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STRAIGHT UP | Jan Herman
Arts, media & culture news with 'tude


Monday, June 27, 2005
    PRELUDE TO DISASTER

    If you missed James Bamford's interview of David J. Rothkopf, author of the new book "Running the World," which ran twice Sunday on C-SPAN, beseech the network (email: online@c-span.org) to post the video in its online archive pronto, before Georgie Boy's speech on Tuesday night.

    Rothkopf's cool, penetrating assessment of the Cheney-Rummy tag team and of Condoleeza ("Ms. Mushroom Cloud") Rice -- as well as previous architects of American power from Kissinger to Brezinski and Scrowcroft to Powell -- provides an inside look at the current U.S. regime and its failed foreign policy of war. The interview will leave you slack-jawed with admiration for Rothkopf's calm, intellectual dissection of what has gone wrong.

    Meantime, Bob Herbert reminds us this morning:

    The war in Iraq was sold to the American public the way a cheap car salesman sells a lemon. Dick Cheney assured the nation that Americans in Iraq would be "greeted as liberators." Kenneth Adelman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board said the war would be a "cakewalk." And Donald Rumsfeld said on National Public Radio: "I can't say if the use of force would last five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that."

    Now compare that with Rummy Boy's latest declaration: "The insurgency could go on for any number of years. Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years." And he actually wants us to believe his latest line of bullshit: "We're going to create an environment that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces can win." Uh-huh. When Georgie Boy offers that crock Tuesday night, which I'm betting he will, we oughta pelt him with tomatos and give him the hook.

    posted by janherman @ Monday, June 27, 2005 | Permanent link
    SPROUTING PODCAST WINGS, SPOOFING NPR

    Have a listen to Low Culture's premiere podcast, a comprehensive glimpse of the arts scene called NO JACKET REQUIRED. The show, satirizing NPR's pretensions, is hosted by Guy Boombast and features an interview with a one-named film-remaker, a report by Patrick Mulcetone about the Detroit arts revival with an on-the-scene interview of curator Vanessa Ovaloid at the Twin Pines Gallerasium, and Jessica Turpentine's fashion report on a new trend in politics: the Christian wardrobe. ("It's like wearing the Constitution.")
    posted by janherman @ Monday, June 27, 2005 | Permanent link
Sunday, June 26, 2005
    HULLO ... HULLO? THIS IS THE WHITE HOUSE CALLING

    When it comes to ending poverty in Africa, David Brooks says economist Jeffrey Sachs is all wrong. Sachs is a liberal. Too trusting that Africans will do the right thing if given the chance. Brooks sides with Georgie Boy on Africa, 'cuz Georgie's a conservative. He doesn't trust Africans to do anything right. Sachs wants to distribute mosquito netting to control malaria. Brooks says that's crazy: "Conservatives appreciate the crooked timber of humanity ... You can give people mosquito nets to prevent malaria, but they might use them instead to catch fish." Hell, they wouldn't know one end of a telephone from the other.

    posted by janherman @ Sunday, June 26, 2005 | Permanent link
Friday, June 24, 2005
    THE DICTIONARY STRATEGY

    Parsing words is the liar's last resort. So Cheney Boy had nowhere else to go to justify his absurd claim that the Iraq insurgency was in its last throes. "If you look at what the dictionary says about throes, it can still be a violent period, the throes of a revolution," he said on CNN. Uh-huh. If you look at what it says about arrogant, it's still spelled C-h-e-n-e-y, who also calls Gitmo a tropical resort kinda like a Club Med ("They got a brand new facility down at Guantanamo. They're very well treated down there. They're living in the tropics. They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want."), B-u-s-h, who relishes calling himself "the war president," R-u-m-s-f-e-l-d, who insists on the delusion that we're not losing in Iraq, and R-o-v-e, who claims liberals wanted to "offer therapy and understanding" to the 9/11 terrorists.

    posted by janherman @ Friday, June 24, 2005 | Permanent link
Thursday, June 23, 2005
    NPR-UNION EPIC FEUD; D'ARCY ON THE GUGGIE

    A labor arbitration hearing has been finalized for July 7 to settle the case brought against National Public Radio by the union representing a staff editor who was disciplined for his supervision of a David D'Arcy report about the Museum of Modern Art's involvement with a painting looted by the Nazis. That's a mouthful, but necessary.

    The case has all the earmarks of an epic feud. (See Whose Klose Call Got NPR Reporter Fired? and Union Pursues NPR Case.) Relations between NPR and the union (the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) are so contentious that talks are  being organized by a mediation council in advance of the hearing to conciliate both parties. Conciliation seems unlikely, however, given the bitterness between them. One measure of the animosity, I'm told, is that NPR plans to bring five witnesses to the hearing to testify against D'Arcy.

    Meantime, the Wall Street Journal is happy to publish D'Arcy's work. See today's edition, which carries his hard-hitting piece about the Guggenheim Museum. D'Arcy's interview with former Guggenheim board chairman Peter Lewis is the first expansive one Lewis has given since he resigned from the board last January in a dispute with museum director Thomas Krens, and it unloads all of Lewis's doubts about the Guggenheim's international expansionist policy, its management, and its ability to raise funds.

    The Journal's endorsement of D'Arcy's arts reporting just before the symposium and arbitration hearing take place can't be good news for NPR, which is trying to make the case that it dumped him for allegedly violating ethical standards in his report on MoMA and not because MoMA brought pressure on NPR's top executives to get rid of him.

    Postscript: The Journal article may be seen as a retort to the positive spin of an interview with Krens that ran last Sunday in The Observer in London, although D'Arcy wrote his piece before the Observer interview was published. Darcy also interviewed Krens for the Journal piece.

    PPS: Reached Friday by telephone, AFTRA exec Ken Greene said there were no talks for conciliation, noting they were a separate issue. When pressed, he declined to elaborate. "I don't want to talk about it," he said, and added, "The case is going ahead full throttle."

    posted by janherman @ Thursday, June 23, 2005 | Permanent link
    HEADLINES AND STORIES TO LOVE

    Earlier this week in Monday Morning Quarterback, a regular correspondent wrote that Joe Biden "has the experience and the smarts to be a fine president." I myself like the Democratic senator's shoot-from-the-lip style. But voting for him over Hillary because "the Clinton baggage [might] make her easy to defeat," as our correspondent noted, is another matter. I'm not sure I want to vote for any candidate who is cut from the same establishment cloth as the rest of the Beltway pols.

    Be that as it may, my staff of thousands has asked me to point out the Biden baggage. So here it is, headlined "Biden Looking At Presidential Run In 2008":

    Senator Joe Biden  confirmed that his statements on the CBS program "Face The Nation" last Sunday were accurate, [and] he is taking the first steps of staffing. Included in his staffing requirements will be a Proofreader and a Fact Checker.

    Biden had to drop out of the 1988 race for the Democratic nomination, after it was revealed he plagiarized parts of a speech by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock and that he had plagiarized in law school 20 years earlier.

    Biden [above left, on NBC's "Meet the Press" with Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, of Nebraska] admitted that his campaign may come in fits-and-starts, as all his statements and writings will be reviewed before being spoken or released for publication. "Just think of it of watching a foreign movie with bad dubbing," joked Biden.

    My staff of thousands also adores this headline from the same source: "U.S. Military To Begin Abusing Bible / New Policy Cites Need To Be 'Fair and Balanced.'" I'm partial to this one from another source: "Bush Diary -- At Least the War in Eye-Rack is Becoming Civil."

    Rummy tells me the war in Eye-Rack is becoming a civil war. I am so glad! Courtesy is impawtant. Rummy says the Sunnys are blowing up the She-eye-tees and She-eye-tee vigilantees are assassinating Sunnys, but I say that as long as they keep it civil we have less to be conserned about. So it is good news from Eye-rack for a change!"

    And this one caught my eye in today's New York Times, "On a Rare Visit, Bush Talks Up Atomic Power,"

    George W. Bush on Wednesday made the first presidential visit to a nuclear plant in 26 years, and declared, "It is time for this country to start building nuclear power plants again." [He] offered his thanks to those who showed him around, especially control-room technicians, [and said, drawing chuckles,] "I can play like I understand what I saw."

    While we sit still for it.

    posted by janherman @ Thursday, June 23, 2005 | Permanent link
    HEY MAMBO! MAMBO GUANTANAMO!

