate, as Digby points out, and appeals to it are often more the problem than the solution. So, yes, exhortation to pursue "common good" is not a bad idea and can accomplish good, particularly now in a time of demented individualism.

There are two major things I'd like to add. One, as I indicated in an earlier post on Stealth Democracy, the evidence does not support well a hope that Americans are just waiting for someone to come and show them how to be more active citizens. Yes, they like appeals to the "common good," especially if left undefined, but nothing Tomasky says shows that they like it if they have to do very much. Two, expecting the Democrats to be able to pull it off calls for more credulity than I'm willing to give, which is where Billmon clomps in:

The congressional Dems show us what they're made of. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go scrape the rest of it off my shoes.

As rhetoric builds, Democrats in Congress lie low on Iran

Most aides refused to speculate whether Democrats might support a military operation in Iran. Several aides acknowledged, however, that some Democrats in Congress could support a military strike . . . Any military action Democrats supported, one aide said, would not include the use of nuclear weapons.

Unless, of course, it tests well with the focus groups.

With few exceptions, Howard Dean's enlightenment and John Edwards' completely misused 2004 "Two Americas" campaign, the Dems just haven't shown the ability to speak to Americans in a way that would make discussion of the "common good" credible. And they are promoting candidates too carefully vetted as "electable" far too early in this campaign, just as they did with Kerry in 2004, as if the key issues in November are clear right now. Still, the idea of "framing" the "common good" is, as Tomasky and Digby show, worth pursuing. The problem is that, like so many things Democrats are glomming onto now, this call has been out there for a couple of decades now.

In 1985 Robert Bellah and colleagues spelled out in detail the importance of the civic republican tradition and the need for its insertion into our public life in Habits of the Heart. In 1992 they followed up with The Good Society, that spelled out in more detail what it would entail. They are each very inspiring books and, combined with Robert Putnam's works, like Bowling Alone, demonstrated years ago everything that Tomasky says in his insightful article. In other words, this is not new, neither the description of the problems and future if unheeded nor the prescription of the solutions and future if pursued. If so, why have the Democrats so assiduously ignored the conspicuous benefits? Because they have been playing the focus group games decried by Billmon and because they haven't been able to pull their various constituencies into a common message.

Look at their current slogan, "Together, We Can Do Better." Superficially, that is, in Amy Sullivan's world, it's civic republican, yet it's met with widespread skepticism among core Democrats. Too "Knowledge Is Good" from "Animal House." The key, though, is really who's going to be saying it. The usual blow-dried, focus grouped DC types (the Sherrod Browns and their short-sighted acolytes like David Sirota)? Or people of clear conviction and courage (the Paul Hacketts and John Murthas)? The messenger is as important as the message. The civic republican perspective has way too much Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street to it to offset the spin and manipulations of Bush the Younger and his posse unless it's delivered by people who can clearly kick some ass. It's not an accident that the historically best received civic republican line, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," was delivered by a president who was both a war hero and alley cat, that is, more man than Bush, Chaney, Rove, and all the Congressional and keyboard commandos combined.

So, as Digby says, it's not that Tomasky's wrong. It's as Billmon says; it depends on who's saying it being believable. Right now the Democrats aren't. They don't really have the message or the messagers, but that doesn't mean they can't. But Tomasky is just the starting point. For the agenda and justifications, they need to turn to Bellah and crew, and then get people who are credible echoing them. They've been waiting a long time now.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Best Rolling Stone ever!

I've had a love-hate relationship with Rolling Stone over the years. It tends to piss me off more often than not, but I read just about every issue. They do things like giving the last mediocre Mick Jagger solo album five stars and giving Britney Spears, etc., the cover way way way too many times...but they've also linked up with and written some great political articles over the years (most of them by the veritably insane Matt Taibbi). And when they write about something worthwhile, there are few magazines better.

