Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday Frank: Sinister Footwear II; The Palladium, NY; 1981



Here's another song from that fantastic show. It's pouring outside in St. Pete right now, and the contrast of the staccato raindrops against the humming sustain of the vibes...well, you'd have to be here, but I think you can imagine how gorgeous it sounds. I must, by the way, thank a certain YouTube member and Zappa fan who's posted numerous brilliant videos for the world to enjoy, some of which have appeared here at litbrit.

Tack så mycket, Farksisten. Skål!

Rough Weeks Call For Gentle Verse

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
You must lose things,
Feel the future dissolve in a moment
Like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
What you counted and carefully saved,
All this must go so you know
How desolate the landscape can be
Between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
Thinking the bus will never stop,
The passengers eating maize and chicken
Will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
You must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
Lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
How he too was someone
Who journeyed through the night with plans
And the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
Catches the thread of all sorrows
And you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
Only kindness that ties your shoes
And sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
Only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
And then goes with you everywhere
Like a shadow or a friend.

-- Naomi Shihab-Nye

(H/T jacqueline, with thanks.)

If Larry Craig Were Gay...



Bravo! Encore!

(H/T oddjob)
Via Towleroad
Also at Shakesville.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The GOP: Strengthening Family Values After All

I adore my little brother. He is one of the smartest, funniest, most erudite people I know, and when it comes to things like the genius of comedians Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G), Eddie Izzard, Bobcat Goldthwait, Red Foxx, Richard Pryor, and John Cleese--or the superiority of English chockies over their disappointingly sicklysweet and near-flavorless foreign counterparts (if you doubt this, treat yourself to a real, UK-made Cadbury bar and get back to me)--he and I concur in the fullest.

Then there is the touchy subject of politics, about which we've agreed to disagree. Sort of.

You see, we're only two years apart, and I admit I still have rather fresh memories of Baby Brother chasing me around the kitchen table until I shrieked, which got us both in trouble for fighting, as well as him hiding behind our Dad's car with the garden hose at the ready, choosing the perfect moment of ambush and soaking my school uniform and me along with it. In other words, our respective fighting spirits are no more sedate now than they were thirty or forty years ago. Cue the announcer:

"In the Left Corner, wearing the vintage Versace satin trunks and ridiculous high heels, standing for universal health care, the First Amendment, restoration of habeus corpus, marriage equality, science, reason, and the institution of meaningful campaign finance reform...it's...litbrit!

And over in the Right Corner, wearing camouflage trunks, a tae kwon do black belt, and a t-shirt reading You Can Take Away My Gun Collection When You Pry It From My Cold, Dead Warehouse; and standing for conservative values, the Second Amendment, science, reason, and big Ford trucks...it's...Baby Brother!"


Everyone has a tipping point, though, a moment when something just happens and it occurs to him or her, with no prompting or pressure from without, that maybe the old belief system is due for an overhaul. An epiphany ex machine-gun, if you will.

For Baby Brother, Senator Larry Craig's hypocrisy was the last straw. Oh, I don't doubt that my witty (if maddening) sibling will be still voting Republican from the grave, sometime around the turn of the next century, but I have to say, I never thought I'd see the day when he'd state, in writing, that he felt Bill Clinton was owed an apology. Herewith, an excerpt from his e-mail to me this morning (and though I'm only excerpting, I still fully expect some form of aqueous payback come Christmas):

I was bombarded today with endless images of Idaho Senator Craig denying that he was gay (or has ever been gay). Maybe the people of Idaho have a somewhat different definition of gay than the rest of us. He claims that the undercover policeman in the Minneapolis airport bathroom misunderstood his actions, and he was not trying to have sex with him, even though he later plead guilty in court.

It seems now that tapping out the Moonlight Sonata with your feet, while your pants are around your ankles as you squat on a public toilet, while sticking your hand suggestively under the stall into the OCCUPIED neighboring stall is something other than some sort of bizarre geriatric gay pre-mating ritual indulged in by hypocritical closet queens. And he is a Conservative Republican! I guess we really are the inclusive, Big Tent party.

It can no longer be denied that former President Clinton is owed a great big motherfucking apology. Those who shouted the loudest had the most to hide. We should hire Samuel L. Jackson to broadcast, across the country, a loud request for his forgiveness. And we should learn, once and for all, to shun, despise and hurl shit at people like Craig who accuse others of low moral character while holding themselves up as fine church-going examples. Tonight, President Clinton is having a damned good laugh as yet another of his antagonists turns out to be a bathroom hypocrite. I hope President Clinton enjoys the moment--he has sure earned it.


Sing it, Baby Brother.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Violence is Violence is Violence

While pouring cereal and packing lunches this morning, I had MSNBC's Morning Joe playing on the kitchen teevee. In between discussions of the Gonzales resignation and the latest Republican restroom-based sex scandal, Mr. Scarborough, to his credit, repeatedly pointed out that, in his opinion, the traditional media had gone overboard with its coverage of dog-killer/NFL star Michael Vick and wondered why, when professional athletes beat and kill their wives and girlfriends, there was, in comparison, so much less publicity surrounding those horrific crimes.

