Thursday, March 24, 2005


It's a testament to something, my state of mind, the earliness of the morning, that upon opening the MSNBC front page, I was shocked to see this, and immediately concerned for the welfare of Duke's basketball coach. Call it March Madness.

It would seem the malady is catching, spreading beyond the world of collegiate athletics and infecting the public at large. But that's not so. In truth, America is insane all the time, and you just have to push the right buttons to send the whole nation into conniption fits.

If I haven't blogged recently, it's because I've been staring in wide-eyed wonder at the ludicrous spectacle of a government and a society that seems to have severed all ties with the real world. I long ago gave up the idealistic hope that The People would educate and inform themselves into citizen intellectuals, demanding responsible action from their elected representatives. And I long ago gave up the notion that the making of laws and policy was anything unlike the making of sausage, a filthy process best unobserved. But there are still times when the weight of this America's failure presses down on me, and makes me want to, you know, pack.

Pols will be pols, I know, but when was the last time there was anything resembling an honest policy discussion in the houses of Congress? There's not even the pretense now of sincerity in public statements; everyone calculates knowing that everyone knows they're calculating, so that we're on, like, the fifth level of dishonesty, except that maybe everyone doesn't know they're calculating, recent poll numbers aside, and millions of Americans sit at home soaking up propaganda like a sponge. Which, I think, is probably worse. And the media, oh heavens, the media. I long ago turned off television news, and I strictly limit my blog intake, but now I can't even visit my dependable, serious web sites. Slate, the New Republic, all crap, all Schiavo all day long, honestly, if I have to see her pitiful empty stare or Delay's demonic mug one more time, I'm just going to lose it. I've been holing up at the New Yorker, venturing occasionally onto the news pages of the Times and the Post (making an allowance for Krugman and Friedman, and ok I'll read anything Leon Wieseltier writes, that guy rules), and that's it. Which is the media absorbed daily by about one half of one percent of the country, while everyone else tunes, inexplicably to the AM portion of the radio dial, or, god help us, to the television news. Which, and I can't emphasize this enough, is shit.

The thing is, it's not that the government has no business messing with Schiavo or steroids, or that, having inserted themselves, they've behaved like buffoons. It's not that the Bush administration has yet to speak an honest word about its plans for Social Security (or quite a few other things for that matter). It's not that there's no leadership or backbone on the left, or even conviction that what they stand for is, actually, worth standing for. It's none of the rank ridiculousness of a citizenry perpetually enraged, confused, and overtly religious, a government made entirely of people who seem like they're maybe not real people, and a media that's completely forgotten how to do its job. It's not those things that are driving me nuts. I mean it is, but it's also that this mess, it seems so permanent. There's nothing real here anymore, it's all chain stores, and bad recycled television, and retread films and music, and NO new good books, and shouting talking heads, and policy makers that can't utter an honest word, and it's this clean plastic veneer that's become America, and, you know, I don't know how to get rid of it. A thousand Lenny Bruces and a thousand FDRs and a thousand Norman Mailers and a thousand Adlai Stevensons and a thousand people trying to rip up the tangled mess we've made and put in its place something good and true wouldn't make a dent in the holy, self-righteous charade we've all so willingly played. And the thing becomes bigger than those that perpetrate it, so that it can't be knocked down easily. And it's all a huge mess, and I'm tired of this American absurdity, and I certainly don't want to contribute any more to it, so if you've linked to this blog you should remove the link, because this is the end of the Bellows.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


One of these days I'm going to get organizized, and begin blogging once more on a regular basis. In the mean time, I turn your attention to this news, that inhalant use has overtaken marijuana use among young teens. Proof again that kids these days are complete idiots. I'll be back soon.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Learning to deal with whatever it is we're learning to deal with.

I've been in a two week dry spell, recovering from trips out of town, from crises of confidence, and from, lately, this weird sort of fever-y cold that I hope to god isn't avian flu. I'm also suffering from a deep lack of interest in all things political right now, one of the phases of my intellectual moon where I'm inclined to say fuck it to the world of governance, because, honestly, what does any of our breathlessness and indignity change?

But I'm stirred to action again, mainly because I want to make sure that those of you who occasionally visit me here, lovable die hards that you are, don't eliminate The Bellows from your list of places to go when work gets boring. So it was that last night I was watching a rerun of the previous night's Daily Show and witnessed a bizarre display of political theater. John Stewart was hosting Nancy Soderbergh, come to discuss her book, recently published, on the use and misuse of Superpower-ness. What ensued was curious, the vivid presentation of the left's current intellectual tangles portrayed awkwardly on national television. The problem? Bush's diabolical and ill-planned adventures in the Middle East appear to be working like gangbusters. Now how the hell am I supposed to feel about it?

