Thursday, September 30, 2004

Someone Should have Studied...

It turns out I lied. I watched the debate. It was fascinating - I'm curious to see how this plays out in the media and on the blogs, and how other people saw it. Will we all see it from a strict partisan perspective? Or will we cross the aisles?

What I saw was this: Kerry addressed issues, consistently - talking about actual issues, addressing every question with a good deal of substance.. Speaking in complete sentences, stringing thoughts together, connecting them. Bush? My God - he was horrible. He slumped, he all but twitched. He kept acting like he wanted to go home, there were times it sounded like he was about to cry. His answers were horrible - over and over, he sounded like he was grasping at straws - the worst answer I think was after Kerry whacked him on North Korea (and whacked him hard.) Kerry brought that up - brought up Bush backing off alliances and treaties and so on - Bush couldn't come up with an answer. He stammered and hesitated and hedged and came up with something about an international criminal court. It was amzing.

Most of the debate, Bush kept looping back to the "mixed messages" line - which is all it is, a line. He would try to say something substantive - get lost - and jump back to Kerry's "inconsistency." It had the quality of someone hoping they could make it true by saying it often enough. An amazingly bad performance.

So - I don't know how prejudiced I am. I should note - if I were a Bush fan, I would hardly change my mind - but I think, if Kerry looked or sounded that bad tonight, I would be in a very bad mood. As it is - it will be interesting. I am not sure what to think of the spinners - I saw a bit of Mark Shields and David Brooks - Brooks said it was even; Shields said when Clinton and Reagan got reelected, they ran on optimism, morning in America - Bush can't do that. So - does Brooks saying it's even in fact mean, slam-dunk Kerry? (On the local channel, one guy said Kerry hit it out of the park - the other guy said on substance, it was a draw - the first guy laughed at him.) Interesting. But a late night. I bid you farewell.

UPDATE: I have come in and corrected some of the more egregious spelling errors - that post will show you what typing on a laptop at 11 PM will do... I have also been looking around the net - looks like I got it right. Links later. Spoke with a Bush supporter - even he seemed quite subdued.

Politics Goes so Good With Fear

Atrios (and many others) post links (now inactive) and text from AP's coverage of the debates. You will notice that I am posting this before the debates take place...

I'm neither as shocked or appalled as I should be. The debates are a charade. I have no intention to watch them - what point would there be? I have a pretty good idea where these guys are going to take us - what could change? Now - if I were on the fence, sure - but I'm not... I don't really expect anything inspiring or horrible to happen - in fact, I don't expect anything real to happen. The debates are a pretext to the discussion of the debates (which I refuse to call "spin"), which is mostly - on the blogs, on the cable channels and radio and whatever - a game among political junkies that is no more related to actual politics than arguing about your fantasy team is to the world series. Except that the world series is, itself, something of a real event - and political campaigns have been pretty well emptied of any content.

Once someone gets in office, of course, they can start to do some harm (or, potentially, good, though who expects that?) - but that's almost an accidental by-product. You might have thought that in this day and age - in the middle of a (stunningly ill-advised) war, etc., that things might have swerved toward seriousness, but I'm afraid not. JohnKerry, I suppose, sort of tries to feign seriousness, but even he seems more like he's playign a politician than he is one. I miss Howard Dean - who shot off his mouth and went after actual issues. But that's not what we have. Though I wish we geta bit more of that - get on the issues and stay there and get people to think about the issues, at least hear about the issues, every day.


This is a couple days old, but seems worth looking at. Here's Christopher Hitchens making specious arguments about liberals "rooting for bad news in Iraq and Afghanistan". He's up in arms about this:

"I wouldn't be surprised if he appeared in the next month." Teresa Heinz Kerry to the Phoenix Business Journal, referring to a possible capture of Osama bin Laden before Election Day.

This is "Deplorable, detestable, unforgivable" he says - though he, unlike Mrs. Heinz Kerry (or me) would apply those terms to her, rather than George Bush. She is expressing, after all, the notion that Bush would cynically produce OBL at the last minute. Hitch finds that a dreadful slander:

The plain implication is that the Bush administration is stashing Bin Laden somewhere, or somehow keeping his arrest in reserve, for an "October surprise." This innuendo would appear, on the face of it, to go a little further than "impugning the patriotism" of the president. It argues, after all, for something like collusion on his part with a man who has murdered thousands of Americans as well as hundreds of Muslim civilians in other countries.
* * *
The unfortunately necessary corollary of this—that bad news for the American cause in wartime would be good for Kerry—is that good news would be bad for him. Thus, in Mrs. Kerry's brainless and witless offhand yet pregnant remark, we hear the sick thud of the other shoe dropping. How can the Democrats possibly have gotten themselves into a position where they even suspect that a victory for the Zarqawi or Bin Laden forces would in some way be welcome to them? Or that the capture or killing of Bin Laden would not be something to celebrate with a whole heart?

