Monkey Media Report Archive

A North Carolina
news and arts Weblog
July 2004

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7.12.04 - Via Cursor, here's an LA Times article about the most recent [cough] "general terrorism warning" from the Bush administration. It's perfect for anyone (like the N&O's editorial board) too credulous to believe that the Bush administration would ever - gasp - use terror alerts as political tools. The key bit is at the bottom:

Ridge's warning came six weeks after a similar alert from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft. An FBI official said the bureau had not received any substantive new intelligence about an attack since then.

Well that's sure interesting. Please explain exactly why Ridge chose the end of last week to remind us all that terrorists exist. Hint: it has something to do with that picture just below. [link]

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7.6.04 - Anyone else really looking forward to the first Cheney/Edwards debate? What fun - a populist lawyer and a serial liar tangling head-on. [link]

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7.5.04 - Earlier this evening over at alt.music.chapel-hill, Margaret pointed to a rich and provocative story: a newspaper in Lexington, Kentucky apologized yesterday for deliberately ignoring the local black civil rights struggle. The whole thing's worth a read, especially for anyone who cares about journalism, but North Carolina history buffs will also raise an eyebrow halfway down the page:

Old CORE reports found by University of Kentucky historian Gerald L. Smith describe two sit-ins at a local restaurant on Rose Street called the Varsity Village in July 1959 -- well ahead of nationally publicized sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C., the next year.

On July 11, Smith says, five whites and five blacks sat down at the restaurant's counter, despite the manager's cursing. They stayed for two hours without being served and left about 1 p.m., each of them leaving a 25-cent tip.

Oh boy. Fresh from a ridiculous argument with Ohio over who gets to claim the Wright Brothers, North Carolina is poised for another inter-state "we were first!" pissing match. Those things are usually too silly for words, but it sure would be neat to learn of an earlier protest by courageous Southern black folks. Let's hope Gerald lets us see his evidence soon. In the meantime, visit the official Greensboro sit-ins site to get the full story about why the February protest in North Carolina was the one that took the nation by storm. In a word, persistence:

"What people won't talk (about), what people don't like to remember is that the success of that movement in Greensboro is probably attributed to no more than eight or 10 people," McCain says. "I can say this: when the television cameras stopped rolling and we didn't have eight or 10 reporters left, the folk left. I mean, there were just a very faithful few. McNeil and I can't count the nights and evenings that we literally cried because we couldn't get people to help us staff a picket line."

Great site, that sitins.com. Anyway, someone let me know if our two local dailies (I read them infrequently at best) picked up the AP story about the Lexington paper's apology. And one more thing: Anyone who's reminded by this story of News & Observer executive editor Melanie Sill and her absurd reluctance to cover "staged" events like the 7,000-person march in downtown Raleigh during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, or the 1,000-person anti-abortion march in the park right in front of the paper's offices, well, you're making too many damn connections. [link]

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"I love America more than any other country in this world, and,
exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."
James A. Baldwin

7.4.04 - Happy Fourth of July. Goddamn, do I love this country. Speaking of, don't miss this one:

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) The former head of a Republican consulting group has pleaded guilty to jamming Democratic telephone lines in several New Hampshire cities during the 2002 general election.

Allen Raymond, former president of the Alexandria, Va.-based GOP Marketplace LLC, waived indictment and pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Concord on Wednesday...

According to court papers, Raymond plotted with unidentified co-conspirators to jam Democratic Party telephone lines established so voters could call for rides to the polls in Manchester, Nashua, Rochester and Claremont. Manchester firefighters' union phone lines also were affected.

The jamming involved more than 800 calls and lasted for about 1½ hours on Nov. 5, 2002, the day New Hampshire voters decided many state and federal races, including the U.S. Senate race between outgoing Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and then-Congressman John Sununu. Sununu, a Republican, won the race.

The complaint said Raymond paid a ''vendor co-conspirator'' $2,500 to make the actual calls. State Democratic Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan had noted that some of the local races were close and that phone-jamming could have affected the outcome, but there was no way to know. Democrats had pushed for an investigation for two years.

