Thursday, August 31, 2006

Philosophy unplugged

Ever wonder what philosophers joke about?

They have lightbulb jokes.

They have chicken crossing the road jokes.

They do satire.

Some of their jokes, are, in truth, hard to get unless you are a philosopher. To understand how much not a philosopher you are (unless you are one), take a look at the "causes of deaths of philosophers" and tell me honestly how many of them you get.

But for the one that takes the cake, I urge you to see this trick and try to match it in your own field.

All this and a good deal more here.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

On photography

When I bought my first house I took to decorating it with art on the cheap. In a sale bin at the Library of Congress I found a print that fascinated me. I chose it for the kitchen.


I loved the symmetries and the ironies, also the mysteries: who lived in these houses? What did women walking down the sidewalk think of these billboards? (Touche to Ruby for best feminist comeback of the week.) It wasn't till sometime in the last year or two, when I got a postcard from Chapel Hill's Ann Stewart with this image on it, announcing the sale of it and others in much better quality in the Martson Hill digital editions, that I learned it was a Walker Evans. What strikes me now is that even though I didn't know it was a Walker Evans, Evans had trained me to see this image as the work of art that it is, for I was certainly, by then, familiar with his defamiliarizing style.

The Martson Hill prints are the subject of an exhibition on display at the UBS Art Gallery in New York. The NYT reviewer, Michael Kimmelman, has an issue with the liberties taken with Evans' originals. I don't know, though. As long as the new photographers are clear that they are playing with his work--and they are clear--I don't see the problem. Photography is all about mechanical reproduction, and that was true before the digital age. The genie of "originality" is well out of the bottle.

I'm more interested in the question of how to read these photographs: which do we weigh more heavily, the symmetry or the irony? It's an old question: the relationship of art and politics. Evans worked for the Farm Security Administration during the Depression, so it is hard not to see them as political. And yet, as the twentieth century lumbered along, photography of the deliberate intensity that Evans applied could not help being seen as art, a thing detached from its moment. Susan Sontag had something to do with this. "Photographs, which package the world, seem to invite packaging," she wrote in On Photography (1977). She commented on the "aggression" that the act of photography represented:

The immensely gifted members of the Farm Security Administration photographic project of the late 1930s (among them Walker Evans, Dorthea Lange, Ben Shahn, Russell Lee) would take dozens of frontal pictures of one of their sharecropper subjects until satisfied that they had gotten the right look on film -- the precise expression on the subject's face that supported their own notions about poverty, light, dignity, texture, exploitation and geometry. In deciding how a picture should look, in preferring one exposure to another, photographers are always imposing standards on their subjects. Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are. Those occasions when the taking of photographs is relatively undiscriminating, promiscuous, or self-effacing do not lessen the didacticism of the whole enterprise. This very passivity -- and ubiquity -- of the photograph record is photography's "message," its aggression.

Burdened by his own "self-consciousness," in Sontag's view, the photographer became a producer of art.

But Sontag lived long enough to change her mind about photography: see her essay on the torture at Abu Ghraib. Prior to that essay, in 2003, she had published Regarding the Pain of Others. Here she says that her earlier position had "universaliz[ed] the viewing habits of a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world." She had been to Sarajevo in the 1990s (where she directed a production of Waiting for Godot). She had witnessed the pain of others from very close angles. She now understood the political power of photographs, their ability to stir the emotions and even to stir one to action. She opens the book with a discusison of Virginia Woolf's use of photogaphy in Three Guineas, an extended essay addressed to an imagined man who has asked her advice on how to stop war. With the Spanish Civil War in the background, Woolf had these observations:

This morning’s collection contains the photograph of what might be a man’s body, or a woman’s; it is so mutilated that it might, on the other hand, be the body of a pig. But those certainly are dead children, and that undoubtedly is the section of a house. A bomb has torn open the side; there is still a birdcage hanging in what was presumably the sitting-room, but the rest of the house looks like nothing so much as a bunch of spillikins suspended in mid air. Those photographs are not an argument; they are simply a crude statement of fact addressed to the eye. But the eye is connected with the brain; the brain with the nervous system. That system sends its messages in a flash through every past memory and present feeling. When we look at those photographs some fusion takes place within us; however different the education, the traditions behind us, our sensations are the same; and they are violent. You, Sir, call them ‘horror and disgust’. We also call them horror and disgust. And the same words rise to our lips. War, you say, is an abomination; a barbarity; war must be stopped at whatever cost. And we echo your words. War is an abomination; a barbarity; war must be stopped. For now at last we are looking at the same picture; we are seeing with you the same dead bodies, the same ruined houses.

Sontag is quick to note that no one today believes that war can be stopped, "not even pacifists"--while adding that in the aftermath of World War I, it might not have seemed such an outlandish idea. What Woolf offered, in Sontag's view, was "the originality (which made this the least well received of all her books) of focusing on what was regarded as too obvious or inapposite to be mentioned, much less brooded over: that war is a man's game--that the killing machine has a gender, and it is male." She understands what Woolf is trying to do: to get her hypothetical male reader to identify with war's victims. "Look, the photographs say, this is what it's like. This is what war does. And that, that is what war does, too. War tears, rends. War rips open, eviscerates. War scorches. War dismembers. War ruins."

iraq civilians

North Carolina: the weight of things

"A national report Tuesday fingered North Carolina as one of 31 states where residents are getting rounder -- the same day state officials launched an ambitious but unfunded new strategy to turn the tide." North Carolina is the 14th fattest state.