    Regarding Christina Aguilera's "Torture" Music, we have a taker:

    LOONY TUNES

    Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,
    Or cause cardiopulmonary arrest.
    It all depends on the listener's cultural level:
    Will certain strains tend to make him revel
    Or will they turn his stomach inside out,
    Prepared to spill the secrets he knows about,
    And rather than endure another note,
    Make him jump in front of a torpedo boat?
    Hitchcock used it in "Foreign Correspondent,"
    Playing music-as-torture to torment
    A captured government biggie so he'd sing;
    Believe the music was Benny Goodman swing?
    And in Waco, to drive the Branch Davidians sane
    The Feds applied the ultimate in pain,
    Playing endless disks, both fast and slow,
    By king of disco Barry Manilow.
    Yes, music has more uses than one'd suppose --
    Witness both Lord Haw-Haw and Tokyo Rose.

    -- Leon Freilich

    posted by janherman @ Thursday, June 23, 2005 | Permanent link
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
    KILL BILL, THE LATEST VERSION

    The demonization of Bill Moyers is not limited to conservative venues. It also finds a warm, comfy outlet on supposedly liberal PBS. George Neumayr, executive editor of the hardline right-wing American Spectator Magazine, was given ample time last night to spew his venom on PBS's NewsHour in a softball interview with Jeffrey Brown. But that's the least of it.

    Kenneth Tomlinson, head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, is on a mission to destroy PBS by targeting Moyers and "Now," his former program, with outright lies. "Evidence [has] surfaced" indicating he dissembled at best when he claimed that former CPB President Kathleen Cox "approved and signed" a contract to hire someone "to monitor the political leanings" of the the guests who appeared on "Now." This morning's New York Times reports that "a copy of the contract ... shows that Mr. Tomlinson signed it on Feb. 3, 2004, five months before Ms. Cox became president."

    Confronted with "the apparent discrepancy" between the contract and what he claimed in a letter to Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Tomlinson had no comment. "If he signed the contract, he was not telling the truth, which would be very troubling," Dorgan told the Times. "He's trying to pawn some responsibility for this on others, which is very troubling. This guy has some real credibility problems." Lies are the default setting for the Bush White House and its minions. (It's not Moyers being demonized in the campaign against him and PBS, Neumayr told Brown on the NewsHour, it's Tomlinson who is the target of "a ridiculous smear ... for simply doing his job.")

    I've written before about Moyers, more than half a dozen times. A year ago, I said his speech on truth and journalism at the first National Conference on Media Reform in May 2004 is "what gets me up in the morning." He said then that "our democracy is in danger of being paralyzed." His speech to the second conference last month was another eye-opener. Since then the danger has increased. You can see why on this morning's Democracy Now!  "I don't want to make any easy comparisons, but I do sense that there is a desire to silence any dissent in this country by the administration," Moyers said.

    They practice extraordinary media manipulation. They're the most secretive administration in my 70 years. And this whole attack on me is indicative of how when anyone rises up to speak an alternative truth, an alternative vision of reality, they try to discredit them. ... I'm targeted because my reporting on "Now" was telling the stories that they didn't want told about secrecy in government, about Cheney's energy task forces, about a cover up at the Department of Interior, about the relationship between business, corporations, and the administration. We were reporting what good muckraking journalism always reports, and they don't like that. So that's why they’ve singled me out.

    Public broadcasting has "to get back to the revolutionary spirit of dissent and courage" that inspired it "in the first place," Moyer noted, "and this country does, too." So inform yourself and do something. In a mammoth essay published Monday in The Washington Post, a version of which is online here, Moyers also laid out the assumptions on which PBS was founded. Read them. And if you're at all interested in previous Straight Up posts about "Exhibit A" of PBS's so-called liberal agenda (Neumayr's term for him), here are some of them: Moyers Moves On, Hanging in With George, Fine Tuning and Departing Words.

    posted by janherman @ Wednesday, June 22, 2005 | Permanent link
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
    AGUILERA'S 'TORTURE' MUSIC

    Prompted by Time magazine's Inside the Wire at Gitmo, about an interrogation at Guantanamo's Camp X Ray in which a sleep-deprived prisoner is kept awake "by dripping water on his head or playing Christina Aguilera music," the legal eagle at Underneath Their Robes has filed a confidential opinion that asks, Is Christina Aguilera's Music "Torture"?

    This memorandum necessarily focuses on specific musical compositions by Aguilera and whether playing each individual song to an unwilling detainee might rise to the level of torture.

    That such analysis must proceed on an individualized, song-by-song basis does not restrict applicability of the principles set forth in this memorandum to the enumerated songs. Rather, the approach applied herein to specific songs from Aguilera's latest album is broadly applicable to the entirety of her artistic output, including her embarrassment of a Christmas album, My Kind of Christmas (RCA Oct. 2000), and her unfortunate Spanish-language album, Mi Reflejo (RCA Sept. 2000), [above], featuring "Genio Atrapado," the Spanish version of her hit single "Genie In a Bottle."

    Aguilera's taunting lyrics have a certain je ne sais quoi when applied to Gitmo prisoners under interrogation, though it's not clear whether the songs were translated for them. Part of "Genie In a Bottle" goes like this:

    Oh . . .
    I feel like I've been locked up tight
    For a century of lonely nights
    Waiting for someone
    To release me

    You're licking your lips and blowing kisses my way
    But that dont mean I'm gonna give it away
    Baby, baby, baby
    (baby, baby, baby)

    The relationship between music and war goes back a long way. Music has been used to stir both patriotism and protest. It's been used both to raise troop morale and demoralize or frighten enemy forces. Music during the Vietnam war was expecially notable. More recently, the U.S. military used '60s and '70s hard rock as a weapon to challenge insurgents in Fallujah. I haven't seen any legal opinions, real ones or parodies, on the use of pop culture in a military assault. Any takers?

    posted by janherman @ Tuesday, June 21, 2005 | Permanent link
Monday, June 20, 2005
    'LAST THROES' . . . UH-HUH

    Need some entertainment on a Monday morning? How about ABC chief White House correspondent Terry ("Bulldog") Moran, right, questioning White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan the other day? I don't know which to admire more, Moran's tenacity or his sense of humor. As reported by Editor & Publisher, here's how that went:

    MORAN: Scott, is the insurgency in Iraq in its "last throes"?
    McCLELLAN: Terry, you have a desperate group of terrorists in Iraq that are doing everything they can to try to derail the transition to democracy. The Iraqi people have made it clear that they want a free and democratic and peaceful future. And that's why we're doing everything we can, along with other countries, to support the Iraqi people as they move forward ...
    MORAN: But the insurgency is in its last throes?
    McCLELLAN: The Vice President talked about that the other day -- you have a desperate group of terrorists who recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. A free Iraq will be a significant blow to their ambitions.
    MORAN: But they're killing more Americans, they're killing more Iraqis. That's the last throes?
    McCLELLAN: Innocent -- I say innocent civilians. And it doesn't take a lot of people to cause mass damage when you're willing to strap a bomb onto yourself, get in a car and go and attack innocent civilians. That's the kind of people that we're dealing with. That's what I say when we're talking about a determined enemy.
    MORAN: Right. What is the evidence that the insurgency is in its last throes?
    McCLELLAN: I think I just explained to you the desperation of terrorists and their tactics.
    MORAN: What's the evidence on the ground that it's being extinguished?
    McCLELLAN: Terry, we're making great progress to defeat the terrorist and regime elements. You're seeing Iraqis now playing more of a role in addressing the security threats that they face. They're working side by side with our coalition forces. They're working on their own. There are a lot of special forces in Iraq that are taking the battle to the enemy in Iraq. And so this is a period when they are in a desperate mode.
    MORAN: Well, I'm just wondering what the metric is for measuring the defeat of the insurgency.
    McCLELLAN: Well, you can go back and look at the Vice President's remarks. I think he talked about it.
    MORAN: Yes. Is there any idea how long a "last throe" lasts for?

    Uh, next question.

    posted by janherman @ Monday, June 20, 2005 | Permanent link
    MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK

    "Watching the Sunday morning’s talk shows provided possible answers to some political riddles," regular correspondent Alan Edelson writes. He continues:

    There was John McCain on Meet the Press, talking on and on about how proud he had felt supporting George W. Bush in 2004, when we knew how much he detested Bush for the slimy way he defeated McCain in the South Carolina primary in 2000. It seemed obvious that some sort of inducement had been offered the proud senator from Arizona, but what exactly was it and why was it offered?

    McCain admitted that he had his eye on the 2008 presidential race, even though he would then be 72 and the oldest man ever to be elected to the presidency. But there is the unfortunate melanoma that recurred on his face a while ago, requiring more surgery. He pronounced himself completely cured, even though a recurrence of melanoma usually has a poor prognosis. So said an oncologist I know.

