Friday, November 24, 2006

Friday Music Blogging

The Doors - The Alabama Song

Fifty States v. Fitting States

Don't look now, but the vaunted "Fifty State Strategy" of Howard Dean wasn't particularly successful in one very important region of the country: the South.

Conventional wisdom lately has it that a party cannot win the Presidency without winning at least some of the South, so making some gains in the 2006 elections was crucial to the 2008 Presidential contest. Other than Florida, and that by dint of the Mark Foley scandal and the incredibly inept candidacy of Katherine Harris, the Dems did not pick up one Southern seat below Virginia, and in fact, ceded open seats in Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Was this deliberate, or was this merely the confluence of a strongly racist, anti-progressive region with a nominal and weak Democratic presence, providing poor candidates for voters to choose from?

Given the fact that, among the Dems that lost was Harold Ford Jr., of Tennessee, long touted as possible Presidential material, it's hard to say for certain. Thomas Schaller, instructor of poliical science at the University of Maryland, argues in his book "Whistling Past Dixie: How the Democrats Can Win Without the South," that the Democrats don't need the South to win, and in fact, ought to just write it off completely, for now.

In the last days of the campaign, Dean backed off his strategy a little. Instead of saying Democrats must be competitive in all fifty states, his tone changed slightly to one of "we have to ask for votes in all fifty states." The nuanced interpretation is, we may not win, but at least people won't think we've written them off.

And yet...
Throughout the South, Democrats ceded vast swaths of Congressional territory to Republicans, hardly bothering to show that the party was alive, even in places where such a demonstration might have been welcome. In Louisiana, Democrats barely fought in two Congressional districts where Republican incumbents could have been vulnerable: the Fifth District in the north, represented by a party-switching Republican whose last-minute change infuriated the state’s Democrats two years ago, and the Seventh District in Cajun country to the south, peopled by socially tolerant French Catholics and long represented by Democrats.

Democratic officials in the state say they tried to persuade strong candidates to take up these challenges but found no buyers and evidently no deep bench from which to draw, testimony to the years of national Republican ascendancy.

True, President Bush piled up big majorities in 2004 in both districts, but he also did so in a southern Louisiana district where the Democratic incumbent was handily re-elected on Nov. 7. Had Democrats fought in Louisiana this year, “they would have made a good run for it,” said Wayne Parent, a political scientist at Louisiana State University.

In Mississippi and Alabama, Republican incumbents cruised to re-election with hardly a peep out of the Democrats. Yet Mississippi, depicted by Mr. Schaller in some ways as the most impregnable Republican bastion in the South, has elected progressive Democrats as governor three times in the last three decades, a fact unmentioned by Mr. Schaller in his book. In Georgia, two Democratic incumbents considered by Republicans to be among the most vulnerable in the nation held their seats, albeit narrowly.
My suspicion is that the South is ripe for a little blue paint, but I wouldn't start buying in bulk. Ford lost, but still managed 48% in a state that simply hates blacks, and if it had a decent vote restoration program for ex-cons (mostly convicted of low-level drug crimes, including marijuana possession), Ford could have won, handily. Florida is starting to turn a little bluer again, as the "morality" of Christian Coalition leaders starts to take some egregious twists and turns.

It's hard to vote your "conscience" when your conscience is porking sixteen year old boys.

Finally, the last indication that the South is preparing to turn: for the first time in 52 years, the party that controls Congress will not hold a majority of southern seats. It's going to be hard for southern voters to keep pulling levers and pushing buttons for people who can't get the goddam interstate fixed.

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Friday Kitten Blogging

He just looked so damned interesting against the slipcover swatches in the background...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Something To Be Thankful For?

America is one fucked up country, in many respects. Part of the problem is we consider anything that isn't fucking down to be perverted:
Leviticus provided their guidance and that Old Testament book is not exactly nuanced. Sodomy? Death. Bestiality? Death. Man has sex with his daughter-in-law? Death. Adultery? Death. You get the picture.

The laws of Plymouth Colony echo Leviticus. You could be sentenced to death for sodomy, rape, buggery and, for a time, adultery. (Sodomy and buggery might be synonymous to us, but buggery apparently referred more to bestiality.)

