Monkey Media Report Archive

A North Carolina
news and arts Weblog
September 2004

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*****

10.1.04 - Good short Newhouse News article about the issue both Kerry and Bush "hardly address" on the campaign trail: "the need to put more American youths in uniform." Here's a wake-up call for Kerry supporters:

And 15 years after the end of the Cold War, the military forces of the NATO European allies are so shrunken that they are unable to make good on a pledge to provide 5,000 more troops for Afghanistan, according to a new report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a private nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

Bottom line: The allies won't be able to provide fresh combat troops for Iraq or anywhere else "either at present or in the foreseeable future," said Andrew Krepinevich, a retired West Point officer and Pentagon strategist who directs the center.

Bush, of course, has no plan other than smiling while insisting things are on the upswing, as last night's stumbling performance demonstrated nicely, but Kerry's repeated insistence that he can get other countries to share the burden of fixing Iraq may be a similarly optimistic approach. As TomDispatch puts it: "...if his only solution to the Iraqi mess is bringing in allies, he's in trouble..." Scroll down for Swiss writer Bruno Giussani's very sobering "Memo to Kerry from Europe: Help (for Iraq) Is Not on the Way." After recounting multiple examples of Kerry promising to replace a chunk of the 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq with troops from elsewhere, Guissani can't help note that "Senator Kerry may be counting on that European sympathy a bit too much":

From a European perspective, this is funny talk, particularly from a man who knows Europe well and who, by the admission of his own advisers, has not so far held any discussions with foreign leaders about committing more troops. Kerry is promising something whose likelihood is very close to zero. Help is not on the way for Iraq. Europe will not rush to "share the burden," nor to significantly reduce the cost of the Mesopotamian adventure to American taxpayers. Truth is, the United States will have to see Iraq through mostly by itself.

On one matter, Kerry is right: It is undoubtedly in everyone's interest to encourage some form of democratic stability in Iraq and to prevent it from becoming a failed state. But European politicians are not suicidal and that won't change even if John Kerry is elected.

[via Cursor, which has been full of great stuff this week] [link]

*****

9.30.04 - Best debate moment: Just after 11pm on The Daily Show, when former general/supreme commander of NATO Wesley Clark used the disappointment of "right-wing bloggers" as evidence that Bush had totally blown the first real contest of the campaign. I try not to ever watch this kind of carefully stage-managed garbage alone, so the five of us in the living room - stuffed with (if I may) a delicious, mostly homemade Shrimp & Veggie in Peanut Sauce pasta - looked at each other and laughed out loud. Wesley goddamn Clark going to freaking bloggers to gauge voter reaction in the first half-hour after a presidential debate? And admitting it on national television a few minutes later?

Ed Cone, I hereby prostrate myself before the altar of Blogger Triumphalism. Truly, nous sommes arrivé. [link]

Update: Ed links to a DailyKos roundup of pro-Bush bloggers who think Kerry won.

*****

9.30.04 - So, after work last night I biked over to community TV for a training session on the sparkling new digital equipment. Looks like we won't be able to air more than one or two live shows before the election, which is what I expected after the initial meeting last month. Hopefully, we'll be able to get in one or two prerecorded shows as well, but that's still up in the air. Anyway, while there I caught a glimpse of last night's rerun as it aired. It was the show in which I really went after conservative black preachers for their disgusting attempt to claim "civil rights" for black people only. When I got home, this was waiting for me:

-----Original Message-----
From: xxxxxxx@ncsu.edu [mailto:xxxxxxx@ncsu.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, September 29, 2004 8:32 PM
To: todd@monkeytime.org
Subject:

If i ever get withing arems reach of you i hope i am in the state of mind
to slap the shit out of you and the idiot who put you on television.
First of all every gay in america should be put on a boat, taken out in
the ocean and sunk. Who would put a fag on televion talking about how bad
it is that the concervative preachers who don't support gays. They
shouldn't be supported by anybody, especially the church. I hope that
when you die you go straight to hell and you can let satan fuck you in the
ass the rest of eternity

The funniest thing about this message, after the obvious interest in satanic ass-fucking, of course, is that it came from a typically easy-to-identify N.C. State account - you know, first initial/middle initial/last name@ncsu.edu. In this case, the owner is a freshman boy from the small coastal town of Washington, North Carolina (population 9,767), which I see claims to be the very first town in the United States to have named itself after George Washington. Before he became president, thank you.very much.

Anyway, I made up my mind long ago not to live in fear of people like this (or the two others who responded to the show last night with obnoxious email), but I'll be damned if I'm going to sit here and do nothing while some 18-year-old works out his conflicted sexual feelings by fantasizing about slapping the shit out of me while the devil fucks me up the ass. Good heavens. Something must be done.

More seriously, it's difficult via email to sort out the bigots who are all lusty talk from the few who might actually do something violent, so I feel compelled to do what I can to prevent this juvenile from threatening my people in the future. Plus, I'm now very curious to see how seriously NCSU takes this violation of section 14.1.8 of its Code of Student Conduct and section V of its policy on Computer Use Regulation. Stay tuned. [link]

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9.29.04 - Just a quick request: As long-time readers of this site know, I've never been one to beg for donations. Hell, I don't even like the idea of a Paypal button as a regular feature. But, as I do my best to reign in a tendency toward longer and more link-filled posts than just about any other political blogger in North Carolina (mainly so I can meet my friend Tim's one-post-a-day challenge for September), it occurs to me that anyone who's been enjoying the significant amount of work that goes into this site wouldn't mind sliding me, oh, enough money for a beer or two. (That goes especially for you newspaper and TV types who visit frequently. Cough up at least something.) Rest assured I'm not picky when it comes to alcohol, having inherited my dad's drinking genes, so if all you can afford is a buck for a PBR, it would still be appreciated.

So, if you want to encourage this sort of thing, feel free to head over to PayPal and "Send Money" to todd-at-monkeytime-dot-org. I'll have an Amazon donation page this week, too, if you'd prefer that (I generally hate using Amazon, mainly because I still hold a grudge over the company's absurd attempt to patent one-click shopping, but if it's your thing I won't stop you).

And thanks.

(And, hey, never give your dog beer.)

[link]

*****

9.29.04 - I'd be seriously remiss if I didn't link to Lisa Linn's wonderfully articulate post about the controversy over the Starlite Drive-In's gun shop and its relationship to the campaign to rebuild the outdoor screen that was destroyed by fire last month. Lisa posted in response to two complaints published in the local alt weekly, as well as this post from OrangePolitics.org founder Ruby Seinrich (whose brain I usually respect, in case that isn't clear). I found Ruby's argument in this case overly simplistic and needlessly insulting, partly because it implied I was "jumping on a bandwagon" without having thought about guns at the Starlite, but mainly because she didn't seem to know that the gun shop supported the drive-in, rather than the other way around. I was also a bit surprised she didn't mention that one of the letters in the Indy - published the day before her post - had been written by her boyfriend. I dunno, it just seems relevant. I would have mentioned it, anyway.

