Friday, September 16, 2005

Friday Roundup

St. LouisThe St. Louis Cardinals became the first team in Major League Baseball to clinch a division title yesterday, which puts them in the playoffs for the fifth time in six years. Last year they went all the way to the World Series, but couldn't hit their way out of wet and torn paper bag, pitched ineffectively, and lost badly to the eventual champions, the Boston Red Sox, allowing that team to end its almost-century long streak of World Series failures. (The Cardinals helped to ignite the Red Sox's train of futility as recently as 1967.)

The team's constitution is a bit different this year. In 2004, the Cardinals won their division and the pennant primarily because of their bats. This season, having traded the quick bat of Edgar Renteria and lost the bat and arm of third baseman Scott Rolen, and for significant stretches the hitting of Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders, the Redbirds have had to make do with a less productive Jim Edmonds, two new role players, shortstop David Eckstein (who was a key player on the Anaheim Angels' World Series-winning team) and second-baseman Mark Grudzielanek, superstar Albert Pujols, and a decent bench. What has been dramatically different is the startinng pitching. Chris Carpenter, who won 15 games last season before suffering a biceps injury that kept him out of the postseason, has won 21 games and is hurling towards his first Cy Young Award. The Cards kept third, fourth and fifth starters Matt Morris (who is 14-8 and faltering), Jeff Suppan (who is 15-10, pretty much matching his record of last season), and Jason Marquis (who at 12-14 has fallen apart), but they replaced Woody Williams with former Oakland ace Mark Mulder, who has won 15 games, thrown two shutouts, and after a rough patch, been one of the best lefthanders in the league.
The combination of quality starting pitching--the Cardinals staff has the most quality starts of any team in the league--combined with good middle and long relief, and one of the league's better closers, Jason Isringhausen, has meant that even when the Cardinals' bats were silent, they could stay in games. It also should ensure better odds against their National League rivals and, if they win the league pennant, whomever they face (the Yankees? Cleveland? the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? the Oakland As? the Red Sox again?) in the World Series.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the action movie star and increasingly unpopular governor of California, has announced that he'll run for reelection next year. Winning a flawed and outrageous recall election against moribund Democrat Gray Davis in 2003, Schwarzenegger maintained strong public support for about year, but over the six months the movie-star's luster has dimmed and his credibility has waned. He's revealed himself to be a loudmouthed, ethically challenged bully in the pocket of big business interests, with an imperial style that clashes with his state's republican system of government. He's also shown more than once that he's less moderate than the bedazzled media initially styled him. In addition to promising a veto the California legislature's landmark passage of a gay rights bill, Schwarzenegger has repeatedly publicly attacked the Democratic legislators, taken anti-union stands (including against the nurses' union, which now hounds him all across the state), and is pushing a fall referendum that polls show a majority of Californians don't and probably won't support.

Just last summer the Gropenator (or Der Gropenführer, or the Hon. Guvernator) was being touted as a future presidential candidate. Despite his admission of extensive steroid use, despite the raft of allegations of sexual misconduct (not the adultery, but the nonconsensual groping), despite the fact that under Article 2 of the US Constitution he'd be ineligible anyway, Republicans and even some Democrats were slobbering over the possibilities. Now he'll have to show he still has some ammo in his arsenal, as he faces a potential political defeat in just a few months, and the loss of his office next year, to State Treasurer Phil Angelides, State Controller Phil Westley, or someone else.

Bushie's Shirt
I passed on the latest bit of aestheticized politics from W and Co., the presidency-saving appeal from the drowned and devastated city of New Orleans, but C. watched it and noted that the eerily blue-lit St. Louis Cathedral reminded him of Disney Land, though a creepy version, especially since it was color-coordinated with W's misbuttoned shirt. Well, Maureen Dowd was on the same page and skewers this bit of Potemkin Village palavering in her column "Disney on Parade." It is vintage Dowd, scalpel honed to a surgeon's perfection, as she cuts through the noxious Rovian excrescence that millions of TV viewers were subjected to last night, while also carving up the ongoing failures of W's attempts to be the "reverse" of his father's presidency. She writes:

The Oedipal loop-de-loop of W. and Poppy grows ever loopier.

With Karl Rove's help, Junior designed his presidency as a reverse of his father's. W. would succeed by studying Dad's failures and doing the opposite. But in a bizarre twist of filial fate, the son has stumbled so badly in areas where he tried to one-up Dad that he has ended up giving Dad a leg up in the history books.

As Mark Twain said: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

Of course, it's taken Junior only five years to learn how smart his old man was.

His father made the "mistake" of not conquering and occupying Iraq because he had the silly idea that Iraqis would resent it. His father made the "mistake" of raising taxes, not cutting them, and overly obsessing about the federal deficit. And his father made the "mistake" of hewing to the center, making his base mad and losing his bid for re-election.

The rest is even better.

