Saturday, April 28, 2007

Criminal: Coward

Criminal: Coward, is a giant step out of the super-hero ghetto.

In this gritty comic book noir of a heist gone bad, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips takes us down the mean streets of a big, dark, ugly and violent metropolis found not on a map but inside the novels of tough, brass-knuckled urban poets like Mickey Spillaine, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Jim Thompson and Raymond Chandler. Coward is a worthy addition to the genre.

Brubaker and Phillips received two Eisner Award nominations, for Best Writer and Best New Series. “Doing anything outside the norm in the US comics market can be extremely difficult, so I’m really pleased to see the Eisners recognize our hard work. We put our blood and sweat into every issue, and I’m very proud of what Sean and I have done so far, building our world of criminals, con men, and bad habits,” said Brubaker.

For those of you who unable to find early issues of Coward at your friendly neighborhood comic shop, the entire story arc will soon be published in a single volume which includes an introduction by Emmy-award winner Tom Fontana (Homicide: Life on the Streets, and Oz.) If you like comic books but hate Men In Tights, this hard-boiled classic by Brubaker and Phillips is a fun and rewarding investment.

And, happily, there's not a single cape to be be found.

Jon Stewart: The Accidental Journalist

Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.

Last night "Bill Moyers Journal" aired an interview with Jon Stewart. It was one of those wonderful, rare opportunities to hear Jon Stewart speaking directly and with very little of his trademark humor. He proved once again, as he did when he took the piss out of Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala, that he is actually one of the most insightful political commentators in the business, even though he swears he's not. The entire transcript is available on the PBS site, as is a brief video excerpt. Here are some of the some of my favorite moments.

On what is and isn't journalism:

BILL MOYERS: You've said many times, "I don't want to be a journalist, I'm not a journalist."

JON STEWART: And we're not.

BILL MOYERS: But you're acting like one. You've assumed that role. The young people that work with me now, think they get better journalism from you than they do from the Sunday morning talk shows.

JON STEWART: I can assure them they're not getting any journalism from us. We are, if anything — I do believe we function as a sort of editorial cartoon. That we are a digestive process, like so many other digestive processes that go on. The thing about you know, there's a lot of young people get this and you know, young people get that from me. People are very sophisticated consumers of information, and they're pulling all different things.

It's the same argument people say about the blogs. The blogs are responsible. No, they're not. The blogs are like anything else. You judge each one based on its own veracity and intelligence and all of that. And if you like, you could cherry pick only the things that you agree with from various things. Or, if you want, you can try and get a broader perspective, or you can find people who are absolutely out of their minds, or find people that are doing incredibly complex and interesting and urgent journalism. And the same goes for our show. It's a prism into people's own ideologies, when they watch our program. This is just our take.

On how the White House uses its apparent incompetence as cover:

JON STEWART: Yeah, it's kind of astonishing. There is I used to have a real disconnect, I think, with the administration, I couldn't figure out what was going on. I think it's suddenly become clear to me. They would rather us believe them to be wildly incompetent and inarticulate than to let us know anything about how they operate. And so, they do Constitutionally-mandated things most of the time, but they don't — they fulfill the letter of their obligation to checks and balances, but not the intent.

For instance, Alberto Gonzales, and you've been watching the hearings. He is either a perjurer, or a low-functioning pinhead. And he allowed himself to be portrayed in those hearings as a low-functioning pinhead, rather than give the Congressional Committee charged with oversight, any information as to his decision-making process at the Department of Justice.

And I used to think, "They're doing this based on a certain arrogance." And now, I realize that it's because they believe there is one accountability moment for a President, and that is the four year election. And once you get that election, you're done.

BILL MOYERS: They're right, are they not?

JON STEWART: They're completely not right. The election moment is merely the American public saying, "We'd rather you be President than that guy." That's it. The next four years, though, you still have to abide by the oversight process that is there to prevent this kind of bizarre sort of cult-like atmosphere that falls along. I mean, I accept that kind of veil of secrecy around Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, but I don't accept that around our government.

On Alberto Gonzales as Henry Hill in the Bush Mob:

BILL MOYERS: Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of words were written about Gonzales' testimony last week in Congress. And I still don't think a lot of people get it. And all of the sudden, there on THE DAILY SHOW that evening, you distilled the essence of it.

JON STEWART: And by the way, that was all just — that was a game, and he knew it, and the guys on the committee knew it. And for the President to come out after that and say, "Everything I saw there gave me more confidence in him," that solidified my notion that, "Oh, it's because what he expected of Gonzalez was" it's sort of like, do you remember in GOODFELLAS? When Henry Hill got arrested for the first time and Robert DeNiro met him at the courthouse and Henry Hill was really upset, 'cause he thought Robert DeNiro would be really mad at him. And DeNiro comes up to him and he gives him a $100 and he goes, "You got pinched. We all get pinched, but you did it right, you didn't say nothing."

BILL MOYERS: Gonzales said nothing.

JON STEWART: Right. And "you went up there and said nothing. You gave them no legal recourse against you, and you made yourself a smart man, a self-made man look like an utter pinhead on national television, and you did it for me."

On the iconic interview with John McCain:

BILL MOYERS: You know, we watched the McCain interview you did this week. Something was going on in that interview that I have not seen in any other interview you've done with a political figure. What was going on in your head?

JON STEWART: In my head?


JON STEWART: Are his arms long enough to connect with me if he comes across the table?...

JON STEWART: I don't particularly enjoy those types of interviews, because I have a great respect for Senator McCain, and I hate the idea that our conversation became just two people sort of talking over each other, at one point.

But I, also, in my head, thought, I would love to do an interview where it's just sort of de-constructed — the talking points of Iraq — sort of the idea of, is this really the conversation we're having about this war? That if we don't defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, they'll follow us home? That to support the troops means not to question that the surge could work. That, what we're really seeing in Iraq is not a terrible war, but in fact, just the media's portrayal of it. So, I wanted to just go through-- like, is this really the conversation that we're going other be having about something as significant as this war?

