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Seasons' Greetings [Dec. 6th, 2005|07:05 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**

Hello, long-lost LJ friends. Hope you are all warm and toasty as Old Man Winter undoes his his belt and settles in for the next few months. Come over sometime and see all the fun we're having at our spiffy new location. Cheers
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Still Not Here [Nov. 18th, 2005|03:56 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Just a reminder to all of my LJ buddies: We have moved to


Please follow the link and bookmark our new site. Hope to see you there!
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Movin' Right Along [Nov. 7th, 2005|11:16 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
It's time for the O.G. to say "sayonara" to LiveJournal. We have moved to our new location on blogspot:


Please visit us there and bookmark our new site. Once again, that site is:

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O.G. Voter Guide: Proposition 75 [Nov. 6th, 2005|05:09 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Vote NO on Proposition 75.

Proposition 75 "prohibits using public employee union dues for political contributions without individual employees' prior consent. . . . [It] requires unions to maintain and, upon request, report member political contributions to Fair Political Practices Commission." From the CA Attorney General Summary. The Proposition would decimate the power of teacher, police, and firefighter unions. Prop 75 is also unnecessary: union members have the right to opt out of any dues collection scheme for political funding.

Here's all I really needed to know: Proposition 75's lead sponsor is Lewis Uhler, a former John Birch Society activist, who campaigned for Bush’s Social Security privatization plan; he was also part of Gov. Ronald Reagan's circle of economic advisers, as well as founder and president of the National Tax Limitation Committee

Proposition 75 is a thinly disguised attempt, backed by large corporate interests and Milton Friedman, to eviscerate the power of public employee labor unions to influence public policy. Arnold has said that the unions are too strong. The point of the proposition is to strengthen the hand of large corporations. The effect of Proposition 75 will be to cut off flow of funds to the Democratic Party in California. This is, indeed, the whole point of Proposition 75, and the clear intention of its right-wing sponsors. If Prop 75 passes, the only winners will be Republicans and big business.

Vote NO on Proposition 75.
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O.G. Voter Guide: Proposition 74 [Nov. 6th, 2005|04:56 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Vote NO on Proposition 74.

Proposition 74 will extend the probationary period for public school teachers from 2 to 5 years. No one involved with the proposition has been able to give a good reason for extending the probationary period for this amount of time. The proposition will also make it easier to fire teachers who have attained permanent positions.

California currently faces a shortage of public school teachers. The need for quality public school teachers will only grow over the coming years. Making it more difficult to obtain secure employment -- not "tenured" or lifetime employment, which California teachers do not have under the current system -- is not the way to attract highly qualified teachers to the teaching profession. Problem teachers should be disciplined or fired, and they can be fired under the current system. But there is no need to extend the probationary period and create a long period of uncertainty for would-be teachers.

The O.G. suggests that you vote NO on Proposition 74.
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The Last Days of the Intrepid [Nov. 5th, 2005|10:49 am]
Octopus Grigori **West**
This is my car. Well, actually, it's just a shot from edmunds.com of a 2003 Dodge Intrepid; but this is exactly what my car looks like. It was my little brother's car, until we took it away (don't worry, he's getting a nicer car).

I fear that the Intrepid, now pushing ninety thousand miles, may be on its last legs: a mysterious warning light (in the shape of a side-view of the entire engine) came on four days ago, freaking me out. The Owner's Manual's explanation of the warning light was not helpful. The Manual suggests that a steady light indicates that the Onboard Diagnostic System has detected some performance problem, which could be as minor as a loose gap cap or poor quality fuel; however, if the light begins to flash, the Manual advises the Owner to stop driving immediately. Happily, the light did not begin to flash, so I ignored it.

My car having served me with fair -- albeit cryptic -- warning, I started asking around my office for suggestions on a good auto repair shop. People were just so happy and enthusiastic to talk about auto service and their cars; I found that it was an excellent topic for bonding with my new officemates. Maybe it's just that, in places outside of New York, people love their cars, love talking about their cars, sharing repair tips, lowering their cars, putting rims on their cars, etc. I mean, who doesn't love Car Talk?

Today, joyously, the mysterious light went off.

Even though it appears that I won't have to abandon the Intrepid in the L.A. River imminently, I have begun to consider other, backup transportation options for the 10-minute commute from my place to Downtown L.A.. As of now, the main contenders are
the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid and the bus .

I am seriously considering the bus, although people at work seem to shudder when I mention it. I gather that, out here, people view riding the bus (or the subway) as one step above sleeping in a cardboard box.
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I Like L.A. [Nov. 2nd, 2005|12:09 am]
Octopus Grigori **West**
I know, I've only been here for a few weeks, I should give it some time, I don't yet know what I've gotten myself into. But somehow I do think I sort of like it here in Los Angeles.

It must be all that sun: people seem happier out here. Work somehow doesn't seem as stressful as it did back in New York. Inside every other dreary-looking strip mall lurk mind-altering ethnic cuisine and fantastic dive bars. The FM dial is alive with new music, excellent programming. There are palm trees outside my door. In a restaurant in Chinatown, the Chinese waiter speaks Spanish to his Mexican patrons. In East Hollywood, the menus in a Thai restaurant are trilingual, describing dishes in English, Spanish, and Thai. The voter registration form is available in ten or twelve languages. Landscapers and doctors drip salsa onto their laps at the outdoor tables of El Gran Burrito. The Chinese, the Iranians, the Anglos, and the Colombians play soccer in Griffith Park.

And as my learned Polish friend has observed, because L.A. is so sprawling, its neighborhoods are much more mixed up, economically and ethnically, than New York, where the core of wealth centered in Upper Manhattan seems to radiate outwards every year, shoving the hoi polloi ever farther out into the hinterland.

