Monkey Media Report Archive

A North Carolina
news and arts Weblog
August 2004

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9.1.04 - Eric Muller's continuing media dance with Michelle Malkin took an interesting turn this morning. Business as usual for right-wing radio, I say, and yet another nice example of how the conservative talk apparatus works to stifle honest debate. If Malkin knew Muller was on hold and let it go at that, she certainly bears some responsibility for the host's rudeness. [link]


John Hood takes a turn among the bloggers in Greensboro

8.30.04 - Like about 60 other folks, I had a fun and interesting time Saturday morning at the Piedmont Bloggers Conference - a completely worthwhile experience among sharp people like Ruby, Camilo, Sally and Jay, tarnished only slightly by having to hear the word "blogosphere" over and over. Ugh. The horror.

Thanks to the remarkable Ed Cone and David Hoggard for realizing such a neat idea so quickly, and in such an open way. I'm really glad I went, thanks to Edgar Rice Burroughs fan John Hood; he made a perfect traveling companion, despite (er, make that because of) our political differences. I was particularly intrigued by his unusually nuanced take on gay marriage, which puts him at odds with many, many conservatives.

Anyway, the confab clarified my thoughts on a number of issues related to weblogs, politics and journalism. Chief among them was confirmation of the now-obvious fact that the Greensboro News & Record is the leading newspaper in the state when it comes to experimenting with today's most promising online trend. The paper now offers three official blogs and counting, including a daily one from editor John Robinson. With comments enabled, thank you.

Can you imagine the N&O attempting something like that? I couldn't, but figured I'd be fair and ask them tomorrow morning. I'll let you know how Melanie and Orage reply. It's also worth noting that the News & Record's official weblogs come in addition to a growing number of personal/news blogs being written by the paper's reporters and columnists, with permission of their bosses. The details of the relationship between blog and professional life are still being worked out, but, really, is that so different from what bloggers in other professions have to deal with? I don't think so. In fact, one of my favorite moments of the conference came when editorial page editor Allen Johnson and regular columnist Ed Cone did some of that working out right in front of us. (Allen said he felt Ed should always contact N&R reporters before commenting about their stories in his blog; Ed strongly disagreed.) It was a fascinating exchange, one that spoke highly of the folks managing the Greensboro paper even as it pointed out potentially thorny issues that remain at least partially unresolved.

By far the best part of the conference for me, however, was meeting smart and gentle UNC law prof Eric Muller (I'll never wash my hand again). I've said it before, and will once more: Muller's politely brilliant and scathing dissection of Michelle Malkin's wretchedly anti-freedom book about WWII's Japanese-American internment deserves some kind of major blogger award. Running a close second was shaking hands with online political smartie Mathew Gross, who actually remembered we used to know each other back at UNC. After congratulating him on his historic effort with the Howard Dean campaign, I told him I wish he'd worked his magic on a lefty like Kucinich rather than an obvious centrist like Dean, adding, "I bet you've heard that from a lot of folks."

Amazingly, Mathew shook his head. "No, you're the first," he said, which pretty much floored me. I thought it was obvious by now to the left wing of the Democratic Party that the next phase of grassroots effort should go to truly lefty candidates who speak to the party core, not centrists in lefty drag (does anyone really believe Dean would have voted against the Iraq resolution if he'd been in the Senate with Kerry?), and was shocked no one from that wing had made the point directly to Matt, the architect of the world's first national Internet campaign. Since he's now helping Erskine Bowles instead of Dan Blue, I figure it can't hurt to mention it again. Hey, Matt, the reason centrist Dems are having all that trouble articulating a coherent position on Iraq (among other things) is that they haven't had a coherent position on Iraq. Or at least not one that makes any sense to the Democratic base. Kucinich has his flaws, certainly, but he sure wouldn't have had any problem keeping Iraq and "Bush's ill-conceived causus belli" on the table during the 2004 campaign.

It's too bad mainstream Dems still don't seem to be getting this. Time's really running out on the ol' Clinton Triangulation Game now that Republicans have figured out how to beat it: just go further right. Meanwhile, as DNC head Terry McAuliffe fiddles with himself, Republicans like Karl Rove are organizing around post-triangulation politics just fine. According to Monday's Wall Street Journal, Republicans definitely get the importance of galvanizing their base this year:

As Republicans gather for their national convention in New York starting today, these religious conservatives are at the heart of a Bush campaign that is turning traditional general-election strategy on its head. Instead of focusing on undecided swing voters, Bush advisers are putting top priority on maximizing voter turnout among conservative constituencies already disposed to back the president.

At first, the article paints the strategy as a response from Republicans scrambling to adapt to strongly pro-Democratic demographic trends, but don't be fooled; the strongly pro-Republican trends are further down. As always in the mainstream press, the key bits start flowing halfway into the article:

[T]he math behind the strategy is powerful. Some 195 million Americans were eligible to vote in 2000. Only 105 million actually did, splitting virtually evenly between Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore. If the views of nonvoters resembled those of voters, as opinion surveys suggest they did, there were as many as 45 million potential voters for both Messrs. Bush and Gore who stayed home.

