Monkey Media Report Archive
The Triangle's near-daily
news and arts Weblog

May 2003

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6.2.03 - Guess what? The rookie cop who arrested Eric Rudolph makes $10 an hour. That's $20,800, before taxes, for a year's worth of police work. Wonderful. Here are some more odd details and useful links for deepening your understanding of this particular terrorist murder spree:

"What in the world were you thinking when you did this?" Listen to three audio clips from nurse Emily Lyons (above), who was brutally wounded in the 1998 abortion clinic bombing in Birmingham that also killed a police officer. Lyons publicly challenged her anonymous attacker only a month after being robbed of almost all sight, and then announced to the world that her work would go on. What an amazing person.

First case of arson at an abortion clinic this year.

Court TV's Crime Library has a six-part series that's the best summary I've seen of the case, with lots of interesting details. I'd forgotten, for instance, that the 1997 bombing at The Otherside, a lesbian and gay bar in Atlanta, eventually caused the place to close:

McMahon and Ford decided to close the Otherside, largely because of difficulties that followed the attack. The total cost of the damage was almost $700,000. Insurance paid less than a third of it. There were also many lawsuits filed by patrons who had been at the Otherside on that fateful night. According to McMahon, all the lawsuits were eventually dismissed by the courts or decided in the club’s favor, but the court battles inevitably sapped money, time and energy.

Lawsuits? Three cheers for the marvelous queers who were community-minded enough to sue the owners of a bar targeted by a homophobic terrorist. You go, girls.

More: There's an amazing interview at the Southern Poverty Law Center site with a woman who was married for six years to one of Eric Rudolph's brothers (not the gay one). During the 2001 chat, Deborah Rudolph provided lots of fascinating info about Eric's life, including how much he made selling pot ($60,000 a year at one point), his favorite nickname for television ("the Electronic Jew," natch), and her theory about why Rudolph's brother Dan sawed off his own hand and sent a videotape of the mutilation to the FBI. This part also stuck out:

IR: Did you know Eric well? What was it like to be with him?

RUDOLPH: Oh God, yes. Eric stayed in my home a lot. He would sleep all day, then stay up all night and eat pizza and smoke pot and watch movies by Cheech and Chong. I mean, what do I not know about the guy? If you were to walk into my house, you’d see him hanging out with his brothers, talking about an issue they were discussing on TV with a joint hanging out of his mouth. They’d say, "Hey dude, let’s eat a pizza." It was like "Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure."

I wonder if Eric preferred "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey." You know, with Death around.

By the way, the Asheville Citizen-Times has made all of its past Eric Rudolph coverage available on one page (not very well-organized, but still useful). I liked this one from February 1998; it describes a few interesting local reactions to the media and FBI.

And let's not forget the Fayetteville abortion clinic bombing attempt that took place after the hunt for Rudolph kicked into high gear. Is this copycat still at large?

Finally, as a necessary counterpoint to the wave of overgeneralizations already appearing about the residents of western North Carolina, be sure to read this thoughtful CNN article from March 2001 about the "culture of distrust for government" among many people in the area. The relevant history includes the horrific forced relocations of the Cherokee along the Trail of Tears, a large number of Civil War deserters who "had no interest" at all in fighting for the Confederacy (mentioned here recently), theft of land by mining, logging and railroad companies as well as the federal government, and, of course, still-fresh memories of the government's disgusting, violent and incomprehensible battle against citizens who dare to make their own liquor:

"Do you remember what they used to do in these mountains in the '20s and '30s?" area resident David Luther told USA Today. "Moonshine. Who do you think it was that used to lock up our grandfathers for making moonshine?"

I'd probably still be pissed about that, too. Now, here's the kicker:

Despite the region's history, visits to Andrews in the summer and fall of 2000 uncovered very little antipathy toward the federal task force. In fact, quite the opposite seemed to be true.

As the snide slurs ("Elvis Presley commemorative pocket knives" - yeesh) once again start flying in the direction of the western North Carolina mountains, and editors stretch the definition of "newsworthy" to fill space with hillbilly color, you might want to keep that thought in mind.

Update: Queer Catholic blogger Andrew Sullivan comes through with a pointed post [link fixed] about "Christianist" terror. [link]


5.30.03 - Via a scientific friend comes a link to a neat collaborative art site, whose photography section includes a fascinating pointer to some thoughts about the right to photograph people and items in public view:

The right to take photographs is now under assault more than ever. People are being stopped, harassed, and even intimidated into handing over their personal property simply because they were taking photographs of subjects that made other people uncomfortable. Recent examples include photographing industrial plants, bridges, and vessels at sea. For the most part, attempts to restrict photography are based on misguided fears about the supposed dangers that unrestricted photography presents to society.

Governments love to place cameras on street corners to keep track of unruly citizens, but prefer to reserve for themselves the right to take pictures. Whatever. Politicians aren't the only ones who can use a camera:

Bystanders have the right to record police officer enforcement activities by camera, video recorder, or other means...An officer shall not seize, compel or otherwise coerce production of these bystander recordings by any means without first obtaining a warrant. Without a warrant, an officer may only request, in a non-coercive manner, that a bystander voluntarily provide the film or other recording. These requests should be made only if the officer has probable cause to believe that a recording has captured evidence of a crime and that the evidence will be important to prosecution of that crime.