A dramatic interactive map of obesity trends nationally, 1985-2004 (via Paul & BoingBoing).

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dylan: Somewhere there's music

Today's the day John's been waiting for: Dylan's "Modern Times" is in the stores. Reviews are very positive.

Here's an endearing profile of Dylan in 1964 by Nat Hentoff, published in the New Yorker.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Data points

Austin is the fifth drunkest city, but only the 81st angriest.

Charlotte is the 15th angriest; Durham is the 23rd; Raleigh the 47th. A key indicator is percentage of men with high blood pressure.

ON SECOND THOUGHT: Maybe Charlotte isn't all that angry. If blood pressure is the measure, maybe it's just men spending too long at jobs they hate (although that could make them angry).

Stories from New Orleans

A year after Katrina, I'm wondering what happened to Abram Himelstein, the New Orleans writer, schoolteacher, and activist who, last I had heard, was "In Exile" in Houston. His blog hasn't been updated since January. By then he was back in New Orleans with his wife, trying to put their home and their lives back together. He was happy that his student-authors from the Neighborhood Story Project were also finding their way back. Two days before the hurricane, plans were being set for a big party to celebrate one of the five books in the series, Ebony Bolding's Before and After North Dorgenois. The party, alas, was not to be: the food, the drinks, the cars, the houses themselves were swept away. Even the books were swept away, several thousand of them; but the computer they were printed from was not. After the hurricane, the project turned to looking for a new publisher, one that could work with their lack of cash.

Soft Skull Press took them on. (Soft Skull being known in these parts for its part in the documentary Horns and Halos, by Chapel Hill native Michael Galinsky and his wife Suki Hawley.)

This summer, Himelstein and his co-director in the story project, Rachel Breunlin, apparently were artists in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts, California. (Along with Durham sculptor/installation artist Bryant Holsenbeck.) We'll look forward to seeing what they do next.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Button up, button down.

I don't typically look at the NYT women's fashion magazine, but when today's issue, almost a half-inch thick, fell vertically on my foot, it got my attention. At least long enough to read a little talk-back piece to the Merryl Streep movie that I haven't seen. In "The Devil Knows Nada," Eric Wilson takes issue with the movie's assumption that fashion flows from the top down: "The bald truth is that for 20 years, the direction of fashion has been inverted: it now stomps its way up from the street; from athletes and celebrities to designers."

Sixty percent of the world's buttons are made in Qiaotou, China, according to an NPR report earlier this week. Fashion has everything to do with what the buttons are made of: plastic, shell, wooden, metal? Copper buttons are currently in high demand, but the profit margin is low because copper is a commodity whose price, worldwide, has gone up--thanks to Chinese consumption. And sure enough, trends in buttons aren't entirely dictated by the top designers: "These fashions are formed far away on Italian catwalks or even perhaps on the streets of Iran. That's where buyer Asham Bastou [ph] and his partners sell most of their buttons." Mr. Bastou has an interesting political theory about buttons: "the more closed a society, the better buttons sell there. More open societies, he says, favor zippers and Velcro fastenings. But buttons sell particularly well in places where women wear the chador, a full-length black robe that buttons up the front."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Gazpacho through thick and thin

The details vary, but histories of gazpacho, the Spanish soup, converge on a few ingredients: stale bread, olive oil, water, a few handy vegetables. It was a catch as catch can kind of thing, which, in a way, it has remained. (Like tiramisu, gazpacho seems more of a suggestion than a recipe.) Tomatoes were not involved until after the Columbian Exchange. Although American foodies like to point out that the recipe showed up in The Virginia House-Wife in 1824, it really didn't take off here till the 1960s.

A few weeks ago the New York Times revisited the version Craig Claiborne offered in 1968, reprinting the recipe straight up; then it gave a version with a 21st-century twist. Since the latter involved exotic cucumber vinegar as well as a food processor, I confined my interest to the old one.

(This is the fifth installment in the cookbook series.)

The 1968 version is smooth and creamy, relying on both tomatoes and bread. It called for fresh white bread but I used stale sourdough, that being a staple at our house. The main shopping event was to get the tomatoes--German Johnsons from the Carrboro Farmers Market (preferred by Paul, who is picky about tomatoes). Great tomatoes of course are essential, at least if you are following a post-Columbian Exchange recipe.

For comparison purposes, and really for the point of the whole exercise, I pulled down Somethin's Cookin' in the Mountains: A Cookbook Guidebook to Northeast Georgia (1984) and turned to the only recipe I believe I've ever made in it: "White Gazpacho." Not white in the sense of tomato-free: white in that the base is made of white wine, stock, and lemon juice. No bread. Essentially, it's chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, and parsley swimming around in the juice.

2 c dry white wine
4 c chicken broth [vegetable]
1/2 c lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 bunch scallions [green onions]
1 bunch parsley [Italian]
3 large cucumbers [the Japanese from the farmer's market had very few seeds]
3 medium tomatoes [or fewer if your tomatoes are very large!]
Dash [splash] Tabasco
Salt to taste [omitted]
1/2 t. white pepper [forgot]

Bring the wine, chicken broth and lemon juice to a boil. Chill several hours or overnight. Chop scallions and parsley Slice cucumbers and roughly chop tomatoes. Combine all ingredients with chilled soup. Taste for seasonings. Yield: 6 servings.

Both were delicious--different, not to be judged against each other, rather enjoyed for what they are. I notice this time around that the Georgia recipe comes from the Pleasant Peasant in Atlanta, still in business. (Check it out, John, OK?)


