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Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Politics: Courting the gay conservative voter
I don't regularly read David Brooks' column in the New York Times. However, this week I gave it a close read after a conservative praised it as showing compassion for gay people by saying marriage of homosexuals should be legal.
I wrote an early blog entry, now likely lost to Blogger's perverse crimes against archives, about the differences between people of color and gay Americans politically. I believe that gays could become for the Republican Party what African-Americans and Hispanics have become for the Democrats - almost certain votes. If any one factor can be said to be preventing that from happening, it may well be the failure of the Right to support societal recognition of gay coupling -- both as a legal right and in regard to matrimony.
But, let's go back a bit. Key to my theory is that I believe many, if not most, gay people are conservatives - except for being gay. Why? Because the gay population is mainly white, male, educated and affluent, major characteristics of Republicans, not Democrats. Furthermore, since a minority of gay people opt to have families, the interest in social programs that binds liberals often does not resonate in their lives. A DINC (double income, no children) lifestyle is typical. People in that demographic are more likely to be interested in tax cuts than educational subsidies.
Brooks does not rely on such reasoning to reach his decision that gays should be allowed to marry. Instead he focuses on the rectitude of the institution.
Anybody who has several sexual partners in a year is committing spiritual suicide. He or she is ripping the veil from all that is private and delicate in oneself, and pulverizing it in an assembly line of selfish sensations.
But marriage is the opposite. Marriage joins two people in a sacred bond. It demands that they make an exclusive commitment to each other and thereby takes two discrete individuals and turns them into kin.
Few of us work as hard at the vocation of marriage as we should. But marriage makes us better than we deserve to be. Even in the chores of daily life, married couples find themselves, over the years, coming closer together, fusing into one flesh. Married people who remain committed to each other find that they reorganize and deepen each other's lives. They may eventually come to the point when they can say to each other: "Love you? I am you."
Brooks' believes marriage 'domesticates' people, making them more stable and happier. He asserts this blessed state should include lesbians and gay men who want to marry. The alternative is, according to him, giving in to what he calls the "culture of contingency," in which people decide whether they want to be in monogamous relationships based on the circumstances, not an allegiance to fidelity.
Still, even in this time of crisis, every human being in the United States has the chance to move from the path of contingency to the path of marital fidelity - except homosexuals. Gays and lesbians are banned from marriage and forbidden to enter into this powerful and ennobling institution. A gay or lesbian couple may love each other as deeply as any two people, but when you meet a member of such a couple at a party, he or she then introduces you to a "partner," a word that reeks of contingency.
. . .The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity.
I don't agree with Brooks' description of what marriage is. (It can be different things for different people.) He also doesn't give enough weight to the reality that longterm marriage is becoming less and less common in developed countries. But, I believe he has identified an argument that could 'sell' gay marriage to conservatives. That, in turn, could allow the GOP to open its arms to gay conservatives, instead of continuing its current two-faced strategy of wooing them as conservatives and dissin' them as gays.
If the GOP builds it - a big tent that includes recognition of gay marriage - will they come? All we can do is speculate at present, of course. However, I believe Republicans would make significant strides with gays, especially gay men, if they could get over the gay marriage hurdle. Economic status, or at least perceived economic status, is still the most reliable indicator for political affiliation in the United States.
On other channels
Trish Wilson describes the Supreme Court of Massachusetts' ruling favoring gay marriage. She attended hearings on a gay marriage bill before the Massachusetts legislature and has colorful stories to tell.
Silver Rights considers how the GOP can court the black conservative voter.
Thursday, November 20, 2003
People are saying: Iraq
Victory in Iraq!
Mike Larkin's durruti column salutes the victors.
Iraq: Mission Accomplished
Seven months after the fall of Baghdad, the verdict is in: the U.S. invasion has been a success.
The U.S. hoped to accomplish three goals by invading Iraq: seize strategic control of Iraqi oil, bolster Israeli apartheid, and divert attention from the White House's corrupt economic agenda. By these measures, it's mission accomplished!
Although it's having trouble getting the oil out of the ground, the Pentagon has firm control of this resource. Ariel Sharon's murderous oppression of the Palestinians, including the building of the Apartheid Wall, continues, helped along by generous subsidies from the U.S. And the GOP is busily dismantling popular environmental and health regulations while logjamming any opposition to media consolidation.
Of course, there have been a few losers.
Saddam has temporarily lost the use of his Baghdad headquarters, and will have to wait out the U.S. occupation from his office in Tikrit. Prospects will no doubt brighten for the old thug right after Election Day next year, when the U.S. cuts and runs.
The Iraqi people are suffering from an occupation that manages to be both inept and brutal, and now face years of unspeakable deprivation and violence.
Thousands of American soldiers have been maimed or killed by the invasion. Luckily for the GOP, Republicans don't fight in wars. They simply send lower-income kids to do their dirty work.
Millions of Americans will be doing without adequate health insurance and education to pay for the bloated U.S. military.
Pro-war liberals, big government conservatives, and other suckers who thought the war was about finding WMDs and spreading democracy have been made to look like total fools.
And of course, the pursuit of empire abroad has shredded the Constitution at home and put an end to 200+ years of republican self-government. Oh well!
I for one think these are small prices to pay for our great Iraqi adventure. Congratulations all around to the victors!
Condi: Not a nice girl?
Natalie Davis is being rather blunt. (Is associating with me rubbing off on the civil rights activist at All Facts and Opinions?)
Boondocks Creator Speaks Truth
If you pay someone to go out and shoot someone, you are as guilty of homicide as the person who actually pulls the trigger. That is the truth.
Following that logic, Aaron McGruder, the cartoonist behind the often brilliant strip "Boondocks" was absolutely correct when he called US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice "a murderer" on last weekend's edition of the television show "America's Black Forum."
"I don't like her because she's a murderer," the cartoonist announced.
The charged drew immediate condemnation from Armstrong Williams, who complained, "That is totally out of line to say she's a murderer."
Unfazed, McGruder repeated the accusation, stretching out his words, "S-h-e'-s a m-u-r-d-e-r-e-r."
"Let's put aside the fact that she's affiliated with oil companies that murder people in Nigeria," the cartoonist said. "We can discuss just this illegal Iraq war, the slaughtering of innocent people and the fact that she's one of the big hawks of the administration.
"I don't see where this is even a point of contention," he insisted.
At that point cohost Juan Williams asked [civil-rights leader Julian Bond, also a guest on the program] if he supported McGruder's contention.
"I generally agree with his politics 100 percent and I think he explained himself well," the NAACP chief said.
I wrote about Virginia's triggerman statute in regard to the D.C.-area snipers' trials the other day. By the reasoning underpinning such laws, MaGruder is right. If the person was active in the planning of the act of violence, he or she is responsible for it. Ms. Rice has been proudly active in planning the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.
Knowing the history of cartoonists being outspoken or drawing controversial cartoons, some newspapers may consider dropping "Boondocks" as a result of MaGruder's remarks. Be prepared to defend his right to speak his mind.
Read the rest of Natalie's opinion here.
Letting it all hang out
The Scarlet Pimpernel has an idea about how to get your opinion about the war or other issues out there.
When you put a sign on the freeway people will read it until someone takes it down.
Depending on its size, content and placement it can be seen by hundreds of thousands of people.
The freeway blogger explains how he came to support guerilla activity.
My father once told me the most amazing thing to occur during his lifetime was the mass-suicide at Jonestown in Guyana. Having lived through the depression, World War II and the cold war, this might seem hyperbolic, but I understood what he meant. By "amazing" I think he meant "incomprehensible", and had he lived to see September 11th, 2001 I'm sure he would've changed his mind.
For me, like many of us, September 11th was the most amazing event to occur during my lifetime, but not for long. As the war drums started beating against Iraq I saw an entire nation almost effortlessly transfer the blame for that day from Osama Bin Laden to Saddam Hussein. And that, without a doubt, is the most amazing thing to occur during my lifetime.
It was at this time, during the lead up to the war, that I first started seeing freewayblogs along the Interstate. Some were small, some were large, draped over walls, wired onto fences and hanging from trees, all of them saying the same thing: "Osama Who?" At least there's somebody out there, I thought to myself, who feels the same way I do. As the signs proliferated in numbers and complexity, I started carrying my camera in my car. Little by little I began to realize that this person, or group, through their sheer tenacity, had created an entirely new medium of free speech, using little more than cardboard, paint, duct tape and the freeways. I began to refer to it as "freewayblogging".
The more I thought about it, the more I realized what an invaluable service the freewayblogger was providing. Every day we're subjected to thousands of signs, messages and bits of information: 99% of them generated by corporate media and, not coincidentally, almost all of them lies. The signs I saw posted along the freeway were the only ones being made [by] individuals, and practically the only ones that made any sense. I don't know why it took me so long, but once I realized I could start making my own freewayblogs, the whole experience of driving changed. The commute I'd driven a thousand times came alive with possibilities, like one large unfolding canvass. Once I decided to join the fight, the world became a more interesting place. Or at least the freeways did.
If you have an opinion that's not being addressed by corporate media, and you have access to cardboard, duct tape and a freeway, consider freewayblogging. Unlike everyone else in the media, you can say, literally, Anything You Want.
