Monkey Media Report Archive

A North Carolina
news and arts Weblog
November 2005

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11.4.05 - Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd : Friends or Foes? Lots of neat info and sharp links that nicely undermine standard interpretations of that famous Southern Man/Sweet Home Alabama incident. My fave bits are 1) news that Skynyrd "almost ended up recording Powderfinger" - damn that would have been great - and 2) this quote from Ronnie Van Zandt:

"We wrote Alabama as a joke. We didn't even think about it - the words just came out that way. We just laughed like hell, and said 'Ain't that funny'... We love Neil Young, we love his music..."

Great stuff for 70s rock lovers. [via Metachat] [link]

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11.3.05 - Even if you understand how worthless polling is a year before an election, you might get a few kicks from the Wall Street Journal's latest look at the 2006 Senate and gubernatorial races in key "battleground" states [Flash]. I got a few kicks myself from the commentary about the Ohio and Pennsylvania Senate races, as well as the contest for California governor. For political junkies only, I suppose, but at least it's an interesting interface to nose around in.

Just don't pin too much reality on analysis of poll numbers this far ahead of the vote, ok? [link]

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11.3.05 - Angry Bear offers a smart, non-hysterical take on judicial nominee Sam Alito's odd dissent in a case about the Family and Medical Leave Act:

Alito's idea that women are not disadvantaged when they can not take maternity leave seems absurd, both intellectually and factually. Even William Rehnquist, who wrote the Supreme Court's 6-3 opinion in 2003 overturning Alito's ruling, found Alito's argument deeply flawed.

In the Supreme Court majority opinion, Rehnquist cited the extensive evidence that was presented during the debate about the FMLA in Congress, and that clearly documented the pervasive discrimination implicit in unregulated family leave policies. Furthermore, Rehnquist argued that the FMLA was an entirely appropriate remedy to this subtle form of discrimination. These powerful paragraphs summarize the argument:

"Stereotypes about women's domestic roles are reinforced by parallel stereotypes presuming a lack of domestic responsibilities for men. Because employers continued to regard the family as the woman's domain, they often denied men similar accommodations or discouraged them from taking leave. These mutually reinforcing stereotypes created a self-fulfilling cycle of discrimination that forced women to continue to assume the role of primary family caregiver, and fostered employers' stereotypical views about women's commitment to work and their value as employees. Those perceptions, in turn, Congress reasoned, lead to subtle discrimination that may be difficult to detect on a case-by-case basis.

"...By creating an across-the-board, routine employment benefit for all eligible employees, Congress sought to ensure that family-care leave would no longer be stigmatized as an inordinate drain on the workplace caused by female employees, and that employers could not evade leave obligations simply by hiring men. By setting a minimum standard of family leave for all eligible employees, irrespective of gender, the FMLA attacks the formerly state-sanctioned stereotype that only women are responsible for family caregiving, thereby reducing employers' incentives to engage in discrimination by basing hiring and promotion decisions on stereotypes."

While Rehnquist provided the legal rationale explaining why the Congress has the authority to make laws such as the FMLA, I think that the most powerful argument in favor of the FMLA is simply this: a society that values families should try to help parents spend more time with their children, not put obstacles in their way.

This is a keeper for Alito's hearings, y'all, unlike some of his other decisions that are currently being overhyped by the left. [link]

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11.3.05 - Her Hand Rocks the Cradle: Babies and mothers in prison. [link]

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11.2.05 - A Stranger A Day:

"Between January 1st, 2004 and December 31st, 2004 Roark Johnson photographed strangers, people he doesn't know, once a day, every day." [via happy palace] [link]

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11.2.05 - The latest New Yorker has a fascinating look at the freaky sex bits (including both deer- and bear-fucking!) in Scooter "lying to a grand jury isn't a serious crime" Libby's 1996 novel The Apprentice. Be sure to check the discussion at Making Light of right-wingers' apparent need to publish their detailed sexual fetishes in book form. Nothing wrong with sexual fantasy, of course. But it sure is strange to find a neo-con like Scooter actively contributing to the cesspool of naughty pop culture as he joins "the long and distinguished annals of the right-wing dirty novel."

