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Friday, March 12, 2004  

Technology: Audio expert profiles iPod users

As an owner of her third iPod, one from each generation, I am either a person of great taste, a control freak or both, according to an expert on users of audio in the contemporary urban environment. I choose the cooler designation, person of good taste, of course. Some technologies are off-putting, but I haven't found the iPod to be one of them.

Lecturer Dr. Michael Bull is "the world's leading -- perhaps only -- expert on the social impact of personal stereo devices," according to The New York Times.

Bull, a lecturer in media and culture at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, is the author of Sounding out the City: Personal Stereos and the Management of Everyday Life, a book Bull calls the "definitive treatment" of the impact of the Sony Walkman and its descendants.

Now Bull has turned his attention to Apple's iPod.

Bull is currently interviewing iPod owners about how, when, where and why they use the iPod, and how it integrates into their everyday lives.

The interviews will be the basis of Bull's forthcoming book, Mobilizing the Social: Sound Technology in Urban Experience. The book, to be published next spring, will examine the impact of cell phones and car sound systems, as well as the iPod.

Bull believes a cigar is more than a cigar. According to him, our avid approval of a device that allows us to decide when and where we listen to music is a way to control our environments.

WN: But does it make people antisocial? Is music less of a social experience than it used to be? The New York Times ran an article last week about New Yorkers using their iPods to block out the city. But isn't that the point of personal stereos? What's different about the iPod that wasn't true of the Walkman?

Bull: People like to control their environment, and the iPod is the perfect way to manage your experience. Music is the most powerful medium for thought, mood and movement control....

The Times asked what becomes of the public space when the public space becomes privatized. What about the others -- the person in the supermarket checkout you don't recognize is there? It asks whether the public space becomes colder as the personal space becomes warmer through music.

There's a lot of studies in the literature that demonstrate with the urban space, the more it's inhabited, the safer you feel. You feel safe if you can feel people there, but you don't want to interact with them.

Music allows people to find pleasure in the place they're existing. (Personal stereos) make the user's life much better. It helps them manage urban life.... Urban life is one of the reasons they're using these devices. How often do you talk to people in public anyway?

As some of you know, I have written about public and private space topics often because they intrigue me. I agree with Bull that this is another form of the issue. I believe some limitations on public space, such as Starbuck's rule against patrons taking pictures in their establishments, do make public spaces colder. However, I don't see that occurring with the iPod. I usually listen most when I am in transit, especially when walking or taking public transit, which consists of buses, trolleys and trains where I live. If I were not listening to music on the iPod, I would be reading a print magazine or book, or, tellingly, reading the news, a periodical or a book on my PDA. So, the iPod is replacing a noncommunicative behavior. Furthermore, there are other forms of current technology that use space in the same way, such as the previously mentioned PDA and cell phones. One of the attributes of the iPod is that it is private. Unlike talking on the phone, I am not forcing other people sharing the public space to share my experience when I'm listening to music. An interesting side effect of being into the iPod for two years is that I find leakage from portable CD players and lesser MP3 devices more annoying than I did before. I have come to believe that, unless asked to share, one should keep one's music to oneself.

But, what of Bull's belief the iPod can be used as an avoidance mechanism? That is true some of the time. When I am listening to my iPod, with the white earbuds in my ears being so noticeable, I am able to thwart some unwanted social contact. As recently as yesterday, I deflected a hopped up panhandler. I watched him annoy a man from several feet a way. The vagrant, who was filthy and smelled like sewage, walked alongside the man and kept tugging at his elbow while demanding money. I was next. My response was to look straight ahead as if I had not even noticed him. The earphones made the pose credible. The panhandler left me alone and sought out another person a few feet ahead of us. He went through his routine of pestering the mark again. Such experiences aren't unusual. If one is listening to the iPod and affects the 'in another world' look required, people one does not want contact with get the message.

A new twist is that the latest generation of iPods have a truly functional remote. One can have the earphones on, but have turned the iPod off by remote. So, you do hear what is going on around you. But, unless he is hip to the remote, the observer does not know you can hear everything going on. The user gets to grant permission to other people to talk to him or her. Or not.

I may be atypical. I do talk to other people in public. Not every stranger I see, but enough to share public space and meet new people. I look forward to seeing how Bull supports his belief that most people want to avoid interaction with others in his book.

If you are an iPod owner, you can participate in the study by contacting Bull.


5:15 PM

Thursday, March 11, 2004  

News and analysis: Gay rights group grabs spotlight

The most important player in the movement to bring gay marriage to Oregon is a gay rights organization. Basic Rights Oregon was originally formed during the late 1980s to fight a series of ballot measures targeting any change in the status of homosexuals. A Christian fundamentalist leader, Lon Mabon, has devoted a decade and a half to fighting what he perceives as the imposition of the perverted goals of gays on the citizenry of the state. His main weapon has been use of Oregon's very liberal referendum procedure. However, that long confrontation is not what has brought the national spotlight to BRO. Instead, the development of a situation that not even the most avid opponent to gay rights is likely to have foreseen occurring with such alacrity did.

Oregonians turned on their televisions March 3 to watch live broadcasts of something they had never seen in their state: men marrying men and women marrying women.

Multnomah County officials had suddenly upended state law -- and centuries of tradition -- by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

And behind it all was a gay-rights group, Basic Rights Oregon.

The group first persuaded four county commissioners -- at great political risk to them -- to seek a legal opinion that opened the door for same-sex marriage. Basic Rights Oregon was kept in the loop about the county's secret plans, allowing it to orchestrate for the biggest media impact possible.

The county attorney, Agnes Sowle, decided barring gays from marriage violated the equal protection clause of the Oregon Constitution. She and the four county commissioners intended to withhold the opinion until March 10, but, by March 2, the news had leaked out. On March 3, homosexuals were issued marriage licenses.