Among the group of latent Bush supporters, the president's strategists have focused particularly on white Christian conservatives. Exit polls of actual 2000 voters show conservative Christians making up 14% of the electorate, but Republican Party surveys suggest that the same group is typically closer to 19% of voters. From that, Mr. Rove concludes that some five million conservative Christians failed to turn out four years ago. Because 82% of those who voted backed Mr. Bush, the nonvoters represented a missed opportunity in the range of four million votes.

Now, ask yourself: What's the Democratic analogue to non-voting conservative Christian Republicans? No, really, give it a shot. As we watch Kerry/Edwards implode in a haze of carefully vetted, contradictory pablum (a "self-imposed straitjacket," says Time's Joe Klein), let's be sure to notice how carefully Rove and company are thinking about their far-right evangelical core:

Moreover, Christian conservatives are part of one big demographic trend that is working in Republicans' favor -- the rapid development of "exurbs" beyond the suburbs of big cities. Married families with children, many of them conservative Christians, are flocking to these exurbs but are often slow to register and vote.

"It takes them time to get settled, pick the right grocery store, the right church, and then get registered to vote," says Mr. Rove. "These are places we've got a lot of natural support that we've got to energize and turn out."

Golly. Think there are any left-leaning marrieds with children who are moving to specific areas of the country and "taking time to get settled" before registering to vote? Of course there are - probably a ton. Why isn't the Kerry campaign aiming for them? 45 million non-voters just waiting to be energized and centrist Dems, led by corrupt, two-time loser McAuliffe (who'd sooner vote for Cheney than Kucinich, I'd wager), are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to move a tiny percentage of the muddled middle that supposedly holds the key to the election. Good lord.

Come on, the 2002 debacle already taught us all this. Instead of getting run out of town on a rail, McAuliffe remains in charge - hell, he's even getting praised for his wonderful work losing the Senate in 2002 (notice how the story lets McAuliffe avoid answering for his complete failure that year). Is it any wonder the party produces candidates with aggressive stances not shared by the party's core? What the fuck is that all about?

Grr. It's enough to make you stop blogging completely.

Um...anyway...Where was I again? Oh yeah, in Greensboro. The Piedmont Bloggers Conference. What a great thing that was. [link]


8.24.04 - And now, ladies and germs, by popular demand (well, demand of my pal Tim, anyway) and because Sunday night's Julia Child tribute on the Food Network was so disappointingly lame, I give you the following:

Things No One Ever Told You About Julia Child, #1

I know, all of you oh-so-moderns living on [gag] Internet Time have already processed all you need to know about the Woman Who Taught America To Cook. Indulge me. I made a living for years batting clean-up after mainstream journalists had had their turn, and I guarantee you more than one fascinating fact about Julia you've yet to see in any other media outlet. Anyway, here's the first installment:

1. While much has been made of Julia's time as an office-bound member of the OSS, few seem to know that Child and her husband both acted courageously to stop the McCarthyism they saw purging good people from places like the U.S. diplomatic corps. While living in France in March of 1954, Child learned that her alma mater Smith College had created a committee to investigate professors for allegedly traitorous communist ties. She quickly fired off a letter (collected in the book War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars), expressing her outrage at the move. Scroll down here to read it; it's beautiful:

It is an extremely serious matter to accuse by implication five faculty members of being traitors to the United States; and furthermore to accuse the college of knowingly harboring these "traitors". According to proper democratic methods, charges of this grave nature should first be brought to the attention of the President and the Trustees. You have assumed a responsibility for which you were not appointed. It is clear that you do not trust your own elected officers, and that you do not have confidence in democratic procedures...

This is the method of the totalitarian governments. It makes no difference how you do it: lie, steal, murder, bear false witness, but use any method fair or foul as long as you reach your goal...carried to its logical conclusion, it is the nullification of all that the United States stands for...

Certainly democratic procedures are often slow. But their very slowness gives full opportunity for free debate, free investigation, the right of the accuser to present his case, and the right of the defendant to hear the charges and be faced with the evidence. None of these rights are available in the totalitarian countries; nor have you made them available to the persons you have accused...

In this very dangerous period of our history where, through fear and confusion, we are assailed continually by conflicting opinions and strong appeals to the emotions, it is imperative that our young people learn to sift truth from half-truth; demagoguery from democracy; totalitarianism in any form, from liberty.

Great stuff, eh? How do you think she ends it? By being Julia Child, of course. The gesture is both generous and very pointed:

I am sending to Smith College in this same mail, along with a copy of this letter, a check to duplicate my annual contribution to the Alumnae Fund. I am confident that our Trustees and our President know what they are doing. They are only too well aware of the dangers of totalitarianism, as it is always the great institutions of learning that are attacked first in any police state. For the colleges harbor the "dangerous" people, the people who know how to think, whose minds are free.

