Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Suburban Strategy

I don't usually turn to The Weekly Standard for reading material, but this week Fred Barnes has an article about 10th District Congressman Mark Kirk and his plans for turning the tide of the inner suburbs' increasing Democratic voting. Kirk isn't the first to notice what Barnes describes:
Mark Kirk is a worried Republican who represents a House district in the suburbs north of Chicago. In the 1960s, the seat was held by a young Republican named Donald Rumsfeld, now defense secretary. Once safely Republican, the district has been drifting Democratic for years. The last Republican presidential candidate to win the district was George Bush Senior in 1992. George W. Bush lost there by four percentage points in 2000, by six in 2004. In races for state and local offices as well, Democrats now dominate.

I didn't realize the 10th went for George H.W. Bush in 1992. Anyway, the thinking on this goes as follows:
Older, close--in, inner suburbs-or "inurbs," as Kirk calls them-began to vote Democratic in the 1990s, and the trend has continued into the new century...In political terms and in lifestyle, the suburbs have changed dramatically in the past two decades. Cities have spilled into suburbs, which are now densely populated and filled with singles, minorities, and people with an urban temperament. By the millions, families with children have migrated to the outer suburbs or located there in the first place.

This is the first point where I would dispute Barnes. I think it would be great if the inner suburbs were diverse, but those that make up the Tenth District are not really "densely populated and filled with singles, minorities." Evanston, a suburb to the south is, but it is part of the 9th District and has been known to vote Democratic for some time. Furthermore, the inner 'burbs, at least the ones around here, are still largely populated with families. Kirk has a rationale for these developing voting patterns:
The exurbs are home to entrepreneurs and managers who run family--owned companies or are in sales. They deal constantly with government-IRS, regulatory agencies, bureaucrats of all types-and find the experience frustrating. They vote for Republicans who would trim government. Professionals-lawyers, architects, professors-tend to live in the inner suburbs and they have few conflicts with government. They vote for Democrats on lifestyle issues such as abortion and gun control.

Never mind that a Republican presidency and Congress has only greatly increased rather than trimmed government. Kirk may be right though in suggesting exurb residents vote based on their frustration with government regulation. I would dispute Kirk's analysis of why professionals who live in the inurbs vote for Democrats. So-called social issues are definitely a part of it, but I think the other part has to do with questions of Republican competency in policy-making and the Republican economic vision. Anyway, more later. Here's Kirk's strategy to win back the inner suburbs:
Kirk had the 20 issues tested by pollster John McLaughlin in the inner ring of suburbs around Chicago. Twelve of the issues polled over 80 percent positive, and only two polled under 70 percent (while still receiving majority support). The top four were approved by 90 percent or more: teacher checks (95 percent), tax credits for small businesses that provide health insurance (93), portability of health insurance (93), and mandatory Internet filters (91). "If we talk about stuff like this," Kirk says, Republican strength in the suburbs will "snap back quickly."
...Many of the issues reflect the advice of Republican national chairman Ken Mehlman that House Republicans act like a "federal mayor" stressing issues of local concern rather than foreign or national economic policy. "Why do people like mayors? Mayors solve problems."

We'll have to see if Kirk rolls out this strategy in the 2006 election. This may work for him, but it has a couple problems, as I see it. (1) Not coherent. Tax credits for businesses that provide health insurance makes sense, but that's clearly not a Democrat/Republican issue. The other issues seem to be cherry-picked and don't really have a coherent theme among them besides the whole "federal mayor" angle, which doesn't seem too compelling, and in fact sounds kind of eerie. (2) This strategy represents a capitulation. With Iraq and the deficit huge concerns in the 10th District, Kirk's strategy, risks seeming as if he is focusing on internet filtering to avoid talking about larger foreign and domestic policy issues. The Democrats unwisely tried to focus solely on domestic issues in 2002 and 2004 rather than influence the foreign policy debate, and look where it got them.

Finally, Kirk's and Barnes's analyses miss one key feature of the inner suburbs: high level of education. My Intro to Sociology professor hands out a sheet of paper every year that shows in a simple chart the demographic trends of the most recent presidential election. One of the areas charted is level of education. While college graduates have favored the Republican candidate recently, usually around 60 percent of people with graduate degrees favor the Democrat. The inner suburbs tend to have a high number of people with graduate degrees. I don't know what this means for Kirk's suburban strategy, but it means that it is not in the Republicans' interest for Americans to get a good education, and Republican education policy reflects as much.
From alicublog:

"I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you."

HAW HAW HAW! AW HAW HAW HAW HAW! Thassa good one! Yee-haaa!


"I'm from the government, and I'm here to spy on you and perhaps indefinitely detain you without charges."

That sounds reasonable.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Lest we be complacent about reproductive rights

A blogger on the Daily Kos posted a really good summary of how Judge Alito and his ilk believe Roe v. Wade, which currently protects a woman from an "unduly burdensome" access to having an abortion, should be enforced:

Now, let's turn to South Dakota. In Alito's world, these restrictions on a woman's right are perfectly legal:

  1. There is only one abortion clinic in the state. It operates only once a week. Sometimes Monday, sometimes Wednesday, depending on when an abortion doctor flies in to the state.
  2. An anti-choice task force is successfully lobbying for a law "requiring that a woman watch an ultrasound of her fetus, that doctors warn women about the psychological and physical dangers of abortion, and that women receive psychological counseling before the abortion, among other measures."
  3. The procedure costs $450. The state refuses to pay any of it, even in cases of rape or incest.. By the way, South Dakota is home to the poorest counties in the nation.
  4. Some women in the state have to travel 700 miles in one day to get the procedure done.
  5. It's not just abortions. The laws also apply to the RU-486 pill.
  6. A law, currently blocked by Planned Parenthood, requires the doctor tell the woman prior to the procedure that "abortion ends the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being."
In short, South Dakota has everything short of an outright ban on abortion (they tried an outright ban, it failed by one vote). The state is a prototype for anti-choice activists who, like Alito, prefer to dismantle Roe on the road to overturning it.

And what if Alito is confirmed and he does indeed overturn Roe? Anti-choice activists will spin it as an issue of state's rights. But in the aftermath of such an action, will states engage in a real dialogue about a woman's right to choose? No. If Alito has his way, several states, including South Dakota, have "trigger laws" which make abortion illegal the minute Roe is overturned. It's not just the red states that have trigger laws. Illinois, one of the bluest in the nation, has such a trigger law automatically outlawing abortion when Roe is overturned.

As a resident of Illinois, I find that last part especially scary, and the whole thing should give all of us, especially a women, pause. As has been said before, Alito, despite whatever collegiality and intellect he may possess, is not what our country needs on the Supreme Court. His influence on abortion will surely be regretted if he is confirmed. Only ignorant complacency could have one faithfully believe that abortion rights will still be safe on a Supreme Court with four staunch conservatives and one sometimes less-staunch conservative on it.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Book Review: Babbitt

I'm copying a friend of mine who awhile back reviewed several books he had read on his blog. Granted, his book tastes were a little more sophisticated than mine. Anyway, onward and upward, starting with Babbitt:

I have to confess, I was prepared to be unimpressed by Babbitt, written by Sinclair Lewis, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. I read it as part of my thesis research on French impressions of American novels in the 1920s and 1930s because my research was turning up numerous references (mostly praiseworthy) of Babbitt. Part of my feeling from this research is that the French were more laudatory of a book like Babbitt than of one like F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (published three-years later) because the latter was much less straight-forward, employing more symbolism and subtlety. Therefore, I was expecting Babbitt to be too simplistic, and like Lewis's earlier Main Street, plodding to get through (though I enjoyed Main Street). In fact, for the most part I enjoyed Babbitt and thought its portrayal of a 1920s real estate man in a mid-size Midwest city had some relevancy to today, even though certain aspects of the book are dated, like the slangy colloquialisms of the time and the commonality of memberships to"respectable" organizations like Kiwanis and other business societies and clubs. For one, the title character, George F. Babbitt, is relievedly not a cardboard cutout; he has emotions and doubts too. He is somewhat of a larger than life character, but this is an effective part of Lewis's portrayal since someone of Babbitt's background isn't an inherently interesting character. Lewis crafts Babbitt as one who is ironically known around town for his oratory, although it is clear that he is mainly recalling Things Heard 'Round the Athletic Club (at the beginning of the book, he goes around offering the inane comment that what the country needs is "a good business administration"). The book also does a good job of establishing and detailing a milieu, the middle-class business world, and its conformist nature. The conformity doesn't become threatening until Babbitt starts to get different ideas, and then his sympathy towards a labor leader and his reluctance to join the vaguely named Good Citizen League, which seeks to keep an eye on rabble-rousers--actually, people who don't have business interests as their top priority--becomes an issue. Babbitt is overall a satisfying read, and it is interesting to keep in mind while reading it that it was a huge popular success in Europe.