For the record, I don't think gun ownership is a particularly easy issue to sort out, but after years of thinking about it, I came to the same conclusion as Lisa, namely, that denying government a monopoly on arms is something I'm OK with in a democracy. She says it much better:

i'm extremely wary of this administration in a way i've never been about our government before. i think the libertarians may not be crackpots after all. i think the possibility exists that an armed revolution might be needed in this country, even in this modern world, because our checks and balances aren't checking and balancing any more, and i see a risk of our right to vote being removed under the guise of keeping us "safe".

would i participate in such a revolution? i don't know. i don't honestly know if i could bear an arm against a fellow human being. i might not. i might be a pacifist so deep through that i could not. but i would sure as hell want those who are able to do so, to do so, should such a need arise.

my belief that we still require a constitutional right to bear arms has evolved. i think that's still a good thing to have in the constitution, and therefore, i do want it to be legal to sell arms.

Which makes supporting the rebuilding of the Starlite's screen just fine, thanks. But, er, I find myself wondering if owner Bob Groves plans to start selling any of those assault weapons that just became legal despite opposition from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Brotherhood of Police Officers and the Fraternal Order of Police. To be fair, it should be noted that some argue the line between banned and legal weapons wasn't all that clear, anway, and challenge you to tell the difference.

Eek. Sure is a complex issue. Has anyone in the local press asked Groves whether he plans to start selling weapons that before this month had been banned under federal law? I bet I'm not the only one who'd be interested in hearing his answer. [link]

*****


"Now, children, everyone in America should be treated equally.
Except for gay and lesbian people. They deserve less
because they're not as good as straight people. It's kind of like
how folks thought of your grandparents back when I was a boy.
Just imagine gays getting married! Icky poopy, right?"

9.28.04 - A post from Ed Cone today reminded me I should probably mention something about the Bowles-Burr debate last night. But I'm finding it really hard to get excited about people who vehemently express opposition to gay marriage and gripe about illegal aliens stealing jobs from hard-working American citizens.

And that was the Democrat.

I just posted a question about Bowles' position on civil unions at his campaign blog, which I'm sure will go unanswered until after the election, but let's take the Hispanic issue first (which, interestingly, wasn't mentioned at all in post-debate coverage from either the Charlotte Observer or Raleigh News & Observer). Erskine's decision to ally himself with demagogues who stir up resentment against the phantom problem of illegal Hispanic workers stealing jobs from decent North Carolinians - instead of allying himself with the people in his party's natural base working to end the vicious exploitation of non-illegal Hispanics by far too many U.S. bosses - is perfectly emblematic of what's wrong with the centrist Democrat strategy. Can you imagine a better way to depress voter turnout than disappointing a key constituency in your own party? By appealing to other voters' worst xenophobic instincts?

Apparently, Erskine never got this 2002 memo about the Hispanic voting bloc:

In fact, the 15 congressional districts with the fastest-growing Hispanic
populations comprise six in North Carolina, three each in Georgia and
Tennessee, and one each in Alabama, Alaska and Arkansas, according to the
National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
What are the Republican and Democratic parties doing to win the loyalty of
those voters?

What indeed. In North Carolina, the Democratic candidate for Senate just went on statewide television to gripe about illegal immigrants stealing jobs from decent Americans. Fucking brilliant, eh? It's amazing that Bowles can't find a better way to run a middle-of-the-road campaign, and a sure sign of how much the state's top-level Democrats have lost their way. The fact that neither of the state's two biggest newspapers discussed the issue in their next-day coverage is quite revealing as well.

Now to gay marriage: Look, I have no illusions about what's going on here (for those less astute, Doug Ireland nicely covered "the new embrace of overt gay-bashing" a year ago). Bowles is making a calculated decision to sell out my Constitutional rights to win office, which would keep an even more obviously anti-gay candidate at bay. As a gay citizen, I'm used to being abused by politicians from both parties who are too cowardly to articulate the (apparently difficult) concept of equality under the law for everyone. And so I just grit my teeth and hope Bowles' calculated ploy to sell me down the river is also a temporary one. Maybe Bowles will grow a spine in office, maybe not, but I damn well know I haven't got a snowball's chance at getting to the front of the bus with Richard Burr as my Senator.

So, ok, Erskine, you got me. I'm gonna grab my crotch, flip off the ballot and vote for you, like I vote for all the other lesser-evil Democrats your party shoves my way. (Don't laugh at the crotch grab, folks; it does wonders for preventing vomiting in the voting booth.) But don't expect me to respect you, Mr. Bowles, for the way you've campaigned this year, and for the damage your statement Monday night did to embattled gay and lesbian kids who were watching with their parents. You deliberately sold them out on an issue that's a no-brainer for anyone who cares about equal protection under the law in this country, and for that, you clearly owe lesbian, gay, bi and transgendered North Carolinians some results on the civil union issue. If your anemic campaign manages to go over the top against your equally anemic opponent, you can rest assured that queer voters will have been a significant factor.

I don't expect you, Erskine, to actually deliver anything beyond not being Richard Burr, but let's at least be clear about your obligation to be a decent human being, if not a leader, on the issue of gay equality. You can start by articulating an actual, you know, argument about exactly why the historically fluid institution of marriage should continue to be reserved for only certain government-approved citizens.

Free hint: There's no such argument, Erskine. Unless, of course, you believe government has the right to start prioritizing certain religious views over others. Boy, would I love to hear a modern Democrat make that case. [link]

*****

9.28.04 - My new favorite site: Cooking for Engineers. I love the design, the diagrams Michael Chu uses to illustrate the recipe process, the cute earnestness and emphasis on efficiency, and the useful information that [ahem] peppers the reader comments - like why shrimp turns reddish orange when cooked, and why it's a bad idea to bake avocado. I've been expanding my repertoire recently into Thai and Indian dishes, alternating between pre-packaged sauces and my own concoctions, and am regularly amazed at how much smart science is involved in the art of creating occasionally delicious things. It's great to find others feeling the same thing. [via Steve Gilliard's News Blog] [link]

*****

9.28.04 - Just found a great New Statesman article, "Can Islam Change?" [if forced to login, use this instead.] It's full of information about anti-fundamentalist struggles by Muslims in India, Pakistan, Morocco and elsewhere - struggles that may change the way you think about Islam. Ziauddin Sardar, author of Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim, makes a convincing case that real change is happening against often-heavy odds:

...Morocco has provided an essential lead. Its new Islamic family law, introduced in February, sweeps away centuries of bigotry and bias against women. It was produced with the full co-operation of religious scholars as well as the active participation of women.

...At first, King Mohammed VI had to abandon plans for change because, protesters claimed, he was trying to impose secular law and western culture on Morocco. In spring 2001, however, he set up a commission, which included women and was given the specific task of coming up with fresh legislation based on the principles of Islam. Given enormous impetus by 9/11 and its aftermath, it produced a report that many see as a revolutionary document. The resulting family code establishes that women are equal partners in marriage and family life. It throws out the notion that the husband is head of the family and that women are mere underlings in need of guidance and protection. It raises the minimum age for women's marriage from 15 to 18, the same as for men.

