Media Report Archive
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. 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]
7.29.03 - I continue to wonder just when Durham D.A. Jim Hardin is actually going to present his, you know, case against accused murderer Michael Peterson. Notice how Court TV's John Springer frames today's testimony about the bloody shoe imprint that appears on Kathleen Peterson's sweatpants:
But exactly what significance prosecutors hope jurors will assign to the evidence is not yet clear. As they have throughout five weeks of testimony so far, prosecutors Jim Hardin Jr. and Freda Black merely put the evidence before the jury with an expectation that the picture tying it all together to be drawn at the end of their case.
Am I the only one who suspects the much-hoped-for "picture tying it all together" is never going to come? It sure does seem odd that Hardin & co. are dancing around the possible theories here, preferring to drop hints and insinuations (and, of course, lots of bloody photographs, over and over again) into the jurors' minds. Why aren't prosecutors openly making their case?
Although Hardin's opening statement was very general, the prosecution has been highlighting evidence that appears to be building toward the argument that Michael Peterson beat his wife to death, removed his sneakers and left a blood trail of bare footprints throughout his kitchen that was only visible when the chemical luminol was sprayed.
The prosecution's theory seems to contend that while in the kitchen, Peterson took out one or two wine glasses and poured wine down the sink, perhaps to create evidence underscoring that he and his wife had been drinking heavily, which might explain her fall.
"Appears to be building?" "Seems to contend?" At this point in the trial, shouldn't we be getting a bit more than that? So why the hesitance on the part of the prosecution to say what it "seems to contend?" Could it be that all Hardin has is insinuation? The answer "appears to be" yes. Every single piece of evidence the prosecution introduces - no identifiable fingerprints from Kathleen on the wine glasses, for the latest example - is easily countered by defense attorney David Rudolf (above left) with a plausible scenario that doesn't require murder (in this case, there were partial prints that prosecution witnesses admit could have been Kathleen's). Again, I don't know if Peterson killed his wife or not. I do know this is one of the most embarrassingly thin prosecutions I've ever seen. You know things are getting desperate when good ol' Gaspo is already making excuses for an acquittal:
The police and D.A. are spending so much time and money because Mr. Peterson has so much time and money. Some project his ultimate defense costs at somewhere between $1 million and $2 million...The state is trying to counter the high-quality defense Peterson can afford, so it can prevail in a case it thinks should be won. If I were in Peterson's predicament, I'd probably spend what it took to stay free.
Uh, "probably?" Gaspo would "probably" spend what it took to avoid life in prison? That's got to be the most hilarious sentence he's penned on this case so far (and, boy, is the competition fierce). Notice, too, how Gaspo blames Peterson's money for the flimsy, bungled prosecution case. But here's my fave part:
He maintains his innocence, and the media have given Peterson and his attorneys the platform to argue that loudly and well, countless times.
Truly amazing. This comes from a guy, remember, who's used his own media platform to routinely tar Peterson with dark innuendo, and who's had many more opportunities - by far - to taint the Durham jury pool than anyone else in "the media." The delusion here is astonishing.
He's white, rich and pretty powerful. Case closed.
Yeah, sure. Anyone who's been watching this case skeptically knows that Peterson won't be acquitted because he's white and rich. He'll be acquitted because the purely circumstantial evidence against him - suggestive at best - includes more logical holes than a mountain of swiss cheese. You can see it in the faces of the commentators on WRAL; they're astonished at some of the transparently time-wasting techniques Hardin and assistant D.A. Freda Black are using. Based on what we've seen so far, there's a great chance the prosecution will be laughed out of court by the jury, whose comments after the trial will probably be harsh. Don't forget that it was just last year when Hardin's office prosecuted someone for rape in a trial the jury foreman later called "a waste of time":
"We all wondered what we were doing there," [the foreman] said of himself and fellow jurors. "The evidence was nonexistent. We're very comfortable with the decision we made. I can't understand why that man spent a year in jail when there was no evidence whatsoever against him. It made no sense to us. Where's the justice?"
Where indeed. Barring the introduction of dramatically new evidence - and no, another round of bloody pictures doesn't count - it's inconceivable to me that Hardin will rise above the "reasonable doubt" standard in this case. Just don't hold your breath waiting for the prosecution to tie all of its disparate threads together into a compelling theory. Hardin and Black's hint-hint he's gay! he lied about Vietnam! look at all that blood! strategy doesn't "seem to" need one.
[Remember, archived Durham Herald-Sun stories require brief registration] [link]
7.29.03 - The News & Observer's Ruth Sheehan used the first half of her column yesterday to float the idea that Raleigh's own Clay Aiken continues to be the victim of a conspiracy that favors American Idol winner Ruben Studdard. To which the thoughtful observer of pop culture can only say, "Yeah, whatever, Ruth." [link]
7.28.03 - The telling details Bush & Co. blacked out of the 9/11 report:
The report confirms press revelations suggesting that Omar al-Bayoumi, an associate of two of the hijackers, could have been a Saudi government agent. The report details his ties with September 11 suicide attackers Khaled al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.
In January 2000, al-Bayoumi entered the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles and upon leaving, he headed directly to a restaurant where he met with the two future attackers, a meeting one FBI agent said "may not have been accidental."
The two men had just arrived from Malaysia, where they had participated in a meeting with al-Qaeda officials under surveillance of Malaysian officials at the behest of the CIA. Al-Bayoumi then helped the men rent an apartment in San Diego, paying the first month's rent and the security deposit.
The news weekly US News and World Report reported in November that the owner of the apartment was an FBI informant, a leader of the Muslim community in San Diego, Abdussatar Shaikh, 68. The FBI refused to allow the commission to question him, according to the report.
Unbelievable, isn't it? Here's more:
"Despite the fact that he was a student, al-Bayoumi had access to seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia. "For example, an FBI source identified al-Bayoumi as the person who delivered 400,000 dollars from Saudi Arabia for the Kurdish mosque in San Diego...
"The report shows the significant role played by Saudi government agents in the preparations (for the attacks) which benefited from the royal financial generosity," said Jean-Charles Brisard, attorney for the victim's families.
"It would be inconceivable for the US government to refuse the victims' families the right to the whole and complete truth," he said.
Many in Congress feel sure that in the end, the blacked-out part of the report will be made public. [link]
7.25.03 - The Corporate Fallout Detector [includes Quicktime movie]. Now all we need is the miniaturized version that fits inside a pair of shades and feeds the audio signal directly into your ear. Or other orifice. [Thanks, tengu] [link]
7.24.03 - Last week, I saw Herald-Sun columnist Gaspo in front of the Durham County courthouse, waiting to appear on Court TV (whose John Springer, by the way is doing a good job of fairly summarizing each day's events). At the time, Gaspo was pushing innuendo - quelle surprise - about Elizabeth Ratliff's death. We nodded to each other, and when he was done, I called out, "Hey, Gaspo, how do you think they're going to handle the gay sex stuff?" He said he wasn't sure. Then I asked him what relevance it has to the murder trial and he just shrugged, "We'll see." We went back and forth a bit, with him suggesting the standard pro-prosecution line that D.A. Hardin was building a case slowly and methodically. Sure thing. From here, whatever tissue of speculation Hardin is "slowly building" is being rapidly decimated by the defense. At this point, Hardin doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of convincing a jury that Peterson is guilty of premeditated murder.
Can you say "overcharged?" As in, "The D.A. overcharged the suspect and wound up losing a case he might have won?" I knew you could.
Anyway, the gay porn on Peterson's computer was too juicy for a sloppy thinker like Gaspo to pass up (yes, sloppy - I spoke with him over the phone Wednesday and his take on the "conspiracy" necessary for police to be influenced by anti-Peterson bias was laughably illogical). This Tuesday, the columnist let fly with the salacious goods. "Sexual content to enter trial?" he asked in his patented dark-hinting style. The column is instructive mainly for this paragraph:
I've tracked down and talked with a man who uses the nickname "Brad." I've learned at least one of his Web sites has been reviewed as potential evidence. After conferring with Herald-Sun editors, we decided not to list the Web site address here, since it very easily leads computer users of any age to pornographic material that many could find objectionable.
Yeah, whatever. They'll talk about it in detail but won't link to it - how moral. For the record, here's the Google cache of the site in question, what it looks like now after "Brad" removed the sexual content, and the escort service he apparently worked with. But the more important question has nothing to do with the terrible evils of hot male-on-male sex for sale. The real issue is how Gaspo got hold of a specific URL that was taken from Michael Peterson's computer but has not yet been introduced in court. It had to come from the D.A. or the cops, right? If I'm wrong about that I'll happily apologize, but I can't see how something like that could have come from anywhere else. Which brings us to this question:
Is it ethical for prosecutors to leak evidence like that? What possible purpose does releasing that info serve in this case, if not to try Peterson in the press? Gaspo may think that little scoops like this make him look good, but anyone who's even slightly knowledgeable about journalism knows exactly how much talent it takes to be a tool of the local D.A.'s office: not a helluva lot. Like the timing of the Elizabeth Ratliffe autopsy - which the defense noted was completed just before the start of jury selection even though the D.A. had been granted permission to do it long before, the release of the gay escort service URL demonstrates nicely the prosecution's willingness to manipulate public opinion outside the courtroom.
