Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Saturday, January 31, 2009


Doctor Biobrain - or rather, his evil alter ego, Doctor Snedley - included a VS post in the latest Carnival of the Liberals, and subjected it to the ridicule it justly deserved. Do check out the other posts, entertainingly skewered, in the "Obacalypse!" edition of CotL.

I'll add that Carnival of the Liberals is always looking for volunteers to host it, and hosting and/or participating is very much in the spirit of Blogroll Amnesty Day.

Blogroll Amnesty Day, 2009

It is time once more to observe Blogroll Amnesty Day, a celebration starting today and going through Tuesday, February 3rd - typical liberal excess. Thanks to skippy, Jon Swift and Blue "2000th Post" Gal for spearheading this once again, to skippy for the graphic, and to all bloggers who make a habit of linking more than the usual suspects (take a bow, Mike Finnigan).

Backtrack through the above links for the background on this event, or head over to Shamanaqua for an entertaining, fantasy-themed retelling. Last year's post here went with a "gigantic mutant lizards breathing nuclear flame" theme. And that gives me an excuse to re-run this graphic from one of those pesky blog meme posts:

(Click for a larger view.)

Because it's all about the mix, folks. The cool thing about the liberal blogosphere – or blogtopia (yes, a certain kangaroo coined that phrase!) – is that you can find brilliant essays, original muckraking, conscientious fact-checking, policy discussions to make a wonk's heart flutter, cathartic rants, witty satire, and general silliness. On the blogtopia side of things, is there anyone who's been doing this for a while who hasn't experienced a flash of insight reading someone else's work, or learned something new in the course of researching a post, or come to a better understanding of his or her own position arguing in a comment thread? The internet tubes encompass a wide range of opinions and many communities, and we have seen extreme ugliness from some of them. But it's also not hard to find positive communities and a degree of kindness that would shock the MSM scolds who rarely seem to bother actually reading those foul-mouthed bloggers they're so convinced are, ahem, undermining democracy.

Speaking of "the mix," with no slight to the fine bloggers I linked last year nor to the many others on my blogroll, may I suggest you check out:

Daily Dorkmonger. Kristen writes: "I am bitter and elitist! I like to read and I like to write about what I read." Well gosh, Kristen, that's redundant - elitist, reading, and talking about it?!? Jeez, as if we'd like to hear what you have to sa – wait, what was that about lewd Russian jokes, and supervillains?

Tales of Brave Sir Robin (a.k.a. Sir Robin Rides Away): Blogging from a "proud Liberal" and "a prouder Dad" who features off-beat music selections and other interesting takes. (Plus, I'm happy somebody else also refers to it as "Roast Beast.")

Impolitic Eye: "Parenting, advertising, graphic design, food, politics and whatever else catches my attention."

Media Bloodhound. MBH probably doesn't need my help, and his "ranking" is deceptive as he's another inveterate cross-poster, but I have to give a shout-out to this level of media analysis.

Comrade Kevin's Chrestomathy covers a wide range of subjects including politics and music, but make sure to scroll through and read through Kevin's reviews of classic films.

Atomic Romance: It's supervillains again, as Swinebread does comics! Even if you're not a comic books geek, I think it's hard not to appreciate this level of dedication. There are few loves as pure as unadulterated geek love - and it makes the world a better, more pleasant place. (Like a few other activities we could name.)

Thanks, and make sure to check out skippy and Jon Swift's posts (linked at the top), since they'll be compiling links to participating bloggers.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald, for even more linky love. Ha! Just try and stop me!)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Eclectic Jukebox 1/29/09

Bajofondo y Julieta Venegas – "Pa' bailar"

There are crisper versions of the video out there featuring the instrumental version, but I like Julieta Venegas' vocal. Bajofondo member Gustavo A. Santaolalla has also put together some great film soundtracks and scores, winning Osars for his fine work on Brokeback Mountain and Babel. (Thanks to Buck for the video assist.)

Eclectic Jukebox

Blogrolling 'Round the Bend…

Blue Gal has the video…

…and skippy has the graphics and the background - for Blogroll Amnesty Day. This year, we're having an extended celebration, running Saturday, January 31st through Tuesday, February 3rd.

Participate in Blogroll Amnesty Day – It's Really Something Other Than Else!

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Note to the "Love Doctor"

Oh my lord. Just watch:

Love Doctor, the term you're looking for is "dap," or "fist-bump," or "fist tap"… Well, almost anything would have been better, even "respect knuckles" or the New York Times' unintentionally hilarious "closed-fisted high-five." ("Terrorist fist jab" remains some combination of wingnut fanaticism, bigotry and McCarthyism, however, and is unacceptable.) Look, it's one thing not to be hip to the current lingo, but the term you used not only does not mean what you think it means, it did not exactly come into usage recently.

Love Doctor, heal thyself. Do read up on this one (Urban Dictionary gets pretty damn explicit), and, in the immortal words from Hamlet, "Taint not thy mind."

(And yes, this is a terribly immature post.)

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Update: Self-Portrait in a Screen Capture

The BH slugline says it all:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Not Like Us

Among the many opinions on the conflict in Gaza, there's been a particularly disturbing subset. The most troubling reactions have been those expressing the attitudes that entire groups of people are inherently inferior, or less than human, or deserve to suffer or die, or their deaths don't matter whether they’re innocent or not. The actual death and destruction that's gone on is much worse than any chatter, of course, but these attitudes further fuel the carnage and undermine the prospects of a lasting peace. Whether these attitudes are extolled by respected "serious" pundits with blithely imperialist views or less prominent chickenhawk cheerleaders, they remain extremely dangerous and toxic.

Exhibits #1 and #2, irony-free, come from HTML Mencken of Sadly, No:

Can’t you just feel the regret and sorrow of glennocidal tendencies thwarted — thwarted, I tell you! Alas…

Shorter Verbatim Debbie Schlussel:

I’ve concluded that the only way this war can be “won” is if most of the Palestinians in Gaza–and the so-called “West Bank,” too, where HAMAS has a lot of support–are decimated, which the world will never allow Israel to do, and which Livni and Barak (and Olmert) don’t have the guts to do.

Shorter Verbatim Patrick Bateman Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet Stephen Green:

The only process towards peace is the kind of war one side can’t commit, and the other side won’t.

Exhibit #3 is a more general, short piece from NPR, titled "Gaza Fighting Reverberates In France" (follow the link to listen):

The recent conflict in Gaza touched nerves in France, which is home to Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim communities. Despite the cease-fire in Gaza, many say the fighting there has done lasting damage to relations between Muslims and Jews in France.

