An ongoing discussion of politics, law, pop culture, and fine draperies.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Scattered Thoughts
on Heavy Themes

Actually, let's start out light:

Chicago Tribune's
Joel Stein feels bad for David Hasselhoff.

Speaking of a guy who gets wrapped up in the persona he creates, here's a long piece from LA Times "West" Magazine about
the guy who invented Girls Gone Wild.

Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis with … his niece

On another note entirely, my softball team got mad props in
Village Soup. Not that I'm pawing around for individual notice, but both of my two hits were home runs, and the writer didn't note the 6 RBIs. No love. He must have known I was a Courier subscriber.

Julia with the brush-back

Alrightee then …

Washington Post has two pieces today that warrant posting.

First, former Ambassador to the United Nations
Richard Holbrooke says that the combination of the U.S. war in Iraq and the Hezbollah-Israel conflict could be the match that ignites the Middle East into a Global War. Alongside a story describing Israel's continued escalation, Holbrooke observes:
This combination of combustible elements poses the greatest threat to global stability since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, history's only nuclear superpower confrontation.
Holbrooke likens the present state of events to the chain of events that led to World War I, as documented in the book,
The Guns of August. To avoid some modern manifestation of the horrors of WWI, Holbrooke urges:
Containing the violence must be Washington's first priority. Finding a stable and secure solution that protects Israel must follow. Then must come the unwinding of America's disastrous entanglement in Iraq in a manner that is not a complete humiliation and does not lead to even greater turmoil. All of this will take sustained high-level diplomacy -- precisely what the American administration has avoided in the Middle East. Washington has, or at least used to have, leverage over the more moderate Arab states; it should use it again, in the closest consultation with and on behalf of Israel.

While we're on topic, Here's a fine piece titled, "Letter from Beruit," filed by Jon Lee Anderson of the New Yorker. The author provides a great account of a conversation with Jamil Mroue, "a secular Shiite and the editor of Beirut’s English-language newspaper, the Daily Star:
Even after 9/11, there is this expectation in the U.S. and Israel that some unspoken middle class is just sitting there waiting to inherit the ruins of whatever country it is that they are obliterating. But there is no calculation that, if they flatten Lebanon and [Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah comes out of hiding and is given a microphone to deliver a speech, he can topple governments. He has been extraordinarily empowered by this. Israel and America are still obsessed with destroying hardware. But if you do this with Hezbollah you just propagate what you want to destroy”—that is, an unmoored fighting force. “Do I want to live under Hezbollah?,” he said. “No, I don’t. But the same errors that the Americans made in Iraq are the ones being made here. You get rid of Nasrallah not by destroying his guns but by helping to create a sustainable society.”

Mroue sipped his whiskey and said, “Hezbollah will most likely come out of this with its infrastructure shattered, but then comes the soapbox with the highly cerebral underdog—Nasrallah—and there will be a camera crew there from CNN or Al Arabiya, and he will go on camera and say ‘Do this,’ and people will.”
LA Times columnist T. Christian Miller picks up the same theme in light of the Bush Administration's failure to rebuild Iraq in "Marshall Plan, Minus the Plan." Here's the nice finish:
After the initial U.S. rebuilding program in Europe stumbled, Allen W. Dulles led the charge for a new aid plan in 1948 by making a simple argument: "There is no price tag on chaos, or salvation." President Truman and Congress stepped back, adjusted and passed the Marshall Plan, an even larger, more farsighted response. It was not too late then. It is not too late now.
Next …

Hannity sucks ass!, according to at least one participant in the Ned Lamont victory celebration, as broadcast on Fox News. Classic! Thanks Hot Air!, and thanks for this this odd tidbit too.

Eric Alterman
suggests on MSNBC dot com that the punditry class is going to push for Lieberman's rebirth as an independent candidate, fully in keeping with what he identifies as the insider press's newfound, sloppy proclivity toward "cocktail party gossip, green room small talk, semiofficial leaks and unconfirmed rumor, almost always offered up as if the source had no interest in pushing a point of view."

