Friday, December 30, 2005

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mentzer on experimental fiction

My review of Ander Monson's Other Electricities now up at Stop Smiling.

Monday, December 26, 2005

...But then again, too few to mention

Thinking I may have ranked Sufjan too low. Illinois is really good.

Overreaching Critic of the Week, Holiday Edition

Josh Levin writing about the Chronicles of Narnia rap:
People aren't forwarding this video because it's a parody of what's bad about rap; they're sending it around because it's an ode to what can be great about it. Instead of auguring a new day for SNL, maybe it points up what's missing in mainstream rap--an awareness that it's OK to be goofy.
Which has a nice sound, except when you take into account the frequent goofiness of Kanye West, MF Doom, Missy Elliott, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Andre3000...nearly anyone except 50 Cent and the handful of mad-face rappers sharing his specialization. A nice try, though! Always nice to hear about what's wrong with rap music from people who don't like rap music!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The problem with DailyKos

is that Markos Moulitsas Zuniga seems to only pick political losers. This doesn't always mean he's supporting the wrong candidate, but it would seem to call for a reconsideration of political tactics. But no, he keeps right on pushing the angry-outsider schtick and bashing centrist Dems for no good reason.

On the other hand, DailyKos.com is a great source for polls and rundowns of lower-profile races all over the country, and Moulitsas is right about a lot of things, like how Dems should tone down gun control in order to make inroads with rural voters. This awesome profile in the Washington Monthly compares DailyKos.com to sports talk radio, and the analogy only gets better the closer you look at it. Both in a good way and in a bad way.

And what is his beef with the DLC anyway?:
His most curious crusade of all was the one he began in late August of 2005, when he declared on his site that he had a secret plan to destroy the Democratic Leadership Council. A few years ago, when the organization of Democratic centrists was backing the invasion of Iraq and flirting with Social-Security privatization, this might have made sense. But by last year, the DLC had begun loudly denouncing Bush, particularly for his handling of Iraq, and was generally in agreement with Moulitsas and the party's activist base on a broad range of issues. Moulitsas, for his part, had spent the previous few months focused on taking on the liberal interest groups, urging Democrats to run more pro-life candidates, and to contest rural contests with rural values--all long-held tenets of the DLC. So Moulitsas's beef with the group wasn't over ideology, it was, predictably, over tactics. But even here, the ire seemed misplaced: The DLC is hardly averse to a strategy that puts winning ahead of ideological purity--it helped make its reputation in the early '90s by advising Bill Clinton to adopt just that kind of pragmatism, arguing that electoral victory was more important than philosophical correctness.

Still, Moulitsas wouldn't back down. “No calls for a truce will be brooked,” he wrote. “Appeals to party unity will fall on deaf ear… We need to make the DLC radioactive. And we will. With everyone's help, we really can. Stay tuned.” [...]And then...nothing. Three days before the scheduled unveiling, Moulitsas wrote that he'd changed his mind. Hurricane Katrina, which had just struck, had made him realize, he said, that this was not the time for intra-party bickering. “We think someone got to him,” a DLC staffer told me darkly.
Moulitsas' response to the article is kind of fascinating in itself--at first an outraged list of factual errors in which he viciously defends his own party-outsider status, followed by a series of increasing lucid updates ending with a convincing argument that DailyKos is just one part of a larger progressive movement.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I have heard approximately zero of these records, but this album art countdown is cool to scroll through.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Etc.

Best Song – Still Tippin’ by Mike Jones (feat. Paul Wall & Slim Thug)

Best EP – Prefuse 73 Reads The Books

Best Box Set - I Am the Upsetter by Lee "Scratch" Perry

Best Compilation – Run the Road

Best Operetta – Trapped in the Closet Pts. 1-12 (!!) by R. Kelly

Better than the original – The People’s Champ Screwed & Chopped Remixes

Preferred it when it was called OdelayGuero

More great songs - "1 Thing," "Since U Been Gone," "Hollaback Girl," "Shake it Off" by Mariah Carey, "Now You’re Leaving" by Prefuse 73 feat. Camu Tao, "Hate it or Love it" by Game, "Pon de Replay" by Rihanna, "Over and Over" by Tim McGraw & Nelly, "My Doorbell" by the White Stripes, "I Turn My Camera On" by Spoon, "Pimpin’ All Over the World" by Ludacris, "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" by the Hold Steady, "Been Robbed" by Consequence feat. Mike Jones (beat by Kanye).

Monday, December 19, 2005

List season pt. II

20. The Documentary, The Game
Because the best beats money can buy—from Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Hi-Tek, et al.—turn out to be pretty goddamn good.

19. Surrounded by Silence, Prefuse 73

18. The Milk of Human Kindness, Caribou

17. Favela Strikes Back, various artists

16. Be, Common

15. Trill, Bun-B

14. Illinois, Sufjan Stevens
I like him, too! Breathtaking through its first half, Illinois comes unraveled as it goes on, suffering from the airy abstraction of tracks like “The Seer’s Tower.” But this is one where the high points are high indeed.

13. Cru, Seu Jorge

12. The Mouse & the Mask, Danger Doom

11. Z, My Morning Jacket
They’ve picked up a reggae influence and it suits them. So do the Beach Boys harmonies. Z has the feel of an American London Calling--well, not as good as all that, but pretty good nevertheless.

10. The Cookbook, Missy Elliott

9. I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, Bright Eyes

8. Multiply, Jamie Lidell

7. Everything Ecstatic, Four Tet
Made the album we wanted Prefuse 73 to make this year. Lush, abstract, confrontational, with a pungent aroma of Aphex.

6. The Woods, Sleater Kinney

5. Arular, M.I.A.
Some complain that M.I.A.’s political posturing is mostly a pose, but so what if it is? Arular is an album of sly come-ons disguised as protest songs, not the other way around. Diplo’s thick favela-influenced provide the jump-off.

4. Congotronics, Konono No. 1
Needs to be heard! Sample of "Lufuala Ndonga": DOWNLOAD HERE

3. The Further Adventures of Lord Quas, Quasimoto

2. Dimanche a Bamako, Amadou & Miriam
Under Manu Chao’s production, the duo’s pop sounds sleek and melodic, organic without seeming old-fashioned. Organ tones and occasional woodwinds (flute, bari sax) establish the easy pop-soul vibe; the ambient noise, choral vocals and driving rhythms make it a party.

1. Late Registration, Kanye West

Sunday, December 18, 2005

List season (interlude)

I suppose Sufjan Stevens is the heavy favorite for Pitchfork's #1 slot, but who are the underdogs? Antony & the Johnsons, maybe? Clap Your Hands Say Yeah? (I would applaud that choice for sheer self-promotional audacity, though I think CYHSY is merely room-temperature.) Think Kanye has a shot? (??)

Friday, December 16, 2005

List season

Best Books of 2005***:

FICTION
Mission to America by Walter Kirn. Probably my favorite novel this year, it's the story of two young missionaries traveling through an America that was previously closed to them. I have a full review of this book coming for Stop Smiling.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy's Westerns have an element of the supernatural, presenting evil as an animating force inhabiting certain more-than-human characters. Set in the present day, No Country counterpoints bloody scenes of brutal violence against elegiac first-person reflections of an aging small-town Texas sheriff.

Saturday by Ian McEwan.

Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie.

Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee.

NONFICTION
The Disappointment Artist by Jonathan Lethem. A collection of personal essays mostly about the author's relationship to pop culture. Lethem looks at the ways our favorite things fuse with our personalities (and the ways we are active participants in this process), and writes well about Philip K. Dick, Star Wars and The Searchers.

Triksta by Nik Cohn. An aging British rock writer joins the New Orleans rap game. True stories of art and ambition among desperate surroundings.

Can't Stop Won't Stop by Jeff Chang. Indispensable, researched-to-the-hilt history of rap makes connections you haven't thought of and tells anecdotes you haven't heard. Sort of flawless until Chang hits the 90s, but its account of rap's beginnings is surely the best ever written.

The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson.


*** NOTE: And of course this means best books I read in 2005, which means it's almost comically non-comprehensive. But I suppose the same objection could be raised about anyone's year-end list of anything, which might be reason enough not to raise it at all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Not cool, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, not cool at all

In 2003, when Fidel Castro threw a bunch of poets and dissidents in jail and (following a quickie show trial) executed three men who had hijacked a ferry, Cuba expert Anne Louise Bardach made a convincing case that Castro's actions were specifically designed to prevent the U.S. embargo from being lifted. After all, the sanctions benefit Castro's regime most of all, allowing him to keep tight control on the island's economy.

