Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ladies and gentlemen, your leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination.

Indeed, here is what Senator George Allen of Virginia, who is considering a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, said when asked his opinion of the Bernanke nomination.

"For what?"

Told that Mr. Bernanke was up for the Fed chairman's job, Mr. Allen hedged a little, said he had not been focused on it, and wondered aloud when the hearings would be. Told that the Senate Banking Committee hearings had concluded in November, the senator responded: "You mean I missed them all? I paid no attention to them."
Mr. McCain — who joked during a 2000 presidential debate that if Mr. Greenspan died, he would "prop him up and put a pair of dark glasses on him," in a repeat of a prank in the movie "Weekend at Bernie's" — said he did not know too much about Mr. Bernanke, but was comforted to know that Mr. Greenspan had a high opinion of him.

"It hasn't gotten a lot of attention," Senator McCain said, "but I think he'll be carefully scrutinized in his hearings, and the view that other people have of him will carry a lot of weight in the financial world, particularly Greenspan."

Mr. McCain was asked if he would be surprised to learn that the hearings were over. He paused, his eyes widening, before giving the verbal equivalent of a knock on the forehead: "You're right, you're right, you're right. Duuuuuh."

I know it's not their committee and all, and there have been a few other things occupying the chamber, but damn. Maybe it's because the Banking Committee hearing lasted only one day. Yep, I'm sure he'll be carefully scrutinized in those hearings. We know how seriously the Senate takes its constitutional duty to advise and consent.

Actually, we do know.

(Incidentally, you gotta love a reporter who can fit in a good "Duuuuuh.")

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Al Gore, Movie Star and Progressive-Visionary Alternative?

How did Al Gore suddenly become the "Progressive-visionary alternative to those prevaricating 2008 Centrist candidates (Allen, Richardson, Bayh, Vilsac, Clinton, et al.)"? Arianna Huffington called him the anti-Hillary, and even LB's own leftist Alexander Hamilton called Gore his dream candidate a couple weeks ago. This is the same Gore who was a leader of the "third way" centrists in the 90s, the same Gore who choked so pitifully in 2000?

A lot of the groundswell has to do with Gore's early and vocal opposition to the war in Iraq, as well as that firebrand speech a couple weeks ago about the Bush regime's unchecked executive branch. Plus there's a lot of buzz about the new global warming book and movie coming out this Spring.

According to the Washington Post, the movie is amazing.

The film touches briefly but with emotion on three events in Gore's life and how they inspired his environmental activism: the car accident that almost took the life of his son; his defeat in Florida to Bush; and perhaps most foreboding, the death of his sister, a lifelong smoker, from lung cancer ("That's not one of the ways you want to die," Gore says in the film in a voice-over) and the fact that his family farmed tobacco and didn't stop until after her death. Gore underscores that this is the way people are, that it is hard to change old habits, be it smoking or growing tobacco or emitting carbon dioxide, but that without change, the bell tolls.

It does sound pretty good, and there's no denying that he's got a good personal story.

In an excellent analysis of Gore's chances in 2008, Ben Smith at the Observer says that Gore is

no longer Bill Clinton’s straight man, no longer the wooden, cautious candidate of 2000— [he] has been raising his profile through a series of impassioned speeches against the Bush administration. They began in September 2002, when he warned against the invasion of Iraq, which he said “has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world.” He dwelled, presciently, on the risk of post-invasion chaos. That speech and others like it, along with his once-mocked warnings about global warning, have transformed him for Democrats into a kind of Cassandra, always right and always ignored. And his clear anti-war stand is in sharp contrast to Hillary Clinton’s obsessively monitored but hard-to-explain position on Iraq.

Nobody in Mr. Gore’s political circle suggests, on the record or off, that he is actively planning a run for President in 2008. But the film "falls into the 'we’ll see if that gives anything legs' category," said a major Democratic donor who backed Mr. Gore in 2000 and is in touch with the former Vice President’s circle of friends and allies.

And that was written before the buzz about the movie at the Sundance Film Festival. Since then, there's been a steady rumble of Gore support.

And with every groundswell, there's a backlash. Take these comments in response to Larry Beinhart's Run, Al, Run article yesterday:

Big supporter of corporate trade agreements and pro-death penalty, Al Gore is not the progressive choice we need. I congratulate him for his bold opposition to this administration's war on Iraq and war on civil liberties, but his economic agenda is -- last I heard -- Republican-lite all the way. A strong populist economic agenda is what the Dems need to win the swing states in the midwest, and Gore just doesn't have that. Remember, this is the man that chose our favorite Connecticut Republican, Joe Lieberman, as a running mate.

Good points, gdennis. And Wildlander takes on Al in the one area where he's supposed to have progressive bona fides, the environment:

Al Gore was directly involved in the corporatism and privitization of public lands. In Montana in the 1990's Al Gore brought together private interests to replace public ownership of our national forests, BLM, National Parks and other federal lands. The gathering of private interests under Al Gore was given the name Nine Mile.

Owtch! I think Alan Smithee sums up my current take:

No matter how much neoliberals like Al swath themselves in blue-collar plaid, they're still empty corporate suits. As long as Al's got his patrician beltway friends to tell him what to do, we'll all still be subject to his pretty, empty speeches.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Department of duh

Color me appalled. I thought it was that whole small-government, lower-spending, liberty-lovin' thing.

That study found that supporters of President Bush and other conservatives had stronger self-admitted and implicit biases against blacks than liberals did.
The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces -- evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush.

"Obviously, such research does not speak at all to the question of the prejudice level of the president," said Banaji, "but it does show that George W. Bush is appealing as a leader to those Americans who harbor greater anti-black prejudice."

Okay, okay, I'm not really shocked, Mr. Scientist.

"If anyone in Washington is skeptical about these findings, they are in denial," he said. "We have 50 years of evidence that racial prejudice predicts voting. Republicans are supported by whites with prejudice against blacks. If people say, 'This takes me aback,' they are ignoring a huge volume of research."

Such as, for example, Martin Gilens's argument that Americans hate welfare because they believe the money goes mainly to shiftless blacks.