Basic Rights Oregon is the result of a setback for gays in the state. In 1988, Lon Mabon's organization, the Oregon Citizens Alliance, was sucessful in winning a ballot measure that reversed a governor's decision that discrimination on the basis of sexual preference was illegal in state employment. Mabon would go on to author and place on the ballot several more anti-gay measures, including one that sought to have the Oregon Constitution define homosexuality as "perverse." However, by the early 2000s, the OCA was reeling. It had lost a lawsuit for harassment of opponents, including an assault. Mabon tried several maneuvers to protect his assets from being seized, most memorably declaring himself a church. Meanwhile, the gay rights movement marched on, both in Oregon and elsewhere. One of the achievements of BRO was preventing the passage of a Defense of Marriage Act by the Oregon legislature. That accomplishment became very important a week ago.

At the turn of the century, a new director took the reins at Basic Rights Oregon.

Behind this bold move is Rochella "Roey" Thorpe, the group's director. In 2001, Thorpe took over a battle-weary organization that nonetheless wanted to go on the offensive.

As recently as a few months ago, Thorpe didn't expect that same-sex marriage would be the defining issue for her organization. But as the national debate about same-sex marriage widened, she grabbed it.

Thorpe, 41, said she pushed the same-sex marriage issue believing a ballot measure to ban it was coming anyway.

"We could see the backlash coming no matter what we did," Thorpe said.

When the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that refusing gays marriage violated the state constitution's equal protection clause, Thorpe was ready. She lead an organization with more than 7.500 members, two political action committees and money in the bank. But, of most importance, she had the ear of local government.

Basic Rights Oregon's political clout comes not from traditional means of lobbying and campaign contributions. Instead, the group has persuaded many politicians that they can be part of the civil rights battle of this generation, an argument that has had wide appeal among Portland area leaders.

. . .She chose Multnomah County, where voters roundly voted against OCA measures and where she knew four of five commissioners were sympathetic.

"The people who are attracted to public office in Multnomah County are attracted to these kinds of issues," said Serena Cruz, one of the county commissioners who met with Basic Rights Oregon before the county announced its decision on same-sex marriage.

Thorpe describes the victory as the logical result of years of work by Basic Rights Oregon.

"I felt," Thorpe said, "like we were the right organization to take this on, and it was the right time."

Since there is no state Defense of Marriage Act to prevent gay unions, and the constitution does not explicitly say spouses must be of different genders, Oregon's legal circumstances were optimum once a decision was made to go forward.

It is still possible gay marriage in Oregon will be stymied, if not stopped. The California Supreme Court ruled that San Francisco, which preceded Multnomah County in allowing gay unions, must cease granting licenses to gays until legal issues are resolved today. If the Oregon attorney general issues a formal decision saying the applicable statutes implicity apply only to female-to-male unions, a temporary halt to gay marriages may occur in Oregon. Ultimately, the issue would be resolved by the Oregon Supreme Court.


11:30 PM

Wednesday, March 10, 2004  

Blogospherics: In favor of outcasts

I am not much of a 'personal blogger.' To the extent I do any at all, it is usually giving my personal opinion on a public issue. But, I do read some personal blog entries. Occasionally, one of them will strike a chord with me. That occurred today with an entry I read at Muddy Blog. The commonality that initially drew me in to Anne's entry is introversion. Like her, I am more inner than outer directed.

There are also other aspects to her entry that interest me. Among them is Anne's individualism, though she does not use that word.

Outcast

I commented on a post of Vanessa's with a vehemence that surprised me and then I realized why. It bothers me to be who I am. Oh, I wouldn't ask to be other than I am, really, but being bi-sexual to me has never been about politics or about "oh wow, yer bi too? We should hang out!" or etc. I am an introvert, I am a loner, and so the nature of who I chose to love (or who choses to love me) has very little to do with how I spend my time outside the bedroom. That's not something I'm proud of, not something I'd not dearly love to change someday, not something that doesn't quietly eat me up. It's just the truth.

God knows I am thankful for all those people who have made an impact on my life, who've been there for me when I needed them, who've loved me or who've given me love. However, I don't see those people as any part of any group besides "people who've loved me". I've never belonged to any cliques or been part of any communities. This didn't change once I discovered that I could be part of the "lesbian/bi-sexual community". In fact, it may have reinforced my introverted tendencies.

Now, far be to from me to judge an entire community, but most of those who actually have considered themselves part of the lesbian community have treated me with disdain bordering on outright hatred. Maybe I tried to too hard to be part of them when I first came out, but it was only because I was relatively young and wanted to be part of anything. I mistakenly thought coming out to certain people would instantly bond us. I was wrong. I was young and stupid, but those experiences scarred me. I was already pretty scarred, granted. However, I began to actually be envious of people who were black or white. How much easier it would be to "fit" if I could shove myself into one category.

In the end, I drove myself crazy trying to be anything but who I was. I was told, over and over that there was a "lesbian and bi community" and I tried my best to find one that would accept me. Finally, as I sat on someones couch one night listening to 16 year olds talking about how cool it was to "snog a girl" I realized I didn't belong there. It was basically a support group for lesbians. If I wanted a therapy session or a quick fuck I'd pay for one. I wanted friends. These people weren't my friends and never would be.

Maybe that's my loner nature talking, maybe if I tried an extra bit harder it would have worked out. I felt their eyes on me, though, telling me that I wasn't pure enough, not butch enough, not radical enough to be among them. So I left. I never tried fitting in again. It's just not something I excel in. I still think it must be nice to be so accepted, so certain of who and what you are, but that's not me. I'm not a "group" person. Don't we outcasts deserve love too?