Within minutes, viewers were calling in and sending e-mails, informing Scarborough that "women have a choice and can get away from their attackers and abusers, whereas dogs are dependent on humans for their food and shelter".

This is beyond the pale, ladies and gentlemen.

Don't get me wrong: I am fully supportive of throwing the book at Vick. Readers know how I feel about people who harm animals--Robert and I have rescued numerous sick, abandoned, and wounded dogs and cats since we first met, and our own gentle Pit Bull, Winston, was shot several times by a drunken and larcenous neighbor last month (Winnie's doing beautifully, by the way). We were naturally upset--make that outraged--to learn of Vick's abuses. But what Joe Scarborough says is true: women are raped and beaten, abused and imprisoned and murdered all the time, by professional athletes as well as men in every profession and plenty of unemployed ones, too--in every state of this nation. Yet when was the last time we saw video of people outside courthouses carrying signs and banners, demanding that these abusers and murderers be held accountable under the law?

Obviously compassion for fellow creatures is a noble trait, something we'd be remiss to not want more of in a civilized society. That said, I am profoundly contemptuous of anyone mired in blame-the-victim mentality, especially those delusional sorts who'd suggest that a woman can "choose" to free herself from a rapist who's three times her body weight; or run away from a man who has repeatedly beaten her and threatened to hunt her down and kill her--or her children--if she ever left him; or find the courage and financial wherewithal to free herself from a controlling, emotionally crippling relationship that has, over a period of time, involved the gradual erosion of her soul, of her self, to the point that she doesn't believe she is worth anything any more--that she is ugly, or fat, or stupid, or just a menopausal bitch that no-one else would want anyway.

These people, these beyond-the-pale people who may indeed be well-intentioned (if misguided) animal lovers, need to open their eyes:

MURDER. Every day four women die in this country as a result of domestic violence, the euphemism for murders and assaults by husbands and boyfriends. That's approximately 1,400 women a year, according to the FBI. The number of women who have been murdered by their intimate partners is greater than the number of soldiers killed in the Vietnam War.

BATTERING. Although only 572,000 reports of assault by intimates are officially reported to federal officials each year, the most conservative estimates indicate two to four million women of all races and classes are battered each year. At least 170,000 of those violent incidents are serious enough to require hospitalization, emergency room care or a doctor's attention.

SEXUAL ASSAULT. Every year approximately 132,000 women report that they have been victims of rape or attempted rape, and more than half of them knew their attackers. It's estimated that two to six times that many women are raped, but do not report it. Every year 1.2 million women are forcibly raped by their current or former male partners, some more than once.


What's more, women are ten times more likely than men to be violently harmed by a partner (or intimate). Ten times more likely. And as you'd expect, poor women, single or divorced women, and African-American women are even more at risk for becoming victims of violent assault and rape. The rate of domestic violence is five times higher for women living below the poverty level.

And what of child abuse? Do the widespread beating, torture, emotional abuse and murder of children--children, for God's sake--draw the sort of media attention and engender the kind of effective grassroots protest--en masse and online--as has Vick's admittedly horrendous behavior? Hardly.

The incommodious truth is that partner abuse and child abuse are so pervasive, like car accidents or the flu, they rarely make headlines any more despite the fact that both continue to claim lives at a frightening clip, like car accidents or the flu. Somewhere along the line, the traditional media decided that we, the public, only want to hear about the freakish, gossipy stuff, particularly when it's served up with a side of schadenfreude: the strung-out starlet who OD's, the politician caught with his pants down while attempting to pick up a male prostitute.

And when the perpetrator is one of our revered professional athletes--those classes of worshipped Americans who, along with Hollywood celebrities, symbolically occupy the thrones we supposedly dismantled and discarded in 1776--well, domestic violence will inevitably serve as the subtext, not the main story. Remember professional wrestler Chris Benoit? The guy who hanged himself after murdering his wife and son? Steroids were the primary focus of virtually every piece of reporting about this man--What sort of example does this steroid-taking wrestler set for our future athletes? and so forth. Not the terrible violence that Benoit perpetrated against his wife (and possibly his child), violence that led her to file for a restraining order as well as a divorce back in 2003, stating that he had threatened her, her child, and their very belongings; that she was "in reasonable fear for (her) own safety and that of the minor child." (Like many abused partners, Ms. Benoit rescinded the papers shortly thereafter and was still married to Benoit when he strangled her to death and then suffocated his son.)

Daily Herald writer Barry Rozner points to other examples of professional athletes' domestic violence; he's as baffled as I am at the lack of outrage on behalf of battered and murdered women, not to mention the nudge-nudge, slap-on-the-wrist treatment these criminals receive, from the courts as well as the courts of public opinion:

The Michael Vick story represents one of the most depraved and deplorable moments in sports history.
If you're not completely sickened yet, watch the current edition of HBO's "Real Sports,'' which spotlights the horrifying world of dog fighting.
And, yes, for the record, I love dogs.
But I love women and children, too, and have to admit to being stunned by the outrage over Vick's crimes in relation to the lack of protest over domestic violence by athletes.
Especially, when an abusive husband or boyfriend is unlikely to spend much -- if any -- time in jail, while Vick is thought to be going away for at least a year. [...]
Meanwhile, the incidents in sports pile up by the dozens each year, and many pass quietly after an initial reaction.
The Rockies' Bobby Chouinard, for example, held a loaded gun to his wife's head and served a one-year sentence -- but in three-month increments during off-seasons.
Phillies pitcher Brett Myers allegedly dragged his wife around by the hair on a Boston street in front of witnesses. He still pitched the next day at Fenway Park, and was later granted a paid leave of absence.
The Buccaneers' Michael Pittman was indicted three years ago on two counts of aggravated assault for intentionally ramming his Hummer into a car carrying his wife and 2-year-old son.
It was the fourth time Pittman had been arrested on domestic-abuse charges, but his wife, Melissa, told police there were 30 or 40 others that she never reported.
Pittman got a three-game suspension.
There have been calls for Vick to be suspended for life.
"Penalties for animal abuse are still greater than penalties for domestic violence in some states,'' (University of Baltimore School of Law professor Leigh) Goodmark said. "The Vick story has been the biggest in sports for two months, and I understand he's a big star, but (Carolina's) Rae Carruth was found guilty of conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend (in 2001), and after that you never heard much about it, or the need for more domestic-violence prevention in sports.''


Violent men--and let's face it, the world of professional sports is disproportionately populated with violent men--view women, children, and yes, animals as things, not as breathing, sentient life forms; they're merely objects to own and dispose of at will. And while I'll go on record as stating that of course the life of a woman or child is worth more than the life of an animal--not that an Ethics 101 hypothetical really applies here--I believe it's possible to be disgusted and horrified by all incidents in which brutal, testosterone-poisoned monsters abuse or murder the less powerful.

It isn't necessary to excuse any of it; it is, however, vitally, morally imperative that traditional media and blogs alike refocus their wandering attentions, regain some sense of proportion, and regularly and passionately call attention to the outrageous magnitude--four American women killed daily!--of the problem of domestic abuse and murder.

Because violence is violence is violence.

UPDATE: Writing for The Baltimore Sun, Lisa Simeone discusses athletes who get away with, well, murder, to name just one felony. She points to a disturbing study of NFL players which conservatively estimates the number of its athletes charged with a serious crime (i.e. homicide, assault, or rape) to be 21 percent, or one in five:

These figures are from the 1996-97 season. They do not include juvenile records or dozens of arrests that, because of the researchers' deliberately conservative methodology, did not make it into the study. The figures and the stories behind them are in the book Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL.

The NFL, of course, disputes the findings. Yet the league already knows about its players' criminal records: It employs a team of private investigators to research all of them before they're drafted.

And rape, for example, is the most underreported crime in America, according to the Justice Department, and is notoriously difficult to prove. It raises questions about whether players get away with acts we'll never know about. But why focus on the NFL? In professional and collegiate sports, there's plenty of crime to go around.


Monday, August 27, 2007

BREAKING: Gonzales Resigns

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will step down:

WACO, Tex., Aug. 27 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.

Mr. Gonzales, who had rebuffed calls for his resignation, submitted his to President Bush by telephone on Friday, the official said. His decision was not immediately announced, the official added, until after the president invited him and his wife to lunch at his ranch near here.

Mr. Bush has not yet chosen a replacement but will not leave the position open long, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the resignation had not yet been made public.

Despite intensifying pressure, not to mention the accruing roar from critics on both sides of the aisle, Gonzales has long held firm, refusing to admit any wrongdoing at any time, especially not as pertains to the raft of politically-motivated US attorney firings. The verbal Möbius strips of twisting, false, and oftentimes outright mendacious statements the Attorney General tossed around in sworn testimony before Congress have led some Congressmen to not only raise the question of filing perjury charges, but also start preparing articles of impeachment against him.

And though I follow politics as much as anyone who isn't directly involved in government work--and certainly more than most busy mamas I know--I must admit, this development caught me completely off-guard, just as Rove's resignation did. As Minstrel Boy is fond of saying, when the wrecked ship begins to take on water, follow the rats.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Still Crazy After Eighteen Years


Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

- William Shakespeare

Happy Anniversary dearest Robert! And here's to the next eighteen, the eighteen eighteens after that, and onward.

Ti amo con tutto il cuore
.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Does the Internet Need Fixing? Sadly, Yes.

How could I have missed this bit of lovely on Tuesday? Oh yeah, it was the first full-day of school. No matter--is it any less relevant today? Sadly, No.

Friday Frank: Peaches En Regalia; SNL, 1976



I don't know about you, but after a week of getting up at 5:30 am, packing lunches and wrestling with three boys who are loathe to give up their summer sleep-ins, I am utterly wiped-out this morning. So here's a little selfishly-motivated something to get the old blood flowing--there will be plenty of time for the relaxing stuff later today.

FZ said Peaches En Regalia was one of his favorite pieces. Mine, too. Tearing up the drums is brilliant Terry Bozzio, whose audition for Mr. Zappa was reportedly so over-the-top stunning, the remaining dummers who'd been waiting in line turned around and left. I'm uncertain as to the year (and place) this was performed From SNL's December 11th, 1976 episode--help me out thanks, Darkblack.

Bon Weekend, everyone.