Running on Empty: US Savings Rate Officially at 0

The U.S. savings rate was officially put at 0 this year. Savings are being sacrificed to continuous spending on consumer items, driving a lot of our economic growth but weakening things associated with saving, like retirement security, education for one's children and home ownership. According to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's testimony to Congress on February 15 of this year:
The sizable gains in consumer spending of recent years have been accompanied by a drop in the personal saving rate to an average of only 1 percent over 2004--a very low figure relative to the nearly 7 percent rate averaged over the previous three decades.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported in 2004 that the 2003 personal savings rate of 1.4 percent was the lowest since 1938. In 1938, as we can recall, our country was struggling to recover from an economic depression. The fact that the current personal savings rate is lower than it was in the Great Depression is pretty astounding.

The blog I linked earlier points out that pensions and home equity figures aren't factored into savings rates, but it also points out that pension plans are being increasingly abandoned by companies. Home equity probably isn't the most reliable form of savings either, considering all signs are pointing to a current housing bubble that will burst in the next few years, and furthermore, it is not ideal to have to sell one's house to shore up one's savings.

I'm not sure why exactly consumerism is at its height even when people don't have the money, but I fear that our country's huge amounts of borrowing will one day result in some sort of disaster, like massive inflation to pay off the debt. For those of us in my generation who do save, some of our savings might be drained if there is massive inflation or if we are taxed to make up for the ever-increasing debt that the current administration is running up. If China, Japan, and Europe start taking their money out of the U.S., well, I don't want to think about it.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A kid has a right to be noisy?

This is absolutely ridiculous. Last month, an uproar took place in Chicago over a restaurant owner's sign that said, "children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices when coming to A Taste of Heaven." To me that sounds reasonable, but it didn't to some parents who take their children to the restaurant. According to one woman, the sign was akin to telling her how to parent:

"I love people who don't have children who tell you how to parent," said Alison Miller, 35, a psychologist, corporate coach and mother of two. "I'd love for him to be responsible for three children for the next year and see if he can control the volume of their voices every minute of the day."

Of course, this woman is being absolutely ridiculous (and also, what on earth is a "corporate coach"?). When I was growing up, my parents emphasized that if we were in a public place, it was impolite to be loud. Today, it is not uncommon to be in a public place and see parents who let their kid run around and make noise all over the place. The article recounts what the owner of A Taste of Heaven has experienced,
After a dozen years at one site, Mr. McCauley moved A Taste of Heaven six blocks away in May 2004, to a busy corner on Clark Street. But there, he said, teachers and writers seeking afternoon refuge were drowned out not just by children running amok but also by oblivious cellphone chatterers. Children were climbing the cafe's poles. A couple were blithely reading the newspaper while their daughter lay on the floor blocking the line for coffee. When the family whose children were running across the room to throw themselves against the display cases left after his admonishment, Mr. McCauley recalled, the restaurant erupted in applause.

Kids can't act perfectly, but self-entitled parents like the ones in this article need to have much more consideration for the people around them.

Sunday Night Blues

This totally used to be me in high school. I've gotten better in college, but I found this article pretty interesting, nonetheless:
On Sunday nights, Caleb Weintraub gets the blues.

The studio-art professor says he likes his job, but the imminent end of his freedom from workday obligations makes him less personable and outgoing on Sundays than on any other day of the week. Luckily for him and his family, his Sunday-night slump isn't as deep as it used to be when, through tears, he would tell his mother, "School is worse than eggs!"

To this day, Prof. Weintraub tries to squeeze as much weekend out of the weekend as he can. "I know if I sleep, the next thing I know I'll wake up and it will be Monday," he says. His favorite night of the week isn't Friday but Thursday, because then he can still anticipate the weekend before the clock has started running on it. Come to think of it, he says, his Sunday nights really begin on Saturday, when he realizes the weekend is half over and the workweek is looming.

I guess it's at least reassuring to know that other people get this feeling too.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Obama for President in 2008?

About a month ago, I had a dream that I was watching as Barack Obama resigned from his senate seat. I was inexplicably aware in this dream that Obama was probably resigning to prepare to run for the presidency, but I still felt a sinking feeling as I learned he was leaving his Illinois Senate seat.


As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said.

That's frightening. Nice to know that the telecom companies don't have any qualms about protecting our freedoms either. And who can resist a little collusion for the common good?

Oy, Maureen Dowd

I have a pet peeve, and her name is Maureen Dowd. Well, I thought her words about feminism and its discontents were interesting, but recently I came to my senses and remembered the persona of the messenger and all of my reservations therein. I read Wonkette's hilarious summary of an interview with Maureen Dowd and a few weeks ago, I caught Dowd's ditzy interview on "The Colbert Report," where I concluded she had very little to say.

I have to add, even though she has is continuously critical of Bush, Cheney, et al., it doesn't appeal to me. What? you gasp. How can Elaine not appreciate a good Bush administration jab? To tell you the truth, I don't like jabs if they just trivialize a situation, as Dowd does. Plus, I'd like to think I'm at least a little discriminating, and I recall in the 1990s Maureen had not one kind word to say about Bill Clinton, but many petty ones. Now, she does the same with George W. Basically, the extent of her commentary is: George W. Bush wanted to go to Iraq to finish his father's work (never mind that Bush Senior has been known to be nonplussed by the Iraq mission), Cheney looks evil (which he does, but it doesn't take a New York Times op-ed writer to notice that), and something about how Bush is afraid of her. As my mom points out, when someone mentions triumphantly that Dowd has written a blistering article about the current administration, it only makes one recall her very similarly-focused articles on Clinton. Maureen Dowd basically has a cushy job at the New York Times where she gets to snipe every week, sans nuance or substance. No more, no less.

I guess the final straw for me was in this Wonkette summary, Dowd is quoted saying:
I think women lost a couple decades where we just kind of wasted time trying to do things exactly like men, thinking that we were supposed to take golf lessons but never talk about babies or shopping.
Uh, wasted time? Every movement has their tactical mistakes, but I believe the decades she's referring to are the mid-60s to mid-80s, probably two of the decades of most rapid advancement of women's rights. We women from "Gen-X" or "Gen-Y" can attribute the advances of women in those decades to why we can choose to go to school to pursue a professional career, or choose to do whatever we want for that matter. But, as is her want, Dowd trivializes all of this from her protected perch.

Closing from the Wonkette summary,
Maureen's interview:
[When asked why she hadn't talked much about these issues in her Op-Ed columns.] I was busy with war and torture.
Wonkette translation:
Friedman was war, Safire was torture.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Holidays to All!

As another year comes to a close, having passed by even faster than the last, I just wanted to stop and thank everyone who has been a part of my life in 2005, either through my blog or just in general.

First, to everyone who reads this blog and especially to those who make their presence known here at "Who am I, Why am I here?" by posting your thoughts. Even if I heartily disagree with what you say--and I have probably made that too obvious through my responses--the fact that you are interested enough to comment is gratifying.