Nobody's going to fire you.
See some freeway blogging at the Scarlet Pimpernel's site.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Reflections of a reasonable vegetarian
Brian Flemming, who can always be relied on to have something intriguing on his mind, is wondering about the animal rights movement.
Imagine a Martian is given an assignment by his superiors: Go over to Earth, study the humans there, and determine how they feel about the other animals on their planet. My guess is the first lines of the resulting report would read as follows: "The humans on Earth revere the non-human animals. Also they despise them. Also they have no feelings at all about them. At any given moment the humans will passionately rally to save the life of an animal, and in the next moment will slaughter another one without mercy. They will find unremarkable a lifetime of human-imposed suffering by a million members of one species, while finding the nature-imposed suffering of a single member of another species to be a tragedy worthy of heroic measures. The only near-guarantees of survival for an individual animal on Earth are to be of a species deemed 'cute' in that particular geographic region or to fall into a novel predicament and receive media coverage."
A news story is the impetus for Brian's musing. An alligator was recently captured by officials of the U.S. Postal Service. Someone had tried to ship it and it gnawed its way through the carton.
The alligator will remain at a shelter for a week before being shipped to a northern Illinois sanctuary, said Len Selkurt, executive director of the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control. The sanctuary owner will then take it to Florida, he said. Alligators longer than 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) are not allowed to be sent through the mail, and officials said the shipment from Milwaukee to Colorado was under review.
Brian has a suggestion: "Kill the alligator." He points out that doing so would save money, time and hassle. Furthermore, being killed is the fate of many an alligator, so why spare this one? I'm inclined to agree with Brian, though his suggestion may be tongue-in-cheek. If no one wants the alligator or it isn't eligible for pet status, euthanize it.
Why are you gasping? Let me guess. You saw the word 'vegetarian' in the headline and thought, 'she's a softy when it comes to animals.' Not so. I'm middle-of-the-road in regard to animal rights. I definitely stop short of considering animals equal to humans.
Brian is puzzled by the dichotomous attitude most Americans have toward animals. There is the touchy-feely anthropomorphization common in childrens' stories and the cards sold at chain card shops. Then there is the reality of the diet of most Americans -- replete with the same animals. Talking about irony.
I've been a semi-vegetarian since college. Not a lacto. Not a vegan. A reasonable vegetarian. I don't eat poultry or red meat. Fish and seafood are fine, except for mussels, which I'm allergic to. I don't have a rationale to offer for my vegetarianism. All I can do is tell you my story.
I ate meat as a child. In fact, growing up partly in the rural South, I observed animals going from chickens and pigs to drumsticks and ribs. My mother and aunts killed chickens by chopping their heads off. My father and uncles would shoot a hog, hang up it up to drain the blood and then butcher it. You are expecting me to say that grossed me out. It didn't. Like most humans throughout history, I was not particularly concerned with how the pork roast got on the table as long as it got on the table.
I was influenced somewhat by the anti-meat movement in college. Apparently, I examined whether I really wanted to eat meat. I decided I didn't. But, don't congratulate me, yet. The decision likely had to do with the fact most of my favorite foods were not meat. I actually like vegetables. Legumes? Potatoes? Greens? Bring'em on. I didn't mind passing up beef ribs, pork sausage or chicken wings. Pork chops are another story -- I miss them to this day. On the other hand, I refused to eat chitterlings from the get-go because they stink.
I haven't backslid. No red meat, pork or poultry has passed my lips in years. But, my conversion to vegetarianism was and remains incomplete, including philosophically. I don't agree with much of what is written about grazing ruining the environment. Corporate farming of grains and vegetables is probably equally harmful. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals often embarrasses itself in my opinion. There is something perverse about ignoring human suffering while focusing on the tribulations of farmed minks. Here in Portland, a hospital is picketed several times a year. People from PETA parade around the complex beating drums and chanting a female researcher's name. They castigate her as something akin to a war criminal. Her crime: She is performing research on paralysis using four domestic cats. Though I think it should be humane, I am not opposed to the slaughter of animals for food. After all, carnivores and omnivores behave the same way in the wild.
My failure to conform to what is expected of vegetarians includes not swearing off non-food uses of animal products. I have a Eddie Bauer Stine jacket and a leather office chair. No qualms strike when I am buying leather shoes or a new purse, except about the cost.
I consider myself a reasonable vegetarian because I believe I have reached a balance. I'm in no danger of depriving myself of needed nutrients by being an anti-meat extremist. Nor do I hold eating meat against other people. If someone decides to join me in vegetarianism, fine. If another person wants to pig out on beef spare ribs dripping with a chorizo-based sauce, that's fine, too. I'm willing to leave the choice up to the individual.
Brian goes on to say, in regard to the reptilian reprobate,
There is only one way that all of this effort could make logical sense to me: If every decision maker involved is a vegetarian. Going on the (probably safe) assumption that these decision makers (and those who agree that saving the alligator is the right thing to do) are not vegetarians, how to make sense of it? For example, in order to solve the minor problem of their own hunger tonight, these alligator-savers will likely elect to have, say, a chicken killed, when obviously they could have sated their hunger without killing any animals at all, if they truly believe that one shouldn't kill an animal to solve a problem.
As I said before, I don't have a problem with the star of this drama being offed at all. See you later, alligator. I am a reasonable vegetarian.
Note: Brian delves deeper into the issue of animal rights. He is looking for a philosophy that negates PETA's: "Animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation." Read his entire entry here.
Monday, November 17, 2003
Law: But is it terrorism?
I have no reservations about the prosecution of Washington, D.C.-area sniper suspects John Muhammad and Lee Malvo in general. There is compelling evidence they committed the murders they are charged with. But, one aspect of the case does perturb me: They are being prosecuted for terrorism under a Virginia law passed after the 9/11 attacks.
The slayings were part of a string of shootings that killed 10 people over a three-week period in October 2002 in the Washington metropolitan area. Prosecutors said the spree was an attempt to extort $10 million from the government.
Both men are charged with two counts of capital murder, one accusing them of taking part in multiple murders, the other alleging the killings were designed to terrorize the population.
Muhammad was convicted Monday.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia (CNN) -- A jury on Monday found John Allen Muhammad guilty of capital murder and three other charges related to a slaying during last year's sniper shooting spree.
The seven-woman, five-man jury also found the Army veteran guilty of committing a murder in an act of terrorism, conspiracy and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. The jury announced its verdict after six hours of deliberations.
The capital murder and terrorism charges carry the death penalty as a possible sentence.
. . .The terrorism charge required the prosecution to show that he was responsible for a murder aimed at intimidating the public or influencing the government.
I don't believe the terrorism law was intended for use in prosecuting this kind of serial killing spree. The law was passed with the intention of preventing someone like Osama bin Laden escaping the death penalty if convicted in the United States because he was not an actual perpetrator of the terroristic acts, the 9/11 plane crashes.
The law makes the killing of an individual during an act of terrorism a capital offense in Virginia. But most important, the new law bypasses the triggerman rule so that anyone involved in the planning of a terror attack (but who did not participate in the attack itself) may also face the death penalty.
The law has not yet been tested in the courts.
David Albo, the Virginia delegate who authored the bill, says the law was passed to close what lawmakers saw as a legal loophole. Had Osama bin Laden been arrested following the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon, he would not have faced the death penalty in Virginia even though he allegedly planned it, paid for it, and ordered it, Mr. Albo says.
The new law broadly defines terrorism to include any act of violence committed with intent to intimidate the civilian population or influence the conduct or activities of government officials through intimidation. There is no requirement that the violence be politically motivated.
. . ."The allegation is that Muhammad was the Osama bin Laden of this. He arranged it, set it up, and ordered the killings," says Albo.
That is the problem. Muhammad and Malvo seem to have been motivated by the older man's rancor toward his ex-wife and society. The demand for $10 million surfaced late in the spree and seems to be an afterthought. There is no evidence of an orchestrated scheme as there is in the facts of the 9/11 terrorism episode. What the situation resembles is other domestic serial killings -- not 9/11.
The terrorism statute may be constitutionally infirm.
. . .the broad language renders the terrorism statute unconstitutionally vague because it lacks the specificity in death-penalty laws required by the US Supreme Court. It was this requirement that led Virginia to develop the triggerman rule in the first place, analysts say.
Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says terrorism occurred, defining it in a general sense.
Well, this crime was unusual in many respects, but it was especially unusual because the whole region was the alleged victim. The charge of terrorism is a charge that says you tried to terrorize an entire community.
I think any of us who were around during that period can testify that it was terrorized, and so I think this was one of the strongest cases for a change of venue I have ever seen. Basically, every possible juror was a victim of the crime. So it had to be moved out of that community. I think the judge made the right decision.
Though I agree with Toobin that a change of venue was justified, I have serious doubts about the applicability of the Virginia terrorism statute to these circumstances.
Friday, November 14, 2003
Do PDAs have a future?
Jeff Kirvin at Writing on Your Palm says: "I've seen several articles recently predicting the death of the PDA. Do PDAs have a future?" I've been asking the same question. I now have the PDA model I've written about wanting, the Palm Tungsten C. However, I am finding myself at a loss in regard to what to do with it. Kirvin has given the issue of 'whither the PDA?' some thought.
