Monkey Media Report Archive
The Triangle's near-daily news and arts Weblog

August 2003

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8.22.03 - It's been almost two months since I dared to ask the (on average) 330 of you who visit each day if you'd be so kind enough to donate. Donations ranged from $1 to $53, with a total of $143, if I recall correctly. Thank you.

Please, if you've enjoyed the commentary and/or art since then, help me stay focused on the research and writing you like at the Monkey Media Report. If the 8,000 of you who've visited in August would each send a dime - a dime - I could pay rent and bills and really throw myself into this thing. Please consider a small donation.

And when I get back from work tonight, I'll give you five reasons why John Edwards is going to withdraw from the Presidential race before Christmas.

Update: A violent encounter outside a local bar, late-night skinny dipping in [location supressed to keep the place quiet], a Saturday morning work shift and some [activity suppressed to spare the innocent] last night means you'll have to wait another day for the Edwards post. Sorry. Priorities, you know. [link]


8.22.03 - Saw a funny bumper sticker as I was biking past the legislative building a few days ago:

I'll kiss your elephant
when you kiss my ass

Well, I laughed, anyway. Sure, cooperation is better than total gridlock, especially when that cooperation leaves gaping wounds that fester for a long time in the NC Republican Party. But anyone who saw the ridiculously undemocratic power-sharing that went on between the House co-speakers knows that two vindictive, controlling legislators sharing a position with near-dictatorial power is hardly a bipartisan blessing - as you can see by the 30-103% pay raises Republican Richard Morgan and Democrat Jim Black just gave to some of their staffers. Must be nice. And don't forget how the co-speakers buried a ballot access reform bill that had been approved unanimously by a bipartisan House committee. The reason for the outrageous move (after you slap away all of the lame excuses about "illegitimate" parties getting on the ballot)? The fact that one of the bill's Republican sponsors had written a scathing attack back in April against the deal-making that got Mr. Morgan his spot at the top.

It's hard not to think of these revealing incidents whenever I see in the state's newspapers that the co-speakership "went smoothly" this year. Yeah, the two co-dictators sure were "smooth" as they ran roughshod over their peers - and the rest of us. The News & Observer's editors, by the way, nicely demonstrated a lack of commitment to the powerless by never once bothering to mention the ballot access episode in their house editorials, even as they gave an approving nod to the co-speaker arrangement at the end of the session.

I'll pass on this particular brand of bipartisanship, thanks. Let's hope the bumper sticker above is a sign of growing discontent with the (I'll say it again) near-dictatorial powers the House co-speakers enjoy over legislation in this state. [link]


8.21.03 - Don't forget Pink Beats tonight at Bickett Gallery, an evening of some of the Triangle's best female DJs presided over by my friend Stex of Try This At Home TV fame. [link]


8.21.03 - Uh-oh. A UK-based Saudi Arabian dissident just announced that up to 3,000 Saudi Islamists "had gone 'missing' in the kingdom in two months" [via the indispensible Cursor]. Most are probably heading to that marvelous little terrorist haven the Bush/Cheney administration just created. That second article is a must-read for anyone trying to understand the stupid hellhole in Iraq, by the way. Here's another one. [link]


8.21.03 - Metafilter has been great lately, with lots of interesting history and art sites outweighing the daily news stories (and even those are more interesting than usual). A few recent fascinating posts:

If you're looking to get a Web skeptic (yeah, they're still out there; I met one last week) to rethink his or her position, there's not a better place to start than a truly communal collaborative Weblog like Metafilter. [link]



8.20.03 - Brilliant dissection of the electricity grid mess up at Liberal Oasis' Sunday Talkshow Breakdown [via The Sideshow]. The thin column makes you scroll too much, but read the whole thing. Especially the part that rips into the power industry and its bought polticos' frequent assertion that the biggest strain on the grid comes from skyrocketing consumer use:

Let’s look at those claims again. Despite Abraham’s claim, this year’s “Annual Energy Outlook” from his Energy Dept. didn’t exactly forecast a “huge” demand increase in the next 20 years:

Electricity Use Is Expected To Grow More Slowly Than GDP
During the 1960s, electricity demand grew by more than 7 percent per year, nearly twice the rate of economic growth…The continuing saturation of electric appliances, the availability and adoption of more efficient equipment, and promulgation of efficiency standards are expected to hold the growth in electricity sales to an average of 1.8 percent per year between 2001 and 2025, compared with 3.0-percent annual growth in GDP.

For Tauzin’s comment, “You can’t double demand on the system,” it’s not clear if he meant it would double in the future or it has doubled in the past. Either way, it doesn't quite fly. A 1.8% annual growth rate won’t double demand by 2025. And Richardson’s stats show any doubling of past demand must have been spread out over multiple decades.