This is a fine example of missing the point. He was closer up above - this sentiment is a direct attack on the integrity of the president. It is not hoping for bad news - it is suspecting that if there is good news, it comes with a twist. It's achieved by abandoning substative policies in favor of a quick propaganda hit; it's done in the face of the real bad news that exists...

This, then, is the central statement: "But I also know the difference when I see it, and I have known some of the liberal world quite well and for a long time, and there are quite obviously people close to the leadership of today's Democratic Party who do not at all hope that the battle goes well in Afghanistan and Iraq."

This is not a serious argument. It never is. It is blinkered. Kevin Drum illustrates the point well - reminding us that Bush's administration are the ones "dicking around":

After all, Hitchens has chosen to ally himself with the most unserious group of war leaders this country has ever seen. They treated the runup to war like a marketing blitz for a new soft drink; they have trivialized critical issues of national security because doing so made them into better partisan cudgels for congressional campaigns; they have ignored the advice of military professionals because it was electorally inconvenient; they have repeatedly misled the American public even though they surely know that this is disastrous for long term support of the war; and they have refused to seriously address the exploding guerrilla war in Iraq for months because they're afraid it might hurt their reelection chances.

The left does not root for the enemy - they do not excuse the enemy or hope the enemy wins. What the right calls "rooting for bad news" is more of a prediction. We say - because of Bush's policies, bad things are going to happen. It is true that, in the heat of the argument, sometimes predicting disaster will look like hoping for disaster - and especially when disaster comes, the urge to say "I told you so" can be hard to resist... But still" we do not want to lose. We want to see Al Qaeda undone and Iraq made safe and stable and peace restored - we just don't think those things are likely to happen with Bush and company in charge. "Hope is not a plan." Doing things that are clearly misguided and foolish and then hoping it will all work out all right is obviously worse than calling foolishness what it is, even if that means you have to emphasize the odds against us. Ultimately, what this amounts to (in the broad sense) is holding Bush and his administration responsible for the damage they have caused.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Does the Times use Times New Roman?

The Onion offers up about as complete a take down on Mr. Bush as you can ask:

Freshly unearthed public documents, ranging from newspapers to cabinet-meeting minutes, seem to indicate large gaps in George W. Bush's service as president, a spokesman for the watchdog group Citizens for an Informed Society announced Monday.
* * *
According to Rocklin, the most damning documents were generated at roughly one-day intervals during a period beginning in January 2001 and ending this week. The document's sources include, but are not limited to, the U.S. newspaper The New York Times, the London-based Economist magazine, and the well-known international business and finance record, The Wall Street Journal.

"Factual data presented in these publications indicates that Bush took little or no action on issues as widely varied as the stalled economy, increasing violence in post-war Iraq, and the lagging public education system," Rocklin said. "The newsprint documents also reveal huge disparities between the ways Bush claimed to have served Medicare patients, and what he actually did."

I am not sure what to add.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Go read Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman gets it right on the infamous Bible Banning republican campaign literature:

Dear Religious Americans. How are you? I am fine. Have you notices that the Republican Party thinks “You are all a bunch of morons.”
(Think I exaggerate? Liberals “banning” the Bible? Can anyone but a paranoid lunatic believe such a thing is possible?)

And down below, Charles Pierce launches a defense (of a sort) of Dan Rather. First by very logically pointing outL

Riddle me this: if I forge a letter from U.S. Grant in which are described the events at Appomattox, and I sell it to someone, and I get caught and  tried for fraud, and they prove that the document is fake, does that mean the Civil War never really ended?

Then trashing the degraded set that pass as TV journalists these days, and concluding with this:

So, as Dan Rather becomes everybody's dinner for a while, it's important to remember that he had some very big moments in a media culture that was not yet so corrupted that it would give voice to liver-spotted bagmen like Pat Buchanan and William Safire. It's important to remember that he had these moments in a media culture that was not yet fully tolerating the likes of George Will, Conrad Black's poolboy, his cabana full of purloined debate materials. It's important to remember that he did so in the days when the media culture at least tried to keep crazy people at bay, where the likes of Jonah Goldberg would be covering the sewer commission in Plattsburgh, if he were lucky, and Ann Coulter would be screaming at people on a subway platform.
  I'm a reporter. That's all I've ever wanted to be. So is Dan Rather, so I feel comfortable in saying that he screwed up in a very big way. But he doesn't deserve to have an aging hack like Dick Thornburgh as a professional proctologist, and he really doesn't deserve the cheap shots that are coming his way from people unfit to fasten his kaffiyeh.