Or, from here (PDF):

Over the last five years, at least 15 different empirical economic papers have studied the consequences of community heterogeneity, and all of these studies have the same punch line: heterogeneity reduces civic engagement. In more diverse communities, people participate less as measured by how they allocate their time, their money, their voting, and their willingness to take risks to help others.
A second measure of civic engagement is the willingness to redistribute income. Luttmer (2001), using data from the General Social Survey and from California ballot initiatives, finds that support for redistribution is higher when the recipients are from the same racial group. Researchers have found a similar result for public education. Poterba (1997) and Harris, Evans, and Schwab (2001) report evidence of a “Florida effect” in states’ public school expenditures. In Florida the “average” taxpayer is a white senior citizen, while the typical public school student is Hispanic. In this diverse environment, there is less support for public school expenditures than in states where the students and the taxpayers are of the same ethnicity. Goldin and Katz (1999) find that a similar pattern prevailed in the past—racial, ethnic, and religious diversity and income inequality predicted state educational expenditures. Data from U.S. cities, metropolitan areas, and urban counties show that the share of spending on such productive public goods as education, roads, sewers, and trash pickup is inversely related to the area’s ethnic fragmentation, even after controlling for other socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. Not only is participation and expenditure lower in more-diverse settings, but so is trust. Self-reported levels of trust and experimental evidence document that when individuals interact with people who look like them, levels of trust in the community are higher.

Again, this shouldn't surprise anyone. We have thousands of years of history to teach us that humans are tribal, xenophobic, nasty, and brutish. We may not be as short as we were 400 years ago, but there's no reason to think much else has changed.

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Because it's too damn good for the comments

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Conversations I, an Atheist Jew, Had With God About How Jesus Was Crazy and a Big Jerk, Part IV

God: Have you seen Passion, by the way? I know I mentioned it last time, but I didn’t ask if you’d seen it.

Me: No. Course not.

God: It’s not the director’s fault, you know, it was a problem with the book too, but here’s what bugs me about it: it’s missing the punch line. It’s got the whole windup, and then it leaves off the end. Here’s how it’s supposed to go, in the original. It’s a Jewish joke, so you might have heard it before.

Me: Well, considering you’re a voice in my head.

God: A man falls off a cruise liner and is struggling to stay afloat. Pretty soon a fishing boat comes along and throws him a line, but he yells back “No, God will save me.” Then a yacht comes and tosses him a life ring, and again he yells back, “No, God will save me.” So of course he drowns, and he goes to heaven and asks Me: “God, why did you let me drown?” and I say “Schmuck, I sent two ships.”

Here’s what Jesus did during his trial. He sits there, refuses to say anything in his own defense.

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.

Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.'" Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. [Mark 14:55-61]

Worse, the dummy agrees with the charges.

Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?"

"I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."

The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?"[Mark 14:61-64]

Then they take him to Pilate, and he pulls the same shit.

"Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate.
"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.

The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, "Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of."

But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.[Mark 15:2-5]

And you know what? I’m fine with that. You want to be a martyr, be a martyr. But then, when he’s up on the cross and he finally gets it through his block head that he’s got a real problem:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"[Mark 15:34]

I think he really believed, up until the nails went through him at least, that I was going to miracle him out of there, and when I didn’t he acted like it was all My fault. Well, I’m sorry. You can’t be totally shiftless, I help those who help themselves and all that. Either that, or you have to believe I’m a complete dick.

Next time: The Sermon on the Mount is bullshit!

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

New Costly Bush Tax Cuts for the Super Wealthy, This Time Under the Guise of Health Care Reform

Well, I am shocked, shocked to read this evaluation of Bush's new health care "cost management" proposals:

Jonathan Gruber, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who worked at the Treasury under President Clinton, said, "The new tax breaks would be expensive and regressive, offering the largest benefits to the highest-income taxpayers."

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If we pretend it isn't happening, maybe it won't happen

If you haven't followed global warming stories for the last fifteen years or so, you might not know James Hansen. He's basically the single most important scientist studying the problem, the one brought the issue to the public with his 1988 testimony before Congress. He also works for NASA, which means, by extension, that he works for the President, at least under Bush's warped view that the entire federal government is his personal fiefdom. So it should be no surprise, I guess, that the Bush's little toadies have been trying to shut him up.

The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.

Dr. Hansen said he would ignore the restrictions. "They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," he said.

As I said, this should come as no surprise. As Chris Mooney has argued fairly comprehensively, the modern Republican party has a definite pattern of ignoring or distorting inconvenient scientific facts. But it's worth remembering that this was not always the case. James Hansen has been at NASA since the 1960s, under five Republican presidents; this is the first to try to quiet him. He first testified to Congress about global warming when Reagan was in office. (And as we saw earlier this week, past EPA chiefs even under Republicans used to have less of a problem facing reality.)

Today it is 52 degrees, in New York in January. This is not normal. But god forbid we actually put any time, effort, or money into figuring out what to do about it before the consequences become totally catastrophic. No, let's spend our official time and effort suppressing politically inconvenient truths.

I hereby issue the following standing bet of $10: just as those who opposed the war in Iraq continue to be marginalized in debate even though most people now recognize it was a mistake, so those who have been warning about global warming all along will be shunted aside as unserious and impractical when the problem finally gets bad enough to force our collective attention. Kind of the premature anti-fascist problem. Any takers?

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Kerry's Pointless Opportunism

I have to agree with the chorus calling Kerry a cynical opportunist. As I wrote last week, I don't think this is the right time to wage a sure-to-be-defeated filibuster, triggering the nuclear option and the loss of the Dems' ability to filibuster next time.

However, if you are going to filibuster, at least do it right. Kerry's maneuvers are offensively transparent.

It will be interesting to see what Hillary does. A harbinger of the rest of her buildup to the nomination. How far to the right can she afford to tack?

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Why We Fight

Dwight Eisenhower delivered the speech that inspired "Why We Fight," the new documentary that critiques the military-industrial complex (a term that Eisenhower invented). I haven't seen the doc yet, but the special about it on PBS tonight made me curious enough that I looked up the speech. The basic argument (of the speech and the film) is that the military-industrial complex has become a self-perpetuating entity that deeply affects U.S. foreign policy. As Madeline Albright once creepily said, "what's the point of having such a magnificent military if we're never going to use it?"

The old warhorse Ike is not exactly Noam Chomsky (the beginning of the speech is all about defeating atheist communism), but he has the seriousness of someone who does not take war lightly (unlike a certain other U.S. president):

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

This map actually depicts the physical locations of some of the key components of our current military-industrial complex (though it is of course global in scope, which is the point):

And I can't help but cite these other incredibly relevant passages:

Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I, and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.
Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.
Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Strike II

Roger Toussaint can't accept binding arbitration. His members clearly won't stand for it. So all the MTA is doing when they pull this shit is forcing the union back towards a strike posture. After all, as we at Left Behinds have been saying all along, that's what the MTA wants, a broken union that can't screw up the agency's corrupt land deals.