Holy subversion of democracy. Perhaps this is what National Review blogger Allison Hayward meant when she posted just after the 2002 election that the Republican sweep was due to "the accumulation of lots of little local breaks in the GOP's direction." Yeah, Allison, phone-jamming your opponent's HQ on election day sure is a nice "little local break." The ongoing investigation is moving closer to Republican officials but probably won't result in more damage since there's always the classic scapegoat of the ubiquitous low-level staffer. Still, it's important to spread the word about this blatant case of Republicans playing dirty.

Next time some right-leaner tells you to "just get over" the 2000 election, ask hir if we're supposed to ignore Republican election-tampering in the 2002 election, too. And what about 2004? We all know it's coming. Worth noting that Allen Raymond's company was based in Alexandria, VA - next door to our own fine state. How many other "little local breaks" did Raymond's company engineer over the years before he was caught?

Crimony. Remember that pathetic scene in Fahrenheit 9/11 where Al Gore presides over the Senate during the 2000 recount as a parade of black House members ask for a single Democratic Senator to keep the fight alive? I'd never seen that particular spectacle before, with Gore laughing at Congressional black leaders in front of his Republican colleagues as American democracy is swept under the rug. (And we're supposed to believe it was freaking Nader who lost that election?) Just keep in mind that the very same "stability over controversy" people who simply gave up the fight then - in the face of tactics far worse than the phone-jamming we know was used in New Hampshire - are still in charge of the national Democratic Party now. That's right. Their acquiescence to a criminal theft of the presidency in the interests of "not hurting the country" sure does look brilliant in retrospect, eh?

Think those top-level millionaire Dems (quite comfortable with the corrupt two-party system as it is, thank you) will fight any harder this time? If so, you're a much more hopeful voter than I. [link]

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5.26.04 - So now that the Gray Lady of journalism has offered an apology of sorts for its overly credulous coverage of the run-up to invading Iraq (for what it's worth, Editor & Publisher called the editors' note a "scathing self-rebuke"), the clock is really ticking on those nameless few perched atop the editorial page of the N&O. When will we see their admission that the so-called "institutional voice" of the once-proudly crusading paper relied on facts that were dubious at best when giving the green light to the appalling notion of a preemptive invasion of a country that hadn't attacked us?

Yeah, right. Hope you're not holding your breath. [via Cursor] [link]

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5.26.04


[link]

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5.13.04 - For Sean and Jamie, heading out to LA this weekend: The Museum of Jurassic Technology. "Dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic" (whatever that means), the "deeply enigmatic" exhibit space "blurs the boundaries of existing distinctions - including that between museum-as-container and museum-as-artwork - to create a deliriously enlightening 'unified field' all its own."

Uh-huh. Put more simply, it's a museum that likes to make shit up - shit that looks at least as real as the convoluted exhibits that seem legit. Everyone I know who's been to the MJT raves about it, so here's hoping you two clever monkeys get to spend time there. More about the place in this NPR sound portrait, PBS video clip and interview with the author who first brought the museum to popular attention (scroll down for fascinating information about why we don't see human horns anymore). God, I love scientist/historians who don't take themselves too seriously. [link]

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5.12.04 - Be sure to read beyond the headlines about Nick Berg, the U.S. contractor (he apparently really was a contractor, not a mercenary, and yes, there's a difference) who was just beheaded on videotape by people claiming affiliation with Al Qaeda. Turns out Berg went to Iraq as a private citizen to help rebuild communication antennas. Here's the bit to look for: As he was ready to leave, Berg somehow wound up being held for two weeks - incommunicado - by Iraqi soldiers and the U.S. military:

Nick Berg spoke to his parents on March 24 and said he would return home March 30. But he was detained by Iraqi police at a checkpoint in Mosul on March 24. At some point during his 13-day detention, U.S. officials took custody of him, his father said, and he was not allowed to make phone calls or contact a lawyer.

