Sunday, September 30, 2007

Netroots Nation* '08: The Case For Making it a San Francisco Treat

Photo by Itinerant.

Why San Francisco? So many reasons, but so little time before the decision gets made, given that 2008 will be an extraordinarily busy, thrilling, and jam-packed year for progressive bloggers, journalists, and politicians alike. And since, it would seem, the selection process is still rumbling along quietly, I'm going to be bold (and yes, a bit biased) and nominate the beautiful and incomparably appropriate City by the Bay for Most Favored Host for Yearly Kos*, now known as Netroots Nation.

Read on, my pretties and handsomes, and I will convince you.

You're undoubtedly familiar with the fact that San Franciscans are an intellectual, culturally diverse, and enormously progressive populace, one that enjoys wildly thriving business, arts, and LGBT communities. Thumbs up to SF for meeting all those criteria, definitely.

So how about its main convention facilities?

Seems to me the location, location, location requirement is fulfilled and then some: the Moscone Center is an award-winning convention complex that's perfectly located within the perfect metropolis. Unlike many other U.S. cities, where convention centers are situated in outlying areas that are disappointingly and inconveniently far removed from their vibrant and feature-filled nuclei, San Francisco built its main such facility, The Moscone Center, within walking distance of more than 20,000 hotel rooms--rooms to suit every budget and style. There are countless amazing restaurants, coffee shops, and bars nearby, too.

Plus, the Moscone Center is green. And union-friendly:

The intent of sustainable programs is to promote and support operational and business practices which lessen adverse environmental impact, benefit the local community and make economic sense. The success achieved at the Moscone Center is due to the close collaboration of numerous players including SMG staff, the City and County of San Francisco, show management, general and exhibitor appointed contractors, attendees, exhibitors, the Public Utilities Commission, and the ten labor unions represented at the Moscone Center. All sustainability programs are an extension of their efforts.

Then there is Greens, the venerable vegetarian restaurant, friendly to all who appreciate delicious food; indeed, the menu, the local wines offered, and the view of the Golden Gate bridge mean happily distracted carnivores will never miss the meat. (Yes, you might have to ride one of those famous and thoroughly enjoyable cable cars to get there, you poor thing.)

Not that San Francisco is lacking for meat markets, mind you--an important criterion to keep in mind when choosing a city, ye High Priests of the Orange Order. Nightclubs and restaurants and bars, oh my!

That gorgeous San Francisco summertime climate is also something to think dream about, my friends. If you're like me, which is to say, someone who doesn't exactly enjoy being stuck in traffic while a surly cab-driver grumbles that no, there isn't any air-conditioning in this sauna-on-wheels and too bad about your nice outfit getting soaking wet even as you bake to a crisp, you'll love this: in August, high temperatures hover around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and lows are in the mid-50's.

Come on, how perfect is that? You can walk everywhere wearing suits, as opposed to (literally) sweat-suits.

And when you're not busy conventioning, you'll be able to choose from a range of diversions unmatched in breadth and depth by any other American city: Art. Sports. Theatre. Opera. Haight-Ashbury, which for some of us is a walk down (hazy) memory lane. Live music to suit every taste. Parks and botanic gardens. World-class people-watching from an infinite number of outdoor cafes, and sights to see from every hilltop. Chinatown and dim sum. And of course, shopping--at one-of-a kind (and endlessly fascinating) boutiques and ateliers, as well as at larger stores that invariably turn out to be the jewel in their respective national chains, from Old Navy and the Gap (both of which are flagships) to Neiman Marcus and Barneys.

Further, keep these two companies in mind: Ghirardelli Square and the Scharffen Berger factory. (A city with everything going for it and they've got chocolate. It's almost too much.)

You can get from most major U.S. cities to San Francisco (or nearby Oakland) via one of any number of the usual suspects airlines, too.

And finally, on a personal note, by next summer this Florida resident will be a U.S. citizen longing for a parallel home-away-from-home, a splendid, richly-storied, and foggy old American city in which to leave her heart.

I think I've covered all the main arguments; do add your own in comments, and by all means let the folks at Kos World know what you think.

Until next year, then--I'll be the one with flowers in her hair.

Also at Ezra's place.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Van Halen, Together Again

One early morning in 1981, I was on my way to the reliably decent waves of an inlet nicknamed "The Blowhole", speeding through the foggy plains of north Florida in an equally-foggy VW Minibus with a few surfer friends from my apartment complex. Suddenly a new and blistering version of The Kinks' You Really Got Me came shrieking out of the tinny old radio.

"Oh wow, turn this up!" I said.

These were the mellow stylings of a band called Van Halen, according to the DJ at WGVL "The Quadship" (or, as we dryly called it, the Quad-skip, given as it was to hiring DJ's who'd play obscure and scratchy old vinyl in the middle of the night and proceed to get too stoned to notice that they'd been broadcasting the same line, over and over, for the past half-hour).

Shortly after graduating from UF (of recent Don't Tase Me, Bro fame) in June of that year, I went to work with a concert promoter in Orlando. And that October, I had the good fortune to be assigned the task of dumping several large bags of M&M's into an enormous glass bowl and picking out all the brown ones, since Van Halen was the opening act for our big fall show--The Rolling Stones--and lead singer David Lee Roth had stated quite clearly in the contract rider that he wanted M&M's in his dressing room--just no brown ones, please. (The Stones' rider contained a short rejoinder: Mick will be happy to accept any brown M&M's that David Lee Roth doesn't want. How I loved them for that.)

