Friday, February 03, 2006

Hello Pittsburgh! Rally downtown yesterday. Go STEELERS!
Pittsburgh Post Gazette photo. Posted by Picasa

This North Coast Place

Running in Place

This week's North Coast Journal cover story is an interview with two banker/entreprenurial Humboldt residents talking about the county's economy. I have two quick reactions on subjects they brought up, primarily of local interest but also with wider application: the relationship of government and business, and the public relations dilemma of our local university, in a time it has begun the mainstay of the local economy and should be even more of a focus in the future. But it's currently struggling to stay alive.


NEWS FROM THE DAILY PROPHET: the new Harry Potter movie has started production, featuring the usual cast and Imelda Staunton (pix here) as the uxorious dictator who takes umbrage at everything Harry does--- Dolores Umbridge. Posted by Picasa

Pictured at right is Rep. John Boehner, the "reform" candidate elected yesterday to be GOP House Majority Leader. Known to be in the pocket of K Street lobbyists, he achieved fame by distributing checks from Big Tobacco on the House floor just before a tobacco bill vote. That's President Bush on the left, of course. They must be talking about how best to use cigarettes for torture. Posted by Picasa

The Daily Babble

You know the rap on Shakespeare---good stories, but the plays are filled with cliches. There's a bunch in As You Like It, everything from "neither rhyme nor reason" to "wouldn't hurt a fly." Not to mention, "All the world's a play..."

It's actually part of the fun to hear the first instance of what have become common parlance, and to realize the origin and catch the context. But it's still more than possible to find passages that haven't been data-mined so thoroughly. One of my favorite bits of dialogue begins Act IV, when the high-spirited heroine of the play, Rosalind, still in her disguise as the male "youth" Ganymede, has a teasing conversation with the melancholy Frenchman, Jacques, the guy who came up with the "All the world's a play" speech.

Rosalind is chiding Jacques for being melancholy, but he's serious about it--he's made quite a study of the different shades of melancholy, though he insists his is unique:..."it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness."

Jacques is defining melancholy as a humorous sadness, which may ring true to us today as it seemed to fascinate several of the English Romantic poets. But what interests Rosalind is Jacques melancholy as a product of traveling. All of the people at this point in the play are in exiles in the forest of Arden, and had to travel a ways (at least 20 miles) to get there. But Rosalind is now pointed towards marriage, and is not interested in traveling as a way of life.

"A traveler!" Rosalind says. "By my faith, you have great reason to be sad. I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men's. Then to have seen much and to have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands."

"Yes, I have gained my experience," is Jacques only reply, before another character enters and the play resumes its story.

Since I spent much of my working life as a traveler, "based" in one place but traveling on assignment for magazines and for my book, and since I have little sense of being at home where I now live, or perhaps anywhere I've lived, this passage has meant something to me.

I find myself at the start of the third act of my life, also owning nothing, with no progeny, with poor hands. But for a kid from a small western Pennsylvania town, I did see and experience a lot. Certainly more than if I'd stayed home, or perhaps even settled down in my 20s or 30s.

I did not gain any property or family. I gained only my experience. Cause enough for a humorous sadness?

Who knows? At my time, your life is your life, whatever it was is what you are. I had intended to collect some of my articles written as a result of my travels into a book. One of the reasons I created my archival blog, kowincidence, was to begin collecting and editing the articles I wanted to preserve, part of my little legacy. I had intended to self-publish, of course.

Now that seems less likely to happen. I've done a lot of the most interesting part to me, which is revisiting some (but not all) of those pieces. I suppose selecting and putting a book together would be interesting, and maybe I'll be motivated by that sometime, but there is no exterior demand I'm aware of, and so no motivation from that source. And there are always other things to do just to get by. And especially the question of paying for it.

However, I did select a title for such a collection, and it comes from this conversation in this play. I'd call it Rich Eyes.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Happy birthday, J.J. Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"The philosophic mind inclines always to an elaborate life—the life of Goethe or of Leonardo da Vinci; but the life of the poet is intense—the life of Blake or of Dante—taking into its centre the life that surrounds it and flinging it abroad again amid planetary music."