On the devolution of American politics:

BILL MOYERS: Why aren't we having that conversation? Well, that's a very good point, Why is the country not having this conversation, the kind of conversation that requires the politicians who are responsible for the war to be specific to the concerns of the American people. I mean, they do come out and a kind of gauze goes up.

JON STEWART: Because I don't think politics is any longer about a conversation with the country. It's about figuring out how to get to do what you want. The best way to sell the product that you want to put out there, but not necessarily for the products on you know, it-- it's sort of like, when a dishwashing soap you know, they want to make a big splash, so they decide to have more lemon, as though people are gonna be like, "That has been the problem with my dishes! Not enough lemon scent!"

On our lack of shared sacrifice and why there will be no draft:

JON STEWART: It's very hard to feel the difficulties that the military goes through. It's very hard to feel the difficulties of military families, unless you're in that environment. And sometimes you have to force yourself to try and put yourself in other people's sort of shoes and environment to get the sense of that.

JON STEWART: You know, one of the things that I do think government counts on is that people are busy. And it's very difficult to mobilize a busy and relatively affluent country, unless it's over really crucial-- you know, foundational issues. That come sort of sort of a tipping point.


JON STEWART: But war that hasn't affected us here, in the way that you would imagine a five-year war would affect a country. I think that's why they're so really — here's the disconnect. It's sort of this odd and I've always had this problem with the rationality of it. That the President says, "We are in the fight for a way of life. This is the greatest battle of our generation, and of the generations to come. "And, so what I'm going to do is you know, Iraq has to be won, or our way of life ends, and our children and our children's children all suffer. So, what I'm gonna do is send 10,000 more troops to Baghdad."

So, there's a disconnect there between — you're telling me this is fight of our generation, and you're going to increase troops by 10 percent. And that's gonna do it. I'm sure what he would like to do is send 400,000 more troops there, but he can't, because he doesn't have them. And the way to get that would be to institute a draft. And the minute you do that, suddenly the country's not so damn busy anymore. And then they really fight back, and then the whole thing falls apart. So, they have a really delicate balance to walk between keeping us relatively fearful, but not so fearful that we stop what we're doing and really examine how it is that they've been waging this.

On his role in the political conversation:

JON STEWART: I don't consider myself a serious and social political critic.

BILL MOYERS: But I do. And I'm your audience.

As do I, Bill. As do I.

Tell theTruth: Are You A Liar?

The topic below was originally posted in my blog, the Intrepid Liberal Journal.

So when did you first realize our country was led by liars? Was there a particular incident, campaign or speech resulting in an epiphany? Did a cynical role model let you know our country’s decision makers could not be trusted to tell the truth?

For me it was at the age of fifteen in 1984. I was watching television when a campaign commercial for Mary Mochary, who challenged New Jersey incumbent Senator Bill Bradley, was aired. On screen appeared President Ronald Reagan sitting behind his desk at the oval office. I’ve tried to find a transcript or even footage of this commercial online but haven’t had any luck. So, I’m relying on memory.

As I remember it Reagan said, “I’m not the sort of fellow to tell another person how to vote, but I support Mary Mochary.” It was something like that. And Reagan had this self-effacing aw shucks expression when he said it. I later learned Reagan aired similarly scripted commercials on behalf of other Republican candidates that year.

It just amazed me how an American president, arguably the most political persona in the world could say with a straight face, “I’m not the sort of fellow to tell another person how to vote.” At fifteen I was politically aware. I knew Reagan was a former governor of California and had previously campaigned for president before defeating Jimmy Carter in 1980. Hence, this was somebody who told people who to vote for quite often.

The lie itself was harmless. It wasn’t about arms for hostages, the Contras or the phony war on drugs. Nevertheless, the memory stands out as the moment when I internalized how politicians would even shamelessly lie about small things. And we therefore had to listen to their words with critical ears because if they could lie about something small, a big lie was just around the corner.

Three years later, I was disillusioned when California Senator Alan Cranston was exposed as one of the infamous Keating Five. In the summer of ’86, I sent Cranston $100 which at seventeen wasn’t peanuts. Cranston was in a tough reelection fight and I admired his stance on nuclear disarmament. So in 1987, when I watched Senator Warren Rudman of New Hampshire who sat on the Senate Ethics Committee roughly question Cranston in public, I was devastated. I had believed in him.

In 1992 I supported Paul Tsongas for president. I disagreed with his economic positions but believed Tsongas was the most honest candidate seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination that year. Sadly, Tsongas wasn’t honest about his recovery from cancer and he died in 1997.

You get older and learn life isn’t always so black and white. None of us are pure and the best of us have moral lapses. And in a world of nuance, lies become easy to rationalize. Many of us lie in our personal and professional lives. We lie to our boss as our boss lies to us. We tell “white lies” to our family and friends. In the movie “The Departed,” Vera Farmiga’s character admitted she lied to keep things on an “even keel.” And she proceeded to live a lie while cheating on Matt Damon. Later she dumped Matt Damon upon learning about his lies. More often than not the “even keel” Farmiga’s character refers to are lies to preserve a self-serving image we’ve constructed.

In America our politicians and military leadership have lied for all kinds of reasons. In 1960, President Eisenhower was caught in a lie following the Gary Powers U2 spy plane incident. Embarrassing but Americans didn’t hold it against Eisenhower. It was the Cold War and the public believed their president had his heart in the right place about protecting our national security.

John Kennedy partly won the presidency in 1960 by lying about a “missile gap” with the Soviet Union that didn’t exist. President Lyndon Johnson lied about the pretext for war in Vietnam while his Pentagon misinformed the public about our "success." President Nixon lied about Vietnam as well as not being a crook and President Clinton practiced in front of mirror before telling the world, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.”

