Monday, January 31, 2005

Top 100 Sustainable Corporations

God knows that I've criticized capitalism in my day and I'm still convinced that it is not the best economic system for humans to live by. But since we're stuck with it for the time being, let's try to reward these top 100 sustainable corporations. This came out of the World Economic Forum so I'm not entirely sure how legit this all is, but I assume it does have some validity.

Good Bluegrass Music

I'm always on the hunt for some fine bluegrass. Sometimes that can be hard to find given the lack of exposure there is to bluegrass outside of Appalachia. O Brother Where Art Thou? did a great deal for bluegrass and traditional American music. But of course most people are lazy and didn't extend their newfound appreciation of bluegrass too far beyond the artists presented on the soundtrack. That's OK I guess. I don't know how much I should expect people to explore music. I do, but I'm not typical.

One of the benefits of this revival was a rejuvenation of Ralph Stanley's career. When I first became a fan of bluegrass, around 1998, he was playing in 100-200 seat halls for $15. Now he plays in 1000 seat halls for $30. Good for him. But he's not doing much new or interesting music. He's put out a lot of albums over the past few years but these are either him recording his old songs or live stuff. People are buying it I guess, but it's not that good. In part this is because Ralph's a contemporary of God. You can't expect a guy pushing 80 to be putting out a lot of fresh stuff. Also his son is now the lead singer in the Clinch Mountain Boys. This is not good. Ralph II has a terrible bluegrass voice. It might work pretty well for country music but not bluegrass.

But if you're into Ralph Stanley and want to hear something good and fairly new, check out his 2 albums with Jim Lauderdale. These are definitely the best albums he's put out in many years. Jim Lauderdale is a fairly well known country singer and songwriter, whose songs have been covered by many more mainstream country artists. I'm not an enormous fan of his country stuff but playing with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys works amazingly well. In part it works because most of the songs are Lauderdale's. It's nice to hear Ralph singing some new songs. It also works because Lauderdale is usually singing the lead and Ralph Sr. is singing the tenor parts. This arrangement works better for Ralph's voice than him singing lead. Maybe the best part is that Ralph II is almost nowhere to be found.

Anyway, they have two albums. I Feel Like Singing Today came out around 1998. This is a short album (around 25-30 minutes) and it's hard to pay full price for a small amount of music, but in this case it's worth it. I recently bought their most recent album, Lost in the Lonesome Pines. It might not be quite as transcendent as the first album, but it's still quite good and also a little cheaper for about 40-45 minutes of music. If you want to hear some good high-quality bluegrass, you can't go wrong with these albums.

What Could Stop Globalization?

Via Yglesias, this CIA report on globalization and what could stop it. A main argument is that the onrush of globalization could be stopped by white-collar backlash against outsourcing, insecurity in different important nations, and especially disease epidemics.

All of these are possible, particularly disease epidemics. But I don't think an outbreak of disease, even one of the scale of the 1918-19 influenza epidemic is going to stop globalization. This could certainly slow it down, as could terrorist attacks. But the real long-term threat to globalization and American hegemony over the globe is energy supplies. The current supply of oil pretty well secures American dominance for the next 50 years or so, even as China and India slowly become more powerful. But with America's lack of investment in long-term and renewable energy resources we are really putting ourselves at risk. There's a time and a reason for every empire's decline and I have to think that the mid to late 21st century and the end of the petroleum-based economy will be the reason for America's.

Interestingly, I don't really see this as a good thing. I used to think that globalization should be stopped or severely controlled but at this point I don't see how this can be a good thing for either my way of life or that of the rest of the world. There are obviously gigantic problems with how globalization is done, particularly the ways that governments and corporations take advantage of 3rd world workers. But what option is there that would allow people to live as good of lives as they do now, even in places like India, Cambodia, and Honduras. It's a real challenge for the Left I think to come up with some alternatives.

Democracy Now, The Left, and Negativity

I believe that it is time for the Left, and by this I do not mean the Democratic Party by any means, needs to think hard about the message that it is sending. I do not intend on using the radio show Democracy Now as a straw man here, but I think as that show is a principal outlet of leftist thought in America it's a useful, well, straw man, to discuss how negative the Left is. Has anyone ever heard Amy Goodman talk about a positive story? How does she or the others involved in the show see the world evolving? What is their political program? As far as I can tell, it's simply to criticize power for whatever it does, even if it does something that is not bad.

Perhaps this negativity comes out of the muckraking tradition in America, but at least Jacob Riis, Upton Sinclair, Ida Tarbell and the many other Progressive era muckrakers in America did agitate for positive change. I'm just not seeing Amy Goodman do this.

Let's take a hypothetical situation. Say there is a repressive government in Country A. Democracy Now will criticize the US and UN for not doing anything to stop the atrocities there. But then if they do go in and, by force naturally, overthrow that government, the show will criticize that as well. I don't really see how you can have it both ways. Now it's OK of course to criticize the US, say, for both leaving the Shiites out to dry in 1991 in Iraq and Abu Ghraib. There's lots to criticize throughout the Iraqi operation. But Left criticisms are simply knee-jerk reactions.

I suppose that it's easier to criticize than to agitate for a particular political program. Perhaps Democracy Now would lose listeners if they tried to push a certain agenda. But as a movement, such as the Left is a movement in America today, don't we need to form and push for specific programs? Don't we need to have an idea of what to do in Iraq in addition to criticizing what the American military is doing? It's my belief that we need to move beyond the kind of reactionary thought epitomized by Democracy Now and begin to formulate real agendas with plans to accomplish them. If we can do that, I feel that our ability to have a real say in the American political system will be greatly enhanced.

Call for Action--Educate Our Youth! Save the Constitution!

Here's a somewhat disturbing article about high schoolers lack of support for the 1st Amendment. In a survey conducted by the University of Connecticut that over 100,000 students took part in, only 1/2 of students believe that newspapers should be able to publish stories without government approval and over 1/3 of students think that the 1st Amendment guarantees too many rights.

This worries me greatly. I'm not sure however how much worse this has gotten since I was in high school in the late 80s and early 90s. Growing up in a very reactionary city I frequently heard these kinds of views. I would hope that at least some of these kids will change their views once they get to college.

Nonetheless, these numbers, plus the fact that students fell on the side of censorship at a far higher rate than their teachers, suggests that schools are the one place where liberal values must be taught, since churches, the media, and parents aren't doing it. It's no wonder that I consider my classes reeducation camps.