FBI agents visited Berg's parents in West Chester on March 31 and told the family they were trying to confirm their son's identity. On April 5, the Bergs sued the government in federal court in Philadelphia, contending that their son was being held illegally by the U.S. military.

Berg was released the next day, and he told his parents he had not been mistreated. They did not hear from him after April 9.

More details in this now-heartwrenching AP article about Berg's disappearance. Blaming the detention instead of the terrorists is dumb as dirt, of course, but so is ignoring the accusation from Berg's anti-war parents that U.S. soldiers acted to delay Berg's departure from an increasingly dangerous area by taking their sweet time to release him from custody. Yet another case of overzealous imprisonment and violations of basic due process? Keep your eye on this one. [via Atrios and DailyKos] [link]

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5.6.04 - How do we ever learn "right" from "wrong," anyway?

Come on, you cynical bastards, it's an interesting question. What is it that gives us enough of an understanding of morality to recognize an obvious wrong occurring in front of our eyes - and enough courage to try to stop it?

Hold that thought.

If you're relying on short articles in daily newspapers for information about the “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib prison (quote courtesy of the Army's 53-page internal report - from February), read Seymour Hersh's carefully documented piece in the New Yorker instead. Aside from providing details like, oh, the fact that some of the prisoners in those thumbs-up pictures had women's panties on their heads and were actually being forced to masturbate on camera, it offers a perfect opportunity to test your own moral compass. Just put yourself in the place of the soldiers - the "poorly prepared and untrained" soldiers, according to the Army investigator - who were encouraged by intelligence officers and civilian contractors to soften the prisoners up with blatantly immoral and sadistic acts:

Army intelligence officers, C.I.A. agents, and private contractors “actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses.”

...Specialist Sabrina Harman, one of the accused M.P.s, testified that it was her job to keep detainees awake, including one hooded prisoner who was placed on a box with wires attached to his fingers, toes, and penis. She stated, “MI wanted to get them to talk. It is Graner and Frederick’s job to do things for MI and OGA to get these people to talk.”

Another witness, Sergeant Javal Davis, who is also one of the accused, told C.I.D. investigators, “I witnessed prisoners in the MI hold section . . . being made to do various things that I would question morally. . . . We were told that they had different rules.” Taguba wrote, “Davis also stated that he had heard MI insinuate to the guards to abuse the inmates. When asked what MI said he stated: ‘Loosen this guy up for us.’‘Make sure he has a bad night.’‘Make sure he gets the treatment.’”

How could anyone with a soul be part of this kind of groupthink garbage? Well, try absolute trust in authority, for one:

When asked why he did not inform his chain of command about the abuse, Sergeant Davis answered, “Because I assumed that if they were doing things out of the ordinary or outside the guidelines, someone would have said something. Also the wing”—where the abuse took place—“belongs to MI and it appeared MI personnel approved of the abuse.”

Then there's absolute trust in bureaucracy, of course:

Another witness, Specialist Jason Kennel, who was not accused of wrongdoing, said, “I saw them nude, but MI would tell us to take away their mattresses, sheets, and clothes.” (It was his view, he added, that if M.I. wanted him to do this “they needed to give me paperwork.”)

My god. One can only presume the Specialist feels the right paperwork would have made torturing prisoners ok. You've simply got to read Hersh's entire article if you want to understand what went wrong at Abu Ghraib, and what was so wretchedly wrong with this rushed, poorly planned invasion in the first place. The report Hersh uncovered draws a picture in which "Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority."

By any means necessary, I guess. But, back to our initial question: How would you have reacted in that situation?

At what point would you have risked your career to blow the whistle?

Would you have the brains and guts to apologize for letting it get as far as it did?

Just to be clear, the U.S. President is a goddamn idiot for not clearly and directly apologizing for the abuse on Arab television, and every U.S. citizen ought to feel ashamed at being led by a man capable of such a stupid and counterproductive lapse. From the Washington Post:

A wide variety of officials in the administration had advised Bush to apologize on Wednesday when he gave interviews to two Arab television channels and were puzzled when he did not, senior U.S. officials said. An apology had been recommended in the talking points Bush received from the State Department and elsewhere, the officials said. Senior administration aides then made a push overnight for him to say he was sorry during his news conference with Abdullah, the officials said.

