Sunday, February 08, 2009

Truest statement of the week

On 23 January, the Guardian's front page declared, "Obama shuts network of CIA 'ghost prisons'". The "wholesale deconstruction [sic] of George Bush's war on terror", said the report, had been ordered by the new president, who would be "shutting down the CIA's secret prison network, banning torture and rendition . . ." The bollocks quotient on this was so high that it read like the press release it was, citing "officials briefing reporters at the White House yesterday". Obama's orders, according to a group of 16 retired generals and admirals who attended a presidential signing ceremony, "would restore America's moral standing in the world". What moral standing? It never ceases to astonish that experienced reporters can transmit PR stunts like this, bearing in mind the moving belt of lies from the same source under only nominally different management.

Far from "deconstructing the war on terror", Obama is clearly pursuing it with the same vigour, ideological backing and deception as the previous administration. George W Bush's first war, in Afghanistan, and last war, in Pakistan, are now Obama's wars - with thousands more US troops to be deployed, more bombing and more slaughter of civilians. Last month, on the day he described Afghanistan and Pakistan as "the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism", 22 Afghan civilians died beneath Obama's bombs in a hamlet populated mainly by shepherds and which, by all accounts, had not laid eyes on the Taliban. Women and children were among the dead, which is normal.

Far from "shutting down the CIA's secret prison network", Obama's executive orders actually give the CIA authority to carry out renditions, abductions and transfers of prisoners in secret without threat of legal obstruction. As the Los Angeles Times disclosed, "current and former US intelligence officials said that the rendition programme might be poised to play an expanded role". A semantic sleight of hand is that "long-term prisons" are changed to "short-term prisons"; and while Americans are now banned from directly torturing people, foreigners working for the US are not. This means that America's numerous "covert actions" will operate as they did under previous presidents, with proxy regimes, such as Augusto Pinochet's in Chile, doing the dirtiest work.

-- John Pilger, "The politics of bollocks" (New Statesman).

Truest statement of the week II

I think we have to walk out on the Democratic Party. I didn't vote for Obama, I voted for Nader. A lot of that had to do with the war. I think the left has thorwn its -- has essentially rendered itself impotent by throwing in its lot with the Democratic Party that over and over and over betrays the interests of the working and, increasingly, the middle class in this country. I mean, just look at the bailouts -- constitutent calls were running a hundred-to-one against the bailout and they passed it anyway. Why did they pass it? Because lobbyists and corporate powers wanted it passed. The FISA reform act, which Barack Obama voted for, giant step towards fascism. Why did it pass? Because the telecommunications companies spent 15 to 20 million dollars in lobbying fees to make sure it got passed. The government at its core -- forget the rhetoric, forget the propaganda, forget "Yes, We Can" -- serves the interests of corporations. We are watching it right now with the financial bailout. We are watching it with the absolute failure on the Democratic Party to challenge the rapacious canabalization of the country by the military-industrial-complex.

-- Chris Hedges speaking on Thursday's KPFK's Uprising (and click here for his most recent column).

A note to our readers

Hey --

A late Sunday. Starting with everyone who helped including Dallas who located links and acted as a sounding board as well as:

The Third Estate Sunday Review's Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, and Ava,
Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude,
Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man,
C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review,
Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills),
Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix,
Mike of Mikey Likes It!,
Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz,
Ruth of Ruth's Report,
Wally of The Daily Jot,
and Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends.

And we came up with the following:

Truest statement of the week -- John Pilger, a truth teller who never stops.

Truest statement of the week II -- Chris Hedges who just might emerge as the American John Pilger.

Editorial: Barack backs off Iraq, the Cult showers him with love -- This begins the problems with this week's edition. For a change, no writing problems. We were done with the text early on. We only wrote one article that didn't make it online. We should have been done by 7:45 EST. And then there's Flickr. After the second hour began of waiting for the images to load, we made the decision to go to bed. Most of the images downloaded while we slept. Two didn't and we had to upload them when we got up. So Barack keeps war mongering and he still gets his valentines. How very.

TV: Three hours worth watching -- Ava and C.I. examined NBC's Monday night and explain what's working, what isn't and why you should be tuning in.

NYT goes tabloid -- There's journalism and there's tabloid. New York Times can't seem to stifle its desire to top to The New York Post on the latter.

US war resisters Andre Shepherd and Cliff Cornell -- War resistance in the US and Germany.

What Iraqi elections taught the world -- Our piece on the Iraqi elections and, please remember, results will not be final for weeks.

Music roundtable -- A musical roundtable.

Michael Phelps Adult Swim -- If Michael Phelps were a woman, he'd be in the news for three months based on just this one incident.

And one little piggie went wah-wah all the way home -- Tom Daschle withdrew his name from consideration as Health and Human Secretary.

Highlights -- Mike, Elaine, Rebecca, Betty, Ruth, Cedric, Marcia, Kat, Stan and Wally wrote this and selected all highlights. We thank them.

And that's the edition. Sorry for the delay but we'd already been up all night and didn't see the point in waiting and waiting for illustrations to load to Flickr. See you next week.

-- Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and C.I.

Editorial: Barack backs off Iraq, the Cult showers him with love

Last week, McClatchy's Nancy A. Youssef reported, "Obama is likely to announce his strategy for Iraq by mid-March, a senior administration official told McClatchy." That was actually news but it passed Youssef (and others) right by.

Look, we try to avoid listening to him as often possible. Barack Obama speaking -- despite all the false praise -- is like a first-time driver trying to handle a stick. Translation, a lot of lurching, sudden stops and pauses. Uh. Uh. Uh. As he would say.

But even with that reluctance, we still grasp that announcing something in mid-March is far from what Barack campaigned on.

At his campaign site, it still lists his "three facts" on Iraq and first listed? "Immediately upon taking office, Obama will give his Secretary of Defense and military commanders a new mission in Iraq: successfully ending the war. The removal of our troops will be responsible and phased."

Mid-March is what Nancy Youssef's told. "Immediately upon taking office" is what Barack promised.

January 21st, Barack Obama was sworn in as the President of the United States. That would have been "taking office." "Immediately" would have meant starting that 16-month drawdown (of "combat" troops only) January 21st.

It's not genetic modification, it's rather simple and, even with Barack's fractured speaking, rather clear.

But search in vain for anyone pointing that reality out.


We must all live in our lives in service of the Christ-child, apparently. It was suggested that possibly Tom Hayden might call Barack out but not only does Hayden require four months to get 'up to speed,' Valentine's Day is Saturday and what's a Tom-Tom to do, stay home alone just because he breaks up with his Valentine?

Throughout the primaries Electro-Loather and DynaBore -- aka Laura Flanders and Tom Hayden -- ran interference for Barack while insisting that they would hold his feet to the fire . . . some day! Some day never came.

Which explains why, despite Barack calling it a 'fact' that 'immediately upon taking office,' he would implement his plan, all this time later he's still done nothing and his Cult refuses to call him out.

TV: Three hours worth watching

Since the day VCRs became, like alarm clocks, a staple in many homes, people could more or less assemble their own TV schedules. Back then, the big 'freedom' for many (especially the most vocal of users) was being able to catch their daytime soaps at night. Two decades later, in this age of iPod and DVR, is it all do-it-yourself?



One network actually programs one night of TV. NBC on Mondays is must-see TV for three hours (a feat the network never, ever managed on Thursdays). That wasn't always the case and it required ditching the ambitious series Christian Slater starred in and bringing back Medium, but you can honestly turn your TV to NBC at the start of prime time and leave it on NBC for the full night.

It's not just that new technology has turned entertainment TV into a buffet, a self-serve buffet at that; it's also that the networks have refused to keep up. They really don't have a clue how to program which is why Jay Leno's going to be taking up five hours of prime time next year. No offense to Jay, Johnny Carson couldn't deliver a nice-size audience doing The Tonight Show in prime time. But someone thinks that the network's tired (about to get more tired) late night warhorse can be dragged by the reigns into prime time and it's going to be an 'answer.' Repeating, they just don't have a clue.

In the better times, when there were only four to five choices for most Americans (three networks, a PBS and possibly a syndicated channel), the networks weren't able to offer up seven nights of programming that amazed hour after hour. But for all their failures (Supertrain, My Mother The Car, Manimal, etc.), at least they tried. And if they hadn't tried, there would never have been I Love Lucy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Newhart, Murphy Brown, Hill St. Blues, Family, The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, Friends, etc. Today's suits don't grasp that you never get the glory when you can't even do the job: Program seven nights of offerings.