Old-Timey Mariners

Mocking the Mariners' imminent signing of Jeff Nelson (which I don't think is too bad of a move on a minor league contract) commentors on suggest other former Mariners they should pick up.

Nothing like the days of Bob Wolcott and Dave Fleming to bring back old memories. Amazingly, I didn't notice anyone mentioning Rich Amaral.

Bombing Iran

A bit of a dated discussion perhaps, but the one thing that stuck with me from Seymour Hersh's article on Iran and the Defense Department (and his subsequent interview with Jon Stewart) was being amazed that Rummy, Wolfowitz, and their minions actually believe that if we bomb Iran that it will show to the Iranian people that the mullahs are weak and they will rise up and overthrow them.

What exactly makes them believe in this outcome after they were in power on September 11? What would make the Iranian people respond differently than the American people after a terrorist strike? Just amazing blinders these people have.

I do agree with those who say that the most disturbing thing about the article was the Defense Department's lack of accountability in their covert operations. And it takes a lot to be more disturbing than the idea of bombing Iran.

Iraq Elections

I'm sure now that the Iraqis have been able to vote in an election the terrorists will disappear. Just like they disappeared after we deposed Saddam, killed Uday and Qusay, captured Saddam, and destroyed Fallujah.

Films and Red America

Here's an interesting piece from the ancient film reviewer for The New Republic, Stanley Kauffmann, on the lack of distribution of foreign and independent films in middle America and their tendency to vote Republican and believe anything the media and Republicans tell them. He's not claiming that mass showings of Bergman and Kiarostami would produce a Democratic majority in America and neither am I, but certainly there must be some correlation between the lack of intelligent arts and well-traveled, educated and worldly people and the inward-looking, xenophobic, ultra-patriotic middle parts of our country.

Of course part of this problem is that so many young progressive-minded people flee their red state or red county homes for a few cities as soon as they can rather than stick around and try to change the place they are from. I can understand this but more progressive people moving to and staying in Bristol, TN; Birmingham, AL; and Sioux Falls, SD could do wonders for changing the politics of this nation. Maybe they could even bring a few good movies with them.

Tsunami in Africa

Here's a reminder that the tsunami affected Africa. Like everything else, no one cares about the consequences for Africa. In all the news on the tsunami, you heard virtually nothing about Africa. Maybe it was because there are no tourists in Somalia. Maybe it was because since Somalia is the libertarian paradise and thus has no government, it wasn't very feasible to get journalists there. But maybe both of these are symptoms of the greatest problem which is that no one cares about Africa. What do you think the response to AIDS would be if it was concentrated someone else other than Africa?

Friday, January 28, 2005

Steve Earle and Political Music

I had a conversation with a fellow music loving friend yesterday about political music and whether it was usually good or not. The answer that I think we both came up with was that it could be good but usually it was bad. Songs are best when they unfold a point rather than beat you over the head with it. Merle Haggard never had to write songs about being against the death penalty. Instead he wrote Sing Me Back Home and sang the definitive version of Green Green Grass of Home. In the same vein, Tom Russell never wrote a song saying that the industrialists who moved big factories out of America should be killed. Instead he wrote U.S. Steel, a song about a guy who is just lost when the Homestead plant shuts down. Too often overtly political songs fail because they are just poorly written. I like Kris Kristofferson's albums of the late 80s and early 90s because I feel strongly about what the US did in Latin America under Reagan, but I can accept that the songs themselves aren't very good. His best songs of the past 20 years such as Shipwrecked in the Eighties (about a Vietnam Vet) and Johnny Lobo (about AIM activist John Trudell) are a lot more subtle than Sandinista and Love of Money.

That brings me to Steve Earle's new album, The Revolution Starts Now. This album epitomizes both the best and the worst of political music. Some of the songs are absolutely outstanding. Home to Houston is a great example of political music because it's about a guy who works for one of the big contracting companies as a trucker in Iraq. He's scared to death and he says "If I ever get home to Houston alive, then I won't drive a truck anymore." Or take Rich Man's War. A lot more blatant than Home to Houston but this still works because the stories he tells in the song represent real life people. You have the story of some poor kid in south Texas who joins the military because all the jobs have been moved across the Rio Grande (not the Rio Grande River) and what else is he going to do?, the story of a real patriotic guys who joins the Marines and is wandering around Afghanistan with no hope of coming home to his wife and kids soon and then his car gets repossessed and the story of a kid in the Gaza Strip convinced to be a suicide bomber buy a bunch of guys driving Mercedes. These are really wonderful songs.

On the other hand, you have his wretched "love" song to Condi. And his juvenile "Fuck the FCC." In this song he makes the point that he can say "fuck" a lot in a song. Wow, that's really saying something. Is anyone saying you can't say fuck or anything else on an album. There are countries where maybe a song like that would be saying something, but not in the US. Just because I can't see Janet Jackson's breasts on TV (which is a little disappointing perhaps) doesn't mean that the government is cracking down on you saying fuck whenever you want Steve.

There's also his embarrassing talking song "Warrior" with its weird masculine overtones but in extremely pretentious language. Finally there's The Revolution Starts Now. This is actually a pretty good song. It's really catchy and well-written. But what revolution are we talking about? Was a John Kerry victory going to lead to the beginnings of a revolution? Somehow I don't think so. There was a time when The Revolution meant something concrete, even if it's shape shifted frequently. It meant communism, or black power, or the New Left. But now that word has nothing concrete attached to it and seems to exist in the mist. The revolution doesn't start now because no one knows what it is or even what the first baby steps would look like.

One thing that Earle doesn't do at all that you wish he would is to have a good comical political song. I guess the Condi song is supposed to be this but it's brutally bad. For really funny political stuff I can't say enough about Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon's Prairie Home Invasion which includes a classic update of Phil Ochs' Love Me I'm a Liberal and their original Will the Fetus be Aborted?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

W Quote of the Day

In a recent speech on immigration, W said, "Family values don't stop at the Rio Grande River."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Good Presidents

In a response to a comment about my listing of bad presidents, it was asked who I thought the good presidents were. This is a tricky question. Generally I believe in the power of individuals to make things bad rather than good. I believe much more strongly in government bureaucrats than the president. That said there are some presidents that we can admire on one level or another.

