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Friday, February 27, 2004  

The news desk: The health beat

•Redemption for couch potatoes?

If you had a full Nautilus gym just a hop, skip and jump away would you really take that short trip over to the machines and use them? The jury -- us -- is still out, but sells of exercise equipment to be used at home are soaring.

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- The days of long waits for sweaty machines are losing their appeal faster than a New Year's resolution. Is it any wonder more people are opting to work out at home?

Many are buying their own exercise equipment, driven partly by affordable prices and the notion -- sometimes unrealistic -- that the sight of a new cross-trainer will get them moving.

Americans spent about $4.3 billion on exercise equipment in 2002 -- up more than 11 percent from the previous year, which saw almost $3.9 billion in sales, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.

Home equipment has appealed to all ages, although older, more affluent people tend to purchase the more elaborate pieces, said NGSA spokesman Larry Weindruch. . . .

A pro says the expenditure is often wasted.

But when it comes to bigger buys, home gyms may not be for everyone.

The wasteland of exercise equipment is vast, with the all-too-familiar site of rowing machines collecting dust in the basement and stair climbers doubling as coat racks.

Health club fans say public gyms give people an essential ingredient for their workout -- motivation.

"They can have the best gym in the world at home but if they don't have self-discipline to use it, then it doesn't do any good," said Leigh Crews, president of Dynalife Inc., a Rome, Georgia-based fitness education company.

Crews said she's worked with dozens of clients who started off excited about their shiny new equipment, only to drop off within a few months.

A perusal of eBay supports Crew's claim. Exercise equipment is an active category. Many of the products, listed as new or like new, sell for well below market prices. This kind of purchase appears to be one that consumers would do well to think long and hard about before reaching for the plastic.

Ohio woman makes multiple births history

A woman in the Midwest has given birth to a half-dozen babies in a minute. The record for live multiple births is eight. (One of the octuplets died shortly after birth.)

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - An Ohio woman gave birth to sextuplets Thursday, and doctors said all six babies and the mother were doing well.

Jennifer Hanselman, 29, of Cuyahoga Falls, gave birth to the three girls and three boys within one minute at Akron General Medical Center.

``The speed at which the babies came out was overwhelming. It was like a popcorn popper,'' the baby's grinning father, Keith Hanselman, told reporters.

The babies, delivered by Caesarean section, were listed in critical condition, which is standard for premature births. They ranged in weight from 1 pound, 9 ounces to 2 pounds, 10 ounces, which is average for multiple births at 28 1/2 weeks, said Dr. Anand Kantak, director of neonatology at Akron Children's Hospital.

The babies were transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit at the children's hospital, where they were expected to stay for about nine weeks. All will be on respirators because of the immaturity of their lungs, Kantak said.

``We are very optimistic about their survival without major handicaps,'' he said.

The incidence of multiple births, including high number deliveries, has increased astronomically because of increased use of fertility drugs during the last two decades. The medical community is divided on the issue. The chances of carrying fetuses to term, assuring better health, lessen with crowding of the womb. Shortening of the developmental process also has health repercussions. Children born as multiples are more likely to be disabled.

Jennifer Hanselman, a schoolteacher, used fertility drugs and had been hospitalized since Jan. 19. The deliveries, by Caesarean section, involved more than three dozen medical personnel. The Hanselmans were already parents of a two-year-old.

GOP backs bill to make fetuses separate victims

The Bush administration is continuing its legal assault on the right to abortion. It is doing so in a sneaky way -- a statute that will allow convictions of assailants for injuries to fetuses when women are physically abused.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House voted Thursday to subject assailants who injure or kill a pregnant woman and her fetus to two separate crimes. The bill would for the first time under federal law give victim's rights to a fetus.

The bill, championed by conservative groups, drew opposition from others concerned that conferring new rights on the fetus would undermine abortion rights

The Unborn Victims of Violence Act was approved 254-163 after the House rejected a Democratic-led alternative that would have increased penalties for those attacking a pregnant woman but continue to regard the offense as perpetrated on one victim.

"That little unborn child is intrinsically precious and valuable and deserving of standing in the law and protection," argued Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Illinois.

If this bill passes the Senate, the real scheme behind it will become more apparent. The Justice Department, which has tried to declare some abortions crimes already, will expand on that, focusing its attention on doctors who perform abortions, not robbers or rapists who assault pregnant women.

President George W. Bush has promoted the bill, an election-year priority for his conservative base.

Supporters said Americans were solidly behind making an attack on a pregnant woman subject to two crimes.

Democrats assert Bush is pandering to the far Right.

The reach of a federal statute making fetuses victims of violent crimes would be limited because criminal law is mainly the province of the states. However, encouragement at the federal level may encourage states to pass such laws or toughen those already in existence.

5:00 PM

Thursday, February 26, 2004  

Justice: The right to dislike and loathe

I have been thinking about people I do not like. An impetus was learning, earlier today, that a woman I do not like -- on second thought, make that did not like -- is dead. Michele did me a disservice a few years ago. I had done nothing to deserve it. She did not derive anything from the misbehavior other than perhaps a temporary feeling of 'Gotcha!' or heightened self-esteem. I had no reason to believe she disliked me until she showed she did. The harm was something I overcame in a few months. But, I continued to dislike Michele. Today, I asked a mutual acquaintance where she was when I realized I had not seen her in a long time. He said, "Michele X? She died about a year-and-a-half ago." I was expecting to hear she had another job, had moved to another city or simply that she was still employed at the same site as my friend, but apparently not around when I came by. I expressed surprise at someone up and dying relatively early -- Michele was in her 50s -- and mumbled something about it being unfortunate. I don't celebrate her death. But, I can't say that I have any heartfelt regrets about her demise. Instead, I find myself thinking that she is now unable to harm anyone else.

Another reason the topic of disliking folks is on my mind is I closely followed closely the confessions and November sentencing of the Green River Killer, possibly the most prolific of his kind ever. The man, Gary Ridgway of Washington, believes he has done the world a favor by murdering at least 48 girls and women. He was convicted of killing four people, but he may have ranged wider and killed more than he is admitting.

(CBS)  For twenty years, the Green River Killer terrorized the Northwest, leaving a trail of women’s bodies and very few clues.

He was on the loose until late 2001. But two months ago, Gary Ridgway pled guilty to killing 48 women. The plea was part of a controversial deal -- the killer's life in exchange for the truth.

. . ."I was working second shift and go pick up a woman on the way home," says Ridgway on tape. "That way, I had the mornings free to go back and bury her."

Ridgway had the same job as a truck painter for 30 years. He remembered his victims by the shift he worked that day. He was a man who viewed his killing spree as his greatest accomplishment.

Ridgway, a self-described woman-hater, says he purposely selected vulnerable females and had a grandiose goal -- to kill as many as he could get away with. When not pursuing his heinous avocation, Ridgway liked to read the Bible and evangelize.

I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex. I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.

Another part of my plan was where I put the bodies of these women. Most of the time I took the women's jewelry and their clothes to get rid of any evidence and make them harder to identify. I placed most of the bodies in groups which I call clusters. I did this because I wanted to keep track of all the women I killed.

I liked to drive by the clusters around the county and think about the women I placed there. I usually used a landmark to remember a cluster and the women I placed there. . . .

Ridgway says he sometimes had sex with the corpses for days, until they began to decompose and attract flies.

Some of the victims' families are outraged by King County District Attorney Norm Maleng's unusual decision not to seek the death penalty in Ridgway's case. Others, predictably, say they oppose killing by the state. Perhaps they believe Ridgway will someday feel remorse or find God. I can't go there. I do not like the Green River Killer. Not even a little bit. In fact, I loathe him. Though I generally oppose the death penalty, not a single tear would have fallen from my eyes if he had been sentenced to it. The man has revealed himself to be utterly inhumane, the kind of sociopath who would kill again if he got the opportunity. I can't say I wish him well at all.

Admitting one does not like some people and loathes others is, of course, opening oneself to criticism. The more forgiving will say one is being hardhearted. But, sometimes I think it is necessary to acknowledge emotions that are not attractive, but real and rational. The next time I learn someone I dislike has died, I will not say anything insincere. If the Green River Killer is sentenced to death in Oregon, where he may also have murdered women, I will not lament his fate.

10:30 PM

Wednesday, February 25, 2004  

Writers' world: Who is doing what?

•Smart Genes puts it online

When I started this weblog, I had some rather vague notions about including fiction on it since it is a general assignment venue. For a while, there was a Fiction Writers Web Ring logo at the bottom of the page. The code stopped working and I've never gotten around to repairing it. That hasn't been a priority because I haven't added fiction to the menu at Mac-a-ro-nies, anyway.

