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Evangelical Tide Turning?

"It's hard for me to say that Christians should be marching against abortion and carrying signs, and then turn around and giving a pep rally for the war in Iraq without even contemplating that hundreds and hundreds of people are being killed on a regular basis over there," Urcavich said.

"I'm very antiabortion, but the reality is the right to life encompasses a much broader field than just abortion. If I'm a proponent of life, I have to think about the consequences of not providing prescription drugs to seniors or sending young men off to war."

Full article: Conflicted Evangelicals Could Cost Bush Votes

October 27, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Where is Your Polling Place?

It's Public Service Announcement time. I'm sure all of you good citizens are registered to vote, but are you sure you know where your polling place is? There have already been widespread reports of shenanigans involving last-minute changes to polling place locations, generally in Democratic precincts. (Go figure.) Just to make sure, do yourself and America a favor and doublecheck on your proper polling place at MyPollingSite.com.

October 26, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (4)

Book Buying Binge!

Normally I'm tentative when buying new books, but one of my birthday gifts was a gift certificate from Powell's (thanks, Carroll!), plus I had a gift certificate from Amazon courtesy of my employer. So I broke from character, and splurged.

Howard Zinn: A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present
I've already read part of this indispensible, groundbreaking book, getting through the Civil War before having to return it to the library. So important is this book that I thought it deserved a permanent place on my bookshelf.

Stuart Dybek: I Sailed With Magellan
Dybek's latest story collection. This one is written in the "linked stories" form, with a series of stories containing common characters, settings and themes, so it reads more like a novel than a typical story collection. I loved both his previous fiction efforts, The Coast of Chicago and Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, and I'm sure this one will be equally wonderful.

Paul Krugman: The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century
Krugman is probably my favorite journalist. He's a Princeton economics professor who was hired by The New York Times to write economic-centered commentary, but he's moved far beyond that to become one of the Bush administration's fiercest and most prominent critics. His NYT columns are consistently thoughtful, well-reasoned and persuasive. I just hope this collection of his writings doesn't become hopelessly dated once Bush becomes a dark but distant memory.

Art Spiegelman: In the Shadow of No Towers
Spiegelman's magnificent two-volume Maus first established graphic novels as a legitimate form of serious fiction. Here he vividly recreates 9/11 (to which he was a eyewitness) and its political aftermath (which left him furious). The artwork is typically gorgeous, and the format fascinating--oversized and printed on heavy cardboard stock. I won't be able to read this on the train, since there's no way it will fit in my backpack.

Aleksandar Hemon: Nowhere Man
Already read it, thought it was brilliant, had to have my own copy for many future re-readings.

Jack Conroy: The Disinherited
Conroy was an early proletarian writer and activist who was a colleague and sometimes mentor of Nelson Algren, and this novel is supposed to be one of the classics of the long-forgotten proletarian movement.

October 26, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Case Against Bush

I sit here at my desk and write volumnious diatribes against George Bush, trying to put into words why I think he's been bad for America and needs to be replaced. Thousands upon thousands of words, which I sometimes wonder have had any effect on even a single vote. My doubts over the effectiveness of my message become even greater when I read such a beautifully concise, direct, and powerful letter to the editor such as this one, which appeared in yesterday's Tribune:

Wishes for those who endorse Bush

I am disappointed, but not surprised, by your endorsement of George W. Bush (Editorial, Oct. 17). For years the Chicago Tribune editors have proved themselves to be out of touch with the concerns of their readers.

So as the election approaches, I'm sending best wishes to you and yours, in case Bush does win a second term.

I hope you don't have a family member or friend who is serving in Iraq. I hope you don't have a young son, nephew or grandson who worries about being drafted.

I hope you don't have a daughter, sister, niece, friend, neighbor or co-worker who is faced with a dangerous or unwanted pregnancy and depends on a safe and legal medical procedure to save her life.

I hope you don't lose your health insurance and are forced to deal with the same uncertainty as millions of less-fortunate Americans. I hope you don't have an elderly or sick relative who pays more for medicine than our Canadian neighbors.

I hope you don't have children or grandchildren in a school where the standards of No Child Left Behind exist but where the funds to properly educate the children do not.

I hope you don't like to camp, hike, bird watch or visit any of America's natural treasures. I hope you don't mind depending on costly gas as your main fuel source.

I hope you and your family are never affected by gun violence for lack of proper gun control.

I hope you don't value the constitutional rights to privacy and due process that are under attack by the Patriot Act.

I hope you're not a gay American who would like to share health insurance, bank accounts, property or children with your partner.

Most of all, I hope you can sleep at night knowing that our country remains vulnerable to a terrorist attack. I hope you don't mind that the president you endorsed continues to reaffirm the image of an aggressive, imperialist America. No better terrorist recruitment tool is needed.

Yesenia Sotelo

October 25, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

A Libertarian for Kerry

Stephen Chapman endorsed John Kerry in yesterday's Tribune. Although it's as guarded an endorsement as you're likely to see, given that Chapman has voted Republican or Libertarian in every presidential election since 1972, "guarded" is about the best we can expect. It's encouraging to see a traditionally conservative voice admit what a disaster the Bush presidency has been.

But I can't vote Republican this year--and the stakes demand using any available instrument to remove Bush. Kerry is not the ideal instrument, just as a rubber raft is not the optimal vessel on the open sea. But when the ship is sinking, you can't be choosy.

If only the Tribune itself could be as realistic.