Harry C. Katz, dean of the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said the authority's tough stance appeared to reflect Gov. George E. Pataki's strong criticism of the settlement and in particular of the pension refunds, which would cost around $130 million.

"Management, by coming in this hard, is pushing the union leadership into the corner," he said. "Then they look really kind of weak. That's not what you want. All they're going to do is possibly get another strike."

Already yesterday, John F. Mooney, said he and other dissident leaders were prepared to call for another strike. "If they want to go to battle, we're ready," said Mr. Mooney, a union vice president who helped lead opposition to the settlement. "We need to hold a unionwide membership meeting and the possibility of a strike has to be readdressed. The membership should strongly consider going on strike again."

If you don't already have a bike, start shopping on Craigslist now.

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I was wrong

A few days ago, someone argued this about the case of Lewis Welshofer, on trial for tying an Iraqi prisoner in a sleeping bag and sitting on his chest until he suffocated (after having supervised him being beaten with rubber hoses and pouring water down his nose):

ABH, here is an article about one of the cases you cited. It appears we, as a nation, DO take these cases seriously, but I would have you note that the second half of the article emphasizes that this person took it into his OWN hands because there was no guidance from above. That would tend to disprove your theory that it was directed and ordered from the top.

To which I responded

I'd point out that a thirty-nine month maximum sentence does not count, to me, as taking very seriously the charge of deliberately killing someone.

Ooh. I was so, SO wrong.

An Army interrogator convicted of killing an Iraqi general by stuffing him face-first into a sleeping bag can remain in the military and does not have to go to jail, a court-martial jury ruled Monday night.
the jury ruled Monday night that the interrogator must forfeit $6,000 of his salary over the next four months, receive a formal reprimand and spend 60 days restricted to his home, office and church.

I mean, whoa. A fine and house arrest for two months? That's just harsh.
[Update: It occurs to me that the sentence does have the unquestionable benefit of establishing fairly precisely the value of an Iraqi life: roughly the same as a decent but not good used car, or about 10,000 Snickerses.]

The jury apparently agreed with defense arguments that Welshofer had believed he was following orders to use creative interrogation techniques when he put Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush face-first in a sleeping bag, wrapped him in electrical wire and sat on his chest in November 2003. The 57-year-old general died after 20 minutes in the bag.
the following morning Welshofer turned to what was dubbed "the sleeping bag technique." Invented by another interrogator who recalled how his older brother used to stuff him in a sleeping bag to induce claustrophobia, the technique had been approved by Welshofer's supervisor.

The day after the general's death, prosecutors said, Welshofer asked for another sleeping bag so he could continue using the technique on others.

Yep. Nothin' to see here. Just a sand nigger in a bag.

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Political Dynasties: Wives vs. Children

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo misses a crucial distinction when he argues that Hillary's election would promote a dynastic trend in putatively meritocratic American politics, creating a de facto aristocracy. I made a similar argument about Tom Suozzi, George W., and other members of the "lucky sperm club."

The key difference is that wives are not sons. Spouses, one way or another, earn their positions, they aren't born into them. They're more likely to be equals to their famous spouses. Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Dole, and Corazon Aquino are shrewd, ambitious people who were crucial to their spouses' successes. Children of political dynasties do not earn their power, they're just born into it. Sometimes the kids inherit their famous forebears' winning qualities, but at least as often those qualities get diluted with every genetic recombination (just look at the increasingly useless (and physically repulsive) Kennedy clan).

In the continuum of earned power, children of dynasties are one extreme, opportunists who marry into dynasties (such as Governor Arnold) are to the left of them, and wives who help their husbands achieve that power (Hillary, Eleanor, Elizabeth) are a few notches further to the left. Of course, the fabulous thing about the new leaders of Chile, Liberia, and Germany is that they are among the first female leaders to come to power completely independently. But Hillary doesn't offend me as much as George W. and Tom Suozzi do. Now if Chelsea were running for president ...

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If it's a "lifestyle trend" and the New York Times has noticed it, it's done. That's why this article is so alarming. If the Times is taking notice, it must be so entrenched as to be nearly immovable.

As the pay and purchasing power of Manhattan residents have moved higher and higher, incomes in all four of the boroughs outside Manhattan have trailed inflation over the last few years, in a stark example of the increasing income disparity in New York City. In terms of wages, Manhattan families are doing better on average than those in the rest of the nation, while families in the four other boroughs are doing worse.
Real wages are one of the best indicators of how people are doing financially. Driving the buying power of these wages down, it appears, is inflation. There is also an absence of serious upward pressure on wages in most industries, especially those that employ the lowest earners. The number of both high- and low-wage jobs has grown, but there is little mobility between the two.
From 1996 to 2005, the real wages of Manhattan workers grew almost 40 percent, and grew 2.5 percent in Queens and Staten Island. They were flat in the Bronx and fell 1 percent in Brooklyn.
The Consumer Price Index rose 24 percent from 1996 to 2005 nationwide but grew 27.6 percent in every borough of New York. In the last three years, New Yorkers saw fuel prices rise 27 percent, while they grew 19 percent nationwide. And while the housing prices rose 8.4 percent nationwide, they went up 14.7 percent in New York. At the same time, benefits have decreased in many professions.

New York is the nation writ small: a severe and deepening economic divide between rich and poor, a disappearing middle class, hardening barriers to social mobility, and a political leader alternating between ignoring these problems and working hard to exacerbate them.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

We had a spot of difficulty here

Specifically, a disagreement that got so vitriolic that in the end, poor SG had to step in to bleat

Can't we all just get along? ;)

In light of this problem, I think it's time in the life of this young blog for us to lay down some rules of debate.

1. I Am Right. On rare occasions I may be wrong about some particular thing, but that should not obscure the fact that in the deepest, profoundest sense I remain Right.

2. You are right so long as you agree with me.

3. You may be right about things I have no opinion of, at least until I begin to care, at which time bets are off.

4. Solomon Grundy is usually right. Solomon also usually agrees with me. This is not a coincidence. We are both very smart, and if we agree on something and you disagree, it means you are not only wrong, you are stupid and possibly going to Hell. That goes for Neda and Emma too.

I hope this helps restore civility. I invite my co-bloggers to add such refinements as they think appropriate.

