Monkey Media Report Archive

A North Carolina
news and arts Weblog
April 2004

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4.30.04 - Just posted a link to Foetry at Metafilter. You have to register to read Foetry's forums, and the anonymity of the site's creators is, well, ridiculously cowardly, but it's still worth a peep for anyone with a shred of poetic sensitivity. Lots of interesting issues about academia and creativity raised at that new site.

April is National Poetry Month, by the way. For what it's worth, New York City decided to call April 30th "Poem in Your Pocket Day," during which Gothamites are encouraged to share a favorite poem with "friends, family, coworkers and classmates." The official list of recommended poems isn't bad for novices (try Virgil if you're feeling particularly horny), but if you really want to experience the joy of being a poet, I suggest declaiming some classic Philip Larkin instead. The philistines you work with will adore it, I promise.

Oh, and am I the only one who's wondering why the hell that much-covered study about poets supposedly dying younger than other writers failed to include data from British poets? If anyone still needs evidence of the average newspaper editor's drastically moronic approach to science, look no further than the articles about last week's salvo from playwright/professor James Kaufman (if you enjoy gossip, he was until recently pulling a $50,000+ salary [search "Kaufman"] at the Educational Testing Service, the company responsible for the highly questionable SAT test). Everyone seems to have forgotten to ask Kaufman the obvious question: Why would a survey of "birth and death dates for 1,987 poets, playwrights, novelists and non-fiction writers from North America, China, Turkey and Eastern Europe" not include data from the longest-running literary tradition in the West? I mean, come on - the British canon has to be among the most well-documented we have. Why would any "death studies" scientist ignore it? And why did no journalist see fit to ask? Even the freaking BBC failed to note that British authors were completely excluded.

There really is no hope for science journalism in the so-called "information age," is there? What a horrific thought. And scientists themselves seem all too happy to overlook flagrantly obvious flaws in their work, so long as they get the press attention that keeps university administrators off their backs (take a look at this [cough] rigorous bit of related research if you don't believe me).

Anyway, famous poet Billy Collins - author of my current favorite sex poem - has a few thoughts about Dr. Kaufman's survey which no Google-able blogger seems to have noticed:

“I think Professor Kaufman is way off course,” says former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who so far has lived five months longer than the average poet. “The assumed association of poets with mental disorders and depression is a romantic holdover.”

Collins has his own hypothesis. “If poets really do die sooner than other writers — and notice it’s not that much sooner — they do so because of the nature of poetry,” says Collins, a professor at Lehman College, City University of New York, in an e-mail interview. “Because poems are briefer (to say the least) than novels, books of non-fiction and plays, the poet frequently is returned to zero. He faces the blank page on an almost daily basis. Thus the poet experiences more literary stress than writers in other genres. And we know the connection between stress and mortality.”

A plausible theory, to be sure. But even as the highly accessible Collins notes that the differences in age of death among various kinds of writers are small, he doesn't really question the validity of Kaufman's numbers. At the very least, I'd expect anyone with a passing knowledge of the history of poetry to wonder aloud about the complete absence of British writers - British goddamn writers - from Kaufman's supposedly scientific report. Yeesh.

[Thanks to friendly neighborhood poet/blogger Tim Botta for turning me on to Collins, and for getting me thinking about poetry in general again.] [link]

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4.28.04 - So, while you're waiting for me to post again, have you spent any time at all at the sites linked at the top of the Monkeytime home page? What the hell are you waiting for? There's been a ton of amazingly informative and challenging info posted in the last few hours at the sites I recommend here. Leave me alone already. [link]

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4.27.04 - Two of the most influential pop culture creators of their generation - "Doonesbury" cartoonist Gary Trudeau, 55, and pornographer Larry Flynt, 61 - spoke at the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists' annual convention in Kentucky last week. The group, which oddly enough has a Raleigh, NC mailing address, probably won't bother to post the full text of either talk (dammit) so the media coverage is all we have. Trudeau explained why he didn't kill B.D. in Iraq - "I want to show the process of recovery and rehabilitation ... and the impact on family and friends" - but "devoted the bulk of his talk to a retrospective of his long career." Ugh. I got most of my knowledge of 70s history from Trudeau's strip and that still sounds boring as hell. The "cheerily profane smut peddler," on the other hand, seems to have been edgier, defending porn, attacking FCC commissioner Michael Powell as a "little snot-nosed kid...who ended up on third base and thought he hit a triple" and praising cartoonists as journalistic icons on a level above editors and publishers. Talk about playing to your audience.

As a diehard believer in the power of satire to topple pompous jerks, I thought the two speeches were worth noting. Assuming some of you have a similar pro-cartoon bent, here are a few related links:

Take your time. You're not doing anything more interesting at work today than exploring that last one. [link]

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4.14.04 - Must-reading for Monkeytime TV viewers tonight: 9/11 Commission gives Ashcroft a free pass. More links to come, but in the meantime, spend lots of time at Cursor this week. Especially you conservative and libertarian viewers.

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2.26.04 - Had a delightful time last night interviewing Dr. Bart Ehrman, head of the religious studies department at UNC-Chapel Hill, on Monkeytime TV. Ehrman is the author of a number of highly regarded books about the early history of the Christian Church; Publishers Weekly called his book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium "the single best introduction to the study of the historical Jesus." This short book review in the Christian Science Monitor serves as an introduction to Dr. Ehrman's work for ultra-busy clickers; scroll down for short reviews of three (!) recent books, including the companion volumes Lost Christianities and Lost Scriptures:

Bart Ehrman's Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew tells the story of the rise of orthodoxy and of what was lost in the process...He reveals the early Christian centuries engaged in "healthy literary battle," at least until the council of Nicea in 325 "the first council at which bishops from around the world were brought together to establish a consensus on major points of faith and practice." The end result of the establishment of consensus, he argues, was that the mix of early Christianities that he is at pains to identify, and which he clearly treasures, was lost.

Among the weapons employed in the battles for Christian supremacy, he shows, were "the construction of polemical refutations, the publication of character slurs, the creation of forged documents in the names of the apostles." The doomsday weapon was the formation of a canon of sacred authorities.

Well, that and the power of Constantine's state. According to Ehrman, there was more than a little pushing and shoving as "heretical" texts from non-approved sects were eliminated.

Anyone really interested in this subject should skip to a 1997 Ehrman lecture - apparently an outgrowth of another book, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture - that's filled with fascinating information:

When the individual authors of the NT released their works to the public, each book found a niche in one or another of the burgeoning Christian communities that were scattered, principally in large Greek-speaking urban areas, around the Mediterranean. Anyone within these communities who wanted a copy of these books, whether for private use, as community property, or for general distribution, was compelled to produce a copy by hand, or to acquire the services of someone else to do so.

During the course of their transmission, the original copies of these books came to be lost, worn out, or destroyed; the early Christians evidently saw no need to preserve their original texts for antiquarian or other reasons. Had they been more fully cognizant of what happens to documents that are copied by hand, however, especially by hands that are not professionally trained for the job, they may have exercised greater caution in preserving the originals. As it is, for whatever historical reasons, the originals no longer survive. What do survive are copies of the originals, or, to be more precise, copies made from the copies of the copies of the originals, thousands of these subsequent copies, dating from the 2nd to the 16th centuries, some of them tiny fragments the size of a credit card, uncovered in garbage heaps buried in the sands of Egypt, others of them enormous and elegant tomes preserved in the great libraries and monasteries of Europe. It is difficult to know what the authors of the Greek New Testament wrote, in many instances, because all of these surviving copies differ from one another, sometimes significantly.