SchumerI've been listening, when I can, to Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee John Roberts Jr.'s confirmation hearings, and he's succeeded, it appears, in his verbal and intellectual rope-a-dope on the members of the Senate Judiciary committee. Parrying even the most determined queries of Democrats like ranking member Pat Leahy (Vermont), Chuck Schumer (New York, pictured at left, Stephen Crowley/New York Times), Teddy Kennedy (Massachusetts), Dick Durbin (Illinois), Dianne Feinstein (California), Russ Feingold (Wisconsin), and presidential wannnabe (again) Joe Biden (Delaware), as well as Republican committee chair Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania), Roberts has managed to demonstrate an acute grasp of American jurisprudence while remaining enigmatic and gnomic about his beliefs or how they would affect his rulings on the court. As Biden, Schumer and others noted, the hearings verged on "Kabuki theater," though some of the Republicans' performances were out of the theater of the absurd. I'm thinking in particular of Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who often babbled on like a fascinated infant and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, who almost seemed to be flirting with Roberts at times.

The most outrageous Republican, though, has been Tom Coburn, who bizarrely broke down at one point and decried the "incivility" of American politics, even though he himself has repeatedly trashed the opposition, once called for the killing of doctors who performed abortions, hysterically denounced "lesbianism," which he claimed was rampant in , committed Medicare fraud and sterilized a young woman against her consent and will (yes, voters actually elected this complete nutcase to a statewide, federal office!). A photographer even captured a crossword puzzle among Coburn's papers. Perhaps this isn't so uncommon, especially given the repetitive nature of some of the questioning, but still, even if you utterly supported Roberts, in light of the importance of the post he is probably going to occupy, couldn't you hold on the mental recreation for even a week?

Democrats face a quandary. Do they vote against Roberts, based on the little information they have and his ideological shiftiness, and send a message to W, which he'll surely ignore? Or do they vote to confirm Roberts, hoping he won't be a nightmare (instead pulling a Souter on the GOP) and, once again, lie down like felled logs waiting to be turned into plywood? Some, like Hillary Clinton, will do whatever is politically expedient, while others, like Kennedy, Durbin and Schumer, will vote against the man both on principle and based on the extreme tenor of his available writings. Others, like Joe Lieberman, will probably do whatever George W. Bush wants. I can't see any Republicans, including the true moderates like Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe, or Lincoln Chafee, who faces a right-wing primary opponent and an eventual Democratic opponent in one of the most liberal states in the country, voting against Roberts. But who knows? If W's numbers keep tanking, maybe they'll be emboldened.

And what of Roberts? Bill of FFactory arts blog wrote in an comment to me that he's come to believe that Roberts is a "minimalist," an opinion which legal scholar Cass Sunstein, in a New York Review of Books article, agrees with. I bet he's right. Roberts probably is a "minimalist" rather than an "originalist," a "literalist," or a raving lunatic like Clarence Thomas (or even worse, Janice Rogers Brown or Robert Bork). He certainly has created a new art of minimalism in answering Judiciary Committee questions with empty élan. Alan Dershowitz suggests in his Huffington Post entry "What I Have Learned from Listening to Judge Roberts" that Roberts will probably tear down the church-state wall, defer to presidential executive power, give Congress a bit more leeway, and not overturn Roe vs. Wade. Dershowitz also thinks Roberts would not use the equal protection argument in another Bush v. Gore decision, though he'd likely pick a Republican over a Democrat, especially if the Republican could muster the more convincing legal argument. As I said in a prior post, I just don't know. The hearings have been instructive on many levels, though, in terms of the law, the confirmation process and the relationship between the various branches, and the intellectual bankruptcy of most of the judiciary committee's Republicans.

Speaking of Cass Sunstein, he has a lively review of Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer's new book about the Constitution and the Supreme Court, "Philosopher-Justice," in the current online issue of the New Republic. (I first started reading this publication back when George H.W. Bush was still president. At that time, Michael Kinsley, who was recently fired resigned from the Los Angeles Times, was creditably editing it, before Andrew Sullivan and Michael Kelly plunged it into the quasi-neo-liberal, neo-con morass from which it's never fully emerged.) Breyer is one of the SCOTUS judges I find most fascinating, because while he is often portrayed as a liberal, his record shows that of the sitting justices (and the one that just went to Hell, William Rehnquist), he has been the most deferential to Congress's intentions and legislations, and takes an obviously incremental approach in most of his written decisions and dissents.