To friends and family--from those I see every day to those who I see only on vacations--I hope you are having happy holidays wherever you are. As we all disperse across the country (and the globe, for a few of us!) I've thoroughly enjoyed keeping in touch with so many of you and appreciate the updates you have given me on your lives. Especially to those of you who won't be coming to Chicago for winter break, I will be thinking about past winter breaks to make up for your absence. To those I see often--naturally you know who you are--I appreciate the meaningful relationships, some of which have truly grown this past year. I also am grateful for the laughs which I have with so many of you. I really know some funny, interesting people, and I am really lucky to know all of the people I do.

Especially to my family, thanks for all of the love, jokes, and encouragement. We may laughingly invoke the saying, "you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family," but I would have chosen you all anyway.

Have a happy, safe, relaxing, and enjoyable holiday season!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Immoral Budget: What the Republicans' 2005 Budget Means to Us

What the 2005 Budget will do, if passed by the House (the Senate passed it last night with Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote):
  • Eligibility for long-term care by the elderly under Medicaid toughened, ending the health care support that many middle class elderly and their families who support them need (living in a nursing home, for instance is long-term care)
  • 12.7 billion dollars worth of student loans CUT (and this at a time when tuition to public schools is hugely inflating due to state budget cuts)
  • 6.5 billion dollar cuts in Medicare, will effect doctors who will receive decreased reimbursements on healthy patients; an increase in payments on sick patients won't cover the loss. This measure may further encourage doctors not to treat older patients.
    • And notice that certain industries were not asked to step up to the deficit decrease, the already highly-profitable industries of managed care and pharmaceuticals
  • Increases the work requirement of poor families (as the Boston Globe says of this measure: "It's a worthy goal. But it is unrealistic given the illness, poor skills, and other barriers that many families face.")
  • Drasitc increase in the amount of money (co-pay) the poor will have to pay to see a doctor (which will discourage doctor's visits for preventive care and result in more expensive intensive care)
  • PLUS any deficit reduction that the bill affects will be rendered irrelevant if Republicans pass the tax cuts--which are worth more than the 40 billion that was cut in this budget--which they plan to put on the legislative agenda next year
Articles on the budget:
"Federal budget cuts would hit state's elderly"
"Indiana's poor may pay more to see doctors"
"Hard Hearts in Congress" (Boston Globe Editorial)

You can call your U.S. Congressman and ask him or her to vote NO on the budget. This website will help you find their number in Washington. It's very easy, you just say your name and that you would like your Congressman to vote no. They'll probably ask for your address just to make sure you live in the District. My call to Mark Kirk was probably futile, but your's might not be! Especially if you have a moderate Democrat or Republican as your representative.

Also, I'd like to note that 44 out of the 44 Democrats in the Senate voted against this awful bill. This is why it pays to have a Democrat in Congress over even a moderate Republican.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Around the World for the Holidays

How are various cities decorated this holiday season? Let's live vicariously through photos and take a look...

Christmas lights like these hang above the busy thoroughfares of Oxford Street and Regent Street in London

In Paris, where winter usually brings more rain than snow, trees along the Champs-Elysées are sprayed to look snow-covered.

In the old part of Salzburg, Austria, a traditional Christmas market operates as snow falls.

Christmas at the Porta or door of Roma or Rome

Holiday decorations in Tokyo: a very creative lights presentation

Decorations are especially unique in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Googling "Christmas+New York" will no doubt get you the tree at the Rockefeller center. Here it is in all its glory.

A view of the capitol from Boston Common in Boston

And last but not least...Chicago! From top to bottom, the front of the Art Institute, inside the Field Museum, on Michigan Avenue in front of one of the Water Tower buildings

Mark Kirk is Loaded and other Campaign Finance Realities

Today I did a little investigation to see what Illinois 10th District incumbent Mark Kirk has in his war chest. I'll tell you this, the man is not poor. After Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, Kirk has the highest amount of dollars of net receipt (i.e. money that hasn't been spent) ofany representative in Illinois. Hastert has nearly 2 million dollars; Kirk has $1,152,952. One might be inclined to think, therefore, that Kirk is popular. Let's not be fooled though: contrary to what some people would assert (usually those with a lot of money) money is not equivalent with speech. However, as it stands right now, money is important for campaigns. Lee Goodman, Kirk's Democratic challenger in 2004 spent a total $7,470 and garnered 35.8% of the district-wide vote. By comparison, Christine Cegelis, another Democratic challenger to a well-known incumbent--the distasteful Henry Hyde--spent $113,902 and came close to knocking Hyde out of that seat. Check out the rest of the FEC records on Democrats and Republicans in Illinois races for federal offices: those who won, and even those who are incumbents spent a sizeable amount of money. In 2004, Kirk spent $390,739. So, what's the point of all of this? The first is that Republicans--and especially Republicans like Mark Kirk who live in a district where individual contributions run large--have the financial edge. (The fact that Goodman received the votes he did becomes even more impressive when one looks at his meager warchest.) The second point is that Democrats can't be afraid to fundraise. The third point is that once Democrats get into office, they should not be afraid to lobby for changes in campaign finance laws. Money will always influence politics, but right now it has an undue influence. As this article suggests, many states are way ahead of the federal government when it comes to real campaign finance reform. So my memo to the Democrats (not that they need it): (1) Let's raise a lot of legal money for our candidates this year (2) Let's campaign against the need to raise so much money in the future.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Illinois Congressional Races

The filing deadline for candidacy in the 2006 U.S. Congressional race has passed here in Illinois, and the 10th District has not one but two challengers to Republican incumbent Mark Kirk. The fact that a district considered unwinnable in the last two elections should have two eager Democratic challengers indicates an increasing skepticism towards the Republican leadership and a realization that Mark Kirk stands with George W. Bush more than with his District. Kirk has voted 91% of the time with Tom Delay and has voted against ethics rules in the interest of protecting the currently-indicted Delay. Lest we forget this little chestnut from Mark Kirk from last month:
I'm OK with discrimination against young Arab males from terrorist-producing states ... I think that when we look at the threat that's out there, young men between, say, the ages of 18 and 25 from a couple of countries, I believe a certain amount of scrutiny should be place on them

Anyway, I am thus far throwing my proverbial weight behind Dan Seals. Seals is generating a lot of early support because of his strong background and his attention to the most pressing issues to our district like the Iraq war, the deficit, and health care. He is also coming out strongly against Mark Kirk's ties with Bush and empahsizing the important message that right now our country is on the wrong track. Plus, he is an open-minded candidate, having made a point of saying that he doesn't know everything there is to know on local issues and therefore wants the input of the people from the District.

Here's an excerpt from a recent article about Dan:
WAUKEGAN — Dan Seals of Winnetka, one of two announced Democratic candidates hoping to unseat incumbent Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, has made his first public appearance in north Lake County.

"We have to get our country back on track," he told a group of Democratic activists Tuesday night at GoJo's restaurant in Waukegan. "We've mismanaged and squandered so many opportunities."

"He reminds me of Barak Obama," said one Democratic precinct committeeman.

Seals, like the popular U.S. senator, is tall, about 6 feet 4, slim, African American, has graduate degrees from prestigious schools and speaks to some of the same issues raised by Obama. At 34, he is 10 years younger than Obama.

...Seals called Kirk, the Republican incumbent from Highland Park, "a rubber stamp" for the Bush administration.

"He votes 90 percent of the time with Bush," he said. "He voted to give Big Oil a $14.5 billion tax credit. He voted to intervene in the Terry Schaivo case. He voted to cut funding for college aid by $14 billion ... I don't think that represents our values."

...Seals taught in Japan after getting a degree from Boston University. The experience sharpened his interest in international policy, he said. After his return to America, Seals received a master's degree in public policy from the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

In Washington, he worked for the Department of Commerce and was an aide for economic issues to Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman. This is his first run for elected public office.