By the way, Wikipedia has a very sharp Plamegate page, if you know anyone who needs a quick summary. [link]

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10.19.05 - Links for this week's Monkeytime TV:

Why the Plamegate investigation matters despite right-wing attempts to minimize it, Part One - a Stratfor analyst examines the damage done to U.S. agents overseas who operate under non-official cover (NOCs). This one's a must-read if you're at all interested in espionage:

It is an extraordinary life. On the one hand, NOCs may live well. The Number Two at a Latin American bank cannot be effective living on a U.S. government salary. NOCs get to live the role and frequently, as they climb higher in the target society, they live the good life. On the other hand, their real lives are a mystery to everyone. Frequently, their parents don't know what they really do, nor do their own children -- for their safety and the safety of the mission. The NOC may marry someone who cannot know who they really are. Sometimes they themselves forget who they are: It is an occupational disease and a form of madness...

There is an explicit and implicit contract between the United States and its NOCs. It has many parts, but there is one fundamental part: A NOC will never reveal that he is or was a NOC without special permission. When he does reveal it, he never gives specifics. The government also makes a guarantee -- it will never reveal the identity of a NOC under any circumstances and, in fact, will do everything to protect it. If you have lied to your closest friends for 30 years about who you are and why you talk to them, no government bureaucrat has the right to reveal your identity for you...

There is more to this. When it is revealed that you were a NOC, foreign intelligence services begin combing back over your life, examining every relationship you had. Anyone you came into contact with becomes suspect. Sometimes, in some countries, becoming suspect can cost you your life. Revealing the identity of a NOC can be a matter of life and death -- frequently, of people no one has ever heard of or will ever hear of again...

Here's the key bit for anyone who wants to minimize this scandal:

What we do know is this. In the course of events, reporters contacted two senior officials in the White House -- Rove and Libby. Under the least-damaging scenario we have heard, the reporters already knew that Plame had worked as a NOC. Rove and Libby, at this point, were obligated to say, at the very least, that they could neither confirm nor deny the report. In fact, their duty would have been quite a bit more: Their job was to lie like crazy to mislead the reporters. Rove and Libby had top security clearances and were senior White House officials. It was their sworn duty, undertaken when they accepted their security clearance, to build a "bodyguard of lies" -- in Churchill's phrase -- around the truth concerning U.S. intelligence capabilities.

Some would argue that if the reporters already knew her identity, the cat was out of the bag and Rove and Libby did nothing wrong. Others would argue that if Plame or her husband had publicly stated that she was a NOC, Rove and Libby were freed from their obligation. But the fact is that legally and ethically, nothing relieves them of the obligation to say nothing and attempt to deflect the inquiry. This is not about Valerie Plame, her husband or Time Magazine. The obligation exists for the uncounted number of NOCs still out in the field...

Imagine, if you will, working in Damascus as a NOC and reading that the president's chief adviser had confirmed the identity of a NOC. As you push into middle age, wondering what happened to your life, the sudden realization that your own government threatens your safety might convince you to resign and go home. That would cost the United States an agent it had spent decades developing. You don't just pop a new agent in his place. That NOC's resignation could leave the United States blind at a critical moment in a key place. Should it turn out that Rove and Libby not only failed to protect Plame's identity but deliberately leaked it, it would be a blow to the heart of U.S. intelligence. If just one critical NOC pulled out and the United States went blind in one location, the damage could be substantial. At the very least, it is a risk the United States should not have to incur.

Fascinating perspective, anyway. How credible is it? Yeah, like I know when someone's accurately portraying spook culture. But it sure does have a ring of truth to me. Read it and see for yourself.

Why the Plamegate investigation matters despite right-wing attempts to minimize it, Part Two - Sydney Schanberg lays out the bottom line: people died.

Mickey Kaus at Slate has some provocative questions about the latest twists in the Miller/Libby mess. #5 is the one to show foolish observers who actually think Miller is some kind of journalism hero here:

5. Isn't this a major blow against testimonial immunity for reporters, in practice? Here is how the NYT itself reported the final argument made on behalf of Judith Miller before she was jailed:

'Robert S. Bennett, a lawyer for Ms. Miller, urged Judge Hogan to conclude that Ms. Miller would never talk, making confinement pointless.'

It's now clear confinement wasn't pointless. It worked for the prosecutor exactly as intended. After a couple of months of sleeping on "two thin mats on a concrete slab," Miller decided, in her words, "I owed it to myself" to check and see if just maybe Libby really meant to release her from her promise of confidentiality. And sure enough-- you know what?--it turns out he did! The message sent to every prosecutor in the country is "Don't believe journalists who say they will never testify. A bit of hard time and they just might find a reason to change their minds. Judy Miller did." This is the victory for the press the Times has achieved. More journalists will now go to jail, quite possibly, than if Miller had just cut a deal right away, before taking her stand on "principle."

