Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Most Dangerous Man in America

I've written about this before, when I thought it was Vice President Dick Cheney or former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), but it's time to stop pussyfooting around. It's not Norman Podhoretz or Henry Kissinger, either.

The most dangerous man in America today is El Presidente George W. Bush:
True, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other American diplomats met Memorial Day weekend with the Iranians in Baghdad (a good first move but limited, since the Iranians have most of the power because of our incredible stupidity in Iraq). But by all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness.

Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated "I am the president!" He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of "our country's destiny."

Isn't this the part of the movie where the hero crashes in through the window, throws a lasso around the villain and says, "No, you're not!"

Now we know, courtesy of Georgie Anne Geyer at The Dallas Morning News. He's throwing us all into the pit. He's beyond entitled; he's a megalomaniac. The thing that get him most pissed off is any challenge to his authority, such is his monumental insecurity and narcissism.

Case in point, a flashback to when he was challenged on then Secretary of Defense, the ruinous Donald Rumsfeld, by a reporter in the Rose Garden:

"I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."

In all honesty, this is why we need the next President of the United States to be President Gore. We're going to need someone who understands all the possible levers of our government and can work with them imaginatively, because I'm more convinced than ever that Bush will bomb Iran if only to make sure his successor is absolutely stranded in Bush's psychotic vision of "our country's destiny."

Per his Press Secretary Tony Snow, Bush is planning on a Korea-style 50+ year occupation in Iraq, as rebutted by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) who was the sole member of Congress -- that's right, the only U.S. Representative -- who voted against giving The Most Dangerous Man in America the power to go after suspected 9/11 "terrorists" in any way he wanted. Counters Lee:

"On a strictly historical level, the comparison is comical. A high school student could tell you that there are virtually no similarities between the Korea and Iraq. The administration's inept attempts to come up with tortured historical analogies to try to justify a failed policy should be another reminder just how little credibility they have on the issue.

"The frightening truth is that there are obviously people within the Bush administration who believe that it is a good idea to occupy Iraq military on a permanent basis, which is why we have fought so hard in Congress to establish a clear policy to prevent permanent military bases in Iraq.

"The overwhelming majority of Iraqis want an end to the occupation, and for the White House to suggest that it will continue for another fifty years, or perhaps permanently, only fuels the insurgency and further endangers our troops.

Atrios has just posted a brilliant breakdown of all the different reasons we went to war in Iraq, all different goals by different stakeholders from the President on down to columnist Tom Friedman. A perfect storm of hubris, with oh so many facets.

But the bottom line is that Bush is a most dangerous madman because of the power conferred on him by the office. It's a madness predicted by science fiction writers going back to Nostradamos.

Is it possible? Is he really...

...President George W. Antichrist?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Neocon Insanity

Now they want to start bombing the hell out of Iran. Senior Neoconservative Norman Podhoretz, given a full page of the Wall Street Journal Wednesday:

Since a ground invasion of Iran must be ruled out for many different reasons, the job would have to be done, if it is to be done at all, by a campaign of air strikes. Furthermore, because Iran’s nuclear facilities are dispersed, and because some of them are underground, many sorties and bunker-busting munitions would be required. And because such a campaign is beyond the capabilities of Israel, and the will, let alone the courage, of any of our other allies, it could be carried out only by the United States.* Even then, we would probably be unable to get at all the underground facilities, which means that, if Iran were still intent on going nuclear, it would not have to start over again from scratch. But a bombing campaign would without question set back its nuclear program for years to come, and might even lead to the overthrow of the mullahs.

The opponents of bombing—not just the usual suspects but many both here and in Israel who have no illusions about the nature and intentions and potential capabilities of the Iranian regime—disagree that it might end in the overthrow of the mullocracy. On the contrary, they are certain that all Iranians, even the democratic dissidents, would be impelled to rally around the flag. And this is only one of the worst-case scenarios they envisage. To wit: Iran would retaliate by increasing the trouble it is already making for us in Iraq. It would attack Israel with missiles armed with non-nuclear warheads but possibly containing biological and/or chemical weapons. There would be a vast increase in the price of oil, with catastrophic consequences for every economy in the world, very much including our own. The worldwide outcry against the inevitable civilian casualties would make the anti-Americanism of today look like a love-fest.

I readily admit that it would be foolish to discount any or all of these scenarios. Each of them is, alas, only too plausible. Nevertheless, there is a good response to them, and it is the one given by John McCain. The only thing worse than bombing Iran, McCain has declared, is allowing Iran to get the bomb.

How many civilians is Podhoretz looking to kill? How many does he want dead in the subsequent social unrest? How many professors to be killed or leave Iran, the humanists? All?

What kind of blowback does he want on America? Attacks on our interests internationally, on our soil? Total war, call all the 18 year-olds up? Make the world an exponentially more dangerous place because of your unbridled fear? Remake the whole world in your fear's image?

He gives us the short answer, per his justifying McCain quote: he doesn't give a fuck.

Iran is a deeply divided society, with a bourgeoisie that hides party clothes under birkas and dances all night in private, a secular underground. This huge, mullah-hating population is America's best friend in the Middle East outside of Israel. The Iranian Americans I know who immigrated here came as Republicans, because they hated Jimmy Carter so much for not allowing the Shah to be treated medically here.

But the moment the first bomb drops, that who class in Iran, the one we're depending on for after regime change, will all go nationalist. They don't want to be invaded by troops or airplanes. It would be the single stupidest move -- to our own self-interest -- since faking 9/11 blame on Saddam Hussein and dunning our country into invading Iraq at the time.

He makes the sicko Iranian President, who's position is in practice very weak under the mullah rulers, the ones vested in stability, unless he can get exactly the kind of attention a U.S. bombing attack would bring. He'd be right, after all, having predicted the U.S. aggression.

The Baker-Hamilton Report, which Bush gives lip service to at best, talks about diplomacy. Strength through allies. And not just the Saudis.

Podhoretz and his crew, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Dick Cheney, George Bush -- they've been wrong every step of the way since Afghanistan and thanks to them we've shown the world our ass in Iraq. If we listen to them again, naked fear-mongering over reason, even strong, tough reason, then we deserve the consequences. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

But if you still need proof that Podhoretz in functionally insane, here's his final paragraph:
Not so George W. Bush, a man who knows evil when he sees it and who has demonstrated an unfailingly courageous willingness to endure vilification and contumely in setting his face against it. It now remains to be seen whether this President, battered more mercilessly and with less justification than any other in living memory, and weakened politically by the enemies of his policy in the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular, will find it possible to take the only action that can stop Iran from following through on its evil intentions both toward us and toward Israel. As an American and as a Jew, I pray with all my heart that he will.

"...this President, battered more mercilessly and with less justification than any other in living memory..." Less justification? Iraq, Katrina, North Korea, Social Security, Alberto Gonzales, Valerie Plame, global warming, science...need I go on?

This is where the Neocons are mindmeld with traditional Right Wing Conservatives. Always the stab in the back. Never the personal responsibility. If we only gave them more troops, more money, less regulation...they could have doubled the time we spent in Vietnam.

It's bullshit to say this is the only action that can be taken. Maybe back in biblical times. But our world is a much more complex place.

With this branch of the war mongers, it all comes back to Israel, and Israel's security is a deeply legitimate concern. Ahmadinejad does deny the Holocaust, and many Mid East country leaders including others in Iran have spoken of wiping Israel off the face of the map.

The Jewish homeland given over raw, deserty, as reparation for the Holocaust itself, when 6 million Jews were slaughtered. Within Podhoretz's lifetime. But this call to slaughter is madness in broadcast form.

Because the man who cries "Fire!" in the crowded theater always gets more people killed than he saves.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Optic Nervous

The date in the small print on the inside cover of Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve #9 is 2004. It was the first part of a three-issue story that continued in 2005 with issue #10 and has finally, after an agonizing wait, concluded with issue #11 right here in the middle of 2007. The wait was worth it.

In October his publisher, Drawn & Quarterly, will put out the collected issues, as story once entitled "White on Rice", as a hardcover now entitled Shortcomings. You can pre-order your copy here, and unless you've bought or are planning to buy all three comic book issues, do it.