James Joyce, born February 2, 1882. He liked to publish his books on his birthday.
What Bush Didn't Mean It Literally Means, Literally

Firedoglake points out this little inconvenient fact. While Big Smirk said in his State of the Union parody that his Bushites were going to break our dependence on foreign oil with new technologies, he and his Bushites were actually doing this:

The Energy Department will begin laying off researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the next week or two because of cuts to its budget.

A veteran researcher said the staff had been told that the cuts would be concentrated among researchers in wind and biomass, which includes ethanol. Those are two of the technologies that Mr. Bush cited on Tuesday night as holding the promise to replace part of the nation's oil imports.The budget for the laboratory, which is just west of Denver, was cut by nearly 15 percent, to $174 million from $202 million, requiring the layoff of about 40 staff members out of a total of 930, said a spokesman, George Douglas. The cut is for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.

Yesterday's "most popular" email. Posted by Picasa
Hey lighten up, it was just another stupid speech

My apologies if you heard Jon Stewart already do this (the biggest drawback of being cableless is not seeing The Daily Show until it's online)--but here's the first graph of a Knight-Ridder story:

One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.

What a kidder, huh? He follows all those laugh-out-loud lines in the actual state of the union parody he delivered, with a morning-after topper. Now we see what the difference between a monarchy and a democracy is. In a democracy, the king is his own fool.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Center of the Milky Way. Posted by Picasa

The Daily Babble

It's raining. It's been raining. This is winter here. It rains.

I've barely moved from the computer. I wrote the second (and I hope last) Frey post of the last 24 hours, and re-posted all four pieces on the subject, in order, at Books In Heat.

I do all my Internet stuff on my laptop, because being newer than my ancient (3 years old? 4?) desktop, it was simpler to connect it to the DSL. But with the smaller screen and resolution, it's doing my old eyes no good at all.

The coming weekend is shaping up to be strange. I attend a production of "As You Like It" on Friday night. It's my favorite Shakespeare comedy, so I'm looking forward to it, and dreading it simultaneously. You can figure out why. Then I have to write about it, which I usually would do mostly on Sunday. But Sunday is the Super Bowl, which normally wouldn't be a crucial matter except this year of course the Steelers are in it. So it becomes a crucial matter.

Then on Monday morning I'm supposed to do an hour call-in radio show on the Jefferson Public Radio network. What are the chances I'll have a voice by then? Or that I will have slept? Between celebrating or being depressed, and getting my review column in, chances aren't that good for many hours of rest. Margaret seems to feel I'm particularly entertaining when sleep deprived, so I'll have to count on that to get me through babbling on the airwaves.

The Big Smirk in the White House has done many awful and unforgivable things, but last night he really hit home when his State of the Union parody pre-empted one of the fictional Presidents in Commander-in-Chief and even more seriously, Boston Legal. William Shatner's performances as Denny Crain are singular, a force of nature, and have changed the entire mood and character of the show. But it's James Spader's character I've come to regard as a hero. I count on him to articulate the issues, with the eloquence that makes the bad guys lose. This I submit is the proper role of fantasy in our lives, or one of them, and in these times it is sorely needed.
Once More Into the Frey, Dear Friends

Today's New York Times has a short account of the explanation/apology that James Frey has released as an explanatory note to be included in future copies of his Million Man Lies book, apparently the text that he and his Nanny were working on over her tuna salad (the WSJ doesn't say what he ate, if anything) in the meeting described in the Wall Street Journal article, see directly earlier post. Frey's statement is posted as a PDF file on the Random House site.

Frey indicates that he is genuinely unsure of the tooth-pulling incident, and says his doctors at the Hazelden clinic think his memory is flawed. (However, several treatment professionals formerly employed there are on record saying that the majority of Frey's book, about his treatment, is false.) There is something of the insanity defense in this, but it may well be true.