Reading Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent showy display of anti-semitism and rejection of Israel's right to exist, I was reminded of Castro's little dictatorial two-step, and curious about whether something of the same dynamic could be at work. I've seen analysis of how the statements work as domestic politics: Ahmadinejad is doing a little base-consolidation of his own and eliminating the possibility of a more open stance toward the West. But, "pure product of the [Islamic] revolution" or no, he is also aware of how his remarks will be received abroad.

And, oh look!, it so happens that on 12/21 Iran is scheduled to resume talks with the European Union about their nuclear aspirations. It is only a short leap to the conclusion that Ahmadinejad is intentionally undercutting these talks, creating a distraction and underlining points of irreconcilable difference. Why? One frightening possibility is that it's because Iran's nuclear program is going like gangbusters, and Ahmadinejad wants to make sure that the EU negotiations go nowhere so that Iran can keep doing whatever it is they're doing on the road to getting nukes. Like Castro, this regime benefits from greater isolation from the international community, not less.

Here is the part where some form of constructive solution would be nice. Unfortunately I can't think of one. No nation should ignore or minimize comments like "Israel should be wiped off the map" or "The Holocaust is a myth," and the international community sure doesn't want someone who says shit like that to have nuclear weapons on hand. But with the U.S. bogged down in Iraq, threats of military force are not credible, either.

Another article comes to mind, this one by Thomas PM Barnett for Esquire, which argued that the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran would not be so bad if we could get the Iranian government to recognize Israel's right to exist. Barnett had a point, but increasingly it looks like we could end up with the worst of all worlds: a nuclear-armed Iran that also wants to wipe Israel off the map.

UPDATE -- Appetite for foreign policy talk not sated? More Iran stuff here here and here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Lil Wayne never dropped the Lil

Kelefah Sanneh profiles Lil Wayne, the New Orleans rapper and label head:
One thing you won't hear on [Lil Wayne's new album] is the one thing you might expect: a somber but hopeful song about the storm that destroyed the neighborhood he's still bragging about. When asked, he will talk about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. He will talk about how the displacement has destroyed family traditions. "You ain't getting another good holiday," he said. "That ain't happening for some years." And he will talk about how displacement has also "brought the wrong people together," stranding bitter enemies in too-small towns. But he says he didn't want this CD to be dominated by the hurricane. "When I get behind that mike, I got a whole 'nother mind frame," he said, then added, "I rap about what they wanna hear." He saves the hurricane commentary for journalists, he said. He has found that it's a good idea to tell them what they want to hear, too.
Bonus music writing link: an interesting critical piece (pdf) by Monica Kendrick in the Reader contrasting reissues of Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run and Dead Kennedys' Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Fuck New Hampshire

It's a good idea.

Roe matters

Let's say that you, like most people, belong to neither the rabid-pro-life nor rabid-pro-choice camps. Maybe you, like many people on both sides, have entertained the thought that a SCOTUS ruling overturning Roe v. Wade would not amount to that momentous a change--the issue would go to the states, abortion would still be legal most places, etc.

You are kidding yourself.

Excellent post on the subject by NewDonkey, including this:
Whatever you think of the constitutional provenance of Roe, the idea that a post-Roe world would somehow entail a sort of national referendum on basic abortion rights, with a dignified debate and simple up-or-down votes in every state, defies everything we know about the politics of abortion and the nature of state legislatures. The reality is that the reversal of Roe would turn state politics across the country into an endless, 24/7 battleground over a vast array of abortion legislation, perhaps indefinitely. At worst, it could produce the kind of reasoned debate associated with the Schiavo case, every single day, across the country. At best, abortion policy would overshadow many compelling issues most of the time, and some compelling issues all of the time.
If your position is that abortion is an absolute moral evil equivalent to murder, this line of argument is beside the point. But for any other position--and there are many--these are exactly the stakes of the Alito nomination.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Experience, schmexperience: Obama '08!

Ryan Lizza of The New Republic lays out the case for Obama '08, and it is strong! Lizza lays out as a rule of thumb (new to me, but intuitively plausible) that a pol has no more than 14 years to become president, and after that time just isn't sexy to voters anymore. And when you start to do the math, it goes like this:

1.) If Obama doesn't run in 2008, he will have to run against an incumbent in 2012--a major challenge if the incumbent is a Republican, a virtual impossibility if the incumbent is a Democrat.
2.) If Obama doesn't run (or doesn't win) in 2012, that pushes us to 2016, and by that time his record of difficult Senate votes, political horse-trading and Washington insiderness will definitely be a hindrance.

More to the point, he has a zeitgeist quality now that he simply will not have in 2016, at least not in its current form. "The kind of political star power Obama has doesn't last," is Lizza's way of putting it, and it's hard to disagree. And this:
The biggest objection to Obama running for president just four years after being elected to national office is his lack of experience on national security. But experience is an overrated asset in presidential politics. It is conventional wisdom now that only during the interregnum between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the onset of the war on terror could candidates lacking foreign-policy credentials win the presidency (i.e., Bill Clinton and George W. Bush). John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan all won during the cold war without significant experience in world affairs. (Emphasis added)
Experience is overrated! Well put, sir!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

From my perspective, the most troubling part of John Roberts' judicial record was his part in the ruling by the DC Court of Appeals on the case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, upholding that the executive branch may indefinitely detain "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay with absolutely no due process. It's an ugly, authoritarian practice by an ugly, authoritarian administration, and SCOTUS is one of the last remaining lines of defense against it. (The case will be heard by the Supreme Court next March; Roberts has recused himself.)

This essay by Dahlia Lithwick homes in on this side of Bush's ideology, and on the ways that Alito would help to establish unlimited wartime powers for the president, and continue to chip away not only at Roe v. Wade but at the rule of law.

Monday, December 05, 2005

"Poor people I've known who are intelligent and hard-working usually become drug dealers"

"Poor People Do Not Want to Be Lawyers," tips for writing stories about poor people from the Get Published or Die Tryin blog, which this week will have a series of confrontational posts on the subject.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Hobbyhorse

I will go Leslie one better and say that the fact that something is popular actually does mean it's good. Good at something, anyway.

Pop crap exists. Lousy TV shows, big dumb blockbusters, corny bestsellers, etc. Sure, on one level anything that's popular is popular for some reason, and it's a funny truth that "lowbrow" entertainment often fulfills deeper, more fundamental needs in us than the finest fine art. On the other hand, it's easy, easy to show that some works of art that are objectively worse than others--compare Danielle Steele's Toxic Bachelors to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, or Kevin Federline's rapping to Talib Kweli's.

So far, so conventional. Popularity does not an aesthetic triumph make. But my point is that popularity is neither an evil nor a neutral force; rather, it's one of the fundamental conditions that all art aspires to, and one that any worthwhile metric for aesthetic success must consider.

While there is such a thing as an artwork's objective merits, all art is also a social relationship in two distinct ways: 1.) a shared experience between the creator and the consumer, and 2.) between the consumer and other consumers of the same art. For whatever reason, #1 tends to be completely overvalued while #2 is barely acknowledged. But think about it: which relationship is more substantive, the one between you and Tolstoy or the one between you and your 19th Century Russian Book Club?

The usual story we tell about snobs is that they consider certain art theirs and theirs alone, and then stop liking it once it gets popular because it is no longer "special." But this still only describes the relationship of the individual to the artwork, not the peer relationship implied by popularity, which we all know is the real reason that snobs turn up their noses.

That peer relationship is not an incidental but an essential component of what art is, how it functions, and what it wants to be.

One more example. Upon seeing the actual Mona Lisa, people often remark that they don't see what the big deal is. It's a painting, looks the same as it does on the placemat at the Italian restaurant, etc. Their souls do not commune with Leonardo Da Vinci's. And yet, tourists continue to file through the gallery and to pool around the painting's reinforced glass casing and to consider, along with the hundreds of others in the room and the millions of others in history, what her smile signifies. What is magnetic in the painting is not just the painting: it's the common experience of looking at it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

It's about this dude who takes a drug that makes him blind and also sort of a genius. But it's not very good.

My review of Paul Theroux's mediocre latest novel Blinding Light is up at Stop Smiling. Let me assure you that just because the novel is mediocre doesn't mean the review is less than satisfying!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Know your English Enlightenment Philosophers

Through the magic of Netflix, we have been watching the first season of Lost. It is pretty good, if a little overheated sometimes, and it does have some cool twists. But what is the deal with the crazy bald dude being named John Locke? The "government with the consent of the governed" guy? What's the connection?

My theory is they have him confused with Thomas Hobbes (the "nasty, brutish, and short" guy).