Tomine, 33 years old, recently moved from his longtime Berkeley home to Brooklyn, and while he hasn't changed his deadpan, wry, semi-tragic story voice, he's upped the ante bigtime.

Tomine's original Optic Nerve comics were usually four stories, give or take, each in a kind of post-punk, post-grad Raymond Carver style where, as Elizabeth Chou writes:
Adrian Tomine has a way of taking his already lonely characters and ripping them even further away from society, even as they attempt in socially weird ways to reach out. With the exact same motion, he sets up a psychological wind tunnel that pulls unsuspecting readers into the minds of those isolated characters. Though I wouldn’t call this a formula of his, this is usually the thing about Tomine’s work that gets me.

That's his meal ticket, such as it is. The first major descendant of 50% of the Love & Rockets team, Jaime Hernandez, and somewhat mentored by Dan Clowes of Ghostworld fame, Tomine combines a graphic black & white look (no greyscale, just crosshatching) that strives for perfection with a flirtingly cynical realism about modern lives and our countless tiny deaths of the spirit.

Ben Tanaka, the emotionally stunted protagonist of the three-issue series, is a West Coast American of Japanese descent, like Tomine himself. He's living in a relationship with a young woman of similar ethnicity who's helping put on Asian-American film festivals and thinking of bigger things. Ben manages a rundown movie theater and acts like the bitter moral superior intellect in his world, clearly afraid of growing up but pretending that through his cynicism he's already there and doesn't have to actually allow himself to be touched, the way we all must in order to grow.

At the end of the first installment Ben's girlfriend, Miko, leaves for a promising internship in New York City, and during their "break," in the second issue, Ben indulges his hankering for white girls all through his ongoing debate with his best friend, a grad school lesbian named Alice, about his heavily sublimated racial issues. What's been clear from the start is that Ben's narcissism is the mirror of his self-loathing, kind of a modern Asian-American version of Jewish self-loathing.

It's Alice's move to NYC and a call to him from the streets of Manhattan with "something here that you have to see with your own two eyes," that provides the turning point into Act III, Ben joining Alice (now co-habitating with a half-Asian lesbian professor) in New York to track down Miko, who hasn't been returning his phone calls, and coming to face his worst fears.

Considering that Tomine's seductive line imagery and hard blacks often draw us into a claustrophobic psyche, while never showing us more than the surface of actions (no internal monologues or Freudian dream sequences), it's a relief to have a whole issue where he's freed himself from Northern California and opened up into New York locales. While his pages still lay out like Edward Hopper in Bento boxes (each ingredient just as delicious and just as spare), the character bar has been raised, with rays of actual truth coming from Alice's girlfriend, Meredithe, and in the climax itself.

As for the ending, Metamorphostuff has something to say about another Tomine trademark:
And they all lived happily ever after.

Or not. Adrian Tomine doesn't do happy endings. He barely even does "endings" in the usual sense: His stories tend to be snapshots, moments in the life of the protagonist that keeps going on after the story ends. Epiphanies and revelations are in short supply, and those that do come along don't always change someone's life for the better. Often, the life-changing moment comes only in the final panels, and the audience never sees what effect it ultimately has.

It's almost always an emotional Rorshach Test with Tomine, sometimes less successfully, more obscurely than others. When it works, it's a masterly counterpoint to his clean drawing style, the graphic look a secret weapon driving home his cold, lean knife into the reader's heart. This one is more Kuleshov Experiment, your reaction to the final page based on your reading of whether or not Ben has cut through all his anxiety and shown maybe a glimmer of true understanding.

Yep, this is Tomine's best work to date, and since all of his work is good, that's great news.

The reason for this artistic development, and maybe why it took a span of four years to write, draw, ink, letter and publish the story, comes from Tomine in a Nichi Bei Times interview last September:

NBT: Last year you said in an interview that the material for your three-part story (formerly titled “White on Rice”) had been in your head since college. What is it about the story that’s stuck with you over the years?

AT: The biggest motivation for doing this particular story was my frustration with the fact that I’ve spent my entire career very much in the shadows of my influences. I always felt like the kind of watered-down, less interesting version of the cartoonists I learned from. And I know first-hand that it’s nearly impossible to just snap your fingers and suddenly come up with a completely original way of drawing. Believe me, I’ve tried and it just doesn’t happen for me. So I think I probably tried to focus more on the content of my work, and searched for a story that those other guys would never write, just because of the fact that the particulars of the story are so tied into my own life experiences.

There you have it. A master draftsman telling his most personal story to date. Maybe it took four years because its literature.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Better Mark

Sure, he was born Samuel Clemens, but since he took the name "Mark Twain," I've always felt a special warmth towards this great, maybe greatest American writer, since a young boy. I saw Hal Holbrook perform his Mark Twain Tonight on a television special back in 1967 (I believe he last performed it in 2005 at age 80, finally over 10 years older than Twain when he died) and while I've long forgotten the words, I still remember the greatness.

Twain's great gift, of course, was to bring truth to narrative print. And for Memorial Day there's a new animated video of his first rejected for publication in 1905 then finally published in 1923, thirteen years after his death, because as Twain wrote to a friend:
"I don't think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth."

The War Prayer film was masterminded by Markos Kounalakis in San Francisco, with Peter Coyote reading beautifully and legendary Beat poet and bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti (born nine years after Twain's death, i.e. 88 years old) as well as West Coast radio dramatist Erik Bauersfeld taking roles. The animation is reminiscent of a certain Post-WWII War style, completely drawn, with the camera doing any of the animation.

It tells of a church service climaxed with a sermon in support of the widespread war movement, the people reacting like sheep, and the arrival of a stranger with a terrible warning. It's basically a harrowing bullet about how church and state work together to gin up war support, appealing to base and selfish emotion over greater consideration of pain and anarchy such as is always unleashed.

It sounds oh so 2003.

Kevin Drum
has more background on the piece, as Kounalakis publishes him online in Washington Monthly. As a commenter on Drum's post, frankly0 writes,

What I found interesting about Twain's poem is that it bases its appeal only on the damage wrought by a successful war, and only to the opposing side.

Not even spoken is the possibility that the war might be a failure, or entirely without point, or that harm might come to the loved ones sent off to fight.

Mark Twain: still ahead of our time.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Support the Troops: Get Out

It's a very unhappy Memorial Day, with 103 U.S. soldiers killed this month and three days to go. At this rate, we may hit 4000 dead by the end of October. Total wounded, by the way, is up to 25,242.

Glenn Greenwald had a great piece on Saturday on the myth of "Supporting the Troops" by supporting the Bush/Cheney Administration's bankrupt-from-beginning failed war policy. Greenwald's post is driven by a post-mortem on the Democratic cave-in last week, but it's important to sift through for the future debates.

After all, more and more, the troops want us out as well (NY Times):

With few reliable surveys of soldiers’ attitudes, it is impossible to simply extrapolate from the small number of soldiers in the company. But in interviews with more than a dozen soldiers in this 83-man unit over a one-week period, most said they were disillusioned by repeated deployments, by what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war, one they had no ability to stop.

They had seen shadowy militia commanders installed as Iraqi Army officers, they said, had come under increasing attack from roadside bombs — planted within sight of Iraqi Army checkpoints — and had fought against Iraqi soldiers whom they thought were their allies.

“In 2003, 2004, 100 percent of the soldiers wanted to be here, to fight this war,” said Sgt. First Class David Moore, a self-described “conservative Texas Republican” and platoon sergeant who strongly advocates an American withdrawal. “Now, 95 percent of my platoon agrees with me.”

Meanwhile, CBS Chief Foreign Correspondent, Lara Logan, returned to Iraq after a six week breather, and finds it markedly worse than when she left it:
Schieffer: "What's your assessment at this point, is it better, worse, or about the the same as when you left?"

Logan: "Well, I can tell you Bob, I've only been gone for about six weeks and just the drive from the airport into Baghdad itself was really visually disturbing. You could sense there is a dramatic change in the feeling in the city itself. It looks like a wasteland. The drive really reminded me of something out of Armageddon."

I'm thinking, the Bible story or the movie?

Not only that, but the war has indeed turned out to be one big training camp/university for terrorism (NY Times again):

Estimating the number of fighters leaving Iraq is at least as difficult as it has been to count foreign militants joining the insurgency. But early signs of an exodus are clear, and officials in the United States and the Middle East say the potential for veterans of the insurgency to spread far beyond Iraq is significant.