He also writes that he had no idea his book would be this popular, and he's felt overwhelmed at times, which also rings true. So possible factors begin to emerge: his purchase on the truth is flawed by the effects of the addiction he writes about, and he probably persuaded himself that a few "embellishments" wouldn't matter in a book that might sell a few thousand copies to a particular market.

I also feel it's churlish to continue writing about a book I have not read, and as no one is paying me to go through that travail, a book I don't intend to read. But I can comment on the statement, which I have read.

Frey says some of his embellishments had a structural purpose, to make a better narrative. But he offers another reason, summarized by the Times:

Overall, his self-portrayal in "A Million Little Pieces," is "a combination of facts about my life and certain embellishments," about a person who "I created in my mind to help me cope" with drug addiction and recovery. He said most of the invented material "portrayed me in ways that made me tougher and more daring and more aggressive than in reality I was, or I am."

The events and details were invented, he said, "in order to serve what I felt was the greater purpose of the book," specifically to "detail the fight addicts and alcoholics experience in their minds and in their bodies, and detail why that fight is difficult to win."

This suggests that some of these "embellishments" were part of the pathology of drug addiction and the tools he employed in coping and recovery. In literary terms, he is describing a function and a strategy known as the "unreliable narrator." It is a technique rich in possibilities. The problem is that it works when the author uses it consciously, and the work is fiction.

It's true that some of the earliest novels were counterfeit journals of voyages, sermons and cautionary tales about the sins of people who didn't actually exist. But these quickly became conscious literary devices, and there were always clues to the "deception." There come to be clues as to what is outside the narrator's head and what's only inside it, or clues that it's all in his head, or that you can't trust any of it to be objectively true.

But in Frey's case, he was selling these melodramatic lies as true, without irony. He suggests he wasn't in total control of this material, representing what may have gone on only in his mind as things which happened in the outer world. He describes a pathology, not a legitimate writing approach. But let's skip to the final paragraph of his statement, where he justifies this.

There is much debate now about the respective natures of works of memoir,
nonfiction, and fiction. That debate will likely continue for some
time. I believe, and I understand others strongly disagree, that memoir allows
the writer to work from memory instead of from a strict journalistic
or historical standard. It is about impression and feeling, about individual
recollection. This memoir is a combination of facts about my life and certain
embellishments. It is a subjective truth, altered by the mind of a recovering
drug addict and alcoholic. Ultimately, it’s a story, and one that I
could not have written without having lived the life I’ve lived.

The key here is the assertion that memoirs are about memory, and it's categorically inappropriate to hold them to a "strict journalistic or historical standard." The problem is that in books, readers expect to know what is the writer's fantasy and what actually happened in the shared world. Many of Frey's "embellishments" involve other people, including a tragic death that affected families and their friends. It's interesting in a literary sense for an author to inject himself into those events even when he wasn't actually part of them, because he feels so strongly about them. But it is dishonest to assert this fantasy was true, and in effect it exploits those events.

In his statement Frey says he'd been writing movies in Hollywood when he started this book. No one expects a Hollywood biography or historical story to be anything more than loosely true. Most moviegoers understand that liberties will be taken for dramatic effect (usually the creation of subsidiary characters or combining several into one, collapsing time, leaving out messy details and contradictions to the arc of the story, etc.) but these days there is usually some textual indication--after the show, buried in the credits, etc.--of the extent of the changes. This Hollywood standard however has not been the standard for books. At least not until now.

I don't think anyone is calling for a "strict" journalistic standard---Frey would be forgiven for saying he was in jail for a year if it turned out it was 10 months (it was a few hours.) But by his own admission Frey asserted things happened in the shared world that happened only in his mind, however addled. That's inflicting delusion on readers with the assertion it is public fact.

What Frey suggests could make a fascinating book---this interplay of fantasy and objectively verifiable, with expressionistic interpolations into shared reality as a reflection of the inner world of an addict, coping and recovering. But apparently that's not the book that was published.