Speaking of Richardson, what’s the relevance of his 35% demand, 18% capacity stat? Richardson’s not the only one to bring that number up. The NY Times and others have cited it recently. But where does it come from? The industry-backed Electric Power Research Institute, three years ago..So we don’t know what the demand vs. capacity stats are for the last three years. Furthermore, stats from industry sources can be misleading, as California learned in its 2001 crisis. From the SF Chronicle:

Power companies say it so often, and with such certainty, that it has become a virtual mantra: "Skyrocketing" energy use by Californians is a root cause of the state's power crisis, and justification for surging electricity prices. But a computer analysis of electricity usage data by The Chronicle reveals that the mantra is a myth -- that overall growth in electricity demand hasn't been nearly as great as the industry portrays it.

Even taking the EPRI stat at face value, who is to blame for the rise in demand, and the extra burden on the grid? Despite what the pols insinuate, it may not be you. In 2000, the Consumer Federation of America reported:

Creation of markets for electricity services requires a huge growth in transactions…Demands on network facilities are likely to increase as a result of the wide range of new transactions taking place…An increase in the number of transactions may require costly improvements to the transmission system in order to ensure reliability. Prior to the price spikes of 1998, the number of traders increased over 50 fold; the quantity traded increased several hundred times.

Basically, power that used to just go from point A to point B -- from the plant to you -- is now shuttling back and forth between wholesalers, straining the system. Thanks to deregulation. That’s a deregulation that pretty much no regular citizen ratepayer ever asked for. Dereg came about because of upstart power companies wanting to score big, led by Enron, and large corporate power users wanting cut costs. Yet, as Abraham said plainly yesterday, you, Joe Ratepayer, will foot the bill for their deal. Unsurprisingly, deregulation’s role in weakening the grid didn’t come up much on Sunday.

Because, since the various corporate interests have showered money all over DC on elec dereg, the debate in Washington is not liberals vs. privatizers. It’s power companies vs. other power companies. And so, Richardson, a Clintonite, represents the “opposing” view on the talkshows. But he’s for dereg as well. Just a different approach that would benefit a different set of companies. In turn, no one was there to advocate why we shouldn't lighten the load on the grid by scrapping the dereg boondoggle. This is one of those issues that drove Ralph Nader to claim there was no difference between the parties. It should be clear to all now that such a claim is wild overstatement. But on this issue, the Dems have not stood on principle. And we will all suffer for it.

Now that is some fine blogging as reporting. Next time you hear someone spouting off about skyrocketing consumer use of electricity being the cause of all this trouble, just think about all that power being swapped and speculated by deregulated electricity companies who are making a killing by straining a grid you're going to pay to upgrade for them. [link]


[click, it's worth it]

8.20.03 - Over at everyone's favorite conservative Raleigh think tank, John Hood has a skeptical piece debunking overblown hype about the state's supposedly large and vibrant tourist industry:

Long ago, I realized that wherever you go in the United States, you will hear pretty much the same spiel from politicians, industry reps, and gullible media folks. It turns out that the way the "travel and tourism" industry is defined, it encompasses such a large number of disparate businesses and industries — from hotels and convention business to sports, entertainment, movies, restaurants, and transportation — that there is virtually no state in the union in which it does not constitute "one of the largest industries."

Turns out that every time you go to the local multiplex or corner restaurant, you're adding to NC's "tourism" industry.

For years, we've sort of made it a joke at the Locke Foundation to locate the silliest version of the "tourism will save us" story. But it's starting to lose its ability to amuse.

I've just read a story today that has taken the claim to its most absurd degree. "With travel and tourism recognized as the largest industry in the state — generating some $12 billion in annual revenue and creating more than 200,000 jobs — the General Assembly is being more hospitable to its needs," began a piece in last weekend's Charlotte Business Journal about a bill that has passed the N.C. House, but thankfully not yet the Senate, to aid local projects that promise to attract travel and tourism. Originally intended to help Charlotte build an NBA arena for the new Charlotte Bobcats, the legislature was expanded by lawmakers in Raleigh to encompass a wide variety of costly boondoggles — I mean, wise investments in our future.

It also turns out that NC ranks lowest in the region in hotel/lodging expenditures as a percent of gross domestic product. Three cheers for our biggest industry, eh? There's definitely a role for the state in encouraging tourism - I suggest pumping money into Vollis Simpson's Lucama whirligig field (aka "Acid Park") so it survives as an attraction after he dies - but is it too much to ask that we define the industry honestly?

Apparently so. As everyone's favorite liberal Raleigh think tank noted last Friday, North Carolina doesn't seem to worry too much about precision when it comes to government handouts to industry:

A recent study done by UNC for the N.C. Department of Commerce shows that corporate welfare is alive and well, and worse than we thought. The William S. Lee Tax Act was passed in 1996 with the intent to create "widely shared prosperity" throughout the state, accomplished through tax incentives and credits to compete with other states for new and expanding businesses and jobs. Unfortunately, The Bill Lee Act can be "credited" for wasting millions of public dollars.