Judging by the press handhelds get these days, you'd think the form factor was doomed. Toshiba talks about the failure of their Pocket PCs and how they might stop making them. The Economist reports that handhelds will never be a mass market. Sony, long the standard bearer for PalmOS, lays off thousands. Only HP, Dell and PalmOne seem strong and dedicated to the handheld market. New devices from those three companies are compelling, but are they enough, or has the "Palm Pilot" finally reached the end? According to the Economist article, "everyone who wants a PDA already has one."
As my regular readers know, my day job is managing the Communications and Imaging department at one of the largest CompUSAs in America. I sell MP3 players, cell phones, digital cameras and yes, PDAs. I can tell you from first hand experience that I sell PDAs every day to people that have never owned one. If anything, the existence of inexpensive devices with bright color screens like the iPAQ 1945 and Palm Tungsten E is drawing new users like never before. While it's taking a back seat to the color Tungstens now, I expect the $99 Palm Zire 21 to sell like gangbusters for the holiday shopping season. People that already wanted PDAs might already have them, but there's a constantly growing number of people who are just now figuring out that they want them. While Franklin Covey is refocusing on selling paper planners, I'm selling PDAs to people that are fed up with paper and want a smaller, lighter and lower-maintenance way of dealing with their commitments.
I've owned three personal digital assistants over a five or six-year period. They were a Handspring Visor Prism, a Palm m505 and the current Tungsten C. I used the first two devices often. Part of one of my books and some of my short stories were written on the Prism and m505. I also used them to write rough drafts of reviews. (I like to write my impressions down while they are fresh and a PDA is more convenient to take to a movie or a concert than a laptop.) My m505 fell into disuse as laptops became lighter and I began taking my TiBook with me more often than I had previous notebooks. The advent and availability of WiFi also played a role. My laptop had an Airport card,so it made sense to carry it instead of my PDA, which was not equipped for 802.11b. I could surf the Web using the free access points and the numerous Starbucks' Tmobile sites in Portland in Seattle.
I thought I would switch back to relying on a PDA once I had the right PDA. (I received a Palm Zire 71 as a gift, but it did not fit in with gadgets I already have.) The Tungsten C has the latest version of the Palm operating system, OS 5, built-in WiFi and comes with a voice memo function. It has a full 64MB of memory instead of the former Palm standard 8MB. With the addition of a secure digital memory card the on-board memory can be increased easily.
Alas! I haven't found the Tungsten C the fit I expected it to be. The WiFi connection works fine once one has connected, but is awkward to initiate. One must first access the WiFi program, then open a browser and sign in to the access provider. To synchronize Avantgo, the best of the web services for mobile devices, one must open it after those three steps. That's rather much after getting used to connecting automatically on my laptop. The voice memo, MP3 and movie viewing functions require the purchase of earphones that fit the Tungsten C's odd input port. So far, the only one I've located that works is a one-ear model that won't do for listening to music and watching videos. In addition, a user needs to purchase an MP3 program and a memory card to hold music and movies. Do I even need to say the sound quality is much less than my iPod's?
I am still becoming acquainted with the Tungsten C. Perhaps it will grow on me. I am apt to learn things that will help as I work my way through the huge PDF that is its handbook. But, now, I am wondering if I will stick with the device.
Kirvin believes the PDA's destiny is to become part of the PAN.
An emerging and often overlooked trend in mobile computing is the rise of Personal Area Networks, usually connected via Bluetooth. A PAN is a system of devices usually worn or carried by an individual that work together to share data and be greater than the sum of the parts. A typical PAN today might be a PDA, cell phone, Bluetooth headset and perhaps a Bluetooth GPS.
PDAs have a future as part of a PAN, a handheld control console. For many, the PDA will be the most visible component of a personal area network, the only part you interact with directly. I'd for one love to see the actual phone merge with a Bluetooth headset like the Jabra Freespeak. All the circuitry needed for a GSM cell phone can now be found on a single board the size of a dime. How hard would it be to add that to a self-powered earpiece and microphone that could be voice-activated sans PDA or controlled via Bluetooth from a PDA? More than that, a PDA is the ideal interface to control a Bluetooth-equipped home theater, Windows Media Center, ebook server, etc. A touch screen handheld with a largish (yet pocketable) screen has so many uses that I'm sure the form factor is here to stay.
Kirvin may be right.
Another possible saviour of the PDA market may be convergence between cell phones and digital devices, which I described in a previous column.
However, I believe the PDA manufacturers will have to hold on to experienced users in addition to attracting new people to the devices to succeed. Whether I remain a PDA owner will probably turn on finding legitimate uses for my Palm Tungsten C.
The Apple Store has arrived
An achievement that makes Apple CEO Steve Job's endless promotion of the company appear more than hyberbole has occurred: Apple's own stores are in the black.
Apple posted its highest quarterly income for three years in its September earnings results announced today. Excluding two bonus windfalls, the company turned a profit for the quarter of $29 million on sales of $1.72 billion. Without the charges, it would have recorded $44 million net income.
CFO Fred Anderson said that while CPU sales increased seven per cent year on year, revenue increased 19 per cent, which he largely attributed to peripheral sales. The iPod sold 336,000 units in the quarter, said Anderson, adding $121 million in revenue. Apple's US retail stores are finally in the black: the 63 stores open (on average) in the period added $193 million of revenue.
I checked up on how the brick and mortar Apple Stores are doing after getting good news via email Monday.
Apple Store, Washington Square
10 a.m to 9 p.m., Saturday, November 15
Drop in and help us celebrate the newest store in Portland. The whole day is full of festivities. See how Apple is changing the way people view technology. Check out all the new Apple products, including Mac OS X, version 10.3 -- Panther, the Power Mac G5, the ever-popular iPod, and iTunes?the world's best jukebox software that is now available for Mac and Windows. You can also test-drive the new eMac, our most affordable desktop ever, and the new iBook G4, our fast, affordable portable.
The best place to discover. The perfect place to learn. More than just a place to shop, the Apple Store is the place to learn about and take part in today's digital revolution. Attend hands-on workshops and discover innovative business solutions from a Mac Business Specialist. It's the place to see, feel, and interact with everything Apple has to offer.
Join us on November 15. This is one grand opening you won't want to miss.
Yes! Puddletown is finally getting an Apple Store of its own. It will be the only Apple Store in Oregon.
MacNN has statistical information about Apple Stores, including:
Apple will have 74 retail stores, including the new Tokyo location, by December 31.
This year Apple sold 187,000 computers in its stores, 87,000 of which were to first time Mac buyers.
47 percent of buyers at Apple retail stores were new to the Mac platform.
Store traffic, volume, and sales are steadily increasing, while operating expense is going down.
On average six percent of those who visit a new Apple Store buy something. As a store gets older that percent increases to about 13, meaning people are returning.
I look forward to having a third concrete choice when shopping for Mac products. Currently, we are limited to two convenient options, The Mac Store (formerly The Computer Store) and CompUSA. Neither can be relied on for repairs, especially of laptops. The Apple stores have an average turnaround time of two days for repairs -- less time that it takes for Apple to send a box for its general repair service. My first purchase will likely be new iPod earphones to replace the ones I lost last week.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
Blogospherics: Deadwood blogs mar blogosphere
Kellea at Her Blog brought my renewed attention to the problem of abandoned weblogs. CNN reports.
One study of 3,634 blogs found that two-thirds had not been updated for at least two months and a quarter not since Day One.
"Some would say, 'I'm going to be too busy but I'll get back to it,' but never did," said Jeffrey Henning, chief technology officer with Perseus Development Corp., the research company that did the study. "Most just kind of stopped."
According to Perseus, there are about 4.12 million blogs. Most either don't attract readers or are quickly abandoned.
The most dramatic finding from the survey was that 66.0% of surveyed blogs had not been updated in two months, representing 2.72 million blogs that have been either permanently or temporarily abandoned.
"Apparently the blog-hosting services have made it so easy to create a blog that many tire-kickers feel no commitment to continuing the blog they initiate," said Jeffrey Henning, CTO of Perseus Development Corp. and author of the survey. "In fact, 1.09 million blogs were one-day wonders, with no postings on subsequent days."
The average duration of the remaining 1.63 million abandoned blogs was 126 days (almost four months). A surprising 132,000 blogs were abandoned after being maintained a year or more (the oldest abandoned blog surveyed had been maintained for 923 days).
The study suggests failure to attract readers is a reason why blogs are often abandoned. Another factor is length of blog entries. Bloggers who write short blog entries, like the ones at this site, tend to quit, probably because they lack writing skills and/or are not really interested in writing. The fact that most people who begin blogs are under 30 may also explain why so many cease as promptly as they start. Perhaps other activities become more interesting to them.
Some folks might say abandoned weblogs are victimless infractions. Not so. Surfing to sites that are deadwood, are updated only sporadically or contain woefully inaccurate information wastes the time of readers. And, often, time is money.
Cliff Kurtzman kept his Year2000.com site up for two years past the turnover, with a note acknowledging that the information could be old. But even abandoned sites deserve a burial at some point.
"There was so much on it that was out of date, and links that didn't work and everything," he said. "It looked bad to have things up there with so many things not working or making sense anymore."