They really don't have a clue which is how the best show NBC introduced in fall 2007 ended up struggling this year. Chuck is the sort of show ABC would know what to do with but NBC appeared to mistake it for Lost.

The hour long show, which leads off Monday nights, revolves around Chuck, a Buy More superstore employee who ends up working with the CIA and NSA due to an e-mail (don't ask) even though he has no spy training. Each week, the comedy, action and romance series has the gang squaring off against the baddies. It's the sort of confection that always appears simple to pull off until people actually attempt it. But Chuck did everything it was supposed to and it built up an audience.

So how did it end up struggling last fall when new episodes returned? Because, again, some idiots at NBC thought it was Lost. It is not Lost. It is not a serial. The only episodic element is the will-they-or-won't-they between Chuck and the CIA's Sarah. You do not need a friend sitting by you to provide recap or two seasons worth of DVDs to 'catch up' in order to tune into Chuck. All you have to do is turn on the TV.

And that's how NBC screwed up. All summer long, they could have built the show up, increased its audience. It's not as though NBC offered any 'new' (reality) programming that anyone needed or wanted to watch. Keeping Chuck in the Monday time slot, in repeats, may have meant a small audience. That's not the point. With a new show, you train the audience. You let them know, no matter what happens, winter, spring, summer or fall, Chuck, like a Carole King song, will be there. It's the TV equivalent of comfort food and it's something CBS fully grasps. NCIS increased its ratings in part because Michael Weatherly got down to an attractive weight and in part because the show was always there. NCIS has not become a better show (some argue it's worse with the killing off of Lauren Holly's character). But it was there. It was there on CBS each Tuesday when there were new episodes and it was there when there was nothing to watch all damn summer.

NCIS' success story should be Chuck's. Chuck should have been the show that picked up new viewers (even if old ones didn't watch -- though we think they would have) over the summer just because it was there. Just because there are many who will not watch Five Nannies Live Together And Try To Lose 60 Pounds While Falling In Love And Becoming Fashionistas. Just because when there are no new shows on TV (real shows, not 'reality'), viewers will grab the remote and check out a show they didn't watch before. A show that blends action, romance and comedy has some elements lots of people can enjoy. They just need to sit down and watch it and know it's there at X o'clock on X day, week after week. NBC blew it and nearly destroyed Chuck in the process.

When the series started back up last fall, it did so to the lowest ratings ever. When no one knew what the show was, it pulled in more viewers. It pulled in more viewers for any week of fall 2007/spring 2008. For three weeks last fall, it got the worst ratings it ever had and had to slowly rebuild. And it has but none of that would be necessary had NBC aired the repeats over the summer, conditioning the audience to tuning in each Monday.

Years and years ago, NBC stuck by Cheers which was not a ratings winner in its early days and could easily have gone the way of Buffalo Bill. But they stuck by it because they knew that exposure to the show (it was a strong show) would mean more would watch. It's a lesson the suits don't grasp today.

Monday found a brilliant moment the next morning following Chuck's nightmare. His sister Ellie and her fiance Devon (Sarah Lancaster and Ryan McPartlin) are at the table with Chuck (Zachery Levi). Devon offers they're not prying and Ellie says they are and want to. It was a quick moment, a zing and a zang, and it may have been overshadowed for many by the nightmare itself where Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) climbs across Chuck in bed before attempting to kill him. But it is those moments that enrich the show and that show how much care is taken in the details. Whether it's Ellie's apartment or the Buy More, the characters -- all the characters -- are richly drawn. And if you watch it with a group of people, as we did on campus Monday, you'll quickly grasp how these supporting characters really please the audience.

Take the Buy More store where Joshua Gomez long ago carved out the part of Morgan and now only works on shading. His work should have nabbed a Best Supporting Actor Emmy last year. What the Emmys missed, audiences don't whether its Gomez, Mark Christopher Lawrence was given a sketch (Big Mike, the manager) but has managed to flesh him out into a full bodied character or, best of all, Julia Ling as Anna Wu who made no sense until Anna was paired with Morgan.

We've noted the outstanding work of Levi, Strahovski and Adam Baldwin before and it is outstanding work but the ensemble cast, the supporting players are doing so much that viewers getting a chance at repeats in the summer are being offered a treat, not a stale leftover.

Nathan: Just out of curiosity, what can you do these days?

Peter: Do?

Nathan: Your abilities?

Peter: What are you, a cop? What's the last thing you saw me do, Nathan?

Nathan: You flew.

Heroes follows Chuck. Chuck keeps the action and the mood light and is the perfect lead-in for the action drama that was the best show NBC added in the fall of 2006. Or should be. But Heroes is awash in problems these days.

For example, Tim Kring never appears to grasp that the audience is disempowered when Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) is powerless. When the series began, Peter and Nathan (Adrian Pasdar) were bickering and Peter was the soulful but self-doubting and weak, younger brother. You cannot build up Peter and have the audience experience that, know they identify with him, and repeatedly strip away his powers without alienating the audience.

Peter has his powers back. He is not the whiny loser you were introduced to on the very first episode. We mention that because it is important. The drama between brothers Peter and Nathan still exists with Nathan taking a slow trip to the dark side. Peter ineffectual will not work. It upsets the family dynamics, it upsets the audience. Peter doesn't have to win but he has to be able to fight and when his brother is this and that (now a US Senator) and has super powers, you better make sure Peter has a chance at holding his own.

His? That's becoming the real problem with the show. We explained (before the show aired) that there were problems with the female characters. Clair is easily one of the most popular characters on the show so when they sideline her, the ratings suffer. (When they sideline her and strip Peter of powers, the ratings crater.) Hayden Panettier has done everything any script has asked of her and made it seem completely natural to Clair. No easy task when you're got a mother, father and brother who aren't biologically related to you and your own mother shows up (while no one's watching is supposed to notice that your brother has vanished) and your character is torn between two mothers and then one dies and your not even given a scene where you grieve.

And that's just one example. But, episode after episode, Panettier makes it work.

Ali Larter is frequently ignored in the scripts. For example, last Monday's broadcast found the actress showing off her body in the opening scene when a governmental/military squad arrived (just as she puts on a robe) and aims several rifles at her.

"You want me to beg?" Larter asks with a snarl. "Screw you. I don't beg for anyone."

It's not that she's immediately knocked out with a dart that makes the scene ultimately so disappointing, it's that this is it for Larter. She'll show up in the final scenes for a second so Peter can touch her, absorb her power and (unknowingly) use it. If they wanted her character's power used, why not let Larter do the scene?

Well that's expecting equality and there is none on Heroes. As this has become more and more obvious, it's hurting the show.

Ali Larter is an actress. What's her character's name?

Disposable. Sometimes her character has a name -- actually, her characters. But she's disposable. She started out playing Niki Sanders -- online stripper with super powers and a secret personality. Niki just vanished which was a problem not only because Niki was a popular character but also because Niki's son was a popular character. This year, she's Tracy Strauss who, like Niki, sleeps with Nathan. Tracy's super power is the ability to freeze. Who knows what next year's power will be or what, fall 2009, the name of her new character will be?

Is Tracy being killed off? We have no idea. We do know that a lot of Heroes fans we spoke to last week say they can't stand Tracy, that they miss Niki and they aren't buying the crap-ass excuse that's been put out publicly.

In October, Behind The Eclipse interviewed Joe Pokaski and Aron Coliete (writers and producers of Heroes):

"Was Nikki/Jessica removed to allow Ali to play a different role, or was it more story and character-based, in a realization that perhaps you couldn't find a way to redeem the character, or go anywhere further with her?"
A little of both. But most importantly, it also allowed us to tell an origin story again. To play the human confusion of a rug being pulled form us. The "what’s happening to me?" of it all.

That's a load of s**t. Niki and Tracy go to the fact that strong women scare the hell out of the boys behind the scene on Heroes. They won't admit it, but that's reality. It's why they can't write Clair convincingly and the actress has to basically rewrite every scene she's in. It's why the older actress are the "good" (Clair' adoptive mother) and the "bad" (evil Angela, mother of Peter and Nathan). It's why Niki's storyline never made sense.

Niki had an alternate personality. Her dead sister. When she would use her superhuman strength, she'd black out due to some trauma and become her alternate personality. Did you follow that? It's not very difficult unless you're a man working on Heroes.

What's the problem for Niki?

