Michael Vick, the electrifying QB of the Falcons, has broken his fibula. In a pre-season game of course.
On Aug. 28 (or 27th, depends what hood you live in), the Earth will pass within 34.7 million miles of Mars. This is the closest that the Red Planet will be to the Earth in approximately 60,000 years. It won’t be this close to Earth for another 50,000 years. The rare occurrence has backyard astronomers, astrology nuts, and of course, the pros, agog over the prospect of seeing Mars in such vivid detail.

I bring up Mars for the most selfish of reasons. I’m having a viewing party and am wondering what everyone else is doing and soliciting suggestions. Are tin-foil hats de’ rigueur? Anyone have any cocktail suggestions? Or witty Martian related anecdotes I can share in order to appear witty and urbane?
America, David Brooks argues, isn’t nearly as diverse as we pride ourselves to be. We have quartered off sections of like-minded folks to live, work, and play with. People spend an awful lot of time working to be with people culturally similar to themselves. Some of this is enabled and accelerated by the tools of the modern age.

"It is a common complaint that every place is starting to look the same," Brooks writes. "But in the information age, the late writer James Chapin once told me, every place becomes more like itself."

Race, religion, political affiliation, education levels, buying habits, all create the barometers we use to chose those we surround ourselves with. He mentions the precision marketing firm Claritas, and how accurately they can predict spending patterns based upon basic demographic information like zip code.

(Claritas) breaks down the U.S. population into sixty-two psycho-demographic clusters, based on such factors as how much money people make, what they like to read and watch, and what products they have bought in the past. For example, the "suburban sprawl" cluster is composed of young families making about $41,000 a year and living in fast-growing places such as Burnsville, Minnesota, and Bensalem, Pennsylvania. These people are almost twice as likely as other Americans to have three-way calling. They are two and a half times as likely to buy Light n' Lively Kid Yogurt. Members of the "towns & gowns" cluster are recent college graduates in places such as Berkeley, California, and Gainesville, Florida. They are big consumers of DoveBars and Saturday Night Live. They tend to drive small foreign cars and to read Rolling Stone and Scientific American.

He closes with some thought provoking questions: “Look around at your daily life. Are you really in touch with the broad diversity of American life? Do you care?”


Taking an account of Christopher Hitchen's Iraq War essays.
Madden is in the NFL Hall of Fame


John Ashcroft, flush off of his triumphant victory over terrorism, is now turning the considerable energy, focus, and resources of the Department of Justice towards protecting Americans from smut. Emboldened by the recent Supreme Court internet filter win, and fresh on the heels of the DOJ’s 10-count indictment of porn-producing empire Extreme Associates, Inc, Solicitor General Theodore Olson filed a brief with the Supreme Court asking them to reconsider the Child Online Protection Act (COPA).

COPA, a Clinton-administration law that was intended to protect children from internet porn by requiring adult websites to use credit cards or other age-verification systems before allowing access. (COPA was offered as a more moderate version of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) which was overturned by the Court) A Pennsylvania appeals court has twice ruled (the second after the Supreme Court passed the case back down) that COPA prohibits a too wide-range of online expression; the DOJ would like the Supremes to hear the case.

Eugene Volokh describes the issue at hand. “(The) spillover problem is a recurring question in First Amendment law. The law cannot restrict all harmful, valueless speech and at the same time protect all valuable speech.” Considering that the Court recently ruled that mandating library internet filters was acceptable, even if the filters block some legitimate sites, the DOJ feels that now the court may be willing to listen.
What price are you willing to pay? That is the mantra we are confronted with daily. What price will we pay for security? What price for privacy? What price for lower prices? Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology offers major advantages for consumers and retailers while raising serious privacy concerns. RFID chips can be implanted in goods and monitors their movement throughout the supply chain; From warehouse to stock room, from stock room to shelf, from shelf to the consumer’s basket, and theoretically can continue to transmit their whereabouts as the consumer moves throughout their lives.

Proponents hail the technology as the next-generation bar code, allowing merchants and manufacturers to operate more efficiently and cut down on theft.

Privacy activists worry, however, that the unchecked use of RFID could end up trampling consumer privacy by allowing retailers to gather unprecedented amounts of information about activity in their stores and link it to customer information databases. They also worry about the possibility that companies and would-be thieves might be able to track people's personal belongings, embedded with tiny RFID microchips, after they are purchased.

"If you are walking around emanating an electric cloud of these devices wherever you go, you have no more privacy," said Katherine Albrecht, the head of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (Caspian), a fierce critic of RFID technology.