The new Moudawana allows a woman to contract a marriage without the legal approval of a guardian. Verbal divorce has been outlawed: men now require prior authorisation from a court, and women have exactly the same rights. Women can claim alimony and can be granted custody of their children even if they remarry. Husbands and wives must share property acquired during the marriage. The old custom of favouring male heirs in the sharing of inherited land has also been dropped, making it possible for grandchildren on the daughter's side to inherit from their grandfather, just like grandchildren on the son's side. As for polygamy, it has been all but abolished.

The section on the routing of fundamentalists in last March's Malaysian election is particularly intriguing. The prime minister, clearly no angel, is nonetheless pushing "Islam Hadhari," a progressive Islam rooted in 14th century concepts of tolerance and inclusion, and many Islamic scholars are responding warmly. In nearby Indonesia, the two "largest and most influential Muslim organizations" are putting aside their differences to campaign for change in the awful sharia law. And they aren't alone:

The newly formed Liberal Islam Network - intended to resist radical groups such as Laskar Jihad (Army of Jihad) and Jemaah Islamiyah, which was implicated in the October 2002 Bali bombings - follows a similar programme. Its membership consists largely of young Muslims.

All three organisations promote a model of Islamic reform that they call "deformalisation". "The overemphasis on formality and symbolism has drained Islam of its ethical and humane dimension," says Abdul Mukti, chairman of Muhammadiyah's influential youth wing. "The first mission of deformalisation is to recover this missing dimension." Its second mission, he says, is "to separate the sharia from political realms". Islamic law, Mukti explains, cannot be imposed from the top - as it has been in Pakistan - but has to evolve from below. Indeed, the overwhelming view of scholars and thinkers I met recently in Indonesia - including teachers at a state religious university - was that the formal links between Islam and politics must be severed.

Well, that sure sounds like a great idea. And while I won't fault anyone for hesitating at Sardar's assertion that "Muslims worldwide are acknowledging the need for fundamental change in their perception of Islam," at the very least the development of anti-fundamentalist Muslim movements is worth keeping an eye on as we fight the fundie agenda in our own country. [via Arts & Letters Daily] [link]

*****

9.27.04 - Sharp analysis of the "unmitigated disaster" in Iraq from a former strategic policy planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff who isn't afraid to argue that "a 'free and democratic Iraq' is not a realistic political goal" for U.S. troops. Turner notes the "mind-boggling" way Kerry is allowing Bush to spin such an obvious foreign policy failure into a strength, then lays things out for the smart swing voter:

This administration failed to make even a cursory effort at adequately defining the political end state they sought to achieve by removing Saddam Hussein, making it impossible to precisely define long-term military success. That, in turn, makes it impossible to lay out a rational exit strategy for U.S. troops. Like Vietnam, the military is again being asked to clean up the detritus of a failed foreign policy...

Two thirds of America's combat brigades are now tied down in this war which, under present conditions, is categorically unwinnable. Having alienated virtually every major ally who might help, our troops are simply targets. If Bush is re-elected, there are only two possible outcomes in Iraq:

  • Four years from now, America will have 5,000 dead servicemen and women and an untold number of dead Iraqis at a cost of about $1 trillion, yet still be no closer to success than we are right now, or
  • The U.S. will be gone, and we will witness the birth of a violent breeding ground for Shiite terrorists posing a far greater threat to Americans than a contained Saddam.

Worth forwarding along to conservative pals and relatives. While you're at it, send along Jimmy Carter's clear-eyed explanation of the need to get U.S. troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, too. [first link via the ever-earnest Truthout] [link]

*****

9.27.04 - Surprising, yet predictable. That's the only way to describe the news that vehemently anti-gay Republican Alan Keyes - currently running against Barack Obama for an Illinois Senate seat - has an openly lesbian daughter (that's her getting hugged above). Modern Vertebrate alerted the political world yesterday to Maya Keyes' very queer weblog, and was quickly followed up by a series of fascinating posts from Chillinois, Archpundit and Daily Kos. Seems that Maya - seen here on the campaign trail in rainbow bracelet, purse and shoelaces - has been out at her weblog for years (as has her activist girlfriend), posting about her friends (like this one, who hasn't let his own homosexuality stop him from supporting "Dr. Keyes"), her school and, interestingly enough, her dinner-table arguments with her parents over their absurdly homophobic political positions. Coincidentally, most of Maya's blog disappeared today, but the March 3rd post Archpundit links is worth quoting at length:

I remembered pieces of some of my (numerous) conversation/arguments with my parents on the subject of homosexuality. My father, in the middle of explaining why queers are all intrinsically awful people, no matter how lovely they may seem… in the end his argument came down to basically, It’s inherently selfish to be queer because no matter if we say we’re in love it’s only for selfish reasons (read: we just want to hump like bunnies and don’t really care about anything else but physical pleasure) because we don’t have CHILDREN like the beautiful selfless heterosexuals. Ergo, queers live only for self-gratification and no matter what else goes on in their lives, ultimately (consciously or subconsciously) our entire existence is directed towards the purpose of self-seeking pleasure; queers are not capable of anything but selfish actions whether we know it or not.

Sharp kid, eh?

Now before all you straight journalists out there start whining that this isn't relevant in any way to media coverage of Keyes' run, I'd like to remind you that this is the same Alan Keyes who publicly ripped into Vice President Cheney's daughter Mary last month for being a "selfish hedonist," apparently using the same arguments he'd tested at the dinner table on his own gay kid:

When asked about his remarks on another syndicated show Keyes was not in the mood for moderating his comments. "If my daughter were a lesbian, I would tell her she was committing a sin and should pray about it," he said.

The interviewer then said: "I don't think Dick Cheney would like to hear that about his daughter." To which Keyes shot back: "Dick Cheney may or many not like to hear the truth, but it can be spoken."

Well, that sure settles any lingering doubts about the appropriateness of media discussion of Maya Keyes, doesn't it? Anyone who doubts that Keyes' own conflicted family situation is playing a role in the aggressive homophobia he showed at the Republican convention really has zero clue about what life is like for gay kids in families. You might want to read up on a subject "where the personal is inextricably - and dramatically - bound up in the political." Yes, it's a sensitive issue, but since when is it a journalist's job to avoid those? And, come on, Keyes' hypocrisy here takes the cake. From the 365Gay.com story:

In another interview Keyes said that: "I have said that if you are actively engaging in homosexual relations, those relations are about selfish hedonism. If my daughter were a lesbian, I'd look at her and say, `That is a relationship that is based on selfish hedonism.' I would also tell my daughter that it's a sin, and she needs to pray to the Lord God to help her to deal with that sin."

Notice the obvious fudge Keyes is using with that "If my daughter were a lesbian, I would..." construction. What the world is now learning is that Keyes not only does have a lesbian daughter, but has known about it for a long time. On what planet is it not newsworthy to point out the blatant hypocrisy of a political candidate personally attacking someone else's daughter by name while hiding the fact that his own daughter is "guilty" of the exact same offense? If that's not a deliberate lie of omission, then what is? And yet, as you check the comments in today's Daily Kos thread about Maya, be sure to note how many supposedly liberal people run screaming from discussion of the open homosexuality of a political candidate's child. I like most the folks outraged at the very idea that this is relevant; they're a wonderfully clear example of the mainstream's continued squeamishness when it comes to even the most basic issues of honesty in gay life.