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Bareback Mountain

Ok, the whole bareback mountain "joke" is numbingly obvious, and personally I got tired of it in, um, 1997 (even David Letterman was able to come up with much funnier puns), but this video (click the pic) is actually hilarious, because it's such a spot-on parody of the film.

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Isaac Mizrahi's Straightest Moment Ever

Click on image for full video
So just because Isaac Mizrahi is a flamboyantly effeminate gay man, he gets to fondle Scarlett Johansson's boob on international TV.

I think this raises the eternal question:
What if he's actually a bi shepherd?


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Fuck me.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

A decent Republican is not necessarily a contradiction in terms

Pete McCloskey. One of the original authors of the Endangered Species Act and new entrant into a primary race against Richard Pombo, one of the eviller anti-environmental fucks in the House.

Never be elected, of course.

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Blind Clerics

This article examines why there are so many blind Muslim clerics. It's kind of interesting if it is in fact true (I wonder if the blind clerics might just be getting more attention because they fit stereotypes). Ever since Tiresias there's been a correlation between blindness and wisdom.

A couple assertions are kind of questionable, though. First, I looked at the study he quoted to assert that there's a higher incidence of blindness in the Muslim world. Well, the authors of the study actually correlate blindness with poverty/access to health care, which makes a lot of sense, and which makes sub-Saharan Africa the location of the highest rates of blindness. And, of course, the Muslim world includes a lot more than the Middle East (that's a pretty common error, though). Second, a couple Turkish commenters noted that his assertion that "hafiz" is used to refer to blind people is just factually incorrect. Third, the following sentence doesn't make much sense: "Blind kids—who often make up for their disability with a finely tuned sense of hearing—tend to do quite well at [memorizing the Quran]." Um, what is the basis of this assertion, and what would hearing have to do with memorizing, anyway?

But that's quibbling. And mostly I just wanted to post a photo of the ever lovable Abu Hamza. Neda, I seem to remember your somewhat tongue in cheek observation a couple years ago that he's probably a plant of the MI5 (British CIA), since with that eye patch and waving his hook around like a pirate he seems straight out of central casting as a scary, insane cleric. An odd interview he did in Vice Magazine of all places made me think his persona is a bit tongue in cheek or something. For example:

You guys always train with guns. You were training people with AK-47s in the basement of your mosque and—
No, it wasn’t AK-47s, but B-52s [laughs]. I invited them to come and take a look, but they were too afraid.
We still keep weapons of mass destruction down there. If they send some inspectors with a false UN resolution, we will certainly let them in. And I am willing to let them check my palaces and all that [laughs].

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Say it with me...

Thank god for the great Poor Man for directing us to this nugget of purest gold:

The homosexualization of your most revered masculinity is the cheapest and stupidest shot you can take at the survival of your own culture and it is really inappropriately timed when you are facing, from threats abroad, the most substantial existential peril the nation has ever known. You can't fight Islamism with gay cowboys.


Solomon, please go kick his ass.

In the meantime: "the most substantial existential peril the nation has ever known"? More substantial than enough nuclear ICBMs pointed our way to vaporize us twenty times over? Really? What exactly do you think the word "existential" means?

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Gone dancin'

Went to see one of my favorite bands last night. Everybody go listen to Daara J.

Actually, while we're on Senegalese hip-hop, everybody go listen to Alif (Attack of the Feminist Liberation Army).

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Perhaps It Read a Transcript of Alito's Testimony?

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One step forward...

...Judith Shulevitz.

The Times reverts to form. Fuck them once more.

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Friday, January 20, 2006


Remember when I said it was over? It ain't over.

In an extraordinarily close vote, the New York City transit workers' union today rejected the contract settlement its leaders reached last month with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, scuttling the deal that ended a three-day citywide strike and raising anew the prospect of continued labor unrest.

Of 22,461 votes cast by the deadline at noon today, 11,227 workers voted to ratify the contract and 11,234 voted to reject it, a margin of just 7 votes - or 0.0003 percent.

I noted weeks ago that the MTA seemed to be planning to knife the union in the back. Well, TWU members were apparently afraid of the same. Maybe they're all Left Behinds readers too. More likely they just read the paper and saw George Pataki, who controls slightly less than half of the MTA's board, trying to undermine the deal, and the MTA's director of labor relations asserting that

The contract is cheaper and better for the M.T.A. than at the time that the strike commenced.

Keep in mind that the current, very radical TWU leadership was elected because members thought the last leaders caved to the MTA on their last contract. Members really don't trust the MTA, and the MTA hasn't given them much reason to.

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Is James Wolcott a Left Behinds reader?

Al Gore is one thing. But James Wolcott, that's a big deal.

Except for the cranky patriarch in Boondocks (and he's a cartoon character), everybody knows that Brokeback is that "gay cowboy" movie. (And yes I know they're not technically cowboys, they're sheepherders, go away, don't bother me.)

Whose tireless efforts could he possibly be referring to?

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The Battle of Algiers

I know it's been two years since its re-release, but I just got around to seeing it.

How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.

That from the flier issued by the US Directorate for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict at The Pentagon, advertising its screening of the film on August 27, 2003.

"There is no comparison to what is happening in Iraq," he says, speaking over the phone from a hotel in Paris. "The only thing in common is the use of torture."

That from Saadi Yacef, the writer whose work was the basis for the movie.





Mad fervor indeed. Aren't you glad we're more civilized than this?

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Imperial Presidency

Clintonite Bruce Reed argues in Slate that Democrats need to embrace the Nixon/Bush imperial presidency. Yet isn't part of being a liberal the rejection of tyranny?

It's interesting to read his take on how Dems lost faith in the presidency. According to him, after Nixon,

With nowhere else to turn, Democrats learned to love Congress, a branch of government liberals had largely despised well into the 1960s. Democrats also began to depend on the Supreme Court to check the White House, a dependence that would come back to haunt us as we discovered how losing one would eventually cost us the other.

In the 1970s, Democrats passed a number of laws to rein in the executive branch, from campaign finance to CIA and FBI reforms to the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act that Bush skirted in the current flap over domestic spying. Even with Carter in the White House, Democrats were more comfortable with the role of congressional oversight than with presidential leadership. Our heroes were referees and whistle-blowers like Sam Ervin, John Dean, Judge Sirica, and Woodward and Bernstein, not rogues and swashbucklers in the great American tradition of Teddy Roosevelt and John Kennedy.
It's a paradox: The party with grand ambitions for government is suspicious of the office that could best achieve them, while the party broadly opposed to the use of government power wants to get its hands on as much of it as possible.