He is a director at GE Commercial Finance. His wife works for Kraft Foods


Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Jerk

It's not Steve Martin, it's George W. Bush:

President Bush confirms he authorized secret domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency. But he lashed out at those who object, saying the spying is aimed only at people believed to have a clear link to terrorist organizations. [emphasis mine]

The last time a president said this, his eavesdropping targets were the likes of Paul Newman and Jane Fonda! Glad we're fighting on the frontlines of the war on terror, Mr. President.

Seriously though, this man does not deserve the office he holds. Any president who thinks it is his right to infringe on Americans' rights to privacy, and then to get defiant when he is questioned about the practice of spying on Americans without court approval, of effectively desecrating civil liberties, this is a man who does not respect what this country was founded on. Maybe the most disenchanting part of this revelation is that it is not even a surprise.

And we have three more years of this.

Syriana, A Movie of Our Times

I saw the complex web of a movie that is Syriana today, yet another example of George Clooney doing something worthwhile (Kevin Costner, take note), and I still do not know what to think.

Where some things went too unexplained, such as the actual scheme behind the merger of a large oil company, Connex, with a smaller one, Killen, which is the centerpiece of the movie's plot, a few other things are made unnecessarily clear, such as the greed-filled motivation behind the merger--a house "on the Vineyard," as one of the oil execs puts it-- and the immoral acts tangential to its accomplishments--"Corruption is why we win!" gasps the sacrificial lamb Danny Dalton in defense of himself as he finds out he is the small fish to be fried to lend legitimacy to the Connex-Killen merger. The old boys club atmosphere of their meetings and the assumption of assured victory in their associations, however, is enough for the audience to believe that the likes of the powerful Washington lawyer played by Christopher Plummer and the various oilmen, played by Chris Cooper, Tim Blake Nelson, and Peter Gerety, have preempted morals with the imperative of uninterrupted growth and profits. (Even greedy, powerful types don't necessarily speak the language of a Gordon Gekko, but what do I know? I'm not exactly acquainted with any oil execs.)

Anyhow, because Syriana has so many characters and plot lines, it runs the danger of trying to be too many movies at once. It succeeds, however, because the subject it covers, which is how a capitalist or "dollar diplomacy" U.S. foreign policy, enacted in the interest of growing profits by maintaining unfettered access to other countries' national resources, rules the day and involves all of the actors which the movie includes--that conspiracy that includes the executives of powerful oil companies, contingents of the U.S. government, and the imam or emir seats of oil emirates, which we get a glimpse of in this film.

also makes sense of seemingly nonsensical things--from why a young Pakistani would committ suicide to bomb an oil tank to why a reform-minded leader of a small Arab emirate dies "accidentally" in the middle of the desert to why ill-gotten mergers are approved by the Department of Justice. I'm not saying that Syriana provides the only explanations, but it provides some good--if a little too neat--ones. I couldn't help but think while watching it of my Latin American History class from last year. By the end of the class, as by the end of this film, it was clear to me that U.S. foreign policy would lack any morality in the eyes of the rest of the world if its efforts were based not on encouraging democracy and the popular expression of the people but by propping up oppressive, reactionary rulers most amenable to U.S. corporate hegemony. Of course, some people will point out that some of these critical governments lack any moral authority themselves, but we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than those countries.

Syriana is another in a string of political thrillers that The New Yorker critic David Denby calls "stunningly pessimistic":
It’s a strange movie, and a stunningly pessimistic one, and the strangeness and pessimism connect it (in my mind, at least) to other recent American films in ways that suggest that something unhappy in the national mood has crept into the movies.

With all that is going on in the world because of the truly corrupt interests of the U.S. federal government, is it any wonder that the movies today should reflect this "unhappy" national mood?

Friday, December 16, 2005

John Spencer

I was surprised to read that John Spencer who played Leo McGarry on "The West Wing," one of the best shows of its time, died of a heart attack today.
LOS ANGELES -- John Spencer, who played a tough and dedicated politico on "The West Wing" who survived a serious illness to run for vice president, died of a heart attack Friday. He was 58. Spencer died at a Los Angeles hospital, said his publicist, Ron Hofmann. He would have been 59 next week.

"John was a consummate professional actor and everyone adored him," said actress Allison Janney, C.J. Cregg on the NBC series. "We will miss him deeply."

Though I didn't know him personally, I felt like I knew him through my TV set, and he seemed like a great guy. Here's to the best (and sadly most fictional) Chief of Staff there was and to a man who set such a high caliber of television performance at a time when good acting was not always the top priority.

Republican Distractions of our Time

Today we take a stroll down memory lane as we look at how the Republicans have distracted us from the real issues over the years. After doing some research to refresh my memory, I found some chestnuts that I was probably better off having blocked from my mind. Oh well, here's the list:
  • The "War Against Christmas"
    • born. 2005 Bush's approval ratings are tanking, and hey, it's October, the start of the holiday season and we're out of non-issues
    • died. Oh, it's still very much alive!
  • Terry Schiavo controversy
    • b. March 2005
    • d. later in 2005, when Bill Frist's television diagnosis of Schiavo revealed that Frist probably got his medical degree not from an accredited institution but from the Evil School of Medicine. One of his fellow students was this guy:
  • Gay Marriage
    • b. 2004 campaign season
    • d. when polls closed on Election Day 2004
  • Boycott France
    • b. 2002-2003 leading up to War in Iraq when France was not supporting the Bush Administration's plans
    • d. when wealthy Republicans realized that a boycott of France would require them to forego that ski trip to the French Alps and the purchase of fine truffles from Maison du Chocolat
  • Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and their attacks on John Kerry
    • b. 2004, once it was realized that Kerry was a distinguished war veteran and Bush and Cheney, um...weren't
    • d. certainly not when it was proven that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were telling some Swift Lieeees
  • The multi-headed monster that was the Whitewater investigation
    • b. November 3, 1992 a/k/a day of Clinton's election
    • d. January 20, 2001 a/k/a the day Clinton transfers the office of the Presidency to George W. Bush
  • Anti-Flag Burning legislation
    • b. sometime in the 1980s when it was discovered that somewhere in the country, an American flag had been burned, making that the 6th flag in the country's history to be set aflame
    • d. 1989, in a Supreme Court ruling against a Texas law that even Antonin Scalia found un-constitutional
  • Flag burning Amendment
    • b. 1989 after Texas v. Johnson strikes down a flag-buring law and the non-issue folks behind the legilsation realized the only way to keep the issue in the news was to propose an Amendment to the Constitution
    • d. still aliiiive though fades in importance when Republicans seize onto newer, more cutting edge non-issues like gay marriage
Here I was beginning to wonder whether they were running out of things, but the War Against Christmas Campaign is proof that it is impossible to run out of material when one has no stronger a desire than to wallow in victimhood and no higher goal than to divert the American people from issues of real concern like high heating costs, decreasing student loans and higher tuitions, stagnant wages, increasing poverty, and our country's participation in a war that's costing us hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Uh-oh, the local Target just put up another Happy Holidays sign! Better get right on that!

Feel free to add more suggestions to the list!

I Love John Dingell

Here's the Democratic representative from Michigan's season-appropriate poem, courtesy of my mom:

Madam Speaker, I have a little poem.

'Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House,
no bills were passed `bout which Fox News could grouse.
Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer,
so vacations in St. Barts soon should be near.

Katrina kids were all nestled snug in motel beds,
while visions of school and home danced in their heads.
In Iraq, our soldiers need supplies and a plan,
and nuclear weapons are being built in Iran.

Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell.
Americans feared we were in a fast track to ..... well.
Wait, we need a distraction, something divisive and wily,
a fabrication straight from the mouth of O'Reilly.