But, that smart guy at Smart Genes, writer Rick Heller, has done something about his desire to include fiction in his blogging life.

Smart Genes the novel is now online

For those of you who've wanted to read the text of the novel, Smart Genes, I've placed the first 9 chapters online, in a form that allows readers like you to edit it .

Here is my new site.

Anyone can edit it and change the text around. I encourage you to do it. The platform I'm using is a wiki, which allows anyone to make changes, but also keeps every version ever saved in a database. Thus, is someone makes changes that are lame, I can roll them back.

I want to create a collaborative community around this. If this model works for me, I'd be interested in shepherding others through this process. You can also create your own user pages on the wiki if you want to.

So stop by, read Smart Genes, and help me make it better.

I will be reading Rick's newly interactive novel and his short fiction. He said 'collaborative.' So, feel free to be part of this innovation. I'll be there.

Byte Back second guesses SCOTUS

One of the things I like about Byte Back is that its proprietor is a reporter's reporter. Big, easy to grasp, news stories get talked to death in the blogosphere. However, he can be counted on to look into less sexy, but significant stories. Say 'SCOTUS' and most of us immediately focus on last year's decisions on affirmative action and gay rights or wonder if they will ever say 'no' to John Ashcroft. Byte Back is looking at an intriguing, but less easily blogged, decision.

Court OKs Denial of Divinity Scholarships

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court, in a new rendering on separation of church and state, voted Wednesday to let states withhold scholarships from students studying theology, even when money is available to students studying anything else.

The court's 7-2 ruling said the state of Washington was within its rights to deny a taxpayer-funded scholarship to a college student who was studying to be a minister.

"Training someone to lead a congregation is an essentially religious endeavor," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court majority. "Indeed, majoring in devotional theology is akin to a religious calling as well as an academic pursuit."
the Bush administration argued that the state had been wrong to yank the scholarship from former student Joshua Davey.

Davey won a state Promise Scholarship, but the state rescinded the money when it learned what he planned to study.

Like 36 other states, Washington prohibits spending public funds on this kind of religious education. Bans on public funds for religious education, often known as Blaine amendments, date to the 19th century, when anti-Catholic sentiment ran high.

"It does not deny to ministers the right to participate in the political affairs of the community. And it does not require students to choose between their religious beliefs and receiving a government benefit. The state has merely chosen not to fund a distinct category of instruction."

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Particularly in the last quote there I can only say "huh?"

"The state has merely chosen not to fund a distinct category of instruction."

So if the state decided to not fund teaching, that would be OK?

Or am I looking over the simple fact that he is studying in a church, not in a regular school?

Decision link here (PDF).

Though attention has been focused on attempts by the Christian Right to erode the barrier between Church and State, I believe this case comes at the topic from a different and interesting angle. The Christian Science Monitor summarizes it well.

The right to practice one's religion without government interference does not trump a state's desire to maintain a high wall separating church and state.

In a major decision, the US Supreme Court Wednesday ruled 7 to 2 that religious liberty as guaranteed under the First Amendment does not supersede efforts by state governments to uphold a different part of the First Amendment - the separation of government and religion.

The case marks something of a reversal at the nation's highest court under Chief Justice William Rehnquist, with other recent rulings emphasizing government neutrality toward religion and the religious rather than strict separation of church and state.

The problem, from one perspective, is that the ministry is considered a valid education and career path like any other. So, does it make sense to declare it verboten in regard to financial aid from the state? Analysis would be simpler if there was a major in 'atheist studies.' But, there isn't. So, an argument can be made that giving the young man the scholarship would be favoring religion in regard to absence of religion, which does violate the Establishment Clause. But, one could come back with the response that the content of education, as long as it meets the standards set by accrediting bodies, is not the issue. Society probably benefits more from people who study medicine than from people who study art history, but we don't encourage content discrimination in regard to funding scholarships most of the time. Why should a religion major be treated differently? I don't have a definitive answer in regard to this case, but it is the kind of meaty topic I like to think about.

'Bitch' has Nerve

The stereotype of the starving artist is not completely accurate. Some of us do make a living from our work. But, it ain't easy. Bitch Has Word recently blogged about what one writer has been doing to earn his keep.

Humanoid Love Toys

This is oddest thing I've seen in a long time. Some guy at Nerve.com wrote an article about having sex with a "high end humanoid love toy." He said he "spent a special day with an inanimate object of desire" for science.

But that's what he says about having subway sex [I'm assuming it's the transportation kind and not the sandwich kind], injaculation ["how to dam old faithful"], and cross dressing.

I think he did it because he wanted to and because he found someone to pay him to do it. Isn't that all anyone wants from a job?

Anyway, it's a long article, and not appropriate for corporate work environments. Those of you "working from home" in your bunny slippers can just hop on over to the article directly, however. It even includes pictures of the author getting it on with the doll. The article is currently available for free, but by next month you will probably have to pay to read it. So hippity hop to it!

Supposedly, RealDolls were created as a "high-end fashion mannequins with articulated skeletons." But it didn't take long for the sexually retarded adventurous to start asking for ... um ... enhancements.

If you're feeling lonely and think you'd like a Real Doll for your, ahem, fashion pleasure, you'll have to cough up at least $6000 for female dolls, $7000 for a male. As the web site notes, they're "cheaper than most alternatives." Begs the question: Alternatives to what, exactly?

The most uncomfortable thing I have ever done to earn a living as a writer was edit advertising supplements for a weekly newspaper. It bothered me more than representing the Ku Klux Klan in a lawsuit I worked on when I was in law school. I believe in freedom of speech, but not pushing tacky gadgets and overpriced clothes, I guess.

Let me take this opportunity to flog Nerve, one of the first online writing sites I contributed to. Talking about sex without being sexist or tasteless is difficult. Producing copy that does so for years is quite an achievement. Take bhw's advice: Visit Nerve.

5:00 PM

Tuesday, February 24, 2004  

Blogospherics: Getting it all wrong

Conservative blogger Scott Pepper has posted an entry that is a model of how bloggers pass on inaccurate information. A member of the 'one can always score brownie points by attacking Jesse Jackson' school of thought, he has done so -- without a basis for his vitriol. He says:

While I am a registered Republican, my support for civil rights, particularly for gay marriage, is unequivocal. I do not believe it hurts our society in any way for two committed people, regardless of gender, to codify their union in a civil or religious ceremony.

It's a shame not all Democrats feel that way.

The sentence above takes readers to Pepper's entry at Blogcritics, which he titled "Civil Rights For Me, But Not For Thee."

Speaking before an audience at Holy Cross College in Boston last week, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. marginalized the importance of gay rights as an issue in the upcoming presidential campaign.

While not openly condemning gay marriage, Jackson stated, "In my culture, marriage is a man-woman relationship." Yet he was careful to point out that "gays deserve the right of choice to choose their own partner."

While civil rights for gays have been front page news in Boston and San Francisco for days, Jackson predicts the economy and foreign affairs will take center stage as the key issues in upcoming debates. He dismissed gay marriage as a wedge issue and a "Republican tactical strategy."

Most disturbing to supporters of equal rights was Jackson's dismissal of any similarity between civil rights and gay rights. "The comparison with slavery is a stretch," he said, because "Gays were never called three-fifths human in the Constitution and in that they did not require the Voting Rights Act to have the right to vote."

However, it is not the issue of voting at stake in Massachusetts and California courts; it is the issue of marriage. No one is denying African-Americans the right to marry.

What Jackson's comments reveal is a stunning hypocrisy. [Emphasis mine.] When the civil rights of African-Americans are at stake, Jackson and his supporters are on the front lines of battle, and admirably so. However, when it is another group whose rights are being trampled, their silence speaks volumes.

But, if one reads sources on which the entry is based, one quickly discovers Scott Pepper has omitted important information, fails to grasp the history of the African-Americans and lacks clarity in regard to the topic he is discussing.

First, let's dispense with the ugliest of Pepper's claims. Jackson has not said gay rights are not a civil rights issue. That assertion is made up from thin air.

Rev. Jackson was talking to aspiring priests at Holy Cross when he discussed religious tradition. Based on the context, he appears to be addressing what their pastoral duties are as counselors of people in same gender relationships. He made it clear he does not oppose autonomy for gays in regard to their unions.

"Gays deserve the right of choice to choose their own partners." "If you don't agree, don't participate and don't perform the service," he said, according to the Associated Press.

Clearly, he expects some kind of 'service,' i.e., ceremony, to occur.