Exhibit #4 comes from via Glenn Greenwald (emphasis his):

Former McCain-Palin campaign spokesman and current Weekly Standard editor Michael Goldfarb notes that Israel, a couple of days ago, dropped a 2,000-pound bomb on a Gazan home which killed a top Hamas leader . . . in addition to 18 others, including his four wives and nine of his children. About the killing of those innocent civilians, Goldfarb writes (h/t John Cole via email):

The fight against Islamic radicals always seems to come around to whether or not they can, in fact, be deterred, because it's not clear that they are rational, at least not like us. But to wipe out a man's entire family, it's hard to imagine that doesn't give his colleagues at least a moment's pause. Perhaps it will make the leadership of Hamas rethink the wisdom of sparking an open confrontation with Israel under the current conditions.

We've seen Goldfarb before, but he seems intent on plunging new depths. (You won't be shocked to learn he's also pro-torture.)

Exhibit #5, also from Greenwald, features Middle East "expert" Tom Friedman (emphasis from Greenwald):

...Friedman's column today is uncharacteristically and refreshingly honest. He explains that the 2006 Israeli invasion and bombing of Lebanon was, contrary to conventional wisdom, a great success. To make this case, Friedman acknowledges that the deaths of innocent Lebanese civilians was not an unfortunate and undesirable by-product of that war, but rather, was a vital aspect of the Israeli strategy -- the centerpiece, actually, of teaching Lebanese civilians a lesson they would not soon forget:

Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.

Israel’s military was not focused on the morning after the war in Lebanon — when Hezbollah declared victory and the Israeli press declared defeat. It was focused on the morning after the morning after, when all the real business happens in the Middle East. That’s when Lebanese civilians, in anguish, said to Hezbollah: “What were you thinking? Look what destruction you have visited on your own community! For what? For whom?”

Friedman says that he is "unsure" whether the current Israeli attack on Gaza is similarly designed to teach Palestinians the same lesson by inflicting "heavy pain" on civilians, but he hopes it is:

In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims

You also won't be surprised that most of this group cheerleads for war in general. Greenwald, on a roll, addressed this in yet another post:

Many of our nation's most grizzled super-tough-guy cheerleader/warriors -- the ones who insatiably crave those sensations of vicarious power from play-acting the role of warriors from a nice, safe distance -- are responding to my post of yesterday by beating their chests, swaggering around, and citing General Sherman to explain (in their best John Wayne voices) that War is Hell. All good warriors (like them) know that anything and everything done to those who "start a war" is justified.

Of course, if you ask Hamas why they blow themselves up in pizza parlors and shoot rockets at homes in Southern Israel as a response to the 40-year Israeli occupation and recent blockade, they'll tell you the same thing. If you ask Hezbollah why they kidnap Israeli soldiers and lob rockets into Israel in response to Israeli incursions into Lebanon, they'll make the same claim. If you ask Al Qaeda why they fly civilian-filled airplanes into civilian-filled buildings in response to American hegemony (and endless military actions) in their region of the world, they'll explain that jihad is hell and anything done to advance it is justified. You'll hear the same thing if you ask Russians why they destroyed Chechnyan residential blocks, or if you ask Serbian leaders about their genocide, or if you inquire with Rwandan tribal leaders about the brutality of their attacks, or if you ask virtually any other war criminal why they had to resort to such extremes.

Feel free to add any other examples, since this list is far from comprehensive – it's just some pieces I've read or heard in the past month that have stuck with me. It doesn't represent every flavor of idiocy and bigotry at work regarding Gaza, let alone the wider world. But then, it shouldn't have to. There are several attitudes in these selections that are noxious, toxic and dangerous. It shouldn't be hard to condemn anti-Semitism - or bigotry toward Arabs, Persians, and Muslims - or any other group. Neither should it be hard to bemoan the killing of innocent people, regardless of who they are. Neither should it be difficult to point out that even if one views a specific military action as 'just' versus immoral, it may be counterproductive to its supposed aims.

It's not an original observation on my part, but in democracies, going to war initially tends to start with lofty ideals being invoked, but as things get uglier, with lives lost and the cost of war growing more glaring, the rhetoric tends to get uglier, too. The "enemy" is increasingly demonized, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes as a conscious motivational, propaganda tool. The enemy is depicted as evil and inhuman, and that attitude starts to apply not only to the actual combatants, which can be problematic as it is, but to their entire nationality or group. This can lead to impasses. Human beings with different goals can perhaps be negotiated with, but how can one negotiate with pure evil? There's the old WWI line of the Brits, that the difference between them and the Germans was that "We believe in God, and they believe in Gott." Most war tropes grow far nastier than that, though, and this same dehumanization isn't limited to war, of course. But there is no problem to which dehumanization is the solution. It never, ever makes any situation better, it makes unnecessary war much easier, and its presence in general should be a giant warning sign that things could go in a bad direction. In contrast, consider the words of Terence : Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto - I am a human: nothing human is alien to me.

I've sometimes wondered how people can know "war is hell," a line hard to avoid, yet still be such stupid, reckless cheerleaders for war. The posts Greenwald links suggest part of the answer. "War is hell" for that group means that no one is responsible, that anyone can do whatever the hell he or she wants, and that any military action, no matter how foolhardy, reckless, or unconscionable, is justified. No matter how many innocent people were killed, needlessly, it couldn't be avoided, or it's excusable. Of course, that pathetic, callous, cowardly attitude is much easier to hold if those killed aren't seen as fully human or have been otherwise demonized. "War is hell" means exactly that – it's about the closest one can come to hell on Earth. Consequently, it's to be avoided if at all possible. Going to war is solely a matter of grim necessity, never a cause for celebration, and anyone opining otherwise is not to be trusted. Likewise, any attitude that urges less reflection about life and death issues such as war is immature and not to be trusted. Minimizing human suffering is terribly easy, not at all courageous.

Friedman's idea of "educating" through killing pretty much epitomizes the imperialist mindset. I guess I missed the point in classes on pedagogy - or in classes on history - or in any other class - where it was explained that killing members of a civilian population makes the survivors decide they love their opponents and prevents them from plotting their downfall. Friedman's stance is deeply immoral, and that can't be overemphasized, but it's also completely counterproductive to his stated goals. (It's hard to believe Friedman's never had that pointed out to him – but we've looked at him before, and I suspect that, as with the neocons, his ideology is driven more by a self-image than any sort of empiricism.)

