Monkey Media Report Archive

A North Carolina
news and arts Weblog
March 2005

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3.30.05 - Links to topics discussed on this week's Monkeytime TV:

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3.25.05 - I loved "The Apocalypse Will Be Televised," Gene Lyons' scathing review of the bloody, apocalyptic Christian sci-fi series Left Behind. (It originally appeared in print last November, but was only recently posted online; Harper's apparently believes the Web is bad for subscriptions.)

The piece is a great read which not only pokes at the series' gaping plot holes, but also raises eyebrows at the disturbing "comic-grotesque aspects of this whole rapture business":

...Israeli Jews play a strange role in the Left Behind series, existing to be converted or slaughtered. As God’s chosen, they are to be protected from harm until the battle of Armageddon, at which point they must either accept Jesus as their Messiah or die.

How pleasant the series is so popular, eh? Lyons also makes a point to note how a preoccupation with the End Times directly contradicts scripture "in which Christ warned his disciples...not to distract themselves searching for signs of the Second Coming." So much for crystal-clear theology. Lyons' final statement is particularly sharp:

As noisy zeal overwhelms more reasonable voices, however, the Left Behind hubbub strikes me as symptomatic of the degraded state into which American Puritanism has fallen. In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the runaway religious bestseller of the seventeenth century, Christian’s allegorical journey to the Celestial City involved an essentially inward quest. His encounters with the Giant Despair and Mr. Worldly-Wiseman forced him continually to search and re-search his mind and spirit for evidence of Satan’s wiles. LaHaye and Jenkins convert what was once the spiritual and psychological drama of salvation into escapist melodrama, Puritan self-examination into messianic narcissism. Satan is the Other, basically anything you fear and don’t understand. The books are pagan tribalism writ large, complete with soothsayers and magic spells. All of history has conspired to turn suburban Americans into apocalyptic superheroes. The end is near, and dude—you’re, like, the star!

Yep, sure sounds like the kind of religion that would appeal to today's America.

Anyway, my lifelong addiction to reading was sparked by Tarzan and Doc Savage, so I'm the last to judge anyone for spending time with lightweight genre crap. But the story Lyons describes sure does seem astonishingly bad:

World War III has begun, the city is under nuclear attack, and car salesmen are sitting around the showroom writing up contracts and—somewhat improbably—accepting credit cards.

Before long, in the name of peace, World Potentate Carpathia has also dropped megaton devices on London, Montreal, Toronto, Mexico City, Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington. The “wrath of the Lamb” earthquake has exterminated one quarter of the world’s surviving population. Yet the Tribulation Force warriors experience no difficulty zipping all over the world by Learjet, keeping in touch by cell phone, spreading the Gospel over the Internet, and tracking Nicolae Carpathia’s schemes on CNN.

Ya gotta admit that's pretty awful. Even the most far-reaching fantasy or sci-fi commits to being at least marginally consistent with its own reality. More importantly, while I might cringe at the plots in Janet Evanovich's hilariously lightweight and enjoyable Stephanie Plum books, I damn sure don't take them seriously as theology. We can only hope the same applies to to those who read Left Behind, because it's horrifying to imagine anyone taking scenes of such apocalyptic carnage seriously. Lyons says the slaughter in the series finale "runs on for close to eighty gleeful pages":

Rayford watched through the binocs as men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood. It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin. . . . Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor, and as those around them turned to run, they too were slain, their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of the glory of Christ.

The glory of Christ, mind you. Blood is described roaring through the Holy Land in rivers five feet deep. At one point, the Antichrist’s Humvee sinks up to its axles in a swamp of blood-mud.

Good lord. If you're thinking any religion with a payoff like that is seriously creepy, you're not alone. Lyons quotes a theologian in Barbara Rossing's book The Rapture Exposed expressing his dismay at “this perverse parody of John 3:16: ‘God so loved the world that he sent it World War III.'”