It's all good. But Alterman - and his correspondents - usually are.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Art1 Art2 Art3 Art4

Long Story, Short Pier has another comics post up. Debating the definition again - or rather, the word to use to describe the thing he means when he says comics. "Sequential Art" or some such. Here the players are Eddie Campbell, speaking through an interview at Graphic Novel Review, the ubiquitous and inevitable Scott McCloud (so I'm taking this class, Harvard Extension, "Reading Across Media" - and first class, not far into the first lecture, what does the professor do but start drawing boxes on the blackboard, then lines between them, then little guys in them - all the while talking about the structure of narrative, ad the importance of the gap between panels. We will, in time, be reading Understanding Comics - though she noted, at the end of the class, that a good place to start in understanding narrative was - well - right there...), and Kip Manley himself. Whose take is this:

But we’re you and me both at once tenacious and fickle: once we’ve named a thing, we balk at the idea of changing that name—but that very truculence lets black-garbed stagehands work some magic by changing the thing just enough when we’re looking somewhere else. I’ve seen previous attempts to do what Eddie Campbell wants, from “comix” to “drawn books,” and while I’d never say never or not in a million years, nonetheless: my money’s on “comics.” Sad as it may seem, it’s much, much bigger than the longjohns—and it always would have been, if only we’d known how to look.

Now in the company of these giants who am I? But my money's with Kip. Cause to me it seems what is unique in that art form - the thing that makes it an art form itself (whatever you call it - format? medium? something) is - well - what Kip said, just above what I just quoted: that "all they have to work with is one picture after another". Everything else - the drawing (or photos or whatever), the words, the stories, the plots, the themes and ideas and characters and - getting back to Professor Kakoudaki - even the idea of transition itself - belongs to something else (all of them, maybe, something different, though often overlapping and etc.) What makes it comics (or whathaveyou) is the series of pictures - which exists as much in Rose is Rose as Maus. So - I'm for comics.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Some Ravings on Young Chickenhawks

Here, James Wolcott takes the piss out of a disgusting little shit taking smug pot shots at John Kerry's war service. This youngster - 22 years old - has his own radio show, so nodanger that he'll be headed off to Baghdad to help bring peace and democracy to the middle east. That would be "opportunism" - as he called Kerry's volunteering for service....

Ai-yi-yi. The main offense was saying that if Kerry had really been hurt, he'd be in "a real nice wheelchair" now. It's sad to bring in facts to batter a poor bastard like this Ben person, but I have an uncle who was wounded in WWII. Machine gunned in the legs, if I remember the story right. Who came home, rehabbed, and worked for a living for the next 50 years or so, worked - in the woods, in sawmills, on farms.

It goes without saying that this little dung heap Ben Ferguson isn't about to risk his sorry ass fighting this war he undoubtedly is so hepped up about. That isn't enough to stop him taking shots at a man who did fight in the war he was faced with, and fought with distinction. I am tempted to suspect that this Ferguson creature has never done a lick of work in his useless life either. And if he knew anyone who fought in a war - was wounded in a war - he would not say things like that.

Except - he probably would. The part I don't understand - often, these people do know people who fought, who suffered, who worked - and they still don't care. They still are able to pretend to honor their relatives or friends and yet piss on people like John Kerry or Max Cleland. It is that complete lack of empathy, or willingness to acknowledge what the other guy has done that is fucking us all over, really.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

More Music, in Memorial

It has taken a couple days, but I am coming back to Johnny Ramone. I was heartbroken by the news of his death. That surprised me a bit - I was sad, but not heartbroken when Joey died, and he was a lot more likable. It’s probably the timing - I'd seen the movie, and was writing about the band, thinking about them - and then he died. It hurt - far more than most celebrity deaths (Marlon Brando, say) - almost as much as when my transcendent cultural heroes (Johnny Cash? Charles Schulz?) died.

It’s odd, feeling sentimental about Johnny Ramone. Joey made sense - but Johnny? He was an asshole - no one liked him. He comes off very badly in the film - a sour, mean, bitter man, with a cruel streak - the way he turns to his wife and puts her on the spot about whether there was any tension between him and Joey, and won’t let her get away with uttering a platitude or too. His wife - the woman he took away from Joey, causing that break. Classy. But at the same time, he comes off as someone who knew what he had in the band - who knew, maybe even better than the others, how fucking good they really were (he says in the film that only the Clash were close to them - the only way to dispute that is to note that the Clash aren’t in their league.) He knew what he had, and respected it (The Ramones) immensely, to the point of realizing it was worth more than his petty feuds.