Sure will be interesting to see how long it takes for a mainstream journalist to start asking Keyes why he felt he could avoid this issue in his own family while viciously lashing out at someone else's. Even more interesting will be the day straight editors and journalists start taking the politics of gay identity seriously, and stop insulting out queer citizens by fleeing in horror at the intersection where the battle for homosexual equality meets the lives of the candidates themselves. [link]

*****

9.27.04 - "Anybody but Nader," says sci-fi author and anarchist Ursula K. Le Guin, according to this cute report at Electrolite. Here's a rich interview with Le Guin and her personal site. Meanwhile, via Altercation, lefty novelist E.L. Doctorow has some very pointed observations about our happy-go-lucky Prez's grasp of the basics:

I fault this president for not knowing what death is. He does not suffer the death of our 21-year-olds who wanted to be what they could be. On the eve of D-Day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die. He knew what death was. Even in a justifiable war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war of survival, the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear.

But this president does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man.

He does not mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personal responsibility for the 1,000 dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be.

The piece is especially eloquent towards the end:

But there is one more terribly sad thing about all of this. I remember the millions of people here and around the world who marched against the war. It was extraordinary, that spontaneous aroused oversoul of alarm and protest that transcended national borders. Why did it happen? After all, this was not the only war anyone had ever seen coming. There are little wars all over he world most of the time.

But the cry of protest was the appalled understanding of millions of people that America was ceding its role as the last best hope of mankind. It was their perception that the classic archetype of democracy was morphing into a rogue nation. The greatest democratic republic in history was turning its back on the future, using its extraordinary power and standing not to advance the ideal of a concordance of civilizations but to endorse the kind of tribal combat that originated with the Neanderthals, a people, now extinct, who could imagine ensuring their survival by no other means than pre-emptive war.

"Pre-emptive war." An astonishingly Neanderthal concept, which just so happens to have recently won the support of most of the nation's newspaper editors. Yeesh. [link]

*****

9.26.04 - So, when a friend hands you a book by a sexually abused hustler son of a drug-addict prostitute with the words, "You really have to read this," that's a good thing, right?

Yeah, I think so, too. Even if the book, which in this case was JT Leroy's harrowing semi-autobiography The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, took me places way more disturbed than the ones I usually visit. Raised alternately by an abusive hooker and bizarrely fundamentalist grandparents, Leroy has a shockingly unique and honest perspective on sexuality, gender and childhood - one that's gotten him/her a large cult following since his first book was published in 2000. After reading this detailed Village Voice article, I think the cult is pretty much deserved.

Despite having limited tolerance for bloody climaxes in my fiction.

If you want more, there's tons of fascinating stuff about JT linked at this site, including a very cynical take on the author's appeal to the celebrity class:

LeRoy is perfect brain candy for the New York literary world, a crowd always on the lookout for the next big thing in books, and Wednesday’s event was full of the city’s fashionably hip and woefully well-read – tall, gaunt young men in Converse All-Stars and suit jackets, young women in clunky sunglasses and tams.

LeRoy, whose thinly autobiographical work centers almost exclusively on truck-stop lowlifes and his career as a male prostitute and junky, speaks to the marginalized, but he obviously also speaks to those not-so-marginalized who see the fashion potential in sitting just outside the campfire. LeRoy is the mirror image of the New York hipster’s aspiration: the lost soul done good, when so many in the audience, in pricey vintage t-shirts, seemed to want nothing more than to shed the trappings of middle-class life. More than a few in the audience spoke of him with a sort of rapt awe usually accorded NBA stars and minor deities.

That said, the writer goes on to call Leroy's fiction "quite good," which may help explain why two of Leroy's books have already morphed into movies. The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things caused a bit of a stir at Cannes this year (directed by Asia Argento, daughter of classic Italian horror master Dario), and a film version of Sarah is on the way from Gus Van Sandt, who worked with Leroy on his last film, Elephant.

Anyway, the book was great and I'll never be the same, so thanks, Susan, for turning me on to it. But we're now even for that time I made you sit through The War Zone, a similarly awful/brilliant art experience. [link]

*****

9.26.04 - Just how many ways can the Kerry/Edwards campaign screw up? Take a look, for instance, at Kerry's decision in August to stop talking spontaneously to reporters who travel with him, after his off-the-cuff (and clearly idiotic) response to a reporter's question about whether Kerry would've voted to authorize an invasion of Iraq even if he'd known U.S. forces would not find any weapons of mass destruction. The fallout from that one apparently scared Kerry so much he began a month-long retreat from reporters.

Bad move. John Hanchett explains why, with a few historical examples. Hanchett's suggestion that Jimmy Carter might have turned around the 1980 presidential race by creating "late buzz" with reporters the day before the election is a bit ridiculous, but there's no arguing with this:

The problem with shutting off reportorial access to so-called "spontaneous" moments of give and take is that it indicates to veteran journalists a loss of confidence on the part of the candidate, be he incumbent or challenger. It portends a possible smell of death in the campaign, a bow to the political grim reaper. At least reporters often interpret it that way.

Annoying a press crew that's following you around on a daily basis can hardly be considered smart strategy, particularly since the egos of mainstream political journalists are notoriously easy to manage, as Jonathan Yardley reminded us in a recent appreciation of Timothy Crouse's marvelous 1973 book about the McGovern/Nixon campaign, "The Boys on the Bus":

At a precociously early age, Crouse understood some essential but little-known truths about journalists and journalism: that journalists are deathly afraid of being "wrong" and thus tend to stay within parameters set by the pack; that journalists want "to be on the Winner's Bus" because "a campaign reporter's career is linked to the fortunes of his candidate" and they don't "like to dwell on signs that their Winner [is] losing, any more than a soup manufacturer likes to admit that there is botulism in the vichyssoise"; that "journalism is probably the slowest-moving, most tradition-bound profession in America," refusing "to budge until it is shoved into the future by some irresistible external force."

"If there was a consensus," he writes, "it was simply because all the national political reporters lived in Washington, saw the same people, used the same sources, belonged to the same background groups, and swore by the same omens...

Crouse is especially tough on the White House press corps, "a strange mixture of professional witnesses, decree-promulgators, cheerleaders, hard-diggers, goldbricks and gadflies." He quotes Russell Baker, who served time there, as calling it an "airless kind of work" because "the White House was like a Stuart court, Baker thought, and all the correspondents lingered like courtiers in the antechambers." The White House is the ultimate Winner's Bus, with predictable consequences:

"Some reporters thrived in this suffocating palace atmosphere. They began to think of themselves as part of the White House, and they proudly identified themselves as being 'from the White House press' instead of mentioning the paper they worked for. They forgot that they were handout artists and convinced themselves that they were somehow associates of a man who was shaping epochal events. . . . The faces of these men [in old photos on the pressroom wall] were infused with a funny expression, a pathetic aura of pride, a sense that they were taking part in the colossal moments of history...