At one of the various after-parties, held at a surprisingly shabby motel where the band was staying (not my doing, honestly), my old college roommate Mori and I were sitting with the drummer, Alex, and his girlfriend, in the bar. David burst in, all bluster and two-sizes-too-small white jeans, and surveyed the joint as if seeking an exit already.

"The bar's over there," someone said. Over there, as it so happened, was directly behind the sofa on which Mori, Alex, his girlfriend, and I were sitting. But that didn't slow Mr. Roth down, not a bit. He leaped up vertically, alighting on the sofa with one foot on a cushion and the other on my thigh. Then he balanced himself, grabbing the top of my head as a gymnast would a pommel horse, and leaped once again, this time landing in front of the bar.

I was deeply unimpressed. And as the band grew in popularity over the next few years, appearing on MTV in numerous videos (this was back when MTV actually played music and reality shows were but a twinkle in some network accountant's eye), I frequently made snide remarks about Diamond Dave and his apparent need to use women to propel himself toward his ultimate reward.

I always admired Eddie's thrilling guitar technique, though, and was saddened to learn of his personal battles, first with drug addiction, then with cancer.

So it was with pleasure--the Awesome-but-no-way-they're-that-old-yet kind of pleasure--that I read about Van Halen finally getting its act together and putting on a long-awaited reunion in Charlotte, NC, with Eddie's teenage son Wolfgang manning the bass this time around. From Rolling Stone*:

And for more than two hours, the gods delivered. From “You Really Got Me” to “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Dance the Night Away,” “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Unchained,” “Hot for Teacher,” “Ice Cream Man,” “Panama,” guitar-god solo “Eruption,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” “Jump” and about thirteen more classic Van Halen tunes, the band was in top form for their long-overdue reunion. “I’m not going to waste time BS-ing around tonight,” Roth told the delighted, sold-out crowd of predominantly middle-aged guys in white- and blue-collar work clothes and gals who’d retrieved their Eighties bustiers for a night of original hair-metal nostalgia. But he was lying: Roth was at his BS best.

His hair may be shorter and crow’s feet longer, but Diamond Dave is every bit the Vegas showman that he was two decades ago, when he left Van Halen for an ill-fated solo career that took him from cheesy bad to train-wreck worse. He showed his gift for gab — and flamboyant duds — from the get-go, imitating Mick Jagger and martial arts moves, smiling like a clown, riding a giant microphone. And despite old wounds, his bandmates seemed charmed by their new old lead singer. Eddie Van Halen, switching from his signature Peavey “Wolfgang” guitar to his old, red- and white-striped “Frankenstein,” nuzzled up to Roth several times. And drummer Alex Van Halen, sporting his trademark white headband, pounded his kit with a constant smile. If original bassist Michael Anthony was missed at first, it wasn’t long before Eddie’s sixteen-year-old son, Wolfgang Van Halen, had the crowd in the palm of his hands. The teenaged slap-style bass player held his own with style, grace and grit, throwing out picks to the audience as he walked the catwalk into the crowd, his bass in hand, during “Atomic Punk.” There were some bumps along the way, including a few times when Roth missed his vocal cues, but the audience could not have cared less.

Nothing like a trip down memory lane on a rainy Saturday afternoon, huh? Once I finish posting this, I'm going to see if iTunes has some of VH's better songs available for download.

Not Jump, though.

(*Via HuffPo)

Also at Ezra's place.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Frank Parte Seconda: Terry Bozzio Goes it Solo on The Black Page

Following up on the Friday Frank post I did earlier today, I simply must share with you this jaw-dropping solo performance: Terry Bozzio playing Black Page #1, keeping time with the hi-hat. (If you know anything about playing drums, and probably even if you don't, you'll immediately recognize how difficult this piece is.)

Many thanks to reader Ken.

Al Pacino in Scarface: Bad Guy Coming Through

I always tell the truth, even when I lie.

One of my favorite actors, favorite scenes, favorite movies. Somehow it seemed so right for this moment in our history, as the powers that be (and the media hacks who love them) continue to point their fingers elsewhere when naming the elusive Bad Guy.

Not work-safe in the slightest--oh my goodness, no.

For the amusement of Klein's Tiny Left Nut.

Friday Frank: Zappa Plays Zappa; The Black Page, with Terry Bozzio

I am posting this little gem because it features Terry Bozzio, whom I adore. The video is actually shot from behind the drum kit. And really, how often do you see a great drummer actually being featured?

(H/T sixsix)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What a Girl Wants

It is Son Three's birthday today, and he's eight--something that hardly seems possible, given that my stock image of him as a wee bairn in a white cotton Sweetpea-esque nightgown-sleeper with matching skull cap is as fresh in my mind's eye as if he'd been born this week. Little Fawn Eyes, we used to call him, since his enormous espresso-bean-colored eyes were his dominant feature. And they still are, though the megawatt smile is a close runner-up.

Anyway, Thursdays are Chapel Days at his school, and Robert and I accompanied him this morning, marveling (again) that giant bolts of lightning didn't plunge through the ceiling and take us both out. Certainly I have not been the best, most upright and God-fearing of human beings in recent days, which fact is evidenced by the worrisomely low level of Excedrin tablets in my counter-hangover arsenal (also known as Mama's side of the medicine cabinet). And yeah, I have kinda-sorta taken the Lord's name in vain at least a few times, usually when a certain brush-clearer is blathering away on the teevee. Robert? Oh he's been a good boy lately, at least insofar as he'll admit to me. But the sinful stuff he got up to as a young man is pretty outrageous, certainly it's outrageous-with-staying-power; indeed, you'd think God would have a longer memory than this, that He'd take advantage of any number of opportunities to mete out some high-voltage punishment in Robert's direction, or for that matter, mine. The Tampa area is, after all, the lightning capital of the United States, and the very name Tampa is Calusa (a Native American tribe) for "sticks of fire".