So, yeah, he was an asshole, but he was also a genius. Everyone says he inspired a raft of guitar players - true. And he and his band (but in a lot of ways, that is him - the sound of the band, if not their material, is really Johnny’s guitar, fully formed from the very beginning, pure and unwavering from that point on) did inspire a raft of musicians, making simplicity possible, making it possible for anyone to be in a band. I myself - I fiercely regret that I did not hear them in time. If I had heard them, instead of Kiss, in 1976? Where would I be? Better than I turned out, right? They were cool, they were simple, they were honest, they were perfect.

That is the last word on them: they were a perfect rock band. Very possibly the perfect rock band. And Johnny Ramone was, probably, the perfect rock guitar player.

Now - perfection is not everything - perfect things are not necessarily the best thing. Perfection, purity, these things are limits - not weaknesses, really - but limits. You have to get past perfection at some point, to be the best - so all this sentimentality can’t blind me to the fact that if I were choosing, I’d still take Pere Ubu or the Velvets or the Beatles, possibly P-funk, maybe the Stones... it’s a short list - the bands I like more, or who were “better” than the Ramones - Beatles, Velvets, Pere Ubu, maybe (by some criteria) Beefheart, Can, P-Funk, maybe the Stones, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and the Byrds, maybe Fairport Convention/Richard Thompson, maybe even Bob Dylan - but that is about all. There are guitar players I like more, though that list isn’t much longer: Hendrix (though I don’t listen to him as much, and often feel almost intimidated by him), Thompson definitely, Clarence White and Michio Kurihara (the secrets), maybe Roger McGuinn - Jimmy Page, I’m afraid, Wes Montgomery and probably Charlie Christian, with Pete Cosey, Sonny Sharrock, Michael Karoli lingering around the edges. There could be others.

That’s not as long a list as I thought. I started, the morning he died, as it happened, making a list - my top 10 favorite guitar players of all time:

Richard Thompson
Jimi Hendrix
Jimmy Page
Johnny Ramone
Clarence White
Michio Kurihara
Roger McGuinn
Pete Cosey
Sonny Sharrock
Peter Townshend...

...say. There's Johnny, quite high up there. I was thinking about this stuff before he died - the movie had me thinking about him, and writing about him - which is obviously part of why this news was so devastating. They were on my mind...

So back to the Ramones - their place in the world of rock and roll, my reaction to them. About what they did - their sound, their importance...

The dirty secret is that I am ambivalent about them. I mean, the last 2-3 years, I have gone rather far in the other direction - listening to art bands, from Can and Soft Machine and Van Der Graf Generator to Derek Bailey and Keiji Haino to David Bowie and Radiohead. Yet - I have also gotten into punk a bit more, the edges of punk, bands I did not hear at all the first time around - the Buzzcocks (minimal airplay), Stiff Little Fingers (I had never heard them, knowingly, til I got the record - only 2 or 3 years ago.) Minimalism and avant garde and noise and - those things feed off one another, but they do it in a way that kind of pisses on the rhetoric of punk. I have never trusted its Puritanism (it is not accidental that it devolved into real Puritanism, pretty quickly, with straight edge hardcore and the like), its trashing of what came before. I loved AOR before I heard of punk, and continued to love it after I started liking punk, and still love both... so I don’t know.

Still - it is not really the Ramones I am ambivalent about. I am ambivalent about the propaganda that surrounds punk. You never hear anyone talk about the Ramones without talking about killing off the dinosaurs - and about simplicity and fun as if that were somehow antithetical to “seriousness” or virtuosity. That was not part of the first wave of punk. The Ramones' contemporaries were bands like Television - guitar noodling eggheads; Patti Smith - poetess; the midwest bands - Rocket From the Tombs, The Mirrors, the Electric Eels - coming out of the 60s bands, Stooges, Velvets, MC 5, the garage bands, the art bands (Captain Beefheart, Red Krayola, the Mothers, etc.) It was not monolithic - it was just devoted to freedom, aggression, to expression. The Ramones were part of it - it is a bitter pill to hear them being turned into another force of conformity.