Keep reading for Ehrman's scathing discussion of the general state of disarray of modern Biblical scholarship:

The neglect is evident on almost all levels. A surprising number of PhD's in NT--we may as well admit it--are barely competent in Greek. Even more are unable to make sense of the critical apparatus that stands at the foot of every page of the Nestle- Aland Greek New Testament that everyone uses. And even those who can construe the apparatus are rarely equipped to understand why one reading, the one found in the text, has been printed, while others are found only in the apparatus--let alone to come to independent judgments about the adequacy of the decision of the United Bible Society's committee, comprised of Kurt and Barbara Aland, Bruce Metzger, and others. Commentators typically ignore textual problems, not simply because they have other things to do but also because in many instances they don't have the wherewithal to deal with the problems.

...most [students] don't realize that the apparatuses are not exhaustive but barely scratch the surface of the textual variation of which we now have knowledge. And this is not to say a word about the general population, laypeople who don't know that the New Testament was written in Greek and that we don't actually have the NT books themselves but only copies produced many centuries later that differ widely among one another.

This is raw ignorance in one of its most crass forms, an ignorance that can be and has been fed upon by well-meaning incompetents and glory-seeking cranks. Very few people in our society have any grounds whatsoever to evaluate the claims that the words of the King James Translation are themselves inspired by God; very few highly trained New Testament scholars are able actually to dispute the claims of Carston Thiede found in a major article of Time Magazine that one of our papyrus MSS, P64, in fact dates to the middle of the first century and may represent an eyewitness account of the life of Jesus by one of his followers. There are lots of knees jerking over these issues, but very few minds working.

Ouch. The sharp, quick-witted Ehrman shows up regularly in documentaries about religion on the major cable networks, and is scheduled to appear on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" at 2pm today. One last thing: At the end of our interview, Ehrman took on Mel Gibson, easily dismissing the director's claims that "The Passion" is historically accurate. Among other things, the Roman soldiers in Palestine would have been speaking Greek, not the Latin that appears alongside Aramaic in the film. This was pointed out by scholars but ignored by Gibson, says Ehrman. Made sense after I found out that Gibson belongs to an unusual Catholic sect (his homegrown place of worship "is not a Roman Catholic church or chapel," says a spokesman for the local archdiocese) opposed to the liberalizing of the Church that came with Vatican II. One of the most controversial decisions of Vatican II, of course, was allowing services to be held in English instead of Latin. And Mel Gibson has the nerve to accuse others of having an agenda? Good Christ. [link]

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2.24.04 - Ok, this is where we figure out who belongs at the adult table and who eats in the kitchen with the little kids. Remember that powder scare in Republican Senator Bill Frist's office on February 2nd? "Indeed this is ricin," Frist announced the next day, which also happened to be the day voters in South Carolina, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri, Delaware and North Dakota went to the polls in early Democratic primaries. Well, did you hear the news that the powder may not have been ricin after all?

Investigators seeking the source of the ricin detected two weeks ago in a Senate office building have raised the possibility that the positive test that forced the evacuation of lawmakers and staff members may have been caused by paper byproducts, not the deadly poison...

Sources familiar with the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that federal agents have found no source for the powder found in the mailroom of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s office...

The ricin was discovered on a mail-sorting machine in Frist’s office in the Dirksen office building on Feb. 2. But law enforcement officials said at the time that no letter or note was found indicating how it got there.

I'm sure we'll be seeing waves of front-page coverage in local newspapers any day now. The lack of any contaminated letter, package, threat or complaint in Frist's mailroom is a significant shift from the two previous ricin episodes in October and November. Both included signed letters from a "Fallen Angel" who complained about new rules requiring longer rest periods for truck drivers, of all things. Note that Monday's FBI update about those cases doesn't mention the Senate scare at all. And there's more:

In addition to the apparent absence of a means of delivery, suspicions that the positive test might have been a false alarm have been heightened by the fact that the amount of the powder initially believed to be ricin was very small, precluding the performance of a potency test by the labs that received samples.

Well now, that's sure interesting. A tiny bit of powder, too small to allow for proper testing, shows up in the Republican Senate Majority leader's mailroom with no piece of mail attached to it on the day of the first big Democratic primary push. Even if we accept the article's suggestion that the false positive on preliminary tests came from paper made with "non-toxic byproducts of the castor bean plant," we still have to account for the presence of the mystery powder in the first place. How on earth did it get there? An AP article at the time noted in passing one possible answer:

...[A]uthorities were interviewing members of Frist's staff and others who had access to the mailroom. Although it was considered remotely possible that the ricin was physically planted in Frist's office, investigators were concentrating on mail as the likely source.

Presumably, they're not "concentrating on mail" any longer, which leaves an inside plant as the most likely solution. Was it a lone crackpot like "Fallen Angel?" How many Republicans/Democrats had access to the mailroom? Who discovered the "very small" amount of powder? Questions, questions. Let's keep an eye on the investigation, shall we? Particularly since the scare resulted in new procedures that open all Congressional mail at an off-site location before the Congresscritters see it - a move Dennis Kucinich claims will "fundamentally damage the integrity of the chain of communication between constituents and members of Congress" (those inclined to paranoid scenarios will note the nice side benefit there). Meanwhile, I'll just mention that I think anyone with a history like Karl Rove's is more than capable of planning something like this, or at least looking the other way while others plan it around him. I figure any "master at creating momentum" has to be pretty good at destroying momentum in his enemies, too.

I hear screams coming from the kitchen already. "Bush-hater! Wah!" Don't make me come in there. I know it's just awful of me to insinuate there might be - gasp - politically ruthless and dishonest men hidden in Washington D.C., but only a fool could fail to notice that the last 50 years of presidential politics has seen more than its share of ruthless, mean-spirited people who don't mind breaking laws and hurting others to get their candidate elected. Hell, it's easy to imagine a poll-obsessed control freak like Rove sending the message that it sure would be nice to see a distraction for the addled mainstream press on the Democrats' first multi-state primary day. All very plausibly deniable, of course, just like Henry II getting rid of Thomas Beckett by reportedly wondering aloud, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"

At least admit it's within the realm of possibility. The evidence to date points to an inside job, which in turn raises the distinct possibility of an orchestrated scare timed to put "Fear Of Terrorism" front and center just as the Democrats began to build excitement. I'm not asking you to accept that as gospel - not yet, anyway. But I am asking you to decide right now whether you believe there are politicians in D.C. who are capable of making such a horribly cynical move. If your answer is, "How dare you suggest such a thing!" then all I can say is get your ass back in the kitchen with the children. And don't even think about dessert.

P.S. If your government-approved education was as woefully incomplete as mine and didn't include the Henry II/Thomas Beckett story, be sure to read the end of that history link up there:

Although Henry admitted that his comments had led to the death of Becket, he argued that he had neither commanded nor wished the man's death. In 1172 Pope Alexander III accepted these arguments and absolved Henry from Becket's murder. In return. Henry had to provide 200 men for a crusade to the Holy Land and had to agree to being whipped by eighty monks. Most importantly of all. Henry agreed to drop his plans to have criminal clerics tried in his courts.