George Washington--for not making America a constitutional monarchy and for leaving office after 8 years, thus setting a precedent.
John Adams--not a great president and did sign the Alien and Sedition Acts. But he also set the precedent for a losing party in power to peacefully give up that power.
Thomas Jefferson--Really for everything he did when he was not president. His own two terms were not that great, especially in foreign policy. Much the same can be said for James Madison and John Quincy Adams.
Abraham Lincoln--For fairly obvious reasons I think. Great pragmatist when the country really needed a great one. Could have come out stronger for the rights of ex-slaves toward the end of the war though.
Franklin D. Roosevelt--I love the New Deal and most of what it stood for. Did nothing at all for blacks but in the 1930s and 1940s this is not too surprising. Did a great job of wartime leadership as well.
Lyndon Johnson--With the exception of Vietnam (obviously enormous) one of our very finest presidents. Much better than JFK who people over the age of 40 or so have an absurd fascination with. Great Society had wonderful programs. Johnson really cared about helping people and he pushed through Civil Rights legislation. Our most tragic president.

That's really about it for me. TR and Wilson were bastards in so many ways that I can't say I like them even if I like some of their policies. Truman was OK but he did little to fight McCarthyism. He did push through some early Civil Rights legislation though. Eisenhower deserves some limited credit for not trying to repeal the New Deal legislation. I don't think I can go any farther than this for him or any other president. Most of the rest have either been bad or mediocre.

Worst Reality Show Ever

Strong words, I know. After all there has been so many just sickening reality shows that what could beat them to be the worst one?

How about a new reality show to pick a new lead singer for INXS? For all the basically immoral reality shows about who gets the inheritance or who is my dad or what not, this seems truly unholy. Not that I was or am the biggest INXS fan in the world. But for God's sake, for the 80s they were a pretty good band, and one defined by their lead singer who became one of the biggest music stars in the world. To try and replace him through a reality show just makes me want to retch.

If it was you telling me this was true, I would want some evidence. So I assume you may not believe that such a thing could be true either. Here's the evidence.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Lessons of the Holocaust

As we have reached the 60th anniversary of ending the German concentration camps I keep hearing about not forgetting the lessons of the Holocaust now that the WWII generation is dying out. It made me wonder, what lessons have we learned.

Here's the lessons I think we want to have learned:

1. We will never let such a horrible thing happen again.
2. Racism is evil.
3. By teaching our children about the Holocaust we will take a big step in ensuring that it won't happen again.

Here's the lessons I think the Holocaust have really taught us:

1. We will never let such a horrible thing happen again so long as it's in our geopolitical interests to do so. Rwanda, Sudan--too bad. We don't have any economic or strategic interests. Bosnia, Kosovo--I guess they're close enough to do something about it at some point.
2. Racism is evil if it's mentioned in public. But in private, well, what are you going to do?
3. Any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism.

Don't get me wrong. I think that we need to teach about the Holocaust and to do all possible to stop genocide. But all of this talk about lessons learned seems not grounded in reality. I'm not sure that we have learned any major lessons. We have shown horrifying films of the concentration camps to our children for decades. But many of these same children will fight in any war that the president tells them to, especially if it is couched in patriotic rhetoric. Does anyone doubt that a significant percentage of Americans would support the mass killing of people declared our enemies?

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Bad and The Reprehensible

There's been a lot of talk on the left about how bad a president Bush is historically. Many say he's the worst since Hoover or Coolidge for instance. I've been thinking about these discussions and I believe I have something to offer here. I think that we need to split our bad presidents into two categories: the bad and the reprehensible. For example, Hoover and Coolidge were bad presidents. But they didn't take actions or not take actions that led the country into a morass. Bush has. Here's a short list splitting the bad presidents into these two categories.

The Bad
John Tyler--A president without a party. Didn't have the chance to do much.
Millard Fillmore--Basically irrelevant at a time when the Senate was the most powerful body in America. Didn't do anything to stop the union coming apart, but he didn't further that either.
Andrew Johnson--OK, he sabotaged Reconstruction so maybe he should be on the reprehensible list. But a)he wasn't elected president and b)his views represented the large majority of white Americans in 1865. Even if he supports Reconstruction, I don't know how different the ultimate fate of African-Americans in America is. However, perhaps it would have been different. America really needed a president who would stand up for the rights of the ex-slaves. At the same time, he was Lincoln's fault. Lincoln chose him.
Ulysses Grant--Terrible president but mostly because he was incompetent and trusted his corrupt advisors.
Warren Harding--Really the exact same as Grant. Had the best presidential sex scandal though. Even better than Clinton.
Calvin Coolidge--Silent Cal was also Do Nothing Cal, but nothing really worse than that I guess. Kind of a bastard as a person.
Herbert Hoover--Wrong Man at the Wrong Time. Really a good man and did a lot of good before he became president. But he was a progressive at a time when the nation called for more government intervention. He became very bitter, which was too bad.

The Reprehensible
Franklin Pierce--Presided over the Kansas-Nebraska Act which did a lot to push the nation toward Civil War. Not only incompetent, but party to bringing on the war and appeasing the South.
James Buchanan--After the election of Lincoln but before he took office, South Carolina left the union. Buchanan's solution--do absolutely nothing and let Lincoln deal with it. Enough said.
George W. Bush--Don't really need to go into his misdeeds, do I.

I think Pierce and Buchanan are the only presidents as bad or worse than W. W's policies have left the country more financially insecure, economically unstable, physically unsafe, and just stupid.

Finally, three special cases.

James K. Polk. Often seen as one of our more successful presidents. He brought Oregon and the Southwest into the union. However, he lied to Congress to get support for his imperialistic campaign to invade Mexico. Sounds kind of familiar, don't it.

Richard Nixon. In some ways very successful. On the other hand, he hurt the prestige of the presidency 30 years ago and it still hasn't recovered.

Ronald Reagan. His actions weren't really that bad unless you were a union member or lived in Latin America. But he is the father of the movement that has led to W in the White House. And that is pretty damn bad.

These three are hard ones to decide. They don't quite fit into either category, but they were certainly among our more disturbing leaders.

Remembering Carson

Johnny Carson was not a genius of a comedian. But he was really good. He managed to become an icon of America, not one demographic or another, through his topical, but not too harsh comedy. There was something in Carson for just about everyone. The show remained pretty good almost until the end, except for the music. It was hard to watch big-band music on late night TV in 1991. And in the last few years it got pretty stale. But even in those later years, it wasn't much worse than Letterman is today. And it was infinitely better than Leno has ever been.

And in a slight paraphrase, my favorite Carson line.