The truth is, there are dangerous people in the world, and negotiation will not work with some of them. However, intent is not the same as capability, and dehumanization of even such people can be counterproductive. Why wouldn't you want to understand how your enemy thinks, and what he or she values? Isn't that just basic strategy? And the big pitfall, especially when people are genuinely, legitimately scared or angry – and that's definitely been the case for some parties with Gaza - is that an entire group is dehumanized, cruel or reckless actions become easier, new victims are created, and the cycle of vengeance is renewed. The demons, rather than 'the better angels of our nature,' prevail.

In American domestic politics, there are people with 'dangerous' views as well, even if the scale and the stakes may be less dire. They should be opposed, too, on talk shows, in national discussions, and when they run for office. They don't have a constitutional right to appear on television, but they do have a right to free speech, to run for office if eligible, and to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They may be wrong, ignorant, obnoxious and even dangerous (and perhaps should be called out on all of that), but they are still human. Depriving anyone of their human rights, their civil liberties, or their humanity damages something essential in our society, and hurts everyone.

This post is very far from comprehensive, and is less about Gaza and Israel specifically than it is about the persistent dangers of dehumanization and minimizing human suffering. Those issues, and the issue of going to war, are subjects that have been debated passionately for millennia, and one late night, quickly-dashed off blog post ain't going to solve much. However, I'll pass along David Neiwert's series on eliminationism in America, and some similarly-themed posts from here. I'll also add that our atrocious torture policies stemmed in part from similar dehumanization, and have been similarly counterproductive as well as deeply immoral.

Peace. We could all use it.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2009

(Nazi poster on "degenerate music." Why slam just one group, especially when it's crystal clear all enemies of the glorious Reich are working together?)

In previous years, we've covered some of the many works on the Holocaust, as well as the T4 euthanasia program and the accompanying propaganda campaign that was a test run for "the Final Solution." This year, I find myself very troubled by current events and the attitude that certain people are less than human. I'm covering that in a separate post, though, because I did want to cover another subject as well: music suppressed by the Nazis or otherwise related to the Holocaust.

Several years back, Decca released a series of CDs of what the Nazis called Entartete Musik (degenerate music). The Nazis targeted composers with Jewish ancestry, but also opposed modern and atonal musical styles. (Those familiar with the arts under Soviet Russia or the film The Lives of Others will have some idea of the dynamics.)

Los Angeles Opera conductor James Conlon has spearheaded a project called "Recovered Voices" that focuses on these works (I've attended one of his concerts for it). Here's Conlon giving some background:

One of these musicians, Viktor Ullman, actually composed the chamber opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis (The Emperor of Atlantis) in the concentration camp Theresienstadt (also known as Terezín). It was meant to be performed there, but the Nazis prevented it after deciding that the Emperor was a satire of Hitler. According to the liner notes of my edition, by that time, Ullman and the others suspected the terrible fate that likely awaited them, which makes the piece all the more remarkable. Sadly, Ullman was gassed to death in Auschwitz in October, 1944. Here's a selection from the piece:

Alexander von Zemlinsky fared a bit better, eventually escaping to the United States, but died in 1942 due to poor health. An influential teacher and well respected back in Austria during his lifetime, his works were largely neglected until recently (at least in America; Conlon has been one of Zemlinsky's biggest champions). Here's his Sonata for Cello and Piano in A Minor (Andante):

Here's a short song by Zemlinksky, " Blaues Sternlein":

As a movie buff, I'm especially partial to another composer from this group, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, one of the great film composers. During Korngold's lifetime, composing for the movies was seen as slumming it by most critics. His film scores and his numerous classical pieces have become much more appreciated in the past twenty years. One of Korngold's most famous scores is his Oscar-winning work on The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn. The Wiki entry relates that Korngold was in Hollywood scoring Robin Hood during Hitler's annexing of Austria, the Anschluss, and he credits the score with saving his life. Here's one cue:

And here's Anne-Sophie Mutter, playing the Korngold Violin Concerto (3rd Movement):

Finally, I wanted to included a section of Polish composer Henryk Górecki's 3rd Symphony, the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs." The lyrics for one section of the piece come from message scrawled on the wall of a Gestapo prison, and Górecki himself lives near Auschwitz (or did at some time). An edition of the BBC's South Bank Show in the early 90s focused on Górecki and the piece's relation to the Holocaust, although he has since said the symphony should not be interpreted solely in that context. Regardless, it's one of my favorite modern classical pieces, one I've introduced to quite a few people over the years. It's been featured in a few films, including Peter Weir's Fearless, starring Jeff Bridges. To close things out, here's a section of the piece in a good user video that translates the lyrics and uses the audio of the definitive Zinman-Upshaw recording:

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Iconic Silliness

I've seen a fair amount of these, as profile pics, on blogs... So, just for kicks:

I didn't make the following, but it's clever:

Blue Gal also has a good one, and links two other pics she made.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Eclectic Jukebox 1/22/09

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You"

This week called out for some upbeat Marvin.

Eclectic Jukebox

This Land is Your Land

Several liberal blogs have already covered Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and the choir singing the "subversive" or "missing" verses of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" at the pre-inauguration concert. However, NPR has a very good piece on the song, its history and the missing verses, and I finally got to see the video of the performance. It just makes me happy.

I saw Pete and Arlo Guthrie perform about six times in the 80s and 90s, mostly together, in one case a solo performance by Arlo at the Smithsonian. Going to see them was a family outing. During that period, Arlo played "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" again for the 20th anniversary, adding some funny stuff about Nixon. By the 90s, Pete was bringing his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger out more often to help him sing, and Pete would just lie down on the stage between songs, propping himself up with his elbows. He and Arlo would trade off songs, bantering about what to sing next. They'd include some familiar favorites and add some new pieces, and always insisted on plenty of audience participation. They were very friendly, cheerful events.

In any case, they always sang those "missing" verses and got an enthusiastic response. Arlo used to tell a funny story about "This Land is Your Land" in concert, about him going to school as a kid and everyone else singing the song and him not knowing the words. His sister Nora confirms that part in the NPR story. In concert, Arlo would add that he went home upset, and his dad taught him the lyrics, but gave him one up by also teaching him all the other verses not everybody knew.

Art can say more than one thing at once, and, well, that's all the easier with multiple verses. As the NPR story relates, Woody Guthrie:

…was irritated by Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," sung by Kate Smith, which seemed to be endlessly playing on the radio in the late 1930s. So irritated, in fact, that he wrote this song as a retort, at first sarcastically calling it "God Blessed America for Me" before renaming it "This Land Is Your Land."