The report states that 96% of the new jobs supported by the Lee Act would have been created anyway, without the incentives. According to the Department of Revenue, a handful of five or six corporations account for approximately one third of the credits claimed, and furthermore, another twenty corporations account for another third. In effect, 30 businesses consume a colossal two-thirds of the tax credits.

Wait, that's not all. Here's the best part:

Tax credits can be claimed by businesses which are organized into tiers; tier 1 being distressed areas, and tier 5 the most affluent areas. To this date, tiers 4 & 5 have received over 70% of the credits, where tiers 1 & 2 have collected a pathetic 8%...In other words, corporations in the most well-to-do parts of the state claim most of the tax credits, which calls into question the act's ability to create economic opportunity in impoverished areas.

"Calls into question?" If the Department of Commerce's own study shows that 96% of the companies would have moved here anyway without the incentives, I'd say it more than calls the Bill Lee Act "into question." It demolishes the rationale for the act completely. Of course, there's no way state leaders will ever give up the equivalent of a slush fund to hand over to their favorite corporations in wealthy areas of the state. Anyone want to bet that an enterprising journalist who takes a look at those 30 companies' political donations over the last 7 years would find something interesting?

By the way, if you're not subscribed to the Common Sense Foundation's "Consider This" newsletters, you're missing out on some of the sharpest left-wing commentary in the state. Oh, and there's great footage of Vollis' whirligigs in motion up at PBS. [link]


8.19.03 - Anything but TV:

Art classes and piano lessons fight child obesity
Low-level activity reduces risk by 43%


8.19.03 - In the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area tonight? My pal Matt - who runs TriangleFutureMusic and consistently turns me on to amazing films I'd never heard of before - is showing the surreal Japanese horror flick Uzumaki (official site) at Kings. Something about spirals, he tells me, but any movie the Onion says "occasionally sacrifices coherence at the altar of cool, but it always keeps a mesmerizing grip on the eye" sounds fine by me. [link]


8.19.03 - Great find from Atrios: "The Danger of American Fascism," a stunningly prescient 1944 article from then-Vice-President Henry Wallace, "second only to Roosevelt as the most important figure of the New Deal." Excerpts don't do it justice, but:

The really dangerous American fascists are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.

Sound familiar? There's lots more from Wallace at the wonderful New Deal Network, including a brief biography that's a must-read for those of us whose crappy education left gaping holes in our knowledge of liberal history. I particularly liked Wallace's attack on Hitler's racial superiority for its stirring - to this former zoology major, anyway - linking of democracy and good science ("science cannot flourish except in an atmosphere of freedom, and freedom cannot survive unless there is an honest facing of facts"). But it's the 1944 essay on American fascism that Atrios rightly points to first:

If we define an American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States. There are probably several hundred thousand if we narrow the definition to include only those who in their search for money and power are ruthless and deceitful...

Still another danger is represented by those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion. American fascists of this stamp were clandestinely aligned with their German counterparts before the war, and are even now preparing to resume where they left off, after "the present unpleasantness" ceases.

Yep, that's familiar. If, as you read the WWII-era quote above, you find yourself thinking about the Bush family's financial support for the German Nazi Party and Dick Cheney's careful pre-war planning to ensure profits in Iraq, you're not alone. The war profiteers will always be with us, eh? And while I know there were things about the New Deal that were far from democratic - or smart, for that matter - I also know that when it comes to threats to liberty, I'll take well-meaning progressives like Henry Wallace over Nazi-sympathizing conservatives like Prescott Bush any day.

By the way, skeptics should note that for some peculiar reason, Cecil at the Straight Dope muddies the waters on the Bush-Nazi link rather than clarifies them. The "straight" answer he gives attempts to deflect criticism of profitable commerce with Hitler in war-related industries like coal and steel with the excuse that "American business has always invested in totalitarian regimes." Good lord. Sorry, Cecil, but letting Prescott Bush and George Herbert Walker off the hook with "everybody was doing it" and "they stopped after 1938" is absurd. Everybody was most decidedly not raking in cash by doing business with the Nazis, long after the evil behind Nazism was clear - and being fought tooth and nail - to anyone with a soul.

What a sad disappointment from The Straight Dope. It's also worth noting that Cecil focuses on what he derides as "sensational allegations" while ignoring the wealth of specific details (yes, I linked it again so more of you would bother to read it) documenting the evil greed of Prescott Bush and those like him during WWII. Judging from the family's care in preserving names, I think it's fair to wonder what other traditions Prescott and George passed along. How many of their questionable values does our current President share? What does Dubya think about his grandpa's Nazi business ties, anyway?