Very sincerely yours,
Julia McWilliams Child

Next up: Julia Child's husband accused by McCarthyites of being homosexual. [link]


8.23.04 - "He's not my hero." I'll get to Ruth Sheehan's odd piece about David Miner in today's N&O momentarily, but for now, check this pointed blast at Jim McGreevey [minimal reg'n required] from New Jersey county politician Ray Velazquez, who just declared his homosexuality to the state's press. Interestingly enough, Velazquez has been living openly for years as part of a gay couple with an adopted son but felt that the damage McGreevey's disclosure had done to gay equality demanded a more direct statement. It's hard to get more direct than this:

"I think what he's doing right now is using his sexual identity as a shield against the accusations against his administration, and that's a shame."

Velazquez joins a host of other gay commentators who weren't fooled in the slightest by McGreevey's attempt to "play the lavender card," as the Voice's Michael Musto put it. Michael Signorile's take is worth reading in full; he notes the Governor actually got help crafting his coming out speech from the fine folks at the ("Look Ma! I'm in the Establishment") Human Rights Campaign:

Sure, he was now telling the truth and proudly calling himself "a gay American." But we then learned that he got the line from the Human Rights Campaign, the Washington-based gay group with which he'd apparently consulted in the days leading up to his speech, after they'd poll-tested the phrase. McGreevey was using his coming out to gain sympathy, and perhaps to deflect from other issues, still the opportunist he's always been. He'd hidden his homosexuality when it suited him, and he was now playing it up when it suited him as well.

Count on HRC to do the wrong thing. Again. Meanwhile, in a must-read piece, Dan Savage focuses on the ins and outs of the McGreeveys' apparently non-sexual marriage (hey, the gov could have said "I'm a bi American," right?):

[I]t seems pretty clear that Mrs McGreevey had to know her husband was a homo all along. The first Mrs McGreevey apparently knew: when asked by the New York Times whether she was aware of her former husband's sexuality, the woman who divorced McGreevey pointedly refused to answer the question. In the Seattle Times, McGreevey's former mother-in-law flat-out said that she knew. And then there were all those rumours about McGreevey that have been circulating in New Jersey for years. To my mind, only having already known could explain Mrs McGreevey's composure, her compassionate, affectionate smile during the press conference. She didn't look like a woman who had been shocked to discover that her husband was getting it on with the hired (male) help.

[...] But let's suppose that Mrs McGreevey didn't know. What if she looked so composed during the press conference because she downed a handful of Xanax a moment or two before it began? What if she, like most straight women who discover their husbands are gay, is devastated by the news?...If that's the case, I hope the religious right has the decency to send Mrs McGreevey - and every other woman out there who discovers she's married to a closeted gay man - an apology. For isn't duping poor straight women into marrying us the religious right's advice to gay men?

Ba-dump-bump. As usual, Savage's glib tone goes hand-in-hand with a deeply penetrating point:

If it does nothing else, the McGreevey marriage highlights the chief absurdity of the arguments of those opposed to gay marriage: gay men can, in point of fact, get married - provided we marry women, duped or otherwise. The porousness of the sacred institution is remarkable: gay people are a threat to marriage, but gay people are encouraged to long as our marriages are a sham...A closeted gay man like McGreevey can even marry twice and have both his marriages regarded as legitimate...

But how does this state of affairs protect marriage from the homos, I wonder? If an openly gay man can get married as long as his marriage makes a mockery of what is the defining characteristic of modern marriage - romantic love - or if he marries simply because he despairs of finding a same-sex partner, what harm could possibly be done by opening marriage to the gay men who don't want to make a mockery of marriage or who can find a same-sex partner? [link]


8.15.04 - If you're dealing with coworkers and/or relatives who insist that Osama bin Laden is hoping for a Kerry win, an email posted at Andrew Sullivan's site a few weeks ago [scroll down] may be helpful in clarifying why that's not the case:

First of all, Islamic terrorists need Bush to win re-election so that they can continue the theme of their propaganda campaign: that America, led by an administration that thinks Muslims themselves are infidels, is in a war to the finish against all Muslims.

You could take the analysis even further, of course, and point out that folks like Cheney and bin Laden are part of a deadly ballet that couldn't work without the mutual act/overreact we've seen from each of them, but that gets dangerously close to Conspiracyland, doesn't it? Screw it, we don't need to go there to make our point. Bottom line: Osama's rooting for Bush. It's Bush who's been claiming God told him to invade Iraq, and it's Bush who's been using words like "crusade" to describe his mission. Getting him out can only help:

A Kerry victory provides less fodder for this campaign because Kerry would be less hated in the Muslim world, even if his actions were as tough or tougher than Bush's. The Muslim world has many problems with America, but they hate George W. Bush. They don't hate Kerry. Thus Bush is the fuel for the Islamist fire.

It's reasonable to expect that anything working to ratchet down the medieval "Christian vs. Muslim" rhetoric will also serve to ratchet down the number of Al Qaeda recruits, which (it's again reasonable to expect) will keep the USA safer. Therefore, it couldn't be more obvious that another Bush term is high on Osama's list of priorities. Our aggressive neocon White House crew - who, remember, premptively invaded a country without making any serious post-war plans - have just handed Islamist terrorists yet another failed state in which to set up shop. Why on earth would terrorists now prefer Kerry when Cheney and his pals have been so good to them?