It helps if you know something of Woody Guthrie's life and other songs, but if you listen to all the verses, it's pretty clear that Woody Guthrie is questioning the status quo, the powers that be, and championing the downtrodden. But I don't think the entire song is sarcastic, nor bitter. He loves the land itself, and he loves the people. If the song's a retort to anybody, it's to the people who think patriotism means obedience to authority, or think that some citizens aren't "real" Americans. You could sing the song as an indictment, the bounciness of the tune in tension with that attitude, but I think the song is deeper and more multilayered than that. Earlier this week, we were discussing Martin Luther King, Jr. and his critique of America as a great country that did not always live up to its own ideals. I hear much the same in "This Land is Your Land." It contains a similar critique, and suggests a similar vision of what America can and should be – a physically beautiful land that could be more inclusive, generous, and kind.

Plus, there's no denying the joy that all the performers and the crowd have singing the song in the version below. And speaking of MLK and the civil rights movement, it's no accident that Pete Seeger was one of people who popularized "We Shall Overcome." He's just a truly great American and a national treasure, and it was great to see 89 year-old Pete grinning up there on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in the middle of it all, as he's always been.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Days of Service, Past and Future

(Or, Brother, Can You Spare 500 Words on Abuse of Executive Power?)

The idea of MLK Day as a day of service is a great one, and I hope it continues in future years. And while the nation and the world heaves a huge sigh of relief now that Bush is finally out of office, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done. I also think it's good to take a moment to remember those who helped keep us sane and focused for the past eight years. Jane Hamsher captured the appeal of the blogosphere nicely when she wrote:

During the '90s, railing at the TV set was the isometric sport of the silent majority... That isolation ended with the advent of the progressive blogosphere, which acts as a virtual water cooler for those who not only want to rail at the TV set, they want the TV set to listen.

I quoted that passage last year for Blogroll Amnesty Day, which is fast approaching again. So it's a good time to stroll through the blogroll, and think of those bloggers who provided thoughtful analysis, hosted a spirited discussion, or offered a cathartic rant. When basic sanity was out of fashion in politics and most of the media, they were there. Not every blog reader or commentator can afford to make donations, of course, and not every blog needs them. But some bloggers could use a little extra help, or at least deserve appreciation. For instance, their official fundraisers may be done, but there's Blog Hostess with the Most-ess Blue Gal, and the Sage of Santa Monica, Digby. Maha has just started a fundraiser. (VS is fine, but BH can always use a little love.) I'm sure I could got through most of my blogroll, but many other sites large and small have a way of accepting donations.

Meanwhile, Tom Geoghegan is running for Congress in the Illinois 5th (it's (pronounced gay-gun), and it's exciting to see a bright, creative candidate with a great handle on labor issues in the mix. He has a blog diary over at MyDD, and Kathy G, who knows Tom, is one of the go-to bloggers for all things Geoghegan (and apparently, Springsteen).

If nothing else, there's always a need for more reflection, more activism, and more participation in democracy, and I hope the liberal blogosphere continues to contribute in that way. As a part-timer pulled in many different directions myself, I'm all the more impressed by the bloggers who post every day or nearly every day, who consistently turn out quality work, or bring other bloggers or commentators together. And there's plenty to comment on going forward. Personally, I'm deeply dismayed by all the scoundrels and ignoramuses (mainly scoundrels) claiming that torture actually works (it doesn't work reliably, unless one's after false confessions), and the many in the media who are either spreading the same dangerous bullshit or not challenging it. That's one of the subjects I'll continue to cover in the year ahead, but everyone is passionate about different issues, everyone can contribute in his or her own way, and it's the mix and the dialogue that makes it so damn interesting.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Alternative Invocation

Quaker Dave has kindly organized a Alternative Invocation blogswarm for Inauguration Day. It's a great exercise. With a formal occasion in D.C. in mind, I'm afraid my imagination runs to the, ahem, flowery. In any case, while the following might not exactly be an invocation, here's my entry:

In 1776, in Philadelphia, our Founding Fathers stated in the Declaration of Independence that:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, not far from here, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of a beautiful dream, and also said:

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

America was founded on wonderful ideals, but our reality has not always matched them. We can forget the freedom, fairness, justice and generosity that have formed our best moments. In the past several years, we — and the world — have not always seen America at its best. Once again, it is time to change that.

Faced with great challenges, we cannot afford to be less than our best selves. We cannot afford fear or selfishness. It will require great courage to look at what we have done, great wisdom and spirited discussion to chart a new course, great industry and patience to effect meaningful change, and great kindness and listening to rebuild and re-energize our communities. We must all think not only of ourselves and our well-being, but also of our neighbors. We must all of us — citizen, politician, influential, unheard, rich, poor and all those in-between — all of us think of the public good and how we can better honor it. Helping the least of us helps us all. Helping the country as a whole helps ourselves. To lead is to serve.

Over the years, America has made progress, and ours is a nation of striving, of improvement, of ingenuity and optimism. It is time to remember the national ideals of our Founding Fathers, to honor that promise spoken of by Dr. King, and to celebrate and share that enduring dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all women and men. Going forward, may we remember the wisdom of the past, ponder and discuss the future we would like to see, and form new friendships as we work together to build a better America for us all. Thank you.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)


Check out this astounding ad from India for "Fair and Lovely":

You don't need to understand the language to get the odious message. Thanks to Natasha Chart at MyDD who posted this one, and also linked Loryn Wilson's reaction to it.

This reminded me of a recent piece by Vanessa Williams: at The Root:

It’s true: A lot of black women fell for Barack Obama the moment they saw his wife.

If a black president represents change, a dark-skinned first lady is straight-up revolutionary.

I won’t apologize for taking note of Michelle Obama’s physical appearance. Plenty has already been said about how she, with her double Ivy degrees, six-figure salaries and two adorable daughters, is crushing the image of the struggling black single mother. She is a real life Clair Huxtable! But the true breakthrough here is that sisters who look like Michelle Obama seldom become cultural icons, aesthetic trendsetters—a proxy for the all-American woman.

And don’t roll your eyes and ask why we have to go there; we haven’t completely gotten over our prejudices about skin tone and hair texture. Despite years of scholarly, literary and popular debate—from Dr. Kenneth Clark’s baby-doll tests, to Toni Morrison’s tragic characters in The Bluest Eye, to the showdown between jiggaboos and wannabes in Spike Lee’s School Daze—too many of us continue to accept a standard of beauty that does not favor ebony-hued skin, woolly hair and full lips (and not those surgically enhanced smackers, either).

I know from first-hand experience. I remember being taunted and shunned by some people who didn’t believe that old saying about the blacker the berry. Back when we were Negroes, the word “black” was used to describe the dark-skinned among us, usually not with affection. My mama assured me that I was a pretty black girl, but it was the brothers on the streets, cooing such compliments as dark ‘n lovely, chocolate drop, brown sugar, who convinced me.