The people here are engaged, opinionated, informed. I think people actually read more out here than they do in New York (who has time to read in New York, except on the subway?). L.A. Weekly is worlds better than the Village Voice, and, dare I say it, there are days when I prefer the L.A. Times to the NY Times.

Now, if only we could do something about all these cars and parking lots. This is just a snapshot: I'll expand on these observations in coming weeks.
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You Are a Ping Pong Ball [Oct. 31st, 2005|11:21 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Bush nominated Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court two days after Lewis Libby was indicted because he wanted to help America move on. Decisions such as this one, announcing the discovery of terrorist plots via satellite from Russia, heightening national alert levels, outing CIA agents, and sending American teenagers off to be killed and maimed are always taken by this Administration in the best interests of America.

Bush's "base" -- apparently, always, again, the Christian Right -- is rejoicing. Alito is their man. His appeal to them will likely be the source of your aversion to him.

While on the Third Circuit, Sam Alito dissented in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 947 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1991). Pennsylvania had passed a law which required women to obtain the consent of their husbands before they could obtain an abortion. Alito thought this was a reasonable restriction. He compared it, with no hint of irony, to parental notification requirements for minors: "Justice O'Connnor has also suggested on more than one occasion that no undue burden [on the right to an abortion] was created by the statute upheld in H.L. v. Matheson, 450 U.S. 398 (1981), which required parental notice prior to any abortion on an unemancipated minor." In Judge Alito's world, married women who needed to get an abortion had no reason to fear this law; they could always simply talk it over with their husbands, who, of course, would always in the end be eminently reasonable (yes, that is the "Leave it to Beaver" theme you hear in the background): "Of the potentially affected women who could not invoke an exception, it seems safe to assume that some percentage, despite an initial inclination no to tell their husbands, would notify their husbands without sufffering substantial ill effects." Read the complete dissent.

Democrats and moderate Republicans need to resist this nomination. Write your senators today. We don't want a Supreme Court Justice special ordered by the far right-wing, by the people who want to turn the clock back on gender equality, civil rights, and freedom of speech and thought. We all have the obligation to speak out to help prevent America from becoming a truly unrecognizable place.

Lest we forget -- and God knows there are those who wish we all just would -- Patrick Fitzgerald is still out there, working, and Lewis Libby has a court date on Thursday. No one -- absolutely no one -- wants you to be wondering, speculating, or asking this question at this point in time: who is Douglas Feith, and what did he have to do with the invasion of Iraq? Another proud Bush decision, made in the best interests of America.
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Vote Yes on Proposition 80 [Oct. 30th, 2005|10:17 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Thankfully, I wasn't living in California back in 2000, during the summer of rolling blackouts and Enron's extortionate practices against the state of California, holding consumers hostage until they were able to extract 100% price increases. That delightful scenario was made possible by California's energy deregulation initiative of 1996.

Proposition 80 would reregulate the energy industry and reinstate a legal obligation upon the three big public utility companies in California (PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric) to operate in the public interest. I for one, after hearing all about California's misadventures with regulation, am all for giving regulation another shot. I think, over the past few years, we all have become a bit more acquainted with the devastation the purportedly magical free market, left completely unfettered, is capable of.

The bill will also require California to obtain 20% of its energy from renewable sources (e.g., solar, wind, hamster) by 2010. Current law sets that goal for 2017. Some environmental groups take issue with this 20% mark -- they worry that the number may become a de facto cap on renewable energy. As many have pointed out, this is most likely a ridiculous concern. The state's not near 20% now, and we'll be lucky to get there within five years. This bill is not going to cap reliance on renewable sources -- especially as the nonrenewable sources continue to dwindle and become ever more expensive. It is notable that these few dissenting environmental groups are uncomfortably allied with big energy and big business in opposing Prop 80.

The O.G. suggests a YES vote on Proposition 80. We need the power to keep the lights on here.
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The Last Best Hope [Oct. 29th, 2005|01:05 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**

Americans should be proud today. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the 44-year-old son of a doorman, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, has restored my faith in the possibility for the rule of law in this country. Fitzgerald is beyond impeachment. He has no political agenda; he is simply the real deal: an incredibly hard-working, by-the-books prosecutor who believes the law should apply equally to all, including White House officials.

Fitzgerald represents American ideals that Bush and his lot do not: success earned through hard work, an unstinting commitment to the truth, and the unselfish use of power to serve the people.

No one knows what Fitzgerald will do from here, whether Rove or any other officials will be indicted. We can only hope that the true extent of the Administration's vicious deceptions will be dragged out into the light of day. But regardless what happens from here, I think today is a chance for Americans to feel something they haven't felt for a long time: hope for our system of government and our nation.

Anyone outside the United States, take a look: There are millions of Americans out there like Patrick Fitzgerald; Americans who represent what is good and admirable about this country. Today Americans can rightly be proud of our nation, and believe that the truth is still worth something here. We can believe that the powerful are also accountable, that rays of justice will penetrate the deepest walls of secrecy, and that the truth will out.

America will survive this catastrophic presidency. The wheel will turn and we will take back our government. We will be proud of our country once again.
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O.G. West Voting Guide: Props 78 & 79 [Oct. 27th, 2005|11:22 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
In a few weeks, I will have my first taste of ochlocracy in action, as I participate in my first special election here in California. Some of our O.G. **West** readers have requested information on the propositions on the ballot this November. Because the O.G. exists to serve our three or four readers, we start tonight with two propositions that are at war with one another: Prop 78 (Bad!) and Prop 79 (Good!). The text of all of the propositions, along with other useful information, is available here.)