I think my other favorite part of this is that Alterman employs the moniker "Our Lady of the Magic Dolphin" in referring to Wall Street Journal columnist, and dare I say, shill for the Bush Administration, Peggy Noonan.
The Noonan column that Alterman cites, see here, lauds Lieberman for his break from the Democratic Party, deeming it "a canny attempt to take advantage of the growing intraparty frustrations that are rising in both parties." Not too weird, but later, Noonan suggests that liberal blog fans are "viewed by most people outside that crowd as hate-fueled, bitter and stupid – the devil's flying monkeys making their 'Eeek! Eeek!' sounds." OK … weird.

On this point, Alterman one-ups his own magic dolphin reference by positing, "Methinks Peggy’s been nipping at the sherry a mite too frequently."

I'm not sure I really know how deep Noonan's lush-dom lurks, or what "Our Lady of the Magic Dolphin" means, but I think I like the whole sordid schtick. Bring it!

Seriously though …

MoveOn dot org founder and Camden product Eli Pariser
weighs-in on the Ned Lamont victory in Connecticut. deeming it a signal of the end of the "era of triangulation." He observes:
With triangulation passing, a new era of bolder, principle-driven politics can begin. Lamont's success should be the opening salvo in a 90-day campaign to establish the clear-cut differences between Democrats and Republicans. Most independent voters, like Democrats, want change, but many of them aren't sure yet whether Democratic candidates are capable of giving it to them. Now's the chance to seize that mantle.
Pariser hints that the American people are aware of the developments highlighted by Ambassador Holbrooke, and that a change in leadership is required to avoid the possible consequences identified:
If the Democratic Party can emulate Lamont's principled progressivism, a
durable national electoral majority and a government that embraces real people's
concerns awaits. Americans want change as badly as they did in 1994. They want
an end to the U.S. military occupation of Iraq. They want a shift in national
priorities that makes government their ally in dealing with soaring energy
prices and increasingly inadequate and unaffordable health insurance.
And, yes, they want their officeholders and candidates to hold the
president accountable for his failures.

The time has passed for what a New York Times editorial aptly characterized as Sen. Joseph Lieberman's "warped version of bipartisanship, in which the never-ending war on terror becomes an excuse for silence and inaction." People don't want Democratic politicians whose grotesquely nuanced positions on issues make their utterances incomprehensible or meaningless or both. They want a new direction.
Kisses ...

The pendulum is swinging, driven by the all-too-apparent shortcomings of the Bush administration. To paraphrase a great Democrat, the only thing Democratic leaders have to fear is timidity in the face of opportunity.

Nice harmony, when heard along with Alterman's barbs, including:

So the upshot we are left with is that Connecticut Democrats picked a candidate whose positions are consistent with the majority and rejected one whose are not. And yet that, we are told is somehow the “elitist” position that will destroy the Democrats with a public that largely agrees with them. In other words, the analogy fails completely upon the slightest scrutiny.

. . .

One more voice, via Talking Points Memo's Joshua Micah Marshall, only in a far more thoroughly traditional media outlet makes the harmony all the more lovely, noting:
With Lieberman, there's something different. It's not just that he wouldn't wash his hands of the Iraq War. Lots of Democrats won't. It's more than that. He's seemed almost militantly indifferent to the disaster Iraq has become. And his passion about the war seemed reserved exclusively for those who questioned it rather than those who had so clearly botched the enterprise. His continual embrace of President Bush — both literal and figurative — was an insult to Democrats, the great majority of whom believe Bush has governed as one of the most destructive Presidents in modern American history. It's almost as though Lieberman has gone out of his way to provoke and offend Democrats on every point possible, often, seemingly, purely for the reason of provoking. Is it any wonder the guy got whacked in a party primary?
Anywho, Pariser joined Ken Rudin on NPR's Talk Of The Nation this week and shared many of the same thoughts. Diane Rehm discussed the election result Wednesday with E.J. Dionne, Susan Page, and USA Today's Susan Page, and Democratic strategist Celinda Lake.