(H/T MiNo20320514)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Frank Zappa: On Freedom and the First Amendment; on Crossfire and in Prague, Czechoslovakia

(Note: I'm guestblogging, along with the other Reservoir Bloggers, at Ezra Klein this week; be sure to visit us and sample some wildly diverse and always entertaining and informative writing.)

As promised in the thread about Frank Zappa and the issue of PMRC labels yesterday, here is the video of Frank Zappa's prescient and pro-First Amendment brilliance as seen on Crossfire in 1986. Also in this post, I've uploaded a film short of FZ's Czechoslovakian adventures. And later today, I'll type out a portion of the transcript from the 1975 British lawsuit in which Frank Zappa sued the Crown and post that, too. You readers deserve the best, right?!

Okay, then, let's get started. What you're about to see is a video clip--in three parts--of Maestro Zappa appearing on the CNN program Crossfire. Also appearing are "on the left" Tom Braden, "on the right" Robert Novak, and along with Mr. Zappa "in the crossfire" is Washington Times columnist John Lofton.





Also offered in three parts, here is a film short of Frank Zappa during his historic visit to Prague, where he met and socialized with mutual fan and friend Vaclav Havel. In comments at the FZ thread yesterday Captain Goto wrote:

Vaclav Havel was an enormous fan, who invited Zappa to visit Czechoslovakia as a sort of cultural ambassador. Zappa was quoted as saying to Havel how sorry he was that Havel would have to meet with Reagan, mincing no words about his opinion of Ronnie's intelligence.

In Zappa's retelling, in less time than it takes to blink, US officials roared into Prague to inform the Czechs, in no uncertain terms, that Frank would be have *no* part of *any* kind of meeting with Havel for *any* reason, under *any* circumstances...

Some of the soundtrack is in English while other parts are in Czech, which I don't speak; even so, I thoroughly enjoyed--and therefore highly recommend--this rare and unusual film.





Also at Ezra's.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Congress in Big Hurry to Start Vacation, Hands Fox Keys to Henhouse

Oh, this is just great. Way to go, Dems:

Broad new surveillance powers approved by Congress this month could allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include — without court approval — certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans’ business records, Democratic Congressional officials and other experts said.

Administration officials acknowledged that they had heard such concerns from Democrats in Congress recently, and that there was a continuing debate over the meaning of the legislative language. But they said the Democrats were simply raising theoretical questions based on a harsh interpretation of the legislation.

They also emphasized that there would be strict rules in place to minimize the extent to which Americans would be caught up in the surveillance.

The dispute illustrates how lawmakers, in a frenetic, end-of-session scramble, passed legislation they may not have fully understood and may have given the administration more surveillance powers than it sought. It also offers a case study in how changing a few words in a complex piece of legislation has the potential to fundamentally alter the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a landmark national security law. The new legislation is set to expire in less than six months; two weeks after it was signed into law, there is still heated debate over how much power Congress gave to the president.

“This may give the administration even more authority than people thought,” said David Kris, a former senior Justice Department lawyer in the Bush and Clinton administrations and a co-author of “National Security Investigation and Prosecutions,” a new book on surveillance law.


Also at Ezra's.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Fed Cuts the Discount Rate to 5.75%

Not that this was entirely unexpected (though I read plenty of self-assured speculation that Bernanke would hold out--for a while, at least). But still.

With risks to the economy from financial market turbulence rising "appreciably," the Federal Reserve on Friday lowered the rate it charges banks on loans they receive from the Fed's discount window, though it opted not to cut its primary policy tool, the federal funds rate.

The Fed's decision to lower the discount rate and ease the terms of discount borrowing but not to cut the fed funds target suggests that for now it believes the problems in the markets are mostly related to the availability of cash, not the price of cash. (Read the Fed's statement.)

One wonders if (and when) the interest rate might be treated similarly, and how long it will be before the nasty I-word fully rears its head. Economic reporters may be great looking--some even earn nicknames like The Money Honey--but economic realities tend to be rather less attractive, at least in the opinion of this observer.

Also at Ezra's.

Friday Frank: Alien Orifice; The Palladium, NY, 1981



And...we're back! To my ear, this piece is signature FZ, combining as it does the shifting time signatures, blasting brass, mellow vibes, and blistering guitar for which Maestro's music was and is beloved, forging a sound that's at once rock, jazz, and pure flowing-from-elsewhere inspiration.

Bon Weekend, everyone, and a special Cheers to fellow parents as we hustle the small fry back to school in the coming weeks, breathing an enormous sigh of relief while simultaneously wondering when and how time got to be so bloody fast-moving.

(H/T Farksisten)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cheney Knew



Submitted without comment. I mean, what on Earth can one say, at this point, that has not already been shouted, screamed, written, and wailed?

Via MoveOn.org

I'm In Ur Wikipedia, Tracking Their Edits

One of Wikipedia's greatest strengths--the open-editing format that (nearly always) permits ordinary citizens to add, subtract, or alter content--is also one of its largest liabilities, since persons with less-than-honorable intentions can manipulate data for any number of nefarious reasons: discrediting a competing company, say, or spreading disinformation. At least, they can and will until someone else notices and re-edits an entry. And while Wiki is undeniably useful for writers and researchers of every stripe, the very fact that its insta-data is so easily manipulable by anyone and everyone should serve as a whisper in the ear--if not a huge and wildly undulating red flag--that it might be a good idea to double-check the content against another source, that it would be prudent to ask oneself, before quoting a Wiki entry at length, I wonder whose fingerprints are on this stuff, anyway?