Rev. Jackson did say there is a tradition of considering marriage as a union between a man and a woman. I believe he means an American Protestant religious tradition. However, he did not express an opinion about whether it is time for that tradition to change. Perhaps, as Pepper supposes, Jackson vehemently opposes expanding the definition of marriage to include gays. However, it is not our role as bloggers to put words into the mouths of public figures or anyone else. Until Jackson explicitly states opposition to gay marriage, to claim he has done do is to mislead and to misrepresent.

Pepper is equally in error in regard to his criticism of Jackson's take on African-American history. Jackson's remarks are largely accurate. The history of African-Americans in the United States is not synonymous with that of homosexual Americans. In many ways, it has been much more harsh.

"The comparison with slavery is a stretch in that some slave masters were gay, in that gays were never called three-fifths human in the Constitution and in that they did not require the Voting Rights Act to have the right to vote," Jackson remarked in an address at Harvard Law School.

Actually, the 'three-fifths' language in the Constitution refers to how slaves were to be counted to increase representation of Southern whites in Congress. Slaves did not count as citizens at all and it was not their interests that were being considered. White people, regardless of sexual preference, did count. White men, if they met a few state-imposed requirements and were citizens, always had the right to vote. That tradition continued on. Homosexuals have never been denied most of the rights of citizenship.

In further discussion, Pepper reveals a belief African-Americans have not had attenuated rights in regard to marriage. He could not be more wrong.

•Africans in America (not yet citizens) were denied the right to marry during slavery.

•African-Americans had their marriage rights circumscribed, as did other nonwhite Americans, until SCOTUS' 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia was actually enforced. (At least one Southern state still has a statute barring interracial marriage.)

•The legacy of slavery and unrecognized marriages still impacts African-Americans today in regard to property rights issues, and, some would say, family relations.

Nor is Pepper's blanket condemnation of Jackson as a hypocrite who only supported the civil rights movement justified. The Reverend has been involved in progressive political issues ranging from women's rights to labor to the rights of farmers. He is at least a moderate in regard to the civil rights issue being discussed -- homosexual unions.

As for Rev. Jackson saying he does not want gay marriage to become a front burner political issue, that is an opinion being expressed by many liberal pundits. They fear that forcing of the issue to the forefront is a GOP ploy. I can think of no rational reason to single him out for taking that position.

Anyone with a computer, Internet service provider, modem of some sort and time can start a weblog. However, I belief some sense of responsibility for what one is saying should also be a part of the blogger's toolbox. When a blogger posts material that is inaccurate and biased, he is ignoring his duty to do at least basic research before sending out a message that scores, hundreds or thousands of people may read. A perusal of Jackson's biography would have told Pepper that he has been involved in numerous progressive causes. A basic understanding of African-American history would have prevented Pepper's embarrassing inability to be able to address that history with even the slightest insight. Writers are often told: Write what you know. I am going to alter that advice for bloggers: Don't write what you don't know.

11:45 PM

Monday, February 23, 2004  

Politics: More Americans angry at Bush

I do not hate George W. Bush. Why am I making such a declaration? The issue recently arose in regard to a progressive blogger who has prepared a fine series of inquiries into Bush's economic policies. During a discussion of his motivation, I learned distaste for Bush's policies can be mistaken for personal animosity. So, again, I don't hate Shrub. The worst I wish him is being voted out of office. And, oh, maybe chronic hemmorhoids.

That said, it does appear that millions of Americans are angry with the man.

WASHINGTON (AP) - In Arizona, Judy Donovan says she feels desperate for a new president. In Tennessee, Robert Wilson says he finds the president revolting. In Washington state, Maria Yurasek says she'd vote for a dog if it could beat President Bush.

A subtext to this year's presidential campaign is the intense anger that many Democrats are directing toward Bush, an attitude that has been growing in recent months.

``I've never seen anything like it,'' says Ted Jelen, a political science professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. ``There are people who just really, really hate this person.''

Fully a quarter of Americans - mostly Democrats - tell pollsters they have a very unfavorable opinion of the president, more than double the number from last April. When only Democrats are polled, more than half report they feel that way.

Further, in exit polls conducted during Democratic primaries, a sizable chunk of voters have been describing themselves as not just dissatisfied with Bush but outright angry - 51 percent in Delaware, 46 percent in Arizona and New Hampshire, 44 percent in Virginia and Wisconsin.

In my experience, people become angry with persons in leadership positions when they believe the leaders have deceived them or manipulated them. In regard to Bush, I believe there was a reservoir of ill will from the beginning because of the way he landed in the White House. The thousands of voters disenfranchised to guarantee him a 'win' in the state his brother governs still have the sympathy of many fair-minded people. Though the Supreme Court of the United States is directly responsible for that miscarriage of justice, it is Bush who benefitted from it. To diffuse the bad smell from the election, Bush would have had to engage in major bipartisan outreach. He didn't.

A major pollster sees a variety of factors contributing to the contempt some feel toward the man.

``They really have a head of steam up against Bush,'' said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. He said the level of political polarization surrounding Bush, the division between Republicans who favor him and Democrats who don't, exceeds even that for President Clinton in September 1998 during the impeachment battle.

``It's the long view of Bush in the minds of Democrats,'' said pollster Kohut. ``He came into office in a way that they felt was unfair. They gave him the benefit of the doubt and rallied to him after the 9-11 attacks for some time, and then he disappointed them in the way he dealt with Iraq'' and by pursuing a more conservative course than they expected.

The anger is not limited to Democrats. Both independent voters and some Republicans express something stronger than mere annoyance with Bush. That may go back to what I said about being deceived and manipulated. 'Business' Republicans who do not share Bush's Christian Right-influenced domestic agenda could think they were misled into believing he would leave well enough alone vis-a-vis some issues. They feel no pressing need to erode the wall of separation between church and state, which is high on the Christian Right's list of priorities. Across the country, far Right led local governments are attacking an arrangement most Americans support by imposing religious imagery on the general population in public places. There is even talk of running the most popular of the batch, former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore for President, if the White House's support is not made more explicit. The failure of the administration to sign off on a compromise that would have recognized gay unions as acceptable is another domestic issue that some Republicans may not want to see become a banner they are expected to march under. However, since the far Right has made opposing gay marriage a litmus test for right-thinking conservatives, those supporters of the GOP may find themselves less welcome in the not so big tent. And . . . angry.

As the invasion of Iraq gradually becomes to resemble an occupation moreso than a liberation, and the price tag for it soars, moderate Republicans and independents, as well as Democrats, are also questioning whether the Bush administration's policies there are sound. The absence of any weapons of mass destruction in the rather pathetic Iraqi arsenal has left the Bush administration and its allies appearing less than credible in regard to military intelligence. (Some would say intelligence, period.) The waste, of lives and money, is more grounds for anger.

It does not help matters that Bush/Cheney favorite Halliburton appears to be the biggest pig at the trough.

Earlier this month, Halliburton agreed to repay the U.S. government about $27.4 million that it had overbilled for meals at five military bases in Iraq and Kuwait.

. . .Back when Halliburton was given such a large and lucrative role in U.S.-occupied Iraq -- it also got the contract to repair and refit the oil fields -- the Bush administration denied that it was handing out favors to the Texas-based conglomerate.

. . .Not surprisingly, the decision is now backfiring. First came allegations that the firm was overcharging for gasoline being shipped to Iraq, a matter now under investigation by the Pentagon inspector general.

Then, in January, the company admitted that two of its employees had pocketed enormous bribes from a Kuwaiti subcontractor servicing U.S. troops. Halliburton promptly coughed up a $6.3 million reimbursement check.

Reading the facts about Vice President Dick Cheney's longterm ties to Halliburton, his $20 million retirement package and the continuing oddities in the relationship alone could make a person wonder.

The anger at George W. Bush seems understandable to me.

7:45 PM

Friday, February 20, 2004  

Reading: Mieville makes waves with The Scar

After reading China Mieville's startlingly perceptive second novel, Perdido Street Station, continuing on to his third, The Scar was a given. There were questions to be answered. Could the writer, who had created an amazing combination of a simultaneously backward and futuristic world in the earlier book, maintain both his creativity and momentum in a new effort? Would some of the remarkable characters from the earlier book reappear? Would the protagonist be as fascinating and annoying as the memorable scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin from PSS? Those questions and more were answered when I closed the cover to the 600-plus page speculative fiction novel The Scar earlier this week.

The Scar is set in the same world as Perdido Street Station, but it never touches ground in the queen city of New Crobuzon. That is because this microcosm is afloat. Armada is a collection of hundreds of pirate ships housing thousands of citizens in a traveling city. The protagonist of the novel, Bellis Coldwine, becomes an unwilling citizen of Armada when she is kidnapped and impressed into its citizenry, along with other crew and passengers on a ship she was taking to the colonies. Coldwine, a translator of Kettai texts, briefly appeared in Perdido Street Station as a former girlfriend of der Grimnebulin. She is on the ship, the Terpsichoria, because Grimnebulin's associates have begun to disappear in the aftermath of his clash with New Crobuzon's government and its subsequent manhunt for him. Coldwine hopes to flee to a faraway colony and stay there until the government loses interest. Her ship, which she has bartered her services as a translator of Cray to in return for passage, is intercepted within weeks of setting sail.