I may never make another thing out of my Northeast Georgia cookbook. Mostly reflecting the pre-Alice Waters period, it has a high percentage of cream of chicken soup casseroles and Jello dishes. Should I photocopy this one recipe and ditch the book? Probably not. It's not valuable (even though signed by the editor); the gazpacho page is tomato-stained. But I vaguely remember Northeast Georgia trip that I bought it on, and it conjures up vague good feelings.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Carroll County revisited

A little over a year ago, I blogged about a field trip I'd made to Carrollton, Mississippi, site of a historical event--a mass murder in the courthouse--that I've spent a good bit of time thinking and writing about. That blog entry gets a steady stream of traffic from google searches and occasionally a nibble of interest. The other day, for example, a man in Tennessee, from a Carrollton family, wrote appreciatively of the story, with special thanks for the photo I'd taken of the Confederate monument on the courthouse lawn. By dumb coincidence I'd taken it at exactly the same angle as a historic photo that's posted at a Carroll County genealogy site, and my photo helped to identify it as the marker in Carrollton, not the one in nearby Vaiden. (To be sure, there was a generic quality about them, as Dennis Montagna has suggested.)

old Carrollton marker

new Carrollton marker

That's the thing about blogs. You never know what will lead to what.

My article on the Carrollton Massacre and its part in a wonderful novel by Elizabeth Spencer, "Spencer's Voice at the Back Door and the Legacy of Reconstruction," will be published in the spring/summer 2007 issue of the Mississippi Quarterly. On September 26 September 27, I'm giving a talk from the article in the "Centering the South" series sponsored by the UNC Center for the Study of the American South. Y'all come.

UPDATE: Date changed. Time and place remain the same.

Happy Trails Indeed.

Thanks again to Sally for letting me sit-in at Greenespace these past two weeks; it's been a lot of fun. I am excited to have Sally back! Thanks to her, and to you, dear readers, for putting up with me and my posts.

As a modest going away present of sorts, I am posting an mp3 podcast entitled "An Evolutionary History of Country Music." I put this together back in 1997, shortly after purchasing the Smithsonian Institution's History of American Country Music, which was released in the 1990s and featured fantastic the fantastic liner notes of country music historian Sam Malone. This is a "best of" that box set (which clocked in at 6 discs, I believe), but is still quite an enjoyable listen, especially on a sunny Friday. I have broken it into two volumes, 1 and 2, due to the size of these mp3 files (approximately 45 minutes each).

The problem with the phrase "country music" is that it conjures up Toby Keith and Karl Rove and Hummers-- but that style is actually "modern country." This, on the other hand, is "classic country," also known as "roots music"; in fact, Smithsonian probably could have chosen a different name for its collection. This is the "good stuff," the music that is part of what writer Greil Marcus famously called the "old weird America," featuring old timey groups like the Louvin Brothers and W. Lee O'Daniel and his Light Crust Doughboys. It is "country" music, but if you are looking for Alan Jackson, look elsewhere-- most of this stuff was written or recorded in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s.

The tracklist appears below, as does a link to download Volumes 1 and 2. I hope you enjoy it, Greenespace readers, and like Jimmie Davis says, remember to keep on the sunny side!

Hard Travelin'-- Woodie Guthrie
Sylvie-- Leadbelly
Blue Moon of Kentucky-- Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys
Hesitation Blues-- Dave Von Ronk
Freight Train-- Elizabeth Cotten
Have a feast here tonight-- Bill Monroe and Doc Watson
Wildwood Flower-- The Carter Family
Waiting on a Train-- Jimmie Rodgers
Just Because-- The Shelton Brothers
My Mary-- W. Lee O'Daniel and His Light Crust Doughboys
South of the Border-- Gene Autry
Walking the Floor Over You-- Ernest Tubb
Born to Lose-- Ted Daffan's Texans
You are my sunshine-- Jimmie Davis
Cattle Call-- Eddie Arnold
Philadelphia Lawyer-- The Maddox Brothers and Rose
It's mighty dark to travel-- Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys
Randy Lynn Ragg-- Flatt and Scruggs
I walk the line-- Johnny Cash
Faded Love-- Patsy Cline
When I stop dreaming-- The Louvin Brothers
Folsom Prison Blues-- Johnny Cash
Mama Tried-- Merle Haggard
El Paso-- Marty Robbins
Kneeling Drunkard's Plea-- The Louvin Brothers
Boulder to Birmingham-- Emmylou Harris
King of the Road-- Roger Miller
Rocky Top-- The Osborne Brothers
The Great Atomic Power-- The Louvin Brothers
Raised by the Railroad Line-- The Seldom Scene
Driftin too far from the shore-- The Seldom Scene
I'm so lonesome I could cry-- The Cowboy Junkies

Download Volume 1:

Download Volume 2:

N.C. Women's Prison Repertory returns to Chapel Hill

A year and a half ago, in the Carrboro Century Center, I saw the most amazing performance: the North Carolina Women's Prison Repertory Company, founded by Judith Reitman. As I blogged it at the time, this project, which involves writing as well as performing, is a lifeline for these women--women who have done terrible things and are paying the price, but who are not beyond hope of redemption. Rather, they desperately need constructive tools for finding their way back through remorse and redemption to wholeness. Ordinary prison life doesn't give them that: far from it.

In the comments to my blog entry, a reader wondered if I was suggesting that they did not deserve their punishment. Not at all, and that's not what I heard them say either. But I do believe that a person can do a terrible thing and be genuinely sorry and that society has an obligation to help such a person on that journey through atonement to forgiveness. As I said in that comment thread, it's as if we've forgotten the root of the word "penitentiary." I realize it's not a view universally held.