Sure, I have mixed feelings about photographers who steal my soul without permission, but I'll live with those. Much more important in the 21st century is making sure everyone knows his or her rights and remedies when stopped or confronted for - gasp - taking pictures [pdf]:

The general rule in the United States is that anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place or places where they have permission to take photographs. Absent a specific legal prohibition such as a statute or ordinance, you are legally entitled to take photographs.

At the very least you should know what laws they're breaking:

They Have No Right to Confiscate Your Film
Sometimes agents acting for entities such as owners of industrial plants and shopping malls may ask you to hand over your film. Absent a court order, private parties have no right to confiscate your film...Law enforcement officers may have the authority to seize film when making an arrest but otherwise must obtain a court order.

Which doesn't stop private individuals or government employees from stepping over the line, of course. Just remember: They're not the only ones who can do surveillance. [Thanks, umeboshi] [link]


5.29.03 - Oh yeah. I have a "near-daily" weblog. I keep forgetting:

Running a weblog is a chore. Everyday a decision arises about what, if anything, to write and post. Regular publishing is a blogging “value”. Being regular is thought to be a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for weblogging success. I have managed a weblog for just about a year and I’ve been less than successful at maintaining a regular flow...I have to admit it. The biggest reason for the failing flow of my blog has been sloth, pure laziness, seasoned with fear...of failure.

...I’ve discovered that writing is actually work, that [it] takes time and, like bread dough, needs to rest between kneading. And I like it.

Here's my favorite part:

We all have something to say and we all have an obligation to figure out how to say it. We are not all literary geniuses, but we are all citizens who must pay for the privilege of our citizenship by participating with our ideas.

Screw eternal vigilance. Apparently, the real price of freedom is carpal tunnel syndrome. [link]


5.25.03 - Take time to linger over this fascinating article about a major financial company's response to the male-to-female transformation of one of its employees. The story of how Prudential Financial treated 6' 2" windsurfer Mark Stumpp as he transitioned to Margaret Stumpp (above) serves as a much-needed counterpoint to the constant stream of news about the brutal, murderous reactions many transsexual folks encounter. It's full of inspirational tidbits like these:

One of the first trials came a few weeks after Stumpp's return, when they took a call from a longtime client, a labor union whose members' reputations as men's men did not gibe with her heels and pantyhose. The union officials asked to meet Stumpp to re-evaluate her suitability to continue managing their business. The department braced to lose the account.

The meeting was scheduled over dinner at a steakhouse in a Midwestern city...The first few hours were spent discussing the stock market and the economy, smoothed over by a couple of drinks. Gradually, the men's doubts appeared to ease.

"You know, you really don't look so bad," one leaned over to tell Stumpp. She chalked it up as a compliment. Prudential kept the account.

Like the story of gay high school football captain Corey Johnson, Margaret Stumpp's courageous stand clearly demonstrates that - homophobic morons like Rick Santorum aside - people are actually capable of getting over their uncomfortableness with sexual identity issues, including relatively unusual subjects like sex reassignment surgery. If you simply honor the fear and uncertainty that surrounds transgenderism while also treating transgendered folks with basic dignity, it's really not that big a deal to be a boss, friend or family member of someone who's transitioning. Ta da.

Just don't forget to call "bullshit" on obvious bullshit, like Prudential did with regard to Margaret's post-operative use of the women's bathroom:

To ease the uncertainties of some female colleagues, Andrews set aside a small bathroom for her for six months. After that, she could use the women's room. Six months and a day after Stumpp returned, a female employee protested Stumpp's presence in the adjoining stall of the women's room. "Grow up!" Andrews said.

The rebuke was meant to set a tone, he said. While the company did not expect all its employees to accept Stumpp personally, they would be expected to do so professionally.

And that, ladies and gentlemen (and everyone else), is that. [link]


5.24.03 - Via Body and Soul, an encouraging AP article about the success women have achieved in the Kurdish north of Iraq:

Nowadays, many Iraqis visiting Sulaymaniyah and other Kurdish areas are shocked to see women in senior government positions, not covered by head-to-toe garments or simply walking in the streets unaccompanied by a male relative.

Compare with a NY Times article, also via Body and Soul, about the new limitations on freedom women are experiencing in the south:

The Shiite clerics have moved quickly to constrain the freedom of women as a show of their authority. That has left many women in these southern cities, especially professionals like Ms. Jacob, wrestling with the losses and gains in the post-Hussein era.

The cleric appointed to run the educational system in Basra, Ahmad al-Malek, declared that female teachers would not be allowed to receive their emergency salary payment if they appeared without a head scarf.

Female students at the university said they were being harassed by followers of these Shiite clerics for not wearing head scarves, and many shops in the market have put up signs that read, "My sister, cover your hair."