Her new 'government' is like none known before. The Lovers, leaders of one of the more powerful districts in Armada, also dominate the city as a whole. The rivals for leadership include the Brucolac, a vampire chief who taxes the citizens of his district in blood, a libertarian to whom everything is for sell and the usual councils of various leanings. The Lovers have plans for Armada. Big plans. Coldwine becomes entangled in their schemes when she proves to be the best linguist of Kettai available, a language The Lovers need to go forward with an important plan. She is elevated into the elite for a time and allowed to leave Armada with an expedition to a dangerous island. Her ability to translate is further tapped afterward. But, Coldwine, for all her intelligence and nerve, is merely a pawn in more powerful characters' games. She will eventually fall even lower in Armada's hierarchy than she briefly rises.

Among the influential personages Coldwine becomes entangled with are Johannes Tearfly, a naturalist who is important to The Lovers' plan to improve Armada's mode of travel. Silas Fennec, a master spy who is an agent for New Crobuzon's government and needs to contact it desperately, also taps Coldwine as an accomplice. He promises to take her with him when he is rescued if she helps. The Lovers' bodyguard and chief warrior, Uther Doul, takes an intense interest in Coldwine, too. He seemingly makes her his confidant. Only near the end of the narrative does she begin to wonder why.

Mieville has created two other viewpoint characters, including Fennec, though the focus is on Coldwine. The third is Tanner Sack, a Remade man who was being sent to the colonies as a slave when the Terpsichoria was intercepted. The Remade are criminals who have been reshaped biologically or mechanically as part of their punishment. Tanner's transformation is the seeded growth of tentacles from his chest. He appreciates his rescue as much as Coldwine loathes her capture. Despite the differences between the blue collar laborer and the aloof intellectual, they unite in a plan to warn New Crobuzon of an upcoming attack by its enemies they will come to regret. That plan is Fennec's. But, though he is unaware of it, the spy has miscalculated the enemy he is attempting to thwart. Their quarry is himself and they are much, much closer than he thinks.

I wouldn't say The Scar is less a creative accomplishment than Perdido Street Station. But, it is different. Mieville has turned his attention to not just creating a world, but designing rules for it and investigating the connundrums of what leadership and government are. At times, The Scar bogs down because of the need to elucidate how a city of pirate ships would be organized and operate. It does not help matters that The Lovers, a man and woman who try to merge into each other through ritual violence, are not convincing as charismatic leaders thousands of people would follow. Bellis Coldwine's situation poses the question: Does an individual really have much control over her circumstances if they are circumscribed and she is subject to manipulation by others? The most significant fact the protagonist must mold her behavior around is that neither she, nor all but a relative handful of its citizens, can ever leave Armada. They are citizens with certain rights who live their lives unmolested unless there is cause. But, they are also captives. The schemes of the powerful around her frustrate Coldwine's own plans so much that by the end of the book she wonders if she has any personal power at all. These philosophical concerns give The Scar a weight the rollicking Perdido Street Station lacked.

What is The Scar? The question is not answered until very late in the book. The short answer is the scar is the place were chaos has already struck, devastating what was before, but opening a wealth of possibilities. The Scar is either the Holy Grail or Pandora's Box.

11:15 PM

Thursday, February 19, 2004  

Religion: Gibson movie controversies continue

The National Catholic Reporter has tried to put paid to one of the controversies over actor Mel Gibson's reportedly reactionary movie, "The Passion of the Christ." Gibson and others in his circle claim the Pope, John Paul II, approved the film's interpretation of the death of Christ, saying: "It is as it was." However, other persons in positions to know deny the Pope made such a statement.

Vatican reporter John Allen explains the episode from its beginning.

I sympathize with those weary of the controversy surrounding the alleged papal reaction, "It is as it was," to Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ. Not even the most rabid ultramontanist believes papal infallibility extends to movie reviews, so the film will rise or fall on its own merits, apart from anything John Paul thinks. Moreover, the increasingly farcical he said, she said nature of the story is hardly edifying.

Yet there are times when a story is important not so much for its content as for what it reveals about the players involved, and the institutions they serve. Such is the case with the pope's alleged comment, and I'm afraid it doesn't reveal much flattering about anyone.

Allen explains how he believes the 'confusion' arose.

Here's how we got here.

On Dec. 5 and 6, a Friday and Saturday, John Paul II watched “The Passion of the Christ” in his private apartment along with [papal secretary Archbishop Stanislaw] Dziwisz. On Monday, Dec. 8, Dziwisz received [Steve McEveety, the movie's producer] and his wife along with Jan Michelini and Alberto Michelini, Jan’s father. Their conversation took place largely in Italian, a language McEveety and his wife don’t speak. The Michelinis afterwards translated for McEveety what they believe they heard Dziwisz say, namely, that the pope’s reaction to the film was, “It is as it was.” Later that night, McEveety screened the movie for Navarro.

That the Michelinis had access to the pope is not difficult to explain. Alberto Michelini is a well-known Italian journalist and politician, who in 1979 accompanied the pope on his first trip to Poland.

. . .For the record, both Alberto Michelini and Navarro are members of Opus Dei.

Members of Gibson's inner circle promoted the claim the Pope had smiled on the film. The Vatican, through Dziwisz, issued a statement Jan. 19, denying that had occurred. Gibson's people still say they have information proving their claim of approval by the Pope is true, but haven't released it.

Allen is inclined to hold the Vatican more responsible for the controversy over the alleged statement by the Pope, than reporters, who he feels were misled.

The Vatican has made, as the expression goes here, the worst brutta figura. It comes off looking bad. Even if officials were acting for the noblest of motives, they have stretched the meaning of words, on and off the record, to their breaking point. Aside from the obvious moralism that it’s wrong to deceive, such confusion can only enhance perceptions that the aging John Paul II is incapable of controlling his own staff, that “no one is in charge” and the church is adrift. These impressions are not healthy in a time when the church’s public image, especially in the United States, has already taken a beating on other grounds.

Dean of religion Dwight Moody has been thinking about another controversy related to the film -- the claim that it is anti-Semitic because it assigns blame for the death of Jesus to Jews. He warns readers the relationship between passion plays and hatred of Jews is well-established.

“The Passion of Christ” hits the big screens Feb. 25. Mel Gibson is the writer, director and producer of this movie. He weaves material from a medieval mystic into the biblical narrative of the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life.

The Gibson movie has received much more attention than the Bratcher movie. Many Catholic and Evangelical leaders have attended preview showings and have come away with glowing endorsements.

Others are not so sure.

Passion plays have a long history of anti-Jewish bias. For centuries, the worst time to be a Jew in a Christian community was during Holy Week, when passion plays incited the religious fervor of the people. Too often this fervor was directed against the Jews who were called “Christ killers.” About a decade ago, the Vatican released new guidelines on passion plays, including a prohibition on assigning blame for the death of Jesus.

Moody prefers to view the death of Christ as multi-faceted. According to how one approaches it, responsibility can be placed on all the parties, humankind and even Christ himself.

Religion scholar James Martin has been interested in Opus Dei for years. He is considered an authority on the organization. Understanding OD may mean understanding why and how these controversies arose.

Opus Dei Is the most controversial group in the Catholic Church today. To its members it is nothing less than The Work of God, the inspiration of Blessed Josemaría Escriva, who advanced the work of Christ by promoting the sanctity of everyday life. To its critics it is a powerful, even dangerous, cult-like organization that uses secrecy and manipulation to advance its agenda. . . .

His [Escriva's] group grew rapidly, spreading from Spain to other European countries, and in 1950 received recognition by the Holy See as the first “secular institute.” Over the next two decades The Work, as members call it, moved into Latin America and the United States.

Escriva, who was sainted shortly after his death, is said by his critics to have been anti-Semitic and have ". . . pro-Nazi tendencies."

Martin's criticisms of the sect, based on interviews with members and former members, emphasize the secretive, cult-like behavior of Opus Dei and its manipulation of college students.

The controversies that have dogged the movie reflect those that have been associated with Opus Dei. The unsubstantiated claim of approval by the Pope seems typical of Opus Dei leaders' arrogance and overreaching. Nor is the charge of anti-Semiticism new.