Maj. Gen. Achraf Rifi, general director of the Internal Security Forces in Lebanon, said in a recent interview that “if any country says it is safe from this, they are putting their heads in the sand.”

That's right; we're fighting them over there so that we will have to fight them over here.

Heckuva job, Bushie.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Bad Card

Previously I've written about how, after his Presidency is over, George W. Bush will become a shunned person, someone who people do not want to be seen with just as poets routinely reject First Lady Laura Bush's invitations to the White House since the Iraq War began. As more and more truth about this dark Administration comes out, the more contagion the participants will seem.

Yesterday I wrote about former Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card getting booed at UMass where he was receiving an honorary degree. However, I didn't realize how little justice the print news reporting did to the situation.

You have to see this video to understand exactly how overwhelming this protest was. We're talking possibly more than 50% of the students wearing Ghostbuster-style anti-Card stickers, then the overwhelming two minute-long booing when his name is announced, accompanied by a massive number of yellow anti-Card signs being held up and, most damning of all, a huge anti-Card protest on the very stage where he is sitting.

I mean, protesters with the yellow cards on that stage behind him, and a long "CARD, NO HONOR, NO DEGREE" banner unfurled behind the dais speaker, right in front of the Bushman himself.


No wonder they're banning commencement protests now.

Friday, May 25, 2007


This must be seen to be believed.

The #1 Republican in the House of Representatives, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) cries like a little child over the Iraq War funding bill on Thursday, and not for the reason all the progressives Dems are crying, or the reason why so many Iraqi's have been crying since Bush invaded Iraq and their world has been destroyed, family members slaughtered, an entire secular way of life ruined.

Meanwhile, has Bush himself finally realized he's lost his grand war? After wiping his ass with the Baker-Hamilton Report, he's been talking about it for two days, while word leaks out of a 50% troop reduction next year.

He's done the rope-a-dope before, so as usual I treat anything that comes out of his mouth as a lie. When he says there are "a lot of things I like" in the Report, he's probably just thinking of a few things that he can twist and turn around and pretend like he's actually reasonable, not an egomaniacal menace.

Or maybe it's trying/lying to keep the GOP at bay, now that they're starting to openly challenge him. The visit by the Congressmen, Ron Paul getting attention, the likelihood of losing the next Presidential election. Cheney's henchman staring down three years in prison. Final confirmation that our intelligence agencies did indeed report that this is how it would turn out in Iraq -- it's all his fault.

His very own Chief of Staff for the selling of the war and debacle following openly booed by hundreds of students and professors when he's just trying to get his honorary degree at UMass.

Hundreds. In public. At commencement.

Hey, Andrew Card, here's an interoffice memo for you: Lying is wrong.

Boohoo, John Boehner and your $100,000,000,000. Boohoo Scooter Libby and your scooting off (one can only hope) to the pokey. Boohoo Andrew Card up on that stage, naked and ridiculed in cap & gown.

Boohoo Georgy-Porgy and your great big failure as a warrior, as a President, as a human being.


Thursday, May 24, 2007


Best political commentary of the year is strangely reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece:

As President Bush took a question Thursday in the White House Rose Garden about scandals involving his Attorney General, he remarked, "I've got confidence in Al Gonzales doin' the job." Simultaneously, a sparrow flew overhead and left a splash on the President's sleeve, which Bush tried several times to wipe off.
The White House is trying to spin it as good luck (I kid you not) but just think, on the day where Bush gets maybe (hopefully) the final Democratic capitulation of his Administration, his Pyrrhic victory in getting all the money he wanted to keep his fuck-up alive and kill @ 90 American soldiers/month, with his poll numbers in the deepest toilet of his career, even nature turns against him.

All this week I've been thinking about the astonishing prescience of David Chase and the Sopranos writing staff in embedding one particular poem by William Butler Yeats in the A.J. storyline for Tony and Carmela to also hear:


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The best lack all convictions, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity. Goddamn, I hope that's not how it all ends. I'm for the best getting their intensity back. Franklin Delano Roosevelt did it, in that dark, dark hour. Al Gore was righteous and engaging on The Daily Show tonight, he's got it.

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed. Will Cheney get his way -- and widen his apocalypse?

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? Satan, embodiment of the apocalypse, comes to Israel -- per the above link, the flashpoint for the battle with Iran, which turns into the Third World War, including sudden attacks on American soil. Bethlehem, while being is Israel, in this context represents that sociopathic George W. Bush Christian exceptionalism that has already provided kindling for the larger disaster.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer...

Hear him?

He just took a dump on him.

Crossposted to The Daily Reel.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Inaccurate Gonzo

Monica Goodling, under immunity, nails Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' coffin shut.

More details including damning White House involvement from Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) on Kos in what he so accurately calls "Goodling Testimony Revealing (Except to Republicans)":
Third, we learned the White House was intimately involved in the process of terminating the US Attorneys, from the beginning through final sign off, and Ms. Goodling believes Mr. Rove was involved in the process.
Crimes, crimes, crimes.

Today it was announced that Rove's, I mean Bush's General Services Administration chief Lurita Alexis Doan committed a huge crime by violating the federal Hatch Act which makes it illegal to use government workers in partisan political activities, like when she did a big presentation where she allegedly asked GSA political appointees during a January briefing how they could "help our candidates" win the next election.

Like an good Republican lawbreaker getting caught, she's attempting character assassination on her accusers.

And Bush's candidate for head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, senior lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers (you know, corporations that hate regulation) Michael E. Baroody, pulled his name from consideration today, avoiding facing a certain Senate vote against him. Reasons why Baroody was a choice only the Bush/Cheney/Rove gang would make:
His nomination began to founder after the disclosure last Wednesday that he would be receiving a $150,000 special payment from the association, and that the severance package was amended by the association in January, shortly after he was identified as the top candidate for the post.
You know, bribery.

But even with all these GOP criminals, the biggest excoriation of the day was Keith Olbermann's merciless shredding of Democratic Congressional cowardice in the face of Bush's veto. I'm assuming the end of this one is the Congressional Republicans lining up behind the weak new bill, while progressive Dems and politically savvy ones vote against it, a squeak by with a divided Dem party.

I can only hope for some ju-jitsu, in the offing, like the bill actually goes down in flames. But it is, indeed, a dark hour.

Leadership. Needed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tomorrow and Tomorrow

It looks like the Democratic Congressional leadership is offering a toothless Iraq War funding bill to El Presidente, essentially folding, at least for now.

Per Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI):
This is no time to back down. This fight to end the war isn’t something that we can just put off or kick down the road. As mcjoan pointed out, it doesn’t make any sense to wait until this "mythical September" when Republicans will suddenly decide that we need to get out of Iraq. Why should this wait until September? First Americans had to put up with a Republican Congress that did nothing, and now we are faced with a Democratic Congress that is giving the President exactly what he wants – continuing his failed policy and leaving our troops stuck in the middle of a civil war. Some strategy. We can’t back down when the stakes are so high. I know you’ll keep ratcheting up the pressure, and that’s exactly what we need right now. Now is the time to be pulling out all the stops to end the war.

Even Nancy Pelosi will vote against this, so the results may be more interesting than today's new portends.

Some might say, give the Republicans their war if they want it. I fear it emboldens Bush/Cheney to up the world danger quotient like this.

I think only this man can save America.

Monday, May 21, 2007


So the Senate testimony of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey against the perjurer Gonzales, the stuff about the hospital visit to semi-comatose Attorney General John Ashcroft to get his signature on the Bush/Cheney/Rove Triad's Constitution-breaking has surveillance crimes has already been translated into the fairly deft little video, Godfather IV.

What the heck, at just over a minute, it's already better than the third movie. And any excuse to see Sterling Haydn hit a man...

Speaking of organized crime, I won't go deep into this week's Sopranos episode, 3rd to last of the series, but I will point out that it felt like the most depressing episode in ages (coming down off the peyote high in Vegas?) as well as having a very lucid and pivotal film quote that I've seen neither of my episode-analysis gurus, Alan Sepinwall or Matt Zoller Seitz, recognize yet.