It takes a real SEXIST PIG -- one scared of any strength in women -- to argue Niki's problem is her super powers. But that's exactly what the show argued. They had her working to do away with her powers. Niki and her sister were beaten as children by their father. He would eventually beat her sister to death.

Niki's super powers were not her problem. Even Jessica (the alternate personality) was not, in and of itself, a problem. Jessica was a coping mechanism for Niki. And it's really strange that instead of offering a story where Niki tries to integrate the Jessica personality into her own, the 'problem' is suddenly that Niki has super powers and all of season two must be wasted with Niki trying to get rid of them via various drugs.

The cover story is that they couldn't go any further with the character of Niki. Go any further with the character? They never took Niki anywhere. ("They" being the writers. We're not referring to Larder who has played poorly written characters better than they deserved to be played.) As for the claim that it allowed them to tell an 'origin story,' that crap might have played as believable in October when the new episodes were just starting to air; however, those episodes have now aired and there was no origin story for Tracy. In dialogue -- passing dialogue at that -- we learn that she was 'genetically modified' (like monster corn?) and that's how she has powers.

We learn something else -- and note this is all in 'Do you think it will rain today?' type narration, not in 'origin story' type action. We learn that Tracy is Niki's sister. She's Jessica!


Jessica was one sister of Niki's. But Niki was a triplet. And Tracy and Barbara are her sisters. Barbara? No one's seen her. Fans of the show we spoke with last week hope that Barbara will be the character that finally interests the writers if only in a "third time's the charm" type of manner.

Another fan favorite was Dana Davis' Monica Dawson, niece of Niki. She was brought on in season two and dropped for season three. Why? She's a woman. That's really all it is. They say there's no storyline for the character but they find time for one storyline after another when it's a male. The writers do nothing with the female characters and then, time and again, turn around and whine that they've gone as far as they can with 'her' -- and it's always a her -- so they have to write her off the show. It's not just Niki or Monica. It's Elle Bishop (Kristen Bell). It will no doubt be Daphne's turn next or is no one supposed to notice Brea Grant had only one scene in Monday's episode?

For writers who feel they've done all they can for the female characters, they never seem to notice how much they under utilize them episode after episode.

We noted before that taking Peter's powers away hurt season three's episodes. We were not aware how much damage getting rid of Niki did until we were speaking on colleges last week (about Iraq) and, during down time, would seek out an opinion on NBC's Monday night line up. Heroes has really hurt itself -- with young men and women -- by making women disposable.

No one gives a damn about Matt Parker, for example, or really any of the characters other than Nathan, Peter, Clair and Syler (Zachary Quinto) now. "Why should I give a f**k what happens to Matt?" asked one guy who thinks Clair is next on the writer's hit list and vows he's done with the show when that happens. Building up the audience means building up the female characters.

A big shift took place last Monday with the new storyline. Nathan is having the heroes detained because of their super powers. They're rounded up, put into the sort of restraints and outfit Jose Padilla was forced to wear. The story has Gitmo overtones and much more. But the big shift is that it's Nathan and that the audience who might have enjoyed Sylar's evil are now rooting for it. As they saw Tracy rounded up, followed by one hero after another, when it was finally time for the evil Sylar to be rounded up and he, instead, slaughtered the government agents, people were thrilled. (Including the group we watched Monday's broadcast with in a student union.) They were cheering him on.

They were cheering on Clair when she boarded the plane to set the heroes free but lost interest as she became background and they noticed the men were being freed and the female heroes were doing nothing. If the audience was either as dumb or sexist as the writers, Heroes might have less problems.

Which brings us to Medium. Patricia Arquette plays (to perfection) Allison, a psychic working for the district attorney's office, with three kids and a husband. The crowd in the student union was largest for Heroes. But Medium didn't just maintain a large number of holdovers, it brought in its own group including one young woman who told us what she loved about the show best was that the characters "talk and act like real people. They keep it real."

The youngest daughter was drawing pictures of her art teacher naked on Monday's episode. Joe (Jake Weber) and Allison were brought in for a conference and there was inferring of 'what is going on at your home that your young daughter is drawing nude men?' She was actually drawing a spot on his chest that got bigger and bigger. It was cancerous. Like her mother, she has psychic powers.

Allison's powers became public knowledge two seasons ago when guest star Neve Campbell wrote about them for the paper. It led to Allison losing her job as well as her boss Manny (Miguel Sandoval) losing his eventually. Now Manny's the DA again and Allison's back at the DA's office. The broadcast was the season six premiere and, as is usual for the show, it eased into it. Not an insult, just noting that things always grow twised and complicated as the seasons progress. That's what's allowed Patricia to win an Emmy (and be honored with a Golden Globe nomination last year) and allows for so many richly drawn characters -- regulars and guest stars (such as Anjelica Huston whose amazing work last year resulted in an Emmy nomination).

Chuck opens, Medium closes and, even with its problems, Heroes is worth watching allowing NBC to do something heroic itself: Manage to program three watchable hours of prime time television. Considering the state of TV, three hours from one network in the course of the week would be amazing. That NBC airs all three on Mondays instead of doling it out like heroin and stringing viewers along almost qualifies as humanitarian as well.

NYT goes tabloid

If you're doubting how bad the economic crisis is, note that last week saw The New York Times merge with another outlet to become The New York Enquirer Times which featured their own Steven Lee Myer's "Women Held by Iraq Is Accused of Recruiting Suicide Bombers."


That was big 'news' for the tabloid of record and Myers was bound and determined to leave qualifiers to the headline writer as he furiously pounded away:

She went by the code name "the mother of believers," Samira Ahmed Jassim al-Azzawi confessed. Ms. Jassim recruited women to join extremists in Diyala Province, escorting them to a farm for training and ultimately to their targets.

Speaking stiffly in a crude police video, Ms. Jassim recounted the fate of a woman she called only Um Huda, whom she had led to a neighborhood bank that served as her rendezvous point. "When I was talking to her, she was not answering or looking at me," Ms. Jassim said. "She was mumbling verses of the Koran."

She did all of this! Not she's accused of doing, she did. She did! She did!!!!!

Samira Ahmed Jassim al-Azzawi was arrested Janury 21st. Until February 3rd, the Iraqi government said nothing about her, didn't even note her arrest. February 3rd, 13 days after she's arrested, they trot her out for a for-show, video confession and no one's supposed to be skeptical? Not even an allegedly trained and professional press?

To be fair, not everyone turned in tabloid stories. Deborah Haynes (Times of London) and Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) are two who managed to remember that someone charged is a suspect. For example, here's how Susman reported the video confession, "There was no way to independently verify the video's authenticity, but the use of female suicide bombers has soared in the last year."

But Myers was too busy getting all hot and bothered. The story had bombs! It had women! It had rape! Breathing harder than the most devoted Marty Scorsese fan trying to make the case for Boxcar Bertha's 'artistic' merits, Steven Lee was sniffing Pulitzer! Or at least his own fingers! Type, type, he must type!

The tawdry, made-for-tabloid story always should have raised eyebrows but that only became more clear as the lurid details continued to pile on.

It quickly went from the woman recruiting bombers, to her recruiting rape victims to be bombers, to her arranging for the women to be raped so that they would become bombers. Where do you go after that? Really, where do you go?

"The Mother Of All Believers" was actually a bordello? Samira used a strap-on and raped the women herself?

What's left when your story is already over the top?

And when it's that over the top, skepticism is especially important. While the US has learned Oprah has no skepticism and will be taken in repeatedly by any grinning huckster, journalists are supposed to be skeptical. It's hard wired into the profession if not into individual DNA.

Iraqi 'justice' is known for abusing prisoners. Iraqi 'justice' is known for abusing female prisoners. The very fact that Samira was arrested January 21st and it wasn't an issue until Feb. 3rd goes to how did it become an issue?

If they thought they'd captured 'The Mother Of All Bombers,' why the sudden reticence? Captured 'terrorists' -- alleged or real -- or generally announced within hours of the arrest or death. But Samira -- big terrorist she allegedly is -- wasn't considered news until long after she was arrested.

Thursday would see a bomber take out 16 lives as well as . . . her own. Her. That's what some reports stated. Hmm. "The Mother Of All Believers" (aka 'The Mother Of All Bombers') is in Iraqi custody and yet it appears a female bomber took her own life and that of 16 other people.

Wasn't Samira supposed to be the 'ringleader'? Oh, well, maybe there is "An Aunt Of All Believers"? Or "A Big Sister Of All Believers"?