October 25, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Guinan and Algren

Alex Kotlowitz profiles local (and locally-neglected) artist Robert Guinan in his marvelous new book, Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago:

Guinan seems resigned to his fate, a chronicler of Chicago for all but Chicagoans. There's a touch of drama to Guinan, and if you catch him on a bad day, he can, indeed, sound embittered. "Ask Algren," he once told me. "Chicago kills its own. You have to go to New York to be a success. That was Algren's complaint. Algren says Chicago isn't a second city, it's the secondhand city." Guinan admires Algren. He owns first editions of five of his books, and has read each of them at least twice. In his studio hangs a black-and-white photograph of Algren in an overcoat walking down Division Street on a wintry day. Algren's good friend and unoffical photographer, Art Shea (sic), signed it: For Guinan-Who knows where it's at.

Kotlowitz goes on to relate a conversation with Guinan and his champion, French art dealer Albert Loeb.

(Loeb) tells me the story of how in the mid-1990s, the city's Cultural Center was planning an exhibition of Guinan's work, how exciting that was, and how it all fall through. Loeb says he was never completely clear about the reason why. Maybe it was the money needed to ship Guinan's work back to Chicago from Paris. Maybe it was the fact that the Democratic Covention was to be held in the city that year, and barflies, naked piano players, and reclining prostitutes (the frequent subjects of Guinan's work) weren't exactly the image the city wanted to put forth. Or maybe they just lost interest. Loeb appears agitated. "Were you disappointed?" I ask Guinan, giving him an opening. "No," he replies. Loeb then tells me about a Chicago art dealer who once said of Guinan's paintings, "Who wants to look at these? These are the people who want to mug you." To which Guinan sighs.

Clearly, the close-mindedness of Official Chicago hasn't changed much from Algren's days.

More info on Guinan, including images of some of his works, can be found here. I hadn't heard of him before, but I'll definitely be checking into him further.

October 21, 2004 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Chicago Tribune Endorses George Bush

Goodness, where do I begin? First, in general, let me just say how disappointed I am in the Tribune. While they are to be commended for having two moderate, reasonable voices—Stephen Chapman and Clarence Page—as its most prominent editorial-page columnists, when it comes time for the editors to show where they stand, they fall back on the partisan, reactionary position that the paper has historically maintained.

The Tribune invokes everyone’s favorite non-partisan, Senator John McCain, quoting him as saying “All of us, despite the differences that enliven our politics, are united in the one big idea that freedom is our birthright and its defense is always our first responsibility. All other responsibilities come second. (If we waver) we will fail the one mission no American generation has ever failed--to provide to our children a stronger, better country than the one we were blessed to inherit.”

That’s all well and good, but then the Tribune proceeds to ignore an appallingly long list of egregious errors and misplaced priorities, and endorses George Bush as the candidate “most likely to deliver the more secure future that John McCain wishes for our children.”

The following is the Tribune’s key points, along with my rebuttal for each.

President George W. Bush talks more freely about what is at risk for this country: the cold-eyed possibility that fresh attacks…could ravage American metropolises. Bush, then, embraces a bolder struggle not only with those who sow terror, but also with rogue governments that harbor, finance or arm them.

Repeat after me, once again: Iraq neither harbored terrorists, nor financed terrorists, nor armed terrorists.

Sen. John Kerry embraces an ongoing struggle against murderous terrorists, although with limited U.S. entanglements overseas… Bush's sense of a president's duty to defend America is wider in scope than Kerry's, more ambitious in its tactics, more prone, frankly, to yield both casualties and lasting results.

Kerry recognizes that America lacks unlimited resources, and thus can’t afford Bush’s doctrine of preemptive force in using military solutions to address every real and potential threat. And Bush’s plan is most certainly wider in scope and more ambitious in its tactics, so ambitious that its centerpiece was attacking Iraq, a country with no significant connection to Al Qaeda and without weapons of mass destruction. In doing so, he shifted the military’s focus away from Afghanistan and capturing Osama bin Laden, while generally ignoring rising nuclear threats in North Korea and Iraq and making little effort to secure fissile material in Russia.

The issue of casualties is unquestioned, with rising American death tolls in Iraq and rising anti-American sentiment throughout the Arab world. The Bush doctrine will indeed have “lasting results”, although it remains to be seen whether they’ll prove to be positive or negative.

There is much the current president could have done differently over the last four years. There are lessons he needs to have learned.

Yet Bush is unlikely to learn anything, given that he can't even admit making a mistake.

Bush, his critics say, displays an arrogance that turns friends into foes. Spurned at the United Nations by ‘Old Europe’--France, Germany, Russia--he was too long in admitting he wanted their help in a war. He needs to acknowledge that his country's future interests are best served by fixing frayed friendships.

Bush’s prewar disdain for the U.N. and his “If you’re not for us, you’re against us” position with Germany and France—demonstrated most vividly by the refusal to allow German and French companies to contract for lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq—shows he’s really not interested in those friendships, other than what other countries can do for the U.S.

Bush has nurtured newer alliances with many nations such as Poland, Romania and Ukraine (combined population, close to 110 million) that want more than to be America's friends: Having seized their liberty from tyrants, they are determined now to be on the right side of history.

It’s great that we’re developing new alliances. But they pale in significance to the “Old Europe” allies Bush has spurned. Germany, France, and Russia have three times the population and six times the wealth of his vaunted new allies Poland, Romania and Ukraine.

Kerry displays great faith in diplomacy as the way to solve virtually all problems. Diplomatic solutions should always be the goal. Yet that principle would be more compelling if the world had a better record of confronting true crises…

The Tribune’s lack of faith in the U.N. is rather obvious. Yet the Duelfer report on Iraq’s WMDs indicates that U.N. sanctions and inspections were working effectively—Saddam couldn’t restart his weapons programs even if he had wanted to.

Bush has scored a great success in Afghanistan--not only by ousting the Taliban regime and nurturing a new democracy, but also by ignoring the chronic doubters who said a war there would be a quagmire.

