Thursday, November 30, 2006


It's going to be another day away from the internets as The Hill continues preparations for the Christmas season at Mrs. S'. request. Those traveling here to seek edification are encouraged to read Digby's essay on the "President Unbound":

I understand that it is difficult to know in advance what constitutes a real leader. A resume isn't enough to make one (although it's certainly better than not having one at all) and depending on personality or symbols isn't enough either. I don't know what the magic formula is. I do know that when someone speaks like a fool and acts like a spoiled child and appears to be "intellectually uncurious" and has never done anything in life that would give you a clue that he knows how to govern or lead -- well, it's not a good idea to make that person the most powerful person on the planet. If we've learned nothing else, I hope we have learned that.

The president matters. But whether or not we want to have a beer with him or whether or not we approve of his private life is not what matters about him or her. These are false hueristics and they don't add up to leadership any more than years of political experience translates into great political skills. Citizens need to think a little bit harder about this choice, look a little deeper, ask some serious questions. Part of the job is certainly PR and a president does have to be the star of the national TV show for four years. But it's a lot more than that and Americans need to rediscover a healthy sense of the requirements of this particular job.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A conversation

We get reruns of Meet The Press around here in the wee hours of Monday morning, around the time the night shift supervisor comes around to stick his John Hancock on all the paperwork the EPA requires me to fill out each night at work. He's getting settled in, and they're flashing the cover of the latest Newsweek up on the screen: "al-Sadr: The Most Dangerous Man In Iraq". I'm thinking, "This could get ugly..."

SUPE: We should have taken that sonovabitch out when we had the chance.

DR. S.: You know, he's likely to end up running the whole show over there.

SUPE: Exactly. That's why we should have taken him out when we had him in that mosque a couple of years ago. But no, we got rules that say we don't bomb their holy places. Look, you find the enemy, you kill him, that's how war works.

DR. S.: But you kill him and they just get another one to take his place. You've solved nothing.

SUPE: And then you kill him too. You keep killing them until they get the message that we ain't playing around.

DR. S.: So you keep going until they either surrender or they're all dead?

SUPE: Exactly! You have to be as brutal as they are 'cause that's all they understand.

DR. S.: Yeah, that's the way to win hearts and minds...

SUPE: The hell with hearts and minds! They're backwards, ignorant people. They'll never understand democracy. Trying to teach them anything is a waste of time. All they can understand is brute force! Listen, I was in the rice paddies in Vietnam! I've seen how they live! That's why we got to keep fighting them, we gotta keep 'em over there, otherwise they're gonna come over here, 'cause all they want is to drag us down to their level!

Ah yes, the Clash Of Civiizations. Time to change the subject; I've got an evaluation coming up in January, and he's one of them who's going to be signing off on it...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Programming note

The Hill finally has its own e-mail address, so that I don't have to fish out correspondence from my honored guests from the junk that clogs my other mailboxes. Feel free to send correspondence, customer complaints, love letters and death threats to

Those of you stumbling through looking for something to do may consider this an open thread.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

"The First Thanksgiving", by Jennie Brownscombe.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

An old music meme

Maybe it's the holidays, maybe it's that I've read one post-election analysis too many, but I'm not much in the mood for "serious" subject matter this week. So here's another songlist for you folks to chew on for a few days.

I picked this one up from Gina, who runs a fine blog called Just Another Day, which I discovered while exploring previously untraveled paths through the internets. according to Gina, this meme's been around a bit, so I don't think she'll mind too much my nicking it from her. The rules are: Find the top 100 songs from the year you graduated high school. Boldface the songs you really like. Strike the ones that you can't stand. Leave the rest. The list to follow applies these rules to the year of my graduation, 1978.

First, some observations. 1978 was the year of Saturday Night Fever. You couldn't turn on Top 40 radio without running into one of the Brothers Gibb. It was also the year of the monster musical Grease. This will become apparent from a glance at the list.

Of course, if you were cool and lived in the big city, you didn't listen to much Top 40. The real rockin' stuff was on FM album rock radio, although by 1978 a number of those bands had crossed over to mass popularity and started on their way to becoming arena dinosaurs. Some great albums came out in '78 that spawned no major hits. Examples include Bruce Springsteen's Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Elvis Costello's This Year's Model, and the first efforts of the Cars and Van Halen, two of the best debuts ever. You know lots of songs from these discs now because they would become album rock staples over the next decade, but none of them burned up the charts when originally released.