Both propositions would, theoretically, provide Californians with discounted prices on drugs. Prop 79 would achieve discounts by utilizing the bargaining power of the state of California. Prop 78 appears to rely on the good will of drug companies to offer discounts. See this comparison chart.

Prop 78 has been bankrolled by pharmaceutical companies, apparently in an attempt to steamroll the dangerous Prop 79. Big Pharma is worried that Prop 79 would cost them millions, since they will be forced to discount if they are dealing with the State of California.

As the argument for Prop 79 in the Secretary of State's California Voter Guide states, Prop 79 contains an enforcement mechanism, wholly lacking in Prop 78:
Prop. 78 is completely voluntary for drug companies: they are free to choose whether or not to offer discounts. But California has tried a voluntary drug discount plan before. The pharmaceutical industry refused to participate so the program dissolved in 2001.

Prop. 79 has an enforcement mechanism.

If a drug company refuses to provide discounts, the state can shift business away from that company and buy from other drug companies that offer discounts.
The voter guide, for those who haven't seen it, contains arguments for and against each proposition, submitted by independent groups supporting or opposing the proposition. Tellingly, the argument against Prop 79 relies on some classic big business rhetoric (hint: lawyers are evil!):
A hidden section in Proposition 79 will let trial lawyers file thousands of frivolous lawsuits simply by claiming the price charged for the product is too much or that the manufacturer’s profits are too high. The initiative doesn’t define what is a fair price or a reasonable profit! Worse, trial lawyers don’t need a client to bring these lawsuits and can keep for themselves 100% of the money they are able to force from a defendant!
And you hate lawyers too, don't you?! So do as Big Pharma says and vote against Prop 79 -- otherwise, some trial lawyer is going to be laughing all the way to the bank!

Bottom line: the O.G. joins the San Francisco Chronicle and L.A. Weekly in urging you to vote NO on Prop 78 and YES on Prop 79.
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Patrick J. Fitzgerald Fun with Law Corner! [Oct. 25th, 2005|11:02 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Well, we're all just twiddling our thumbs waiting for the White House frog-marching parade to begin. While we wait, why don't we learn about that oft-maligned, sometime tool of justice -- American law?

Today's Lawfact: the rule against hearsay. Codified at Federal Rule of Evidence 803, the rule is deceptively simple: "'Hearsay' is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted." FRE 801(c).

The rule against hearsay is one of the oldest rules of evidence, originating back in some rainy bog in middle England. The basic rationale behind the rule is to ensure reliability of testimony. Statements made by witnesses in court can be tested, the witness can be questioned, her credibility tested. When an out-of-court statement (a newspaper article, one witness's report of what someone else said, etc.) is offered, it cannot be so tested. So when Bob the witness begins to testify "And then Angie said X," opposing counsel will generally stand and say, "Objection, hearsay."

The fascinating part of the rule, one that has tripped up unwary law students, lawyers, and judges for centuries, is the qualification that the out-of-court-statement is not hearsay if it is not offered for the truth of the matter asserted. Thus, if the statement is being offered to show something other than the truth of the statement, it is not hearsay.

To illustrate, under this rule, commands are not hearsay; they are not assertions of anything. They are more akin to verbal acts. Similarly, commands and threats are not hearsay.

Here is an excerpt from a federal appeals court decision dealing with Barney the Dinosaur's trademark rights. The decision holds that statements of belief or confusion are not hearsay:
The district court found that Lyons owned valid trademarks in the Barney character. But it determined, after undertaking an analysis of each of the Pizzeria Uno factors, that Lyons had not demonstrated a likelihood of confusion between the Duffy costume and the Barney character. It reached its conclusion, however, only after disregarding most of the evidence of actual confusion, the paramount factor in the analysis. Although the court stated that "[t]here is no evidence on which to support a finding concerning actual confusion of children," ample evidence presented at trial would have supported such a find- ing. As we noted above, the principal at an elementary school testified that when she wore the Duffy costume at a school rally, the children shouted "Barney. Barney. Barney," and parents testified that when they rented the Duffy costume for their children's birthday parties, the children believed that the person dressed as Duffy was in fact Barney. In addition, Lyons offered newspaper clippings that evidenced actual confusion between Duffy and Barney, not only by the children who were the subject of the articles, but by the reporters themselves, who erroneously described Duffy as "Barney."

Despite initially admitting that evidence, the district court's final opinion dismissed it as "unreliable hearsay." If the district court disre- garded this evidence because it was hearsay, we believe that this conclusion was erroneous. Lyons did not offer the children's statements or the newspaper articles to prove the truth of the matter asserted -- i.e., that the persons wearing the Duffy costume were in fact Barney -- but rather merely to prove that the children and the newspaper reporters expressed their belief that those persons were Barney. This was direct evidence of the children's and the reporters' reactions and not hearsay. Accordingly, it could not have been excluded as such. See Fed. R. Evid. 801(c) (limiting the definition of hearsay to state- ments offered "to prove the truth of the matter asserted"); cf. Fed. R. Evid. 803(1) (creating an exception to the hearsay rule, regardless of the availability of the declarant, for a statement about "an event or condition made while the declarant was perceiving the event or condi- tion, or immediately thereafter").
Lyons Partnership v. Morris Costumes, (4th Cir. 2001) (emphasis added).
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Live from L.A. [Oct. 23rd, 2005|12:46 am]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Some shots from around town. I am learning to appreciate the surprising, miserable beauty of L.A. As you might guess, most of these shots were taken out the window of a car.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Flower shop on the West Side.