Frey may defend his imposing fantasies, exploiting both people he wrote about and the reader, but he also suggests his own perceptions are flawed. In any case, the real fault here is with his editor and publisher. His editor should have questioned the more extreme events and coincidences, and worked with him to craft a book that presented these fantasies in context. If Frey could not be objective about this, his editor had the responsibility to be. And to either help him make the necessary changes to craft what quite possibly could have been a better book, or to decline to publish deluded recollections as true, along with conscious fabrications beyond the accepted boundaries for nonfiction.

What I still don't understand is how the first deception to be discovered---Frey's jail time, which was actually hours and not months---can be considered an "embellishment." From descrptions I've read, other important events, as well as his entire next book, follow from this phantom incarceration. What's up with that?

Finally, that there is a controversy shows at least a residual concern for truthfulness, as opposed to the assertion and appearance of truth, as I gather is meant by the current buzzword, "truthiness." We are so used to politicans and journalists repeating utter falsehoods until they become the conventional shared truth, that it's surprising anybody cares to make the distinctions. Of course those distinctions are vital. If Al Gore bragged that he invented the Internet, then his veracity is not to be trusted. (In fact he did not claim this. He rightly claimed a hand in certain legislation that enabled it.) If other administrations did what Bush is doing in his domestic spying, as he asserts, then how can he be faulted, let alone impeached? (It's a lie, but it takes some explaining, which makes lying alot easier in impatient times.)

People believe so many objectively crazy things, so many obvious projections of their fears and frustrations, that the existence of any standard of shared truth beyond the scores of major sporting events (perhaps the last bastion of shared truth) is nearly miraculous.

In his statement Frey makes a point of saying how much he wanted to be the author of books. I certainly empathize with the anxiety and finally the desperation to be published---the idea that it justifies and transforms your life, as it transformed Frey's. And I understand the frustration and the deep anger with editors, agents and publishing that it quite clear in other accounts of Frey's attempts to be published, and is especially a feature of the writer who passed himself off as a Navajo named Nasdijj, in an earlier if lesser known publishing scandal.

I have my own grievances against editors, agents and publishers, which I have written about openly (for instance, in my account of the making of The Malling of America, added to the paperback edition.) I had hoped for a career as an author but like a minor league baseball player who gets a "cup of coffee" and a few innings with a major league club, it didn't happen, and along with related dreams that were thereby dashed, it added up to what I can best describe as a broken heart.

So I feel a certain awe for those who exploited the system's hypocrisies and greed, as well as engaging in other manipulations of a corrupt and simplistic system. (The Nasdijj author was once involved in a gallery show of gay images that wasn't drawing crowds, so he wrote a letter to the editor under a false name attacking it with enraged gaybashing language, and had a friend draft an offended and righteous response. Like clockwork, political groups took up the cause and the show became a hit.) But apart from whether I'm up to carrying off that kind of deception, as well as the question of whether I could write a conscious exploitation if I tried, I can't in the end support such travesties of what I believe in as a central commitment of my life.

So it is easy enough to say this is sour grapes, and my own relative poverty is the best argument for jettisoning these quaint standards. Believe me, I've heard that before. But so what? I've stated my case, and you can believe what you want. I've had my say. The whole damn world can read it and no publisher can prevent it. Apart from competition from a few hundred million other sources, it's as good as published by Random House.
Call the Talese, They're Trying to Steal My Sales

Our Story So Far: Nan Talese is James Frey's editor, and she went on the Oprah Purgatario to explain the publishing business. I don't know if she was booed, but someone wrote that Oprah gave her a dirty look when her cell phone chimed. To keep you up to date on the zeitgeist, Oprah was criticized for backing Frey in a call to Larry King. Then she was applauded for apologizing and going after Frey on her own show. Now the predictable backlash has begun, and Oprah is getting criticized for holding a public stoning, humiliating Frey and his editor, and not listening to Their Side.