Now that we’re all black—folks aren’t quite as open with their intraracial biases, but those old beliefs still haunt us. The lingering effects of racism and sexism, coupled with a beauty industrial complex that constantly assaults our senses with images of female beauty that trend toward the lighter end of the racial color wheel, has rendered dark-skinned women nearly invisible in mainstream media.

Skin color is its own specific issue, but this also goes beyond color alone. One of the things I love about America is its multiculturalism. Race and ethnicity have been a major factor throughout our history, and many of our greatest shames are related to it – slavery, treatment of Native Americans, the internment of Japanese-Americans, Jim Crow laws, miscegenation laws, and the bigotry in too many contemporary discussions of immigration reform and the Middle East. As Paul Krugman covers in The Conscience of a Liberal, the push for universal health care failed under Truman in part because of racism – there was anxiety in the South about white doctors and nurses being forced to attend to black patients. Rick Perlstein's Nixonland chronicles (among many other things) how central race was to 60s politics. Reagan of course pitched his fictional welfare queens, Lee Atwater exploited similar resentments, and our most recent presidential election certainly featured issues of race (if sometimes discussed obtusely).

However, for all its problems, for all the road left to go, America as a whole has also dealt with issues of race and ethnicity more than many other nations. America has long been an immigrant nation, but resentment over that among some Americans can't compete with the pride felt by many others. Given our history as a 'melting pot,' (or whatever metaphor you prefer), the people who claim to be "real Americans" as opposed to newer arrivals have always been awfully silly. As Will Rogers, part Cherokee, quipped, "My ancestors didn't come over on the Mayflower, but they were there to meet the boat." I remember having to do ancestry projects many a time in elementary school and again in junior high (the best one had an oral history requirement). Even among the "European-American" crowd, most kids traced their roots back to several different countries. Meanwhile, it's even more common today to know people who are of mixed race or multicultural (or however they might wish to self-identify). In contrast, when you visit small towns in other countries (less so in big cities, of course) it's striking how almost everyone has ancestry that's French, Hungarian, Russian... It's just different from the "I'm a quarter Irish and quarter German on my dad's side and half Japanese on my mom's side" dynamic so common in America. Reading of the former British Empire and its notions of cultural and racial superiority, I always thought the attitude was pretty laughable, given how many times Britain had been conquered and how much intermingling there had been historically (and I suppose you could say the same of many peoples if you go back far enough).

This brings us back to color – because even if you define yourself one way, other people might try to define you another. Mustapha Matura, a playwright from Trinidad living in London, once wrote that in America, he was considered white, but if he got on a plane and went to England, he was considered black. However, this was back in the 90s, and I've met one multicultural Brit who felt that race was a bigger issue in America than in Britain, at least for her growing up. One person's experience may be very different from another's. And there is progress. For America, hell, just look at our Olympic teams for how commonplace multiculturalism is for us. And not long ago, Barack Obama described himself as a "mutt." (Some people found it endearing; others found it offensive. I fall in the first camp.) While race is still an important issue in America, for each subsequent generation, being multicultural is increasingly an accepted norm.

Almost ever year, the National Review, a magazine that denounced Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was alive, will try to claim that MLK was actually conservative or that conservatives actually honor MLK's legacy more than liberals. As Sadly No's Leonard Pierce pointed out last year, this silliness generally rests on the notion that MLK believed in being color-blind and "was only interested in a unified world where everyone behaved exactly like white people," when of course that wasn't the case. Being "color-blind" for the NR crew means, in some combination, pretending that race and racism don't exist, that everyone in America has an equal opportunity to succeed, that if someone's poor it's due to a lack of character rather than a stacked deck, and so on. It means, also, that the NR crowd bears absolutely no obligation to make our society more fair in terms of class, race, power and wealth. An "end to racism" for Rush Limbaugh, Jonah Goldberg, Brit Hume and the gang means, "no one will accuse me of racism."

Martin Luther King, Jr meant something far different when he said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." That's a dream of a meritocracy, of basic decency, not for entrenched and callous existing power structures – and King certainly fought a tough battle for equal opportunity. The goal is not to ignore color, but instead to stop its use as a tool of discrimination. Being literally "blind" to color is only a positive if color itself is seen as a negative (and typically, that the norm is to be "white"). Why can't diversity in color, and culture, instead be positive things and accepted norms? Rather than pretending they don't exist, aren't there times we should recognize and celebrate them? Cruel standards of beauty may take time to change, and the same is true when it comes to superficiality in general. But to help that along, in our own time, why not appreciate all the different ancestries and cultures, from music to food to dance to literature and language to actual human beings? Why not use culture as a means of learning something new, and bringing people together?

On that note, here's Newark mayor Cory Booker on deliciousness:

And if MLK's words don't inspire you, there's always Redd Foxx's take:

(This Redd Foxx civil rights story is quite touching, too.)

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

MLK Day 2009: I Am A Man

When Martin Luther King, Jr. went down to Memphis in 1968, it was to assist with a garbage worker's strike. Two workers had been slowly crushed to death in a garbage truck, an utterly horrible way to go. The workers moved to form a union, pushing for better wages but also some sort of safety or warning mechanism so no such accident could happen again. The mayor and other forces were, shall we say, less than accommodating.

The workers' strike is the subject of OyamO's play I Am A Man. Some background on OyamO and the play can be read here. Tavis Smiley's discussions with Memphis minister Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles and former sanitation worker Taylor Rogers also give important background (Kyles describes being there during King's last night).

The play was finished in 1992, and I saw one of the earlier major productions of it, an excellent one at Arena Stage in D.C. in 1995. King is a frequent presence in the play, but almost entirely as a voice coming over speakers, only briefly seen crossing the stage near the end (at least in the production I saw). The key figure is instead the head of the garbage workers, T.O. Jones, rivetingly played in the D.C . version (I'm afraid I currently can't confirm that actor's name). Despite the often serious subject matter, the play's full of humorous moments as well. I found it particularly fascinating to see all the infighting and resolutions between different groups, since, for instance, some parties wanted a more militant approach while others wanted no demonstrations at all. I saw it with a friend my age, and since we were too young to remember the actual events, it was very educational. However, this was not an 'eat-your-broccoli' piece - it was great theater, with some powerful moments.

OyamO describes Jones as:

40s, speaks with vocal, gestural and emotional ebullience. Beefy, but average height, very friendly, but also bullheaded about some things. Somewhat vulnerable, a bit fearful and not well educated, quit Memphis Public School in the 8th grade. But he's naturally intelligent – common street sense, a cajoling wit, a generous nature, a lot of heart.