Kurtzman, who uses the site now to promote a newsletter on business and innovation, knows the troubles abandoned sites like his can pose. He'll find a site he likes, only to learn later the information is old.
"Having extra junk out there just makes the process of searching for good stuff even harder," Kurtzman said.
I had one of those frustrating experiences Tuesday night. I was writing a blog item about the success of Apple's stores. I decided to cite a blogger who had heard the rumor Portland would be getting one back in January. He has not updated his blog since July, so I assume it is abandoned.
In the blogosphere, I believe abandoned sites harm us because they create the impression that blogging is a flaky avocation practiced by uninformed and unreliable people. That impression makes it less likely people unfamiliar with blogs will read those worthy of their attention. At the very least, a responsible blogger should inform readers and other bloggers when he intends to take a break from blogging or cease publication.
The overinvolvement of teenage girls in blogging has doubtlessly skewed the statistics in some ways. I hope adults are less inconstant. However, based on personal observation, many adult bloggers abandon their blogs at the drop of a mouse, too.
How does this blogger fit into it all? I am an exception to the rule in most ways -- over 30, a linker to a variety sources and a professional writer. Mac-a-ro-nies is nearly nine months old, having lasted twice as long as the majority of blogs. (As some of you know, I was a contributor to other blogs for months before I began my own, so my blogging experience began earlier.) I credit having been around awhile as a blogger to having things to write about. I've worked in interesting fields, read widely and have always been aware of the world around me. I had won national awards as a feature writer and an essayist, so I had reason to be confident about my skills as a writer before beginning blogging.
If I decide to take a hiatus my readers will be the first to know.
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Controversy II: Lynch myth melts down
Atrios and I were the first bloggers to smell something fishy in the reportage about captured Pfc. Jessica Lynch. One reason is that Steno Sue Schmidt was one of the reporters who worked on it. She has a reputation for not questioning her sources closely or judging the credibility of information. We were also skeptical because the story had too many American tropes: amazing heroism by a private in a support role, exceedingly clever American intelligence personnel, the Gunga Dinnish foreigner who puts the U.S. first, blonde woman ravished by swarthy men, etc. However, I did not for a moment expect the narrative to be as false as it apparently is.
Skepticism about the deification of Pfc. Lynch has spread. Rick Bragg's autobiography of Lynch, I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story, which has been heavily promoted, was expected to sell well. Instead, booksellers are describing disappointing first-day traffic.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Despite a media blitz, the biography of America's best-known soldier from the Iraq war, Jessica Lynch, appeared unlikely on Tuesday to translate into big cash as the first day of sales fell short of expectations.
. . .Not a copy had been sold by midday on Tuesday, Veterans Day, at a Barnes & Noble store on Chicago's North Side, said an employee who declined to be identified. The store would not disclose how many of the books sold.
"I've yet to have anyone ask about it," the employee said.
At a Manhattan Barnes & Noble, an employee described interest as "moderate. It certainly has not been exceptional." Another nearby store sold one copy by lunchtime.
On online bookseller Amazon.com, the book ranked 21st in sales, well short of top-selling novel "The Da Vinci Code" and the latest get-slim-quick fad, "The South Beach Diet."
This a problem for Lynch if she is hoping to set aside a significant sum. Bragg may have received the greater part of both the advance and future royalities. For Lynch to profit, sales would likely have to be quite high.
I Am a Soldier, Too has also come under fire for its unsubstantiated claim Pfc. Lynch was sexually assaulted by Iraqis.
Viewership of the NBC television movie that sought to define her as the ultimate American heroine, Saving Jessica Lynch, was also lower than expected. CBS' competing movie about the kidnapping of a Utah teenager fared better. Sweet, of The Somewhat Heroic Adventures of SWEET explains why she decided not to watch NBC's expensive sweeps effort.
Call me a cynic. Call me unpatriotic. But I would not, just could not, bring myself to watch the Jessica Lynch story on TV yesterday.
Maybe it was all the hype. Maybe it was the fact that others in Jessica's unit, who had suffered the same fate or worse, were being totally ignored. Maybe it was the announcer telling me it was the show "All America had been waiting for." Maybe it was that annoyingly commercial sounding patriotic tune they kept playing in the promos. Whatever it was, whenever the trailer came on, I cringed.
I thought maybe it was just me, but then I saw an online poll and it seemed there were quite a few folks who, like me, had had about enough of the excessive marketing of Jessica's and Elizabeth Smart's story. My mother was in town over the weekend and we were sitting on the couch watching TV when another one of those annoying trailers started in on us. The announcer said the show would be airing in one hour. My mother groaned and made reference to the fact that we should remember to switch stations before the hour was up. I indeed was not alone.
Perhaps knowing the definitive story was not definitive reduced interest as the hoi polloi became more aware of the discrepancies newshounds have known about for months.
Millions of Americans sat down last weekend to watch one of the television blockbusters of the year. Saving Jessica Lynch, produced by NBC, opened with a vision of US army headlights crawling warily through the Iraqi desert haze on March 23.
The next two hours, according to network executives, offered the definitive account of what really happened to Private Lynch after the 507th Ordnance Maintenance convoy was famously ambushed.
Few viewers will have taken that promise seriously. After yet another week of conflicting accounts, confused memories and unpleasant revelations, the truth of what happened to Lynch is still as murky as the green-tinged video footage of her rescue from a hospital in Nasiriyah on April 1.
Among the people now uncomfortable with the mythic Lynch are those who created her.
In the corridors of the Bush administration, senior officials frankly admit that they would prefer the Jessica Lynch story simply went away.
"The Private Lynch story is becoming a monster," said one administration official.
. . .The Pentagon may have hyped the story of Private Lynch for its own propaganda purposes: now, with a $US1 million ($A1.4 million) deal for co-operation with an authorised biography, the Lynch family is selling a different story, to the increasing discomfort of much of the American public.
Yesterday's contribution to the meltdown of the myth came from an unsavory, but usually reliable, source -- slimemeister Larry Flynt.
Pornographer Larry Flynt says he bought nude photos of Pfc. Jessica Lynch to publish in Hustler magazine, but changed his mind because she's a "good kid" who became "a pawn for the government."
Flynt told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he bought the photos last month from the men who purportedly participated in the amateur shoot with the Army supply clerk. The soldiers "wanted to let it be known that she's not all apple pie," Flynt said.
"My first intention was to publish them, but I don't think it was the best, positive move I could make," Flynt said in a telephone interview. "She's very much a pawn for the government. They force-fed us a Joan of Arc."
. . .Flynt said the photographs appeared to be taken in an Army barracks, and showed Lynch topless and fully nude, frolicking with the soldiers.
He would not say what he paid for the photographs, which he said he'd lock in a vault.
"Some things are more important than money," he said. "You gotta do the right thing."
What goes up tends to come down -- sometimes with a big splat. However, I believe people other than Pfc. Lynch bear the bulk of the responsibility for this mess. The Pentagon and the Bush administration are responsible for a shameless attempt to wrap an unjustifiable war in the flag, with a blonde female soldier wearing said flag. The Washington Post and other media are responsible for having dutifully echoed the government's ludicrous claims initially. The American public is responsible for largely buying the bullshit it was being sold. Let's hear it for skepticism. It beats being played for a fool.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
Controversy: Iraqi doctors deny Lynch was raped
Chagrined physcians who saved the life of former POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was injured in an automobile accident while her unit was under fire March 23, adamantly deny she was the victim of a sexual assault. The allegation is reported in a biography by Rick Bragg, I am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story.
NASSIRIYA, Iraq, Nov 10 (Reuters) - Iraqi doctors who treated U.S. soldier Jessica Lynch dismissed on Monday allegations made in her biography that she was raped during her capture in Iraq, saying she had the best possible care.
Surgeons who treated Private Lynch after her convoy was attacked near the southern city of Nassiriya in the early days of the U.S.-led invasion in March said they were shocked and hurt by accusations that she was sexually assaulted.
. . ."The records also show that she was a victim of anal sexual assault," the authorized biography said. "The records do not tell whether her captors assaulted her almost lifeless, broken body after she was lifted from the wreckage, or if they assaulted her and then broke her bones into splinters until she was almost dead," the book said.
"Jessi's body armor and her bloody uniform were found in a house near the ambush site, the place that some military intelligence sources said she was taken to be tortured. But Jessi remembers none of this. When she awoke in the military hospital, it was during treatment, not torture. When she came to, the cruelties were over," according to the book.
Medical personnel present when Lynch arrived at the hospital say it isn't so.
Dr Jamal Kadhim Shwail was the first doctor to examine Lynch when she was brought to Nassiriya's military hospital by Iraqi special police. Shwail said Lynch was lying in hospital reception, unconscious and in shock from blood loss.
She was wearing her uniform including a flak jacket, military trousers and boots, none of her clothes had been unbuttoned or removed, as the book claims, he said.
The surgeon who operated on her after her transfer to a better equipped hospital also says he saw no evidence of a rape.
Shortly afterwards Lynch was transferred to Saddam Hospital in Nassiriya, now renamed Nassiriya General.
There, Dr Mahdi Khafazji operated on her fractured right femur. He cleaned her body before surgery and found no signs of sexual assault. "I examined her very carefully," he said at his clinic in Nassiriya's center. "I cleaned her body including her genitalia. She had no sign of raping or sodomizing."