Which brings us to a truly frightening thought: What better way for Islamist murderers to insure a Bush victory than a pre-election attack that scares the hell out of the population? Don't believe the hype about the Madrid bombing changing Spanish voters' minds at the last minute; we all know it was the quick revelation of a post-bombing cover-up on the part of the conservative Spanish governmemnt, rather than the terrorist bombing itself, that turned the tide of that election against Spain's pro-Bush leader. I seriously doubt a similar large-scale attack would work to turn an evenly split electorate against the established order here, which makes it a good strategy for terrorists looking to maintain the U.S. in a constant, expensive state of war.

God, I hope I'm wrong on this. [link]


8.15.04 - Twenty-Nine Years, Twenty-Nine Books: The Works that Most Influenced Science Fiction, 1963-1992. Found this opinionated little gem while searching for reviews of books by local author (and NCSU professor) John Kessel. This September 2001 interview seems like a good introduction; it offers intelligent commentary about literary canons, Tolkien's reactionary take on science fiction, how writing SF differs from writing in general and other fascinating subjects. Kessel's response to a question about the difference between teaching "speculative" and "regular" fiction is worth quoting at length:

CP: There's a common perception that there's some animosity -- or at least suspicion -- between the speculative fiction and academic communities. Do you find that you have to justify being an academic to speculative fiction fans, or that you have to justify being a writer of science fiction to academics? How do you negotiate between those two communities?

JK: I think there is a lot of condescension toward SF and fantasy among academics. I can't tell you how many times I've been introduced to academics as a professor of American literature and creative writing from NCSU, and the minute they are told I am a science fiction writer, their eyes glaze over. And a scholar of SF or fantasy stands in relation to a scholar of Shakespeare and Joyce as a writer of pulp SF stands in relation to Shakespeare and Joyce themselves.

I used to think that this would change in my lifetime, but I am convinced that it will not. The postmodernists seemed for a time to be bringing some serious critical interest to SF, but that's only because they were discrediting the entire idea of the canon. They don't think of SF as art, or if they do it's because they reject the entire idea of high art.

To deal with this, when I teach a normal survey of 20th century American literature, I try to include some genre work, and treat it as if it belongs. I show that it is just another part of the discourse that is literature in the twentieth century. It's good to have separate courses for SF and fantasy, but I'm convinced that as long as such work is confined to separate courses, it will never be seen as in conversation with the rest of literature. If I could make one change in the way contemporary lit is taught, I would insist that all surveys contain some detective fiction, some SF, some fantasy. Raymond Chandler has made it into some American Lit survey texts, but C. M. Kornbluth is still invisible.

I guess I'm better grounded than the average bear in "speculative fiction," so was surprised to find I've read only eight titles on Kessel's most influential list - nine if you count watching Star Wars, which he claims expanded SF's audience hugely "while setting the genre back forty years." Ouch. The list's more intriguing statements include 1) John Brunner's Stand On Zanzibar showed that "mainstream techniques borrowed from Dos Passos’ USA trilogy" worked just fine in SF, 2) Connie Willis' Fire Watch includes "the deftest comedy since P.G. Wodehouse" and 3) Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream offers "a penetrating view of certain forms of SF as an acting out of psychological disease." My goodness. Of course, if you're going to do this sort of thing, it's best to do it with attitude, and Kessel's take on Sword of Shannara, for instance, is dead on:

The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks (1976): There’s gold in them thar hills. This no-doubt sincerely intended Xerox of Tolkien showed publishers the way to the bank, and they haven’t stopped since. Multiplies the deforming effect of The Lord of the Rings on SF by a factor of ten. Apres moi, le deluge.

Heh. If you like this sort of thing, try "10 Underappreciated SF Novels," too. I met Kessel a few months ago when he came into Reader's Corner (a treasure of a used bookstore that's been nice enough to give me a day job while I sort out what to do with the rest of my life), and was intrigued soon after by the mix of religious satire, media analysis and future vision leaping out from the back covers of his books. Last week, I found a copy of Good News From Outer Space for a dime at a local thrift store. Hey, the universe speaks, I listen. Now I read that Kessel's work also pays direct homage to 1930s screwball comedy directors, that he wasn't afraid to take a public stand against the outrageously immoral invasion of Iraq, that he published a 1990 critique of Orson Scott Card that ends with the words, "Who is this man, and why should we listen to him?" and that he once wrote a pointed review of The Best American Short Stories series, "Why SF Is Not Welcome In the Parlor." It begins with this:

Let's start with an observable fact: no matter how well an sf writer writes today, if he publishes in an sf magazine he can't get into this book.

The collection reprints 20 short stories each year, along with a list of "100 Other Distinguished Short Stories." In the back of each volume is a list of magazines consulted...Over the last eleven years, no story from a science fiction magazine has even made the also-rans list, let alone gotten into the anthology. NO STORY. Nothing by Bruce Sterling or Gene Wolfe or William Gibson or Lucius Shepard or Kim Stanley Robinson.