In scene near the end of the episode where Tony and Little Carmine are turned away by Butch at Phil Leotardo's doorstep, the framing of the doorway confrontation, with the action of a third party blocking a consummation between the visiting party, and someone hidden and unheard upstairs somewhere in the house, is direct echo of the turning point scene in Orson Welles' ill-fated second feature film, The Magnificent Ambersons.

You can see a few moments of the original at the end of this trailer clip. (From a really great unofficial Ambersons site.)

In Welles' adaptation of Booth Tarkington's novel, self-made man Joseph Cotten is blocked from continuing his blossoming middle-aged relationship with his childhood love, once the richest girl in town, by her spoiled, angry son, played by Tim Holt. From that point forward the would-be lovers never meet again, not even on her deathbed.

The standoff with Butch is shot basically the same way, albeit if these mob characters in The Sopranos always end up turning everything they touch into shit, the same thing kind of happens when Phil starts yelling down from the attic as Tony and Little Carmine head back to their cars. It would be comic save for the violence we're sure will follow, but Phil's hollerings are essentially a shit on the Ambersons theme, the f.u. punk rock version, irreverent but dumb. Perfect for the series.

If Tarkington's/Welles' tale is essentially about the passing of an age, from the landed aristocracy with their assumptions of permanence and dwindling relevance, even insult to American social health, then cannot one make the same case for Chase's epic?

The episode starts with the asbestos Tony is ultimately responsible for disposing of safely, instead dumped in New Jersey wetlands to wisp over the natural landscape like a pestilence. Cut to Tony in plush bedcovers, his affluence paid for by our collective loss, a thieving inflicted upon all of us. Cut to his son in bed, same affluence. Same source.

There's the pain of it. Either Tony survives and we pay for it, or maybe it really is like the Ambersons, the sweep of this series being the contemporary decline of the historical 20th century power of the American gangster, at least the European side of it.

The spoiled son looking for his comeuppance is A.J. this time. The lover denied is Phil. (Think of his brutal homophobic murder last season as overcompensation.)

Then, like the Amberson family, shall the House of Soprano reveal its rickety foundations, aging without replenishment, long gentle arcs then the sudden storm that leaves them without what they thought they had. A new and more relevant class replacing them, one not shackled in the values of some previous century.

A change that leaves them as bereft and forgotten as Johnny Sacramoni's family.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Horse Races

If you're wondering why all the other Democratic Presidential candidates haven't given up over Hillary Clinton's so far sizable lead in the national Party polls, take a look at the horse race in Iowa, the first state to vote in the Primary season, albeit in caucus form.

Per The Des Moines Register, via, John Edwards still leads at 29%, followed by Barack Obama at 23%. Clinton is holding her own at 21%, but Bill Richardson just hit the double digits at 10%. No telling how that will go, and what sort of results it would take to pierce the Clinton inevitability gambit.

As her husband Bill used to say, six months is a lifetime in politics, so anything can still happen.

To that point, the Register also reports a Mitt Romney surge. Mr. Double Guantanamo, a candidate with the best haircut since John Edwards, the one who's been securing the GOP dough and, it seems, Bushies, flip-flops like a caricature Kerry, but he's pandering to all the right GOP special interest groups and isn't coming from Federal government, so maybe he's the one.

(I mean, anyone but Ron Paul. He tells the truth. If ever nominated, in the General Election, he might win.)

My guess is that Fred Thompson, sought to be savior, won't run. I'd be happy if it were Romney, as I think he's in many ways another George Bush. Barely a Governor in a state he hurt with his policies (just ask 'em in Massachusetts), claims to be a CEO-type who will bring those values to the Presidency, phony aura of compassionate Conservatism, chickenhawk, overly entangled in big business religion, morally bankrupt, father also failed in a Presidential election, lies in public.

Coming on the heels of George W. Bush, Willard Mitt Romney may just be the perfect Republican candidate.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Republicans can't help themselves. Just as Freud wrote about the return of the repressed, the fake "family values" and "moral majority" party is filled with out-and-out perverts:

Former Republican Rep. Ted Klaudt could spend the rest of his life in prison
after turning himself in to authorities Friday on felony charges that include
eight counts of rape involving foster children and former legislative pages.

Five girls told authorities they were assaulted by Klaudt, court documents
state, although charges filed Friday involve only two of the girls.

Four of the girls said they were accosted in Klaudt's hotel room in Pierre,
where he stayed while serving in the South Dakota Legislature. Two of the girls
were legislative pages when they were attacked, they told investigators.

Kinda reminds you of this. And this. And this. And...

Speaking Ill

There's that old saying about not speaking ill of the dead, which we've all violated at one time or another. I tend to agree with it, particularly when someone has just died, but while I'm not breaking out the champagne for the death this past week of Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, it's just too hard to mourn this hatemonger.

In case you want to remember why the only tears for Rev. Falwell are among his flock and cohorts, here a list of "11 Sick Quotes of Jerry Falwell" from davefromqueens on DailyKos. While it's hard to pick a favorite, in the spirit of the Bush/Cheney/Rove/Giuliani constant self-justification through exploitation of 9/11, I'll go with #7:
The abortionists have got to bear some burden for [the attacks of Sept. 11]
because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent
babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists,
and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make
that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of
them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face
and say, 'You helped this happen.'

Ah, Jesus is Love.

For more check out Bill Maher from Friday night on HBO, who begins, "Death isn't always sad..." Not that I'd go as far as Maher, but although Falwell was avuncular in demeanor, a smiling, puffy, amiable-looking, his death is a reminder that hate comes in many packages.

I mean, for all his Christian cheer, he couldn't find a place in his heart for one particular beloved children's character.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


President Bush refused to give a straight answer to NBC News' Kelly O'Donnell when she asked him if he had engaged in an action which, if he indeed did, would likely constitute and impeachable offense.

We're all used to the Bush deflection and dodge, the turning back of a question with a talking point delivered with macho bravado, a fratish insult to a reporter disguised as a wink. This time seems different -- check it out:
O'Donnell: There's been some very dramatic testimony before the Senate this week from one of your former top justice department officials, who describes a scene that some Senators called stunning about a time when the warrantless wiretap program was being reviewed. Sir, did you send your then chief of staff and White House counsel to the bedside of John Ashcroft, while he was ill to get him to approve os that program and do you believe that kind of conduct from White House officials is appropriate?
Bush: Kelly, there's a lot of speculation about what happened and what didn't happen and I'm not going to talk about it…It's a very sensitive program…
Whatever happened to, "No."?

The short version of the story seems to be that then Attorney General, the arch-Conservative John Ashcroft was actually against the illegal Bush/Cheney spying program, because spying on American citizens -- tapping their phones, reading their mail, reading their emails -- requires a warrant. And one that's not particularly hard or long for the intelligence services to get. But under El Presidente, his henchmen didn't even bother getting those fig leaves.

Ashcroft had just had major surgery when Bush appears to have sent over his personal attorney, current Attorney General (but not for very long anymore) Alberto Gonzales and then Chief-of-Staff Andrew Card, to the hospital get Ashcroft to sign off that the program was somehow legal -- give the blessing of the Department of Justice.

The whole argument was based on some dubious legalese written by authoritarian scholar John Yoo, a man who seems to think the Constitution has granted royal powers to George W. Bush. Even Ashcroft didn't buy it, and despite his wife's protestations to lay off, Gonzales and Card hit the hospital room where the drugged up, recovering Ashcroft still refused to bless this lawbreaking.

I've long said that those who underestimate Bush's awareness, involvement and even direction of his Administration's crimes will later learn how bad things really have been. So when El Presidente ducks a question about his involvement, if he indeed did make the phone call that sent Card and Gonzales to Ashcroft's bedside, even the previously Administration-friendly Washington Post editorial page is flipping out:
Yes, Mr. Bush backed down in the face of the threat of mass resignations, Mr. Ashcroft's included, and he apparently agreed to whatever more limited program the department was willing to approve. In the interim, however, the president authorized the program the Justice lawyers had refused to certify as legally permissible, and it continued for a few weeks more, according to former deputy attorney general James B. Comey's careful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under the Constitution, the president has the final authority in the executive branch to say what the law is. But as a matter of presidential practice, this is breathtaking.
The blogosphere is, as usual, more direct. Per Digby:
In any case, Bush was deeply involved. He met with both Comey and Mueller on the issue after they all said they'd resign. The spinners are trying to say that their Dear Leader finally overruled others who had nefarious intentions , but his refusal to answer the question today should put that to rest. There's no reason for him to launch into such outdated 2003 gibberish about enemies lurking who "would like to strike" if he didn't order it. It's obvious that he did.
This has come to a head after former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey revealed the story in blockbuster Senate testimony yesterday. Everyone is D.C. is still getting a grip on it. The upshot is that since Gonzales is putting his body in the way of El Presidente and probably Karl Rove, the next attempt to shame him into resigning will be a Senate "no confidence" vote.