It is tempting to say the allegation of anti-Semitism will be resolved when the film is released. However, that platitudinous perspective is not necessarily so. Instead, the matter may become more pregnant than it is now.

11:30 PM

Wednesday, February 18, 2004  

Entertainment: Frustrated by "Fuck It"

I know it. I'm getting older second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour. I don't really feel it, or according to most people I know, look it. But, I had that 'why is this supposed to be the bomb?' response that means one is really and truly over thirty while listening to a new CD Monday night. The song that invoked it is Eamon's "Fuck It (I Don't Want You Back"). It has rhythm and blues harmonies and hip hop beats. The melody draws you in from the start. The lyrics are not nonsensical, as rap singers' too often are. However, they left me wondering why I was listening to the song.

Fuck It

Whoa oh oh
Ooh hooh
No No No

[Verse 1:]

See I dont, know why, I liked you so much
I gave you all, of my trust
I told you, I loved you, now thats all down the drain
Ya put me through pain, I wanna let you know what I feel

Fuck what I said it don't mean shit now
Fuck the presents might as well throw'em out
Fuck all those kisses, it didn't mean jack
Fuck you, you hoe, I dont want you back

I can't say it gets any better.

[Verse 2:]

You thought, you could
Keep this shit from me, yeah
Ya burnt bitch, I heard the story
Ya played me, ya even gave him head
Now ya askin for me back
Ya just another hag, look elsewhere
Cuz ya done with me

Fuck what I said it don't mean shit now
Fuck the presents might as well throw'em out
Fuck all those kisses, it didn't mean jack
Fuck you, you hoe, I dont want you back

And, so on.

The stories behind both the youthful vocalist and the song are sympathetic. He grew up singing with his father's doo-wop group in New York City. The song is supposed to express a teenager's first experience with deception and heartbreak.

I caught Eamon performing "Fuck It" on a talk show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Tuesday night after having written a draft of this entry. Mainly, he seemed young. A long face with big, dark, deer eyes. Hair covered by the requisite hat. His hip hop attire more about the high schoolish desire to fit in than comfort. He must have been sweating pints under the heat of studio lights. The voice? Old-fashioned soulful and capable of range, though it was rarely needed. I was unable to really hear much of the song because it is so laiden with profanity the bleeper was constantly in action. I can't speak for other people, but a bleep tends to distract me from what follows, as well as blotting out the 'dirty' word.

Eamon's single is currently number one on Billboard's R&B charts. It is being hailed as being the most explicit chart topper for the genre ever. Though youths are the most prolific music buyers, millions of people are purchasing, and apparently like, the eponymous album the single is from, too. It is rising fast.

Pat Healey, writing for the Weekly Dig, explains how that can happen.

Take Eamon. When you hear Eamon's No. 1 smooth R & B hit “F**k It (I Don't Want You Back)” on the radio, you don't hear the word “fuck” 25 times. What you do hear is the F-sound, which seems to be an increasing trend in hip-hop and pop music. Rather than inserting a bleep to make absolutely certain that the listener knows some sort of swear has been edited out, radio edits either mute the word entirely or mute right before the first vowel comes along. Why is it that they think the vowel sound in a swear word is the most offensive?

. . .But maybe that's why hip-hop is still selling well in this day and age - because the radio plays the edited versions and the only way to have the unedited versions is to buy them.

My response to "Fuck It" is not to cursing per se. I don't curse much myself, but accept profanity as a legitimate form of expression. When has a 'fuck' or a 'damn' ever caused anyone real harm? I think my discomfort with the profanity is twofold. There is too much of it. The use of profane words is a significant component of the content of the song. Consider the repetitiveness of the rest of the words and that uses up even more ear time. One could be hearing words that say more than 'fuck' and 'shit.' Second, I believe Eamon, who is 19, but looks 12 in some photographs, has unwittingly thrown up a barrier to older listeners. He seems to be all about posturing for his immediate peer group. If he wants to not just grab, but hold the attention of older music buyers, he needs to pen lyrics that communicate universal thoughts instead of lyrics that will impress only listeners who haven't taken the SAT yet.

Note: An issue I haven't explored in this entry is the misogyny in this artist's work. It is worthy of discussion.

5:30 PM

Tuesday, February 17, 2004  

Analysis: Neo-Confederates say they beat Gephardt

Neo-Confederates don't have much to celebrate this year. Their most potent hope, having a governor of Georgia they could manipulate into bringing back the Confederate symbol on the state flag, and supporting their other interests, has waned. So, they settle for banging the drums for some pretty silly reasons. Dick Gephardt was one of the longer shot candidates who entered the Democratic presidential race. He was never projected as a likely contender to the end by the politically savvy. So, it is no surprise that Gephardt folded his campaign Jan. 20. Other candidates, first Howard Dean and now John Kerry and John Edwards, proved more popular with the public. They raised more money. They are more telegenic. In other words, there are rational reasons why Gephard left the race. However, the neo-Confederates are claiming his departure as their victory. A member recently crowed about that in an online article.

It has been a year since Dick Gephardt kicked off his “unofficial” bid for the Democratic nomination for the 2004 presidential election. Standing in South Carolina he proclaimed that the Confederate battle flag was a hurtful divisive symbol and claimed that it should not fly anywhere.

Perhaps Governor Bob Holden actually believed that Gephardt had a chance, for he wasted no time in ordering the removal of the Battle Flag at Higginsville cemetery and the Second National Confederate flag at Fort Davidson Historic Site in Pilot Knob, Missouri.

After some foot dragging Gephardt also criticized the flying of the Confederate flag at the capitol in South Carolina, further fueling the rebel's ire.

COLUMBIA - The Confederate flag should not be flown in the United States, U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., says.

In a statement released Saturday, Gephardt said the flag that flies at the Confederate Soldiers' Monument on South Carolina's Statehouse grounds "is a hurtful, divisive symbol and in my view has no place flying anywhere, in any state in this country."

Gephardt, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, said he was releasing the statement to clarify comments in an article published Saturday in The (Columbia) State newspaper.

"I want to be crystal clear to the people of South Carolina where I stand on this issue," Gephardt said. "I think South Carolina should remove the Confederate flag from any official display anywhere in the state."

That was anathema to the member of the segregationist and secessionist League of the South. They and other neo-Confederates began to harass Gephardt and Holden by appearing at events either attended waving Confederate flags. They also urged their constituency to oppose the two politicians in upcoming elections.

The irony of this situation is that Gephardt is what my blog friend Natalie Davis terms a 'Demublican,' a Democrat whose views have sometimes veered Right. His record on racial justice is mixed as best. Gephardt has been influenced by the very active segregationist movement in Missouri, including meeting with its leadership. The Right Wing news site NewsMax described that relationship in 1999.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt spoke before a prominent St. Louis white-rights organization during his first run for Congress and attended two of the group's picnics after his election, says Gordon Baum, head of the Council of Conservative Citizens.

Interviewed Monday by NewsMax.com, Baum explained that Gephardt had come to a meeting of the Metro South Citizens Council to debate his primary-election opponent.

"The hall was adorned on one side of the speaker's platform with the Confederate flag, and on the other side was the American flag," said Baum. "And Dick Gephardt addressed the group and asked them openly for their endorsement."

"Gephardt is one of many local officials who dropped by the Metro South Citizens Council's gatherings in the early 1980s," according to a March 7, 1999, report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

. . .But groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, and the National Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee contend that the CCC's conservative message is just camouflage for a hidden white supremacist agenda.

Gephardt distanced himself from the CCC after segregationist Sen. Trent Lott came under fire for his links to neo-Confederate organizations.

Unlike Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who was doubtlessly approached by the neo-Confederate movement there, Gephardt has not been an unblinking advocate of racial equality.

The neo-Confederate movement's claim to have defeated the Congressman from Missouri's presidential effort is an empty one that may be a 'back at you' in response to Gephardt's cutting of ties to it as he became more involved in the national spotlight. The fact those ties once existed undermines their assertion that he is among the worst of their enemies. The fact that a presidential candidate can have had such relationships, shows a racist and secessionist movement is not as fringe as many Americans would like to believe.

11:30 PM

Monday, February 16, 2004  

Technology: But should I buy a warranty?

I was the appreciative recipient of a new iPod last week. Yes, Titania, my beloved 20 GB iPod has been retired. Her replacement is a 40 GB third generation iPod. (Haven't thought of a name yet.) I look forward to many hours of listening pleasure. Another wonderful aspect is that the big guy will hold a backup of my computer's entire hard drive easily. As someone who experienced hard drives in the megabytes for laptops, I am greatly impressed by the progress made in just a few years.

But, along with a new electronics acquisition invariably come questions:

•Should I buy a warranty?

•If so, which warranty?