Reed is basically saying: "Fuck your principles and grab that power. Otherwise they're going to abuse it. Once we're in power we'll wield it justly."

I am not so sure about that.

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A quick reminder

The current Bush really is one of the worst Presidents ever. Other recent Republican Presidents have at least appointed Cabinet Secretaries who live in the same reality as the rest of us.

Six former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, including five who served Republican presidents, said Wednesday that the Bush administration needed to act more aggressively to limit the emission of greenhouse gases linked to climate change.
"Why argue about things you can't prove?" said William D. Ruckelshaus, who served under President Richard M. Nixon from 1970 to 1973 and President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1985. "We need to fashion policies with proper incentives to reduce the amount of carbon we are putting in the atmosphere. There are all kinds of things we can do right now, and we ought to be taking those steps."

That's an EPA chief from our next-most anti-environmental President of the last half-century at least.

The longer we do nothing, the more global warming is locked in and inevitable. We've got serious problems coming, and a political structure dedicated to not addressing them. It sucks.

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Extra! Extra!

The New York Times has really pissed me off over the last year by extending its he-said, she-said political reporting style to coverage of intelligent design, and in general promoting the idea that people who believe in evolution are God-hating atheists. See, for example, this awful article by the awful Jodi Wilgoren (link to a site hosting the article for free). (Not that I have anything against atheists, of course.)

So I want to give due credit to Ian Fisher and Cornelia Dean for opposing he-said with bald fact, written in the editorial voice, twice in the course of this article.

Robert L. Crowther, spokesman for the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle organization where researchers study and advocate intelligent design, dismissed the article and other recent statements from leading Catholics defending evolution. Drawing attention to them was little more than trying "to put words in the Vatican's mouth," he said.

L'Osservatore is the official newspaper of the Vatican and basically represents the Vatican's views. Not all its articles represent official church policy. At the same time, it would not be expected to present an article that dissented deeply from that policy.


There is no credible scientific challenge to the idea that evolution explains the diversity of life on earth, but advocates for intelligent design posit that biological life is so complex that it must have been designed by an intelligent source.


Oh, and as far as the theology addressed in the article, it's stunningly obvious, and basically what any religious person with half a brain has believed all along:

In the Osservatore article, Dr. Facchini wrote that scientists could not rule out a divine "superior design" to creation and the history of mankind. But he said Catholic thought did not preclude a design fashioned through an evolutionary process.

"God's project of creation can be carried out through secondary causes in the natural course of events, without having to think of miraculous interventions that point in this or that direction," he wrote.


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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Carl McCall Agrees That Pataki's Presidential Ambitions Are "a Joke"

Carl McCall's thoughts on 2008:
"Hilary Clinton has the Democratic nomination sown up. The problem with having someone wrapping it up so early is that they tend to spend more time moving to the middle instead of holding onto all the Democratic votes. We got to have a candidate who has every possible Democratic vote. There is some uncertainty because we don't know who the Republican candidate will be." What about Giuliani? "Who knows." Pataki? "That's a joke. For this guy to think about being president - that's a joke."
He wasn't quite as candid as AH yesterday, but pretty close.


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The Collected Sequential

A few things to say about Sequential. First of all, it's juvenilia, which is weird because I think Paul Hornschemeier is younger than me and yet he's already collected his juvenilia into a $25 book. Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge him; I'm impressed that over the course of seven issues and two and a half years, Sequential went from a xeroxed zine of 35 total copies to a four-color comic available in most alternative comic book stores. Adrian Tomine did something very similar with 32 Stories, actually. But it's just unsettling that in the introduction he credits Dan Clowes's great Ghost World as his inspiration for drawing alternative comics, because I was reading Eightball before Ghost World appeared in it.

Okay, enough about me feeling old. On to the next thing: isn't there a word for things that have the structure of a joke but aren't actually jokes? I feel like there is, but I can't remember it. Hornschemeier uses that construction a lot. In fact, one four-panel story titled "Where is the Punchline?" reads like this:
Little boy picking up a piece of paper: "Mother! Oh, Mother! Is this it? The punchline?"
Mother: "Foolish boy! Have I not told you that you must wait? In the next panel..."
Man addressing someone behind a desk: "...I am older! Now may I have the punchline?"
Woman behind a desk, laughing off her chair: "Hah Hah! How sad! There is no punchline, my boy! Your hair grows thin and your bones weak! Nothing more!"

Sometimes in these kinds of stories you can see him ripping off Chris Ware, sometimes Dan Clowes, sometimes Chester Brown, but only a little tiny bit. Others are more experimental, as with a story called "The Devil's Lonely Day," which mixes three narrative strands without differentiating them. Although he does not always do it, in several short stories he shows himself capable of interesting and unexpected visual presentation--not exactly unusual drawing, more like innovative graphic design.

After Sequential, Hornschemeier started a comic called Forlorn Funnies. Issues 2, 3, and 4 have been collected into a straight narrative book called Mother Come Home, which is pretty good. I'd start there.

Preview here because I can't get the image to show up properly when I copy it.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Left Behinds Reorganization

When I can get around to it, hopefully in the next day or two, I think I'm going to reorganize Left Behinds into sections so that it's easier to read. I'm very interested in New York City politics, for instance, but not all our readers are, so I think I'll set up a separate section for that (if I can figure out how on Blogger). I've been really busy lately, but I want to clean up LB's design. I might even make it slightly less pink (thoughts on that?).

And if anyone has any other suggestions, let me know. Thanks.

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Is Al Gore a Left Behinds Reader?

From Al Gore's blistering attack on Bush's expansion of executive power today:

An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution - an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

and from my amusingly illustrated post last week,

Well, I'm so glad to hear that Alito deigns to agree with the whole reason this country was founded. I'm so glad to hear we probably won't turn back the clock to 1775. I feel so reassured by his begrudging acknowledgement of the fundamental principle of our system of government. As AH reminds us, James Madison wrote in The Federalist that "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

There is not one word from the Federalist in Al Gore's speech that isn't also in Left Behinds. Now, I'm not sayin', but Al is known to "borrow" other folks' ideas without giving credit. I mean, he did invent the internet, and he's got a bit of time on his hands, so he's probably a reader of all the best political blogs. If he delivers a passionate speech next week about JT Leroy I think we'll know what's what.

