Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn died this past Sunday and I'm sure if I had been paying attention to the local newspaper, I would have known and mentioned it earlier.

I met Thom Gunn last year, during my first quarter at Stanford as a Stegner fellow. He was the Lane Visiting Lecturer last fall, and after a colloqium/q & a session much like the one I described Merwin conducting below, Gunn and the other poetry Stegner fellows in attendance (and I snuck my girlfriend in as well) went to a private lunch at the Faculty Club. Very posh, very private, and Thom Gunn was as down to earth as any person walking along the street. He was cordial and generous and honest and patient and generally wonderful to be around. I'll miss him.

And on that note, I'll post one of Gunn's poems, a memoriam of sorts for the man I met once and wish I had gotten to know better.

Flooded Meadows

In sunlight now, after the weeks it rained,
Water has mapped irregular shapes that follow
Between no banks, impassive where it drained
Then stayed to rise and brim from every hollow.
Hillocks are firm, though soft, and not yet mud.
Tangles of long bright grass, like waterweed,
Surface upon the patches of the flood,
Distinct as islands from their valleys freed
And sharp as reefs dividing inland seas.
Yet definition is suspended, for,
In pools across the level listlessness,
Light answers only light before the breeze,
Cancelling the rutted, weedy, slow brown floor
For the unity of unabsorbed excess.

Met Merwin today

W. S. Merwin, that is.

He gave a reading at Kresge Auditorium last night which I was only able to pay partial attention to thanks to a toothache that wouldn't quit. (I'm going to the dentist on Thursday or I'm paying a bum to crack me across the jaw, one.) And he did a q & a session/colloqium as part of the Lane Lecture Series this afternoon.

He's in his 70s and he's still very sharp. I think the highlight for me came when he was discussing his meeting with Ezra Pound and Pound's advice regarding translation. Merwin noted that his work in translation greatly helped his own poetry because "you never know what language is capable of until it's pushed by an outside language." I need to relearn French and get back to my own translation work too.

If Iraq's in such bad shape, why isn't Bush?

That indeed is the $64,000 question, and I'm not going to pretend like I know something that every pundit and politician doesn't, but I'm going to throw this idea out there.

PIPA has a new report out on Iraq and on attitudes surrounding it. Here's an excerpt:

According to a new PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll, a majority of Americans (57%) continue to believe that before the war Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, including 20% who believe that Iraq was directly involved in the September 11 attacks. Forty-five percent believe that evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda has been found. Sixty percent believe that just before the war Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction (38%) or a major program for developing them (22%).

Despite statements by Richard Clarke, David Kay, Hans Blix and others, few Americans perceive most experts as saying the contrary. Only 15% said they are hearing “experts mostly agree Iraq was not providing substantial support to al Qaeda,” while 82% either said that “experts mostly agree Iraq was providing substantial support” (47%) or “experts are evenly divided on the question” (35%). Only 34% said they thought most experts believe Iraq did not have WMD, while 65% said most experts say Iraq did have them (30%) or that experts are divided on the question (35%).

So why does such a large percentage of the public have such a misshapen view of the pre-war Iraq situation when even the networks have recently been hammering the President on his penchant for, shall we say, dodging questions like he dodged flight status physicals?

There are no doubt a number of reasons. Right-wing radio has managed to convince most of its audience that anything not-Rush is part of an evil liberal cabal out to abort your children and use the stem cells to turn themselves into Godess-Feminazis. That audience automatically discounts anything said on tv by not-Fox and lumps the rest of the channels into this amalgam of "liberal media" that, as we all know, doesn't exist.

But that's not the whole problem. In truth, right-wing radio and Fox News only affects a small percentage of the viewing/listening public. They're a loud and vehement percentage, but they're still a small percentage. It is true that other media outlets, most notably CNN, have been so shell-shocked by the success of Fox News that they've been chasing Fox that they're chasing after, re-mouthing copy distributed by the administration instead of doing real reporting so they don't miss the story. They've done a better job as of late, but still, those percentages noted above don't lie.

So here's my theory. Part of the problem has to do with our recent strategy of allowing the Republicans to dig their own graves. I've been a proponent of it myself. Guess what? It ain't working. And we shouldn't be surprised. Bush I tried that in 1992 and look what it got him.

So it's time to do something different. We have to be the ones spotlighted in the news. Right now, Iraq is going to hell, but the news is still about Bush, and in the long run, that works to his advantage. Regardless of whether the news out of Iraq is good or bad, Bush is dominating the news cycle--period. We have to change that.

So whether he likes it or not, Kerry has to become an attack dog. His actions of late are reminiscent of the DLC strategies that served us so well in 2002--run to the middle, don't offend anyone, and lose. If we try to win by not pissing anyone off, we'll do neither. This is no time for the faint of heart.

When Bush dodges a question, Kerry needs to be on a tv screen somewhere demanding an answer--and not a Kerry spokesman either. Kerry himself. Spokesmen don't get cross-network coverage; the candidate does.

When Bush or one of his toadies tries to spin some more bad news out of Iraq, Kerry needs to be on a tv screen somewhere telling it bluntly, and putting the blame squarely where it belongs--on Bush. I realize the temptation to move blame to more specific targets like Wolfowitz or Cheney, but we must resist. Bush is the guy at the top--he's the target.