Lynch's wounds were so bad a sexual assault would have killed her, he said. "If she had been raped there is no way she could have survived it. She was fighting for her life, her body was broken. What sort of an animal would even think of that?"
The physicians say they provided Lynch with excellent care and are deeply offended to have their treatment of her misrepresented.
Pfc. Lynch has no memory of having been raped or tortured and has not personally alleged she was abused by the Iraqis.
Bragg, the author of the book, departed the New York Times after it was discovered he had taken credit for material actually reported by a stringer. Bragg won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing while employed by the NYT.
I'm annoyed with Rick Bragg for reporting rumor as if it is fact. The passages cited above are damning. Not only does he say she was raped, he implies her injuries did not come from the awful automobile accident, which she does remember. As a reporter, I know he must know better than to do that. Bragg grew up hardscrabble, as described in his autobiography, All Over But the Shoutin'. He appears to have gotten out of touch with that and developed a bit of an entitlement complex. (His rationalizations for lying about visiting a town and writing a story there at the NYT were equally ridiculous.) I don't know what happened to Jessica Lynch. But, neither does Rick Bragg.
Monday, November 10, 2003
Off the Web
Do stop at Perdido Street Station
Young British speculative fiction writer China Mieville is best known for being a candidate for this year's Hugo Award. He deserves the attention. Perdido Street Station is the kind of novel Zadie Smith would call "baggy" -- nearly 700 pages of material that probes into every nook and cranny of an imagined society.
That society is New Crobuzon, a city that arose centuries ago in the shadow of the remains of a partly-excavated leviathan. Huge bones rise above the city and generate unease among those who fly near them or tamper with them. NC is a semi-realistic version of cities as we know them, including poverty amidst affluence, squalor beside beauty and corruption as a companion to order. The citizens, though, are a departure from realism. In addition to humans, they include khepris -- creatures with the bodies of human females and heads of beetles, wyrmen -- squat birdmen who act as couriers and vodyanoi -- an aquactic people who can survive on land if they have a way to keep wet. There are even more exotic denizens available in smaller numbers.
Into this city that would shock Dr. Moreau comes one of those rare specimens -- a garuda. He is an elegant, intelligent and sophisticated blend of avian and homo sapiens. The species dwells in a desert more than a thousand miles from New Crobuzon, though a relative handful have immigrated to the city. This garuda, Yagharek, is seeking one Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin. He is obsessed with regaining something he has lost. As punishment for an crime back home, his wings have been shorn. The crippled birdman walks awkwardly on feet never meant to carry anyone continually. He masks his deformity with fake wings to give the appearance of a healthy garuda.
Isaac is a renegade scientist who also has an obsession. He is interested in 'crisis energy.' He believes the heightened energy produced during crises can be harnessed and used as a source of power. Isaac, much impressed with the birdman, accepts a commission to try to return him to the sky.
Isaac's friendship with Yagharek is not his only close relationship with a Xenian -- sapient nonhuman species. His girlfriend, Lin, is a khepri artist. But, their relationship is fraught with tension because the interspecies relationship is a source of shame for Isaac. Lin's own new commission, to mold a sculpture of a crime lord, becomes a significant subplot to the story.
The scientist first takes a practical approach to the connundrum of flight. He solicits specimens of flying things so he can study them. Among the panoply of life Isaac acquires is a mysterious multicolored caterpillar. Curious about what the unidentified creature will become, Isaac keeps it after he has moved on to theoretical study of flight. He learns the only substance the caterpillar will eat is a narcotic called 'dreamshit,' which induces waking dreams in humans. Eventually, the caterpillar cocoons.
Meanwhile, Isaac has decided on the solution to Yagharek's problem. He will construct a 'crises engine' that will generate energy to allow the garuda to fly. Of course, the applications of such an invention will be myriad. It is a brilliant scientific achievement.
Isaac's well-laid plan is set aside to deal with an amazing crisis when he arrives back at his workshop after a frolic with Lin. One of his co-tenants has been rendered a human vegetable. He learns from a wyrman messenger who witnessed the assault that a huge winged beast with hypnotic powers attacked his friend and literally sucked his consciousness out of him. Isaac also discovers that whatever was in the cocoon has broken free of its cage and disappeared. Soon, there are other casualties. Before long, New Crobuzon is in thrall to five slake-moths, creatures who dine on the minds of those who dream. Each night is a horror as the moths invade the citizens' subconsciousnesses with nightmares and take new victims.
Partly responsible for the society shattering events, Isaac tries to find a solution to the rampage of the moths. However, he is hampered by opponents, including the government and a crime boss determined to recapture the moths and use them to produce the dreamshit drug. With a diverse band of allies, Isaac will eventually end the reign of terror, but at an appalling price in lives and resources.
Perdido Street Station is a page-turner. Each time a reader believes he has enough to digest for now, he is led on to the next passage or chapter. The description of the plot I have given is barebones. There are many twists and turns. There are also additional protagonists and villians, some of whom are worthy of novels of their own. But, the book is not without imperfections. It would have been better to save some of these characters and material for another novel in my opinion. There is so much going on in this narrative they are in danger of not getting their due. Isaac is a rather wimpy hero. He makes so many mistakes that I felt ambivalent about him at the end of the book. At least half of the carnage could have been prevented if Isaac had acted reasonably or quickly. He becomes the judge of Yagharek, who I consider a more honorable person despite his crime. An unintended irony, I suspect.
China Mieville burst onto the literary scene with his first novel, King Rat. It was one of those performances from a new writer people often don't expect to see a worthy follow-up to. They were wrong. Perdido Street Station won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Fantasy Award. Mieville has confirmed his prodigious ability with his latest award-winning novel, The Scar. I believe there will be equally good books in his, and our, future.
V is for victory
l missed V in its real life iteration, when, apparently, millions of Americans sat transfixed before their television screens watching the science fiction miniseries. However, over the years, sci-fi loving friends have pestered me to watch V, saying writer and director Kenneth Johnson's epic, which debuted in 1983, is a must see. I finally gave in this week, two decades after the series aired. Instead of searching for the unopened DVD that is around here somewhere, I screened the video version. What is my verdict on V? Mixed, but mainly favorable.
The storyline is a precursor for the '90s blockbuster, Independence Day. Large, saucer-shaped dreadnoughts appear above major cities worldwide. Human munitions, as deadly as they are, seem puny when compared to the technical achievements of the aliens. Like the extraterrestrials in ID, these are reptilian. But, they mask their real, threatening identity, claiming to have come in peace. Most people, in keeping with their tendency to be happy to have authority figures tell them what to think, say and do, quickly succumb to the not at all subtle manipulations of their friends from Sirius. The aliens are particularly successful in turning members of the scientific community into bete noires among the citizenry through a campaign of disinformation and disappearances. However, a few Americans begin to notice oddities in the visitors and inquire into their origins and plans.
Foremost among the questioners are a television reporter and a medical student. After sneaking aboard the mothership, Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) discovers the aliens are iguana-like reptiles who snack on live rodents and intend to exploit Earth for their own purposes. Meanwhile, Julie Parrish (Faye Grant), a biochemist doing her residency at a Los Angeles hospital, finds herself ostracized along with other scientists and medical professionals who might expose the visitors if not discredited. Rather than wait to be arrested and brainwashed or murdered, she goes underground and sets out to solve the mystery of who the aliens are and what they want. The two eventually meet, and along with other heroic humans, form the core of the resistance movement. They commandeer weapons from the enemy, carry out guerilla raids and penetrate the security of the alien cadre.
However, the antagonists are equally, if not more, intriguing. Diana (Jane Badler), the striking scientific officer of the invasion force, has masterminded a mind control mechanism to use on humans, a form of cryogenic storage so that people can be transported to Sirius, and, is working on other nefarious schemes. Completely ruthless, she will stop at nothing that might be useful in achieving her goals. The human villains are weak, but also dangerous. Motivated by ambition and greed, both Donovan's lover and mother willingly become pawns of the enemy. A young Jew discovers the sense of power he covets as a member of the visitors' paramilitary youth organization.
By the end of the movie, the invaders are on the way to achieving their objectives of depriving Earth of its water and harvesting a human crop. However, the resistance is well on its way too, as distrust of the visitors spreads. In an exciting ground to air battle, the resisters hold their own against an attack by aliens in high tech aircraft.
The movie shows its age in some ways. Donovan's video camera is huge in comparison to today's gear. (It alone seems enough to tip off the aliens when he is covertly filming them.) And, believe it or not, the only photographs of the aliens are stored on a single tape. The extraterrestrials, though grotesque, will have been upstaged by the creatures in the Alien series and other later movies in your mind. The special effects are also less than enthralling. The dialogue is sometimes laughably hackneyed and the nonwhite characters are embarrassingly stereotypical. However, the shortcomings don?t mar the movie enough to ruin it. A strong plot and vigorous cast make V compelling viewing, despite it being the sci-fi movie equivalent of middle-aged.
The story of V continues in a sequel, V: The Final Battle. Read my review of it here.
I listened to a lot of Elliott Smith during the last two weeks, including my favorite album, XO. I've also revisited one of my favorite artists from the 80s and 90s, Don Henley. I'm pleased with how well his songs have held up.