“Ousting the Taliban” is a stretch. “Temporarily displacing” would be more accurate, as the Taliban enjoyed a strong resurgence after the U.S. military’s focus was shifted to Iraq. Second, there may or may not be a new democracy in Afghanistan—as dubious elections around the world have proven time and again, letting the public go to the ballot box doesn’t necessarily mean that democracy will ensue. Lastly, there was never a chance of a true quagmire in Afghanistan, as the administration committed few U.S. troops, instead leaving the heavy fighting to the Northern Alliance, who proved to be much more interested in gaining control of Kabul rather than catching Osama bin Laden.

Invading Afghanistan was a good idea, but proved to be a major lost opportunity, as the administration lost focus on the primary goal of decimating al Qaeda in making the ill-dated decision to invade Iraq.

Bush arguably invaded with too few allies and not enough troops. He will go to his tomb defending his reliance on intelligence from agencies around the globe that turned out to be wrong.

“Arguably”? How about “Unquestionably”? Bush’s own post-invasion efforts to bring spurned allies into peacekeeping operations implies there were too few allies, and his own military officials said there weren’t enough troops to maintain order. Like Bush himself, the Tribune glosses over the fact that Bush’s two pre-invasion justifications—Saddam possesses WMDs, and Saddam was directly linked to al Qaeda and 9/11—were blatant falsehoods. And most of the intelligence relied upon came from U.S. sources, and there is evidence that Dick Cheney pressured the CIA to tailor their conclusions and recommendations to match the administration’s dubious pre-invasion claims.

Kerry, though, has lost his way. The now-professed anti-war candidate says he still would vote to authorize the war he didn't vote to finance.

First, Kerry voted for the war resolution to give Bush backing for his negotiations with the U.N., after Bush had assured Congress that he would exhaust all other alternatives before resorting to war. But Bush did not exhaust all other alternatives—the U.N. had inspectors on the ground in Iraq, and Saddam was starting to dismantle his longest-range missiles and was being held in check by the U.N.’s watchdogs—but Bush just couldn’t wait, and decided to invade anyway.

Second, Kerry voted against Bush’s appropriations request simply because he didn’t want to just hand Bush an $87 billion dollar blank check. Given that Bush’s claims of WMDs and al Qaeda links were already appearing suspect at that time, Kerry justifiably wanted some accountability from Bush on how the money would be spent. Kerry also wanted a rollback of Bush’s upper class tax cuts to pay for the appropriations, displaying the fiscal responsibility which Bush so wantonly disdains.

In critical areas such as public education and health care, Bush's emphasis is on greater competition.

His healthcare plan is little more than abandoning patients to the mercy of the insurance companies. Removing government intervention pits patients against monolithic insurers—which isn’t “competition”, it’s a rout. And his Medicare drug coverage does not allow the government to negotiate lower prices with the drug companies, who are free to set whichever prices they wish. Which, of course, isn’t competition, either. It’s monopoly.

His No Child Left Behind Act has flaws, but its requirements have created a new climate of expectation and accountability.

NCLB imposes strict standards, requiring minimum levels of achievement on standardized test scores. But students who do well on standardized tests aren’t necessarily learning valuable knowledge—instead, they’re learning how to take standardized tests. The next standardized test I take in the “real” (non-education) world will be my first. And Bush has sorely underfunded NCLB, leaving already-strained schools without the resources to comply.

To Bush's credit, his tax policies have had the aggregate effect of pushing Americans toward more savings and investment -- the capital with which the world's strongest economy generates jobs.

U.S. household debt is at an all-time high, and personal bankruptcies are steadily on the rise. Americans are borrowing and spending more, not saving and investing. Bush himself has said that his tax cuts were intended to get more money in the hands of Americans so they can spend it as they wish. Also, this economy is not generating jobs as quickly as the working population is expanding—and the jobs that are being created pay substantially lower than those that have been lost, and provide fewer employee benefits.

Today's Kerry is more about plans and process than solutions. He is better suited to analysis than to action. He has not delivered a compelling blueprint for change.

Kerry wants to restore and improve America’s standing in the international community. He wants Americans to have better and more affordable health care, better education through NCLB revisions and funding for Head Start and job training, environmental preservation (primarily a commitment to address global warming), a greater economic equality amongst America’s citizens. I'll take his admirable goals over Bush's disastrous policies any day of the week.

During the past four years, George Bush has not made us any safer. He considered fighting terrorism to be a low priority up until 9/11, repeatedly ignoring warnings from his own intelligence sources. He resisted the concept of a Department of Homeland Security, only reversing himself once the idea appeared popular with the public, and then proceeded to severely underfund airline and port security, as well as first responders such as paramedics, police and fire departments, and emergency room personnel. He resisted the formation of the 9/11 Commission, then grudgingly acquiesced before finally resisting most of the commission’s recommendations. He diverted America’s military focus away from neutralizing al Qaeda, our top current enemy, to invade Iraq, which did not pose a direct threat to the U.S. He eviscerated America’s fiscal health with tax cuts in the face of both recession and war, depriving the government from financial resources necessary to protect us from terrorists. His unjust war in Iraq fueled an enormous upsurge in anti-American sentiment in the Arab world, whose radical extremists are our greatest enemy. His war has cost over 1,000 American lives to date, and carries a price tag which will ultimately run into the hundreds of billions, money which could have been spent ensuring our security at home; it has also left our military spread too thin, unable to support containment of North Korea or intervention in Sudan, and with reservists and National Guard fighting overseas instead of defending our own shores. And he alienated the U.S. from most of its traditional allies, leaving us more isolated from the world community than we have been in decades.

Bush’s domestic policies are no better, primarily serving a small, elite fraction of the population.