Kerry's not the candidate I wanted, mostly because I don't think he was the best choice to fight this election the way we have to fight it to win, but he's the candidate I've got, so I'm going to fight it out with him. But in our eagerness to watch the opposition go up in flames, we've stopped attacking--that's bad strategy. We can't win this thing by sitting back and hoping the Republicans will lose.

Walking in the woods

Yesterday, Amy and I went for a saunter in the Muir Woods, just north of San Francisco. Here's a sample of what we saw.

Amy's the one in the hole there.

I learned two things.

One. No matter what Dennis Miller said back when he was funny, masturbation is no substitute for exercise, no matter how often you do it. I learned that while traipsing around up and down hills and trails and wondering what a heart attack feels like. Two summers ago, Amy and I spent two weeks hiking through Mesa Verde, Arches and the Grand Canyon. Last summer, we moved ourselves across the country and stopped along the way to visit Mammoth Cave. This year, I was dying after 90 minutes of hiking in the shade of giant redwoods.

Two. No matter how big you think these trees are, no matter how much someone tries to describe their enormity, they're bigger when you see them. These are imagination-bogglingly tall trees. The sequoias are apparently wider, and I am now ready to go see them whenever I get the chance, but these redwoods are monstrous in their height and power. A simple hike through Muir Woods will certainly make you question your significance to the world around you.

Rich man goes to college
While the poor man goes to work.


Charlie Daniels' above statement on the divide between social classes might have been inaccurate for a brief period in the 90s, but as with all things, it's becoming true again.

My girlfriend (who just returned from her trip to defend her thesis--hooray!) and my crosslinked buddy Downstown have dealt with this NY Times article on economic inequity in college-land pretty well, although they come up with slightly different outlooks. Amy salutes the lower reputation colleges, the places where the two of us got our BAs and our MFAs, places like Florida Atlantic and Southeastern Lousiana, places that, as Amy says "are trying to educate everyday people." I agree with her completely as far as the lesser known schools are concerned--I've never been ashamed of the fact that I went to SLU and I'll always be proud of that degree. I hope, as she does, that the elite schools mentioned in the article are serious about trying to extend opportunities to the less fortunate. My gut tells me it's a lot of window dressing.

Greg argues that the best way to undercut the power that today's elite schools wield is to treat those who attend those schools as beneficiaries of legacy, as children of country club members. Greg has a point that Harvard and other elite school grads get a bit too much of a bump from the rep that their school has attained, but I don't know that mocking them is the answer. It seems to me that any school that has hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars of donations to work with doesn't need any federal help--send that money to the democratic schools, the folks on the ground, as Greg put it, "committed to training under-paid ministers" or for that matter schoolteachers, archaeologists, social workers and poets.

My suggestion? Go to school where you can get a good education without going too deeply into hock and then make the most of it. If someone looks down on you because you went to Arkansas instead of Yale, bust him up in a game of Trivial Pursuit and then whack him with a pool cue. That'll teach him.

Are they finally catching on?

Many people, mainly the ones over at Black Box Voting have been raising the alarm about the potential for tomfoolery with electronic voting machines. At first they were dismissed as conspiracy theorists, and even with some solid proof of the potential for problems, getting attention from the press and most importantly, local and state election boards has been tough.

But maybe that's starting to change. California has demanded a paper trail for all their electronic machines by 2006. Maryland has been beefing with Diebold over their certification procedures. Even Jon Stewart has gotten in on the action.

And now it's Indiana. WISH TV channel 8 in Indianapolis is doing a series of reports on their own ES&S mini-scandal, and the Marion Country election board is none too pleased.

On Tuesday, Marion County's clerk made it clear she now has serious concerns about that, too.

"The company with which the Marion County election board has contracted to provide its voting machines and software, has willfully and purposely deceived me and the Marion County election board,” said County Clerk Doris Anne Sadler.

Sadler accused the company that supplies the county's voting equipment, Election Systems and Software (ES&S) of lying and a cover-up. ES&S’ on-site project manager, Wendy Orange, blew the whistle on her employer. Orange informed Sadler last Friday that ES&S installed illegal software for the November election, and recently replaced it with legal software.
This isn't the first time that a company that sells electronic voting machines has been accused of tampering with software right before an election. The Diebold/Georgia 2002 election questions are all raised at Black Box Voting, and Diebold is at the center of another controversy in Alameda county where according to staff writer Ian Hoffman,
Attorneys for Diebold Election Systems Inc. warned in late November that its use of uncertified vote-counting software in Alameda County violated California election law and broke its $12.7 million contract with Alameda County.

This isn't a lot of coverage, mind you, but compared to the lone voices that were crying out in the wilderness a year ago, this is good news. It's coming out. America is potentially at stake.

When does it just get to be too much?

So the news the last few months has been bad for the Bush administration. The occupation in Iraq is not going as well as had been hoped. The economy is still sputtering--it seems every good piece of news is followed by two or three negative to questionable pieces. Even the most favorable polls show Bush's approval ratings hovering at 50%, and many show him well below that mark. The 9/11 Commission, which he opposed vehemently and only signed because public opinion forced his hand, is actually doing its job and is asking tough questions. And then there's been the recent spate of, shall we say, less-than-flattering books, first from Suskind/O'Neill, then Richard Clarke and now from Bob Woodward.

