You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2009.

Chalk this one up as “cute kid moment 4398.”  My seven-year-old son’s class went to Eureka to watch some Zydeco music yesterday at the Municipal Auditorium.  Jana queried him on the trip this morning.

Jana:  Did you get good seats?

Asher: No.

Jana:  What didn’t you like about them?

Asher:  They were kind of curvy and uncomfortable.

Basically, the court will only review about 400 ballots.

So what kinds of ballots will be counted, and what processes went into determining this?

Both campaigns submitted lists of ballots that they said they’d proven were legal and ought to be counted — and here’s what the court thought of them:

“Upon the Court’s initial review, it became apparent that the parties’ spreadsheets identifying the relevant exhibits were inadequate and unreliable. This required the Court to complete an exhaustive review of all the records and documents submitted by either party throughout the course of the entire trial.”

The court thus reviewed:

“…19,181 pages of filings, including pleadings, motions and legal memoranda from the parties; 1,717 individual exhibits admitted into evidence; and testimony from 142 witness examinations, including election officials from 38 Minnesota counties and cities and 69 voters who appeared and testified in defense of their ballots. The trial evidence comprised exhibits offered in three-ring binders that, when stacked, equaled over 21 feet of paper copies.”

Franken went into the trial ahead by 225 votes. Not all of the 400 votes will be counted, and it’s unlikely that even if the votes break for Coleman that it will be enough. And there’s reason to believe they will actually break for Franken, expanding his lead.

Next up is the appeal, but I’m wondering if the Democrats in the Senate will take some action to seat Franken. Coleman is rumored to be a candidate for Michael Steele’s replacement as head of the RNC by the time the party gets around to booting Steele.  By keeping Franken out of the Senate as long as he has, he’s no doubt ingratiated himself with those who can put him there.

Addendum: Coleman will appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and after that to the Federal Courts, and his attorney isn’t even hiding the fact that the whole point is to delay certification to keep Franken out of the Senate for as long as they can.

It’s official.

Now that it’s over and the Pentagon arms projects have been reported over budget in “staggering” numbers, maybe that’s where the born-again fiscal conservatives can find some budget cuts, allowing for spending on education, health care, and green energy.  It seems win-win to me.

Thanks to Heraldo for the heads up about Los Bagels’ birthday bash and benefit.  The thread contains an interesting discussion about mixing food and politics.  I’m pretty sure it doesn’t violate any health or FDA regs.

In the meantime, if you haven’t been there in a while try their “sushi bagel.”  The wasabi cream cheese gives you a nice morning kick.

Also try their curry schmeer with albacore.

Thank you Tom Hanson for insisting that I put The Lives of Others at the top of my Netflix queue.  As in the past Germany has lived in something of denial about life in East Germany until just under a couple of decades ago.  As with Nazism and the Holocaust they don’t like to talk about it too much, particularly as many of the people who were responsible for injustice against their fellow citizens have blended in well during the integration with the west and are now businesspeople, political leaders, and otherwise legal and apparently guilt impervious neighbors with people whom they spied on, informed on, and had arrested.  I guess the idea is that in such an extreme system it was difficult to survive without making serious compromises of humanity, and this movie is one of very few German pop-culture attempts thus far to deal with the issues in any meaningful manner.

The premise revolves around a quote the filmmaker attributes to Lenin about not being able to listen to Mozart lest he lose the resolve to fight the revolution.  The lead is a Stasi agent assigned to conduct audio surveillance on a prominent artistic couple.  He is a purist, a true state loyalist, and suspects the couple of something even before his superior orders him onto the case.  His confidence in the righteousness of his cause are almost immediately undermined when he learns of corrupt motivations behind the investigation, and further undermined as the music, art, and integrity of the people whom he is spying on begin to move him.  The film doesn’t try too hard to shore up the plot with plausibility, though it makes some reasonable efforts.

The officer is played by the late Ulrich Muhe (with an umlaut) who had in real life resided in East Germany where his ex-wife reportedly informed on him (she has vehemently denied this despite official records which seem to make it clear).  The story only makes the film itself more compelling.