Some Christian preachers today quote Leviticus 20, approvingly arguing that both the Old and New Testament are the infallible word of God.
And woe betide him who was really kinky....
In practice, though, even the Pilgrims did not typically enforce death for sex. In fact, only one person was put to death for a sex crime in the colony, poor Thomas Graunger, a teenage farm boy who, perhaps flush with the surge of hormones, turned to those he knew best. His story could make you look at the Thanksgiving turkey in a whole new way.

Governor William Bradford recounted the tale:

“He was this year detected of buggery, and indicted for the same, with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey … He was first discovered by one that accidentally saw his lewd practice towards the mare. (I forbear particulars.) Being upon it examined and committed, in the end he not only confessed the fact with that beast at that time, but sundry times before and at several times with all the rest of the forenamed in his indictment.”

As punishment, he was forced to watch all the animals killed. At first, the court had a problem figuring out which sheep Thomas favored — sheep looking pretty much alike — but Thomas helpfully pointed out his sex partners. After being killed, they were buried in a pit, and then Thomas himself was hanged. If you wonder what the animals did to deserve it, Leviticus was cited by the court: “If a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death; and ye shall slay the beast.”
Poor guy. I can sympathize. Many's the time I've laid in bed alone as a teenager, wondering if I'd ever get a date, and having odd thoughts about sheep...

And yet, as in modern times, there seems to be no dearth of people who refused to control their urges:
The story of Plymouth’s sex life isn’t all men and horses. There were also men and men, and men and women, or at least that seems to have been Edward Michell’s theory. He was put on trial “for his lewd [and] sodomitical practices tending to sodomy with Edward Preston, and other lewd carriages with Lydia Hatch.” He was sentenced to be publicly whipped, first at Plymouth and then Barnstable.[...]

“Mary, the wife of Robert Mendame, of Duxborrow” was put on trial for “using dalliance diverse times with Tinsin, an Indian, and after committing the act of uncleanness with him … the Bench doth therefore censure the said Mary to be whipped at a cart’s tail through the town’s streets, and to wear a badge upon her left sleeve during her abroad within this government; and if she shall be found without it abroad, then to be burned in the face with a hot iron; and the said Tinsin, the Indian, to be well whipped with a halter about his neck at the post, because it arose through the allurement [and] enticement of the said Mary, that he was drawn thereunto.”
You'll notice that the punishment for NOT wearing the mark of the beast is much more severe than for earning it.

Well, keep that in mind as you stuff your bird today: as a nation, we've grown no more or less sexually than any random group of religious zealots. My best to you and yours on this holiday.

Me, I'm thankful for my friends, my daughter, the blogs that linked to me (even the ones stupid enough to unlink me because they take offense at my comments in defense of myself) and the fact my car still works. Oh...and my readers. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wednesday Music Blogging

Dion - Abraham, Martin, and John

There are very few songs in existence that sum up an entire generation. This is one of them. You know why I posted this.

I owe a life debt to the Kennedy family, to RFK in particular, but I'd owe that debt despite the interactions I've had with the family, for the inspiration to do better, to do more, and to urge others to do the best they can.

Bobby would have been 81 this past Monday. John, of course, died 46 years ago, today.

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the marketplace;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early through the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honors out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still defended challenge cup.

And round that early-laureled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

Two Pop Culture Stories Worth Talking About

Normally, either of these stories would extract an huge yawn from me and a turn of the page or a click of the clicker. But between the Clay Aiken/Kelly Ripa/Rosie O'Donnell dustup and Michael Richards' embarassment, there's an interesting cultural point to explore: what are the rules of engagement in public now?

Yea, I know, these are questions that far greater authorities on "morality" or even political correctness than I have wrestled with for decades. Still, the coincidence of these two events threw into sharp contrast for me the distinctions that we will have to make as a society as to what's appropriate, and what's not.

Michael Richards, "Kramer" from Seinfeld (which alone ought to garner him contempt, but I digress), was interrupted during a stand-up comedy routine over the weekend in Los Angeles, took offense (apparently a group of fifteen young African Americans were being seated, having their drink orders taken, and just generally unsettling Richards) and went off on a tirade that went from ugly to downright despicable and violence-laden. The tape of the incident that you may have seen on the web starts a few moments into the exchange, and already has him on a racist roll, with a side of "cracker".