Karl Rove would have fit right in. [Thanks to Avedon at The Sideshow for this one] [link]

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2.24.04 - Come on, admit it: Anything that sends the Democratic Party establishment into fits is a good thing. It couldn't be more clear that the right-wingers who control the Democratic party, like the truly execrable Tom Daschle and proven loser Terry MacAuliffe, need something to put the fear of God into them. Enter Ralph (who really should meet Dennis Kucinich sometime, but later for that). The guy's got more guts than anyone in the field (except, uh, Kucinich), especially if Business Week is correct in reporting that "donations to many of the nearly 100 organizations founded by Nader have fallen dramatically as supporters closed their wallets" after his 2000 run. It's called principle, people, not ego, and folks who value it should find time to savor Ralph's appearance in the race:

"I urge the liberal establishment to relax and rejoice. This is a campaign that strives to displace the present corporate regime of the Bush administration," Nader told a news conference.

I really don't understand the anti-Nader certainty coming from the progressive amen chorus on this one. It couldn't be more obvious that Nader has the potential to be very useful in this election. As noted in the first link above, he's all but promised to focus his attacks on Bush rather than the Democratic nominee:

"I'd go after Bush even more vigorously...in ways that the Democrats can't possibly do because they're too cautious and too unimaginative, but they can pick up the vulnerabilities and the failures of the Bush administration that we point out," Nader said Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Even the folks at the centrist Democratic National Committee claim Nader "has promised Chairman McAuliffe that if he were to run in this election, he would not criticize the Democratic nominee, but rather would focus on the failings of the Bush administration." I guess we'll see if that's wishful thinking on their part, but at least one thing's for sure: "Too cautious and too unimaginative" captures John Kerry perfectly. He could use a Nader to take some heat on his left flank.

Newsflash: Ralph Nader's message resonates with independent voters. Anyone who's seen him speak live knows that he connects with crowds in a way Kerry and Edwards can only dream about. [Special to "Dr. Frank": Leave it at Kerry if you must, but Edwards' much-touted charm is forced and distant to many of us. The point you overlook in your superficial slam is that Nader's past gives his message a credibility with crowds that Edwards can only try to ape.] Imagine Nader traveling the country, challenging center-right voters to listen to him, stirring up enough of them on economic and civil liberties issues to tilt the election away from Bush and Giuliani. Pundits who use exit polls from 2000 to dismiss Nader now are completely missing the point; he's sending clear signals that he'll be running a very different campaign. (And, honestly, Democrats are in no position to ignore help from any quarter.) Last month, Nader's nephew Tarek Milleron succinctly laid out what Nader might bring to the race:

Savvy progressive Democrats could make use of a Nader 2004 run. By becoming involved in his campaign, they could influence and finance, with their individual contributions, ads to be done on Bush's miserable record. These would be the types of ads too risky for the Democratic nominee himself to run. Anybody-but-Bush progressives could also use the Nader campaign as a forum for discussing crucial issues-such as cutting the defense budget-that they might consider political suicide for the Democratic nominee to touch...

In short, those who want Bush out could begin to display political cunning in their attempt to win. Rather than worry and rant about Nader, they should incorporate his strengths into their plan...With this kind of fine-tuned control on the progressive vote, Nader can only help the effort to defeat Bush...

Perhaps more than any progressive alive today, Nader has the ability to connect with audiences across the ideological spectrum. And the effort to oust Bush will depend most on people who can make the case against Bush to swing voters and independents...

For Nader, this is not a year for super rallies. For Nader, if he runs, this will be the year of the Elks Clubs, the garden clubs, meetings with former Enron employees, the veterans groups, Walmart employees.

Laugh if you must (the Daily Show did), but a Nader "Elks Club" strategy - which I [cough] suggested here last June - makes at least as much sense as the John Edwards or Al Sharpton campaigns. Reaching out to so-called "conservatives" is simply good realpolitik, which should be obvious to all the Nader naysayers on the left but isn't. Ted Glick of the Independent Progressive Politics Network, for example, actually takes Nader to task for focusing on constituencies that aren't typically considered "progressive." Glick's vision of a Democratic victory is the standard noble lefty one that never quite seems to materialize, at least not forcefully enough to tip an election:

What is going to defeat Bush? A number of things, but clearly key will be a massive mobilization of labor and people of color, working-class people broadly, including the registration and mobilization of those not presently participating in the political process. A Nader campaign that is oriented more toward Republicans and predominantly white independents will drain some votes from Bush but it will not be the place where we in the progressive movement should be focusing our energies.

Notice what's happening here: Glick is ignoring the evidence of a significant percentage of conservative voters who now plan to vote Democratic, and is also assuming that white independents don't count as "working class people" who are "not presently participating in the political process" but are still reachable with a progressive message. I'm sorry, but that's a far more stupid strategy than Nader's candidacy. Glick continues:

The Democratic Leadership Council types are not going to work to bring the disenfranchised and unregistered into the political system. It is those of us on the progressive side who have to do it. Mobilization of that "sleeping giant" has to be a top priority.

Fair enough. But what's it to Glick if Nader feels his gifts lie elsewhere this year? A millionaire Skull-and-Bonesman like John Kerry isn't going to help mobilize the "sleeping giant" of disenfranchised poor and black voters, which leaves Glick on his own regardless. So why is he so hell-bent on keeping Nader out of this race instead of welcoming whatever assistance he can provide? Perhaps his closing paragraph offers a clue:

A Nader independent campaign of the kind sketched out by Milleron will confuse lots of people. It will be disruptive to the Green Party. It will lead us away from the type of alliance-building and broad, multi-cultural outreach needed. I urge Ralph not to follow this course.

Wow. Let's read that first part again:

A Nader independent campaign of the kind sketched out by Milleron will confuse lots of people.

Like, progressives, maybe? I can't help wondering just what kind of voter Glick thinks will be "confused" by a Nader campaign that reaches out to conservatives. If Nader can prove that a truly progressive message resonates with [gag] "NASCAR dads," doesn't that help us throw off the yoke of corrupt asses like Terry MacAuliffe and Tom Daschle? I do believe it does. The sooner the so-called "progressive" community realizes that, the better off we'll all be.

Oh, one last thing: Be sure to check the US Green Party's official press release "welcoming" Nader to the campaign (seems non-disruptive enough) and the list of 8 candidates competing for the Green nomination in late June.

Update: A comment at former Dean webhead Mathew Gross' blog notes that Public Citizen removed Nader's name from its "about" page over the weekend. Nader founded Public Citizen, of course. And Gross is bitterly, unfairly angry at Nader, of course. Thank god Dean's out of the race already, or Nader would surely get blamed for that one, too. [via Ed Cone] [link]

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2.23.04 - I haven't forgotten the early Christianity links I promised on last week's show; in fact, all of you agnostics, atheists and fundamentalists who emailed me will be delighted to learn that this Wednesday's show will feature one of the world's premier authorities on the early history of the Christian religion. No shit. More soon. [link]

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2.20.04 - All you lefties for some reason saddened by the disappearance of Howard Dean absolutely must read this USA Today dissection, "Staffers fill in details of the decline of Dean." It's not only a great antidote to the "blame the media" excuse (yes, coverage of "the scream" was unfair and moronic, but unfair and moronic coverage is the norm in TV news; candidates should be able to deal with it), but also confirms what was obvious to some of us for a long time, namely, that Dean would have been an awful presidential candidate by almost any measure:

[I]nterviews with 11 people inside or close to the campaign revealed less public details of a decline that began long before the scream. Only a few agreed to be quoted by name. Their accounts reveal a chaotic campaign led by a candidate who disregarded advice; a campaign manager, Joe Trippi, who had little control over hiring or spending; and a staff lacking basic information about Dean's past. Among the most serious problems:

• A candidate who was cavalier about preparation and didn't think he needed to connect personally with voters. The results included stumbles, odd performances that confirmed negative impressions and off-putting remarks that revealed what one adviser called tone deafness.