I'm taking advantage of iTunes new audio book capability by listening to some material from audio sources on my iPod. A review is forthcoming.
Note: Some of the material in this entry appeared at Blogcritics.
Friday, November 07, 2003
Politics: How 'bout those mayors?
There is a tendency for political commentary in the blogosphere to focus on state and national politics. However, local elections can have considerable impact on the citizenry. They can also be quite colorful. There were varied outcomes in this week's mayoral races nationwide.
Mayoral loss leads to fist fight
The most exciting result of a mayoral race may have occurred in Fredericktown, Ohio.
FREDERICKTOWN (AP) -- A losing mayoral candidate has been charged with assaulting the incumbent after he was re-elected, police said.
Mike Wagner showed up at Mayor Roger Reed's home after election results were in Wednesday.
An argument outside became heated, with Wagner throwing punches, police Chief Jerry Day said.
Reed, who had been out picking up his campaign signs, called police when he noticed a vehicle following him, Day said.
"I've been here 25 years and this is the first time that something like this has happened," Day said.
Voters elected Reed by a vote of 438 to 284, according to unofficial results from the Knox County Board of Elections.
Wagner sounds like the kind of he-man blogger Kim du Toit, author of "The Pussification of the Western Male," could relate to.
Liberal against liberal in San Fran
San Francisco's mayoral race didn't end. There will be a run-off between the top vote getters Dec. 9. Both are Democrats and liberals. However, the leader, Gavin Newsom, has broken with liberal orthodoxy in regard to the homeless.
SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- Mayor Willie Brown's hand-picked successor and a Green Party upstart seeking to preserve San Francisco's left-of-liberal identity on Tuesday advanced to a runoff that will determine who becomes the next mayor.
Democrat Gavin Newsom, a city supervisor with a get-tough approach to the city's homeless problem, was the top vote-getter Tuesday, followed by Matt Gonzalez, who is vying to become the Green Party's only mayor of a major U.S. city.
Newsom got 73,635 votes, or 41 percent. Gonzalez had 35,753, or 20 percent, despite entering the race just 13 weeks ago. The runoff next month is necessary because neither candidate got a majority of the vote.
"Round One!" Newsom, 36, said in his victory speech. Now, he said, "we have to work stronger, we have to work harder."
. . .Newsom, who would be the youngest San Francisco mayor in more than a century if elected, is best known for his efforts to get panhandlers off city streets. His proposal to outlaw panhandling in many public places was overwhelmingly approved Tuesday.
Both Newsom and Gonzalez are city supervisors.
I doubt Gonzalez can come from behind to win. But, if he does, having a Green Party mayor could be a boost for that third party in California. Either man will have a hard act to follow. 'Da Mayor,' Willie Brown has become so identified with the city, it will be difficult for people to stop thinking of him in the role.
Takin' it to the Street
Intriguing elections of mayors include the one in the City of Brotherly Love, where a scandalous discovery helped the incumbent win reelection.
PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 4 -- In an emotional finish to a controversy-ridden campaign, Mayor John F. Street won a second term on Tuesday, beating his Republican opponent, Sam Katz, an executive who lost narrowly to him four years ago.
With more than 90 percent of the ballots counted, Mayor Street had an insurmountable lead of 58 percent of the votes, The Associated Press reported, to 42 percent for Mr. Katz.
In his victory speech, the mayor said, "This victory today is a very impressive one, and I will be the first one to admit that when we started this campaign, it would not have crossed my mind that I would be standing here today with the margin of victory that seems apparent here today."
Mr. Street may owe his victory, at least in part, to a scandal that many Philadelphians believed, just four weeks ago, would end his 25-year political career. A listening device was discovered in the mayor's City Hall office early last month, and investigators from the F.B.I. then disclosed that Mr. Street was a subject in a corruption investigation.
The mayor and his allies deftly turned the incident to their advantage by suggesting that the investigation was engineered by the Republican Party in an effort to discredit a black Democrat. The accusations, which fueled widespread racial and partisan rancor, energized voters in this heavily Democratic city, whose black population is roughly equal to that of whites.
National Democratic figures came to town to stoke the flames of suspicion. Former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore spoke at rallies for Mr. Street over the weekend.
Is the investigation of Street and his associates are discrediting an African-American Democrat and bolstering Republicans? Who knows? However, it seems the FBI could have learned something from its probes of other black mayors, including Marion Barry during his tenure in D.C. That something? That investigations of African-American political leaders appear to be attacks unless clearly justified and lead to a circling of the wagons.
So far, no evidence of wrongdoing by Street has surfaced publically. But, in an ironic twist, Katz' former partner has been convicted of a crime.
Mark Robins, the former employee of defeated mayoral candidate Sam Katz was sentenced to 14 to 30 months in prison yesterday for stealing $290,000 from a company owned by Katz and other investors.
The failed venture became an issue in the mayor's race because three former partners sued Katz, charging him with participating in Robins' theft.
The Montgomery County District Attorney's office investigated the allegation and concluded Katz was not involved.
Stereotypes about who must be up to something illegal are so strong they should be handled with care. I hope the FBI is not relying on them in probing Street.
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
Politics: On the campaign trail
Confederate flag remark becomes snafu
Democratic contender for the presidency Howard Dean has some 'plaining to do in regard to a remark he made during a debate that might lead some people to believe he is sympathetic to neo-Confederates.
BOSTON (AP) - Howard Dean, under fire from his Democratic rivals, stubbornly refused to apologize Tuesday night for saying the party must court Southerners with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.
``Were you wrong, Howard? Were you wrong to say that?'' Sen. John Edwards challenged the former Vermont governor in a hot, hip campaign debate.
``No, I wasn't, John Edwards,'' Dean shot back, adding that to win, Democrats must appeal to working-class white voters in the South who consistently support Republicans ``against their own economic interests.''
The exchange was the sharpest of the night in a debate that generally veered away from campaign issues such as Iraq and the economy, and into areas of interest to younger voters.
. . .Sekou Diyday, 25, a supermarket buyer, confronted Dean with the question about the Confederate flag and comments the former governor had made over the weekend in an interview with the Des Moines Register.
``I was extremely offended,'' Diyday said. ``Could you please explain to me how you plan on being sensitive to needs and issues regarding slavery and African-Americans after making a comment of that nature,'' he said to applause from the audience.
Though I believe Dean's remark could be interpreted as insensitive, I don't think he meant to appeal to racist sentiments. I interpret his comment to mean that poor and working-class white people should be recruited by the Democratic Party instead of written off as belonging to the GOP. After all, their economic interest is as neglected by the Republicans as those of people of color. To me, the question is not whether these people should be informed about why they should become Democrats, but how to convince them. For too long, Southern whites have been encouraged to identify with the GOP on the basis of race alone.
Dennis at Republicans for Dean interpreted the remark much as I did.
In my view, I think Dean was trying to reach out to Southern voters, particular white, southern, blue-collar men (aka, NASCAR Dads) who left the Democratic party years ago. He is trying to reach them on economic issues such as health care. It also shows that he is not simply the candidate of the "latte class" as the media has portrayed him.
I think it is a wise strategy. He knows that these are people that have been hurt by the recent economic downturn and maybe dissatisfied with Bush right now. It shows that he is willing to reach out to all Americans, even in areas that political pu[n]dits think are not Dem[o]cratic-friendly areas.
Read the rest of the article and decide whether Dean's perspective is offensive or not for yourself.
GOP takes governor's seat in Mississippi
The more things change, the more things stay the same. The election of a far Right Republican as governor of Mississippi proves it again.
JACKSON, Miss. - Former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour captured the governorship Tuesday, pulling out victory in a hard fought race against Democratic incumbent Ronnie Musgrove.
. . .With almost 90 percent of the state's precincts reporting, Barbour had 53 percent to Musgrove's 45 percent.
People at Musgrove's party at Old Capitol Inn watched silently, some with tears in their eyes, as Barbour gave a televised address. Barbour said Musgrove called him and conceded the race after midnight.
"There has been no greater honor than serving the people of Mississippi as a public servant," Musgrove told supporters about 12:30 a.m. "I thank them."
Some had said governor's races Tuesday in Mississippi and Kentucky could indicate President Bush's popularity headed into the 2004 federal elections. Bush campaigned Saturday for gubernatorial candidates in both states. Republican Ernie Fletcher won in Kentucky.
I am ambivalent about this loss. Musgrove's identity as a Democrat was often wearing the label only. His positions on many issues are just as conservative as Barbour's. Would a Democrat who is not afraid to embrace liberal positions have fared better? I don't know. But, being a Democrat who dare not act like one doesn't seem to have done Musgrove much good.
The change I refer to above is the inclusion of a previously excluded segment of Mississippi's population in the electorate -- African-Americans. The results have been disappointing. Continuing educational inequities make it unlikely that segment of the electorate grasps the issues as well as it should, as demonstrated by the vote reaffirming the Confederate flag as the state emblem. Voter turnout among blacks is comparatively low. A long tradition of kowtowing to white power results in some African-Americans supporting candidates who are reactionary, including Sen. Trent Lott. This situation is a strong reminder that the work of the full enfranchisement of African-Americans in the South as far from over.
