JKD, Movie Reviewer

It's pretty clear that Stephen Hunter read JKD's letter to the editor regarding The Day After Tomorrow. Just read his review. Well, surely I'm kidding (mostly). Anyone with half a brain (left side) can make these same conclusions about Roland Emmerich. Still, the similarity of the grafs is ... amusing, particularly because JKD referred to Stephen Hunter in the L2E.

Thank you, blessed internet

My friend Tom advertised a room for rent in his apartment on Craigslist. He received this inquiry:

Is it still available?
Is it possible to move in on May 13th, because it's the date when I'm comming to US?
I'm 21 years old and I'm from Latvia. On May 13th I'll arrive in US.
I'll work at Olympic Moving & Storage as furniture mover till August 30th, so now I'm looking for housing close to employer (on Gravel Ave) from May 13th till August 30th.
I'm realy interested but I have few questions:
1. is this room separate from others (possible to lock the door)?
2. can I live in one room with my brother (19 years old), because we will work together at the same company? We both are clean and accurate and we will work a lot so at that appartment we'll be only at evenings to sleep. I know that maybe you think that is too much people, but it realy won't be a problem!


Observations of Foreign Travel

If you read anything other than the politics section of major newspapers (anyone... anyone?) you'll know that the national elections in Malawi resulted in violence from opposition party supporters, charges of "serious irregularities" by international observers, and the general sense that the election was stolen. In Africa?!? Shocking and unprecedented, I know. Fear not, dear readers, I am in the capital (ie. really boring) city and far from any violence or unrest. Here are some notes from our travel desk:

1) The Republic of South Africa is replete with awesomeness and well worth a vacation stop, but it is ridiculously far from the US. Once you get to Europe its another 10 hours.

2) Having your bags lost in transit and subsequently wearing the same clothes for 3 days really sucks. And just a tip kids- that idea of packing your prescription meds in your carry-on is actually quite good advice. Malaria is nobody's friend.

3) Apparently if your bags are rifled through whilst being "lost", things like optical mice, computer cables, and PDA components are low priority. The big ticket items are gym shorts and bottles of cinammon. Now you know.

Back to saving the world...


David Brooks: Liar and Fool

David Brooks is a well-documented liar. This is not news to any of you, I'm sure. But let's get into the way-back machine and go to...say, the summer of 2000, and see what Brooksy had to say about the upcoming presidential election:

So I am planning to vote for George W. Bush because he is a nice guy. As a nice guy he will attract and retain the loyalty of outstanding administration officials, and together they will promote policies that are smarter and bolder than we ever would expect, just from looking at Bush himself. As a nice man, he will prove remarkably adept at working with Congress, with Democrats, with the media and with all the other different people you need to handle as president. He will set a tone of bonhomie that will grease the machinery of government; things will actually get done in Washington again.

"Nice guy"? I couldn't bring myself to watch the speech last night, (and, if Tom Shales is to be trusted, I didn't miss much). But it's been a long time since I could look at Dubya and not see some wonderful witches' brew of annoyance, contempt and hostility glaring out of those beady eyes.

Or maybe that's just me. Or not.

Oh, heck, I can't help myself. From the same column by Brooks:

On foreign policy matters, for example, Bush has attracted the policy wonk version of the 1927 Yankees. You look at the people who will fill key slots in his administration, from Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice down through less-prominent advisors such as Bob Zoellick and Paul Wolfowitz. They are the best out there.

The 1927 Yankees. You know, Murderer's Row.

What is persistence?

I have had three experiences trying to get on Jeopardy! But first, an explanation of the process: First, you enter a lottery drawing (effectively) -- you submit your pertinent personal and geographic information, as well as the city in which you would like to audition. This used to be the old-fashioned kind of thing, where sending in 30 postcards really did improve your odds. Nowadays I suspect most people enter online. Once you are selected, you get a phone call (or an email) and you must confirm the appointment. On test day, you and ~100 other people show up and take a 50-question test covering all sorts of subjects. If you pass the test (minimum score of 35) you play a mock game after the losers leave. Most of those people are chosen to go on the show, as is my understanding. Especially if you represent a group that is not represented on Jeopardy! very often.

The first time I made it through the lottery was the winter of 2001; I was selected to take the test in New York. I thought I could swing it since I would be home for winter term -- didn't happen. I was taking a WFR class and couldn't leave.

The second time I took the test in Cleveland. It was noon on a Friday and I was battling a wicked hangover. I doubt that I would have passed the test, but whatever. I also got a sweet parking spot. And I almost threw up on the way.

Just last week I was notified of an upcoming opportunity to take the test again. (This time here in D.C.) I am not going to study too much, since I have better things to do than make Shakespeare/Bible/British monarchy flashcards. And besides, the 50 questions come in 50 completely random categories (cf. the actual show, when you could nail an entire category through careful study). Wish me luck. Or not. Trebek doesn't show up, in case you were wondering.


