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A Victory for Liberty

Even a conservative-leaning Supreme Court can't stomach Bush's absolute-power doctrine. Now we're getting somewhere.

High Court Deals Blow to Bush's War on Terror
By James Vicini, Reuters

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court placed the first limits on President Bush's war on terrorism on Monday when it ruled that terror suspects can use the American judicial system to challenge their confinement.

The rulings, the first the court has made on Bush's anti-terrorism policies, marked a defeat for the president's assertion of sweeping powers to indefinitely hold "enemy combatants" after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In one ruling, the court said the nearly 600 foreign terror suspects held for two years at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba could turn to American courts to challenge their confinement. In another ruling, it said an American terror suspect held in his nation is entitled to a chance to contest the government's decision.

"Today's historic rulings are a strong repudiation of the administration's argument that its actions in the war on terrorism are beyond the rule of law and unreviewable by American courts," Steven Shapiro of the American Civil Liberties Union said.

(Full article)

June 29, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Does Cheney Kiss His Mom With That Mouth?

The esteemed Juan Cole suggests that Dick Cheney should be fined for public indecency. Even Stern gets bleeped out when he utters such crudities.

Howard Stern no doubt feels better when he gets some blue language off his chest, too. So I propose that Mr. Cheney be made to pay $275,000 for fouling the air of the Senate in the way that he did.

June 29, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Die

High praise is in order for my most recent zine discovery, The Die. This Maryland-based periodical, finely written by Joe Smith, is a very thoughtful look at contemporary culture. The Spring 2004 issue includes a very good essay entitled "The Fate of Solitude in an Electronic Age," Smith's pointed response to Sven Birkerts' diatribe of modern woe The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, thoughts on Walter Kaufman's writings on existentialism, several troubling reports of neocon thought-policing, and plentiful zine reviews which are already prompting further reading on my part.

The Die is available for free from Joe's publishing concern, Red Roach Press. But don't be a cheap bastard--send him a donation of cash or postage stamps when you request a copy.

June 29, 2004 in Zines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Short Short Fiction

As much as I hate the name of the genre--it always makes me think of those awful Nair commericals from the 70s--I submitted a piece to The Guardian for this contest. As always, I'll post it to Writings if and when it gets rejected.

Anything to be associated with literary darling and fellow UofI alum Dave Eggers...though if I win, I'll conveniently fail to mention that I've yet to bother reading his contribution to the debut edition of The Ninth Letter. In fact, with our recent move, I'm not even sure where my copy is.

June 28, 2004 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Eliminate the Electoral College!

I don't agree with Jesse Jackson on many of his positions, but this time he's dead-on correct:

"We need an amendment...to make sure every American has a right to vote individually and directly for the president, not through the Electoral College. The idea of an Electoral College is an aristocratic idea that you can't trust the people."

The Electoral College served its purpose once, long ago, when voters were infinitely less well-informed about national political candidates than they are now. But with the pervasiveness of media coverage today, there's no reason for surrogates to do our voting for us. The Electoral College is an anachronism that has long outlived its usefulness and needs to be brought to an end.

June 28, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jack Ryan

Writing about Jack Ryan's fall from grace, Phil Kadner of the Daily Southtown came up with this beauty:

After his victory in the Republican primary, leaders in his own party asked him if there was anything they should know about the secret court documents.

Ryan assured them there was nothing embarrassing.

They defended Ryan. They stood by him.

As members of the political party that has tried to portray itself as the defender of conventional marriage and family values, they don't much like the image of a leather-clad, whip-toting GOP elephant shouting, "Master says, touch my trunk."

June 23, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)

Happy Birthday, Cursed Typewriter

So why isn't Sholes the patron saint/bogeyman of starving writers everywhere? From The Writer's Almanac:

On this day in 1868, the first typewriter was patented by Chistopher Latham Sholes. It only had capital letters and it took up as much room as a large table. Typists didn't know if they were making errors because the paper was inside the machine. Typewriters were slow sellers at first, but Mark Twain bought one almost as soon as they came out, and in 1883 Twain sent the manuscript of his book Life on the Mississippi (1883) to his publisher in typed form, the first author ever to do so.

June 23, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Boy Scout Handbook

Oxford University Press has re-issued Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship (a/k/a "The Boy Scout Handbook") by Robert Baden-Powell, which was first published in 1908. (W. David Myers reviews in today's Tribune.)