Sunstein argues that Breyer's approach, as detailed in this book, now represents the chief intellectual counterpoint on the Supreme Court to Scalia's view of the law, and should spark extensive discussion and commentary. Breyer's argument, to summarize, is that the Founders strongly believed in the idea of "active liberty" (participatory liberty) as opposed to merely negative liberty (the freedom to be left alone). Isaiah Berlin broke a slightly similar formulation down as positive freedom and negative freedom. To Breyer, many of the rulings of liberal justices in the past, like Earl Warren and William Brennan, sought to uphold those aspects of the ideas embedded in the Constitution which would promote active liberty over negative liberty; thus, the desire to permit free speech against government attempts to limit it; the promotion of affirmative action as a means of remediating past discrimination, so as to have a citizenry who not only experienced equality, but then could act upon it democratically; and the enumeration of other rights not literally expressed in the Constitution's text that empowered democratic participation and liberty. To Breyer, rather than literalist readings of the text, what is called for is active judgment and deliberation, as well as incremental approach to interpretation (which is lawmaking, given SCOTUS's power), rather than sweeping rulings that fail to take into account the limits of jurists' understanding or knowledge.

Sunstein has more to say as well, and much more persuasively than I. He criticizes the text it for being more of a sketch of ideas, however, rather than a full-blown treatise, for not citing some of its predecessors, and for not taking into account some of the implications of its arguments. Still, he praises it soundly, and lawyers and legal scholars probably will find much to gain in it, as Sunstein suggests. I'll wait till someone distills it somewhat, but what I gathered of Sunstein's article I found enlightening.

Today's New York Times features a minimalist article by Andy Newman, "Serving Gays Who Serve God," on the Unity Fellowship Church in Brooklyn. As the article points out, Unity Fellowship is the main congregation serving LGBT/sgl people of color in the New York metro area, and is a branch of the Unity Fellowship of Christ Churches that the Rev. Carl Bean founded in Los Angeles back in 1990. Two things about the article drew me in. First, I know the 50-year-old minister, Jeff Haskins (pictured at right, Michelle V. Agins/New York Times), now the Reverend Jeffery A. Haskins, from years ago, when he was an actor and performer, and a running buddy of one of my close friends. (Two degrees....) It is good to see he's still around and to know he's working hard to nurture the lives and hearts of others. The other thing I liked was the Web images, which are really evocative. I'm linking to them because while the article will soon enter the Times' fee-based archive, the images should be available in perpetuo virtuo (or as long as the servers permit).


I thought it was going to be worth listening to but...if you want to hear the verbal slag-and-slop fest between the arch, neo-conning ex-Troskyite Christopher Hitchens and the dictator-admiring expulsed Labourite minister George Galloway that recently took place at New York's Baruch College, you can hear it here, on Houston-KPFTx's Website. (The Quicktime links seem to work best on the Mac; the mp3s download to iTunes but don't play consecutively.)

As I said, I was expecting wit, even laced with acid, but the muck these two threw about wasn't really worth it. Bill as a debate, it was more of a descent: who could go lower. Hitchens seemed to be reveling in his waxing ontrariness--kissing the ass of powerful Republicans is one way to keep food on the table--even going so far as to insult the crowd a few times, while Galloway went out of his way to take positions that no sane liberal or progressive, but someone living in a ultraleftist Bellevue (or Cloudcuckooland, take your pick), might find palatable.

It would be great to see some smart and well-known political, academic and unaffiliated critical figures engage in a real debate on pertinent issues like the Iraq War, the global and domestic economy, the oil industry and commodity pricing, racial, gender and class inequality, health care, the environment, political partisanship and the role of ideology in policy, the future of gay rights, homosexuality and Christianity (or even just the Catholic Church), referendum-based legislation vs. republican legistating, the Constitution in the 21st century, AIDS and public health, propaganda and public lying, our civil responsibilities, what exactly does "liberty" mean, the role and function of the arts, the relationship between popular culture and the social order, and on and on. On national TV, on a regular basis, at a regular time. It is undoubtedly too much to ask, and yet we must ask--no demand--a more informed public discourse and public discussions than we're getting right now.

Serendipity. Tonight while unpacking my just-arrived books, I decided to flip through Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative, a collection of essays on new narrative edited by Mary Burger, Robert Glück, Camille Roy, and Gail Scott. I wanted to see if there were any pieces I might use in one of introductory fiction sourcebooks. I immediately went to Renee Gladman's short piece, "The Person in the World," which had previously appeared in The St. Mark's Newsletter last year. After skimming it I read the footnotes, something I often do with books whose main texts I can't continue in--I always find marvelous nuggets in the footnotes and endnotes, indices, and forematter and aftermatter, and so on; Tyrone Williams even published a great book of poems, titled cc., of which some were based on footnotes!--and noticed that she not only mentions, but champions ("I found this quote in the notes of an astounding book that I recommend to all readers of this essay...") a book I was trying to recall but for the life of me couldn't. It's philosopher Elizabeth Grosz's Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space (MIT Press, 2001), which I think I first saw on the MIT Press Website, then later in the St. Mark's Bookstore, but didn't buy ($$). I'm interested to read this book in light of other works I've mentioned before. After Googling Grosz's texts, I see that among her many works there's a interesting looking book on sexuality, bodies and space that the university's library has (it doesn't have Architecture from the Outside, though!), and which will soon be checked out under my name.... Thank you, Renee!

1 comment:

  1. It's Steve Westly...