But Really Chuck, Tell Us What You Really Think...

Chuck Hagel (ostensible R-NE) on C-Plus Augustus in today's NYT:

"This administration has seen Congress as an enemy and a constitutional nuisance. The world right now is in trouble, and we need to have a Congress and a president and an executive branch that's working together."


Also - I don't read polls, and I didn't really read this one either, not even the Shrub's 41/52 approve/disapprove numbers.

And Also: Take Cake's Weekly Poll.

Those Geniuses at Kellogg's

Did anyone else see an ad (in the newspaper, most likely) for the American Idols tour? How perfect, how sick and sinister and double entendrish, is it that Pop Tarts is the marquee sponsor?

And, on a somewhat related note, I must say that when and if I have children they will never accompany me to the grocery store. I can't believe that an item such as hot fudge sundae pop tarts passes as breakfast food. How fucking nauseating.

GAO Taking Bush to Task

The GAO declared that HHS and the Bush administration illegally used federal funds to produce commercials regarding recent reforms in Medicare. (Washington Post article here.) Of the several ads produced, the GAO was specifically targeting the 'fake news' ad, but there was at least one more that was dodgy -- at best -- in its use of federal funds for obviously biased presentation (say nothing of election year material).



JKD gets published in the WaPo. True story.

Full story to follow.


Bush: Worst Since ____

(via Alterman) there is a survey of historians on just how disastrous they think C-Plus Augustus has been. Pretty dire stuff from people who, you know, make it their business to know this sort of thing.

Poker update

Didn't get too many good cards. Lubarsky, on the other hand, was getting ridiculous hands.

On the year: + $56.

In the 'impossible to see that one coming/most people would've bet their shorts' category: I have pocket 2's. Three aces come up on the flop. I have a full fucking house on the flop and start betting like it. Lubarsky is sitting in the corner with the other ace. The odds of that happening are approximately 1 out of 19,600 (according to Mateo).

Let's be honest for a minute

John McCain is kind of the man. Did you read about Dennis Hastert railing against McCain for not knowing about sacrifice, about war? Read it here. Memo to Hastert: John McCain was in Vietnamese prison camps for five (5) years.


Controlled Chaos

Absolutely wonderful article in Salon today on traffic engineering. You heard me.
It's stuff like this and cool modular housing that makes me believe maybe Progress is still possible and, indeed, ongoing.
A great graf:

There's a place for highways and roads dedicated solely to the movement of automobiles, [Ben Hamilton-Baillie] says. Just not in the city, where streets constitute 70 percent of all public space.

"You have to have a completely different approach to the design of streets in the broad urban realm," he says. "You have to make an absolutely clear transition between those roads that are necessary, the state-controlled and legislative world of the traffic environment, to the human-controlled, culturally controlled world of the city, where you pick up your rules not from what you're allowed to do, but from a much more subtle and complex series of codes that are implicit through design and environment."

The guy mostly quoted in the article, Ben Hamilton-Baille, has a website that is under construction, but you can e-mail him to talk about urban design.


Comfort Level

Ladies and Gentlemen - a caller's comments on "Talk of the Nation", regarding the Janet Jackson Wardrobe Malfunction Incident; after saying he was a father of two boys, was 'very annoyed' by the incident, that they shouldn't be 'subjected' to 'that', he played devil's advocate, with the whiny-voiced freedom-of-speech argument to defend the Wardrobe Malfunction (which I at least have not heard)...and then the man busted out with this:

Your freedoms are infringing on my comfort level.

And THAT, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how the First Amendment can die in this country, bit by bit, bit by idiots.

Can we see that again?

Your freedoms are infringing on my comfort level.



Modular Living

via Boing-Boing, some great links on modular housing. Very cool; here, too.

The End of Civilization As We Know It

Head over to the Human Rights Campaign homepage, and turn into a pillar of salt.

ITEM! Messianic Christians Setting US Policy on Israel!

Okay, so I knew that this was going on, and I would tell people so, but know we really KNOW that, indeed, MESSIANIC CHRISTIANS ARE SETTING U.S. POLICY ON ISRAEL! Really, this is really happening.
The Village Voice has the scoop, via Eschaton:

...the National Security Council's top Middle East aide consults with apocalyptic Christians eager to ensure American policy on Israel conforms with their sectarian doomsday scenarios.

Oy gevalt. The thing about these people, too...they're just so nuts...but in case you didn't know, this is why they want a one-state Israel. They want Israel to exist, so the Jews can rebuild the Temple, and then Jesus can come back...and then there's the Rapture...and the Jews and all the other sinners die in fiery condemnation. This is what they believe. And these are the people who are dictating our policy on the Middle East. The article continues...