Heavy talk for Heavy times.

For what it's worth, the Post's Editorial Board says Lieberman's decision to run as an independent in November
was the correct one. I guess the Post isn't so opposed to the "grotesquely nuanced positions" for which Pariser calls for the end. Meanwhile, David Broder is careful not to read the wrong thing into the Lamont victory. LA Times' Jonah Goldberg writes a column that reads like a combination of what everyone else says.

Meanwhile, NY Times' David Brooks [subscription required]
suggests that the prospects of a moderate party, the "McCain-Lieberman Party," are now greater than ever. Brooks says:
The McCain-Lieberman Party begins with a rejection of the Sunni-Shiite style of politics itself. It rejects those whose emotional attachment to their party is so all-consuming it becomes a form of tribalism, and who believe the only way to get American voters to respond is through aggression and stridency.

The McCain-Lieberman Party counters with constant reminders that country comes before party, that in politics a little passion energizes but unmarshaled passion corrupts, and that more people want to vote for civility than for venom.
Brooks finishes by looking past the establishment of the moderates:
The history of third parties is that they get absorbed into one of the existing two, and that will probably happen here. John McCain and Hillary Clinton will try to reconcile their centrist approaches with the hostile forces in their own parties. And maybe they will succeed (McCain has a better chance, since the ideologues on the right feel vulnerable while the ideologues on the left, perpetually two years behind the national mood, think the public wants more rage).

But amid the hurly-burly of the next few years – the continuing jihad, Speaker Pelosi, a possible economic slowdown – the old parties could become even more inflamed. Both could reject McCain-Liebermanism.

At that point things really get interesting.

Hopefully, they won't ever get that interesting. While Maine history has witnessed several forrays into the radical middle in the fight for leadership, I doubt that the national partisan landscape would permit such a moderate party revolution to take hold -- if even for a single presidential election cycle.

The only national example that serves any comparative meaning is Teddy Roosevelt's
Bull Moose/Progressive Party, which stole just enough from the Republican voter base to offset any effect to the Democratic surge such that Woodrow Wilson won the White House. This is not so much in terms of doctrine (although even there a case could easily be made), as in terms of the development of intractable cleavages within the policy-making class and the reluctance of hold-over personalities to choose sides in the war. Even in this case, however, the dynamics of the contemporary media, any argument that the combination of McCain's and Lieberman's personalities could effect the same kind of pull exerted by TR in 1912.

Ya ya ya. We'll see. I'll make my predictions based on what November yields.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Going Through the Motions

Apologies for the uninspired nature of some of this. These here dog days are tough on the blogosphere, but not enough so that I will
abstain altogether. So, here are a few updates, follow-ups, quick hits, and Red Sox lamentations.

Lobster Wars Updated

All's Quiet on the Western Front

Note all of the boats, armed and afloat in Rockland Harbor, awaiting the onslaught of angry Lobster warriors from the far-off renegade island of Matinicus.

Looks like
Christian Science Monitor isn't the only publication giving column inches to the Matinicus lobster wars, as we discussed last week. The Maine Sunday Telegram issued this editorial statement this past weekend, pontificating, "Regardless of how the charges are resolved, state officials ought to take steps to make sure the recent incidents aren't a prequel to more trouble." Meanwhile Village Soup waxes about the battle in light of the weekend's bug-o-rama, noting:
As the Maine Lobster Festival begins and the state shells out a new promotion that brands the bands that tie lobster claws, recent events among harvesters in the Matinicus fleet have stolen some spotlight.

Newspapers from around New England have scrutinized a June 13 altercation in which two shotgun blasts rang out near the island, an escalation of another so-called "lobster war."