Why hasn't anyone in the mainstream press asked him that question yet? [link]


8.19.03 - Body and Soul points to a nice discussion at Beautiful Horizons of a linguist's sharp look (still with me?) at attempts by the right to demonize the word "leftist" and nudge the political center to the right. Lots of interesting history in the piece. Me, I think the sooner we start realizing that most people skip gaily across traditional "liberal/conservative" lines as they flit from issue to issue, the better (read: more honest) our political discourse will become.

Body and Soul also addresses the related issue of Christian-dismissing lefties who ignore the "huge, decent middle ground...between anti-war nuns and Pat Robertson." Follow the link to a fantastic, provocative Washington Monthly piece, "Do the Democrats Have A Prayer?" The author discusses religious moderates - "whose allegiance is more up for grabs than most people realize" - and calls for "an authentically religious Democrat" with "moral standing" to really woo them. Moral standing hardly comes from belonging to a named church, so I'd prefer it if the author had called for politicians grounded in an authentic spirituality, but we'll let that one slide. I agree completely with the author's point that there are plenty of "persuadable" religious voters out there, including Muslims, Hispanic Catholics and the delightfully named "free-style evangelicals." Dems can win them over by showing honest, respectful spirituality and an ability to "speak to and appeal to religious constituencies."

Speaking as a relentlessly secular left-leaning voter, I assure you that I don't get alienated by calls to a more noble political life, or by candidates who demonstrate a "facility with religious language" on the campaign trail. Unless, that is, those calls come from a particularly unconvincing source, are mean-spirited and exclusionary, or come with stupid and superficial "solutions" like mandatory school uniforms or Constitutional amendments. Surely we can demand something a little more creative than that.

I say that even the third-rail issue of queer marriage can be balanced with any Dem candidate's embrace of religion. Just start by focusing on the large and growing number of churches - in lots of denominations - that accept lesbian and gay people for who we are. Steer clear of the rest. The religious message would be heard loud and clear, without alienating left-leaning voters who happen to like their queer daughters, sons, mothers, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandfathers, neighbors and co-workers just fine the way they are. I mean, jesus, we've got Coretta Scott King on our side. If Democratic leaders aren't willing to work with that, they really are hopeless. [link]


8.18.03 - It goeth before a fall, you know.

Calculating pro-war careerists like Joe Lieberman, John Edwards and [spit] Dick Gephardt still don't get it, but the rest of us sure are enjoying the unraveling of the Cheney administration's single-issue re-election campaign. Every lying, distorted move they make on Iraq only serves to raise more questions in the minds of - oops - the Southern swing voters centrist Dems like Edwards sold out their principles to court. Whatever will John Edwards do now that the Bush administration's "subversion of constitutional limits on executive power and a co-opting through deceit of a large segment of the Congress" are being called out by Pentagon insiders? The doubts are only going to get louder in September when Congressional hearings start. The "Poor me - I believed the President" defense might play in adoring Republican circles, but it sure won't play to Dems.

The latest Iraq insanity is such a blatant display of the, er, power of pride that it yanks the neocons' pants down completely, exposing them for the childish jerks they are as they refuse U.N. help in rebuilding the country:

Mr. Rumsfeld, according to administration officials, vehemently opposes any dilution of military authority over Iraq by involving the United Nations, either through United Nations peacekeepers or indirectly in any United Nations authorization of forces from other countries.

Neat, eh? Forget that veterans and family members are already organizing to get our soldiers the hell out of a country that never attacked us. Rummy and Dick won't let anyone else play their solo little board game:

American military officials say they fear that involving the United Nations, even indirectly, will hamper the latitude the United States must have in overseeing Iraqi security and pursuing anti-American guerrilla forces or terrorist actions.

Not to mention the latitude the U.S. "must have" in handing expensive contracts over to Dick's pals. Sure, the businessmen who wield influence over French and German politicians are obviously pushing for their share of the spoils. So what? U.S. corporations "already have locked up more business than they can handle." Only a bunch of greedy, unpatriotic asses would reject trading a tiny fragment of Halliburton's profits for some relief for the young Americans now trapped in the neocons' line of fire. Unfortunately, that NY Times article about the U.N. nicely demonstrates that "greedy, amoral asses" describes the current White House crew perfectly:

"The last thing we need is a loss of momentum over the efforts to get things under control in Iraq," said a Western diplomat involved in these discussions. "Besides, the violence in Iraq is not as bad as everyone thinks it is."

How wonderful to hear it. Sure would be a shame to lose all that momentum:

On a day when two more American soldiers were reported killed in Iraq, U.S. forces shot into a crowd of thousands of demonstrators in Baghdad yesterday, killing one civilian and wounding four after being fired upon, the military said.

In Sadr City, a Shia Muslim slum, about 3,000 demonstrators gathered around a telecommunications tower where they said American forces in a helicopter tried to tear down an Islamic banner. U.S. military spokesman Sgt. Danny Martin said it was apparently blown down by a helicopter.