There are legitimate caveats to be expressed. Progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations (may it not be short-lived) resulted largely from Arafat's death, with which Bush presumably had nothing to do. Likewise, Lebanon's likely liberation resulted from an ill-timed assassination on the part of Syria. Still, it's difficult not to associate the changes in the region with the actions of the Bushies, and attempts to explain away Bush's influence smack of, well, a desire to minimize the importance of those events, if not to act out and out disappointed by them.

Of course, nothing is assured. Tom Friedman wrote this week that, despite the promise shown in the Middle East, peace and democracy are far from firm establishment. It's also just as possible that Bush could have orchestrated these changes in a less overbearing way, or that Gore could have done just as well at bringing these changes about. And, of course, Bush has woefully handled Iran, North Korea, and Sudan. All these things need to be said, but when they are bandied about, as they were between Soderbergh and Stewart, they sound, if not treasonous, at least a little like sour grapes over these notable happenings. Does anyone doubt that 1500 or 2000 or more American lives were a worthwhile price to pay for a democratic reshaping of the Middle East?

What's curiouser still is that Republicans don't seem much in the mood to gloat. Facing what appears to be sure defeat on the President's biggest second-term agenda item, the GOP seems to be enduring its own crisis of confidence, reexamining its bold congressional plans, and considering, perhaps, opting for the occasional skirmish until midterms are over and the 2008 race can begin. And the Republican media is busy full-time huffing and puffing over journalistic scandal, underage execution, and the public display of the tribal laws of a group of nomadic shepherds from over two millennia ago. What's more, the world seems ready to forgive Bush his trespasses, as long as he mumbles a conciliatory word and sends round Condoleeza in her best Carrie-Anne Moss get-up.

What am I getting at? I think many honest Democrats are extremely conflicted right now. We do not desire to concede to Bush his successes, while we are genuinely glad things in the Middle East are improving. We look with distaste toward Republican told-you-so's that don't seem to be coming. We feel proud of renewed Democratic congressional strength, then have doubts about our new party leader, whose anti-war stance looks decidedly short-sighted. And we see ourselves on talk shows looking more confused than ever, completely unsure of what we ought to be thinking, let alone saying.

Does anyone know what's going on?

Thursday, February 24, 2005


I know I've been derelict. Vacations and prep for tonight's FOTN show have kept me very busy. I promise I'll be back at it next week.

In the mean time, I'm going to borrow a schtick from my friend Tim Cooper's friendster page. Tim lists the unusual names of spammers to his email accounts, which have gotten progressively weirder as spam filters (I guess) catch on to the usual monikers. So today I got an email from Goons E. Floodlight. Thanks, Goons. Good to hear from you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Holy cow! Did you guys see the Grammys? They were awesome!

What a horrible spectacle. What cheeses me is that so many music commentators say the Grammys have missed the boat by ignoring hip-hop. Hip hop is one of the vibrant, dynamic parts of the music world these days, and it probably doesn't get the attention it deserves, but didn't Outkast win album of the year last year? What blows about the Grammys is that every "rock" band involved sucks, with the possible exception this year of Franz Ferdinand. Where are the indie bands? Where are the groups making exciting music? Where are Interpol, and the Shins, or any of the thousands of great bands that real music fans talk about everyday? The Grammys are irrelevant, but not just because they short-change hip-hip. Maroon 5 for best new artist? Holy crap.

It's a short week for me, as I'm vacationing in San Francisco starting tomorrow. This will probably be it until next week. In the mean time, if you have a few moments, check this out.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Thursday Roundup

Tough news for the President: North Korea officially announces it's a nuclear power, and estimates for the cost of Bush's prescription drug benefit are almost twice as high as Bush had initially claimed. I wonder if Bush will face any questions about either issue when he faces a hand picked crowd in Raleigh, NC today? (The Raleigh News and Observer notes that, "The audience rewarded the president with 38 rounds of applause before he left the room about 12:30 p.m.").

On the subject of Raleigh, the N&O had this interesting political piece on Republican City Council Member and mayoral candidate, Mike Regan. Regan moved to Raleigh in 1995, during a boom period for the city, when Money Magazine dubbed the burg the best place to live in the country. Now, Regan says, "It's known as a worse place to do business and a better place for gangs and gays and lesbians." And if you come across a gay and lesbian gang, well, forget about it.