Mobil Mart

The 10 West

Taco Stand on Vermont near "Mexicars" auto dealer

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Shell Oil on Vermont

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Hollywood sign

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Street fair off Pico on the West Side

The Hollywood Hills, looking north from near Griffith Observatory

Fire trucks off Vermont
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From the Dark Side [Oct. 22nd, 2005|11:24 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
U.S. Troops Reportedly Burned Bodies in Afghanistan

"We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. . . . That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."
-- Dick Cheney, September 16, 2001
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I realize that there are probably other things going on in the world . . . [Oct. 22nd, 2005|10:58 am]
Octopus Grigori **West**
But the Miller-Flame-Libby-Rove Leakgate story is just getting too good. If Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald does announce indictments next week, as he is widely expected to, it will be the massive accountability moment we American victims of the Bush Administration have been praying for.

Somehow, even with a botched war launched on false pretenses, a massive deficit, and a country more divided than anytime since the 1860's, the American people reelected this Administration. Many of us shook our heads in disgust and contemplated moves to Montreal. I remember that Republicans felt similarly after Clinton's reelection. So what did they do? They deployed Ken Starr (n.b., John Roberts's one-time mentor and boss) to bring down Clinton on the basis of a blowjob. And Republicans briefly rejoiced, as if Starr's inquisition proved anything other than that Clinton was a sloppy and embarrassing philanderer with dubious sexual predilections.

Now, we Democrats would probably have been happy to bring Bush and his cronies down in a similar manner. We would have loved, for example, to deploy a special prosecutor to administer an IQ test, spelling bee, and current events quiz to Bush, with Cheney locked out of the room and unable to hold his hand.

But no, the Republicans have made it even more delicious for us. A la Iran-Contra, and a la Watergate, the Bushies' vast campaign of deception and propaganda is coming back to bite them right in the ass; they have once again been brought down by their own Nixonian, Reaganesque, Bushite arrogance and its attendant lies, deceptions, and cover-ups. No one knows what Fitzgerald will do next week, but if any form of justice still exists in America, there will be hell to pay in the White House.

Arianna Huffington has hit her stride at Huffingtonpost.com with her coverage of Flamegate. She was out in front on this story, picking up earlier than others the full extent of the insidious connections, and the potentially massive import:. The rich evil oozing out of Flamegate has moved Huffington to poetry:
In Dante's "Inferno," deceivers are sentenced to have their souls encased in flames, hypocrites are forced to wear a cloak weighted with lead, and those who use their powers of persuasion for insidious ends are doomed to suffer a continual fever so intense that their body sizzles and smokes like a steak tossed on a George Foreman grill. Maybe Satan will give Bush, Cheney, Rove, Libby and their accomplices at the New York Times a three-afflictions-for-the-price-of-one deal.

There is nothing more immoral in the life of a nation than waging an unnecessary war -- which Iraq surely is. It is time for America to confront the terrible truth that we have allowed ourselves to be blinded to. And it is way past time for those that led us into that war, from the White House Iraq Group to Judy Miller and the New York Times, to be held accountable for their actions.
Hooray! Full article.

Note also that Maureen Dowd has lowered the boom on her co-worker Miller in today's NYT in an article entitled -- it was too obvious to pass up -- "Woman of Mass Destruction":
Judy told the Times that she plans to write a book and intends to return to the newsroom, hoping to cover "the same threats to our country." If that were to happen, the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands.
Word. Full article (reg. req'd)
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Will Hungary Save Civilization? [Oct. 20th, 2005|10:04 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Hungarian Health Minister Announces Development of Potential Avian Flu Vaccine.
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Bush in freefall [Oct. 19th, 2005|11:28 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Try this now before it's made illegal. Sent to me by a good pal back in NY.
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Turn into the skid [Oct. 18th, 2005|10:02 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
So, in a wonderful change of pace, it's been raining and thundering here in L.A. for the past few days. It's been a welcome respite from the unrelentingly beautiful sunny days. Walking down Bunker Hill in the cool mist downtown, if I scrunch up my eyes, I can almost imagine I'm back on Sixth Ave.

I'm learning that Los Angelenos freak out when it rains: everyone crashes on the freeways and the traffic gets -- somehow -- even worse. The people out here have no idea how to drive in anything less than absolutely ideal conditions. They should run the emergency alert system on the radio here at the first sign of rain. All natives should be advised to stay inside, away from their vehicles, until the highway patrol has had time to squeegee all the roads dry.

For any Los Angelenos reading this, please study these tips for driving in rain.
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Who is this guy? [Oct. 17th, 2005|10:29 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Oh, so now we are all starting to notice the slightly maniacal glint in those cold, cold, delicately bloodshot, powder puff blue eyes. Is that a Tom Hanks everyman look of modesty, or the look of a man who hates "jungle music"?

Now that Roberts is in place as Chief Justice of the United States for the rest of our lives, we might as well start learning more about him. The NYRB has run a few insightful pieces about Roberts recently. William Taylor, in his piece, wonders why Roberts, child of privilege, seems to have always had it in for the weak and oppressed (and dark):
The most intriguing question about John Roberts is what led him as a young person whose success in life was virtually assured by family wealth and academic achievement to enlist in a political campaign designed to deny opportunities for success to those who lacked his advantages. It is a question of great relevance to Roberts's candidacy for the Supreme Court. As the late Charles Black has written, no serious person is under the illusion that "a judge's judicial work is not influenced...by his sense, sharp or vague, of where justice lies in respect to the great issues of his time."

After a privileged upbringing in an Indiana suburb, attendance at an exclusive, expensive private school, high ranking at the undergraduate and law schools of Harvard, and clerkships with Federal Appeals Judge Henry Friendly and Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, John Roberts took a job in the Reagan administration. There he joined in its efforts to dismantle the civil rights gains of the 1960s and 1970s. His work as a young man in the 1980s established the pattern of his later public career.