So here's how a Wall Street Journal article (Yes! This is today's free one! Oh thank you thankyou WSJ!) begins:

Last Thursday, publishing-industry veteran Nan Talese was excoriated on television by Oprah Winfrey for publishing James Frey's 2003 "A Million Little Pieces," a bestselling memoir about the author's struggle to overcome drug dependency that he has since admitted is partly fictitious.

But on Friday morning, Ms. Talese walked into 22nd-floor offices in Midtown Manhattan to a standing ovation from her colleagues. Soon afterward, she received a call of support from Peter Olson, chief executive of Bertelsmann AG's Random House Inc. publishing arm.

"I've gotten more than 500 emails over the last few days, and the overwhelming majority have been supportive," says Ms. Talese whose imprint, Nan A. Talese, is part of Random House's Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group. Indeed, many members of the publishing industry have rallied around Ms. Talese and Random House, saying that they would have published "A Million Little Pieces" as well and could have been duped just as easily.

The WSJ story is ostensibly about how it's too expensive for poor poor pitiful publishers to fact check their books. Not everyone in publishing agrees that nothing can or should be done, however. Some publishers say the "Million Little Pieces" incident may well result in some changes in how books are vetted. "The entire process will have to be rethought," says James Atlas, president of Atlas Books LLC [followed by a plug for Atlas' last book.]

Full disclosure: Many years ago I had a very short meeting with Nan Talese, when she was an editor at a different publishing house. It was a courtesy to one of her (fiction, acknowleded that is) writers who I knew. I waited around, got to sit down long enough to hear her dis everything I'd done and everything I proposed to do, thanked her very much and left.

I also used to know James Atlas, and I believe the last time I saw him I was pitching story ideas when he was an editor at the NY Times Magazine. He was more positive about the ideas but when it came time to assign, Atlas shrugged.

Also, I must warn you that reading this blog or anything else on your computer can cause headaches, heartaches and acid indigestion. A small number of readers have suffered seizures and required medical attention. Others have dipped into prolonged depression, puncutated by anxiety and anger, leading to reading a lot of psychology books and babbling on blogs. If symptoms persist, tough shit, you're not covered.

Now where was I? Right---the story quotes others pointing out various relevant factors: the much larger marketing budgets for some books which cut into editing resources for all books, and even the Power of Oprah as a key factor in what kinds of books get published. Implying that Frey wouldn't have gotten on the show if he'd called his book fiction, as he apparently did until other publishers passed on it.

But none of this bothers Nan Talese. She goes right from harvesting applause, phone calls and e-mails to a working lunch with--who else?--James Frey, as they go over wording to be added to new copies of his book, pointing out in the best possible way that it's apparently a pack of lies (although on Oprah, Frey reportedly had problems remembering what was and what wasn't the truth, if any. ) And here's her bottom line:

Last week, the publisher issued a statement saying, "We bear a responsibility for what we publish, and apologize to the reading public for any unintentional confusion surrounding the publication of 'A Million Little Pieces.'" In an interview, Ms. Talese said, "We will continue to print the book as long as there is public demand for it."

We bear "a" responsibility. Apologize for any "unintentional confusion surrounding the publication"? What is that supposed to mean? There was no confusion surrounding the publication. It was published satisfactorily, well enough to get in stores and sell three million copies. The problem is with the words in the book, and its author, who shows signs of being a pathological liar.

But the last part is very clear. "We will continue to print the book as long as there is public demand for it." Makes it sound like a public service. Here's the book, judge for yourself, we won't be a party to censorship. Right. And because we're so sincere, we're giving the book away free.

Not exactly. They didn't say that, of course. Frey may have been disgraced and suffered an hour of humiliation, but he's rich. And absolutely no one is asking him to give back the money. Because that might lead to Nan Talese and Random House being asked to give back the money. This is America. Ain't nobody going to give back no money, pardner. And I ain't lyin. Really.