After the brief service, parents and students lifted our voices and made noises that were both joyful and reasonably on-key; one of the songs was America, to which tune I quietly sang God save our gracious Queen. I admit I sometimes wonder why God didn't step up to the plate for Princess Di: she was at least trying to do something about getting rid of land mines and increasing AIDS awareness, all the while managing to hold her famous head pretty bloody high despite crippling depression, eating disorders, and intense and unrelenting pressure from a family unparalleled in its control-freakishness by any bunch of relatives in recent history (save perhaps The Sopranos).

The theme of today's sermon had something to do with being content. The pastor asked a general question: If God would grant your wishes this morning, what would you ask for? He then walked around the congregation, proffering his cordless mike to various uniformed Young Ones. I leaned over to Robert and whispered in his ear: World Peace and a Ferrari.

Quoth the first little girl: "I would wish for...Peace on Earth."

Next up was an older boy. "I would ask for a Ferrari."

Never let it be said that I don't have my finger on the collective pulse of youth or that I don't know what's really important in life. Are you listening, God? It's me, Deborah.

Now, the cool thing about Son Three--besides his beautiful eyes, dazzling smile, and brilliant wit, of course--is that his birthday is exactly two weeks before mine. So we start celebrating on September the twenty-seventh, and we don't stop until the New Year (because after my Special Day, there's Hallowe'en, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas...). I've already got Son Three's presents lined up (if not wrapped, not completely anyway) and ready to go for this afternoon, but there are fourteen shopping days left until October the eleventh. Fourteen days that will fly by, at which point everyone will be stumped, since what do you get for the girl who has everything, given that her children are healthy and happy, which is everything, when you think about it?

I may not be from the South (though I live here), and I'm hardly what you'd call a teen, much less a Miss Teen America contestant, but I'm going to say World Peace is right at the top of my Birthday Wish List, and since I do actually know the difference between U.S. Americans and South Africans--and I even have a map in my house (more than one, to be accurate)--I feel it's only fair that this wish be granted. Such as.

So, taking a page from the Book of Rachel*, I'm going to make it easy on everyone this year. Herewith, my Birthday Wish List, with pictorial assistance.

World Peace by Philbert Tiki Yong (age 12) of Malaysia,
for the International Child Art Foundation.

As long as I'm wishing, I might as well throw in a selfish request: this is a 1969 Ferrari Dino, located in parts unknown (but most likely on the aforementioned as-yet-unpeaceful planet), providing endless hours of automotive pleasure for someone, somewhere:

Should that one prove too difficult to source, Ferrari's 2007 concept-car version will do nicely, too:

And I'll need a place to park it, naturally, a pied-à-terre to which I can invite everyone for tea after visiting the Tate. Somewhere near and dear to my heart, which would've been left in San Francisco had it not, nearly forty-seven years ago, taken up permanent residence in a land that's even foggier:

A little balconied flat in Belgravia, London SW1. Price?
Well, if you have to ask...

And since I'll probably be dressing up and heading to the theatre later in the evening, I'll want to accessorize with something old, something seen, something "borrowed", and something green, all of which requirements are met by this sweet bauble:

The 167.97-carat Mackay Emerald, a rather nice gift from man to opera-singer wife in 1931; it now resides under glass.

Unfortunately, procuring that Art Deco gem would require a set of B&E skills beyond the capabilities of most mortals: it's safely locked away in the Smithsonian.

So not the necklace, then.

And come to think of it, those gas-hog Ferraris would be murder on the climate--what good will it do to have peace if we're all underwater? Skip the Belgravia flat, too, at least until such time as Madonna packs up and returns to the States.

That leaves world peace. Because unlike forced liquidity (uh, thanks, Chairman Bernanke) or global warming-induced liquidity, it's something that really will benefit everyone.

So I'll start by wishing you all a joyful, beautiful afternoon on this anniversary of my third son's birth, and I'll continue by trying my best to be content, even as I wish with all my being for meaningful change, for lasting peace, for an end to war and hunger and want--the terrible, real want of so very many--all over the world.

As the pastor said in his concluding remarks this morning: Shalom, my friends.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Frank: Packard Goose; Barcelona, 1988

Information is not knowledge;
Knowledge is not wisdom;
Wisdom is not truth;
Truth is not beauty;
Beauty is not love;
Love is not music.
Music is THE BEST.

Bon Weekend, Everyone.

(H/T ricardolduarte)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Big Cats: A Photo Essay

On Friday, I was privileged to walk among some real Kings of the Jungle. Accompanying me were Son Three, a couple of dozen fellow Cub Scouts, and various other mothers, all of us weighed down with sloshing bottles and swaying camera bags, clinking our way down the path like Bedouin medicine men following the tribe.

When exotic animals are given up for adoption, generally by people who can no longer keep them as pets, or else rescued from horrible circumstances--an environment that's unhealthy, abusive, dangerous, illegal, cruel--some may wind up here, at Big Cat Rescue. They'll be fed and cared for, and permitted to roam in modest-sized habitats built within the woods north of Tampa. Roam behind wire, that is.