Honestly, now that I'm thinking about it, the quality of Rolling Stone pretty much directly coincides with the quality of music that's out there at any given moment. In 1999-2001, when music was at about its lowest
point ever, Rolling Stone fell all over itself kissing up to all 'new big things' in music. But lately it's been a downright enjoyable read, issue after issue, and I think that says good things about the current state of music. And now there's THIS issue:

Worst President Ever?
Calamitous presidents, faced with enormous difficulties -- Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Hoover and now Bush -- have divided the nation, governed erratically and left the nation worse off. In each case, different factors contributed to the failure: disastrous domestic policies, foreign-policy blunders and military setbacks, executive misconduct, crises of credibility and public trust. Bush, however, is one of the rarities in presidential history: He has not only stumbled badly in every one of these key areas, he has also displayed a weakness common among the greatest presidential failures -- an unswerving adherence to a simplistic ideology that abjures deviation from dogma as heresy, thus preventing any pragmatic adjustment to changing realities. Repeatedly, Bush has undone himself, a failing revealed in each major area of presidential performance.

Plenty of others are already commenting on this one, and most of them are far better writers than me, so I'll leave that to them. But being that I'm a much better music nerd than they are, I'll point out another couple of great parts.

Eddie Vedder Q&A (to go along with what appears to be a great review of the new album that I still can't stop talking about):

Looking back, you can say, "This record is a little midtempo" or "Why was that the single?" but I can't necessarily answer objectively. Melodically speaking, the new songs are pretty strong. I think the drumming is impeccable. And we've figured out a way to create space for the guys in the band, for them to get to that level of energy that they have when we play live. I'm not sure how that happened, but I think it's a step in the right direction.
New Neil Young Album:

Living With War features what Young describes on his Web site as "metal folk protest" and "a metal version of Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan," recorded with "a power trio with trumpet and 100 voices."

In between this post and a post I made last week about the revival of really good protest songs came this Boston Globe article from the weekend, talking about protest singers, their "renewed cry", and their diversity. It's a good (and encouraging) read, though there is one quote I'd like to point out:

Taking an antiwar stand is unlikely to affect sales for groups like Pearl Jam, known for its liberal leanings. But it has hurt the Dixie Chicks, who were virtually eliminated from country radio after speaking out against Bush at a concert in England in 2003. Nevertheless, their new album, ''Taking the Long Way," set for release May 23, includes the song ''Not Ready to Make Nice," in which they reference the backlash -- including death threats -- they received after their onstage comments.

That will not do anything to win back fans alienated by their criticism of Bush, according to John Hart, the president of Nashville-based Bullseye Marketing Research, which has conducted phone surveys to determine how people feel about the group. Hart says music fans typically don't want to be told who to vote for.

''I'm sure that Pink, she's delivering a message from her heart, as are the Dixie Chicks," says Hart. ''I don't think they're bad people. I just think they're expressing an opinion. Unfortunately, they think most of their listeners or fans feel that way, and they're wrong. All the fans want is to hear their music."
You can think that all you want, Mr. Hart, and you can say it in as condescending a way as possible, but I think the numbers might disagree with you a bit. Ask the Dixie Chicks how their numbers are doing (#4 highest-selling CD, over a month from their actual cd release). And for that matter, ask Pearl Jam if their latest single (5 weeks at #1 on the modern rock charts) is being hurt by the political content. I think the answer might disappoint you.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness

At some point in a few years, when the accounting for our present times is done, we will be faced as a nation to choose what stories we will tell to explain what happened to us. We're not particularly good at owning up to failures, especially egregious ones like those we're likely to be looking at (See Vietnam, Jim Crow, native fratricide, slavery, etc.) When we can, we like to just ignore consequences that wise and rational people would deal with fervently and immediately, preferring instead to protest our innocence and well-meant ignorance. "We're good people, we couldn't have known, someone should have told us, yada."

We can already see the consequences in some detail. Not just Iraq, Iran, blowback, feedback, get back. Our insistence on ignoring water, weather, and whatever we're burning for fuel in a few years will require significant story-telling at least to our posterity. If we hold true to form, we'll blame someone else, and it may just be luck how much of our response is philosophical rather than physical, no sure thing with the angers and anxieties churning and whirling.

But there is another tradition, usually a failed one, but one with a respected pedigree nonetheless. A tradition of realism, about the world, about the future, about ourselves. It doesn't lift us up as humanity's or God's highest achievement, thereby making undeniable descents less terrifying and undemocratic. It recognizes our failures as well as our achievements and acknowledges that, sometimes, hey, we just screw up. Get over it, fix it, move on. No unnecessary recriminations.

Its chief spokesperson throughout the middle of last century was Reinhold Niebuhr, theologian, political analyst, author of the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;and wisdom to know the difference.