Clearly, throwing the "N-bomb" in public is a no-no, at least if you want to be taken as a serious member of society. Richards overstepped his bounds, and probably ruined his career, a la Mel Gibson's drunken rant at California sheriffs who pulled him over.

Over and over again, like a hammer on an anvil, Richards repeatedly denigrated his audience, insulting not just the African Americans, but getting a few cheap shots in at Mexicans as well (not sure where that came from).

To make things worse, "Kramer" picked an wholly inappropriate venue to attempt to make an apology, "The Late Show with David Letterman," a mistake he picked up on almost immediately.

It's hard to believe that in 2006, any number of people would witness a man apologizing for such thoroughly outrageous behavior, and laugh. I'm not sure I get what they think the joke is. A few things occured to me, like perhaps those few (to be fair) audience members hadn't seen the tape, and thought Richards was kidding around, but Jerry Seinfeld, who was Letterman's in-studio guest, made it clear that it was no joking matter, and the laughter continued.

Perhaps, like Gibson, the audience was merely a little high and were letting their dark side show through.

Richards has always had an unusual sense of humour (he was one of the few funny people on the hideous ABC attempt to rip off Saturday Night Live back in the 80s), and so maybe the audience thought this was a bit of performance art, an Andy Kaufmanesque sketch.

No matter. That train wreck happened and I think we can all agree that it's best left to die a quiet death now.

But now contrast that with the other story I mentioned: Aiken-Ripa-O'Donnell.

You may not have seen this. Goodness knows I only heard about it this morning on the Today Show:
Anyway, the whole business started last Friday when Clay was a guest on "Live with Regis and Kelly." Ripa claims Clay was hostile toward her on the show and took great exception to the fact that Clay jokingly put his hands over her mouth during an interview.

"I don't know where that hand has been," Kelly snapped.

On Tuesday, a revved-up Rosie called Kelly's comment "homophobic."

"To me, that's a homophobic remark," Rosie said. "If that was a straight man, if that was a cute man. If that was a guy who she didn't question his sexuality, she would've said a different thing."

If I clamp my hand over the mouth of a woman who is neither my wife nor my daughter (and even then, I'd better have a goddam good excuse), I'm committing an assault. It doesn't matter if I'm gay, straight, or somewhere in between. Period. Ripa's comment was perfectly appropriate. After all, she doesn't know if Clay washes up when he uses the can (surveys suggest as many as 75% of men don't).

True, one could take that to be a homophobic comment, and here's how:
One advantage we had in the old days was that prejudice was in your face, like a thin skin of scum at the top of a putrid waterway. Now, its much harder to know who you can trust, and when the mask falls, it can be a shocking experience.
The HuffPo blogger in question, Eric Deggans, is black.

So now we see this question from both sides of the equation: where do we draw the line at defending ourselves by risking offending other people? It's common ettiquette to correct someone else's behavior by pointing out how it affects you: "please cover your mouth when coughing," for example. Ripa's comment, to me, falls in that genre pretty clearly. Richards falls way on the other end of the spectrum.

But there's a flip side to this question as well: when is it OK to take offense at something?

You're reading this, undoubtedly, on a computer attached to the Internets. The Internet has brough mass communication home in a powerful way: quite literally, my voice can be heard alongside yours, and ours can be heard alongside any number of traditional authority figures. And on the 'Net, there is no "right answer," for the simple fact that it's all about what we bring personally to the discussion.

So we're going to hear a lot of this type of garbage, since one way (as Fox has cynically utilized over and over again) of making your voice stand out is to voice an extremist position, and loudly. And the more extremist, the more people will listen (if only to go "ohmygod, some asshole really believes that?").

What the Net brings to our culture is that, not only is it incumbent on people to speak clearly, plainly and with consideration for the other person's feelings (or risk a "Kramer" career ender), but it is now incumbent upon the receiver to weigh all these factors as well.

Which is a good thing, in the long run, although there's going to be hell to pay until people get this. See, we're so used to have information spoon-fed to us, which explains why Bush is still President, that we've lost the ability to think as we listen.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Shall We Dance A "Fox" Trot?