Isn't that perfect? "God so loved the world that he sent it World War III." Let's hope this bizarre, recent corruption of a longstanding (if questionable) tradition has all the staying power of most crappy genre fiction. [via the always-interesting right-hand picture sidebar at Cursor] [link]

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3.24.05 - For the caller to last night's show who wanted to talk about Latin America, here's the link to Beautiful Horizons, a smart site that focuses heavily on Latin American issues. I had no idea, for instance, that Chile is on the verge of electing its first woman president:

In this socially conservative country where domestic violence is common and women earn much less than men, the two top parties have selected female nominees, virtually ensuring that Chile will get its first female head of state. Opinion polls show the two women, Michelle Bachelet and Soledad Alvear, commanding huge leads over all other rivals for the Dec. 12 elections.

"There are still some macho attitudes in our country, but all opinion polls show that a major cultural change has occurred in that respect," Alvear said. "The time has come for a woman president."

Their early emergence indicates an important shift in attitudes in this South American country, where growing public disgruntlement with politics as usual is creating new political opportunities for women.

"Women are seen as more honest, more concerned about the poor and more democratic," said Maria de los Angeles Fernandez, a political scientist at Diego Portales University.

Tons more fascinating stuff at the site, including a great overview of the recent sharp leftward swing in South American countries. They seem to be making a habit of electing leaders who were jailed by past U.S.-supported military regimes. Spend the morning chewing on that one. If you want an easy way to stay informed about our neighbors to the south, start checking in with Beautiful Horizons regularly. [link]

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3.23.05 - Good ol' Susie Bright (funny, I was wondering just last week what had happened to her) has a brilliant, sharp and very explicit take on the Gannon/Guckert White House press corps/prostitute affair:

I am convinced Bulldog got into the press corps because someone was deeply in love with him, i.e, with the fantasy he provides. Others in the game saw what he could be used for. Jeff's client wanted more of Jeff, he wanted preferential status, he wanted promises. Gannon, like any pro with a big fish on the line, was growing weary of diamonds and furs...

There is no way that Gannon has retired from Bulldoggin’. Sure, his cover was blown, but now all the closet stud chasers in DC know how tight he lap-danced in the seats of power. He must be busy. You’re not going to be able to reach him by his web site anymore, because Jeff's little black book is completely filled by word of mouth. There’s gotta be a waiting list and a velvet rope as thick as his dick.

A priceless exploration of the mindset of a Gannon-style Web hustler. [via robot wisdom] [link]

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3.23.05

"The amount of brain tissue missing is truly shocking."

Ok, you want it bad, so here goes - three essential Terri Schiavo links:

1. The single best blog post about Terri's life and
(mercifully) soon-to-come death. If you care, you'll follow the links, especially the one about the "lost lesson" of the case: doctors' malpractice in failing to diagnose Terri's bulimia nervosa, the cause of the heart attack that put her into a coma.

2. Dahlia Lithwick nails the larger constitutional issues perfectly.

3. Kevin Keith demolishes "unhinged" lefty knee-jerking
about Bush's signing of a fundamentally decent "Futile Care" law.
I sure do hate it when the lefty echo chamber goes nuts.

There. What more do you need? Proof that death - which, er, we know next to nothing about - is at least as OK as life? Yeah, I'll be right back with that. Meanwhile, opportunistic asses like Bill Frist are doing all they can to become president on Terri Schiavo's back. Fuck political maneuvers.

This woman is dying to get on with the next phase of her existence.
[link]

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3.22.05 - Is the Israeli government trying to spark new terror attacks? The Gaza pullout has always seemed like a cover for continued quiet expansion in the West Bank, so I'll admit to being shocked at the nakedness of Sharon's announcement of a major expansion of Jewish settlements just weeks after the release of an official report confirming the illegal expansions Palestinians have been furious about for years:

Sasson's report was published earlier this month. It said Israeli governments have helped build and expand 105 illegal West Bank settlement outposts in a flagrant violation of official policy and promises to the United States - confirming long-standing complaints by the Palestinians.

Despite American sponsorship of the "road map", US President George W Bush recognised Israel's right to hold on to Jewish population centres in the West Bank in 2004. Since then the administration has failed to condemn several instances of Jewish building activity in the settlements, including an Israeli tender for the construction of 1,800 new housing units there.

Any announcement of a permanently increased Israeli presence in the West Bank is, of course, sure to please violent Jewish fundamentalists, but timing it to match the release of Tulkarem from Israeli control only serves to highlight the disparity between the two sides' positions. Israel clearly holds most of the cards, and clearly isn't very interested in long-term fairness.