    On another of the programs someone mentioned a rumor that the Republican leadership wanted to run McCain in 2008. And here’s the killer: They plan to put Jeb Bush in second place on the ticket. (Poor Jeb can’t succeed himself as governor of Florida when his current term expires.) If McCain manages to complete one term, it’s unlikely he’d run for a second at age 76, putting Jeb on track to run himself in 2012. And if McCain should die in office ... well, the Bush tears will just flow and flow and flow. Either way, the Bush dynasty would carry on.

    On the Democratic side, Senator Joe Biden shyly admitted that he was beginning to explore making another run for his party’s nomination in 2008. I’d vote for him over Hillary any day. He has the experience and the smarts to be a fine president. And he doesn’t carry the Clinton baggage that would likely make Hillary easy to defeat.

    posted by janherman @ Monday, June 20, 2005 | Permanent link
Saturday, June 18, 2005
    HISTORY'S VERDICT: GUILTY AS CHARGED?

    Will two hearings -- one official, the other not -- be seen by historians as a turning point in ending the Bush regime's misrule and bringing its ring leaders to justice? It would be nice to think so. And maybe they will be, judging from "Who We Are," the lead editorial in this morning's New York Times about the Senate Judiciary Committee's official hearing on the prison camp at Guantanamo.

    The Times has absorbed torrents of criticism, largely justified, for not taking on the regime in the rush to war and not exposing the justification for invading Iraq, namely the imminent threat of Saddam Hussein's WMD, as the Big Lie it was. But some of its editorials have been the strongest voices of opposition to the regime, and this morning's is one.

    Demanding (not for the first time) that the Guantánamo Detention Center be closed, it began by praising Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who heads the committee, for declaring "it was time for Congress to do its job and bring the American chain of prison camps under the law."

    The editorial continued: 

    While the hearing was too long in coming, its timing was useful -- one day after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who should have been fired for bungling the Iraq war and for the prison abuse scandal, offered the bizarre declaration that "no detention facility in the history of warfare has been more transparent" than Guantánamo.

    It sliced and diced William Barr, who was attorney general for President George H. W. Bush, for "arrogantly dismiss[ing] the entire debate [over the legality of the camps] as a waste of time. ("Rarely have I seen a controversy that has less substance behind it," said Mr. Barr, who was sent by the administration to dilute a panel of critics of the prison policy.) And it pointed out that

    ... the hearing only confirmed the urgency of subjecting the post-9/11 detention system to the rule of law -- starting with the president's legally dubious invention of "unlawful enemy combatant." J. Michael Wiggins, a deputy associate attorney general, said the administration believed it could hold anyone given that label "in perpetuity" without even filing charges. Excuse us, Mr. Barr, but that sounds like something of great substance, especially given how bad the administration is at telling actual villains from taxi drivers who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Similarly, perhaps it's possible that  historians will see a turning point in the statement by Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr., right, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, who headed the unofficial hearing on the Downing Street Memo:

    If these [memo] disclosures are true -- and so far no one from the Bush Administration has bothered to respond to our letters -- they establish a prima facie case of going to war under false pretenses. This means that more than 1,600 brave Americans and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis would have lost their lives for a lie.

    That is why we are here today. That is why 122 Members of Congress --which as of today includes the Minority Leader -- have asked the president to explain his actions. That is why more than 550,000 Americans are joining with us in [a petition] demanding answers from the Administration.

    The Conyers hearing offered some of the most visceral criticism of the regime from elected representatives of the people in a public forum that I've witnessed. The fact that the hearing had to be held in a basement room of the Capitol under cramped conditions seemed to me to amplify its power by emphasizing the grassroots nature of the exercise, while the regime's tactic of mocking the memo and dismissing the hearing evoked the condescension of benighted royalty.

    Mitchelle Stephenson, of Edgewater, Md., caught the moment beautifully this morning in a letter to the editor of the Times:

    According to Scott McClellan, the president's chief spokesman, the concerns of the antiwar panel convened in the Capitol's basement ... should be discounted because Mr. Conyers, an elected officer of the legislative branch, "voted against the war in the first place."

    So in order for the administration to acknowledge dissent, the dissenters had to have agreed with the administration in the first place? We have certainly arrived at a strange place in American history.

    And Richard Pfaehler, of Elverson, Pa., shows that a grassroots exercise can be a potent weapon when it has the force of righteous morality, rather than McClellan's self-righteous indignation, behind it:

    Mine is one of the 560,000 signatures on the petition that Representative John Conyers Jr. presented to the White House on Thursday, seeking answers to questions about the president's decision to invade Iraq. ...

    The conflict we now find our nation mired in was, and continues to be, based on lies. These lies have created many one-parent families. These lies have disgraced a nation. What is more disgraceful than to make untrue statements with the intent to deceive, and thereby cause the death of even a single individual.

    posted by janherman @ Saturday, June 18, 2005 | Permanent link
    QUESTIONS FROM THE RIGHT

    A reader writes, in re: Myth vs. Fact: Is Africa the Lost Continent? "What about all the aid that gets appropriated by corrupt governments in Africa instead of used for its original intent?"

    Boy, I'm so glad you asked. One of the points Jeffrey Sachs made, which I did not recount, is that the mismanagement of funds through corruption and poor governance is N0T TRUE -- repeat NOT TRUE -- for many of Africa's poorest nations. It's a convenient myth for those who'd rather not invest in African development, he says.

    Sach doesn't deny that countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo are horrors of corruption. But those places are not candidates for development aid. A prerequisite for investment is the guarantee that results are measurable in a monitored program that can be independently audited. The U.S. government gives considerable emergency aid to countries in Africa, but very little to development aid. And most people confuse the two. They're different issues.

    The reader also asks:

    If you want to discuss humanitarian aid vs. defense spending, how much do those enlightened leaders of Europe, who spend far less on defense, give to Africa? I am talking about the same Euro-leaders who really want to help out in Africa and elsewhere, but haven't bought enough air- or sealift to get to Africa.

    Boy, I'm glad he asked that question, too. The Europeans have agreed to give a miniscule percentage of their Gross National Products recommended by the U.N. Millenium Project, and so has the United States. 

    The project recommends that "high-income countries should increase official development assistance from 0.25 percent of donor GNP in 2003 to around 0.44 percent in 2006 and 0.54 percent in 2015" to support the Millennium Development Goals, particularly for qualified low-income countries, and that "each donor should reach 0.7 percent no later than 2015" when other "development assistance priorities" are included.

    Because each of the European GDPs are so much smaller than that of the U.S., their contributions naturally will be smaller. Meantime, the Europeans have been meeting their obligations, Sachs says, and so far the U.S. has not.

    Further, their interest payments per capita on the forgiven African debt will be much greater than those of the U.S. Over the next decade, the interest will cost the U.S. $120 million a year, Britain $75 million, Germany, France, Japan and Italy roughly $75 million each, and Canada $45 million. That means Britain, France and Italy (with populations of 51 million, 60 million and 58 million, respectively) will be paying more than $1 per capita, as will Canada (pop. 33 million). Germany (pop. 82 million) will be paying slightly less than $1 per head, and Japan (pop.  127 million) more than 50 cents. The U.S. (pop. 296 million) will be paying less than 50 cents, as I wrote too generously. It actually comes to about 36 cents per capita.

    This same reader complains:

    You are so biased in your writing, why not make a name for yourself by breaking away from most of the pack of opinion writers and actually compile some facts from both sides of the argument and possibly educate and inform the few of us who might bother clicking on your articles [rather] than offering up the same old half-baked nonsense?

    What can I say except ... how about reading the U.N. Millenium Declaration and finding out exactly what the current U.S. regime is so reluctant to support,  after which your apology will be accepted.

    posted by janherman @ Saturday, June 18, 2005 | Permanent link
Friday, June 17, 2005
    KING GEORGIE BARS THE DOOR

    Congressman John Conyers Jr., far left (courtesy of the daily Kos -- have a look at this), was barred from delivering a petition to Georgie Boy that demanded an explanation of the Downing Street Memo. The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Conyers yesterday convened a meeting of House Democrats about the memo and the Iraq war. The session, held in the basement of the Capitol, is to be rebroadcast tonight on television at 8 p.m. ET by C-SPAN2. A video of the entire session is currently available for viewing on the Web at C-SPAN.org under "recent programs."

    posted by janherman @ Friday, June 17, 2005 | Permanent link
Thursday, June 16, 2005
    MYTH VS. FACT: IS AFRICA THE LOST CONTINENT?