Which is understandable when you consider how awful the prosecution's been doing inside the courtroom. Tuesday night, I watched Michael Peterson's defense attorney rip into Dan George, the lead crime scene technician at the scene of Kathleen Peterson's death. It's gone on for days:
During seven hours of cross-examination over three days, George testified that:
The defense ripped enough gaping holes in the police's evidence collection - including evidence suggesting that police wiped or otherwise modified blood at the scene - to drive a truck through. Remember, this was done before the prosecution gets ready to offer its blood spatter experts. I'm really having trouble imagining anything the prosecution can do to get a conviction here. The case has always been completely circumstantial, of course, but what can possibly link the defendant to the crime "beyond a reasonable doubt" after the detailed dissection we saw this week? The fact that Michael Peterson lied about his war record? Or that he may have had secret affairs with men? Is that what daughter Caitlin feels is the damning evidence of her stepfather's guilt? Apparently, I'm the only one considering the possibility that the Petersons just might have had an open, bisexual marriage. Horrors.
If you were on the jury, would that be enough to send a man to jail for the rest of his life? Without offering a clear theory for why Peterson's sex life had anything to do with his wife's murder, folks like Gaspo are just grasping for salacious straws. It's disgusting. And it's only going to get worse.
Oh, one more thing. As I was walking away from Gaspo in front of the courthouse last week, I bet him $20 the prosecution wouldn't be able to convince the jury. He laughed, but didn't take the bet. [link]
7.24.03 - Three U.S. soldiers were killed today in an ambush in northern Iraq:
The three American soldiers who died today were members of the 101st Airborne Division, the same division that killed Uday and Qusay Hussein on Tuesday during a four-hour gun battle at a house in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul...
It was the second attack on American troops in the two days since the Hussein brothers were killed. On Wednesday, two American soldiers were killed in separate attacks on their convoys, including one near Mosul...
Spokesmen for the Central Command in Florida and Baghdad said they have had trouble keeping consistent records of the number of soldiers killed.
7.22.03 - Enough politics. If you've never seen Adam Benjamin Elliot's hilarious, heart-wrenching trilogy of animations - Uncle, Cousin and Brother - head over to Atom Films' stop motion section the next time you have a quiet moment with the computer. These 5- to 8-minute autobiographical claymations are like nothing you've seen before (and you need a refresher on the Web's potential for distribution of non-blog indie content, anyway). The Guardian puts it nicely in a review of Brother:
Australian animator Adam Benjamin Elliot's true-life claymation comedy is a bittersweet tribute to his bizarre upbringing and his eccentric brother, killed by a childhood asthma attack. Resolutely unsentimental, tender, and horribly funny all at the same time, it will move the most hardbitten viewer to tears. There is no better way to spend seven minutes 50 seconds online this week.
Uncle and Cousin are just as good. Most modern animations are disappointing, to say the least, particularly given the freedom the medium provides. (Anyone who's seen the Fleischer Brothers' insanely loopy early Betty Boop cartoons knows what I'm talking about.) But if you're looking for that peculiar combination of goofy and very, very real that only animation can provide, Adam Elliot is for you. Deadpan honesty, sharp editing and a deceptively childish style create films as emotionally resonant as any I've seen in a long time.
And Elliot's new film - the 23-minute Harvie Krumpet, featuring the voice of Geoffrey Rush and a tale of bad luck, Tourette's and lost testicles - is currently taking the animation world by storm. It won the audience, jury and press awards at last month's Annecy International Animation Festival. Hell, it'll probably win the Oscar for best animated short before most of us in the USA get a chance to see it, but for now we can watch Elliot's previous work. Atom Films waits until you've clicked around before asking you to register, and then makes you sit through crappy Cuervo ads, but don't let that stop you from watching each of these achingly beautiful gems. Do it twice for maximum payoff.
[What? Ask a friend to download Harvie Krumpet from Hotline? How dare you suggest I'd ever d...] [link]
7.22.03 - Hesiod points out a reason Democrats should be overjoyed at Orrin Hatch's proposal to allow foreign-born naturalized citizens - like Hatch's buddy Arnold Schwarzenegger - to run for U.S. president. That reason is Jennifer Granholm:
One of the few bright spots for Democrats in the past year was the election of Jennifer Granholm as governor of Michigan. Her no-nonsense oratory, centrist politics and movie-star good looks have Democrats looking to her as their party’s savior.
A lot of folks apparently think she'd make for a fantastic female presidential candidate, except for one thing: she's Canadian by birth. Schwarzenegger is Austrian. I say let 'em both run:
Hatch, a one-time presidential candidate himself, said
the restriction against foreign-born candidates is "an anachronism
that is decidedly un-American."
Hatch noted that no similar requirement bars service by naturalized citizens in Congress, the Supreme Court or the presidential Cabinet.
Limiting elected office to a particular accident of birth makes no sense in a country of immigrants, many of whom (including my great-grandparents) fled terrible situations in other countries to look for a better life. Let's trade the future possibility of [shudder] President Arnold for the basic democratic principle of deciding elections on merit rather than pedigree. If you've been a naturalized citizen for twenty years, that should be good enough for any government work. [link]
7.22.03 - The Pentagon is dusting off plans from the Reagan era that would allow it to draft doctors, nurses and health care professionals in the event of a catastrophic attack. Linguists, computer experts and engineers could be next.
"We're going to elevate that kind of draft to be a priority," Lewis Brodsky, acting director of Selective Service, says.
Drafting upper middle class, professional, educated voters? Yeah, like that'll ever fly. But one thing's for sure: This administration is just crazy enough to try it. [via The Agonist, which has been great lately] [link]
7.20.03 - Believe it or not, crystal meth is now a weapon of mass destruction in North Carolina. Last week, police in the northwestern mountains invoked the state's "Nuclear, Biological, or Chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction Act" to charge a suspected meth lab owner with chemical weapons terrorism:
Jerry Wilson, the district attorney for Watauga County, has charged Martin Dwayne Miller, 24, of Todd with two counts of manufacturing a nuclear or chemical weapon in connection with a methamphetamine arrest Friday...
"Not only is the drug methamphetamine in itself a threat to both society and those using it, but the toxic compounds and deadly gases created as side products are also real threats. I feel that, as a prosecutor, I have to address this. Something has to be done to protect society."
As defense lawyers raise eyebrows, the Winston-Salem Journal reports that other DAs are following suit:
"It seems to me to be a real stretch of the imagination, that this would be covered under the antiterrorism law," said Wallace Harrelson, the public defender in Guilford County...
Harrelson and others also said that they doubted whether a judge would allow prosecution under the law for drug-related activity that does not terrorize the public.
At least Cheney, Inc. stayed in the same ballpark as they tried to link 9/11 and Saddam. Read the NC law, which was passed by state legislators in November 2001, and tell me it was designed for this kind of thing. Then read the local D.A.'s response in Sunday's Journal:
"I understand the title of the statue is antiterrorism, but the statute is much more broad than that," Wilson said. "There's nothing in the statute that requires any organized terrorist effort. There's nothing in the statute that requires that these chemicals be used as a weapon."
Doesn't legislative intent count for something here? Yes, methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug whose illegal manufacture has serious environmental consequences. Yes, its spread is causing problems in the western NC mountains. But should it really be treated like a radioactive dirty bomb? Or sending envelopes filled with anthrax through the mail? Give me a break. So why this new move?
Wilson said he decided to use the weapons of mass destruction law - which carries a sentence ranging from 12 years to life in prison on each count - while researching ways to slow the advance of methamphetamine into the region. The most serious drug charges related to methamphetamine carry much lighter sentences.
NC meth laws carry light sentences? Well then, if police feel the penalties for meth manufacture are too light, then why didn't they simply toughen those penalties in the state legislature this year? It's not like harsher sentences for running a major underground meth lab would've been a difficult sell in the NC legislature. And it would have avoided the costly court battles that are almost certain to come out of the state's unique new definition of "chemical weapon." Choosing between those two should have been a no-brainer. So why is the Attorney General's spokesman finessing the point?
"Attorney General (Roy) Cooper worked with the governor and the legislature to toughen anti-terrorism laws, and he supports efforts to use the laws of our state to protect North Carolinians from potential terrorist activities and dangerous drug production."
Love the way the phrase "and dangerous drug production" is tacked on to the end there. I'm sure Tarheels are waiting breathlessly to find out what other crimes will be added to Cooper's "Well, it's kind of like terrorism" list. Again: If Cooper has worked with the legislature in the past to toughen laws, why not do it on this issue? Instead, he's giving his ok to a broad new expansion of already expansive police powers - powers which were rushed into law with almost no discussion during the frenzy after 9/11.
Using anti-terrorism law against crimes that are clearly not among those the law was intended to address is a thoughtless and frightening move. It cheapens the seriousness of real terrorist attacks, but more importantly opens the door for politicians to begin repurposing other sweeping anti-terror laws for their own domestic agendas. If we allow the term "nuclear, biological or chemical weapon of mass destruction" to include a meth lab, we move closer to the day when the disgustingly unconstitutional Patriot Act applies to all crimes instead of just terrorist ones. That's the day we lose our democracy for good. [thanks to Jonathan for sending this my way] [link]
7.18.03 - David Byrne's exhibit of "subversive multimedia works" is getting most of the attention, but a little bird tells me the better exhibit opening today at Winston-Salem's Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art is Homegrown, a showcase of North Carolina artists who don't get nearly the attention they deserve from...well, from North Carolinians like you and me.