However, amateur video footage obtained by Associated Press Television News showed a Black Hawk helicopter hovering just above the tower and apparently trying to tear down the banner.

Well, that's one way to encourage democracy - ripping down political banners and shooting into crowds of civilians. Notice that the coalition forces are no longer even trying to put out the spin that they were fired on first. Oh, but things in Iraq aren't as bad as you think they are. Those suicides? They're just unreported "non-combat injuries." The resistance fighters? Um, they're really Al Qaeda, probably from Iran. Better invade that one next.

Why the hell are U.S. troops tearing down banners, anyway? Don't the commanders who ordered that have better things for their troops to do? Like, you know, getting electricity up and running? Or winning over the secular population by making the streets safe for women? I guess not.

Meanwhile, back at the Batc - I mean the Slothcave:

"The administration is not willing to confront going to the Security Council and saying, 'We really need to make Iraq an international operation,' " said an administration official. "You can make a case that it would be better to do that, but right now the situation in Iraq is not that dire."

Well, at least Rummy's pride is safe. For now. The moment Karl Rove feels enough pressure from soldiers' dead bodies, he'll buckle under and order Bush to go to the U.N. Which raises the obvious question: Why not help speed the process along? I suggest starting with the Republicans [pdf] and presenting yourself as an independent voter. The sooner they believe swing voters are angry, the sooner we put an end to horror like this.

Oh, and be sure to watch out for the real Seven Deadly Sins. [link]


8.18.03 - Remember John Brady Kiesling? He was one of only three U.S. Foreign Service diplomats with the guts to resign during the rush to invade Iraq - real American heroes, all of them. Keisling has spoken out a few times since then (if you liked his resignation letter, you'll love the fascinating essay he published last April in the Boston Globe Magazine). He's now back with an open letter to a Greek daily newspaper, with Donald Rumsfeld in his sights. [link]


8.15.03 - Interesting analysis of the northeastern power outage at The Knowledge Problem, a blog by the Reason Foundation's Economic Policy Director, Lynne Kiesling. Indie journalist Greg Palast provides a sharp counter-view to the pro-deregulation crowd. And as news breaks, of course, weblogs consistently outshine newspapers by offering detailed personal accounts from smart, thoughtful writers, along with a generous helping of links to other sites. [non-Palast links via Hit and Run] [link]


8.14.03 - The Speech Accent Archive, with 264 audio clips of native and non-native English speakers reading the same paragraph. Wonderful sounds if you love languages (and who doesn't?), including Bambara, Vietnamese, Uzbek, Quechua and the instantly recognizable Synthesized. [via Raleigh resident Tara Calishan's always-fascinating ResearchBuzz]

Update: A comment from Matt Haughey at MeFi reminds me that I should've singled out the English page, with all of its marvelous variations. [link]


8.14.03 - Two articles from the smart Jewish weekly The Forward:

Gay Muslims work towards a new Islam:

"I had so many issues with my faith, including ones around my sexuality, that I had rejected my religious history," said Atif Toor, a graphic designer. "September 11 definitely changed that. I found myself defending Islam on a regular basis, where before I'd been a skeptic. But I found that even as a skeptic of Islam, the religion wasn't the image of terror and oppression that is the popular perception in the USA. So 9/11 had a profound impact on my relationship with Islam. I was forced to reconcile parts of my personal past that I'd been ignoring."

Dr. Laura renounces Orthodox Judaism:

In a shocking if little-noticed revelation, Schlessinger — who very publicly converted to Judaism five years ago — opened "The Dr. Laura Schlessinger Program" on August 5 with the confession that she will no longer practice Judaism. Although Schlessinger said she still "considers" herself Jewish, "My identifying with this entity and my fulfilling the rituals, etc., of the entity — that has ended." [...]

Schlessinger began her August 5 program by noting that, prior to each broadcast, she spends an hour reading faxes from fans and listeners. "By and large the faxes from Christians have been very loving, very supportive," she said. "From my own religion, I have either gotten nothing, which is 99% of it, or two of the nastiest letters I have gotten in a long time. I guess that's my point — I don't get much back. Not much warmth coming back."

Of course, you cynics will always look for the bad in people:

Schlessinger even hinted at a possible turn to Christianity — a move that, radio insiders say, would elevate her career far beyond the 300 stations that currently syndicate her show.

...last week's revelation was far from the first time Schlessinger has been wracked with religious doubts. Lacking a religious background, she has spent a lifetime searching for that missing something, and "each thing I tried left me feeling empty," she told Philadelphia's Inside magazine in 1998. Having already undergone a Conservative conversion in 1997, after a debacle with the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas — a now-legendary affair in which she allegedly rejected three hotel suites, wouldn't ride in taxis and offended the entire audience at a $500 plate fundraiser — Schlessinger was tempted to give up on Judaism completely, but decided to undergo an Orthodox conversion instead.