Cal Tech graduate student Virgil Griffith had that very thought. And the computation and neural-systems academic decided that not only was it time to figure out who was behind all the edits, but that it would also be a boon to the free and open marketplace of ideas to offer the general public a way to know, too.

And thus Wikipedia Scanner was born. From Wired Magazine:

On November 17th, 2005, an anonymous Wikipedia user deleted 15 paragraphs from an article on e-voting machine-vendor Diebold, excising an entire section critical of the company's machines. While anonymous, such changes typically leave behind digital fingerprints offering hints about the contributor, such as the location of the computer used to make the edits.

In this case, the changes came from an IP address reserved for the corporate offices of Diebold itself. And it is far from an isolated case. A new data-mining service launched Monday traces millions of Wikipedia entries to their corporate sources, and for the first time puts comprehensive data behind longstanding suspicions of manipulation, which until now have surfaced only piecemeal in investigations of specific allegations.

Wikipedia Scanner -- the brainchild of Cal Tech computation and neural-systems graduate student Virgil Griffith -- offers users a searchable database that ties millions of anonymous Wikipedia edits to organizations where those edits apparently originated, by cross-referencing the edits with data on who owns the associated block of internet IP addresses.

Inspired by news last year that Congress members' offices had been editing their own entries, Griffith says he got curious, and wanted to know whether big companies and other organizations were doing things in a similarly self-interested vein.

"Everything's better if you do it on a huge scale, and automate it," he says with a grin.

This database is possible thanks to a combination of Wikipedia policies and (mostly) publicly available information.

The online encyclopedia allows anyone to make edits, but keeps detailed logs of all these changes. Users who are logged in are tracked only by their user name, but anonymous changes leave a public record of their IP address.


Wired invites readers who've used Wikipedia Scanner and unearthed any companies or government spooks fiddling around with data or rewriting history to submit their finds--and vote on other readers' discoveries--at the magazine's blog.

What's also brilliant about Griffith's brainchild is that it injects a much-needed dose of accountability into the sprawling corpus indicium that is Wikipedia. Corporations and politicians seeking to shape (or outright change) information won't be able to hide their self-interested edits behind anonymous user names, and, one hopes, knowing that their IP addresses now point Wikipedia Scanner to their identities will deter them from making mercenary, dishonest, and unscrupulous edits in the first place. One always hopes.

In any case, it's refreshing to learn of an all-too-infrequent case of youth and reason overcoming wealth and tyranny. Cheers to you, Mr. Griffith.

(H/T Lisa in Baltimore)

UPDATE: Wikipedia Scanner is already embarassing some government agencies, tying numerous unethical edits to computers at the CIA and FBI:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - People using CIA and FBI computers have edited entries in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia on topics including the Iraq war and the Guantanamo prison, according to a new tracing program.

The changes may violate Wikipedia's conflict-of-interest guidelines, a spokeswoman for the site said on Thursday.

Monday, August 13, 2007

My Letter to Amazon.com


Dear Mr. Bezos,

I am writing to let you know that I am thoroughly disgusted to learn of Amazon's policy of selling cockfighting magazines and materials as well as dogfighting DVD's. You are well aware that such cruel practices are immoral--not to mention illegal--in most if not all states, yet you are apparently claiming First Amendment protection for yourselves, saying that you have the right to publish and sell written and videotaped material about anything and everything, including illegal, cruel activities.

I maintain that I, too, have a right: the right to take my business elsewhere. I've been a loyal Amazon customer since the late 1990's, spending a not-small fortune, especially on holidays and for birthdays. But now I will wait for a local bookstore or Barnes & Noble online to carry the item, or use my local library; or I will go without.

I would consider returning to your bookstore if and when I learn you have banished cruelty-based items from your virtual shelves.

I hope to hear from you one day soon and learn you have cleaned up your collective act. In the meantime, I thank you for the opportunity to express my displeasure with your online store and its policies.

Deborah Newell Tornello

-----

I urge you to visit the Humane Society of the United States' action webpage and let Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, know how you feel about his mega-corporation's inexplicable and unconscionable support for animal cruelty by selling such heartless, disgusting products as dogfighting DVD's and publications like Gamecock and The Feathered Warrior.

If you're interested in adopting a Pit Bull--and what a fine, noble, and gentle breed it is!--here are numerous regional Pit Bull rescue organizations.

On behalf of those who can't say it out loud, Thank You.

via Minstrel Boy.

UPDATE: Right on cue, a form-letter reply from Amazon.com landed in my In box (they must be receiving lots of complaints if such a huge corporation can't take the time to issue personal responses to their customers). Anyway, as Minstrel Boy warned, it contained a load of blather about them not wanting to engage in censorship by banning "controversial" subjects from their inventory. Hmmm...I do so love it when people try to play semantics games with me...

"Oh dear, look out," warns Mr. litbrit, "Mess with language and you're about to lose an argument in a BIG way, dude...run for your life!"