We must conclude that, according to Shannon Ravenel and her guest editors, of the best thirteen hundred stories published in the United States in the last decade, not one has appeared in an sf magazine.

Astonishing, isn't it? Remember, Gibson had been publishing stories for years before 1984's Neuromancer changed the rules of the sci-fi game forever; same goes for the "Radical Hard SF" authors collected in the 1986 Mirrorshades anthology. And yet none of that aggressively edgy and rewarding work was deemed among the best short fiction of its day. Kessel really nails it with this paragraph:

SF’s different standards make it invisible to mainstream readers, not in the literal way of H.G. Wells's invisible man, but in the cultural way of Ralph Ellison's. It's not that they can’t see us, it's that they don't know what to make of what they see. What they don't know about sf, and worse still, what they think they do know, make it impossible for them to appreciate our virtues. We are like a Harlem poet attempting to find a seat at the Algonquin round table in 1925. Our clothes are outlandish . Our accent is uncouth. The subjects we are interested in are uninteresting or incomprehensible. Our history and culture are unknown. Our reasons for being there are inadmissible. The result is embarrassment, condescension, or silence.

Beautifully done analogy. Think anything's changed in the last 17 years? Probably not. Anyway, it sure does look like Kessel's been one hell of a great spokesman for a literary genre I love; I'm sorry I haven't discovered him earlier. Good News From Outer Space just moved into the on-deck circle next to my bed. [link]


8.14.04 - Large-scale satellite images of Hurricane Charley. Screw those location shots that needlessly endanger camera crews to satisfy some dumb exec's misguided idea of captivating television. The best way to watch a hurricane is clearly from outer space. Look how huge that thing is. As usual in these wonderfully wired times, ordinary citizens with battery-powered laptops are providing much more captivating (not to mention more honest) coverage than the breathless TV hustlers who - come on, admit it - stoke fear of hurricanes as a way to make money. [Thanks to MeFi for those last few] [link]


8.13.04 - If you read nothing else about soon-to-be-former New Jersey governor James McGreevey this week, read Hank Stuever's we're-not-impressed-sweetie analysis in yesterday's Washington Post. "The closet is weird," it starts, and gets better as it goes:

Closet cases come with really sad stories: discovered affairs, addictions sometimes sexual or otherwise, lost jobs and fortunes, former lives, buried childhoods that were compensated with trophies and student council presidencies. There's no way to get it all done during a single press conference.

But that's exactly what New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey seemed to be doing yesterday afternoon when he resigned, delivering a statement that sounded partly like a late-night phone call from a dorm room, or an Oscar moment in a film...He came out as if by the guiding forces of the teleprompter, in the Oprahfied language of politics, in "this, the 47th year of my life," he admitted, "arguably too late to have this discussion. But it is here, and it is now."

He came out mostly so he could tell us that the story gets worse.

Oh, joy. Thanks a lot, James. For this I'm supposed to applaud as mainstream gay groups express "support and compassion...tinged with sorrow"? Whatever. Anyone feeling too much "support and compassion" might want to read today's NYT editorial pointing out that McGreevey's partner in adultery, an Israeli citizen named Golan Cipel, had actually worked for his administration:

Gay or straight, that kind of relationship raises troubling questions, apart from the issue of whether it was consensual. Mr. Cipel was originally appointed as the governor's homeland security adviser, a job for which he had no discernable qualifications. If Mr. McGreevey put someone in that critical post because of a personal relationship, that would be an outrage, regardless of his sexual orientation.

Wait, it's even better. After Cipel was forced out of his "homeland security" gig, McGreevey created another high-profile position just for his little boytoy. Here's a wonderful peek from August 2002, when public pressure forced Cipel to again resign a "mysterious" job given him by his sugar daddy. The Governor's disgusting nepotism - putting his secret Israeli lover into highly visible, well-paid government positions and declining to offer job descriptions or allow him to be interviewed by the press, while skipping basic background checks - is stunning in its brazen idiocy. Was McGreevey being blackmailed even then? Sure looks like it from here.

And this crooked, lying politician ("fucking idiot" is the only other option, and I'm much too nice to suggest that) is a guy I'm supposed to now offer "support and compassion" to? Just because he decides to preempt the news arising out of a possible sexual harassment lawsuit? Uh, I'll pass, thanks. In fact, I'm feeling more than a teensy bit of fury at the massive damage the horror of the closet has once again done to the cause of queer equality under the law - three months before a critical national election. After this, any gay group that still supports closeted politicians with a nudge and a wink (hi, Equality NC) really should have its head examined. Newsflash for 21st-century queer activists: Closeted politicians make unreliable allies.

Now that's out of the way, take time to read the press release from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association cautioning reporters that it was the affair and the secrecy, not the gayness, that forced McGreevey's hand. Yes, that's an important distinction. It's also worth wondering how many reporters and politicians in New Jersey knew the truth but were too scared to print it. I'm sure there were many, just like there are many journalists here in NC who deliberately ignore the inherent and obvious newsworthiness of a gay Republican like soon-to-be-former Cary Representative David Miner. The New Jersey situation has some very obvious parallels to our own, in which the state's press is still choosing to ignore closeted pols' homosexuality. By the way, that includes the very lefty Independent, which printed a truly hilarious dance-around-the-obvious about Miner a few weeks ago (really, take a few minutes to watch a reporter do backflips in order to avoid telling readers an obvious truth, it's a hoot).