I've been pointing out for months on my show Dean's apparent lack of ability to appear human on camera; it's no surprise to learn the guy thought he could win without working on that. What a fool.

• NBC's report Jan. 8 on old tapes of The Editors, a Canadian public affairs program that regularly featured Dean. Dean was shown saying in one program that caucuses in the Midwest are "dominated by special interests" and "represent the extremes." An internal poll showed Dean sank 12 percentage points in a day. Campaign spokeswoman Tricia Enright says tapes of The Editors were reviewed, but that tape from Jan. 15, 2000, was not among them.

Sure, blame the staffers. Did Howard Dean somehow not remember that he'd sharply insulted the Iowa caucuses during the last Presidential race? Here's the big one, however:

• Tensions between Dean's national political team and his inner circle. Two holdovers from the Vermont governor's office — Rogan, hired by Dean to handle money and personnel, and travel aide Kate O'Connor, who filtered Dean's contacts and information — saw their job as protecting Dean. They clashed with Dean's national political advisers, who felt thwarted in trying to improve the campaign...

The outer circle, Dean's national advisers, made many proposals. They wanted to get Dean's wife more involved. They wanted a seasoned political pro on the road with Dean at all times, to cut down on gaffes.

As far back as Labor Day, they wanted new hires to bring order to chaotic operations at headquarters. In October, some sensed the Iowa campaign was flagging and recommended fundamental changes. All their suggestions and efforts were ignored or rejected.

How nice. Makes you feel bad for all those lefties who believed the hype about Dean being a different kind of candidate. Turns out they sent in their millions of dollars to a team carefully controlled by exactly the same kind of politicians Dean was railing against, as David Corn finally got around to noting in his hilarious "dis-endorsement" last month, just after Dean replaced campaign manager Joe Trippi with a corporate lobbyist and ran back to the folks he was most comfortable with:

There has always been a disconnect in the Dean campaign between the man and the movement. If two years ago someone cooked up the idea to create a progressive, reform-minded grassroots crusade that would focus on harnessing "people power" to confront Washington's money-and-power culture and a leader for such an effort was needed, Dean's name would not have jumped to mind.

Now he tells us? Dennis Kucinich, among many others, must have gotten a good laugh at Corn's about-face, like a receiver wide open in the end zone, laughing as the quarterback turns and runs the wrong way down the field. Even funnier is that information about both Dean's fundamental establishment centrism and his campaign's troubles was freely available to anyone who bothered to nose around political sites. That sure did make it hard to smile when otherwise smart lefty acquaintances got all googley-eyed over a schlub like Dean. Funny that I had the same feeling when confronted with otherwise smart acquaintances who didn't bother to nose around online during Bush's lying spree about Iraq. Gullibility takes many different forms, eh? [link]

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2.18.04 - Good NYT snapshot of the current state of John Edwards' courtroom-charisma candidacy, but your valuable time is probably better spent with Howard Blume's more personal piece, "Searching for the heart of John Edwards," in last week's LA Weekly. Love the quotes from retired N&O publisher Frank Daniels, who praises Edwards' "brass balls" even as he notes the lawyer "hadn't spent enough time working in the Senate." Blume doesn't really provide the answer to his own pointed questions about the nature of Edwards' so-called "progressive" politics, but they're good to see in print anyway:

It took a while for Edwards to translate this one-on-one courtroom magic to an auditorium and a television audience. Because he has, he has a chance to be president. But what is this achievement but the skill of a talented politician, one who predictably defines himself as something different and fresh? That’s a familiar and none-too-fresh claim.

In the end, how much is Edwards the malleable advocate, with positions based on what he thinks most people want to hear, especially if it will advance his career? Does he hold progressive core beliefs that he could marshal into progressive policy?

Yessiree, those are sure good questions. Edwards' sudden reinvention of himself as a longtime free trade skeptic, for instance, would be hilarious if so many folks weren't falling for it. Reminds me of this bit from a January 2003 analysis at Newhouse News:

Still, though his political credentials may be ultra-lite, in a television age it would be unwise to overlook the one politician People magazine selected in 2000 for its "Sexiest Man Alive" issue.

All hail the power of courtroom charisma. (Hey, as strategies go, it beats stealing elections through electronic vote fraud.) And, the Edwards camp continually reminds us, Johnny now has two whole weeks to turn on the charm for a handful of newspaper editors and debate viewers in the few states whose advertising rates he can afford. The race is on. Let's at least hope that as Edwards surprises the hell out of the section of the Democratic establishment already settled on Kerry - the way he surprised the hell out of the N.C. Democrats who'd already settled on D.G. Martin in the 1998 Senate primary, and the way he keeps surprising the media - he manages to teach John Kerry something about how to speak in public. Without that, Kerry's gonna have a tough row to hoe in our telegorgeous age. [link]

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2.18.04 - This one's for my atheist boss: Traditional Christians Mount Effort to Debunk `The Da Vinci Code'.

...[D]efenders of traditional Christianity have launched a counteroffensive on author Dan Brown's fast-paced thriller, which is in its 46th week atop The New York Times' fiction best-seller list, has sold more than 6 million copies, is being translated into more than 40 languages and will be made into a Columbia Pictures film directed by Ron Howard.

Books and articles with titles like "Dismantling the Da Vinci Code" and "The Da Vinci Deception" have been or are about to be published. Preachers are giving sermons in response to church members who ask why they were never told there was a Mrs. Jesus. Web sites and discussion groups are humming over the book's "heresies." A collective Christian outcry is rising, with some of the country's most influential clerics joining in.

In The Catholic New World, the newspaper of the archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George calls the book "a work of bizarre religious imaginings" based on "a facade of scholarship" that exploits the public's "gullibility for conspiracy."

Accusations of "bizarre religious imaginings" coming from the Catholic Church? That's enough to make me want to read it right there. [link]

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2.16.04 - "I think all couples should have to do this before they get married." Photos from the weekend's delightful marriage fest in San Francisco, including shots of lesbian and gay couples camping out in the rain Sunday night to be first in line today. (I think I know a few straight couples who'd camp out together in the rain for a marriage license.) Be sure to check the bio of the site creator, a self-described "anti-marriage radical queer" who "nonetheless has been bawling" after "witnessing the diversity of love and expression at city hall."

Hey, I can relate. As many bloggers have noted, it's hard to argue that scenes like this are causing the destruction of society. But while love is gorgeous and aching and all that, there's a part of me that finds it difficult not to feel disappointment at the lost opportunity here. Any thoughtful 21st century lefty should know the real goal is to get the state out of the oh-so-sacred marriage business altogether. Establishing civil unions as a legal option outside of "marriage" would be a great first step in that direction.