Before he died, William F. Buckley saw the film and said it was the best he’d ever seen.  Ironically, criticism that the movie soft pedals the oppression in the GDR comes from a source on the left.  Slavoj Zizek (I don’t know how to do the little umlaut-like things above the letters) made the following points in a review for In These Times:

Like so many other films depicting the harshness of Communist regimes, The Lives of Others misses their true horror. How so? First, what sets the film’s plot in motion is the corrupt minister of culture, who wants to get rid of the top German Democratic Republic (GDR) playwright, Georg Dreyman, so he can pursue unimpeded an affair with Dreyman’s partner, the actress Christa-Maria. In this way, the horror that was inscribed into the very structure of the East German system is relegated to a mere personal whim. What’s lost is that the system would be no less terrifying without the minister’s personal corruption, even if it were run by only dedicated and “honest” bureaucrats.

It’s a point well made.  The lead character, before his conversion, is more scary to me than the corruption.  The true-believers are the most dangerous to basic liberty.  But this isn’t a docudrama.  It’s a story about the versatility of humanity even when we as a species construct situations which threaten to wipe it out.  And it doesn’t oversell the concept.  The conversion is not sudden, and it’s not dramatic.  The ending is perfect.


I just watched Religulous, and while I find Bill Maher’s take and approach hilarious, it’s really not informative.  He interviews an assortment of nutcases, morons, and con-men to make his points.  It would have been more informative, though perhaps not as entertaining, for him to have interviewed serious theologians with his questions.

On the DVD itself I strongly recommend the outtakes in the special features section.  There you’ll find fragments of an interview with David Icke, someone who has received some attention around here.


In 1997 my wife signed us up for cable.  I didn’t watch much of it, but one night I was “channel surfing” and came across some haunting urban cinematography with an equally haunting Celtic score.  It immediately grabbed my attention, and within moments I was drawn into the story.  I think I saw maybe three episodes, then life took me away from it, and I came back a couple of months later but it was gone.  It was entitled EZ Streets, and now a few of the episodes are available on a DVD entitled Brilliant but Canceled: EZ Streets (Brilliant but Canceled is a series of DVDs with, well, what it says it is).

This was a well written, excellently acted, and brilliantly filmed series which aired in 1996, but the pinheads on CBS underestimated the audience and messed things up much the same way Firefly was messed up (episodes shown sparsely, and out of order – in fact they aired just about the same number of episodes as Firefly). It takes place in a decaying fictional city across the river from Canada (think Detroit, where it was probably filmed) and takes a multi-layered noir approach to television crime drama, with very blurred distinctions between good and evil. You’ve got a brooding cop played by Ken Olin perpetually trying to solve the mystery of his partner’s death. Joe Pantoliano plays his likable criminal adversary who weaves a dance through dark comic relief, genuine brotherly loyalty, and creepy malevolence. Caught in the middle is a morally conflicted ex-felon trying to find some footing on some very slippery ground. Their stories are backed by a very strong supporting cast with numerous fascinating characters. Like Firefly, anytime the story seems to drift towards anything remotely cliche, you’re yanked onto new terrain with a backdrop of barren subject photography of neighborhoods in disrepair and a Celtic music score which includes artists like Loreena McKennitt to let you know that a streak of romance laces an atmosphere of despair. It was too far ahead of its time.


I commented before on what I had characterized as “improvements” to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  After rereading the story (to my children) and having viewed the newest film version from front to back, I’ve changed my mind.  I’d previously complimented the film for altering the White Queen character, but really, they didn’t have any business doing that.