It's not the first time a publication has used strong language for bone-deep sentiments of those who fish Maine waters. The "wars," history shows, are momentary blips on the radar of an industry trying to survive upon the returns of a natural resource. From pacts to councils to petitions to unwritten rules, lobstermen — and women — have their ways, which aren't going away, no matter how big, or bold, the newspaper headlines become.

This Thomaston woman is seen running for her life from wild lobster warriors at last week's Maine Lobster Festival, in Rockland.

Other thoughts …

Americas political media are wasting no time in pondering the meaning of the
Ned Lamont phenomenon … Is it huge? Even before the results were clear, E.J. Dionne announced that he thought so. Former Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal thinks:
Lieberman was once the most attractive and promising Democrat in his state, his
grasp of political realities subtle and sinuous. But he became scornful of disagreement, parading himself as a moral paragon to whom voters should be
privileged to pay deference. The elevation of his sanctimony was accompanied by
the loss of his political sense.

Lieberman announced he will run as an independent, which should prove to be a mess, as
Hartford Courant's Jon Lender observes Salon War Room's Tim Grieve laments this decision and its possible consequences, noting:
I tuned in to Lieberman's concession speech Tuesday night expecting an actual concession, an acknowledgment that Ned Lamont had pulled off the nearly impossible, defeating an 18-year Democratic incumbent. Of course, given the tight margin of Lamont's primary victory, I expected Lieberman would run as an independent Wednesday. Or Thursday. Maybe Monday. He'd confer with longtime
advisors and supporters and decide with an air of sadness but determination he was moving on. But I didn't expect the brazen faux concession turned battle cry Lieberman unleashed on Tuesday night.

Now, if Democratic Party leaders have any courage, they'll lock arms against Lieberman's selfish move and repudiate him just as boldly and quickly as Lieberman declared he would run.

Because Lieberman's run is selfish, and politically stupid. His "concession" speech echoed the Beltway wisdom that he'd been defeated by Bush haters, by the "politics of polarization." But Lamont's victory is more than the surprise uprising of Cindy Sheehan’s Camp Casey from last summer. The country has turned against the Iraq war, and Democrats like Lieberman – and Republicans like, well, most Republicans – have lost the battle for the middle ground.

Connecticut, affectionately dubbed the most corrupt state in the Nation in some quarters, is too weird to predict, despite its hardened blue state credentials. I mean, these are the folks who continue sending Christopher Dodd back to the Senate, and elected both the terminally corrupt John Rowland and the politically inscrutable Lowell Weicker in a succession of years.

I guess November will bring one of the more interesting off-year elections since 1994.

Who's Spooling Whom?


Village Soup also reports in Camden that two adults and two juveniles were charged with
illegal rolling of a large, heavy wooden utility wire spool down a hill into downtown. Here is the instrument of problematicability. Apparently, Officer Allen Weaver Jr. saw a group of young males running and he chased them on foot, and coyly noted, "The slowest kid lost the race." The Soup noted, "That kid was Colin Curtis, 18, of Camden, and he was charged with criminal mischief and reckless conduct." Poor. That means extra laps for you Mister. Outrun by a cop. You oughta be ashamed of yourself.

Da Blaine House!

Independent candidate for Governor,
Barbara Merrill, notched some fine column space in the Sunday Telegram this week too, via the AP. The Appleton State Rep got the angle she's been pushing, namely that she serves the oft-mentioned mythical Maine independent voter rather than any party loyalty, pronouncing, "Personally I am most comfortable on the middle ground, but more importantly I believe that is where Maine people are. It is also where we must be if we are going to turn Maine around." She's authored a manifesto, Setting the Maine Course – We Can Get There From Here, which Amazon happily reports can be yours for the low-low price of $10.95, used. I guess that's enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry.


Despite its clevah-ness, the book's title suggests that Rep. Merrill hasn't traveled to far east from Appleton any time in recent memory. It's clear that between
the Route 17/90 intersection project, whatever is happening on Old County Road, and the ever-present Godforesaken mess that is Route One you cannot get there from here.

Route One: Bring a Book to Read!

