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Musicians for Kerry

This month, Rolling Stone has commentary from an interesting cross-section of musicians on why John Kerry is the overwhelmingly better candidate for President. Some highlights:

Jeff Tweedy, Wilco: "I agree that Kerry has flip-flopped on some ideas, but I take that as a sign of intelligence. I trust someone more if he re-examines his positions and has the ability to be introspective. There's no end to the horrific things you can do when you believe you're always right."

Mike Mills, R.E.M.: "Kerry understands how the world works, in a way that Bush does not. When Bush ran the first time, I realized something: I want my president to be smarter than I am. I don't ask much, but I want him to be smarter than me."

Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam: "We have to stop treating the rest of the world like our subjects. What is the only institution more powerful than the United States government - one that can move things in a different direction? It's the American people. It's the voters."

Bob Weir, The Grateful Dead: "Harry Truman said that the one crime more heinous than treason is war profiteering, and yet we have the company that our vice president is still on retainer to - which is illegal - making a huge fortune. Every time the terrorists blow up another pipeline over there, Halliburton makes millions of dollars pasting it back together. They don't even have to be pumping oil to be making money. This is who owns our government now."

Art Alexakis, Everclear: "The Republicans refuse to talk about issues - they just try and make people who are Christians believe that Bush is the only choice. As a Christian, I am offended and ashamed by that - but then again, I am offended and ashamed by most people who call themselves Christian."

Mike D, The Beastie Boys: "John Kerry offers the promise of returning to the democratic system I was brought up believing in."

Fat Mike, NOFX: "I'll take my chances with the guy that's backed by the Sierra Club rather than Halliburton."

For the full comments of each of these musicians, and others (Dave Matthews and Boyd Tinsley of Dave Matthews Band, Natalie Maines of Dixie Chicks, Ryan Key of Yellowcard, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Adam Levine of Maroon 5, Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys, Alicia Keys, John Mellencamp, Melissa Etheridge, Tom DeLonge of Blink-182, Serj Tankian of System of a Down, Steve Earle, Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, Will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas, Moby, Jadakiss, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, and Jackson Browne), see the full article here, plus a longer interview with Bruce Springsteen here.

Very thought-provoking.

September 30, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

A True Patriot

Steve Brozak has seen war up close, recognizes that U.S. policy is disastrously wrong, and is brave enough to speak out about it and take action. Sounds a lot like John Kerry.

A candidate who has actually served in the Middle East during the Iraq war, Brozak has seen the quagmire up close. A dark-haired, broad-shouldered man, he has a deep, authoritative voice and enunciates crisply -- it's easy to imagine him in uniform, barking orders. When he speaks of the Bush administration, though, it's with the stunned incredulousness of one who's seen all his assumptions about the world upended. Before the war, Brozak says, he wanted to believe his president. It barely occurred to him not to. Now, his voice gets heated when he talks about Iraq, which is the subject he talks about most. "There were no weapons of mass destruction," he says. "There was no planning, just this sense of arrogance and contempt by the civilians in this administration."

September 30, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Liberty Makes a Comeback

Freedom fights back. Kudos to the ACLU for their tireless efforts.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero ruled that surveillance powers granted to the FBI under the Patriot Act, a cornerstone of the U.S. war on terror, were unconstitutional.

In the first decision against a surveillance portion of the act, Marrero ruled for the American Civil Liberties Union in its challenge against what it called "unchecked power" by the FBI to demand secret customer records from communication companies, such as Internet service providers or telephone companies.

Ashcroft, not surprisingly, is defiant and will undoubtedly fight this tooth-and-nail. Or, more accurately, beak-and-talon.

September 30, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

"A Figure of Such Moral Vacancy..."

E.L. Doctorow rather eloquently dissects George Bush.

He will say in all sincerity he is relieving the wealthiest 1 percent of the population of their tax burden for the sake of the rest of us, and that he is polluting the air we breathe for the sake of our economy, and that he is decreasing the quality of air in coal mines to save the coal miners' jobs, and that he is depriving workers of their time-and-a-half benefits for overtime because this is actually a way to honor them by raising them into the professional class.