I am not homosexual or bisexual, but I am 'marginal' in enough ways to know it. Like Anne, I have never done well in cliques. Usually, there will be some stance or requirement I find ridiculous and I will say so. The number one rule in groups is to conform to groupthink. So, saying something as unremarkable as 'I think Jesse Jackson is much too egotistical' or 'We don't know why people are gay, yet' is enough to kindle controversy. The 'in' people, insecure sorts who derive their identity from belonging to the group, will turn the most innocuous disagreement into a conflagration. In fact they are often waiting for someone to say or do something they can find fault with so they can act as enforcers. That is how they maintain their sense of status. I'll pass on them and their nonsense, thank you. The only groups I've been a longterm member of are writers' organizations and a legal fraternity. I've quit so many it is hard to remember them all. For example, the hypocrisy of members of the National Lawyers Guild turned me off while I was still a student. Too many of the members of the chapter I knew were small-minded, bigoted people who pretended to be 'progressives.' One of the privileges they felt they had been born with was bossing people of color around. They mistook wearing Birkenstocks for doing something to improve society. I often see that same phoniness in activities of such people today.

But, that is not the full story. Like one of my idols, writer Alice Walker, I have a bit of the actress in my personality. Sometimes, I play popular girl. I was considered part of the charmed circle in both high school and college when I sought that distinction out. (Walker was homecoming queen, believe it or not.) Being showered with accolades was fun . . . for a while. What I learned from that experience was how the minds of the group directed work. However, I was not impressed. Like, another writer idol, Joyce Carol Oates, I could hardly wait to get away from those people. (She sued to be released from her college sorority.) The shallowness. The self-importance of the people involved. The meanspiritedness toward anyone not in the group. There is not much to recommend cliques in my opinion. So, I believe Anne has made the right decision in not pursuing acceptance by groups. If she had, I think the disappointments would have continued. Not just because they would not have liked her. Mainly because she would not have liked them.

A question begs to be asked: Can people who are already marginalized as members of minority groups afford to be individualistic? There is certainly a price to be paid. The minority group member who chooses to be individualistic removes herself from any chance of embrace by that community. Anne experienced the scorn of the oppressed when she did not meet the expectations of the lesbian and bi-sexual cohort. I've heard of even worse situations, in which gay women revile or even attack bi-sexual women for not fully committing to homosexualtiy. An Indian or a black person who is not religious or 'spiritual' may find himself at odds with those 'requirements' for membership in the group. I have Asian friends who have been marginalized because they refused to conform to group contempt toward other minority groups, such as the rancor between some Koreans and the Japanese or the 'supposed to dislike them' attitude of Korean-Americans toward African-Americans. So, the minority person who chooses to be an individualist is taking a rocky path.

I do not have a 'solution' to the dilemma described here, for either the white, straight person who is self-directed or the doubly outcast minority group member who chooses to go his own way. However, I can say this introvert does not regret choosing the individualist's path. My pleasures in life have mainly resulted from being my inner directed self. The episodes I regret have occurred when I tried to fit in.


6:45 PM

Tuesday, March 09, 2004  

Cultural appropriation: An opposing view

Not everyone agrees with my moderate stance in regard to cultural appropriation, which I blogged about recently. I said that though I have some reservations, I believe it is acceptable for a singer or writer to focus on material from a culture he or she was not born into.

Blogger Chris Kent believes artists are more likely to perform well when they are using material garnered from their own cultures instead of borrowed from those of other people. He believes cultural appropriation is "artistically wrong."

Appropriation is defined as "to make use of material without authority or right." In this case, I'm discussing an author writing about cultures or even races outside of their own personal experience. It takes a very brave, if not eccentric, author to attempt to produce a work of fiction away from the realm of his/her life's experience. One of the first lessons learned in creative writing is to "write what you know." Creative writing, by nature, is an extension of our own observations about the culture and life we live in. We call upon past events witnessed or experienced, forming a theme through dramatic conflict and hopefully reveal an emotional truth (emphasis on hopefully).

One of the examples I used in my second entry about about the topic was Charles de Lint, who is of mainly Dutch descent. I found his probing of Romany culture in his speculative fiction novel Mulengro convincing and well-executed. Kent believes de Lint might have performed better had he written about his own life experiences.

. . .In the unique case of Canadian writer Charles de Lint whose work Mulengro deals with a series of murders taking place within the Gypsy culture, he learned about the subject matter through research. De Lint is of Rom descent and did not grow up within the Gypsy culture. Granted, when writing an historical nonfiction novel, authors must rigorously research their material. But to take this route as an author of creative fiction would seem to be the clearest way to stack the odds against the novel's success. There's virture to such curiosity and research, but it could also leave an exhausted writer holding an emotionally bankrupt manuscript in calloused hands.

Another writer I might have offered as an example is Richard Powers, whose novel The Time of Our Singing, I reviewed not long ago. Powers, a MacArthur Foundation recognized genius, is a polymath adept in music, physics, writing and no telling what else. I described his latest novel, which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

The Time of Our Singing, Richard Powers ' most recent addition to his oeuvre, is the kind of novel that comes so close to perfection that a reader asks 'How?' How does he know all the things he does? How was he able to incorporate them into the novelistic form? How does he manage to live in a society that hates very bright people like the Joker hates Batman and survive, not to mention achieve all he has?

The book is about the Strom family. The parents, Delia and David, meet at Marian Anderson 's historical performance in front of the Lincoln memorial in 1939. Anderson had been barred from performing in Constitution Hall because the Daughters of the American Revolution, its owners, did not want it soiled by a Negro's presence. Despite the fact Delia cannot even drop into a coffee shop with David in segregated Washington, D.C., the classically trained singer and the physicist from Germany fall in love.

Powers, a white American who has led a varied life, is, of course, protected by the priviliges accorded white people and men in our society. He has never been isolated because of the color of his skin, stopped by the police because he fit a racially baised profile or denied housing because his presence in a building or neighborhood is not wanted. His characters have. However, I don't believe being white disqualifies him from writing about a family in which most members are people of color.