The pompous celebrity obsession of mainstream journalists has only gotten worse since the 70s. I laughed out loud today after stumbling onto a rerun of the self-congratulatory lovefest known as the News and Documentary Emmy Awards, watching the apparently adorable Brian Williams point out Tom Brokaw's mother before introducing the NBC anchor. Of course, Brokaw, who once described his performance on Election Night 2000 with the words, "It wasn't egg on our faces. We were draped in omelette," was getting a Lifetime Achievement Award. Isn't that wonderful? Hell, the president of the National Television Association actually praised "excellent reporting on all the major news stories of 2003" in the official announcement of this year's nominees. No fundamental problems associated with bottom-line corporate journalism here, no ma'am.

That Kerry couldn't be bothered to manage egos like these, preferring instead to flee from spontaneous questions, doesn't speak very well for his ability to campaign in the home stretch. Of course, a candidate who was actually, you know, confident in the rightness of his or her positions would probably feel less of a need to avoid spontaneous talks with reporters. Too bad we don't have one of those running for president. [link]

*****

9.13.04 - Eight inspiring sites I found via Nice Guy Syndrome, Raleigh poet Tim Botta's weblog:

Paintings and Drawings of e.e. cummings
The History of Robots in the Victorian Era
Mathematical Poetry - A Small Anthology
Walt Whitman's cardboard butterfly
The Carrboro Poetry Festival
Pictures of Music, exploring graphical music notation - "non-traditional musical symbols arranged in a visual design rather than conventional musical syntax"
Here Comes Everybody
The Naropa Audio Archive Project, including recordings of lectures by Ginsberg, Burroughs and lots of other fascinating folks

Tim teaches English at Wake Tech and is a regular at the bookstore, where he's turned me on to Mark Doty and my current favorite poet, Billy Collins, among other things. He's also begun a weekly Wednesday poetry reading at the Company Store on Glenwood Avenue, where someday I just might read that poem about chocolate and terror I wrote for myself when Saddam was captured in a rat hole by US soldiers. Anyway, Tim and I recently challenged each other to post at least one meaty bit of information at our weblogs each day, on average, during the month of September, so feel free to blame him for my recent blogging surge. And start thinking about what you're going to do for me when I fulfill my part of the deal. [link]

*****

9.12.04 - Via Ed Cone (of the famous Greensboro Cones, as a far-too-curious monkey learned at that conference in the Weatherspoon's Cone Building), comes a pointer to Micah Sifry's Iraq War Reader, where I found this fantastic post about the train wreck known as the Kerry campaign. Seems a lot of us share the opinion that the Dems are yet again failing to galvanize their base, in this case by completely ignoring a 30,000-strong jobs rally in West Virginia last week. Jesse Jackson wasn't pleased, as Doug Ireland notes in a must-read analysis of Kerry's screwed-up priorities:

Jesse was furious that Kerry had ducked the rally, even though he was campaigning only 30 miles away. Jesse sneered at the inadequacy of the Kerry campaign's much-publicized "shakeup" and its whitebread, retread Clintonista imports, snarling that "it can't be just a vanilla shake." [...]

Jesse's right-on slamming of the top-heavy-with-consultants Kerry operation was echoed by my old friend Hank Sheinkopf - a well-known veteran Democratic campaign consultant himself, Hank worked on the Clinton and Gore campaigns as well as on many races in the South - in a New York Observer diatribe [read that one; it's brilliantly on-point] that flayed the consultant-ocracy now running the party and JFK's downward-slaloming campaign. With wealthy Kerry message czar Bob Shrum obviously among those he had in mind, Hank raged that "what really motivates these never-out-of-work, never-in-pain and never-needy operatives is their next high-paying gig. Winning matters not; nor does losing." [...]

Confirming the Jesse/Sheinkopf diagnosis, and explaining why the new Kerry imports have a tin ear for the electorate's mood, in this morning's Washington Post Jeff Birnbaum - in an article headlined "Lobbyists Take Leave to Advise Kerry Campaign" - discloses that the whole bunch is on the payroll of Corporate America for big bucks. Joel Johnson is the strategist for the asbestos lobby's attempt to screw its victims out of compensation, and a lobbyist for Big Pharma, and his firm partners with another lobby shop headed by Tom DeLay's ex-chief of staff, and shares offices with the GOP firm. Michael Whouley has been the subject of a raft of puff pieces by the political press corps--but how many of them told you that Whouley is on the payroll of General Motors, the insurance industry, and Microsoft to seek special interest loopholes for their benefit? Whouley also partners with a GOP lobby shop that raises a lot of money for the Bush campaign.

Ye gods. That's the crew that's going to help Kerry win in November? Those are the folks I'm supposed to be out there loudly supporting? You've got to be kidding. What do those people stand to lose if Democrats blow the election? Answer: Not a helluva lot. Be sure to get to the part where Ireland discusses Kerry's lobbyist brother Cameron and his strongly pro-Sharon take on Palestinian/Israeli issues, as well as the details about Kerry's big-money connections in Ireland's most recent LA Weekly column. Sheinkopf's Observer piece also nails the mindset of top-level Dems nicely:

...minority party bosses liked being second, sort of. They could keep power in more meaningful and less obvious ways, develop relationships with those in power that were certainly beneficial—meaning they could grab the dough whenever possible—and had no responsibility.

Fast forward to 2004. The Democrats, since 1994, have become an almost permanent minority party. They’ve raised and spent hundreds of millions of dollars, but can’t take back control of either the Senate or the House of Representatives. They have been bested in state reapportionments by Republican pencils drawing the lines, thus losing control of statehouses and state legislatures. And throughout the decade, the power to control decisions about campaign tactics, fund-raising and decision-making have become, for Democrats, centralized in the salons of Washington.

The point here, of course, is not to discourage folks from doing all they can to get Bush out of the White House. Rather, it's to make sure we're all being very clear-eyed about just how the Democratic Party is going wrong, and about why it will continue losing important elections. It couldn't be more clear that the Dems' natural constituency will have to make a serious end-run around this country's Terry McAuliffes, Tom Daschles and John Kerrys if there's ever going to be change in the way America treats its non-millionaire citizens. And the way it operates in the world. [link]

*****

9.11.04 - One of the things I like most about working at Raleigh's oldest and most eccentric used book store - aside from dealing with the smart kids whose parents are regular customers - is the constant, gentle bombardment of information I get as an everyday perk. For instance, did you know that the collapse of the Vatican as a political power was in large part precipitated by its kidnapping of a secretly baptized six-year-old Jewish boy?

In 1858?

I sure didn't, until David Kertzer's book The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara passed through my hands in the store last week:

The Inquisitor's justification for taking the child was based in Church teachings: No Christian child could be raised by Jewish parents. The case of Edgardo Mortara became an international cause célèbre. Although such kidnappings were not uncommon in Jewish communities across Europe, this time the political climate had changed. As news of the family's plight spread to Britain, where the Rothschilds got involved, to France, where it mobilized Napoleon III, and even to America, public opinion turned against the Vatican. Refusing to return the child to his family, Pope Pius IX began to regard the boy as his own child. The fate of this one boy came to symbolize the entire revolutionary campaign of Mazzini and Garibaldi to end the dominance of the Catholic Church and establish a modern, secular Italian state.