Let's remedy that with a trip to Winston before the end of September, shall we? The Homegrown series began in 2001; two years later, it seems to have completely replaced the triennial North Carolina Artists Exhibition that used to be held at the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh. Remember that thing? Yeah, neither does anyone else; the last "triennial" NCAE took place in 1999. The 1996 version was one of the best exhibits I've seen in NC, period (local rockateer Ross Grady called it "flat-out filled with goodness" in a long Usenet post). This year, though, the state's official art museum is busy with Defying Gravity, "the nation's most ambitious contemporary art exhibition celebrating the Wright brothers' wild and heroic feat" (sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield). The oh-so-proud exhibit only has room for "several artists with North Carolina connections" among its 94 major works.
I just love that the state is busy fighting Ohio tooth and nail for the "Birthplace of Aviation" honor (I say give it to [ahem] "flamboyant" Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont instead) while its own art museum can't be bothered to use the occasion to curate an exhibit that highlights creativity in NC today. Hell, it doesn't care enough to schedule a juried exhibit of NC artists once every three years. Tarheel pride, woohoo. For the record, I do understand the value of placing local artists in exhibits with "international reach," as the exhibit press kit puts it. But I also recall when the NC Museum of Art used to do amazing shows with work by North Carolina artists. What happened to all that talent?
Something's wrong with this picture. And so it's left to Winston-Salem's SECCA to once again organize an "extensive exhibition" of local artists, with multiple works from each. At least former Raleigh Contemporary Art Museum curator Raphaela Platow seems to get it:
“I continue to be impressed by the wealth of artistic creativity and talent prevalent in NC and how few opportunities there are to showcase contemporary art in the South. Most of the artists in this year’s Homegrown exhibition were not born in NC, but in other areas of the United States or the world. They have chosen to make NC their home, to grow roots, and to integrate themselves into a community and landscape that allows them to create their work and lead the life they chose for themselves. ‘Homegrown’ is no longer a label given through the location of one’s birthplace, but one based on the free will of considering a place your ‘home.’
Opening the Byrne exhibit and 'Homegrown' on the same day - using Byrne's popularity to draw attention to a large number of Carolina artists - is a shrewd move on SECCA's part. In comparison, the NC Museum of Art's decision to feature only a handful of locals - in a show pegged to one of North Carolina's most famous events - can only be called a wasted opportunity. I know, it's all about balance, and sure, I'm excited at the thought of seeing the airmail paintings of Eugenio Dittborn - part of a movement in Pinochet's Chile that circumvented censorship by creating political art "that the censors did not understand and, therefore, did not ban or destroy." Sounds great. I just wish the NC Museum of Art had tilted the balance a bit more in the local direction. Or will at least once in a while in the future.
So when's the next Triennial, NCMA?
7.18.03 - Interesting Wall Street Journal story about Howard Dean's "insurgent" campaign from, uh, Howard Dean. Turns out he's way ahead of where other "insurgent" candidates - like Jimmy Carter - were in the polls at this point during their campaigns:
Howard Dean, however, is unique at this stage of presidential politics; an early upper-tier insurgent. In the initial Iowa and New Hampshire tests, the physician-turned-politician is running first or second in surveys and is, with Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Dick Gephardt, one of the front-runners...
...the most interesting dynamic of the race today is the Dean-Kerry clash, and the conventional wisdom of only a month [ago], parroted by me among others, that Mr. Dean was...at best, a Gary Hart-type anti-establishment candidate and certainly not a prospective nominee is, to put it charitably, outdated.
As Lieberman's campaign stumbles and stumbles again (love his kids' $100,000 campaign salaries) it's worth remembering that his strategy for winning the nomination focuses on the same Southern states John Edwards is focused on. Amazing that both of them missed that forum at the annual NAACP meeting, isn't it? [correction: Edwards "attended the forum only after intense negotiations and sharp warnings...not to take the NAACP for granted." I knew that, and was kicking myself for my careless phrasing at work today. Apologies to the Senator, but his reluctance to appear on stage with the other contenders is still an odd move from someone who needs black voters so much.] They sure are going to need those black votes in South Carolina. Now that Bob Graham is outmaneuvering Edwards on the "NASCAR Democrat" schtick, and just hired the executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party, it's worth asking once again what exactly Edwards thinks he's doing on the presidential campaign trail.
So, what exactly does Edwards think he's doing on the presidential campaign trail? [link]
7.18.03 - As Dick Cheney busily figures out the most profitable way to resign as Vice-President, it's time to go back and look over the history of the patient, opportunistic implementation of The Plan that he and the rest of the oil conservatives came up with at the end of the 1980s - and kept handy throughout the 90s:
The Plan...calls for the United States to maintain its overwhelming military superiority and prevent new rivals from rising up to challenge it on the world stage. It calls for dominion over friends and enemies alike...
The Plan is disturbing in many ways, and ultimately unworkable. Yet it is being sold now as an answer to the “new realities” of the post-September 11 world, even as it was sold previously as the answer to the new realities of the post-Cold War world. For Cheney, the Plan has always been the right answer, no matter how different the questions.
America should never forgive Dubya for his moronic, unplanned decision to put Cheney back into power. Dick won, y'all. He got his permanently occupied military bases in oil-rich Iraq, got his company outrageously profitable no-bid contracts to supply those bases for years to come, and now is about to get his excuse for a rapid exit from public life so he won't have to deal with any of the consequences of his greedy, short-sighted swath-o-death. You almost want to applaud the audacity of the guy:
Cheney’s unwavering adherence to the Plan would be amusing, and maybe a little sad, except that it is now our plan. In its pages are the ideas that we now act upon every day with the full might of the United States military. Strangely, few critics have noted that Cheney’s work has a long history, or that it was once quite unpopular, or that it was created in reaction to circumstances that are far removed from the ones we now face. But Cheney is a well-known action man. One has to admire, in a way, the Babe Ruth-like sureness of his political work. He pointed to center field ten years ago, and now the ball is sailing over the fence.
We have been so beautifully, royally screwed that just thinking about it leaves me breathless. Chalk up another one in the string of disasters that's characterized Cheney's entire adult life, which Josh Marshall wrote has been spent "surprisingly insulated from the political and financial marketplace." [link]
7.18.03 - So the Triangle's first red-light cameras will start clicking in Raleigh next week.
*shakes head sadly*
You people never listen to me. I'll just remind you again of an essential bit of the story that Sarah Lindenfeld Hall didn't get into today's N&O: Raleigh did not give the contract for the cameras to the company that offered the lowest bid. In fact, the city's Law and Public Safety Committee ignored the recommendations of city staffers - and how often does that happen in the city manager-style of government? - and went with the company that was the 3rd choice among the city employees who'd have to deal with the cameras on a daily basis. Nah, that's not fishy at all.
Red-light cameras are about money. Check the details of the contract and I'll bet you'll agree. [link]
7.17.03 - So did you catch the moment this week during the Michael Peterson trial when Assistant D.A. Freda Black managed to sneak before the jury the accusation that Peterson's son Todd was having an affair with a married woman? [scroll down] Don't ask me how the charge was relevant to the testimony of the policeman on the stand at the time, but Black made sure the jury heard it anyway, before defense attorney David Rudolph could object. The judge later told the jury to ignore the suggestion of an affair. Yeah, and be sure not to think of a purple polka-dotted monkey today.
What possible relevance could Todd Peterson's sex life have to his father's murder trial? Hmm. From where I sit, the biggest piece of the puzzle that remains to be presented is the gay/bi/whatever porn that prosecutors found on Michael Peterson's computer. Perhaps whatever smut we'll see is the secret evidence Caitlin Atwater keeps talking about - the evidence that will convince everyone once and for all that her mother was murdered:
"It wasn't until I read the autopsy that I was completely sure that she hadn't died from falling down the stairs -- and when I saw some of the other evidence, which I can't explain.
"Once that evidence comes out, everyone will realize why I came to that conclusion and will pretty much conclude it themselves."
Fair enough; I can wait. But am I the only one wondering if the prosecution is trying to set up a new sexual motive that somehow links Todd and his father?
Hey, I'm just giving Freda the benefit of the doubt. If she's not starting to lay the outline of some kind of incestuous sex/murder plot, then her nationally televised adultery accusation becomes little more than a petulant swipe - at best a completely unfair blindsiding of someone who isn't on trial, at worst a deliberate attempt to sway the jury against the father by pointing to the sins of the son. Why on earth would she do that? And what was the point to dragging Durham dentist H. Curtis Bowens' name through the mud - again, on national television - by calling him "the chief suspect" in the 1998 firebombing of his dental practice - the firebombing Peterson used over and over in his column as an example of police incompetence? Where was that cute little accusation against Bowens for the last five years?
If the D.A.'s office actually thought those two moves were appropriate, god knows what it's planning to do with Michael Peterson's porn stash. I understand that cheap shots are part of the legal game here, honest, but Freda Black's lashing out at two folks closely associated with Peterson sure does stand out as peculiar, to say the least. Who was that designed to convince? Of what?