We're way behind Europe on this one, you know. They're busy creating new options for coupling; we're aggressively defending old ones that aren't really worth defending. Three cheers for the American way. [link]

*****

2.16.04 - Here are the sites of the two gallery owners who appeared on Monkeytime TV last Wednesday: Lee Hansley Gallery and Bickett Gallery. Thanks to Lee and Molly for talking honestly and taking calls about art, development and downtown Raleigh. There's some great work in Lee's "Best of the Triangle, Part One" show, and a few really great pieces in the "What is Sex?" show Molly opened last Friday. [link]

*****

2.5.04 - For those who liked the one-man electronic dub band on Monkeytime TV last night, here's Kenbro's site. He says that his CD "Live from Dorothea Dix," a performance in front of a vocal and appreciative crowd at a local mental hospital, is almost ready. All I can say after hearing the reaction of the patients is that dub should be played regularly in all mental hospitals across the land. [link]

*****

2.4.04 - 'Oh yeah,' I thought as I watched John Kerry answer a question on CNN last night. 'That's how Edwards gets his post-South Carolina momentum.' Kerry looked horrible, one of those politicians who can't quite get the hang of making eye contact with millions of people through a camera. Yeesh. What century is this again?

Joe Conason made a similar point about Kerry's live speaking ability:

His speaking style...is reminiscent of the lamentably lame Michael Dukakis. Kerry tends to disdain the repetitive, rousing style that motivates voters, and to favor lengthy, discursive explanations that only bore them. His handlers ought to challenge him by pointing out that Bush -- a man of very limited verbal facility -- has mastered stump speaking. Kerry still must learn to keep it crisp. If he doesn't, he could still lose the nomination to the far more eloquent and animated John Edwards.

Well, maybe. Conason misses the fact that Edwards often comes across as stiff and distant on television, too. The point here is that these skills are easily teachable with a camera and a bit of role play. That Kerry apparently doesn't think they're important enough to learn - in our screwy media environment - is a bad sign.

But potentially very good for Edwards. Even a skeptic like me has to acknowledge that the first stage of our abdicating Senator's scheme has unfolded as planned, landing him squarely in the middle of "anything can happen" land. And yes, that statement will have certain circles doing backflips, but I'll reply by reminding them that I've never been "anti-Edwards." I'm just anti-bullshit, and John Edwards' vote for a U.S. invasion of Iraq has always been and always will be bullshit, i.e., an obvious political maneuver that ignored basic notions of logic and proof. If the tough trial lawyer from 1996 ever found himself in a courtroom with the ambitious Senator from 2002, he'd say the same thing.

But you know, he's my shrewdly hypocritical war-mongering Senator, dammit, and I can still [sniff] have feelings for him. And these days, I'm more worried about his diet than anything else:

A typical day of eating for Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards while on the campaign: Breakfast, a McDonald's "Deluxe Big Breakfast" platter with two hot cakes, scrambled eggs, sausage and a biscuit. Lunch, a McDonald's cheeseburger. Later, a McDonald's chicken sandwich and some cookies. And lots of Diet Cokes — about 10 cans — throughout the day.

Holy canoli. I can't believe any brain filled with that will be making its sharpest possible decisions. Leaving aside the article's fascinating policy implications, it's interesting to wonder if, say, Howard Dean's allegedly short fuse has anything to do with all that candy he consumes. Is finding a banana really that hard to do on the campaign trail? And what about Edwards' three visits to the same grease chain on a typical day? Seems like it'd be faster, healthier and cheaper to stop once every few days for enough bread, peanut butter, grapes, green peppers, cheddar cheese, hummus, chips and orange juice for everyone. Oh well. I'm sure it's just me who finds it funny to watch candidates for The Highest Office In The Land gobbling junk food like junior high schoolers. [link]

*****

2.3.04 - As John Edwards "stakes all" on winning South Carolina, it's perhaps worth noting that almost no one else seems to think the state's important anymore. From SC's biggest newspaper:

The Palmetto State had hoped to have Feb. 3 all to itself. It was supposed to be the kingmaker, the showdown state, the state that sorted out the field, the state that hoped to have a major voice in the selection of the party’s nominee...

Now, candidates are devaluing the importance of South Carolina and choosing to campaign elsewhere. Some seem to be conceding the state to U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a Seneca native who has led his rivals in most polls...Sensing that South Carolina has lost its primary glitter, large media companies are reducing their staffs here...

“Missouri reflects the nation better than South Carolina does,” says Robert Botsch, a USC Aiken professor.

Missouri also will be a battleground state in November. South Carolina, with its Republican tendencies of late, is not.

Even if Edwards wins, it's tough to see how he gets any momentum among Democrats out of it. It's kind of sad, given the amount of time and energy Edwards has put into the state, but it seems right now that he didn't choose very wisely. South Carolina doesn't seem to matter much to anyone but him. But "anything can happen," of course, so let's just sit and watch what happens.

I do still think he'd make a great Attorney General, though. [link]

*****

2.3.04 - If anyone out there can read this article about computerized voting machines (or this one, or this, this, this or this), and still not be convinced that every state should immediately pass a law mandating a paper record for all computerized voting, please speak up now. The sooner the rest of us identify you the better. Oh, and while we're on the subject of elections, try this AP story about "unusually high" turnover among election administrators in the US's largest counties. Are we seeing the pieces falling into place for a major chaotic disaster come November? Uh, you tell me. [Thanks to Atrios for the first one] [link]

*****

2.3.04 - Just received from a gay mailing list: The Forward, a Jewish weekly based in New York, recently profiled the "funny and irreverent" Rabbi Lionel Blue (right), calling him "arguably the most popular Jew in the United Kingdom." For thirty years, Blue has been a regular on BBC Radio Four's morning program, which includes an inspirational "Thought for the Day" from various religious thinkers.

He also happens to be gay.

In a recent "Godspot," the rabbi struck out — wryly — on a far more personal chord: the increasing acceptance of gays. Blue himself is gay and speaks freely about the life he shares with Jim, his partner of 20 years. "The holy spirit is blowing away centuries of prejudice," the rabbi said. "I feel it at high-class functions. Jim and I are no longer placed by the swinging kitchen doors along with the wisecracking au pairs. We've made it to the top table."

Listen to that one for yourself [ram]; it's kind of cute, starting with the rebbe and his partner being taken to a gay disco by a straight couple, and then meandering over topics like the queer rejection of formal religion. A gay rabbi as a popular feature on a government-owned radio program. Go figure. They even turn to him for a Jewish take on Jesus, which he delivers pretty damned honestly, if you ask me. It's almost inconceivable to me that a segment like that would ever happen on NPR or PBS.

Still, I gather that the "Thought for a Day" focus on theist perspectives rankles many Brits. It led to a heated debate a year or so ago about whether to include atheist and/or purely secular perspectives, which led to a guest "Thought" from secular geneticist Richard Dawkins. His attack on the "infantile regression" of theist arguments against evolution would curl the hair of US religious apologists:

The adult response is to rejoice in the amazing privilege we enjoy. We have been born, and we are going to die. But before we die we have time to understand why we were ever born in the first place. Time to understand the universe into which we have been born. And with that understanding, we finally grow up and realise that there is no help for us outside our own efforts. Humanity can leave the crybaby phase, and finally come of age. Now there’s a thought for more than just a day!