I have to stop somewhere. I have the luxury here in blogland of developing whatever it is I'm saying over time. So I can come back. But I want to finish with this - something I wrote down back when Joey Ramone died. Punk changed everything - but it did more than kill off what was on the radio and replace it. (It didn't really do that - just exposed so much of what was on the radio as the shit it was.) It created plenty new - but it also changed what was already there. After punk - and when I say punk, I mean The Ramones - you could, if you were listening, hear the rock in the bloat of what came before. It didn't so much kill off all the Led Zeppelins and Black Sabbaths of the world as redeem them. Robert Plante once said that "God Saved the Queen" was a slowed down version of "Communication Breakdown" - which it is. But you needed punk to hear it again. It changed the way people listened to heavy metal - after punk, people could hear Bonham's drumming, Sabbath's drive and AC/DC's punch again. That is what punk did for me - I started listening to punk in earnest in the mid-80s - and it sent me as much for my old Zep and AC/DC records as for the punk-derived bands around at the time (The Replacements, Husker Du, Butthole Surfers, The Meat Puppets - my personal mid-80s favorites). I was not alone - as grunge would soon show us...

I am very grateful. Thank you Johnny (and Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy).

Standard Issue Republican Hate-Mongering

Here's another exampel of Republican dirty tricks. Washington Monthly reports that the Republicans are sending campaign letters to voters in West Virginia suggesting that the Democrats will ban the Bible if elected.

The literature shows a Bible with the word "BANNED" across it and a photo of a man, on his knees, placing a ring on the hand of another man with the word "ALLOWED." The mailing tells West Virginians to "vote Republican to protect our families" and defeat the "liberal agenda."

Now, if I were an intelligent (though unscrupulous) republican, this is where I would say, "It's a metaphor, people! it's symbolic of the idea that by passing these laws, antithetical to the bible, the liberals are removing the bible from the public discourse!" I would then add, "sheesh" and go make fun of paranoid democrats with my conservative friends. (I would try to hide the smirk until that point.)

However, that answer is a cheat. Because, in fact, liberals (not all liberals everywhere, of course, but some liberals - not the ones running for president, probably not the ones running for any office in West Virginia) are in fact the ones advocating that gay marriages be allowed. So that part of the mailing is, in fact, literally true (if you discount the fact that the liberals doing this terrible thing are in far off Massachusetts and Northern California and places like that, and are not running for president.) So - if you combine two ideas - banning the bible and allowing gay marriages - and one refers to something that is literally true (in some parts of the country) - can you then claim that the other does not refer to something that is literally true? At which point - since no liberals anywhere are trying to ban the bible, in any literal, symbolic or other sense - doesn't this letter become a base lie and a dirty trick?

The last word then, to an ACT spokesman:

Jim Jordan, a spokesman for America Coming Together, described the mailing as "standard-issue Republican hate-mongering."

Thursday, September 16, 2004

it is the end of the century....

Oh, this sucks! Johnny Ramone is dead? What the fuck? That's the three principals, one a year it seems... that sucks so bad.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Rather Excessive

For amusement, read the blather collected at No More Mr. Nice Blog about the blogorific debunking of the Killian National Guard memos. This kind of thing seems to happen about twice a week -some media outlet does something stupid - a blogger discovers it - everyone piles on - and the New York Times or Washington Post or Boston Globe provide the evidence. And then, from Andrew Sullivan down, every blogger in America (who was part of the piling on) posts that they - the blogosphere - have begun the revolution that will destroy old (Liberal? or so-called liberal?) media and, blah blah blah.

And even I can draw lessons from this fiasco. Lesson #1: even a stopped clock is right twice a day! the right wing bloggers were right for once! They even have facts and truth on their side. If only they had applied their investigative talents to the Swift Boat Liars' stories, which were about as quickly and easily debunked without the assistance of all those internet revolutionaries. Lesson #2: This shouldn't require a huge leap of faith, but who thinks television is a reliable source of news? All the bad things people say about the "media" probably do apply to TV -television is almost inevitably a means of presenting an argument, a story - a conclusion. It is not a place for evaluating evidence - what you see or hear on TV should be supported by evidence from somewhere else. TV is close to useless, yes, it is. Lesson #3: As with the Swift Boat Liars story, the real work was done by the newspapers. If these two stories have shown anything significant about the media, it's the role of newspapers, and reporting, at getting at the truth. TV comes off as pathetic, in both cases - the bloggers come off, really, as down the line partisans, a bunch of people who know very little about the issues under discussion, but have strong opinions which they post with all the confidence of a Counter-Reformation Pope - and the newspapers come off as the places where you can, if you're lucky, maybe find out what's really going on. The bloggers like to claim they make great fact checkers - they don't. What they might do is make enough noise about issues that reporters stay engaged, rather than letting the story slide. Maybe. I don't know for sure. Neither of these stories had much going for them, I guess - it didn't take long to take them apart... So we may not have needed Glen Reynolds on this one....