"My brother, up yours" would be a nice response. Can you imagine having the freedom to walk, talk and dress however you like and then watching it get taken away? Where the hell are all those secular Shiites when you need them? Oh, right, they're being led by a U.S.-sponsored shyster who's almost universally disrespected by Iraqis:

"Many in the Pentagon have been surprised that Chalabi's claim the Shi'a would identify with him as a natural Shiite leader hasn't yet been proven," said a well-placed administration official who requested anonymity. "His description of the Shi'a and their beliefs and interests was way off and misled them about what the Shi'a want."

Some are even suggesting that Chalabi "is pushing harder than anyone else for speedy formation of the interim government because it would maximize his group's representation, and that the more time passes, the more it will be clear that he has little public support." And he's the coalition's man? Great. The final word comes from Joseph Wilson, "the last senior U.S. diplomat in Baghdad":

"We had limited knowledge about the clan, tribal and clerical bases of power outside of Baghdad and particularly in the south. We relied on a few exiles who had not been there in decades. We're just beginning to pay the price for not fully understanding that Iraq has its own set of political relationships that depend on anthropological and sociological structures we didn't grasp."

You mean Cheney, Rumsfeld & Co. didn't have clue one about how to handle a post-invasion Iraq before they began dropping cluster bombs and depeleted uranium on a civilian population? Golly, what a shocker. [link]


5.22.03 - Provocative post about media consolidation (and the upcoming FCC decision that will loosen rules limiting the number of media outlets one company can own) from Reason magazine associate editor Jesse Walker. Walker is worth paying attention to on this issue, not least because he's the author of Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America, a great, overlooked book about the intersection of government and radio in the United States. If you care about this issue at all, you really should read it.

Walker's libertarian perspective first goes after those of us who'd rather see stricter limits than no limits at all (I make no apologies, especially in the current climate):

Consider the most controversial of the proposed changes: the removal of the 35 percent cap. This rule governs the number of TV stations a network can directly own, as opposed to just providing them with programming, restricting them to 35 percent of the national audience. The FCC is likely to replace this with ... a 45 percent cap. Man the barricades!

What, speaking frankly, would such a change do? It would give the networks a chance to make more money. It would give the remaining independently owned stations a little less room to maneuver. But it strains the imagination to believe that it would seriously reduce the number of local voices on the air, if only because so few stations present meaningfully local material during network programming hours anyway.

Ouch. He's right. The latest round of loosening simply won't make much of a difference, for good or ill, in Broadcastland (the move to permit cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations in markets that have at least four stations is, I think, another matter). What we need is a dramatic overhaul of the system, not tinkering with percentages. Even though Walker and I would almost certainly disagree on the shape of that overhaul, it's patently obvious that it won't be happening any time soon. Hell, at this point I'm about to endorse a negative-style Nader solution: a total loosening of the restrictions. I mean, if we're going to do it, let's really do it. Substantial change would probably come faster.

Ok, maybe not. But what makes Walker better than your average libertarian on this issue is the way he recognizes that the same type of corporate bozos who revolved their way through the FCC's precursors during the first decades of the 20th century - thus killing a budding movement toward independent, egalitarian use of the newly discovered radio spectrum - are around today. They've been working through the FCC and Congress to kill low-power FM stations, stop the burgeoning WiFi movement, and otherwise keeping you and I from participating in their highly profitable fun. Walker pegs them nicely:

Meanwhile, the defenders of deregulation are being even more disingenuous. The revised rules will (mostly) loosen the government's control of the airwaves, and so the reformers present themselves as the advocates of economic freedom. But when it comes to a much more important libertarian issue -- opening the spectrum to new users and uses -- most of them have been AWOL...

That could change. But if that happens, it will not be because the beneficiaries of the government's entry barriers make spectrum reform part of their "deregulatory" agenda. They care about real economic liberty about as deeply as their opponents care about the precise level of the ownership cap.

The whole post is worth reading, with good, smart links to follow. When you're done, stop complaining about corporate media already and start doing everything you can to boost independent media, like making the weblog world a more open and thoughtful place, or posting interesting stuff to NC Indymedia, which, you know, has been rather dead lately. [link]


5.21.03 - Don't feel so bad, Raleigh; it's all part of God's plan. At least Ruben's win is helping Birmingham get over its image as a hotbed of racial animosity:

Indeed, the large crowd included a wide range of ages and races. Many observers said it was a new, positive image for a city widely known for racial turmoil during the Civil Rights Movement.

"It's doing a great thing for Birmingham, showing that we have great talent here in Birmingham," said the church's pastor, Donnie Little. "I'm just so excited because I see it bringing unity across the world."