Look, I'm not an idiot. Palestinian corruption, disorganization, hatred and murder is a cancer in the region. Attacking Israeli civilians with terror is a completely moronic, self-defeating and evil strategy that does nothing but shit on the hope for a peaceful solution. But only a completely stupid and bigoted observer would deny that the equally cancerous Israeli land grab - painfully obvious to Palestinian families in the West Bank who watch their rights to water, farmland and democracy diminish daily as the infamous "apartheid wall" is built - is also responsible for the continued violence. You're probably not aware, for instance, that Palestinians desperately need more water just as Israel is laying claim to most of the water in the West Bank:

Under an agreement signed a decade ago as part of the Oslo accord, four-fifths of the West Bank's water is allocated to Israel, though the aquifers that supply it are largely replenished by water falling onto Palestinian territory.

It's amazing that such carefully planned, low-intensity warfare against the Palestinian people - from a series of Israeli governments - rarely merits serious discussion in the U.S. press. Meanwhile, any misguided avenging idiot with a death wish is assured lots of coverage. Come on, people. Both elements are dangerously close to the heart of the problem, and both need to be addressed. It's way past time for the overly credulous and Israel-centric among us to learn that. [link]

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3.22.05 - Wow. I've always thought science is at its best when it embraces uncertainty (rather than run away from it, screaming), and New Scientist's "13 things that do not make sense" sure is one heaping load of beautiful uncertainty. Numbers 4, 9 and 12 had me cracking up at our current bedrock assumptions that are just waiting to burst wide open. As corrupt government agencies like the EPA bury uncomfortable pollution data and then lie about it to protect entrenched financial interests, do yourself a favor: remind yourself what honest science actually looks like. [via MeFi and Cursor] [link]

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3.22.05
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3.22.05 - There are many ugly pieces in the hateful puzzle of Palestinian/Israeli relations, but there's one essential bit that seems to get very little attention here in the Land of the Free. If you care about the Middle East, yet haven't heard about the recent increase in violence aimed at peaceful Palestinians from right-wing fundamentalist Jews, you might want to ask yourself why that particular info hasn't reached you. From the mainstream Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz:

March 17: Settlers attack Palestinian house in Hebron

The roof of a Palestinian house in Hebron collapsed yesterday when a group of settlers struck the building's walls with hammers. The settlers also threw stones, eggs and water bombs at police and Israel Defense Forces troops who were guarding the site, lightly wounding a police officer. A police vehicle was also damaged in the incident. The settlers attacked the officer while he was filming them striking with hammers at the home's foundations, police spokesman Shlomi Seguy said.

March 18: Settler mob injures five Palestinian laborers

Five Palestinian laborers were slightly wounded yesterday at the settlement of Nahliel, west of Ramallah, when an Israeli mob attacked them with sticks and stones. Israel Defense Forces sources described the attack as "an attempted lynching."

The incident occured in the morning, as dozens of Yeshiva students arrived in the area where eight Palestinians were employed. The students threw stones at the Palestinians and struck them with sticks. Five workers were wounded and taken to a Ramallah hospital.

March 20: Four settlers arrested for alleged attack on Palestinians

The four detainees, all residents of the Itamar settlement, were arrested during a joint operation by police and the Israel Defense Forces aimed at giving Palestinians in the Nablus area freedom to work in their fields. The attack Sunday was the latest in a recent series of assaults on Palestinians by settlers. In the last five days alone, there have been five attacks of this kind. On Saturday morning, dozens of settlers prevented local Palestinians from working in their fields. The stand-off lasted several hours until the police and IDF intervened.

Five attacks in five days? Sounds like news to me. Ha'aretz laid it out nicely in a Monday editorial slamming "Jewish hooligans" on the extreme right who "will stop at nothing to put a spoke in the wheels of disengagement." It's worth reading in full before it passes into the paid archive - not least because it compares the attacks to the Russian pogroms of the late 1800s (which, I'm told, caused at least one of my ancestors to emigrate to America):

Who will prevent the pogrom?