Ouch. But perhaps not quite what the average citizen wants to hear over the great British breakfast. For now, I'll settle for mainstream theist acceptance of a goofy gay rabbi. [link]

*****

2.2.04 - The amazing story of Mingering Mike hit the NY Times today (complete with hilariously tone-deaf photo captions) after bubbling for a while at great sites like Soulstrut and BoingBoing. It's one of those classic astonishing folk art stories: A self-taught artist, music-lover and one-time AWOL Vietnam soldier loses his beloved stash of 70s-era songs and fake album covers after getting behind on payments for his storage spot. The stash is found by the right kind of crate-digging djs in a D.C. thrift store, who not only have the heart and soul to track Mike down but - can you believe it? - actually manage to find him:

Undeterred, Mr. Hadar sifted through court records and other public documents until he came across Mingering Mike's last known address. He went there with Mr. Beylotte, finding a small apartment building in a rough neighborhood, he said. They knocked on the door, and a man answered. They recognized him instantly: he was a little older and a little heavier than in the pictures they had seen, but it was definitely Mingering Mike. When they told him they had found his album covers, they recalled, a broad smile spread across his face. "My babies," he said.

Wow. Just imagine what the guy felt as he lost his work, and then learned that his apparent loss had instead resulted in tens of thousands of people from all over the world suddenly interested in his art, with gallery owners scrambling to offer him shows and folk art collectors "salivating to get their hands on this collection." Toss in the possibility that some pieces had been sold to other thrift store shoppers before our two heroes stepped in and you're surely looking at one of the classic folk art episodes.

Soulstrut is currently swamped, of course, and most of you already know the original thread was taken down due to concerns about Mike's privacy, with promises of a more permanent display to come, so the three covers you see here are it for now [Update: Here's the link to all of the available covers]. I did find Dori Hadar's first announcement, which is nice from the get-go ("anyone happen to know Mingering Mike?...they probably mean a lot to the guy"), and the rest of his Soulstrut follow-ups. I also stumbled onto a thoughtful post from DJ/writer O-Dub, editor of Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide, and was then pleasantly surprised by the number of good links at his weblog, Pop Life. And so it goes.

Sure hope the all-smiles ending the Times tacked on to the Mingering Mike story turns out to be true, and that the lives of everyone involved get richer from this wonderfully twisted episode. [thanks to Ethan on the WXYC list] [link]

*****

2.1.04 - Check the article up at Salon about that certain thrill John Edwards can generate upon first impression. Ignore the deliberately confusing ads ("But wait, there's STILL MORE," indeed) and you'll find a perfect example of shallow horse-race coverage that crowds out deeper moral questions:

Most commentators have focused on Edwards' speaking skills, honed over years as a trial lawyer. But Edwards has also inverted the purpose of the standard political address, normally intended to get the audience to feel good about the candidate. The "Two Americas" talk also makes Edwards' audience feel good about itself.

I'm not quite sure that the purpose of "the standard political address" hasn't always been to get the audience to "feel good about itself," but let's leave that aside.

Sometimes he is blatantly hokey -- "I believe in you" is one of his concluding lines. But Edwards uses subtler tactics as well, creating a feeling that he -- and you -- can confide in each other.

Confide in each other? How sweet. I'm sure my cockles will be all warm and fuzzy as I confide to Edwards my feelings about that decision he made to support Bush's absurd occupation of Iraq, a decision based on evidence any first-year law student could have seen was pure garbage. I'd also really love to, you know, confide to Edwards the notion of a filibuster, which a courageous Senator with marvelous powers of oratory just might have pulled off during the fall of 2002.

When, you know, it might have mattered.

I can hear it now: "Iraq? That is so 2003." Folks like Ed Cone have been preaching that "criticism of the invasion of Iraq is quickly approaching its sell-by date as a campaign issue," but don't believe them. There is so much clear evidence of Cheney's willingness to lie the U.S. into war that it's absurd to simply throw in the towel. Cone's argument, which depends on a dichotomy between "optimistic" and honest messages, rings utterly false to me. Afraid of alienating voters who supposedly feel a deep "gratitude and trust" for Bush post-9/11? Then by all means focus on presenting the facts in ways that draw them in rather than alienate them. But just plain giving up on the Iraq invasion as a campaign issue was the Democratic strategy in 2002, and we know how well that worked out. What possible reason is there to believe it will work any better this time?

Look, I'll play realpolitik as quickly as anyone, but pretending that centrist Dems were right on Iraq hardly counts as real. Are we to just overlook the fact that Edwards' calculated decision to not match his considerable skills as a lawyer against the White House's obviously fraudulent war is clearly at odds with his "fighting for the underdog" persona? Or that his current "I'm for working families" stump speech never quite gets around to noting that thousands of working families have been ripped apart by the Senator's own acquiescence to the bloody neocon vision?

Edwards' complete abdication on such an obvious, murderous injustice raises a nagging question that much of the newly star-struck press apparently prefers to ignore: What's the next issue on which John Edwards will decide that the political good he might do in the future is more important than 1) the immediate deaths of thousands of civilians from horrific weapons like cluster bombs and 2) the bitter economic struggle of thousands upon thousands of low-income families whose lives get abruptly shattered when politicians like him vote for unnecessary wars?

I'm all ears on that one, John. [link]

*****

1.30.04

Psst.

Life is hard.

Time to wiggle.

Oh, and don't let that "House" designation fool you; these folks regularly spin some of the smartest genre-bending beats to be found in local clubs. Lord knows there's a lot of bad house music in this town, but you won't hear any of it at Kings Saturday night.

[link]

*****

1.20.04 - Ok, we all understand the tired but essential point made by USA Today that Iowa and New Hampshire are podunk states that don't deserve the influence they currently wield:

[I]n half of the past eight presidential campaigns dating back to 1972, the Democratic or Republican winner in Iowa flopped once the contest shifted to bigger states with populations larger and more representative of the nation as a whole. New Hampshire, which traditionally follows Iowa with a primary, has a sorrier record: In six of the past eight contests, one of the winners failed to get the nomination.

Things are worse than you think, though. It turns out that Iowa's caucus system - which the New York Times described yesterday as "a sort of carpet-swapping process of preferential apportionment that falls ludicrously short of the one-person, one-vote ideal" - doesn't leave any sort of record at all of how many people voted for each candidate. Repeat: The Iowa caucus system doesn't leave any sort of record at all of the number of people who voted for each candidate. The point was explored in depth by Slate's William Saletan last week. "The Vanishing: If you liked the Florida recount, you'll love the Iowa caucuses" is a must-read, as is the included link to Saletan's 1988 article about the complete lack of clarity in vote totals for that year's close caucus race.

Ironic doesn't even begin to describe this situation. Wasn't it John Kerry in that last Iowa debate who attacked the idea of voting that leaves no record? After watching live coverage of the Iowa caucus on C-SPAN, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the good people who braved the cold to participate are complete suckers. No, seriously. They spend hours debating and sorting themselves into preference groups, only to phone in their paperless results to Iowa's Democratic party bigwigs and trust that the party will do the right thing and not manipulate the totals.