Some of Baden-Powell's descriptions are quite fascinating, particularly when he laments the English becoming a nation of soccer fans:

Thousands of boys and young men, pale, narrow-chested, hunched-up, miserable specimens, smoking endless cigarettes, numbers of them betting, all of them learning to be hysterical as they groan or cheer in panic unison with their neighbours.
But for the most part, the aristocrat Baden-Powell wasn't particularly enlightened, as illustrated most vividly when he praises bees:
"They are quite a model community, for they respect their Queen and kill their unemployed."

June 20, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Zine Snapshot

To Have and to Hold
Natural Disasters
Burn Collector
Duplex Planet
Philadelphia Independent
The First Line
The Die

To Pass Along
The Minus Times
Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wrislet

To Discover
The Toucan
Underworld Crawl
The Future Generation
Bob Zine

To Lament
Beer Frame
night rally

June 19, 2004 in Zines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fun on the Red Line

Here's a particularly amusing anecdote from a ride on the CTA's Red Line train.

This Is Grand is a pretty interesting site--the editor, Jonathan Messinger, invited me to write for them, but I had to decline since I have few memorable CTA experiences due to the fact that I worked in the suburbs when I lived in the city, and vice versa now. But if they ever expand into Metra stories, I might be able to help out.

June 18, 2004 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Prison Abuse Continues

Hmmm...didn't the Bush administration say that the prisoner abuse at Abu Gharib was just an isolated incident perpetrated by a few low-level individuals? So doesn't that mean that prisoners are being properly treated everywhere else? From the Center for American Progress:

Guardsman Posing As Prisoner Brutally Beaten
Guardsman Sean Baker's experience raises serious questions about the charges of abuse in U.S.-run prisons. Sean Baker was a member of the Kentucky National Gaurd unit "assigned to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." While at Guantanamo, Baker "volunteered to put on an orange prison jumpsuit and portray an uncooperative detainee in a training drill." But a five man "immediate response force" was not told of the exercise and Baker was "choked and beaten by fellow [military police] on the steel floor of a 6-by-8 prison cell." Despite yelling the code word ("red") and repeatedly telling his assailants he was a U.S. soldier the beating continued "until the jumpsuit was yanked down in the struggle, revealing his military uniform." Baker suffered serious injuries requiring a 48-day stay at Walter Reed Hospital. According to a September 2003 physical evaluation, "TBI [traumatic brain injury] was due to [the] soldier playing [a] role of [a] detainee who was noncooperative and was being extracted from detention cell in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a training exercise." Baker also suffers from "seizures caused by the beating."

June 18, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Beer and Books

So much for the idea of Wisconsin being uncivilized. Um, Julie, I know we just bought the house of our dreams, but can we please move to Richland Center? (Via Maud.)

Wisconsin Bookstore Quenches the Thirsty Mind
This past summer in Richland Center, Wisconsin, Jodee Hosmanek was contemplating a career change. She wanted to leave her position as a high school chemistry and biology teacher, but didn't have a game plan. On August 17, she decided she was going to pursue her lifelong dream of owning a bookstore. By August 27, she had bought the building to house it. And on November 24 she opened Ocooch Books & Libations, a bookstore that also sells microbrewed beer, wine, and single malt scotch.

(Full article)

June 16, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Literary Humor...

...is not an oxymoron, I assure you. From BookBrowse:

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.

She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"

"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."

June 16, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)



I failed to win this caption contest at Bookninja, but I'm still rather pleased with my entry:

"But, hey, I guess you need to take care of some business here. Reciting my Icelandic saga homage to you can always wait."

June 14, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

Howlin' Wolf

Although it apparently has its problems ("Since it's essential reading, it's heartbreaking that it's not more readable."), Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman is yet another addition to my to-read pile. Wolf is one of my musical heroes ("Smokestack Lightning" still gives me shivers), the only entertainer whose gravesite I've bothered to visit.

''When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said: 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.''' --Sam Phillips

June 13, 2004 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Medicare and Food Stamps

From today's New York Times:

By Robert Pear

WASHINGTON, June 12 - The Bush administration said Saturday that it would rescind a federal policy that threatened to cut food stamp benefits for several million low-income elderly and disabled people who save money on their medicines by using the new Medicare drug discount cards.