And this litany of lies he will versify with reverences for God and the flag and democracy, when just what he and his party are doing to our democracy is choking the life out of it.

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

More William Trevor

After reading yet another strong review of William Trevor's new story collection A Bit on the Side by Lynn Freed in the New York Times ("Year after year they come, novels, collections of stories like these--treasures of gorgeous writing, brilliant dialogue and unforgettable lives."), I browsed through the Times' "First Chapters" archive, hoping it would include a story from this collection.

No luck, but I did stumble across first chapters from two Trevor novels, Death in Summer and The Hill Bachelors. I found both rather intriguing, particularly the former. "Gorgeous writing," indeed; both excerpts are well worth going through the Times' free (and generally non-invasive) registration process.

(10/8/04) Upon further review, The Hill Bachelors is a short story collection, not a novel, and the NYT excerpt is a complete short story entitled "Three People." Highly recommended.

September 28, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Says It All

"Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But that was not in and of itself a reason to go to war. The satisfaction that we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure.

Iraq was a profound diversion from that war and from our greatest enemy, Osama bin Laden and the terrorists. Invading Iraq has created a crisis of historic proportions. And if we do not change course, there is the prospect of a war with no end in sight. . . . Let me put it plainly: The president's policy in Iraq has not strengthened our national security. It has weakened it."

--John Kerry

September 27, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Don't Judge a Bookstore by its Cover

Based on two recent experiences, I'd say there's hope for used bookstores after all. And I've also re-learned the concept of not prejudging a bookstore by my initial impression of it. Yesterday, on a tip from my mom, we stopped by Kep's Paperback Exchange (61 N. Williams, in downtown Crystal Lake). At first I was disheartened at the sight of shelf after shelf of mass market paperbacks from the usuals--Steel, King, Crichton, etc. (Which in retrospect shouldn't have surprised me, since writers of that ilk sell about 98% of new books, so it stands to reason that they'd dominate used book stores as well.) But I finally found a section where the proprietors had segregated the literary fiction and higher-quality non-fiction. I was quite pleased to pick up a copy of There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz, a universally renowned book I've been wanting to read for quite some time.

About a month ago, we visited Book Market (1157 W. Jefferson in Joliet), a store Julie has been haunting since her teenaged years. As with Kep's, the rows upon rows of romance and science fiction novels discouraged me at first before I realized there was literary fiction mixed in with the more mainstream stuff. It wasn't as easy a browse as was Kep's but it was just as rewarding, as I found a cheap copy of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the great novel by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn about the Russian Gulag. I had read the book years before, sold my copy impetuously during one of my periodic eBay furies, and later wished I still owned it. Thus I was able to rectify a past error. Julie and Maddie also found good books for themselves, so it was a profitable visit all around.

Finding good books isn't always easy. You usually have to hack through a forest of dreck to find the stuff that's worth reading. Navigating a used bookstore is no exception.

September 26, 2004 in Books, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (2)

Ramsin Canon on Universal Health Care

Have you ever thought that adopting Canadian-style universal health coverage in the U.S. would be too expensive, bureaucratic and inefficient; limit choices for patients, likely result in Soviet-style rationing, lack the support of doctors, and ignore the true cause of high health care costs--frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits?

Well, the esteemed Ramsin Canon punctures every one of these claims, and more, in his fine article "How Cold-Blooded Capitalism Can Warm Your Heart, Part 2" at Gapers Block.

Though I have to admit he thoroughly ignored the biggest conservative argument (unspoken, but always lingering nearby) against universal health coverage: "Insurance companies are huge contributors to the GOP."

September 23, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Journalistic vs. Presidential Integrity

All of the conservatives who are calling for Dan Rather's head on a platter are holding Rather--a member of the so-called "liberal media"--to a higher standard of integrity than Bush himself, as deftly outlined by Christian Grantham:

Dan Rather, CBS News Anchor
+ given documents he thought were true
+ failed to thoroughly investigate the facts
+ reported documents to the American people as true to make his case
+ when confronted with the facts, apologized and launched an investigation
+ number of Americans dead: 0
+ should be fired as CBS News Anchor

George W. Bush, President of the United States
+ given documents he thought were true
+ failed to thoroughly investigate the facts
+ reported documents to the American people as true to make his case
+ when confronted with the facts, continued to report untruth and stonewalled an investigation
+ number of Americans dead: 1100
+ should be given four more years as President of the United States

(Link via The Editor's Blog.)