Editor and Publisher has more, reprinting a letter sent to Romenesko three days ago that notes "one major journalism scandal" hidden in this disaster

Other, more fun links:

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10.12.05 - This week's Monkeytime TV focuses on adoption reform, particularly the attempt by adoptees to get full access to their own birth records. Roberta MacDonald, adoptee and chairwoman of the North Carolina Coalition for Adoption Reform, is our guest, along with local adoptee William Baumgartner and local birth mother Marianne Latz. We'll be taking your calls live tonight from 8-9pm. Some relevant links:

  • Bastard Nation, the Malcolm X to NCCAR's Martin Luther King, offers The Basic Bastard, a great introduction to the fight of adult adoptees to open their adoption records
  • The official site of Loggerheads, a movie about adoption (opening next week) that's based on a true North Carolina story. The birth mother is actually living in Chapel Hill right now. Watch the trailer here [.mov]

Update: The show went beautifully (but way too quickly), thanks to the openness of Roberta, William and Marianne and the impressive thoughtfulness of the calls. I really liked the answers from William and Marianne to the caller who asked about feelings of adoptive parents when their adopted children go looking for answers. William was particularly eloquent as he described his adoptive parents' initial hesitance - but later full acceptance - in the face of his intense desire to "fill the holes" in his personal story. And Marianne's description of extended visits with her birth son's adoptive family nicely solidified my own feeling that love isn't at all a zero-sum game, in which any increase in affection towards birth parents automatically translates into decreased affection for adoptive ones. It's really too bad so many folks scared of giving adult adoptees access to the truth are so completely wrongheaded on the nature of love.

Anyway, I was appalled to learn from Roberta that North Carolina joins New Jersy as the only two states in the country that don't even have a registry to help birth parents and adoptees find one another if they both desire it. How Cro-Magnon can state leaders get? Fixing that one should be the minimum NCCAR supporters accept when the group starts its legislative push next year. We'll be doing another show on this topic soon. Meanwhile, be sure to read Bastard Nation's history of sealed adoption records in the U.S. before absorbing its thoughtful take on the privacy issues involved.

Finally, if you're an adoptee (like the first caller to tonight's show) who wants to start a search for your birth parents, Roberta recommends the International Soundex Reunion Registry as a smart opening move. [link]

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10.12.05 - Apologies for the delay in posting links about biofuels after last week's Monkeytime TV interview with Anne Tazewell, alternative fuels program manager at the NC Solar Center. Here's the info:

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10.5.05

Clouds.

Mammatus clouds, actually. Named for the resemblance to tits.

Amazing.

[via the "extrabrain" at Warrenellis.com] [link]

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10.4.05 - I just love that everyone in the USA is already expected to have a well-informed, thoughtful and completely solid opinion about what's-her-face (above). Ok, I admit to laughing when I learned Dick Cheney “worked over " Focus on the Family head James Dobson "very, very hard” (kinda hot if you think about it), but even I know that doesn't count as a valuable insight. Surely it's not that bizarre to suggest decent citizens spend, I dunno, maybe a day or three actually reading about the woman and the strangeness of her appointment before setting our feelings in stone? Waiting for a bit of solid investigative journalism, or even a decently researched and relevant opinion piece, isn't a bad idea either.

In other words, just fucking chill out for a second, would you? If the SCOTUSblog is right that "it does not seem likely that the fight over Miers' nomination will be resolved until well into the winter," the only need for the current frantic fuss is to fill the daily news/blog cycle. Fuck that crap. What the hell's the rush here, people?

Anyway, for what it's worth, my favorite entry from the Initial Miers Rush is this very apropos quote from Alexander Hamilton:

To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity...

The possibility of rejection would be a strong motive to care in proposing. The danger to his own reputation, and, in the case of an elective magistrate, to his political existence, from betraying a spirit of favoritism, or an unbecoming pursuit of popularity, to the observation of a body whose opinion would have great weight in forming that of the public, could not fail to operate as a barrier to the one and to the other. He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.