I'll give the final word - for now - to the Post's Stuever:

If journeying to San Francisco to get hitched six months ago represents a kind of advanced degree in homosexuality, coming out amid scandal in high office seems terribly remedial...

[I]t's going to be hard to throw the guy a coming-out happy hour tonight at Ye Olde Gay American Pub (where, frankly, your typical closet case has been drinking and cruising for years). Some lines have been drawn in these line-drawing times, and the message seems to be that either you're out or you're in but you can no longer be both...McGreevey is like other married men who wait way too long to tag and name the fuzzy animal hopping around in their sexual brains: Who will be their friend now? Who has time to hold the hands of these hopelessly outmoded fools?

Here's who: the loosely united, sometimes cruel, but always mysteriously cohered gay community, of course. [link]


8.2.04 - A strikingly beautiful moth showed up outside work a few weeks ago. Naturally, there was much ooh-ing and aah-ing as thoughtful monkeys took time to appreciate one of the finer things in life. After documenting the moth's presence with the requisite digital pic (above) and gently rescuing it from an ill-advised trip indoors, we returned to work. Ten minutes later, it was gone.

Leaving us to wonder, "What the hell was that thing?" None of us had ever seen anything like it before, and the zoologist in me wanted to attach a name for future reference. A quick search at this year's most ridiculously overvalued Web site led to Moths of North Carolina (a subsection of Moths of North America, if you're outside the Tarheel state). What a great place to linger. I really like the Pink-spotted Hawkmoth, Arge Tiger Moth (those two are documented in Wake County, according to the maps), Painted Lichen Moth, Banded Sphinx, Neighbor, Hummingbird Clearwing and a couple of strange-looking numbers with "No Common Name."

But the site's most beautiful moth is this one, by a long shot:

Mystery solved. Our little visitor was Hypercompe scribonia, the Great Leopard Moth. Even more exciting is this: according to the map, H. scribonia has only been documented in three counties in North Carolina (below, in blue). Turns out "Moths of North America" is something of a collaborative effort, with ordinary folks encouraged to send in reports of moth and butterfly sightings to help zoologists verify individual species' full range. It's easy to do, especially since North Carolina is one of 35 states with an official State Butterfly Coordinator (we have two, actually). Yes, I know; it's likely other folks have already seen Great Leopards in Wake County, but I sent the email in the interest of science anyway.

P.S. After checking out the moths, try Butterflies of North Carolina, too. [link]


7.27.04 - Bill Clinton sure did give a good speech last night, eh? Lots of sharp tidbits for Kerry/Edwards to use on the campaign trail. But, you know, I've never understood why Clinton-loving lefties always give the guy such a free pass, when his oh-so-earnestly-delivered speeches contain so much obvious bullshit. Take this passage from last night, for instance:

When it was time to heal the wounds of war and normalize relations with Vietnam-and to demand an accounting of the POWs and MIAs we lost there-John Kerry said, send me.

The crowd went nuts. But anyone who's taken even a cursory look at Kerry's behavior as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs during 1991-93 would know that Kerry did everything he could to direct a cover-up of the clear evidence of U.S. soldiers left behind in Vietnam, and then went on to insult POW/MIA families as "charlatans and exploiters" on the floor of the Senate a year later. Absolutely disgusting. Sydney Schanberg, who's been on this issue for over a decade, offers the fine points in a thorough February report for the Village Voice, "When John Kerry's Courage Went M.I.A.":

Here are details of a few of the specific steps Kerry took to hide evidence about these P.O.W.'s.

  • He gave orders to his committee staff to shred crucial intelligence documents. The shredding stopped only when some intelligence staffers staged a protest. Some wrote internal memos calling for a criminal investigation. One such memo—from John F. McCreary, a lawyer and staff intelligence analyst—reported that the committee's chief counsel, J. William Codinha, a longtime Kerry friend, "ridiculed the staff members" and said, "Who's the injured party?" When staffers cited "the 2,494 families of the unaccounted-for U.S. servicemen, among others," the McCreary memo continued, Codinha said: "Who's going to tell them? It's classified." [...] Kerry had promised the staff that all documents acquired and prepared by the committee would be turned over to the National Archives at the committee's expiration. This didn't happen. Both the staff and independent researchers reported that many critical documents were withheld.
  • Another protest memo from the staff reported: "An internal Department of Defense Memorandum identifies Frances Zwenig [Kerry's staff director] as the conduit to the Department of Defense for the acquisition of sensitive and restricted information from this Committee . . . lines of investigation have been seriously compromised by leaks" to the Pentagon and "other agencies of the executive branch." It also said the Zwenig leaks were "endangering the lives and livelihood of two witnesses."
  • A number of staffers became increasingly upset about Kerry's close relationship with the Department of Defense, which was supposed to be under examination. (Dick Cheney was then defense secretary.) It had become clear that Kerry, Zwenig, and others close to the chairman, such as Senator John McCain of Arizona, a dominant committee member, had gotten cozy with the officials and agencies supposedly being probed for obscuring P.O.W. information over the years. Committee hearings, for example, were being orchestrated to suit the examinees, who were receiving lists of potential questions in advance. Another internal memo from the period, by a staffer who requested anonymity, said: "Speaking for the other investigators, I can say we are sick and tired of this investigation being controlled by those we are supposedly investigating." [...]
  • Kerry also refused to subpoena the Nixon office tapes (yes, the Watergate tapes) from the early months of 1973 when the P.O.W.'s were an intense subject because of the peace talks and the prisoner return that followed. (Nixon had rejected committee requests to provide the tapes voluntarily.) Information had seeped out for years that during the Paris talks and afterward, Nixon had been briefed in detail by then national security advisor Brent Scowcroft and others about the existence of P.O.W.'s whom Hanoi was not admitting to. Nixon, distracted by Watergate, apparently decided it was crucial to get out of the Vietnam mess immediately, even if it cost those lives...