September 23, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

"War" on Terror

Really think the Bush Administration is making us safer from terrorism?

By Mimi Hall, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Undercover investigators were able to sneak explosives and weapons past security screeners at 15 airports nationwide, according to a government report on aviation security.

The government watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security, Clark Kent Ervin, delivered the results of the tests in a classified report to members of Congress. "The performance was poor," said Ervin, the department's inspector general, in releasing a less detailed version Wednesday.

The tests were done during the second half of 2003. But they highlight ongoing vulnerabilities in the nation's aviation security system, particularly in detecting explosives such as those that Russian authorities say were used to bring down two airliners last month.

(Full story)

By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times

WASHINGTON - Yaser E. Hamdi, an American citizen captured in Afghanistan and once deemed so dangerous that the American military held him incommunicado for more than two years as an enemy combatant, will be freed and allowed to return to Saudi Arabia in the next few days, officials said Wednesday.

After weeks of negotiations over his release, lawyers for the Justice Department and Mr. Hamdi announced an agreement requiring him to renounce his American citizenship. The agreement also bars him from leaving Saudi Arabia for a time and requires him to report possible terrorist activity, his lawyer said, although legal analysts said the arrangement would be difficult for the United States to enforce.

The agreement was driven by a Supreme Court decision in June. In the ruling, a major setback for the Bush administration, the court found that Mr. Hamdi and enemy combatants like him had to be given the chance to challenge their detention. The court declared that "a state of war is not a blank check for the president." The administration decided that rather than give Mr. Hamdi a hearing, it would simply negotiate his release.

(Full story)

Let's see...terrorists still won't have much trouble smuggling explosives onto commercial airliners, and one of the two most prominent "enemy combatants" locked up by the Bush Administration under the premise of his terrorist ties is released, presumably due to there being no case against him. It's also worth noting that the administration has yet to gain a single criminal conviction against the thousands of detainees who have been taken into custody during the last three years.

Can someone explain to me how much worse it would be with John Kerry as President?

September 23, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Hell is for Red Line Riders

Rich Izzo has a particularly fine piece ("To Howard And Back") on This Is Grand which is well worth a few minutes of your time.

There are bad places in Chicago to be up and about at 4AM; the Red Line is the only bad neighborhood that moves.

Incidentally, This Is Grand will be publishing my account of a recent Metra experience sometime in October. Jonathan Messinger, the genius behind TiG, apparently liked my piece so much that he's temporarily suspending his CTA-only focus.

September 22, 2004 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Vetting a Poet Laureate

What if the U.S. poet laureate nominee was required to go through Senate confirmation hearings, like other Administration nominees? Brian McConnachie had a very funny audio piece on NPR yesterday which imagined just such a scenario.

"The NRA is not a federal agency."
"They told me they were, and they showed me badges and pay stubs."
"What did they want you to write about?"
"They wanted a poem about automatic assault weapons being misunderstood."

September 21, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Understated Beauty

The September issue of The Believer arrived yesterday, which now puts me two issues in arrears. So I pulled the July issue off the nightstand for an emergency session of commute reading. I finished off a fascinating article by Matthew Power about a group in remote eastern India that may or may not be one of the lost tribes of Israel, but then, rather than delving into a new article, I couldn't help re-reading an interview with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. All of his thoughts are interesting, as always, but this one in particular struck me.