...since there is no controversy here: Dogfighting is illegal in all 50 states and is a felony offense in almost every state; cockfighting is illegal in all but two one states--New Mexico and Louisiana, where it is "partly legal", whatever that means (thanks for the update about NM Gov. Richardson's recent accomplishment, Stephen of The Thinkery)--and, I'm proud to say, Florida stands with Michigan and Colorado as having the toughest penalties for cockfighting in the nation.

Illegal. Not merely objectionable or "controversial", which means "subject to controversy; debatable; arguable; questionable". Against the law--as in, already decided, argument over, debate finished.

Ergo, what Amazon.com is doing is no different than if they were to sell a magazine entitled, say, Bank Robber's Manifesto Monthly or DVD's of child pornography--the making of which, like the hosting of dogfighting, is also illegal in all 50 states--and then pathetically try to claim First Amendment privileges because committing bank robbery or making child porn were "controversial".

It's nothing more than obfuscatory lawyerese--in other words, bullshit.

Hey, Mr. Bezos, here's a statement about which there's no controversy whatsoever: You're an irresponsible, heartless, and weak-willed asshole who clearly has morons for lawyers, and you're going to lose a lot of loyal customers over this.

On The Rove (Again)

Karl Rove holding a "Generation Of Peace" bumpersticker during an interview with Dan Rather in 1972 while working on then-President Nixon's re-election campaign. (Via The Village Voice)

Oftentimes, human beings make jokes about that which we fear most; it's a natural defense mechanism, I suppose, a way to frame the worrisome, the ominous, or even the terrifying as something silly and taunt-worthy, thus (we imagine) curtailing or at least reducing its power--symbolically if not actually.

I'm as guilty of this as the next person: when Spurious George's über-advisor Karl Rove performed an unforgivably dumb rap performance-attempt at the most recent White House Correspondents' Dinner, I couldn't help but notice how much he resembled Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas (and yes, I do indeed have that movie on the brain lately), and helpfully posted a video clip of Tim Burton's puffy menace doing his threatening thing.

None of this changes the fact that Karl Rove was--and still is--an extremely powerful figure in Washington, a man whose career is a tour de force of Machiavellian plotting and, many believe, malfeasance. But now he's reportedly resigning at the end of this month, walking away from the uppermost levers of power that his sticky little fingers have gripped and flipped since winning his boss the White House in 2000 by tying the hapless Al Gore--symbolically if not actually--to Bill Clinton's unimaginably costly blowjobs.

As I've remarked to Robert on more than one occasion, if anything brings down the Bush-Cheney-Rove junta, it will be the fact that they tangled with lawyers. Accordingly, I believe that Attorneygate, rather than the risible "needing to spend more time with the family" excuse, is precisely what's behind Rove's resignation. The Village Voice points to a buried passage in a WaPo article, published earlier this year, that would seem to support this theory (emphasis mine):

Gonzales said he made the final decision to approve the firings but took the recommendations of his assistants without closely reviewing their reasons for dismissing each prosecutor. He said his former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, was in charge of the details and updated him only occasionally on his progress. The attorney general said he made a mistake by not being more closely involved in the process.

Gonzales confirmed statements by Sampson that presidential adviser Karl Rove passed along GOP complaints to Gonzales last fall about the alleged lack of aggressiveness by Iglesias and two other U.S. attorneys in prosecuting voter fraud. Gonzales said he passed on the complaints to Sampson, who at some point in the same time period placed Iglesias on the firing list.


Alleged lack of aggressiveness. More like, lack of toxic partisanship. Republican David Iglesias was only one of several U.S. attorneys fired for, ah, questionable reasons in what may be the scandal that sticks, but the circumstances surrounding his dismissal are right up there among the Most Egregious Bushian Webs of Lies Ever (and that's saying something):

Allen Weh, chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, said he complained in 2005 about then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to a White House aide for Karl Rove, asking that Iglesias be removed. Then in 2006 Rove personally told Weh “He’s gone.” Weh was dissatisfied with Iglesias due in part to his failure to indict Democrats in a voter fraud investigation. Weh followed up with, "There’s nothing we’ve done that’s wrong." In March 2007, the White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said Rove "wasn’t involved in who was going to be fired or hired." However, one of the stated reasons for Iglesias' dismissal, by Administration officials, was dissatisfaction in his prosecution of voter-fraud cases. Nevertheless, Iglesias "had been heralded for his expertise in that area by the Justice Department, which twice selected him to train other federal prosecutors to pursue election crimes" and was "one of two chief federal prosecutors invited to teach at a 'voting integrity symposium' in October 2005... sponsored by Justice's public integrity and civil rights sections."