This is Woodward's second book on the Bush presidency. His first has been described charitably as an exercise in ass-kissing. This one apparently is anything but that. I haven't read it yet, and to be honest, I have so much work of my own to do that I may never get to it. But if the charges he levels in Woodward's book are accurate--and he apparently has tapes and detailed notes to back his story up--then even the fiercest partisan ought to think twice before supporting Bush this fall.

In his interview with 60 Minutes, Woodward makes some serious accusations. A report on the interview is here, and the following quotes are from the article.

Point one: The White House may have broken the law in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Woodward is the person in quotes.

"And there's this low boil on Iraq until the day before Thanksgiving, Nov. 21, 2001. This is 72 days after 9/11. This is part of this secret history. President Bush, after a National Security Council meeting, takes Don Rumsfeld aside, collars him physically, and takes him into a little cubbyhole room and closes the door and says, ‘What have you got in terms of plans for Iraq? What is the status of the war plan? I want you to get on it. I want you to keep it secret.’"

Woodward says immediately after that, Rumsfeld told Gen. Tommy Franks to develop a war plan to invade Iraq and remove Saddam - and that Rumsfeld gave Franks a blank check.

”Rumsfeld and Franks work out a deal essentially where Franks can spend any money he needs. And so he starts building runways and pipelines and doing all the preparations in Kuwait, specifically to make war possible,” says Woodward.

“Gets to a point where in July, the end of July 2002, they need $700 million, a large amount of money for all these tasks. And the president approves it. But Congress doesn't know and it is done. They get the money from a supplemental appropriation for the Afghan War, which Congress has approved. …Some people are gonna look at a document called the Constitution which says that no money will be drawn from the Treasury unless appropriated by Congress. Congress was totally in the dark on this."
Before the President had gotten authorization from Congress to do anything regarding Iraq, they took $700 million from the Afghanistan conflict and started on Iraq. Forget the legalities for a moment--how can Bush credibly claim that he was focused on Bin Laden when he authorized the diversion of such a large amount of resources from his capture to begin preparation for a war he had no authority to conduct? Simple answer--he can't.

Point two: the President's relationship with the House of Saud and with Prince Bandar in particular is closer than most realize, to the point where top secret intelligence was shared with him.
”Saturday, Jan. 11, with the president's permission, Cheney and Rumsfeld call Bandar to Cheney's West Wing office, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Myers, is there with a top-secret map of the war plan. And it says, ‘Top secret. No foreign.’ No foreign means no foreigners are supposed to see this,” says Woodward.

“They describe in detail the war plan for Bandar. And so Bandar, who's skeptical because he knows in the first Gulf War we didn't get Saddam out, so he says to Cheney and Rumsfeld, ‘So Saddam this time is gonna be out, period?’ And Cheney - who has said nothing - says the following: ‘Prince Bandar, once we start, Saddam is toast.’"

After Bandar left, according to Woodward, Cheney said, “I wanted him to know that this is for real. We're really doing it."

But this wasn’t enough for Prince Bandar, who Woodward says wanted confirmation from the president. “Then, two days later, Bandar is called to meet with the president and the president says, ‘Their message is my message,’” says Woodward.
Now why is the President of the US sharing top secret information with a major player in a foreign government, especially considering that government had the closest contacts with the 9/11 hijackers? We are talking about an agent of a government that, by Bush's own definition, should be part of his so-called "axis of evil" after all.

Point three: This is the one that really steams me, and it should piss off everyone. The Saudis are apparently planning to try to affect the election in the US this November.
Prince Bandar enjoys easy access to the Oval Office. His family and the Bush family are close. And Woodward told 60 Minutes that Bandar has promised the president that Saudi Arabia will lower oil prices in the months before the election - to ensure the U.S. economy is strong on election day.

Woodward says that Bandar understood that economic conditions were key before a presidential election: “They’re [oil prices] high. And they could go down very quickly. That's the Saudi pledge. Certainly over the summer, or as we get closer to the election, they could increase production several million barrels a day and the price would drop significantly.”
Al Gore got called every name in the book and was accused of treason for far less. Moreover, what Bush is essentially telling everyone is that he could theoretically get the Saudis to pump more oil, but he's going to gouge us longer so it will help him politically. And when White House spokesman Scott McClellan was questioned about this at length at today's press briefing, he wriggled and squirmed and yet did not offer a denial of any sort.

So tell me, Republicans--when is it too much? When do you finally say "enough"? When do you decide that this man is not representative of your party and that he is leading you down the road to disaster? When do you divorce yourselves from this person who claims to be conservative but is anything but?

Looking for a t-shirt?

Then go to Tom Bihn and check this one out.

Orcinus posted this link and image on his website that comes from a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story on this luggage tag that mysteriously found its way onto some bags.

The highlighted French at the bottom is roughly translated "We are sorry our president is an idiot. We didn't vote for him." The Thom Bihn company is stating that the employee who did this is talking about the president of the company, but in my opinion, it hardly matters. I love it, and I bought two of them.

And by the way--it's patriotic to buy them regardless of your political leanings. The t-shirts are made in California by American Apparel. You might want to cruise by their website next time you're looking for other apparel.

The Passion

of the Jesus Christ Action Figure with "walk on water action."

I especially like the Roman centurion figure with the "pierce the side of Jesus" lance.