The owners must strike a balance between generating interest and income (thus staying afloat), and protecting the animals, many of which are traumatized by abuse, from too great a disturbance wrought by too many hordes of lively young visitors. So they sort of rush you along, which is disappointing if you're the type who likes to ponder, to really look at the world in front of you, more intently when there is a large jungle creature standing in the middle of it.

The guide told us we might be lucky and see the elusive snow leopard; then again, we might not. It was ridiculously hot, even for a September in Florida; he was far more likely to stay in his cave. And there was this: the snow leopard was intensely shy and traumatized; any upset or threat could send him into a fit of self-mutilation.

We walked toward the first of the wired habitats. This leopard's name was Jade:

We continued along the fenced path that wound between habitats. All the boys loved the South American Cougars; I think this one is Sugar (her brother Shadow looks just like her):

Next, we visited the tiger, and he posed for us:

So did the stunning serval. Her intricate markings were So beautiful, we all kept saying.

I thought to myself, Where is it that she's supposed to blend in? You couldn't take your eyes off the serval. She couldn't go unnoticed:

As we were leaving the sanctuary, one of the guides hissed at everyone to stand perfectly still. The snow leopard had decided to venture outside. Any sudden movement or loud noise could startle him and set off a bout of neurotic behavior and self-harm.

He could have stayed where it was safe and cool, but the snow leopard was drawn outside by something he heard. He trusted the joyful noises; they must have sounded like innocence itself.

Big cats usually stalk into a scene, establishing their dominance, lest anyone forget who's king. The snow leopard crept along the ground, moving toward the still and whispering group of humans and their wide-eyed children, his ears flattened slightly. He looked frightened, or else ashamed.

I'd been hanging back and was at the far end of the throng when told to halt and slowly turn around. The snow leopard slunk along and stopped--just short of the main group, and right in front of me. He stared at me and through me at the same time, and I looked back at him, and there we stood, looking hard and looking back, and not moving.

I lifted my camera slowly, so it wouldn't startle the snow leopard. The guide started to tell me to Move along, yes you, especially you. I quickly took two photographs and walked on.

Splendid, but tragically endangered:
the sad and lovely Panthera uncia, or snow leopard.
It's estimated there are only 4-7,000 of them left.

(H/T Klein's Tiny Left Nut)

Pushing Rope Wins Best Political Blog

Michael Hussey's taut and up-to-the-minute Pushing Rope is declared Best Political Blog in Creative Loafing's annual Best of the Bay lineup.

Bravo, Michael! Well done, and well-deserved.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday Energy: Joe Satriani, Surfing With the Alien

Mr. Satriani and company, at a fairly recent private concert.

This one is for Robert. Honey, you're ho-ome.

(H/T holycow90)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday Frank: The Torture Never Stops; Ed Wood

Part One:

Part Two:

The dream sequence from Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda set to the mellow stylings of Frank Zappa's The Torture Never Stops, from the Zoot Allures album.

Disturbing, timely genius. Just brilliant.

(Not work safe, and I rarely if ever say that.)

Bon Weekend, everyone.

(H/T gonzozappa)

Also at Shakesville.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Testing Agency Head Under Fire; Senate Committee Asks: Is it Safe?

Lawmakers, including the tenacious Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill), grill Nancy Nord (of the Consumer Product Safety Commission), demanding to know why lead-laden children's toys and jewelry are still arriving in the United States.

Sen. Dick. Durbin (D-Ill.) charged that the CPSC was not aggressive enough in stopping unsafe toys and children's jewelry manufactured in China from entering the U.S.

He said the agency never obtained information on shipments of the Chinese products so that it could inspect to see whether many of the products had lead paint in them.

Weboy was none too impressed; the background information he provides about Nancy Nord neatly replicates what has become an all-too-common story arc (hell, for many Bush appointees, it's a career template):

Well, Nancy Nord is the Acting Head of the CPSC because the head of the CPSC resigned rather abruptly (last) summer, and Bush has done nothing to replace him (the CPSC has a three person directorate; with the party of the President essentially controlling the majority) since March, when he tried to appoint the former head of The National Association of Manufacturers (you know, people who might not like the CPSC) in his place. And why did the last guy resign, you ask? Oh, you know... to go work for a law firm that advises clients on how to... you know, avoid having to deal with the CPSC.

Yes, it would seem that Consumer Product Safety is yet another area like... oh, I don't know, let's say FEMA... where the Bush Administration has allowed benign neglect to substitute for policy. Bush has appointed, er, cronies, to this commission (see #9 of the last link), good Republican doo-bees, and now here's Nancy Nord to tell us, Gosh, the CPSC is underfunded. Now there's a surprise.

During testimony Nord admits, disturbingly, that despite harsh criticisms of Chinese toy manufacturers and calls for crackdowns in 2004, a "significant amount" of children's jewelry the agency tested still contains lead, amending that, shortly thereafter, to "almost all of it". She also describes the testing facility as a 1950's-era missile testing site in Gaithersburg, Maryland, some of the buildings of which do not even meet code. Nord goes on to report how their lone product tester, a man named Bob, is overwhelmed (imagine that!) and can't reasonably be expected to test the countless thousands of toys and other products coming into the country every day.