This is the so-called leadership we’ve gotten from George Bush, and can expect in the future from him. Somehow, inexplicably, the Tribune considers this man to be the best choice to make America a stronger, safer and better place. In making their endorsement, the Tribune shows as little conscience or awareness as Bush himself.

October 20, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Drug Reimportation is Safe, Just This Once

From the Center for American Progress:

For years, the Bush administration – at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry – has been blocking access to cheaper FDA-approved prescription drugs imported from Canada because it claimed they were not safe. But yesterday, in an abrupt about face, the administration announced the FDA is in "active negotiations" to obtain an extra 1.5 million doses of flu vaccine from a Canadian manufacturer. Acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford said "the FDA would inspect the Canadian facilities to see if they meet U.S. standards" and, if they meet those standards, it is possible the Canadian-made vaccine "would make it to American consumers this flu season." The FDA did not explain why, if the safety of Canadian-made vaccine could be established so quickly, it still hasn't figured out whether prescription drugs reimported from Canada are safe. (For the record, the FDA "can't name a single American who's been injured" from drugs purchased from a Canadian pharmacy.)

Oh, the explanation is simple enough: drug reimportation is safe as long as, in doing so, a domestic pharmaceutical company isn't deprived of the right to gouge consumers. If Chiron was at full capacity in making flu vaccine, you can bet the Bush Administration would be issuing grave warnings about reimported drugs being unsafe.

October 20, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Unread Editors for Kerry

This would be a lot more encouraging if anybody bothered to read the editorial page. I'll be posting a diatribe against the Tribune's Bush endorsement sometime tomorrow.

Kerry Leading in Papers' Endorsements
by Jon Friedman, CBS.MarketWatch.com
Oct. 18, 2004

NEW YORK (CBS.MW) -- Two weeks before the presidential election, Sen. John Kerry is leading President George Bush in newspaper endorsements by a margin of 45 to 30, according to Editor & Publisher. The trade publication reported that Kerry had added at least 30 endorsements over the weekend as Bush picked up 17.

"Kerry has more large papers on his side, maintaining his circulation edge at nearly 3-1: approximately 8.7 million to 3.3 million," Editor & Publisher said.

Of note, Kerry won the approval of the influential New York Times on Sunday.

In addition, Editor & Publisher pointed out, Kerry's new newspaper supporters included five dailies that had supported Bush in the 2000 election, when he defeated Vice President Al Gore: the Bradenton (Fla.) Herald; the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo.; the Columbia (Mo.) Tribune; the Daily-Herald, published in Arlington Heights, Ill.; and the Muskegon (Mich.) Chronicle.

Meanwhile, Bush got endorsements from the Chicago Tribune, Arizona Republic, the Denver Rocky Mountain News, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Richmond (Va.) Dispatch, the Indianapolis Star and The Dallas Morning News.

Historically, most newspapers endorse a candidate a week or two before an election.

It's always difficult to measure the importance of newspaper endorsements, especially in an age when more people tend to get their daily news from network and 24-hour cable television programs, Internet sites, or even such entertainment vehicles as "The Daily Show" and such late-night talk-show hosts as David Letterman and Jay Leno.

But the candidates will eagerly grab the publicity -- especially this year. The election, according to most prominent polls, is regarded as a dead heat with a photo finish in sight on Nov. 2.

Candidates Bush and Kerry recently completed three face-to-face, nationally televised debates. While Kerry was said to have "won" the encounters -- especially the widely watched first one -- he has struggled to fully erase the president's narrow post-convention lead in many polls.

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

In The Gallery


Two new efforts, one from Joliet and the other from Chicago. This is the first time I've gotten seriously creative with digital, having inherited an old HP Photosmart 715 from Julie, who just upgraded to a new Sony. I'm enjoying carrying the HP to work, though I'm sure "5.1 MP envy" will soon set in.

October 17, 2004 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aleksandar Hemon on WBEZ

Here's a tantalizing interview on WBEZ's Eight Forty-Eight program with Hemon, one of my absolute favorites.

Steve Edwards: What’s next for you now, as you think about upcoming works and projects?
Hemon: Well, I’m going to write my next book. It never stops.
Edwards: Do you write every day?
Hemon: No, but I think about it every day. I write when the pressure from the inside is so strong that I cannot avoid writing, and the pressure builds up as I think about it.
Edwards: We look forward to your next work. Any idea when we’ll be able to expect that?
Hemon: Oh, in a couple of years. I don’t want to jinx it. Maybe I’ll just take a long vacation.
Edwards: Well, we hope the pressure keeps building in the meantime.

In other Hemon news, Golden Rule Jones' appreciative profile of the author on WBEZ can be heard here.

October 15, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Oyez Review

Oyez Review is published here in Chicago, at Roosevelt University. The Winter 2002 issue was a very solid effort, with engaging short fiction and poetry as well as an interesting section of black & white street photography by C. Taylor. Highlights for me were Frank S. Joseph's "Dora on the Bus," a poignant monologue of a middle-aged black nanny who looks back in regret at the life she left behind in Mississippi; Hillary O'Connor's "Hillbilly", a moving account of a confused, fatherless young boy in rural Iowa trying to adjust to his new life; and, most vividly, Pulitzer nominee Saul Bennett's poem, "Herman's":


his mother and father Hitler
refugees who disappeared
when you entered their dark apartment
to swap comic books and press your head against
    the war
adventure serials sparking from their dinette radio.
Unlike regular parents they never offered
milk or cookies but appeared instead
to hide,
even from their only child. Once,
Herman's father offered
an ashen head
from behind a corridor wall shushing
us to be quiet
although the radio was off
as we sat reading, I swear,
our comics in incredible silence.

October 15, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Joliet in Verse

I just stumbled across Carl Sandburg's poetic ode to my adopted hometown of Joliet. I had no idea the city was so graciously honored.