Convenient symbols

In an editorial board meeting with the Columbus Dispatch on Thursday, Karl Rove said

he regretted the use of a "Mission Accomplished" banner as a backdrop for the president's landing on an aircraft carrier last May to mark the end of major combat operations in Iraq." (From the AP)

He called it "one of those convenient symbols," convenient, one might assume to the Democratic Party and not so convenient for Rove, considering the current state of affairs in Iraq.

But lest you think that Rove has any real remorse over the war, or even over the presumptious move towards final victory staged for Commander Bunnypants, please don't misunderstand. The fault lies with your press corps.

Rove... echoed Bush's contention that the phrase referred to the carrier's crew completing their 10-month mission, not the military completing its mission in Iraq.

Let's assume, just for shits and giggles, that Rove isn't lying like Limbaugh. One would suspect that the Bush administration would be quick to come out and ensure the press got the right message. They wouldn't want there to be any misunderstanding, right?

They apparently made a stab at it in October of last year to get the story out. Too bad it ran contrary to this White House press release entitled "President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended." (Remember, they added the "major" later.)

And Rove is a genius? I suppose I should be happy--at least someone from this administration has expressed regret for something, even if it's in a backhanded, effed up sort of way.

IRS Update

There's a reason I'm a poet with a student loan bill the size of a mortgage and my sister is an accountant with an actual mortgage that she'll probably pay off early. I don't know what that reason is, but I'm sure glad that one of us knows how to get the most out of the tax code.

Tax relief my ass!

Someone explain to me how I, a person with an adjusted gross income of under 12 grand this year, is facing a federal tax bill of almost eight hundred bucks. Hope my lovely sister the accountant can help me figure out another couple of deductions. Ugh!

Air Force I

Nuff said.

Edit--not quite enough said--the image is from those wonderful satirists at WhiteHouse.org. Got togive credit where credit is due.

Punks or Bitches?

Is there any member of this administration who'll stand up and take responsibility for anything that has happened for the last 3 years? Anyone who came in with them, I mean? Tenet has taken some responsibility. Clarke made "the apology" that not a single Republican can do anything but sneer at. But Tenet came in with Clinton, and Clarke rose to his highest position under the man.

But look at the current group. Bush. Cheney. Rice. Ashcroft. Let's just start with them. Nobody has taken responsibility for a goddamn thing. It's all a bunch of "we didn't know" and "the FBI didn't have the resources" and "terrorists don't announce their intentions ahead of time." Whiny little children, all of them.

So I leave it to you, my readers who occassionally drop by and leave comments. Which are they? Punks? or Bitches? (In the time-honored "I'm gonna make you my--" usage, of course.) Leave your votes and explanations in the comments and I'll choose and post the best of on the front page in a few days.

On Dean's demise

Okay, there are undoubtedly one or two of you out there (if I even have that many readers) who are going to say "Brian, why don't you just let this go?" But like Bill Hicks, I have no sense of shelf life.

I clicked on the Columbia Journalism Review link to the left there right before I was going to bed this morning and looky what I found. Now I will admit to only being really interested in the first question and answer, so I'll post it here for you.

Liz Cox Barrett: You spent a fair amount of time reporting on the Howard Dean campaign, before and during the primaries. What happened to his candidacy and was the media involved? And what's your take on the media's treatment of Judith Steinberg Dean?

Alexandra Marks: A lot of factors led to the downfall of the Dean campaign, but the media was very much one of those factors ... Here was a candidate who went from almost nowhere to all over the national stage in a matter of a very few months and I don't think he was accustomed to dealing with the national media. He was not accustomed to the harshness of the judgments and the speed with which judgments are made about individuals. He himself compounded the problem by -- it's pretty clear, he got to dislike the press ... I don't think his campaign responded to the media well.

And of course you have to mention the "I Have a Scream" speech ... as Dean liked to say [to the press], you all played that 673 times in one week ...


Let me let you in on a little secret, Alexandra. I, like thousands of other Dean supporters aren't big fans of the media these days either, mainly because you haven't been doing your damn jobs for so long it's ridiculous. I didn't realize it was the job of a candidate to kiss your asses--you know, I thought it was the position of the news media to be dispassionate purveyors of information. That's the way you like to posture yourselves, after all.

This is the logical conclusion of the news anchor as media star, I suppose--the reporter is more important than the story and must be cajoled and coddled in order to perform at the highest level. Hey, if I become a news anchor, can I have my own trailer complete with finger sandwiches with no crust and Kern's Guava Nectar on ice?

Congrats Lefty

I'm watching the Masters while surfing around, and Mickelson just dropped a beautiful birdie putt to win--the way it ought to happen. Lefty had a horrible start to the day, at one point dropping 3 shots in 4 holes, and in the meantime, Ernie Els made two eagles en route to a great round. But Phil kept it together, made a run, and was tied coming to the 18th hole. And made birdie to win, a birdie that was tailing away to the left at the hole and caught just enough of the lip to roll into the hole. It was beautiful. It was why there's no better drama than sport.

Another use for the mighty internet

A friend of mine showed me this site tonight: Foetry.com If you're an aspiring poet or someone--like me--who's been having trouble breaking through the logjam of the publishing world, you might want to check it out, especially if you're not a member of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. (Note: I'm not bashing the workshop or the program--I don't know enough about it to make a judgment--but this site makes a pretty good case that the faculty of said workshop has no issue with throwing its weight around.)