I always preferred album titles that weren't named after a song on the album. I would sit there and wonder wny the album is called Dub Housing. There might be a track on that album called "Dub Housing," so that might not be a good example. Why is the album called Get Lost? That's a great example, because it's The Magnetic Fields Get Lost--it's a sentence. But divorce it from the band name, and it's an imperative: get lost. When I was a kid, when I was developing my record-collector disease, those are the types of records I liked best because when I exhausted the songs and the lyrics I could still think about that aspect and I wanted albums to have as many points of scrutiny as they could. From the time I started writing songs, I thought it'd be better if the song title had to be in some way connected to the song. Then I got perverse about it and thought if I titled them in ways that no one could possibly make the connection I've made, they'd be even more interesting because anybody who's like me and wants to make the connection would have to fabricate their own or conclude that it can't be done. If you're a record collector, you won't conclude that it can't be done. You just go ahead and do it.

Darnielle's thoughts on titles of albums and songs is analagous to his songwriting itself. For me, the best songwriting (Darnielle is one of the very best songwriters around) and literature is subtle, lean and understated, and provides just enough vivid imagery and ideas to provoke the imagination of the listener or reader. In other words, the best writers are those who don't bludgeon you in driving home their point, but leave just enough unsaid to let you draw your own conclusions.

September 21, 2004 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

Quote of the Day

"You don't have to be satisfied with America as you find it. You can change it. I didn't like the way I found America some sixty years ago, and I've been trying to change it ever since."
--Upton Sinclair

Today is Sinclair's birthday (he was was born in 1878). You might consider, in his honor, abstaining from eating slaughterhouse-processed meat today. Yes, I know that sanitary conditions have improved dramatically since 1906 but, still, you can never be too careful.

(Via The Writer's Almanac.)

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

Two Michigan Novels

For the first time in I don't remember how long, yesterday's Sunday morning Tribune ritual did not start with the sports section. A quick glance at the books section revealed a photo of Stuart Dybek next to a short piece in which he talked about Michigan writers. (Dybek has lovingly adopted Michigan as his home state, as he teaches at WMU in Kalamazoo.) Given that I'm mesmerized by anything and everything Dybek, I just had to read the piece first.

"Michigan is essentially two states that have remained united," says Dybek. Its urban landscapes typify gritty, industrial America, while its forests and huge coastlines offer unparalleled solitude. Michigan's inhabitants are similarly divided, by class, race, profession and politics.

The Dybek piece accompanied reviews of two new novels from Michigan authors, The Mercy Killers by Lisa Reardon and All These Girls by Ellen Slezak. Even though Reardon's basic plot sounds a bit rote...

Each of Reardon's first two novels--Billy Dead (1998) and Blameless (2000)--begins with a murder and moves on to an unflinching look at domestic abuse, alcoholism, depression--the claustrophobic endgame of working-class America. The Mercy Killers follows this pattern, digging into Vietnam-era family violence.

...I'm rather intrigued by a protagonist who is trying to live a normal, decent life but can't completely fight the tempting lure of his old bad-influence friends and family. I'll be checking into this one further.

Incidentally, for some reason the Tribune stepped up its fiction coverage yesterday. In addition to the two Michigan novels, they also reviewed David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (okay, not exactly a bold move, since the book seems to be on everybody's buzz list this month), Jonathon Rosen's Joy Comes in the Morning, and Louis de Bernieres' Joy Without Wings.

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

Reader Privacy

Reader Privacy is trying to get 100,000 more signatures on their petition protesting Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act (more info here) to present to the U.S. House of Representatives at the end of this month. Reader Privacy has done a great job so far, but they need more support. If you haven't already done so, I urge you to sign the petition online here, or contact your Congressman directly.

It might not seem like such a big issue, but infringing on our privacy rights is just one small step towards the looming police state that John Ashcroft seems to want so passionately.

September 17, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Coleridge, Frontiersman

I'm currently reading Heavens on Earth, Mark Holloway's fascinating study of American utopian colonies through the 19th Century. It was interesting to note that Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an aspiring, and ultimately unfulfilled, utopianist. Coleridge, along with fellow poets Robert Southey and Robert Lovell, planned a communistic settlement on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.

While the men worked the soil, the ladies would care for the children and keep house. Life would not be strenuous--the men, it was thought, would have to work only two or three hours a day to maintain the colony; for the rest of the time, they would pay the greatest attention to the cultivation of their minds, indulging in much study and discussion on the basis of a small but comprehensive library.