The Kerry committee's final report, issued in January 1993, delivered the ultimate insult to history. The 1,223-page document said there was "no compelling evidence that proves" there is anyone still in captivity.

Did you get all that? Like I said, absolutely disgusting. Completists should also read Schanberg's "Did America Abandon Vietnam War POWs? A Closer Look at an Ugly Issue" (here's part 2), reprinted from the September 1994 issue of Penthouse, of all places. Anyone who cheers when the relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks score points against the Bush Administration really ought to spend 15 minutes at POW/MIA Families Against John Kerry. It's quite eye-opening.

But look - here comes Bill Clinton, praising John Kerry's "insatiable curiosity to understand the forces shaping our lives, and a willingness to hear the views even of those who disagree with him," and actually has the nerve to bring up the POW/MIA issue in the same speech. My god, that's about as ballsy as letting a 21-year-old lick your ass in the Oval Office. But, golly, he sure talks real good, don't he? [link]


7.22.04 - Pre-primary, the Winston-Salem Journal's Paul O'Connor offered a must-read look at Democratic dissatisfaction with NC's no-show-governor, and what Easley's abdication of his office's traditional party-leading duties might mean in November.

Some may ask: How can the GOP have any hopes of winning? Two incidents last week provide hope. The first was the hugely successful rally for John Kerry and John Edwards at N.C. State University last Saturday. The second was the House override of Easley's veto of a billboard bill on Monday night. These two incidents speak volumes regarding Easley's weaknesses as a governor and, therefore, a candidate for re-election. If the GOP nominee can find a way of presenting these weaknesses to the voters, they may have a chance for an upset.

Easley skipped the Kerry/Edwards rally, claiming he was vacationing. That may be so. But Easley often seems to have an excuse for failing to do the meet-and-greet aspects of his jobs as governor, candidate and leader of his party...Any number of Democrats have told me over the past four years of how little loyalty they feel for Easley simply because he's a hermit. They want the star power of the governor's office represented when they hold a rally or fundraiser. They want the governor to appear at their annual conventions. But Easley is a perennial no-show.

The billboard battle is a classic example in the legislative realm:

On Monday night, three days after Easley had wisely vetoed a horrible billboards bill, his weaknesses as a governor were demonstrated to the world. The House effortlessly overrode his veto.

"People don't take him seriously because he's not engaged over here," one legislator said of Easley. "They're willing to take him on because he seems so vulnerable."

According to O'Connor, the veto "caught Easley totally unprepared and off guard:"

Democrats interviewed during the week noted that Easley had not worked against the billboard bill before it came to his desk. Had he actively opposed it, he might have beaten it before he had to veto it. And they noted that he did nothing between the Friday veto and Monday's unexpected override vote, a lightning strike by Morgan and Culpepper. Several local legislators commented that Easley appeared totally disorganized about the override fight. House Democrats didn't even caucus beforehand to decide whether they'd support their governor.

Nice, huh? Easley's people obviously think his no-show style is perfect for grooming the governor for higher office, regardless of the consequences for the rest of their party in the state. Can you imagine if we had a Democratic governor who actually cared enough about the candidates below him - and about important legislation - to actually [gasp] offer his support?

Also, John Hood has an interesting, if somewhat convoluted, take on Vinroot's and Ballantine's respective chances in the Republican runoff (be sure to note the hilarious sight of the generally centrist Vinroot immediately attacking conservative Ballantine as a "moderate"). Bottom line is that Vinroot will get help from still-competitive runoffs in Charlotte-area Congressional primaries on August 17, but will almost certainly need to boost turnout in his hometown to win. Ballantine will need to pick up most of Cobey's Triangle-area support and keep turnout high in the eastern part of the state, which may be difficult. Both have a shot at winning, says Hood, but he leaves out the obvious fact that far-right "movement conservatives" are likely to play an even bigger role in the runoff than they did on Tuesday. Edge to Ballantine, I say. [link]


7.21.04 - So much post-election news to talk about. Gotta get to work early today but when I get back I'll start earning that "best blogger in North Carolina" tag I heard Ed Cone slapped me with a month or so ago. The big news, of course, is the fundamentalist turnout among Republicans that cost two GOP incumbents their jobs - six-term state Representative David Miner for being too liberal (and homosexual, but no one in the NC press apparently knows how to handle that part of the story), and five-term state Senator John Carrington for being almost absurdly aloof from his constituents. Hard to remember the last time I saw incumbents going down like that.