58. Joliet

On the one hand the steel works.
On the other hand the penitentiary.
Sante Fé trains and Alton trains
Between smokestacks on the west
And gray walls on the east.
And Lockport down the river.

Part of the valley is God’s.
And part is man’s.
The river course laid out
A thousand years ago.
The canals ten years back.

The sun on two canals and one river
Makes three stripes of silver
Or copper and gold
Or shattered sunflower leaves.
  Talons of an iceberg
  Scraped out this valley.
  Claws of an avalanche loosed here.

October 14, 2004 in Books, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Anthony P. Hatch, Tinder Box

Anthony Hatch's Tinder Box: The Iroquois Theatre Disaster 1903 is an often riveting account of the worst single-building fire in U.S. history, which claimed the lives of roughly 600 people in Chicago on December 30, 1903. Hatch tells the story of the tragedy thoroughly and sympathetically, with plentiful brief sketches of victims as well as those who were lucky enough to survive. He also recounts the post-fire aftermath, which astoundingly resulted in no criminal convictions against the Iroquois' management or city officials, all of whom were clearly negligent in failing to prevent the catastrophe.

Most notably, Hatch meticulously catalogs the appallingly long list of safety deficiencies at the Iroquois which contributed to the disaster: lack of sprinklers, woefully inadequate fire extinguishers, highly flammable stage scenery and curtains, a safety curtain which was purportedly made of fireproof asbestos but turned out to be stuffed with incendiary wood pulp, never-completed fire escapes, exit doors which were either locked or opened inward, lack of exit signs, a grand staircase whose design virtually ensured trampling, and ushers who were completely untrained in fire safety and evacuation procedures. Despite these glaring deficiencies, the city allowed the theater to open, and had already been in operation for five weeks--with nothing being fixed--when the fire struck.

We'd all like to think that the Iroquois happened a long time ago, and that safety awareness has advanced to the point that a tragedy of this magnitude couldn't happen again. Perhaps of this magnitude, no, but the recent Chicago examples of the Cook County Administration Building highrise and the E2 nightclub, as well as The Station nightclub in West Warrick, Rhode Island, all show that we still have a lot to learn.

October 14, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

This is Grand, Indeed

The ever-enjoyable This is Grand has published my non-fiction piece, "Have a Pleasant Commute on Metra". True story--it actually happened to me back in July. I very much appreciated editor/publisher Jonathan Messinger's introductory note:

People have such potty mouths for no good reason. Pete contemplates the justified curse. You can read more by him here. And thus dawns a new day here at TiG, where we publish our first Metra piece. Our commuter rail is now open for business.

TiG's first-ever Metra piece! I am humbly honored.

October 13, 2004 in Chicago Observations, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bringing Back the Baathists

My, this is certainly an interesting piece of news.

Allawi Presses Effort to Bring Back Baathists
By Edward Wong and Erik Eckholm, New York Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 12 - Seeking to speed the return of senior officials of the former ruling Baath Party into the government, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has tried to dismantle a powerful independent commission that was established after the American invasion to keep such people from power.

It is the most aggressive move yet by Dr. Allawi, a former Baathist who fell out of favor with Saddam Hussein, to bring former ranking party members into his fold. Dr. Allawi says the readmissions will dampen an increasingly lethal insurgency by co-opting disenfranchised Sunni Muslim Baathists. The expertise of high officials from the old Iraqi security forces is also urgently needed to help combat the guerrillas, he contends.

And with general elections scheduled for January, Dr. Allawi and American officials are scrambling for ways to bring reluctant Sunnis into the political process.

(Full story)

Allawi's efforts run completely counter to the Bush Administration's previous decision to summarily expel all Baathists from government positions, which I criticized way back in December 2003:

(Adenauer's) decision to allow Nazis to occupy high offices, as long as they were repentant for their past ties, is in direct contrast to Bush's banning of all Baath party members from Iraq government jobs. Surely more than a few of these bureaucrats were Baathists in name only, and joined the party more out of expedience than political belief. The fate of the Kurds and Shiites under Saddam's regime clearly showed it was best to stay on the dictator's good side, even if that meant as little as officially joining a political party. If this also meant gainful government employment, the decision to join the party was even easier. With the U.S. taking over control of Iraq, the best way to win the loyalty of Baathists would have been to keep them in their jobs, always reminding them what a favor the U.S. was bestowing, rather than summarily firing them. This would have also maintained some continuity of government services, which would have averted much of the chaos which ensued and greatly eased the transition to Iraqi self-governance.

But who am I to make such impertinent suggestions? I'm just a lowly corporate drone, not a highly seasoned foreign policy expert like resident geniuses Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.

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

Greetings from Oslo

Sniff. This makes me so very proud to be one-eighth Norwegian.

Norwegians Place Anti-Bush Ad in Washington Post

OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegians including artists and politicians made a rare foray into U.S. politics Tuesday with an advertisement in a U.S. newspaper saying that President Bush's war on terror was backfiring.

The Norwegian group "www.tellhim.no" said it used about $50,000 in donations from 4,000 people to fund the advertisement in the Washington Post to tell Bush that 80 percent of people in NATO-member Norway opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

"Mr. President, your country can once again be a leading example of democracy and freedom, inspiring a world where terrorism can no longer breed," it said. "Your present policy only fosters resistance, more than ever, everywhere."

It urged a shift in U.S. foreign policy to allow greater U.N. involvement in Iraq, an apology to the Iraqi people for the war and compensation for victims.

It said Norway's government had given a wrong impression that Norwegians backed the war by sending 180 troops to Iraq to help stabilize the nation after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

The campaign says it has backing from people including musicians, actors, artists, some members of parliament, union members and ordinary citizens.