Now, two broader points. First - it doesn't seem to me that bloggers aer all that likely to do any fact checking. Digby commented on Andrew Sllivan's self-congratulatory bit about how bloggers' advantage is their ability to quickly correct themselves. He says it so I don't have to:

Here on planet earth even if writers correct their errors, readers pick and choose which versions to believe and continue to battle the arcane details long after everyone else has lost interest, clinging to their own version of reality as if it is a life raft. The "transparency" of the blogosphere is as clear as orange juice with pulp. Nobody gets stuff "right." They just get stuff. Errors are sustained forever. The "collective mind" is schizophrenic. The blogosphere demystifies the craft of journalism all right and turns it into an endless self-referential loop of The Osbornes.

They take their credit when they are right, they don't take their lumps when they are wrong. And they make no, real effort, to get past the position they take when they start.

The second point, which may seem to contradict my general mockery of the blogoboosters, is that they might very well be right - there might indeed be a shift in media paradigms. But Sullivan and the people quoted at No More Mr. Nice Blog are claiming that blogs, and the internet, will somehow take the place of the mainstream media we have today. They will do what TV and newspapers do (or are supposed to do.) That is not likely. If they do indeed take the place of other media forms, they will do so not by reporting better than newspapers, but by making what they do - pamphleteering, essentially - replace what newspapers do. I suspect this is a difficult and tangled subject, so I will get out of it as quick as I can. But just the fact that they lump TV and newspapers together is a sign - they are thinking they do what TV and newspapers do - but TV and newspapers already are so different as to be almost impossible to link. So....

UPDATE: Heh heh, just like the real bloggers, I'll "update" this, rather than just repost it, secure in the knowledge that no one but me will ever read it. Um... okay.

There is a third point, probably the most important one. It is this: the Killian memos made no difference whatsoever. They offered the possibility of pretty clear proof that George Bush went AWOL in 1973 and got away with it because his daddy pulled strings. But this case was pretty strong before the memos appeared, and remains just as strong now. Just that, having introduced those fakes into the debate, the right will be able to attack anything that appears against Bush as fake. This is why people form Karl Rove conspiracy theories about these memos - because it inoculates Bush against other documents, and other evidence and stories. For example - and is the timing just a coincidence? - the Kitty Kelley book.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Worse than Hopeless

Adding a bit to the last note, here's an excerpt from Matthew Yglesias' column in The American Prospect, reminding us that there may be worse things than Bush's policy toward North Korea:

The last of the unstated reasons, however, is by far the worst. Apparently, the governments of Israel and Pakistan weren't big on making an enforceable treaty because they want to expand their arsenals and Bush wasn't too hot on putting capital into overriding their objections. Ah, Pakistan. The land of the pure. Also the land of egregious violations of non-proliferation norms, the land where the military sponsors terrorist organizations, the land that helped organize and sponsor the Taliban, the land that helped set Osama bin Laden up in Afghanistan, and the land whose intelligence services are shot through with al-Qaeda sympathizers. Just the sort of place you'd think we should be helping to get some more nuclear weapons.

There's a good deal more of the same in there. As he puts it on his blog: "Now in a rational world the Bush non-proliferation record would be all she wrote as far as national security concerns." There you go.


What is so depressing about stories like this is how completely fake George Bush is. (Digby's Blog provides the link... )

"Bush has his flaws," says Ted Stout, 39, who runs a bus company in Scranton, Pa., where Bush and Kerry made stops after their respective conventions. "But there's no question that when he says he's going to do something, he does it. That's what I like about him." Stout, waiting to bowl on league night at Scranton's Southside Bowl, adds: "He might seem a little dull-witted, but he's an average person. He makes the right decisions when he needs to."

Sporty. "We can't be girlie men" about the war on terror, says Michael Bidwell, a 38-year-old Republican dining at Scranton's Stadium Club with three male coworkers. "We need to go after terrorism. Terrorism isn't going to go away, and we can't put a blanket over it." Bidwell says he has a son and a daughter serving in the Middle East and adds: "I don't want to see them over there on a mission that's not finished." Steve Pasternak, a retired utility worker standing among "Sportsmen for Bush" signs at a pro-Bush rally in Johnstown, Pa., says he will vote for the president "because he thinks like sportsmen do. He's a hunter going after the people who need to be hunted."