One person’s shit is another’s ice cream and some lies are considered necessary. Americans were largely in the dark about FDR’s polio and he lied about his true intentions during World War Two. He promised to keep America out and manipulated behind the scenes as best he could to put us in the conflict. Yet FDR’s place in history is secure. The Axis Powers had to be defeated to ensure our survival and a different president might have appeased Hitler. Hence we don’t judge FDR harshly for misleading about his health or war plans. FDR’s lies are deemed good lies.

Americans don't judge Clinton overly harshly either. Many of us are guilty of similar offenses and would’ve lied to protect our marriages, families and reputations. His testimony about the word “is” will always remain the butt of jokes but most Americans would gladly take him back. A friend recently confided to me that his marriage ended when his wife caught him in the act while he cheated on her. Unable to come up with a convincing lie he said, “honey it’s not what it looks like.” I don’t judge him harshly for it. Nor am I judgmental about Clinton or Vera Farmiga’s character. They didn’t lie maliciously. For them lies were shields against human frailty.

So, one could say that lies are simply part of the human condition and our leaders reflect this reality. Nonetheless, from my vantage point, a culture of destructive lying has become dangerously pervasive in recent years. This decade, corporations such as Enron shamelessly lied to their shareholders and dutiful employees, Jayson Blair hoodwinked the New York Times and Dick Cheney stood before the Republican Party National Convention in 2000 and promised the country a “stiff dose of the truth.”

Ironically, the same President Bush who promised a restoration of honor and integrity has become synonymous with lies – too many to summarize here. His Attorney General can’t keep track of his own lies. Former CIA director George Tenet has written a memoir whining about his “slam dunk” lie being taken out of context. And there are the shameful lies from the Pentagon about Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch. If that's not bad enough, the Bush Administration is pathologically devoted to covering up evidence about global warming. From Kartina to Iraq, how many people have died because of all these lies? And how many more deaths are to come?

Recently, my Dad sagely observed to me in a telephone conversation, “None of this is new. I’ve seen all this stuff before. All politicians are full of it. They’ll always be full of it. That’s life.” Perhaps. And when it comes to life and politics, my Dad, like many Dads is a human oracle of experience and wisdom. But I remain optimistic because within this morass of deceit, a counter-culture of truth is emerging.

As our institutions and the mainstream media fail to deliver the truth, a hunger for reality is expressing itself among the people. Hence, we have the ascendancy of blogs. It’s undisciplined and irreverent out here. One has to be a discriminating consumer among thoughtful bloggers and those who are simply rhetorical bomb throwers. But there are golden nuggets of truth among ordinary people challenging elites about their destructive lies, disinformation and exploitation.

One of my favorite blogs may not be known to you and belongs to a dear personal friend, Kaiser Permanente – Corporate Ethics. My friend was an employee of Kaiser who lost her job because she’s an honest person. Her story is a long and complicated one and best learned from reading her blog. Her life is hard and she is unable to post as frequently as she’d like. Nonetheless, her site has become a repository for exposing the lies and cover-ups of Kaiser Permanente.

Not surprisingly, Kaiser mobilized their legal and PR machine to personally destroy her. But she perseveres as a courageous beacon of light against their greed culture of lies and malfeasance. More than once I observed to her that Kaiser reminds me of the Bush Administration. And as she put it to me once, “That’s because the people inside the Bush Administration come from corporate cultures such as Kaiser where truth can be tossed away like a can of tuna fish.” As only she could put it. It’s largely because of her inspiration I joined the blogosphere fray.

And there are the bloggers we know about such as Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, who pushed the story of the unscrupulous dismissal of the U.S. Attorneys. Marshall’s success at emphasizing a story the mainstream media initially ignored, illustrate how the façade of deceit so dutifully served and enabled by inside the beltway pundits such as David Broder, Joe Klein and David Brooks is finally cracking.

And I’m a part of it too in my own way. Of course I’m not the sort of fellow to tell another person how to vote.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Take Back the Blog

The Take Back the Blog blogswarm is today.

Clicking the logo will take you to the host page, but I'm including some of the basics below.

NEW: WHAT, EXACTLY, IS A BLOGSWARM? I cannot top this definition:
A "blogswarm" is when a bunch of people blog about the same crap ON PURPOSE! It is a premeditated thing, as opposed to the usual randomness that tends to rule the Internet. Order from chaos. Entropy. Call it whatever you want.
The goal is both to provide a convenient compilation of (undoubtedly excellent) content for readers' benefit and to make a show of strength and of organization within the blogosphere from bloggers with different perspectives towards common concerns.

If the term "blogswarm" does not appeal to you, that's ok! You can call it a "virtual march" or, if you contribute, anything you like!

NEW: HOW TO SUBMIT POSTS to the Take Back the Blog! Blogswarm. I have set up a new email address at:

solely to receive links for TBTB. If you don't have a blog, but want to contribute, email me and we will work something out. The "cut-off" time will be 7 PM on Saturday, April 28.

I'm off to the consecration now. Just me, and 2500 of my closest friends. Sigh...I *really* don't feel up to this, but I don't want to miss it either.

What have the Republicans accomplished?

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Let's all put on our non-partisan hats today and try to come up with a list of the positive things the Republicans have accomplished in the last 20 years.

Come on, you can do this. I will barely hurt.

I'll wait.

Take your time.


Me neither and I slept in my damn hat.

Thank you, Roger Ebert

Also at My Left Wing, Street Prophets, and Booman Tribune

I wasn't planning to try to write anything tonight, given that I'm tired from working overtime all week and am preparing to attend the consecration of our new bishop. But Roger Ebert has gone and made me admire him again. I suppose some background is in order...

Back in the year 2000, when the movie 102 Dalmatians was coming out, my big issue was dog rescue/humane education. Simpler times, remember? Bush had not yet taken office and made such a pig's ear of this country, so I wasn't into any sort of political activism at that point. But, being involved in a local animal rescue organization, I had become aware that a big reason dogs end up being surrendered by their owners is that the decision to add a pet to the family is often made too lightly. And with Disney's live-action Dalmatian movie coming out, people in the rescue community were bracing for a rash of "impulse adoptions" of the spotted dogs. Which would be followed, inevitably, some months later, by a rash of owner surrenders because "It just didn't work out."