Finally, across the pond, punk was in full flower. England in 1978 had dozens of punk outfits that all burned with righteous anger, and some had even managed a basic knowledge of three chords. Many received their inspiration from Long Island's Ramones; few bands have been talked about more while picking up virtually no airplay. One of the first guys I met in the dorm that fall dropped off with me two of his albums - the Ramones' Rocket To Russia and Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols, claiming they would change my life. They may not have changed my life, but they definitely altered my perspective. In 1978, the forces that would eventually bring the demise of Top 40 radio were gathering steam.

Without further ado, the list, with commentary as appropriate:

1. Shadow Dancing, Andy Gibb. Wouldn't have had a career without his brothers.
2. Night Fever, Bee Gees. Money in the bank.
3. You Light Up My Life, Debby Boone. The sound of virginity.
4. Stayin' Alive, Bee Gees. Greatest disco song ever.
5. Kiss You All Over, Exile. And then in the 80's they went country.
6. How Deep Is Your Love, Bee Gees. Every disco needed a slow one now and then.
7. Baby Come Back, Player. Last of the polyester leisure suit groups.
8. (Love Is) Thicker Than Water, Andy Gibb. Five Gibb songs in the top 10.
9. Boogie Oogie Oogie, A Taste Of Honey.
10. Three Times A Lady, Commodores. A good year for wedding songs.
11. Grease, Frankie Valli. I despised Grease. Still do.
12. I Go Crazy, Paul Davis. At one time held record for most weeks in Top 100.
13. You're The One That I Want, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Ugh.
14. Emotion, Samantha Sang. Might as well have been a Bee Gee.
15. Lay Down Sally, Eric Clapton. So laid-back it barely has a pulse.
16. Miss You, Rolling Stones. I can't get no satisfaction.
17. Just The Way You Are, Billy Joel. See #10.
18. With A Little Luck, Wings. Without Lennon, McCartney could get awful sappy.
19. If I Can't Have You, Yvonne Elliman. The fourth Saturday Night Fever song here.
20. Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah), Chic. Yowsah!
21. Feels So Good, Chuck Mangione. Nice instrumental.
22. Hot Child In The City, Nick Gilder
23. Love Is Like Oxygen, Sweet I liked Sweet, but this one drives me nuts.
24. It's A Heartache, Bonnie Tyler
25. We Are The Champions / We Will Rock You, Queen. Sums up their career.
26. Baker Street, Gerry Rafferty. That sax is the sound of summer.
27. Can't Smile Without You, Barry Manilow. Manilow. 'Nuff said.
28. Too Much, Too Little, Too Late, Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams.
29. Dance With Me, Peter Brown. The only one that I honestly can't remember.
30. Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad, Meat Loaf. Then it only got worse.
31. Jack And Jill, Raydio. Up the hill they went...
32. Take A Chance On Me, Abba. When they were good, they were good. When they were bad...
33. Sometimes When We Touch, Dan Hill. Where'd he come from?
34. Last Dance, Donna Summer
35. Hopelessly Devoted To You, Olivia Newton-John. Tolerable.
36. Hot Blooded, Foreigner. Always reminds me of WKRP's Les Nessman.
37. You're In My Heart, Rod Stewart.
38. The Closer I Get To You, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. They sang purty together.
39. Dust In The Wind, Kansas. I should strike it, but I don't have the heart.
40. Magnet And Steel, Walter Egan. A cross between Brian Wilson and Fleetwood Mac.
41. Short People, Randy Newman. Highly misunderstood at the time.
42. Use Ta Be My Girl, O'Jays.
43. Our Love, Natalie Cole.