Reviewer Margie Thomson explained how Powers looks his work.

. . .He wrote his first novel in the early 1980s and several more since then and is considered one of the most important writers of his generation. It is that "aerial view", that sense of the connectedness of all things, that is his dominant concern in his life and writing. The Time of Our Singing embodies this very thing.

Powers' aerial view allows him to look at society without the biases men and white people use to protect their sense of morality while profiting from an unfair society. Like John dos Passos, Powers is able to combine knowledge from several different disciplines to make his aerial view believable. The material in the book about physics and classical music is just as verisimilitudinous as that about race. What role doest experience play? I suspect Powers has spent some time around African-Americans, but I don't believe that alone is the key to his successful depiction of such characters. He may have researched the Philadelphia Negro phenomenon, but he went beyond that, looking at how such a person would fit, or fail to fit, into the greater white society. It is his ability to do so that helped him get it right. A third ingredient is his knowledge of human nature. If he had set that aside to depict 'the Negro' as 'other' as occurs in stereotypical works, The Time of Our Singing would be an embarrassment, not a soaring achievement.

I concluded:

With this novel, Powers has penned a major monument to that journey that transcends the boundary of race as few novels ever do. He knows racism intimately, without having had to experience it himself. And, he is able to express that knowledge clearly and convincingly.

Kent counters with examples of writers who he believes benefitted from writing about their own cultures.

Authors of fantasy/science fiction are obviously not writing about their childhood and life experience, so the argument, initially, does not hold true with this genre. Take for example (I'll go out on a limb here) Anne Rice, the prolific writer of Gothic supernatural horror that usually plays centuries before her own lifetime. I argue Interview With the Vampire and The Witching Hour were her two most profound novels because she tapped her own life experience. It's her works floating through other countries and centuries that feel forced and fabricated.

Interview With the Vampire is highlighted by the unforgettable character Claudia. A prepubescent child turned vampire, Claudia struggles with her immortality year by year, forever trapped within the body of a child. Rice's own daughter died at a very young age, and the grieving author tapped this pain to create an unforgettable character and one of her most compelling, intimate novels. With The Witching Hour she calls back on her childhood in New Orleans and her young romance with husband Stan in San Francisco. She eventually places the drama squarely within the historic Garden District home she lives in to this day. Rice wrote about what she knew, and passages in The Witching Hour ring with an emotional, human truth rarely seen within her other works.

Appropriation of other cultures may also rob the writer of a chance of creating the great artistic work. Ray Bradbury is a unique example of an author writing about what he knows. We marvel at his classic science fiction novels including Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles . But his most intimate artistic expression, and what I consider to be his finest novel, is Dandelion Wine . This beautiful tribute to a past way of life was is in many ways his own childhood in early 20th century America. It is a haunting masterpiece, and as emotionally truthful a novel one is most likely to read. Bradbury wrote about what he knew (a young boy growing up in 1928), touching what was within, the final result unforgettable art. Appropriation makes it practically impossible to achieve these heights.

I don't doubt that Rice and Bradbury benefitted from the maxim: Write what you know. However, I believe people can come to know more than their own experience of the world. Ann Rice may have a Southern novel that rivals Eudora Welty's works in her, but not have realized that yet. Bradbury, in a famous short story, ""Way in the Middle of the Air," explored being alien as being black in America instead of as being an extraterrestial or a robot. He might have produced a novel that continued that exploration. So, though both writers have not taken the route of borrowing from other cultures to the extent de Lint and Powers did, each could have.

It is mainly because of my belief that the best of artists can transcend the trappings of their own lives that I cannot condemn cultural appropriation.


11:00 PM

Monday, March 08, 2004  

Entertainment: "The Practice" does history

I complain about television as much as anyone. My prophylactic is to watch it sparingly. Most television, particularly network programs, has gone from vast wasteland to empty universe. But, when television is good, like the little girl in the ditty, it is very good. This week's episode of "The Practice" was very good. It was the remainder of a two-part series interrupted at least twice by other programming. So, one had to reacquaint oneself with what had happened previously to understand the plot. Alan Shore, "The Practice"'s current misanthropic trial lawyer, was defending a childhood friend in the murder of the man's mistress. That meant returning to his hometown in Massachusetts, Dedham. That small town has gone down in history as the place where Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted. Shore, like many a smart kid, is as much reviled as admired there. His friend, Paul Stewart (Patrick Dempsey) on the other hand, has overcome bias against those who do well to become a respected physician.

So far, so good. However, Shore is in even more trouble than usual. The defendant left blood, hair, and semen on the corpse. He was seen fleeing the woman's home near the time the murder occurred. He was running to his priest to confess . . . something. His wealthy mother has bribed the key witness not to testify -- a promise she breaks. Shore, who faces mediocre classmates from the past as his adversaries, has to come up with something to offset the circumstantial evidence that will surely convict his client. He decides his trump card is the case that made Dedham infamous.

At 3:00 P.M. on April 15,1920, a paymaster and his guard were carrying a factory payroll of $15,776 through the main street of South Braintree, Massachusetts, a small industrial town south of Boston. Two men standing by a fence suddenly pulled out guns and fired on them. The gunmen snatched up the cash boxes dropped by the mortally wounded pair and jumped into a waiting automobile. The bandit gang, numbering four or five in all, sped away, eluding their pursuers. At first this brutal murder and robbery, not uncommon in post-World War I America, aroused only local interest.

Three weeks later, on the evening of May 5, 1920, two Italians, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, fell into a police trap that had been set for a suspect in the Braintree crime. Although originally not under suspicion, both men were carrying guns at the time of their arrest and when questioned by the authorities they lied. As a result they were held and eventually indicted for the South Braintree crimes.