Three cheers for Birmingham. And yes, Clay's gay. At least that's what a pal in North Raleigh tells me. He says he can even show me pictures. I don't really care - except to wonder if the gay angle is what convinced Fox to push for Ruben so hard and to wonder how the Southern Baptist newspaper Biblical Recorder will handle the eventual news - but I told my pal I'd take him up on the offer anyway. You'll be the first to know if he's really got the goods or is just, er, blowing smoke. [link]


5.21.03 - Via one of the internet's longest-running weblogs, RobotWisdom, comes a chilling conservative update on the quagmire in...not Iraq. Sure, Col. Hackworth includes lots of quotes from anonymous "Special Forces warriors," and he's certainly no friend to the left, but it's still interesting to see this sort of commentary coming from something aside from the Guardian:

Last month, the increasingly bold Taliban forces took and held two district towns along the Pakistan border for a week – right under our commanders' noses – and now a day doesn't pass without terrorists assaulting Afghanis, international aid workers or soldiers. In the past month alone, four American warriors were killed in Afghanistan, bringing our occupation terrorist-inflicted combat losses to 30 deaths...

Many of our troops pulling duty over there say their big concern is that the situation might well develop into a long-term running sore. And they see ominous similarities to the pitiful attempts at pacification that turned the Vietnamese people off during that 20-year, guerrilla-driven war.

Then there's the parallel of the same indiscriminate use of the big U.S. firepower hammer that killed hundreds of thousands of innocents in Southeast Asia. A recent U.S. airstrike in eastern Afghanistan that was meant for the terrorist bad guys killed 11 civilians from one family alone. As we keep learning the hard way, these sort of errant explosives are major recruiters for the insurgents.

Keep it coming, Dave. And anyone interested in more relatively skeptical military commentary (skip over racist stuff like the idea that democracy is impossible in Iraq) should spend a few hours at Soldiers for the Truth. [link]


5.20.03 - On this day in 1861, four months after South Carolina seceded, and six weeks after the start of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, the state of North Carolina finally got around to joining the Confederacy. I mention this because not a lot of people know that NC, which lost more soldiers in the war than any other Southern state, also had the Confederacy's most vocal and active peace movement, including a Governor, Zebulon Vance (right), who was a constant thorn in the side of Jefferson Davis. "Bitter feud," "clashed repeatedly," "President Davis never particularly trusted North Carolina" - take your pick.

Here's an interesting explanation for why the state was somewhat less than gung-ho on the issue of secession:

North Carolina probably manifested the sharpest internal opposition to the Confederacy of all the Southern states during the war. This resulted in part from a long history of conflicts before the war between the white majority of small farmers and mechanics and the minority of landed gentry. As in most of the South, though nearly one-third of the white population held slaves in North Carolina, the upper class of planters with twenty or more slaves always constituted a small fraction of the state's white population.

Yet the political power and wealth of these planters far outweighed their numbers. Their privileged status repeatedly provoked conflicts with nonslaveholders over questions of political representation and taxation. Such conflicts became especially intense in the year prior to the Civil War, when a movement to increase the taxes of slaveholders, spurred by the Raleigh Working Men's Association, nearly succeeded in snatching control of the state government out of the hands of the gentry. The taxation controversy brought animosity against the upper class out into the open, causing one of the state's eastern planters on the eve of the war to express the fear that nonslaveholders "would not lift a finger to protect rich men's negroes." The taxation campaign, he added, "infused among the ignorant people, the idea that there is an antagonism between poor people and Slave-owners."

Imagine that. Antagonism between poor whites and slave-owners.

So much for the idea that every white person in the South was whistling Dixie in the same key. It's no wonder desertion was such a huge problem here in the Tarheel State. The anti-war editor of the Raleigh Standard, William Holden (left), kept up the struggle throughout the war, despite being considered a traitor by many Southern military officers who wrote fascinating letters about him. The situation was so bad that Jefferson Davis himself wrote to Vance (turn down your speakers before clicking):

"This is not the first intimation I have received that Holden is engaged in the treasonable purpose of exciting the people of North [Carolina]...The case is quite grave enough for me to consult with you on the subject, and to solicit from you such information and advice as you may be able to give me."

Holden - who later became the only NC Governor to be impeached - even had the balls to run against Vance in 1864 on an "honorable peace" ticket. He was so vocal in his calls for an end to the Civil War that he was repeatedly forced to hide when certain Confederate units came through town. In September 1863, some of General Henry Benning's Georgia troops trashed the Standard's offices (search for "Zebulon"). That, in turn, led Holden's Raleigh supporters to completely destroy the offices of a local pro-Confederacy paper. Not quite the "rising of the South" you usually hear about, is it? No, I didn't think so.

Then, of course, there are some of the most intriguing Southern rebels of all. Happy anniversary, Confederate North Carolina.

Update: Jesse Walker writes to mention a related bit of Mississippi history with fascinating early roots in NC. [link]


5.19.03 - If you're looking for an intro to the world of a certain outrageously wealthy corporate elite, the War Profiteers trading cards site is a fun one. While some cards seem a bit off-message, plenty of others are right on target. Additional links to sites like Dyncorp Sucks, Pressure Point and Here in Reality make it well worth exploring.

The folks at Here in Reality, by the way, are among those still asking pointed questions about wealthy elites and September 11 (see the "Ask Why" sidebar at the right). Before you start screaming "conspiracy!" at me, do keep in mind which far-left fringe group it was that first learned of the "bizarre link" between Former NJ Governor Thomas Kean - now head of the commission investigating the Pentagon and WTC attacks - and a "shadowy Saudi patriarch" who's suspected of funding al Qaeda: Fortune magazine.