AFSI's executive director, Helen Freedman...laughs off concerns that, for Christian Zionists, actual Jews living in Israel serve as mere props for their end-time scenario: "We have a different conception of what [the end of the world] will be like . . . Whoever is right will rejoice, and whoever was wrong will say, 'Whoops!' "

She's not worried, either, about evangelical anti-Semitism: "I don't think it exists," she says. She does say, however, that it would concern her if she learned the Apostolic Congress had a representative in Israel trying to win converts: "If we discovered that people were trying to convert Jews to Christianity, we would be very upset."

Kim Johnson doesn't call it converting Jews to Christianity. She calls it "Circumcision of the Heart"—a spiritual circumcision Jews must undergo because, she writes in paraphrase of Jeremiah, chapter 9, "God will destroy all the uncircumcised nations along with the House of Israel, because the House of Israel is uncircumcised in the heart . . . [I]t is through the Gospel . . . that men's hearts are circumcised."

Apostolics believe that only 144,000 Jews who have not, prior to the Second Coming of Christ, acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah will be saved in the end times.

Kim Johnson, as the article notes earlier, is a Christian missionary in Israel who preys on low-income families. Just...read the whole thing.



I've been MIA for a while mostly because I finally got a firewire card at my worky computer and I've been playing ipod when boss types aren't lurking around. Sweet, sweet iTunes. *Sigh*

So, it's so terrible here in the States that I've decided to leave for someplace... worse. I'm headed to Malawi for a couple weeks for work on our Reducing Child Morbidity project. Sounds pretty glamorous and idealistic and citizen-of-the-world and all that crap, doesn't it? Yeah, except that I'll be sitting in an office most of the day teaching them how to monitor their budget and use MS Project. Not like I'll be digging wells or handing out ARVs or anything.
Speaking of drugs, as much as we all (read: I) hate Microsoft, I do have to give some props to Bill Gates and his foundation for fully meeting their funding commitments to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS. Unlike the U.S. Government which is, again, all talk and no action. Thanks George.

I'll write more from the "Warm Heart of Africa".

Sy Hersh

As Alterman notes, Hersh is unequalled in investigative journalism in America today, and perhaps for all time. He is single-handedly holding this administration accountable and furnishing the truth.

His latest
from the New Yorker. The first graf:

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America’s prospects in the war on terror.

Just read it.

A Great Day for America

Amid all the awfulness in the world today, two things to celebrate: the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, and in Massachussets, as Andrew Sullivan puts it best:

Today is not the day "gay marriage" arrives in America. Today is the first time that civil marriage has stopped excluding homosexual members of our own families. These are not "gay marriages." They are marriages.

See also all of the Boston Globe's extensive coverage of the day's events; stirring stuff.
For all the bad that this country can do, there is also good.
Every generation thinks they're seeing the end of the world. And, they're right - the world we know is ending, making way for a new, wholly unknown world. Perhaps there is much bad that will be; but, as the above illustrates, there is also much good.

Plus, the O's stopped a three-game skid with a dynamite outing by Sir Sidney and some great small-ball offense yesterday, beating the Angels 4-0.

It's Too Bad...

...when cultural outlets start believing their own hype. There are two recent examples of this, seemingly very different but really more or less equivalent: "The Man Show" and nerve.com.

Let me explain.

The initial incarnation of "The Man Show" was funny. It really was. It was funny because Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel (but mostly Adam) were funny, but it was more specific than that. It was funny because they made fun of themselves - the conceit of the show was, aren't men ridiculous? with Adam and Jimmy acting as Everymen, which they did well. The Juggies were meant as eye candy, sure, but at least as much they were there as an absurdity - the point was that Adam and Jimmy, big schlumps and losers, routinely humiliating themselves for a laugh - could never actually get these women.

Which all changed with the new hosts, Joe Rogan and Doug Stanhope. They are Craig Kilborn to Adam and Jimmy's Conan O'Brien; they are cool, or think themselves so; the Juggies are pure eye candy, but now with a nasty misogynistic sneer from the hosts - "Ain't that great?" Now, rather than making fun of what idiots men are, the show celebrates men's idiocies and rewards them.

Which brings us to nerve.com.

From the day the wall went down on indecent content on the internet (1997), nerve provided a great service - as they themselves termed it, "literate smut." It was always just on the boundary of what was acceptable and in the mainstream of even the alternative culture discourse. It was self-aware about sexuality, but in a humanistic way. "The Lisa Files," by Lisa Carver were a wonderful regular feature, and were unique among the offererings in being a first-person-nonfiction narrative. Nerve was about bringing different perspectives on sex, and its staff were - staff. They ran the place.

It's tough to say exactly when the change happened - gradually Lisa Carver stopped her regular column, then stopped altogether. More and more of the site became "Nerve Premium" content (i.e., you had to be a subscriber to see it), and not just the nudie pictures. More and more of the articles became first-person narratives, and not from established writers like Lisa Carver.