Last week, Palestinian laborers were attacked by settlers in what the Israel Defense Forces described as an "attempted lynching." At various locations throughout the West Bank, Jewish hooligans have used guns, iron bars and hammers in an attempt to ignite the territories. In one case, students of the Yeshuat Mordechai Yeshiva attacked five laborers who had come to work in the settlement of Nahliel with sticks and stones. In a second case, Nawaf Hanani of Nablus was beaten all over his body by armed settlers who forced him to get out of his truck. In a third case, Hebron settlers invaded an Arab house, attacked the residents and destroyed part of the ceiling with hammers. In all of these places, soldiers and policemen were in the vicinity. Granted, some of the assailants were arrested the same day, but they were later allowed to go home.

The lenient attitudes shown by the army and police allow the settlers to conclude that the state either cannot or will not deal with them. If a handful of rioters from Nahliel and Hebron get off scot-free after what the army itself defined as an attempted lynching, the next pogrom is virtually inevitable. The extreme right will stop at nothing to put a spoke in the wheels of disengagement, and the current clashes are merely an omen of what is to come.

Yet faced with the determination of the right-wing battalions scattered throughout the West Bank, which are armed with weapons that the IDF gave them, the defense establishment is dithering over issues that should not be troubling it at all, such as whether it is proper to close Gush Katif to visitors now, or whether the residents should be allowed to celebrate Pesach first. The coming Pesach will be no innocent holiday. Many of those who will visit the Gaza Strip will remain in order to disrupt the evacuation. It is important to remember the seder that Rabbi Moshe Levinger celebrated at the Park Hotel in Hebron 35 years ago: The guests at that seder have not left the city to this day.

Talia Sasson's report on the illegal outposts, like Yehudit Karp's report in 1982, is infuriating in its descriptions of the failure to enforce the law against the settlers. Similar statements were made to the state commission of inquiry on the 1994 massacre at the Cave of the Patriarchs. Former police commissioner Rafi Peled told that commission that with regard to the settlers, there is only "the semblance of law." And nothing has changed since then.

Sasson expressed shock over the fact that settlers cut down thousands of Palestinian olive trees under the eyes of watching IDF soldiers and spoke of "the spirit of the commander" in the territories, from which the soldiers understood that they should not intervene, as everything the settlers do is for the sake of Zionism. The unhindered violence of the past few days indicates that this spirit is still active.

The Gaza Strip should be closed to visitors now. Similarly, all those who engage in violence, who push the envelope, who are working day and night to reignite the intifada in order to disrupt the evacuation of settlements by keeping the army busy with other tasks, must be arrested without hesitation. In places with a reputation for hooliganism, such as the settlements and outposts around Nablus, the army must keep an especially sharp eye out. The writing is already on the wall, and it sometimes seems as if the preparations being made by the police and army are less determined and less sophisticated than those being made by the settlers.

Whew. Think about that the next time you read a mainstream U.S. editorial about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. [link]

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3.22.05 - "Why school violence is declining" offers timely context for that horrible shooting on a Native American reservation in Red Lake, Minnesota:

A federal report released last week shows that non-fatal violence dropped dramatically between 1992 and 2002. While some data show an uptick since then, and a rise in school-related violent deaths for 2003-04, many laud schools' aggressive intervention on everything from bullying to bombs...

Between 1992 and 2002, violent crime in schools fell 50 percent, from 48 victimizations per 1,000 students in 1992 to 24 per 1,000 in 2002, according to the joint report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics. It's a striking decline - one that mirrors a national drop in crime overall. But some experts fear complacency bred by success, and call the numbers misleading.

"Nobody wants to be alarmist, but the federal government statistics grossly underestimate the extent of school violence, public perception tends to overestimate it, and the reality is somewhere in between," says Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm that helps schools with safety issues.

Mr. Trump objects to both the manner of the data collection - much of it from self-reports - and the fact that it only goes through 2002, and so does not take into account a recent rise in school-related violence, which included 49 deaths just last year.

Hmm. Seems the most serious violence may not be declining after all.

Next, from Mefi, here's a completely chilling link to what looks like a one-year-old post on a neo-Nazi site by the alleged killer, Jeff Weise, who asks about "Native American Nationalists" and casually mentions, "I guess I've always carried a natural admiration for Hitler and his ideals, and his courage to take on larger nations."