[via Warfilter, one of the more sensible of the recent batch of Metafilter clones to hit the Web] [link]


5.19.03 - Why have socialists cornered the market on criticism of corporate power? Why the hell aren't Libertarians - those champions of individual liberty - leading the charge against corporate personhood? Do they really not see a problem with the notion that a legal fiction can have the exact same Constitutional rights but not the same individual responsibility of, you know, an actual person? Unbelievable. Why do Libertarians not raise an eyebrow at the notion that a corporation - any corporation, including unions, thank you - is allowed to donate money to a political campaign? Isn't it enough that each person can donate? Why then is there a need for giving that right to a nebulous, centralized power? Do we give groups the right to a vote now, too? I thought Libertarians were supposed to object to that sort of thing.

Absent any consciousness of this absurd blind spot from the capitalist true believers, the field is left to socialist-leaning lefties to "address the roots of global corporate power." Guess what? They're doing a fine job. Local columnist (and drinking buddy) Peter Eichenberger pointed this week to a fantastic, must-read article revealing that the very idea of corporate personhood is based on a deception carried out by a court reporter in an 1886 Supreme Court case (memo to Peter: you buried your damn lead). Take a look at the power grab described in this review of Thom Hartmann's Unequal Protection: the Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights, and then tell me corporate personhood isn't a total sham that should be discarded immediately:

Orthodoxy has it the Supreme Court decided in 1886, in a case called Santa Clara County v. the Southern Pacific Railroad, that corporations were indeed legal persons. I express that view myself, in a recent book. So do many others. So do many law schools. We are all wrong.

Mr. Hartmann undertook instead a conscientious search. He finally found the contemporary casebook, published in 1886, blew the dust away, and read Santa Clara County in the original, so to speak. Nowhere in the formal, written decision of the Court did he find corporate personhood mentioned. Not a word. The Supreme Court did NOT establish corporate personhood in Santa Clara County.

In the casebook “headnote,” however, Mr. Hartmann read this statement: “The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment…which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Here, anyway, corporate personhood was “provided”— in the headnote, instead of the formal written decision of the Supreme Court. But that’s not good enough.

What is a “headnote?” It is the summary description of a court decision, written into the casebook by the court reporter. It is similar to an editor’s “abstract” in a scientific journal. Because they are not products of the court itself, however, headnotes carry no legal weight; they can establish no precedent in law. Corporate personhood, Mr. Hartmann discovered, is simply and unequivocally illegitimate.

Shhh...listen. That sound you hear is Nike, Monsanto, Chevron and all the rest pissing their pants. Hartmann's site is here; his succinct summary of the corporate personhood issue is another must-read. I really hope his reviewer's final words turn out to be accurate:

[Hartmann's] daylighting of the irregularity will be the eventual undoing of corporate personhood. Its alleged source in Santa Clara County is a myth, a lie, a fraud. Corporate personhood simply cannot now survive, after Mr. Hartmann’s book, a rigorous and sustained legal attack.

Forgive me for sounding dramatic, y'all, but this will be the legal fight of the early 21st century. Charters that immunize individuals from the consequences of their corporate action are problematic enough. But the additional notion that these legal ghosts also have Constitutional rights on a par with individual citizens is simply beyond the pale. If this lie is allowed to stand, it will have consequences for the human race for generations to come. It has to be stopped.

Sure would be nice to see some fans of capitalism recognizing that. [link]


5.18.03 - Whaddaya know. Without noticing exactly when, I recently passed 50,000 visits. The last three months saw 12,000, 15,000 and 10,000 (there's still no excellent way to measure this sort of thing, but number of visits does seem best). Thanks, it's encouraging. For what it's worth, traffic depends mainly on how often I add content - I've been slow lately, I know - with the occasional boost from a better-known eyeball-diverter (I think that's Atrios helping out above). Tell you what: I'll keep trying to offer a perspective that's not already common in the Weblog world, and you keep telling people about posts you like. Deal? [link]


5.16.03 - Uh-oh.

Computer glitch traps man in BMW:

Mr Suchart said he was on his way to give a speech to central bank officials from 17 countries when his ministry-assigned BMW car stalled on a road, not far from his house.

The engine stopped, the air conditioning shut down, the doors got locked and the windows wouldn't roll down, he said, adding that he was trapped for about 10 minutes.

"We couldn't breath because there was no air," he said.

How perfectly convenient and modern. Memo to self: While there are obviously lots of thrilling new inventions that deserve early adoption, a car with a Version 1.0 brain is probably not one of them.


In an attempt to convince luxury car buyers that they are getting the latest and greatest electronic gizmos for their 77K, some knucklehead at BMW crammed all of the car's electronic controls together and gave them all one switch. Smart? Duh.