Machines, SCOTUS and regrets
Zizka has some thoughts on what the voting machine debacle may mean.
I haven't been paying a lot of attention to the voting machine
question, but when we talk suspiciously the possibility of cancelling
the 2004 election, here's another scenario to consider. I'm wondering
whether the Diebold machines are part of a multi-step plan, and that
they're preparing for the Democratic challenges already. Suppose this
1. Bush wins again, including a lot of Diebold states.
2. Dems find anomalies and question the honesty of the election, but
more vigorously than in 2000.
3. Just as they did in 2000, the Republican operatives come back
twice as strong and claim that the Democrats do not trust the
democratic process and are trying to steal the election.
4. As in 2000, there's some kind of arbitrary, coup-d'etat-type
resolution to Bush's advantage.
The beauty of this for the Republicans is that **their own cheating**
could ultimately provide the pretext for a sort of coup d'etat, if it
doesn't succeed in winning outright by cheating.
I also believe the U.S. Supreme Court's interference in Bush v. Gore set an awful precedent. The message sent was that ending an election is more important than whether the election was conducted fairly. At least some of the justices will live to regret the day they made that decision.
Monday, November 03, 2003
Elliott Smith and Portland: An artist and his city
One of the objective correlatives writers sometimes use is to make a city a character in their books. Hannibal, Missouri. Dicken's London. Oxford, Mississippi. Pete Dexter and David Bradley's Philadelphias. The editors of Willamette Week did something similar with Portland in this week's issue. The cover story is in memoriam to Elliott Smith. The conceit of the piece is that the singer and songwriter, who committed suicide in Los Angeles last month, represents Portland and Portland represents him.
A city is lucky to have a musical icon. An artist who, for a brief time, embodies the unique urban history of a place, while adding chapters to that history. New York had Lou Reed in the 1960s, Detroit had Iggy Pop in the early 1970s, Seattle had Kurt Cobain in the early 1990s. And up until last week, Portland had Elliott Smith.
For some Portlanders, Smith's name might recall a simple, beautiful song from a sentimental film some years back. To others, Smith's tales about living on the margins of misery captured the city's dark side, while his gritty realism delivered beauty, too. Even though the musician left Portland five years ago, each song he has written since contains a new piece of history for our town.
. . .L.A. may have been where the musician's life came to its sudden end, but Portland is where Smith spent his formative years. As his songs retain the stamp of the city, Portland retains Smith's imprint. WW asked friends, family, colleagues and fans to share impressions of the young songwriter with the quiet sound. Listening to their voices offers some help in coming to understand a musician--and a man--who never quite understood how to live.
Memorialist John Graham takes the analogy even further.
Though it may sound like an absurd overstatement, in some ways Elliott Smith is artistic Portland. Or at least a fine representation of and avatar for it. Literate. Stormy. Tormented. Prone to grandiose ambitions but weighted down by shame and insecurities.
Portland, Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest in general, is a kind of schizoid place. The PNW is the least churched part of the country and something of a haven for free-thinkers. People here are more likely to read books than elsewhere in the United States. They were the first to approve medical marijuana and Oregon is the only state in which medically-assisted euthanasia is legal. Oregonians vote by mail exclusively. But, that is not the whole story. The Pacific Northwest has disproportionately attracted cults, including survivalists and white supremacists. These states rank high on indices of hunger, and, for the last few years, unemployment. Drug abuse, particularly of meth and heroin, is surprisingly common. The PNW has the highest suicide rate in the country. Getting throught the bleakness of a Pacific Northwest winter in itself can feel like an accomplishment.
Elliott Smith's association with Portland began during one of the most impressionable periods of anyone's life -- adolescence.
Smith enrolled here [Lincoln High School] after moving from Duncanville, Texas, at age 14 to live with his father and siblings. At Lincoln, Smith played in a band called Stranger Than Fiction, belonged to the National Honor Society and graduated with the Class of 1987 before heading to Hampshire College in Massachusetts. He was born Steven Paul Smith but started going by Elliott because he thought "Steve" sounded too "jockish."
He left Oregon for college, but returned afterward, becoming part of several bands, including Heatmiser. The success of the movie Good Will Hunting transformed Smith from a regional attraction into a full-fledged star. The soundtrack featured six of his songs and won Smith a nomination for an Academy Award. It also ended his Portland period. He relocated to real cities, New York, and later, L.A. However, his artistic center, the place he thought about when writing songs, seems to have remained Puddletown.
The place for mourning Smith in Portland is The Wall. But, Inara Verzemnieks, a feature writer for the Oregonian, suggests the connection to Smith that really matters may be interior.
The wall is at Southeast 12th Avenue and Division Street, just on the other side of a bargain store and beneath a mural of a giant banana, and it has become the place, in the days following his apparent suicide, where Portland fans of singer and songwriter Elliott Smith come to mourn.
. . .Up and down the wall, dozens of fans had laid down their offerings -- pictures, drawings, poetry, even a pumpkin carved with Elliott's name -- people like Alice, who may never have known him but who had lived with and loved his music, until it seemed like it was a part of them.
What they blasted from their Walkman in order to survive the trip to Gresham to fold sweaters at the Gap, so they would still have the strength to come home and dream of making movies one day. What they fell asleep to. What they made love to and broke up to. An escape and a validation. A soundtrack to their lives.
Sometimes, the relationship between the artist and the city is eerily clear.
Driving up and down Division Street
I used to like it here
It just burns me out to remember....
-- "Punch and Judy," released on Either/Or, 1997
What do I make of the analogy? I believe Elliott Smith may have 'been' Portland. But, emotionally, Portland can be anywhere.
Saturday, November 01, 2003
Law: Georgians impose Ten Commandments on public
Have I ever mentioned that sometimes I just don't understand people? One of the kinds of situations I don't understand them in is when there is a workable solution to a problem, but they choose to ignore it. The bumbling, often mean-spirited nature of homo sapiens means he often doesn't make any real effort to solve problems. So, when a resolution has been reached, why do some folks try to destroy it? I'm wondering about this after reading about a situation in Georgia. The far Right Christian organization Focus on the Family described the what is occurring there in a press release.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Oct. 30 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The pastors of Georgia's Cherokee County, along with concerned citizens, will present a plaque of the Ten Commandments to the county commissioners for display in the Cherokee County Justice Center during a rally in support of the Commandments. The event will be at noon Friday, Oct. 31, on the steps of the Justice Center in downtown Canton, Ga.
"We were motivated to make this request when we became aware of a recently enacted, but little known, Georgia law that encourages the public display and study of those documents which have substantially impacted Georgia's law and heritage," said Dan Becker, pastor of Little River Church in Union Hill, Ga., and organizer of Friday's rally. "There can be no doubt of the historical impact of the moral law of God upon our own laws and culture.
"They're mounting the Ten Commandments in a rotunda area where they plan on putting other historical documents, but the significance here is that the Ten Commandments will be mounted higher than anything else. These commissioners are intending to make a statement."
The rally will feature the presentation of two tablets of granite engraved with the Decalogue in King James English to the five county commissioners by Becker and other pastors. The commissioners will then affix the tablets to the Justice Center and sign a petition stating their intent to defend the right of the people to publicly display the Ten Commandments.
The dispute, a copycat case modeled on the Ten Commandments imbroglio in Alabama, began in Habersham County and is spreading to other Georgia counties as conservative public officials jump on the bandwagon.
The fate of a Ten Commandments display in Habersham County will be in limbo for a few more weeks. It will be at least that long until U.S. District Court Judge William O'Kelley rules on whether or not the plaque must come down from the Habersham courthouse and indoor swimming pool.
O'Kelley heard arguments Monday at the federal courthouse in Gainesville in a case that could have far-reaching effects on similar situations in Northeast Georgia.
"This is a serious and important issue, and it needs to be considered," O'Kelley told the courtroom before adjourning shortly before 4 p.m.
Plaintiffs Charles "Bo" Turner and Gregg Holder, both Habersham residents, want the commandments removed from the government buildings. Both say the display violates the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause.
The constitutional law in regard to displays of religious symbols on public property is reasonable and clear. People are free to display symbols that are mainly secular or, if religious, don't favor a particular religion, with the judicial branch ultimately deciding whether a symbol is acceptable. If anything, the law leans over backward in regard to Christianity because many symbols now considered secular have Christian origins. However, that it is not enough to placate folks who want the United States to be an officially Christian nation. Nothing short of complete capitulation will do for them. The symbols of their religion must be displayed in public buildings.
Such displays violate the Establishment Clause because government gives religion its imprimatur if it allows the installation of religious iconography in public buildings. This is settled law. However, in one of those maneuvers that conservative Southerners are well-versed in because of their long opposition to civil rights laws, the supporters of establishing Christianity as our official religion have decided to use the interposition argument.
The Habersham County Commission passed a resolution in May 2002 to display the commandments. After being sued, the board passed another resolution last August that allowed the commandments to be posted alongside other key historical documents.
Defense attorneys Douglas McDonald, Erik Stanley and Donald Cronin argued that by including the commandments with the Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact and Star-Spangled Banner, the display is constitutional.
They also say the commandments are the moral basis of U.S. law.