I don't even recall how I got the idea, but at some point it occurred to me that Roger Ebert would probably be writing a review of the movie, so why not drop him a note asking him to address this issue when he did? So I found his e-mail address, wrote to him, and in less than an hour received a quick note back, which read "I'll see if it fits."

As it turns out, it did fit. And I'm pretty sure that I wrote to him and thanked him at that time. But I don't think I've ever put into words what that meant to me to have someone with such a large audience take my request seriously. That early positive experience of calling on someone who had a big enough "soapbox" to be heard and potentially make a difference is a significant event in my life story. And it was certainly on my mind as I became more involved in blogging.

About's easy to get burned out, isn't it? Or at least to have those days when you wonder, "What's the point?" or "Am I really making a difference?" Well, I don't imagine I'll ever be able to completely banish those rough times, but I'll tell you what helps keep them at bay.

*Really celebrating* the good stuff--especially those moments when we make a real human connection. Like the time, after the Washington Post article was published, Maryscott wrote:

One little old lady sitting at her kitchen table alone in Virginia stopped feeling so alone yesterday because of something I did; that is enough.

I remember reading those words, and thinking, "A-freaking-men!" Because, that is what it's all about, and we'd be wise not to let each other forget it.
The article that inspired this post is well worth reading.

Ebert: We spend too much time hiding illness

Originally, that article was going to be the focus of my post, but once I started writing, it turned into something else. And, almost seven years later, the "Thank you" was long overdue.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Liddy Come Home! (NC-Sen)

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Why us?

Why is North Carolina saddled with such a useless and inactive Senator as Elizabeth Dole?

She is ranked as one of the "10 Worst Senators" by Empowering Veterans and the real question of her residence always comes into play. Her husband, Bob Dole is a resident of Kansas and they are still married. So how is it she is a resident of NC?

How many other couples do you know that have residencies to two separate states?

NC deserves better.

Open Thread

So, what stories have caught your attention today?

Here are a couple of links I'd like to share before heading off to work...

Roger Ebert to make first public appearance since cancer surgery

Tell the story, turn chaos to Shalom, Presiding Bishop tells Communicators

(That's Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who's coming to Columbus tomorrow.)

And here's a picture from Cute Overload, 'cause we can always use some cute animals to lift our spirits.


I love bass players.

Whenever I listen to new music, I peel back the layers and try to find the bottom, the bedrock, the heartbeat of the band. Sure, those egotistical lead guitar freaks with their masturbatory ("I'll make it fit!") ten minute solos get all the glory, but it's those guys working in the background that are keeping everything together.

Who are my Gods? Jack Casady, Tina Weymouth, Larry Graham, Del Palmer, Booty Collins, and the great James Jamerson.

And Jaco Pastorius.

I think Jaco was the first four-stringed wizard who turned me into a drooling fanboy. One of the members of Weather Report, the groundbreaking jazz fusion group, it was his work on my favorite Joni Mitchell albums (Hejira, Shadows and Light, Mingus, and Don Juan's Reckless Daughter) that brought him to my attention. When I bought my first CD player, the first CD I thought worthy of this new technology was Jaco Pastorius, his solo album.

Jaco was a genius who broke the rules, made new ones up, and didn't pretend to be a lead guitarist. When an interviewer asked him once why he didn't play a six-stringed bass, he laughed contemptuously and said, "Why? I don't need to."

No, he didn't.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hey, John McCain "its your support for Bush and his Iraq war ... Stupid"

I'm not with this nitwit, Whit Ayres regarding his comments in WaPo regarding John McCain:

"It's a far more competitive race than it was six months ago, but I think people continually have a tendency to jump to premature conclusions about political campaigns," said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster not working for any of the candidates. He added that McCain's "national stature is so great and the campaign's fundraising potential is so great that it would be a serious mistake to write him off prematurely."

Both, NitWit, Whit Ayres, and John McCain have to be stupid to think the American people are going to support his campaign. McCain can launch his bid for the White House all he wants. His candidacy is going nowhere fast.

This turkey is done! Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has surged past McCain in national polls because of one thing, McCains public and private support for Bush's unpopular war and policy in Iraq.

"Hey, John McCain, its your support for Bush and his Iraq war... Stupid"

But that is just my opinion. What's yours?

African American Political Pundit is a proud member and a regular contributor to the Independent Bloggers Alliance

Rush The Flaccid Dope Fiend

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I must admit I was shocked that yesterday's strip made it to the recommended list on Daily Kos. It was a lively discussion on what to do about Rush and his use of the song "Barack The Magic Negro."

There were many calls for filing a complaint with the FCC. I doubt this will do any good. If you really want Rush off the air, you must go after the advertisers. But there are two types of advertisers that can be found on Rush's show. The first is the local advertiser who usually has no choice in the matter. Most stations I have dealt with at my ad agency will only sell a block of ads that are spread out across the day. So if you want your commercial to be included in morning drive time, you are forced to buy time during the rest of the day so many local advertisers get stuck with their spots during Rush whether they like it or not. This is why I NEVER recommend to any client radio ad buys - you just can't control placement unless you are a national advertiser. Those are who you want. The second type of advertiser is the national client who is buying the ad time through the EIB network, not the local station. These are the buyers that pay the bills, they pay for the satellite time to broadcast the show.

The other thing you can do is start contacting the stations. Here is a link to his affiliate list.

The best strategy here is to start pressuring the small market stations first. They don't have a lot of cash and DEPEND on local advertising so they may be more susceptible to public outcries of racism. Once smaller stations start canceling the show, larger one may follow suit when pressure is applied to them. If there are African American ministers in the radio station's area, encourage them to meet with the station manager and make their case.

I do not have a list of advertisers for Rush's show. The best way to do that is listen to the show today and make a list. Feel free to post those advertisers here.