    Economist Jeffrey Sachs was his usual stellar self earlier this week at the Council on Foreign Relations -- calm, cogent, full of facts (all of them broken down into relevant categories), persuasive, angered by the Bush regime -- contemptuous of it I'd say, but he managed to keep his contempt in check no doubt for diplomatic reasons -- unhappy with the American public in general, and ultimately not very optimistic about Africa's chances of succeeding in feeding itself or eliminating diseases like malaria unless the United States ponies up its fair share of development aid.

    The best thing about listening to Sachs, left, who more often gives the impression of tempered optimism, is that the ideas he advocates are simple. His proposals are practical. They are integrated. Each one affects or leads to another. They make sense. Sachs has a reputation among his detractors and even among some admirers of being on an ego trip, a man who wants to save the world and believes he can if only others would agree with him and put his ideas into practice. Well, he didn't come off that way on Tuesday. At least not to this listener. He seemed a wholly reasonable man with an entirely reasonable mission, although the title of his talk -- "Can We End Global Poverty?" -- might make you wonder.

    Remember the recent headlines about the world's wealthiest nations forgiving $40 billion owed to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank by the world's 18 poorest nations (14 of them in Africa, four in Latin America)? Well, that's all they are -- headlines. The reality contradicts them, said Sachs, who travels to Africa once a month as Special Advisor on development to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan and as Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

    In actual fact, Sachs told the council, all that's going to happen is that the interest on the debt -- $1.5 billion a year -- won't have to be paid back by the poorest nations. The interest will be paid by wealthy industrialized nations who make up the Group of Eight, or G8. The net result for some of the poorest African nations now receiving relatively tiny amounts of development aid from the U.S., for instance, is that they will receive less money than they otherwise might because the Bush regime intends to compensate for the interest payments it makes by deducting the amounts from current U.S. aid programs, Sachs said.

    (Others have also made the point that the debt forgiveness is virtually an "empty gesture" in relation to the billions needed to help the poorest nations climb out of poverty. The interest payments over the next decade will cost the U.S. $120 million a year [less than 50 cents per capita], Britain $75 million, Germany, France, Japan and Italy roughly $75 million each, and Canada $45 million.)

    Sachs has been the strongest, most voluble proponent of development aid for the third world, especially in Africa. (See his new book "The End of Poverty.") He's been saying all along that $25 billion is the necessary investment to enable the poorest nations to grow more food, eliminate widespread diseases such as malaria (which could be done merely by distributing mosquito netting and antibiotics), provide safe drinking water, build roads, install a telecommunications system and offer basic education.

    Although he called the debt forgiveness "a small step in the right direction," in an interview on PBS earlier this week, he was less willing to sugarcoat it at the council, where he made the case that it was a piddling step, possibly in a backward direction. And he reminded the council, as he has been reminding anyone who will listen, that when Tony Blair recently asked America to join in giving the $25 billion, the answer from America's Dear Leader, as we all know, was "no."

    If the U.S. would contribute its fair share, Sachs asserted, Africa could see a green revolution modeled on Asia's green revolution of the '60s. It was that revolution that started India and China, the most prominent examples, down the road to industrialized development.

    Merely distributing improved seed and fertilizer to African farmers would make an enormous difference, Sachs said. In a model project he's been working on, a village in Kenya, right, which received seed and fertilizer just four to five months ago, is now harvesting 400% more food than it ever grew before, he said. The village will not only be able to feed itself and provide better nutrition, which will result in better all-around health, there will possibly be a surplus of food to give to schools and to sell or trade for other goods.

    When someone asked about human rights and women's rights, and why he did not pay more attention to those issues, Sachs pointed out that the most significant way to help women in Africa's poorest nations is to relieve them of being beasts of burden. Women do all the water-carrying, most of the farming, all the care-giving for the ill and for the children, he said. Growing more food, eliminating malaria, providing clean water and the rest, are, in effect, both human rights and women's rights projects.

    Frankly, this  is an inadequate summary of his talk. When the council puts up the transcript on its web site, I'll post a link.

    Postscript: In the absence of a transcript, here are some relevant excerpts from an op-ed piece Sachs wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "Africa's Suffering Is Bush's Shame." It appeared last Sunday and began:

    President Bush last week brazenly brushed aside British Prime Minister Tony Blair's call for a doubling of aid to Africa. Blair and other European leaders have taken on the task of fighting extreme poverty -- and Bush watches from the sidelines. To justify its dereliction, the Bush administration perpetuates a mythology that contributes to the premature deaths of millions of people each year.

    The mythology says:

    The U.S. is a generous provider of aid to Africa ... but Africa is corrupt and mismanaged and thus cannot absorb more aid. In addition, there is no room in the [U.S.] budget to do any more than what we are currently doing. This multipart fantasy is widely shared in the U.S. and recalls Napoleon's dictum that "history is a fable often told."

    "The facts are otherwise," Sachs writes.

    Total annual U.S. aid for all of Africa is about $3 billion, equivalent to about two days of Pentagon spending. About $1 billion pays for emergency food aid, of which half is for transport. About $1.5 billion is for "technical cooperation," essentially salaries of U.S. consultants. Only about $500 million a year -— less than $1 per African -- finances clinics, schools, food production, roads, power, Internet connectivity, safe drinking water, sanitation, family planning and lifesaving health interventions to fight malaria, AIDS and other diseases. [Boldface added.]

    Sachs also points out:

    Malaria will kill up to 3 million children this year, overwhelming Africa's meager hospitals. Yet five measures could end this: long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets (cost: $7 per net); effective medications freely available to the poor; community health workers trained in malaria control; medical diagnostic capacity at the local level; and indoor insecticide spraying where appropriate. The cost: $3 billion a year for the industrialized countries, $1 billion for the U.S. -- about 10 times what's currently spent on malaria control.

    The administration's claim that budget restraints prevent more spending on Africa is the most cynical of its contentions. The president has cut taxes by more than $200 billion a year, with the wealthiest Americans the chief beneficiaries, and has raised military spending by $200 billion a year. But when $20 billion is needed to keep the poorest of the poor in Africa alive and put the continent's economies on a path toward long-term growth, there's no money available.

    The piece ends on what seems to me its only false note: "Americans want to do better." I doubt that Sachs truly believes they do, not because he's a cynic -- he works too hard for that -- but because at bottom I think he's a realist.

    posted by janherman @ Thursday, June 16, 2005 | Permanent link
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
    NEW BLOGGER ON THE BLOCK

    Any fan of Paul Desmond, let alone his biographer, rates a big welcome in my book. Doug Ramsey joins the ArtsJournal blogging crew today with the launch of Rifftides. He says his blog, though largely about jazz, will be "dedicated to taking music seriously," but "with only enough seriousness to maintain reasonable dignity." He's already taken on Ben Ratliff of The New York Times in Crystal Ball Criticism for "the amazing critical leap of predicting that a musical event will be uneventful" before it begins. The event, at the JVC Jazz Festival-New York, is tonight's "Piano Masters Salute Piano Legends" concert.

    posted by janherman @ Wednesday, June 15, 2005 | Permanent link
    THE 'DOMESTICATED' PRESS

    "Exhibit A" of a "domesticated" press. That's what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls this morning's Washington Post editorial, which describes the main revelation of the Downing Street memo as "vague but intriguing." In other words, it doesn't believe that "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" to invade Iraq. McGovern, who ripped into the press for knuckling under to the Bush regime, says there's "nothing vague" about the memo and, far from intriguing, "it's depressing."

    McGovern points out further that 1) the head of Iraq's WMD programs -- Saddam Hussein's son-in-law Hussein Kamel, who defected from Iraq, then returned and was executed -- told the U.S. regime that the WMD had been destroyed in 1991 and that 2) Cheney Boy himself claimed he was a fully reliable source of information who proved that Iraq had WMD. But 3) somehow Cheney Boy et al chose not to believe this reliable source's info that the WMD had been destroyed, which, as we all know, has been proven correct. Ain't that cherry pickin' peculiar.

    Also, did I speak too soon yesterday when I said I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for an investigation of the Bush regime's headlong invasion of Iraq? The short answer: Yes.

    John Conyers Jr., left, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, will hold a hearing Thusday in the Capitol on the Downing Street memo and the regime's "effort to cook the books on pre-war intelligence." The bigger question is whether Georgie Boy violated the constitution in his rush to war.