The play script is written in dialect. Jones' wit and passion comes out in a confrontation at the city council, where to make a point, he points to the Memphis city seal (only low-res copies seem available, alas):

COUNCILMAN: Unacceptable! The city does not recognize that union and therefore will not entertain the showboat rantings of some so-called representative.

BLUESMAN: Rantin'! You wanna hear some rantin'? Let me tell you 'bout that city seal you got hanging over yo' head.

JONES: See dat steamboat? It brings slaves up and downriver for trading. The cotton boll? Dat's what da slaves pick ta make a few peepas rich. That oak leaf is where day tied the slave to beat him or where they hanged him. Used ta whip ya wit dem oak sticks too. Dat piece a machinery? Dat's the wheel of progress dat grine the slave up. Da Civil War ova, but we still fighting against slavery. Chop cotton for three dollas a dat or tote garbage for one dolla and sixty cents a hour. Da union come here ta finally stop slavery.

My favorite exchange is this one between Jones and Joshua Solomon, a white labor negotiator from New York:

SOLOMON: The press has got to be spoonfed. You can't ignore them when you're conducting a public strike. They'll nail you to the wall. Look, one question I have to ask. Why the hell did ya call a strike in February when garbage don't stink?

JONES: Garbage stink all the time, when you got ta carry it on yo' head.

Still, what's stuck with me the most years later is the following monologue. It was a stunner. The Arena's main stage is just that, an arena set-up, with the audience on all four sides. Throughout the play, a bluesman plays sort of a Greek chorus, making comments and playing music. Here, Jones has just gotten bad news. He's at his lowest point, even while the stakes are the highest. He's trying to rescue some scrap of dignity in the face of continual, crushing degradation. As you read through this speech, imagine it being delivered with great weight, each few sentences a separate point, with Jones slowly walking around all four sides, looking at the audience, almost imploring. The lights are low except for a spotlight on Jones. Imagine the bluesman wailing away on his harmonica in the background.

(The BLUESMAN strums a low, funky blues as the Lights and Images swift to a Beale St. Bar which he enters. JONES shortly stumbles in, now drunk. He, bottle in hand, stands swaying before the BLUESMAN. He begins dancing, slowly, dancing out of sorrow. The song's refrain goes as follows:]


[JONES stops dancing, angrily hurls the bottle which breaks offstage. He speaks to no one in particular the following over the background instrumental accompaniment of the BLUESMAN:]

JONES: When I was toting garbage, I knowed every alcoholic in town, da ones live in da shacks and da ones what living high in the big houses. I knowed who was creepin' 'round some back doe on day husband or wife. I knowed who was taking high price drugstore drugs and street drugs. I run to the back of da house ta git da garbage and I seed all kinda womens in the window. Naked! Not a stitch on! Justa lookin' down at ole stinkin', black, empty-face me, and smilin' real big. I seed big impo'tent men in dis town beating on soft, little white womens in da back bedrooms. I heard dem womens scream and beg for mercy. I once seed a father touchin' his near 'bout growed up daughter, touchin' her where no fatha 'sposed to touch his daughter. One time I pulled a dead baby from the garbage, a little white baby, blood still fresh. Somebody throwed it in the garbage behine a fine mansion. And peepas treat me like I stink. Nothin' stinks worse den the da garbage dat da garbage man leave behine everyday.

[Jones staggers out.]

I'm sorry my description can't do it justice, but if you had seen this one performed, it'd have stuck with you years afterward, too. Jones has a later, bitter monologue after King is killed, remarking that all they got was an eight cent raise, "eight shiny pennies" and "not even thirty pieces of silver" for King. He finally puts on a brave face and urges the striking men to go back to work. When I think about I Am A Man, or King, I think about the importance of human dignity, and the cruel things we sometimes do to each other. It's a good day to remember how fostering simple kindness and connection isn't just essential — it's sometimes the most revolutionary act in the world.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hall of Fame Material

George Bush, an avid sports fan, clearly possesses unyielding faith in Hail Mary plays. At his last press conference as president, he once again struggled to take responsibility for any mistakes, and sounded his familiar defense, that only historians could fairly judge him:

Anyway, I think historians will look back and they'll be able to have a better look at mistakes after some time has passed. Along Jake's question, there is no such thing as short-term history. I don't think you can possibly get the full breadth of an administration until time has passed: Where does a President's -- did a President's decisions have the impact that he thought they would, or he thought they would, over time? Or how did this President compare to future Presidents, given a set of circumstances that may be similar or not similar? I mean, there's -- it's just impossible to do. And I'm comfortable with that.

The Bush administrative team really is rather remarkable; on the one hand, it consistently held that no one could have possibly predicted 9/11, levees breaking, rioting and sectarian violence in Iraq, the economic crisis, and a number of other events, yet Bush officials have also argued that only history can judge them. Apparently, it's simply impossible for any human being to imagine future possibilities, or to judge anything accurately in the present, either. This leaves us only with hindsight – perhaps the only appropriate way to judge those whose approach is backwards.

Fortunately, the administration faced these twin impossibilities of prediction and judgment armed with the preternaturally accurate "gut" and deep faith in truthiness of George W. Bush, and the infallible vision of Dick Cheney, sager than everyone else in the administration, but also wiser than the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Geneva Conventions, the Federalist papers, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the Constitution, and the Boy Scout Oath. Perhaps that's why, even though Bush told reporters yet again that only history can judge him, as Dan Froomkin notes, "Bush has been plenty willing to assert his view of history's verdict on his presidency, even while saying it's too early for others to do so." Yes, in 2004, 81% of 415 polled historians judged the Bush administration a "failure." But if things somehow get better, well then, reckless behavior that accidentally produces good results clearly isn't irresponsible. A few conservative historians have argued that time is on Bush's side, and Bush, his family and friends firmly believe that history will vindicate him. And after all, how could all those historians fairly judge Bush all the way back in 2004? Hurricane Katrina and the economic crisis hadn't even happened yet.

Some historians and journalists talk of objective standards, but no one can fairly say that George Bush, captain of a brave team, is the worst president ever.

Similarly, to use a sports analogy Bush could understand, no one can fairly say that after going a winless, unprecedented 0-16 in the regular season, the 2008 Detroit Lions are the NFL's worst team ever.

Oh sure, some wags might even try to make the case that Bush and the Lions are pretty much the same, but that's a hard sell:

Over seven seasons under [Matt] Millen's leadership as team CEO, the Detroit Lions owned the NFL's worst winning percentage (31–81, .277), have never had a winning season, have never finished higher than third place in the NFC North, and have not played in any post-season games. Despite this record of total and complete failure, Millen received a five-year contract extension at the start of the 2005 season.