Another Random House editor is quoted in the story saying he"expects that the future reception for first-time memoirists could be different, especially 'those with highly melodramatic, uncorroborated life narratives.'" What an ironist. Frey has killed the memoir market for awhile, except for his own books. But the implication is clearly that when faced with "highly melodramatic" life narratives, those with integrity and an actual sense of responsibility exercise editorial skepticism. But then there are those who read with greed, and the ease of exploiting paying readers is the chief if not the only deciding factor.

I mean, what would happen if you expressed doubts and he took the book elsewhere? Or if you checked into it a little and found out it wasn't true---that the truth was not nearly so gripping and un-putdownable as the lies? You certainly don't want to put yourself in that position.

And clearly this is something that Nan Talese understands, along with apparently everyone she knows.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Dancing Bear by Pauta Salia, Cape Dorset, at Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

I think over again my small adventures,
My fears,
Those small ones that seemed so big.
For all the vital things
I had to get
And to reach,
And yet
There is only one great thing-
the Only thing-
To live,
To see the great day that dawns,
And the light that fills the world.

Inuit song
(thanks to Flo Shepard)

Today, Atlanta. RIP Coretta Scott King.
All photos from AP Posted by Picasa

2004 Posted by Picasa

Coretta Scott King 2003 Posted by Picasa

1993 Posted by Picasa


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1968 Posted by Picasa

funeral of MLK 1968

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Monday, January 30, 2006

R.I.P. Wendy Wasserstein

It's been a real bad year or so for losing playwrights. Wendy Wasserstein, only 55, died today, from an illness. She was among the best known American woman playwrights, and her breakthrough work, The Heidi Chronicles, gave voice to a generation of women---and a funny voice at that. Her success made it easier for women playwrights to be heard and get productions. While others are nearly as well-known now, she was a pioneer.
Last Word

on the Alito fillibuster movement today, from Jane Hamsher at firedoglake:

This amazing move to fight this battle came from the ground up. DC pundits are feeling threatened, and many have tried to dismiss this as John Kerry's cynical attempts to manipulate the grass roots, but that's a mistake. It was a groundswell that swept me and other bloggers up and called out for direction, and somehow John Kerry heard that and he stepped into a leadership position and he gave it to us. He gave our frustrations a focus, he offered us a chance to stand up and fight regardless of the likelihood of success, and that was all we asked. He validated our efforts and he let people know that their voices were being heard in spite of the timidity gripping many of his peers.

I frankly think the passion of the netroots community surprised him. For those who want to criticize him for not acting earlier or better, I do not think he had any reason to believe that this kind of support was extant or that we would have his back. He put his neck on the line over at Kos and the Huffington Post, not knowing what was going to come back. The outpouring of gratitude that came back to him for his efforts was extremely moving.

We shook things up. People like Joe Biden and Barak Obama were extremely irked about being put on the spot. Diane Feinstein changed her vote, and it's entirely possible others did likewise and we just didn't hear it. We forced those who voted for cloture into publicly opposing us, and now we know where things stand. And everyone across the political spectrum knows we're here now. They are starting to get a glimmer of the kind of muscle we can put behind something we believe it. It was a great moment, a grand and noble fight and I am so proud of each and every one of you for taking part in it.

I don't think anyone can look at the Alito battle on the part of the netroots community and say it was anything other than a huge success. We proved we could show up and we knew how to fight for what we believe in, no matter the odds, just because it's the right thing to do. Your courage, your conviction and your fearlessness are inspirational.

If anyone's been looking for the heart of the Democratic party, it's right here.

A Different Disconnect

A fascinating day in the big blogosphere. The Senate voted cloture this afternoon by 72-25, though Democrats might have gotten more votes against it if it had looked closer. Apparently fillibustering a Supreme Court nominee would set a precedent that some Senators didn't want to have to deal with when (or if) the tables are turned.