UPDATE: Here is Rush's advertisers for the first half of his show today. Please REC!

Select Comfort

Biomet - Oxford Partial Replacement Knee

Barracuda Networks -

Cobranded spot: Trico Teflon Blades / Advance Auto

Hawthorne Suites

Cobranded spot: Laser Shield - / CompUSA

Quicken Loans

Cobranded spot: Pennington Seeds - / Lowes Home Improvement

Rinnai Tankless Water Heater -

Farmers Insurance

Administaff -

Crohn's & Colitis Foundation -]

Rotary Club

The Spotlight

Being a celebrity means you’re giving permission for people to look at you, listen to you, pay attention to you.

Stop what you’re doing right now! I’m over here!

If the celebrity is famous just for being famous, then it’s not an equitable relationship; it’s just annoying or intrusive. But if the celebrity is famous because of their talent, then we’ll happily and willingly turn ourselves into a loyal audience. We’ll buy the CD, see the movie, watch the TV show every week, go to the concert, and join the fan club. Usually, it’s a fair trade. The celebrity’s talent enriches our lives and, in return, we make them rich.

But, as Alec Baldwin found out, it’s dangerous living in the spotlight.

There’s no “Off” switch.

In the middle of a contentious divorce battle with his ex-wife Kim Bassinger, things took a turn for the worse when a tape of Alec calling his 12-year-old daughter a “rude, thoughtless little pig” was released to the public. Personally, I think both sides look bad here. Alec was a cruel, obnoxious lout, and Kim was a mean, vindictive shrew for giving the tape of Alec’s rant to the news media and turning their daughter’s humiliation into a sideshow. This should have stayed private but, of course, a celebrity doesn’t have a private life. That option was given away a long time ago.

The spotlight follows the celebrity everywhere now.

So, if the celebrity is smart, they will hire bodyguards. They will isolate themselves by living in luxurious golden cages far, far away from their adoring fans. And they’ll hope that the pornographic video they made years ago when they were young, stupid, and blessedly anonymous with those two drunk cheerleaders doesn’t show up on YouTube.

What happened to that schmuck Alec Baldwin wasn’t unusual. It was just his turn. Hey, that’s showbiz.

Stewart versus McCain

This is worth checking out, especially if you missed it last night.

Jon Stewart Delivers Greatest Dem Performance in 6 Years

The video link is Quicktime--hopefully it will show up on YouTube or something as well.

Demetrius and I watched it last night, and I cringed a bit as the segment was coming up, because, in the past, I've thought that Stewart was too ass-kissy with McCain.

But given that history, I don't think McCain saw this coming.

I also don't imagine he'll be a hurry to come back for another appearance. He was pretty cranky about being challenged, in my opinion.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rural Georgia school holds first integrated prom

Even though my immediate reaction was, "Their first? Just *now*, in 2007?", I think this is worth celebrating. We all progress at our own pace.

Rural High School Has First Integrated Prom

Demetrius and I married 20 years ago this August. Like any couple, we've faced our share of challenges, but those have had more to do with living under the Bush economy, and trying to secure the proper education and services for a son who is classified as both special needs and gifted. In fact, it's often easy to forget that there's anything "different" about our family in the eyes of some people.

But anyway, kudos to the young people at Turner County High School who decided that this was the year to make a change, and hold their first official, all-school senior prom.

“Barack The Magic Negro” Plays on Rush. And he is still on the air?

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This is a head-shaker. Imus gets canned for calling some college women basketball players "nappy-headed hos" and yet Rush Limbaugh plays "Barack The Magic Negro" on his show and he is still on the air?

How is that even possible?

To hear the song yourself, hit this YouTube link.

It is a parody by Paul Shanklin impersonating Al Sharpton and based on the Peter, Paul, and Mary hit song "Puff, the Magic Dragon". I am really at a loss of words. I heard it for the first time yesterday on the radio and was sickened.

Again, how is this man on the air?

The church as a "public" institution

As I mentioned yesterday, the Diocese of Southern Ohio has a new bishop, and his consecration will be this Saturday. Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will come to Columbus to take part in the ceremony. So, ever since I knew this event was coming, it has been my intention to attend if at all possible. On Friday, I heard from my rector that there was indeed a ticket being held in my name. So, yay!

Well, maybe "yay" isn't quite the right word. I'm pleased that I will be able to attend, and I'm sure I'll be glad I did. But this is going to involve a number of things I *don't* particularly relish--crowds, trying to park at Ohio State, standing for extended periods of time...

Probably some incense, now that I think of it. (Wrinkles nose in anticipation)

Anyway, knowing that I had this event coming up, I knew couldn't pass up the opportunity to hear the bishop-elect speak at my church last night. And then, actually *having* something a little unique to blog about, I couldn't pass that up either, could I?

Tonight I'll share the first part of his talk, in which he addressed what it means for the church to be a public institution.

Rev. Breidenthal started by telling us that his most recent position was Dean of Religious Life at Princeton, which he said was a "fancy term for University Chaplain". Most of his work has been as a teacher in one way or another, with students of different ages and situations, and alongside other teachers. Speaking at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church and Univerisity Center, he said that it was a relief to be in a setting where he could say that proudly "without it being assumed that therefore I am unworldly". He noted that the university setting is, in fact, the intersection between many, many communities, where it is impossible to isolate oneself from the "real world".

About being "in communion": Communion is not a product of agreement, but has to do with staying at the table, respecting each other's arguments, and having reverence for the basic commitments that bring us together around the altar in the first place.

Breidenthal said that it was important for the church to be "public". When the Roman Christians emerged out of the catacombs, the first thing they did was build churches, and they built basilicas. He said these were the Roman version of today's mall--an enclosed forum with room for businesses, shops and vendors all around the edges, and a lot of space in the middle where public disputation could happen.

So it is significant that they, once they started to build churches, chose the basilica model, which was basically the agora, or public forum. Where God and God's people were interacting publicly and opening themselves to a world where there was really no reason you couldn't be part of that community as long as you were willing to be baptized. And to be baptized wasn't to enter a community, it was to be expelled from any community that was exclusive.