As the evidence of hot 'n' sexy man-on-man action is readied for the cameras, it's worth wondering if the Durham D.A.'s office has specific evidence that makes Michael Peterson's taste in porn and Todd Peterson's sexual history relevant to its case. I'm sure I'm not the only member of the Triangle queer community watching to see if Durham's Democratic district attorney plans to use the mere fact of a defendant's - gasp - bisexuality to tar him as a villain in the minds of a Durham County jury. Remember Hardin's opening statement? This case is about appearances, he said, and things not being what they seem.
Keep your eyes peeled; I'm sure the headlines will get bigger when the penises go on parade. [link]
7.17.03 - All you need to know to convince your right-wing pals that the justification for war on Iraq was a sham, courtesy of Jim Lobe and TomPaine.com. Seriously. After reading this detailed summary of the Bush neocons' immediate post-9/11 rush to invade Iraq, no one can say we weren't played like suckers by the crew in the White House. [link]
7.15.03 - Good writing really does help, and there's no doubt that David Wood (of the slower-paced Newhouse News service, which I've been using a lot lately) is a good writer. Wood is providing some of the most detailed descriptions I've found about just how crappy life is for the U.S. soldiers charged with rebuilding Iraq:
They are thwarted in small ways every day...And they are baffled at being troops of occupation. Having left behind wives and families and comforts in order to help here, they have somehow ended up as targets. Children wave gaily, then throw stones. The risk of sudden death -- from snipers, booby traps, a knifeblade across the throat in a crowded market -- is ever-present. And there is, always, the heat-crazed frustration and temptation to abuse their enormous power.
"Embedded journalism" has fallen by the wayside until the next time the Pentagon needs some free PR, but Wood remains as close to the ground as you can get, documenting the peculiar mix of boredom and death that makes up the hours of soldiers who "live little better than the Iraqis whose nation they have seized." The complexities are perhaps best embodied in squadron commander Lt. Col. Mark Calvert, who "is fiercely ambitious about helping Iraq" and has been "organizing a conference to draw more women into the nascent Iraqi political process." Here he is one night with three of his men:
[They're] out on a routine patrol when bullets start snapping past them. Big ones. Now the SCO is out sprinting toward the gunshots, which are coming from the roof of a two-story building. Salloum is sprinting beside him. Torsell swivels in his turret, searching for the gunmen in his night vision sight. Caldwell brakes the Humvee and leaps out as tracer rounds streak red and green overhead.
Scampering like a rabbit, Caldwell -- a 19-year-old from Spokane, Wash., 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds soaking wet -- scoots around the Humvee, braces his rifle on the hood and shoots back, pop-pop-pop, watching for reaction, and again, pop-pop-pop. Above him Torsell is systematically pumping those 2-inch-long machine-gun bullets just above the parapet where the gunmen are shooting. The SCO and Salloum, crouched up against a wall returning fire, suddenly start taking bullets from a passing car; pivoting, they fire dozens of rounds into the car so that it slows, stops, then races off at high speed.
Eventually the firing stops, reinforcements arrive, and the SCO and his men clear the building room by room, finding one weapon but no gunmen, who have gotten away across the rooftops.
See what I mean about good writing? And that scene - can you imagine being engaged in one serious firefight and then suddenly getting attacked from a different angle by a passing car? Jesus. Arguments over how much Bush and Cheney lied to drag us into war get most of the attention, but the bullets firing in this scene - pop-pop-pop - are where our attention should really lie. This is what the Bush Administration was so eager to send volunteer soldiers into. As if that wasn't enough, bureaucratic ineptitude is helping to endanger U.S. and Iraqi lives in the slums of eastern Baghdad:
This is a vital part of Iraq, where the United States is competing with fundamentalist clerics for the loyalty of Shiite Muslims long repressed by Saddam Hussein. But the U.S. development effort seems hopelessly snarled in red tape and bureaucratic inertia...
[T]he squadron is using the limited funds under its own control to hire water tank trucks to cruise the neighborhoods, pay locals to hire backhoes to unclog sewage ditches, pay to repair bridges and deliver donated paper and pencils to schools...
"We fill out the forms to get OCPA money, and they kick them back for not being filled out right," [Maj. Bob Caffrey] said, his voice rising. "They want all this information neatly printed out and our printer ink cartridge ran out weeks ago.
"This is not rocket science -- people out here have no water, no power and no sewers. We get the forms filled out and sent in to the boys in air conditioning and then -- zilch -- we got no money!" he shouted. Then he added, more softly: "Sorry, I kind of go off on this."
No, please, Bob - feel free. Coalition HQ sends back forms for not being printed out properly, when soldiers are struggling to supply basic services to an increasingly angry local population? Who's in charge here, anyway? Next time you hear Rumsfeld discuss the "pro-Saddam" rebels who are attacking our troops, remember this:
Military officers believe the most direct threat to their troops is not so much from former Baath Party guerrillas, the Fedayeen Saddam or foreign fighters come to battle Americans, as it is from fed-up local Iraqis.
"You can feel it out on the streets; people are frustrated, and we're getting rocks thrown at us in neighborhoods where we never did before," said Capt. Kyle Head, commander of the 1st Squadron's Dog Troop...
"We've got two fights on our hands," said Sgt. John Breaux, a member of Caffrey's civil affairs team. "We fight for the people out here who have nothing, and we fight against the people back in those air-conditioned offices who won't seem to help."
And Democrats can't find a way to use this mess to get Bush out? [link]
7.15.03 - Gay Marriage Around the World. Things are changing even in macho Latin America: Buenos Aires just started allowing lesbian and gay civil unions after approving the measure last December:
Some experts say this open-mindedness is a natural development for a country trying to redeem itself following years of authoritarian rule and severe civil rights abuses.
After seven years of a brutal military regime, democracy was restored in 1983, and the following year, gay Argentines began to speak out publicly and demand equal treatment for the first time. During that same era, more and more citizens began to reflect on the horror of what had passed during the "Dirty War" - when an estimated 30,000 people "disappeared" - and began to rethink their attitudes.
Yep, that's right, Argentina - whose murderous dictatorship stayed in power with support from both Republican and Democratic U.S. administrations - is now moving ahead in granting queer people equal rights. It didn't hurt that the Catholic Church squandered its moral authority by being - whoops - cozy with the dictators:
Even though some 80 percent of Argentina is still Catholic, the church's power has dwindled significantly, causing it to make some quiet concessions, says Ms. Gurevich. She says this shift is in large part do to the church's much-criticized alliance with the military during the bloody 1976-1983 regime.
"[The church's] relationship with the government was quite visible, and since then...there's been a reconsideration of its positions," she says.
Yeah, allying with bloody fascists will do that. [link]
7.15.03 - If you enjoy the occasional bit of schadenfreude (and who doesn't), check this fun look at the frustration on the Christian right. All of their friends in high places were supposed to be making them gleeful, but leaders like Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich are "downright pessimistic" as the impact of last month's Supreme Court sodomy decision sinks in:
"The president is a religious conservative. The senate majority leader is a religious conservative. The speaker of the house and the house majority leader and the majority whip are all religious conservatives...Yet we make only marginal, incremental progress. We really have to rethink our strategy."
My heart's simply breaking. The only "strategy" fundies need to "rethink" is the one that keeps their heads up their asses when it comes to the Satanic concept of full equality under the law. It is truly a joy to watch as religious conservatives finally realize that the best they can expect is lip service to their bizarre ideas about government and sex:
[Family Research Council head Ken Connor] says fellow leaders of the Christian Right have been used, accepting rhetoric instead of results and confusing access with influence.
"They go to an East Room ceremony or a Rose Garden signing or to the White House Christmas party and say, `Look at all the influence I have,"' he said. "In reality, they've been bought off cheap."
Yeah, well, welcome to the club. My favorite part of the article, though, is listening to the anti-gay crowd pin all its hopes on "the marriage bomb" they say is on the horizon. It seems that vast numbers of Americans are moments away from rising up to prevent Adam and Steve from sharing in full legal equality, thus rekindling the fire under the moribund Christian right. Uh-huh. And Y2K will rain hail across the land and bring Jesus down from the sky. Those cute fundies; they're always so good at predicting the future.
You heard it here first: Most straight Americans don't give a crap if lesbian and gay people are granted full marriage rights. What's the skin off their noses? The idea that straights lose anything from queer "marriage" is absurd, and millions of people now recognize that. (Too bad their politicians don't.)
P.S. The Boston Globe just became the first major U.S. paper to come out in favor of gay marriage. How long before the tepid editorialists at the N&O follow suit? I'll bet it's a long, long time. [link]
7.15.03 - You really have to see the Baghdad Bulletin, one of the most potentially positive things Anglo-Americans have contributed to Iraq to date. The story of 22-year-old David Enders (left) and 24-year-old Ralph Hassall, who travelled to Baghdad to start up an enthusiastic, loosely edited English-language rag, is truly inspirational. Some of the early articles seem thin and a few of the columns muddled, but I love the almost zine-like feel to the first three issues. There's plenty of decent reading to be found, like pieces about how Iraqis beat Big Brother during Saddam's reign and the problems facing the post-invasion banking industry. Can't wait for the promised "Grunt's Diary" from an irreverent U.S. soldier patrolling the streets.