It's more and more likely to pass as Republicans turn against Gonzales every day. In fact, per the Evans-Novak report, the GOP now wishes that this Administration would just go away.

This was the turning point for disgraced President Richard Nixon, leading to his ignominious resignation. When your own Party finds you such a weighty liability, when you've shredded the Constitution long enough and can't hide behind the scraps of it anymore, you're toast.

Most prophetically of all, the question that may just signal the beginning of the end of Bush and Cheney and Rove's reign of torture, illegal spying on Americans, felonious cronyism and oil-thirsty war, happened during a Rose Garden press conference featuring visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Blair ruined his once brilliant career by backing Bush in invading Iraq, and has now been forced by his own Labour Party and leaden public polls to resign effective June 27th. As Dana Milbank writes, also in the WaPo:
For President Bush, the sensation must have been akin to watching his own funeral.
Listen; can you hear the bell toll?

Crossposted to The Daily Reel.

The Torture Party

Thanks to President Cheney and Co-Presidente Bush, and the emasculating lock-step loyalty the Republican Party leaders feel they have to maintain with their crime-ridden Administration, every GOP candidate on stage at Tuesday night's South Carolina debate except for John McCain came out proudly for torture as an American military interrogation policy, reversing two hundred thirty years of U.S. policy, reinforcing our newly minted image as villains to the world, and laying bare the willful self-bankrupting of morality in hysterical pursuit of desperate political advantage.

Check out this terrifying segment, commencing with a hypothetical concoction that plays like a plug for Fox's own 24 series, how odd considering they were co-sponsors broadcasting the debate. The undead Brit Hume intones that "the questions in this round with be predicated on a fictional but we think plausible" multiple shopping mall bombed terrorism on U.S. soil scenario.

That's right; this supposedly serious GOP debate descends into a network consumer products spin-off product -- 24: The Party Game.

McCain leads off the question of how hard much you'll unleash your thug class in Guantanamo, like that prison has always been a standard institution of our country, like the question isn't how you get the information, it's just how quickly and completely you are willing to shed your scruples. As a criteria for President, no less. As criteria for manliness, in some berserk Sin City America 2007.

McCain, to his credit and an absolutely silent response in the hall, lays out a simple and moral opposition to torture:
"When I was in Vietnam one of the things that sustained us as we underwent torture ourselves was the knowledge that if we had our positions reversed and we were the captors, we would not impose that kind of treatment on them.

How odd that suddenly no soldier can be sure of this from his government. To hear these commandantettes speak, no soldier could doubt that somewhere else we are torturing a suspected enemy. Think of our three soldiers still held in an unknown location by Al Queda. Now that we're a torturing country, what's to hold any of these three together when their thumbs are shoved under the screws?

Giuliani, Tancredo and Romney all handle their Dantesque embrace of fascism with different flavors. Former mayor Rudy goes for repressing the thought, giving carte blanche to whatever thugs and turning back to the dinner party as if nothing is happen, ignore the screams in the cellar:
In the hypothetical that you gave me, which assumes that we know there is going to be another attack and these people know about it, I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they can think of. Shouldn’t be torture, but every method they can think of.

Nicely equivocated, revealing an empty vessel of a man. At least Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) goes for the crazy:
You say that nuclear devices have gone off in the United States, more are planned, and we are wondering about whether waterboarding would a bad thing to do? I’m looking for Jack Bauer at that time, let me tell you.

Fox must love this. Another plug! Unsolicited!

But the medal for most brazenly hollow, a man who's sole driving ambition appears to be the picture in Webster's when you look up the word "pandering," is moral midget former Governor Mitt Romney:

Now you said the person's going to be at Guantanamo. I'm glad they're at Guantanamo. I don't want them on our soil, I want them on Guantanamo where they don't get the access to lawyers they get when they're on our soil. I don't want them in our prisons, I want them there. Some people have said we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is we oughtta double Guantanamo.

Double Guantanamo. To the most wildly enthusiastic applause of the night. It even sounds rehearsed, his poor, doomed soul.

And here Mitt is explaining why we have a gulag of ex-Soviet republics we have sent prisoners through in hiding. Because to him and his kind Guantanamo isn't America, it's a kind of way station America. It's a protectorate, a Guam, a place that we don't have to behave morally because he's demarcating it as a twilight zone of American moral principle. Oh, it's the American military operating on American-owned soil. But you don't get your right to legal representation there, you don't get treated like a citizen even if you are one. You are in Bush's, Cheney's and, he can almost taste it, Romney-directed thugland.

Double Guantanamo. Did he intend for that moniker to stick? Is it a badge he hopes to ride to the election?

Judging by the response of the GOP stalwarts and elites in the room, they want to be the Torture Party. They've already sold their soles, a Tony Soprano breaking out in every one of them. Their sense of their own rightness is their new religion, and it justifies inflicting anything on another human, guilty upon capture, if they're just dropped in the twilight zone and the fiction is allowed to usurp true reality.

Here's the scoop: the ends don't automatically justify the means. They didn't for Nixon with Watergate and don't for George Bush or Dick Cheney when they willfully deceived America into their misbegotten war. The means themselves quickly metastasize into Original Sin, the shit you can't wipe off your shoe, no matter how hard you try to mask the stink with misleading, self-hypnotizing rhetoric.

McCain is right. Only when you actually have the moral high ground through your actions, not your exceptionalism, can you ever find peace, no matter what you might be forced to endure. America won't be at peace with itself until these men and their medieval ways are banished to the dustbin of history.

The alternative can only be the decline and fall of our very own civilization.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


They're called the movies because they're supposed to move.

That doesn't mean there aren't great movies that move very minimally, but nor does it mean they have to move frenetically, like some herky-jerky music video.

We find the beauty, the propulsion in controlled movement. The power of a director who knows how and when to move the camera and the elements in front of it, and how it will flow or slam into the following shot, how the movement will work with the subject to create a deeper, stronger, more moving and resonant meaning.

Two friends with reliable taste completely independently recommended that I go see Black Book (original Dutch title: Zwartboek) before it left the theaters, and my only regret is getting the good word out to you, valued reader, so late in the movie's run.

Director Paul Verhoeven first made his name with a series of Dutch films that imported some classical Hollywood action and suspense values to European cinema in the 1970's and early 80's. Then he came to Hollywood and made some big, successful movies. A few years ago he headed back to Holland to get back to his roots and old writing partner Gerard Soeteman, and resurrected a script containing elements that didn't quite fit into some of the movies they made back then -- the ones that put Verhoeven on the map.

They had been kicking this one, a companion piece to Soldier of Orange (1977), for fifteen years. They finally cracked the story when they flipped the main character from male to female.

What coalesced is what one might categorize as a crackerjack World War II thriller, and while that's undeniable, there are levels to the movie which lift it well above simple genre work. It's a profoundly sophisticated thriller, an action-packed depiction of an unjust world where no matter the title, nothing is in black and white.

The plot follows a Jewish Dutch woman (played unforgettably by Carice van Houten) forced out of hiding by Nazi violence into the arms of the Dutch Resistance, and by that group into the arms of a Nazi officer. Along the way she changes her name from Rachel to Ellis, dyes her hair and becomes another one of Verhoeven's signature blonds -- The 4th Man, Basic Instinct -- like Hitchcock, signifiers of danger and desire. Only unlike those pictures, we're not at arm's length but with her the entire time, including the framing sequence twelve years after on an Israeli kibbutz, where the final point of the film comes boldly clear.