UPDATE -- I have a new theory, which is that his name is Locke because of Locke's idea of tabula rasa. Stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere = clean slate...it's disappointingly plausible. Of course, Locke's theory was only meant as a description of the way babies learn, and it was wrong anyway...but it's probably best not to look too far into it...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

But I'm getting ahead of myself

Warner/Feingold '08!

Maybe Edwards/Warner?

Or here's one, Bayh/Richardson. Eh? Is Edwards/Bayh too leftish?

No? I have more.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Filibuster threat watch

Good to see: Biden dialing it up on Alito, if only slightly. I doubt that Alito's opposition to civil rights will be enough to win a filibuster argument (as Alito will take the Roberts-tested those-were-crazy-times path, I'm quite sure), but am pleased to see the option still on the table.

"Our next president"

Well I don't know about that, Ethel Kennedy, but this Tribune profile of Barack Obama reveals no achilles' heel yet in sight. (Well, there is this scandalous detail:
Some of the attention, though, is far from spontaneous. Before he appeared on Stewart's popular Comedy Central program earlier this month, his staff dashed off an e-mail to supporters, urging them to tune in to the show.
So maybe his political days are numbered after all!)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

But seriously, we need better literary rap wars

Ben Greenman's anti-Jonathan Franzen essay should have been right up my alley, but the piece was a flop, with Greenman a little too self-satisfied (or something) with his own status as "experimental." So respect to Sherman Alexie for his letter in the new Harper's, which I think is right on:
Does Ben Marcus, educated at NYU and Brown, employed by Columbia, and published by Anchor, Vintage, and Harper's, truly believe that he is an excluded experimentalist? Does he honestly believe that Jonathan Franzen, educated at Swarthmore, once employed by Harvard, and published by FSG and Harper's, is somehow more elitist? Or is Franzen the populist? Or is a populist elitist? Is there really much difference between Marcus and Franzen? This East Coast-East Coast Literary Rap War reminds me of the Far Side cartoon in which a lone penguin, suffering in a crowd of millions of exactly similar penguins, rises and shouts, "I have to be me!"

Friday, November 18, 2005

Karl Rove will be indicted (sooner or later)

I had been growing pessimistic, but this restores my belief that Rove will go down. No rush!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Dale Risinger (R-Peoria) Hates Kids

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is a bit of a prettyboy, is my impression, and his approval ratings sure aren't very good. But his health-care bill is a triumph on all levels. The bill, called the "All Kids" plan, would provide low-cost insurance to the many in-the-gap families too rich to receive other government programs, too poor for private insurance. Good policy.

And it's the best kind of good policy: the kind that neutralizes political opposition. Opponents of "All Kids" are obviously heartless Scrooges! Here is some hilarious whining by the still-hapless Illinois Republican Party:
Republicans acknowledge they're in a tough spot because opposing the plan could be dangerous politically. The measure likely will pass even though details are scarce, they say.

"He wants to tag us as being against kids, and that's just awful as far as I'm concerned," said state Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria.
Awful, just awful.

Prickly Fish

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Languid beats and murderous gang mentality

An exciting confluence of two persistent AMillionMonkeys themes: SCOTUS and gangsta rap. From this NY Times article about Alito's alleged Libertarian streak:
Judge Alito's most significant libel decision involved a quirky claim against Time and Newsweek magazines by C. Delores Tucker, who had campaigned against vulgarity in rap music. In an earlier libel suit by Ms. Tucker against the rapper Tupac Shakur, Ms. Tucker's husband had filed a common claim, for "loss of consortium," a legal term meaning that the injury she had suffered had also caused him to lose her marital companionship.

A lawyer for Mr. Shakur's estate pointed out that loss of consortium commonly includes damage to the couple's sexual relationship, and Time and Newsweek had some fun at the Tuckers' expense. "A lyrical attack by Tupac iced their sex life," Newsweek said of the Tuckers. They sued, saying the mockery was libel.

Judge Alito dismissed the claims. The Tuckers, he ruled, were public figures and had to prove that the magazines had acted with actual malice, that is, knowing their statements were false or entertaining doubts about their truth when they published them. The Tuckers had, he said, failed to do that.

Judge Alito seemed comfortable with the meaning of "loss of consortium" but turned to the Encyclopedia Britannica for a definition of "gangsta rap," which he reproduced in a footnote ("a marriage of languid beats and murderous gang mentality").
Unqualified! Supreme Court justices should at least own Straight Outta Compton.

Friday, November 11, 2005

New slang

Jody Rosen in Slate has a well-executed takedown of David Brooks' column blaming rap music for the French riots. A peripheral but fascinating detail was news to me:
Even most French-speakers find it hard to follow along. Many MCs deliver whole songs in Verlan, the ingenious, dizzying slang in which words are reversed or recombined, turning arabe (arab) into rabza, bourré (drunk) into rébou, bête (stupid) into teubé, and so on. (Verlan is itself an example of the form: Verlan= l'envers, "the reverse.")
Backwards slang: as cool or cooler than rhyming slang, definitely cooler than ending every word with "izzle."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Get yr highbrow rap criticism here

Great Sasha Frere-Jones column on Houston rap in the New Yorker:
"Still Tippin’" is an elegant primer on Houston hip-hop. The music is unhurried and woozy, as if it had been left too long in the sun. A violin phrase wells up again and again, like a bubble in a blender, while the rappers hew to the sticky beat, drawling about cars, women, and diamond grills (the precious-metal molds inlaid with diamonds that rappers wear on their front teeth). The easy finesse of Houston’s m.c.s can make East Coast hip-hop sound stressed out, uptight, or just plain square. The Houston sound is, above all, slow, a perpetually decelerating music that is equally good at conveying menace, calm, and grief.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Cheery news in this Pew poll, including Bush's 36% approval rating as well as a telling chart showing the eroding support for the president even among Republicans.

Bad news in the same poll, though, is that Alito's numbers are still pretty good. But it's early yet!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Drive sloooow homie

"Drive Slow," Kanye West's song about growing up in Chicago, is one of my favorites on Late Registration, and for that matter on The People's Champ by Paul Wall, too.

But the version of "Drive Slow" on Paul Wall's invaluable Screwed & Chopped Remixes bonus disc is a fuckin' religious experience. Slowed down and syzzurped-out, Kanye's saxophone sample is returned to its original speed, and the song turns into a deep soul dirge. This is some "Thank You for Talkin' to Me Africa" shit; don't miss it.

DOWNLOAD "DRIVE SLOW (REMIX)" HERE

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

But Rob, what does this mean for the Alito nomination?

Funny you should ask.

You don't like to see this, but you are not surprised and besides it doesn't matter.

In the wake of Reid's maneuver, Democrats are signaling that they won't filibuster Alito. That's fine for now, and even appropriate: there's still a lot we don't know about him. Supposedly he was nominated as the anti-stealth candidate, so it will be interesting to see how his private meetings with the Senators go.

But check out this nugget from the Gallup poll published today:
If it becomes clear Alito would vote to reverse Roe v. Wade, Americans would not want the Senate to confirm him, by 53% to 37%.
Pretty big margin, no? Especially when you consider that only 38% of Americans currently believe that he would overturn Roe. If that number goes up, the political calculus changes quick.

I wouldn't yet bet money against Alito being confirmed, but he is no sure thing.

Harry Reid

Still the man.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

George W. Bush has never used a hammer in his life


Hilarious Bush clip on a Letterman rerun last night: Bush doing a post-Katrina photo-op at a construction site, with no idea how to use a hammer. He holds it by the neck and sort of shoves it toward the nail. It is awesome.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Defeating Alito

Look for an ally in Arlen Specter...

Problem

Why should Libby cooperate when he knows he's in line for a presidential pardon?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Just nailed.

An emailer to Andrew Sullivan brings a pleasing Law & Order vibe to his interpretation of Fitzgerald's legal strategy, but I catch a distinct whiff of plausibility as well. The letter really elucidates the indictment's case against Libby and the ways it implicates Rove and Cheney, and closes with these thoughts:
Fitz has a pretty strong case for the Espionage Act, and if Plame met the objective standards in the Intelligence Act, for that one too. And it seems like the fact that Libby lied repeatedly is very strong evidence of a culpable state of mind, belying any claim that he didn't "know" the info was classified or that divulging it was wrong. Add that to the very specific allegation in the indictment that he knew exactly where she worked, and there it is.