We tend to think of baptism as inclusion, but in fact, the primary metaphor of baptism is birth, and birth is about expulsion into something large and scary...and public. And so, the early Christians at their best--they were able to be as crabby and exclusive as we are--but at their *best*, they understood the Gospel to be utterly practical to the world. And they understood the church, not primarily as a refuge, as a place of withdrawal from the world and safety from the world, but they viewed the church as a people in exodus--in exodus out of all of their exclusive and closed communities. This is what it meant to define ourselves as a people who included all people, without exception. That every possible non-universal identity was transcended by membership in the church.

So, one reason why I think that campus ministry, and churches that have strong and intentional campus ministries, why that's so important, is because the university recalls the church through its initial public witness. And parishes like St. Stephen's help remind other parishes that may be in danger of becoming *just* extended families, that however small or suburban they may be, they are, each of them, a gateway into the whole world. I like to think of going to church as not going inside, but actually going through the doors into something outside.
More to come, as I find the time, on topics such as ecumenism and interfaith relations--the hard, but necessary work of coming together, respectfully, in our diversity.

Monday, April 23, 2007

VA approves Wiccan symbol for soldiers' graves

I just found this via The Wall (the blog of Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

Bush Administration Agrees To Approve Wiccan Pentacle For Veteran Memorials

The Bush administration has conceded that Wiccans are entitled to have the pentacle, the symbol of their faith, inscribed on government-issued memorial markers for deceased veterans, Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced today.

The settlement agreement, filed today with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, brings to a successful conclusion a lawsuit Americans United brought against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in November.

The litigation charged that denying a pentacle to deceased Wiccan service personnel, while granting religious symbols to those of other traditions, violated the U.S. Constitution.

“This settlement has forced the Bush Administration into acknowledging that there are no second class religions in America, including among our nation’s veterans,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “It is a proud day for religious freedom in the United States.”

Continued Lynn, “Sadly, the refusal of the federal government to recognize the Wiccan pentacle seems to have been built on inexcusable bias, a foundation that has crumbled under the press of this litigation.”
See also this CBS News report, which included a picture of Sgt. Stewart's memorial plaque.

Eat Your Way Out of Racism!

click to enlarge

Horse dancing!

What an amusing way to start my day. Via Cute Overload

Um. This is beyond weird, People, it's like disco dressage—with ridiculous commentary. [shaking head] After Christopher Guest does a Hedgehog party, he should tackle this...

By the way, I met the bishop-elect last night. I somehow made myself introduce myself to him afterwards, even though I was not feeling especially outgoing at the moment. I told him that I had recorded his talk and would be posting some of it as time allowed, as I had done with the sermons by Bishops Robinson and Curry.

And then he said, "Oh, you're Renee!" Apparently he'd read my blog posts during General Convention. It's almost like I'm famous. Not Markos on Time Magazine's list famous, but still kind of cool :)


"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."
--H.L. Mencken.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Are We A Country?

The topic below was originally posted in my blog, the Intrepid Liberal Journal.

For all the polarization that exists in America along political, racial, religious and class lines, we’re all part of a larger community. As a New Yorker I felt that in the early days following 9/11. I had that feeling after the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City. Sadly, our sense of community has eroded in recent years as the gap between rich and poor has widened while cynical politicians exploited wedge issues in “base elections.”

The shooting spree of Seung-Hui Cho illustrates a breakdown in the American community. Seung-Hui Cho is not an aberration. Plenty of mentally ill people in this country go untreated. Some are incarcerated for petty crimes and commit suicide. Others, such as Seung-Hui Cho, are able to purchase guns and reconcile their cumulative rage against the world through mass murder. In this instance, Virginia Tech University was powerless to intervene and respond to warning signs without the threat of litigation.

There is also the horrifying fact that the judicial system declared Seung-Hui Cho a danger to himself. Yet he was still able to purchase firearms. The ongoing debate between those who are pro-gun rights and people like me who strongly advocate gun control is an example of our community breakdown. The debate has become a zero sum game instead of a national dialogue to come together and propose solutions.

Extremists in the pro-gun camp would have you believe it better to arm more Americans. Their rationale is an armed citizenry can better protect itself from the Seung-Hui Chos of the world. With all due respect to these citizens, an armed America in schools and shopping malls is utterly moronic. Their pathological fetish to transform America into the wild-west captured in television programs such as Bonanza or Gun Smoke won’t curb violence and senseless killing.

Gun control however is only part of the answer. American society itself is regulated by a jugular instinct. Greed and consumption is valued over sacrifice and a sense of responsibility towards the greater good. On that score we’re all to blame in some measure.

Ultimately, we’re not likely to see gun control anytime soon in this country. Neither party has the strength or will to take on the gun lobby. Hopefully, all sides of the divide in urban and rural American can reach a consensus on three core points:

1) Too many guns wind up in the wrong hands;

2) Only law abiding and mentally competent people should possess firearms;

3) Greater investment combined with a sensible balance between privacy rights and society's needs are required for our mental health system to work.

If Americans can’t come together on those three points we don’t deserve to be called a country.

This Is Your Brain On Iraq

Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.

I could feel a huge concussion wave,
and then I couldn’t hear anything.

I told my sergeants my ears were hurting

and that I felt really weird.

My vision was acting all strange.

-- Spc. Paul Thurman

Paul Thurman was not supposed to be deployed. His brain had been damaged before he even left Ft. Bragg; a training accident in which a log was dropped on his head. Brain scans showed evidence of lesions. Yet, inexplicably, he was sent to Iraq. There he sustained a second head trauma; another training accident. An IED simulator went off three feet from his head.

Soon he was having dizzy spells, was losing his balance and couldn’t sleep.

His company sent him to Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center in Germany, where the doctors, he said, told him he shouldn’t have been deployed to Iraq. They forwarded him on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where he said he spent “eight hours with the USO ladies eating cookies” before being packed off to Fort Carson. He said he was not examined while at Walter Reed.