Today, more than 50% of warranty claims are related to electronic "gremlins" and these little creatures are becoming more and more difficult to find...[e.g.,] the mysterious sudden stalling of late model Nissan Altimas when the gas tank is more than half empty. In this case, Nissan doesn't yet know what is causing the problem and is advising everyone to keep their Altima tanks full until further notice.


Auto industry expert Dennis Virag, president of the Automotive Consulting Group Inc., says the problem is not customer ignorance, but industry carelessness. In the race to add glitzy amenities like navigation, Virag says, auto manufacturers are contracting out the development of immature and faulty software..."[C]ompanies like Microsoft can't do to the auto industry what they did to the PC industry. You can't play Russian Roulette every time you stick the key into the ignition."


One glitch to rule them all. Amazing that people actually sign up for this stuff.

[found via Greensboro journalist Ed Cone's generally smart and interesting weblog,
which led me to Radio Userland's list of recently updated blogs,
where I found the BMW story] [link]


5.15.03 -
"I'd love to take him on - and I could beat his ass."

Former NC Governor Bob Scott, left, on Gov. Mike Easley's call for the resignation of Scott's daughter, right, as agriculture commissioner

The Asheville Citizen-Times' chat with former Gov. Scott (who led the state from 1969-1973) is great not only for gems like the above, but also for the way it highlights the growing irrelevance of the grand Democratic tradition in North Carolina - an irrelevance that surely must grate on those who remember their own power broker days fondly. Scott's understanding of what drove Easley's announcement is almost laughably off-base:

Scott blamed his daughter's political woes on Easley's failure to move legislation through the General Assembly because of a Democrat-Republican split House. He said Easley is trying to appease Republicans and those Democrats who oppose his daughter because of their beliefs that a woman shouldn't be agriculture commissioner.

Well, that's certainly one explanation. A much better one is that Easley recognizes Republicans have been gaining steadily in state elections over the last decade, and are poised to gain control of both houses of the legislature in 2004 (I doubt they'll take the governorship). Easley is a Stealth Governor, after all; he rarely pokes his head above ground unless there's a damn good reason (like gambling industry money). Despite a recent affinity for race cars and pop stars, bold public moves aren't really Easley's style. So, we're left with former Gov. Scott refusing to acknowledge what's glaringly obvious to the rest of the state: His daughter's sloppy, illegal handling of campaign money - and subsequent use of state contracts as tools of bribery - will be a huge drain on the Democratic ticket in the next election. She has to go. End of story.

Now that Scott has inserted himself into the coverage, however, it might be time to raise the profile on an obvious question noted by John Hood at Carolina Journal: How much did Scott himself know about "what was going on, and going wrong" in his daughter's office? It's reasonable to wonder what, if any, advice the father had been giving about how to recoup her enormous campaign expenditures. But, Hood notes, "there has been surprisingly little commentary about his role" (er, possible role).

The Citizen-Times article includes one more gem. Phipps, 300 miles away from the capitol, is quoted saying, "I don't like politics - or fund raising, or things like that." Sure sounds like an exit line to me. [link]


5.15.03 - Oh yeah. My column about the killing of the Electoral Fairness Act by NC Representatives Jim Black and Richard Morgan is up. More later.


5.14.03 - Tonight's Monkeytime TV will focus on - surprise - ballot access issues, with guests Sean Haugh and Elena Everett (head honchos of the North Carolina Libertarian and Green parties, respectively). Should be lots of angry fun, so if you're in Raleigh, feel free to call between 8 and 9pm. [link]


5.14.03 - Love the fascinating details from post-invasion Iraq in Tim Judah's latest beautifully written report for the New York Review of Books. If the first paragraph doesn't hook you, are some flying snake videos. The rest of us will savor paragraphs like this:

Very few foreigners seem to understand how ordinary Iraqis are still groping in the dark. On April 21, for example, the retired American general Jay Garner, who was appointed by the US administration to run Iraq, paid a visit to Baghdad. An interviewer from a German television station called to ask me two simple questions: "How was General Garner received? What was the reaction of ordinary Iraqis?" The questions seemed so ridiculous that I had no idea what to say without sounding rude or aggressive. So, in what I hope were measured tones, I replied, "There was no reaction, because most Iraqis didn't know he was here. How could they if there is no television or radio and no electricity?"

Judah's fair, careful and human reporting (forget "objective;" I'll settle for "fair, careful and human") is just the thing for those of us disappointed that Christopher Allbritton's captivating freelance experiment ended so quickly. Judah's work includes exactly the kind of sharp, on-the-ground detail readers need to understand the evolving big picture in Iraq. What makes me trust him most? His willingness to convey complexity. Notice how he handles these much-discussed incidents:

The morning I visited the hospital a correspondent from the Arabic satellite channel al-Jazeera had been killed by an American missile. For some inexplicable reason members of al-Jazeera's TV crew were still working out of an office in the middle of a battlefield, although it had been clear for weeks that their building would become an acutely dangerous place because of the many potential targets all around it. A few hours later an American tank fired a shell at the Palestine Hotel and killed one journalist from Ukraine and another from Spain.