And then one day - it had become the snarky, arrogant, self-absorbed New York THING. The staff - and, thus, the writing - was utterly convinced in its own coolness. Whereas sexual inadequacy was once a source for artistic inspiration, it was now a source of fun - me, laughing at you, for being inadequate. It's just so....NEWYORK.

There may be some hope - they're cool enough now that Neal Pollack has just started a regular column, the aim of which is to specifically explore Pollack's own mediocre and humiliating sex life. So, there's that.

But - overall...

It's tough to deal with success. It's tough not to believe the hype. Hmmm, wonder where else that might be true...


Weinstein Bros. Do The Right Thing...

...again, and pick up Fahrenheit 9/11, which they will distribute themselves.

Of course, the Weinstein Bros. got to where they are by pretty much being right all the time, and wouldn't do this if they didn't know they were going to make a lot of money (a LOT - Moore has a proven audience, plus now they'll control all the distribution, domestic and - here's the money shot - FOREIGN, where I'm willing to guess this movie is gonna do okay...).

Which really brings up the issue - why the fuck did Disney do this? Is controversy more important than making a SHITLOAD of money - which this film will do, as it cost only $6 million to make, doesn't need to be advertised all that much to reach its core audience, is getting a lot of free hype, etc. - ? This is especially a question for Disney right now, with a string of box-office failures and the upcoming loss of its only consistent moneymaker for almost a decade, Pixar.

Really weird.

Poker update

Another very late night. Thankfully (or not) I am still on Pacific time. I was getting ridiculous cards (threes-of-a-kind, straights, houses that were full, etc.).

On the year: + $86 (including one unreported week)

Should've known better when: I had pocket 8's; an 8 and two 9's come up on the flop. Me and Chris stay in ... betting goes big and of course he has three 9's. (The turn and the river were irrelevant.)

An Heir to America's Moral Leadership?

There is a lot wrong in India. And there were a lot of worries some years back when the BJP (the Hindu nationalist party) came to power that this perhaps signalled an end to the "experiment" of democracy in India - the world's second-largest country, and largest democracy - in favor of religious factionalism. Still further worries over the detonation in India and Pakistan of nuclear bombs.

And then...

India and Pakistan scaled back confrontations in Kashmir; most are now local separatist militias.
There were no reprisals for the suicide attacks on the Indian Parliament (can you imagine militants storming the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. not bombing SOMEone?).
The Indian Prime Minister and Pakistani President met spontaneously, leading to later formal talks that produced a road map for peace.
India began stengthening ties and relations with the world's third-largest democracy, in a move that puzzled Americans who wondered what two enormous poverty-stricken humid countries could possibly have in common.

And now...the BJP has been held accountable for failures to spread the wealth of India's development to the rural poor (the same poor the West feared were turning India into an unthinking Hindu nationalist state...), and been voted out of office in favor of the secular Congress Party (the key party in gaining India's independence).

So here we have a country where religion is a big part of public life...where internecine violence is a fact of life...that is a nuclear power, just like its oft-hated rival to the northwest...and yet seems to be paving a path to greater peace, prosperity and functionality of its democracy, while also providing principled opposition to the disgusting hegemony of the North in WTO agriculture agreements.

Changes in global power dynamics happen over time, but they also happen very quickly. In the late 1890s, the United States was a nation not far removed from a crippling Depression, and only 30 years past the Civil War. Even at the outbreak of World War I, America was a largely inward-looking power quite uncomfortable with the limited empire it had acquired. By Versailles it was the unquestioned and singular power in the world, Germany decimated, Russia in chaos and Britain's Empire falling apart.

I'm not suggesting that overnight the United States will be reduced to global irrelevance. But for the first time in my life I can imagine a United States I would not be proud of:

A democracy can allow its leaders one fatal mistake -- and that's what 9/11 looks like to many observers -- but Americans will not forgive a second one. A succession of large-scale attacks would pull at the already-fragile tissue of trust that binds us to our leadership and destroy the trust we have in one another. Once the zones of devastation were cordoned off and the bodies buried, we might find ourselves, in short order, living in a national-security state on continuous alert, with sealed borders, constant identity checks and permanent detention camps for dissidents and aliens. Our constitutional rights might disappear from our courts, while torture might reappear in our interrogation cells. The worst of it is that government would not have to impose tyranny on a cowed populace. We would demand it for our own protection. And if the institutions of our democracy were unable to protect us from our enemies, we might go even further, taking the law into our own hands. We have a history of lynching in this country, and by the time fear and paranoia settled deep in our bones, we might repeat the worst episodes from our past, killing our former neighbors, our onetime friends.

With that kind of America, is there any doubt that another power or powers would step forward with moral leadership in the world?


This is great...(via dKos) that is, if you like laughing at Rush Limbaugh.

Things That Shouldn't Have to be Said

I really, really wish that it wasn't necessary, every time there's a barbarous act of terrorism committed by terrorists who happen to be Muslim fanatics, for every non-insane Muslim (i.e., 99.99% of Muslims) to stand up and say how this latest act "is not representative of or consistent with Islam."