If you're trying to get a book of poetry published, this is the general route--you have to send it in with a reading fee to one of many contests and hope it wins. Unfortunately, it looks like some of these "contests" in recent years have had the fix in--contest judges have been picking their students or people with whom they have personal relationships. It's not always the case, perhaps not even the case the majority of the time, but it does happen, and this site is a good place to at least look for potential conflicts and perhaps think twice before sending in that entry fee.

And if you have a story of your own, please feel free to post it on the forums available there. Let me say this as well--I have absolutely no connection with these people. A friend of mine showed me the site tonight and I haven't had an opportunity to examine it fully myself, but I thought it was worth sharing.

Mini Coopers are fast!

Radar clocks Mini at Mach 3 speed

A Belgian motorist was left stunned after authorities sent him a speeding ticket for travelling in his Mini at three times the speed of sound.

The ticket claimed the man had been caught driving at 3380 kph (2,100 mph) - or Mach 3 speed - in a Brussels suburb, a Belgian newspaper reported.


Wonder what kind of mileage that thing gets?

Right Wing Eye

Thanks to Wonkette for this link to Right Wing Eye, a Planned Parenthood spoof of the Bravo show that keeps that network afloat. It stars Jerry Falwell (piety pusher), Ralph Reed (sexual savant), Pat Robertson (morality maven), Pat Buchanan (cultural coordinator), and Rush Limbaugh (grooming guru). Pretty cute, I think.

Hating Wal-Mart

According to Jay Nordlinger, hating Wal-Mart is akin to hating America. No, really. Kevin Drum notes this briefly in his Political Animal blog over at the Washington Monthly, but having spent 4 years of grad school at Wal-Mart University, I'd like to deconstruct Mr. Nordlinger a bit more indepth.

Nordlinger is crying because the voters of Inglewood overwhelmingly decided that they didn't want Wal-Mart to have an individual fiefdom in their midst. This is no "liberal exaggeration"--Wal-Mart funded a "ballot initiative that would have bypassed the government and allowed the construction without the traffic reviews, environmental studies or public hearings required of other developments." They wanted to set up their own kingdom in Inglewood, and that, more than anything, is apparently what drove the rejection of the ballot measure.

But Nordlinger has to make some sort of argument, so he turns to economics.

In addition to a million employees, Wal-Mart has 100 million shoppers a week, and those shoppers don't have guns to their heads, and they're not unhappy. Wal-Mart saves people a fortune — $20 billion a year, according to New England Consulting. And the real number is closer to $100 billion because of the lower prices Sam Walton's company forces from other retailers. I might add that Wal-Mart has made its investors tidy sums.


So let's break this down. Wal-Mart hires a lot of people--true, on its face, but these are hardly high paying jobs. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did a piece on February 27 noting that Wal-Mart employees had ten times the number of children on the state health insurance program as the next highest employer. As someone who has had his kid on a state program--ArkKids First--let me tell you that generally that means the parent(s) are going without because it's either unavailable or too expensive.

Wal-Mart does save people money with lower prices, and does force other retailers to lower their prices as well, true. But is this necessarily a good thing? Not always.
One big result of Wal-mart's relentless push to lower its prices is that they hardly ever sell anything manufactured in the US anymore. When I was a teenager, Wal-Mart made a big deal of advertising that they sold only US made goods. That turned into US made goods that were competitive with foreign made goods. Now they don't even try anymore. They don't care if what they sell is made by children in sweatshops--they only care about cheap. As a result, more than one US plant has closed because they can't compete with foreign made goods. Wal-Mart also has been known to examine the books of their suppliers in all markets and has claimed that their margins are too high, requiring them to make damaging concessions. The result? Lower paying jobs, or job losses, fewer benefits for those employees who retain their jobs, and that many more people who are forced to shop at Wal-Mart because they can't afford to shop anywhere else.

Nordlinger's only really valid point in that paragraph is that Wal-Mart has benefitted investors. It has. But their monetary benefit has come at a huge social cost.

Much of Nordlinger's column deals with the clash between Wal-Mart and the UFCW. Wal-mart's struggles with unionization have been excruciatingly detailed in the past, and have often involved treading heavily on the law. Wal-Mart is unabashed in its hatred for unions, and California is one of the last bastions of unionization in the grocery industry. Nordlinger acts as though Wal-Mart employees have simply turned down attempts by the UFCW and other unions to organize--that couldn't be farther from the truth. Wal-Mart managers are given detailed instructions on how to remain union free, and their tactics are often questionable to say the least.

Nordlinger acts as though Wal-Mart is a savior for the people of Inglewood, there to bring lower prices, good jobs, and happiness and sunshine throughout the land. I don't know what Inglewood is like--I've never been there. But I have seen Wal-mart up close and personal--Fayetteville, AR has a population of about 65,000 and 2 Supercenters and a Wal-Mart "neighborhood grocery"--and the result is that Wal-mart utterly dominates the everyday life of a large percentage of the population. It's a scary place, as detailed by writer Dan Baum in his Playboy piece entitled "God and Satan in Bentonville." (I can't find a link to the article online, but here's an interview Baum did with Anderson Cooper.)

So Nordlinger, sneer at those of us who don't think that Wal-Mart is the end-all of retail if you wish, and sneer at those of us who think that Wal-Mart ought to be forced to follow the same environmental and zoning rules that everyone else has to--I really don't care. All I know is that the citizens of Inglewood decided that, at least for now, something, anything, was more important than being able to buy a gallon of pickles for $2.97.