Vanzetti was also charged with an earlier holdup attempt that had taken place on December 24, 1919, in the nearby town of Bridgewater. These events were to mark the beginning of twentieth-century America's most notorious political trial.

My brows rose when I realized where the plot was going. Instead of keeping to the usual tenets of television shows about the law, the writers had decided to present a history lesson. That is a risky move. History, including relatively recent history, bores many Americans, who respond by not having a clue about most of it. For example, I am currently reading a blogger who apparently has never heard of the Southern Strategy -- the political machinations that moved most Southern white voters from the Democratic Party to the GOP. People do not like to reminded of their ignorance. By bringing up a historical case, be it the Snopes trial, Brown v. Board or Sacco and Vanzetti, the producers of "The Practice" were practically inviting viewers to switch channels to less taxing fare. The show soldiered on.

On April 9, 1927, after all recourse in the Massachusetts courts had failed, Sacco and Vanzetti were sentenced to death. By then the dignity and the words of the two men had turned them into powerful symbols of social justice for many throughout the world. Public agitation on their behalf by radicals, workers, immigrants, and Italians had become international in scope, and many demonstrations in the world's great cities--Paris, London, Mexico City, Buenos Aires--protested the unfairness of their trial. This great public pressure, combined with influential behind-the-scenes interventions, finally persuaded the governor of Massachusetts, Alvan T. Fuller, to consider the question of executive clemency for the two men. He appointed an advisory committee, the "Lowell Committee," so-called because its most prominent member was A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard University. The committee, in a decision that was notorious for its loose thinking, concluded that the trial and judicial process had been just "on the whole" and that clemency was not warranted. It only fueled controversy over the fate of the two men, and Harvard, because of Lowell's role, became stigmatized, in the words of one of its alumni, as "Hangman's House." "Not every wop has the switch to the electric chair thrown by the president of Harvard."

Sacco and Vanzetti were executed on August 23, 1927, a date that became a watershed in twentieth-century American history. It became the last of a long train of events that had driven any sense of utopian vision out of American life. The workings of American democracy now seemed to many Americans as flawed and unjust as many of the older societies of the world, no longer embodying any bright ideal, but once again serving the interests of the rich and the powerful. American intellectuals were powerfully moved by the case.

Alan Shore argued that the citizens of his hometown had brought infamy on it by convicting innocent men of crimes for which they could die decades ago. Now, they had a chance not to make the same mistake. They could refuse to convict his client on the basis of inconclusive evidence. I fear real life jurors would respond to such an argument by dismissing it as bookish, the stuff of pointy-headed intellectuals. The guy had been doing the gal. He was seen leaving the scene of the crime. His clothes were soiled with her blood. Convict him.

The jurors on "The Practice" brought back a not guilty verdict. They could have been convinced by flaws in the prosecution's case, including a prematurely destroyed body and lack of a murder weapon. Or, they might have decided not to risk another wrongful conviction.

I believe it was daring of "The Practice"'s writers to produce a script that required viewers to do some thinking, including reconsidering one of the most intriguing cases in American jurisprudence.

By the way: The defendant did kill his mistress.

Note: I've learned that three small towns were involved in the Sacco and Vanzetti cases. They are Braintree, Bridgewater and Dedham. The convictions in the second, famous crime, occurred in Dedham.

Reasonably related

•Since the addition of the Alan Shore character to "The Practice," it is in danger of becoming the "James Spader Show." Learn more about the very capable actor here.

•Famous jurist Felix Frankfurter wrote about Sacco and Vanzetti for The Atlantic.


4:12 PM

Friday, March 05, 2004  

Cultural appropriation: A writer's perspective

Prolific Canadian writer Charles de Lint has been thinking about cultural appropriation for some time. The matter came to a head when he revisited his his dark speculative novel, Mulengro. The book, which I read last month, is about a series of homicides among Gypsies in Canada. De Lint focused on the Romany myth that people's souls remain stranded in the world if they aren't forgiven when death occurs. Someone literally needs to grant the spirit permission to move on to the afterlife. Mulengro is a demented Gypsy drabarno, magician, who can summon the undispatched supernatural mules or spirits to commit murders for him. He sets out to cleanse North America of Gypsies who he considers assimilated. He believes they are no longer pure and therefore unfit to live. The belief that assimilation makes a Rom marhime is normal, but murdering outcasts is not.

De Lint is not of Rom descent. He learned about Gypsy culture, including the vocabulary he uses in the book, by adept research. He first wrote about his interest in Gypsies when Mulengro was released in 1984.

Romanies have fascinated me for a great many years, not simply because of their Romantic image, but because the mythology that has grown up around them seems to represent a living embodiment of the Trickster -- whether it be the Puck of the British Isles, or Old Man Coyote of our Native Peoples. What appears amoral about them is, in fact, merely a completely different viewpoint. Perhaps, by exchanging their horse-drawn caravans for Caddys, and their tents for tenements, they don't hold the same appeal for as many people today as they did in, say, the early part of the century. But for me, their continued co-existence with, but refusal to assimilate into, Western society merely enhances the romance.

Not being a Gypsy, I doubt very much that I've been able to do more than scratch the surface in regards to Rom beliefs and customs, but I hope that any Gypsy reading this book will understand that I tried my best to present them in an honest light and tell a good story at the same time. To the rest of you non-Gypsies out there, I hope this book will interest you in the Rom enough to seek out some more factual books on them--particularly books written by Romanies, rather than just about them. And for those of you whose interests include music, the Ewan MacColl songs quoted as epigraphs come from a radio ballad that he wrote for the BBC in England, along with Peggy Seegerand Charles Parker. It was called "The Travelling People" and a recording was available in the late sixties from Argo Records (catalogue #DA 133).

In intervening years, de Lint discovered that not everyone approves of Western writers appropriating material from other cultures.