I don't think it's a contradiction that at the same time I DO wish that more Jews would stand up every time Israel/Ariel Sharon does something awful and say, "This is not representative of or consistent with Judaism.

ALSO: Interesting fact No. 1 for American Christians as-yet-unaware of these things: Muslims also think Jesus was a pretty cool guy.


It's like my worlds are colliding

Or just two of them, really. Check out Google's new blog.

This Administration Hates Women, Part XXVI

Alert citizen of the world TD points out this story:

The Bush administration has stripped information on a range of women's issues from government Web sites, apparently in pursuit of a political agenda, researchers reported on Wednesday.
Its report cited a fact sheet from the Centers of Disease Control that focused on the advantages of using condoms to prevent sexually transmitted disease; it was revised in December 2002 to say evidence on condoms' effectiveness in curbing these diseases was inconclusive.

In other news, the Bush administration also reported that reports of the world being round were "inconclusive." Senior administration officials cited the need for "more research."

Air America

Finally listening to Air America Radio, and it is GOOD. Or at least the O'Franken Factor and Randi Rhodes.

The callers on Franken's show were kinda annoying, thinking they were funny, but over time they'll get regular caller who actually ARE funny and develop good ways to make fun of those who aren't (as Kornheiser did with his show).

And Randi Rhodes - just unbelievable. She was talking to this guy who was spouting all the normal BS about Iraq being linked to 9/11, and just took him frickin' apart - with the truth. She was just as combative as Rush or O'Reilly, but not insane. To get the guy to shut up, she played a clip of Bush saying "We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in September 11." Brilliant.

In addition to El Interneto, you can listen to Air America on:

Sirius Radio stream 125
XM Radio 167
New York City 1190 AM
Portland, OR 1050 AM
Inland Empire, CA 1050 AM

Coming soon elsewhere, including SF.

Outsourcing doesn't always work

My apartment got some water damage, including a nice pair of shoes and the shoe trees inside. (If you're really lucky you'll get pictures at some point.) The shoe trees are from Nordstrom (thanks, Mom) and I went to find them on Nordstrom.com so I could list their price accurately. Not finding them, I went to Nordstrom's 'Live Help: Chat' option. This ensued:

You [i.e. I] say: I am appraising some water-damaged items in my home. How much would a new pair of Nordstrom shoe trees cost? (To fit men's size 10.5, if it matters.)

Thank you for shopping at NORDSTROM.com. Your question is important to us, the next available customer service representative will be right with you.

Cassandra has arrived to help you!
Cassandra: Hello Mike and Welcome to Nordstrom.com!
You say: Hi. I could not find shoe trees listed anywhere. But since you have them at actual stores, they must be online, right?
Cassandra: Let me check. We don't always carry the same items.
Cassandra: Just one moment please.
You say: Thanks
Cassandra: The name of the men's shoe is Tree?
You say: no, shoe trees.
You say: they are made of wood
You say: you put them inside your shoes
You say: to keep their shape and to absorb moisture
Cassandra: I understand now. Just one moment.
Cassandra: Thank you for waiting. We do not carry it. I can offer you a phone number to your nearest store for a price check.
You say: Okay thanks
Cassandra: What is your zip code?
You say: 22303
Cassandra: Thank you. Just one moment Mike.
Cassandra: I have a store in Arlington Virginia. Will that be okay?
You say: sure
Cassandra: The number is (703) 415-1121.
You say: thanks for your help
Cassandra: You're so welcome Mike! Is there anything else I can assist you with today?
You say: that's it
Cassandra: Thank you for visiting Nordstrom.com. Have a great day!

Oh, I will.

The Funniest Thing I've Read in a While

via Weingarten's chat, a series of amazon.com product reviews that had me, sitting alone in the house in front of my computer, laughing so hard I cried. This is a difficult thing to do, actually.

Irony, Alanis-style

In mid-June, I will be moving to 1818 East Republican Street.

And speaking of Republicans, apparently John McCain drives like a Masshole.

Virgin and Dylan

While returning to los EEUU on what is pretty much the best flight ever (Depart LHR 11.30; arrive IAD 14.00, AHEAD OF SCHEDULE) on the can't-say-enough-how-awesome-Virgin-Atlantic, I was surfing through the multudinous options afforded on my personal entertainment unit (e.g., ~50 movies, etc.), and started watching a block of music videos - this was all songs "featuring" some other artist, an interesting conceit for selecting a group of songs.
The second song of the group was by Magnet ft. Gemma Hayes. The song was "Lay, Lady, Lay."
There were so many things wrong with the song and video, but let me start at the most superficial and obvious.