So why not charge it? Because Fitz has Libby nailed on the 5 counts from today's indictment. Just nailed. So he's bringing Libby in on those charges, they're going to talk some turkey, and Fitz is going to see if Libby will talk, maybe about VP, maybe about Official A (who's clearly Rove), or maybe about the VP's moles at State and in the CIA. Offer some carrots - maybe no jail - but if Libby refuses, then Fitz brings down the espionage or intelligence act charges. Libby has nowhere to go, and Fitz knows it. In my view, he's going to try to exploit that opening before wrapping this thing up.
Not crazy, right?

Sharks are apex predators

And now, some words on sharks from accomplished Australian spear-fisherman Rick Wolf.

Party of discipline

This is from a Republican emailer to The Corner:
Party discipline matters. That's one area where Democrats have always outshone us.

When a Democratic president or other high party leader comes under fire, the Democrats have a tendency to circle the wagons.

Republicans, meanwhile, when their leaders come under fire, tend to form a circular firing squad.
Democrats: not a circular firing squad!
Scooter out, Rove still under investigation? Sounds okay to me. I have really been enjoying the handiwork of the under-investigation Rove lately.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bush's breakup with the right

Conservatives think they're the real winners here; meanwhile Harry Reid is pretending to be sad. See, the right wing now assumes that it will get the hard-right nominee it's always wanted. But I'm not so sure. This post from TNR's The Plank enumerates unanswered questions:
Why does George W. Bush understand her nomination to be a failure? Will he blame it on the media? Will he blame it on conservatives? Will he blame it on himself? I'm guessing it won't be the latter. ...These questions won't just determine whom he nominates to the bench next. They will determine his political strategy for the rest of his term. If he feels betrayed by conservatives, then he might find ways to screw them in the coming years.
While it is true that Miers could not have been sunk without the protests from the right, it does not follow that Bush's course forward is to nominate a hard-right candidate.

And even if he does go hard-right with his nominee, the Democrats' ability to knock a nominee back has just gotten better. Remember: approval ratings, midterm elections, filibuster.

If Karl Rove (politically) dies, his base strategy could die with him.

Now that Miers is out...

Bush's new shortlist for SCOTUS:

5.) Judge Ito
4.) Judge Judy
3.) Noelle Bush
2.) Laura Bush
1.) Oprah

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

No speaka the English, I only do the math

Here is the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee has ten Republicans and eight Democrats. Here is a list of concerned souls from a helpful site called WithdrawMiers.org.

From WithdrawMiers, we can count three Republican senators on the committee (Brownback, Graham and Sessions) who have "expressed reservations" about Miers. Brownback, I have noted, has a particular political interest in opposing her. There are at least two other Republicans on the committee--Specter and DeWine--who are self-styled moderates with no good reason for supporting the White House on this nominee.

Take Specter. He emerged from his meeting with Miers with the announcement that she acknowledged a constitutional right to privacy, an announcement he was forced to retract when a panicky White House informed him that she acknowledged no such thing. This was a face-losing political spanking for Specter, and he told reporters that he will bring up the subject in the hearings. ("My recollection of our meeting differs from what Ms. Miers's recollection is," Specter said, "...I am going to go over it with her.") Think he's an assured vote? Me neither.

And Dewine! He's staring at lousy poll numbers and a possible challenge from Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett for his seat next year. Opposing Miers would be a cost-free opportunity for DeWine to separate himself (at least symbolically) from Bush's sinking ship.

That makes five uncertain Republican votes, and from what I can see, not one easily swayed Democrat. Those who voted for Roberts (Leahy, Feingold) did so on the strength of his qualifications and intelligence; it's hard to see them being wowed by Miers' similar qualities. And it's extremely hard to see anyone who opposed Roberts (Kennedy, Schumer) deciding that Miers is more fit.

That's the math. Five wavering Republicans where two 'no' votes would potentially sink the nomination. So we're into the territory of when she is withdrawn and how the White House decides to handle it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

My triumphant return to the SCOTUS-speculation game

You've been wondering, you've been waiting, you've been asking yourself: When oh when will Rob blog again about Harriet Miers and SCOTUS? Well, dear reader, the wait is over.

Not-that-controversial-of-a-prediction: Harriet Miers will never sit on the Supreme Court. I bet she doesn't even make it to the hearings.

Opposition from social conservatives' darling Sam Brownback (R-KA) is no longer an if and is totally a when. Consider the man's cost-benefit analysis! A vote for Miers doesn't help Brownback's political career in any way that I can discern, but a vote against her catapults him into the position of Official Right Wing Stop-McCain Republican '08 Candidate--a position recently vacated by Bill Frist, incidentally. Meanwhile, it's no great insight on my part to point out that the Bush White House these days isn't powerful enough to scare Brownback into line.

Brownback can't defeat her by himself, of course, but his dissent could make a lot of other Republicans (ironically, both on the right and in the center) suddenly become more comfortable voting against her. And the 2005 Democrats have become the party not only of fiscal discipline but also, incredibly, of message discipline, and against Miers it will be no challenge to keep the voting bloc together.

Just a guess, but one to consider: the White House will try to bury Miers' withdrawal underneath the fireworks of the coming indictments. I know they're not thinking straight lately, but the prospect of Miers' being defeated in committee must have crossed their minds...

And if she is withdrawn, who would replace her? Again: weak White House, administration in shambles...I still don't think it's possible for Bush to appoint a fire-breathing conservative. (You may disagree, but I have been right before!) Here I repeat myself from a few months ago: Democrats still have the filibuster. In this environment, Democrats can win the argument that goes along with using it.

Defeating Harriet Miers makes sense on the merits--she's a crony and an intellectual lightweight who doesn't belong on the Supreme Court. Defeating her nomination also makes sense politically: Bush would be choosing her replacement with his approval at an all-time low (and dropping!) and with midterm elections looming large. He would have to screw the base (again) in hopes of saving his own skin. Result: Bushism dies, hardcore social conservatives cleave to Brownback, McCain keeps trying to figure how to do without the 30% of Republicans who are evangelicals...Democrats reap benefits from fed-up social conservatives who decide to quit voting (or, better, to vote for Roy Moore), and they directly pick up the votes of some (okay, small) percentage of moderate evangelicals. And we all live happily ever after...

Anybody get indicted while I was typing this post?

Dessert

Link (via BoingBoing).

Thursday, October 20, 2005

DeLay's Mug Shot

Kind of disappointing. Where's the profile shot? Where's the ruler? And why isn't he holding one of those little signs with booking number and such?

Ah well, who's complaining? It is a mug shot, after all, and that can't be good for one's political fortunes, even in Texas.

PS -- And why isn't he wearing stripes or an orange jumpsuit? And why doesn't he have a ball and chain attached to his ankle? And why aren't his testicles attached to electrodes? And why is he still a member of the House of Representatives?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

And we eat a big lunch then we all take naps

MF Doom is a rapper who knows his target demographic. Danger Doom, his new collaboration with producer Danger Mouse, is an album-length riff on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim that includes funny guest turns from Brak and Master Shake and most other notable Adult Swim characters. Now this is synergy! (Or do they call that product placement?)

The album is hilarious. Shake's answering machine messages are great; Brak's rap is immortal. MF Doom is one of my favorite rappers because of his slurry, free-associative style, his ear for quirky language and multisyllabic slant rhymes, and most of all for lines like this:
"We'll be right back after these messages/ Fellas grab your nutsacks, ladies squeeze your breastsesses"
Danger Mouse's production style is sort of neo-old school; he makes beats out of looped samples and orchestra instrumentation like back in the days before ProTools. His tracks are solid and there's an appeal to hearing Doom in a more upright setting, but the beats here are too tidy for Doom's woozy style, and the pair's chemistry doesn't approach that of Doom/Madlib on Madvillainy.

But so what? The first great rap/comedy record of 2005 was Quasimoto's The Further Adventures of Lord Quas; the second is Danger Doom's The Mouse and the Mask. Too bad, though, that there's such an air of professionalism to a project that could have used a little more anarchy.

Monday, October 17, 2005

My new Stop Smiling piece is available here, posted while I was off honeymooning. It's a review of Salman Rushdie's new novel, Shalimar the Clown, which I liked a lot. This was originally supposed to go into the print magazine, but got demoted to the web at the last minute when they changed around the issue's theme. Oh well, at least I still get paid...
Unexpected cool thing about getting married: the ring! My ring is now the nicest thing I'm wearing at any given time.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Dept. of Hilarious Celebrity Sightings

Ryan Seacrest @ Bellagio.