Welcome aboard, Arianna

Arianna Huffington is now a blogger. I'm glad she's joined the group, since I honestly believe this is one of the forward units in the information wars and we can use all the high profile people we can get. I especially love her self-proclaimed mash letter to the blogosphere. In it, she makes this brilliant point:

That's when it dawned on me: The problem isn't that the stories I care about aren't being covered; it's that they aren't being covered in the obsessive way that breaks through the din of our 500-channel universe. Because those 500 channels don't mean we get 500 times the examination and investigation of worthy news stories. It means we get the same narrow conventional-wisdom wrap-ups repeated 500 times. As in "Dean is angry."

Paradoxically, in these days of instant communication and 24-hour news channels, it's actually easier to miss information we might otherwise pay attention to. That's why we need stories to be covered and recovered and re-recovered and covered again -- until they filter up enough to become part of the cultural bloodstream.


That's the reason that more people "know" that Dean is angry than that Bush admitted that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks. One gets pounded by every pundit with a microphone and the other disappears into the ether, never to be mentioned again.

Until the blogosphere. Make no mistake--we're not winning the media wars yet, but we have had some small victories. Arianna mentions Trent Lott. We've also kept the pressure on the major news organizations to get the truth out about the WMD story and called them on it when they've swallowed the Bush administration's story without question. We busted them on the story about Howard Dean's "I have a scream" speech, although the damage they did to him was irreparable (and unforgivable, but that's another rant). And we continue to hammer them on everything from Condi Rice's testimony to Ashcroft's obsession with porn.

And we'll keep on keeping on. I used to think that the people who characterized the internet as a great populist and libertarian tool were overstating their case. I stand corrected.

Update

The transcript is here. Thanks to Change for America for the link.

So because I have the transcript now, I can quote former Senator Kerrey exactly:

I believe, first of all, that we underestimate that this war on terrorism is really a war against radical Islam. Terrorism is a tactic. It's not a war itself.

This is a meme that truly needs to take hold. We need to push it on radio, on television, and throughout the blogosphere. Here's why.

As long as Bush and his people are allowed to frame this as a "war on terror," they can continue to be vague and to avoid having to point to any results. They're counting on that to keep this country in a constant state of war.

The fact is that we are involved in two wars right now--a war in Iraq and a war with al-Qaeda, and on both fronts, we're in bad shape. I think both wars are still winnable, but we're not doing well right now. But the longer the President is able to obfuscate this by calling it a "war on terror," the longer it will be before we can actually focus on getting both jobs done--decimating al-Qaeda and rebuilding Iraq (which I'm starting to think will inevitably wind up as three separate states).

Rice's testimony

Didn't watch it. I don't have cable and have no plans to get it any time soon, so I've been dealing with transcripts and Air America to get my fill of it, and I'll be checking the C-SPAN website as soon as Randi Rhodes finishes up to listen for myself.

That said, here are my early favorites for "you've been busted" moment.
Number one

Former Senator Bob Kerrey, a Democratic commission member, was skeptical of Ms. Rice's assertion that President Bush was committed well before Sept. 11, 2001, to a broad, strategic approach to eradicating Al Qaeda, as opposed to simple "fly-swatting."

"Can you tell me one example where the president swatted a fly when it came to Al Qaeda prior to 9/11?" Mr. Kerrey asked.

Ms. Rice replied, "I think what the president was speaking to was——"

"No, no," Mr. Kerrey interjected. "What fly had he swatted?"


Number two
Mr. Ben-Veniste persisted, asking, "Isn't it a fact, Dr. Rice" that the presidential daily briefing on Aug. 6 "warned against possible attacks in this country?"

He ended the question by asking her to give the name of the memo, to which she replied: "I believe the title was `Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.' "


The last one is a clip I heard on Randi Rhodes' show, and I can't link it or quote it directly, but it was Kerrey's moment when he noted that this isn't a war on terror, but is rather a war on radical Islamists, that terror is a tactic and can't be warred upon. That's something I and others have been ranting about for weeks now and it really needs to take hold.

I've long been referring to this as a war on al-Qaeda because I refuse to call it a war on terror--in a world filled with uncertainty, we have to have precision in our uses of language. Sloppiness of language is indicative of sloppiness of thought, in my opinion, and a comparison of the last two administrations is a perfect example to make that point.

Clinton got hammered because of his exactness of language--his opponents called it "parsing"--but he and his staff were focused on the problems at hand and were not murky when it came to what they wanted to get done. Bush is sloppy in his language, as are many, if not all of his advisers, and when they find themselves in a world of shit, like they are now, they can't see any clear way to handle it.

Say what you will about Kerry--when you listen to or read his answers to questions, he is exact in his use of language. He's not the most easy to soundbite, but he is exact. I thought Dean was better because he got to the point more quickly, and Edwards was more rhetorically sound, but the simple truth is that all three of them were more exact and precise in their use of language than anyone in the current administration is.

On the latest from Iraq

I haven't been blogging on this story because, quite frankly, everyone else has been and they're far more qualified to talk about it than some schlub of a poet with an inexplicable jones for news who's only awake because of a toothache.

But something Matthew Yglesias posted struck a note with me and reminded me of when I was watching the first Gulf War on the myriad television sets I was trying to sell when I worked at Sears Brand Central at the time.