What a hoot. This Washington Post article called the caucuses "a complex, beloved affair," but its claim that "the precinct leader tallies the candidates' numbers and punches the results, by telephone, into a computer database built by the state Democratic Party," sure doesn't fit what I saw on TV last night. Instead, Dubuque Precinct 20 chairman Francis Giunta chatted on his cellie with someone at party HQ. Afterwards, it looked like he was done for the night. Someone please tell me I'm wrong and he eventually punched delegate numbers into some sort of secure computer system. Not that the Iowa state party couldn't manipulate such a database even more easily than phoned-in vote totals. Where exactly is the accountability once those totals get sent to central headquarters?

And before you chalk this up to mere sour grapes, let me say I'm glad Kerry got the boost; he hasn't gotten a fair shake at all, and Dean's inability to come across as human on television has been frightening me for months, honest. Edwards' rise is fine with me, too; he continues to say all the right things on the domestic front, including calling for a complete ban on corporate donations to politicians. (Corporations don't vote, people do. So why are corporations allowed to donate money to candidates in the corporate name? Until that's eliminated, nothing in U.S. politics will ever change.)

So I'm fine with a result that makes the Dem race more competitive. But don't tell me, after the non-transparent, non-accountable system we just saw in Iowa, that it's a complete coincidence that the candidate least favored by the big money element in the Democratic Party happened to do terribly, while the candidates the money people like most did surprisingly well.

Oh, and speaking of money, how about those envelopes full of cash that get passed around the room in all of those 2,000 or so caucuses? My jaw dropped last night when I watched that little bit of "grassroots Iowa democracy." How tacky can state Democrats get? (Well, at least they don't make you pay to vote, like Iowa Republicans do.) The envelope has an official name, the IDP Finance Envelope, and the party is very clear on one essential point: county caucus chairpeople do not count this money. From the very last page of the Iowa Democratic Party Presidential Year Precinct Caucus Guide:

It is imperative, because of Campaign Finance Disclosure laws, that individual contributions made at the caucus be received by the Iowa Democratic Party in the form that they were made by the individual contributor at the caucus. It is neither necessary nor helpful for the county party to make any kind of accounting or other arrangements for this money since the county party is in no way responsible for this money or the reporting of these contributions to Iowa Campaign Finance Commission. We will report back to your county chair the amount of money raised at precinct caucuses in your county.

Let's see...don't you dare count the money, and don't ask us to tell you the total number of votes for each candidate. Like I said: Complete suckers.

Of course, there are lots of more sensible options out there than this kind of moronic focus on an antiquated system that does nothing but boost the centralized power of the entrenched machinery in our two major parties. I like the idea of primary groupings based on population, or simple regional primaries like East/West/South/North, but as USA Today notes in the first link in this post, these other solutions are ignored or actively fought by party bigwigs:

This year, instead of adopting sensible reforms, the Democratic Party has made the selection process even less fair. By squeezing more primaries and caucuses on the heels of Iowa and New Hampshire, the compressed schedule leaves little time for candidates to campaign elsewhere. Rigging the system so only a small, unrepresentative group of voters gets to assess and judge candidates is no way to choose nominees for the highest office in the land.

One more thing: In your thirst for caucus coverage, be sure to re-read this pre-caucus Detroit News article about Dick "I have strong labor support" Gephardt. It notes:

The labor vote is likely to decide who wins. Union households account for about 31 percent of the 533,000 registered Democrats. Gephardt has the advantage over Dean, the only other candidate with significant union support.

Gephardt and Dean, eh?

Because of Iowa’s importance, labor has unleashed its organizational muscle to pull out a victory. More than 600 out-of-state union workers, including 300 Teamsters, are working full time in Iowa.

Well, at least they had jobs. Is there a clearer indication that "organized labor" is out of touch with Democratic voters in Iowa, and probably elsewhere? Hell, I'd suggest that "organized" Democratic machines all over the country are so out of touch with the current electoral climate that they should be ignored completely, if not actively fought back. The ability of organized party machines to deliver voters has been steadily declining for years now; it's one of the great unsung trends of U.S. elections, so watch for it in the future. [link]

*****

1.14.04 - For the folks who watched Monkeytime TV this week, here's the link to the Phoenix New Times article I mentioned - the one that calls downtown Phoenix "largely deserted" as it rips into the blatant distortions and funny numbers behind the aggressive push to expand Phoenix's convention center. Sound familiar? Ignore the blocks of gray text as you follow the laughable story of how big business interests and politicians have cooked their projections to justify spending millions of public dollars on an expanded convention center:

I took the Convention Expansion reports, both Ernst & Young's and Elliot Pollock's, to a Big Six accounting firm for a second opinion, if you will. In return for a promise of anonymity, a senior partner agreed to review their financial analyses.

"You'd have to be a complete, cockeyed optimist to buy these reports," said the partner. "It's such pie in the sky." The accounting partner had prepared 16 questions before reading the work of Ernst & Young and Elliot Pollock. "They answered maybe three of the 16 areas of concern," noted the analyst.

The senior accountant said the 375,000-delegate figure is highly suspicious because there is no analysis of supply and demand. Every city in America appears to have built a new convention center or expanded an old one. This expanded supply has been met by declining convention attendance for several years predating the tragedy of September 11.

Puts Monday's almost certainly illegal closed-door meeting with convention center developers in a new light, eh? There's lots more fun to be had in the article, so read the whole thing if you care at all about the future of Raleigh's downtown. Then think about Mayor Charles Meeker's recent refusal to debate skeptical council member Mike Regan publicly. The mayor, a perfectly nice man who's been a guest on the show, has a hilarious answer to questions about why anyone would think of Raleigh as a prime convention location. According to the N&O, he says Raleigh is a "top of the pile" location.

Yeah right, Charles. From the Phoenix New Times:

Consider New Orleans, one of the nation's premier convention cities. According to Professor Sanders, New Orleans vastly expanded its capacity to more than a million square feet only to see the following pattern of attendance: 1999 -- 800,000 delegates; 2000 -- 730,000 delegates; 2001 -- 694,000 delegates; 2002 -- 594,000 delegates.

Think about that. One of the nation's most attractive convention sites has been experiencing a steady decline in convention-goers for years. And Raleigh, which (paired with Durham) ranks as only the 29th media market in the country, with a dead downtown and a planned rail system that won't run to the airport until 10 or 15 years have gone by (hey, just in time for a convention center expansion!), is going to do better than New Orleans? Because Charles Meeker closes his eyes and believes hard enough? Oookay.

What a recipe for disaster. Granted, it's a disaster that'll make lots of money for a select group of builders and the politicians they'll soon be donating to, but let's at least be honest and admit there's no intelligent reason to expect this thing to succeed in "revitalizing" downtown Raleigh. Oh, did I mention that some of the folks waiting at the trough are members of the steering committee that pushed for a convention center in the first place? The blatant conflicts of interest were best captured by ex-council member Kieran Shanahan, who told one pained steering committee member, "Had I worked as hard as you did on behalf of 'the public' on a project in which it turns out I was really intending to earn fees personally, I would feel a little uneasy about public scrutiny of my motives as well."