Now I'm not saying Ryan Seacrest is gay...but both he and the guy he was sitting with had excellent hair.
Back from Vegas. What fun!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Congratulations to me on my incredible luck. Back in a week and a half or so.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Monday, October 03, 2005

Works because it's true

The strategy for Democrats is as clear as can be. The first part was laid out by Marshall Wittman:
Democrats should, at least, indicate that it initially does not appear that Miers is a Scalia/Thomas extremist. They should applaud the President for apparently not bowing to pressures from the right - this will drive the conservatives nuts.
Part II, following this faint praise, is "But we have serious concerns about Miers' qualifications for a seat on the Supreme Court. In an administration that has consistently appointed unqualified cronies to positions of national importance, it is clear that President Bush saw Miers' primary qualification to be her proximity to him..."

Writes itself.

John Podhoretz does our job for us

Here's the conservative commentator on the Miers nomination:
One of the dumbest things being said today about Harriet Miers is that she has no paper trail. She has a colossal paper trail, and a potentially dangerous one too -- as one of the two honchoes of a law firm in Texas called Locke Liddell and Sapp. This means that every case taken by Locke Liddell and Sapp during her time as chief partner is part of her "paper trail." It's true she has said nothing about abortion. But what about making money defending, say, polluters? Or tobacco companies? One really controversial case might give Democrats sufficient cover to oppose her en masse and, depending on the circumstance, might be enough for a few Northeastern Republicans to go off the reservation.
Miers is a crony, Michael Brown in a black robe and powdered wig (do they still wear powdered wigs on the Supreme Court?). And precisely because she has "said nothing about abortion," her right-wing support could evaporate with signs of serious opposition.

PS -- Worth reading The Corner this morning, if only to gauge the extent to which the right feels let down by this nomination.

PPS -- Miers looks to be a candidate everybody can hate. Quick, let's survey right-wing reactions...Instapundit doesn't like him...hack extraordinaire Hugh Hewitt is reduced to pleading that the right should trust Bush, not exactly a ringing endorsement...Bill Kristol is "disappointed, depressed and demoralized" and says Miers has "no constitutionalist credentials that I know of"; he thinks it bodes ill for '06 and for the next three years of the Bush presidency...and some dude on the site Right Wing News calls it "undoubtedly the worst decision of Bush's presidency so far" (!)

And yet Miers is no kind of moderate and surely won't receive any significant support from Dems...Ramesh Ponnoru on The Corner notes that she's not even a shoo-in to receive a qualified rating from the ABA!

The right got screwed by Bush, all right. So did the left and the center!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

I have a couple of blurbs in the new issue of local mag Chicago Innerview: one on Atmosphere and one on Kathleen Edwards (scroll down).

Friday, September 30, 2005

Should the left stick up for Bill Bennett?

Great week, eh? It's been one 'winger implosion after another. Now that Morality Czar William Bennett has helpfully explained that he doesn't actually want all black babies to be aborted, left wing blogs and radio talkers are falling over themselves to defend him and accept his very kind explanation. And kudos to them, others say, for seeing beyond partisanship blah blah blah.

I suppose it will surprise no one that I favor what others call blind partisanship. But hear me out; my reasons go well beyond "what hurts my enemy helps me."

The definition--my definition, I should say--of a political "gaffe" is a statement that allows a public figure to be easily caricatured: a statement that seems to expose the worst tendencies of the speaker. Howard Dean's scream = unhinged madman, John Kerry's "I voted for it before I voted against it" = unprincipled flip-flopper, and on and on. Neither of these examples were anything like the genesis of the candidate's caricature, but by taking an abstract notion and giving it a concrete embodiment, it was the gaffe that served to cement the notion in voters' minds.

Here is what Bennett said:
I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.
To be sure, this statement was proceeded by a disavowal of the morality of such an endeavor. This disavowal is exactly as relevant as the argument that, for legal purposes in the Lewinsky case, it really did matter what the definition of "is" was.

Bennett explicitly suggested that blacks are responsible for crime, but more importantly, he did so from an on-high aerial view ("every black baby") that befits a phony hypocritical blowhard. So explain to me again why the left shouldn't use this statement to portray him as a phony hypocritical blowhard? Political battles are fought on political terrain, and anyone who makes a living in the political arena knows exactly the career risks posed by gaffes and soundbites. This is how the business operates.

Given that Bennett doesn't actually want all black babies to be aborted (phew!), I'd say that his remarks shouldn't disqualify him from operating a Shakey's Pizza or manufacturing ceramic ducks for a living. But advising America on morality? Avoiding the appearance of racism is a non-negotiable part of that job description.

There is such a thing as overreaching, and after a handful of political wins (some of them merely symbolic) Dems should be wary of it. Demanding an apology from Bill Bennett isn't it.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

AMillionMonkeys does jokes!

Sent to me by my good pal HS:
Donald Rumsfeld is giving the President his daily briefing on Iraq. He concludes by saying: "Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed." "OH NO!" the President exclaims. "That's terrible!" His staff sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the President sits, head in hands. Finally, the President looks up and asks, "How many is a brazillion?"

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Tom DeLay is indicted and somebody takes the first ever photos of a live giant squid?? This is truly a historic day.

As always, publicprivate brings you the most up-to-date news from the world of marine biology. You have got to see the pictures.

I still post about rap music, too

Funny-'cuz-it's-true observation from the Onion AV Club's Nathan Rabin:
In my review of Memphis Bleek’s surprisingly not-terrible newish album I compared Bleek to an unpopular kid whose birthday parties are well-attended solely because the popular kids are hoping to catch a glimpse of his famous father. Jay-Z’s new verse on the remix to Kanye West’s "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" takes this idea even further. "Bleek could be one hit away his whole career, as long as I’m alive he’s a millionaire/and even if I die he’s in my will somewhere, so he can just kick back and chill somewhere" Jay-Z raps and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sound like S. Carter is essentially saying "I know none of you kids like my loser son Memphis Bleek but he’s still daddy’s special little man and even if none of you want to play with him I’m still buying him a pony and a go-kart and the new PS2 so you can all [go] screw yourself. I’m all the friends he needs. Gosh, thanks pops.
Tom Delay indicted on conspiracy charges, forced to step down as Majority Leader at least temporarily. Fuck yeah!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Vain McCain

Conservative blogger and excellent literary critic Ross Douthat starts to make a case against McCain '08:
First, there's McCain's vanity. Every Presidential candidate is intensely vain, of course - it's a necessity for the job. But it's become obvious, in the 2000 election and in nearly every political controversy since, that McCain's vanity manifests itself in a desire to be loved, not by "the people," but by the elite American press.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Kinky Friedman is running for governor of Texas as an independent under the campaign slogan "Why the Hell Not?" (Alternate sometimes-used slogan: "How Hard Could it Be?") He has an animated campaign commercial here that is awesome.

Now how's that Draft Springer for Ohio Governor movement going??

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Harry Reid will vote against Roberts, and because he's the Senate Minority Leader (and because he's pretty centrist himself), this means that there will probably be lots of 'no' votes on the left side of the aisle. So I guess the sending-a-message-about-robust-Democratic-opposition approach won out over the avoiding-the-'obstructionist'-label-in-case-a-filibuster-is-needed-to-block-whoever-Bush-chooses-to-replace-O'Connor approach.

This may indeed turn out to be a smart maneuver, and it may be useful in the midterm elections. But mainly the audience to this gesture is Bush/Rove: it is a warning that Dems will fight against his nominees. With the president in such a weakened position, it could be a warning that's hard for Karl Rove to ignore. The tricky thing is that its true effectiveness will really only be known behind closed White House doors.

Now everyone hold your breath until the next nominee...

Another reason fiction writers shouldn't write about music

...or maybe just a reason Rick Moody shouldn't write about anything. What is this supposed to mean?:
Can it be that rock and roll is in historical disarray? Can it be that no one (excepting the brilliant Nels Cline, currently playing with Wilco) has done anything interesting with the electric guitar since Sonic Youth recorded Daydream Nation? Can it be that only women (I’m thinking of Sleater-Kinney, for example) are able to rock these days? Maybe white boys with amplifiers have just used up the garage and used up the Marshall Stack, and they need to find the next thing, which, I can assure them is not hip hop. (Emphasis added.)
I'm not asking a rhetorical question: seriously, what does his post say?
NewDonkey argues that Democrats should oppose Roberts on the grounds that a.) the fact that he's a one-to-one Rehnquist replacement doesn't make him acceptable or good for the country, and b.) lots of "no" votes would signal Democratic opposition in advance of the next nominee, which everyone agrees will be an even bigger deal.