I was in my room on the fourth floor. After the crash of the shell I could hear glass tumbling down from the upper floors. Ten minutes later injured journalists were being carried into cars on stretchers made of blankets. Later that day the American command said their forces had been fired on from the building. It was not a believable statement, since it would seem unlikely that 150-odd journalists would fail to hear or notice this. No one had done so.

Calling a spade a spade, whether it follows the mainstream party line or not. Now that's honest journalism. [via the marvelous Arts & Letters Daily] [link]


5.13.03 - The Meg Scott Phipps resignation pool sure is hopping in the wake of yesterday's news that Phipps' former campaign manager has pled guilty to extortion, money laundering and conspiracy. Combine that with the N&O's latest look at what the scandal means for the Scott family's famous reputation in NC politics and it's time to start counting the days until pressure from a whole slew of Democrats forces the embattled agriculture commissioner to resign.

It can't happen a moment too soon. I really feel for Phipps' kids, 11 and 13; this has to be tough on them. But after looking in detail at the scandal, I've lost all sympathy for Phipps herself (remember, this is a person who once told the world she didn't know it was illegal to accept boxes containing thousands of dollars in campaign cash). I'm also getting a little tired of stories that mention Phipps' heavy debt and Board of Election fines but fail to mention the absurd overspending that got her into this mess in the first place. Check the Independent's eye-popping comparison of money spent in the 2000 commissioner's race:

Phipps: $1.1 million
Her Republican opponent: $22,400

Read those numbers again. Phipps mortgaged the farm to get a spending advantage beyond most pols' wildest dreams, and still won with only 51% of the vote. The reason for the slim margin? My guess is that few folks vote for agriculture commissioner on the basis of anything other than party affiliation. Phipps would've been better off saving the money by campaigning for the top of her ticket in hopes of drawing more of the party faithful to the polls. Which, of course, explains why she should resign as soon as possible. Every day she stays in office is another day this scandal provides juicy material for Republican attack ads against not just her, but all Democrats running in North Carolina in 2004.

I can't imagine how anyone could fail to see the damage this scandal is doing to NC Democrats, but Phipps somehow manages. I was stunned to read that not only is she planning on running for reelection, she's also aiming higher:

"I have had people ask me to run for governor, despite even everything I've been through," Phipps said in an interview. "I certainly have some visions for North Carolina that could be worked on from that position."

Yeah, and I have some visions for North Carolina that could be worked on from Alpha Centauri. My god. She really doesn't get it, does she? Is this what happens when you grow up in such a politically connected family?

Memo to Meg: You're only 47; there's plenty of time for rehabilitation. Stop listening to the ridiculous consultants who convinced you to spend a million dollars on a damn commissioner's race and lie low for a few years. If you want us to miss you, you have to go away first.

Oh yeah: My best guess for the pool. Phipps is waiting for the dog days of summer, preferably a Friday to minimize media coverage. I call August 8th. [link]


5.13.03 - This short history of U.S. ballot access laws (from Ballot Access News publisher Richard Winger) will get you in the mood for my column in tomorrow's Indy. It's a look at how the co-speakers in the NC House worked together (in rather slimy fashion) to kill the Electoral Reform Act. Here's a chart that debunks the myth of overcrowded ballots. And here's where you can find information about the protest being planned by the state's Green and Libertarian parties, to be held in front of the Legislative Building next Tuesday, May 20, at 10am. More here [pdf]. [link]


5.7.03 - So does anyone else think the Herald-Sun's Tom Gasparoli deserves a special award for his unintentionally hilarious fixation on the Michael Peterson murder case? If anyone wants to tell me the point of the former TV reporter's most recent column - aside from unfairly painting Peterson as someone "with mortal sin on his soul" - I'd love to hear it. Notice the complete lack of reporting behind this tidbit:

Writer Marc Cerasini presents what appear to be extensive quotes from Peterson. One series, about Peterson’s first period in Vietnam (1966-67), reads: "I was considered a ‘civilian scientist.’ Our job was to produce a study to prove to Congress that we could win the war in Vietnam."

A few sentences later, "I briefed General Westmoreland every week."

I never knew Michael Peterson was apparently so well connected to Gen. William Westmoreland, the legendary commanding general in Vietnam.

So, did Peterson brief Westmoreland or not? Gaspo obviously wants us to be skeptical, but goes to press without bothering to investigate. Does anyone at the Durham paper edit this guy? Apparently not; this kind of offhand smear is a regular Gaspo specialty.

Just to be clear, I don't have a clue if Peterson murdered his wife Kathleen in December 2001, or if she really did fall down a flight of stairs like, uh, the woman Peterson said he found dead at the bottom of a staircase in Germany back in 1985. It's certainly true that stranger things have happened than a person encountering two similarly bizarre deaths in his or her lifetime. On the other hand, it's hardly unusual for a seemingly happily married couple to harbor lots of rage and resentment that might suddenly flare up into violence. As the trial begins, I can honestly be swayed either way.