Today is the date the monarchy was overthrown. And both the monarchists and the communists decided to commemorate it in their own way. The communists had a huge march with commie songs that haven't been sung in 35 years, and the monarchists had a memorial service for the people killed on that day for the first time in 40 years...I sang with the communists and shook hands with the monarchists; it is not about the politics these days, it is about saying what you couldn't say for decades. [link]
7.14.03 - Oh. My. God. Tell me they didn't really just do that. But they did. Today, the Raleigh News & Observer ran an unsigned editorial that offered hope for the future of Iraq by pointing to - I kid you not - Afghanistan:
The road to a stable Iraq could be long, but history indicates that's not unusual, given Saddam's long reign of terror and the upheaval of military defeat. Afghanistan, whose regime was ousted by a U.S.-led coalition after the 9/11 terror, still functions under an interim government more than a year after major hostilities ended. The good news, and a hopeful example for Iraq, is that while Hamid Karzai's government there remains shaky, it stands.
The above is such an absurdly uninformed, happy-faced spin on what's happening in Afghanistan that it's difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps with a report - sponsored by those flaming liberals at the Council on Foreign Relations - called Afghanistan: Are We Losing the Peace? [pdf]. The answer is yes, through a series of really, really stupid moves. Here's your "hopeful example:"
Nineteen months later, Afghanistan is once again threatened with disorder and insecurity. The political and economic reconstruction process is in danger of stalling. The attention of U.S. policymakers has shifted elsewhere...Afghanistan is still a long way from the U.S. goal of a stable self-governing state that no longer provides a haven for terrorists.
One wonders what the anonymous analysts at the Raleigh paper know that CFR task force co-chair Frank Wisner doesn't. Wisner says the U.S will need to be in Afghanistan "for years to come," with much more effort than it's shown so far, to keep a central government afloat. Yeah, real hopeful. Remember, Karzai's authority is protected by 4,800 international peacekeepers who never venture beyond Kabul's limits. Things are so bad, Asia Times reports, that the U.S. is now making deals with Taliban forces to limit the violence:
Such is the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, compounded by the return to the country of a large number of former Afghan communist refugees, that United States and Pakistani intelligence officials have met with Taliban leaders in an effort to devise a political solution to prevent the country from being further ripped apart...
The backdrop to the first meeting is an ever-increasing escalation in the guerrilla war being waged against foreign troops in Afghanistan. Small hit-and-run attacks are a daily feature in most parts of the country, while face-to-face skirmishes are common in the former Taliban stronghold around Kandahar in the south.
Hit-and-run attacks are a daily feature in most parts of the country nineteen months after the end of the war? Why, I feel more hopeful for Iraq already. And it gets better. Keep that anonymous N&O editorialist in mind as you read these three delightful paragraphs:
At the same time, famed warlord Gulbbudin Hekmatyar has joined the resistance after returning from exile in Iran. His Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) is the most organized force in Afghanistan, and its participation has added real muscle to the resistance. Many top slots in the Kabul administration are occupied by former HIA members who, although they were once anti-Taliban, are loyal to the Islamic cause and anti-US...They are suspect in the eyes of the Americans, but because of their huge political clout it is impossible to remove them...
At present, Kabul is divided into two main factions. The first is pro-US, which is represented by the US and allied troops and those loyal to President Hamid Karzai. The second is pro-Russian and pro-Iranian, represented by Defense Minister General Qasim Fahim and his Northern Alliance forces. Although the camps are cooperating at present, they are silently building their support bases to make a grab for full power once the present interim administration runs its course, a process that is due to begin in October with a loya jirga (grand council).
...should the Northern Alliance faction develop sufficient critical mass, it would come as no surprise if its leaders openly forged an alliance with the resistance movement.
But, but, the News & Observer proclaimed in the classic Unsigned Voice From On High that recent history in Afghanistan provides us a hopeful model for Iraq. They couldn't be that far off, could they?
Was it you, Dennis Rogers? Or you, Orage Quarles? Or one of the folks who used to write unsigned editorials for your paper but whose names appeared nowhere on the masthead? When are you all going to stop hiding behind the myth of an "institutional voice" and recognize what your readers already know very well: Unsigned editorials as nothing more than attempts to artificially boost the authority of flawed individuals who often get things wrong. And boy, did y'all get this one wrong. [link]
7.13.03 - When you put it like that, yes, it does seem a bit surprising: "By next summer's Democratic and Republican nominating conventions, 20 years will have passed since the first - and last - woman made it onto a major party ticket." Call that what you want, but it sure ain't progress. The numbers are only slightly better lower down the ladder:
Only 14 percent of elective offices in the federal government are held by women, who make up 52 percent of the voters. In state government, women hold 22 percent of all elective offices.
Hell, the number of women serving in state legislatures actually dropped as a result of the 2002 election, part of what the Center for American Women and Politics calls a "pattern of stagnation evident in recent election cycles." It also turns out the world's, er, greatest democracy ranks 59th in the Interparliamentary Union's list of women in national legislatures (and we're dropping). That's interesting information. Either the U.S. population is one of the most backwardly sexist on earth (we're behind, but not that far), U.S. women are among the world's least ambitious (ha), or something else is going on that's preventing women from getting into office. So what is it?
CAWP claims the overwhelmingly male gatekeepers in both parties "generally do not consider equitable representation a priority," which is a very polite way of saying what Walter Mondale notes in the first link above: The idea of a woman near the top of the ticket is "almost unmentionable." I wonder how the squelching plays out at those top levels of the Democratic Party.
Once again, with feeling: There has been no woman on a major party presidential ticket for the last 20 years. And here come the ubiquitous consultants to justify the exclusion, waving around hilariously general polling results that prove Americans are incapable of accepting a female leader. Listen as two pollsters simply throw up their hands and accept the dismal reality:
"Voters do not believe a woman compares favorably to a man on [terrorism] issues. People don't perceive a woman as commander in chief. That's the biggest problem."
"War, recession and national security are tougher times for women's leadership. People want to turn more to male leadership than female leadership."
Are dumbly sexist responses to general survey questions like "Would you ever vote for a woman as President?" really indicative of stronger anti-woman sentiment in the US than in other civilized countries? Does anyone actually believe that? If not, then aren't the survey results seriously out-of-whack? Remember, Elizabeth Dole rocked the male vote in North Carolina last year. But consultants for both major parties continue to insist that U.S. voters aren't ready to accept strength, comfort and leadership from a woman. Now they're waving 9/11 around as yet another excuse, pretending they just can't imagine a way to effectively link the words 'security' and 'strength' with 'woman' in the average voter's mind.
It sure is funny how Nike and Gatorade are able to use deeply resonant icons of female power to great effect, but we never see politicians doing the same. Why is it only on certain issues that party leaders who never hesitate to use manipulative emotional appeals suddenly become frightened and unimaginative, abdicating their role as persuaders? "Oh, those sexist feelings sound so strong over the phone! We can never change those!" Whatever. It's time to look closely at who's buying these moronic rationalizations that keep women from powerful positions.
And, you know, the oh-so-delicate dance instructions that even well-intentioned researchers say female candidates must follow don't help the situation at all. Be careful. Be formal. Be tough, but not too tough. And above all, don't be too sexy. Yeah, sure. Here's a better piece of advice: "Be real." A smart, above-board woman - sorry, for me that leaves out Hillary Clinton - will watch most of that sexist poll nonsense crumble away. Back her up with sharp ads using readily available symbols of female wisdom and strength, and the voters - especially young voters - would come in droves. [link]
7.12.03 - Dear Congressman Miller:
"As an independent voter in your district, I would like to see some sharper criticism from you on the serious threats to our democracy coming from the Bush administration. The unchecked and growing power of the executive branch is frightening in the extreme. In particular, I would like to see you join in calls for an investigation into the outrageous pattern of exaggeration and overstatement Rumsfeld, Powell, Bush, Rice and Cheney used to drag the country into Iraq."
7.11.03 - Some lovely colorized electron microscope images, courtesy of Tina Carvalho's delightful MicroAngela site. Alien landscapes, abstract paintings and much, much more. Who knew a damn fly foot could be so beautiful? [link]
7.11.03 - Listen. That sound you hear is the heads of local AM radio hosts exploding across the land as they find out that the impeccably conservative columnist David Horowitz is distancing himself dramatically from Ann Coulter's new book Treason. In fact, Horowitz rips into Coulter for ignoring complexities, "failing to draw a clear line between satirical exaggeration and historical analysis," and (I love this part) "refusing to credit the laudable role played by patriotic, anti-Communist liberals like Truman, Kennedy and Humphrey."
Three cheers for cameraderie across trench lines, I guess. You only need one Horowitz quote to completely destroy Coulter's bizarre, fundamentally inaccurate schtick:
Is it the case that liberals like Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy sided with the enemy? Of course not. They were anti-Communists, hated by the left as “cold war liberals.” And they were not alone.
Ta da. Be sure to tell your local Limbaugh the news (but watch out for exploding heads). Horowitz' hard-line take is a useful complement to this detailed analysis of Coulter's dishonesty from left-leaning Joe Conason [ad-free version here] as well as the ongoing dissection at Spinsanity, which nailed a few classic Coulter evasions on a recent Hannity & Colmes episode. But it's Horowitz who provides the following pointed jabs:
'Obviously absurd." Remember, this is coming from what is arguably one of the sharpest, most challenging right-wing minds in the country. Other popular conservatives have also weighed in, like columnist Andrew Sullivan:
[I]n my view, she damages conservatism as much as Michael Moore damages liberalism. It's one thing in spirited debates to lose civility at times; it's another thing to make a lack of civility your fundamental modus operandi.