This is a still shot of the toy testing facility, the place where Bob ("Our small parts guy") decides if toys--the ones he gets to that day, anyway--are safe enough for Americas consumers and children. Yes, this is really the toy lab, as presented to the Senate Wednesday:

The United States of America's Consumer Product Safety Commission,
Toy Testing Division
(as shown behind the senators' chairs)

Honestly, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Certainly, this is nothing new, this underfunding and undermining of a United States government agency tasked with protecting the public. As I wrote about extensively this year, the FDA has been similarly hamstrung by the Bush administration, and despite the shocking revelation that less than 1% of food imports arriving Stateside are even being inspected at all, the agency is quietly closing labs around the country and cutting staff. Furthermore, in a classic Bushian hand-off of henhouse keys to Big Pharma fox, the FDA has shifted much of its drug-testing function (in exchange for drug-testing funding) to the drug companies themselves.

Perhaps Grover Norquist wouldn't have been so quick to fill his bathtub if he'd known it was coated with lead.

(H/T the priceless petulant)

Also at Shakesville.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Update: No Federal Hate Crime Charges; A Call For Reordering Our Judicial Priorities

The six monsters who kidnapped, imprisoned, raped, and tortured 20-year-old Megan Williams won't face federal hate crime charges. Nonetheless, given the perpetrators' voluminous police records, the quantity and seriousness of the state criminal charges, and the possibility that state hate crime charges will be filed subsequent to those, it's likely they'll face long prison sentences if convicted. The latest:

BIG CREEK, W.Va. (AP) — Authorities decided Wednesday not to pursue hate crime charges in the kidnapping and week-long torture of a black woman, instead going after the suspects, who are white, on state charges that carry stiffer penalties.

While federal civil rights or state hate crime charges remain an option, a state kidnapping count that carries a sentence of up to life in prison will provide the best chance for successful prosecution, officials said.

"As a practical matter, sentenced to life, what else can be done?" U.S. Attorney Charles T. Miller told The Associated Press.

Six people face charges, including kidnapping, sexual assault and lying to police in the torture of a 20-year-old woman at a remote hillside home in Big Creek.

State hate crime charges, which carry a sentence of 10 years, could come later, prosecutor Brian Abraham said. State sexual assault charges carry a penalty up to 35 years in prison.

I stand behind the spirit of hate crime legislation: that such acts are extraordinary in that they involve targeted racism, sexism, and even terrorism, and that they call for an extraordinary measure of punitive remedy. And it is my admittedly unsophisticated and unschooled opinion that charges for this class of crime--call it terrorist or hate, call it what you like--are warranted in many cases when the act is so heinous and so clearly directed at a specific group of citizens. That said, like many of the wise commenters at litbrit as well as at Shakesville, I worry that the term "hate crime" itself has become politically-charged, something that politicians can use to capture the attention (and, more cynically, the votes) of minorities, women, and gay folk; something to add an extra fillip of contemporary in-the-know to their stump speeches when the topic is "getting tough on crime"; and something that will sadly remain meaningless in terms of actually getting the violent monsters off the streets, in greater numbers, once said politicians are elected.

This heartbreaking, terrible case in West Virginia offers legal authorities--at both the state and federal levels--the chance to prove how serious they are about putting violent criminals behind bars and keeping them there. Since 1991, police have filed no fewer than 108 criminal charges against the six suspects involved; all were living as free persons when they kidnapped and raped Ms. Williams. The mother, Frankie Brewster, was charged with first-degree murder of an elderly woman in 1994; she pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and was released from prison after only five years.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you release violent monsters from prison--or worse, fail to incarcerate them in the first place. They keep attacking; they keep raping; they keep murdering.

And you, the prosecutors we trust to put them behind bars? You keep entering into plea bargains because your jails are full and your dockets are full--we know. You've been really, really busy fighting the War on Drugs. There isn't enough time, there aren't enough courts, and there simply isn't much room left for storing all the truly dangerous Bad Guys (and their mothers):

According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, more than two million men and women are now behind bars in the United States.1 The country that holds itself out as the "land of freedom" incarcerates a higher percentage of its people than any other country.[...] The exploding prison population has been propelled by public policy changes that have increased the use of prison sentences as well as the length of time served, e.g. through mandatory minimum sentencing, "three strikes" laws, and reductions in the availability of parole or early release.

Although these policies were championed as protecting the public from serious and violent offenders, they have instead yielded high rates of confinement of nonviolent offenders. Nearly three quarters of new admissions to state prison were convicted of nonviolent crimes. Only 49 percent of sentenced state inmates are held for violent offenses.

Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national "war on drugs." The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980. In 2000, 22 percent of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges.

If given the choice between mandatory minimum sentences--sometimes life sentences--for drug users and dealers, and mandatory, equally draconian sentences for kidnappers, child molesters, rapists, and murderers, I know which group I'd want behind bars forever.

And I'm guessing there aren't many readers who'd choose otherwise.

Write to your lawmakers in the Senate and the House.

Also at Shakesville.

Unspeakable, Unimaginable, Unacceptable Hatred

If there is any lingering doubt as to the fact that some crimes can indeed be termed hate crimes, well, meet Megan Williams, a twenty-year-old black woman who was the victim of unspeakable violence and cruelty at the hands of her white captors:

The Associated Press generally does not identify suspected victims of sexual assault, but Williams and her mother agreed to release her name. Carmen Williams said she wanted people to know what her daughter endured.

"I don't understand a human being doing another human being the way they did my daughter," Carmen Williams said Tuesday from her daughter's hospital room. "I didn't know there were people like that out here."