44. Love Will Find A Way, Pablo Cruise. More polyester suit music.
45. An Everlasting Love, Andy Gibb. See #1.
46. Love Is In The Air, John Paul Young. Dude, that's just pollution.
47. Goodbye Girl, David Gates. Soundtrack work-for-hire.
48. Slip Slidin' Away, Paul Simon. As we all are.
49. The Groove Line, Heatwave.
50. Thunder Island, Jay Ferguson. Ferguson is part of the inspiration for this blog.
51. Imaginary Lover, Atlanta Rhythm Section. Taking matters in hand...
52. Still The Same, Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band. Another of Seger's beautiful losers.
53. My Angel Baby, Toby Beau. A precursor to the dreadful Alabama.
54. Disco Inferno, Trammps. We don't need no water...
55. On Broadway, George Benson. Can't beat either Benson or Leiber-Stoller.
56. Come Sail Away, Styx. Whooshing synth sounds that define an era.
57. Back In Love Again, L.T.D.
58. This Time I'm In It For Love, Player.
59. You Belong To Me, Carly Simon.
60. Here You Come Again, Dolly Parton. Dolly's first big crossover.
61. Blue Bayou, Linda Ronstadt. Buy those old Roy Orbison records.
62. Peg, Steely Dan. For these guys, upbeat.
63. You Needed Me, Anne Murray.
64. Shame, Evelyn "Champagne" King.
65. Reminiscing, Little River Band. Saling off into the dreck.
66. Count On Me, Jefferson Starship. Another classic band starting a long decline.
67. Baby Hold On, Eddie Money. His first was his best.
68. Hey Deanie, Shaun Cassidy. Better than most teen idols.
69. Summer Nights, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. The best Grease song.
70. What's Your Name, Lynyrd Skynyrd. On the road again.
71. Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, Crystal Gayle.
72. Because The Night, Patti Smith Punk poetess makes Top 40 with Springsteen song.
73. Every Kinda People, Robert Palmer.
74. Copacabana, Barry Manilow. Barry gets down at the Copa.
75. Always And Forever, Heatwave.
76. You And I, Rick James. Get down withcha bad self!
77. Serpentine Fire, Earth, Wind and Fire.
78. Sentimental Lady, Bob Welch. The original version from Fleetwood Mac's Bare Trees is far better.
79. Falling, LeBlanc and Carr. Sappy, sappy, sappy.
80. Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, Santa Esmeralda. Hard to screw this one up.
81. Bluer Than Blue, Michael Johnson.
82. Running On Empty, Jackson Browne. I hear ya, brother.
83. Whenever I Call You "Friend", Kenny Loggins.
84. Fool (If You Think It's Over), Chris Rea. Across the water, he's called "the British Springsteen".
85. Get Off, Foxy. Good advice.
86. Sweet Talking Woman, Electric Light Orchestra. See #66.
87. Life's Been Good, Joe Walsh. Anyone who still gets away with his stoned-hippie schtick after 35 years has earned the right.
88. I Love The Night Life, Alicia Bridges. Enough bad disco already!
89. You Can't Turn Me Off (In The Middle Of Turning Me On), High Inergy. Oh yeah? Also, see #51.
90. It's So Easy, Linda Ronstadt. Buy those old Buddy Holly records.
91. Native New Yorker, Odyssey.
92. Flashlight, Parliament. Get down witcha bad self!
93. Don't Look Back, Boston. Good advice for them and the rest of the arena dinosaurs.
94. Turn To Stone, Electric Light Orchestra. They were so good at mid-decade.
95. I Can't Stand The Rain, Eruption.
96. Ebony Eyes, Bob Welch.
97. The Name Of The Game, Abba. See #32.
98. We're All Alone, Rita Coolidge. Butchered Boz Scaggs.
99. Hollywood Nights, Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band. With a noseful of coke...
100. Deacon Blues, Steely Dan. Your soundtrack for cruisin' the strip.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Milton Friedman