I'm ten years older, the world is much changed and there blows a wind in certain literary quarters that frowns upon something called cultural appropriation, by which is usually meant: white authors mining the cultures of minorities for their own profit and gain while the voices of writers from those same minority cultures go unheard. . . .

I understand their discouragement. It must be so frustrating to see your culture represented in somebody else's book -- perhaps wrongly, perhaps hitting a best seller list and making all kinds of money for its author --while your own work goes mostly unread because it seems only small literary presses will take a chance on something that is (mistakenly) perceived as not capable of grabbing a viable enough market share to make a larger-scale publication commercially viable. But I don't think that censuring the white authors is the answer. We should rather be presenting a united front and promoting each other's work.

De Lint is of mainly Dutch derivation, with some Japanese ancestry, as well. However, like most writers in the Western countries, he acknowledges that his cultural influences have been pretty exclusively European. He says he has attempted to remedy that problem by reading writers from other cultural traditions. De Lint also notes that if the rule of not culturally appropriating material were followed strictly, he would only be able to write mixed-race characters.

Though I have read some of de Lint's fantasy works, it is his darker speculative fiction, originally published under the pseudonym Samuel M. Key, that interests me more. Those works are Mulengro, I'll Be Watching You, Angel of Darkness and From a Whisper to a Scream. His ouevre does include people of different cultural and racial backgrounds. By the time he wrote Mulengro, the police officers who are often characters in his novels had changed from being white men to include women officers, and, a black and white pair of Canadian police, much as modern cop shops have.

An aspect of cultural appropriation is whether a writer treats the minority culture he is borrowing from respectfully. To me, a veteran of plenty of books and other media that made some of my ancestors look like savages, that simply means treating all peoples like . . . people. A writer who does so does not ignore blemishes in regard to cultures or persons.

Much of the tension in Mulengro arises from the fact that Gypsies who are not living in poverty and associate with majority culture are considered outcasts. It would not have been possible to write the book without confronting that reality, which some people might consider disrespectful because it is critical of Rom culture. Both of the protagonists are outcasts. Musician Janfri Yayal became a recording artist after his wife died because he could not afford medical care for her. Ola Faher, the young drabarne who opposes Mulengro, is doubly outcast. Gypsies prefer that powerful magicians not live among them. In order to survive, Faher had to become marhime. She has adopted an identity as a black woman and writes folk wisdom books under a pen name. I can find no more fault with de Lint writing about outcasts of Gypsy culture than I can with Ibo writer Chinua Achebe writing about outcasts in Ibo culture, one of the themes of his masterpiece Things Fall Apart.

De Lint says we need to confront cultural appropriation by integrating the publishing industry. He advises: "Instead of tearing down the white literary establishment, let's work to turn it into a rainbow." Though I know that is easier said than done, I can support that goal as an ideal.

When I'm in bookstores, I sometimes subtly shift works by minority writers out of women's, gay, black, brown, red and yellow ghettoes into mainstream sections where they belong. When I do it, I know I'm going against the tide. The books will be moved back because many people still believe the mainstream is not interested in us -- unless we are being interpreted by straight, white male writers.

De Lint concludes:

No, we can't limit our palette -- that's the death of good writing. But we can make sure that we approach cultural and sexual differences with respect when we write about them. We have to do our research. If we can, we might even run the material by someone from that different culture -- not to be politically correct, but for the sake of veracity. Nothing is worse than the uninformed author; all they do is spread stereotypes and often outright lies. . . .

Let the criteria be good writing -- books that inform and enlighten us while they tell a story -- not the source of the writing. And if that makes me sound naive, so be it. But I'll continue to read as widely as I can, and I'll be enriched by it. And I'll continue to use as large a character palette in my writing as the story requires, because I can't do otherwise and still maintain my integrity to my work.


1:45 PM

Thursday, March 04, 2004  

Cultural appropriation: Who's music is it anyway?

Entertainment blogger Marty Dodge asked the question: Is the music biz racist? His reason for doing so was a report by the Black Music Congress which accused the music industry of favoring white performers of material from black cultures over black performers.

The music industry was charged with institutional racism at the Black Music Congress' debate, entitled 'Are white artists like Eminem, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera appropriating black music?' held at City University London on January 31.

The perception was that the industry was keen to promote white artists performing black music, but reluctant to invest commensurate resources in black artists performing black music or specific types of black music. Although participants felt that white artists could participate within black music genres, so long as they acknowledged their sources and influences, there was however a view that there was a deliberate "political" and "racist" policy to sell black music styles with proven commercial potential using "safe" white faces.

Jazz musician Jamie Callum and soul singer Joss Stone were pointed out as examples - the former, a recipient of a reputed 1m pound record deal and huge marketing by the same company that didn't offer the same opportunities to the more innovative black jazz musician Courtney Pine, and the latter is currently receiving a major push performing a style that most black artists would not be allowed to perform because the gate-keepers of the industry view it as non-commercial and old-fashioned.

I've been giving some thought to the issue of 'cultural appropriation' in regard to literature and music. Let's consider music first. For the last few weeks I have been listening to The Soul Sessions, Joss Stone's virgin release. Stone, who was criticized by the Black Music Congress, a British group that monitors the music industry there, burst onto the contemporary music scene after winning a contest in her native England. She is now 16 and her second album will soon be released.

The Soul Sessions occurred when Stone met rhythm and blues musicians she had longed idolized in Florida and Philadelphia. Her intended debut material was set aside and she recorded several R&B gems under the tutelage of soul legend Betty Wright. The songs are impeccable. With a voice that can range from husky to ethereal, Stone covers material that is anything from delicate to gut bucket. I first heard her best known song, "Super Duper Love" over the sound system at a Starbucks. I was incapable of leaving until I had learned who the artist was by hassling one of the baristas. The number is that striking. Stone does equal justice to "The Chokin' Kind" and "Dirty Man." She blazes new territory with a wonderful reinterpretation of the White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Boy."