    The long answer: It's not an official committee hearing, because the Republican majority would not allow it. Conyers, who also accuses the U.S. press of a deafening silence, was going to hold the hearing at the Democratic National Committee. But he told Democracy Now! this morning that he finally wangled a room in the Capitol.

    Amy Goodman interviewed both Conyers and McGovern on Democracy Now! It's very strong stuff. As soon as DN puts up the video and/or a transcript of the interview, we'll post the link. In the meantime, read McGovern on the SECRET UK EYES ONLY briefing document that preceded the Downing Street memo and on the "proof" (his term) that Georgie Boy "fixed the facts."

    The video is now up with a partial transcript. Click: It's very strong stuff.

    posted by janherman @ Wednesday, June 15, 2005 | Permanent link
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
    HOLD THE FRIES, LEFTIES ARE NOT ALONE

    I never thought I'd be glad to hear from a Goldwater Republican, much less agree with him. But Straight Up reader M. Paulding has changed my mind. He writes in response to Battle of the Prewar Memos:

    The second DSM [Downing Street Memo] is more damning than the first, despite Sanger's observation. I'm a conservative, not a neoconservative. There is a BIG difference. And as a Goldwater Republican, I DEMAND an investigation of HOW and WHY the idiots in the White House decided it was necessary to SQUANDER $208 billion of our money and the finest army on earth.

    Take my word for it, there are MORE DSMs coming, and what they [will] reveal is a bunch of political whores on both sides of the Atlantic. They "packaged" this war and sold it to a trusting American public like a box of soap. Even Congressman "Freedom Fries" Jones has now got the message. Remember him? He was pissed off because the French wouldn't jump aboard Bush's juggernaut three years ago. Now, he wants a timetable to get out of Iraq.

    Paulding also writes in reference to Frank, Rich, and Dandy, He Keeps on Truckin':

    Matt Lauer, et al, are poodles. They engage in fluff journalism and don't even count. Frankly, I'd be surprised to learn that Matt Lauer even knows what Watergate was all about. I'm not a so-called lefty, but a conservative, and NOT a neoconservative. Colson, Liddy, that whole god-damned crowd tried to subvert the United States Constitution. They disgust me. The neoconservatives, who are really Straussians, are now attempting to do the same damned thing. There must be an investigation to get to the bottom of this, and it must be done as soon as practicable.

    I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for either investigation (and I presume neither would Paulding). But it's grand to hear that righties are fed up, too. Some of them at least.

    posted by janherman @ Tuesday, June 14, 2005 | Permanent link
Monday, June 13, 2005
    WHAT EVERYONE SHOULD READ BY CHRIS HEDGES

    It took James Woolcott to lead me to a wrenching, eloquent piece on the realities and myths of war by Chris Hedges, who begins this way and never lets up:

    The vanquished know war. They see through the empty jingoism of those who use the abstract words of glory, honor, and patriotism to mask the cries of the wounded, the senseless killing, war profiteering, and chest-pounding grief. They know the lies the victors often do not acknowledge, the lies covered up in stately war memorials and mythic war narratives, filled with words of courage and comradeship. They know the lies that permeate the thick, self-important memoirs by amoral statesmen who make wars but do not know war.

    Stop what you are doing. Click this link and read what Hedges has written. Then take a deep breath and, if you must, go back to work. On your way home, though, you'll have plenty to think about, namely our deformed American ideals and how appalling this nation has become under Georgie Boy's deluded leadership. And maybe -- sad to say, a very big maybe -- you'll do something about it.

    posted by janherman @ Monday, June 13, 2005 | Permanent link
    'CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE' FUN FOR CAMPERS

    More Camp X Ray frolics: An 18-year-old Saudi camper of Chadian descent who was just shy of his 15th birthday when he was seized in Pakistan by local authorities has told his lawyer "he was beaten regularly in his early days at Guantánamo, hanged by his wrists for hours at a time and that an interrogator pressed a burning cigarette into his arm." No word, though, on whether he likes the "culturally appropriate" food he's served three times a day.
    posted by janherman @ Monday, June 13, 2005 | Permanent link
    BATTLE OF THE PREWAR MEMOS

    Another prewar memo, written July 21, 2002, two days before the famous Downing Street memo, has come to light. Here it is, as posted by The Sunday Times of London. Now compare Walter Pincus's report on it in Sunday's Washington Post with David Sanger's in this morning's New York Times. The difference is night vs. day.

    Pincus begins by saying the memo concluded that "the US military was not preparing adequately for what the memo predicted would be a 'protracted and costly' postwar occupation" and follows up by saying that it "provides new insights into how senior British officials saw a Bush administration decision to go to war as inevitable and realized more clearly than their US counterparts the potential for the postinvasion instability that continues to plague Iraq." He adds further that the introduction to the 8-page memo says U.S. "military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace" and emphasizes that "little thought" has been given to "the aftermath and how to shape it."

    Sanger begins by saying the memo "explicity states the Bush administration had made 'no political decisions' to invade Iraq, but that American military planning for the possibility was advanced." He adds further that the memo also said "American planning in, the eyes of [British Prime Minister] Blair's aides, was 'virtually silent' on problems of a postwar occupation."

    Apart from the general tenor of Sanger's article, the prominence he gives to the statement that "no political decisions" were taken creates an odd disconnect. If there were no "political" decisions by then, how come military decisions had already been made for the invasion? Does anyone really believe advanced military planning for action is not a euphemism for military decisions taken on the basis of the administration's orders, which were inherently political in this case?

    posted by janherman @ Monday, June 13, 2005 | Permanent link
    FRANK, RICH, AND DANDY, HE KEEPS ON TRUCKIN'

    The latest Frank Rich column is a dandy recap of what's been happening in The Land of Oz. "The attacks [on the press] continue to be so successful that even now, long after many news organizations, including The Times, have been found guilty of failing to puncture the administration's prewar W.M.D. hype, new details on that same story are still being ignored or left uninvestigated," he wrote Sunday, citing the July 23, 2002, "Downing Street memo" as an example.

    Well, Frank, you can't say Greg Palast didn't tell us -- see The Gun That Smokes, of May 5, 2005. In re: "the kind of lapdog news media the Nixon White House cherished," which you single out for a parallel to the contemporary version, see GAO Finding: Gannon Did Not Break Law, of June 10. In re: Charles W. Colson, who you rightly point out "embarked on a ruthless program of intimidation that included threatening antitrust action against the networks if they didn't run pro-Nixon stories" and so on, see I Find It Strange (as did many others), of June 1.

    You certainly summarized, as well as anybody has, the peculiarity of Colson's moral complaint about Mark Felt (a k a Deep Throat):

    Such is the equivalently supine state of much of the news media today that Mr. Colson was repeatedly trotted out, without irony, to pass moral judgment on Mr. Felt -- and not just on Fox News, the cable channel that is actually run by the former Nixon media maven, Roger Ailes. "I want kids to look up to heroes," Mr. Colson said, oh so sorrowfully, on NBC's "Today" show, condemning Mr. Felt for dishonoring "the confidence of the president of the United States." Never mind that Mr. Colson dishonored the law, proposed bombing the Brookings Institution and went to prison for his role in the break-in to steal the psychiatric records of The Times's Deep Throat on Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg. The "Today" host, Matt Lauer, didn't mention any of this -- or even that his guest had done jail time. None of the other TV anchors who interviewed Mr. Colson -- and he was ubiquitous -- ever specified his criminal actions in the Nixon years. Some identified him onscreen only as a "former White House counsel."

    I especially love what you concluded from that:

    Had anyone been so rude (or professional) as to recount Mr. Colson's sordid past, or to raise the question of whether he was a hero or a traitor, the genealogical line between his Watergate-era machinations and those of his present-day successors would have been all too painfully clear. The main difference is that in the Nixon White House, the president's men plotted behind closed doors. The current administration is now so brazen it does its dirty work in plain sight.

    In re:

    Only once during the Deep Throat rollout did I see a palpable, if perhaps unconscious, effort to link the White House of 1972 with that of 2005. It occurred at the start, when ABC News, with the first comprehensive report on Vanity Fair's scoop, interrupted President Bush's post-Memorial Day Rose Garden news conference to break the story. Suddenly the image of the current president blathering on about how hunky-dory everything is in Iraq was usurped by repeated showings of the scene in which the newly resigned Nixon walked across the adjacent White House lawn to the helicopter that would carry him into exile.

    See The Free Press in Full Squeak, of May 29; Imperial Mourning, of Memorial Day, May 30; and What Is Really Happening in Iraq?, of May 31.