Roberts was first employed in 1981 and 1982 as a special assistant to the attorney general, William French Smith. He went from there to the Reagan White House in November 1982, where he served as associate counsel to the President for three and a half years. During this period, Roberts played an important part in the administration's efforts to curtail the rights of African-Americans, to deny assistance to children with disabilities, and to prevent redress for women and girls who had suffered sex discrimination. He also justified attempts by the state of Texas to cut off opportunities for the children of poor Latino aliens to obtain an education. Roberts was in favor of limiting the progress of African-Americans in participating in the political process and of making far-reaching changes in the constitutional role of the courts in protecting rights.
Full article.

Well, I'm sure it'll be okay. Maybe he sorta hated on the poor and colored folk before, but, heck, he'll just be calling 'em as he sees him, strikes and balls. You know, in the clearly defined strike zones of "due process" and "equal protection" and whatnot.

Ronald Dworkin's piece attempts to navigate through Roberts's confirmation hearing smoke screen of tirelessly repeated banalities about baseball and modesty and staying true to the law to discern what Roberts's judicial philosophy might be (Dworkin finds only reason to worry). Dworkin makes, just a little late, the important observation "that according to any plausible view of democracy the public has a right to know [a Supreme Court nominee's] views on matters affecting their fundamental rights in some detail before their representatives award him lifetime power over those rights." Oh yeah, right. Maybe next time? (Full article)

Harriet awaits, reading The Firm and writing mash notes to W.
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Keeping Hope Alive [Oct. 16th, 2005|06:14 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Real journalists still exist. In his op-ed piece today, Frank Rich dropped a bomb on his fellow NYT reporter Judy Miller. It appears Rich and other writers and reporters at the Times now sense that it is open season on Miller, who has become a blight upon the reputation of the Gray Lady:
Very little has been written about the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG. Its inception in August 2002, seven months before the invasion of Iraq, was never announced. Only much later would a newspaper article or two mention it in passing, reporting that it had been set up by Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff. Its eight members included Mr. Rove, Mr. Libby, Condoleezza Rice and the spinmeisters Karen Hughes and Mary Matalin. Its mission: to market a war in Iraq.

Of course, the official Bush history would have us believe that in August 2002 no decision had yet been made on that war. Dates bracketing the formation of WHIG tell us otherwise. On July 23, 2002 - a week or two before WHIG first convened in earnest - a British official told his peers, as recorded in the now famous Downing Street memo, that the Bush administration was ensuring that "the intelligence and facts" about Iraq's W.M.D.'s "were being fixed around the policy" of going to war. And on Sept. 6, 2002 - just a few weeks after WHIG first convened - Mr. Card alluded to his group's existence by telling Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times that there was a plan afoot to sell a war against Saddam Hussein: "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."

The official introduction of that product began just two days later. On the Sunday talk shows of Sept. 8, Ms. Rice warned that "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," and Mr. Cheney, who had already started the nuclear doomsday drumbeat in three August speeches, described Saddam as "actively and aggressively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons." The vice president cited as evidence a front-page article, later debunked, about supposedly nefarious aluminum tubes co-written by Judy Miller in that morning's Times. The national security journalist James Bamford, in "A Pretext for War," writes that the article was all too perfectly timed to facilitate "exactly the sort of propaganda coup that the White House Iraq Group had been set up to stage-manage."
(emphasis added.) Full article (regis. req'd).
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Don't look at me: I read the L.A. Times these days. [Oct. 15th, 2005|06:33 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**


Reporters inside the NYT appear to be rebelling against the iron fist of Executive Editor Bill Keller, who with his pal, the infamous Judith Miller, was in the rah-rah pro-war club (actually, he so cleverly called it the "I Can't Believe I'm a Hawk Club") and has been Miller's staunchest defender at the Times during the miserable new lows of Plamegate. Today's Times has an revealing article reporting on Miller's current sworn testimony that she just can't remember who leaked Valerie Plame's name to her.
Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to testify and reveal her confidential source, then relented. On Sept. 30, she told the grand jury that her source was I. Lewis Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. But she said he did not reveal Ms. Plame's name.

And when the prosecutor in the case asked her to explain how "Valerie Flame" appeared in the same notebook she used in interviewing Mr. Libby, Ms. Miller said she "didn't think" she heard it from him. "I said I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall," she wrote on Friday, recounting her testimony for an article that appears today.
The article also lands a few satisfying blows on Miller and Keller (those shots must have been deeply satisfying for those frustrated reporters at the Times who had to toe the bullshit party line that Miller, willing propagandist for a dishonest, war-mongering administration was somehow a hero for truth, justice, and journalistic principles). One gets the sense from this article that these reporters have been gritting their teeth and just waiting for their opportunity to tear Miller and Keller some new ones.

Every aspect of this story makes me sick:
On Sept. 29, Ms. Miller was released from jail and whisked by Mr. Sulzberger and Mr. Keller to the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown for a massage, a manicure, a martini and a steak dinner. The next morning, she testified before the grand jury for three hours. Afterward, Ms. Miller declared that her ordeal was a victory for journalists and the public.
Judith Miller is a mendacious, narcissistic, propagandist. She was a willing tool in the administration's effort to crush and punish dissent. If Times publisher has any integrity at all, Keller must be sacked. This story is so much worse than all that Jason Blair hype. Look at Miller. She thinks she's Wonder Woman or something. She's a lying, annoying scoundrel is what she is.

Hey, Bill, still can't believe you're a hawk? I can, you jackass.