But the southpaw blogs were immediately filled with anger and despair. I hung around Booman Tribune for a bit, since what gets posted on dkos by the many hundreds gets posted there by the tens. But even as I was interupting the moaning and the I'm changing my registration to Independent/Green/no body, I'm leaving the country, etc. with metaphors of being battle-tested, of letting the enemy win by discouraging the movement they actually fear, at dkos the more mature voices like Meteor Blades and Kos Himself were making these points with more authority and more grace.

They were also pointing out, as did The News Blog, that this issue was front and center nowhere else but the blogosphere---and what Americans watching TV in particular were paying attention to was very damaging to Bushcorpse: the injury from hostile explosives of an ABC anchor, and the video of a kidnapped American woman reporter in tears, pleading for her life. "So while we're kicking around the Dems for not filibustering, America was seeing the Iraq war with a human face"--that is, with an American face they know (at least somewhat---Bob Woodruff has been an anchor for only a couple of weeks) and the kind of American face that people seem to identify with--the pretty white murdered mother, the pretty white kidnapped child, and now the pretty white young woman kidnapped by insurgents, who happens to be as fine a representative of America as anyone could be.

Earlier in the war this might have helped Bush. But the public has turned against the American presence there long since, and this is unlikely to move Bushiotism ahead of anger and disgust at Bushites who don't get it.

What's Bush going to say about this tomorrow? He can't avoid the subject, but bringing it up in whatever context just reminds people of Iraq. And repeating his sententious stay the course is further evidence of his disconnect from the sentiment of the voters.
The Latest Big One

Talk about disconnect. The southpaw blogs, the alternative news sites have been buzzing, and a handful of new and old virtual and actual organizations have been filling cyberspace as well as the inboxes, fax and answering machines of Senators all weekend, with what some are calling an unprecedented effort to get a fillibuster on the Alito confirmation. Probably the hottest lefty blogger, Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake commented:The filibuster turnout has been insane. I'm hearing from Sean-Paul Kelley that eFax service is out, that's how many faxes are being sent. The Dems -- and no doubt the GOP -- have to be shocked that we could show up like this.

But the traditional media, the Sunday blathers have been either silent on the subject or dismissive. By late this afternoon Eastern time we'll probably know who was right, at least on the latest big one.

The disconnect is exascerbated by the absense of vote estimates by anyone. The Republican Senate bosses will call for a cloture vote to end debate, setting up the vote for or against Alito for Tuesday. The cloture vote requires 60 in favor. The trad media reporters are buying the Republican estimate (which at least one Democrat more or less confirmed) of at least 62 votes, not exactly a ringing endorsement but enough.

You can read the absense of estimates either way---the fillibusters not wanting to dampen this last ferocious push with discouraging numbers, or the Repubs banking on an air of inevitability while the real numbers are much closer and more fluid than they'd like the media to realize.

But possibly only a two vote margin is certain to mean feverish last-minute politics, when the switchboards light up and overload Monday morning. There's no telling what could happen, including the Senate bosses postponing the vote. Or it could be much more one-sided than that, and after all this sound and fury, it could be over quickly and unceremoniously.

Senator John Kerry has led the fillibuster fight, with close support from Senator Ted Kennedy. Both of my CA Senators are on board, as are Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Harry Reid. (But at last look, not Senators Patty Murray, Cantwell, Harkin, Byrd and Bayh. I'm surprised at Murray and Harkin in particular.)

Today Kerry posted this on the Huffington blog:

Many people seem curious or even skeptical why United States Senators believe it's so important to take a stand against the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court -- why we're willing to take on a fight that conventional wisdom suggests we will lose. The reality is simple. We care about the future of our country.

We care about the millions of Americans who expect Congress to stand up and fight for their rights and their freedoms, and we also know that the Supreme Court, again and again, is the battlefield on which those rights and freedoms are decided. So let's get this straight. The time to fight is now - before we make the irreversible decision of confirming a new Supreme Court Justice....The direction our country takes for the next thirty years is being set now. "

No one really knows what will come before the court or even how Alito will vote, or what the dynamic within the court will be. But that he will support the kind of Bushite totalitarianism represented by everything coming out of the the Big Smirk's mouth these days, seems like a very safe bet. He's not exactly central casting to stop the slide down the drain.