    And bless you, Frank, for this:

    The journalists who do note the resonances of now with then rarely get to connect those dots on the news media's center stage of television. You are more likely to hear instead of how Watergate inspired too much "gotcha" journalism. That's a rather absurd premise given that no "gotcha" journalist got the goods on the biggest story of our time: the false intimations of incipient mushroom clouds peddled by American officials to sell a war that now threatens to match the unpopularity and marathon length of Vietnam.

    Frank, you have to start watching Democracy Now!  We all do. It's not the only TV news show that connects the dots, but it does a damned serious job of it, and it's out there five days a week on more than 330 TV and radio stations, as well as the  Web. Put it on your to-do list, if you haven't already. Today's broadcast has an interview with former FBI agent Mike German, a whistleblower who quit to protest the FBI's lousy management of its counter-terrorism program. German talks about the threat of terrorism, not necessarily from foreign terrorists, but from domestic "lone wolves" spawned by white supremacist groups.

    By the way, Frank, my staff of thousands envies your full-time research assistant and your Lexis-Nexis subscription. So do I, not to mention the nifty writing.

    posted by janherman @ Monday, June 13, 2005 | Permanent link
Sunday, June 12, 2005
    99 BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL

    Summer is soon upon us, and it won't be long before it's off to overnight camp for many lucky youngsters. They'll be writing home, of course. Low Culture recently posted a letter from a camper who got a jump on the season's frolics. Here's an excerpt:

    Dear Mom and Dad,

    Greetings from Camp X Ray ... I am having a lot of fun here and am meeting a lot of really, really nice people from all over the world. We do sports for one hour every day and we get to sing along to all kinds of music. Our counselors are really crazy!... (Once a counselor accidentally splashed pee-pee on my bunkmate's Holy Koran and we had an ice cream party.) Next week we're going to a petting zoo with real live animals! It's gonna be great! We might also go swimming, but I am afraid I might drown. Ha ha ha.

    Love, Your Son

    I keep touting (read: lifting) Matt Haber's posts at Low Culture because, well, they're good enough to steal. He is someone who takes blogging seriously. To see how seriously, go here.

    posted by janherman @ Sunday, June 12, 2005 | Permanent link
Saturday, June 11, 2005
    SO NOT HIS CUP OF TEA

    A reader took notice of my recommendation the other day. (OK, if you must know, it was one of my staff of thousands who took notice.) He writes:

    Jan, we bought the Watson book "Ideas." It is good, but not as good as I had hoped. Too breezy. I like a tighter line. He spends a lot of time on religion. Not my idea of important ideas. Those are such subjective beliefs, why even argue about them. Same goes for whether there is some mysterious inner being. Who gives a damn. The business about emptiness is a couple of pages at the very end. He mentions Gray in the discussion, which is perhaps why Gray gave so much weight to that tiny part of the book. It's like reviewing a Mercedes and devoting half the article to the hood ornament.

    It's one thing to diss the review, another to diss the book under review. To do both -- a double diss -- rates a 3.6 degree of difficulty. That last sentence puts him in the water without a splash.

    posted by janherman @ Saturday, June 11, 2005 | Permanent link
Friday, June 10, 2005
    GAO FINDING: GANNON DID NOT BREAK LAW

    Subject: James D. Guckert -- Reprinting Government Press Releases as His Own Work

    You remember when Guckert (a k a Jeff Gannon) published White House press releases, verbatim, as his own reporting? Well, he did not break the law prohibiting the "use of appropriated funds for publicity or propaganda," the Government Accounting Office ruled Thursday.

    Even if Guckert-Gannon, right, "repeatedly incorporated substantial excerpts ... into articles he published on the internet without disclosing that this material was produced and distributed by the government," the GAO ruled, he's allowed to because he's a private citizen.

    Congressional reps Louise Slaughter and John Conyers Jr. had asked the GAO to investigate. The GAO General Counsel responded:

    In your letter, you liken this activity to activities found in earlier GAO cases regarding agencies authoring newspaper articles and op-ed pieces. However, the fact situations giving rise to the earlier opinions differ significantly from the issue of Mr. Guckert reprinting press releases. There the agencies did not issue press releases, but instead used appropriated funds to write the editorials and news stories as the ostensible work or opinion of someone not connected with the government.

    Here's the complete GAO response, with explanation and footnotes. Here it is as a pdf file.

    The government has a point. If it puts out press releases and other people claim authorship, is the government at fault?  You'd have to find evidence that the government sought to have Guckert-Gannon pass off its announcements as his own independent writing. Sad to say, he's not the only "journalist" who simply repackaged press releases as news articles.

    Still, it's pretty neat. White House-credentialed fake reporter with fake name from fake news agency promotes government policy by spreading White House propaganda without attribution. Government is home free. Fake reporter is home free. Public is home fucked.

    posted by janherman @ Friday, June 10, 2005 | Permanent link
Thursday, June 9, 2005
    NOTHING STABLE, NOTHING ENDURING, NOTHING INSIDE

    I recommend this book review by my favorite aphorist, the British philosopher John Gray, although he is not aphorizing, as he does in his own books (such as "Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals" or Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern."

    Gray points to a key question of Peter Watson's new book "Ideas: From Fire to Freud," which he calls "an astonishing overview of human intellectual development," covering "everything from the emergence of language to the discovery of the unconscious, including the idea of the factory and the invention of America, the eclipse of the idea of the soul in 19th-century materialism and the continuing elusiveness of the self."

    The key question it asks, Gray says, is "whether the very idea of an 'inner self' may not be misconceived," and answers:

    Looking "in", we have found nothing -- nothing stable anyway, nothing enduring, nothing we can all agree upon, nothing conclusive -- because there is nothing to find.

    I couldn't agree more. To shift context, Dear Leader of these United States -- he of the inflated emptiness -- is the most obvious example, a perfect illustration of "nothing enduring," the nothing inside.

    posted by janherman @ Thursday, June 9, 2005 | Permanent link
    STORE WARS

    Obi Wan Canoli says, "The true ways of the farm are almost forgotten." Click the link, watch and listen. You'll laugh, you'll cry. You'll wonder why George Lucas hasn't sued.
    posted by janherman @ Thursday, June 9, 2005 | Permanent link
    BILL 'EM: DEAD OR ALIVE

    A reader writes: "This is so priceless, and so easy to see happening, customer service being what it is today. Be sure to cancel your credit cards before you die -- just in case."

    A lady died this past January, and Citibank billed her for February and March for their annual service charges on her credit card, and then added late fees and interest on the monthly charge. The balance had been $0.00, and now is somewhere around $60.00. A family member placed a call to Citibank:

    Family Member: "I am calling to tell you that she died in January."
    Citibank: "The account was never closed and the late fees and charges still apply."
    Family Member: "Maybe you should turn it over to collections."
    Citibank: "Since it is two months past due, it already has been." Family Family Member: "So, what will they do when they find out she is dead?"
    Citibank: "Either report her account to the frauds division or report her to the credit bureau, maybe both!"
    Family Member: "Do you think God will be mad at her?"
    Citibank: "Excuse me?"
    Family Member: "Did you just get what I was telling you . . the part about her being dead?"
    Citibank: "Sir, you'll have to speak to my supervisor."

    Supervisor gets on the phone.

    Family Member: "I'm calling to tell you, she died in January."
    Citibank: "The account was never closed and the late fees and charges still apply."
    Family Member: "You mean you want to collect from her estate?"
    Citibank: (stammering) "Are you her lawyer?"
    Family Member: "No, I'm her great nephew." (Lawyer info given)
    Citibank: "Could you fax us a certificate of death?"
    Family Member: "Sure." (Fax number given)

    After the fax was received:

    Citibank: "Our system just isn't set up for death. I don't know what more I can do to help."
    Family Member: "Well, if you figure it out, great! If not, you could just keep billing her. I don't think she will care."
    Citibank: "Well, the late fees and charges do still apply."
    Family Member: "Would you like her new billing address?"
    Citibank: "That might help."
    Family Member: "Odessa Memorial Cemetery, Highway 129, Plot Number 69."
    Citibank: "Sir, that's a cemetery!"
    Family Member: "What do you do with dead people on your planet?"