Actress comes on (don't remember who but I think it was in the mid to late 70s) with a cat. She sits down and puts the cat on her lap. She then turns to Carson and asks, "Would you like to pet my pussy?"
Carson: "I'd love to, but you'll have to move that damn cat first."

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Conservative Coaching

I wonder if the legacy of the NFL playoffs this year will be to show that conservative coaching is usually bad.

We had the Chargers lose when Marty Schottenheimer settled for a longer field goal than need be because he didn't want to risk a play where they might actually gain yards and because a 40 yard field goal with a rookie kicker is such a chip shot in the playoffs. Then Herman Edwards and the Jets lose because not only are they too afraid to run a play that might gain yards, they are so afraid they will have to kickoff that they run a play intended to lose yards, again because a 35+ yard field goal, on the road in Pittsburgh, is such a chip shot.

Now today we have Bill Cowher kicking a field goal down by 14 on the Patriots in the 4th quarter rather than going for it from the 2. Did he really think they would score another 11 on that defense in less than a quarter without allowing another point. Just incredibly stupid. Had the Steelers scored a TD, it would have been a 7 point game. Instead the Patriots stayed in control for the rest of the game.

On the other hand, Belichick runs a reverse for a touchdown to ice the game. OK, if that play fails or if there is a fumble, maybe he looks bad. But you win by being bold and smart. Smart and conservative rarely wins you games when you are tied or behind.

Cowher's a really good, if not great, coach and should be lauded for an excellent job coaching a team with a rookie QB to a 15-1 record and the AFC championship game. And his move is not in the same class as Edwards, who borderline deserves to be fired for it.

Nonetheless, I wonder if coaches will being to rethink their 4th quarter strategies after 3 significant playoff failures.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Movie Etiquette

I had one of my most frustrating and worst movie experiences ever today when I went to see House of Flying Daggers. It wasn't the movie (more on that at the bottom). But the people surrounding me were intolerable. First of all the woman to my left was munching on something the entire movie that she brought from home evidentially wrapped in cellophane or some other material so loud and crinkly that it annoyed all the people around her. Then there were phone problems, including a woman who got up in the middle of the movie and then came back and plopped down in front of my wife, who is not a tall woman making it very hard to for her to read the subtitles. If that wasn't worse, sitting two rows in front of me, right in middle of the theater was a white guy who is a Sikh and his damn turban got in the way of the subtitles. Now I'm not going to make fun of white Sikhs here. There are lots in New Mexico. But somehow it bothered me a lot more that it was some aging hippie trying to get in touch with his spirituality than someone from India. Call me intolerant if you want.

So here's some rules that I think they should post in every theater.

1. If you're going to bring food from home, take it in tupperware or some other solid, noiseless plastic.

2. Watch where you sit. If you're tall, don't sit in front of someone else unless you absolutely have to.

3. If you are going to convert to a religion that requires big hats or other types of headgear, of if you are inclined to wear large things on your head for some other reason, please sit on the side or way in the back where no one will be behind you.

As far as the movie itself goes, I was a little disappointed. I thought it was far weaker than Hero or Crouching Tiger. Beautiful of course and the acting was fine but the story really fell apart at the end. I don't see how making it a love triangle 2/3 of the way through the movie really helped it out. It was pretty damn interesting as it was as a battle between the government and rebels. And then to not show the final battle between the soldiers and the Flying Daggers was just insane. I simply didn't understand what Zhang was doing at the end of this movie. That said, it's better than most other movies of course, but not Zhang's best.

Friday, January 21, 2005


This is not good.

Bolivia may be beginning to fall apart. The wealthiest province in the state, and accordingly the most European and conservative is demanding independence from La Paz. On the other hand, you have the poor protesting because of a Bechtel water contract that would force them to pay high rates for water and make collecting rain water a crime. Originally these two groups allied themselves in protest but now that the president has sided with the poor against Bechtel and has lowered the cost of fuel, the wealthy of Santa Cruz province have announced plans to create a separatist government.

What will the US policy be on this? My own belief is that W and the boys will side with the wealthy of Santa Cruz because a)they clearly identify with wealthy conservatives and b) it seems likely that the push from the right to secede may send the president left. Perhaps he becomes very conciliatory, but threatening to secede is a good reason to tell the rich to go to hell. Plus it's likely President Carlos Mesa will have allies in Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Cuba and other important Latin American nations.

In any case, check out the story yourself.

Going Out On A High Note

I wish it was W going out on a high note, but no, it's ole Willy Safire. He claimed that Bush's speech was one of the 5 best second inaugural speeches ever. Anyone who thinks Bush is one of the top 5 presidents for anything good has a screw loose. But then again, this is Safire.

What did Safire teach us today?

1. Those who oppose the Bush foreign policy do not love liberty or freedom.

2. Bush is thinking with history in mind and wants to be a champion of freedom.

3. Our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan "lit 'a fire in the minds of men." Direct quote from the speech.

My comments about his:

1. Too stupid to even reply too. I do love the arrogance that those who oppose Bush, i.e. the Democratic Party, don't love freedom.

2. Probably true. What about Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, and Pakistan. Oh, never mind.

3. Bush is right here. His actions did light a fire. A fire which turned millions into either terrorists or terrorist sympathizers.

SpongeBob SquareCocksucker

I love it when the crazy right-wing Christians say something that reveals their true evil. James Dobson, founder of my favorite organization, Focus on the Family, during an inaugural party in the last couple of days, claimed that SpongeBob SquarePants was gay and part of a gay agenda. Best of all was that this speech was in front of several Congressmen. Not that we should think those Congressmen will think of how stupid it was. They wouldn't have been there if they weren't fans of Dobson. Incidentally, it was a Focus on the Family video which converted Tom DeLay from a conservative good ole boy partying Republican into the spawn of Satan that he currently is.

But is SpongeBob SquarePants gay? There was that episode where he gave that piece of coral a blow job. And there was the time that flounder gave it to him up the ass.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The US and Climate Change

This is a subject that has been covered before. However, the US attempting to purge a UN plan on climate change of its references to climate change being a potential cause for future natural disasters irritates me all over again. One member of the US delegation to the conference on natural disasters said that "It's well known that there's controversy" about climate change. Well it wouldn't be well known if right-wing cranks that run this nation would actually believe in science and particularly the climatologists, of whom nearly 100% of them believe in global warming/climate change.