You can catch the Women's Prison Reportory Company tomorrow night at the ArtsCenter. You won't be sorry.

Adios, John

So we have John Moye and Bob Dylan riding off into the sunset together. Don't know what Dylan's up to, but it's a cinch that John is off to a great year honing his legal skills within the corridors of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Better yet, he has a job in Raleigh waiting for him when the year is over, so he's only off on a frolic. Happy trails, John, and thanks for the great blogging! Come back to the Carolina Brewery when you get lonely.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

6 Days and Counting...

...until the new Bob Dylan record. I am, um, excited about this record. Very excited.

In connection with the forthcoming release, this morning Rolling Stone updated its website and provided an excerpt of its exclusive interview with Dylan, which will be released in full in the September 7 issue of the magazine. The piece is written by Jonathan Lethem, a die-hard Dylan fan who also happens to be a fantastic novelist in his own right. His book, "The Fortress of Solitude," remains-- hands down-- the best work of fiction I have read in the last 10 years. If you're looking for some summer fiction, this is the book to read. It's a novel about, coincidentally, rock n' roll, adolescence, aging, Brooklyn, race relations, and superheroes. The NY Times this summer mentioned in passing that it just barely missed its reader's list of its top 25 works of fiction of the last 25 years. (The prize went to Toni Morrison, who probably deserved it). Not a bad near-miss for Lethem, who is only in his mid-30s...

Anyway, back to the Dylan. It comes out Tuesday and I am eager to hear it. My sole concern at this point is that none of the writers who are publishing articles about the new record seem to be talking about the music itself: does it sound like 2001's "Love and Theft?" Does it have some of the same schmaltzy ragtime that a lot of tracks on that record had? Or is it strictly blues-based? The critics seem to spend all their verbiage waxing poetic about Dylan's iconic, near-God-like status (Lethem included-- witness his line about how Dylan's is "the voice of a rogue ageless in decrepitude"), but not a lot of time describing the actual sound of his new record.

Is that because these critics haven't heard much of it? (Dylan is notorious about keeping his new records top secret). Or is that because there isn't that much to say about it?

Guiliani in '08?

The Atlantic Monthly's Hannah Rosin finds Rudy Guiliani speaking in subtle "evangelese" in an attempt to court the GOP faithful and (perhaps) run for president in 2008. It's an interesting article, definitely worth a read (if, alas, you have an Atlantic subscription)....

I personally remain skeptical about the viability of his candidacy as the GOP nominee in 2008-- "evangelese" or not. I guess I could almost foresee that his exemplary conduct on 9-11 could have such a resonance with the American people that it overshadows his support for gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, etc.-- especially if, between now and then, there's another terrorist attack on Bush's watch, such that people find themselves longing for a leader with some actual competence and compassion.

But even if you give him 9-11 and his conduct in its wake, Rudy has some flaws as a viable candiate. As Rosin notes, the "old" Rudy (that is, the pre-911, Mayor Guiliani) had a well-deserved tendency to be acerbic, cocky, spiteful, and to harangue those who disagreed with his hammerheaded policies. He's also a brash New Yorker, a divorcee who openly had an affair while his marriage was imploding-- and a Roman Catholic to boot! [Gasp.]

Personally, I don't see the evangelical Christian, Nascar-loving, Red-state GOP faithful falling for him and awarding him the nomination in 2008. But I could be wrong.

Monday, August 21, 2006


The first five-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox by the New York Yankees in 52 years. And at Fenway to boot!

Buh-Bye Boston. Buh-Bye.

Federal Judge Anna Diggs Taylor is Not Having a Very Good Week.

Her recent decision in the eavesdropping case was a headline-grabber, to be sure, but these aren't the kind of headlines that judges like to get. Yikes.

I have only read excerpts of the opinion, so I can't speak to the whole thing, but I did find it odd, as an initial fact, that she based her decision the First Amendment and the theory that eavesdropping could "chill free speech" among those suspected of being terrorists. There seemed like so many other ways to challenge the president's conduct, so I am not sure why she focused on the 1st Amendment-- to the apparent exclusion of the FISA statute and precedent interpreting it...

Friday, August 18, 2006

Flying today.

Not looking forward to it. Not at all.

It would be enough stressful anyway, what with all the bad stuff out there in the world these days, and I suspect will be even moreso given that my travel involves two of the most evil, soulless forces in the modern world: 1) the dreaded Delta Air Lines; and 2) Hartsfield Airport, which is also known as the seventh circle of hell. Both #1 and #2 above make me question from time to time the existence of a benevolent deity.

As to the new liquid restrictions: I have left my shampoo, my toothpaste, my cologne, my hair gel, my mouthwash, my suntan lotion, my liquid benadryl, and my breast milk at home.

I also was forced to leave my flask of Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum, which I suspect is the one item that could actually make the flying experience somewhat more tolerable today.


Last week, in this post, I wondered aloud whether Lieberman might wind up handily winning the Senate seat in November as an Independent, despite losing to Democrat Ned Lamont in the primary. I quoted a few "political commentators" who seemed to think that Joe could win, even by losing.

This post from the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza [full disclosure: he's a friend of mine], in which Chris parses the latest polling out of Connecticut, seems to bolster that theory:

A new Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters in Connecticut shows incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman (D/I) leading businessman Ned Lamont (D) and former state Rep. Alan Schlesinger. Lieberman won the support of 53 percent of those surveyed. Lamont had 41 percent, while Schlesinger took an amazingly low four percent.