Coleridge thought so fervently of their scheme that he revised his Monody on the Death of Chatterton to include an ode to Susquehanna:

O Chatterton! that thou were yet alive!
Sure thou would'st spread the canvas to the gale,
And love with us the tinkling team to drive
O'er peaceful Freedom's undivided dale;
And we, at sober eve, would round thee throng,
Would hang, enraptured, on thy stately song,
And greet with smiles the young-eyed Poesy
All deftly masked as hoar Antiquity.

Alas, vain Phantasies! the fleeting brood
Of Woe self-solaced in her dreamy mood!
Yet will I love to follow the sweet dream,
Where Susquehanna pours his untamed stream;
And on some hill, whose forest-frowning side
Waves o'er the murmur of his calmer tide,
Will raise a solemn Centotaph to thee,
Sweet Harper of time-shrouded Minstrelsy!
And there, soothed sadly by the dirgeful wind
Muse on the sore ills I had left behind.

The colony never materialized, due to financial constraints and ideological differences between the planners. Which was probably a good thing, as Holloway wryly notes.

Perhaps it is fortunate that the scheme failed, for it is difficult to picture Coleridge swinging an axe or Southey driving a plough with any success--even for "two or three hours a day."

Coleridge lived for another thirty-nine years after the scheme failed. It's unlikely he would have lived as long trying to live off the land, while simultaneously striving to maintain lofty intellectual pursuits, in the wilds of Pennsylvania in the late 18th Century.

September 17, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Photo of the Week

This one is courtesy of my friend Fred, who lives in western Massachusetts, somewhat near Hancock Shaker Village.

September 16, 2004 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Guinness High-Carb Diet

As much as I'd love to believe this study was objective, its source of funding calls it into considerable doubt. This just in: a study from Philip Morris which claims that three packs of Camels a day will help you live to be 125.

Beer in Moderation Could Be Good for You
By Associated Press
Published September 15, 2004, 6:35 AM CDT

TORONTO -- Beer, a health food? That's what some Canadian researchers report.

A study from the University of Western Ontario finds a brew could be good for you. The researchers say beer has antioxidant boosters that could help fight cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

But the key is moderation. The researchers found three beers would have the opposite effect.

The study was funded by beermakers Guinness and Labatt. But the university says the financial support had no influence on the outcome.

September 15, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Reforming Health Care

I usually try to be tactful, but this time I'm coming right out and saying it. George Bush is an idiot.

Bush is ripping John Kerry's healthcare program, saying that Kerry wants the government to take over our healthcare system. Which actually sounds good to me--that's what Canada has already done, and they have higher quality healthcare at a lower per capita cost. But Kerry's proposal only tinkers with the current system, and doesn't abandon it entirely. Naturally, Bush takes the simplistic view, and his argument against Kerry's plans is simply ridiculous.

"I'm running against a fellow who has got a massive, complicated blueprint to have our government take over the decision-making in health care. Not only is his plan going to increase the power of bureaucrats in your life, but he can't pay for it unless he raises your taxes."

George, you're probably not aware of this, coming from such a priviliged background as yours, but most people already aren't the ones making the decisions on their health care--the insurance companies are. The insurance companies are the ones who decide which procedures are covered and which ones aren't, and given the high cost of health care in the U.S., if your insurance company says it won't pay for a specific treatment, then more than likely you're not going to undergo that treatment, even if it's essential to your health. So even if it's the government calling the shots instead of the insurance companies, people wouldn't be any worse off--and probably better off, given that the government isn't bloodlessly profit-motivated like the insurance companies are. (Given the choice between a government bureaucrat and a corporate executive running one's life, most people would choose the bureaucrat.)

And yes, Kerry's plan would likely result in higher taxes. But under a nationalized system, people would also be paying lower health insurance premiums on their own, which would likely negate the higher taxes being paid. Also, recent studies have shown that companies are holding back from hiring new employees because of the high cost of benefits, particularly health insurance. Freed from paying the higher cost of health insurance, employers might finally boost their hiring, raising employment and giving the economy a much-needed stimulus.