There's got to be something, right? Samira had been in custody for fifteen days when the bombing took place.

Out of all the 'suicide bombers' in 2008, 30 are thought to have been women. Thirty. No, it's not even half for 2008. But it's treated as an epidemic. It's the new 'trend' story and, like most 'trend' stories, no one can back it up. Remember 2007's big 'trend' story? Newsweek offered it. Young women in northern Iraq, in the Kurdish region, were setting themselves on fire -- sometimes dying, other times being left horribly scarred -- because it was the new 'in thing' to do. They did it to prove how much they loved!

No, it didn't make sense. It didn't make sense even as you read it.

And what would emerge was that some young women were setting themselves on fire and some young women were being set on fire but not for 'fun' or because it was a new 'fad'. It was happening due to 'honor'. The young women had allegedly 'dishonored' their families. In other words, these women were victimized but the corporate media didn't want to tell that story. It was so much more 'fun' to make it appear setting yourself on fire was the Kurdish equivalent of getting a body piercing.

It was insulting to those young women and, thing is, the coverage is usually insulting to women. When it's a woman, some 'special explanation' is needed. A group of young boys start showing up dead from flames, people aren't going to try to reconstruct 'inner lives' for boys they never met; they're going to try to figure out how they got around flames. The society, the surrounding exterior landscape, is going to be explored. With women, the reporters always want to go 'deductive' based on, apparently, some very self-destructive women they think they knew.

Which is how gender gets pathologized time and again.

That 30 women might have been suicide bombers in Iraq in 2008 isn't surprising. It's surprising that only 30 would be. But the response is natural when your country is occupied and everyone around you is dying or getting rounded up. And the response is seen as natural by the press . . . when it's a man. When it's a man, there's no hand wringing, no cries of Why! Oh! Why!

And that's apparently so irresistible that no one ever needs to be a skeptic, no one needs to question or qualify. So someone says, "This woman is the leader of the suicide bombers!" and you run with it. Trials? No one gets a fair trial in Baghdad so why should you fret over that? You've got a tabloid report to file.

And being a tabby doesn't leave a lot of time for actual news.

For example, the Minister of Women's Affairs, Nawal Al Samarrai, turned in her resignation last week due to the fact that she's not been provided with the necessary resources. She explained to Waleed Ibrahim, Michael Christie and Katie Nguyen (Reuters), "This ministry with its current title cannot cope with the needs of Iraqi women." The Times of India adds, "Samarrai, who took office in July 2008 and had recently chaired two committees on improving the conditions of women and another on the breast cancer, said she would seek a position where she could actually help women."

Nawal al Samurrai

Nawal Al Samarrai was actually news but she didn't leave reporters panting kiss-kiss-bang-bang so there was no time made for her.

US war resisters Andre Shepherd and Cliff Cornell

Friday US war resister Andre Shepherd received an honor from the Munich American Peace Committee. The 31-year-old Iraq War veteran from Ohio made news in November when he became the first US soldier in Germany to apply for asylum. Last week, he made his formal appeal.

Andre Shepherd

In Germany, Andre hooked up with Military Counseling Network whose Tim Huber explained to the UK Channel 4 news, "Andre contacted us about a year and a half ago and he asked about asylum He wasn't the first to ask about asylum but our answer was always the same, we don't know what would happen if you tried asylum. We went over the pros and cons of trying it. We noted that we were quite pessimistic that it would actually work, but we said it's an option." The report included his lawyer explaining the legal basis (here for video, here for C.I.'s transcript):

Reinhard Marx: It's a specific European law, the so-called directive on qualification of refugees and in this directive it is ruled that deserters of an army who refer to international reasons, refer that the war is conducted in a way which infringes the national law then he has a right to be accepted as a refugee.

Samantha Haque: His lawyer cites the case of Florian Pfaff, a German officer demoted after refusing to work on a computer program for the US Army in Iraq in 2005. A federal court overturned his demotion because the Iraq War contravened international law. But although Germany opposed the war in Iraq and said no to the US resolution backing it, it still allowed its territory to be used as a base for military operations in Iraq. Here in Heidelberg is the US Army's headquarters in Europe. There are currently around 51,000 US military service men in Germany If Mr. Shepherd's application for asylum is accepted, there could be implications for US-German military relations.

AP's Patrick McGroarty explained that Andre was set to appear Wednesday before Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees today where he would be stressing "a 2004 European Union directive that established basic guidelines for refugee status within the 27-nation bloc. Soldiers who face punishment for refusing to commit a war crime or serve in an unlawful conflict are to be granted that status, the directive says."

His attorney explained to AFP following the hearing, "It was just a fact-finding exercise, so Mr. Shepherd was questioned about his situation as a soldier, about his motivation to join the Army and how he decided to leave the Army. . . . It is in their hands to decide now. We are very confident."

Andrea has explained what went into his decision to Channel 4 News:

I was working on the Apache helicopter. Those Apaches won't fly unless we take care of them. The Apache helicopter is a deadly weapon a lot of people call it a flying tank. What started my doubts was when I saw the Iraqi people, when they would come and help us, the looks that they gave us weren't the looks of heroes or people that you know were bringing freedom. We looked like conquerors and oppressors. That really bothered me a lot. So I started to look into the reasons why we were actually there in Iraq. I thought that what we were doing was a great thing and a positive thing. That we were actually bringing freedom to people and making them happy but what I found out instead was that we completely destroyed an entire country on a pack of lies. It started to weigh very heavily to the point where my actions when I was a soldier were starting to deteriorate so as this was going on I came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to back to Iraq.

And he explained to Andy Eckardt (NBC News): "When I enlisted in 2004 and later was sent to Iraq, I believed I was doing the right thing. But then, like other comrades around me, I started questioning why we were there and what we were fighting for. . . . My job was harmless until I factored in the amount of death and destruction those helicopters caused to civilians every day. The government made us believe we would be welcomed as heroes in Iraq, but we saw nothing but hostility from the Iraqis that came to work for us, they wanted to kill us."

He was not the first US service member to self-check out, nor was he the first to do so in Germany where checking out has often been seen as a temporary measure you do, then return and proceed to a discharge. Andre is the first known US war resister to check out and then apply for asylum. He has stated that if he is turned down by the board, he will appeal the decision. He has also stated that if he's granted asylum and that means he can never return to the US he can handle that.

At his hometown paper (Cleveland Plain Dealer), James Ewinger provided this background, "Shepherd said he grew up on East 94th Street in Cleveland, attended Lakewood High School and studied computer science at Kent State University until he ran out of money. He enlisted in 2004 with the hope of flying the Apaches, but was urged to become a mechanic first." And he has gone on, in the words of the Munich American Peace Committee, to demonstrate "courage and conviction despite the possibility of extreme punishment from the US authorities" winning their peace prize "for publicising your convictions to give other soldiers the courage also to leave the army and to push for peace." And he was awarded it on the day that US Vice President Joe Biden was in Munich.

Russia Today notes the Pentagon claims Andre is one of 5,000 US Army soldiers "are missing from duty" presently. Another of the 5,000 would be Cliff Cornell. Cornell is among the many who went to Canada where they were repeatedly assured 'the wheels are turning' but, outside of a non-binding resolution and a bunch of bad legal advice, nothing ever happened. Like Robin Long, Cliff was kicked out and, like Robin, Cliff is now being legally represented by James Branum who expressed outrage that his client was arrested at the US border, "Clifford Cornell came back to the United States so that he could voluntarily return to his old unit at Fort Stewart. He stated this intention to the Border Patrol, both verbally and in writing, by way of a letter I drafted on his behalf. I am disappointed that the Border Patrol chose to arrest my client and place him into a county jail with general population prisoners. This should not have happened." Following up, AP reported that Branum's argument registered, that Cliff was released from custody and was being allowed to travel "by bus to Georgia" where he will "turn himself in Tuesday at the Army base near Savannah." Project Safe Harbor's Gerry Condon continues to call on US President Barack Obama to grant amnesty to all war resisters. Former US presidents Gerald Ford created a process for Vietnam war resisters (draft dodgers and deserters) to seek asylum and Jimmy Carter provided amnesty to all Vietnam draft dodgers.


Photo of Andre via MCN's blog, André Shepherd seeks German asylum"):

What Iraqi elections taught the world

Saturday, January 31st, Iraq held provincial elections in fourteen of its eighteen provinces. To hear some of the War Hawks tell it, we learned democracy can dance across Iraq on two left feet. But what did we really learn?