The video featured both Magnet's lead singer - Evan Johansen, who is Norweigan - and Gemma Hayes decked out in the current, oh-so-trendy-White-Trash stylings favored by, near as I could tell, one of every three people under 30 in London (truly distasteful stuff, pretentious beyond anything you've seen here), laying in bed and cavorting about a trailer park.

Do I even need to explain beyond that, really? I mean, of course the song was awful and only rendered listenable by its authorhship and the fact that with the tune playing you could substitute Dylan's version in your mind. Rarely have I see such unapologetic pretentiousness on so many levels - in the very fact of covering the song, in appropriating "White Trash" culture that is three translations removed from the appropriator (oh yeah, in addition to a trucker hat, he's wearing a greasy mullet and stringy mustache) - and then the smugness with which it was all delivered, as well.

What irritates me most, though, is the unspoked Rule of Dylan that the song violated. Dylan wrote a lot of great songs. A LOT. And some of them were such perfect songs, rock or pop gems, that they could be covered by other artists and not ruined and, in a very few instances, arguably - I said ARGUABLY - improved, with "All Along the Watchtower" really the only example that comes to mind.

But the real genius of Dylan is his epics, the hallucinatory, rambling stories that only Dylan could write and ABSOLUTELY only Dylan could sing (e.g., "Talkin' World War III Blues", "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts", "Simple Twist of Fate"...I could go on forever here, just go here and read every lyric Dylan ever wrote). Some people tell me there might be a minor exception, that Reckless Kelly does a pretty good cover of "Subterranean Homesick Blues," which I might believe but have yet to hear. The point stands, however, that 99 times out of 100, covering Dylan is an exercise in proving how not-Dylan (i.e., not-good) you are as an artist.

"Nashville Skyline" is a special case, but still fits the rule. Some Dylan purists hate the album; personally I love it, and it's all the more remarkable for the fact that it pretty much single-handedly changed country music. Anyways...it's a special case, because it almost invites trying to do better. The songs are not Dylan's epics - the whole album clocks in at about half an hour, and there are four 3-minute pop epics, "Lay, Lady, Lay" being one of them ("I Threw it All Away", "Tell Me That it Isn't True" and "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" being the others). It's tempting, I'm sure, as a pop singer to say "Hey, those are great songs, but I've got a MUCH better voice than that schlub." Which of course misses the point entirely. The point is partly that these perfect pop songs are sung by this schlub with a ruddy, muttery voice (except, in fact, "Lay, Lady, Lay", one of the few instances ever of Dylan actually singing) - and the four songs especially are coming from a very specific expression of desire that, really, only Dylan can express. Just Because. Because He's Dylan.

And there are a couple hundred more words added to the millions and millions already spent wanking on the Genius That Is Bob Dylan.

Word of the Day

Today's Word of the Day is MENDACIOUS.

Pronunciation: men-'dA-sh&s
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin mendac-, mendax -- more at AMEND
: given to or characterized by deception or falsehood or divergence from absolute truth
synonym see DISHONEST
- men·da·cious·ly adverb
- men·da·cious·ness noun

Note I should've posted yesterday or the day before - many thanks to degs, rinn, styer and jen for shouldering the burden of blogging in my absence. I owe you all a beer.


Tuesday Afternoon News Roundup

Back in khaki, kids.

-A great - really must-read - article in the "Chronicle of Higher Education" on the Invisible Adjunct, who recently shut down her blog on how sucky it is to be an adjunct.

-Absolutely bizarre short-form music review in the WaPo this morning:
You have to wonder what makes six young men in their early twenties want to pick up banjos and mandolins and form a bluegrass band...
For some reason they prefer to play timeworn melodies in time-tested methods handed down from rural holler to holler.

The really bizarre thing is why the author of the piece - Buzz McClain - is reviewing a bluegrass show.

-An article in the latest Washington Monthly makes a very plausible case that, in spite of CW, this election will most likely be decided in a landslide, one way or another:

Elections that feature a sitting president tend to be referendums on the incumbent--and in recent elections, the incumbent has either won or lost by large electoral margins. If you look at key indicators beyond the neck-and-neck support for the two candidates in the polls--such as high turnout in the early Democratic primaries and the likelihood of a high turnout in November--it seems improbable that Bush will win big. More likely, it's going to be Kerry in a rout.

And, also:

Of course, the tight polling data does reflect a fundamental reality: For all the fallout from his policies, Bush still appeals to many Americans because of his seeming decisiveness, straight talk, and regular-guy charm--not qualities that John Kerry prominently displays. The historical pattern may strongly suggest that if Kerry wins, it will be by large margins--but that is hardly fated. It will only happen if Kerry successfully highlights Bush's failings while showing himself to be an appealing alternative. Otherwise, the senator could see himself losing an electoral rout, not winning in one. In fact, the second most likely outcome of this election is a Bush landslide. With just one exception, every president to win a second consecutive term has done so with a larger electoral margin than his initial victory. The least likely result this November is another close election.