He writes:

This account of the battle to retake Falluja is very interesting reading and speaks to the competence and bravery of our United States Marines, but one has to ask oneself -- what's the goal, exactly?


That really is the question. I remember thinking that the first President Bush had dodged a dangerous bullet in 1991 by not invading the country, not because the coalition would have fallen apart like so many pundits and historians like to mention, but because if you invade a country, you have severely limited your options. You almost either have to make the place your own--colonize it--or you have to get the hell out and let it rebuild itself.

Everyone points to Germany and Japan post-WWII as the example of how to rebuild a society and foster a democracy, but I've got to think that those two countries are the exception rather than the rule, and I think recent history would bear me out on that.

Had we invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam in 1991, Poppy Bush may well have won a second term--there was less time for the occupation to go to hell like Dubya's has and it might have served as enough of a distraction from the economic malaise for him to sneak a win over Clinton. (Note: I am not saying this would have been a good thing--far from it.) But sooner or later, Poppy would have had to deal with the same things that Dubya does right now--or doesn't, as he's apparently headed off to vacation again.

Here's one lesson I think we can learn from history--if you invade, if you are going to build an empire, you'd better be ready to be absolutely ruthless. You have to be willing to treat entire populations as subhuman and kill them without a thought. The Romans were. The British were. The U.S. was, once upon a time. We're not anymore, thank goodness.

And that's why we're bogged down in this quagmire now, just like we were in Viet Nam. We're not ruthless anymore. We've moved on from our desire to build an empire--well, most of us have, anyway. We're no longer willing to commit genocide over natural resources or over a principle or over an ideal, and considering the lethal power we still have available in the form of nuclear weapons, it's a good thing, too.

I think it's time for us to acknowledge, as a society, that we have no taste for the ruthlessness that colonization requires, so we can move on from there. Our military can still be used for defense and for humanitarian efforts, for the saving of people from murderous dictators. But we should not go in to other countries as occupiers, as colonizers, as empire-builders, ever again. The human cost is too high and we already know we are unwilling to pay it.

So which is worse?

The Catholic Church is trying to recover from a vicious scandal involving the big dirty not-very-secret that some of their priests are kiddy-diddlers, they've got one of their own running and yet are pissed because he dares to support a woman's right to choose and doesn't think that homosexuals ought to be treated like vermin, and yet they're going to kick this guy out of the priesthood because he was growing some weed?

A Roman Catholic priest received two years of probation Tuesday for growing marijuana in his church residence. The Rev. Richard Arko, 40, pleaded guilty to two counts of illegal cultivation of marijuana related to 35 plants in the rectory of Prince of Peace Roman Catholic Church....

Arko said it's unlikely he will be able to continue as a priest, but hopes he can "move on in my life and continue to serve others."


Okay, so maybe I'm overreacting a little here, but I do have a problem with any societal group that refuses to accept that society changes and that in order to remain vibrant and alive, that group needs to adapt and not remain bound by strictures that, quite frankly, don't serve much of a useful purpose anymore. Is there really that much of a difference between conservative Catholics of the Mel Gibson type and radical Islamists? Is there that great a divide between Fred Phelps and Moqtada Al Sadr? I don't think so.

Update: I just read this article which further convinces me that those religions based on literal interpretations of the Bible often do more harm than good.
A jailed man accused of killing and cutting out the hearts of his son, estranged wife and her daughter plucked out his own eye and then quoted from the Bible, officials said Tuesday.

Andre L. Thomas was in a county jail cell Friday night when he tore his eye out of its socket with his hands, said Grayson County Sheriff Keith Gary.

Thomas, 21, then quoted the verse Mark 9:47: "And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell."


How much do you want to bet that, like the Son of Sam who claimed to be born again while in prison, this guy thinks this single act of "penitence" will get him that free ticket to glory?

Wow

Barry Bonds is un-freaking believable. He's re-goddamn-diculous. He's whatever other retarded expletive you can come up with. It's not enough that he's laced two doubles--he just tied it up in the 8th with a 3-run rocket that nobody thought was going out until it did. The announcer just said that it took 4 seconds to go from the bat to over the wall. Damn.

Happy Baseball Day!

We really should push for this to be a national holiday, especially since the Cubs won today.

I'll be watching the Giants on tv this afternoon since I'm a resident of San Francisco now, and I even have a Giants baseball cap as a symbol of my current pseudo-allegiance, so let's see some balls and strikes and see how long it takes Barry to pass Willie.

Update: MLB has got a great deal on their website--for 15 bucks you can get the audio to any game for the entire season, and for 80 bucks you can get streaming video as well. I went for the audio only. But just my luck, the first game I click on is the Cardinals game, and it's in the middle of the fifth and the announcers are busy fawning over the Unelectable one. I've got the sound turned down for now.

Sinking in their own spin

The very first sentence of this column by Michael Harris of the Ottowa Sun ought to give you the "oh shits!"

According to a new book by Paul Rutherford, Weapons of Mass Persuasion, there are 20,000 more public relations experts in the United States doctoring the news than there are journalists trying to write it.

But wait--it gets worse.
In his book, just released by University of Toronto Press, Rutherford notes that up to 40% of what appears in American newspapers consists of items produced by press agents and public relations firms, which is then regurgitated by the "objective" news organs. News conferences which were once a mere clue to the real story are the story.