That the purple dye they use on your finger to indicate you voted leaves you with "a smelly, orange finger nail." That was about the only useful bit of information conveyed. We didn't learn who won -- but we did learn that preliminary results can be (and will be) treated as hard numbers (it will be weeks before the official count is known). We learned that when 440 people were elected, it's easier to ignore all of them and repeatedly spin the election as being about someone who was not running for office in the provincial elections.

Most of all, we learned to forget the squeaky wheel, it's the drive-by shooter that gets the grease these days.

Sheik Hammid al-Hayes, a thug who was an "Awakeing" Council leader (aka "We switch loyalties for coin") began stomping his feet in Anbar Province and insisting that he got his way or there would be violence. Alissa J. Rubin and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) quoted al-Hayes threatening, "If the results aren't acceptable, then we'll bring back the old days. We will use rifles again, and we will eliminate the Islamic Party." Ned Parker, Caesar Ahmed and Saif Hameed (Los Angeles Times) quoted another "Awakening" thug, Sheik Ahmed Buzaigh abu Risha, issuing this fatwa, "If the percentage is true, then we will transfer our entity from a political to a military one, to fight the Islamic Party and the commission." Monte Morin and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) quote the menacing Sheik Risha promsing, "There will be very harsh consequences if this false election stands. We won't let them form a government." The thought that the Iraqi Islamic Party would win the majority in Anbar was too much for the thugs who gladly took $300 a month from the US government but never bothered to bone up on democracy and were more than happy to inflame tensions to get their way -- a very telling move. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) observed, "In Anbar province, in western Iraq, tension between rival Sunni parties have been running high after leaders of the Awakening Council groups, or Sahwa militant groups who fought al-Qaida militants in their areas, accused the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), headed by Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, of committing fraud to win majority of the 29-seat provincial council. IIP vehemently denied the accusation."

The "Awakening"s knew that if they threatened they'd get their way. On the 31st, many Iraiqs were repeatedly turned away from polling stations and they registered this dismay and objection and they peacefully marched to draw attention to the problem. The response? "It's not our fault that some people couldn't vote because they are lazy, because they didn't bother to ask where they should vote." Who made that statement? Some party hack? No, the elections commission chief Faraj al-Hadiari. Those peacefully demonstrating, he attacked. As for those who made threats of violence? He rushed to 'fix' things for them. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) quoted al-Hadiari stating of the "Awakening" sheiks' charges, "We will deal with it seriously because it might change the result of the election in this province." Potentially millions of Iraqis disenfranchised and he blows that off but make a threat and he will "deal with it seriously" -- not the threat, but fixing the election the way you want it. Sam Dagher (New York Times) reported "al-Maliki sent a deputy, Rafie al-Issawi, a Sunni who is an Anbar native" to speak with Shik Risha and that the meeting was also attended by the Iraqi military. Sudarsan Raghavan (Washington Post) added the US Marines are back in "Ramadi in observation roles, patrolling areas from which they had largely withdrawn." And Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) observed how "quickly" the officials go into motion for the ones making threats in Anbar, "The Independent High Electoral Commission sent a committee from Baghdad Wednesday to recount ballot boxes from some polling stations in the province after tribal leaders accused the Iraqi Islamic Party, IIP, which currently controls the provincial council, of rigging the vote. The accusations of vote rigging came from an especially important source, Ahmed Abu Risha, the head of the province's Awakening Council, which is widely credited with bringing calm to Anbar."

Paid off with coin and still expecting to be paid off. UPI explained, "The Awakening Councils had looked to secure seats on the provincial councils as reparation for their role in routing al-Qaida militans from Anbar as part of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency strategy known as the surge."

The same thugs were paid off by the US to stop attacking US military personnel and equipment -- as US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Gen David Petraeus told Congress repeatedly last April. All last week they threatened violence and instead of being told to knock it off, they were catered to. So it was no surprise when the 'results' (no official results from the elections are expected for weeks) unofficially officially were flipped in favor of the "Awakenings." Alone among those noting the absurdity was Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy):

The official results in Anbar are sharply different from the reports of the last few days. The IHEC tally gave the victory to Saleh al-Mutlak's bloc, followed by Abu Risha's Awakenings Bloc, followed by the Islamic Party in third place. This is a surprise. The behavior of the Islamic Party and the Awakenings bloc over the last few days strongly suggests that they had the same information about the preliminary results-- that the Islamic Party had won. This "adjustment" -- if that's what happened -- for now appears to have defused the crisis over the alleged electoral fraud by the Islamic Party and the threats of violence by the Awakenings leaders by denying victory to either of the two main rivals (Abu Risha says that he's happy with the result). This resolution is very, shall we say, convenient... and, perhaps, a clever solution to the escalating confrontation. I'm sure we'll be hearing more about this soon.. the Islamic Party's website is currently silent on this sudden change in their electoral fortunes. Where's Nate Silver to analyze the exit poll data when you need him?

Yes, it is very convenient and what it teaches is that there is no democracy in Iraq at present and never will be while the US is there to 'soothe' egos.

Music roundtable

Jim: A roundtable wasn't even on the list of possible pieces for this week. What happened? Kat's "Kat's Korner: Springsteen's serving up a dud" just went up and we can't stop talking about. Dona said, "We need to take this chatter into a roundtable or we're never going to accomplish anything." And so we're doing a roundtable. Participating in this roundtable are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava, and me, Jim; Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man; C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills); Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix; Mike of Mikey Likes It!; Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz; Ruth of Ruth's Report; Wally of The Daily Jot; Marcia of SICKOFITRDLZ and Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends. This is a rush transcript and the illustration is done by Betty's oldest son.

Musical Roundtable

Elaine: Before we suddenly switch topics, let me jump in to say that I love, love what Kat wrote. It is hilarious and it's knowledgable. You really have to know Springsteen's music to write like that. Also, Bruce's new CD? Sucks. Makes Magic, the previous one, look like Born To Run.

Kat: There's cross-talk and I'm jumping in to say I'm thrilled everyone enjoys it. I hadn't planned to review it. I'd heard it awhile back and thought it was disappointing. Wednesday, I read a wonderfully written review of the album by David Marchese in Spin and steered people to that thinking that was that. Then Friday night, Mike's father asked me if I'd heard it and the tone of his voice betrayed how disappointed he was in the CD. So we sat and listened to it. And a lot of things that flew over my head -- I got it was bad, I didn't get how bad -- originally came out in that listen. So thank you to Mike's father who was a sounding board for some of my more acid remarks. And thank you to C.I. because C.I. was editor on that piece. I wanted to have two pieces up this weekend and so when we got on the plan Saturday morning, I just wrote like crazy. The Tracy Chapman one, which goes up today, required less editing. But with the Bruce review, C.I. edited like crazy. My opening and conclusion, for example? I didn't have them. What's now the opening and conclusion was one paragraph with C.I. hollering to me for a phrase to add to open the conclusion. My plan was to just write it out in a frenzy, come back and, when typing, put in the 'little' things like intro and conclusion that were missing. However, that plan can sometimes leave me in front of the computer for hours and hours. So C.I. grabbed my notes and typed up both reviews. I got up Saturday evening and came over here -- C.I.'s house -- intending to get to work on the reviews and C.I. boots up a laptop and tells me there's only one thing needed, a phrase to lead into the conclusion. Believe me, I was thrilled not to have anything else to do.

C.I.: All I did was edit and type. To be clear. Kat earned her praise.

Kat: I wrote long. The original is three times what went up. I didn't cover more songs in it. But I used more words. C.I. cut out whole sentences, grafted others together and just made it so much more powerful and funny. Again, credit Mike's father because there would be no review without him and credit C.I. because I'd still be staring at the screen otherwise. Probably posting a note at my blog Monday about how I really intended to have two reviews done over the weekend but time ran out.

Dona: Just to provide an example, you were actually writing as it was going up. "Take the first track."