For the record, the
$1,41 million project is slated to clog my Rt. 17/Rt. 90 commute route until September 29 for what are identified as improvements related to "Hot Mix Asphalt Overlay, Pavement Milling, Drainage, and Safety." I have nothing to add.

Elsewhere, The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine reports that this Harvard doctorin' type hypothesizes that former Enron thief … I mean, chief, Ken Lay, was literally "scared to death" by prison, public embarrassment, and poverty.

New York Times Sunday Magazine has a piece suggesting that America has had enough of the Neo-Con view of America's role as regime-changer and won't abide for any intervention in the current Israeli-Hezbollah conflict.

I guess that's it for my waning fandom of
Dennis Miller. Too bad. I thought his three HBO specials included some of the best political comed-tary of the 1990s. Something must have happened in the booth at Monday Night Football, as he hasn't been the same since.

Speaking of football …

Post trash talk on the message board, or You're Out!

BSG says fantasy football needs to be standardized, nationwide, so as to provide a true means of comparing leagues. Gasp! Perish the thought. That said, I strangely found myself nodding to a few of his ideas – namely, the extended season for the top four teams and "three strikes, you're out" for league lame-asses. If you don't do fantasy football, please skip ahead and disregard …


Julian Tavarez = Spanish for "Heathcliff Slocumb"

No intro needed other than, yes, I'm worried.

Michael Silverman leads the charge, deeming the "6-4 loss to the major league-worst Royals in last night’s series opener" as "the latest punch in the gut to the Red Sox, who lost 2-of-3 to the American League-worst Devil Rays to begin the trip." Buckshot rips everyone who's not injured. Nashua Telegraph columnist Alan Greenwood limits his criticism to the bullpen.

Jon Lester has
pitched like a rookie over his last few starts.

Each day brings
a new injury.

And worst of all,
Jon Papelbon is human after all.

Despite how poorly the Red Sox have looked against the dregs of the AL, there for some reason remains some hope.
Your Curly-Haired Boyfriend mercifully types nothing about The Bambino or Denny Galehouse, but rather observes that Theo's plan to keep the young pitchers is a good thing. And, Globe blogger Eric Wilbur tells everybody to relax and stop blaming management, as the problems are larger than any single deadline deal would have solved.

It is only the second week in August, so keep the hand away from the panic button.

Bob Ryan thankfully diverts our attention away from our self-obsessed little corner of MLB and
observes that the Twins should have been more careful with prodigy Francisco Liriano. Meanwhile, as

Eric Wilbur observes, the Tigers keep winning. Mitch Albom bizarrely spent Tuesday away from Morrie and blessed us with some writing about baseball for a change.

Will they actually fulfill the destiny painted by Angry Greg, and win the World Series? At this point, I'm not predicting anything for the AL. August and September should prove witness to some interesting baseball …

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Adventures in Journalism, Part Two:
The Gas Pump and the Damage Done

SteelerFan Dan sent along this Chicago Tribune story, to me, presumably to distract me as we prepare for our upcoming fantasy football draft. Incidentally, I am guaranteed to get LT, LJ, or Shaun Alexander. Considering I got stuck with the evil number six pick last year – a pick that left me with the choice of a bunch of guys who eventually underwhelmed American en masse – and figured Corey Dillon was no worse than the rest of the lot. Needless to say, I wasn't the one disappointed by Mr. Dillon's output last season. Yet, it's fair to say that the number three pick has me giddy about the prospects of this season.

Despite the jinx guaranteed to me by all of this in print, as I said – Giddy.

Anyway, the four-part story, entitled "Oil Safari: A Tank of Gas, A World of Trouble," is one reporter's attempt to show exactly how buying each gallon of gas translates into contributions to the War in Iraq, warlords in countries like Nigeria, and terrorists throughout the Middle East.