The Hill wishes to pay its respects to Milton Friedman, free-market guru who passed away Thursday at age 94.

I still have on my bookshelf a copy of Friedman's Free To Choose, written with his wife Rose and based on their popular PBS series of the same name. Both the book and the TV series did an excellent job of explaining free-market theory in simple, non-academic terms, and I recommend them to anyone who wishes to understand laissez-faire capitalism but doesn't have a lot of time for study. Deeper, and also rewarding, is his A Monetary History of the US, 1867-1960, co-written with Anna Schwartz. This study of the function of the US monetary supply over the years is surprisingly accessible, and has been praised by liberals and conservatives alike as one of the best books about US economic history ever written.

Having said that, I've never been a big fan of Friedman's capitalist utopianism. Specifically, I never had had much trust in the idea that if we remove nearly all regulation from the economy, we will be awash in so much prosperity that all our other problems will be diminished. The problem is that the constant economic churning necessary for the wealth creation process to work (what economist Joseph Schumpeter described as "creative destruction") leads to periodic social upheavals which free-marketeers like Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and their followers tend to gloss over, when not writing them off completely as "externalities". They tend to downplay the importance of social stability to the profitability of business and individuals. This includes such things as having a well-maintained infrastructure, and an educated workforce paid decently enough to satisfy at least its basic needs. This stability has been the key to the growth of the post-World War II economy, and Friedman's ideas, if put into widespread practice, would destroy much of it. In Milton Friedman's ideal world, General Motors would not survive, Microsoft probably wouldn't either, and you and I would find our own personal survival to be a lot harsher.

Nevertheless, Milton Friedman was a powerful intellect and an equally gracious human being, and that combination is seen all too rarely in today's world.

Financial Times offers an excellent obituary of Friedman.

The Guardian's Richard Adams suggests that some of Friedman's ideas may have led to the big government that he so despised.

A couple of blogfriends, Corrente's Chicago Dyke and our house conservative IrishWalsh (scroll down) pay their respects.

Today's chuckle

Eva Longoria, my favorite new political philosopher: “Wisteria Lane appeals across the political spectrum. That’s because everyone on Wisteria Lane makes the money of a Republican and has the sex life of a Democrat.”

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ellen Willis

The Hill notes with sadness the recent passing of Ellen Willis, who died of lung cancer last week at age 64.

Willis wrote a lot of rock music criticism when I first encountered her in the early 70's. The classic rock of the 60's and 70's started me on my leftward journey, especially once I was old enough to get past the beat and understand what people like John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Pete Townshend were up to. At that time, their lyrics seemed to answer some of the questions I asked my dad that he couldn't answer when we watched the evening news. The more I listened, the more I wanted to know, and the more I read about those artists. The music writing in Rolling Stone was worth reading then, and those were also the glory days of magazines like Creem and Crawdaddy. Great writers like Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, and Robert Christgau described the music with passion while also adding a healthy amount of liberal social observation. Ellen Willis was part of that group for a time, and she added a strong feminist viewpoint to her opinions on music and culture. Music writing eventually became too confining for Willis, though, and she went on to a long career as a social critic, her writing continuing to feature strong doses of feminism, Marxism, and scepticism of religion. It would still be a few years before I started putting all the pieces together, but Ellen Willis was one of those people who caused me to see my middle-class, suburban, white-boy existence from a few different angles.

The Nation this week eulogizes Ellen Willis' life and work with contributions from several of her friends and colleagues. Here also are links to some of Willis' best writing:

"Rock, Etc.": Willis' impressions of Woodstock.

"Hell, No, I Won't Go": Willis on the War On Drugs.

"Freedom From Religion": Willis takes on the fundamentalists, George W. Bush, the Democratic Party, and nearly every other American cultural institution. Not for the faint of heart.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

OK, now what?

The smoke has cleared. The Democrats are in control of both houses of Congress. Nancy Pelosi ("I just don't like the sound of her voice", Nashville radio personality Coyote McCloud said Wednesday) will become the new House Speaker, and "Light Horse" Harry Reid is set to become Senate Majority Leader. And to top it all off, Donald Rumsfeld offered himself up as a sacrifice to placate the angry electoral gods.

Those who are expecting Great Things from the Democratically-controllled 110th Congress need to keep three points in mind, though. First, George Walker Bush is still President of the United States, holder of the bully pulpit and veto pen. Second, the Democrats cannot muster a majority without their blue-dog caucus, centrists (and a few center-rightists) who will throw the brakes on if the liberal wing of the party tries to go too far too fast. Finally, GWB is now the lamest of lame ducks, and everybody in Washington knows it. The 2008 presidential campaign effectively began Wednesday, and Presidential hopefuls of both parties will be looking to frame legislation in such a way as to enhance their chances of gaining higher office.

With Democrats now calling the tune, some issues - such as enacting the recommendations of the 9/11 commission - appear to be in good shape, as Republicans will go along rather than risk being seen as obstructionist in protecting Americans from terrorism. The Democrats' domestic agenda - which should include items such as raising the minimum wage and allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, for starters - will be in for tough sledding, though.