"A large part of me wanted to make a statement after that experience, to stand even taller about Jewish values," she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2001. "Besides, if you don't have an Orthodox conversion, you can't get buried in Israel. I want to be close to ground zero."

Well, that's sure a great reason to change religions. But whatever floats your spiritual boat, I say. [link]


8.12.03 - Flipping through the channels, I recently got sucked into the last half of The Affair of the Necklace, a messy-but-interesting little film that I'd probably like a lot less if I'd seen the whole thing. The beautiful Hilary Swank plays an 18th-century con woman who inadvertently undermines the sacred myth of the Divine Monarchy and helps spark the downfall of Marie Antoinette - thus giving birth to the French Revolution. No shit. "Repudiation of a French sovereign by court verdict and public rebuke had never before occurred," say the historians, which becomes hilarious/tragic when you realize that Antoinette was completely blameless in this particular affair involving the theft of a diamond necklace, an unwitting cardinal and the famous charlatan Cagliostro.

Yes, the "based on a true story" flick is overblown, but come on, who really expects otherwise from a period piece about French royal society? (I figure if you can believe those outfits you can believe anything.) And the movie at least has the benefit of focusing on a particularly fascinating anti-monarchy moment, even if it plays loose with the facts to make Swank's Contessa into a sympathetic wronged noblewoman instead of the greedy crook she apparently was. Anything that gets people thinking about revolution against entrenched monied power is ok by me, given the outrageously blatant hypocrisy that characterizes the wealthy few currently in charge of the US of A.

Oh, one more thing: For some reason The Affair of the Necklace reminded me that a while back I'd bookmarked the University of Glasgow's "British Bookbindings: 16th - 19th Century" site, which will bore the hell out of most of you but is a real treat for those of us who understand how powerful and amazing [Flash something or other] books really are (if nothing else, for god's sake make sure you read the third, sixth and eighth paragraphs on this page).

With the stunningly revelatory power of books - actual books, not Web sites - in mind, Monkeytime proudly presents the following beautiful objects: A dialogue concerning witches and witchcraft. An account of the Society for the encouragement of the British troops. Disputatio juridica. The Bible, circa 1504. Etc.

If you like old books - and I mean really like old books - don't miss this site. Oh, and, um, speaking of British troops...

P.S. Be sure to check the highly informative "Women and Books" exhibit. [link]


8.12.03 - Ok, ok, I've freaking joined Friendster. Now will you people leave me alone?

Relax, all you evangelists; I'm just kidding. How else would I find out about people I don't know who enjoy my TV show? But the reason I've avoided Friendster for so long is that I don't need another non-paying time sink in my life, thanks, and my first hour as a member has confirmed that feeling nicely. Good lord, are you people bored at work. Besides, the whole exhibitionist thing (deny it all you want, but I know that's the main attraction driving Friendster's popularity) is way too reminiscent of my early Usenet days to seem radically new and interesting. But ok, most folks on Friendster wouldn't know Usenet if it bit them in whatever private parts they like to have bitten (and that's a Friendster "interest," I'm sure). Their loss.

Even though I've sadly been sucked away from newsgroups into blogdom, I still submit that Usenet, for all its noise, remains one of the best elements of the 'Net - far more inclusive and accessible than the "blogosphere" (ugh, what a horrid coinage that is), and certainly more interesting than the oh-so-urgent instant messaging I avoid like the plague. If you want thoughtful conversation that actually holds people to account for what they post, learn how to use your browser's newsreader already.

That said, if I wind up meeting the man of my dreams at Friendster, I'll be sure to print the previous paragraph out and eat it. [link]


8.11.03 - Laughing your head off at the new $40 Elite Force Aviator Dubya doll? Well, here's some welcome satirical relief from the insanity of anyone selling Bush as an "elite force" anything (courtesy of Atrios). Hairyfishnuts makes it easy to complete the set with Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and the King of Oil himself:

KB Toys seems to be getting most of the blame for this one, but the real geniuses work at the Hong Kong-based BlueBox International, the company that invented the "Elite Force" line. My favorite is the master terrorist Carlos, an enigmatic and shadowy figure with a genius for manipulation [cough]; he just happens to be for sale to the highest bidder. Since the folks at BBI "really do believe that detail counts," I'm sure it's just a matter of time before we see a "Benefits-Cutting Elite Politician" line. [link]


8.11.03 - Finally: the next installment of the jaw-droppingly great online comic Spiders is up (a month and a half later than expected, but cut them slack; it's a lot of work). And damn, is chapter 3.5 good - a challenging, heart-wrenching, psychedelic look at the human side of an alternate sci-fi war in Afghanistan.