Yeah, you read that right. Ignoring the advice of his own administration, the President avoided a simple, direct "I'm sorry." Is there a better definition of incompetence? But wait, the idiocy continues. Despite the latest round of stories claiming Bush has now said the words, what he really said [rm] was that he'd, ahem, told King Abdullah he was sorry. If you think the difference is trivial, well, you've got your head up your ass. Rest assured the lack of a direct "I'm sorry" is being noted with disgust all over the world.

Our oh-so-manly leader has now bungled two perfect opportunities to connect on a human level with those whose friends and relatives have been dragged naked on the floor by a dog leash. After the second, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that Bush's handlers are deliberately avoiding video of Dubya apologizing into a camera for fear it will make the U.S. President appear weak. An astonishing view of manliness and morality, is it not?

Makes you wonder where the jerk ever learned right from wrong. [link]

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5.5.04 - Lovely inside look at the tension inside the White House, from GQ magazine, of all sources. It's mainly about Powell's upcoming resignation, but a certain Ms. Rice also shows up in very sharp relief, revealed perfectly as a slimy, lying failure of a "national security advisor." And that's being charitable. A must-read for anyone planning to vote this year.

Now all I want to know is when Powell's going to publish his Robert McNamara-esque mea culpa. May I suggest sometime before November, Colin? It would go a long way towards making up for your horrifically dishonest performance in front of the UN last February. [via MeFi] [link]

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5.5.04 - Now that's what I call a eulogy:

Tillman's youngest brother, Rich, wore a rumpled white T-shirt, no jacket, no tie, no collar, and immediately swore into the microphone. He hadn't written anything, he said, and with the starkest honesty, he asked mourners to hold their spiritual bromides.

"Pat isn't with God,'' he said. "He's fucking dead. He wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's fucking dead.''

Wanna guess how many news stories included that gem of a quote from NFL player/soldier Pat Tillman's memorial service? Compare the Washington Post's cleaned-up version if you need more evidence that getting news from multiple Web sources beats hell out of subjecting yourself to bottom-line-wary local editors' ideas of propriety. Hell, one widely reprinted report doesn't even bother to tell you it snipped the "fucks" from a direct quote, even though the surprising obscenities caused TV stations to pull their live coverage. How's that for honest journalism?

Anyway, according to the Chronicle, Tillman seems to have been quite an interesting guy:

His brother-in-law and close friend, Alex Garwood, described how Tillman handled his duties when he became godfather to Garwood's son. He came to the ceremony dressed as a woman. Not as a religious commentary. He was doing a balancing act. "We had two godfathers, no godmother,'' Garwood explained.

[...] "He talked about gays,'' Lyle Setencich, the former ASU assistant said. "He asked me, 'Could you coach gays?' " Setencich told Tillman yes. He could, and he had. He repeated that at the memorial service, televised on ESPN, in front of the sports world, showing another side of a coach, another side of an American hero.

[...] According to the speakers, he had read the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and he underlined passages constantly. Garwood recalled how he'd mail articles to friends, highlighting certain parts and writing in the margins: "Let's discuss.'' A quotation from Emerson, found underlined in Tillman's readings, adorned the program.

It concluded with this: "But the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.''

(For the philosophers in the house, here's the full Emerson quote, the famous 1841 essay it comes from and lots of background about it.)

The fact that the U.S.'s hero-of-the-moment was apparently a gay-friendly atheist sure does put an interesting spin on that recent and spectacularly asshole-ish Ted Rall cartoon, currently infuriating a conservative blogger near you. Rall, who's obviously gunning for attention with Ann Coulter's strategy, actually called the dead soldier an "idiot" and "sap" for giving up his NFL contract to fight Bush's war in Afghanistan.