Events are dutifully reported verbatim even when the party giving the press conference refuses to take questions -- as President Bush did this week when he portrayed himself as a person anxious to have his national security adviser testify before the 9/11 commission. The man who had spent months stonewalling his own commission came off as a leader with a deep commitment to a public search for the truth about that awful September day. The new objectivity.

Now I have ranted before, not so very long ago about the despicable state of the mass media that poses as news in this country, but there really does have to come a time when we collectively give the traditional media outlets the finger and demand better for ourselves. Harris thinks that time may be approaching. He writes"
But there is a hint at least that the public may be fed up. According to the latest Nielsen ratings, CNN has lost 52% of its viewing audience for the first quarter of 2004. In fact, only one of CNN's news shows made the Top 12 cable broadcasts in the U.S. Over the same period, viewership of the Fox News Channel fell by 36%.

So at least some people are starting to see through the miasma, but are they turning elsewhere for their news or are they simply giving up on it altogether? I don't know, and I'm scared to try to find out.

Which NY Times Op-Ed Columnist Are You?

Read 'em and weep, Ezra.



You are Paul Krugman! You're a brilliant economist with a knack for both making sense of the current economic situation and exposing the Bush administration's lies about it. You somehow came out as the best anti-war writer on the Op-Ed staff. Other economists hate your guts for selling out to the liberals. To hell with 'em.

Which New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

One rule for thee, but not for me.

Thanks to Orcinus for making this his top story, and if he isn't on the top of your must-read list, he ought to be.

Kay Grogan of Opinioneditorials.com suggests that:

There needs to be a law passed where any person who disrespects the "Office of the Presidency" by making false accusations and spreading deliberate rumors about the president, should be charged with a felony or at the very least a high misdemeanor.


I agree. So who's going to put in jail all those pos's who suggested that the sitting president was guilty of drugrunning through the little town of Mena, Arkansas, or who was guilty of the murder of Vince Foster, or who was guilty of the rape of an underage minority and was the father of the resultant offspring?

But oh no--you only give a shit when it's your guy in power, and therefore in the line of fire.The saddest thing is that the charges you claim are being levelled against your guy, "from being negligent in stopping the 9/11 attacks, to making up fraudulent reasons to go to war in Iraq," are closer to reality than anything than your folks ever levelled against William Jefferson Clinton. The more that defectors from the Bush administration (O'Neill, Clarke) as well as former bootlickers (Woodward) talk about the mood of the administration pre 9/11, the more your guys look like irresponsible asshats who made shit up in order to get good targets to bomb (Rumsfeld). So give me a freaking break before you start spouting your self-righteous crap, won't you please.

On another note (not lighter), a friend of mine has made this his email signature. I encourage everyone to make it their own or at least include it in the bodies of the emails they send for the next couple of months.
Do you have faith that free speech is still legal in America? Are you confident that Carnivore-type sweep filters are not reading your private conversations? Then you won’t mind the following words attached to this email: Bush midnight Mullah United American flight militia monument martyr Muhammad Ali patriot deputy decoy distraction nitrate Omar Sharif Christmas
Qatar Cole wave team camera ammonium anthrax Columbine Koran knees virgins heaven justice Kareem Abdul Jabbar.


That is all.

Gutting the media whores

Jon Stewart unsheathed his claws a long time ago, but for a long time he was merely poking gentle jabs at politicos and media idjits of all shapes and persuasions. Now he has joined the likes of Bob Somerby in unleashing the hounds upon the bullshit artists that surround and even inundate us with their crap.

Today's must-see tv? Follow the Jon Stewart link above and watch the piece entitled "Medicalert." Watch that and then ask yourself, "Why didn't I hear about this story on CNN? On Fox? MSNBC? Any of the freaking network news shows?" Ask yourself why you have to go to Comedy Freaking Central and watch a satirical news show to find out that the White House is sending out fake news to tv stations and that those stations' news organizations are actually running it as honest-to-God news?

Don't believe this is actually happening? Check out Krugman's latest.

On Monday, Mr. Letterman ran a video clip of a boy yawning and fidgeting during a speech by George Bush. It was harmless stuff; a White House that thinks it's cute to have Mr. Bush make jokes about missing W.M.D. should be able to handle a little ribbing about boring speeches.

CNN ran the Letterman clip on Tuesday, just before a commercial. Then the CNN anchor Daryn Kagan came back to inform viewers that the clip was a fake: "We're being told by the White House that the kid, as funny as he was, was edited into that video." Later in the day, another anchor amended that: the boy was at the rally, but not where he was shown in the video.

On his Tuesday night show, Mr. Letterman was not amused: "That is an out and out 100 percent absolute lie. The kid absolutely was there, and he absolutely was doing everything we pictured via the videotape."

But here's the really interesting part: CNN backed down, but it told Mr. Letterman that Ms. Kagan "misspoke," that the White House was not the source of the false claim. (So who was? And if the claim didn't come from the White House, why did CNN run with it without checking?)

In short, CNN passed along a smear that it attributed to the White House. When the smear backfired, it declared its previous statements inoperative and said the White House wasn't responsible.


In short, has CNN now officially lost its right to be call itself "the most trusted name in news"? And is there even an pretender to the throne? Is this our Howard Beale moment where we collectively stand and scream "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore?"

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