Kat: Right. First sentence of the second paragraph. It wasn't in there. C.I. said that was needed and I was still sort of stunned reading it because it was so much stronger than I thought it was -- I was going through the longhand version and then the version that made it up and just marveling over how it was edited. So I say, "Oh, it's fine without" and C.I. says, "Okay" and hits publish just as I say, "Take the first track!" But there's no opening sentence originally because that was something like paragraph twenty something. It was way down in the mix. Some of what came before got scrapped in the editing, some of what came before is used elsewhere in the review. But C.I. felt that section was the strongest description and brought it in earlier. By the way, there are many reviews where C.I.'s edits for me. And I generally note that at my site. I've got the thing written but can't figure it out. But usually, I'm there. When that happens, we take everything I've written and cut it up physically. Each paragraph goes on one piece of paper and we go through and edit out weaker spots. And then we assemble what's left. But I had mentioned, on the ride home from the airport, that I was so not looking forward to editing -- generally, I sleep on the plane ride home. And C.I. said, "Look, if I have time, I'll edit and it'll be done before you even wake up." And I'd laughed because, no way. There's no time. But C.I. made time and I really appreciate that.

Jess: You've got four reviews so far this year. We've read your Tracy Chapman that goes up later today and you've also reviewed a Janis Ian collection and a Phoebe Snow live album. So it's February and you'll have four reviews done. You agreed to eleven a year and you do your music in review pieces. For a total twelve. I am pointing that out.

Kat: Right. I agreed to try for twelve. That's counting the year-in-review. Apparently I only made 10 in 2008 -- a very hectic year. And I never hear the end of it. So note that since I've often gone over 12, when I reach 12 this year, I may just stop. Or maybe at 11 since the 12th piece would be the year-in-review.

Ruth: You have us not going dark in 2009.

Kat: I do, don't I? I think we're extending for six more months in April. I think we'll see out 2009. I don't know about after that. But Jess is correct that once my Tracy Chapman piece goes up, I will have done four so far this year. Only eight more to go. I always say I'm going to start listing them on my site, in links on my blogroll, but I never do. There's never time. I don't think most people realize how busy we are. It's not just that I'm lazy -- though I freely admit to that -- it's also that we're really busy. But someday.

Ava: Actually, that's pretty much taken care of. C.I. added a ton of links to your site Saturday.

Kat: Let me see this. Oh, wow. It's all there.

C.I.: I'm sure I've missed a few. But those were the ones I could think of. They start with the most recent and go backwards. Sort of. When you've got more than one in a month, they're grouped by months but they may not be in order in terms of months of the day. That would have taken more organizing and time than I wanted to give.

Kat: Whatever, this is so cool. And not just because it's done and I didn't have to do it. Oh, wow. There are CDs here that I had forgotten I reviewed. I'm counting and seeing 72 pieces. And I'm counting because a number of e-mails really did do a guilt trip on me regarding 2008. That's so cool. Some day when we're not on the road talking about Iraq, I'm going to just go through some of the reviews.

Jess: In terms of 2008, there really wasn't a great deal of good music put out.

Kat: No, there really wasn't. And you had a bunch of Barackers who tried to put out product -- don't call that garbage music, Jackson Browne and when you're raiding yourself with "the killing floor," that's the first hint that you don't have a new album in you -- in the fall as the year was closing. I'm more than happy to review a real band like Augustana but I'm not interested in product.

Mike: Bruce's new CD, Working On a Dream, is nothing but product. My dad likes a lot of Bruce's music and was really hoping for something with this CD but instead he just got disappointed. He hates it.

Kat: He really does and that's why I was able to do the review. If I don't have a way in, I can't write about it. Doesn't matter if I love it or hate it, if there's not a road into it for me, I can't do it. I heard it and thought, "bad album." I was done with it but your father's grave disappointment with the album gave me the road in. I was planning to do the Tracy Chapman review regardless but it was only after talking with your father about the album that I decided to do the Bruce Springsteen one. Picturing other people who were eagerly awaiting it being disappointed made me want to offer a warning. But in terms of me, he can't disappoint me anymore. I really have no interest in him. He's a highly conservative artist who has so very little to offer and abuses his fans by releasing an album and then, months later, to sell a little more, adding tracks to it that force his dedicated to go out and buy it all over again.

Elaine: Good intentions -- if he has them -- do not necessarily make for good music and there's something very sad about the man who had to report for his draft physical during Vietnam still having so damn little to say. Think about how old he is and how embarrassingly immature his work is. I'd argue it's gotten more immature with each decade.

Rebecca: I agree. There's something really sad about a 60 this year man singing about 'girls'. And offering such superficial lyrics. What's the point of getting older if you're going to try to be the exact same person you were forty years ago? If you're not going to learn a damn thing, I really don't know why most of us would get out of bed each morning. And for all his 'progressive' nature -- allegedly -- he is the most deeply conservative artist when it comes to his lyrics and point of view. His flag waiving, jingoism has always left me cold. And someone can whine in an e-mail, "Reagan misinterpreted 'Born in the USA!'" but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about how every human situation is reduced to the US and how any problem is just a US problem. For an alleged liberal, he has a very narrow frame of refrence and some of his lyrics border on xenophobia.

Cedric: I'd agree with that and I'll also note that he was awful at the Super Bowl. That was like an Elvis in Vegas performance. Was he even singing live? I don't know but too much drama, not enough music. And it was so over the top.

Stan: I know and, I'm sure this happened in many African-American homes across the country, I had to explain who he was. I know who he is and so do a number of other African-Americans but the bulk of us don't know him. His music has really never spoken to the community. It's because he doesn't have any sense of rhythm. If you see John Mellencamp or he comes onstage at the Super Bowl, you're going to have African-Americans who know him because he's got rhythm. We know his songs and we know him. But Bruce is so clodding and unrhythmic that he really was on the Super Bowl singing to and for White America only. And that Super Bowl performance was awful.

Cedric: I'll second that. Take any Mellencamp song, not just something obvious like "Hurt So Good," something that was this obvious hit, but any of his hit songs and there's a recognition factor -- even if you don't know all the words -- that's absent with Springsteen's work. Springsteen really lacks rhythm.

Betty: And the Black community has a natural hostility to him because Diana Ross was already The Boss before he claimed the title. My oldest son asked Jim during the game, "Is that Bob Dylan?" He doesn't really know Dylan but he's heard of him.

Jim: Right and I say, "No, that's Bruce Springsteen." He looks at the TV for a bit and then he turns back to me and asks, "Is he a country singer?" I had to laugh. Since this has become a musical roundtable -- and that's fine, we're always getting e-mails asking for more on music -- I want to raise an issue that comes up from time to time in e-mails. There's this feeling that we don't cover music because of Kat. And we don't do music reviews per se because of Kat. She does it so well there's no reason for us to horn in. But a new strand of e-mails is that Kat reviewed less in 2008 because we did more music here.

Kat: This will be known as 'the roundtable everyone wished Kat would just shut up in.' The way it works is not like that at all. I've already said why I write one. I like, love, dislike or hate the album and feel I have a way to write about it. If I don't, I don't. What's done at Third has no impact on my doing or not doing a review. I like the musical pieces we do at Third. But it doesn't impact what I'm doing.

Ty: What we tend to do here lately is a more technical piece. We do have more of those planned, in reply to those e-mailing and asking. And let's talk about how awful music was in 2008. You had a lot of Barackers who embarrassed themselves. There was more life in music in 2006 in terms of calling out the illegal war. 2007 saw that fade a little and by 2008 it's pretty much gone.

Wally: Right and the Iraq War is not over. But it's as if no one can be bothered. Oh, I'm sorry, is real life harshing out your studio session? Boo, damn f**king, hoo. We were listening to "Mexico" earlier, by Jefferson Airplane, and who has the guts to do that sort of song today. In 2007 and 2008, the bulk of them, if they 'referred' to the Iraq War in a song, they 'referred.' They 'alluded.' They didn't really write a song about it because that might mean they lost a fan or two. And better to go along with the flow because that's what a watered-down, broken-down 'artist' does.

Marcia: What month were we in Indiana? Wally and I spent a month there doing our bit for Hillary in the lead up to that state's primary and they had some real radio stations. They may or may not think so but compared to other states, they had some worth listening to. But what Wally and I kept noticing was that none of the songs said a damn thing. And when we'd stop and buy music, we'd be buying older music. 2008 in music? It sucked. So when it was time to campaign in Puerto Rico, it's no surprise that we were all thrilled to hear Linda Ronstadt's hit collection. For one thing, it stands up. For another, 2008 had less than 10 albums worth listening to that you could put in the popular music category. Artists don't self-censor and they certainly don't do it for a politician.