Zing. Sure puts our local Limbaugh's fawning over Coulter in a new light, doesn't it? And the bullshit continues. Days after I pointed him to the Spinsanity site, the Triangle's newest motivational speaker [mp3] continued to announce on his AM radio show that liberals "don't have any arguments" against Ann Coulter except personal smears. Yeah, right. I'm sure the Triangle is holding its breath waiting for him to address any of the blatant factual errors documented in the critiques linked above.
Can't wait to see what brilliant book Jerry Agar gets excited about next.
Those of us who are able to wrap our minds around the idea of a large gray area between communism and capitalism (think about that link, I beg you) have significant objections to the way folks like Horowitz frame the McCarthy era. But at least he and Sullivan work outward from their assumptions in well-researched, logical ways, and respond to their critics relatively honestly. The same can't be said of Ann Coulter and our local Limbaugh. The Triangle will need a lot less of those two if we're ever going to move beyond the ridiculously simplistic "left vs. right" rhetoric that drives most political debate in the United States. [thanks to the antic muse for pointing to the Horowitz critique] [link]
7.10.03 - "I think I was in a car with a loony-suicide-fucker last night." Salam Pax on the joys of life in Baghdad.
"The presence of Americans endangers us." George Paine points to Iraqi police forces who are asking Americans to leave.
"This ought to be reviewed very carefully. It ought to be the subject of careful scrutiny as well as some hearings." U.S. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, demonstrating nicely why he'll never lead his party to any sort of victory, making a typically vapid statement on the Iraq/Nigeria nuclear weapons lie [correction: Niger - thanks, Jerry] that Bush told in his State of the Union address.
7.10.03 - Watching friends reinvent themselves sure is fun, but watching a friend reinvent himself as a DJ and then start organizing regular club nights that build smart, open crowds...well, that's even better. Cheers to Rattmouth on the one-year anniversary of Jazz Anew at Bickett Gallery (see you at the celebration). And cheers to Esotic and Drew for being right there with him, reinventing themselves and computer visuals in brilliant, surprising ways. [link]
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'll get to you in a little bit.
7.5.03 - Digital shoplifting of magazines has apparently become enough of a problem in Japan that bookstores are posting signs asking customers to "refrain from recording information with camera-mounted cellphones and other devices." Folks are taking pictures of invidual pages and reading them at home later, which is - for now - not technically a crime. Don't miss this tidbit at the end:
More than half of mobile handsets shipped in the year to March were estimated to be camera phones.
Love that modern world. The story comes via Artbomb co-founder Warren Ellis' neat blog, Die Puny Humans, which also clued me in to a hilarious take on U.S. superheroism (above). It's included in the Whitney Museum's exhibit The American Effect, which looks worth a trip to New York despite yet another stupid controversy for everyone to yammer about. [link]
7.4.03 - I love obsessive sites like the Pasta Log. Yes, it's an ongoing photodocumentation of every pasta dish a 22-year-old Italian guy eats. Check the FAQ for a few links to other interesting-looking Italian sites and some funny answers to visitors' questions:
do you use prozac (or other kind of drugs) in
Found at the links page of Jonathan Keller's Daily Photo Project, whose 100% post-consumer Box Bots have been known for years as another of the Web's more deliciously obsessive treats. [thanks to MeFi for the reminder] [link]
2 pints of strawberries
7.4.03 - Question for supporters of a U.S. Constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning: Would shoveling an American flag cake into your gaping maw count as "desecration" of our cherished national symbol? What if you - gasp - used your hands? [link]
7.3.03 - Well, that was predictable. Slashdot links to a CNN story about telemarketers' plans to counterattack the popular national "do-not-call" list by increasing the amount of paper and (oh joy) electronic junk mail they send. Apparently, they're running scared after 12 million of us signed up for the list in just four days - which, of course, means only that we'd prefer to be bombarded with other forms of unsolicited advertising. Whatever.
Counter-counterattackers will find some nice weapons in the Slashdot thread, including Junkbusters' convenient free service Declare and a great page at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. And if you'd like a bit of a laugh, spend time exploring the world of mailing list brokers, who happily sell detailed compilations of data about you, your neighbors, your car and your finances - all collected without your permission or knowledge - to anyone with a buck.
Me, I just want a cut of whatever they make. Half a penny whenever someone sells a list with my name on it seems fair.
Update: Another Slashdot thread links a Washington Post article, "Web Firms Choose Profit over Privacy," which notes that many companies don't even honor their own promises to "never sell your name." Some use this neat little trick:
With the onslaught of spam, almost all companies promise not to sell consumer data. But many don't mention that such information is rented. This means that the list owner won't release the data to an outside marketer, but it will send messages to the list on the outsider's behalf. Targeted lists available for rent number in the thousands, including those from magazines, professional organizations and even political interest groups such as Republicans for Jesus.
The industry calls for more self-policing, of course, as if that'll work. And I just love how direct marketers have simply redefined the phrase "opt-in" so that it no longer means consumers have to actively request unsolicited advertising:
In marketing parlance, opt-in means that consumers have not specifically asked to be removed from mailing lists. Thus, nearly all available e-mail lists are advertised as opt-in lists.
Obviously, they think we're idiots.
[One marketing exec] said that to regain credibility, her industry must move to a true opt-in system, in which no marketing occurs before a user requests it.
"The opt-in procedure puts the control of the transaction in the hands of the consumer," she said, separating herself from her industry's trade groups. "That's a dramatic paradigm shift that I think a lot of old-school marketers are resisting."
7.2.03 - So did anyone else watch the opening arguments in the Michael Peterson murder trial? [sorry to those not in the Triangle, this is big news here] You can watch highlights from both opening arguments here (and listen to Peterson's 911 call to decide for yourself if he was faking shock and grief).
Strange how both sides danced around Peterson's bisexuality - an issue Durham D.A. Jim Hardin is sure to introduce later. All we got was a statement from defense attorney David Rudolf that Kathy and Michael sometimes fought about the [ahem] amount of time he spent at the YMCA, and a few dark hints from Hardin about the false appearances of a "storybook marriage" and the terrible things contained on Peterson's computer.
What could those be? Pictures of anal sex? Cocksucking? S&M? What? And what if Kathy knew about her husband's sex with men? Hell, I knew about it long before it hit the papers, and I'm sure I'm not the only local who'd heard that particular piece of gossip. And what would any of this have to do with murder, anyway? Is it that the mere fact of bisexuality makes someone more suspicious to a jury? Or does Hardin have some other sex-related evidence that helps his case? Guess we'll see.
I also think the defense really nailed the prosecution on its timing of the exhumation of Elizabeth Ratliff, the woman whose kids Peterson raised after she died in a fall (or was killed by Peterson) in Germany in 1985. The defense claims that Hardin had permission to exhume last year but waited to do it until right before jury selection. If anyone has a plausible explanation for that other than the prosecution's desire to taint the jury pool, please do let me know. Given the burst of negative publicity the exhumation generated, it's simply stunning that the D.A. didn't even mention Ratliff's death in his opening. Instead, he was reduced to objecting repeatedly while Rudolf explained the odd move for the jury.
The defense also raised my eyebrows with its claim that Hardin's team didn't even ask for the Petersons' detailed financial records - which prosecutors assert was the underlying motive for the whole thing - until after jury selection had begun. If that's true, wow. Again, Hardin objected to the jury hearing that line of attack.
Does the prosecution case seem extremely slim to anyone else? It rests on an autopsy report the state itself reversed judgement on, clear errors by police at the scene of the crime and a highly dubious construction of motive. Oh, and the shocking news that Peterson sometimes had sex with men. For what it's worth, my position on the case remains what it was in December 2001: I still don't know if Peterson killed his wife, although I tend to doubt it. What I do know, or guess, is that it's unlikely the D.A. will be able to convince the jury there was a murder, let alone that Peterson committed it. Not without a lot more than Hardin's shown us so far, anyway.
One other note: WRAL's much-hyped digital channels are finally very useful, offering a daily feed and nightly rerun of the station's trial coverage. I've generally avoided this case because there really wasn't anything worth writing about until now (hi, Gaspo). But I find myself following it more closely than I thought I would. I'll try to keep it to the high points, I promise. More on the opening arguments after I get a chance to read the coverage in today's papers. [link]
7.2.03 - The left-wing radicals over at Army Times are at it again, with an editorial, "Nothing but lip service," that rips into the Bush/Cheney administration's all-talk support for the military. Daily Kos, a former serviceman, is furious as he puts it in perspective. If Army Times can poke holes in Republican military hypocrisy, why can't opposition Democrats? Once again, spineless centrist Dems are too scared to really hammer a wedge into the Republican electorate. Hopeless. [link]
7.2.03 - Via Daypop's Top 40: Israel cut off its ties to the BBC over the re-airing of a program about Israel's undeclared nuclear and biological weapons. This kind of snub seems to me serious stuff. It points to the "access" problem facing all journalists, of course, but is especially worrying for those employed by large corporations with multiple business interests in foreign countries. We've seen the threat work with Fox News head Rupert Murdoch, for instance, who has repeatedly stomped on coverage critical of China to protect his access to the country's large, mostly untapped market. We saw it with news organizations in Saddam's Iraq, and we've seen it for years with the servile White House press corps in the United States. It's only going to get worse.