We will pretend Christmas is under attack,
hold a vote to save it, then pat ourselves on the back.
Silent Night, First Noel, Away in the Manger,
Wake up Congress, they're in no danger.

This time of year, we see Christmas everywhere we go,
From churches to homes to schools and, yes, even Costco.
What we have is an attempt to divide and destroy
when this is the season to unite us with joy.

At Christmastime, we're taught to unite.
We don't need a made-up reason to fight.
So on O'Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter and those right-wing blogs.
You should sit back and relax, have a few egg nogs.

'Tis the holiday season; enjoy it a pinch.
With all our real problems, do we really need another Grinch?
So to my friends and my colleagues, I say with delight,
a Merry Christmas to all, and to Bill O'Reilly, happy holidays.
Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas."

Thursday, December 15, 2005


In terms of news sources, the two are becoming closer to indistinguishable. Right now, as I see it, the two biggest differences between NPR and Fox are:
  1. the latter is much more shrill
  2. NPR's listeners are smart enough to know when they're being subjected to the rightwing spin machine
As Atrios points out, NPR features commentators from ideologically Republican think tanks about twice as much as those of ideologically Democratic think tanks. Furthermore, the so-called "liberal" think tanks are the likes of the Brookings Institution which is in truth moderate in much of its analyses and nonpartisan in its affiliation.

Fortunately, some of NPR's listeners are catching on, though their ombudsman is either obtuse or disingenuous. One listener questions NPRs heavy reliance on think tanks, as they should. As she puts it:
I think that it's time for NPR to give its listeners a full disclosure. Yesterday (December 1) on "All Things Considered," I heard yet another report in which a representative from the American Enterprise Institute gave us, your listeners, his opinion about why there were plenty of reasons to go to war in Iraq and take down Saddam Hussein's regime. I have been hoping that your reporters would spare us from such information from biased groups, such as the American Enterprise Institute, without full disclosure. Does your average listener, for example, know much about the American Enterprise Institute, or what their mission is, or why this institute has worked so hard to get its information fed to the news media, such that it can influence policies in the USA and beyond?

NPR's ombudsman seems all too willing, however, to justify nondisclosure by suggesting that they are conforming to the practice of other news organizations and that they had a spokesperson from a "more liberal institution" on anyhow. A few problems with this justification:
  1. The rationale that "everyone else is doing it" is never a good rationale on its own, especially as other mainstream news outfits are hardly worth aspiring to. For instance, with all of the resources the mainstream print, radio, and television news organizations have, none of them were able to reveal the weapons of mass destruction justification for going to Iraq-- the sole justification of the time--as the farce that we now know it to be.
  2. The conservative think tanks which NPR gets their commentators from are much more ideologically right-wing than their counterparts like the Brookings Institution. For instance, the American Enterprise Institute's resident scholars are people who embrace deregulation of all sorts. This is a highly ideological viewpoint. The Brookings Institution aims simply to analyze public policy. Ideological totality is a centerpiece of AEI and many other conservative organizations like the also visible Heritage Foundation, which proclaims that its "mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense." Empirical fact-finding is not their purpose: promoting conservative policy is. It is therefore questionable whether one should even equate an institution like Brookings with AEI or Heritage Foundation as ideological counterpats, as NPR's ombudsman does, as the groups have a very different mission.
  3. Furthermore, as noted by the Washington Monthly, a conservative think tank such as the American Enterprise Institute--by virtue of its desire to be an alternative from the mainstream--allows its fellows immunity from penalties for bad scholarship, which, like the mainstream academy, is by no means foreign to the AEI. However, there are strict enforcement measures along with the compelling specter of a shamed reputation in the mainstream academy. Not so at AEI, despite that its scholarship has been oft-challenged (see again the Washington Monthly article).
Hopefully, this has given some insight into the problems with NPRs steady reliance on conservative think tanks. Although NPR is not a wholly-owned subsidiary of Republican interests, it is still important for its listeners and contributors to know where the station is getting its information, and to exercise the power of the purse if they disagree with these methods.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Special Interview with Bill Bloom

Tonight I'm excited to bring you a special interview with Bill Bloom. He has a distinguished and exciting career. As a musician, he wrote and produced for a record company, performed with Duke Ellington and his orchestra, and co-wrote the hit album "Double Dutch Bus" with Frankie Smith. He has also taught at several schools in Philadelphia. Recently, he was ordained as an interfaith minister, and he is the minstrel of music at a church in suburban Philadelphia. He also happens to be the father of one of my good friends.
I had the privilege this evening of talking to Bill Bloom by phone about his own music and his thoughts on music of today. Here is the much-awaited interview.

Q. Which singers and bands are your favorites?
Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow, are probably my favorite pop male singers. Barry Manilow not so much for his singing: I like his music, I like his arrangements, I like his versatility and diversity. He does a lot of things. I'm not sure if everyone's aware of all that he does. He does a lot of jazzy stuff. He's performed with some jazz artists; I like that stuff. Also, I like him as an arranger. He has a pretty good pop sensibility.

Q. What defines a good musical arranger?
Well, he has a good sense of what moves people, what touches people, so that they just really respond emotionally to his music, and to me a good arranger really knows how to wed music and lyrics. A good wedding of music and lyrics is essential, and Barry Manilow actually spends a lot of time trying to do that.

Q. And do you have any musical groups that you like a lot?
Well, Earth, Wind, & Fire is always one of the groups for me. I like stuff that Quincy Jones does, and he has worked with a lot of different groups and bands. I like Eminem; I'm a big Eminem fan. My musical tastes are very eclectic, and sometimes I just like different things at different times. A lot of times, someone will get into my car, and will be suprised. Maybe, a couple summers ago, all summer I blasted Eminem and Josh Grobin, and also Luther Vandross, and then today I'm listening to classical music.

Q. Which piece?
I'm listening to Sacred Songs by Renee Flemming.

Q. What do you think of the evolution of hip-hop, rap, and R&B music? It seems like all of the genres have come together recently?
Reflecting on my song, "Double Dutch Bus,": when we wrote it--this was like 25-years ago--it was considered an R&B song but in reflection to me that was probably the beginning of hip-hop. Well hip hop to me is just another form of R&B. Yeah, I think there's sort of been this coming together, well it's an evolution .

Q. What era of music is your favorite?
I like it all, but I like a lot of the music of the 30s and 40s, because again the song-writing of the time, I think the lyrics were more thought-out, more interesting and clever. The songs like "Tin Pan Alley"; these were guys who would get together and bang out songs in their rooms. They spent a lot of time together. Today a lot of pop music is more about production.

Q. Were you surprised when you found out that Missy Elliott was using your song, "Double Dutch Bus" (1982) in her song "Gossip Folks" (2003)?
Oh, yeah, I was very surprised, very pleasantly surprised. I think my kids got a big kick out of it because I know they were fans of Missy Elliott. I like her as a hip hop artist. To me she's one of the favorite ones because I think she takes her craft very seriously too, and I think she does a really good job. Again, a lot of the young hip hop writers just want to come up with anything that's attention-grabbing, maybe they'll come up with a hook that's kind of shocking. To me there's not a whole lot of creativity in that.

Q. By the way, did you ever get to meet Missy Elliott?
No, actually, I was a little disappointed. We belong to different performing rights societies. Mine is BMI and hers is ASCAP [American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers]. Basically, what they do is collect royalties from the performers, and they pay the writers and the publishers. Last year, BMI recognized "Gossip Folks" for being one of the top urban records of this year, so I got an award for that, and I was hoping she was going to be there, but she is with ASCAP, and this is a BMI event.

Q. It's interesting that a lot of the songwriters are using songs from the 70s and 80s. Is there still originality if they're doing that?
Dubbing different versions of older songs is nothing new. I think it's a good thing, and a couple of things: it introduces some of today's young people to music of a period before their time, it also helps out a lot of songwriters, gives them some new light and some new royalties. I do have to say, I like what Kanye West is doing with music today: he's sampling music but he's doing it in a creative way. I think he puts a lot of time and effort into what he's doing, and I'm impressed with his work. Yeah, I really think that song that he does with Jamie Foxx is a hot song. First time I heard it, it dropped me in my tracks because I liked it so much.