The administration's reversal came two days before President Bush was scheduled to visit Missouri to promote use of the cards, which have received a tepid reaction from many Medicare beneficiaries.

Gee, what compassionate conservatives they are. Deciding to not take food out of the mouths of the elderly who can't afford medication due to the heartless profit motive of the big drug companies who so generously support the Bush reelection campaign.

Actually, if the administration wants to cut food stamp benefits just for the people who save money using the new Medicare drug cards, that shouldn't be a problem--because, from what I've read, those people simply don't exist.

June 13, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bush-Atkins 2004

A sad comment on the state of the U.S. populace (via Maud):

"You can be apolitical, but being thin and fit—that’s something that makes a permanent difference...More people want to look fit than sound politically opportune." --Stuart Applebaum, Random House

Oh, don't worry...Bush will also make a permanent difference if he gets re-elected. That's what scares me.

June 11, 2004 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Father Damen

Here's an old essay from the archives (7/27/96). Thanks to Alice for jogging my memory.

Forgive me, Father Damen, for I have moved to within a few blocks of your namesake street, and I know nothing of your works and what you mean to this city. I live in a generation in which history means nothing, where we are ignorant of what went on before and continue to make the mistakes we could have avoided had we only known the exact same mistakes have been made before. Mistakes are often referred to as learning experiences, but the mistakes of the past do nothing to educate us today, since we are so focused on the now (vainly believing that we are entirely unique, that no one has experienced that which we experience today) that looking back just a few years doesn't seem worth our while.

Your name still exists vaguely in our consciousness, but only because of the white-on-green signs that mark every street corner. Were it not for streets and schools, you and the other pioneers would exist only in the dusty and untouched corners of the local public library branch. Kinzie, Altgeld, Du Sable, Damen. If your names register at all, the thought consists of the image of a street sign. A few of us know of you, but any attempt to inform others labels us as slightly brainy eccentrics, bearers of nothing more than mildly interesting trivia.

June 11, 2004 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fighting Alzheimer's

Bravo, Nancy. From the Center for American Progress:

President Ronald Reagan's battle with Alzheimer's has motivated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to call on President Bush to reverse his deeply flawed stem cell policy as a true monument to the 40th president. In recent years, first lady Nancy Reagan has become a staunch advocate for embryonic stem-cell research, which leading scientists believe could be the key to breakthroughs in treatment for Alzheimer's disease as well as for other ailments such as spinal injuries, Parkinson's and diabetes. Although much of Mrs. Reagan's work has been behind the scenes, last month she finally spoke out, saying, "Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him. Because of this, I'm determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain. I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this."

I would imagine that Dubya would quickly reverse his position if his dad were to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's. He seems completely incapable of acting outside of his own narrow self-interest. But I'm obviously not wishing Alzheimer's on his dad--instead, let's hope that Dubya's urgency to thought of as Reagan's ideological heir will prompt him to start unreservedly supporting stem-cell research in light of Nancy's stance.

June 11, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Letter to Ashcroft

I took the advice of the Center for American Progress, and sent an email to John Ashcroft demanding that he release the Justice Department interrogation/torture briefing that he's refusing to give to Congress. I didn't save the email, but I did get this auto-reply from DOJ:

Thank you for contacting the Department of Justice. This is an automatic acknowledgement that your e-mail was received. It will be reviewed in the order it was received.

I'm a bit surprised they didn't also say "You have been formally added to our Enemies List" or "Don't bother locking your front door tonight."

June 9, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Robert Quine

Punk rock guitar hero Robert Quine has died of a heroin overdose, at age 61. His lead guitar work on Richard Hell & the Voidoids' "Blank Generation" was particularly phenomenal, but he also contributed significantly to two more of my favorite albums--Lou Reed's New Sensations and Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend--along with albums by Tom Waits, Lloyd Cole, John Zorn and Marianne Faithfull, among others.