In February 2007 Iglesias publicly alleged that "two lawmakers called him about a well-known criminal investigation involving a Democratic legislator" and that "the lawmakers who called him seemed focused on whether charges would be filed before the November elections. He said the calls made him feel 'pressured to hurry the subsequent cases and prosecutions.' " (U.S. Attorneys in Arizona, Nevada and California were also conducting corruption probes involving Republicans at the time of their dismissals.) According to and later confirmed prior to the 2006 midterm election, Heather Wilson and Pete Domenici called and "pressured" Iglesias "to speed up indictments in a federal corruption investigation that involved at least one former Democratic state senator." When Iglesias told Domenici that an indictment wouldn't be handed down until at least December, Iglesias said "the line went dead," and he was fired one week later by the Bush Administration. After initially denying the call, Domenici admitted making it in March 2007. According to the Washington Post, "A communication by a senator or House member with a federal prosecutor regarding an ongoing criminal investigation is a violation of ethics rules." Domenici admitted calling Iglesias despite the initial denial, but Domenici said he never used the word "November" when he called Iglesias about an ongoing Albuquerque courthouse corruption case. Domenici has denied trying to influence Iglesias, and has hired lawyer K. Lee Blalack II to represent him. According to the Justice Department, Domenici called the Department and demanded Iglesias be replaced on four occasions. On the day that Iglesias was fired, Harriet Miers' deputy William Kelley wrote that Domenici's chief of staff "is happy as a clam" about Iglesias and a week later Sampson wrote that "Domenici is going to send over names tomorrow (not even waiting for Iglesias's body to cool)."


Conlige suspectos semper habitos. Round up the usual suspects. And pass the popcorn.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Aid For Me, But Not For Thee

The Two-Faced Mayor
from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.

It would seem that America's billionaires don't wear bootstraps. Or something:

Should the Federal Reserve help bail out billionaire hedge fund managers and millionaire traders — the very people who bought the risky mortgages that led to the current market panic?

That, in essence, is the question swirling around Ben S. Bernanke as he confronts the first crisis of his 18 months as Fed chairman.

There are no shortages of opinions, and some are being shouted. Jim Cramer, known for his histrionics on the CNBC financial news channel, angrily called for Mr. Bernanke to lower interest rates, something the Fed has resisted doing.

A week ago, Mr. Cramer charged that the Fed was “asleep” and that the chairman “has no idea how bad it is out there” in the markets. A video clip of his remarks has been viewed more than one million times on YouTube.

Lower interest rates would help operators of hedge funds and other money managers because the housing market presumably would strengthen as mortgage rates fell. A revived mortgage market would give the hedge fund operators and other holders of the risky securities a chance to sell them, which they are having trouble doing now in the current nervous market.

But others see a bigger danger for the economy in acting on the pleas of Mr. Cramer and others on Wall Street. Cutting interest rates to help the hedge funds would tend to encourage a resurgence of the very risky mortgage lending that has caused the current turmoil, rekindling the crisis.

The issue is often referred to as “moral hazard,” meaning that the risk-takers who brought on this panic would feel bailed out and would be more likely do it again — just as a young adult whose parents paid off a large credit card bill might feel free to run up a debt again.

“The argument is people did risky things,” said Jan Hatzius, the chief domestic economist at Goldman Sachs. “They are getting punished now, and if you ease interest rates, you reduce the punishment.”


Would that I could muster a mild amount of shock, or even surprise, that our "conservative" friends continue to serve up such laughably obvious hypocrisy, but no. I can't summarize it any better than does my friend Lisa in Baltimore, who writes:

Oh, I love this. The same people who are always yammering about "the market" and so-called "free-market capitalism" and the nasty "welfare state," and "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" and "no hand-outs" and "get the government out of my life" and "government is evil" blah blah blah--the very ones who brought us this disaster in the White House--now they want the federal government to bail them out. What a bunch of f***ing hypocrites. But of course the evil government WILL bail them out, just like we bailed out Chrysler, just like we bailed out the airlines, just like we bailed out Halliburton, just like we bail out billion-dollar corporations all the time, in so many ways. But conservatives don't like that pointed out to them.

Tsk tsk. An inconvenient truth indeed.


UPDATE: Economics and finance professor Dark Wraith analyzes the present situation; his disdain for the Bushian scourge of fiscal irresponsibility never disappoints:

Forget for a moment that what the Fed is doing is trying to inflate away a market crash. For the time being, we should hope only that the central bank and its friends around the world are ready to blow $40 billion every trading day to keep the welfare train on track for the Wall Street boys. It's a win-win situation: the fatcats keep their money, the suckers take the losses, the Bush Administration keeps its hero status for the rich, and the Fed maintains its reputation as both the enabler and the drug dealer for all the liquidity addicts and their conjoined Republican incompetents.

Also at Ezra's place.

Eddie Van Halen's Eruption on Violin



Via "the accidental blog of a semi-accidental ER doc", Movin' Meat, here's your Saturday morning wake-up call, featuring brilliant Atlanta-based violinist Bobby Yang.

Enjoy!

(Friday Frank will resume next week. Promise.)

Bon Weekend, everyone.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Monday, August 06, 2007

Winston Rules

The talented Karen-K worked her photoshop magic to bring you this portrait of Winston "50 Cent" Tornello, the amazing (and nearly fully-recovered) shooting victim resident tough guy of Tornello Nurseries.

Winston's an inspiration to all, and his ultra-fast recovery, along with the outpouring of support from his many friends and well-wishers, stands as serious statement to those who'd dare harm a hair on the head of anyone in our extended human-canine-feline family.

(It's good to be home, by the way. I missed all my two-legged and four-legged babies.)