The poll seems to show that Lieberman, who lost the Aug. 8 Democratic primary to Lamont, has become the de facto Republican candidate in the race, scoring incredibly high with GOPers in the state. Lieberman recieved 75 percent among Republicans in the sample as compared to 13 percent for Lamont and 10 percent for Schlesinger. Democrats supported Lamont by a 63 percent to 35 percent margin (Schlesinger did not even receive one percent support). Lieberman also won Independents by a 58 percent to 36 percent margin over Lamont. Schlesinger clocked in at three percent.

Those head-to-head numbers tracked with other measurements of support for the three men in the poll. Overall, 53 percent of likely voters thought Lieberman deserved re-election while 40 percent did not. A whopping 80 percent of Republicans said the incumbent deserved another term compared with just 32 percent of Democrats. Independents favored another term for Lieberman by a 57 percent to 35 percent margin.

What a crazy race this is turning out to be.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Cool as beans.

Check this out. Damn, Google just keeps getting cooler and cooler.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

#4562 of the things I will miss during my year away from Chapel Hill...

Enough vitriol-- on a lighter note, I present to you: #4562 of the things I will miss during my one year stint away from Chapel Hill, the place where my wee daughter was born, where my dad proposed to my mom in 1970, and where my great-grandpa used to play baseball as a Tarheel.

Drumroll, please....#4562:
The Carolina Brewery-- specifically its seasonal summer brew the Firecracker Pale Ale, which was added to the lineup in June and (according to the bartenders, who I have been grilling about it constantly) will run out sometime in September. The Firecracker is a light pale ale, somewhere between Sierra Nevada and sweet tea, and it's perfect for hot weather and bar exam stress. (Take it from one who knows). It's so good that I have started accruing 1 gallon growlers of the stuff, which I plan to transport with me in a giant cooler when I make the drive from Chapel Hill to Atlanta next week. (Tear, tear.).

As Prince might have said, nothing compares 2 this beer. Chapel Hill natives would be well advised to investigate further.

Monday, August 14, 2006

"Yes I am going to Iowa / in my mind."

What is John Edwards doing in Iowa anyway?

The Sunday Raleigh News and Observer writes that Edwards "has been in Iowa so often he has practically taken up residence. Since losing in 2004 as a vice presidential candidate, Edwards has made 12 trips to the state that will hold the nation's first Democratic and Republican caucuses in January 2008. Most presidential wannabes have visited the state multiple times. But it is unlikely that any of the presidential hopefuls -- other than Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack -- have been to Iowa more than Edwards."

The funny thing is, I thought he was supposed to be running the Poverty Center here in Chapel Hill. Isn't that why my beloved alma mater, UNC Law, hired him and the Center in the first place-- so that he could oversee the operation? How come when I try to reach Edwards at the Center he's never there? Why do my calls go directly to voicemail?

I also noticed that he's been spotted recently in New Hampshire as well. There, Edwards made big news by calling for an immediate troop withdraw from Iraq-- i.e. that we should have pulled out of there yesterday. That strikes me as somewhat strange. What does a speech in New Hampshire about foreign affairs have to do with the Poverty Center, and helping the working class combat poverty?

I suspect the disconcerting answer [maybe not disconcerting to Edwards fans, but certainly to the UNC Law School and faculty, who he is arrogantly using as a stepping stone of sorts] is that the Poverty Center provided a way for Edwards to stay in a temporary "holding pattern" while he contemplated a bid for the White House. His commitment to the Center is negligible, if any. If the Poverty Center were a corporation, you could make a compelling argument that it is little more than a "shell corporation." If we pierced its veil, I can't imagine we would find much in the office-- other than residual traces of Edwards' inflated ego.

There's actually a moral to this story: if all else fails for Lieberman, and he is persuaded to forego another run for the Senate, all hope is not lost! He only needs to find a willing law school (maybe Yale law, his alma mater) that he can cynically hoodwink into sending some funds his way, by establishing some "center" or "policy" think tank or whatever (the subject matter isn't that important), and he will be set until Campaign 2008 (or, in his case, 2012). It's a "win/win" for a candidate: he gets a prestigious, quasi-academic title, a means of keeping his name in the press, and a minimal commitment to the center that he is purporting to front. It's a strategy redolent of Virgin Island tax shelters, or of drug kingpin Tony Montana in "Scarface."

The only losers in the equation, in the case of Edwards? UNC Law School. Oh yeah, and poor people, who are supposedly being helped by Edwards' dozen campaign appearances in Iowa.

Friday, August 11, 2006

"The Tipping Point."

As a rejoinder to those who contend that the war in Iraq is part of the larger war on terror, and that the recent threats somehow prove that terrorism is being effectively rooted out by the Bush Administration--rather than being brought about by its conduct during the last 5 years-- I give you this telling comment from one Magnus Ranstorp, chief scientist at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College, who spoke last night on the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer (emphasis mine):

MARGARET WARNER: Magnus Ranstorp, again, we don't want to speculate here, but all the raids took place -- well, most of them -- in these South Asian neighborhoods in London. And all the authorities are saying, at least on background, that these people were of Pakistani descent. What you can tell us about the strength of and the appeal of this kind of extremism among the second-generation Muslim communities in Britain?

MAGNUS RANSTORP: Well, I mean, I guess it's a very difficult thing to generalize about, but I think that it's very clear that the British authorities have said that, first of all, beyond this, I mean, apart from this news today, that they have thwarted other plots that have been in the making.