Another mother--West Virginia mobile home owner Frankie Brewster--and her son Bobby, along with at least four other white people, kidnapped, imprisoned, raped, tortured, and beat Megan. They did all this while screaming racial epithets at the terrified victim, and in case she somehow missed the point of that little excursion to the depths of Hell, one of them carved into her ankle with a knife and told her, in no uncertain terms, why this was happening to her:

"(the suspect)...used the N-word in telling her she was victimized because she is black."

The details are almost impossible to read. I urge you to read them anyway, though. And stop pretending that violence with the added measure of targeted, deadly hate--toward minorities, toward women, toward gay, lesbian, and transgender citizens--is the same thing as random violence and mayhem.

Inside a shed on a remote hillside of this coalfield community, authorities say a young black woman was tortured for days, sexually assaulted, beaten and forced to eat rat droppings.

If she wanted water, she had to drink from the toilet.

Her captors, all of them white, choked her with a cable cord, poured hot water over her and stabbed her in the leg while calling her a racial slur, according to criminal complaints. It wasn't until an anonymous tip led Logan County Sheriff's deputies to the property on Saturday that her ordeal ended and she was able to limp to safety, arms outstretched as she cried "help me!"

As usual, the neighbors are shocked:

"I don't understand such a horrific crime being committed here," said Johnny Meade, pastor of the community's Apostolic Church of God in the Name of Christ Jesus.

Authorities said they were investigating the case as a possible hate crime.

A possible hate crime? Good God, what more do they need--a flashing neon N-word sign suspended from a branch over the trailer?

Investigators are still trying to determine how the woman ended up at the property and whether she knew any of the six people arrested or the two others, suspected of driving her to the home, who are being sought, said Logan County Chief Sheriff's Deputy V.K. Dingess.

You have to love the customary invocation of blame-the-victim subtext, a journalism tic so ingrained as to usually pass unnoticed--until and unless one is a victim oneself. How did Megan end up at the property? As though she had some hand in it! Shouldn't they be asking What method did the criminals use to bring her there? I'm going to take a wild guess: these disgusting sociopaths, violent criminals all, simply attacked and overpowered the woman. They've had plenty of practice--look at their records:

The suspects in the case have prior arrest records going back several years, according to records from Logan County Magistrate Court. Logan County Prosecutor Brian Abraham said, "I have some familiarity with all those individuals."

The owner of the mobile home, Frankie Brewster, 49, was charged with kidnapping, sexual assault, malicious wounding and giving false information during a felony investigation in connection with Williams' case.

She had been released from prison in September 2000 after serving five years for manslaughter and wanton endangerment in the death of 84-year-old Polly Ferrell, according to court records.

Brewster's son, Bobby R. Brewster, 24, also of Big Creek, is charged with kidnapping, sexual assault, malicious wounding and assault during the commission of a felony.

Danny J. Combs, 20, of Harts, is charged with sexual assault and malicious wounding.

Karen Burton, 46, of Chapmanville, is charged with malicious wounding, battery and assault during the commission of a felony. Her daughter, Alisha Burton, 23, of Chapmanville, and George A. Messer, 27, of Chapmanville, are charged with assault during the commission of a felony and battery.

There's your answer, Pastor Meade of the Apostolic Church of God in the Name of Christ Jesus.

And now for you, sir, as well as Logan County Prosecutor Brian Abraham, whose statement "I have some familiarity with all those individuals" is both laughable and bitterly tragic, I have a couple of questions:

How in the Name of Christ Jesus is it possible that violent, racist, hate-filled rapists and thugs like these are walking around the communities of America as free citizens?

And what are you going to do about it?

(H/T Lisa in Baltimore)

Also at Shakesville.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remember. And Imagine.

Invoking the words of the great John Lennon, Neil Young reminds us how it could be.

At the Tribute to Heroes concert, September 2001.

Our Country Today, By Tom Tomorrow

Via Tom Tomorrow at the HuffPo.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Your Sunday Silly: The Four Yorkshiremen, w/ Eddie Izzard, Alan Rickman, Harry Enfield & Vic Reeves

This one's for my Baby Brother. From the 1999 Monty Python For Amnesty International show.


(H/T pipitis in comments at Shakesville)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Just Plane Confused

In the early 1970's, flight attendants (then referred to as "stewardesses") who worked for Southwest Airlines dressed like this:

Meanwhile, Continental Airlines' girls flight attendants skipped around teevee screens, singing:

We're here to make you happy,
We're out to make you pleased,
You're flying Continental,
Your flight will be a breeze.
We'll help to make you happy,
We'll skip to prove it's true,
On Continental Airlines We Move Our Tails For You!
We really move our tails for you,
We make your every wish come true,
Fly Continental Airlines,
We really move our tails for you!

And at Singapore Airlines, the message was even less subtle--Singapore Girl—You're a great way to fly! The iconic Singapore Girl, also known as "Asia's Barbie", has held on despite pesky feminist complaints lo these many years, though changes, apparently, are in the works:

Despite her success, critics complain the Singapore Girl concept is sexist, outmoded and largely intended to serve male passengers' fantasies of desirable, subservient Oriental women.

The Straits Times once quoted a Qantas Airways chairman referring to the campaign as "massage parlour in the sky ads".[...]

Advertising industry experts do not expect her to be canned but merely refreshed.

"It's been incredibly successful and you don't just give up such a truly iconic symbol having spent 30 years to build it," one executive at a large international agency said.