"Every door way you walk through could be scanning you," she added.

Sen. Debra Bowen of California is holding hearings on August 18th to investigate the larger implications of RFID. Wal-Mart has cancelled a test run in their Boston store while the issue is being discussed. However overseas RFID is being used in a trial at the UK supermarket chain Tesco. The chips have been implanted in Gillette Mach-3 razors. When a consumer picks up a razor off the shelf a closed circuit camera takes their photograph, monitors their movements throughout the store, and then compares it with another CCTV photo taken at check out. Caspian is urging a worldwide boycott against Gillette. Gillette says that the “spy chips” aren’t intended to infringe on shoppers privacy, but rather, “improve the efficiency of its supply chain.”

The potential benefits from RFID are fascinating and important. Advocates claim that in addition to increasing efficiencies, and hence lowering prices, RFID may protect our food sources from terrorist attacks, enable us to keep better tabs on our dry cleaning, create “personalized ads” for consumers as they walk through stores (and perhaps even while at home), and faster check-outs. Once again the question is “What price are you willing to pay?"


Now that we are finding out that O'Reiley actively lobbied Fox News to sue Franken, it will be interesting to hear Bill's take on our "overly litigious culture"....


At last a toilet tech. in America is about to step forward.
Good news? Bad news? At least we caught another terror-monger.


Marriage is a hot topic these days. “Against Love: A Polemic” is a new missive on the topic that takes an interesting tact. A review from the New Yorker offers a surprising endorsement.

Much of the book consists of an argument against companionate coupledom, the condition to which—or so popular culture, legal systems, and religious institutions insist—we all aspire. “Domestic coupledom [is] modern love’s mandatory barracks,” Kipnis says.

But, she argues, perhaps there is another, better way. A path that acknowledges (and embraces) the lust that beats in us, even when the lust for those other than our “soul mates for life”. Currently the institution of Domestic coupledom is an exercise in cynical self-delusion. Not only is matrimony a 50-50 crap-shot (at least in America) it’s a quaint tradition that may actually be used as a form of control.

The structure of contemporary marriage, with its expectations of lifetime fidelity, belongs to the apparatus of state control. A population that willingly polices itself through the interdictions of married life, Kipnis argues, has given up any revolutionary strivings, and will submit to other repressive social orders—capitalism, say—without protest.

So while politicians moralize about the sanctity of marriage, and the rest of us wrestle with the every changing notions of who we are in relationship to those closest to us, perhaps we can take this moment in history to reassess marriage for the better.

Should marriage remain a contractual agreement monopolized by the government? Perhaps we should offer temporary marriages, akin to auto-leases (one of the modifications I personally advocate). For those who have successful marriages what are the keys? Does it “take work”? And if so, to quote Kipnis, “When did the rhetoric of the factory become the default language of love?”
“I’m so glad that nigger-loving Commie fag Bill Clinton lost” That’s what someone shouted over the phone to Hillary Clinton long after midnight after her husband lost his 1974 campaign for Congress in Arkansas. She wonders, “What could inspire such bile?”

And so does Todd Gitlin in an article that once again plumbs America’s fascination with William Jefferson Clinton. Looking at Hillary’s recent largely self-penned bio, and Sidney Blumenthal’s gloves-off look back, he examines why the “vast right wing conspiracy” was so rapidly deployed and passionately effective against the man and his presidency.

In late May 1993, a calendar called “365 Reasons to Hate Bill Clinton” was already on sale in right-wing bookshops. Clinton had moved into the White House a bare four months before. Who had already divined 365 reasons to hate him, and why?
The claim that the scandals caused the hatred runs afoul of the fact that the hatred preceded most of the scandals. True, early in the 1992 campaign, scandal sheets funded by Clinton-hating fat cats had wound up the volume on charges that Clinton was not only the longtime lover of the lounge singer Gennifer Flowers but a drug-smuggler, a serial adulterer, a rapist, and the father of a black baby.
More consequentially, the New York Times had jumped in with a front-page story…

While he writes Hillary Clinton comes across as shocked as dismayed, Blumenthal goes after the big game. Why was The Right able to embark on a program to “repeal the 1960’s” without further impunity by the powers that be? “A network of foundations, media, lawyers, politicians and other operatives hijacked first the Republican Party and then the Republic,” Gitlan paraphrases. Compare Clinton’s treatment to Bush’s and one could be forgiven for drawing even starker conclusions.