Most of you, I assume, are aware of a phenomenon in television called "sweeps": four times a year, television networks compile information from around the country in order to set advertising rates, which is based on viewership. Obviously, the higher the rating the more you can charge advertisers, generally. The traditional national sweeps months are located in February, May, August, and November, althouhg they are not based on the entire month, but rather four consecutive weeks, usually starting just a few days prior to the first of the month.

This year, for example, the November sweeps began on November 2, which is why the World Series is scheduled so bloody late in the year now, in order to take advantage of potential late-game heroics late in a series. Likewise, the Super Bowl is now timed to coincide with the February sweeps period, and why March Madness (NCAA basketball) actually begins in February. And those May "season ending shows"? You'll find one or two sprinkled in late April.

In other words, if you want to see a blockbuster on national television, you can pretty much count on it occuring in one of those four months, usually November, ahead of the holidays. It's also around the time your local news starts running sensational stories of pedophiliac cheerleader coaches and the girls they get in trouble, that sort of thing. Cynical, in other words. Pandering.

This year saw what had to be the single biggest pander for ratings in recent memory:
LOS ANGELES - Fox plans to broadcast an interview with O.J. Simpson in which the former football star discusses "how he would have committed" the slayings of his ex-wife and her friend, for which he was acquitted, the network said.

The two-part interview, titled "O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here's How It Happened," will air Nov. 27 and Nov. 29, the TV network said.

Simpson has agreed to an "unrestricted" interview with book publisher Judith Regan, Fox said.
In other words, an interview about a book in which the former NFL star "confesses" to the murders he was acquitted of.

On Fox. During November sweeps.

But that's not the cynical pandering part. This interview was never going to air and the book was never going to be released, for a few reasons.

First, any money OJ made off this interview and the book would immediately go to the Brown and Goldman families. That's part of the civil suit judgement against OJ, and there's nothing that can be done to get around that. Second, look carefully at that scheduling. November 29 is the last day of sweeps this November. The book was "scheduled" to be published on November 30th...just in time for Christmas?

So let's take a closer look at this little kerfuffle, shall we?

OJ's publisher was ReganBooks, run by Judith Regan...and owned by News Corp., the parent company of Fox Networks. Judith Regan herself was a Fox News (also under the News Corp umbrella) host and frequent guest (she's also the chippy who was banging Bernard Kerik in his city-paid-for apartment, the one that got him in trouble with the law, and ruined his chances of being the DHS Secretary under Bush), and is described as "the angriest woman in the media."

So Fox scored an interview from one of its News Corp affiliates, run by a Fox News floozy. But wait, there's more!

In the wake of the Democratic sweep of the midterm elections, just one week before the announcement of both the book and the special ('d think if OJ was writing a book, someone along the way would have mentioned something...), there was a yawing gap in news for Fox News to cover: no grand victories in Iraq, only the shame and humiliation of the Bush failures, and the piling on by critics on both sides of the aisle.

For a network that had stitched itself to the administration like it was trying to be its Siamese twin, one would think this was a rather uncomfortable position to be in. It was too early for the War On Christmas, assuming that trope had been laughed off the face of the planet this year. What could possibly work to stir up dynamite ratings in the face of a maw leading to the abyss of advertising rates.

Piped up controversies have always worked in the past for Fox. Cable news networks thrive on a story that involves sex and violence and that can be parsed endlessly by pundits and talking heads who merely have to say "No, you're wrong!" to someone else on camera to attract the mindless nitwits who bother watching the cable news networks ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Well, Terry Schiavo's dead, Natalee Holloway's body hasn't been found, Lacy Peterson isn't coming back from the grave and her husband is still in prison....what could possibly generate ratings for Fox News?

I can almost hear the phone call from Roger Ailes to Judith Regan, with Rupert Murdoch on the conference. It's a double bonus. It gets Fox News something to turn its well-oiled rage machine against, it gets other networks talking about Fox (and presumably gets them looking at the Fox schedule and oh by the way, look at all the other stuff Fox will have on this weekend), and it bring HarperCollins, News Corp's publishing arm, into the limelight, just ahead of Christmas.

How many people do you think went to the HarperCollins website to look at this fiasco and realized there was a pretty decent cheap present for Uncle Ernie?