-Roger Clemens is an asshole, but the man is 40 and still better at baseball than I'll ever be at anything.

-In response to Dick Cheney's assertion that Don Rumsfeld is "the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had," the Center for American Progress has a great poll.
Truly, these people know no bounds.

-Go see the Drive-By Truckers (or Patterson Hood, or Jason Isbell), if they're coming to your neck of the woods. Seriously, one of the best shows I've ever seen, and now they've got a fiddle player, who's a woman, which would pretty much make her come in at #1 in the "Should Marry JKD" contest except she's already hitched to one of the guys in the band. Rats.

-via Alterman; why is it again that anyone pays attention to what Rush Limbaugh says?

-Speaking of Alterman, a great column in the most recent The Nation.

-Have lately been completely mesmerized by this song from Andrew Bird. I know, I haven't heard of him, either, and he is on Righteous Babe Records, which would normally counterindicate my listening to his music, but...the song is really, really amazing.

-Saw demonlover last week. An interesting (this word actually is useful here, as opposed to normally, when it's pretty much the most-meaningless/worst/most-overused word in the English language) film - glad I saw it, glad it was made, and would recommend it to anyone. The reviews of the film tended to make it out as far more bizarre than it actually was - a notable exception is Salon's suberbly done review (this sort of writing is really one of the greatest things that's come from Salon over the years). Again - see it, you'll definitely enjoy it, and it's nothing if not compelling start to finish.

I'm glad I'm such a skeptic

You already know where this is going...

I just received a call from a man named Chris at Verizon Wireless. He was kindly informing me that because my account is overdue (true) my service was about to be interrupted (plausible). He asked me if I wanted to pay right now and I said yes, knowing that if my only phone line went down I'd be in a minor pinch. As I was about to read off my Visa number, a little Dear Abbey voice went off in my head. The conversation then went like this:

"Can I pay online?"
"That'll take a day and a half."
"Can I call Verizon Wireless myself? What number can I call to make a payment?"
[click] My phone blinked 'Call Duration: 00:01:14'

Nice try, dickhead.

I went to my incoming calls list and dialed out to the number from which "Chris" had called. A kindly recording told me the number was not in service. Case closed. I think I really will write to Dear Abbey... or maybe McSweeney's.

Postscript: Chris really needs to work on his 'customer service phone voice.' It was scratchy and gargily and v. unprofessional.


Zogby calls it

Take it with a grain of salt, but John Zogby is predicting John Kerry will win the election. He bases his argument on four main points:

1) Current polling put them at a dead heat in a three-way race, and Kerry's support in the Blues is stronger and less vulnerable than Bush's support in the Reds;
2) The small number of undecided voters and their historical tendency to support challengers over incumbents;
3) "The issues"; and,
4) Though John Kerry, the slogging candidate, is dull as a butter knife, John Kerry, the closer, possesses a certain je ne sais quoi that synthesizes his candidacy and allows him to connect with voters at exactly the right moment.


A Few Thoughts on Iraq

Just a quick post - Blogger is still weird on the computer I'm using here, so I'll do a much more extensive and cited post tomorrow when I get back stateside.

When the reports of torture started coming in, my first reaction was surprise at everyone's surprise. It's war. This is what happens in war, war is the worst thing people can do to each other and contains therein all of the specifically worst acts humans can commit upon one another. My sense was that, since it was a juicy story, the media was really running with it perhaps beyond people's levels of outrage about it - 'cause I mean, surely, people must understand what goes on in war, right? And I figured that whatever I was seeing in the British tabloids - so eager to jump on a juicy anti-American story, even moreso once the Brits themselves were implicated - was bigger than whatever was going on stateside.

I was wrong. This is much, much, much worse. Atrios links to The Daily Brew with the best, most succinct description of just what's happened - and excerpts this:

Whether Republicans like it or not, if George Bush is elected in the fall, the entire world will view the election as American approval of the torture and sexual humiliation of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. It might not be fair, it might not be reasonable, but it is nevertheless reality. Apologies, prosecutions, firings and courts martial will not be enough to expunge the stain this scandal has placed on the honor of the United States. The pictures are simply too graphic. The abuses are simply too horrible. If George Bush is elected President, the entire world will view the election, at a minimum, as tacit approval of these events.

This election will thus no longer merely determine the Presidency. This election is now much larger than the office. The United State’s place in the family of nations is now on the ballot. This election will determine whether the United States will ever again have any standing or moral authority in the rest of the world. The United States cannot simultaneously stand against depraved sexual torture and the wanton abuse of human rights, while electing the commander in chief upon whose watch these events occurred. The seven hundred thousand or so viewers of Fox News may be able to rationalize such cognitive dissonance; the six billion people who make up the remainder of the world will not.

He's right. And I am ashamed, ashamed and terrified.

I have always, for whatever else I've felt about being American - anger, frustration, discontent, etc. - been also proud to be American. Always acknowledged the awful things done by this country, but also always been proud of the great things done, as well.