Full NYT story.
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Derrida, continued [Oct. 15th, 2005|09:51 am]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Derrida is dead. Long live Derrida. Read the quest of one beleagured Wikipedia editor to wrest control of the master's narrative from the masters of narrative. See also the "talk" pages of Wikipedia's entry on Deconstruction and Derrida.
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Where am I? [Oct. 9th, 2005|12:19 am]
Octopus Grigori **West**

I'm sitting here in Los Feliz, just below the Hollywood Hills, missing fall in New York. I've been feeling rather lost these past few days. My new office is on the 34th floor of a building on Bunker Hill downtown. I have a view over the continuous sprawling grid to the sea, everything ghostly behind the thick air. I turn from my computer to watch the helicopters hover and buzz through downtown, the planes approach and then bank back toward the sea and LAX, and the smog float from district to district about the city, until the sun goes down over the hills to the west in a suffusion of tangerine, peach, and rose -- no natural sunsets are this frighteningly beautiful.

Meanwhile, somewhere in a village outside Hanoi or Hong Kong, the virus known as Avian H591 is patiently collecting mutations, waiting to make the jump from bird to man, perhaps to more devastating effect than its last major trans-species leap in 1918.

Mohammad El Baradei.

And in Pakistan and India, an estimated 18,000 people -- the number is expected to rise dramatically -- are dead after the massive earthquake that struck yesterday.

That is the news from wherever I am, somewhere in the glittering grid at the end of the desert, underneath the wandering grey air.
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Hon. Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005) [Sep. 30th, 2005|10:59 am]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Judge Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman appointed to the federal bench, an American success story, and proud daughter of Connecticut, died on Wednesday in New York City.

From the L.A. Times obit:
Motley was born in New Haven, Conn., the ninth of 12 children of West Indies immigrants. Her father was a chef at Yale University while her mother was a seamstress and teacher who helped found a local chapter of the NAACP.

Motley was one of very few in the West Indian community who would go on to earn a professional degree, despite her parents' lack of encouragement. "My mother thought I should be a hairdresser; my father had no thoughts on the subject," she wrote, adding that such indifference only intensified her resolve.

Her father held black Americans in low regard and socialized mainly with other Caribbean immigrants. His daughter did not begin to identify with African Americans until she entered high school and began reading about black history, including the works of civil rights leader W.E.B Du Bois.

At 15 she decided she wanted to become a lawyer, but when she graduated from New Haven High School in 1939 she did not have the money for college. The following year, however, she attracted the attention of Clarence W. Blakeslee, a philanthropist who had helped found a center for black youths. At a meeting called to solicit opinions on why more blacks were not using the center, Motley pointed out that the center board lacked grass-roots support. Blakeslee was so impressed by the poised and articulate Motley that he called her up and asked why she was not in college.

When she told him that money was the problem, he offered her essentially a blank check. He paid for her to attend Fisk College in Nashville, Tenn., where she majored in economics, and Columbia University, where she earned her law degree in 1946. "He paid every dollar," Motley recalled in a Hartford Courant interview last year. "He'd ask nothing in return. That's how our country moved forward. Not all white people were bad."

The year before she earned her law degree she had joined the NAACP as a law clerk for Thurgood Marshall, the group's chief counsel and future Supreme Court justice. She was admitted to the New York state bar in 1948 and began trying cases for the NAACP in 1949.
In 1950 she prepared the draft complaint for the case that would make civil rights history, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan.
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Mission to America [Sep. 29th, 2005|12:03 am]
Octopus Grigori **West**
The final sequence of shots from Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks, and, our penultimate stop, Las Vegas. I am at my new place in Los Angeles now; I am officially blogging from Lotusland. Almost all of these photos were taken by Mrs. Octopus.

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The Morning Glory hot spring in Yellowstone.

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The mountains in Grand Teton on a cloudy, foggy morning.

Bryce Canyon in southern Utah.

Canary Spring in Yellowstone.

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In Zion.

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At Mammoth Spring in Yellowstone.

Yet more of our nation's bounty after the jump.Collapse )
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On the Road Still [Sep. 24th, 2005|11:32 am]
Octopus Grigori **West**
You can't stop the machine. More photos from South Dakota to Wyoming. Next post will feature shots from Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and the final leg of our trip into Los Angeles.

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Your blogger, contemplating his insignificance in the universe while looking out on the Badlands in South Dakota. The Badlands reminded me of Kim Stanley Robinson's descriptions of the Martian landscape in his classic Red Mars.

American Idols. We saw them up close at dusk with a purple neon lightning storm in the background. The gods were unhappy.

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Big horn sheep in Custer State Park in South Dakota

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The bison roaming in Custer State Park. Some are culled every year and made into Bison Burgers.

Devil's Tower in Wyoming is quite eerie. It pops up out of nowhere in the barren Wyoming landscape. It has a slightly greenish tinge up close.

The long road to Yellowstone across Wyoming.

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On the Road [Sep. 16th, 2005|11:39 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Some random images from the road (more to follow).

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Day 3 of our cross country adventure finds us in lovely Sioux Falls. If you are ever in town, make sure to stop at Bob's Cafe on 12th Street (picture below), where the broasted chicken is delicious and the regulars are friendly and generous with South Dakota tips.

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Farewell, New York [Sep. 13th, 2005|12:34 am]
Octopus Grigori **West**
First of two (or possibly more) photo series -- pictures I've taken in New York over the past eight years. (I'll post the second series after we've arrived in L.A. -- my scanner has already been packed.)

In my hallway.

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The Rose Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History

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Railyard of No. 7 trains outside Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, during the U.S. Open

Summer evening on Smith Street in Brooklyn

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The Chrysler Building at dusk

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St. Marks Books in the East Village

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The new Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn

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Central Park, looking out onto Fifth Avenue

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The central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library

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The winter sky above Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
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Adventures in BubbleLand [Sep. 8th, 2005|02:49 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
It's become passé to observe that the current U.S. housing price boom is a bubble that is just about to pop. Still, it appears that the current situation is extremely tenuous.