Seriously, though, it would seem that Regan hasn't read The Rise of the Creative Class, in which it's noted that successful cities are young, dynamic, rich in idea-driven jobs, and tolerant, and that those kinds of places appeal to many gays and lesbians (suggesting that we're on the right track). Raleigh has struggled over the past few years relative to the go-go 90s, but to attribute this to gangs and gays, and not to the troubles of tech businesses (in which Raleigh is rich) is foolishness. Tech powerhouses across the country (including the suburbs of DC) have tanked over the past few years, and the fact that Raleigh's population has continued to boom while area downtowns have blossomed shows that, if anything, Raleigh is stronger than many expected. I don't know that Regan is willing to listen to reason, however. Consider this exchange, from the story:

Some, including council member James West, have argued that the programs Regan has opposed keep children off the street.

"Children don't need programs," Regan said. "What kids need is the Lord," he said.

Kids don't really need medicine, either. Just the lord. They don't need education, either. Just the lord. Or police protection. If everyone's got the lord, no problems, right? As long as it's the same lord.

Honestly, I don't expect Regan to have a chance in the election, but I won't say I'm not the least bit nervous, either. I've often claimed that Raleigh is one of the blue islands in a red state, along with the rest of the Triangle, Charlotte, parts of the Piedmont, and the coast (the economic engines of the state, you'll note), but in last November's election, Wake County (which contains the city) was the only one of the three Triangle counties to go for Bush. And while our Governor is a two-term Democrat, and our Senators are old-school Republicans (meaning more fiscally conservative than scary evangelical), this is still the state that sent Jesse Helms to office again and again, and which harbored abortion bomber Eric Rudolph, treating him as a hero. In short, I feel that Raleigh is split between a growing cosmopolitanism and the chic middle-class fundamentalism that energizes Bush's base. Regan's defeat would offer some needed reassurance that my hometown is the light in the south I claim it is.

In other city news, the Bush budget (and continued city growth) have conspired to push transit issues to the forefront of discussions in Raleigh, DC, and across the east cost. The biggest story is, no doubt, the reduction in Amtrak's budget allocation from over a billion bucks to zero. Amtrak (aka the Blue-State Express) has always struggled to generate funding, and it may be that Bush's budget railroading is a gambit to get lawmakers to talk seriously about altering the way in which passenger rail is run. I'd feel ok about that (as a believer in public transportation, I like to see it run well, so as to deflect the constant criticism such projects receive), if I didn't know Bush was so awful about appreciating the value of public goods. Given Bush's penchant for "ownership," he might be amenable to hearing about rail privatization, but such an undertaking would require hardcore policy work to avoid disaster, and we all know how Bush is about reading. The real fear is that Bush thinks passenger rail is another sissy blue-state thing that people in the northeast and in Europe like, and which has no place in red-blooded, SUV driving America. This could, then, be the beginning of four years of northeastern liberals getting royally screwed, because screwing us costs the Republicans no votes. That doesn't seem like a healthy way to govern to me.

For more interesting news on DC transport, check here and here, and for news on (pretty much blue) Raleigh getting screwed by red rural NC, check here. And for an interesting story on Raleigh mass-transit, check here. I think it's interesting that doubts about ridership are slowing funding for Raleigh's transit program, while Metro is crumbling under an unanticipated crush of riders. I think it behooves Raleigh to plan well ahead, as people aren't going to stop moving to the south.

Finally, Howard Kurtz jumps on Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley for comparing Bush's budget cuts to 9/11. While it may not be astute in today's political climate to make such a comparison, I don't think there's anything wrong with what O'Malley said. For starters, the mayor was really comparing the effects of the acts, not the acts themselves, and I think that's a useful rhetorical device. His point, that budget cuts will strike at programs that sustain cities, is a fair one. In all honesty, health, safety, and education programs in our nation's cities save lives. Lots of them. Should the people those programs help be deprived of that aid, some of them would die. But those deaths would be spread over place and time, and so they won't get the attention that 9/11 did. Which is why its necessary to use a rhetorical device. Others do it all the time. "Smoking kills enough people every year to fill the city of Boston," or some such thing. Yes, it would be very evil to massacre Boston. The point is to try to show real costs in a dramatic way so people understand the seriousness of the issue you're discussing. Totally fair.

I'm off to see Christo in New York this weekend. See you all Monday.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I am ashamed of my President and my country.

This piece is long, but I recommend reading it from beginning to end. As news story after news story has appeared bringing to light our conduct in "security" operations, my disgust with the administration, with the complacency of the American people, and with what has become of this America has grown and smoldered. Seeing the harsh truths set out in one place like this is enough to make me want to leave and not come back. I don't identify with a nation whose leadership does these things, and whose people fail to call that leadership to account. You're making your bed America, and one day you'll have to sleep in it. God willing, I'll be bunking somewhere else.