Q. I've read about the background of "Double Dutch Bus," and it seems like the song was inspired by the jump rope game and Frankie Smith's days as a bus driver. Am I right about that? Do you have a different angle on that?
It definitely was inspired by the jump rope game. Well Frankie and I, we used to be staff writers for Philadelphia International Records, and we started collaborating there. Actually, at one point, Frankie had recorded a song called "Double Dutch", and nothing ever happened to it. When we left Philadelphia International Records, we actually appraoched another company, WMT Records. They had some previous hits --some R&B hits. At that time, not much was happening, and they were looking for a good artist, a hit record. We actually just went to them with the idea of the song, we didn't even have the song. Initially what they did was give us the end of someone else's studio time, so they told us we could go in at the end of their session using some of their recorded stracks. The only thing we could do initially was record a drum track: Fat Larry was the drummer in the band and all he did was record a drum track. The following week we went back, I took that track home and added some keyboards to it, so the next week we added keyboards and we were supposed to use some base and guitar, and the following week, I think the third week, we added the bass to it. What we would do, we would take what we recorded home and listen to it. Frankie came up with some words and I came up with some musical ideas. The fourth week the record sounded good enough that the company let us record the song.
We had never done a song like that before, we sort of made it up as we went along. We ended up with one long tape: one side we called Double Dutch and the other side we called Double Dutch Bus because it had a horn in the song. Initially, Frankie and I liked the Double Dutch song. The slang part of it at that time--kids in Philadelphia were using that slang--and it's really just a contemporary pig latin. What we decided to do, is we brought in some of Frankie's neighbors, and we told them what we wanted them to say, and they spoke the slang, and then we figured out rhythmically how to insert it into the song.

Q. Is that the izzle part?
Yeah, we call it the slang. Yeah like the part that Missy Elliott included in "Gossip Folks."

Q. Is it interesting to you that the use of izzle has just taken off?
Right, that completely blows my mind that 25-years later, it's kind of become mainstream pop because everybody's using it. I really get a kick out of it because every once in awhile people send me cartoons; people use it in commericals. Snoop Dogg is one of the people who sort of helped keep it alive. [For more information about the origins of the izzle, look here]

Q. Has he acknowledged that he heard it in your song?
Yeah, he did, I've heard him acknowledge that. Although recently, he's trying to take more of the credit for it, because I think he has a TV show. It's called something about f'shizzle.

Q. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I like going to the gym. I don't know if I have hobbies so much, because music is the thing that permeates my existence, and just about everywhere I go, I'm known for music, so even at my job, well we had a choir at my job for awhile--I work for an electronics company which I'm getting read to retire from--and whenever there's a retirement party or special event, I'm asked to sing. I play a lot of parties: I play piano for the local judges in my county who recently had a Christmas party with judges from around the state. The one thing I'm doing right now: I'm singing at the Philadelphia Boys' Choir in Chorale. They travel around the world singing, and they're ambassadors of the state. They've been to Russia, they've been to Cuba three times. They're doing a Spring tour; we're going to go to south or central America. I'm having a lot of fun. That's my latest diversion. I used to direct a community choir here where I live. We went on a hiatus after I started doing the ministry stuff, but I missed singing in a group that sang good music, so this past summer I auditioned for the Boys Choir.

Q. And how do you like being a minister?
Oh yeah, I'm enjoying that a lot. At my church, I'm a minister of music, but I have a significant role there beyond the music. I do a segement called Seasons of Music and Reading where I choose a few songs that lead up to the sermon, and I choose a few readings and prayer. One of my favorite poets right now is Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet. Sometimes I do readings from him or maybe a book I'm reading or some other spritual tradition. My church is a very progressive kind of church, and they're open to hearing what other people have to say. What I really like about the ministry I'm doing now, as an interfaith minister, a lot of people ask me to do their marriages, and they're mixed marraiges, like Protestant-Jewish, and I really enjoy working with the couples and comparing their ceremonies.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Letter to the Editor

Even though the Chicago Tribune didn't publish it, I still have the luxury of posting a letter I wrote to their editor online here. The letter is in response to what I thought was a (characteristically) one-sided article about the strained relationship between Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Yorkville) and fellow Representative from Illinois, Congressman Rahm Emmanuel (D-Chicago). While Emmanuel has made me bristle at times during his leadership of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, I had to defend him over this ridiculous article. Here's my letter.
Monday’s article about strained relations between Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Congressman Rahm Emmanuel (“Oil, water and political fireworks”) proves yet again the Tribune’s propensity to give Illinois Democrats a much harder time than their Republican counterparts. The article portrays Emmanuel’s efforts in Congress as politically motivated, but I’ll take a representative who gets cheaper drug legislation passed and honors our soldiers killed in battle over Hastert, who—contrary to the Tribune’s sympathetic portrayal of him as victim to partisan attacks—has always made snide comments about Democrats (and New Orleans!) the name of the game. If Emmanuel is no longer conforming to the Illinois delegation’s “long tradition of setting aside partisan differences,” it is because he wisely realizes that his colleagues on the other side of the aisle have advanced the highly partisan agenda of President Bush to the detriment of the state of Illinois.

Who's Really 'Killing' Christmas?

Anyone who knows me even at a relatively minimal level probably knows of my devoted love of all things Stephen Colbert. That his new television show on Comedy Central is getting increasingly better after an unsure start is one more feather in the Colbert cap.

A segement which I particularly enjoy is his nightly commentary about the supposed assault on Christmas. Since Colbert's angle is as a mock television news show host in the mold of Bill O'Reilly, it makes sense that he has chosen to make these over-the-top soliloquies about Christmas, and it is incredibly funny. Here's an example:
Evidently the Storm Troppers of Diversity think there's a nicer way to say Merry Christmas. Sorry, Reich Marshal of Tolerance. I happen to think saying Merry Christmas is pretty nice already. And for the record, wishing a non-Christian Merry Christmas isn't excluding them. It's including them in our celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the only son of God.
...This war on Christmas is just a part of the larger war on Christianity. Christians in the United States are a persecuted minority (the phrase "all 80% of them" flashes up next to Stephen).

As one commenter on the above-cited website puts it, Colbert's technique is to "embrace the prevailing ideology so completely and so extremely that [he] end[s] up undermining the credibility of that very ideology."

As you can see, the whole "war against Christmas" idea has been pretty much a joke to me until today. I was listening to a local radio station, Mix 101.9, and the two radio DJs were lamenting the changing of the lyrics "Silent Night" to "Cold in the Night" at a nearby school. I'm sure Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson, another Fox News man and author of The War on Christmas, are as happy as anyone about this: more fuel for their pretty weak war against Christmas fire. Me on the other hand, I'm sad to see a station like 101.9 jump into this superficial fray.

I am Jewish, but there are certain things which I have always admired about Christmas. Some of these things are best encompassed by my two favorite movies of the season: It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and The Bishop's Wife (1947). These movies are great, but not in an easy, superficially warm and fuzzy way. Instead they deal with the darker aspects of the Christmas season with a nonetheless firm belief that human goodwill can prevail even--and maybe especially--in difficult situations.

It's a Wonderful Life
centers around a man named George Bailey brought to suicidal thoughts after losing a loan that threatens the bankruptcy of his family's bank. Bailey, played excellently by Jimmy Stewart, has already given up his personal aspirations to run his family's business. A humble man who has sacrificed so much for others over the years, George Bailey could now use the solidarity of his friends in their small town of Bedford Falls.