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Postcard From the Lesser Hyatt: My Kos Adventures

Live from Chicago, some random thoughts on the heat of the weekend thus far. (Well, as live as can be expected after a night that began with three glasses of red wine on an empty stomach and ended--many, many hours of handshaking and talking and dancing later--with a bang when an inconvenient table decided to place itself in my path. Bruised? Mortified? Why, yes I am.)

This...is a Lesser Hyatt

For one thing, the Proper Hyatt, the convention center one, is situated on the premises, no cabbing required. The overflow Hyatt, on the other hand, is a ten-minute twenty-minute twenty-five minute cab ride away. In a vehicle that may or may not be air-conditioned, much to the chagrin of my freshly-pressed white shirt. It seems to me there should be a discount for passengers who get stuck (and with dark vinyl seats in the summertime, you do tend to get stuck) taking one of the saunas-on-wheels. There isn't.

The overflow Hyatt is huge--so large is it, in fact, I rarely see another blogger on the premises, and I know there are plenty of us around. There are other conventions based here, though, symposiums and gatherings that have something to do with IT, or else the marketing of dark knit polo shirts embroidered with company logos--everyone must wear one!--or perhaps some organized linguistic movement of which I was previously unaware, one that seeks to replace perfectly good English words with abstruse (and oftentimes unintentionally amusing) jargon. Interfacing the Rapid-fire Deployment of Emergent Interoffice Communication Technology With Pre-existing Prioritized Infrastructure Mandates: A Challenge For The New Century.

Forget that long-awaited nap, I told myself when I checked in and learned the room would not be ready for another three or four hours. My luggage was added to the sprawling mass of duffel bags and golf clubs threatening to burst free from the temporary roped-off corral in the Hyatt's carpeted skywalk. It wasn't long before TRex arrived, though.

"Ooh, look: Halliburton has been here," he said, pointing at the pitiful masses of detained suitcases.

Everyone Is Young and Gorgeous

Yes, there are some fortysomethings (and oldersomethings) here. Overall, though, liberal bloggers appear younger, more sociable, handsomer, and infinitely more energetic than media and rightwing blogs have led many to believe. If you were expecting throngs of wise-looking elders, what you see and hear instead are, well, throngs of wise-cracking, great-looking movers and shakers. For the most part. I love observing the wildly diverse faces walking toward and around me as I lug my very heavy laptop backpack to and fro, cursing my choice of shoes (high-heeled and misery-making--deeply so--given that McCormick Place is right up there with Heathrow Airport when it comes to the endlessly long corridors and escalators you're forced to navigate). This is a multi-ethnic, ageless, and highly motivated crowd; they talk about The Issues even when they're riding one of the four million escalators. Even when they're in the restroom.

No wonder certain media types feel threatened: they know what's happening--what has happened already, in fact. Theirs is a wounded pride, a roundly discredited prejudice.

Break Free of the Chains

I would really, really like to experience one of the many intriguing restaurants for which Chicago is famous, but many if not most of them are in the outlying neighborhoods, hardly walking distance from either Hyatt. What you do get here are versions of the same fern-bars, burger joints, and Tex-Mex outlets you've probably eaten at in your hometown. TRex and I tried the China Grill (yes, there are a few of them around the States) and devoured a monster plateful of mixed-green salad followed by dumplings, then wasabi mashed potatoes so good, they rival my own evilly delicious spuds (I start by adding plenty of sweet butter, sea salt, cracked black pepper and a few knobs of wasabi paste to the hot, drained potatoes, then whip that together, then drizzle in hot milk until the texture makes me happy).

That said, can we please have more independent (and preferably ethnic, say Cuban, Thai, Moroccan or Indian) restaurants in your downtown area, Chicago? Yes, we are tourists, but many of us enjoy trying new flavors when we're visiting new cities--we already know from Bennigans and Chipotle and Subway (especially those of us who live in Florida).

Ezra Speaks

A cab shortage (why I opted to take the aforementioned saunamobile--it was that or nothing) conspired with Friday afternoon rush hour to make me late for Ezra's round table session discussing blogs as the new news. I did catch the last fifteen minutes, though, and can report that Ezra's as poised in front of a roomful of media and blog types as he is in front of a Hardball camera. Afterwards, I was able to personally thank Max Blumenthal for his most recent film shorts, Rapture Ready and Generation Chickenhawk. I asked him how on Earth he managed to get himself and his film crew into these events; he replied that getting in wasn't anywhere near as hard as standing right there among such fanatics for hours, desperately looking forward to getting out.


Swarms and Sushi at the Swampland Party

For a while, the place was packed and the mob at the bar was intimidatingly wide and deep; then, the crowd spread out somewhat and the volume continued to rise. At the back of the room, our hosts had erected a large posterboard with headshots of the four Time Magazine Swampland bloggers, Ana Marie Cox, Karen Tumulty, Jay Carney, and the beleaguered Joe Klein, entreating guests to "Say it to our faces" with one of the marker pens provided. I watched in amusement as comedian after comedian scribbled his well wishes (hey, they did ask). The board needed something 3-D, though. A stack of Times sat on my coffee table, so I tore out Joe Klein's page from the top one, folded it into an origami Dodo bird, and positioned it over his photo, where its outer wing could twitch in the air-conditioning currents.


The writing is on the wall.