    Some urban myths are too good to believe but deserve to be spread.

    posted by janherman @ Thursday, June 9, 2005 | Permanent link
Wednesday, June 8, 2005
    BATTLE OF THE NPR CORRECTIONS

    The original "correction" about David D'Arcy's MoMAGATE story that NPR ran on its corrections page reads:

    Jan. 27, 2005:
    MoMA Embroiled in Battle over Painting Seized by Nazis
    Morning Edition, Dec. 27, 2004

    In a story on All Things Considered on Dec. 27, we reported on the controversy over ownership of a painting on loan to the Museum of Modern Art. NPR failed to make clear that the artwork is not in the possession of the museum. In fact, the painting is in the custody of the federal government. In addition, we said the museum opposed a Jewish family's efforts to recover the painting, "Portrait of Wally," by Egon Schiele. However, we did not report the museum's statement, made to NPR, that it had never taken a position on the question of the painting's ownership. Finally, NPR failed to give the museum an opportunity to answer allegations in our story about its motivations and actions in the dispute over the painting's ownership.

    That has been boiled down to this on the story's page:

    Correction: The government, not the museum, has custody of the artwork. The museum says it took no position on the question of the painting's ownership. NPR failed to give the museum a chance to answer allegations about its motivations and actions.

    The fact that MoMA has taken a position in a court of law, arguing that the Jewish family has no legal basis for an ownership claim -- as D'Arcy's own story, quoting several experts, pointed out -- seems not to have registered with NPR's chief of corrections. Nor has this.

    posted by janherman @ Wednesday, June 8, 2005 | Permanent link
Tuesday, June 7, 2005
    WHOSE KLOSE CALL GOT NPR REPORTER FIRED?

    National Public Radio made a huge mistake ousting its veteran arts reporter David D'Arcy and is still trying to cover it up. The latest attempt came during an investigation by the National Labor Relations Board when the network refused to produce documents that would allegedly clarify why he was fired and Tom Cole, a unionized NPR staff editor who supervised the story, was disciplined.

    D'Arcy, left, who freelanced for NPR for 21 years, was fired in January after the Museum of Modern Art complained about a story he did exposing the museum's involvement in a case of Holocaust art theft (the Egon Shiele painting "Portrait of Wally") and pointing out the contradictory stands on Nazi-looted art restitution expressed by both MoMA and its billionaire board chairman Ronald Lauder, who also happens to collect Shiele paintings.

    In addition to firing D'Arcy, NPR ran a "correction" to the story that experts on the restitution of Nazi-looted art say is misleading and brazenly inaccurate, not to mention damaging to D'Arcy's reputation for thorough, in-depth reporting on the issue of Holocaust art theft.

    "NPR failed to provide documentation about mysterious activities on this matter, which they say is confidential," says Ken Greene, who sought the NLRB investigation as a union official of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artist's Baltimore-Washington chapter. "They cited attorney-client privilege for information we requested. We say this information was not between attorneys and clients but between managers."

    The "mysterious activities" involve "what happened during three weeks, from Jan. 6 to 27," he said. That is around the time MoMA is alleged to have brought pressure on NPR in phone calls and other communications with NPR President and CEO Kevin Klose and NPR news executives. "They never asserted attorney-client privilege about this information until the NLRB investigation," Greene added. "But the union expects the information to be disclosed when we subpoena witnesses for an arbitration hearing."

    The NLRB investigation was dismissed, and NPR avoided the charge of unfair labor practices. The best prospect for sorting out the mystery, it now seems, should come at the hearing, which has been tentatively scheduled for several alternative dates in July, Greene says.

    Another source, who asked not to be identified, confirms that NPR "didn't want to produce certain documents they say is privileged because of possible litigation against NPR by D'Arcy." It's worth noting, however, that D'Arcy has not sued NPR, has never threatened to do so and, according to a third source, would be reluctant to take that course of action.

    These documents, sources tell me, would show that MoMA threatened by fax, phone, e-mail and/or letter not to cooperate with NPR reporters on future stories if it did not repudiate D'Arcy's piece, even though nobody at NPR -- including Klose, left, who was directly contacted by MoMA, according to a source -- had ever claimed D'Arcy's report was factually inaccurate.

    Further, D'Arcy has sworn in an affidavit for the union's arbritration hearing that in the first week of January, after his story aired but before MoMA began applying pressure to top NPR executives, NPR assistant managing editor Bill Wyman praised it. "He told me, 'This is just the kind of journalism I want the culture desk to be doing.' He told me that. At no time during the preparation of the story or during the editing was any criticism raised about the way I went about reporting it."

    The reason for firing D'Arcy, as it now stands, is not inaccurate reporting. It's that he violated NPR's ethical standards for failing to report the story in a "fair and balanced" way. In a conversation with NPR management, D'Arcy was accused of "making Ronald Lauder look like a hypocrite ... and MoMA's trustees look like bad Jews."

    If you read the transcript of D'Arcy's report, broadcast on Dec. 27, you'll see it says, "At MoMA's opening last month, Lauder talked about guidelines for institutions and collectors." If you listen to the report, you hear the ambient noise of the opening. Lauder was at the opening and took questions from the press. D'Arcy asked Lauder, one-on-one, what should happen to art identified as objects seized by the Nazis, which had not been returned. Lauder said it should go back to the families who had owned it.

    "That was the question, that was the answer," D'Arcy recalls. "Lauder also said he thought MoMA was doing a better job of looking into its collection [for looted art] than other museums in Europe had done. We talked quite a bit about collecting art from Middle Europe. I got a general statement about MoMA policy from its chairman and sought to clarify their implementation of the policy with MoMA's legal counsel."

    Yet MoMA has argued in court that the Schiele painting in question, "Portrait of Wally," right, which was Aryanized from Jews who feared for their lives in 1939, is no longer legally stolen and, therefore, their heirs have no legal basis for a claim to ownership either in the United States or in Austria. "Wally" was on loan to MoMA in 1997 from the Leopold Foundation in Vienna when heirs of Lea Bondi Jaray -- from whom "Wally" was stolen -- spotted the picture and asked the museum not to ship it out of the country so they could eventually reclaim it. The museum insists it is bound by a loan contract to return "Wally" to the lender.

    As to the allegation in NPR's posted "correction" that he did not allow MoMA to reply to critical comments, D'Arcy says: "That's ridiculous. Moma knew what it didn't want to talk about and declined to comment, in writing. MoMA knows this better than anyone. Its awareness of the public relations risk in trying to explain a conflicted position in the Schiele case may account for its refusal to talk with other reporters besides me, like Morley Safer of CBS News and Marilyn Henry of ArtNews."

    And D'Arcy adds, "while I was preparing the story, an NPR editor sat in on at least two of the interviews in which critics characterized MoMA's activities. The editors knew the nature of the criticism being directed at MoMA in this case. These criticisms had been raised for the past seven years."

    posted by janherman @ Tuesday, June 7, 2005 | Permanent link
Monday, June 6, 2005
    FIRST THE BLOG, THEN THE REBLOG

    Staight Up posts are being reblogged -- curated, if you like -- in Germany. The reblogger is Fareed Armaly, an Arab-American expatriate (born in Iowa City, Iowa, now living in Stuttgart). I don't know him and never heard of him before. All I know is, his work has been shown at Documenta11, among other prestigious art exhibitions. The Documenta11 site says Armaly does "complex installations that take into account specific and interconnected references or histories of the respective exhibition venues and museums where they are shown." What's a reblog? Here's what. Very cool.
    posted by janherman @ Monday, June 6, 2005 | Permanent link
    NOSTALGIA BUG: 'UNCLE BILL' BURROUGHS

    When I was looking at my old Bob Woodward interview, some of which I posted because it seemed, uh, timely, I saw another old interview I did -- this one with Bill Burroughs. I thought you'd find it interesting. Here's part of it:

    Your books are filled with gun lore. What spurred your interest in guns?

    That was just the way I was brought up. In the 1920s, America was a gun culture. Everyone got a certain gun. You got you air gun and your single-shot .22 and so on. I was brought up with guns. When I was living in Europe and New York, I put that aside. And when I came back to smalltown living like this [He was living in Lawrence, Kansas], I was able to take up that hobby again, as well as the whole consideration of weaponry in the widest sense, from guns to biological mutation to religion. It's all weapons.

    [Burroughs' portrait with pistol, 1990, by Gottfried Helwein].

    Why are you increasingly preoccupied with themes of biological mutation and space travel?


    Well, I think that's the only place the species can go. Man is an artifact for space travel in a state of arrested evolution.

    Does this view have anything to do with the fact that you've gotten older and dying is closer?

    No, my opinions on that haven't changed in 50 years.

    And they are?


    Well, of course, I believe in reincarnation, which is a very bad idea at the present time. The point is that you don't move of your own volition any more than a chair does, being very much the same substance. In other words, what animates the human body is an electromagnetic field. Now an electromagnetic field can theorically be moved, given the knowledge, from one situation to another. It could conceivably exist without a physical body. It exists in a computer. There are many possibilities. You aren't your body any more than a pilot is the plane, although the pilot has to observe certain rules or he's going to be in very bad trouble. He can't step out of his plane at 35,000 feet. There are all sorts of things he can't do if he's going to survive.