I won't go into too many details, but a number of things struck me about the movie. For one, we're in Dashiell Hammett territory, an unstable world of shifting alliances and identity, of heroes and villains flipping back and forth with an almost sexualized urgency. Perfect for Verhoeven, who's sexual frankness and well-placed fetishes (1940's garter belts, unenhanced breasts) seem as non-American as you can get and make the whole movie seem so much more frank as well.

Another element of the picture that must certainly be intentional is the post-Iraq invasion tenor of the presentation, somehow underlining how quickly and unfortunately we've moved from a post-9/11 world, where the most graphic horror on the world stage was inflicted on America, to a world that sees instead the great horrors America has delivered to Iraq, a country and people that had nothing at all to do with the attack on us.

The Resistance fighters are routinely referred to as "terrorists" by the Nazis, and this is used as justification for torturing and executing such citizens at will. One torture scene, no accident, depicts brutal water torture, a version of the waterboarding performed on Iraqis at U.S. run Iraqi Abu Ghraib prison. One supporting character, a sisterly woman who befriends our hero, ends up with a Canadian soldier for heaven's sake -- don't tell me a pre-Iraq Invasion production wouldn't have made that man an American. But today, that would surely have caused loud scoffing in European and world theaters.

Verhoeven has depicted fascism successfully in the past, satirically in Robocop and also as critique in Starship Troopers, so here he's even more deeply in the element with actual swastikas and occupational repression. But while the Nazi's cruel sweep and vindictiveness is a given, the big game is to expose, Sorrow and the Pity-like certain myths of the Dutch Resistance, and in an oddly pacifist way alter even how we view images of Dutch women who slept with Nazis having their heads shaved in the public square right after the war.

For while the Zwartboek world is unjust, a world where a foot may have to be washed in a toilet and a poor soul will be bathed in shit, where Christianity is just a weakly competing enforcer and those with advantage will, nine times out of ten, use it ruthlessly for personal gain, it is also a deeply humanistic world, one we experience through the eyes of Rachel/Ellis a woman in extreme personal danger from the moment we meet up with her in her Anne Frank-style hiding place in the farm home of a Dutch family.

We follow her through the explosions and machine gun battles, the deadly risks and treacherous reversals. We're following her in fascinating motion from so early on, essentially in one long chase movie, flowing from scene to scene on an assured river of suspense, immensely satisfying as a well-told story made even more as a fresh but responsible historical vision. Even her hair -- not the hard-cut, castrating blondes of Verhoeven's earlier blondes, but with the pre-conditioner curls and and wispy, frizzing ends of my grandmother's day -- has a welcome accuracy as it glides across the screen.

I had been excited at the first news of the movie from showings in Europe, thinking this would be that perfect storm of Verhoeven's Hollywood education applied to European cinema, then after gleaning what I now think is a snobbishness from some American critics who made it seem that the action overwhelmed the integrity of the subject matter, what now appears like a need to keep the Paul Verhoeven who gave us Total Recall and, most damnably, Showgirls, in some kind of opportunistic, lunkheaded box, I lost interest.

It turns out my first instinct was right. Sure, it's a great suspense/action picture, but it can also play with last year's most lauded revival, Army of Shadows (1969), which depicted the effect of participating in the WWII French Underground on its members. As one of those two friends said to me, it's a movie that turns real history into a thrilling plot in order to tell a greater truth. And if the last shot of Black Book is the key to unlocking the final door to that truth, it's a haunting one on a personal level and on an ultimately political, all too relevant one as well.

Never forget.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Another Version

So with three episodes left in the history of the HBO series The Sopranos, I'm thinking maybe Tony doesn't die. After last night's episode, it looks like he's already in a living hell, only he was actually enjoying it.

Here comes some conjecture. If you don't even like thinking about what might happen in fear that you'll think up your own spoiler, skip out here.

Spoiler space.

Okay, here's some of the possibilities people bandy about:

- Tony gets killed. Maybe by A.J.

- A.J. tries to kill Tony, screws up like he did with Uncle Junior, Tony is forced to kill him.

- Tony goes state's witness. Helped out with some terrorists, gets a big break. Maybe takes down Phil that way.

- Some body gets tied to Tony, or the Canadian one from the start of this partial season gets tied to Bobby.

- Carmella finds out Tony killed Adriana and kills him.

- Tony decides he has to kill Dr. Melfi, she knows too much. Since the show premise was originally a mobster in therapy, it might provide closure. And, by default, end the therapy.

- Everything kind of ends up staying the same.

One reader writes:
Tony has to be punished & the worst punishment is that he has to live his life.

My guess is that Paulie & Sil get bumped off in the impending gang war, AJ kills himself or gets caught doing something & sent to prison, and Tony's left all by himself in the pile of shit which is his life.

So here's one I came up with today:

- Tony wins.

He gets into the mob war with Phil and the New York gang, and actually ends up winning. Because, as of last night's episode, he has rid himself of his last scruples. Because, in that world they live in, the world of organized crime, that's who you have to be to be boss.

It's Tony's coming of age. Kind of a Godfather II message, but sinister in a different way, because that way everyone can go on lying to themselves.

The main thing is that David Chase reveals a plan, one that's been in play since his original conception. Is that comeuppance or a more cynical conclusion? With Aida Turturro reportedly gabbing on some talk show about how she hopes there's a movie, it seems unlikely that Tony dies, although she could just be creating a diversion. Wouldn't she be violating some non-disclosure clause in the actors' contracts?

Maybe Tony wins the mob war but ends up killing A.J. And follows it with Melfi. And maybe then Carmella kills him.

Or maybe Chase has that one unexpected better idea.

Three more weeks.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Perfectly Logical

The #1 Vulcan of all time is also a noted photographer, and he's making art news now with a rather large subject. Here's The New York Times:

He knows that he is an unlikely champion for the size-acceptance movement; body image is a topic he never really thought about before. But for the last eight years, Mr. Nimoy, who is 76 and an established photographer, has been snapping pictures of plus-size women in all their naked glory.

He has a show of photographs of obese women on view at the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton, Mass., through June; a larger show at the gallery is scheduled to coincide with the November publication of his book on the subject, “The Full Body Project,” from Five Ties Publishing. The Louis Stern Fine Arts gallery in Los Angeles and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston have acquired a few images from the project.

Recently my older son (who dressed up as Spock last Halloween) and I got to see Leonard Nimoy and his wife in a video they made for a portion of Griffith Observatory that they had endowed, and while it's a little freaky to see Mr. Spock in his 70's and comfortable with himself, he's certainly earned it. I used to get the sense he wasn't, especially back on Mission: Impossible in the early post-Star Trek years.

You can see a sample of his new nudes, the "Full Body Project", on his own website. They're certainly bold, and from this sample it looks like he's generally gone more frank and enthusiastic than arty and formal.

Some of his other photography seems to go the opposite way, like his previous newsmaking "Shekhina Project", which took on Jewish orthodoxy by shooting nude models wearing sacred garments.

And for a combination of both tendencies, there's this self-portrait, where the tension of Nimoy's celebrity plays against an almost too simple depiction of an aging man and his erotic memory.

It's a far cry from his musical efforts, and I don't mean to slag a hero who brought Judaism to the most successful science fiction television show of all time. Even if he did sing "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins". It seems that his latest project is right in line with the "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations" philosophy of the original TV series. At the gallery:

The responses have ranged from joy to horror. One formerly obese woman said the photos terrified her; she said they recalled a picture she kept in her wallet as a reminder of her former self. Other women have thanked Richard Michelson, the Northampton gallery owner, for displaying the images, and even asked if Mr. Nimoy wanted to photograph them.

“I am actually amazed at how little negative reaction there has been,” said Mr. Michelson. “I attribute this in part to the gallery setting, and the fact that Northampton, Massachusetts, is perhaps the most liberal city in the most liberal state in the nation.”

“We do overhear some reductive ‘Is Nimoy into fat chicks’ comments when the gallery room is first entered,” he continued, “but in fact the fun nature of the work and the quality seem to shut people up by the time they leave. I’ve had a few crank e-mails with snide remarks, but not a one from gallery visitors.”

Don't forget, it was Kirk and Spock who originally brought sexy back.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Is it too early to say that the Republican Party is hollowing out to the point to disaster next November 2008?