The only constituency that could possibly be harmed by health care reform is the insurance companies. What a pity that would be.

September 14, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Great People Born on Sept. 12

Thanks are also in order to The Writer's Almanac for reminding me that I share a birthday with H.L. Mencken, one of my personal favorites. Mencken's epitaph of choice was a beauty:

"If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl."

September 13, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sherwood Anderson, Man of Focus

It's Sherwood Anderson's birthday.

(Anderson) wrote every day at a desk watching people walk by his window. He said, "Sometimes it seemed to me...that each person who passed along the street below, under the light, shouted his secret up to me." One rainy night, Anderson got out of bed without any clothes on, and began to write. Sitting there in front of the window, with the rain blowing on his bare back, he wrote the first of the stories that became his masterpiece Winesburg, Ohio (1919) about people in a small town, their misery and sexual frustration and violent desires. He dedicated the book to his mother, saying, "[Her] keen observations on the life about her first awoke in me the hunger to see beneath the surface of lives."

Now that's what I call focus. I'm often hit by blasts of writerly inspiration as well, but they're never so overpowering that I fail to get dressed or shut the window against a driving rainstorm first. Maybe that's what's holding me back: my failure to utterly surrender to the muse. Or simple common sense.

(From The Writer's Almanac.)

September 13, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

William Trevor, A Bit on the Side

Joseph O'Neill reviews William Trevor's new story collection A Bit on the Side in the new issue of The Atlantic.

Earlier this year the novelist Michael Chabon confessed in The New York Times Book Review to the vice of quickly tossing books aside. "Your beginning better be just killer," he warned. William Trevor is refreshingly free of anxiety on this score. He makes no attempt to arrest or flatter or reassure the reader—there are no one-liners, no improbably witty characters, no far-out shenanigans, no patent-leather prose. He expects our attention and, most of all, respects it. Which is why, outmoded though they may seem, these stories are the opposite of dated.

There's something to be said for writers who resist trends and stick to what they do well. (Or, as Dirty Harry once put it, albeit not as a compliment, "A man's got to know his limitations.") Trevor's book has been duly added to my precariously tottering to-read pile.

September 10, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Letter from Senator Durbin

I recently sent one of those oh-so-easy electronic letters (possibly through MoveOn, though I don't recall exactly) to my elected representatives (plus George Bush) voicing my support for the Civil Liberties Restoration Act. To my surprise, I got a response from Senator Dick Durbin. Yes, it was a canned email and the formatting was lousy, but at least his office made the effort.

Dear Mr. Anderson:

   Thank you for your message regarding the Civil Liberties Restoration Act. I appreciate knowing your thoughts.
   I share your interest in protecting our civil liberties. Our commitment to principle, even during difficult times, is part of what makes America a special country.
   We must not forget the painful lessons we have learned from times when we sacrificed liberty in the name of security. We should never again repeat past mistakes the government has made, including the internment mandates of World War II and the wide-ranging investigations of the McCarthy era.
   In the wake of the most deadly terrorist attack on our country in history, the Bush Administration made it clear that it was prepared to bend some of the time-honored ideals upon which our country is based.
   On June 16, 2004, I joined Senators Kennedy, Leahy, Feingold, and Corzine in introducing the Civil Liberties Restoration Act (S. 2528), which is an attempt to restore some of the civil liberties that have been put at risk since September 11th, 2001.
   Specifically, the measure would prohibit blanket closures of immigration hearings and permit closure of a hearing only on a specific showing of need. In addition, it would prohibit the detention of a non-citizen without charges for more than 48 hours, unless the Attorney General certifies, based on reasonable grounds, that the alien is engaged in espionage or terrorism. Moreover, the Civil Liberties Restoration Act would terminate the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), require the Justice Department to comply with the Privacy Act's accuracy requirements with respect to data entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, and reinstate the pre-Patriot Act standard for compelling production of business records.
   The Civil Liberties Restoration Act has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. As a member of this committee, I will continue to take steps to preserve our principles of freedom and justice as well as to defend our country against terrorism.
   Thanks again for your message. Please feel free to keep in touch.


Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Durbin seems like a genuninely decent man. We Illinoisans are going to have a Senate contingent to be really proud of soon, with him and Obama.

In case you're wondering, no, I really don't expect to hear back from either Bush or Jerry Weller.

September 10, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bush and His People

James Fallows wrote a lengthy article in the July/August issue of The Atlantic entitled "When George Meets John" which discussed the relative debating skills of George Bush and John Kerry. The article prompted a letter to the editor from Anne Carpenter which rather brilliantly captures the essence of Bush.

The whole of James Fallows's article on Bush and Kerry's debate styles was interesting, but one comment jumped out at me: "[Bush] has rarely been interested in the details of any policy matter, believing that he 'has people' who can master the subject for him." What further proof is needed that Bush's policy decisions are based on whatever his "people" choose to tell him? Naturally they will tell him whatever (and only whatever) supports their own agendas.

Although, as Mary Beth Rogers says in the Fallows article, his "ability to stick to his message and repeat it" might be "remarkable," it implies to me that he doesn't know enough to answer questions that go beyond the text he has been given by his "people." I suspect that his "widely noted lack of eloquence" is due to his understandable insecurity. If the ideas he is expressing are not his ideas, based on his own knowledge and decision-making, then he can only repeat by rote what he has rehearsed.

Bush's lack of interest in details gives unprecedented power to his advisers (read "puppeteers")—in this case the extremists of the military/industrial/religious-right coalition who are currently running the White House, the country, and, if they have their way, the world. We need an independent thinker in the Oval Office.

Agreed. Bush scares me quite a bit, but not nearly as much as Rumsfeld, Cheney and Ashcroft. His unwavering loyalty to those three, and others, is reason enough to vote him out of office.

September 9, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


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For those of you keeping score at home, that's one asterisk for every American fatality in Iraq. So far. What a terrible price we've paid, and will continue to pay, for the arrogant ideology of one small group of megalomaniacs.

September 8, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Who Does al Qaeda Want?

In response to Dick Cheney's comment that a Kerry victory in November will inevitably result in another attack on the U.S. (thus shamefully insinuating that Kerry is al Qaeda's candidate of choice) Christopher Hayes at In These Times responds beautifully:

I don’t deign to understand Al Qaeda’s strategy, if there is, indeed a unified one, but I do understand that Al Qaeda wants to create bloodshed, war, violence, repression, chaos, anger, death in a swirling black spiral that sucks the entire world into a cataclysmic holy war. If that’s your goal, you want the most obnoxious, most intemperate, adversary you can find. You want an enemy who can be easily goaded into thrashing about in a fit of rage, someone who will expose his own weakenesses and over extend himself, while managing to alienate as many people as possible. In other words, you want the Bush administration.

September 8, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Joe Meno, Hairstyles of the Damned

Punk Planet Books has published a 25-page excerpt of Joe Meno's new novel Hairstyles of the Damned. The excerpt is in a nice clean .pdf format that anyone with even rudimentary bindery skills can make into a passable book(let). I have virtually no such skills, and my attempt has yet to fall apart.

The book looks very promising. I found myself relating to the narrator, even though my background couldn't be much more different than his: I grew up in exurbia, I wasn't a metalhead, I didn't go to Catholic high school, and I hung out with B-level jocks instead of stoners. Yet somehow I connected.

(Thanks to Golden Rule Jones for the link.)

September 8, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (8)

Haymarket Gets a Memorial

The fog finally begins to clear.

"What kind of town fails to commemorate one of the most seminal events in the history of organized labor, an event celebrated around the world every year as May Day?"

Good question.

Maybe a town afraid of its past.

On Sept. 14, in a reversal of 118 years of civic amnesia, a memorial to the Haymarket Incident of 1886 is to be unveiled at the site of the carnage, Crane's Alley on the east side of Desplaines Street, north of Randolph.

(Full story)

Give the city a few more decades, and they might admit that the Memorial Day Massacre actually occurred, as well.

September 7, 2004 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Letter to the Editor

Well, it's not exactly the New York Times, but my local paper was kind enough to publish my most recent missive. Thinking globally, acting locally. Hopefully some of the locals will take notice.