He does it thanks to the open-door extended to him by the Marathon gas station company, which permitted him to track a single fill-up of gas from a Chicagoland gas station, to a particular refinery outside Chicago, to a particular oil tanker, which the reporter traced to Nigeria. As he notes:

For a span of five months, from September through February, other fuel shipments to the station were analyzed for their crude composition. Molecules swirled through the South Elgin Marathon's gas pumps from Nigeria, Iraq and Venezuela, as well as from declining oil fields in the United States.

Taken together, they revealed the immense human costs, the boggling technical investments, the hardball politics, the hidden exploitation and, ultimately, the alarming fragility of America's epic oil addiction--as seen through the prism of a local gas station. U.S. consumers and faraway producers were finally tethered, without resorting to metaphor or guesswork, by a clear oil trail.

Thus, $73.81 worth of unleaded pumped one Saturday afternoon by a Little League mom was traced not simply back to Africa, but to a particular set of offshore fields in Nigeria through which Ibibio villagers canoed home to children dying of curable diseases.

Every day, the jaded tanker drivers brought human stories echoing in their trucks. They plunked their long wooden measuring sticks into the Marathon station's 40,000-gallon underground tanks, and the resulting subterranean gong evoked—depending on the changing oil vintage—an Iraqi ex-colonel's cavernous loneliness. Or the laments of a West African fisherman named Sunday, afloat on a fishless stretch of the Atlantic. Or the songs of Marxist Indians reveling in their newfound oil wealth atop a dusty South American plateau.

The voices of Chinese oil prospectors gurgled inside all of the fuel shipments. And diluted in the gas came a warning that many Americans seem unprepared to hear: Our nation's energy-intensive joy ride, powered by 150 years of cheap petroleum, may finally be coming to an end. This could be as good as it gets.

The guy went undercover as a gas station clerk for months, and then went to Nigeria to see firsthand how the oil makes it from the ground to the ships.

The story is crafted so that the stories of those who channel the oil from subterranean Nigeria into the ships are poetically juxtaposed against those who sell and buy gasoline in suburban Chicago.

It's journalism the way it's meant to be practiced. And that excerpt is merely from part one. This excerpt from Part Two is sublime:

In South Elgin, Michelle Vargo was Scotch-taping notices to the Marathon's convenience store countertops: "FREE CANDY BAR IF CASHIER DOES NOT SUGGEST A PRODUCT OR SERVICE."

Post-Katrina gas theft had eased when prices ebbed to $2.85 a gallon – the apparent pain threshold of American motoring. But the convenience store sales had slumped. Since they represent 80 percent of the station's profits, the owner, Prairie State Enterprises, was leaning hard on the staff – and especially on Vargo – to vend.

The gas station store's 550-item inventory exceeds the shopping choices of even the biggest supermarkets in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

But that didn't help Vargo. What do jaded American drivers want? What do they need?

She offers them 88 varieties of cigarettes, 111 types of cool drinks, eight flavors of Tums antacid tablets, three choices of mini-pizzas warming under heat lamps, banana nut cappuccino, AC/DC ball caps, ultra-ribbed condoms, 7-inch locking pliers, and the Denzel Washington version of "The Manchurian Candidate" on DVD. For the spiritually inclined she stocks "Cheech & Chong's" incense and two kinds of Native American dream catchers – meant to ward off bad spirits – made in China and tagged at $9.99 each.

"I'm gonna walk away if the pressure keeps up," Vargo said. "I'd hate to do it. I was here during construction. I feel like this station is mine. But I can't take it forever."

Her cell phone rang. She took the call outside. She paced the pumps, her free arm gesturing wildly under the pearly winter sky. She was ignored by the limo drivers in their dead men's suits. By the grumpy and overworked truckers. And by a man who arrived every day to break a $20 bill with an M&Ms purchase so he could play the Lotto machines.

The station's key commodity – refined petroleum – was as invisible as ever. The only evidence that it even existed was a faint tang of gasoline.

See? Granted, it's a long-arsed story, but no worse than your typical lead story in
The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, or Harpers. It certainly requires a commitment.

My point? Make the commitment.