"Habersham County isn't making a religious statement," Stanley said during closing arguments. "The theme is that the 10 Commandments played a role in the foundation of American law and government."
This legal chicanery last appeared during efforts to prevent racial integration of Southern schools and other other public accommodations. Southern cities, counties and states passed statutes they said trumped federal laws that required ending discrimination against nonwhite Americans and allowing them access to public and quasi-public institutions. The laws passed by Habersham County and likely to be mimicked by other counties are similar. They attempt to allow a practice illegal under the federal constitution by 'interposing' local law. Both the time of the passage of the 'historical documents' resolution and the reason why it was considered prove it to be a pretext to impose Christianity on the citizens of the county.
These efforts will fail. No one, other than fellow travelers, will take the legal arguments of the counties seriously. But, citizens in those counties will pour thousands of dollars into defending the unconstitutional actions of their public officials. In fact, a county has already engaged the same lawyer who got his clock cleaned in the Alabama showdown.
Barrow County officials have hired a well-known attorney to defend their Ten Commandments display.
County commissioners hired attorney Herb Titus to defend the county against a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, which wants a framed parchment copy of the Ten Commandments removed from the county courthouse.
Titus is a Virginia Beach, Va., attorney who worked on the defense team of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was suspended after refusing to obey a federal judges order to remove a 5,000-pound Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building.
A group formed for the countys legal defense, Ten Commandments-Georgia Inc., presented the commission with a $50,000 check -- the price needed for Titus retainer.
Taxpayers in the county could be liable for additional payment to Titus if private fund-raising efforts come up short, said Chairman Eddie Elder.
Meanwhile, the real needs of the citizens of these counties will continue to go unmet. For example, Georgia ranks lowest in national measures of educational attainment, mainly because public education there is underfunded. I don't understand why the people of such areas allow their elected officials to get away with shenanigans of this sort.
Thursday, October 30, 2003
Blogospherics: People are saying
Ghettopoly is not the only subject that has attracted attention in Bloggersville. Both the war in Iraq and blogging itself continue to be vectors of opinion.
Satires capture inanity of Iraqi invasion
Benito Vergara at The Wily Filipino read an account of some utterly obtuse American soldiers in action in Iraq and took it the same way I would. Ben couldn't help but express his admiration.
Way to Go Men!
I'm feeling, like, all inspired and stuff and thought I'd single out Sgt. Mark Redmond and Sgt. Eric Schrumpf as soldiers who need our support. You the man!
As the New York Times wrote:
Like many soldiers here... Sergeant Redmond said he did not expect the Iraqis to resist so doggedly.
"I expected a lot more people to surrender," he said. "From all the reports we got, I thought they would all capitulate."
In the three days that followed, they did not, and he fired every weapon on his Humvee, including a 50-caliber machine gun, his M-4 rifle and a grenade launcher -- everything except the shoulder-fired antitank missile. Many of the Iraqis, he said, attacked headlong into the cutting fire of tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.
"I wouldn't call it bravery," he said. "I'd call it stupidity. We value a soldier's life so much more than they do. I mean, an AK-47 isn't going to do nothing against a Bradley. I'd love to know what Saddam is telling his people."
Maybe Saddam is telling his people to defend their homeland from invasion... but wait! We have to support the troops!
Dude, I am totally not voting you off the island!
It amazes me that so many Americans do rather poorly when quizzed on information in almost any area, but seem to imbibe cultural imperialism along with their ABCs. Last time around, it was that silly Army officer saying he can defeat Muslims because his God is better than theirs. Now, we get the Keystone Kalvary smugly revealing its contempt for people from a different culture. Why would folks think that traits such as bravery, deep belief in a deity and a desire to defend one's homeland are American or Western? Why are the deaths of civilian Iraqis considered comedy? It is as if some of our countrymen and women believe only Americans (and perhaps Europeans) are really people.
A new blogger recently caught crap from some in the blogosphere over his satirical entry about the Bush administration's reasons for invading Iraq. Mike Larkin of Larkin Blog posted this pithy political satire.
Osama bin laden, the director of George W. Bush's re-election campaign, today issued a renewed call for jihad against America and expressed his profound gratitude to the American President.
"The President has been an enormous boon to my recruiting efforts. Ever since his incompetent intelligence services inadvertently allowed me to bomb the country on 9/11, I've been on a roll. My recruiting is off the charts. And every day, the Administration does something that really helps my cause."
In particular, bin laden mentioned the invasion of Iraq. "By knocking out my big opponent, Saddam, and turning the country into a breeding ground for terrorists, he has really made my job easy. Words cannot express my admiration. Perhaps another suicide bombing will do the trick."
Reached in the Far East, where he was on a campaign swing for his war on terror, Bush said he was "deeply honored" by bin laden's words, and expressed his own gratitude for the al-Quada leader.
"Before 9/11, I was really sucking wind in the polls. But those attacks were literally a gift from the sky. I've now got the whole country cowed and the press bamboozled. And, as an extra bonus, we've got Iraq's oil. Osama rocks!"
Bush said he hopes that Osama will launch another terrorist attack soon, in time to get the GOP re-elected in 2004. "It would be really great if it could happen the week of the Republican convention in New York next August. All those explosions will make a nice backdrop to my re-election speech. It'll be just like the Fourth of July!"
Some in the blogosphere took the 'he is not allowed to question the efficacy of American leadership' gambit. There was even an effort to pressure Blogcritics, where the entry also appeared, into censoring Mike. These kinds of responses to satirical treatment of the war make no sense to me. Whether actions are rational and/or moral is what determines whether they are right or wrong, not the nationality of the persons involved. Furthermore, political actions that impact the entire country and world are what we really need to scrutinize closely. Satire is is an excellent way to do just that.
Read the rest of Ben's and Mike's entries. I think you will agree with me that both have a knack for getting it right and making it funny at the same time.
Blogging and the workplace
Another Michael, the fellow at Ones and Zeroes, is concerned about the firing of a Microsoft temporary employee who dared blog about his place of employment.
Blogger Michael Hanscom joined the ranks of the unemployed on Monday, because Microsoft Security objected to his blog entry Even Microsoft wants G5s.
The blog entry had a picture of a truck delivering some boxed Apple G5 computers and mentioned where Hanscom worked and what building it was in.
His manager told him that “Microsoft has the right to decide that because of what you said, you’re no longer welcome on the Microsoft campus.”
I agree with Hanscom that the post is pretty innocuous. As a Microsoft customer buying software for MacOS computers, I’d be really annoyed if they weren’t testing them on the latest and greatest Macs. Especially since Virtual PC doesn’t run on G5s yet.
Microsoft employee and corporate blog evangelist Robert Scoble says Microsoft encourages employees to weblog. Microsoft has been, in recent months, ahead of the corporate culture curve with respect to blogging. It’s my hope that this is a mistake or the result of one branch of the company not knowing what other branches are encouraging. Even if Hanscom shouldn’t have posted this picture, this solidly moves Microsoft into the “mixed message” category on blogging, which while not great, is still better than many companies.
I am going to repeat the advice I gave months ago when I wrote about the trend of disciplining or firing journalists who blog. In fact, I'll extend it to other fields. Keep the blogging and your work separate. The interests at issue are quite different. Even if an employer gives an initial approval, I don't believe it should be relied on. The minute you say something that someone at work doesn't like, the approval is likely to be withdrawn. In addition, knowing your employer is looking over your shoulder will chill what you say on your blog. I recommend simply not mentioning blogging if you use your real name and being circumspect even if using a pen name.
Does a fired blogger have a legal leg to stand on? In most cases, no. Most employees are at will. Since firing someone for blogging violates no constitutionally protected rights for a private employer, the employee is the vulnerable one.
If I worked for Microsoft, I would take their policy of encouraging blogging with an entire box of Morton Salt.
Blogging director does it again
Filmmaker and blogger Brian Flemming has good news to report. He has made history with one of his movies and has scored some eleemosynary
compression software that will make it easier for him to stream his movies to the Web.
A beneficiary of the new software may be Nothing So Strange, a Flemming film that made its Internet debut this week.
Well, at long last, it can be revealed. It went down to the wire, but we did what we wanted to do: We're debuting the film worldwide on the same day that its exclusive theatrical run opens in Seattle. Made possible, of course, by my new pals at BitPass.
Did I mention that a worldwide internet debut of a feature film has never, ever, ever happened before? And you read about it first at Brian Flemming's Weblog.
The movie is a satirical look at group psychology and group relations, premised on the assassination of an iconic businessman. Wired says,
. . .It's a tale of paranoia and police corruption, of conspiracy theorists and grassroots activism. And it comes with a brilliant and ingenious Internet component -- an entire Web universe of memorials to Bill Gates and conspiracy theorist sites.
Director Brian Flemming began working on the film after attending a November conference in Dallas of researchers who study John F. Kennedy's assassination. Flemming began to wonder: What would a contemporary assassination look like? Who would be the target?"
"It seemed to me, with the growing divide between the rich and the poor, that the violence might take the form of a class war," Flemming says. "So naturally it seemed that Bill Gates would be a primary target. And then I thought, 'What if this happened right here in my own neighborhood, and the Rampart Division of the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) conducted the investigation?'"
Nothing So Strange can be viewed here.