Still, take comfort in Janet Cowell's win, and the fact that Jesse Helms' televised endorsement didn't work to put Bill Cobey in the runoff to take on Easley for governor (Did Cobey's decision not to speak at his own headquarters last night strike anyone else as ridiculously petulant?). I'll also take comfort in the not-ready-for-primetime appearance of Patrick Ballantine, who seems at the moment to have a lock on the nomination, given the similarities between his supporters and Cobey's. Our invisible Democratic governor looks like he's a shoo-in again, which beats what we'd get with Ballantine but still means years of continued death-dealing injustice oozing out of that mansion in Raleigh.

Ah well. At least nearby Person County now has liquor by the drink, despite a rather creepy campaign by anti-alcohol fundamentalists to create a list of every person in the county and their opinion on the issue. Brrrrr. Beer sales also won a resounding victory in St. Pauls. Raise a glass to democracy. More later. [link]


7.20.04 - Happy primary voting day in North Carolina. Check your polling place. Me, I'm off to vote for Janet Cowell in the Democratic primary for Eric Reeves' safely Democratic state senate seat, and to watch if a certain barely closeted gay Bush Pioneer (you got a better reason a Republican politician would show up at Legends on a Saturday night ten days before an election? Of course Miner is gay) gets beaten by his party's right-wing fundamentalist wing in safely Republican state House District 36. Keep an eye on the race called "one of the most down and dirty" in the state. [link]


7.16.04 - Jeanne at Body and Soul posted some interesting thoughts a few days ago about Paul Krugman, health care and free market idolatry. Interesting reader comments, too. If you're not checking Body and Soul regularly, you're missing out; she routinely digs up must-read gems from around the web. No, really. You simply must read the story behind that last one. [link]


7.14.04 - This headline struck me as odd when I saw it in USAToday at breakfast yesterday:

Airlines predict record-full summer
But industry still on track to lose billions

That was the print version, anyway; for some strange reason the paper toned down its depressing subhed online. But the basic contradiction remains:

..."We'll see record high loads throughout the summer," says economist Dave Swierenga of airline consulting firm AeroEcon. Among the major airlines, Northwest reported the fullest planes in June — 86.4%.

...Yet fuller planes alone won't be enough to turn around the beleaguered industry, which is on track to lose about $3 billion this year.

,,,Even at 80% load factors they are losing money," says Denver-based airline consultant Mike Boyd.

You mean to tell me that U.S. airlines can't turn a profit even when flying 80% full? That sure puts a whole new spin on that post-9/11 bailout. Looks like terrorist attacks may have had very little to do with those [sob] failing airline industry profits after all. And the bad news continues. What is it with the airline industry not being able to turn a profit on its own, anyway? Yeesh. Trains look better and better every day. [link]


7.13.04 - Billmon has a few must-read thoughts about Newsweek's report that Homeland head Tom Ridge just asked the Justice Department "to analyze what legal steps would be needed to permit the postponement of the election were an attack to take place." Taking a position opposite that of the always feisty Digby, who argues there's no reason to postpone an election, period, Billmon suggests postponement may not be as scary as it sounds:

...before rushing to the conclusion that this is the opening move in a plot to overthrow the Constitution of the United States and make George "Baby Doc" Bush president for life...maybe we should try the following thought experiment:

Suppose that one week before election day, the United States is hit by a major terrorist attack - I mean a really big one, like a dirty bomb on the Washington Mall or a liquified gas tanker exploding in the port of a major American city. Suppose that on the eve of the attack, national polls and the electoral math both show Kerry-Edwards clinging to a narrow lead over Bush-Cheney, one that appears sufficient, barely, to put the Democrats back in the White House.

Let's further suppose that a week after the attack, on the eve of the election, those same national polls show an enormous "rally around the President" effect, one that pushes Bush's approval ratings back towards 80% - not only enough to guarantee Shrub a landslide reelection victory, but also enough to sweep the Republicans to a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a 1932 or 1974-sized edge in our Chamber of People's Deputies.

Under those circumstances, would you want the election to be held as scheduled? Or would you rather it was postponed for a month, until the initial shock had passed and the voters had had a chance to consider whether the administration's incompetence and the relative indifference of the GOP Congress to homeland security needs might not have contributed to the disaster?

Great stuff. But I still favor Digby's argument. Given the choice of 1) trusting anyone to make the call in the wake of an autumn terrorist attack or 2) going ahead with the election as planned, I'll take the latter, thanks. But Kerry and Edwards sure do need to start addressing the possibility of an October attack now. [via The Agonist] [link]


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