"Robert Quine was a magnificent guitar player--an original and innovative tyro of the vintage beast. He was an extraordinary mixture of taste, intelligence and rock 'n' roll abilities coupled with major technique and a scholar's memory for every decent guitar lick ever played under the musical sun. He made tapes for me for which I am eternally grateful--tapes of the juiciest parts of solos from players long gone. Quine was smarter than them all. And the proof is in the recordings, some of which happily are mine." --Lou Reed

(Full story)

June 8, 2004 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Azar = Audi

Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, is experiencing the pitfalls of success. The oddest quote was from ad exec Dan Brown:

"Azar is to literature what Audi is to cars."

Meaning...what, exactly? Overpriced? Unreliable?

June 8, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Taking a Heartbroken Three-Day Weekend

My, how thoughtful of them. On a Friday, no less.

U.S. Markets to Shut Friday for Reagan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Many U.S. financial markets said they will close this Friday to mark the death of former President Ronald Reagan. (Full story)

No truth to the rumor that Bush will honor Reagan in his own special way--by ballooning the budget deficit by another hundred billion, joking light-heartedly about nuking Russia and bringing back Ollie North to shred the Constitution.

June 7, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Shameless Publishing Ploy

85%...or 99% if it's Bridget Jones.

And, the Number One Reason to Read Books Is...

LONDON (Reuters) - In a bid to lure men in Britain away from TV soccer games and into book shops, publisher Penguin Books will send out a sexy model to offer 1,000-pound ($1,837) prizes to males spotted reading a selected title.

The publicity ploy, launched Monday, aims to boost sales among men, who on average buy fewer books than women.

"It's to sex up the book industry, which probably needs it, but also to address the more serious issue that reading has fallen off the radar of younger men," said Neil Griffiths, author of Penguin-published "Betrayal in Naples."

Penguin's so-called Good Booking Girl will canvass the streets this month for men older than 16 years reading versions of Nick Hornby's "31 Songs" that bear a special cover sticker.

A different title will be chosen each month.

At the same time, Penguin, a unit of Pearson Plc, released results of a poll in which 85 percent of women said a man could increase his chances of getting a date by talking about a favorite book.

By contrast, more than half the men polled said they believed that flattering a woman would suffice to impress her.

An accompanying Good Booking chart of 40 books recommends such lad-friendly Penguin titles as Anthony Burgess' violence-filled "A Clockwork Orange," Raymond Chandler's noir thriller "The Big Sleep" and Jack Kerouac's beat odyssey "On the Road."

June 7, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Footnote on the Military Draft

Buried in the news about whether or not a military draft will be reinstated just after the November election (as is currently rumored) is this curious statement on the Selective Service System's website:

"...both the President and the Secretary of Defense have stated on more than one occasion that there is no need for a draft for the War on Terrorism or any likely contingency, such as Iraq."

I find it rather interesting that Selective Service is making a clear distinction between "the War on Terrorism" and the conflict in Iraq. Bush and Rumsfeld certainly are saying no such thing. I'm guessing that heads will soon roll at Selective Service over their unfortunate use of the word "or" in the above statement.

June 7, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kill the Juggermart, Part 2

The Chicago City Council's recent decision to allow one, and eventually maybe a second, Wal-Mart store within the city limits prompted another excellent article by the esteemed Ramsin Canon in Gapers Block. Yours truly even joined the fray.

June 3, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


Renowned cartoonist Art Spiegelman, who is best known for the incomparable Maus, is getting back into cartooning with the September release of In The Shadow of No Towers, his impassioned reflections on 9/11 and its aftermath. (Nice preview article here.)

I can't remember the last time I anticipated a book release so eagerly. This one is not to be missed.

June 2, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bush's Bait and Switch

We're increasing funding for all these programs in 2005--see how compassionate we are? Please just ignore the fact that we'll be cutting them back again in 2006, after the election! This administration's deviousness seems to know no limit.

(To be completely accurate, "national priorities" should be replaced with "George Bush's priorities" in that final paragraph. Bush would like to think the two terms are synonymous, but it's becoming ever more clear that this isn't the case. Also, please note that "upward redistribution of income" was carefully omitted from the list.)

Per a Washington Post article from last week:

The White House put government agencies on notice this month that if President Bush is reelected, his budget for 2006 may include spending cuts for virtually all agencies in charge of domestic programs, including education, homeland security and others that the president backed in this campaign year.

Administration officials had dismissed the significance of the proposed cuts when they surfaced in February as part of an internal White House budget office computer printout. At the time, officials said the cuts were based on a formula and did not accurately reflect administration policy. But a May 19 White House budget memorandum obtained by The Washington Post said that agencies should assume the spending levels in that printout when they prepare their fiscal 2006 budgets this summer.