An interesting side point to the climate change "debate" is about credentials. The administration and others who are burying their heads in the sand on climate change use doubters who are "scientists." Well, they are often scientists and have a Ph.D. And evidentially that's enough. But if you look at the fields of many of the major scientific doubters of global warming, they are in physics, chemistry, and other fields where they know nothing about climatology. This is the equivalent of me as a historian doubting Einstein's theory of relativity. I don't have a damn clue what I'm talking about when discussing physics and neither do physicists when discussing climate change. Although we have a glut of PhD's in this country, it seems that the title still holds enough respect to make one an expert on any damn thing.

Once I finish my PhD, I'll be putting out my own diet plan, discussing the merits of hydrogen fuel cells, and writing a book rethinking psychotherapy. Because as a PhD, I'll be an expert in all of these fields.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Great Historical Quote

This is why I do history. Here's a great quote from Republican Senator James G. Blaine (ME) in 1879 concerning Chinese exclusion.

“You cannot work a man who must have beef and bread, alongside of a man who can live on rice. In all such conflicts, and in all such struggles, the result is not to bring up the man who lives on rice to the beef-and-bread standard, but it is to bring down the beef-and-bread man to the rice standard.”

What a quote!! I love the racialization and naturalization of food. Americans of course couldn't survive on rice. Actually, you see this very kind of confluence of race, labor, and food all the way until WWII on the west coast as whites used it against Japanese immigrant labor as well.

Blaine incidentally was the Republican candidate for president in 1884.

Martin Luther King Day

Another MLK day has rolled around and the message of King is yet again being twisted this way and that depending on whoever is speaking. King joins Thomas Jefferson as the only Americans I can think of whose thoughts and philosophy are still extremely relevant to modern Americans but have been pasteurized so that anyone of any political philosophy can and does use them to push their own agenda. I mean when George W. Bush is quoting King, there is something weird going on. But King's own family does the same thing. MLK III in today's speech discussed how if his father was alive today, he'd be supporting tsunami relief. You think so? Wow, III, really go out on a limb there. Anyone to the left of Michael Savage supports that.

John Lewis got it right when he said that King would likely have opposed the war on Iraq. But of course the sanitized version of King didn't support such controversial causes. Even for many African-Americans at this point, King stood for stopping segregation on buses and voting rights. And of course he did, but he stood for so much more. Few, except for those of us isolated on the left, talk about his stands against Vietnam and for labor, the poor, and human rights around the world. Those are too controversial for even many blacks to embrace, as they were in 1966 and 1967 when he articulated them.

Incidentally, for those readers who don't know, my analysis of how African-Americans interpret King comes from when I worked as a park ranger for the MLK National Historic Site in 1999.

It is interesting however how everyone uses King for their own political purposes. For conservatives, the message of King was individual rights and therefore they quote him to oppose affirmative action. For middle-class blacks, it was about equal political and economic opportunities. For the left, his message was about human rights, peace, and equality for all. To me, the last interpretation is the most correct, but perhaps I am filtering his message through my own beliefs.

Jefferson has also had his thoughts and philosophy interpreted 5000 different ways. I knew a guy who did a master's thesis on how Jefferson was used by both segregationists and civil rights activists during the 1950s and 1960s for example. Are there other American thinkers/political figures who have had similar post-mortem histories to Jefferson and King? I'd be curious if you know of anyone.

Iron Chef Recap

Much to my dismay, that fuckhead Bobby Flay beat Rick Bayless last night on Iron Chef. But overall, I thought the show was an improvement to the specials that ran last year. Most importantly was that the tasters knew what they were talking about. 2 professional foodies and Julie Chen was at least as good as the Japanese actresses on the original.

Overall the show is still not as good as the original. Part of the charm was the hype before the cooking. But still it's more fun than a lot of shows on TV.

One more thing, other than just not liking Flay, it's hard for me to root for him because he cooks "contemporary Southwestern cuisine." What the hell is that? Maybe it's because I live in New Mexico but I just don't have any interest. While I have no doubt that the food he makes is really good, it just seems to me that it would be better if he used the kind of traditional regional cuisines that say Bayless does, or for that matter New Mexican cooking. I wish he'd stopping playing around with his sauces and just cover everything in green or red chile.

Whether it's Southwestern or Asian fusion cuisine, I don't think I've ever had a "contemporary" or "fusion" meal that is as good as it would be if it stuck to traditional ingredients and traditional methods of making the food. I don't like to think I'm some kind of fundamentalist or purist on this--it's just that these funky modern dishes just aren't as good to me.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Iron Chef America

Tomorrow starts the series Iron Chef America. And I am damned excited.

Still, based on the few episodes they ran last year and what I hear about the series, it doesn't sound like it's going to be as good as the Japanese version. For one thing, the host of the show isn't nearly as insane as the Japanese guy. Understandable I guess. Alton Brown is acceptable as the commentator and is probably as good as the guys they had in Japan, though 2 commentators would be nice to create some banter. Of greater concern is the tasters. This was the biggest weakness in the first American shows. The worst was when they had the guy who played Big Pussy in the Sopranos on there. He knew nothing about food except for Italian food and because one of the chefs used proscuitto, he voted for him. It was just really terrible. Even if they had stupid actors on the Japanese show, at least they seemed to know something about food.

A couple of other concerns. The Japanese show used up a lot of time before the cooking started. This worked pretty well because watching people cook for nearly the whole hour got kind of boring in the American version. Hopefully, they don't show quite as much cooking this time. Also, the chefs have a say in what ingredient is featured, which is kind of lame.

Nevertheless, tune in tomorrow and root for Rick Bayless to kick the hell out of that punk-ass bitch Bobby Flay.

Friday, January 14, 2005

That Wily Liberal Media

Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post is evidentially ready to take over William Safire's role as the king of Republican party hackwork in the print media. Today, he writes of the liberal bias of CBS and especially Dan Rather in context of the documents about Bush's National Guard record. He goes on, blah blah blah, about how they should have investigated "real" scandals, such as the UN food for oil deal or whether the Swift Boat charges against Kerry were true. Um, OK.

And where's FOX in this story, where O'Reilly and Hannity can make whatever claims they want about Democrats? Totally nonexistent you say. Wow, that's really surprising. And for evidence that he's correct, he cites a poll saying that 45% of Americans say the media is too liberal and 15% who say it is too conservative. I wonder if a decade or more of constant chirping on this topic, BY PEOPLE IN THE MEDIA, had anything to do with that number.

I was worried that with Safire retiring I wouldn't get my twice weekly or so bit of partisan garbage. I should have known that I just had to read Krauthammer.