The Bishop's Wife, stars the wonderful David Niven as Henry Brougham, a bishop who, in planning the building of an extravagant new cathedral that is endowed by a widow as stubborn as she is wealthy, runs the danger of putting those that mean the most to him last. Cary Grant does a great job as Dudley the angel who comes down to guide Bishop Henry and his wife Julia, played by Loretta Young. The movie has a meaningful theme, embodied by one of my favorite movie lines of all time. As Sylvester, the kindly cab driver who appears a couple of times in the film is taking Julia and Dudley to the town skating rink, he says:
The main trouble is there are too many people who don't know where they're going and they want to get there too fast!

The movie indeed juxtaposes the couple's new life of going too fast without direction in the suburbs with their old life at a smaller church in the city and suggests that even a spiritual man like Bishop Brougham can get caught up in secular concerns. The triumph of The Bishop's Wife is that no one is portrayed through a black or white lense. Niven's Brougham is not an opportunistic louse but a man who has merely gotten caught up in the pressures of life. Even Cary Grant's angel is not wholly angelic.

Where am I going with all of this? Well, I wonder whether O'Reilly and John Gibson and the DJs in 101.9 desire an empty kind of Christmas: a Christmas that is prominent in word--on shiny letters on store windows and Christmas cards--but is absent in deed. A recent Christmas movie like Jingle All the Way reveals some of what Christmas today is lacking by concerning itself merely with the acquisition of material objects. If O'Reilly, Gibson, et al. want to bring back the Christmas of It's A Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife, a Christmas concerned with generosity and giving back to one's society, I'm right there with them. I suspect, however, that they have something else in mind, and by distracting their viewers/readers/listeners from the real problems of poverty and illness that ail our society with their empty gripes, they're getting us as far away from the meaning of Christmas as anyone.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Meet My Friends, Week Three: Jon

Week three of Meet My Friends, and amazingly enough, I have not run out of friends yet! This week's friend even lives in a different region of the country. Jon Shih is a third year Harvard Law student who, permit me to embarass him, is going to be the next Elliot Spitzer. He hails from the same Congressional District as I. Make of that what you will.

Q. What's your favorite movie?
So many to choose from. I really like Magnolia. That was one of my favorite movies. Well, you and I both really like Network, which is a classic 1970s critique of media impropriety, I guess. I really like Annie Hall; that probably should go on as my comedy representative. I always say Drunken Boxing Master 2.

Q. What is that?
It's a Hong Kong martial arts movie and it's starring Jackie Chan. It was made in the early 90s and it was re-mastered and re-released in 2000 in the U.S...I think they dubbed it, which is clearly inferior to the subtitles, not that the dialouge really matters, I guess. It's a classic martial arts movie.

Q. I guess I'm not the martial arts afficanado.
You need to get on that. I love the classic martial arts films.

Q. What's your favorite food?
I think it's the Gino's East Chicago's Deep Dish Pizza. I always have that when I get back home.

Q. So I'm glad to hear that you haven't gone all New York.
Well I don't know. There's something about Chicago pizza. There's something about eating two slices and being full. Also, Gino's crust is really good.

Q. What is your favorite spice?
I don't think my cooking is that advanced, but I used spices and stuff. I use salt and pepper. I'm actually not a big fan of salt. It seems like most things are too salty for me.

Q. So no favorite spice though?
No favorite spice.

Q. What is the coolest thing you ever cooked yourself?
Well, this summer Steph and I made this salmon, this baked salmon. It was really good, actually.

Q. Two follow-up questions? One: Where did you get the recipe?
I think we found it online somewhere, all though we added our own stuff to it. I remember there distinctly being lemon, and there was some green onions and soy sauce I think.

Q. Second question, did you pair a wine with that salmon?
We did, actually. Whatever wine at the wine shop said goes well and was under $15 dollars. I think it was a white wine.

Q. What is your favorite kind of wine, by the way?
I think I like red wine. Usually at firm events and stuff, they ask you if you want white or red, I usually go with red.

Q. Do you go with a full-bodied like a Merlot?
Well, according to Sideways, I'm not supposed to drink Merlot anymore. The white wine I like a lot is Riesling.

Q. Riesling is really good. It's kind of dry and sweet.
I kind of like Pinot Noir, although it's trendy I guess. My parents love the Trader Joe's Merlot. It's 2.99. It's Charles Shaw.

Q. What's your least favorite food?
I don't really like eggplant. I actually pretty much eat everything, but I don't like eggplant very much. Something about the consistency; it's very slippery. It's like eating a newt or something, which actually makes being a vegetarian very difficult, because a lot of the vegetarian alternatives are eggplant.

Q. Do you like seitan?
Yeah, I've had it before. Some of it is good. There's this restaurant called Grasshopper in Alston [a town in Massachusetts] that I've been to a couple of times. It's basically an alternative Chinese restaurant. The fake beef was really good. The fake chicken was bad though. The beef had a good consistency that was chewy in the way real beef is.

Q. What do you clean immediately?
Nothing really. I usually let things pile up and then do it all in a huge bunch. I try to do dishes sometimes, but then I get lazy.

Q. I'm the opposite. What do you wait to clean?
Everything. Mostly laundry, it just piles up on my floor. I have to go to a laundry mat to do my laundry which at first i thought was going to be amazing, because in the movies, there are hot women everywhere wasahing their panties, but in reality it's just the most disgruntled people in the world

Q. Do you like this interview so far?
Um, yes, I guess, because it would be inappropriate to say no.

Q. Good point, touche.
No I think it's good. I like that you have a prompt.

Q. What appliance would you buy if you could afford it?
I need a plasma TV, HD, and I need a Tivo setting--because apparently I'm going to be working a lot in the future--like one of those home entertainment surround sound systems with the DVD player and everything. And cable, with HBO.

Q. Yeah need HBO.

Q. Which female celebrity is most attractive to you?
Well, there's the old favorite Natlaie Portman of course, who's like the geek's choice, right? I think recently Jessica Alba has been very hot. Actually, Esquire or something said the sexiest woman of the year was Jessica Biel. I was like what the heck was that all about? It should have definitely been Jessica Alba, because she was in like four movies this year.

Q. Yeah what has Jessica Biel done lately?
Oh, she was in that horrible movie with Jamie Foxx and that guy from a Beautiful Mind who played the professor rival. He plays the smug white guy; I feel like he's been in a lot of academic movies where he's the smug other guy, like went to Exeter, now he's at Harvard.

Q. Do you remember a moment when you laughed so hard you cried?
Um. no. No, I don't thnk so.

Q. Really?
I mean, do people actually cry when they laugh really hard. I don't think I do. Maybe it's a gender thing.

Q. Alright fine.
Except when Elaine told a witty joke, then I laughed so hard I cried.

Q. Flattery will get you everywhere, my friend.
That's what we learn here [at Harvard]. Why do you think we clap for professors at the end [of the course]? Even classes I hated, I ended up clapping.

Q. That's what your professor said. He said he took a class he didn't like but had to clap.
[Harvard Law Professor Laurence] Tribe got a standing ovation.

Q. What song, no matter how much you play it, will you never get sick of?
Hmm. Um, never get sick of? I probably have listened to the "Legionnaire's Song" by the Decembrists like a million times in my life. I don't think it's called the "Legionnaire's Song," actually, I think it's called "The Legionnaire's Lament." I also really like--I don't know if you ever heard "Papa was a Rodeo" by the Magnetic Fields.

Q. I've heard of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone."
No it's different.

Q. And finally, who do you think the Democrats should run in 2008?
Well, you and I said Spitzer would be a great candidate, right, but not next year, not in '08, although he'd be good in '12 because he'd be governor and the governor-to-president move is a good move. That way you don't have to vote on things in the Senate. I think I like Hillary, because everyone loves Clinton, and Hillary would be the first woman, and she owns the women's vote, and that's like 51% of the population.