The funding levels referred to in the memo would be a tiny slice out of the federal budget -- $2.3 billion, or 0.56 percent, out of the $412.7 billion requested for fiscal 2005 for domestic programs and homeland security that is subject to Congress's annual discretion.

But the cuts are politically sensitive, targeting popular programs that Bush has been touting on the campaign trail. The Education Department; a nutrition program for women, infants and children; Head Start; and homeownership, job-training, medical research and science programs all face cuts in 2006.

"Despite [administration] denials, this memorandum confirms what we suspected all along," said Thomas S. Kahn, Democratic staff director on the House Budget Committee. "Next February, the administration plans to propose spending cuts in key government services to pay for oversized tax cuts."


The administration has widely touted a $1.7 billion increase in discretionary funding for the Education Department in its 2005 budget, but the 2006 guidance would pare that back by $1.5 billion. The Department of Veterans Affairs is scheduled to get a $519 million spending increase in 2005, to $29.7 billion, and a $910 million cut in 2006 that would bring its budget below the 2004 level.

Also slated for cuts are the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, the Small Business Administration, the Transportation Department, the Social Security Administration, the Interior Department and the Army Corps of Engineers.


The Women, Infants and Children nutrition program was funded at $4.7 billion for the fiscal year beginning in October, enough to serve the 7.9 million people expected to be eligible. But in 2006, the program would be cut by $122 million. Head Start, the early-childhood education program for the poor, would lose $177 million, or 2.5 percent of its budget, in fiscal 2006.

The $78 million funding increase that Bush has touted for a homeownership program in 2005 would be nearly reversed in 2006 with a $53 million cut. National Institutes of Health spending would be cut 2.1 percent in 2006, to $28 billion, after a $764 million increase for 2005 that brought the NIH budget to $28.6 billion.

Even homeland security -- a centerpiece of the Bush reelection campaign -- would be affected. Funding would slip in 2006 by $1 billion, to $29.6 billion, although that would still be considerably higher than the $26.6 billion devoted to that field in 2004.


"Continuing the strategy of last year's Budget, the 2006 Budget will constrain discretionary and mandatory spending while supporting national priorities: winning the war on terror, protecting the homeland, and strengthening the economy," the memo states.

June 1, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Quantifying New Yorker Fiction

A Princeton undergrad, Katherine Milkman, did as her thesis a statistical analysis of the types of fiction pieces published in The New Yorker between 1992 and 2001. Whether the old adage "figures lie, and liars figure" applies here depends on one's belief in raw numbers.

The number of male authors rose to 70 percent under Mr. (Bill) Buford, compared with 57 percent under Mr. (Charles) McGrath. She also found that Mr. Buford was much more likely to publish stories set in the New York area: the number of stories set in the mid-Atlantic region rose to 37 percent under Mr. Buford, compared with 19 percent under Mr. McGrath. The study also found that the first-person voice rose mightily under Mr. Buford, which may reflect the growth of memoir in the 90's more than anything else.

Under both editors the fiction in the magazine took as its major preoccupations sex, relationships, death, family and travel. Mr. Buford was relatively more interested in sex, a topic in 47 percent of the stories he published as opposed to 35 percent under Mr. McGrath. Mr. McGrath's authors tended to deal with one of the occasional consequences of that act, children, more frequently than Mr. Buford's writers: 36 percent under Mr. McGrath, 26 percent under Mr. Buford. (History, homosexuality and politics all tied for the attentions of Mr. Buford at a lowly 4 percent.)

June 1, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

H.L. Mencken on Artists

From The Artist:

"The special quality which makes an artist...might almost be defined, indeed, as an extraordinary capacity for irritation, a pathological sensitiveness to environmental pricks and stings. He differs from the rest of us mainly because he reacts sharply and in an uncommon manner to phenomena which leave the rest of us unmoved, or, at most, merely annoy us vaguely. He is, in brief, a more delicate fellow than we are, and hence less fitted to prosper and enjoy himself under the conditions of life which he and we must face alike. Therefore, he takes to artistic endeavor, which is at once a criticism of life and an attempt to escape from life."

June 1, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)