Privatizing Social Security

Be sure to read Paul Krugman's editorial in the NY Times today, based on a story from The American Prospect, about Britain's experiment in privatizing social security. He points out that although the British privatization took place in much stronger economic circumstances that we have in America today. And it's still a disaster, with an estimated 75% of the nation not having proper retirement benefits. Of course, we can't expect this administration to learn from or even pay attention to what is happening in other countries. Besides, what the British didn't know is that tax cuts are the panacea for everything.

Among what permanent tax cuts will do for America is:

1. Make all white people rich.
2. End world hunger.
3. Improve the worldwide market for ivory backscratchers.
4. Trigger the return of Jesus Christ to the world to approve of the entire Republican agenda.

Gay Linguists

This is a problem that probably everyone who reads this recognizes, but it's worth mentioning that the Center for Studies of Sexual Minorities in the Military has discovered that 20 Arabic and 6 Farsi translators have been discharged by the military since 1998, most for being gay. Many of these came in 2004. It's nice to see that keeping our troops safe from having to serve with a man who likes to give another man a blowjob is more important than understanding our enemies and potential enemies in the war on terrorism.

Then again, it seems that one of the most important goals for Republicans is to protect everyone from the horrors of oral sex at the expense of nearly everything else.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Cobb County, GA

I love Cobb County, GA, home of American right-wing wackiness. This wealthy suburban county north of Atlanta just had a judge force them to remove anti-evolution stickers they had placed on the covers of their science textbooks. This county is also the home to part of Bob Barr's, and I believe, Newt Gingrich's congressional districts. Really makes you want to move there, don't it?

Republican Entertainers

It's always amusing to see what kind of entertainers the Republicans get for their events.

Gatlin Brothers--check
Angie Harmon--check
Gloria Estefan--check
Ben Stein--check

Didn't know Kelsey Grammar was a Republican though. Too bad the show wasn't still on. Wouldn't it fun to hear him talk about the virtues of Dino Rossi?

You would think that people would vote Democrat just to escape this mediocrity of talent on a national stage.

Let's see Ruben Studdard or U2? Hmmm. Tough one
Or how about Hillary Duff or Bruce Springsteen? Another toughie.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


A quote from W today.

``I happen to believe people who have been elected to office who ignore problems will face a price at the ballot box,'' Bush said during a forum with voters who support his goal of creating private investment accounts to partly replace guaranteed benefits.

Actually, Georgie, I think you have already proven that to be untrue.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Stalin and Luther

From a long article in the Asia Times on modern art and socialism:

Freedom is always under attack in any society beset with a garrison-state mentality. The "war on terror" has turned the US into a police state. Stalin did many inhumane things in the name of preserving institutional revolution. Josef Vissarionovich Stalin (1879-1953) would in fact fit the definition of a Lutheran diehard, at least in revolutionary strategy if not in ideological essence. Like Martin Luther (1483-1546), Stalin suppressed populist radicalism to preserve institutional revolution, and glorified the state as the sole legitimate expeditor of revolutionary ideology.

This says too damn much about me. Nothing more joyous than growing up as a Lutheran, let me tell you.

One More Down

Now the Ukraine is pulling out of Iraq too. At what point does W stop calling this a coalition? Or does he not really give a shit anymore now that he's won?

The Smoking Fry

I watched Super Size Me last night. Perhaps many of you have already seen it. If you haven't it, it's about a guy who decides to eat McDonald's every meal for a month to see what happens to his body, which isn't pretty. But even if you saw it in the theater, one of the bonus features on the DVD is really amazing. He takes McDonald's food and also some real food from an independent burger place and places them in a jar to see how they decompose. The burgers from both places and the fries from the corner shop all decompose pretty quickly. But the McDonald's fries simply do not decompose. No mold, no change in color, no nothing. Even after 10 weeks when the fries were accidentally thrown out, no decomposition at all. Probably one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


It's one the greatest tragedies of my life that I am Seahawks fan. If on this blog, I ever show any kind of hope for them, would someone please tell me how stupid I'm being.


Does anyone else find the recent calls to use DDT in the Third World to eradicate malaria disturbing? Yes, it's terrible that so many people die of malaria. But is DDT really the answer? Even liberals are falling into this trap. See Nicholas Kristof's column in the Times today. (Quite a day for Times columinists!!) He argues that since other anti-malarial campaigns are generally underfunded and ineffective, that we should turn to the very effective DDT to get rid of mosquitoes. He claims that the US and other rich countries are siding with mosquitoes over the world's poor.

It's not that simple. Third World ecosystems are severely stressed and in danger of complete collapse. To further undermine those ecosystems with the widespread use of DDT would hasten that collapse and thus the collapse of those very societies we are trying to save from malaria. Rather than give up on other programs to eliminate malaria, including recognizing that too many people live in terrible conditions near stagnant water, shouldn't we work harder to come up with different solutions that would help people and ecosystems. Kristof's says that Vietnam has largely eliminated malaria without the use of DDT. What did they do? Can it be copied around the world.

It sounds to me as if social commentators, politicians, and planners need to step back, take a deep breath, and reread Silent Spring.

The Ownership Society

It's funny in a really irritating way to watch the Republicans talk about an ownership society. For example, in David Brooks' NY Times column today, he makes several ridiculous claims about this. First, he says that Democrats oppose social security reform because an ownership society will create more Republicans. This is patently absurd. Could Democrats oppose private retirement accounts because they know a little bit about history and know what it was like for the elderly the last time the government didn't help insure a decent retirement for its citizens? Could it be because they are not blind to the magic of the market and know that stocks could collapse and everyone would lose their retirement, thus likely forcing the government to rescue these people at much greater cost than the price of social security?

Next, he claims that social security today "shackles" our kids. Um, how exactly does it do that? Does it stop people from saving for retirement if they want to? No, I don't think so. Or does he believe that the existence of a safety net creates laziness and people who rely on the government like those third world European nations?

He goes on to hope that people are encouraged to work into their 70s or 80s. Well, Dave, under privatized social security I'm sure that people of my generation will be encouraged by the fact that your ideas won't work and we won't have any social security by the time I'm 70.

Finally, he says that we need a "savings revolution." Yes, a Congressional plan to end the nation's safety net will undoubtedly have a greater influence on young people than advertisers, credit card companies, and all of those who make money on Americans buying lots of stuff. Remember, after 9/11 we were all told to keep buying to stimulate America's economy. How can we keep buying without credit that leads to debt which makes savings difficult. Does Brooks and others who call for this savings revolution not understand that the same people making these calls are the people making their money on Americans NOT saving?