I imagine, sadly, quite a few.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Nobody Asked Me But....

- When the top story on a weekend where George Bush ducks out a quick visit in Indonesia (a critical ally in any strategy regarding Islamists) and the admission by several top strategists that Iraq is unwinnable, is TomKat's wedding, something is seriously wrong with the media.

- Or maybe the country. The other top story is the release of the Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation 3, and the mad mobs battling, even shooting, each other for the chance to buy one. Playstations are getting $3,000 on eBay (list cost is $600), and Wiis (list $250) $1,000. What is wrong with people? For the list price of a Playstation, you can get a cheap new computer, and actually DO something besides waste hours trying to get a little pixel pixie to the next level.

- This cold has finally got the better of me. I'm off to the doctor this morning. Usually I bounce back from illness because I have the constitution of a horse, but this year seems to be different.

- It seems pretty silly to me that silicone breast implants are coming back onto the market. It speaks to the tragic and unhealthy body image western women have that they think sticking a bunch of melted plastic bags in their tits will somehow make them happier.

- Thomas Pynchon has released a new book. Looks like I picked the wrong year to give up mescaline.

- Iowan wine is probably about as good as New York orange juice.

- You've heard of the state quarter? Get ready for the Presidential silver dollar. I suspect an awful lot of people will reject the 43rd one in their change.

- Finally, Bobby, we hardly knew thee....

Sunday, November 19, 2006

His Fraudulence, George W. Bush

There are countless examples of how President Bush is a lying liar, but usually, he has the decency to wait a short while before exposing his hypocracy. In this case, however, he didn't even wait a week. Personally, I'm surprised he didn't call the Vietnamese, "them little yeller fellers":
He spoke at his first stop, Singapore, promising that “America will remain engaged in Asia.” But the response was tepid — the invited audience somehow missed several of built-in applause lines — and one senior Singaporean diplomat, declining to be quoted by name, said there was little in the speech “that his father didn’t say to us 15 years ago.”
Now, compare that to...
On Saturday, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, conceded that the president had not come into direct contact with ordinary Vietnamese, but said that they connected anyway.

“If you’d been part of the president’s motorcade as we’ve shuttled back and forth,” he said, reporters would have seen that “the president has been doing a lot of waving and getting a lot of waving and smiles.”
In many respects, Bush would have to be considered our first "MTV Presdident": short attention span, quick jump cuts (I mean, my god, in Moscow, he spent 20 minutes touring Red Square, something that not even Perillo Tours could match for a shallow experience!), and lots of shiny things.

A typical stop in Vietnam:
On Saturday, Mr. Bush emerged from his hotel for only one nonofficial event, a 15-minute visit to the Joint P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Command, which searches for the remains of the 1,800 Americans still listed as missing in the Vietnam War.

There were almost no Vietnamese present, just a series of tables displaying photographs of the group’s painstaking work, and helmets, shoes and replicas of bones recovered by the 425 members of the command. He asked a few questions and then sped off in his motorcade.
You'd think a man who so studiously avoided serving in country, who has recently taken comparing the Iraq invasion to the Vietnam War, would spend at least a little time with the people of Vietnam in order to get a sense of national pride in a country that is not the world's remaining superpower. To understand the mettle it takes to look the United States in its teeth and growl back.

Apparently not. Now compare this to Clinton's visit in 2000. Remember, he was the first American president to ever visit Vietnam:
In 2000, tens of thousands of Hanoi’s residents poured into the streets to witness the visit of the first American head of state since the end of the Vietnam War. Mr. Clinton toured the thousand-year-old Temple of Literature, grabbed lunch at a noodle shop, argued with Communist Party leaders about American imperialism and sifted the earth for the remains of a missing airman.
Even allowing for the cheesy photo-op implied in that last instance (I mean, c'mon, was anyone thinking the Power of Bill would turn up remains that the Vietnamese had not been able to produce in 30 years? And yet, they did turn, um, coincidental), there was a lot more engagement, a lot more empathy, than in all of Bush's foreign adventures combined.

Oh...Bush's visit is not over yet. He does have one more scheduled stop to make this afternoon (Monday morning in Nam): The new Hanoi stock exchange.

He just will never get it, will he?

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