U.S. consumer spending has continued even as job growth has been relatively sluggish largely due to skyrocketing housing prices, which leave homeowners feeling flush with disposable income.

A crucial factor that has allowed housing prices to continue to rise are low interest rates; so long these rates remain relatively low, consumers are much more willing to enter into mortgages and purchase homes.

However, interest rates probably would not be as low as they are if China and other countries were not purchasing U.S. Treasury bonds at a voracious clip. The U.S. has been running a massive trade deficit (or current account deficit (“CAD”)) for a while now. On top of this, the Bush administration, by coupling massive tax cuts with huge expenditures on Iraq (and not New Orleans), has run up a tremendous federal budget deficit. Both CAD and federal budget deficits generally produce higher interest rates, as the government has to compete with private sector to borrow money. However, the U.S. has not had to raise rates on its bonds, as China and others have been more than willing to snap up bonds, regardless of the interest rate offered.
[T]he fast accumulation of home equity wealth is powerfully stimulating consumer spending and the economy.
American's burgeoning trade deficits with China and oil-producing countries, which have fed the record $668 billion current account deficit, have indirectly enabled the housing bubble, because foreigners have re-invested large portions of their trade earnings in U.S. Treasury bonds.
That has driven bond yields and interest rates -- which determine the rates on mortgages -- to their lowest levels in decades.
The ready availability of low-cost credit and financing options has enabled consumers and investors to turn their housing wealth into cash like never before, leading to an unprecedented build-up of mortgage debt as well as wealth, according to Fed surveys.
Full article at, er, The Wash. Times.

The Chinese (and others) are not, of course, snapping up T-bonds out of altruism. The foreign investors are doing this to prop up the dollar a bit (China must purchase U.S. dollars to buy U.S. bonds, thereby supporting the dollar, which would otherwise be falling against other currencies as U.S. consumers spend dollars to purchase foreign commodities), and to help keep interest rates low in the U.S, which will allow U.S. growth to continue, and thus, U.S. consumers to continue purchasing Chinese goods. (In the absence of such foreign purchases of T-bonds, a CAD would generally produce a weakening dollar, as U.S. consumers spent dollars to purchase goods from other countries. A weakening dollar would help - in theory - as an automatic correcting measure to the CAD: purchases of imports would decrease, as the purchasing power of the dollar declined, and U.S. exports would increase as U.S goods became cheaper (because of the greater relative strength of foreign currencies) for the Japanese, Europeans, Chinese, et al.) (Isn't amateur economics fun?)

Many predict that the current state of affairs cannot hold (if you believe in some of the ideas of economics, you likely have faith in the inevitable paths back to sweet, fleeting equilibria). Eventually, China and others will have to change their policy of snatching up U.S. bonds. The Economist has argued that it is possible that China's recent delinking of the yuan to the dollar may speed China's move to kick its U.S. T-bond habit:
[T]he switch from a dollar peg to a currency basket may cause China to diversify its reserves away from dollars. It is unlikely to dump its dollars, but it could well reduce its new purchases of Treasury bonds in favour of other currencies [such as, e.g., the euro]. And, if China really has broken the yuan's link with the dollar, then this could be the trigger for another general slide in the greenback against the euro, the yen and other currencies, prompting investors to demand higher yields [and thus higher interest rates]. The fate of American house prices could thus be determined by unelected bureaucrats in Beijing rather than the unelected central bankers of the West.
If or when these events come to pass, the U.S. interest rates will begin to skyrocket; and as a result, consumers will be much less willing to purchase homes. Continuing to follow this cascade, the prices of homes will drop, and, the main engine of recent economic growth in the U.S. will stall out. The dollar, no longer propped up by foreign investments in T-bonds, will plummet. As the dollar drops, U.S. consumers will cut back sharply on purchases of Chinese, Japanese, and European goods. This cut- back will slow the economies of our main trading partners, on whom we would normally rely to purchase our exports to help lift our economy. like Hello, recession.

Add to this mix the recent dramatic increases in the price of oil, which will likely increase costs for manufacturers and shippers, and raise food prices (due to transportation costs). This may (1) cause employers to cut back on other costs, such as labor, and (2) trigger an inflationary spiral that may lead to higher interest rates
If the Federal Reserve smells inflation [in the wake of Hurricane Katrina] . . . it could raise interest rates more aggressively. That would put a more severe damper on economic growth, particularly in the nation's real estate market where the average rate for a fixed-rate 30-year mortgage remains near historic lows at 5.71 percent.

"It'll kill the housing sector," said economist Edward Leamer of UCLA.

Another potential complication: The hurricane, whose price tag is estimated at $150 billion, will surely add to the federal budget deficit, putting more pressure on foreign investors to finance the deficit by purchasing U.S. Treasury bonds. If they don't, interest rates could go up sharply. [Also killing the housing sector, and thus, again, wiping out the primary engine of recent U.S. economic health.]
Full article at Sac. Bee.

What can be done? The federal government should attempt to reduce the federal budget deficit (hopefully by reducing our massive expenditures in Iraq and by repealing much of Bush's gigantic tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans). Outside of that, I'm not sure. Anyone have any ideas?

Of course, I probably have no idea what I'm talking about. I'm just a hobbyist.

P.S. - I am confident that I have made numerous fundamental mistakes in the above analysis. Please feel free to offer corrections or stern reprimands. Cheers.
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Where did we come from? [Sep. 8th, 2005|10:53 am]
Octopus Grigori **West**
Perhaps, we fell from the sky:
NASA's Deep Impact mission to comet Tempel 1 has supported the notion that comets seeded the barren infant planet of Earth with the chemical precursors of life.