It's terrible. It's sad. These guys look at Bush and see what they want to see, what Bush tells them to see - not what's there. Bush, a regular guy? George Bush? Of the Kennebunkport Bushes? With his toy ranch and his powerboats and his Segway? That George Bush? And Bush is decisive? George Bush is not decisive - he has never been, except deciding to invade Iraq, without provocation, reason, and in spite of the (purported) urgency of the "War on Terror." Maybe nothing he has done has been as weak and indecisive as his behavior toward North Korea - which is disgraceful in the extreme - but what has he done that showed any guts? Even Iraq, he didn't have the guts to rick losing the argument for the war - he lied about it, bullied the press into ignoring the fact that he was lying until we were neck deep in the shifting sand...

This stuff drives me crazy. All this bluster about Bush's "manliness" - "strength" - "decisiveness" - if decisive means, choosing based ont he polls and pandering to the Religious Right, then he's decisive. This was going around the blogs a few weeks ago - MAtthew Yglesias had an article in The American Prospect about the effect of Bush's being - well, our friend the white guy put it best - "a little dull-witted" - on his ability to make a decision (or get anyone around him to make a decision.) Stupidity, incuriosity, mixed with that sense of entitlement, the pure love of power, and the desperate need to constantly look tough - god, what a disaster....

But somehow this comes off as decisive. A man unable to think of anything to do for 7 minutes after learning that someone had blown up 2 buildings in New York City - who sits there looking like a little kid watching his parents have a fight - is somehow considered decisive. Tough. Tougher than the actual war hero. And people buy this bullshit.

I feel lost.

Monday, September 13, 2004

End of the Century

The release of End of the Century, a documentary devoted to America's greatest rock and roll band, The Ramones provides an excuse to write about music.

Hard to say what I have to add. I am listening to the Talking Heads right now - The Name of this band is the Talking Heads. Adrian Belew making strange noises on guitar. The rest of the band banging away that white boy funk they did in the early 80s. They are a band I am not sure what I think of. Moments of glory, lots of stuff that's just witty drab new wave, a few songs in the middle, when they sound like a watered down version of Pere Ubu or the Gang of Four.

Punk: I heard it late, and probably didn't really hear punk for a while - what I heard first were bands like the Talking Heads, Elvis Costello - The Cars, if that counts (and probably it does, in some sense.) I don't know what the first punk song I ever heard was. Probably "Train in Vain" - I knew the Clash was a punk band, heard that - thought, this is not so strange - this is just a bit rougher version of Tom Petty or Neil Young - this is pretty good! And then I heard "Lost in a Supermarket" and thought this is even more so than the last... And then I heard "London Calling" - that's when I realized what people were talking about with punk.

The Ramones I didn't hear until End of the Century came out - "Rock and Roll Radio". I found it to be just about exactly what it was meant to be - those big melodies, the big sound - I loved it, without thinking it was anything but just a great little updating of all those old pop classics you heard on oldies stations. When I was youngr than that, I rather liked bands like The Bay City Rollers, Shawn Cassidy - those cheesy pseudo Rock 'n' Roll teeny bopper bands... The Ramones struck me as making music like that that was, unlike theirs, original (in both the sense that they wrote it and the sense that, even playing this old fashioned sound, they sounded brand new, and completely real), and absolutely legit. None of the calculated crowd -pleasing - the feeling I got from the Ramones was of a bunch of guys who absolutely worshipped the music they were playing and were trying to express pure glee with it.

It is strange - it is hard to believe, thinking about it - the poor Ramones, never had a real hit - nothing huge. Nothing like, oh - "We Will Rock You". They never sold the records - but within a year or so, that song - "Rock and Roll Radio" was as inescapably part of the universal pop culture as "We Will Rock You" - just, somehow, divorced from the Ramones themselves... And while maybe nothing else from the Ramones has reached that level of popular penetration, their music has permeated pop culture. Everyone knows them, loves them, takes them - took them - for granted...

Sometime in 1980, the radio stations where I lived got cool. I don't know when or why or how, but that year, I heard everything - I heard the Ramones, the Clash, the Talking Heads and Blondie and The Cars and Elvis Costello and The Police, I heard the B-52s, Split Enz, The Vapors, Sniff and the Tears, The Greg Kinh Band, U2 - all of this alongiside, on the same station, I think, as all the AOR stuff around. Zep and the Doors and Stone and Hendrix - and a good dose of Bruce and Lou Reed... not to neglect Southern Rock - crappy metal (Ozzie, Ronnie James Dio, Def Leppard, The Priest) - party rock (George Thorogood) - art rock (Steely Dan to ELP)... This did not last that long. Radio in Boston, in 1981 or so, was similar - less classic rock, more punk, new wave, and edgier punk and new wave (you could hear Soft Cell and the Damned in those days... the FCC was not so curious - you could hear "Jet Boy, Jet Girl" on the radio...) All this stuff layered on top of my fairly well established AOR music tastes - I liked a lot of the newer stuff, though I still separated it from the old stuff. That started to change as U2, REM, and eventually groups like the Replacements and Husker Du entered my consciousness....