"Our main goal has been to create a debate in Norway," said campaign spokesman Torgeir Knag Fylkesnes, asked if U.S. citizens might resent foreign interference in U.S. politics.

"We don't think this will have an effect on the election. That's not our goal," he said when asked if the group hoped that voters would oust Bush next month and elect Democratic challenger John Kerry.

October 12, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Citizen Gladly Departs

We apologize for any inconvenience that three years of solitary confinement, continuous interrogation and permanent stigma may have caused.

U.S. Releases Saudi-American It Had Captured in Afghanistan
By Joel Brinkley and Eric Lichtblau
New York Times, October 12, 2004

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 11 - The three-year odyssey of Yaser E. Hamdi, the Saudi-American college student found in the company of Taliban fighters in 2001 and held in prison since then, came to an end on Monday after a secret military flight from a Navy brig in South Carolina to the airport in Riyadh, where he was greeted by his rapturous family.

The United States had held Mr. Hamdi, 24, in solitary confinement as an "enemy combatant" for much of the past three years. One condition of his release required Mr. Hamdi, who was born in Baton Rouge, La., to renounce his American citizenship within a week of his arrival here.

Mr. Hamdi did not wait a week; the Saudi Interior Ministry said he had proclaimed he was no longer American as soon as he stepped off the plane about noon.

(Full story)

October 12, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Another Letter to the Editor

Scroll all the way to the bottom of this page, and you'll see my latest letter to the editor of the Joliet Herald-News. Will County is generally Republican--I believe it went pretty easily to Bush in 2000--but I'm quite encouraged by the general tone of letters that the paper has been running. Hopefully this sentiment will be reflected in the Election Day returns as well.

October 11, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Democracy Proliferation Update

Two noteworthy stories on Bush's crusade to bring democracy--or at least his version of democracy--to the rest of the world:

Afghan Poll Is Mostly Calm, but Challengers Cry Foul
By Amy Waldman, New York Times

Afghans turned out to vote in large numbers on Saturday, but Hamid Karzai and his rivals disputed the integrity of the vote. (Full story)
Iraqis Fearing a Sunni Boycott of the Election
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times

Leaders of Iraq's Sunni minority say they have failed to generate any enthusiasm for nationwide elections scheduled for January. (Full story)

But remember, "We're makin' progress!"

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

Photo of the Week

By Tim Sloan for Getty/AFP.

Be still, my child. The nightmare will be over soon, although apparently no thanks to your parents.

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

...and Words of Denial

Question: President Bush, during the last four years, you have made thousands of decisions that have affected millions of lives. Please give three instances in which you came to realize you had made a wrong decision and what you did to correct it. Thank you.

George Bush: I have made a lot of decisions and some of them little, like appointments to boards you've never heard of, and some of them big. And in a war there's a lot of - there's a lot of tactical decisions that historians will look back and say, he shouldn't have done that, he shouldn't have made that decision. And I'll take responsibility for them. I'm human.

But on the big questions, about whether or not we should have gone into Afghanistan, the big question about whether we should have removed somebody in Iraq - I'll stand by those decisions because I think they're right. It's really what your - when they ask about the mistakes, that's what they're talking about. They're trying to say, did you make a mistake going into Iraq? And the answer is absolutely not. It was the right decision.

...On the tax cut, it's a big decision. I did the right decision. Our recession was one of the shallowest in modern history.

Now you ask what mistakes. I've made some mistakes in appointing people, but I'm not going to name them. I don't want to hurt their feelings on national TV.

But history will look back and I'm fully prepared to accept any mistakes that history judges to my administration.

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

Words of Wisdom

(The) President stood right here in this hall four years ago, and he was asked a question by somebody just like you, "Under what circumstances would you send people to war?' And his answer was with a viable exit strategy and only with enough forces to get the job done. He didn't do that. He broke that promise. We didn't have enough forces. General Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, told him he was going to need several hundred thousand, and guess what? They retired General Shinseki for telling him that.

...You rely on good military people to execute the military component of the strategy. But winning the peace is larger than just the military component. General Shinseki had the wisdom to say you're going to need several hundred thousand troops to win the peace. Military's job is to win the war. The president's job is to win the peace.

The president did not do what was necessary. Didn't bring in enough nations. Didn't deliver the help. Didn't close off the borders. Didn't even guard the ammo dumps. And now our kids are being killed with ammos right out of that dump.

--John Kerry, October 8, 2004

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

Dear Herald-News

I'm still waiting for the Joliet Herald-News to print my letter about last week's Presidential debate, but I'm willing to wait as long as they keep printing letters like this one, which ran in today's edition. Wow.

"This whole saga tells me that America has internal enemies that are just as venomous as our external foes. Wake up people, before we're destroyed!" So proclaims letter writer Susan Spreitzer in the Sept. 15 edition of The Herald News. Yes, this country is heading towards destruction, but not because of the homosexuality that the right wing religious extremists — our own American Taliban — rail against. It is because of the bigotry and outright hatred for their fellow citizens that comes so easily to those that anoint themselves as the moral arbiters of our country. If left to their own devices, make no mistake that these same self-righteous, moralistic cretins would gladly escort these "internal enemies" to gas chambers in a manner that would make Hitler proud. We are living in a country where the Constitution is fast becoming nothing more than glorified toilet paper. If you choose a lifestyle not approved by our American Taliban, that document doesn't apply to you. If you voice dissent regarding the incompetent actions of our Commander-in-Chief, you are an enemy of the state and a terrorist supporter. That thing about free speech? Sorry, only applies to those who blindly agree and acquiesce to those in control of the United States of Fear and Hate.