Since the injuries, Thurman said he blacks out, has seizures that last up to 40 minutes, has short-term memory loss and maintains a constant headache. Once, in front of his Army lawyer, he started throwing up and having a seizure, he said.

But Thurman's Kafkaesque journey through the Army system continues. Instead of proper treatment, he has received disciplinary actions for problems resulting from his injury; an Article 15 for leaving a formation to take anti-seizure medication and a bad counseling statement for refusing to attend an 80 hour driving course. His medical file says he cannot drive. Today he is hoping for a court martial hearing so that his story can heard farther up the chain of command.

Brain trauma is the signature injury of the Iraq war. As increasingly elaborate body armour protects the torso, and even the limbs, the brain is still vulnerable to shock waves that helmets cannot deter.

For the first time, the U.S. military is treating more head injuries than chest or abdominal wounds, and it is ill-equipped to do so. According to a July 2005 estimate from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, two-thirds of all soldiers wounded in Iraq who don't immediately return to duty have traumatic brain injuries.

Here's why IEDS carry such hidden danger. The detonation of any powerful explosive generates a blast wave of high pressure that spreads out at 1,600 feet per second from the point of explosion and travels hundreds of yards. The lethal blast wave is a two-part assault that rattles the brain against the skull. The initial shock wave of very high pressure is followed closely by a huge volume of displaced air flooding back into the area, again under high pressure. No helmet or armor can defend against such a massive wave front.

It is these sudden and extreme differences in pressures — routinely 1,000 times greater than atmospheric pressure — that lead to significant neurological injury. Blast waves cause severe concussions, resulting in loss of consciousness and obvious neurological deficits such as blindness, deafness and mental retardation. Blast waves causing traumatic brain injuries can leave a 19-year-old who could easily run a six-minute mile unable to stand or even to think.

Referred to as "the silent injury," in many cases the damage caused by concussive waves is not immediately apparent. And these "closed-head" injuries are harder to treat than even those commonly suffered by motorcyclists.

Traumatic brain injuries from Iraq are different, said P. Steven Macedo, a neurologist and former doctor at the Veterans Administration. Concussions from motorcycle accidents injure the brain by stretching or tearing it, he said. But in Iraq, something else is going on.

"When the sound wave moves through the brain, it seems to cause little gas bubbles to form," Macedo said. "When they pop, it leaves a cavity. So you are littering people's brains with these little holes."

Indeed it appears that even those troops who are not at close proximity to IED blasts can be affected. It is estimated that one third of our combatants may be suffering brain injuries, many who don't even know that damage has occurred. This has prompted the VA to start screening all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who enroll. That will still leave roughly two thirds unexamined, as most never apply for veteran's health benefits. More tragic, the Pentagon has demonstrated far less vigilance than the VA in addressing these pernicious injuries.

What's baffling is the Pentagon's failure to work with Congress to provide a steady stream of funding for research on traumatic brain injuries. Meanwhile, the high-profile firings of top commanders at Walter Reed have shed light on the woefully inadequate treatment for troops. In these circumstances, soldiers face a struggle to get the long-term rehabilitation necessary for treatment of a traumatic brain injury. At Walter Reed, Macedo said, doctors have chosen to medicate most brain-injured patients, even though cognitive rehabilitation, including brain teasers and memory exercises, seems to hold the most promise for dealing with the disorder.

In fact, last summer the Pentagon reacted to the startling numbers of brain injuries by cutting it's funding request for treatment and research of the problem in half; from $14 million to $7 million.

That maneuver seems consistent with a larger agenda of minimizing treatment funds to troops across the board. As reported by NPR, troop disabilities are being pencil-whipped down to nothing. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Parker USA (Ret.) found that the Pentagon is now providing disability payments to fewer veterans than they were before the war.

Parker started digging through Pentagon data, and the numbers he found shocked him. He learned that the Pentagon is giving fewer veterans disability benefits today than it was before the Iraq war — despite the fact that thousands of soldiers are leaving the military with serious injuries.

"It went from 102,000 and change in 2001... and now it's down to 89,500," says Parker. "It's counterintuitive. Why are the number of disability retirees shrinking during wartime?"

One of the Pentagon's disappearing tricks is assigning injured veterans drastically lower disability ratings than their injuries demand. Tim Ngo who suffered a traumatic brain injury was rated by the Pentagon as only 10 per cent disabled.

Tim Ngo almost died in a grenade attack in Iraq. He sustained a serious head injury; surgeons had to cut out part of his skull. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he learned to walk and talk again.

When he got back home to Minnesota, he wore a white plastic helmet to protect the thinned-out patches of his skull. People on the street snickered, so Ngo's mother took a black marker and wrote on the helmet: U.S. ARMY, BACK FROM IRAQ. On this much, everyone agrees.

But here is the part that is in dispute: The Army says Tim Ngo is only 10 percent disabled.

"I was hoping I would get at least 50 or 60 or 70 percent," Ngo says. "But they said, 'Yeah, you're only going to get 10 percent'... And I was pretty outraged."

Even a 30 per cent rating would have guaranteed him a monthly check and enrollment in the military's health-care system. As it was he was given a medical discharge and a small severance payment; leaving him adrift, with no coverage, until he had matriculated into the VA system.

Instead, Ngo enrolled with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Typically, there's a waiting period for the VA.

In October, while he was uninsured, Ngo had a seizure, caused by his war injury. He remembers being outside and blacking out; he fell to the ground on the driveway.

"My girlfriend was freaking out because she didn't know what to do," Ngo says. "She didn't know if I was going to die because I had hit the wrong side of my head."

An ambulance took Ngo to the nearest emergency room for treatment. It cost him $10,000. Ngo says that today, the bills for the incident are still unresolved.