But the Ramones - yes, the Ramones. Somewhere in here (80 or so) the radio started playing older stuff - "I Wanna Be Sedated" - sometimes "Sheena is a Punk Rocker", covers - "Do You Wanna Dance", "Needles and Pins" - very rarely, though, anything deeper, harder than that. Much later I heard those songs - and then a buddy of mine got Ramones Mania, and we wore the tape out, driving around listening to it over and over. And so... years after that, on a drive to New Jersey with some people, we had only 2 CDs in the car, and listened to Rocket to Russia through 3 or 4 times - that was a very good thing. It does not wear out its welcome. Every time "Cretin Hop" kicks in, you think - should I tell them to turn it off? Why should I? who's going to regret hearing this again? And so - again....

This has been a rambling, pointless post. I will end it with some comments on the movie. It is, of course, a blast - hearing the stories, the songs, seeing the boys playing... And as always, seeing and hearing them play is a revelation. Someone in the movie said, they got so they could play their songs as tight as if they'd lived in New Orleans all their lives. That is true. They are so sharp, so tight, so dead on, all the time, they are amazing. I am not generally a minimalist, in anything - I like long, complicated, weird stuff - that goes for music as much as anything. And I am not all that impressed by purity - impure things are almost always more interesting than pure things. Perfection is usually not as interesting as a mess. But the Ramones were perfect - they figured out something that had to be done, and did it perfectly for 20 years. In the process - in terms of accomplishment - in terms of the quality of their work, their influence on music and the world, their personal integrity as musicians (though they may have been bastards as people - Johnny at least - holy crp, the pooor man comes off bad in this film - but in a way that you almost respect him for - for knowing what he had, for knowing how to make it work, and he himself seemed to understand, everything else is secondary) - they came out as one of the very short list of great American musical acts. Johnny Cash might be their only better...

Thursday, September 09, 2004

One more reason the poor will always be with us

Slacktivist with a story here about a Texas utility company planning tro charge higher rates for people with bad credit history. I don't know. Credit ratinghs are one thing for credit, but using them to determine how much goods and services cost? which this is? Lord. It'll make you think happy thoughts about nationalization - or would, if there was any sign the government was less corrupt than businesses like this.

Friday, September 03, 2004

What now?

haven't been posting much lately have I? What can I say? I have nothing really to say about the RNC - a ghastly affair, I imagine - not that I watched any of it. Zell Miller was a big hit I guess. Michael Berube, fortunately, kept us all informed though. Lots of posturing and ranting and the GOP's patented vexed relationship with the truth. Take this representative note from TAPPED:

UP IS DOWN. Two parts of the president's speech last night struck me as emblematic of the his administration's pervasive up-is-downism. The first was where Bush, quite baldly, tried to position himself as the guy who respected our allies, and John Kerry as the guy who was nasty to them. "In the midst of war, he has called America's allies, quote, a 'coalition of the coerced and the bribed.' That would be nations like Great Britain, Poland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, El Salvador, Australia, and others allies that deserve the respect of all Americans, not the scorn of a politician." (Of course, as this Associated Press article pointed out, none of them except for Great Britain is actually putting significant numbers of men on the ground.) The other was when Bush -- who deployed thousands of troops to Iraq without up-to-date body armor or plating for their Humvees -- accused Kerry of being against those same disbursements.

These kinds of deceptions are, of course, nothing compared to the "make shit up" strategy employed by Zell Miller, Mitt Romney, George Pataki, and Rudy Giuliani. Beware any sentence beginning "John Kerry says..."

So what does it mean? I can't tell you - I can't understand how politics work. The Swift Boat Vets came out of nowhere, lied throught heir teeth, were more or less completely debunked by all the major papers - but stiill seem to have raised doubts about Kerry. What doubts? It is stunning to me that tghey can have any effect - nothing they said passed the smell test up front - this isn't Tim Johnson making up stories about fighting in Vietnam. Kerry's record has been well documented, from the beginning - he has been a public figure for 30 plus years, and this stuff never got past the smear level in all that time. How do you contradict the public record and have people believe you? and then have your story come apart - the guys who weren't there, the guy who contradict their own medals, the ties to Nixon and then Bush... I don't know. You have to wonder.