It's more than a little astonishing to realize how recently the oppressive, centralized bureaucracy that believes it has a monopoly on Christ's message had tried to get away with crap like kidnapping secretly baptized Jewish kids, and how ignorant it was of the power of Enlightenment developments like, um, a free press, not to mention secular citizens who, thank you very much, didn't feel the need for papal interference in their lives. Wikipedia's article about Mortara's kidnapping nicely captures the furor over such a blatantly outrageous flouting of human decency:

In the Kingdom of Piedmont, the largest independent state in Italy and the centre of the movement for Italian unification, both the government and the press used the case to reinforce their claims that the Papal States were ruled by mediaeval obscurantists and should be liberated from Papal rule...The French Emperor Napoleon III, whose troops garrisoned Rome to protect the Pope against the Italian unificationists, also protested...

The Mortara case served to harden the already prevalent opinion in both Italy and abroad that the rule of the Pope over a large area of central Italy was an anachronism and an affront to human rights in an age of liberalism and rationalism. It helped persuade opinion in both Britain and France to allow Piedmont to go to war with the Papal States in 1859 and annex most of the Pope's territories, leaving him with only the city of Rome. When the French garrison was withdrawn in 1870, Rome too was annexed by the new Kingdom of Italy.

And that was it, folks, for what was left of the Vatican's worldly power. Apparently, no one had informed the Pope that the days in which forged documents could validate papal claims to territory were long over. We still have to keep a wary eye on the Vatican's arrogance, of course, but should thank Edgardo for his role in defining the limits of religious power in the modern world - even if the poor guy did end up a convert who supported beatification of the obviously anti-Semitic jerk who kidnapped him (ugh).

Be sure to read the Wikipedia page to the end; it turns out the story is still very much alive, as some of Edgardo's surviving relatives (like great-great-niece Elena, left) continue their campaign for an apology:

The Mortara case has attracted new attention in recent years because of the campaign to secure canonisation for Pius IX, a campaign driven by Pope John Paul II and his conservative supporters. Jewish groups and others, led by descendants of the Mortara family, protested the Vatican's beatification of Pius in 2000 [more info]. In 1997 David L Kertzer published The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, which brought the case back into public attention. The story became the subject of a play, Edgardo Mine, by Alfred Uhry, and a film version is planned.

Ooh, won't that be fun? And you thought Jewish-Christian tensions were bad over that Mel Gibson thing. Those of us who can only smile and shake our heads at True Believers of all stripes are waiting with bated breath for this particular screechfest, which (since Protestants were among the more vocal Vatican critics at the time [pdf]) just might raise those difficult and divisive issues the mainstream press papered over during the Passion argument.

Anyway, back to the point we started with: I got an education in all this without having read Kertzer's book. I may get to it before someone buys it off the shelves, I may not. But damn if just having the thing move through my fingers hasn't greatly altered my understanding of the world. Multiply that by a factor of 20 or 200 or something, with books on just about every subject, and you get a sense of what it's like working in a good used book store. [link]

*****

9.11.04 -A couple of days short of three years ago, I responded to terrorism by promising myself I'd get trained as an emergency medical technician. Aside from nosing around a little, I still haven't done anything about getting an EMT certification. Just thought I'd blog that for posterity.

And while I'm using the anniversary of the deaths of thousands of innocent people to focus on me-me-me, let's admit my daily life hasn't changed all that much from what it was before The Event. (Wonder if that's true for a lot of other folks.) Yeah, I'm still proud of the work I did locally after the fall of 2001 in print and on TV, attempting to be a voice of reason amid the frightening insanity that was ravaging the country, and yeah, I'm really looking forward to getting the show back up and running, now that Raleigh's close to finishing the switch to digital equipment. But everything I've done seems like such a paltry effort compared to the work that really needs to be accomplished. Somehow, joining Metafilter and sending a couple of boxes of paperbacks to soldiers in Afghanistan doesn't add up to much of a response to the ratcheting up of fuckhead violence we've seen over the last three years.

So far, I've mostly just watched.

Not a pleasant thought to confront. I guess it comes down to this: I'm feeling the need for a better answer to "What are you doing to make the world less bloody?" than the one I'm currently able to give. And, you know, getting certified in basic emergency medical services still looks like a decent place to start. It's a good bet this world's going to be needing more emergency medical services. [link]

*****

9.8.04 - Don't you just love political polls? They crack me up almost as much as those breathless front-page stories about short-term fluctuations in "leading economic indicators," and deserve about as much credence. Isn't it interesting that Time and Newsweek - which stand to gain economically from an exciting presidential race filled with lots of ups and downs - are both trumpeting new polls showing Bush with a big "bounce" and a whopping 11-point lead over Kerry? Newsweek even tries to add a bit of context:

The president’s post-convention bounce was substantial vs. the two-point increase received by Kerry after last month’s Democratic National Convention and in line with the size of other post-convention bounces.

Oops. Not according to Gallup, which reports only a "small convention bounce" and a race staying within 4 points since May, except for a 6-point Kerry lead in early June and Bush's 7-point lead right now. Best of all, Gallup's stab at historical context is in direct opposition to Newsweek's:

Bush's two-point convention bounce is one of the smallest registered in Gallup polling history, along with Hubert Humphrey's two-point bounce following the 1968 Democratic convention, George McGovern's zero-point bounce following the 1972 Democratic convention, and Kerry's "negative bounce" of one point among registered voters earlier this year. Bush's bounce is the smallest an incumbent president has received.

And up and down we go. Zogby issued his opinion in a report titled "It Is Not An 11-Point Race," based on data that shows Bush and Kerry only two points apart (three if you include Nader). Meanwhile, the folks at Rasmussen (left) currently report both candidates tied - yes, I said tied - with 47.3% of the vote. Ay-yi-yi. In fact, Rassmussen's weekly polls have been showing a very close race since Feb. 26, a race in which neither candidate has pulled more than three points ahead of the other. And that includes those supposed post-convention "bounces," thank you.

Does anyone really think these temporary fluctuations mean anything significant? If so, you need to up your Ritalin prescription, because you are way too focused on superficial, jittery fluff whose only purpose is to sell newspapers and magazines. But ok, since you apparently need your fix, try mainlining this theory: The dual no-bounce we've seen this year is a direct result of the idiocy of the traditional political convention in the Age of Infotainment. Most people just don't give a crap about obviously plastic, self-congratulatory political jerk-off fests like the ones we saw this summer, and will continue to see them as the wastes of time they are (hey, at least Surreal Life has moments of real comedy). The days of post-convention bounce are over, folks. At least until we start seeing radically different conventions that avoid the idiocy of massive, centralized gatherings in favor of, oh, live feeds from audiences in venues across the country, connected via communal video and Internet links.

Watch. I've just described the 2008 conventions. Before you go, one more interesting thought, from the lefties over at Truthout:

It should be noted that Rasmussen provided the core data for both the TIME and Newsweek polls. Their independent interpretation of the very same data produced dramatically different conclusions than those reached by TIME and Newsweek.