When the right wing starts pointing fingers at their fellow citizens and calling them "enemies," indeed, it is time to wake up. Because if we don't, we'll someday wake up to a totalitarian, fascistic country that used to be the beacon of freedom to the rest of the world.

Kevin B. Carter
New Lenox

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

Poster Children Get All Political On Us

Champaign-Urbana's longtime finest, the Poster Children, have put out an EP ("On the Offensive") of politically-charged cover songs by some of the greatest bands of the 80s. Rock on, Rick and Rose!

“We decided to record this batch of political songs because we're pissed off and we don't feel like keeping it to ourselves. One politician, one musician or one citizen isn't going to change the world but if enough of us speak out and more importantly VOTE we can make things better. That's not crazy idealistic hippie talk, that's democracy and democracy is punk rock! This CD is just one more snowflake on the snowball aimed at toppling over an administration leading our country down the primrose path.”
--Rick Valentin

1. Clampdown (The Clash)
2. (We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang (Heaven 17)
3. Let's Have a War (Fear)
4. The New World (X)
5. Divide and Conquer (Husker Du)
6. Complicated Game (XTC)

October 6, 2004 in Current Affairs, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Autograph THIS!

Book signings elsewhere are events of quiet, respectful decorum. Not here, no sirree.

By Jon Yates, Chicago Tribune
October 6, 2004

The battle over John Kerry's Vietnam War record flared up in Chicago on Tuesday, when members of a fledgling group that supports the Democratic presidential nominee confronted one of the authors of an anti-Kerry book at a downtown luncheon.

At one point, the bickering became so intense that organizers called in police. No arrests were made, but the book signing and speech, sponsored by the City Club of Chicago, were punctuated with sharp exchanges between co-author John O'Neill and members of a group called truthandtrust.com.

Several members of the group accused O'Neill of lying in the book, "Unfit for Command," in which O'Neill and co-author Jerome Corsi say Kerry exaggerated his service record.

"My book was the truth," O'Neill said after the luncheon. "I'm thrilled that they could bring people in and find not one single thing that was wrong with the book."

Debate over Kerry's military service has raged since May, when O'Neill and other members of a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth came forward to challenge key portions of Kerry's record. The group began running commercials in battleground states during the summer--ads that have been credited with damaging Kerry's presidential campaign. When "Unfit for Command" was released in August, it became a best seller.

Members of truthandtrust.com said they organized to challenge O'Neill's claims that Kerry did not deserve his three Purple Hearts or military awards. Several members of the group, including Rich McCann, served with Kerry in Vietnam.

"It's time for us to bury Vietnam," McCann, of Cleveland, said before the City Club event. "It's time for us to move on to other issues."

But Kerry's Vietnam record was the only issue debated during O'Neill's visit, and tempers flared before the book signing portion at the Chicago Athletic Association on Michigan Avenue was completed.

As O'Neill autographed books, military veteran Bobby Muller approached in his wheelchair, shook the author's hand, then asked repeatedly if O'Neill would debate him on Kerry's record.

After the two bickered for a few moments, O'Neill's wife, Anne, intervened, telling Muller to stop while nudging him away in his wheelchair.

"Tell her about the wreath you laid on Ho Chi Minh's grave," O'Neill said derisively, apparently in reference to a 1981 trip Muller made to Vietnam as a representative of the Vietnam Veterans of America, a group he formed in 1978 with Kerry.

A representative for Muller said the 1981 trip was part of an effort to get information on POWs and MIAs, and that Vietnamese soldiers, not Muller, laid the wreath at the gravesite.

"Come on, open it up, John," Muller told O'Neill. "Stop ducking me. Let's go head to head. Let's debate."

Organizers called in security and threatened to throw Muller out, but he was allowed to stay for the luncheon. Several times during O'Neill's speech, Kerry supporters jeered or shouted "that's not true" as O'Neill laid out the basis of his book.

October 6, 2004 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dim Bulbs in Washington

Steve Chapman uncorked this gem in yesterday's Tribune:

How many members of the Bush administration does it take to change a light bulb?

None. "There's nothing wrong with that light bulb. It has served us honorably. When you say it's burned out, you're giving encouragement to the forces of darkness. Once we install a light bulb, we never, ever change it. Real men don't need artificial light."

The rest of the column was inevitably a letdown after that stellar opening, but it's still worth a read.

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

Where Do You Stand Politically?

I took this highly informative test at politicalcompass.org. I'm not surprised by my results (solidly Left/Liberatarian) which put me in the esteemed company of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. As it turns out, I'm also in the opposite quadrant from John Kerry, though he is much closer to my position than the way-out-there Dubya. If you take the test, let me know where you ended up.

October 4, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (5)

Zine Reviews, Part 2

Thoughts on a fresh batch of zines, from Quimby's and elsewhere.

Found #3
Just like the name implies, Found consists of handwritten notes, email printouts, shopping lists, candid photos etc. which have been lost or simply discarded, only to be found and submitted to the magazine. Deftly edited by Davy Rothbart, Found is a fascinating cultural artifact which documents the thoughts, hopes and heartbreaking regrets of everyday people who never intended their words for public viewing. Also includes a rambling interview with Davy's brother Peter, Dumpster-diver extraordinaire, as the two hunt for finds in the collegiate detritus of Ann Arbor. Peter has some great insights on our disposable culture:

Peter: To go through trash you have to go through a shift in view. People see anything in a Dumpster as trash, and they think if it's there it should stay there, it's dirty or whatever. But this blanket, which just came from somebody's bed forty-five minutes ago, I don't think it's trash.
Davy: Yeah, it's really crazy that you can move something in physical space, and it becomes something else! From a blanket into trash.
Peter: Yeah, I'm just seeing it still as a blanket.