Tom Moon, at Black Voices, caught up with Wright and asked her what she thought about her protege.

Do you have to be Black to possess that elusive quality known as "soul"?

R&B veteran Betty Wright, of "Clean Up Woman" fame, doesn't think so.

"I never looked at a person and said `that's a soul singer' judging by the color of their skin," says the 49-year-old artist, who is African-American. "I used to get so ticked by that thinking, you know, `if she's Black she sings soul and if she's White she sings pop.'"

Wright doesn't need to argue the point these days. All she has to do is put on "The Soul Sessions" (S-curve, 3 stars), the just-issued debut CD by Joss Stone that she helped produce.

Stone is a White 16-year-old from the English village of Devon. But when she sings Aretha Franklin or Carla Thomas, she sounds like one of those semi-anonymous background singers who, after serving up attitude on countless recordings from Detroit or Memphis, has emerged from the shadows with a few scores to settle. She has the natural voice, the crazy ad-lib skills, and an ability to project wisdom that is well beyond her years.

Should the blonde teenager, who knows very little about the culture from which the music she sings so well comes, be barred from performing it? I don't see how anyone who considers creativity a valuable contribution to all cultures can answer that question 'Yes.'

Duane, a commenter at Blogcritics, expressed an opinion I am tempted to reiterate.

I agree that it's important for musicians to recognize and acknowledge the origins of the music from which they benefit. On the other hand, I don't agree that race is all that relevant here. Once a musical form is created, it diffuses geographically and culturally. It gets diluted, augmented, twisted, parodied, improved, ruined, hybridized, merged...you name it. It has always been the case. For example, Franz Liszt "stole" Hungarian gypsy music and turned it into the Hungarian Rhapsodies (1840) with great success. You can't keep music in a bottle.

But, when one accepts such a rose colored glasses view of reality, it requires looking past the fact that most cultural appropriation has been one-sided -- the white and powerful taking from the colored and powerless. Furthermore, the appropriators have sometimes expressed scorn for the people whose culture they were taking their art from, such as Irishman Elvis Costello's infamous remarks years ago.

While touring the US in support of his Armed Forces album, Costello made the headlines after having an argument with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett where he stated that Ray Charles was "a blind, ignorant, nigger." Costello later recanted his racist remark and kept a low profile for the remainder of the seventies.

Maybe it is just me, but I don't find Costello's description of James Brown, "a jive ass nigger," heartwarming either.

The contempt in which many white people have held people of color, and many still do, doesn't just disappear because someone chooses to borrow from gypsy, African-American, Hispanic or some other culture. The sneering and the imitation can coexist. For that reason, I believe that cultural appropriation bears watching. An aspect of it that the well-meaning can do something about is making sure opportunities are equally available to artists of color. If there is a brown, red, yellow or black teenager who performs some musical form as well as Joss Stone, that performer is equally entitled to the support she has received. Only when equality in treatment occurs will cultural appropriation no longer be an issue.


10:00 AM

Tuesday, March 02, 2004  

Law: Oregon gays can marry . . . for now

Well, it has happened here. Today, the office of the chairperson of our county government, Diane Linn, announced that, starting tomorrow, homosexual residents will be issued marriage licenses under the same criteria as heterosexuals. The controversy that occurred in San Francisco will not erupt here because the applicable Oregon statutes make no reference to gender. However, despite its reputation for liberal voters (we still elect Democrats) there has been a strong anti-gay movement in the Pacific Northwest for years. A recent opinion poll says the population is nearly evenly split, 47 to 46 percent, for and against gay marriage.

KATU-TV has some details.

The Multnomah County Clerk's office plans to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples starting tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. at their office located at 501 S.E. Hawthorne.

. . .Oregon's marriage law states that marriage is a civil contract entered between males who are at least 17 years old and females who are at least 17 years old.

The law does not specify whether the marriage has to be between a man and a woman.

Hundreds of couples in Oregon are expected to take advantage of the county's plan to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

So many are expected to show up that the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department plans on having extra deputies out tomorrow to provide security at the clerk's office.

Ten minutes away from Portland, the law is different. Washington State specifies that marriage must be between a man and a woman.

KGW-TV sheds some light on how the change came about.

No Multnomah County commissioners were available to comment on the decision but the board issued a short statement on Tuesday night saying their legal counsel supports the controversial move.

“Based on a legal opinion released (Tuesday) by the county attorney, a majority of the (Multnomah) Board of County Commissioners supports a policy change to allow the county to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” the statement said.

The county was planning a news conference on Wednesday morning at Multnomah County headquarters at 501 SE Hawthorne Blvd. in Portland. Licenses will also be issued from the same building.

Opponents to gay marriage have already geared up to challenge the practice.

Oregon was already headed towards a heated debate on the definition of marriage.

Gay marriage opponents filed four versions of a proposed initiative that would prevent Oregon from recognizing gay marriages performed in another state.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled last month that gay marriage must be allowed under the state constitution. States typically recognize marriages performed in other states, but 38 states since 1996 have approved laws and constitutional amendments that seek to prevent recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.

Although four initiatives were filed with the state Elections Division, it is likely that proponents will seek to put only one on the ballot. Initiative proponents often file different versions of the same initiative, hoping to get the most favorable language in the ballot title.

If supporters gather enough signatures, the measure would appear on the November ballot.

If the controversy continues, it is likely to be resolved by the Supreme Court of Oregon. A decision explicitly affirming the right of gays to marry would be binding absent a contrary federal constitutional amendment or United States Supreme Court ruling.


6:30 PM

Monday, March 01, 2004  

Entertainment: Does Mel mirror his movie?