And that, since the Iraqi invasion, the threat level and the number of suspects that they have, you know, that they are watching, I think that the official number of individuals that they are sort of quoting is in the ballpark of 1,200 to 1,500 individuals that represent, in their view, you know, potential national security threats that may be engaged in direct terrorist activity. And then, of course, they have approximately 70 live, ongoing investigations of potential, you know, pieces of the puzzle in which they are, you know, launching surveillance on individuals.

In terms of the sort of the mood in the U.K., it is not very positive. You had not only the U.K. involvement in the Iraq conflict that had become the tipping point for certain individuals to move from being radical into violent radicalization, and of course you had, you know, a number of -- you know, you had the ongoing conflict between Israel and Lebanon that certainly doesn't help the general environment.

And so I think that, you know, this is a special problem case, I think, in the U.K., in that not only is the U.K. very close to the U.S. in foreign policy terms -- and that, of course, makes it even more of a hated country, a likely target.

But hey, bring 'em on.

Ain't it funky now, indeed.

Bap! Boom! Bam! Today is August 11th, and what does that mean for North Carolinians? Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Brooklyn New York's finest soul and funk revue, will be landing in the fine state of North Carolina shortly. Niether rain, sleet, hail, nor rumors of explosive liquid devices could keep this group away from their absolute duty-- nay, their life mission-- to bring the funk.

The Dap Kings are a fabulous 8 piece outfit featuring a full horn section and the delectable bass lines of band leader Bosco Mann. As Tina Turner might have put it, they are funkier than a mosquito's tweeter. The band plays '60s-'70s soul and funk music a la James Brown in his glorious prime: lovely ballads, smooth grooves, and frentic funky beats that will keep you dancing all night. They are fronted by the lovely Ms. Jones, the damsel of dance, the sister of soul, Mrs. Dynamite. She's an Otis Redding of the female persuasion, who not only can wail, but is one hell of performer as well. In her past life, she was a prison warden in Augusta, Georgia, before giving up her penal career to pursue her skills as the next Aretha Franklin. Prisoners loss in that particular case; our gain.

Do you have your tickets yet, o North Carolinians? The Dap Kings play tonight at the Cat's Cradle in lovely Chapel Hill, tomorrow night at the Grey Eagle in Asheville. I will be at the Asheville show with bells; look for the guy with the great big grin on his face when Sharon and the band break into "Make it good to me baby."

What are you waiting for? Get thee to the ticket window! This can't be missed!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Kim Jong Il has endorsed Moye for Senate.

With today's news of the latest Al Qaeda plot to blow up 6-10 commercial airliners traveling overseas from England to the United States-- so much for the theory that they were "done" with airplanes-- the Boston Herald's Jules Crittenden chimes in with this incredible column, in which he diligently and painfully attempts to connect-- (wait for it!)-- today's terror threat with cable executive Ned Lamont's win in the Senatorial primary in Connecticut.

He writes:
Lamont and company see Iraq as distinct from the war against al-Qaeda. They see Lebanon as distinct from all of this. These are wars that fuel al-Qaeda, they say. People who are upset to see war in Iraq and Lebanon did not like Joe Lieberman’s support of the United States and Israel. They do not accept that violent Islamic extremism, the subverting of democracy by armed thugs and the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction by pariah states anywhere is part of the same war. They do not accept that the efforts to destroy extremism in those failed states are necessary to destroy a hydra-headed, opportunistic enemy.

But many of the good people of Connecticut who voted for Lamont will. All those security moms who thought they could go back to being soccer moms. Security moms once more. They cast their feel-good votes Tuesday to express their distaste for violence. But that portion of the electorate that allowed itself to be briefly distracted by the bright shiny object Lamont was dangling in front of them -- easy peace, all glittery and yours for the asking -- are waking up from their gauzy dream this morning and remembering what Joe Lieberman stands for. Their security. Something not easily achieved. Something that requires hard choices and uncompromising action.

Because another quarter has been heard from. Al-Qaeda, always annoyed when it is ignored, has spoken up again. With its plot to blow multiple commerical airliners out of the sky, Al-Qaeda has endorsed Joe Lieberman.

This might be the most inane column I have read in a while. What is Crittenden smoking? There are so many flaws in the op-ed-- (what "security moms" do you know that were haphardly sliding back into "soccer mom" mode before today's threat?)--that it is hard to know where to begin.

For starters, what is his point? I think his point is that Lamont's victory was a victory for peace-loving hippy beatniks who continually fail to see the connection between Iraq and 9-11. Erase from your mind, a la the Jedi Mind trick, the fact that there was no connection between the two, (although Crittenden tries oh-so-hard to connect all the dots, with that unifying reference to a thread of "Islamic extremism, the subverting of democracy by armed thugs and the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction by pariah states"). If that's all it takes to make the connection, why not include Cuba in our next military adventure?

In any event, Crittenden seems to be saying that today's terror threat finally shows that Lamont's weak-on-terror/complacency platform is bound to fail in the long run. And that soccer moms, even if they want to be soccer moms, cannot have it their way. No. Alas, they must go back to being security moms. [What is a security mom anyway? She places peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in her kid's lunches with a dose of Cipro and a rubber fallout blanket?]

But the biggest problem of this op-ed is the TITLE (and the last sentence): "Al Quaeda has endorsed Joe Leiberman."

I think he means to say that today's threat shows we should be all supporting Lieberman over Lamont. But wouldn't an "endorsement" from Al Quaeda actually be a bad thing? That's like saying "the Nazis have endorsed Moye." It's not a good thing.