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Christine Quinn: The Movie

Continuing what may or may not turn out to be a regular feature, here's the official Left Behinds casting for

Christine Quinn: The Movie

Christine Quinn, pushy advocate for progressive reform, or the 21st century face of old-fashioned machine politics?

Well, Gawker argues for Charlotte Rea, but we here at Left Behinds aren't going for the cheap laughs. We're pushy advocates for progressive reform. Therefore, we cast

Rosie (and click on that link if you don't believe Rosie's got mad thespian skills)

Kim Catullo, Christine's law-practicing (which law? of desire?) lady love, or the Rasputin behind the throne?

Well, some sleuthy wonks believe she actually is

a Transamerican Matt Dillon

Councilman Simcha Felder, the Borough Park rep who allegedly ran to the boys room during Quinn's speaker vote because Orthodox "rabbinic authorities" forbid him from voting for an openly gay candidate, or simply a nice Jewish boy with a bit of an incontinence problem?

Well, I'm waging a one-man campaign to get her more work, and she knows from uncontrollable bodily fluids, so why not

Courtney (post rehab, pre-anorexia)

Tom Manton, Queens Democratic Boss who anointed Quinn and therefore has her in his pocket thus perpetuating New York's permanent and pemanently corrupt unelected government, or wuvvable huggable teddy weddy beary wary?

Well, he may not have the years or gravitas, but he sure has the massive Irish potato head:

Conan O'Brian, featured with his other doppelganger, Finnish President Tarja Halonen

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Is Christine Quinn Still Christine Quinn?

I'm worried for Christine Quinn. A lot of us knew her as a firebrand activist in the 90s (a tenants' rights organizer, Executive Director of the Anti-Violence Project), but no amount of progressive bona fides from 10 years ago can make up for the way she secured her recent appointment as City Council Speaker. The old Democratic machine bosses selected her, full stop. That's how she beat DeBlasio. You have to wonder how much of herself she had to sacrifice to be palatable to the very conservative Queens Boss Tom Manton. Does she represent the ascendance of outsider activists, as Tom Robbins argued in the Voice, or, far more likely, does she represent politics as usual, but now with a smiley lesbian face stuck on it?

John Avlon wrote in The Sun last week that it's just the continuation of the permanent unelected government in New York:

Influential party bosses like Tom Manton in Queens and Vito Lopez in Brooklyn care far more about exerting control over their selected leaders, rather than what demographic box their candidate might check off in a civic census. If this is progress, it deserves to be taken with a side shot of skepticism. It marks less a change than a continuation of influence by the unelected. The fact that Ms. Quinn has retained outgoing City Council Speaker Gifford Miller's chief of staff indicates what is occurring.

Tom Robbins is the voice of optimism:

New York's council has long had its share of members who emerged from the ranks of community activism, but most have been relegated to the sidelines. Pushy advocates-turned-legislators who dared to oppose the all-powerful majority leader, people like Ruth Messinger and Sal Albanese, spent more time in the political woodshed than in important assignments.

Quinn, who took office after term limits were introduced, and as part of a huge new class of members in an expanded council, said that wasn't her experience. She got along well with former Speaker Gifford Miller, who rewarded her with a post as chair of the health committee.

But even in this quote, there's cause to pause. Maybe "that wasn't her experience" precisely because she stopped being a "pushy advocate."

Robbins quotes one of my very favorite New York activists, Bill Dobbs (btw, Robbins' characterization of Dobbs is annoying, since Dobbs' main organizing work for years now has been against the war, not for gay stuff):

As a legislator, Quinn has fought fiercely to expand abortion rights, including an effort to win "morning after" contraceptives for rape victims. But last month she co-hosted a fundraiser for Queens and Bronx congressman Joe Crowley, a Manton favorite whose ambivalent abortion views have earned him a meager 30
percent rating by advocates.

"He's anti-choice. She did it solely to win Manton's support and the Queens delegation," said Bill Dobbs, a radical gay organizer. Dobbs said Quinn's public status as a lesbian counted for little compared to the issues she will wrestle with. "Let's not confuse a seat at the table or a fancy title with progress," he said. "Think Clarence Thomas, or Madeleine Albright. There is a lot more to change than diversifying representatives."

So she kept Giff's staff, she's supporting anti-choice candidates, and the buzz is that her first big move in the Council will be to end the term limits that were enacted to clean up the corrupt, inneffectual Council. Does that sound like a "pushy advocate" to you? Maybe a pushy advocate of the agenda of the party bosses.

This quote from Councilman Charles Barron (addressing Quinn) in the Sun strongly suggests he's worried she's completely in the bosses' pockets:

I want to challenge you to be independent. Be free from giving your vote to a county leader, a union, a business leader or corporation - or any other outside force trying to control you. The people voted for you, not your county leader. You owe it to the people to be strong, independent and principled in making decisions that affect their lives.

UPDATE: Doing a little more research into Quinn, I found the following from a 1999 Voice article about her very first election:

This record is no doubt why Quinn was invited to sit on the police brutality task force that met last year. But she promptly made alliances with a faction sympathetic to the mayor [Giuliani], and when Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union spearheaded a minority report that demanded an independent investigator for brutality complaints, he chose not to share it with Quinn. "They were afraid that if they showed it to her, she would take it right to Giuliani," a source close to the task force notes.

So she's been talking out of both sides of her mouth for at least 7 years. If Norm Siegel and Bill Dobbs don't trust Quinn, that's more than enough reason for me to be worried.


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Sunday, January 15, 2006

A personal message to Governor George E. "Georgie" Pataki

You're not going to be President. Stop trying to fuck us up.

He is caught between the Republican Senate leader, Joseph L. Bruno, who has called for no new taxes of any kind in the budget, and the Democratic Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, who wants far more spending on public schools in New York City, to comply with a court order - an order the governor has chosen to appeal.

Both sides of the Legislature are likely to resist his plan, announced on Friday, to cut more than $1 billion in Medicaid costs.
For conservatives, he is expected to propose at least $3 billion worth of tax cuts in a budget of roughly $110 billion, though much of the tab would be left to his successor.

You're not even going to be Vice-President. You're not going to get a Cabinet post or an ambassadorship. You're going to get a window-dressing job and accomplish nothing more than the very little you've already made of your mediocre life. Learn to meditate or something and come to terms with it.


The State of New York

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More effective than just shoving my thumb up my ass?