Q. Here's my question about Hillary though: do you think that she is trying to position herself too much as a moderate, like by sponsoring that flag-burning bill?
I mean I don't think she's going to alienate people on the left, becaue everyone's like, I love Clinton. And people on the left are going to be pretty pissed off on another four years of Bush.

Q. Obama as presidential nominee? Yes or no?
I see him more as a primary candidate who loses to Hillary and then gets the VP nominate.

Q. But me personally, I'd rather have him than Hillary as candidate, because he seems both like he has principles, but he attracts moderates even though he's relatively liberal.
You think, why?

Q. Well if you reference my interview from last week, my friend Joy, who is a Republican likes Obama.
Well people in college who are Republicans are diffferent than people from Texas. I don't know. I don't think so. He would have half a term, right? Then he would get questions like: is this person qualified, where you wouldn't get those questions from Hillary because she's been a senator for two terms now and she's the wife of a former president.

Q. You're in law. Do you think there are too many people going to law school today?
Yeah, I told you that. Yeah, I think there are too many people going to law school, because I think people see it as a default option; they're like, oh, I can't think of what to do.

Q. So how does one know if they are cut out for law school then?
You have to really want to be a lawyer. Because something like 90% of people who go to law school end up becoming lawyers. The only exception is some people go to law school and then become bankers...But most of the people who graduate from college don't really want to look for a job so they go to law school. Law school is very much a trade school though.

Q. Is that what you were?
No, I always kind of wanted to be lawyer.

Q. Alright, interesting answer. The only thing is, I feel like most graudate programs are trade programs. Like there's always going to be some dullness there.
You can get a Ph.D or Masters though, in whatever interests you. I feel like if you don't really know, business school is a better option.

Q. You know why I think people go to law school instead of business school though: because you have to have several years of experience in business before applying to business school.
I mean, I'm not trying to be an elitist or whatever, but the law profession is overcrowded right now, and it's becoming increasingly difficult for people at the bottom tiers to get jobs, and so I wonder, unless you really want to be a lawyer, why you would bother.

Q. It is weird that people have decided law school is the thing to do.
Yeah, especially because lawyers are generally looked down on. Also, there's a misconception of what lawyers do. Most of them come out of law school and go into civil practice and not criminal. Most lawyers don't go into litigation either; most are transactional attorneys.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Pashmina Update

I received my pashmina from the Cashmere Pashmina Group in no time, and I was admittedly worried when I first opened the package. The material seemed thin--as thin as the 100% viscose pashmina I had bought myself at a Paris flea market last year for 5 Euros. Had I been scammed, I panicked.

Sigh of relief though when I took out the stole and found it to be a much more substantial material than my thin cranberry-colored flea market scarf (which I nonetheless wear often). It therefore appears that this pashmina was a good, quality item for a great buy. It is 70% pashmina (a Nepalese cashmere) and 30% silk and is great as a wrap or a scarf. What I love about pashminas is that there are so many ways to wear them, and they keep you warm around the house.

My one caution is that the color I ordered--eggplant--looked very different in the sample I saw in the New York Times ad. In the ad, it was a brownish-purple, but live this pashmina is a deep purple. I love the color, but it is different than I expected, so a caveat emptor on that one.

To quote The Brady Bunch Movie, caveat emptor Roy. My eggplant pashmina looked less like the above swatch and more like the ones below.

If anyone wants to have a pashmina party, I would totally throw one. I guess you can sell these things to friends and get a commission. What's not to like about that? (that is, if people are actually willing to buy!).

Saturday, December 10, 2005


While blog surfing, I just discovered a blog run by "TASPers." A TASPer seems to be a gifted kid who was part of some program, but after reading this, I still don't quite understand what it's about. Oh well, gotta love these random subcultures one can discover only through web-surfing.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Five Point Plan with a Message

Lately I've been hearing more talk about a multi-point plan from the Democratic Party, a preparation for the campaign platform of the 2006 campaign. I think it's great that they're planning, but I worry that the one thing that such a platform will lack is an over-lying message. I have a suggestion for them that stems out of a conversation I had with John tonight.

Message: Republicans are destroying what makes this country great, from a strong middle-class to an ethic of politeness.

Five Point Plan

1. Preserve the environment that all Americans enjoy. Rich Republicans may be able to go to their private lodges in Tahoe or their Texas ranches, but the rest of us vacation at America's National Parks and public beaches.

2. Free ourselves from having our essential needs priced beyond our reach. Health care and natural gas prices should not be unaffordable for anyone in this country. Private American insurance and oil companies are geared towards their shareholders demands for superficial growth that helps them line their pockets rather than the needs of the average American. Health care and energy aren't usually lumped together in a campaign, but Americans are being cheated by both industries right now. It is in our best interest to have preventive health care and affordable energy prices. This means more public ownership and alternative energy options and higher fuel efficiency standards that not only help our environment but, when developed, will force oil companies, to lower their prices and stop getting rich off of the average American.

3. Demand that we strive for the once high standards we held towards education. The Republican mindset has de-prioritized education. Viewed as just another way to cut taxes by those guys, good public education has been frittered away so already well-off people can buy another Porsche or take a Carribean Cruise. We need to re-prioritize education by strengthening our public schools, paying teachers more, giving students much more assistance in college, and cutting our budget in unnecessary areas while modifying the tax code to get this money. (Barbara Boxer pointed out when I saw her last week that if we took away the Social Security tax cap, we would have an SS surplus).

4. The working poor must be eliminated as a concept. If you're an American citizen with cable television, you can turn on the tube at night and see Paris Hilton prancing around, jobless spending gobs of money. Meanwhile, there are people working nightshifts at this hour just to get by. We should not live in a society where the idle rich get richer and idler and the average working citizen gets poorer--which is what is happening right now, because inflation is happening and wages are stagnant. There must be a decent minimum wage and a new marginal tax rate for those who make 1 million plus a year.

5. Let's be NICE to each other. What a concept, eh! Seriously though, politeness in this society has plummeted because people are always in a hurry, always trying to get the most for themselves, and these are messages that are promoted by corporations, the media and politicians! Corporations want us to buy, buy, buy; but they don't care about the consumer debt that people accrue while doing so. Media figures like Bill O'Reilly and right-wing Republican polticians and religious figures can only find people to demonize. An uncivil society yields what we saw over the Thanksgiving weekend: hostile holiday shoppers, driven by the greed of corporations and the anger of public figures to focus only on material objects. I've heard people lament so often the rudeness and self-centredness of our current society. The Republican ethic has led us in the wrong direction. We must turn back.

Finally, we are forgetting what makes our country great, because the powers that be want us too. Not only can we do better, as I've heard it said by Democrats, but we can do damn well, if we try!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

VH1 Special Soundtrack

In my apartment here, the only thing that's on TV more frequently than "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" are those VH1 specials. You know the ones: the Celebrity Best Friends, the Celebrity Worst Career Moves, the Biggest Celebrity Parties. You have the D-list commentators like Debbie Matenopoulous, the endless cuts, and of course, the soundtrack. Yes, these VH1 specials play like endless caricatures of themselves, and the soundtrack caps it all off. Joy and I have come up with the Essential VH1 Special Soundtrack. Here it is:

  • “Get Your Freak On” by Missy Elliott Tribute
  • “Around the World” by Daft Punk
  • “Yeah” by Usher
  • “Intuition” by Jewel
  • “Such Great Heights” by Postal Service (the first couple bars)
  • “Toxic” Britney Spears
  • “Beautiful” Ferrell
  • “Where’s Your Head At?” by Basement Jaxx
  • “No Rain” Blind Mellon
  • “Gigolo” Nick Cannon
  • “Tipsy” J-Kwon
  • “Semi-charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind
  • “Get Low” by Lil’ John
  • “One More Time” Daft Punk

Songs in bold are VH1's old standbys which are guaranteed to be heard at least twice in every special

Of course, there was a time when music was the main act of VH1 and not peripheral to decadent celebrity lifestyles.