One has a duty to quibble with overwhelming public opinion, common sense assessments, and the very act of critical judgment. Strong alternative cases can often be made. For instance, historians of football might argue that the Cincinnati Bengals, with one winning season in the past 18, are a greater failure, and "an embarrassment to sport," that is, a black mark on the entire endeavor of sports altogether. The same cannot be fairly said of Bush in relation to government and leadership, for while some critics churlishly insist he is the worst president ever, others more charitably place him merely among the four or even five worst presidents of all time. Calling him the absolute "worst" is therefore terribly premature.

Plus, who's to say someone worse won't come along? After all, continuing with our sports analogy, the Detroit Lions are actually 0-17 going back to the 2007 season, and theoretically, they could lose all their games in 2009, too. Some of the games in 2008 were close. They could go 0-16 again in 2009, but lose by an even wider margin. (It would take some effort, but they could break their record of failing to "win a road game for three years (0-24)," too.)

Or – what if the Detroit Lions resigned en masse, ran for office and took over our government? Imagine their record in history then (although predicting the future is impossible). Could they compete with the Bush legacy described by Dan Froomkin?

He took the nation to a war of choice under false pretenses -- and left troops in harm's way on two fields of battle. He embraced torture as an interrogation tactic and turned the world's champion of human dignity into an outlaw nation and international pariah. He watched with detachment as a major American city went under water. He was ostensibly at the helm as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression took hold. He went from being the most popular to the most disappointing president, having squandered a unique opportunity to unite the country and even the world behind a shared agenda after Sept. 11. He set a new precedent for avoiding the general public in favor of screened audiences and seemed to occupy an alternate reality. He took his own political party from seeming permanent majority status to where it is today. And he deliberately politicized the federal government, circumvented the traditional policymaking process, ignored expert advice and suppressed dissent, leaving behind a broken government.

Critics of Bush claim he's been worse than Nixon in harming America, the world, and most importantly of all, the Republican franchise. But never fear for the brand, because Sarah Palin and her backers are determined that they can outperform Bush, you betcha.

Anyway, sports analogies can be taken way too far, even with a sports lover like Bush. Comparing Bush to the woeful Detroit Lions reveals numerous differences, as we'll quickly see.

Accepting Responsibility

Here's (since fired) Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli explaining their disastrous season:

Detroit went 10-38 under Marinelli, who took the job in 2006. In September, the Lions fired President Matt Millen after the franchise posted the worst record (31-84) in the NFL during his seven-year tenure.

“We have nobody to point a finger at other than ourselves, we just didn’t do our job correctly,” Marinelli said yesterday. “There’s a lot to learn from that. You accept the adversity, try to fight through it and try to get better.”

Former Lions president Matt Millen made a similar claim:

"Completely responsible," he said. "I mean, you were head of football operations, you throw it back on me. You can say something about the coaching, you can say something about the players. But inevitably, I'm responsible for them. And so I'm completely responsible for it in my mind."

Millen added that even he would have fired himself.

Meanwhile, here's George Bush in his last press conference as president, boldly acknowledging that mistakes were made:

There have been disappointments. Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency. Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way.


Some people are just never satisfied. Even after Millen admitted error, over at the Detroit Free Press, Drew Sharp wrote:

Millen blew it again. Detroit deserves a detailed explanation for what went so horribly wrong from those who perpetrated the deed. Simply saying that you’re responsible for the disaster doesn’t make you accountable. That requires serving a penance. If Millen truly seeks atonement, he must delve deeper into those additional “reasons” of which he spoke.

Meanwhile, here's the "Uber villager Stuart Taylor" on alleged wrongdoings by the Bush administration:

...It would be a terrible mistake, in my view, to launch anything like the big, public criminal investigation that almost 60 House liberals, human rights groups, and others are seeking into allegations that John Yoo, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, President Bush, and other top officials reportedly approved harsh interrogation methods including water-boarding (subject to limitations that have not yet been publicly identified).

Public Support

This is the most contentious area, because management, punditry and the public often have not agreed. In the case of the Detroit Lions, fans and sports pundits overwhelmingly wanted president Matt Millen sacked, but owner William Clay Ford, Sr. resisted for a long time (eventually, even his own son, Bill Ford, vice chairman of the Lions, publicly said he'd fire Millen if it were up to him). The number and scope of protests pushing for Millen to be fired proved quite extraordinary. In September 2008, Brian VanOchten of the Grand Rapids Press expressed the popular sentiment and urged for more public demonstrations:

It is time for Millen Man March II.

In the aftermath of the Detroit Lions' third consecutive defeat, the infuriated fans of this once-proud NFL franchise must stand united and demand that team president Matt Millen relinquish his throne.

Enough is enough.

The Lions are off to an 0-3 start for the fourth time in Millen's eight seasons of misguided leadership after a humiliating 31-13 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon at Candlestick Park.

Meanwhile, with Bush, there was significant public interest in impeaching him, but most political journalists and pundits did not show much interest in this; they lacked their sports brethren's eagerness to criticize management. Mort Kondracke (or his copy editor) expressed a common conservative view by claiming that charges that Bush lied were false. And Gary Kamiya offered, "Why Bush Hasn't Been Impeached: Congress, The Media and Most of The American People Have Yet To Turn Decisively Against Bush because To Do So Would Be To Turn Against Some Part of Themselves."

Brian VanOchten wanted further demonstrations against Matt Millen in September 2008, while in November 2008 at the Wall Street Journal, former John Kerry legal team intern Jeffrey Scott Shapiro inveighed:

The treatment President Bush has received from this country is nothing less than a disgrace. The attacks launched against him have been cruel and slanderous, proving to the world what little character and resolve we have. The president is not to blame for all these problems. He never lost faith in America or her people, and has tried his hardest to continue leading our nation during a very difficult time.

Our failure to stand by the one person who continued to stand by us has not gone unnoticed by our enemies. It has shown to the world how disloyal we can be when our president needed loyalty -- a shameful display of arrogance and weakness that will haunt this nation long after Mr. Bush has left the White House.

Clearly, there are different standards of fandom, patriotism and coverage. Some have claimed that among Bush cheerleaders, "If Bush were the CEO of a company they invested in, or the coach of their favorite football team, and delivered the same quality of performance he has as president, they would have been screaming for his head on a pike long ago." This view misses an important point of diehard fandom. Diehard fans want their team to succeed, but more important than a winning season is defeating hated division foes – for instance, the joy of the Lions making the playoffs does not possess the emotional heft of the schadenfreude felt when defeating the Green Bay Packers in a nationally-televised Thanksgiving game. Similarly, if Bush fails, if America falters, for diehard Bushies this is paltry compared to the satisfaction of defeating, infuriating and taunting political foes.