Full disclosure demands I point out here that I was intrigued by Peterson's independent political commentary long before his wife's death. A few months before her accident/murder, I interviewed Peterson for a cover story in a now-defunct local alt weekly. A few weeks later, I encouraged the paper to endorse Peterson in his unsuccessful run for a City Council seat. So sue me - the guy was an obviously sharper candidate than his Republican opponent, a fixture on the council for almost 20 years.

The point here is that I'm reserving judgment on Peterson's guilt or innocence. Gaspo clearly isn't. The Durham columnist's bias couldn't be more obvious if he wrote it in Kathleen Peterson's blood across his own forehead - and he's come close to doing just that in the past, once writing a freakish column consisting solely of his negative impressions of the dead woman's grave site. His most recent column actually ends with him caressing a copy of Kathleen's funeral program. Good lord.

It's pretty obvious that Gasparoli is angling for larger fame (a book deal, at least) out of the case. It certainly shows in his phoned-in writing. I laughed out loud when I heard him and our local Limbaugh, AM radio host Jerry Agar, chatting about the Hollywood reporters sure to hit Durham this week. The two mavens poked nervously at the upcoming media frenzy while completely avoiding the fact that for the last year and a half Gaspo has been milking the Peterson death for everything he can. Nice work if you can get it, I guess.

And let's not forget that Gasparoli himself is an interesting case study. Leave aside that a judge once wrote a savage attack on the "one-sidedness" of a Gaspo TV report, decrying the "use of ambush tactics and distorting visual and editorial techniques." A jury later cleared Gaspo of actual malice, but didn't address the issue of whether the story he reported was, er, true. More interesting than that, though, are the rumors (confirmed to me by Gaspo last year) that the columnist was dating an attorney in the Durham D.A.'s office at the same time he was writing his first Herald-Sun pieces about the Peterson investigation. Readers didn't find out about the conflict until later.

Again, the question looms: Where are this guy's editors? [link]


5.6.03 - Via MeFi comes this helpful visual representation of the ratio of executive pay to worker pay compared across various countries (be sure to click through to the last of the five pages and to read Bill Moyers' commentary). I know it makes the Libertarians in the audience itch to hear me say it, but too bad: Something is definitely wrong with this picture. Downright inhumane, I'd call it. Couple the U.S.'s bizarre exec/worker pay differential with the off-shore shell game and the insanely light slap on the wrist recently given to the Wall Street investment bankers who lied through their teeth to investors during the dotcom bubble, and we have one seriously fucked version of capitalism in the US of A. The revelations in the recent settlement remain amazing even if you knew the facts previously: Investment houses were commissioning favorable reports about companies they knew were garbage in order to encourage the public to invest in them so the investment banks could cash in on IPOs and get out before the stock tanked and left the other sucker holding the bag (that's the Internet Bubble in a nutshell for you, by the way).

The so-called "Chinese wall" between analysis and banking has been crumbling for years, but the details sure are hilarious. I love this objection from a Merrill Lynch Research VP:

I don't want to be a whore for f-king mgmt...We are losing people and money and I don't like it. John and Mary Smith are losing their retirement...the whole idea that we are independent from banking is a big lie.

Well, she sort of objected, anyway. The "big lie" continued for years:

At firm after firm, according to prosecutors, analysts wittingly duped investors to curry favor with corporate clients. Investment houses received secret payments from companies they gave strong recommendations to buy. And for top executives whose companies were clients, stock underwriters offered special access to hot initial public offerings...the regulators found fault with every major bank on Wall Street.

As Jon Stewart pointed out on The Daily Show last week, the settlement's $1.4 billion penalty is nothing compared to the billions the investment banks raked in by hyping dot-coms with moronic business plans as good investments. White collar crime obviously pays, Stewart shrugged, adding a refreshingly blunt "We're fucked." More commentary like that, please.

Worst of all is that the deception is ongoing. Why do newspapers and magazines still allow so-called "stock analysts" to shill for certain stocks without clearly being identified as employees of companies which might stand to gain from the spread of the analysts' opinions? Print media organizations are actually fighting a proposed SEC rule that would require such disclosure on the grounds that it violates their First Amendment right to publish whatever they like. But doesn't the journalism profession's code of ethics (such as it is) demand that newspapers make the disclosures themselves? Where's that proposal? Hell, last August former News & Observer editor Anders Gyllenhaal (now at the Minneapolis Star Tribune) was still suggesting "it's best to watch events for a while to determine how deep a problem there is." Yeah, like the conflicts of interest didn't go deep enough last time, Anders. Does the credibility of the business section mean nothing to some editors?

Oh well, at least the lawyers will stay in business. [link]


5.1.03 - Is that not the happiest cartoon mascot ever?
I pass it nearly every day, and that truckin' little cubicle instantly puts me in a better mood. I think it's the eyebrows. Or the way his cheek bulges from smiling so much. Or those snapping fingers. God help me, I think I'm in love. The adorably named company even has a Wake County connection. [link]


5.1.03 - Blogfinds:

Have fun.



April 2003

March 2003

2nd half of February 2003

January and first half of February 2003

December 2002

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September 2002