If true, that's a pretty damning charge. Newsweek says its poll was conducted by "Princeton Survery Research Associates, for the Pew Research Center;" Time says its version was conducted by "Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas (SRBI) Public Affairs," whose Web site claims it "designed the survey and conducted all interviewing." Is there a connection, or is Truthout mistaken? Sure would be interesting to find that survey companies are using "core data" provided by a third party, wouldn't it? Either way, one thing is clear: Anyone who trumpets temporary polling data as if it's hard news should probably get his or her journalistic head examined. [link]

*****

9.7.04 - SaveOurStarlite.org! Check the local effort to rebuild Durham's Starlite Drive-In after its outdoor screen was destroyed by fire on August 22. I watched Starlite movies a handful of times when I lived in Durham, but have loved the drive-in experience since I was a kid falling asleep in the car during an all-night Planet of the Apes marathon (thanks, Dad, wherever you are, I owe you for that one). It's surely a bad sign for a state when the number of its communal outdoor movie theaters declines from over 200 to nine. Or 11. Whatever. It's bad.

Starlite owner Bob Groves told the N&O's Barry Saunders his insurance company refused to cover the screen when he tried to collect after Hurricane Fran a few years back. I'm sure I'm not the only reader who wouldn't mind hearing an insurance rep's response to that one. Whatever the story, the bad news about a lack of insurance has only served to galvanize fans to take matters into their own hands. An apparently very organized group is helping Groves rebuild the "anachronistic entertainment spot and weekend flea market." Er, and gun and porn shop.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

During the summer of 2002, funnily enough, just as Business North Carolina ran a story lamenting "the twilight of a business that once flourished in the South" (number of remaining NC theaters: 8), Atlanta's Creative Loafing was busy hyping a small drive-in revival in Georgia and Alabama, where four new drive-ins had apparently been built. Scroll down for info about the role of Daylight Savings Time in the decline of drive-ins in the South, among other tidbits. You might also find this intriguing:

In the South, the drive-in seemed to be more welcoming to black audiences than indoor theaters, says Sanders, whose research has turned up only one segregated drive-in, in North Carolina, with a fence dividing two sides of a parking lot. In Texas, a white businessman did well with a theater he promoted as "Dallas' finest entertainment for colored people."

Three cheers for the democratizing effect of drive-ins, eh? [link]

*****

9.6.04 - Hussein Ibish, Washington correspondent for the Lebanon Daily Star, has a great piece, "The political suicide of John Kerry," that'll help you realize the importance of the Vietnam vet's hilariously awful blundering on Iraq. "Compared to Kerry's own strategic miscalculations," Ibish notes, "the Republicans have been a minor problem for the Democratic candidate." He then points out precisely where Kerry has gone so terribly wrong on an issue that should have been yet another freebie for the Democrats:

What really occurred during August that decisively shifted the momentum in favor of the president was Kerry's own unfathomable decision to cede to Bush the major issue on which this campaign, and the incumbent's record, will be judged: the war in Iraq.

Before August, Bush was incredibly vulnerable on Iraq. A majority of Americans considers the war to have been a mistake, resistance to the occupation is intensifying, and virtually everybody concedes that the two reasons the administration gave for the invasion - Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and the supposed alliance between the regime of Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda - were based entirely on deception, or were illusory.

Kerry's vote in favor of a preemptive invasion didn't have to be such a colossal liability. There was an obvious solution, one any smart observer on the left could see. We've been waiting for months for Kerry to start saying something like this:

Kerry should have spent August repeating: "Mr. Bush, I voted for that resolution on the basis of what you and your subordinates were telling the Congress and the country. We now know that the information you gave us was false. Mr. Bush, if you knew it was false, you deliberately deceived us all. If you did not know, then you and your team are incompetent in the extreme, and you must go before you blunder your way into further disastrous and unnecessary conflicts. Mr. Bush, you are either a liar or a fool, and thousands of people have died as a consequence."

"A liar or a fool." A simple enough message for the soundbite circuit, don't you think? So why the hell hasn't Kerry been hammering it home? Well, he's been busy following other advice, you see. For some bizarre reason, John Kerry is following the exact same advice that lost the Democrats the Senate in 2002:

Kerry, instead of mounting this kind of vigorous offensive on the blundering in Iraq, made the fateful error of, in effect, conceding the issue entirely. On numerous occasions in August, the Democratic candidate confessed that if he knew then what he knows now, he would still have voted for the war authorization resolution. However, the coup de grace was delivered by Kerry's unqualified foreign policy spokesman James Rubin, who told the press that the candidate would have "in all probability" invaded Iraq himself. Rubin later clarified that he "never should have said the phrase 'in all probability.'"

The Kerry team has become completely entangled in its gnarled inconsistencies on Iraq, like a bull trapped in razor wire - every effort to extricate itself has only trapped it more tightly while opening fresh wounds. Unable to successfully engage Bush on the major issue of the campaign, Kerry is now going to try to shift the debate away from national security issues to a domestic agenda under the rubric: "A stronger America begins at home."

Relying on those opinion polls showing Americans are most concerned about economic issues, the Democrats have decided not to put up a serious fight over Iraq, but to try to make the election about jobs. This is cowardly, unprincipled and an almost certain recipe for defeat.

You can say that again. Conceding the invasion of Iraq to the Republicans and trying to win solely on domestic issues is exactly what McAuliffe and company tried last time, losing hugely in the process. But here they are, just two years later, apparently none the wiser after that week or two of soul-searching they say they did back in November '02, using the exact same losing strategy for the most important election imaginable. Yeah, sure, Kerry's back on the attack, but Bush's camp is easily parrying a message that's far too little and way too late. This is completely insane politics, folks. It's almost enough to make you believe there are high-level Republican operatives controlling the Democratic party. Wonder what they have on McAuliffe and Daschle.

Every lefty in the country should be paying close attention as the Dems drive themselves off a cliff. Again. And every lefty ought to be doing everything he or she can to get Ralph Nader the hell out of this race as soon as possible. The last thing centrist DNC leaders who've lost complete touch with the American electorate need is a handy excuse for their own fucking incompetence. Nader's presence in November will only make it more difficult for left-leaning voters to take back control of their party. We need a crystal-clear view as the right wing of the Democratic Party goes down in spectacular flames.

All by itself.

[link]

*****

9.3.04 - Psst. I changed the link in the kitty picture at the top of the home page. Why the heck didn't any of you tell me it was screwed up? It's all your fault. Anyway, I can't vouch for the comments in the Plastic thread kitty now points to (I haven't participated at Plastic in ages and the quality of discussion might have dropped precipitously from its, er, previous heights), but the summaries of Chechnyan history in the original post are a great place to get yourself up to speed.