•In regard to cost, how much is too much?

I don't usually buy warranties for small electronics unless they are fragile. Most products will outlive their initial warranties. Or, they will become obsolete and the consumer will want to upgrade. If the item is cheap, I don't mind replacing it after some wear and tear. Selling the warranties, even for as little as $5 each, is pure gravy for the corporations that pocket our money. So, my steam iron and my coffee maker are not under extended warranties. But, my iPod and my PDA are. Both cost $500 and are delicate. So, I believe purchasing an extended warranty is justified.

After meeting my test in regard to whether to buy a warranty, the new iPod raised a second issue. Which warranty should I buy? This was not a question with my first and second generation iPods. Only big box stores offered extended warranties for them back then. So, though I bought the first one at an Apple reseller, I purchased a warranty for it at CompUSA. No, it is not a hassle. You just take the iPod in along with your receipt and say you want to purchase an extended warranty. I purchased mine the same day I bought the iPod, so the box was unopened. But, I am aware of CompUSA selling warranties to people with used iPods bought at other stores. With Titania, since I don't like the Apple reseller I used before all that much, I bought the iPod and the warranty at CompUSA.

However, things have changed. Starting in November of 2003, Apple began offering a warranty for the iPod beyond the three months of coverage that had prevailed previously.

Every iPod comes standard with 90 days of phone support and one year of hardware service coverage. The AppleCare Protection Plan extends your service and support coverage for your iPod, its included accessories, and iTunes software for up to two years from the original purchase date of your iPod. With this plan, you get direct access to Apple experts for answers by phone and anytime access to web-based resources. If your iPod or the included accessories should need service, Apple-certified technicians will repair it or provide a replacement using genuine Apple parts. We recommend that you purchase the AppleCare Protection Plan with your new iPod to take maximum advantage of the coverage the plan provides. This comprehensive plan is available for all iPod models within their one-year limited warranty that connect to either Macintosh computers or Windows PCs.

I've generally gotten a favorable response when I've had problems with electronics covered by CompUSA's Technology Assurance Program (TAP). The store even refunded my money when my NEC subcompact laptop failed a couple years ago. (It took some prodding. Merchants hate to disgorge funds .) So, I was willing to consider TAP, too.

Price can be a factor in selecting a warranty. One reason I recommend eschewing warranties on the small (in price) stuff is because they are often a significant addition to the cost of the item. If I buy an FM transmitter for my iPod for $29.99 and pay $7.99 for an extended warranty, I've significantly raised the cost of an item that will likely be obsolete in less than a year. However, neither Apple Care ($59) nor TAP ($65) coverage of an iPod is particularly expensive.

After thinking through these issues, the deciding factor for me was CompUSA's replacement policy. If the iPod needs a repair within the two years covered, they will simply hand over a new iPod. Apple, on the other hand, will send me a refurbished iPod of the same model if I send in a broken iPod for repair. I would rather have the new one. This same policy applies to another small electronics under TAP. If your PDA or phone fails, it is likely to replaced instead of repaired, too.

There is a rumor afoot, which started at iPod Lounge, that CompUSA no longer offers extended warranty coverage for the iPod.

According to the manager, it seems that they don't offer TAP on iPods anymore.

I brought my iPod in to a customer service counter, and asked about TAP. I showed my PayPal receipt, since I bought it from someone in Boston via eBay. It was dated for September 24th, 2003. I showed her my iPod, and she took it to check the serial number to see if it was under warranty. Turns out the estimated purchase date was 9/4/03. She said I'd be fine, and the 2-year TAP would cost $44.95.

Unfortunately, when she handed me over to the cashier, he had to get the manager. He said I couldn't get TAP, so he offered the Apple Care Protection Plan.

Fine, I'm going snowboarding on Friday, I want some kind of insurance in case I don't get the iPod Armor in time. $64.94 later, I'm insured.

My recent experience belies that. Both options, Apple Care and TAP, are available.

So, you don't have an iPod. Even so, I believe that giving some thought to the issues involved in buying warranties is a good idea. Sales clerks are often under pressure to try to sell you one on everything short of bottled water. It is up to you to make an intelligent decision about whether you really need a warranty, which warranty to buy and how much to pay.

1:15 PM

Friday, February 13, 2004  

Blogospherics: The cool kids

Wordy rappinghood

Several bloggers have added recurring word for today entries to their weblogs. Being a word-a-holic, I always stop and read those. One of the most interesting currently is at Blah3.

Word of the Day


An abnormal fear of the number 13.

Wanna take bets on whether there's a White House briefing today? My money says no.

Another source of new words for me is the Scrabble game on my Palm Tungsten C. The latest, Version 1.2 , which is from Handmark, contains a usable dictionary. One can actually look up words and get a definition from Merriam-Webster. Earlier versions of the game were not nearly as neat. If you haven't upgraded, do.

And, yes, George W. Bush does strike me as the kind of person who is superstitious. He is someone who avoids thinking, and that personality type often likes shortcuts that make thought unnecessary.


I thought I had Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," in iTunes and I do. The perfect song for this entry, eh?

Let's hear it for links

Filmmaker and blogger Brian Flemming has launched a blog ad campaign too promote his movie, Nothing So Strange. That required thinking about what blogs are and do.

Blogads are fun

"Nothing So Strange" is running Blogads to promote the DVD release. Because I actually know what a blog is, I have been put in charge of this particular portion of the ad campaign. It's an awesome responsibility.

I had lunch with Blogads proprietor Henry Copeland this weekend, and he gave me some excellent advice on running the campaign. Henry told me not to try to communicate too much information with the ad, as tempting as that might be. Don't underestimate the 'wtf?' aspect, he said. So I'm trying to create simple ads that create curiosity. Nothing So Strange has a densely packed website, so there's no reason not to let the website do the work.

Henry recommended on his blog a few weeks back to "update your ad text and image often," but he didn't need to tell me that. I know from reading blogs all the time that I get used to the layout of each blog and habitually tune out all the familiar clutter at the edges. Only when something changes do I notice.

Brian, for whom mischevious is an understatement, couldn't resist the urge to play around with his ad. He linked it to an entry about his belief that sort of President Bush has had plastic surgery on his (cocaine affected?) nose. Just for the fun of it , for a few hours. Now that rumor has legs. Short, stubby legs. This is the blogosphere, after all. But legs.

Brian's experience happens to segue into a recent one I have had in the blogosphere. Someone new to blogging attacked an entry I had posted because it contained links to news stories (which he thought were press releases, for some unfathomable reason) and other blogs. Well, as any blogger worth his or her salt knows, links are the life blood of blogging. The fellow has now started a blog of his own. Unfortunately, his ignorance is apparent there, too. It consists of his own run-of-the-mill thoughts, not supplemented by information. Yes, blogging is a very loose thing. However, I believe it is like any other endeavor in that a person should learn what blogs are and do before attempting to have one. 'Person' includes me. I read blogs and was a contributor to several of them for months before starting any of my own. Jumping into blogging with both feet without even knowing what blogging is a fool's act in my opinion.

The blogging blues

Composer and blogger Richard Einhorn at Tristero has a case of the blogging blues. Two of 'those things that happen' interfered with his ability to blog recently.

Between jury duty and a serious computer crash, I have begun to resemble the absent-minded butcher who backed into a meat grinder and got a little behind in his work. So, the next update will be March 1.

I had to send my Titanium PowerBook G4 to Apple to be repaired in December, but, luckily, the repair intersected with the holidays, when I didn't have much time to blog anyway. And, Apple, sent it back amazingly quickly considering the logic board and the screen were replaced. When I first began blogging, I worried about anything that interfered with it a lot. Now, I've learned to take distractions in stride.

The worst form of the blogging blues is when the blogger just doesn't feel like blogging. I used to wonder why some bloggers disappear for days, weeks, months or altogether, with not so much as a good-bye in some cases. Now, I realize there is a kind of malaise. The blogger gets tired of slogging through molasses. He wonders if doing the research and writing is worth the trouble. Another blogger recently expressed it as being tired of his own voice. So far, I haven't succumbed to the deep blogger blues for long enough to affect the viability of Mac-a-ro-nies. But, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Richard has a reading assignment for you while he is away.

Meanwhile, chew on this remarkable article by George Packer in the New Yorker in which Joe Biden blames the American casualties of the Bush/Iraq war on. . .I kid you not . . . Paul Wellstone and the anti-war senators.

I will be following his advice.

4:57 PM

Thursday, February 12, 2004  

Reactions to Super Bowl stunt vary

More than a week after the exposure of part of a woman's breast during a televised American sports event, the wheels, they keep on turning.

But what about the bling bling?