Author also of tons of articles and books warning humans against their constant hubris, self-pride, and silliness, aka sinfulness. In a world of human frailty and mistakes, we should be very careful about exalting ourselves and diminishing others. Evil, like sin, is a human condition that should be countered with strength and forthrightness, but Niebuhr stressed, as did my other namesake, Isaiah Berlin, Kant's "from the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing has ever been made." Niebuhr hammered consistently on the fact that not only are "the children of darkness" capable of evil and sin. So are "the children of light," who, convinced of their moral superiority, lose site of what those morals are and the necessary and perpetual humility that must accompany their exercise. According to Niebuhr, Americans in particular, long taught their special place in history, are highly susceptible to the self-righteousness that leads children of light astray. His The Irony of American History and, coincidentally, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness should be required reading of all sides in our current political and cultural polarization. At the risk of sounding like I'm ignoring his warnings, Bush the Younger and his entire administration should be the first readers. (You're welcome for all the one-liners I just set you up for.)

One of Niebuhr's heroes was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's continual spiritual growth, which puts the lie to any idiotic thing written about any fixed statement he may once have made in politics, brought him to realize that the Civil War could best be explained as a punishment brought down on both sides, despite each side's claim of God's special allegiance, like receivers pointing upward after a touchdown over that God-forsaken cornerback. Even when triumphant at last, Lincoln called the nation to recognize its "dark" side and to base future reconciliation on that common human core. Of course, look at what happened to him.

Still, it's worth think about now, before the recriminations for who's to blame for everything on the crap horizon right now start. Again, that's not to say that true evil, true darkness, should go uncontested, any more than Lincoln let Confederates off or Niebuhr embraced Nazis, Stalinists, or their successors. But it can and should be done with a sense of the error common to all humans and a "there but for the grace of God" concept. We will have so much to repair and restore; we won't have time for debates over light and darkness. Some people, like the aforementioned administration and surrounding posse, the leaders at Haliburtonexxon and their ilk, all the sacrilegious religious, will have to answer, but always in proportion to their evil and sin, never more, and with an eye to "am I pure light myself?"

So, we do have an alternative to our usual blindness and anger and avoidance when these enormous chickens out there coming pounding on the gates of our current privilege. What we don't have is Niebuhr, or his admirer, M.L. King, and we've blown off another admirer, Jimmy Carter, when he expressed his confidence in our seriousness of purpose as Americans. Maybe we've become too cynical or, the opposite, too Oprah about evil and sin ("God don't make no junk!"--then who the hell made Jeffrey Dahmer?). But it was there once, a willingness to listen to those who held the mirrors up to us when problems needed addressing. It can be there again.

So here's the deal. Get one or both of the books mentioned above. Read them and think them through. Then pass them on to someone else who will do the same. Start the chain. And look in the mirror. It's still there. Our great ones understood. And they, in their hard-won humility, knew one more thing. They weren't any better than you.


Good Ol' Days...

I keep thinking our country's not going to fall for the "return to the good ol' days" pleas by some backwards politicians, and, Trent Lott's downfall aside (which is ironic, since what Lott said was actually not nearly as bad as what a lot of folks have said since), I continue to be wrong. For all the progress we've made, somehow the 1950s still seem like a wonderful time to emulate. As Lance Mannion put it (hat tip to Digby)...

Once upon time we were all good and well-behaved, if plagued by demons and temptations within. You know, back in the day, when lynching was a spectator sport, children were worked to death in factories and mineshafts, and employers thought nothing of hiring goons to beat and kill workers who dared strike for safer working conditions and decent pay.

Then came the Fall, and with it moral relativism, post-modernism, Freudianism, Marxism, feminism, birth control, Roe v. Wade, situation comedies that make dad into a buffoon, and black people who expect to live in our neighborhoods and send their kids to our schools...whoops, did we say that last one out loud? We meant entitlements, the nanny state, and the culture of dependence brought about by Welfare.
I was raised to see the future as a time of progress, not a time to do nothing but reminisce about the past. It just seems to me that wanting things "like they used to be" is easier than actually addressing society's issues in a forward-thinking manner. We're Americans, we're the world's only super power (though we're trying our best to destroy that aura), and yet our brains aren't powerful enough to handle the world's complexities (it's "hard work"), so all we can do is yearn for a simpler time, when women and minorities were kept down and we were the only country sadistic enough to use the A-bomb. Well it looks like we're well on our way.