So if you're reading this before 4:30 eastern or so, and you want to get in on the fight, here's where you can find your Senator's contact info:

Sunday, January 29, 2006

fractal Posted by Picasa
Climate Crisis Headlines in Post and Times

In the midst of Mideast uncertainty and violence, with Democrats feverishly involved in a possible Senate fillibuster attempt on a Supreme Court nominee, and on the weekend before a limping and defiant president's State of the Union address, the lead story in the Sunday editions of two of the nation's top newspaper is about the climate crisis.

In a sense, this fact is even more significant than the stories themselves.

The New York Times leads with a story highlighting the charges by NASA scientist Dr. James E. Hansen, one of the most respected experts on climate change for more than a generation, that the Bush administration is taking exceptional measures to silence him on the subject.

Dr. Hansen said that nothing in 30 years equaled the push made since early December to keep him from publicly discussing what he says are clear-cut dangers from further delay in curbing carbon dioxide. In several interviews with The New York Times in recent days, Dr. Hansen said it would be irresponsible not to speak out, particularly because NASA's mission statement includes the phrase "to understand and protect our home planet."

The Washinton Post leads with a warning from climate scientists that the earth is heading for a tipping point, beyond which lies global disaster and climate change beyond anything humankind has experienced before.

There are three specific events that these scientists describe as especially worrisome and potentially imminent, although the time frames are a matter of dispute: widespread coral bleaching that could damage the world's fisheries within three decades; dramatic sea level rise by the end of the century that would take tens of thousands of years to reverse; and, within 200 years, a shutdown of the ocean current that moderates temperatures in northern Europe.

Though there is little that is specifically new in the Post story (and it also contains Hansen's charges), it is the more significant of the two, because it spells out what it is at stake, and what in general must be done. It gives voice to the two attitudes in play, that of the Bushites, in the words of their science mouthpiece who says:

"There's no agreement on what it is that constitutes a dangerous climate change," said Marburger, adding that the U.S. government spends $2 billion a year on researching this and other climate change questions. "We know things like this are possible, but we don't have enough information to quantify the level of risk."

And the common sense/enlightened government/scientific view, expressed by David Warrilow, who heads science policy on climate change for Britain's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:"... at the moment we're accelerating toward the tipping point," Warrilow said in an interview. "This is silly. We should be doing the opposite, slowing down whilst we build up our knowledge base."

The Times story, on the other hand, is primarily a story about the continuing efforts of the Bushites to stifle science and control unfavorable information, which has been clear since this administration's first year. It gets the anti-Bush dander up, but may obscure Hansen's message.

Yet for that very reason, it may be the more effective story. By showing how Hansen is being muzzled, perhaps readers will want to know what he's saying that is upsetting the Bushites.

Apparently one thing is that it's getting hot around here. In mid-December Hansen announced data showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century. After that, officials at the headquarters of the space agency repeatedly phoned public affairs officers, who relayed the warning to Dr. Hansen that there would be "dire consequences" if such statements continued, those officers and Dr. Hansen said in interviews.

But what may have upset Bushites even more was Hansen's lecture to the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. In the talk, he said that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the earth "a different planet."

This is Hansen's most potent message: coupling the dire consequences with the phrase that scares the Bushites and their selected corporate sponsors the most: "significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies..." and "without leadership by the United States."

That two of America's most influential newspapers choose to lead with a climate crisis story might mean that another "tipping point" has been reached: when news media begin to finally treat this story with the relentless serious coverage it deserves.

But at the State of the Union we expect The Big Smirk to stick to the terrorist under the mattress theme. As far as the climate crisis is concerned, he's happy to whistle a different tune: "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine."

UPDATE: This essay frontpaged Sunday at Booman Tribune and E Pluribus Media.