Elaine: Marcia's last comment reminds me of Kat's hating Carole King's awful live album and how she wrestles with it and finally grasps that Carole sold out by changing the words to the hit "Sweet Seasons" because, as Carole explains it, politicians don't like to lose. Oh, boo, hoo. Carole King made herself the ultimate joke right then and there. I have no desire to ever hear from her again. When an artist is changing a line because a politician doesn't want to hear "sometimes you lose," he or she isn't much of an artist. And to pull in Wally's point, where is today's Jefferson Airplane? And the Airplane wasn't alone in their approach. This wasn't a band that applauded LBJ but hissed Nixon. They weren't a musical organ of the Democratic Party. We really don't have that anymore. We have cowards like Pearl Jam that supported Ralph Nader in 2000 but, worried about their career, bend over backwards to act like that never happened and suck up to John Kerry or Barack Obama or any Democrat. Same thing with Patti Smith. Can we get a link in here for Nellie McKay because she supported Ralph in 2008 and that was a very brave thing.

Jess: Well think about Patti Smith, for example. If independents aren't going to support independent politicians, why should anyone support their independent music? I lost respect for so many including the Peace Queen whose name C.I. has asked us to just not mention again. But, hate to break it to Peace Queen, you don't endorse War Hawks. It was as if you endorsed LBJ and no one hear gives a damn about you. Your little stunt cost you an album because it shocked your fans -- the few who actually spend money purchasing your albums -- and there's no come back until you apologize for your mistake. Peace Queens do not support Barack I Will Leave Troops In Iraq And I Will Send Even More To Afghanistan To Kill Even More People. Buy a clue, you damn idiot.

Jim: I think it's rather obvious who we mean but if any long term readers are confused, Jess took the Peace Queen to task when she made her idiotic comments and immediately packed up all of her CDs in a box and shoved it in a closet. None of us have listened to her since that endorsement and will most likely never listen to her again. Jess could not believe that the Peace Queen who wasn't a Democrat or a Republican and spent years making that point over and over would ignore actual peace candidates just because they weren't Democrats.

Jess: Right. She could have endorsed Cynthia McKinney -- which would have made more sense considering who she works with -- or Ralph. But she's just another lying sell out. F**k her. She'll spend her final years exposed as a fraud. No one's fault but her own. F**k her.

Ava: And just to explain, Peace Queen likes to play the third party card which is why Jess is especially offended that Peace Queen turned around and hopped on board Barack Train. It was a huge error because (a) she's one more celebrity endorsing Barack and it doesn't help her stand out, (b) an endorsement of Ralph or Cynthia would have been appreciated by their supporters, (c) in terms of selling albums, it was (b) that would provide her with an audience. Barack's youthful cult isn't the least bit interested and his middle-aged contingent long ago stopped buying the Peace Queen. All she really did was upset the radical base which was who she was performing for. I haven't checked her concert ticket sales but I'm sure they're not where they were in 2005. We hear complaints about her endorsement on every campus we go to.

Elaine: And she's the perfect example of a fool. I know her and she obviously didn't do any research at all, just endorsed because baby boy asked her to. Well it was her name and she trashed it. Ava's talking about the reaction to it still being strong and that's not the half of it. As Barack's war mongering ways become more evident, this is a career and legacy destroyer for Peace Queen. She goes down with that endorsement. I'm not joking, I'm not using hyperbole. There are many artists who betray their own careers in the final years and then it's over for them. That's the case here. You cannot endorse a War Hawk and be a Dove. With that endorsement, she negated everything she stood for. She exposed herself as a worse fraud than her detractors used to say she was back in the sixties. And I'll cut some people some slack. I know a lot of musicians who didn't like Barack, who knew he was a War Hawk and just stayed silent or made a "I'll vote Democrat" remark starting in July. They were too intimidated to stand up. That's sad but I'll cut them some slack. It's different with those cheerleading him early in 2008. They weren't forced. They pimped him, they whored out their reputations. Well, Peace Queen, you whore out your image, you're not a Peace Queen. And if your peace legacy is negated, you really don't have a great deal to offer musically. Range? Most women had a bigger vocal range than you did. Interpreter of song? Your interpretations really aren't considered the final word. Hit singles? Oh, that's funny. Your whole image was tied in with peace and when you whored that out, you whored out the last thing you had.

Jess: Amen.

Jim: C.I.?

C.I.: I didn't say anything. She disappointed -- she gravely disappointed -- many. She has to live with it.

Jim: I know you're taking notes but I just wanted to be sure you didn't want to jump in.

C.I.: I was listening enough to take notes but reflecting back on the attacks on Elton John. I think it's really unremarked upon how they attacked Hillary. I know whining middle aged 'media watchdogs' say Hillary didn't do this or that. But the reality is that those same White men couldn't shut up about Barack and "Black." Even though Barack is bi-racial. They couldn't stop turning every other word into a racist attack -- "Fairy tale! That's racism!" But when ever anyone tried to note the sexist attacks on Hillary, the same watch dogs attacked. Elton John noted the sexism and they really went after him for doing so, to try to bully him into silence. Elaine was mentioning some artists she and I both know and the fact of the matter is that Barack's a good thing in one way. Never again will you see so many who don't believe go along. There are numerous artists who did who were smart enough to reject him when he bombed Pakistan. Your In The Closet Movie Performers go along with that but musicians are artists and they don't go along with it. Yes, that was a swipe at ___. I really don't like closet cases to begin with but when they're also conservative closet cases trying to caution everyone to be silent, I really, really dislike them.

Rebecca: That's a good point because Elton really did get attacked. I couldn't believe the amount of hate aimed at him for making that obvious remark about the sexism. But, as you pointed out, we could never explore that. The same men would spend forever inventing racism to defend Barack from, to protect the Christ-child. But they didn't give a damn about sexism.

Ruth: I actually disagree with Rebecca. They did give a damn about sexism. They weren't against sexism, they were for it. And they took the attitude of, "Oh well, if she wants to be president, she's going to have to learn what it's like to take her lumps." First, Hillary Clinton knows what it's like to be knocked. Second of all, if a woman needed toughening up because she would be 'new' as a president, then presumably a person of color would need toughening up as well. But they really wanted Barack to always have baby-soft hands so they did all the light and heavy lifting for him.

Rebecca: That's a good point. Ruth's really nailed it. They did give a damn about sexism, they actively embraced it and used it. It's foolish for us to say -- as I did -- that they didn't give a damn about sexism. If they didn't give a damn, they would have just ignored it but they didn't do that, they used it over and over.

Betty: One thing I want to add here, I've been holding for months now but it applies here, is that Barack was repeatedly said not to need to prove his alleged 'Blackness.' And anyone who questioned it -- which all should have -- was in the wrong. But when Laura Flanders or Betsy Reed or Naomi Wolf or any of those crazy self-loathers trashed Hillary, they were questioning her as a feminist and as a woman. They were implying -- and sometimes outright stating -- that she wasn't really a woman, that she was a female impersonator. And that never got called out. Now if Hillary was what people were implying, she'd be half-man and half-woman. What does that sound like? Sounds like projection to me. Barack is half-White and half-Black. So they take that, spin it around to gender and try to smear Hillary with it. And Short Troll in NYC can write private e-mails about how he ignored the sexism because Hillary never spoke out about it but that doesn't explain why he wrote over and over about racism, now does it? The explanation is that racism strikes him as wrong but sexism is fine. I already loved a lot of Elton's songs but I'll always appreciate the fact that he called out sexism while so many -- including women -- were either silent or taking part in the sexist attacks.

Marcia: Let me state my agreement and I just got Elton's double disc greatest hits for that reason. I wish, to take it to 2009, that we'd find a large number of artists willing to sing honest songs and not the claptrap. But I don't know that we have many artists today who are capable of being honest. Where is today's Jefferson Airplane? Well, first off, most weren't as smart as Grace Slick and company, they didn't move on. Instead, they hang on and on and spend less time trying to say something and more time trying not to offend whatever they think the popular opinion of the moment is. They're cowards because they got old and flabby.

Ty: Right, they can't say anything because they're too busy worrying how it will play. They're no longer making music, they're running political campaigns. It's disgusting. And that's it. I'm done.

Jim: Ty saw Dona making the wrap it up signal. So we will. This was a musical roundtable. We'll be doing a piece on downloads at some point in the near future.