I guess I don't agree: I think that when it comes time to filibuster, the "We supported your last nominee" approach would provide better political leverage. But it's certainly an open question.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Predictably, Late Registration has grown on me

A marble-mouthed rapper, a preppy, a "conscious" rapper and a floss-happy egomaniac, Kanye West is like all superstars in that he's something greater than the sum of his parts. He is, for one thing, certainly the most explicitly middle-class rap superstar in history, or at least the first to be completely forthright in claiming his middle-class upbringing. What do you think this means? What do you think it means for the future of rap?

And am I the only one who hears cognitive dissonance in the looped Ray Charles sample in "Gold Digger," which is "She gives me money when I'm in need"? For a song about that stock rap character, the Gold-Digging Woman, the sample is decidedly gender-reversed. Oh, I know the song's third verse, which describes a broke-ass dude glomming off an indulgent woman, is meant to turn the tables, but "Gold Digger" is basically fluff and good-natured fun with rap stereotypes; I reckon it'd be unwise to pin any overarching political statement to it.

When he looked straight into the camera and said "George Bush doesn't care about black people," Kanye started a debate that needed to happen, the results of which have been good for the country. But Mr. West is nothing if not ambivalent when it comes to politics and his public image. Even the album's most explicitly political track, "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," considers the larger world but still (re)assures listeners that "before I beat myself up like Ike/ you can still throw your Roc-a-Fella diamonds tonight." Nice to know that he's not being too hard on himself, or us.

Lest I be accused of faulting Kanye for lacking a politically coherent worldview, make no mistake: cognitive dissonance is what makes Late Registration compelling. Sonically lush with Jon Brion flair and an exceptional guest list (Nas and Paul Wall acquit themselves especially well), the album shows West engaged in a tug-of-war between ego-driven hedonism, social conscience and his love of hip-hop as it is. If the social conscience often loses out, this hardly makes the album less fascinating or soulful.

***
Also feeling: Seu Jorge, Cru; Randy Newman, Good Old Boys; Blackalicious, The Craft.
Hey, have you guys ever tried planning a wedding? It's hard. At least that's what Laura tells me! But it's starting to get pretty exciting, like most of the really stressful stuff is behind us and the fun is soon to begin. Not long now...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Political Hurricane

I'm a Supreme Court nerd, but most people aren't, and there's no question that Hurricane Katrina is a much bigger political issue now, and a much bigger political issue for the '06 and probably '08 elections. This essay in Slate has it right:
The first thing [Democrats] need to do is remind themselves that they have to run on Katrina. ...Democrats need to acknowledge that Karl Rove's justification for Republicans running on their response to 9/11 now applies to Katrina as well. Arguments about life and death issues shouldn't be dainty or avoided at the dinner table.
Karl Rove is not wrong!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

"Full" responsibility

Bush's half-assed "taking responsibility" statement is pure publicity stunt. There has to be an independent commission to investigate and make public the causes of the governmental failures that took place around Hurricane Katrina, and that is that. Bush's phony, weaselly statement today is not nearly good enough. And it won't be good enough politically, either: it just looks desperate.

Boy that Roberts is a slippery one isn't he? He's all "I might have to rule on this" and "the court recently granted cert. to that," and then he makes you feel bad for asking and even cites the damn paragraph number in the Judicial Code of Ethics that says you're an asshole.

Even so, right out of the gate this morning Roberts confirmed that he believed in the right to privacy and called Roe "settled precedent." Not bad, grist for the mill. The hearings were definitely boring, but Democrats did hit a sizable number of right notes, forcing Roberts to confront the lousy Reagan policies he was a part of. And then tonight I heard Susan Estrich on Fox News saying she doesn't understand why Bush nominated such a pantywaist. That's a good sign. Maybe Limbaugh won't like him! What does Ann Coulter think? Nothing will speed the implosion of the Bush administration better than a divided right!

So I'd say things are going pretty much according to plan...

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Dear Friends,

Please write for me a detailed exegesis of Roman history as it compares to the television show Rome. Please also compare to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

Thanks!

Sincerely,

Rob Mentzer

UPDATE...This should get you started!
Topical new track by the Legendary K.O., a rapper I hadn't heard of before but am sure interested in now, a story about the post-Katrina disaster set to "Gold Digger" and titled "George Bush Doesn't Care about Black People."

PS -- And here's a Mos Def song called "Katrina Klap."

Saturday, September 10, 2005

So what do you think, DOES George Bush care about black people?

See Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson and especially Jacob Weisberg, each of whom take a pretty coherent go at the question. And make no mistake: whatever conclusion you reach, this is a fair question to be asking.

That's mainly what I think about the hurricane. That, and this stuff from the Weisberg article:
The president drastically reduced budget requests from the Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen the levees around New Orleans because there was no effective pressure on him to agree. When the levees broke on Tuesday, Aug. 30, no urge from the political gut overrode his natural instinct to spend another day vacationing at his ranch. When Bush finally got himself to the Gulf Coast three days later, he did his hugging in Biloxi, Miss., which is 71 percent white, with a mayor, governor, and two senators who are all Republicans. Bush's memorable comments were about rebuilding Sen. Trent Lott's porch and about how he used to enjoy getting hammered in New Orleans. Only when a firestorm of criticism and political damage broke out over the federal government's callousness did Bush open his eyes to black suffering.

Had the residents of New Orleans been white Republicans in a state that mattered politically, instead of poor blacks in city that didn't, Bush's response surely would have been different. Compare what happened when hurricanes Charley and Frances hit Florida in 2004. Though the damage from those storms was negligible in relation to Katrina's, the reaction from the White House was instinctive, rapid, and generous to the point of profligacy. Bush visited hurricane victims four times in six weeks and delivered relief checks personally.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sorry no hurricane-politics talk, Macky, but how about some Supreme Court talk?

Prediction: Bush will screw the right with his Supreme Court nominee. His political position is too weak for him to appoint a firebreather of the sort that he's tended to favor for the federal bench. (And the Roberts nomination illustrated that he understands this principle.) You'll recall that Democrats still have the right to filibuster, and with the president's approval ratings in the tank they could win the political argument that would go along with using it.

So, what's a besieged, deeply unpopular president to do? For political reasons, I think white males are out. This means it could be Gonzales, but then again who the hell knows? It might have to be a woman. Now, like Roberts, Gonzales is wrong about all sorts of things, and no doubt whoever the appointee is will be bad for America in one way or another. But there is simply no way that the worst-case scenario will be fulfilled, because Bush knows well that he would lose a battle over an outrageous nominee.

Now, stay with me on this one. The right was whiny but not quite outraged by John Roberts, but if they aren't satisfied with Bush's next choice, they are going to wail and holler for real. The Republican party is already divided, and if the influential fringe of radical social conservatives fall out of love with Bush, the possibility of revolt is real. A right wing third party, a mirror-image of the '00 Greens, could sprout up in time to shave off a few Republican percentage points in '08.

Remember, the Green Party arose out of the perception that after eight years in the White House, Democratic leadership was no longer progressive enough to serve the interests of the left. It is no stretch to think that the right could experience the same disillusionment with Bush if he's perceived as bowing to political pressures in his Supreme Court picks. (And imagine if McCain or Guiliani, both hated by the right, wins the '08 Republican nomination!)

Even short of a third party candidate, the state of the right wing base by '08 could well be enraged. So not only has Bush lost the favor of the nation, right now he is only barely holding together his own governing coalition. Kick him while he's down.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Not a scratch on me

...but my bike is fucked. Yesterday I was hit by a car. She was pulling out onto Chicago Ave. and not paying attention. My front tire is broken, my bike's frame is twisted and ruined. I fell onto the car's hood and clunked my head on her windshield, wearing my helmet, as always. The cops gave me a ride home.
Thanks to my lovely wife-to-be for the redesign. But wait, there's more! A picture of a monkey is coming, and other improvements as we think of them...

Sunday, September 04, 2005

I will report back in detail at some point, but on my first coupla spins I am really not feeling Late Registration. I like "Gold Digger," and "We Major" because of Nas.

Bear in mind that my opinion upon first-couple listens is often wrong.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Salman Rushdie's publicist was giving me and my editor the run-around about sending out a review copy of his new novel. "We've already sent it, hasn't it come yet?" she would say one day, and "We'll overnight it to you," the next. And yet, no book! Until today, when I received in my inbox a .pdf file of the complete text of Shalimar the Clown. The whole book. Sweet.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hey how about this Brian Wilson interview in the Onion AV Club? Pretty coherent!

After you hear Pet Sounds, you're emotionally drained. I wanted to have people leave on a kind of good, jovial high with Smile. I wanted Smile to make people a little happier and a little more up by the time the album was over, so they would walk away and say, "Hey, I like that album," instead of going, "Wow, what an emotional drain that was." That was my mood.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Some days are better than others.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Clark '08?