Let me start from the beginning.  CS Lewis wrote the story.  He was a Christian with socially conservative politics.  As a young man he’d been an atheist and I think had some liberal if not socialist politics, and had been a feminist to a certain degree.  His conversion led him to rethink his feminism and he concluded that feminism is a rebellion against God and his order.  The Bible makes very clear that men have authority over women so he argued, and it’s in the nature of the “mystery” of the sexes that men should have decisional authority even if they are “equal” in intellectual and other respects.  If you have any doubt read his novel Perelandara where emissaries from God and Satan visit a planet which has not yet fallen, both appealing to Perelandara’s “Eve” to go their way.  A good portion of the arguments made the the Devil’s emissary were those made by feminists.  God’s emissary argued the virtues of female submissiveness.  When Eve gets confused, God’s emissary kills Satan’s emissary.  That’s the story.  Sorry if I’ve spoiled it.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis depicted the Queen as cowardly and scheming in the very traditional female sense.  That was his vision.  You may not like it.  I didn’t like it even as a kid.  But that was his character.  It was his story.

It was also in his story where Father Christmas delivers the gifts to the children and instructs the girls to stay out of the fighting.  When one of the girls protests that she could be brave, F.C. responds, “that is not the point, war in which women fight is an ugly thing” or something like that.  In the more PC movie version he simply tells her that war isn’t pretty, missing Lewis’ point and altering the message.

So, to make the story more palatable to me (and if you read my old comments on the film, you’ll see that it is indeed more palatable to me) and others likely to watch it, they stipped CS Lewis of his intention to offend me and make me think about it.  He does so even more in Voyage of the Dawn Treader where cosmopolitan values are seen as more fashion than substance, and cultural simplicity (ie. what the average middle class white kids are into) are indicative of virtue and humility.  I imagine that will be whitewashed from the upcoming film as well.

My point is, I don’t think they had the right to do that.  I didn’t like it when feminism was stripped from Watchmen.  I certainly don’t like the fact that none of the several version of War of the Worlds have been stripped of HG Wells’ original point, which was to present a parable in opposition to colonialism.  I didn’t like it when the political allegories were removed from Wizard of Oz.  I have a much different view of the world than CS Lewis, but his stories were his expressions.  He has been deprived of his voice.  It’s plagiarism as far as I’m concerned.  They took something and appropriated it to their own uses without regard to its vitality.

How dare she plant an organic garden outside the White House and bill it as an example of healthy choices?  Well, some people are angry and they’re not going to take it!  Industry leaders are calling on their fellows-in-interest to write letters to Obama to pressure her to use pesticides in her garden.  You couldn’t write better satire!  Really, it’s like something out of Thank you for Smoking.

As I’ve said, the benefits of organic produce at present are greatly oversold by an increasingly corporatized organic industry.  And right now we don’t have any agricultural models which can feed the whole planet with existing organic methods, though there is promise.  And yes, organic practices do present their own problems, environmentally as well as health-wise.  But for these companies to panic over a single garden is indicative of a corporate culture which actually resists the basic engine of progress according to most free-market ideologists – the demand of the consumer.  They want the consumer to shut up and stop thinking about what they’re putting into everybody’s mouths.  After all, but for conventional practices, a midwesterner couldn’t buy strawberries three months early (no kidding, that’s actually in their letter).

I also love it when major ag business starts talking about the intrepid family farmer.  You know, the kind of person representing the tens of thousands who have been put out of business and if they’re lucky rehired as serfs to caretake their acquisitions.

What’s really funny is that it’s horrible politics.  If they’d just kept their mouths shut, the garden would have been a feature story in fluff media for a few days, with everybody saying “well, isn’t that nice,” with the garden becoming at best the subject of a Trivial Pursuits question and future hippies’ conversation, “there was once an organic garden that the White House” which you half believe as you sedgeway into conspiracy talk of Y3k.  This story is good for a round of debate on the major networks.

It’s been getting a lot of discussion on some forums.  Mickey Kaus, a blogger for Salon, obtained sampling of posts on the list.  If this is some grand left wing conspiracy, the left is in serious trouble!  I’ll let Kaus himself explain.

JournoList Revealed! Inside the Secret Liberal Media Email Cabal

Michael Calderone’s article on the large, secretive liberal media email group JournoList sparked a lot of debate–some of it in this space–on whether this group is a healthy development for coverage of politics. The debate was necessarily speculative because actual JournoList discussions remained secret. But with more than 300 members of this club, virtually all of them with easy access to the media, did you really think a JournoList thread wouldn’t leak? People are rightly interested in learning what goes on behind the scenes at powerful institutions–or wannabe powerful institutions–whose power derives precisely from their decision to exclude the public.