So far, that seems to capture the right nuances better than anything else. [link]

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10.3.05 - He was gone for a year, but The Religious Policeman started posting again this August. Spend an hour at this sharp, courageous weblog about Saudi Arabian society, filled with scathing looks at the wealthy princes who control that particular mess of non-democracy, the country's disgusting treatment of women, the dumb way certain Muslims around the world take offense at the drop of a hat, and lots of other topics. Be sure to read the post about the Saudi debate over allowing young children to watch public beheadings and amputations. TRP's anger sometimes turns posts a bit too much to the juvenile for my taste, but the site is filled with revealing details about modern Saudi life. Dig into the archives if you want to learn more about the folks our President has the nerve to call one of our "closest allies." Now there's a horrifying thought. [via Mefi] [link]

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10.2.05 - Can't tell you how excited I was when my friend Dusty scored some free tickets to Randy Newman's "Pops" performance with the NC Symphony a couple of Sundays ago. No way I could have spent $40 for an upper balcony seat - hey, if they want us to attend they're gonna have to give us some cheaper options - but I sure did jump at the free shot to see one of my favorite songwriters live. And damn, was I rewarded. The guy's a fucking genius.

Everyone knows classically trained musicians are often bored by the little they're asked to do at a Pops performance, so it's a testament to the NC Symphony's respect for its audience that the energy in the room was so electric during Newman's Sunday afternoon matinee. Of course, it helps that the guy routinely writes some of the most clever - and most cleverly arranged - songs in popular music. If you're not paying attention, it's easy to miss the sly intelligence in Newman's use of horns, strings, et al, to back his biting lyrics. "Great Nations of Europe" was especially effective live, its snide attack on 16th century European triumphalism gathering extra steam in a traditional classical music setting, where it was easy to hear the poke at bombastic, triumphalist European music as well.

What fun.

In case you haven't gotten the point, it was an astonishingly good show that satisfied my inner fanboy looking to snatch a piece of pop history while simultaneously revitalizing my interest in classical performance. Quite an accomplishment. The first set was a bit slow for my taste, with one or two earnest love songs too many, but watching Newman conduct excerpts from his film soundtracks on either side of the intermission kept me intrigued. Not sure if that means I need to pay closer attention to classical music or to soundtracks, but I liked what I was hearing regardless. And his second set was just plain brilliant, filled with achingly sad and deeply funny moments. I've heard "Sail Away" many times, but never has it been so goddamn touching as when I heard it from the NC Symphony.

Of course, no good turn goes unpunished, so I wasn't surprised at all to read the letter in Friday's N&O from a symphony subscriber deeply wounded by Newman's "language" and "crudeness" during the Friday opener. I'd actually turned to Dusty as we left Meymandi Hall Sunday and said, "I bet someone writes the N&O to complain about the cusswords." It's not clear to me whether the gussied-up Friday night crowd this guy represents were offended because Newman occasionally used the word "shit" or because they didn't get that "Short People" was satire, but I stopped caring after he slammed the show as not "pleasing music." Talk about cultural illiteracy. I sent my own letter late last night:

It's a shame that some people couldn't listen past Newman's light-hearted pokes at pretension and formality to hear the symphony's marvelous performance of some of the most cleverly arranged songs to come out of popular music. Gems like "Sail Away" and "Louisiana 1927" were achingly beautiful to hear live, even if they fit uneasily into what the letter-writer called "pleasing music." The NC Symphony should know that four of us in the upper balcony (not to mention the rest of the audience, which provided Newman a standing ovation) were completely captivated by the concert, and by Newman's slightly mischievous attempt to have a bit of a good ol' time on the Meymandi stage.

Hope they print it. And if you're one of the many who also got off on the show, consider encouraging the NC Symphony to continue untucking its shirt and taking a chance on something with a little bite to it. I mean, have you seen the rest of the Pops schedule? Not that there's anything wrong with reaching out for the familiar in a "Pops" series, but the Powers That Be do seem to have taken a chance with Newman as the season opener, and that sort of thing really ought to be encouraged. [link]

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10.1.05 - So this woman comes up to the counter at the bookstore today wearing this hilarious shirt that makes me think of my pal Sean, who's into cognitive science and artificial intelligence. I tell her the shirt's awesome and ask where she got it and she says here. I love the fact that Jason Sho Green studied "autonomous robotics, embedded digital systems, and math" before realizing what he really wanted to work on was the art he'd stopped studying in 5th grade.

Sometimes people really are funny, in a really good way.

Oh, and be sure to explore that "cognitive science" link up there if you're at all interested in what makes us human. You are interested in what makes us human, aren't you? [link]

You can't stop now.

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