When General Wesley Clark threw his hat into the ring during the Democratic primaries, his candidacy was exciting for many Democrats, including me and Michael Moore both, because of his good looks, sterling resume and opposition to the Iraq war. As a politician, it turned out that he wasn't ready for primetime, though: he committed too many gaffes, contradicted himself and just wasn't graceful enough to negotiate the 24-7 media blitz that modern campaigning has become.

For '04, Clark's problem went deeper than his lack of polish, though. At that time--and throughout 2004--most Americans still supported the war. The frustration and despair of the left base at that time wasn't yet shared by most Americans. Any Democratic politician who wanted the nomination had to beat up on the war (and everyone but Lieberman did just that), but any plausible candidate for the general election had to support it. Democrats tried to thread this needle by choosing John Kerry, a not unreasonable choice, if not the one I would have made.

But opinion polls in these dog days of summer '05 show something very different. Public opinion is turning against the war and against President Bush. This trend seems likely to continue, and this could harm de facto '08 frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who has carefully branded herself as a hawkish Democrat and has supported the adminstration on the war at every turn.

Which brings us back to General Wesley Clark. He expressed forceful opposition to the Iraq war before the invasion and throughout the primary season. At the same time, his national security credentials are unimpeachable, and he was the Supreme Allied Commander of the successful mission in Kosovo. He's a liberal internationalist in the best way, and with political skills sharpened over the course of these four years, he could emerge as a serious contender for the '08 nomination.

Here is Clark's persuasive editorial in today's Washington Post, and here is a post about his detailed plan to stop genocide in Darfur.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I didn't say assassination. I said our special forces should 'take him out.' And 'take him out' can be a number of things, including kidnapping; there are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him.
Indeed, the record shows that Pat Robertson did not say "assassination." He said:
If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it.

So as you can see, "do it" in this context could mean any number of things, such as "kidnap him" or "take him out for an ice cream sundae" or "put on our pajamas."

PS -- Dmnkly has a hilarious graphical representation of one of Robertson's possible meanings, and he offers up a policy proposal that I think we can all get behind.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Maybe it's just me [Part II]

... but man, I thought the series finale of Six Feet Under was terrible. Like, last-episode-of-Seinfeld terrible.

PS -- Here's Laura's discussion of the episode.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Maybe it's just me

...but I think "Diddy" is Sean Combs' best name yet.

Why Michael Coleman probably can't be governor of Ohio


Just sayin'.
New Stop Smiling piece is up here, reviewing a biography of the famous poker player Stuey "The Kid" Ungar. Paired with Dolores Alfieri's excellent review of the folk music memoir The Mayor of McDougal Street.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Graph of Bush's approval rating, from a variety of polling sources, over the length of his presidency so far. Not long now and he'll be breaking the 40% mark. How long, do you suppose, until he's in the 30s?

PS -- The latest Rasmussen poll is another typical sampling, putting Bush's approval at 43% vs disapproval at 55%. More than that, though, kausfiles observes that fully 41% "strongly disapprove" while only 21% "strongly approve." Quoth Kaus:
Doesn't this imbalance of fervor mean something in low-turnout elections, such as the upcoming 2006 mid-terms? Specifically, doesn't it mean the anti-Bush forces should do very well in 2006, in a mirror-reversal of the 1996 mid-terms?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Based on the one song I downloaded from Salon, my impression is that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are a Talking Heads tribute band. Is this correct?

Friday, August 12, 2005

NARAL has now pulled the ad. Of course, this calculation is theirs to make, and I am strictly an outside observer. But let me pose this question: Why even produce an ad as obviously confrontational and vituperative as this one if you aren't going to stand behind it? Make the ad, get some media attention, draw the ire of a moderate Republican senator and then immediately withdraw the ad? To me this seems like the worst of both worlds.

PS -- Words from The Note:
The [White House's] victory, of course, is not getting the ad off the air. The victory is reminding all the players and observers of this process who is on offense and who on defense. And perhaps more importantly, the incident will cause Roberts' opponents on the left to be a bit more gun shy going forward.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Another sign we're on the right track: the liberal media disapproves of the NARAL ad.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Also, I like Dan Savage's idea, posted on AndrewSullivan.com, where he is guest-blogging:
I have a policy proposal: Anyone who doesn't believe in evolution shouldn't enjoy the benefits of evolution. No eyes, no walking upright, no opposable thumbs. It's back to the primordial ooze for members of the Kansas Board of Education.
Efforts to enact election & redistricting reforms in Ohio are succeeding. This is good. Ohio! Listen up! Your next job is to elect a Democratic governor. This shouldn't be too hard to do, since Taft currently ranks as the 50th most popular governor in the nation. (Please note that in the U.S., there are a total of 50 states.) In fact, his approval rating is a truly jaw-dropping 17%.

And as long as you're electing a Democratic governor, Ohio, I'd like you to strongly consider somebody who would make a good VP candidate. (Ted Strickland would probably do; Michael Coleman probably wouldn't.) You may not realize this, Ohio, but you are sort of a big deal when national elections come around.
Public Advocate of the United States doesn't know a left wing conspiracy when it sees one!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Here's a NARAL ad opposing Roberts for his amicus brief in support of abortion clinic bombers. This is a good ad, I think. In the accompanying article, Pres. of NARAL Nancy Keenan says:
“I want to be very clear that we are not suggesting Mr. Roberts condones or supports clinic violence. I’m sure he finds bombings and murder abhorrent. But still his ideological view of the law compelled him to go out of his way to argue on behalf of someone like Michael Bray, who had already been convicted of a string of bombings.”
Sounds like good politics to me.

Q. Is there something weird or inconsistent about attacking Roberts on abortion at the same time we snuggle up to him on gay rights?

A. No.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The right is onto us!

Limbaugh knows it. WorldNetDaily knows it. Any appearance of John Roberts' sympathy for gay rights activists is proof of a left wing conspiracy! Take Concerned Woman Janice Crouse ferinstance, who talks to WND in this article:
Crouse thinks the story likely was generated by a political motivation – to divide the Christian community. "It's a matter of the left being desperate to throw something at a man who appears to be exceptionally well qualified and committed to interpreting the Constitution as written," she said.
(Only by loopy right-wing logic does reporting on Roberts' pro bono work constitute "throwing something at" him. This news made us like him more!) But even Crouse acknowledges that "If it appears that this is a matter of a pattern, that would be a concern." Okay. Vague, mostly concealed discomfort. We can work with that!

Much more useful is somebody named Brian Fahling, who is quoted saying:
It seems [Roberts is] a faithful Catholic, and for him to be on the front end of a case that literally put a dagger squarely into the moral heart of America – there are as some incongruities there.
Literally puts a dagger squarely into the moral heart of America! Now there's the ideological panic we're looking for!

Members of the vast left-wing conspiracy, unite!
Q. Is The Neptunes' newfound penchant for minimalism a cue taken from Timbaland?

A. Yes! But they're still a lot different. Timbo is working in a pop idiom all right, but I think Neptunes has a more crowd-pleasing, malleable sensibility. That's not a dis--hip-hop is a populist art form, and who can argue with "I'm a Slave 4 U"/"Hot in Herre"/"Drop It Like It's Hot"? Timbaland is not necessarily better for being more obstreperous, but a track like "Pass That Dutch" was so brutally minimal that it had an edge of Metal Machine Music-style confrontation. The Neptunes have indeed borrowed some of Timbaland's minimalism, but everything they make still twinkles.

Also worth remembering that Timbaland produced not only "Get Ur Freak On"/"Big Pimpin'"/"Cry Me a River," but also a lot of flops. He lent his name and production to three terrible albums with Magoo; Bubba Sparxxx's Deliverance was underrated and underperforming; even This is Not a Test! was Missy's worst-selling album since Da Real World. So it's also possible that Timbo is going the way of the RZA, and that he will show up in a few years scoring films or doing something else besides producing rap records.

Now, Saxdrop, please tell me about the pros and cons of CAFTA.

Friday, August 05, 2005

John Roberts Loves Gay Rights

This article in the New York Times delivers a delightful political gift to Democrats: John Roberts’ legal advice was instrumental in a landmark 1996 case "protecting gay men and lesbians from state-sanctioned discrimination." Details:
Judge Roberts...spent about six hours on the case, [lead plaintiff's attorney Jean] Dubofsky said. "He told me, 'You have to know how to count and to get five votes, you're going to have to pick up the middle.' "

And then, she said, Judge Roberts provided explicit instructions on how to do just that, telling her that she would have to prove to the court it did not have to overturn a previous case, Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld a ban on homosexual sodomy. He peppered her with questions in a moot court session.