It's interesting that so much sex gets invoked to peddle what amounts to little more than the privilege to wedge oneself into a seat--one that was miserably uncomfortable twenty years ago, and is all the more so now--in an admittedly phallic-looking sardine can; strap oneself down, and forfeit one's rights to self-determination for an indefinite length of time; and then feel oddly grateful for the half-defrosted bagel and scrambled rubber one is expected to eat with a plastic spork. The experience of air travel ceased being sexy in any way, shape, or form the moment someone realized there was money to be made by stripping the upholstery from passengers' seats, stacking them on top of alongside each other like so many tin folding chairs at a low-budget shotgun wedding, and spacing the rows with an eye toward pretending that adult humans rarely exceed four feet in height.

No, these days, the sounds, smells, and images associated with flying commercial are the very antitheses of sexiness.

This didn't stop Southwest Airlines from trying, though. In fact, as recently as 2004, the airline marketed itself as the of the clouds:

But hark, what's that in the air? Pheromones? Cupid? No, just Southwest Airlines, which is trying to bill itself as a flying matchmaker. Is it working? At the very least, Southwest says so. With its open-seating policy, it claims, people can check each other out at the terminal and then choose to sit next to each other during the flight. It's really playing the angle up -- in-flight snacks are called "love bites," in-flight drinks are "love potions," and its stock ticker symbol is LUV.

But--oh dear--it looks like some odd changes have taken place at Southwest Airlines since those days of screw-top wine and imagined roses. Love bites have been replaced by packets of dessicated pretzel crumbs, and every bit of fun associated with (if not actually provided by) the airline has been drained in favor of...something. A bow to the fashion police? This fashionphile isn't impressed. A nod to feminists? Well, I'm one of those, too, and I think the way the airline treated miniskirt-wearing passenger Kyla Ebbert earlier this summer was insulting at best, actionable at worst.

First, they escorted her off the plane; then, after allegedly subjecting her to some sort of "we're a family airline" talk, permitted her--permitted her! A paying customer who clearly wasn't hiding any boxcutters or bottles of hair-gel on her summer-outfitted person, headed as she was for the 100+ degree heat of Tuscon--to re-board, after which humiliating experience Ms. Ebbert hid under a lovely germ-ridden polyester airline blanket for the duration of the flight. Jessica has video, as well as some truly excellent points appearing in the comment section. A sample:
"God damn it. I am so, so, sick of women's bodies being pathologized like this. Yes, women have breasts and legs. Yes, in many cases you can tell we have them. GET THE FUCK OVER IT. It just makes me so irate that on the one hand, we're expected to flaunt our bodies, but then when we do we're punished. Was anybody else really disturbed by the part where she said she covered herself with a blanket? Because you know, since she's not "fat" or "ugly" she has to be made to feel ashamed of her body in some way."
"This is a feminist issue, IMO, because it's a reflection of the damned if you do, damned if you don't standards in our society for women. Women are expected to be sexy, but not too sexy. Our society simultaneously sends the message to women that how attractive they are is the measure of their worth and also that if they actually want/enjoy sex (or "make" people have "sinful" thoughts) they are horrible people who deserve to be shamed. Does this woman participate in a sexist culture by working at Hooters? Definitely, IMO. But don't we all in some way or another? I really don't think it's that radical of a position to say that even women who participate in perpetuating sexism can also be the victim of sexism."

"Public drunkenness can be dangerous on a flight. Fatness? I'm assuming they wanted them to buy two tickets? A separate and more complicated issue. Strong body odor? I wish I'd been on the flight that banned the BO men. I always seem to be right in the midst of an unshowered soccer team flying between matches.

The point isn't that private businesses can't set basic standards for their customers, it's that this standard is absurd. Subjective and absurd."

I suppose it's back to the drawing boards, then, for airline companies' advertisers, standards-setters, and passengers alike. Me, I'm still fuming that Southwest charged me an Overweight Luggage fee--my suitcase was barely three pounds above the limit!--en route to Yearly Kos; meanwhile it wound up being so bloody hot in Chicago, all I really needed was a couple of tank tops, a sarong, and a pair of shorts. Yet another airline makes my personal No Fly list.

Do you suppose Aeroflot is at all passenger-friendly?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday Frank Bonus Post: Wille the Pimp; w/ Warren Cuccurullo

The wise and Very Important world-traveler Spurious George, tripping through what he undoubtedly considers the Outback yesterday, remarked to the Sydney Morning Herald that "We're kicking ass in Iraq".

Oh yes he did.

As Crocodile Dundee might say, that's not kicking ass...THIS is kicking ass. Show him, Warren.

(H/T weedew22)

Friday Frank: In Which FZ Explains the Decline of the Music Business

Once again, Maestro Zappa tells* it like it is, all the while predicting the inevitable. You can easily understand why he produced and owned his material. Listen to the words of a true artist and innovator; a bona fide original thinker; a genuine American through and through.

*Sadly, the video stops in the middle of the last

(H/T schavira)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

I Love Cringe At Love Bill Maher

Oh my goodness, is Bill ever on today:

I don't think the problem is that Bush lives in a bubble. I say make the bubble thicker. Use the armor we can't get to the troops. For example, on this whole "bomb Iran" thing. Let's not, and just tell him we did.

Who's going to tell him the truth? Rove? Gonzales? Rummy? Scooter? Harriet Miers? It's like a haunted house. The douchebag cupboard is bare.

According to the Times of London, the Air Force has drawn up plans for massive strikes against 1,200 targets in Iran. The plan doesn't just call for eliminating Iran's nuclear program, but for taking out its entire military in one blow. Can Bush destroy another country's whole army? Why not? He did it to ours.