Kausfiles has obtained a copy of one JournoList discussion, focusing on New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz (for whom I once worked.) This is not a parody! It’s the real thing. I don’t know whether or not it is representative. I’ve edited it only to remove potentially defamatory passages–those cuts are marked–and left out various boilerplate links and commands embedded in the thread, such as “Print” and “Report this message.” … I won’t add my own commentary, at least for now. Find your own lede! Reminder to JournoList organizer E. Klein, who likes to take it private: All communications are on the record. …

You can read all the posts through the title link above.  I’m beginning to think the Internet induces some sort of maturity regression effect on our central nervous systems.

Three weeks ago the stock markets were in freefall.  Three weeks ago conservatives locally and nationally were blaming Obama.  Six weeks ago Obama signed the stimulus bill.  Three weeks ago economic reports began to improve.  Two weeks ago the stocks began their longest climb in months.

Any day now the conservatives are going to congratulate Obama on a job well done. I have faith. Stock prices are climbing and that means the economy’s in fine shape, right?

Addendum: Check out the post WordPressed attached hereto as “related.”  First time the thing’s worked right that I’ve noticed.

Second addendum: Dkos provides a chart from the Republican budget plan.

Meanwhile, whowouldathunkit? An economic partnership between Sarah Palin and Hugo Chavez?

AIG Execs:  “We’re being extorted!”

This astute Kos poster dug up an old NYT article about the passage of one of many deregulation laws, this one letting banks off in 1999.  Overwhelming support from both parties, the bulk of the opponents coming from, yes, the Progressive Caucus.  And check out the euphoria in this opening paragraph from the allegedly liberal Times.

Congress approved landmark legislation today that opens the door for a new era on Wall Street in which commercial banks, securities houses and insurers will find it easier and cheaper to enter one another’s businesses.

A new era!  Passed just before the dot com bubble collapse and heralding a brand new financing bubble complete with no doc loans, ridiculous extensions of consumer credit, and the ascent of variable rate mortgages.

It was “one of the most significant achievements” of the White House (Clinton) and Congress.”

The measure, considered by many the most important banking legislation in 66 years, was approved in the Senate by a vote of 90 to 8 and in the House tonight by 362 to 57. The bill will now be sent to the president, who is expected to sign it, aides said. It would become one of the most significant achievements this year by the White House and the Republicans leading the 106th Congress.

The opposition, the naysayers, were accused of adhering to pedestrian economics and “old thinking.”  Imagine.

The decision to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 provoked dire warnings from a handful of dissenters that the deregulation of Wall Street would someday wreak havoc on the nation’s financial system. The original idea behind Glass-Steagall was that separation between bankers and brokers would reduce the potential conflicts of interest that were thought to have contributed to the speculative stock frenzy before the Depression.


The opponents of the measure gloomily predicted that by unshackling banks and enabling them to move more freely into new kinds of financial activities, the new law could lead to an economic crisis down the road when the marketplace is no longer growing briskly.

Pessimism.  Gloom and doom.  The sky is falling.  They had to be dragged into the twenty-first century kicking and screaming.  I mean, check out this guy:

”I think we will look back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930’s is true in 2010,” said Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota. ”I wasn’t around during the 1930’s or the debate over Glass-Steagall. But I was here in the early 1980’s when it was decided to allow the expansion of savings and loans. We have now decided in the name of modernization to forget the lessons of the past, of safety and of soundness.”

The dissenters:

One Republican Senator, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, voted against the legislation. He was joined by seven Democrats: Barbara Boxer of California, Richard H. Bryan of Nevada, Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, Mr. Dorgan and Mr. Wellstone.

In the House, 155 Democrats and 207 Republicans voted for the measure, while 51 Democrats, 5 Republicans and 1 independent opposed it. Fifteen members did not vote.

Slightly different topic, current economic news as told by Calvin and Hobbes:


March 2009