    Since you're writing for the space age, as you've said, do you have any faith in space programs?

    The space programs have demontrated a very useful thing. Of course, they've simply sent these people up in an aqualung. It's like taking some fish in an aquarium and bringing them up on the land. But they still have made a very useful demonstration that man can actually leave Earth. It's one of the few public expenses that I don't begrudge. But it's only a first step. My feeling is that the transition from time into space is going to be quite as drastic as the transition from water to land.

    Why have you called Christianity a "dangerous illusion?"


    The point is that the one-god universe is a dead-end horror. All right, he's all-powerful and all-seeing. It means that he can do everything and he can do nothing. Doing implies opposition. He can't change because change implies introspection and action in opposition to something. In other words, this is the classic thermodynamic universe. It's bound to run down by definition. That's what I'm talking about. The magical universe, which is unpredictable and spontaneous, is a living universe. The one-god universe is dead. And that goes for any one-god religion. Islam is just the same.

    Of all you books, which do you think is the best?


    I withhold judgment. Writers are poor judges of their own work. They always tend to think that the book they've just written that minute is the one. In some cases it's glaringly untrue. James Jones didn't realize that "From Here to Eternity" was his only book.

    What about Jack Kerouac?


    Well, "On the Road" became such a classic and said so much to so many people in America and Europe and elsewhere that it did tend to eclipse his other work. I had the impression that in the last two or three years of his life he was hardly writing at all. Whether he knew it or not, he was dying. I don't know if any doctor held a gun to his head and told him, "If you don't stop drinking, you're dead." If that had been done, say, five years before he was dead, it might have saved him. Because you can get along with, oh, I think 10 percent of liver function. But you can't get along with none.

    You are often referred to as a "scion of the Burroughs adding machine fortune." How did that fortune break down?


    Oh, it's pretty simple. My grandfather, the inventor, died at the age of 41 in Alabama of tuberculosis. That would be about 1897. My father, I think, was 12 years old. So the children were quite young. There were four children -- Aunt Jennie, Aunt Helen, and Horace, and my father Mortimer. What apparently happened was that the board of directors persuaded them that the whole idea [of the adding machine] was impractical and they'd be better off to take any offer they can get. Obviously, it looks from here like a plot on the part of the executors and investors to buy the family out. The children received $100,000 each. That $400,000 in stock would now be worth about $50 million. My father started a glass company with his $100,000 and he ran that quite successfully for a number of years.

    When you first met Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac in the 1940s, were you living off a trust fund?


    No. All that stuff about a trust fund is absolutely rubbish. That was all concocted by Jack Kerouac.

    The complete interview ran in the Chicago Sun-Times in 1984. My first contact with Burroughs, who died in 1997, came during the late '60s in a brief correspondence about publishing some of his writing in a small San Francisco literary magazine. I first met "Uncle Bill" -- as Carl Weissner and I used to refer to him -- in London, where I visited him in his flat in 1971. Uncle Bill, in a Rolling Stone interview reprinted in "Burroughs Live," recalled a video experiment we made during that visit. The tape still exists, but I haven't watched it in more than 30 years. I hope it still holds the scary images we produced by projecting other faces on Burroughs's and recording them in synch with his voice and lips. The result, if I remember correctly, looked like a mummy coming to life. Uncle Bill subsequently wrote a "tickertape" that served as a running commentary for a book of experimental fiction Weissner, Jurgen Ploog and I co-wrote, called "Cut Up or Shut Up." It was published in Paris in 1972 by Jochen Gerz's Editions AGENTZIA.

    posted by janherman @ Monday, June 6, 2005 | Permanent link
Friday, June 3, 2005
    MEMORY LANE: WOODWARD SORT OF OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY

    Now that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are together again, taking a victory lap after all these years, like the Simon & Garfunkel of journalism, I'm reminded by my staff of thousands that once upon a time, long ago and far away, I interviewed Woodward about his only non-political book -- the one out of the Beltway, for which he is least known -- "Wired: The Short Life & Fast Times of John Belushi."

    Woodward was already a media superstar, having followed up his and Bernstein's chronicle of Richard Nixon's fall -- "All the President's Men" and "The Final Days" -- with his own "The Brethren," about the secret workings of the U.S. Supereme Court. It was 1984. Woodward was 41, twice-divorced at the time, and the doting father of a 7-year-old daughter by his second marriage. He was living in a large Georgetown house with Elsa Walsh, then a 26-year-old education reporter whom he later married. (She's now at The New Yorker, and they're still married.)

    You'll excuse me for this nostalgia trip. But my staff insists. So here goes. Woodward had come to Chicago for the interview. The town where he grew up, Wheaton, Ill., was not far away. His brother and sister lived there. His father was a retired judge who was still practicing law there. Belushi, too, had grown up in Wheaton. Predictably, I began by asking about that.

    What was your life there?

    Probably very much the same as his. One of the things I didn't put in the book, and probably should have, was that when I was in the 8th grade I got the American Legion Award. I was the good clean guy. Belushi got it, too, when he was in the 8th grade six years later in the early '60s. When I learned that, I thought, 'Gee, that is not the guy I saw on "Saturday Night Live." That struck close to home.

    How did it change?

    A good friend of mine got me interested in books. John Belushi got interested in rock 'n' roll. That's one primordial difference.

    Both of us played on the same high school football team with the same coach, Howard Barnes. I remember he put me on the team and said, "You have the best attitude of anyone. But you're one of the worst football players." I think Belushi was the opposite. He was one of the best football players and had one of the worst attitudes. ...

    You were attracted to the Belushi story because you said it was about "the failure of success." What were the pressues on you from fame and success?

    You've got a lot of people wanting things -- people saying "This is the way you ought to invest," or "Why don't you come to my party?" You're on call. It seems to me the defense against that, which is quite artificial, is not to take success too seriously. To sort of see that it was luck. And to realize very quickly how easy it could have been a failure.

    Certainly Watergate for me was like that. A lot of people thought we were wrong, and it seemed like a failure for many months. So the dividing line between success and failure is not that great.

    Wasn't there any exhilaration?

    Look, Watergate was not a happy story. Just like the Belushi story. They're somewhat alike in that respect. You don't get any joy out of it.

    You must have gotten some joy from clinching the story.

    I remember the night Nixon resigned. I was sitting in the office of the Washington Post. Carl and I weren't writing that story. I was eating a baloney sandwich, watching his speech. We were sort of saying, "We don't have a story to write. What are we gonna do?" I remember getting in my car -- it was raining that night -- and just sort of feeling a little empty. There was no dancing.

    How different were the pressures on you from those on Belushi?

    There's the same pressure to have a second act. And a third. And a fourth. The thing that has helped me the most is being anchored at the Washington Post. Unless they want to fire me, I'll always stay there. If you stick to what you've learned to do and not try other things like writing novels or going into television or writing screenplays, it gives you an anchor.

    That sounds like a veiled reference to Bernstein. What's the different between how you dealt with your success and how he did?

    We've both made mistakes, and we went on. ...

    Was your relationship with him ever threatened?

    Oh yeah, all the time. We didn't like each other at first. We didn't get on. There was always a struggle between us. Strong egos. different points of view. Different ideas.

    Arrrgghhh. Enough with the nostalgia. It's funky Friday. I'm outta here.

    posted by janherman @ Friday, June 3, 2005 | Permanent link
Wednesday, June 1, 2005
    I FIND IT STRANGE . . .

    ... that Chuck Colson is offended -- "I am really shocked," he says -- that Mark Felt (a k a Deep Throat) went "sneaking around dark alleys and talking to reporters." It wasn't "the right way" for a "very upright" FBI agent to uncover Watergate crimes. Uh, wait a minute, Chuck. Weren't you one of the worst of Nixon's real dark-alley sneaks? Weren't you the White House counsel who ordered an illegal break-in by Howard Hunt to find info against Nixon's opponents? Weren't you the guy who pleaded guilty to Watergate-related charges and to obstruction of justice in the Daniel Ellsberg case? Weren't you sentenced to from one to three years in prison? Didn't you serve only seven months because -- praise the Lord -- you were "born again"?  Please, Chuck, save your Christian evangelism for your followers and spare the rest of us your moral outrage.
    posted by janherman @ Wednesday, June 1, 2005 | Permanent link

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