I suggest refreshing yourself with the previous installment before moving on to the beautifully presented story of Lt. Miller, last seen as she was about to be gassed accidentally by a U.S. bomb containing - that's right - MDMA gas. [link]


8.11.03 - Remember that Mother Jones story by Barry Yeoman the Indy reprinted a few weeks ago? The one about the U.S. government's increasing reliance on private contractors for more and more of its military support work? Well, David Wood of Newhouse News - the best Iraq reporter around, for my money - just added to the story significantly in a must-read article, "Some of Army's Civilian Contractors Are No-Shows in Iraq." Turns out that some companies simply didn't send the folks they'd promised to send:

U.S. troops in Iraq suffered through months of unnecessarily poor living conditions because some civilian contractors hired by the Army for logistics support failed to show up, Army officers said...

"We thought we could depend on industry to perform these kinds of functions," Lt. Gen. Charles S. Mahan, the Army's logistics chief, said in an interview.

Why the delay? Well, gosh, sir, insurance rates for civilian contractors went through the roof, you see:

Last fall the Army hired Kellogg Brown & Root, a Houston-based contractor, to draw up a plan for supporting U.S. troops in Iraq, covering everything from handling the dead to managing airports. KBR, as it's known, eventually received contracts to perform some of the jobs, and it and other contractors began assembling in Kuwait for the war.

But as the conflict approached, insurance rates for civilians skyrocketed -- to 300 percent to 400 percent above normal, according to Mike Klein, president of MMG Agency Inc., a New York insurance firm. Soldiers are insured through the military and rates don't rise in wartime.

It got "harder and harder to get (civilian contractors) to go in harm's way," said Mahan, the Army logistics chief.

The Army had $8 million in contracts for troop housing in Iraq sitting idle, Mahan said. "Our ability to move (away) from living in the mud is based on an expectation that we would have been able to go to more contractor logistical support early on," Mahan said...

Patrice Mingo, a spokesman for KBR, declined comment.

Can there be a clearer example of the bottom-line pressure that makes private military contractors a horrible idea? The image conjured by Wood's article of accountants busily calculating whether it was cost-effective for the company to live up to its contracts as soldiers suffered without fresh food, mail and regular access to showers or telephones is almost as delightful as the news in Yeoman's article that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's wife is a lobbyist for one of the biggest private military contract companies. Oops. So much for the leader of the Democrats leading the charge against making soldiers reliant on corporations for their life support. As if contracted workers in a war zone who "are not obligated to follow orders or follow the Military Code of Conduct" aren't bad enough. Can it be more obvious that the shift will endanger U.S. lives?

Replacing 1,100 Marine cooks with civilians, as the Corps did two years ago, might make short-term economic sense. But cooks might be needed as riflemen -- as they were during the desperate Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. And untrained civilians "can walk off the job any time they want, and the only thing the military can do is sue them later on," Singer said.

This time, it was housing, mail and air conditioning. The result was demoralized soldiers rather than dead ones. But given the trend towards allowing civilian companies to control, oh, weapons systems maintenance, how long before there's a real, bloody scandal? How many deaths do you think it'll take before the U.S. takes another look at contracted military support? 50? 250? 1500?

Update: Paul Krugman is on this one, too, summarizing what many of us have been noting. Great minds, you know. [link]


8.8.03 - 23 Hours, a five-week-long celebration of Raleigh's alternative art scene, kicks off tonight at the Bickett Gallery. The series includes films, music and lots of visual art, with a show tomorrow by my friend Mike's pretty and angularband Proof, along with Dana Kletter in a reunion of the - who'd have thunk it? - blackgirls. Be sure to check the hilarious photo error accompanying Allmusic's blackgirls bio. If you want a look at the crew of rats who gnaw ever so artistically on the capitol's soft white underbelly, the links at 23 hours are a great place to start.

Bickett has recently remodeled, by the way; it's a great little spot whose savvy owner Molly happens to have a wonderful eye for abstract painting. But if you live in Raleigh, you already knew that.

Update: The Independent finally got this week's issue online over the weekend; here's its great article about the genesis of 23 Hours. [link]


8.8.03 - Same-sex marriage cartoon roundup. [via Mikhaela's News Blog] [link]


7.31.03 - Bob Hope, queer crusader? Don't laugh until you've seen his 1988 anti-gay-bashing ad. It's not as funny as Neal Pollack's overview of the comedian's political evolution, or as bizarre as the fact that the NY Times ran an obit written by a film critic who died three years ago, but it's still worth a look for anyone assigned to the Culture Wars' 103rd Airborne Sex Division. A catty column written in May by the NY Blade's David Noh provided the spark for this particular meme:

[O]ne of GLAAD’s early triumphs occurred when Hope was persuaded to produce a TV public service spot, condemning anti-gay violence after calling someone a “fag” on the “Tonight Show.” (It was never officially aired, but sometimes bizarrely appears on Manhattan cable channels.)