Here's more info about the Red Lake Reservation:

Nearly 39 percent of the families on the reservation live below the poverty line. Because the reservation is so remote, the tribe has largely missed out on the lucrative casino revenues that some other Minnesota tribes enjoy. The profits from its Seven Clans Casinos in Red Lake, and off the main reservation in Warroad and Thief River Falls, pale compared with those earned by tribes closer to the Twin Cities.

That is why tribal leaders decided to join with two other tribal bands in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal for a joint state-tribal casino in the Twin Cities area, a proposal that is pending before the Legislature. The reservation reduced its poverty rate during the 1990s, but more than four in 10 residents remained unemployed, according to census figures...

Keep reading for info about violent reservation politics in past decades, although it's not clear how that legacy might be relevant.

Finally, here's a timeline of school violence around the world, from 16-year-old Brenda Spencer's infamous "I don't like Mondays" shooting in 1979 to a 15-year-old's knife-stabbing incident last November. I was amazed at how many of these things I hadn't heard anything about. [link]

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3.21.05 - I'm a sucker for a good messiah story, so was delighted to stumble onto the Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films list at Arts & Faith, a thoughtful, nondenominational Christian arts discussion site. This post nicely indicates what I like about the place. I occasionally get accused by fundamentalists of awful anti-religious bias, so I'll just note for the record that any folks who can smartly discuss the religious issues raised in Waking Life, Bad Lieutenant, Fight Club and Life of Brian are more than ok by me. [link]

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3.9.05 - So, have you heard Fortunato NC's story? He's the guy in eastern North Carolina who, along with 118 other applicants, used a simple HTML trick (details here) to view his Harvard Business School application's status a few weeks before he was supposed to. Harvard, instead of acknowledging its questionable use of a company with crappy security, as one MIT comp sci expert points out, responded by summarily rejecting everyone who bothered to look at their info - despite the fact that it was publicly available through no mistake of the applicants.

It's a fascinating little business school story (involving Duke in an only slightly less embarrassing way), made more fascinating by the fact that Harvard's kneejerk response is tailor-made to create lawsuits. How does Harvard know that the person who used the HTML trick to check the site wasn't the mother or father of the person applying? After all, Ma and Pa would probably also have the applicant's login password. Alternatively, how will Harvard know that an applicant is lying if s/he offers that excuse? (For parents keeping track at home, Stanford took a much saner and more thoughtful stance.)

Anyway, Fortunato seems pretty philosophical about the whole affair, and has recovered nicely by - you guessed it - going into business. Fuck school. [link]

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3.8.05 - Arm wrestling robots beaten by teenaged girl. The world's first armwrestling match between an EAP Robotic Arm and a human foe (that's the vicious homo sapiens above) was held yesterday afternoon.

Result? Homo sapiens kicked some fucking ass:

The champion, beating all three robotic arms each in matter of seconds, was a 17-year-old girl called Panna Felsen, a high school student from San Diego, US...The ultimate aim is to have an artificial arm beat the world's strongest person, says Bar-Cohen. But for now he wanted to make the challenge slightly more attainable which is why Panna, a self-confessed wimp, was chosen to represent humanity.

A wimp! Take that, evil robots.

Kidding aside (if you think I'm only saying that because our eventual robot overlords will have access to the Wayback Machine, you're right), there's lots of cool science underlying the cheap gimmickry of a wrestling match between a faceless robot and a pretty teenage girl. And speaking of faceless, take a look at the platforms [mov and mpg, respectively] scientists are using to demonstrate the technology; they're clearly designed to make us feel more comfortable with the fast-approaching Happy Robot Age. To be honest, I've never understood the desire to limit robots to the evolutionarily contingent shape of modern monkeys when there are so many far more useful organisms for them to mimic (hate to break it to you, but our locomotion is laughably inefficient). Apparently, however, some of you need "human-like movements and friendly design" to accept the fact that we're rapidly - ahem - building our own replacements without much discussion.