Some public relations firms are applauding the Super Bowl stunt. They say, whether she intended to or not, Janet Jackson acquired what every 'brand' wants -- attention, more attention and the most attention.

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For those in the business of masterminding public-relations stunts for marketers, Janet Jackson's big expose during CBS's airing of the Super Bowl Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson just before Ms. Jackson's breast covering was ripped off during the Super Bowl halftime show has raised a serious issue: how to top it.

For James LaForce, partner in New York PR agency LaForce & Stevens, the Jackson episode was "extremely successful. . . .We love stunts at our agency and she opened the door for more people to take risks," he added. "It raises the bar for all of us."

Whatever the impact on advertisers, CBS and the National Football League, few in the PR field think the stunt harmed Ms. Jackson. Desiree Gruber, president of Full Picture, a PR management company that counts Lisa Marie Presley and Arnold Schwarzenegger as clients, agreed it was a stunt gone right for Janet, and a stunt gone wrong for everyone else, but so what if she upstaged the advertisers?

"Janet is a brand, just as much as a Frito-Lay is," Ms. Gruber said. "Where does a brand begin and end? She sells and she sells directly to the public."

Mr. LaForce thinks that it will be discussed for years to come. In terms of coverage, Ms. Jackson certainly overshadowed the main event, both the game and the commercials. According to media research firm CARMA International, Washington D.C., Ms. Jackson garnered twice the number of U.S. press mentions as the commercials in the four days following the event, though much of that coverage was driven by the Federal Communications Commission investigation of the incident.

An exasperated music publicist, who did not wish to be named, said simply: "Boobs conquer everything from the networks to the media to corporate America."

One can see from her itinerary that Jackson is a good planner. The Super Bowl appearance was just two months before the release of her new album, Damita Jo. Her record company had already arranged to ship a single from the new CD to radio stations the day after before the stunt occurred. If she had not been dissed by the organizers of the Grammy Awards, she would have appeared on the nationally televised show the week after the football game. Upcoming events are also designed to raise her profile. There will be a world tour after the record release. Jackson will also star as Lena Horne in a made for TV movie.

Sometimes, I suspect I'm being naive not to realize everything in America, on some level, is about money. This is in a case in point. I had almost convinced myself Jackson is the loser in this episode -- what with the FCC investigation, sneers from some peers and being dumped by the Grammy people. But, if the Super Bowl stunt rejuvenates her career, as it appears it may, she will surely have won more than she has lost.

The kids are all right

Young Americans are not impressed with their elders often hypocritical response to the Super Bowl stunt. Blue Fusion, a marketing firm that surveys youths about national issues and consumer trends completed a poll Feb. 8.

In response to the question "Do you think CBS is overreacting about the Justin/Janet situation?" 74 percent of youths said "Yes," and 26 percent said "No."

In response to the question, "Do you think the media would have reacted the same to any other artist?" 61 percent of youths said "Yes", 29 percent said "No", and 10 percent said "Don't know."

"Our survey showed that kids don't feel that the "crime" was proportionate with the "sentence", said Morris L. Reid, managing director of Westin Rinehart and managing partner of Blue Fusion. "While 61 percent of the respondents felt that the media would have reacted the same way to any other artist, there was a strong feeling in the other 29 percent that this act was either a ploy to take attention off of the Michael Jackson situation or that it only got such heated attention because Janet is Michael's sister. Our respondents in general felt that a bare breast was too petty a situation to have gotten so much media coverage, in an election year.

The youths overwhelming opposed the barring of Jackson from the Grammy Awards. They also wondered why R. Kelly, who is accused of sexually exploiting teenage girls, was allowed to attend and Jackson wasn't.

I wonder why these kids are so much smarter than their parents.

Who you gonna call -- the FCC?

So, you are cruising down the freeway, balancing a tall double latte from Starbucks and listening to the radio when the disc jockey says, 'Well, piss on that." You are an easily disturbed sort of person, like that woman from Tennessee who sued over the Super Bowl stunt. You spill your coffee and rear end the car in front of you in the confusion. As the police leave and you head off to work late and peeved, you plot revenge. You decide to send an email complaining about radio personnel who say 'piss' to the FCC.

What will happen to your complaint? Most of the time . . . nothing will.

But even when the FCC does get complaints about radio programming it rarely does anything about them. According to FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, the agency rejected 83 percent of more than 500 complaints received in 2002, while many of the others landed in limbo.

Some people think the GOP dominated commission's stasis is political.

"The Republicans are caught here between deregulation, which they always assume is better, and the notions of the Christian Right, which believes deregulation is better except when it comes to talking dirty or showing things that might be sexually overt," said Fritz Messere , a professor at the State University of New York at Oswego and former FCC assistant commissioner. "As a result the Republicans find themselves talking about deregulation out of one side of their mouth, and saying they need regulation on the other side of their mouth."

Another problem is the difficulty of defining "indecency" in a broadcast. What is considered acceptable language changes over time and by context. For example, though it is on the list of the infamous "seven dirty words," the FCC has decided that using 'fucking' in a non-sexual context is not indecency. You wouldn't have any luck with your complaint about 'piss,' either. The commission has deemed it acceptable when used to express disapproval.

I suspect the phony furor over the Super Bowl stunt has given people a false impression of the FCC. Chairman Michael Powell has growled over the supposedly outrageous conduct of Jackson and Jason Timberlake. But, when that growl is put to the test, it may become a purr.

6:30 PM

Tuesday, February 10, 2004  

News and analysis: Life . . . and limitations

Back in my law firm days, I became fairly well-informed about the rights of the handicapped. We did large tort cases and some products liability law. However, you don't discover much about plaintiffs as people from research. One way I learned more about what disabled people were thinking was by spending some time at online forums for those with disabilities. Two news stories yesterday led me to think about something I realized there.

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (AP) -- A paraplegic pursuing his love of auto racing struck and killed a worker picking up track debris during a race at the Daytona International Speedway, an accident that has raised questions about worker safety during races.

Roy H. Weaver III, 44, who worked at the speedway for seven years, was in the middle of turn No. 2 during a caution period when he was killed, track spokesman David Talley said Sunday.

The driver, Ray Paprota, 41, is the first known paraplegic to race in a national stock car series. He controlled his car with levers, buttons and knobs located on or around the steering wheel.

. . .Paprota, who hasn't had use of his legs since a 1984 auto accident, was trying to catch the main pack of cars after a two-car crash at the opposite end of the track brought out a yellow flag. He was driving at more than 100 mph.

Since the crash that killed Weaver is recent, it has not been established whether Paprota's reliance on a specially designed race car was a causal factor in the accident. But, what if it was?

The other incident, also involving harm to someone, occurred closer to home.

CLACKAMAS -- Rescuers found the body of a missing deaf and blind man near the Bagby Hot Springs area of the snow-covered Mt. Hood National Forest on Saturday evening, authorities said.

Monmouth resident Richard Thomas Melton, 26, probably died of hypothermia, said Jim Strovink, spokesman for the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. Melton was dressed lightly -- in shorts and a sweatshirt -- when he went missing early Saturday morning.

The temperature in the area was about 35 degrees, with two feet of snow on the ground. Strovink said investigators didn't suspect any foul play.

Searchers found Melton's body just off the Bagby Hot Springs Trail, between the Bagby Hot Springs tub area and the Bagby parking lot. The trail is approximately a mile and a half long, and three feet wide and has rugged terrain, with steep drop offs of 20 to 30 feet.

Melton and a friend, who is also deaf, decided to go hiking and hot tubbing last weekend. Neither of them was dressed for the terrain, which is still covered with snow in places. In addition to not wearing coats, they had on unsuitable footwear. They did not take food, flashlights or blankets. Melton, unable to see after losing his glasses, became separated from his friend, possibly after they had a spat, and disappeared.

A Monmouth man who wandered off the trail Friday night at Bagby Hot Springs died of hypothermia, the state medical examiner's office ruled Monday.

Sheriff's officials confirmed that Melton was missing about 3:30 a.m. Saturday, Brandenburg said. A companion, Luana Pollock, 25, of Silverton alerted a passing motorist about 2 a.m. that she had lost sight of Melton as they hiked out from the hot springs.

After a preliminary drive-by search of the area and confirmation by Monmouth police that Melton had not returned home, the department launched its highest level of search effort about 6:45 a.m., Brandenburg said.

Pollock now says she and Melton did not quarrel and she did not walk away from him. Instead, she says, she lost him when the cigarette lighter he had been using as their only method of illumination went out. According to her, the problem was aggravated when people she encountered refused to interact with her because she can't speak clearly.

The friend of a Monmouth hiker who died after wandering off a trail said she tried to get help immediately, but no one would communicate with her because she is deaf and cannot speak well.