Skip the rest of the piece; Noh's take on Bob Hope's work is absurdly simplistic (and his attempt to smear Hope's daughter as a homophobe ranks among the most insulting things I've read in the gay press in a long time). In his rush to dismiss Hope as yet another straight pop icon having a laugh at gay and lesbian folks' expense, Noh ignores the comedian's skillful use of "sharp topical humor and censor-baiting risqué material" to push boundaries - including sexual ones - for mainstream audiences:

It dawned on me that Daddy Hope has had quite a history of his own in regard to gay relations: a career based in large parts on mincing, “queer” behavior for cheap laughs and fag jokes brayed on talk shows.

Yeah, well, it "dawns on me" that you don't seem to know very much about Bob Hope. Say whatever you want about Hope as a person, but at least have the smarts to give him credit for helping solidify a playfully queer approach to humor in the American mainstream. I know, Hollywood homoeroticism is now something of a cottage industry (speakers of Polari have my permission to giggle), but the fact that it's easy to overdo the search for queer subtexts doesn't mean those subtexts aren't widely present. Hell, in Hope's case, the queerness never flies very far under the radar, which makes it even more amazing that so many folks miss it until the obvious is pointed out to them. Mark Rappaport's documentary "Color Me Lavender" looks like a great place to start; it apparently lingers over the queer content found in all of Bob Hope's most popular films:

Rappaport's movie is neatly divided into sections, beginning with the "sissies," or as Butler puts it, "the unproclaimed homosexuals" who populated comedies and musicals during the 1930s. Such actors as Eric Blor, Edward Everett Horton, Eric Rhodes and Franklin Pangborn are seen moving through their roles without the least bit of self-consciousness, and often garnered loyal followings among audiences along the way.

But all that changed in the sexually conservative 1940s, when homosexuality suddenly became a taboo on screen, replaced by male-male double-entendres. This is especially evident in the Hope-Crosby "Road" films, which Rappaport excerpts freely and without interruption. Butler calls it "an incomplete sampling," but it's still rather amazing.

Once your attention is drawn to all of Hope's nonstop homosexual innuendos and penis jokes, one-time innocent images and scenes suddenly reveal themselves to be full of gay references. When a woman hugs Hope in one of his buddy films, the comic notes, comparatively, "Hmmm, women are softer."

Badump-bump. Here's another example: a 90-second clip [mp3] from one of Hope's appearances on Bing Crosby's 1950 radio show, courtesy of media historian Steven Capsuto's wonderfully rich and informative Alternate Channels site. The two popular stars joke about dressing up as cigarette girls, sharing underwear, and - I'm not making this up - having rough sex with each other. Three cheers for old-time radio, eh?

Look, I'm not pollyannish about the power of comedy to cleanse the world, honest, but it makes sense to me that playful, comfortable jokes about Bob Hope and Bing Crosby screwing each other just might have chipped away at bigoted ideas in some 1940s heads. It's reasonable to suggest that the frequent, good-natured use of what Capsuto calls "heterosexual reversal" throughout Hope's career advanced mainstream acceptance of gay people more than it hindered it. Hell, I'd say that in some ways, Hope's gender-play was potentially far more liberating than any of the messages being sent by Bravo's shallow makeover show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I'm still trying to figure out if that one's helping more than hurting.

The point here is that straight, gender-bending popcult icons like Bob Hope deserve some slack from gay avengers like David Noh. Hope and Crosby's homoerotic gender play can easily be interpreted in much more complex ways than simple "mincing" designed for "cheap laughs," and laughing at that play almost certainly helped to loosen some audience members' overly rigid notions of sexuality and gender.

And you know, after recently watching Al Pacino's neurotic transsexual husband mope around in a frumpy housecoat in the great 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon, I think I'm in the mood for some Hollywood fabulousness. Road to Rio, here I come. Rest in peace, Bob. [link]


7.30.03 - Lots of great stuff about Howard Dean and the centrist repeat losers known as the Democratic Leadership Council over at Interesting Times (scroll up for more). Apparently, the fact that the DLC's "Republican Lite" strategy has handed the Presidency and both houses of Congress to the opposition isn't stemming the tide of bile the group directs at more left-leaning Dems:

I'd hate to think it, but it is not outside the realm of possibility that the DLCs biggest problem with Dean is that he is successful despite the DLC, not because of it. What that means is that, if Dean were to win the big prize next November, without the backing of the DLC, then the DLC would lose a substantial amount of influence within the party. What I'd hate to think is that the DLC would rather the Democrats lose it all in 2004 if it meant Dean winning it all without their help.

Interesting Times is a wonderful little blog, btw, right up there with The Sideshow, TalkLeft and Hullaballoo for great links and aggressively thoughtful liberalism. And while we're all lingering over Howard Dean, be sure to read TalkLeft on the good doctor's rather illiberal take on public defenders while Governor of Vermont. [link]


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