Michael Phelps Adult Swim

Swimmer Michael Phelps blamed youth. Miley Cyrus and reinstated Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson blamed the media. President Barack Obama came close. But he prefaced ownership of his mistake with, in several interviews, "I screwed up," an excuse masquerading as an apology. "I screwed up" reads more like, "Hey, I'm human. What are you gonna do?"
-- Steve Johnson, "President Barack Obama, Michael Phelps, Bishop Richard Williamson, Miley Cyrus and Tom Daschle all offer their 'apologies'" (Chicago Tribune).

Corn flakes

16 time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps might have managed to make it through his Miss America-like reign with "He's got butt crack fever!" being the worst thing said about him. That all changed last week. Last week was when Chompers Phelps became famous for something other than the gold they drape around his neck every time he flashes his ass cleavage.

A photo surfaced of Phelps with his mouth going down on a bong and any speculation as to whether it was merely a decorative object or also a functional one flew out the window when Phelps and his agents released the following statement: "I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I'm 23 years old and despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again."

Early in the love-fest ("We love you!!!!") at his blog, spicyrunner posted the following:

On: Feb 1, 2009 5:05 PM CST
"It won't happen again???" But I seem to recall you getting a DUI awhile back...and you apologised then too. So substance abuse seems perhaps possibly to make occasional problems for you???? A role model athlete sucking a bong??? It matters Michael, children/teens look up to you.

JKidd99 concurred:

On: Feb 1, 2009 6:19 PM CST As a mother of a 9 year old swimmer I am disappointed in you and your behavior now and during the last few months. You have every right to vacation and down time, but you broke the law and you expect people to condone your actions and your arogance is disturbing. I am a single mother raising a son and there are enough drugs in the streets and schools. Having a role model smoke weed is not good. You need to do more than a prepared statement from your manager. Hope there are not morals clauses in your contracts. You would not pass.

As far as we can tell, no one pointed out that six months passed at his blog before he updated. Maybe they all assumed he was a very busy boy?

Boy? Boys and girls look up to him. In the eighties, Paul Reubens lost his Pee Wee Herman gig because Reubens frequented an X-rated movie house. That was ridiculous. And clearly Paul Reubens was not Pee Wee Herman. In heavy make up, Reubens played Pee Wee. There's no line between Michael Phelps swimmer and One Toke Mikey.

Phelps could come out strongly for legalizing pot and we'd applaud that; however, if he wants to say it was wrong, then he's not advocating for any change and we're left with a well known swimmer who broke the law when he was the hero of millions of kids.


Phelps wants to pin the blame on his 'youth.' He's 23-years-old. To some that might seem young but it's not. He's been an adult for five years. Long enough to know the rules. And, point of fact, he knew pot was illegal before he took the bong hits.


At twenty-three, what the hell was he doing a college party to begin with? In November, he visited the campus of the University of South Carolina. What the hell was the 23-year-old doing at a college house party? Long before you're 22, you tend to sneer at college activities. But there's Phelps, partying with the 'kids.' It's a bit like a 19-year-old rushing off to a high school dance.


Micheal Phelps earns approximately $5 million a year via his celebrity endorsements. That's really all he has. He doesn't have a swimming career. He may compete in the next Olympics (2012) but most expect that to begin the downfall. He won six gold medals in 2004 and eight in 2008. 2012 will, at best, find him matching the 2008 stats and, at worst, find him falling far below them. Should the latter happen, the $5 million (even if no more scandals emerge) will drop significantly. In terms of his asking fee, he needs to either win 8 more gold medals in 2012 or hang up his damp Speedo today. Any other decision risks his quote dropping.

When you haul in five million dollars on your name only -- not for producing anything, not for writing anything, not for doing anything excepting lending your name -- you damn well learn to protect it or you watch its value decrease.

All Michael Phelps has is a name and the hope that he can inspire millions of kids. It's up to him to protect his own name if he wants to make a dime off it. And if he expects to land the big endorsement deals, he better grasp that the corporations aren't tossing coins at him because they like him, because they think he's intelligent or because they give a damn about him.

They're only interested as long as his name makes them money. When that stops happening, they drop him.

A DUI at 19, bong photo at 23. Someone's not taking the image very seriously.

To be perfectly clear, no one has to be a role model. But when you take on that role, you do have to live up to it. That means no breaking the law. Michael Phelps was happy to play role model when the money was being tossed around. He was happy to grab the Kellogg money and appear on their cereal boxes where he was proclaimed the "Baltimore Bullet" and "one of the greatest athletes of all time." He was more than fine with Kellogg praising him for "years of training and personal sacrifice, the loving support of a wonderful family, coaches, teammates and friends -- plus a healthy lifestyle." He knew, the advertising insisted, "the importance of starting each day with a good breakfast" -- it said nothing about "and finishing it with a good bong hit." Which is, no doubt, why Kellogg dropped him last week.

It's not a minor thing. If you're going to set yourself as a role model for children, if you're going to market yourself as such, if you're going to rake in money doing so, then you have to live up to it. If you can't, it's not due to "youth" or due to an "indiscretion." It's because you're not up for the job.

We're not calling for the stoning of Michael Phelps. We are saying (a) a brave pot user would have stepped up and said, "I believe it should be legal" and (b) if you're taking the position that you did something wrong -- and your action broke the law -- then you really aren't a role model for children. This isn't one of basketball's 'bad boys' getting busted for whatever. They don't generally set themselves up as role models for children. It's not an entertainment scandal for the same reason.

So while we're not calling for his stoning, we're saying that people need to stop minimizing it. Or acting like it's non-news. In a hilarious quote, a university professor embarrassed herself stating this story was preventing other stories (including the Iraq War) from being covered. Her inclusion of Iraq just demonstrates that she's not paid attention to the news in some time.

During the Clinton impeachment, the press couldn't stop their false moralizing about what a blow job meant to children, how would it effect them, what would they think, would they be scarred for life . . . Micheal Phelps markets himself as a role model. His recent embarrassment is worthy of more than a few lines of copy. One wonders where the university professor is when Britney, Lindsay and assorted other women's scandals are grist for the mill day after day? Oh, that's right, we only need to move along when a man's the center of a scandal.


We don't believe in the scarlet letter but if this society does -- and judging by its treatment of women, it does -- it damn well better start pinning them on equally. We'll let Michael Phelps have the last word:

On: Feb 3, 2009 4:15 PM CST Hey guys - thanks for your comments. I really appreciate you standing by me…this has been tough…I meant what I said, I made a mistake and I'm sorry. And for those who are mad at me or no longer support me, all I can say is I'm sorry

And one little piggie went wah-wah all the way home

Last Sunday, Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "The Greedy Pig" went up.

The Greedy Pig

As the week progressed, the greedy pig nominated for Health and Human Services Secretary withdrew his name. For more on the pig's shame, see "Daschle, Iraqi women," "Tom Daschle and his greed," "Flattery," "Daschle's gone," "The tax cheating duo" and "THIS JUST IN! WHITE MEN CAN'T PAY TAXES!"

The same shallow media that refused to explore Daschle when he was nominated, refuses to explore his greed now that he's gone. Betty's "Washington Week" noted the gossip to be found masquerading as information and news:

Ceci Connley (Washington Post) spoke of the Daschle nomination that failed and noted that he and Barack had "forged" a relationship over the "past several years" and Daschle's failure is seen as "a real disappointment and a set back for the White House". There was supposedly going to be a March 3rd health care summit and since Daschle was to be Health and Human Services Secretary and White House Health Care czar, that summit is now considered unlikely. She noted Ted Kennedy was supposed to steer health care in the Senate; however, he's "not been since in public since January 21st" when he had his seizure at the lunch on the day of the inauguration.
Ceci then went into what is needed for health care: "CEOS that have done a lot of what we want to see happen." Ceci may be the last of the corporate believers. The last thing needed is CEOs and it is so amazing that for HHS secretary no one ever felt the need to suggest that a doctor should be considered for the position.
And that was the failure of the program. It's not about what is needed and it is not about what is taking place. It is gossip, gossip, gossip. Ceci, what have you heard? Jackie, tell me more! Etc. The issues are not explored in any form, not even superficially. It's nothing but, "This may happen and someone says that . . ." It is a really bad show and once PBS needs to retool or pull off the air. It adds nothing to the public discourse -- nothing of value. Week after week, it offers gossip. As Ava and C.I. pointed out in "TV: Baby, I Know," Washington Week wasted time gabbing about Caroline Kennedy, declaring her NY's new senator and never mentioning others including the woman who is now NY's new senator. Not only that, they refused to note they were wrong and that they wasted everyone's time with gossip and gas baggery.
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