Luana Pollock, 25, of Silverton, speaking through her mother Sunday, described her frustration at trying to tell other hikers on the trail that she'd lost sight of her friend, Richard Thomas Melton, 26, who was deaf and sight-impaired.

"Her speech isn't good, and they just thought she was a weirdo and shrugged her off," said Pollock's mother, Sherry Pollock of Silverton. "If someone would have taken the time to listen to her, they would have known they were in trouble."

I have observed able bodied people treat disabled people as if they have a disease that can be communicated. Shying away, averting their eyes or even making fun of the handicapped. I believe it comes from some atavistic desire to ward off harm by scapegoating those considered unfortunate.

A recurring theme I noticed in my visits to forums for the disabled was a desire by handicapped people to do things they, realistically, couldn't. Often, the things they wanted to do were physical. That is not surprising considering that most people who suffer mobility impairing injuries are young and physically active.

I don't know whether Peralta will return to racing cars or not. Arguably, if any driver could have accidentally run down a track worker, it doesn't matter that a paraplegic driver did. But, I suspect there will always be a nagging doubt in his mind, and other people's, about whether his handicap played a role in the accident.

I see the Melton incident as mainly about negligence by Pollock and he. Yes, the refusal of other hikers to try to understand her garbled words delayed the rescue attempt. However, but for the two young adults, both of whom had normal intelligence, having set out on and continued a poorly planned excursion, Melton would not be dead.

On Sunday, the mothers of Melton and Pollock shared one regret:

"There is this thing about people not wanting to connect with someone who's deaf," Sherry Pollock said. "Maybe this could have come out differently if someone had just tried to communicate with my daughter.

"Aside from that, two deaf kids never should have been up there by themselves in the first place."

So, what is to be done? There are amputees who want to break dance. Paraplegics who desire long distance swims. Deaf people who would love to perform lieder. And, there was at least one girl with bad vision who wanted to fly airplanes -- me. Yes, too many years ago, this sufferer of keratoconus, which makes my right eye pretty useless, failed the unaided vision test for flight school. I've taken up activities that don't require excellent eyes instead. There may be devices that will allow a disabled person to perform a version of the desired activity. But, often, there is no way to compensate. We can cavil with fate, but it seems to be that sometimes people just have to accept their limitations.

10:15 PM

Monday, February 09, 2004  

Analysis: Gay unions the issue for Christian Right

Christian conservatives have decided to rally around opposition to gay marriage as their focus issue for the campaign season. Having their candidate win the White House, with the help of the U.S. Supreme Court, turned out to be a mixed bag. Since, far Right Christian organizations have had difficulty attracting attention and raising money with the direct mail campaigns they rely on. One issue they've used to galvanize their public is continuing agitation to erode the constitutional safeguards against establishment of religion. Another, disapproval of gays marrying, has now emerged as prime. The New York Times recently investigated.

"Things have not gone well in the past couple of years," said Paul M. Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation. "The movement had not been gaining members, it has not been winning battles, with the exception of the pro-life issue, and those were marginal battles. This issue has come along and it appears to be turning things around."

The cause took on new energy after leading Christian conservatives congregated last summer.

Last spring, the Rev. Donald E. Wildmon of Tupelo, Miss., decided to hold a summit meeting of the Christian conservative movement.

Mr. Wildmon felt the movement was losing the culture war, he recalled in an interview on Friday. Since plunging into political activism nearly 30 years ago, Christian conservatives had helped Republicans take control of Washington but did not have enough to show for it, Mr. Wildmon said. At the same time, the election of Republican politicians had drained some of the motivation out of its grass-roots constituents.

So Mr. Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association and a crusader against sex and violence in the media, sent an e-mail message inviting about two dozen other prominent Christian conservatives to a meeting in Arlington, Va., last June. About 14 people turned up with no set agenda, Mr. Wildmon recalled.

"All we knew was we were going to get together and see if there were some issues of concern that we could agree on and combine our efforts," Mr. Wildmon said.

"The first thing that popped up," he said, "was the federal marriage amendment."

The participants carved together their initial plan for promoting a constitutional amendment to ban gay unions. Two legal decisions, SCOTUS' ruling that the right to privacy protects gays engaged in sex acts, and a recent state court opinion that held refusing homosexuals matrimony denies them equal protection, have continued to motivate the persons involved.

Several people at the Arlington meeting said their constituents were more concerned about gay marriage than about almost any other issue. "I have never seen anything that has energized and provoked our grass roots like this issue, including Roe v. Wade," said Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has 16 million members.

Then, the road turned rocky. Most of the Christian Right leaders wanted language that unequivocally denied gays marital rights.

But almost as soon as the Arlington meeting began, the discussion turned to a debate over the language of an amendment. For years, the Alliance for Marriage, an ecumenical group, had pushed for a constitutional amendment to prevent courts from forcing states or the country to recognize same-sex marriages. Echoing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, the proposed amendment would allow state legislatures to recognize gay civil unions, a provision that had alienated many conservatives. Though the proposed amendment had been introduced in Congress last spring, the Christian Coalition was one of the few organizations in the Arlington group to support it.

Most of the others considered it far too permissive. "I don't care if you call it civil unions," Michael P. Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said last week. "I don't care if you call it domestic partnership, I don't care if you call it cantaloupe soup, if you are legally spouses at the end of the day, I am not willing to do that."

Though some of the most hardline left the fold, the proposal that emerged fit the model the Alliance for Marriage wanted. It offers a compromise, recognition of quasi-marital rights in lieu of allowing gays to wed. However, the proposal has run head on into the decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, which expressly forbids civil unions for gays.

In a 4-3 ruling, the court gave the Massachusetts state Legislature six months to rewrite the state's marriage laws for the benefit of gay couples.

The ruling by the court on the Massachusetts Constitution could set new legal ground, and drew quick reaction from advocates on both sides of the issue. Massachusetts' governor immediately denounced Tuesday's decision and said he would work for a constitutional amendment to overturn it. But an openly gay U.S. congressman from the state said the amendment couldn't come before the voters before 2006, and by that time same-sex marriages will be law.

If other state courts take the same stance, the proposed amendment will be meaningless.

Leaders of the movement met with presidential advisor Karl Rove recently. They say they were told President George Bush is fully behind their proposal. However, signals from the White House have continued to be cautious, not echoing the strident tone of the activists.

So far, however, the president has yet to publicly fulfill Mr. Rove's private assurances. In a statement after the Massachusetts court affirmed its ruling last week, Mr. Bush called the decision "deeply troubling" but again offered only conditional support for an amendment. "If activist judges insist on redefining marriage by court order, the only alternative will be the constitutional process," he said, without using the word "amendment."

In addition to the proposed constitutional amendment, opponents to gay marriage in states that permit a form of it, Vermont and Massachusetts, and soon, California, can appeal to the the U.S. Supreme Court. It seems doubtful that the Court will choose to wade into the issue, though. Traditionally, states determine the rules of relationships in the domestic sphere.

The most significant change in American political scene during the last decades was the emergence of the GOP's Southern Strategy. It encouraged the exodus of working and middle-class white Americans from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. That in turn, resulted in conservative dominance of federal politics. The GOP has also increased its share of governorships and other state offices. If the Christian Right has its way, the opposition to gay unions will bolster the gains made by the Southern strategy. But, will Bush stick? The answer to that question may determine whether gay rights will be the dominant domestic political issue in this decade, as opposition to civil rights legislation was during the the 1960s.

On the same page

Natalie Davis has posted a description of a gay marriage in (gasp!) 1973 at All Facts and Opinions.

It was love at first sight. They had met at the elevator just outside the sixth-floor tearoom of the Atlanta YMCA, September 2, 1973. They were both native Southerners; one white, the other black. They commuted, as lovers often do, 100 miles every weekend for five months just to be with each other. Not one of their friends was surprised when they decided to marry.

Charles2 at the Fulcrum sees the similarity between separate but equal in a racial context and in regard to sexual preference.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court got it exactly right (WSJ) yesterday. And it was wonderful to hear - finally - a high court use the language of the civil rights movement in discussing this issue.

Whatever you call the legal union of two people, the rights of that couple should not be different based on; race, color, creed, national origin or sexual orientation. We've done the whole "separate but equal" thing before. You'd think we'd have learned our lesson.

•In an entry last summer, Victor at Balusubramania's Mania, referred to Andrew Sullivan's statement: "What about being homosexual obligates one to be a Democrat? Or a lefty? Nothing, absolutely nothing." It seems to me that the question is becoming an easier one. If the Bush administration fully supports the Christian Right in regard to gay marriage, which he has backed, even Sullivan may have to part company with the Republicans.

7:08 AM