It's not that America or Americans are morally superior - we're not, we're just the same hairless apes as everyone else, with the same capacity for awful things, no more no less. But at the same time, America has taken seriously its responsibilty to try to do better - yes, at the same time as innumerable awfulnesses have been committed in its name. And we have been taken seriously in those efforts to do better.

But now - if Bush wins, it's all down the toilet. As Gov. Howard Dean was fond of saying (i.e., it was in the stump speech), America won the Cold War without a bullet being fired because people behind the Iron Curtain wanted to be like America and be like Americans. It was not just the material resources, the standard of living - American symbolized progress, freedom, the idea that people as individuals and as a society could do better.

Think that's what we symbolize now?

We already were in a situation where we didn't have any choice but to get rid of Bush - now we're really really REALLY in a situation where we have NO CHOICE WHATSOEVER.

Everyone go to John Kerry's website and/or call up his campaign HQ. Get all the talking points, on everything. Every time any one of us has a conversation with anyone between now and Nov. 2, we need to make sure, by the end of the conversation, that they're voting for John Kerry.


What the heck?

I'm not going to come out and say the obvious subtext here, but even beyond that, this story just seems...weird:

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush will skip their twin daughters' college graduations later this month to avoid creating a distraction at the respective schools, the White House said Thursday.


9/11 Misc.

Okay, so this is pretty fucked up:

Six air traffic controllers provided accounts of their communications with hijacked planes on Sept. 11, 2001, on a tape recording that was later destroyed by Federal Aviation Administration managers, according to a government investigative report issued today.

It is unclear what information was on the tape because no one ever listened to, transcribed or duplicated it, the report by the Department of Transportation inspector general said.

The essence of this all seems to be that 9/11 is becoming very much like the Kennedy assassination. Basically, we know some really bad shit went on in terms of disorganization of key government players - bad enough, maybe, that it could've been prevented - but we also know that the major players involved are cognizant enough of the badness of the shit that they've covered their tracks and hence we'll never really know what actually happened. This is true for most of history - which is, in the end, pretty much hearsay and conjecture - but especially concerning when we're so close to it and alread the history is being destroyed before it can be made.

And yeah, duh, of course we/you are (a) paranoid lunatic(s) if you point any of this out.

Not now, not ever

I guess we should be talking about Michael Moore and how he has gotten screwed by the evil folks at Jeb Bush's DisneyWorld. Home of such famous attractions as Taliban Teacup Ride, It's a Mall World Afterall, and Bookburners of the Caribbean.

But I don't want to think about it. It's too depressing. I'll just follow webzen and go to this amusing site and think about food. And if I want to be depressed, I'll think about food... and the death penalty!!

Happy Thursday, y'all.

The Mouse that Roared

Being posted at the request of Degs who is out of town.

Michael Moore says Disney won't release his new film because it will upset Jeb Bush, who might retaliate by reducing some of the company's tax breaks.

In a Guardian article, posted at MickeyNews.com, "your complete source for everything Disney," Michael Eisner refutes Moore's claims and calls Moore a "whiny crybaby pulling some lame-o publicity stunt to make more money."

Okay, so Michael Eisner didn't actually say that.


"Misperceptions Still Pla[g]ue American Public on Iraq"

More later, but for now:

Thank you ABL, whose blog led me to another story on the AA page.

Follow this Story

The plan to turn Manhattan into a police state for the GOP convention. Follow this story, and also pay attention and see if anyone from the GOP admits that they actually WANT riots, so as to link Democrats to the terrorist-loving, 9/11-dishonoring rioters.

Say what you will about Howard Kurtz...

But he does bring some interesting things to my attention sometimes. In particular, this abhorrent commentary by Rush Limbaugh comparing the American torturers in Iraq to plagiarizing and biased journalists. An excerpt:

Here's the way I see this. About as many soldiers are said to be involved in these outrageous acts of torture against the Iraqi prisoners as there have been plagiarizing and fabricating reporters working for the New York Times, USA Today, and other papers around the country. We have as many indecent acts by these soldiers as we have plagiarist reporters working for mainstream media, partisan media institutions here.

Are you fucking kidding me??


From the Man Who Brought You the Internet...

So, Al Gore bought a cable news channel. Apparently, it's going to appeal to "young men and women who want to know more about their world...[it] will not be a liberal network or a Democratic network or a political network." Well, that's a relief. Sure wouldn't want to add another voice to the liberal media.


God Bless "The State"

Item #1
The creators of The State (and Wet Hot American Summer) have a new project called Stella.

Stella (featuring Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter & David Wain) will be on Comedy Central on Friday, May 14th at 10:30pm.

Item #2
The State is coming to DVD. As of 14 Apr: "Deals are being closed as we speak and we hope to have a release date for you soon." That is, essentially, the best news I have ever heard.

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