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.