"So when I was asked by Justice Scalia if they would have to overturn Bowers v. Hardwick to rule my way, I said no," Ms. Dubofsky said.
Of course this is great news on policy, since Roberts suddenly seems much more likely to decide gay rights cases in a way that would please Democrats. But it is even better news on politics, 'cuz James Dobson and his ilk are gonna hate this. Hopefully they will feel betrayed/ignored by the White House and the Republican Party and hopefully they will squawk and howl about it loudly and at length. This can only hasten the continuing implosion of Karl Rove’s base strategy!

So let’s play this up in a big way! All Dems and lefty pundits should single Roberts out for praise on this case, citing him as a likely ally on gay rights, and [coyly], oh, who knows, maybe lots of issues. Then watch the smoke start to come out of James Dobson's and Ann Coulter’s ears.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Though his Mormonism and untelegenic style mean that Harry Reid will never make a good presidential candidate, he has sure proven extremely effective as Senate Minority Leader. He gets the profile treatment in the New Yorker, including this fabulous anecdote from his days as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission:
In July of 1978, a man named Jack Gordon, who was later married to LaToya Jackson, offered Reid twelve thousand dollars to approve two new, carnival-like gaming devices for casino use. Reid reported the attempted bribe to the F.B.I. and arranged a meeting with Gordon in his office. By agreement, F.B.I. agents burst in to arrest Gordon at the point where Reid asked, “Is this the money?” Although he was taking part in a sting, Reid was unable to control his temper; the videotape shows him getting up from his chair and saying, “You son of a bitch, you tried to bribe me!” and attempting to choke Gordon, before startled agents pulled him off. “I was so angry with him for thinking he could bribe me,” Reid said, explaining his theatrical outburst. Gordon was convicted in federal court in 1979 and sentenced to six months in prison.

Bad-ass!
Engrossing Washington Post article discusses the legal ways that lobbyists funnel money and luxury vacations to politicians. The truth is that there are many, many unethical practices that are completely widespread and perfectly legal.

Here's an interesting detail on the practices of Washington's political machinery:
Lawmakers can no longer solicit, and political parties can't accept, soft money -- those large, unregulated donations that for years had helped candidates in elections. They can now collect only "hard money" -- strictly limited amounts that go directly into election coffers. But they can still attract large sums for other purposes -- very worthy ones, they insist -- such as self-named academic institutions. Companies with interest in legislation have trouble saying no.
Obviously, short of actual embezzlement schemes, such "self-named academic institutions" don't directly enrich the politicians who take donations for them. Their "take" is a bit more abstract: companies contribute to the politicians' prestige, flattering them and keeping their public profiles high. This is the stuff that's above-board. Don't doubt for a minute that the deals made behind closed doors are much more craven and direct. This is our system.

PS--And of course Democrats are also guilty of these practices, but I stop short of labeling them "as guilty": not in today's Washington, they aren't.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Ima haveta get me some of those Adibok sneaks.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

But JM/MH, we DID win on Bolton

And if you don't believe me, watch the Daily Show. Its first fifteen minutes are a string of mustache jokes: Bolton as a 10-year-old with a thick white mustache, Bolton juxtaposed with Wilford Brimley. It is sweet.

Democrats have taken control of Bolton's public image. And Bolton has legs! The next political battle that matters is '06. The face of the Republican party should be--and is--Bolton, DeLay, and Karl Rove. Welcome to your 17 month Ambassadorship, Mr. Bolton. 17 months...it occurs to me that this would put us right in the thick of an election season...

PS--Bush's approval rating hits all-time low...

P.P.S--Here's a link (via Crooks & Liars) to the hilarious ten-minute Daily Show clip.

Monday, August 01, 2005

John Roberts, Racist!

[Roberts] wrote vigorous defenses, for example, of the [Reagan] administration's version of a voting rights bill, opposed by Congress, that would have narrowed the reach of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He challenged arguments by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in favor of busing and affirmative action.
In the long run I realize that this is terrible, considering that this guy will probably make the Supreme Court. But then again in the long run we are all dead. In the short term, this is exactly the issue that Dems should slap Roberts around with during confirmation hearings: Your honor, do you still believe that the 1965 Voting Rights Act is too broad? And do you agree or disagree with the part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that says X? And what about Y?

Oh, yes. And then Democrats should club the administration and all Republicans who vote to confirm Roberts with this issue for the next, oh, let's say three & a half years or so. (Remember, the way that you get to appoint justices is by winning elections...)

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Playing online poker, I just got my first royal flush. Clubs.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Missy be the name and y'all should already know

My new Chicago Reader piece on Missy Elliott's The Cookbook hits newstands today. For interested souls who do not reside in Daleyville, I will provide a link as soon as the Reader's .pdf scans hit the internets.

...As good as my word: link.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Good article in The Nation about Oprah & Faulkner:
Once again, she has proved she is a more serious reader than many people--that is, anybody besides her millions of fans--reckoned.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Jay-Z's Fade to Black is a concert movie on par with Stop Making Sense and Gimme Shelter. Move it to the top of your Netflix queue immediately! My favorite moment: Timbaland plays three potential beats for Jay-Z, one of which later became "The Potion" by Ludacris, one that is still unreleased as far as I know and the one that was Jay-Z's choice for The Black Album's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder." It is apparently the first time Jay-Z has ever heard that beat, and you can see him feeling it, grooving on it. Timbaland tells Jay-Z that he can have his choice of the three, then laughs and says to the camera, "I'm the best there is." Anyone care to argue?

He big in nothing important in good elephant

Fun with retranslations: English subtitles from the Chinese version of Revenge of the Sith.
Sasha Frere-Jones has a Pop Note about R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet"; worth reading and not very long!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Kelefa Sanneh does an in-studio profile of Kanye West. How long until Late Registration?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Jessica Hopper's review of Sufjan Stevens' Illinois in this week's Reader (available as a .pdf file) is of the "I liked this" school of music writing and doesn't really do the album justice. But Monica Kendrick's review of a new Charlie Poole box set (scroll down from the Stevens review) is great, providing historical/biographical background and doing real thinking about the nostalgic oversimplification of traditional country and folk music:

Poole himself was very much a man of the present...a voracious listener, picking up gestures, inflections and sometimes whole tunes not just from jazz and blues but from vaudeville, black gospel, square-dance music [and] ancient English folk.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Here's a fine example of the sort of conservative button-pushing that will most benefit Democrats. The Bull Moose blog writes:
Smart conservatives who aren't shills for the Bushies have every reason to be concerned about Roberts. He may very well be a right-to-lifer. His wife is and that is significant in pro-life circles. But if Roberts agrees with his wife, why is he afraid to say it? If asked by Senators, he would readily answer whether he was against child abuse or slavery. Why not mass murder (if you accept that premise about abortion)?

Dept. of Credit Where Credit's Due

Excellent write-up of Kano's debut album over at Pitchfork.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I know the same things you know about John Roberts, and we probably both agree that Dems do not have a serious chance of blocking the nomination: too vanilla, not enough paper trail, etc. So I think the thing for Dems to do is to paint him as a strictly pro-business, non-ideological "principled conservative," basically a guy we disagree with but not a scary guy. This seems to be the current CW and may represent an opening. The best political strategy for Dems (though not for left wing fundraisers, unfortunately) may be to downplay the likelihood that Roberts will be an anti-Roe guy.

So far, the right wing seems fairly happy. That's bad. And we know that the more the left seems outraged, the more the right circles the wagons. But the truth is that the "religious right" is a powderkeg right now, entitled and emboldened but also needy, very demanding and totally whiny. So we should play the devils on their shoulders, saying "Gee, Bush's choice will help his pro-business pals, but what track record does this guy have on the issues that you care so much about? None to speak of! Are you sure this guy will help your cause?"

The more they doubt that Roberts is one of them, the more the political fallout harms Republicans in '06. So let's hear much more repetition of the Roberts quote stating that Roe is "settled law" (yes, it's potentially a misleading quotation...what's your point?). Deepen the fissures in Bush's governing coalition. Then back to bringing down Karl Rove!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Bear Can't Rap

Words from a writer friend of mine who spent much of the summer in St. Petersburg:
There are four black guys in Russia and all of them rap in English. With each of them, it's as if Ice T has gone into exile and wearily gone back into the music biz, with a few extra tats and a dull-eyed misunderstanding of the contemporary youth culture.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Great first lines. We got your "Call me Ishmael"s and your "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"s and your "A screaming comes across the sky"s. Needs "I am an American, Chicago-born..." and probably others, too. First lines are fun.