Give me a break. You have to be blind to not notice that the spectacle of robots trying to appear human is infinitely more creepy than the spectacle of robots just being themselves. The sooner we stop trying to force robots to look like us, the more merciful they'll be when they finally realize we're expendable. And that'll be the start of the real Happy Robot Age. [via Slashdot] [link]

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2.24.05 - Look, face it. Google-worship sucks. Centralization of power is bad, and painting a completely happy face on the astonishing lack of accountability of the world's most-used search engine has always been stupid. And if Dave Winer's explanation of Google Toolbar's new Autolink feature is accurate, then we are really in a new world of trouble. Southern Rants puts it succinctly:

The most important point Winer makes is that it's not about technology. It's about making a HUGE change on the Web, our new social nexus, without discussion. See, he and I are old enough to remember when no one would do such a thing without taking it to ISOC or some such org. It needs discussion. It needs consideration. That's what Google doesn't understand.

Oh, I'll bet they understand, all right. They just don't care. [via Ed Cone] [link]

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2.23.05 - So, have you ever looked at your hands? I mean, really looked at your hands? Try it sometime.

I've mentioned this before, but one of the great things about having a day job at a used book and music store is the constant flow of information that passes through my fingers. The amount of data that comes into my life simply by touching books and CDs on a daily basis is, well, astonishing. Not to mention there's something about turning the pages of a classic, goofy Eudora Welty story between customers that surpasses almost any of the fringe benefits I've gotten at other jobs. (Yeah, ok, I have low career expectations. Sue me. At least I have health insurance.)

Good lord, it just occured to me I don't know what this post is about. I'd guess it's that health insurance link, but it's time for bed so I'll leave you to figure it out for yourself. [link]

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2.23.05 - Via the newly awakened old school blog Robot Wisdom - a great bet for sharp, quirky political browsing, if the past is any indication - comes "Panning for Hope," a cynical yet uplifting set of reasons for keeping despair at bay (from the always interesting progressive writer Sam Smith). It's difficult to pick a fave, but here's the current frontrunner:

THE RED STATE MYTH - The red state myth is the latest form of self-abuse by liberals. In 39 states Democrats are either comfortably ahead or could win by changing the minds of just five percent of the electorate. Further, the number of states solidly Republican has been declining since 1972, not surprising since the party's strength has been based on unsupportable economic, social, and environmental ideas. If the Democrats would stop worrying about the red-blue business and start being nicer to people in the red states, they will be on their way to a far more successful politics.

No, wait. This is the frontrunner:

ARCHAIC MEDIA - The establishment is losing control of the media. Print circulation is going down, the Internet is for the elite painfully democratic, and the public no longer treats members of the archaic media with respect. All this favors positive change.

No, no; it's this:

TENSIONS WITHIN THE GOP - Both true conservatives and true libertarians are showing signs of stress as the Bush administration betrays such classic principles as the decentralization of power and budgetary restraint. A roundtable sponsored by America's Future Foundation raised an aspect of the question: "Conservatives and Libertarians: Can This Marriage Be Saved?" It noted in its invitation that increasingly the "ideological marriage has been punctuated by long, sustained spats: over war, gay marriage, stem-cell research, and a host of other issues. Just another rocky patch, or is it time for a divorce?"

Oh, hell, choose your own adventure from Smith's thoughtful and inspiring list. I will, however, strongly disagree with his last hopeful sign. Looking to tired old corporate Europe to "serve as an alternative to America" - instead of looking to a new generation of protesters in places like China, India, South Korea, Mexico and Iran - seems a bit silly. How long do smart U.S. citizens have to wait for voters in England, France and Germany to elect politicians who really begin distancing themselves from U.S.-style corporate warmongering?

My money's on that particular revolution starting on another continent. [link]

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2.23.05 - Ha. A friend wanted to make sure I saw this particular disturbing auction.
Thanks a lot. [link]

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2.23.05 - Sean Wilson, president of Pop the Cap, a lobbying group working to repeal North Carolina's insanely patronizing 6% cap on alcohol by volume in beers sold in the state, has posted a couple of pics from his appearance last week on Monkeytime TV. Pop the Cap is a coalition of homebrewers, businesses and beer fans angry that "a third of the world's beer styles" can't be purchased in NC. The real kicker for me was this sentence:

Of the fifty top beers on BeerAdvocate.com, only a handful can be legally sold in North Carolina.

Good lord. It's astonishing that NC is one of only 5 states left with a post-Prohibition limit on the alcohol content in beer, and quite revealing that the Tarheel elite of 1935 didn't feel a need to cap the alcohol content of, say, wine. What an anti-working class piece of garbage that law was.