Everyone is asking if Mel Gibson's Biblical epic "The Passion of the Christ" is anti-Semitic. However, the reviewer who really caught my eye today, Pat Holmes of the Portland Tribune, is as much interested in the excesses of the man as those of the movie.

Perhaps the question to ask about Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is not whether it's anti-Semitic, but whether Gibson thinks it's autobiographical. [Emphasis mine.] Before playing a priest in the recent "Signs," Gibson played a number of roles in which he was tortured (often suggesting crucifixion) and twice played men who come back from the dead ("Forever Young," in which he returned from a voluntary, guilt-induced cryogenic state, and "Payback," in which he was left for dead after being betrayed by his best friend).

Now, intentionally or not, Gibson's orchestration of the pre-release campaign for "Passion" has resulted in a kind of media crucifixion, about which he was defensive even before he needed to be -- accepting martyrdom before it was offered.

Whatever else the film is or isn't, it certainly is the culmination of its maker's curious, career-long complex, or fetish -- or passion.

After a furor that never even addressed its quality, "The Passion of the Christ" can now be seen and judged as a film. And what may surprise many viewers, in light of so much inflammatory rhetoric, is that it is essentially a fairly standard Hollywood religious epic. The crucial differences are its narrowed focus (the final 12 hours of Christ's life) and its graphic brutality -- which, ironically, will force many people to go see an R-rated film when they would ordinarily condemn such a thing out of hand.

Speaking of hands, it's Gibson's own we see as those of a Roman soldier nailing Christ's hand to the cross. In this way, Gibson accepts his own role in the burden we all bear for Christ's death. Sadly, the image is also a comment of sorts on his heavy-handed approach. Anti-Semitism is not the problem; anti-subtlety is.

If Gibson can be accused of a lack of subtlely, that is even more true of his father, Hutton Gibson, an anti-Semite and reactionary who moved the family to Australia because of the changes that occurred in American society during the 1960s.

Even as Mel Gibson has sought to quell charges that his movie "The Passion of the Christ" is anti-Semitic, his 85-year-old father discounted the idea that millions of Jews died in the Holocaust and said Jews were trying to take over the world.

"It's all - maybe not all fiction - but most of it is," Hutton Gibson said of the Holocaust in a radio interview that will air Monday night.

Coming only days before the opening of his son's film on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday, Hutton Gibson's comments inflamed the debate over whether the film will foment anti-Semitic hatred. Critics of "The Passion," including some Catholic scholars, have said it blames Jews for killing Jesus and caricatures them as bloodthirsty.

. . .Steven Feuerstein, host of the syndicated radio talk show "Speak Your Piece!," said he interviewed Hutton Gibson three times since Monday. Portions of the interviews will be broadcast locally on WSNR/620 Monday and Wednesday at 10 p.m. "He was totally cognizant of everything he was saying," Feuerstein said. "This man has an agenda. That's the bottom line. "

Hutton Gibson, of Summersville, W.Va., is a self-described leader in the ultratraditionalist Catholic sect that rejects reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), including the church's renunciation of the notion of Jews as culpable for the death of Jesus. According to transcripts of the interview, he also blamed Jews for everything from the Roman persecution of early Christians to fomenting the Russian Revolution to orchestrating an international banking conspiracy. He urges someone to go out and "hang" Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who is Jewish.

Am I naive enough to believe that the son is necessarily an echo of his father? Of course not. However, if Ole Hut were my Dad I would have distanced myself from his extremist views decades ago. Instead, Mel Gibson says he loves his father and nothing will ever come between them. Furthermore, he has followed the man into the Catholic Traditionalist Movement, brother to the nefarious Opus Dei. Both groups reject the Reformation and anything that might be considered socially progressive, including Vatican II. Though could be fledged more, the charge of anti-Semitism is not in conflict with what we know of Gibson.

What of Gibson's persecution complex? I am always bemused when I see some rich, influential white man whining about being scorned and 'buked. It seems to me that Gibson has been very fortunate in his life, considering his limited talent. It is true that he may be low in funds after allegedly sinking some of his fortune into making "The Passion," but it appears the loss will be recouped by selling tacky merchandise associated with the movie.

Conservative blogger Bryant at Population: One voices my own concerns about the impact of "The Passion" on interfaith relations.

Moriarty reviewed "The Passion" over on AICN, his was fairly negative. I note his review not because of that directly, but because of some of the replies to the review:

“Most movies that are made in Hollywood are anti-white? Hollywood is controlled by jews. Most Hollywood movies have British and German villains. Blacks are overrepresented on TV. They’re either seen as the “victim” or superior to Whites. Blacks are NEVER portrayed negatviely, whereas whites are always the villains. Clearly this is anti-white racism at the hands of Hollywood jews.”

And:

“Jesus was condemned by Pontius Pilate and betrayed by the Jewish people … Sorry to say but thats basically what you get when you look at the different books of the Bible. The Romans may have done the crucifying, but the Jewish people ultimately turned their backs on Him. Oh and as for Moriarty talking about how Pilate was softened because of when the books were written so as to not anger the Roman occupiers… well yeah I saw that History Channel documentary too about 4 weeks ago . . . Just because its on television deosn’t make it true, that was a small group of historians conjecture about the crucifixion. Bottom line, if you’re Christain you already know this story, and are just glad that someone made a high-quality version of it to help explain one small bit of our faith to others. If the details are hard to swallow, well history is a bitch sometimes. . . .”

Those are only two replies out of quite a few. Most of them are thoughtful, interesting, and not racist or anti-Semitic. But it’s the two guys out of a hundred who will take the movie as affirmation of their racism that I worry about.

Movie reviewer Holmes believes the controversies around "The Passion" will not have any long range impact on Mel Gibson's career. He says that money, specifically the ability to generate receipts at the box office, is what matters. Perhaps we will get to see Gibson nail himself to a cross before his career is over.


11:00 PM

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