3 Dead from Houma, LA

I believe it was during World War II when the military decided to create units from soldiers from around the country. This created a situation where if a unit got wiped out, dozens of people from the same town would not get killed. But with the call up of National Guard units who serve together, this strategy has begun to disappear. Thus with the roadside bomb that killed 7 soldiers a couple of days happened to hit a National Guard unit. 3 residents of the small town of Houma, LA were killed. The others are from other Louisiana towns. Another roadside bomb killed 3 members of an Arkansas National Guard unit. If such localized centers of death continue, will it change the opinion in these small towns of the war? Or will they come together to rally behind the war and Bush?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Demise of Crossfire

I can see no reason whatsoever to be upset at the demise of Crossfire and especially with CNN cutting all ties to Tucker Carlson. What's amazing to me is the role Jon Stewart played in the show being cancelled.

When was the last time a comedian had such power in America? I guess Dick Gregory who played a major role in the Civil Rights movement. But I can't think of another comedian who comes close to Stewart in this sense.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Anarchy and Mickey Mouse

This shouldn't surprise me, but...

I'm watching the Orange Bowl (in which USC appropriately kicked the hell out of Oklahoma) and for some reason I didn't change the channel for the halftime show. So I get the spectacle of Kelly Clarkson, Trace Adkins, and Ashlee Simpson (I was hoping they'd all play together). The ultimate in American mediocrity. Fine, whatever. But on the stage with these people is a giant anarchy symbol. If that wasn't odd enough, there's Mickey Mouse dancing on the field to the music. The idea of Kelly Clarkson, Mickey Mouse, and Anarchy somehow doesn't go together. Or maybe it does in some sort of postmodern experiment showing that any symbol can be coopted for any reason and that any object, symbol, or thought can be turned into a commodity. Since the Republican Party has been engaged in America's most dangerous postmodern experiment for over 4 years now, it's not surprising that ABC and Disney would get together for one too.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Oregon State PBR's

You know, I didn't need another reason to bag on Oregon State. But now I have a good one. A really good one.

Actually I would have thought a beer company sponsored fraternity would have happened at Arizona St, Chico St., or Southern Oregon before Oregon St. But I guess farmers like undrinkable beer.

Did anyone notice at the end of the article that the student quoted was a major in Agricultural Business? My wife asks if that means he will become a used cow salesman?

Oregon Land Use Laws

As some of you may have heard, Oregon voters recently voted to overturn the state's model land use laws. Measure 37 forces the state to compensate people for the property value lost from these laws, including retroactive claims. The idea is that the state won't be able to fund these compensations and will eliminate the laws altogether. These laws prevented Portland from turning into Phoenix, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Houston, or other sprawl hells. There at least a couple of lessons we can draw from this defeat.

1. People are susceptible to property rights ideology. Many have credited the defeat to property rights advocates who complained that Oregonians can't do what they want with their land. Planners and environmentalists could have countered this by saying that people can do a lot with their land but they can't sell it to Wal-Mart or subdivide it without community input. They could have said that these laws are the reason that you can drive for 15 minutes outside of Portland and get to farmland and forests. But they didn't. And that leads us to #2.

2. The environmental community again shows its arrogance toward the public. For years, people on the ground in Oregon stressed that support for land-use laws and environmentalism in general in Oregon had been declining and that a public campaign was needed to educate people and shore up support for these laws. Unfortunately, but not too surprising, is that the planners and environmentalists ignored these ideas for their determined goals of protecting these laws from any change. The land use laws did not work for rural people, who say, could not build for themselves on their own land. Compromises could have made in these laws to allow for more flexibility. But this didn't happen because of a dogmatic way of thinking about environmentalism. The result was the ballot measure and its victory.

3. Land use laws are not necessarily good for local people. In theory they are. Oregon's land use laws did prevent a lot of potential sprawl in Portland. But by limiting growth without a serious investment in low and medium income housing in the urban center, housing prices get driven to astronomical levels, as has happened in Portland, as well as in Boulder which is another model land-use law area. Retirees from California and young people who have made money in computers can live in Portland, but it's hard for poorer locals to remain. This also leads to resentment of the laws.

There is some hope however. First Oregon has a ton of ballot measures. Lots of them are voted in but are poorly written or just stupid and are ruled unconstitutional. So there is a ray of light in the courts. Also local actions are taking effect. As reported in High Country News, an ordinance from Bend, which threatens to become to the Jackson Hole or Aspen of Oregon, allows people to sue their neighbors if development on one's land reduces their property values. In a place like Bend, where the land-use laws probably mean more than anywhere in the state except Portland, this means a lot. Land is valuable and if a Wal-Mart parking lot disturbs someone's view, that could mean a hefty lawsuit. The stated intention of the ordinance backers is to prevent people from using Measure 37. This could work wonders. I don't know how attractive this option will be in places like Brookings, La Grande, or other Republican enclaves in rural Oregon but it could work wonders.

NFL Playoffs

For what it's worth, here's my playoff predictions:

Round 1.

Indianapolis 35
Denver 14

Anyone remember last year's game when the Colts just smoked the Broncos. My brother, who is a huge Broncos fan, says he has a better chance of getting accepted into a convent than the Broncos winning this game.

San Diego 31
New York 21

Like a lot of teams, the Jets backed into the playoffs with a lot of late-season losses. Can't see them winning in San Diego this week.

St. Louis 34
Seattle 17

The Rams have beated my Seahawks twice already. And though the Rams aren't exactly a great team with an 8-8 record, the Seahawks had to stop a 2 point conversion last week to prevent their game against a Matt Schaub led Falcons team from going into OT.

Green Bay 28
Minnesota 10

Vikings suck.

Second Round

Indianapolis 38
New England 35

A shootout here that the Colts win only because the Patriots secondary is so decimated. Using a WR as your nickel back can work against Buffalo or Miami, but not against the Harrison, Wayne, Stokely trio.

Pittsburgh 21
San Diego 20

Could be the best game of the playoffs. 2 very good teams. I think Pittsburgh will win because of the weather, because Roethlisberger doesn't screw up very much, and because they are just a solid team.

Philadelphia 14
St. Louis 13

I don't think Philadelphia is invincible, even in a terrible NFC, without Terrell Owens. They beat the Rams, but barely.

Green Bay 20
Atlanta 17

An upset here. Vick goes about 7-25 with 2 interceptions. But hey, he'll run for 50 yards.