Why is it exactly that yet another country has seen a minority group with legitimate grievances ally itself with vicious Islamist motherfuckers? And why have bosses from the former Soviet Union been so aggressively bent on denying the Chechnyans their independence from Russia? Well, you just rest assured the answer has nothing at all to do with natural resources. As Donald and Dick constantly remind us, human wars are never, ever fought over natural resources. [link]

*****

9.3.04 - So I come home from work about 9 o'clock last night to find my roommates Dave and Alan watching the Manufacturing Consent DVD. I arrived just at the point where Chomsky links the modern media machine back to Walter Lippman's famously elitist 1920s view about the need for an enlightened intellectual class to massage and stroke public opinion through strong, simple emotional appeals and a large heaping of "necessary illusions." I laughed as I dropped the six-pack off in the kitchen and came back for more. It was a perfect preview for the President's speech.

I wanted to learn more about Lippman, naturally, since he's yet another massively important figure who slipped through the cracks of my terribly spotty American education, so a Googlin' we did go. I like parts of this 1980 Foreign Affairs review that calls Lippman "America's, and perhaps the world's, most influential journalist":

That this should be so, when he changed his views so radically and so often, and indeed when he was so often wrong, is at first puzzling. But there were good reasons for it. His style, for one thing...a forceful rhetoric that at best was both simple and magisterial. His concerns were elevated above political gossip; his focus was long and clear in almost everything he wrote, from his muckracking days as a young New Republic editor to his profoundly conservative middle years. Though he often came about 180 degrees within a few months, he was seldom ambivalent at any moment, and his limpid, reasonable prose gave his readers an impression of assurance and profundity.

He was influential as well because he developed with the nation's politicians a symbiotic relationship that enabled him to write about their policies with a degree of prescience, since in some instances he helped form them...And though Lippmann in later life warned his fellow journalists to beware of growing too close to politicians, he was himself not only susceptible to the attractions of power and ambitious to share in its use, but rightly considered himself one of the elite.

Here's the bit that resonates most with Chomsky fans:

He was, in his youth, a socialist. Later, he found in scientific "disinterestedness" the key to sound government. Having once apotheosized the masses, he came to believe that democratic man was totally incapable of understanding the complex world about him, and should, for his own good, give over to experts the management of public affairs.

Well, that sure puts the absurd carnivals known as political conventions in a different light. Matt, Stef and Rob came over to watch Our Leader, too, and we all had a fun time lobbing sarcastic, abusive and scatalogical asides at the television (it's the only way to watch these things, you know). It was so transparent it was awful, a wretchedly earnest collection of empty promises and meaningless phrases ("American opportunity zones" to help poor people? You can already hear next year's update - "why, all of America is an opportunity zone!") designed solely to stoke the fires that keep those necessary illusions burning bright, while the elitists behind the scenes take care of actually running things. Nothing to see here, citizen, move along to the next channel, please.

Chomsky's spot-on description of the essentially undemocratic nature of the Lippman-esque model of governance can be terribly stark and frightening, but don't despair. It's easy to beat hopelessness when the spectacle of control is so goddamn fucking funny. Nothing dispels fear so nicely as the belly laugh that comes from a close look at the smug jerks who believe their place is above the rest of the population. And yes, that would include Chris Matthews and Zell Miller both.

Anyway, I left the room when it became clear that Bush had promised everything but free handjobs for senior citizens, and was likely to get to that shortly. Before we leave the idiocy of staged political conventions behind for good (does anyone really think we'll see this kind of thing again in 2008?), be sure to read Atlanta's Creative Loafing on local boy Zell's history of zig-zagging on everything from abortion to the evils of Republicans "born rich and handsome and lucky." There's also lots of good stuff mixed among the groaners in this excerpt from Zell's 2003 book, including some pointed digs at Gore/Lieberman's absolutely horrible 2000 campaign (soon to be matched by Kerry/Edwards' horrible 2004 campaign). Hey, even elites sometimes manage to get a few things right. [link]

*****

9.2.04 - Via Atrios, who's happily gloating over Zell Miller's absurdly furious performance at the convention last night, comes a link to an Eric Alterman piece dissecting PBS' recent turn toward the screeching, screaming right. Alterman notes a few episodes where nice-boy simulacrum/new PBS star Tucker Carlson has gone over the line, but saves his best shots for the mavens who are about to put the odious Wall Street Journal editorial board on public television. PBS' blurb for the show, premiering Friday, Sept. 17 at 10:30pm, calls the Journal "one of the most respected and authoritative news sources in America," which is an undoubtedly true characterization if you look at the paper's extremely solid - hell, often amazingly good - reporting. I usually love reading the WSJ; it's by far the most consistently fair national newspaper. But, as Alterman points out, it's not the paper's reporting that's going to be on display. That honor goes to the paper's editorialists, who happen to be a national joke:

In a lengthy examination in the Columbia Journalism Review, Trudy Lieberman found six dozen examples of disputed Journal editorials and op-eds. She discovered that "on subjects ranging from lawyers, judges, and product liability suits to campus and social issues, a strong America, and of course, economics, we found a consistent pattern of incorrect facts, ignored or incomplete facts, missing facts, uncorroborated facts." In many of these cases, the editors refused to print a correction, preferring to allow the aggrieved party to write a letter to the editor, which would be printed much later, and then let the reader decide whose version appeared more credible. Almost never does the paper correct the record or admit its errors...

Hell, sounds like most newspaper editorial boards to me. When has the N&O board, for instance, admitted that much of the data it used to support the preemptive invasion of Iraq has now been shown to have been incorrect and/or falsified, including that now infamous Colin Powell speech to the U.N. they found so convincing in February 2003? Please tell me I missed the editorial in which our local - and still anonymous - print luminaries took a few moments to rethink their support for the shockingly awful U.S. policy of preemptive invasion. But I digress. Alterman's right to note that the Journal editorial board is notorious for routine distortions and hilariously imperious dictates that turn out to be, er, flat-out wrong. Then he goes in for the kill:

As I wrote in this space when CNBC ran its version of the same show--on a for-profit, conservative cable network, I might add--"To find the same combination of conviction, partisanship and ideological extremism on the far left, a network would need to convene a 'roundtable' featuring Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, Vanessa Redgrave and Fidel Castro." But perhaps what is most offensive about PBS's decision to fund and broadcast Carlson (who already has a show on CNN five evenings a week) and the Journal editors (whose preaching is subsidized and distributed by the Dow Jones Corporation, whose profit last year topped $1.5 billion) is that it is being portrayed by its sponsor, New York's WETA, as "balance" for the program Now With Bill Moyers...When Moyers retires at the end of the year (at which time PBS will reduce the show to a half-hour), his chosen replacement will be David Brancaccio, a reporter who comes from that hotbed of anticapitalist agitation, NPR's Marketplace.

Yeesh. Sure would be interesting to compare the time slot PBS affiliates across the country give the new show with the time slot they've given Now with Bill Moyers. Here in NC, the most consistently fair journalism on television airs Sunday afternoons at 2pm, which was explained to us as a good thing, since serious television viewers are more likely to find it there. I'm [cough] sure we can assume that rationale will hold for Journal Editorial Report. Lefty media observers can only sigh as they reach for the phone to complain (and please do reach for the phone to complain). And stop donating to PBS, of course, until they stop supporting death-ray television. [link]

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

*****


John Hood takes a turn among the bloggers in Greensboro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very sincerely yours,
Julia McWilliams Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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