From Frank Rich via DailyKos' Maccabee, regarding the recent GOP Presidential candidates debate:
The candidates mentioned Reagan’s name 19 times, the current White House occupant’s once. Much as the Republicans hope that the Gipper can still be a panacea for all their political ills, so they want to believe that if only President Bush would just go away and take his rock-bottom approval rating and equally unpopular war with him, all of their problems would be solved. But it could be argued that the Iraq fiasco, disastrous to American interests as it is, actually masks the magnitude of the destruction this presidency has visited both on the country in general and the G.O.P. in particular.

He's brutal, and it's all true:
Since then, panicked Republicans have been either blaming the "Let’s Make a Deal" debate format or praying for salvation-by-celebrity in the form of another middle-aged white guy who might enter the race, Fred Thompson. They don’t seem to get that there is not another major brand in the country — not Wal-Mart, not G.E., not even Denny’s nowadays — that would try to sell a mass product with such a demographically homogeneous sales force. And that’s only half the problem. The other half is that the Republicans don’t have a product to sell. Aside from tax cuts and a wall on the Mexican border, the only issue that energized the presidential contenders was Ronald Reagan. The debate’s most animated moments by far came as they clamored to lip-sync his "optimism," his "morning in America," his "shining city on the hill" and even, in a bizarre John McCain moment out of a Chucky movie, his grin.

Last night supposed GOP frontrunner Rudy Giuliani got booed in Houston, both for being a loudmouth Yankees fan as well as throwing his Pro-Choice views back in their faces. While I agree with Rudy's decision to let it all hang out and hope his dying Party grabs his non-lockstep lifeline, I don't see exactly how he breaks through in time, particularly since his message that the most important issue is which Party will better protect the U.S. from terrorists is currently clashing with reality:

Progress by September.

That, in three words, is the latest mandate from some nervous Republicans to President Bush over the war in Iraq. As the Democratic-controlled House passed yet another war spending bill last week, and Mr. Bush promised yet another veto, some members of his own party went to the White House with a blunt warning: We’re with you now, but if there is no progress by September, all bets are off.

There’s just one problem. Nobody in Washington seems to agree on what progress actually means — or how, precisely, it might be measured.

Progress might be negative. For example, on Saturday 5 U.S. soldiers were killed and 3 disappeared in a rural area south of Baghdad. That's a surge in trauma for our brave men and women. Let's hope the missing ones are found quickly. Heckuva job, Bushie.

It's always too early to pronounce any major political party dead, but the U.K.'s Guardian is sounding the neocon deathknell, from Perle to Wolfowitz. Can a foreign observer tell us more about ourselves than we can glean from within?

And yet to visit the US at present, as I have done, is to experience an overwhelming sensation of drastic impending change. It's not merely that President Bush, to whom Blair so disastrously tethered himself, is "in office but not in power". Most Americans can't wait for him to go, Congress is beyond his control, and the Senate majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, has told him that the war in Iraq is lost - for which statement of the obvious Reid was accused of "defeatism" by the vice-president, Dick Cheney.

Besides that the portents range from Paul Wolfowitz's travails at the World Bank to the Senate interrogation of Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general, and the trial of Conrad Black. This might sound like the "succession of small disasters, oh trifling in themselves", in Alan Bennett's Forty Years On ("a Foreign Secretary's sudden attack of dysentery at the funeral of George V, an American ambassador found strangled in his own gym-slip...") And yet there really is an observable pattern.

So the GOP candidates are in trouble. From the middle-aged and older white male Presidential hopefuls Frank Rich excoriates on down, momentum against them. Sure, the Dems could screw it up, but even a Conservative columnist shows how easy it might be for them can win:

Blankley, the Washington Times editor and also a former speech writer for George H.W. Bush, said in an interview: “The challenge for the Democrats is that they’ve got to come up with a candidate who will be safe against the inevitable Republican campaign theme that Democrats are not competent and safe enough on the war and foreign policy.

“If the Democratic candidate can manage that, they’re the odds-on favorite to win the presidency.”

And finally, there's the criticism from the inside. When an old Barry Goldwater aide writes a book called, Invasion of the Party Snatchers: How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP and goes out to lecture about it at the deeply Conservative Cato Institute, there's trouble in River City. He calls Dick Cheney a megalomaniac who was just waiting for the chance to reveal himself as such, and George W. Bush as "Dan Quayle in cowboy boots." For real.


Friday, May 11, 2007


From Saturday's New York Times:

Between 100,000 and 300,000 barrels a day of Iraq’s declared oil production over the past four years is unaccounted for and could have been siphoned off through corruption or smuggling, according to a draft American government report.

Using an average of $50 a barrel, the report said the discrepancy was valued at $5 million to $15 million daily.

That's billions of dollars stolen. And just the energy rebuilding costs to us American taxpayers so far:

Adding together both civilian and military financing, the report concludes that the United States has spent $5.1 billion of the $7.4 billion in American taxpayer money set aside to rebuild the Iraqi electricity and oil sectors. The United States has also spent $3.8 billion of Iraqi money on those sectors, the report says.

Despite those enormous expenditures, the performance is far short of official goals, and in some cases seems to be declining further. The average output of Iraq’s national electricity grid in 2006, for example, was 4,300 megawatts, about equal to its value before the 2003 invasion. By February of this year, the figure had fallen still further, to 3,800 megawatts, the report says.

Less than 6 hours a day of electricity in Baghdad, less than 9 hours a day in the rest of the country. Imagine your home and/or office running like that.

Oh, and another day, another 26 Iraqi civilians slaughtered.

With stats like these, it's getting harder and harder to argue against immediate withdrawal. Might that day happen on Georgie's watch?

Cue the rooftop helicopters.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


My moviegoing companion got fatigued by Hot Fuzz last night, the new comedy from the young British team that previously brought us Shaun of the Dead. She felt is was too long, which at 121 minutes is arguably lengthy for a comedy. The conceit of the picture may be comedy-thin (all too successful cop gets reassigned from London to a sleepy English village with more crime than meets the eye), the plot may be fairly predictable; but I had a great time, big smile throughout the picture with enough hard laughs and more behind me from a geekier squad. I enjoyed spending the time with Simon Pegg but particularly with Nick Frost, who plays the lackadaisical, overweight smalltown cop with the penchant for action pictures. And most of all, I'm more familiar with the type of adolescent fantasy action films that always feature some hero hurtling himself sideways while firing off both his semi-automatics in slow motion. Better even with two heros firing their four guns total side-by-side.

Which is what Hot Fuzz delivers. Unlike some older movie parody styles, the movie is shot like the very Bay/Bruckheimer style action flicks it chides. Fast-cut close-ups of insert actions, only it isn't guns loading so much as morning rituals, mock epics in shot grammar form. There's nothing remotely lazy about the execution, and a lot of one's enjoyment of the picture will depend on recognizing the tropes quickly, since in its very fresh way there's no self-congratulatory lingering to make sure the audience "gets it." It's a comedy cut for DVD re-viewing, where that which felt subliminal as it whipped by the first time can be savored by Tarantino-style video fetishists everywhere.

The geek appeal is no joke, as director/co-writer Edgar Wright and star/co-writer Pegg clearly love action pictures as much as they reportedly love zombie pictures, the genre Shaun sent up. Although I admit I haven't seen that first film, the reports are that it also mixes overwrought Hollywood genre style with a satiric take on prosaic English behavior, effectively sending up both movies and real life at the same time. At the DNA level.

That first film seems to have wowed so much of the English-accented movie world that several big stars appear to have lined up for cameos. Steve Coogan (so brilliant in 24-Hour Party People and Coffee & Cigarettes) even goes uncredited, but he's followed by Bill Nighy, classic British actress Billie Whitelaw (with a very funny "fascist" routine), Peter Jackson (also uncredited, as "Santa") and, most elusively, Cate Blanchett -- not only uncredited by perversely unrecognizable with the bottom half of her face hidden for her entire dialogue scene.

Sure, it's a big ridiculous to see Hot Fuzz ranking in at #213 in the all-tie IMDB top 250, but consider the source. I normally don't like my movies cut so fast, so much more graphic than cinematic in shot design, but for this one it works. The best use of the action cinema grammar may actually be in the quietest scene, where Frost brings Pegg back to his flat for a heart-to-heart that grows increasingly homoerotic, underscoring whatever it is that a Bad Boys II or Lethal Weapon 100 might be desperately concealing under its steroidic male fantasy surface.