Conference Championships

Indianapolis 24
Pittsburgh 20

Great game as well. Colts win because I think they will have just too much offense for the Steelers and also because the Steelers won't be able to take advantage of the Colts' biggest weakness, being their pass coverage. On the other hand, if it's really cold, I might say it could go the other way.

Green Bay 17
Philadelphia 10

Again, the Eagles can't win without TO. Packers by default. Like the AFC game, the Eagles won't be able to take advantage of the Packers' biggest weakness, being their pass coverage.

Super Bowl

Indianapolis 45
Green Bay 38

These two teams played in a hell of a shootout earlier this season. Expect that to repeat itself. Colts won the first game and I think they'll win the second.

No one I've seen is really picking either of these teams to go this far, but since when do sports playoffs, outside of the NBA, go according to plan?

Monday, January 03, 2005

Iraq Casualty Stats

I did a little number crunching on deaths in Iraq today to see what I came up with. I compared deaths from red states with those from blue states. According to, there have been 1313 American deaths if you don't count foreigners fighting in the US military or those from Puerto Rico. 705 of those come from red states and 608 from blue states. So blue states provide 46.3% of deaths in Iraq. Those same blue states also have 48.7% of the US population according to the 2000 census. So a small overrepresentation of deaths from red states per capita. But not much.

The real meaning of these numbers is that when idiot Republicans say that Democrats are a bunch of unpatriotic cowardly traitors, we can say to them, "Look at the numbers, asshole. Nearly 1/2 of deaths in Iraq are from the 19 states + DC that voted for Kerry."

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Saturday Night Snooze

This is a somewhat interesting article about the weakness of Saturday Night Live, but I beg the question: Is SNL even relevant anymore? When was the last time it was worth watching? When Will Ferrell left I guess. At least when the show reached its nadir in 94 or 95 it was just horrendous--this mediocrity might be even worse. In the world of TV comedy, does it even hold a candle to the Daily Show, Dave Chappelle, South Park, or even King of the Hill and the Simpsons at this late date in those shows? No way. The comedy is predictable and middle of the road, the hosts are uninspiring, and the music is boring.

Maybe the relevance of the show is that people, including me, still find it worth spending energy to write about. But if it keeps going at this rate, even that bit of relevance may fall away.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Fucking Labor in the Ass

A harsh title perhaps, but can you think of any better terms for what Bush and the Republicans are doing to organized labor? If unions were on the decline in the Clinton era, they are being plowed under now. Recent decisions to not allow unorganized workers to have a fellow worker with them when in meetings with supervisors and to deny graduate teaching assistants at private universities the right to organize were tough shots, but the recent move to stop card checks as a method to organize would be a huge blow for any organizing campaign to overcome. For those of you not familiar with the idea of a card check, it means that if a union presents a series of cards signed by workers to an employer that say they have joined the union, the employer often gives in and allow unionization. This has become increasingly effective as companies frequently do want to engage in a costly anti-union campaign. To make this practice more difficult means that each unionization campaign would have to fight against anti-union lawyers and their tactics and we can expect the rate of unionized workers in this country to fall below 10%.

This has happened of course because of anti-labor Bush appointees to the National Labor Relations Board and the federal judiciary. Not surprising of course. More surprising perhaps is that with a few exceptions, Clinton appointees also did not help labor's cause. If we can't expect better support from our friends, what can we expect from our enemies?

Top 10 Books of the Year

I thought that in the spirit of the New Year, I'd list my top 10 books (or readings in any case) of the year. More or less in order they are:

1. John McPhee, Annals of the Former World. Really 4 books in 1 volume. All are a discussion of America's geology as McPhee travels different sections of I-80 with geologists. Great writing about science, nature, and people, it also chronicles the evolution of geology as a science including the battles over plate tectonics as the leading theory of continental formation. Great stuff.

2. Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire. Actually I didn't like this as much as his previous book, Second Nature, but that this is #2 says more about the previous book than this one. Great discussion of people's historical interactions with plants and the ways that humans have modified plants to suit various desires.

3. Graham Swift, Waterland and Last Orders. Cheating a little here since I listed 2 of his novels that I read this year, but I didn't want to choose. British writer and probably my most happy discovery of the year. Waterland is a weird story about the fens of England that also muses on how we use history. Last Orders is about the death of a working-class man and how it affects his wife and drinking buddies. Best fiction I read this year.

4. The New Yorker, Issue of Sept. 6. An entire issue dedicated to food. I didn't know how much I enjoyed really good writing about food until I read this issue. The best article was Bill Buford's article on pasta, but the articles on ketchup, lettuce, and snoek were also extremely good.

5. Peter Hessler, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. I reviewed this on the blog when I read it. Let's just say that it is superb travel writing and is probably the best book I've ever read on the difficulties and joy of being a westerner in Asia.

6. Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake. Lahiri is an American writer of Indian descent and she writes wonderfully in one of my favorite subgenres of literature, immigration and the cultural misunderstandings that happen when immigrants and natives live together. Also highly recommended is her short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies.

7. Alice Munro, The Beggar's Maid. Her first book, but the others aren't that different. Real simple stuff--woman from Ontario has rough childhood, moves to British Columbia as an adult, has some children, martial difficulties ensue. But the way she writes about these people is just wonderfully. Criminally underappreciated author outside of Canada.

8. Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari. A story of Theroux's trip through eastern Africa a few years ago. He lived there in the 60s as a Peace Corps volunteer and he had not been back in many years. Great writing but extremely depressing. Outside of Egypt, Ethiopia seemed to be the least screwed up place that he visited and that's really saying something. First travel book I ever read that made me want to visit the place less.

9. H.G. Bissinger, Friday Night Lights. Read this before I knew the movie was coming out. Somewhat dated now I guess but a great discussion of football in one of America's greatest shitholes, Odessa, TX. Also where W made his political start which doesn't make the region any less unpalatable. A useful read for the mentality of W's home as much as it is for the craziness of high school football in Texas.

10. Mike Tidwell, Bayou Farewell. A sad story of the disappearance of Louisiana's bayou country. Because the Mississippi River is controlled throughout Louisiana and therefore dumps all of its deposits in the Gulf of Mexico, the ocean is slowly taking away the bayous. The home of America's greatest shellfish fishery and one of America's unique cultures, this book will hopefully spur action to save the bayous. Eat your shrimp now because in another 20 years it's going to become damned expensive if the bayous aren't saved.