Some days I tell people to write their Senators, other days I just feel like giving up about a whole lot of things. It's very sad and frustrating to watch the people on your side be so much stupider and lamer than the forces of evil. Twenty-five years from now the Democratic Party may get itself back into some reasonable fighting shape, but in the meantime a whole lot of people's lives will be ruined.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

More effective than an email to a Senator?

In response to my admittedly feeble call to action below, SG had this to say:

I feel like blogging about it has more of an impact than calling up Schumer or Clinton, no joke. I mean, Schumer's vote is a fait accompli, and Clinton is already running a presidential campaign.

Fine. I have another blog for occasional pedantic ramblings that quote from The Federalist, and I wrote my basic reason for opposing Alito there.

To modify what I said yesterday a little bit: email your Senator, don't call. The switchboards are jammed anyway. You can email any Senator from his or her Web page. Even if it's utterly useless it only takes about ten minutes. As I told SG in comments, I did it this morning between my coffee and its effects.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

JT Leroy: The Movie

I speculated yesterday that Susie Bright might be raising a public stink about JT Leroy partly because she's wised up and wants to secure a spot in the inevitable movie. I suggested some actresses who could play her (Kate, Renee, Reese). To my surprise, Ms. Bright commented here that "No, I hadn't thought of the movie version until now! You are so funny! I'm sure I won't be in it, since I am really a minor character compared to some. The people with the biggest vale of tears to unleash are just sitting in their chair, still stunned. But since you started it, I would MUCH rather be Reese. I loved her in FREEWAY."

Heh, didn't take long for Ms. Bright to change her tune. OK, so it's settled: Reese Witherspoon plays Susie Bright. How would the rest of the casting go?

After the jump is the official Left Behinds casting for

JT Leroy: The Movie

Laura Albert: Pomo genius, or unscrupulous Kathy Acker wannabe?

Who could portray this manic Victor/Victoria with more edgy pathos than:

John Cameron Mitchell

Savannah Knoop: Andy Warhol cypher, or inarticulate babydyke celebrity-stalker?

She proved with Twins that she's back, and who could deliver the line "I don't need this in my life right now" more snarkily than Darlene?

Sarah Gilbert

Geoffrey Knoop: Stands by his woman, or stands to make a quick buck?

Post sex tapes, this is a perfect way to reassert the thespian chops of:

Colin Farrell (and who wouldn't pay to see Colin and John Cameron make out?)

Dennis Cooper: Supportive elder statesman, or someone who really has no right to criticize others for exploiting teenage hustlers?

If playing a lovable gay man is the quickest route to an Oscar, what about playing an avowed pedophile/sadist? Well, who has less to prove than

Dustin Hoffman

Mary Gaitskill: Laughing stock, or who Laura Albert would be if she could actually write?

Hey, if a 39-year-old woman can impersonate a gay teenager, why not give this role to the fabulously sardonic

Sandra Oh

Susie Bright: Former colleague of Albert's pegged as an early mark, or "just a minor character"?

By consensus, a sexed up

Reese Witherspoon (proving in this early role that she's got the ta-tas to play Bright)

Carrie Fisher: Occasional writer of JT's fiction, or just trying to associate her name with something other than Princess Leia?

Continuing with an argument I made a few weeks ago, this would be the perfect transition to good, middle-aged roles for:

Courtney Love (post rehab, pre anorexic weight loss)

Shirley Manson: Credulous celebrity friend, or washed up rock goddess desperate for attention?

This is the perfect comeback role for a stunt-casted

Winona Ryder

Any other suggestions?


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Whirl Mart

If anyone in the New York area wants to prove to themselves that Solomon Grundy is a real person, not just a JT Leroy-esque literary hoax, I will be at this delightful event Sunday:


Sunday, January 15th
Bed, Bath & Beyond
6th Avenue between 18th and 19th streets, Manhattan
917 538 7505, 518 573 7947
Whirl Mart

Looking for a leisurely way to spend your Sunday afternoon resisting
consumerism? Join us. Whirl-Mart was conceived as a way to poetically
and peacefully state our collective disrespect for the capitalist
world order and to display our opposition to the values of
competition, domination, and exploitation imposed upon us by consumer

Not meant to be an attack on any specific corporation, Whirl-Mart is
a ritual of consumption awareness. Reclaiming commercial space
through the simple act of not shopping. We target superstores
(cathedrals of consumption) because they are symbolic both of the
religious faith modern humans invest in material consumption, and of
the seemingly inescapable corporate superstructure in which we live.

In the first Whirl-Mart on April Fools Day, 2001, individuals entered
a Wal-Mart store in Troy, NY, and processed as a single-file parade
throughout the store for nearly two hours. Now, nearly five years
after the first whirl, it is still going on: all across the US, and
in Sweden, Finland, England, Mexico, and Canada.

Whirl with us this Sunday. Arrive at Bed, Bath and Beyond anytime
between 1:45 and 2:15, alone or in small groups. Enter the store,
find yourself a shopping cart, and start pushing it through the
aisles. It's a zen thing -- move slowly, keep your focus forward;
don't let the products seduce you into shopping, but be aware of all
that is around you. Explore the escalators, which have special lifts
just for shopping carts. When you see another person with an empty
cart, don't greet her, but do fall in line behind her. And don't be
surprised when you start to hear the squeak of other shopping carts
behind you. If anyone asks what you're doing, you may calmly say,
"I'm not shopping." Relax, enjoy, and try not to giggle.


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Thursday, January 12, 2006

On the Alito nomination

Just a reminder: calling your Senator works. And don't assume that because you're represented by a Democrat he or she will vote the right way, or that because you're represented by a Republican he or she will vote to ban filibusters.

It doesn't take very long. I'm doing it tomorrow.

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Kickback Mountain

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Back from vacation

Probably you didn't miss me. But I can't think it's a coincidence that while I was gone, Taiwanese scientists announced they have created three pigs that glow in the dark.

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The Trendy Writer is Deceitful Above All Things

As a followup to Emma B.'s thoughtful post here about the JT Leroy hoax, here's a look at the aftermath.

First, this excellent piece in the Guardian by Laura Barton makes a very good point about authenticity in its last paragraph:

It is all a matter of authenticity. Is it because if JT LeRoy is not a drug-addled hobo hooker made good, we feel embarrassed ecause we've been conned, as if we paid full price for a Louis Vuitton purse only to find it was a fake? But nothing has been taken from us. The books remain: as startling and disturbingly beautiful as they ever were. There is nothing that has sullied the New York Times's assertion that "his language is always fresh, is soul never corrupt". And what strikes me more than anything is that in this age of overblown celebrity, where people such as Paris Hilton can be famous purely for being Paris Hilton, mightn't JT LeRoy represent the precise inversion of this? The work is all. The identity is irrelevant.
After the jump, more thoughts and revelations from folks with egg on their faces.