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

Get Well, Bill!

Bill, we feel your pain. Watching four days of Republican bombast and blather even gave me chest pains, and I'm still several hundred cheeseburgers behind you.

September 4, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fictus Interruptus

I had just been thinking about writing a story about George Bush's acceptance speech at the RNC, in which his mouth would be speaking the ugly, unvarnished truth while his brain was in panic, desperately asking why he was saying such things and futilely trying to override his tongue.

Now, after reading Sean Carman's "Nightmare", I see my story idea is mostly a moot point. Great stuff, and better than what I would have come up with.

Where was I? Oh yes, we're a strong nation. Afraid, but still strong. Wait, where are my pants? Oh my God, how could they let me up here with no pants? Why didn't anyone tell me? Where's Karl? My shirt tails barely cover me ... oh this is awful ... maybe if I hunker down here ...

Delegates, members of our party, while I'm hunkered down here, please look up at the overhead Jumbotron, where you will see, if I'm not mistaken, images of me, wearing only my cheerleading sweater, being paddled by two young men dressed only in leather thongs. Good Lord. That's the basement of Skull and Bones. Why are they showing this? What's going on?

(Via Maud.)

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

George the Blunt

Last night, George Bush "apologized" for being blunt:

Now and then I come across as a little too blunt.

He wasn't really apologizing, of course; he rarely, if ever, admits to any personal deficiencies. He was actually proud of being blunt, by which I presume he meant straight-talking, forthright. Then I looked up the definition of "blunt" in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

blunt ('bl&nt) adjective
1 a : slow or deficient in feeling : INSENSITIVE b : obtuse in understanding or discernment : DULL
2 : having an edge or point that is not sharp
3 a : abrupt in speech or manner b : being straight to the point : DIRECT

I'm sure he was implying 3b, but I'm rather amused at how appropriate the first definition is.

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

War as Abstraction

From Ward Just's story "The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert":

What the congressman knew about the war he read in newspapers and magazines and saw on television. But that did not help. LaRuth had done time as an infantryman in Korea and knew what killing was about; the box did not make it as horrible as it was. The box romanticized it, cleansed it of pain; one more false detail. Even the blood deceived, coming up pink and pretty on the television set. One night he spent half of Cronkite fiddling with the color knob to get a perfect red, to insist the blood look like blood.

September 2, 2004 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Steve Earle

Steve Earle really, really dislikes George Bush. Read the interview in the new Rolling Stone and stream his new album, The Revolution Starts...Now, in its entirety and absolutely free.

"I'm an unapologetic lefty. There is no excuse for anyone to go hungry in the richest country in the world or without health care. I wanted the record to be about a lot of issues around the election. But I wrote it in a hurry, and what I'm most pissed about right now is the war."

And some thoughtful words from his liner notes:

Democracy is hard work. American democracy requires constant vigilance to survive and nothing short of total engagement to flourish. Voting is vital, but in times like these voting alone simply isn’t enough. By the time some of you hear these songs the election will be over. Then the real struggle begins.

When the dust clears and the votes are all counted (we’re watchin’ YOU, Jeb) it will be up to all of us-Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and independents alike-to hold whomever is left standing accountable for their actions on our behalf every single day that they are in power. The day after the election, regardless of the outcome, the war will go on, outsourcing of our jobs will continue, and over a third of our citizens will have no health care coverage whatsoever.

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

Oscar Night in August

Was that the Republican National Convention I saw last night? Or the Oscars?

Watching Arnold awkwardly quote-drop from his own movies was painful enough. But seeing the Bush daughters giggle their way through an endless procession of inside jokes reminded me of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, three sheets to the wind, presenting the winner of the award for Best Sound Editing in a Foreign Animated Drama.

After that embarrassment--further proof that nepotism is still alive and well at Yale--it was comparatively heartwarming to see Laura Bush, everybody's Best Supporting Actress. And bless her, she has never had any aspirations to being Best Actress. Which, after all, is exactly the way the GOP likes their womenfolk.

September 1, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)