In results published in Thursday's edition of Science Express, Deep Impact scientists say they have found high levels of organic chemicals beneath the surface of Tempel 1's core.

They have yet to identify all of the chemicals present in the material, which was ejected on July 4, when the comet collided with a projectile the Deep Impact spacecraft released.

Scientists expect to identify all of the chemicals that comets brought in abundance to the early Earth in an effort to understand comets' roles in our planet's early history.

One surprise is that†the experts have†detected an unexpectedly high concentration of methyl cyanide†which is a†key player in reactions that form DNA.

"If methyl cyanide is a particularly abundant component, it would suggest that comets could have delivered an abundance of these highly reactive compounds to the early Earth," notes Tom McCollom, a researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics.
See full article at Xinhua (China); see also Wash. Post.
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On the Road [Sep. 7th, 2005|02:51 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**

In exactly one week, we fire up a Dodge Intrepid here in Brooklyn and set out on the road to California. (I know, great time for a road trip in an American car.)

We'll likely be taking, roughly, US 20 (see map), sometimes referred to as the Oregon Trail. This route should take us through Cleveland and Chicago, across the Mississippi River on the Julien Dubuque Bridge in Iowa, through Yellowstone, Craters of the Moon, and some other fantastic destinations. We most likely won't follow US 20 all the way to Portland; instead, we'll probably veer south toward Los Angeles somewhere in Idaho. We'll probably take ten to twelve days to do the trip, giving ourselves some time to see some stuff, especially the parks.

I'd like to hear any and all suggestions and advice for our trip. Recommendations as to National Parks and roadside food are especially appreciated. Thanks!
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Stuff Happens [Sep. 7th, 2005|11:52 am]
Octopus Grigori **West**
From the Washington Post :
We're not number one. We're not even close.

By which measures, precisely, do we lead the world? Caring for our countrymen? You jest. A first-class physical infrastructure? Tell that to New Orleans. Throwing so much money at the rich that we've got nothing left over to promote the general welfare? Now you're talking.

The problem goes beyond the fact that we can't count on our government to be there for us in catastrophes. It's that a can't-do spirit, a shouldn't-do spirit, guides the men who run the nation. Consider the congressional testimony of Joe Allbaugh, George W. Bush's 2000 campaign manager, who assumed the top position at FEMA in 2001. He characterized the organization as "an oversized entitlement program," and counseled states and cities to rely instead on "faith-based organizations . . . like the Salvation Army and the Mennonite Disaster Service."

Is it any surprise, then, that the administration's response to the devastation in New Orleans is of a piece with its response to the sacking of Baghdad once our troops arrived? "Stuff happens" was the way Don Rumsfeld described the destruction of Baghdad's hospitals, universities and museums while American soldiers stood around. Now stuff has happened in New Orleans, too, even as FEMA was turning away offers of assistance. This is the stuff-happens administration. And it's willing, apparently, to sacrifice any claim America may have to national greatness rather than inconvenience the rich by taxing them to build a more secure nation.

As a matter of social policy, the catastrophic lack of response in New Orleans is exceptional only in its scale and immediacy. When it comes to caring for our fellow countrymen, we all know that America has never ranked very high. We are, of course, the only democracy in the developed world that doesn't offer health care to its citizens as a matter of right. We rank 34th among nations in infant mortality rates, behind such rival superpowers as Cyprus, Andorra and Brunei.

But these are chronic conditions, and even many of us who argue for universal health coverage have grown inured to that distinctly American indifference to the common good, to our radical lack of solidarity with our fellow citizens. Besides, the poor generally have the decency to die discreetly, and discretely -- not conspicuously, not in droves. Come rain or come shine, we leave millions of beleaguered Americans to fend for themselves on a daily basis. It's just a lot more noticeable in a horrific rain, and when the ordinary lack of access to medical care is augmented by an extraordinary lack of access to emergency services.
Full column.

As many of you likely know, Sen. Landrieu, who had already threatened "to punch" Bush or any of his federal pals if they continued to follow their Roveian instructions to push blame down onto state and local officials, released a press release on Saturday accusing Bush of using rescue equipment to stage a photo-op:
But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast -- black and white, rich and poor, young and old -- deserve far better from their national government.
Full press release.
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Smile [Sep. 5th, 2005|03:59 pm]
Octopus Grigori **West**
The current NYRB has an good article about one of my favorite albums of this new century: Brian Wilson's revelatory Smile:
A synopsis of the album's Americana theme, "Roll Plymouth Rock" (originally titled "Do You Like Worms?") begins with an ominous sound of timpani and the lines "Waving from the ocean liners/beaded cheering Indians behind them/Rock, rock, roll, Plymouth Rock roll over." The latter line links together references to early rock-and-roll stars Bill Haley ("Rock Around the Clock") and Chuck Berry ("Roll Over Beethoven") with the site of the Pilgrims' landing as part of the album's pop exploration of American mythology.

A tinkling, music-box version of the "Heroes and Villains" theme then precedes guttural, faux-Indian chants, which underlie the lines "Ribbon of concrete, just see what you've done/ done to the church of the American Indian." A play on the "ribbon of highway" lyric of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," the phrase "ribbon of concrete" alternates on the second refrain with the words "Bicycle Rider," a possible reference to Bicycle "Rider Back" playing cards, first manufactured in 1885. In the album's cartoonish way, both images suggest the inexorable westward expansion of American settlers. Hawaiian chants usher in the end of the song ("the social structure steamed upon Hawaii"), looking toward the Bicycle Rider's final destination.
The piece gives a good history of Wilson's emergence, the widespread acclaim he received as an American Pop genius, his descent into madness, and his triumphant, redemptive reemergence with the completion of Smile.
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