Also, via Pandagon: Those of us who at least try to raise the level of discussion about Israel and Palestine can only shake our heads at the idiocy of stories like this. An Oxford University pathology professor actually rejected an applicant who wanted to work in his lab for no other reason than the fact that the applicant was Israeli. You've really got to read the email to see the absurdity of the bigotry at work:
"Thank you for contacting me, but I don't think this would work. I have a huge problem with the way that the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust, and then inflict gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians because they [the Palestinians] wish to live in their own country.
And this is relevant to the applicant how, exactly? Wasn't collective punishment one of the things we're supposed to be avoiding?
"I am sure that you are perfectly nice at a personal level,
...when you're not being a "gross human rights abuser," that is...
but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army.
Gosh, does that include these folks, too?
As you may be aware, I am not the only UK scientist with these views but I'm sure you will find another lab if you look around."
Disgusting bigotry. There's really no other way to describe it. The guy now claims to be sorry, but check this sentence: "I have a view on the situation in the Middle East but I am not a racist or anti-Semitic."
No, you're just bigoted against all Israelis and don't want any of them in the same room with you. Leave aside the fact that 59% of the country's citizens want nothing more than to dismantle most of the fundamentalist settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This guy blames the entire Israeli population - and not its compromised, reluctant leaders - anyway. Okay. That means we can blame the professor for Tony Blair's decision to support Bush's Iraq invasion, right? And keep him from working in our lab on that basis alone? But, hey, I'm sure he's perfectly nice at a personal level. [link]
7.1.03 - Well, that's one way to spin a local murder story. Did the N&O's Barry Saunders really just express the view that the murderers in last week's multi-person shooting in Durham were stupid for not killing all four witnesses, instead of just one? Yes, I think he did:
Blokes this inept and heartless -- a deadly combination -- give bad guys a bad name...
Oy vey. They punctuated the mindlessness of their violence by -- get this -- leaving witnesses. Three of them. OK, two, if you -- like me -- feel that a 2-year-old's testimony wouldn't hold up in court. I'm no criminal mastermind, but even I'd know the importance of getting rid of witnesses to a heinous crime.
Ye gods. I know it's hard to find an original spin on the standard What-A-Horrible-Crime-In-Our-Community thing, but that really takes the cake. And it comes from a guy who actually went to the funeral of the dead victim, but didn't talk to the family because "their grief kept me from intruding." Not writing anything at all would have been better than the soothing comfort above.
I can plead guilty, though, to putting the Peterson matter forward as energetically as any journalist in town. I feel guilty doing it, at times. At times, I don't know why I have.
Uh, try money, attention and a possible book deal, Tom. How nice that he finally admits what's been obvious for the past 18 months, namely, that Peterson's life "eventually will inspire a book, or more than one." Anyone want to bet against the idea that Gasparoli's already been shopping his own version around? At least the revelation that he doesn't know why he's been writing so much about the case comes in a column about the death of a black woman named Latisha Williamson. Give him a point for that, and for another column today mostly focusing on Williamson. Still doesn't explain the vastly greater weight given to the Peterson case, though. [link]
7.1.03 - Yeesh. Just finished a call-in to our local Limbaugh (right) after catching the last few minutes of his hilariously fawning interview with Ann Coulter. Before flustered host Jerry Agar cut me off and then insulted me (in that order, as usual), I managed to note how embarrassing it was for him to be hitching his wagon uncritically to a person whose disregard for the truth has been so extensively documented, and also got in a plug for Spinsanity, one of many sites with detailed Coulter coverage. It's hard to pick a favorite example from so many, but the lie on the last page of Slander about media coverage of Dale Earnhardt's death is right up there:
[Coulter wrote:] "The day after seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt died in a race at the Daytona 500, almost every newspaper in America carried the story on the front page. Stock-car racing had been the nation’s fastest-growing sport for a decade, and NASCAR the second-most-watched sport behind the NFL...It took the New York Times two days to deem Earnhardt’s name sufficiently important to mention it on the first page."
Coulter’s question: Why, oh why, did the great New York Times wait two more days to put Dale on its cover? We suspect you know the answer to that; Coulter was inventing. (Again!) In fact, the Times did run the story of Earnhardt’s death on its front page on Monday, February 19. (NEXIS makes this perfectly clear. Which part of “Page 1” doesn’t Coulter understand?) The headline might have provided a clue: “Stock Car Star Killed on Last Lap of Daytona 500.” The piece was written by Robert Lipsyte...
Of course, Coulter didn’t demean the tone of Lipsyte’s work. Instead, she simply lied about it, saying it didn’t exist. Coulter wanted to close with a bang. She wished Lipsyte out of existence.
The folks at TAPPED have lots of other examples, including Coulter's ridiculously misleading use of footnotes. Funnily enough, Agar defended her to me by citing her new book's many footnotes, as if their mere existence proved Coulter was telling the truth. Uh, yeah, dude. It's called "independent research." Learn to do some.
The latest book Coulter's hyping across the right-wing circuit - surprise - uses equally dishonest rhetorical techniques. But that doesn't faze our friendly neighborhood genius over at WPTF, who fumed and ranted about Coulter's critics only having insults to offer, since there's no logical refutation of what she writes. Yeah, right. Free clue for Agar: Just because the little bubble of one-sided information you surround yourself with doesn't include thoughtful left-leaning criticism of dyssemblers like Coulter doesn't mean that criticism doesn't exist. If Coulter has ever corrected the many distortions her critics have documented, I challenge Jerry Agar to show me where.
Amazingly, our local Limbaugh had never even heard of Spinsanity - a truly damning indicator of how out-of-touch he is, given the site's detailed refutations of liberal Michael Moore's distortions and its willingness to take Coulter's critics to task for descending to her level - and immediately interrupted to demand information about who they were before letting me finish. Of course, he never shows similar aggressive skepticism of callers who agree with him, unquestioningly accepting information far less verifiable than what I suggested. I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that he's so easily agitated, quickly hanging up and ranting about how I'm trying to take over his show before I do too much damage.
What an embarrassment to the Triangle that Coulter segment was. As a final note in our latest periodic glance in Agar's direction, you should know that I've challenged the guy to public debate in the past, even allowing him to suggest a third-party mediator for a one-on-one about Iraq, but he refused. Like a lot of right-wing talkers, he's not comfortable in a challenging situation where his finger isn't on the button. Revealing, isn't it? The challenge stands. [link]
6.29.03 - Useful links over at Plastic in a post about three recent, distinctly Southern deaths: unrepentant Strom Thurmond, complex Lester Maddox and pioneering Maynard Jackson. Ah, race and history - two great tastes that go great together.
We'll start with Maynard Jackson, the first black mayor of a large Southern city. The coverage in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is broad enough, while the local alt weekly offers a shorter, more critical summary. Elected after years of "white flight" against an opponent whose delightful slogan was "Atlanta's Too Young To Die," Jackson demonstrated by example that black Americans were perfectly capable of becoming classic Southern good ol' boy kingmakers (what the hell, let's call that a good thing). His most-discussed achievement - aside from helping turn the city into a major airline hub - is an aggressive 1970s push to even the playing field for Atlanta's black middle class:
Black-owned businesses got their first contracts from the city in 1973, the year Jackson was elected...Those contracts amounted to $41,800 - less than 0.13 percent of the $33.1 million in work awarded by the city that year. By the end of Jackson's first term in 1978, 38.6 percent of city contracts were with minority-owned firms...
If ever there was a place where that kind of "affirmative action" was appropriate, 1973 Atlanta would be it. One businessman calls Jackson "the Dr. King of the economic movement," but Malcolm X seems just as appropriate for a 35-year-old who shook up banks and law firms by refusing to allow the city to do business with any company whose board didn't include blacks and women.
It's also worth pointing out - as you contemplate Bill Clinton getting down at the funeral - that Jackson ran for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee after the 2000 election. His pitch? Democrats had drifted away from their roots as members of a party for "struggling people." He lost, in large part because Clinton threw his support to centrist Democratic fundraiser Terry McAuliffe. Nice, eh? I'll never understand why so many Af-Am callers to my show spout nonsense about Clinton being "the first black President" despite obvious evidence to the contrary. But let's leave that for another day. [link]
6.29.03 - Next in line is Strom Thurmond (upside down, right). The SC newspaper The State has an impressive obit package with lots of pics and assorted hilarity, but somehow manages to leave out the fascinating story of Essie Mae Butler, who is almost certainly the daughter of Thurmond and a teenage black maid who worked for his family in the 1920s. (Unless, that is, you can come up with some other reason a diehard segregationist would financially support a young black girl through college.) The State couldn't even find room in a story about Thurmond's well-known sexual "appetites" and "amorous nature" for this particular tidbit.
Fascinating. A Senator with a daughter whose right to equal protection he spent years actively denying. On what oh-so-discreet planet does that not count as newsworthy? Bravo to the Charlotte Observer for including Essie Mae in its coverage. And please don't believe for a second the "Strom repudiated his segregationist past" thing. It's not true, as Timothy Noah demonstrated last December on the occasion of Thurmond's 100th birthday:
The legend of Strom's Remorse was invented, by common unspoken consent within the Beltway culture, in order to provide a plausible explanation why Thurmond should continue to hold power and command at least marginal respectability well past the time when history had condemned Thurmond's most significant political contribution.