Now is the time for Democrats to get tough and make President Bush break out his veto pen. Also, the message needs to be sent to the White House that the signing statements used by GWB for the last six years asserting that the Executive Branch has the right to interpret legislation as it sees fit will no longer be tolerated - that, if necessary, they will be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court. Democrats will not be likely to override any of these vetos. But what they should have in two years is a laundry list of issues on which Democrats and Republicans differ, providing the voters in 2008 with a clear choice as to how they want their country to be governed. This choice is not one that the Democrats should fear.


Tom Hull, as usual, has some sharp points to make:

Still, the Democrats still have a lot to learn. The idea that by controlling Congress they'll be governing is certainly false. The presidency is still an extraordinary power base, even for presidents far less megalomaniacal than Bush. And unity will be harder to maintain as the Republicans push their wedge issues. But for the last six years the Democrats in Washington have been all but totally silenced, and that at least will start to change. The media follows what they regard as legitimate power centers, and control of Congress gives the Democrats one. That sets the stage for 2008, which will depend on two things: how badly Bush continues to fare, and how credible the Democrats become. In many ways, the election this one closely resembles is 1930. The Crash of 1929 turned a shocked nation against the Republicans, but the 1930 election was still razor thin: the Republicans held control of Congress by a margin so thin it evaporated before the 1932 election, which Roosevelt won in a landslide. I don't know who the Democrats have who could do that, but any signs of competency at all are good signs. Bush, on the other hand, is sure to do his part.


ADDENDUM: Forget all that; I urge the adoption of Mixter's New Democrat Manifesto immediately!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election day

This is what it all comes down to.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Why it matters

Everybody who's not a committed politcal junkie is sick of it by now. Sick of the candidates, sick of the commercials, sick of the partisan bickering. True Believers of each side are a minority; there's a lot of people who align themselves with one side or the other because they feel that side will do the least damage. And then there's those, perhaps even a majority, who have no use for anyone of either major party and have that general sense of "pissed-offedness" - which I take to be a sense that America has some serious problems needing to be addressed, but neither Democrats nor Republicans have the maturity or the common sense to tackle them.

And yet I have a sense that tommorrow will give Americans an opportunity to make changes that will begin to turn things around, or at least start on a path to a more mature perspective in the way our legislators take care of the business that we send them to Washington to handle.

Our curent Congress has shown themselves to be interested in little more than looting the federal coffers; their primary accomplishment has been to line their pockets, and the pockets of their friends, with the cash provided out of the taxes of American citizens. The Republican majority has manipulated the rules to prevent Democrats from having any meaningful say in legislation. They have given the President carte blanche to wage a war in the Middle East that wastes American lives and resources, and is counterproductive to the stated goals of controlling terrorism and establishing a better life for the people of that region. Perhaps worst of all, they are flat-ass lazy, bound and determined to turn their ideological belief that government is inherently ineffective and corrupt into self-fulfilling prophecy.

At this point, the American people have the temptation to say, "They're all bums. One side is as bad as the other. The only way out of this mess is to strip the politicians of any responsibility for anything apart from those things that individuals cannot accomplish for themselves. They can't steal when there's nothing for them to steal."

What we have to realize is that America is one great balancing act. We are an amalgam of races, cultures, opportunities and lifestyles. Mature political leadership recognizes that they are the ones responsible for balancing the diverse interests within American society. Whatever anger I have at our current crop of legislators is because of their refusal to do their jobs - and that on those rare occasions that they decide to pursue an issue, they frame it not in terms of solving the problem, but as a means to re-election.

Governing, in the end, really is about filling potholes, making sure the fire department has enough water to put out fires, seeing to it Grandma gets her Social Security check - things like that. And this is where our current Congress falls flat on its face. Hurricane Katrina, although an extreme example, and one in which fingers can be pointed in a multitude of directions, nevertheless serves as an example of where today's "every man for himself" approach to political and social problems can lead us.

I don't wish to give the impression that electing a Democratic congressional majority will instantly usher in a golden age of progressive good government. Lord knows that it was Democratic corruption and inattentiveness to their constituency that caused them to get kicked to the curb in 1994. And in many areas Democrats have yet to get a handle on their internal problems, and at times have difficulty in presenting a coherent message. But we have seen the results of twelve years of almost unbroken Republican domination of Congress, and many of us can hope that the Democrats have learned something during the years of wandering in the wilderness. With the election of a Democratic majority tomorrow, we can at least take the first baby steps towards establishing a more mature and effective approach to tackling our political and social problems.