If Lieberman were endorsed by Al Qaeda, say in a well-written and persuasive op-ed in the Kabul Tribune, wouldn't that be a compelling reason to vote against him?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Kinda Like Liquorice.

There's a subculture for everything.

If you go to a triathlon, you'll notice that the athletes have an "insider" culture, one that you either belong to or you don't. They might ask you if you tend to take your "goo" (that is, carbohydrate goo) on mile 12 or mile 16; they might make passing references to Montaugh '98 (not the wine, but the race); they might ask to borrow some vaseline for their nipples, as if that request was entirely normal. There's a sub-culture for everything.

You could say the same about Anne Rice conventions, Civil War recreations, Notre Dame Football, the X-Games, urology conferences, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Jimmy Buffet concerts, you name it. Jerry Garcia, attempting to explain the strange evolution of "deadheads," fanatics of the band the Grateful Dead who traveled to each and every concert so as to never miss a note played, chalked up the phenomenon to the fact that, put simply, there is a sub-culture for everything. "People that like our music are just like people who like liquorice," he explained in a Rolling Stone interview. "A lot of people don't like liquorice. But the ones that do like licorice, they really like liquorice."

So it should come as no surprise that there is also a sub-culture for fly fishing-- one with its own vocabulary and its own rules.

What IS much more interesting is the way that the Internet has incredibly expanded the ability of these sub-cultures to keep tabs on one another. If that sounds like an obvious and banal observation worthy of a Tom Friedman column, witness the experience of Rob Lathan, a good friend of mine (and hilarious comedian), who recently experienced first hand the strange phenomenon of sub-cultures via the Internet.

On his website, Lathan posted a harmless and scathingly funny post about a terrible fly-fishing experience he had in Vermont. The story (which is worth reading), involved a nasty fly fishing instructor who grew increasingly irate that Lathan didn't know how to "strip the line." He posted the story on his site, and thought nothing more of it.

But that wasn't the end of it. The story was picked up by Moldy Chum, a fly fishing blog that is dedicated wholeheartedly to the sub-culture of fly fishing. Moldy Chum not only read Lathan's post and linked to it, the attention also caused a representative of the fly fishing company to contact Lathan directly and apologize to him for the conduct of the fly fishing instructor. As the representative explained, the conduct of the guide was unacceptable in the fly fishing community. In fact, he wrote, "helping people avoid this type of thing is exactly why we developed the endorsed guide program." An "endorsement," the guide explained, is a means of "assuring fly fishing expertise" on the part of an instructor.

Now, Lathan is on a real roll, wondering aloud "who else is reading this?" On his blog, he's calling out sub-cultures left and right-- fans of the girl group Atomic Kitten, spelunking blogs, and members of the CIA-- trying to see who else will pick up on his posts and call him to task (or compliment him) for them. It's a brilliant idea, and a great way of testing the world of sub-cultures on the Web.

Come to think of it, I have some harsh things to say about fans of the 1984 classic Dabney Coleman spy film"Cloak and Dagger."

And I also am sick of these fans of that t.v. show "Family Ties." We all know that the purported "marriage" between Meredith Baxter Birney and Michael Gross was a sham. C'mon. Gross had a thing for Skippy. I'm saying it.

"Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing..."

First of all, thanks to Sally for having me. I have been a fan of Greenespace for a long time, and am honored to be able to serve as guest blogger. When she asked me to do this last week-- still in the hangover of my recent Bar Exam experience-- my immediate reaction was "no way," simply because I felt there was no way I could produce the consistent level of interesting content on this site that Sally does. It was only by convincing me to "just have some fun" with this site did I agree to give it a shot. I lack both Sally's trenchant insight and her blogging skills, so, dear readers, be patient with me. If nothing else, maybe we can have some fun together.

Ok, let's get down to business.

First of all, the blogosphere (not to mention the national news) has been abuzz with the Lieberman election and his loss to Ned Lamont. The "theme" of the coverage has been much of the same, ad nauseum: the election is a referendum on Bush's failed Iraq policy; the election definitively shows the power of the liberal netroots and the decline of the influence of the centrist DLC; and the election raises "serious questions" about what direction the Democratic Party will be heading in the years to come, yadda yadda yadda.

Given such a redundant analysis, it was refreshing to see Ryan Lizza's op-ed, which was posted this morning on the web (subscription required). Lizza, who is an editor at the "centrist" New Republic, has a pretty interesting take on the general irrelevance of the Connecticut election in the grand scheme of Democratic party politics. Lizza writes:

Some Democratic Senators will endorse Lamont this morning, but don't expect much more than a press release. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has no intention of throwing any real money at Lamont. "This race will have zero bearing on who controls the Senate after Election Day in November," says a top Democrat involved in Senate campaign strategy. "Why would we spend money defending a seat that will be blue either way? It just takes funds from important seats like Montana. It's counterproductive to the cause." The message to Lamont? If you want the seat so bad, spend your own money: "The fact of the matter is that Lamont has seven million dollars he can draw on."
This is music to the Lieberman campaign's ears. It's counting on top Democrats to change the subject quickly. "A bunch of Democrats out of obligation will endorse Lamont, and then they will disappear," says a senior Lieberman aide. "They will nominally endorse him and then head for the hills."
He seems to be right. Washington Democrats aren't interested in fighting another round with Lieberman. They are eager to turn the conversation back to Bush. They downplay the national implications of the race and are eager to move on. "We'll put the focus back on Bush," says a senior Senate aide. "You know, 'The primary was a referendum on Bush, and so Republicans have a lot to fear.'" They also reject the idea that the primary changes the Iraq debate: "Our Iraq policy has been driven by [Harry] Reid and [Carl] Levin. To be honest, they could give a rat's ass about the blogs. In other words, these are policy-based decisions, and aren't driven by the politics of Connecticut or anywhere else."