Since then, Ngo's injuries have been acknowledged by the VA as so serious that he has been granted 100 per cent disability. In fact, more than half of disabled veterans who transfer into the VA system have their disabilities uprated from 10-20 per cent to over 30 per cent. The Senate is currently investigating concerns that the DOD is simply punting their disabled veterans to the VA to improve their own bottom line.

What we have is a military system near the breaking point. Our troop levels are stretched so thin that we are redeploying injured, even broken, troops, and a chronically underfunded VA is left to clean up the damage. Ironically, the very resources that are keeping more of our troops alive on the battlefield, are returning them to a living hell of inadequate treatment.

These are the war's injured who once would have been the war's dead. And it is the unexpected number of casualties who in a previous medical era would have been fatalities that has sunk the outpatient clinics at Walter Reed and left those in the VA system lost and adrift.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the ratio of wounded service members to fatalities is 16 to 1, if the definition of "wounded" is anyone evacuated from a combat zone. During the Vietnam War, according to the VA, the ratio was 2.6 to 1.

So we are bringing back more of our troops alive but to what kind of life?

Marine Lance Cpl. Brian Vargas was a high school football player. Now, even though he looks fit, he cannot toss the football with his buddies, let alone be part of pickup games with other off-duty Marines.

“I can't catch anything,” he said. “I can't remember any plays."

Vargas, 20, was subjected to innumerable mortar and roadside bomb blasts while patrolling the insurgent stronghold of Hit in the Euphrates River Valley. In mid-January he was shot in the hand and cheek by a sniper and airlifted to Germany and then the United States for treatment.

He has the classic signs of post-concussive injury.

“My thinking has gone down,” he said. “I can't remember what I did this morning. I have trouble putting memory and speaking together. I'm trying to learn to speak as clearly as possible.”

Lance Cpl. Keene Sherburne, 20, who was injured when a bomb exploded under his Humvee in Fallujah, is frustrated at the slow pace of his recovery.

“I can't read,” he said. “I used to love it, but now I hate it. I pick up a snowboard magazine and I get so mad because I don't understand it.”


Susan Werner is an über-talented artist who plays guitar and piano and sings beautifully, skillfully navigates the genres of jazz and folk, and writes real songs about real stuff that adults living in the real world care about, but it doesn’t feel like math homework or the leftover Brussel sprouts your mom makes you eat. Performing in the margins outside the vapid pop music landscape, this singer/songwriter from the Midwest is deep without being pretentious. Werner is funny, smart, passionate, and very, very sexy.

She’s good on CD (Last of the Good Straight Girls, Time Between Trains, I Can't Be New, Live at the Tin Angel, New Non-Fiction, Midwestern Saturday Night), and better in concert. Such a deal.

After the recent obscene decision from the Supreme Court, this song from Werner’s new CD, The Gospel Truth, seemed chillingly appropriate.

The Bishop!

(The Bishop was the title of a classic Monty Python sketch, and, in this household, anyway, it's hard to talk about a bishop without getting this in my head!)

A week from today, the Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal will be consecrated as the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio. I just found out yesterday that I have received a ticket and will be attending the ceremony. It's weird to think how long we have been anticipating a new bishop. Our previous bishop, the Rev. Herbert Thompson, Jr., retired in December or 2005, and died unexpectedly on a trip to Italy in August of 2006. But before he retired in 2005, the diocese had begun the process of selecting his successor, but that process was halted due to a moratorium on electing any new bishops. That moratorium was put in place (as I recall) in reaction to the response of some to the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.

I have not yet met our bishop-elect, but I've been learning a bit about him. Some sermons he gave as Dean of Religious Life at Princeton can be found here. I also know that he has written a book: Sacred Unions: A New Guide to Lifelong Commitment

I haven't read it yet, but I'm intrigued by this description

Sacred Unions is a book about true love. By true love—or romance—the author refers to sexual passion that deepens into the permanent union of two persons in heart, body, and mind. The book is therefore addressed to all true lovers: straight or gay, deep into the adventure of a shared life or just contemplating it, or emerging out of a failed attempt. Lifelong union, Breidenthal asserts, is of central importance in all circumstances; and it remains a viable option for all of us, no matter who we are or what our story is.
It occurs to me that there is something a bit...poetic, maybe, about this. The reason we had to wait so long for our new bishop in the first place, is that a moratorium was put in place because of the way some people reacted to Gene Robinson's election and consecration. Just now, I'm reminded of what Bishop Robinson said about the Holy Spirit in his sermon during last summer's General Convention.

It's that part of God which refuses to be contained and confined to the little boxes we create for God to live in--safely confined to the careful boundaries *we* set for the Holy Spirit.

The problem is, and the miracle is, and the gift is, God just won't stay put! And God won't let you or me stay put, content to believe what we've always believed, what we've always been taught, what we've always assumed. But change is not just something to be wished upon our enemies, but it is something God requires of us as well.

When the General Convention came to town last summer, I was working days and was thus unable to attend any of the actual convention, but made it to a couple of "off campus events" like the Integrity Eucharist where Gene Robinson gave the sermon I excerpted above and the U2Charist (see Bishop Michael Curry's sermon here.) I knew nothing about the candidates who were being considered for Presiding Bishop, but once Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected and I started to learn more about her, I was quite pleased. That worked out really well, you know? We got a great bishop, who just happens to also be the first woman to become Presiding Bishop of the national church, but, since I wasn't paying close attention *before* the election, I was spared any nailbiting anxiety/anticipation. And, as far as I can tell, something similar happened with the election of Thomas Breidenthal. I even went so far as to download the audio of a forum where all the candidates spoke, so I could learn a bit about them, but never got around to listening to it.

I wryly remarked to someone yesterday that elections seem to turn out better when I don't get emotionally invested in them until after the fact. Nah...I'm not really that superstitious. Maybe it was just the Holy Spirit, doing what the Holy Spirit does. And/or wise, strong people on the search committee, able to resist any pressure to go with a more conservative choice. However these things happen, I'm looking forward to hearing our bishop-elect speak at my church this evening.