Caboose #4, "The Ridiculous Issue"
Quimby's very own Liz Mason writes Caboose which is fun and refreshing, much (I presume) like Liz herself. She's a punk chick who can relate what past idolizations of Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye et al says about who she is now, and yet isn't afraid to joyously confess her love for MTV workout videos and karaoke or relate her long-ago experiences working at Renaissance Faire. (Non-Chicagoans, read on here. The rest of you should already know.) And laugh-out-loud funny is her piece "College Radio DJ Voiceover Mad Lib" which includes:

And before that, you heard the (adjective) (plural noun) with "(saying on those retro ironic t-shirts)" from the EP "(superlative) (food)," on (letter) Records from (town encompassing liberal arts college without grades or where one creates own major).

(For those of you playing alone at home, those last three references were to K Records, Olympia, WA and Evergreen State College. I have yet to decipher the rest from K's back catalog.)

Burn Collector #12
Another installment of Al Burian's life odyssey. This time around it's a powerful account of a brutally frigid first winter in Chicago, a dying relationship, and two cathartic musical experiences, one with a roomful of barflies to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" and the other alone to Iron Maiden's "Screaming for Vengeance."

You forget the astounding depths you can reach when you're a teenager and you don't have any emotional filters, when you haven't yet learned to keep a stiff upper lip, to force yourself to tune out the weight of a world that is unbearable. As you get older your range of feeling becomes compressed within the limits you allow yourself to feel, how far you'll let yourself go. This is normal and necessary; we couldn't put up with the tiny tortures and humiliations of our daily lives otherwise...We can't just scream for vengeance all the time. But, simultaneously, we lose some fundamental and human aspect of ourselves when we learn to put up or shut up. You end up registering the heaviest emotional weight as nothing more than a hassle, the newest anecdote of inconvenience in your life. One day you slip up and find yourself crying hysterically to "take these chains off of my heart." Oh, this is embarrassing. This is the soundtrack to another me, a me inside of me, who at thirteen wanted to die from feeling a weight so monumental that I could not bear to live with it.

Underworld Crawl #1
Subtitled "monophonic rustbelt zine pulp", this zine is R. Lee's accounts of day-job ennui, excessive drinking and a near-loving tribute to his childhood pseudo-foster parent Harvey. But the capper is the story of Lee's unrepentantly foul co-worker Kizland, who's rendered so vividly that you'd swear he's fictional. Of such characters are classic underground novels made. (Lee gave me my copy for free; who knows, he might be similarly inclined if you're interested. Contact me for his address.)

Show Me the Money! #19
Very informative compendium of economic and political articles, mostly drawn from other sources (kind of a grim version of Utne). Includes a lengthy discussion of Japan, a rather distressing look at the sustainability of industrialized agriculture, and a fascinating take on The Wizard of Oz--I hadn't realized that the original book was actually a political/economic allegory centering on the 1896 McKinley-Bryan presidential campaign and the gold standard debate.

The First Line Fall 2004
As always, the journal provides the opening line (this time, "I was born Rosa Carlotta Silvana Grisanti, but in the mid-Eighties, I legally changed my name to Eve.") and writers take it from there. The difference this time around is that I actually submitted a piece for this issue ("Can't Be Happy Today, But Tomorrow"), the rejection of which is inevitably coloring my opinion of the pieces which were deemed as worthy. Several of the stories, I feel, are inferior to or no better than my own. With two notable exceptions: Heidi Rehmann's "Rosa's Readings" and Emily Fitch's "Disappearing", both of which beautifully describe a woman protagonist's transformation. (I'm reversing my previous reservations, and will indeed be submitting for the next issue. I'll show 'em, or something like that.)

Optic Nerve #1
The first issue of the renowned Adrian Tomine's graphic novel/comic/whatever-you-call-it. Sharp artwork and very involving narratives, particularly the heartbreakingly poignant "Lunch Break." Beautiful.

Duplex Planet #169
More of David Greenberger's wonderful interviews with senior citizens, full of the usual life accounts and offbeat wisdom.

Giovanni: I don't feel like sleeping anymore. No, I'm too old to sleeping. I rather do something.
Greenberger: You're too old for sleep?
Giovanni: You know, the baby needs to sleep. You know, after the mother gives it the milk they put him to sleep. I don't need it. What else do you need? Dry peppers.

Laxmichand D. Tejani: If you don't mind, I will tell you one thing: If you want happiness, make others happy first, then you will have happiness--it will be automatic!

October 2, 2004 in Zines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Writing the Congressman, Again

The House wisely failed to pass the Marriage Protection Amendment (f/k/a the Federal Marriage Amendment) yesterday, no thanks to my local "representative", Jerry Weller, who voted for it. Naturally, he's getting a nasty letter from me.

October 1, 2004

Representative Jerry Weller
U.S. House of Representatives
1210 Longworth House
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Representative Weller:

As your constituent, I am outraged by your "yes" vote on H.J. Res. 106, the Marriage Protection Amendment.

To use the Constitution to discriminate against any group of people is shameful. It is neither compassionate nor conservative. It is a radical position that would insert discrimination into the document that has guaranteed and expanded liberty and equality for over 200 years.

The U.S. Constitution should not be amended to limit the rights of a group of people. Further, the power to regulate marriage and the granting of civil marriage licenses is a power that has historically been reserved to the states. A constitutional amendment to prohibit governmental recognition of same-sex relationships would take this power away from states.

I am outraged that you want to build discrimination into the very document that should protect everyone.


Peter J. Anderson

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

One Very Proud Uncle

My niece, Beth Janicek, was featured in an NPR piece yesterday about her liberal political activism in NYC during the Republican National Convention. Listen here! She's turning into a very fine young woman--compassionate, well-spoken and sincere. I'm very proud of her, and even my Republican parents are as well.

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