Most prominently, there's the reaction of Dennis Cooper, whose early support gave JT the imprimatur of authenticity and credibility JT needed to be taken seriously. Without Dennis Cooper, there would have been no JT (and that's not even considering the likelihood that Laura Albert was directly inspired by the traumatized boy-Lolitas of Cooper's fiction). Cooper is (understandably) one of the most bitter ex-friends of JT:

Would Laura have been able to publish Sarah and THIDAAT under her own name? Well, first of all, I don't believe she would have written them in the first place sans the encouragement and hands on editing of the circle of writers who formed the first layer of the scammed.

If those stories weren't backed up by the authenticity of the author's autobiography, but were known instead to have come from the imagination of a woman in her late thirties, I think they would have been seen as overly deliberately provocative and shocking, and their crudeness would have been seen as flawed writing, not as the understandable and kind of interesting failings of a emotionally screwed up, homeless teenager.

Would I have given that much support to Laura if she'd called me up out of the blue and told me she liked to pretend she was an abused teenaged street prostitute and had written the earliest of the stories later published in THIDAAT? No, I wouldn't have, although I might have tried to give her some advice if she wasn't too creepy, though I have a feeling I would have thought she was creepy from the outset.

Um, who's the creepy one? The struggling aspiring writer trying to scam the deeply unfair publishing word, or the wildly popular writer of violent pornography about little boys who, lo and behold, only has time in real life for traumatized little boys? Can't you hear his disgust when he writes "woman in her late thirties"? I wonder which is the cardinal sin, being a woman or not being a teenager.

Cooper also shares this bit of juicy gossip:

From what I understand via people closer to the immediate situation than myself, [Laura] is kind of losing it at the moment, not having truly grasped the obvious -- that she could be cornered.

And one of his commenters tells a story about seeing Laura on a public bus basically flipping out for no reason. Aww.

There's also Michael Chabon's wife (sorry, but that's how she identifies herself) writing in Salon about her phone relationship with JT, which involved long gab sessions about family problems and their kids (hm, not many gay hustlers I know like to drone on and on about which private school would be best for their 5-year-old).

I can't, of course, speak for Madonna or Winona Ryder, but I was snookered by something JT inspired me to feel about myself. Sure, there was the general entertainment value of listening to stories about the train wreck that was his life. Even as pure fiction they were fascinating. But more than that, talking to JT made me feel good about myself. It might have been because he gave me the opportunity to feel completely sane and secure. It might have been because I was flattered that the same person who whiled away hours with Margaret Cho also seemed to enjoy talking to me. But mostly it was because whoever he was, he seemed so genuinely in need of advice and assistance. It feels awfully good to be needed. It feels good to think of myself as someone so generous with my time that I was willing to devote hours of it to a fucked-up near stranger. That's why I can't possibly be angry at having been taken in. I got as much out of it as he did.

Backtracking, in this piece in the Voice a few years ago (cited in this New York expose a couple months ago), early supporter/boring writer Mary Gaitskill speculated about whether or not she was being played:

It's occurred to me that the whole thing with Jeremy [J.T.] is a hoax, but I felt that even if it turned out to be a hoax, it's a very enjoyable one. And a hoax that exposes things about people, the confusion between love and art and publicity. A hoax that would be delightful and if people are made fools of, it would be OK—in fact, it would be useful.
Hm, I'm sure Mary's pretty glad today that she's on the record with that little parachute, but does she really feel "delighted" that she and her friends have been made fools of in a very public way? More than just being made fools of, she and Dennis cooper and the others were exposed as creepily fetishizing and romanticizing victimhood.

Best of all, though, is this essay on Susie Bright's blog. She makes a pretty good case for why the hoax was not delightful or useful, but just plain cruel. One of her commenters probably speaks for a lot of folks in San Francisco and elsewhere: "Anyone who would do what JT has done is the ethical equivalent of a rapist." It's that kind of oversimplified thinking that got them in a mess in the first place, but luckily Bright is a bit more measured. One of her best points is about how this reveals the desperation writers can feel because of the focus on celebrity and backstory in the publishing world:

Did any of you see how the Times of London made this point recently? They pulled a prank on publishers. They sent around two VERY famous, LEGENDARY author's stories, with their names stripped off. The stories themselves are superb examples of both writers' work. All the big agents and publishers received the stories as if from a new, middleaged novelist looking for a deal. No pictures were sent, or scintiallating personal material. None of the recipients recognized the authors. And in each case, they were turned down flat. So you see, V. S. Naipaul couldn't get a deal today if he tried, starting out.

There are also other interesting tidbits hidden in the long (and fun to read) comments to Bright's piece. For instance, Bright reveals that:

Ms. Albert [the woman who concocted JT] actually DOES know me from the past, because we worked together on an erotic spoken word album in the early 90s called Cyborgasm. The mind reels. No wonder s/he seemed so familiar with my work.

Emily Albert, not looking a thing like her protagonist, has all this time arranged for her blonde sister-in-law, Savannah Knoops, to “play” the role of JT in public. This explains why the "Physical Version of JT" always sounded like an inarticulate boob in public, because it really isn’t Emily, who has a way with words.

I have heard from one friend, too mortified to post here, who says she wrote a whole story for JT that the two of them were supposed to collaborate on. And he got the check of course. So who knows how many people "wrote" for JT.

Oooh, the tawdry gossip. I'm sure Bright's confession is heartfelt, but one wonders if maybe she hasn't wised up a bit and realized that if she's first out of the gate with a JT mea culpa, she's pretty much guaranteed inclusion in the inevitable JT movie (who plays Susie Bright? Kate? A plumped up Renee? Dare we hope, Reese? You know Susie's considered it already).

Overall, I think it was Bright's commenter Jojoba who best summed up my personal reaction (a kind of counterpoint to Laura Burton above):

I hate to say it, but you had it coming. You can't cheat an honest man. Was the writing of JT LeRoy really any good without the background story? Not really, but it was the story that got all these phony liberals heart strings so they all bought into the JT backstory. The irony is that just like Milli Vanilli the actual artwork hasn't changed, the books are exactly the same as when they were first published.

The art is all that remains, indeed. And it's just as crap now as it was before.

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