That's why Lamont's primary victory won't mean all that much after all. Expectations are everything in politics, and Lamont's small margin of victory has failed to impress the commentariat, which was ready for a blowout after seeing Lamont's gaping thirteen-point lead last week. Meanwhile, Democrats are ready to turn their attention to the races that actually matter--the ones that will help them take back Congress. Similarly, the national press--consumed with the Connecticut race during the dead month of August--will now move on to other contests.

Interesting take, and one that I suspect will prove to be quite accurate. Time will tell...

Some veteran political commentators have gone even further than Lizza, predicting that Lieberman's loss in the primary could even lead to a Lieberman victory in the general election in November, when he runs as an Independent candidate. During this debate on McLaughlin Group last week, for example, some predicted a Lieberman win as an Independent. Witness this exchange between Eleanor Clift (Newsweek), Pat Buchanan (MSNBC), Tony Blankley (Washington Times) and Mort Zuckerman (US News and World Report):

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Joe Lieberman is in an extremely tight race in Connecticut. What's going to happen there, Pat?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think Joe's going to lose the primary, and only because of his position on the war and his closeness to Bush, John, because otherwise he'd be home free.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What happens if he runs as an independent?
MS. CLIFT: Well, he could --
MR. BLANKLEY: He wins.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, he could win.
MR. BLANKLEY: He wins handily. And he will.
MS. CLIFT: And he'll caucus with the Democrats. So in a way it'll be a Democrat seat regardless. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why doesn't Joe become -- he could win as a Republican. That's what we're saying. Could he win as an independent?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Either way he's going to win.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, he's going to win.
MR. BUCHANAN: I'm not sure, because I think there's going to be a change if he loses the primary.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who thinks he will not be in his Senate seat for another six years?
MR. BUCHANAN: I'd say there's a one out of three chance he won't be.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One out of three he won't? Otherwise everybody here thinks he will win?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: He'll win, one way or another.
MS. CLIFT: I think he's created himself a pretty golden parachute.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm on board on that.

Interesting predictions aside, is this the first time in the history of political punditocracy that the liberal Eleanor Clift (Newsweek) and the staunchy conservative Tony Blankley (Washington Times) have agreed on anything? Usually when they debate the "issues" on t.v. they seem ready to strangle each other or to stab each other with hidden shivs. And yet they both quietly seemed to agree that this election will wind up being much ado about nothing.

Either Lieberman wins as an "Independent" (which will be the same as if the seat were still Democratic, assuming he votes, as he did before, with his party 90% of the time). Or, as an alternative, Lamont wins as a "liberal" Democrat. Either way, does Connecticut matter that much in helping the Democrats gain control of Congress or the White House? I think not.

A treat for GreeneSpace readers

I'm pleased to introduce guest-blogger John Moye, who will be sitting in at GreeneSpace for a couple of weeks as he recovers from taking the North Carolina bar exam and prepares to enter the next exciting phase of his life, a clerkship with the Hon. Stanley F. Birch Jr., a member of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in Atlanta.

John was an outstanding student in my seminar on the law and rhetoric of the civil rights movement. An Atlanta native, he double-majored in English and history at Georgetown. He taught ninth and tenth grade English in NYC (where, rumor has it, he also played in a band) before making the turn to law. My crystal ball predicts a fine career ahead.

Meanwhile, there's no telling what he will delve into here. Whatever, I'm sure we'll all enjoy it.

Thanks, John, and welcome!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Iris Marion Young

When I saw philosophy professor Iris Marion Young's death noted on various blogs the other day, I refrained from weighing in. I knew almost nothing about her (beyond her springy, cheerful, youthful name) and had never read her. But I'm still thinking about it. I'm moved to record the loss of this apparently remarkable woman to cancer at age 57. Nobody said life was fair.

Early on, Young built a reputation for her teaching and writing on global justice; democracy and difference; continental political theory; ethics and international affairs; and gender, race and public policy. But it was her 1990 book Justice and the Politics of Difference that propelled her to the international stage. It was in that text, a staple in classrooms the world over, that Young critically analyzed the basic concepts underlying most theories of justice, argued for a new conception of justice and urged for the affirmation rather than the suppression of social group difference. More recently she had been working on the issue of political responsibility, and especially on the question of how to conceive of responsibility for large-scale structural injustices that can’t easily be traced back to the doings of any single person or group.

“There is no question in my mind that she is one of the most important political philosophers of the past quarter-century,” said Cass Sunstein, the Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago’s Law School and in Political Science. “She was unexcelled in the world in feminist and leftist political thought, and her work will have an enduring impact.”

Known for her fierce commitment to social justice and her grassroots political activity on causes such as women’s human rights, debt relief for Africa and workers’ rights, Young was praised for being as comfortable working at the street level as she was writing about political theorists Michel Foucault and J├╝rgen Habermas.

As noted, "political theory has lost a major voice before her time."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A blog devoted to The New Yorker

Through some fault of my own, we went for months without a New Yorker. If not for occasional web checking we would have missed Anthony Lane's review of the latest Johnny Depp pirate movie.

Withdrawal wouldn't have been so bad if we'd known about this blog.