To get a sense of just how off-target Rall's mean-spirited attack really is, scroll through this 1997 Sports Illustrated profile. It captured what was special about Tillman long before Afghanistan entered the picture. As in Rall's "Terror Widows" strip, another utterly unfair and disgusting misfire, there's a point buried in the cartoon somewhere (yes, Virginia, there are issues of moral responsibility and intellect that go along with the decision to sign yourself over to a modern occupying army run by wealthy liars and thieves), but it's buried under such putrid garbage that few people are going to find it. Rall defends the strip at his blog by noting that "the purpose of a political cartoon is to stimulate discussion," but who does he think is going to be convinced after a conversation-starter like that?

Oh, right, I forgot. Rall's a strident left-wing cartoonist; he doesn't have to convince anyone. His job is to make the left feel more smug and certain about itself. Got it. As the controversy grew, Rall backtracked only slightly (someone obviously gave him a well-deserved smack upside the head as a reminder that lefties aren't supposed to deride folks who choose service over easy money). Then he returned fire in a manner that couldn't have been better designed to drive thoughtful conservatives away:

First of all, the media's decision to genuflect to a cult of death is terrifyingly similar to the cult of Palestinian suicide bombers in the Middle East and the glorious coverage given by the Japanese during World War II to fallen kamikaze fighters. Nowhere has this excessive praise for the act of voluntary death been more extreme than in Mr. Tillman's case.

...Mr. Tillman served an evil president and an evil cause. Anyone with an open mind after 9/11 could easily have learned the truth, that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq occured instead of a war on terror, not as part of one. A person who planned to risk his life in combat should reasonably be expected to dig a little deeper rather than to fall for Bush's transparent lies. We all judge each other, and while Tillman's decision to sacrifice millions of dollars for his beliefs is admirable, his belief that killing the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan had something to do with defending America was not. At best, Tillman was foolish and misguided.

Never mind all those nuances of education, family, economics and propaganda that combine to make a good-hearted person like Tillman volunteer for duty in Afghanistan. Just call him a sap who's signed up for a "cult of death." Just like all those saps and idiots who believe in Muslim heaven, I guess. After all, "anyone with an open mind" can easily learn the truth.

The more I learn about Pat Tillman and his family, and the more I think about the conversations lefties need to be having with thoughtful conservatives, the more pathetic Rall's cartoon becomes. To him, taking the time to productively raise the issue of a soldier's responsibility is apparently the same thing as "letting volunteer soldiers off the hook." Whatever you say, Ted. Just one last question:

When did you become such an idiot? [link]

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5.4.04 - Must-reading for anyone with half a brain and a car:

Is Saudi Arabia Still the King of Oil?
Lights Out! The End of the Oil Age

Nation's thirst for gas reaching the limit

Go ahead, let those three pages stew in your head for a few days. Be sure to add to the mix yesterday's news of "badly mutilated" bodies of Americans in Saudi Arabia - a country that had supposedly bought off militants like Usama bin Laden but whose government has been the target of ongoing attacks from Islamist fundamentalists for over a year now. Then go back in time for an essential history lesson, "The Geopolitics of War," from the October 18, 2001 issue of The Nation. Read that one and you'll understand the current situation better than 97% of the planet. Bottom line: If bin Laden is going to use Saudi Arabia's oil reserves for leverage on the world stage, now would be the fucking time for him to do it.

Please, take a moment to wonder if reports of the death of the oil age are at all related to this recent rise in pro-bin Laden violence against the clearly repressive and anti-democratic government of Saudi Arabia.

Golly. Ya think? [link]

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5.3.04 - The 25 richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life on Earth. For some reason (monkey gods, anyone?), the site seemed like a priority tonight. Here are the hottest of the 25 hotspots. And here's an interactive map. The site also offers the latest news about how private companies like Office Depot are helping groups like Conservation International protect threatened species whose members - surprise, surprise - don't get to vote in even the world's [cough] most enlightened democracies.


[link]

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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]

*****

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]

*****

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]

*****

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]

*****

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]

*****

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]

*****

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]

*****

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]

*****

You can't stop now.

January 2004

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