The Mood on the Team

After their final loss of the season, sentiment on the Detroit Lions was strong:

“This is the conclusion of all that we’ve done wrong,” Lions kicker Jason Hanson told reporters yesterday. “It’s so mind-numbingly awful. It’s a feeling of complete embarrassment and sadness.”

Meanwhile, in his last press conference, Bush reflected:

We had a -- people -- we -- I had a fabulous team around me of highly dedicated, smart, capable people, and we had fun. I tell people that, you know, some days happy, some days not so happy, every day has been joyous. And people, they say, I just don't believe it to be the case. Well, it is the case. Even in the darkest moments of Iraq, you know, there was -- and every day when I was reading the reports about soldiers losing their lives, no question there was a lot of emotion, but also there was times where we could be light-hearted and support each other.

Habits of Mind

In the final game of the 2008 season, the Detroit Lions had a chance to defeat their division rivals the Green Bay Packers to escape a winless season:

Orlovsky led the Lions back into Packers territory, but a taunting penalty on Smith moved the Lions back near midfield and Orlovsky threw an interception to Nick Collins.

"It was a very bad, selfish decision," Smith said. "I let my emotions get the best of me. It was tough, but it is no excuse."

Perhaps more than anything, the penalties got Raiola riled up.

"Stupid," Raiola said. "You know, just uncalled for. You're in a game like that, you can't do that. Just dumb."

And very much like the Lions.

Bush's "top ten moments":

(However, there are plenty of other contenders.)


Americans may hold their presidents and sports teams to different standards when it comes to success and accountability. But for both, the expectations from the public and punditry can be terribly, horribly unfair. During his last press conference, Bush took umbrage with criticism of his response to Hurricane Katrina:

People said, well, the federal response was slow. Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed. I remember going to see those helicopter drivers, Coast Guard drivers, to thank them for their courageous efforts to rescue people off roofs. Thirty thousand people were pulled off roofs right after the storm moved through. It's a pretty quick response.

Could things have been done better? Absolutely. Absolutely. But when I hear people say, the federal response was slow, then what are they going to say to those chopper drivers, or the 30,000 that got pulled off the roofs?

Meanwhile, here's Lions coach Rod Marinelli looking back:

"The biggest thing in this is how you conduct yourself afterwards," Marinelli said. "We accept responsibility for everything that went down."

Clearly, Marinelli should stick to sports, because with an attitude like that, he'd never make in Washington.

(Previous strained political sports analogies can be found in "Political Football Theater" and "The Sporting Life," while the Commission previously explored the Millen-Bush connection (as have several late-night comedians). For better satire on the Bush legacy, check out Jon Swift. Thanks to Buck for video coding assistance. Finally, apologies to all Lions and Bengals fans – as a Cubs fan, I feel your pain.)

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Eclectic Jukebox 1/8/09

Brett Dennen - "Make You Crazy"

Featuring Femi Kuti. And yup, that's Mandy Moore in this rather incongruous video.

Eclectic Jukebox

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Holiday Spirits

This past weekend, This American Life re-ran their episode with "Santa Fight Club," worth a listen if you don't mind hearing about a rift among professional Santas.

While I'm at it, here's the Tale of Two Macy's Commercials I didn't get a chance to comment on over the holidays. Here's the first:

I think this one's quite cleverly put together. It's a pitch designed to evoke warmth and nostalgia, but if you're a movie/TV buff, it's pretty fun. Now see the second one:

I think this one's pretty bad. On the plus side, they're supporting a good cause in the spot. I'm also not exactly the target audience, since I really only like Carlos Santana of their "celebrities," and couldn't identify all of 'em off the bat. I'm not convinced their celebrity selection is great, though, since the "wide net" approach only works if the audience doesn't dislike other members of the crew (but again, I'm not the target).

The main problem – is there anyone they could have gotten who embodies "the spirit of Christmas" less than Donald Trump? Barring world dictators and violent criminals, that is. He's crass, arrogant, gaudy, ostentatious, and a symbol for self-promotion, commercialism and greed. Plus, his delivery is characteristically wooden. I'm not sure fashion designers are great choices, either, for this spot. At least Santana, Jessica Simpson and Martha Stewart try to give some warmth to their deliveries. But no, I am not buying Christmas as sold by Donald Trump. It's like a vampire showing up to glad-hand at a baptism.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Blogging – 2008 and Beyond!

My travels done and my internet access renewed, it seems like a good time to look back at the year that was in blogging – at the good, the bad, and the disturbing.

Jon Swift has once again done a great deal of work in compiling the "Best Blog Posts of 2008 (Chosen by the Bloggers Themselves)." This year's edition is new and improved – with original lolcats! Mr. Swift's own entry, "Great Moments in Election-Year Blogging," is an epic tour through the many, um, important stories unheralded by the MSM but championed by right-wing bloggers. It would have been a saner but less funny year without them.

On a related note, Roy Edroso compiled "The Top 10 Rightblogger Stories of 2008" for The Village Voice, with bonus entries for #11-15 on his blog.

But why stop there? The Poor Man Institute has opened voting for its 2008 Golden Winger Awards for Excellence in Wingnuttery, with stiff competition for The Palme D’Haire, Wank of the Year, The Soggy Biscuit, The Creamy Baileys Nobel Peace Prize for Science, The Purple Teardrop With Clutched Pearl Cluster, The Fluffy and Chickenhawk of the Year. Whew.

Meanwhile, the Weblog Awards Finalists have been announced, and it's nice to see recognition for many worthy blogs. Best Liberal Blog finalists include Hullabaloo and Crooks and Liars, but a special shout-out is deserved for one-woman show Blue Gal.

Other blogrolled sites that are finalists in one category or another include skippy, Shakesville, Orcinus, Sadly, No, Brad Blog, Pharyngula and driftglass, among many others. But do check out all the finalists for yourself.

The aforementioned Jon Swift is nominated for Best Humor Blog, and has helpfully cross-referenced the finalists with his "best of" post, so you can read several finalists' best posts of 2008 for yourselves.

Looking forward, I think it's also an apt time for blogging resolutions for the new year. I plan to finish several entries in a war series I've been kicking around for too long, write more on torture and human rights because I feel the national discourse is very badly skewed at the moment, and on a lighter note, I want to write more about the arts. Certain events make that a wee bit easier (and thanks to MBR).

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)