Read the whole piece; it includes direct evidence of Thurmond's rather intense denial of his own racist statements. Still, some folks do give the guy credit for at least recognizing that reality had left him behind:
"Maybe the best way to put it was he was not a Jesse Helms. There came a time when Thurmond basically realized that his previous stands were now defeated, and he moved on in a way that Jesse Helms never really did."
Well, that counts for something, I guess. The forgiveness many black people feel in Strom's hometown is probably real enough, but Thurmond's willingness to share federal pork with black politicians is also probably a factor in some folks' softened memories. And there's that good old Southern hospitality, as explained by Rev. Joseph Darby, a vice president of the South Carolina NAACP:
"When you have someone who has just passed away, I expect that many folks don't want to say too much out of respect for grieving families. Also, they have to live in Edgefield. This may be the New South, but it ain't that new. If I was an African American living in Edgefield ... I'd say nice things about him, too."
One more thing: Last December, Timothy Noah alerted us to a fascinating bit of whitewashing at NPR that is once again showing up in media accounts of Thurmond's career. USA Today and AP both substitute the phrase "the Negro race" in place of what is clearly Thurmond's use of "the Nigger race" in his famous 1948 segregationist rant. Listen for yourself to the shockingly stereotypical clip [ram].
How nice of the "liberal" press to honor the Senator by touching up a few nasty spots on the historical record for us. [link]
6.29.03 - Lastly, there's the amazing career of Georgia governor Lester Maddox (above, with gun), who rose to fame in 1964 by vigorously protesting the forced desegregation of private businesses. Don't kid yourself, by the way; you only need one glance at the continued hullaballoo over Augusta National Golf Club's male-only policy to see that the idea that private businesses have every right to discriminate remains alive and well. If Maddox was making his stand today, I'll bet AM talk radio jocks like Raleigh's Jerry Agar would be fuming at the intrusion of big government into the Pickrick Restaurant's "no-blacks" policy, even as they object to the comparison in conversations about Augusta. But ask them for a logical difference between discrimination against blacks and discrimination against women and all you get are hilariously mealy-mouthed rationalizations.
Sorry guys. You want to live in a country that allows bigots to discriminate in their private businesses? Move somewhere else. It's not done in the USA.
Maddox's career is one of the most unbelievably strange political stories ever to come out of the South, hands-down. The best intro I've found is this 1999 Creative Loafing profile, not least because it generated a six-page, single-spaced response from Maddox himself. Together, they cover the bases nicely. [link]
6.27.03 - The nicest thing about Neal Pollack's Michael Savage-athon is the list of bloggers it exposed me to:
Angry Bear, Ann Slanders, Army Of Fun, Atrios, Bag Times, Big Picnic, Bitter Obscurity, Blah3, Bunsen, Bush Is A Moron, Deckie Holmes, Duckwing., For Freedom Century, Fengi, Haypenny, Genoan Sailor, I Am The Man Who Will Fight For Your Honor, Left Pedal, Liberal Media Conspiracy, Like Father Like Sun, Lisa Rocci, Matthew Tobey, Max Sawicky, Michael Savage's Only Official Website, Monkeytime [er], Mykeru, Nurse Ratched's Notebook, Off the Kuff, Pandagon, Rashomon, Rob Curran, Sam Heldman, Savage Ass Rape, Savage Cruel Bigots, Suckful, Shared Thought, South Knox Bubba, Ted Barlow, The Daily Harrumph, The Donkeypissonian, The Funny Farm, The Plunketts, Utter Wonder, Warblogger Watch, Yankee Pot Roast, Yar's Revenge, Digby, My Kull, Mercuryx23, Rock And Roll Means Fuck, Graywyvern, The Agitator, Ain't No Bad Dude.
For instance, I found a great Friday treat at the blog of All Move Guide reviewer Matthew Tobey: The Box Office Oracle. You pick the writer, director, genre, actrons, budget, MPAA rating and month of release. You get projected box office receipts, chance of winning an Oscar and the names of the critics most likely to praise and pan your movie. What a hoot.
Also, from lawyer Sam
Heldman, a great little ironic
twist to yesterday's Supreme Court sodomy decision:
I can't wait to explore the rest. Thanks, Neal. [link]
6.27.03 - I am so totally wearing this
on my next trip to Europe.
6.26.03 - As angry, fundamentalist Jewish Israelis fight with their own army to remain in settlements in the Occupied Territories, it's worth posting a few visuals to help contextualize the West Bank settler debate. What you see circled in red above is an example of a settler "outpost" - similar in concept to the handful recently ordered dismantled by Ariel Sharon. Once the outer edge of a settlement has been extended in this cute little way, it's not long before the "outpost" is surrounded by other buildings, soon followed by fences and electricity. The result? A bigger settlement.
How many times would you, as a Palestinian, have to watch that process before you and your neighbors got fed up? Two? Three? A dozen? Well, the pattern of steady fundamentalist encroachment onto West Bank land has continued for years, regardless of whether the Israeli government was led by Likud (under Begin and Sharon) or Labor (under Barak). It's encouraged by rent subsidies from the Israeli government, as well as money from conservative U.S. Jews and Christian evangelicals. It's unnecessarily provocative, and it's wrong.
What's most amazing is that mainstream Israeli newspapers like Ha'aretz regularly editorialize against the settlers' "acts of Jewish terror," but U.S. newspapers don't - as if fundamentalist Israeli stubbornness is somehow not as bad as the fundamentalist Arab stubbornness at the heart of the problems in the West Bank. Take this editorial from the Raleigh News & Observer; whose fine minds want us to believe that Sharon has been "making good on his promise to follow the Bush administration's 'roadmap to peace' by beginning to dismantle Jewish settlements on the West Bank." Uh, right. It's only small outposts like the one circled in red above that Sharon has agreed to remove, and, according to the Australian newspaper The Age, only 11 of those have been dismantled - 10 of which weren't even inhabited.
In other words, it couldn't be more obvious that there's no serious commitment on Sharon's part to "dismantle Jewish settlements on the West Bank." But somehow, the N&O editorialists found a way to ignore credible reports to the contrary and spin the facts 180 degrees in the opposite direction - without offering a single shred of evidence to back up their opinion..So much for the Raleigh paper's credibility on the Israeli/Palestinian issue.
Meanwhile, fundamentalist rabbis are encouraging settlers to switch strategies and simply set up new, "replacement" settlements for every old one destroyed. Peace Now claims there've been 9 new outposts created since Sharon's government announced its "dismantling" policy. Delightful, eh?
Wait, it gets better. Two peace activist leaders have asked the Israeli Attorney General to order an investigation of 500 fundamentalist rabbis:
The rabbis have published a number of halakhic rulings "that
border on incitement," the two charged, citing one in which the rabbis
ruled that those who do not prevent implementation of the U.S.-backed
road map for peace are commiting a sin, and that the government has no
right to give up parts of the Land of Israel.
They assassinated him.
Many mainstream Israelis still believe that fundamentalist rabbis were let off the hook too easily for their complicity in Rabin's murder. I think claims like those are hard to assert without endorsing some kind of limit on free speech, so I'll stick to blaming Yigal Amir, the fundamentalist who pulled the trigger. But there's no denying that Amir is considered a hero by many extremist Jews, which means it's fair to wonder how many of them would endorse future murders as a way to prevent the "sin" of giving up any part of the Occupied Territories.
There isn't an Israeli politician in existence who hasn't thought about that. Too bad the same can't be said for whoever wrote that N&O editorial. [link]
6.26.03 - "Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means...every group has the right to persuade its fellow citizens that its view of such matters is the best ... But persuading one's fellow citizens is one thing, and imposing one's views in absence of democratic majority will is something else."
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting from today's far-reaching decision solidifying a Constitutional right to privacy [emphasis added]
Let's all be clear: "Some of my best friends" hilarity aside, Scalia is a bigot (yep, that's the word for someone with non-rational prejudice). He also still believes that a "democratic majority" in the United States thinks government has a right to outlaw oral sex. Uh, yeah, Antonin. For his part, Clarence Thomas (the Newsmax coverage gives both justices plenty of space to rant) still believes there's nothing remotely resembling a right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution. Thomas actually disagrees that, as the majority put it, "Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct". What the hell does liberty mean, if not "autonomy of self" in intimate conduct, Clarence?
Both of those jokers - and Rehnquist - were appointed by Republicans. This is a no-brainer of a wedge issue. Democrats should be hammering Republicans with it.
Also, don't miss Justice Kennedy's eye-opening take on the "time-honored" argument against gay rights used in the Court's awful 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision:
Laws against homosexual conduct do not have "roots deep in history," as the court believed, Kennedy said. Some scholars even believe that "the concept of the homosexual as a distinct category of person did not emerge until the late 19th century."
"Laws against sodomy do not seem to have been enforced against consenting adults acting in private," Kennedy said. He insisted that it was not until the 1970s that any state singled out "same-sex relations for criminal prosecution."
So much for the vast weight of tradition. Gay marriage, here we come. [link]
Second half of June 2003
First half of June 2003
2nd half of February 2003
January and first half of February 2003