No Gotcha team hammers Bush day after day on talk radio or cable news about his many years as a drunk, or the missing year during his draft-evading service in the Texas Air National Guard, or the mysterious windfall oil profits that came his way when other investors in his company were losing their shirts. Reporters have only recently begun to mar his triumphalist excuses for press conferences by asking pesky questions about Saddam Hussein’s phantom nuclear deal with Niger, or his putative al-Qaida connections, or other untruths this administration has found useful. The Niger-uranium deception finally undermined Bush’s amazing reputation for plain speaking, but on most issues he still escapes sustained scrutiny.

Clearly we’ve done, “Bush (or Clinton) is Good (or Bad)” stories before. Likewise we’ve done, “Is the media a right-wing or leftish-tool”? But I’m curious as to how people’s perceptions of either President has changed and why. Clearly they are different people in different times, but do you perceive a reactionary bias on the part of the public and/or the media? As we’ve gained the luxury of time, has our assessment of Clinton changed?


Sentimental kitsch. That’s not how one typically hears abstract impressionistic art described, but that’s the implication in Bram Dijkstra’s provocative new coffee table art book American Expressionism. The San Francisco Chronicle’s review gives snippets of the snappish prose that accompanies the expansive artwork inside. Dijkstra retconned 20th centaury art history and comes to the somewhat surprising conclusion that abstract expressionism was (and is) the equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade painting on Christmas Eve. Trite, overrated, and ultimately intended to keep people from grappling with the issues that truly great art is inclined to suggest.

To oversimplify his delicious thesis -- something Dijkstra himself is guilty of from time to time -- reactionary corporate patronage allegedly killed off the thriving, progressive spirit that FDR's Works Progress Administration had nurtured in American art, replacing it with Abstract Expressionism, whose nonrepresentational canvases were less likely to frighten the stockholders. According to Dijkstra, composition without representation is tyranny, and we've been living under that tyranny ever since Henry Luce's Life magazine pretended to ask a question it had already answered affirmatively to its own satisfaction: "Is [Jackson Pollock] the Greatest Living American Artist?"

While the ruling class’ patronage of, and often power over, art is as old as the hills Dijkstra’s "American Expressionism" reacquaints us with the idea in some unexpected places.

Expressionism, writes Bram Dijkstra, "seeks to make us confront the harsher realities of existence. It calls upon us to acknowledge the raw, emotional core of experience and demand that we confront the inner conflicts that make us human." It would be unfortunate if we turned our back on transformational art for a manufactured fad.
Barcelona Vs. Paris: Smack Down in the Kitchen!!

France has taken some hard knocks in the US press lately. But few slams may sting as long and as bad as the most recent NY Times cover piece on the state of European cooking. France, once the vanguard of nouvelle cuisine, no longer is creating the freshest ideas, innovative chefs, and taste sensations that inspire restaurateurs and foodies around the globe. That honor now belongs to Spain.

The two epicenters of the Spanish groundswell are both in the northern part of the country -- Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital, and the Basque country around San Sebasti?n. And while there are many exciting chefs throughout Spain, the name on everyone's lips, the man who is redefining haute cuisine into alta cocina, is a prodigiously talented, self-taught Catalan. Like Elvis or Miles, he is usually known by his first name alone: Ferran.

Ferran AdriĆ  is perhaps the most notable, but he’s certainly not alone in the “new nouvelle cuisine” movement centered in Spain and reverberating around the globe. As with all truly great cultural phenomenon, the reach and roots of nueva cocina in Spain are wide and deep. 1976 is considered the beginning of this revolution. A nation unshackled by the death of Generalissimo Franco, with a close proximity to both the sea and France, a fervent embrace of outsiders, low-lifes, new ideas and bravado, has created a cooking culture that is electrifying and at times awe-inspiring.

France meanwhile has run out of steam. What has happened in Paris is troubling and has left some Francophiles a bit non-plussed. The noticeable lack of energy most likely stems from a combination of resting on past laurels, economic considerations trumping a commitment to innovation, and just plain bad habits. Thomas Keller, owner of what is generally regarded to be the best restaurant in America, sadly notes, ''the French work ethic has deteriorated over the last few years'' and that compared with Spain, ''you have in France a much more traditional, fundamental-based cooking.'' Or as David Bouley describes, “''The Spanish don't have this rigor where they have to cook a certain way. They seem to be totally free. Something happened in France -- they ran out of gas. I don't hear about youthful passion as I used to in those kitchens.”

While Paris is left wondering how and why it lost it’s culinary verve the rest of us can rejoice at the prospect of a new food revolution.