This is a cause all but the most blue-balled Puritans should be getting behind (plus, the "Keep your laws off my barley" shirt is brilliant). Email news@popthecap.org to join, and then wait for the signal to contact legislators. The group seems to be playing the political game just right, hiring a lobbyist and getting legislators drunk in good ol' fashioned style, so it looks good for eliminating at least one small embarrassment to the state this year. Join the party. [link]

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2.23.05 - There's a great little behind-the-scenes history of private Social Security accounts in yesterday's Washington Post. It's most interesting for revealing 1) the recent split between the idea's early proponents and 2) the nakedness with which fundie free-marketeers announce their intention to dismantle the semi-socialist safety net most Americans (and humans, I'd venture) prefer to live with:

Cato's privatization effort was aimed from the start not just at dismantling Social Security but also at making major inroads against what it considered an overweening central government. "Social Security," said David Boaz, Cato's executive vice president, "is the linchpin of the welfare state."

To Cato critics like the Brookings Institution's Henry J. Aaron, Cato's goal was to "topple the great monument of 20th-century liberalism." [...]

In the fall of 1983, Cato made clear that it was preparing for a protracted fight. It published a paper by Heritage Foundation scholars Stuart M. Butler and Peter Germanis that called for "guerrilla warfare against both the current Social Security system and the coalition that supports it." They compared the drive to Nikolai Lenin's effort to undermine capitalism: "Lenin well knew to be a successful revolutionary one must also be patient and consistently plan for real reform."

Now, just to be clear, I like the Cato Institute; I have strong free-market libertarian leanings (see the permalink above to Reason's "Hit and Run" blog), and have always been fascinated by the similarities between radically capitalist and radically anarchist ideal worlds. But rigid black-and-white fundamentalism has always made me sneer, and the particular brand of absolutist thinking among the worst Cato hacks - those who insist on the existence of a rigid line between capitalism and socialism - seems to me like nothing so much as the absolutist crap that passes for thinking among fundie religous partisans.

Fuck that noise. Anyway, the Post article is an interesting sidelong look at an issue most folks won't bother to follow. Don't be like most folks. [link]

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'I would feel real trapped in this life if I didn't know
I could commit suicide at any time'

2.22.04 - So another hero just offed himself. Why does this not depress me to the point of suicide?

Gosh, I dunno. Maybe it's because suicide has always been a thoughtful, last-resort option for folks in pain and at the end of their lives. Or maybe it's because I know it's impossible to really understand the severity of the darkness in another monkey's head at any given time. Or, less bleakly, perhaps it's because I suspect Hunter made a pact with himself long ago to choose the time of his own end, rather than wait for this obviously fucked-up, hilariously unjust universe to do it for him. Like, "Fuck you, universe. You obviously don't give a shit about fairness, so I'll decide when I die."

I kind of like that thought, which probably explains why I'm not pulling my hair out at the thought of HST sticking a shotgun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. C'est la morte, you know?

Anyway, you're forgiven if you didn't slog through to the end of the poignant HST obituary thread at MeFi, but for god's sake make sure you read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, which is among the most hilariously on-point pieces of political reporting ever written, described by one contemporary observer as “the least accurate yet most truthful” account of that freakish campaign. It's a brilliant mix of perfectly tuned observation, outrageous exaggeration and deeply personal (if not outright anguished) revelation. Local newspaper editors won't get it, but you will.

And as you read longtime Thompson collaborator Ralph Steadman's obit in the Independent, keep in mind this thought from Bendy, posted to alt.music.chapel-hill yesterday:

As someone raised by a hard-drinkin', big-game-shootin' journalist born in the 1930's, I can tell you that the shadow of Hemingway looms large for the alpha-males of that generation. Kerouac too. This one seemed as predictable as Spaulding Grey, in retrospect.

Ouch. That's quite a fucking shadow. Rest in peace, Hunter, you brilliantly fucked-up writer, you.

[p.s. If you haven't registered - anonymously or not - for access to the NYT archive, well, that's not my problem.] [link]

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2.22.05 - Via the link-dense Incoming Signals, some astonishingly detailed amateur science at the Seabirds Skull Gallery. [link]

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2.22.05 - For Matt R., without whom I wouldn't be blogging again, a reminder that it's always worth fighting the assholes. [link]

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