We'll get Condi to slip him a note. "Mr. President, Iran is free!" And he'll scribble some garbled bullshit on it, like "let freedom Purple Rain" and that will be that.

Mission Accomplished. Oh, and the astronauts you sent to Mars just called. They said to say "hi."

There's (a bit) more!

Hang on to Your Ponytails: Time and Money are Better

A few years ago, an acquaintance who'd just come from her hairdresser's salon, where she'd gone for her regular color-and-highlights appointment, told me of the disturbing experience she'd had. A mother and daughter, along with an aunt, were having their long hair cut off in order to donate it to Locks of Love, a charity organization that provides wigs for women and children suffering hair loss due to cancer therapy or alopecia. The mother and aunt sat gamely as the stylist sliced off their two-foot-long ponytails, but apparently when it came time for the girl, whom my friend estimated to be about twelve, to part with her hair, heartbreaking drama ensued. The young lady wept and said she'd changed her mind--she didn't want to cut off all her hair, after all. Both mother and aunt began arguing with her, first in joking tones, then in words designed to make her feel ashamed and guilty--here she was, healthy and strong: Didn't she want to help children who were suffering? Ultimately, the girl relented, allowed her long hair to be shorn, and left the salon sobbing and shuddering.

I was appalled. Her mother's intentions may have been good (at least initially), but she might have been less hasty about hacking off her daughter's hair--if not her own--had she spoken to my friend Christine.

Christine is the CEO and creator of Hip Hats, a popular line of natural hairpieces with soft, fabric skullcaps (as opposed to classic, scratchy wig foundations); they're worn under scarves, hats, sports caps, and so forth. Anyway, Christine, like many wig manufacturers, purchases all the human hair she uses for her products from India and China. Human hair intended for use in wigs must be very uniform, virgin hair; it needs to be thick, healthy, and undamaged by chemical services; it must also be a certain length. Bleaching, coloring, and curling, if required, are performed on the hair swatches after they're cut. Christine states there is no shortage of hair in the world: in fact, there are countless Asian women (and, I don't doubt, men) blessed with fast-growing, straight, highly marketable hair, and they provide plenty of it to the world of wigmaking.

The price of wigs and specialty hairpieces like Hip Hats mostly reflects the labor involved in making them, not the cost or misperceived scarcity of the hair itself, which exists in abundance.

Discussing this trend of people chopping off their hair as a way to help cancer victims, Christine was characteristically straightforward: "Their intentions are good," she remarked, "but much of the hair they chop off is simply unworkable and useless. Money would be a better donation."

She's right--and I would add that celebrities and newspeople like Ann Curry, who stage on-air shearings and then encourage others to do likewise, are not helping matters:

Forget collecting pennies for Unicef or washing cars to raise money for hospitals. One of the most popular ways young people are contributing to charity these days — everyone from Girl Scouts to bar mitzvah boys — is growing their hair long and donating it for wigs for children and women with serious diseases.

It’s not just teenagers. Biker clubs have organized cut-a-thons. Professional athletes have held public shearings. The NBC news anchor Ann Curry lopped off the actress Diane Lane’s mane on the “Today” show last year.

But although charities have been highly effective at stirring the passions of donors, they have been less successful at finding a use for the mountains of hair sent to them as a result. As much as 80 percent of the hair donated to Locks of Love, the best known of the charities, is unusable for its wigs, the group says. Many people are unaware of the hair donation guidelines and send in hair that is gray, wet or moldy, too short, or too processed, some of which is immediately thrown away. Even hair that survives the winnowing may not go to the gravely ill, but may be sold to help pay for charities’ organizational costs.

At the headquarters of Locks of Love in Lake Worth, Fla., the hair deluge — up to 2,000 individual donations a week — can be daunting for the small staff of six employees and 10 to 15 volunteers.

“We created this monster because people get so much from it,” said Madonna Coffman, the president of Locks of Love. “They get the attention. They get a warm and fuzzy feeling. They feel they’re going to help a child.”

Locks of Love sends the best of the hair it receives to a wig manufacturer, Taylormade Hair Replacement in Millbrae, Calif., which weeds through the selection still further, rejecting up to half.

“We hate throwing it away but ultimately we have to clear the place out,” said Greg Taylor, the president and owner of Taylormade. “There is a disparity between the hundreds and hundreds of braids and ponytails and the number of hairpieces we’ve produced.”

I have lost a beloved friend to pancreatic cancer; recently, another friend went through chemo for breast cancer and lost her hair, something none of us could prevent or help her with. And I know as bystanders we're often moved to help, to do something--to make a big, dramatic gesture--by an overwhelming wave of sympathy and fighting spirit. It seems so mundane to simply write a check to a faceless organization, damnit--I'm going to cut off all my hair, and my girls are going to do likewise!

If you really want to make a difference, though, or simply help the victims of this multi-tentacled beast we call cancer, go ahead and write a check. Perhaps there's a local children's hospital who could use some new books, toys, and DVD's. Volunteer to read stories to patients well enough to have visitors, or dress up as Santa at Christmas, or spearhead a teddy-bear drive. If you're able and willing to really dive in and help, it's always best, in my opinion, to look right in front of you--chances are there's a Mom at your kids' school who's sick, injured, or suffering through the energy-draining experience of cancer (or other) treatment; perhaps you and some other parents can take turns bringing her family home-cooked meals or driving her kids to school.

In other words, think lots--not locks--of love.

Also at Shakesville.