The geek boys and Hot Fuzz and high-ammunition count action pictures: it is indeed true love.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Wheels Come Off

The internecine warfare has begun:
...NBC News reports tonight that 11 Republican members of Congress pleaded yesterday with President Bush and his senior aides to change course in Iraq.

The group of Republicans was led by Reps. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Charlie Dent (R-PA), and the meeting included Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Karl Rove, and Tony Snow. One member of Congress called the discussion the “most unvarnished conversation they’ve ever had with the president,” and NBC’s Tim Russert said it “may have been a defining pivotal moment” in the Iraq debate.

You can look at the whole Keith Olbermann report with Tim Russert reporting, excellent. Overall, the most damaging leak (and remember, this is Republicans leaking on Republicans):
“The word about the war and its progress cannot come from the White House or even you, Mr. President. There is no longer any credibility. It has to come from Gen. Petraeus.”

Now everybody accepts as a given that Bush lies, even his own kind. Or, rather, those who threw their lot in with him. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) is also running around off the farm.

Why now?

Bush's veto last week was not a good move for him. The GOP start pretending they'll be able to jump off the bandwagon in September and have enough time to rehabilitate themselves by the November 2008 National Election. Then it turns out on Tuesday that September is never:
"The surge needs to go through the beginning of next year for sure," said Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day commander for U.S. military operations in Iraq. The new requirement of up to 15-month tours for active-duty soldiers will allow the troop increase to last until spring, said Odierno, who favors keeping experienced forces in place for now.

And who's going to believe anything Dick Cheney claims about progress with he has to wear a flak jacket getting off the plane, and now you have to wear flak jackets in the supposedly safe Green Zone.

Oh, and hope you enjoyed the Queen's visit, El Presidente. Your buddy over there is being run out of the British government for enabling your shithead war -- resigning, as it were; tally-ho.

Baby Bush to veto the next Congressional bill on Iraq, won't dare submit to a July review, be accountable to anyone but themselves again. I say go for it, Congress, Dem or defector GOP, make him veto it two more times.

Then begin impeachment hearings.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Can this be believed?
WMR has confirmed with extremely knowledgeable CIA and Pentagon sources that the former CEO who is on Deborah Jeane Palfrey's list is Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney was CEO of Halliburton during the time of his liaisons with the Pamela Martin & Associates escort firm. Palfrey's phone invoices extend back to 1996 and include calls to and from Cheney.

A plum assignment, to be sure. This is according to progressive muckraker Wayne Madsen, who seems to have credentials. Wayne claims this news has been (oh quelle suprise) whitewashed:
The White House saw to it that ABC/Disney killed the DC Madam's story before yet another scandal swamped the Bush administration. Cheney is departing Washington today for a trip to the Middle East, where he will visit the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the USS John C. Stennis in the Gulf.

I'm guessing Cheney's Mideast mission is to undo any potential good Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may be attempting by talking to Syria et al.

But if this story true, then let the truth free. Y'know, if it comes back to us, it's ours. If it doesn't, I guess it never was...

Monday, May 07, 2007


I've been holding off because there's other folks out there reviewing every week's episode so compellingly that why bother, but with last night's sickeningly charismatic nightmare still ringing in my brain, I just have to let it out.

This season of The Sopranos is just so unexpectedly good.

We've been used to the ups and downs of the Family drama. Maybe it's a something-for-everybody thing, but I was least interested when Carmela was leaving Tony and not exactly satisfied with the wrap-up to the Ralphie Cifaretto saga. It's not just that I want violence, nudity, adult language and adult content...although last night's episode hit the quadfecta. I want some payoff for that escalating sense of dread that's the most of what I can now recall from the final episodes of the first season. I want to know that I followed these villains for a reason. I don't know if that needs to end up with Tony dead or in witness protection of committing suicide or walking away. I only know I need something in the upcoming final four episodes to make me feel like there was a plan all along, and although time is running out, all the stakes are running high, high, high.

Both Matt Zoller Seitz and his old newspaper colleague from New Jersey, Alan Sepinwall, are doing excellent weekly summaries and analyses. Both guys are obviously film scholars and both serve to illuminate and remind. So much is happening in the episodes this season that it threatens to slip away even as consumed.

Last season was primarily about the impossibility of escaping the organized crime life. Tony dreamt about it for a couple episodes, in the very first episode a mobster committed suicide due to being unable to leave, all of it a hangover from the Adriana shocker that capped the previous season and busted any positive illusions we might have had about these guys forever.

I'm getting into SPOILERville here, so just




if you haven't seen this week's episode or plan to watch the whole season only on DVD someday.

While the episode traded on the same parallel storyline motif it's been using all season, this one wasn't about shitting up the place or reminiscing about why the hell are we so old and feeling nearer the end than the beginning of our lives. This was about the future; this was about sons.

A.J. coming out of the funk through diaper mob violence, Tony's auto-acknowledged genetic call of the wild. Christopher, who Tony has often said is like a son to him, wrestling with the code and then, in one simple, inhuman act embracing it. All signs ahead pointing to doom: will David Chase give us the end of all ends that we're so dreading and craving?

Plotwise, Christopher's story was the more compelling to me, if only because he displayed a level of self-awareness about his addiction and his family's pattern of addiction. An echo of Tony's own fear regarding A.J. but one that Tony, ever the asshole, prefers not to acknowledge as he prods Christopher toward the bottle.

I was struck by Christopher's stairwell confession to a fellow AA attendee, a stranger who expresses instant sympathy for Christopher's perceptive and damning critique of his boss, maybe too instant. "Unicorp" sounds like a front, and the conversation after the meeting felt all con, with Chris opening up all too much about Adriana, even as he bends the fact just enough for cover. Maybe I'm wrong (and Chase has proven us all wrong over and over) but I'm expecting that member to show up again, eventually with a badge.

Does Chris eventually blow that guy's head off as well? Or does the Adriana story land him in witness protection?

Because it was the final violent act that was so unexpected, so shocking, so bringing everything into focus, all the issues Chase has more than hinted about in interviews over the years.

While I'm already reading explanations about Christopher redirecting his frustration in what he did, if the show is about our inability to admit the real truth about our existence to ourselves, then this is the signature moment. Per Matt:
JT told him a truth he didn't to hear, and Chrissy literally shot the messenger.

For the only time I can remember, certainly an exceedingly rare occasion, someone speaks the word "MAFIA" on The Sopranos. Not surprisingly, it gets him killed. I had always heard that the mob hated that word, an FBI word, the opposite of "goodfellas" because it implied something terribly wrong and with an ethnic slur in the middle. Not Roman soldiers living out the code in the modern age. Just reactionary southern European thugs in the New World.

"You're in the MAFIA!" means I know who you are, I know more than I should know, I don't want to cross this line. But of course, line-crossing is what bad guys do for a living. And not even Dr. Jennifer Melfi utters its name.

Chase gave away the show two times in the episode.

He had Tony say directly, "Is this all there is?" which is surely the problem he's had since he first passed out from anxiety watching the family of ducks in his swimming pool.

Then he actually had Tony say (for the second time in the series), "It all turns to shit." Last time he called himself the reverse Midas. This time he's not taking responsibility for it, that evasion the corollary show theme applying to all the show's characters save Melfi (she proved herself when she made the decision not to tell Tony about her rape, denying herself the certain retribution which would have followed). As I've written before, everything a Soprano touches turns to shit. Whether Tony, Carmella, Christopher, Uncle Junior or Janice, one can argue even Meadow but the jury's still to report, their selfish desires always lead to pain and profound loss for some other party, deserved or not.

The suspense keeps us tuning in, but the echoes of our own lives, the lies we tell ourselves, the compromises be enjoy, that's what keeps scratching at us overnight. Chase's genius is to tell several huge stories at once -- a deadly family refracted through the lens of contemporary affluence consumerist society; the almost documentary-like historical twilight of the Five Families; and the struggle of knowing the trap you're in but, even at the height of your power,s being absolutely incapable of getting out.

I can't know what Chase has planned for the series ending, but Tony deserves his comeuppance. I'm just worried that in creator Chase's vision of his Soprano world...that just doesn't happen.