Remember, too, that Margaret Mullen, a perfectly nice woman who's also been a guest on the show, moved here to head the Downtown Raleigh Alliance from - wait for it - Phoenix. She was chosen, we were told, specficially because of her successful revitalization of the Arizona capitol. Sure is interesting to find that, a year after Mullen left, Phoenix's alt weekly can run a series with an intro like this:

Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the country, but it doesn't look like it, particularly its dead-after-dark downtown. Why hasn't a vibrant core city happened? We've got interesting people: artists, tycoons, celebrities cultural and ethnic diversity. Why are we saddled with vacant lots and Soviet-style architecture in our core city? Downtown dwellers can't even rent a video in the neighborhood, and forget about it if you're looking for more than a handful of decent restaurants and bars. Among the few good things downtown are sports venues like Bank One Ballpark and America West Arena. But they aren't enough. The First Friday art walks, which bring thousands downtown each month, give us a taste of what downtown could be. But that isn't enough either. In a New Times special project, we examine how downtown got this way and what must be done if Phoenix is to become a world-class city...

Oops. So much for a revitalized Phoenix. Can it possibly be that, years after Mullen's stint ended, Phoenix is still a "ghost town" where "downtown businesses are struggling to stay afloat"? Could it be that big-ticket items like convention centers and "vital" signs like increased tourist dollars are less important than small business loans that bring human-scale enterprises - grocery stores, video rental places, coffee shops - to a downtown core? The New Times seems to think so (and you don't have to buy into their embarrassing adoration of Richard "Creative Class" Florida to see why):

For decades, Phoenix and Maricopa County did little, if anything, to help small businesses in downtown. Instead, government helped large businesses and their projects: $13 million to the Arizona Center; $45 million to America West Arena; $243 million to Bank One Ballpark ("Jerry's World," John Dougherty, October 16). The city says the money was a good investment -- these facilities have more than paid their own way and drawn thousands downtown even if they stay just long enough to catch a game and walk back to their cars.

But the city has never offered small businesses the kind of help it's given the big operators. Even city officials admit that what little has been done, in the form of a sales tax reimbursement, has not amounted to much.

I dunno about you, but it's sure beginning to look like Margaret Mullen is on her way to duplicating her "success" in Phoenix right here in Raleigh. And while you'd expect the local daily to support the big-ticket convention center approach without question, it's fair to ask where our local alt weekly is in all this. Get ready to be disappointed.

Rather than lead the charge by asking sharp questions about the process and the value of the end product, the Independent actually sneered this week at the one Raleigh politician who's bothering to raise questions about the proposed convention center - the kind of questions the Phoenix New Times has been asking for months in Arizona. It's unclear if columnist Bob Geary completely dismisses council member Mike Regan because Regan's a Republican or simply because he's a Christian, but what is clear is that Geary's polarized, extremely partisan view of local politics is absurd. Particularly given a situation in which the mayor is spouting obvious pie-in-the-sky nonsense and has to be reminded to hold public meetings publicly, while pushing a project - of dubious value at best to downtown - on which the mayor's firm stands to make money.

Admit it: If Meeker was a Republican, Geary would be all over him for this crap. Instead, the kneejerk "neighborhood" activist 1) ignores the fact that opposition to convention centers almost always crosses political lines, 2) softballs his own questions to protect the mayor from sharp criticism, 3) blows snot on the only council member who's raising the very questions the Indy itself should be raising, 4) tosses out a facile, completely unfair comparison between Regan and a former mayor, and 5) tops it off by - I'm not kidding - making fun of the idea of public referenda for large-scale boondoggle projects.

Good lord. Is anyone at that [cough] "left-leaning" paper editing this guy? Sure doesn't look like it from here. (Psst. Richard, Kirk: Have you considered the possibility that manipulative, incomplete garbage like Geary's latest column is what keeps people in Raleigh from trusting your paper? Worth a thought.)

Oh, and we got your cute little "flaming out" reference, too, Bob. Are giggly in-jokes about sexuality what passes for humor at the Indy these days? Yeesh. [link]

*****

1.1.04 - The Black Commentator offers a sharp, clear take on racial politics in U.S. elections:

Howard Dean’s December 7 speech is the most important statement on race in American politics by a mainstream white politician in nearly 40 years. Nothing remotely comparable has been said by anyone who might become or who has been President of the United States since Lyndon Johnson’s June 4, 1965 affirmative action address to the graduating class at Howard University.

For four decades, the primary political project of the Republican Party has been to transform itself into the White Man’s Party. Not only in the Deep South, but also nationally, the GOP seeks to secure a majority popular base for corporate governance through coded appeals to white racism. The success of this GOP project has been the central fact of American politics for two generations – reaching its fullest expression in the Bush presidency. Yet a corporate covenant with both political parties has prohibited the mere mention of America’s core contemporary political reality: the constant, routine mobilization of white voters through the imagery and language of race.

Last Sunday, Howard Dean broke that covenant...

Fascinating stuff, made all the more urgent by another recent story. The Impact Fund's Discrimination Research Center just released a study that documents - again - persistent, ongoing racism in the U.S. temp industry [pdf]:

In undercover tests conducted by the Discrimination Research Center (DRC). By ratios of 4-1 in Los Angeles and more than 2-1 in San Francisco, agencies favored white job applicants over slightly higher qualified African American applicants. “African Americans seeking temporary work received less consideration in the form of fewer offers and less desirable jobs,” said John Trasviña, Director of the DRC.

Giving black applicants slightly stronger credentials than their carefully matched white counterparts sure was a nice touch. The full pdf report is worth reading, particularly the methodology section, which looks like thoughtful social science to me. There's only one quibble: For some reason, the Impact Fund declines to name the companies it tested; instead, we get coy nonsense like this:

These temporary agencies are Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies with hundreds or thousands of offices around the country and globally. They employ hundreds of thousands of temporary employees and have operated for decades. Their influence and their practices define the temporary employment industry.

Come on, dammit, we deserve to know. Was it Manpower? Kelly Services? Or Switzerland-based Adecco, the world's biggest agency? Why on earth would anyone want to help these companies hide? Temping is already central to our economy, and getting stronger by the day. As Oligopoly Watch reported Monday in a must-read analysis, the major temp agencies are engaged in yet another round of buyouts and consolidation - one that will only increase their economic power. In other words, it hardly seems the time for freaking coyness about the evidence that those companies (which saw substantial gains in their stock prices last summer) routinely engage in employment discrimination.

Anyway, here's an example from the Impact Fund report that explains exactly how today's brand of racism works itself out:

Case Study #3: The African American tester is never interviewed.
The testers emailed their resumes to the same agency on the same day. The
African American tester called the agency on four separate occasions to follow up and try to schedule an interview. She was repeatedly told that a recruiter would contact her if her qualifications fit any of the positions they were staffing, and was finally told that she had not been contacted because she was not qualified for any of their assignments. The white tester was called the same day that her resume was received and was asked to come in for an interview. She was later offered a permanent position as a purchasing assistant for a cruise line which paid over $35,000 per year and included an annual free cruise.

And so it goes in an industry that's shaping up to be one of the 21st century's most powerful. Tempers and non-tempers alike should strap themselves in; it's gonna be a wild ride.

[Thanks to Nathan Newman's always-smart blog for these two stories] [link]

*****

You can't stop now.

January 2004

December 2003

November 2003

October 2003

September 2003

Second half of August 2003

First half of August 2003

July 2003

Second half of June 2003

First half of June 2003

May 2003

April 2003

March 2003

2nd half of February 2003

January and first half of February 2003

December 2002

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