« March 2004 | Main | May 2004 »

April 2004 Archives

April 30, 2004

The Topic of This Post is Nipples. Round 3.

The most emailed photo over at Yahoo News today is this one, featuring an attractive and completely topless woman whose torso has been painted over with the colors of the European Union. I believe this is the first time that a full-frontal, unadulterated, double-barrelled picture of a woman's breasts has appeared on Yahoo News.

Quite some time ago, we commented on a surge in nipple-appearances at Yahoo News (though most of those pictures were indirect, or involved only one breast), and this picture seems to signal a renaissance of sorts.

But wait a second! I thought nipples have been prohibited ever since the Superbowl, aka "The 9/11 of Nipples." I guess nipples are ok in mainstream media when it's a cheery "ha ha! look at that funny foreign lady" kind of a context, but they aren't ok when...well, when what? When an African-American woman throws our denial of our sexual repression back in our face for .5 seconds in front of an audience of millions?

Granted, Yahoo News Most Popular Photos is not the same as the Superbowl, but in principle, it's hard to see the difference. Therefore, I propose that Congress repeal the "No Nipple" clause from the PATRIOT Act, and we all go back to being regular sex-crazy Americans again.

How to Get Invited To the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

1) Be a cast member of The Apprentice
2) Be either a blond teen singer/actress/superstar or a blond former prisoner of war
3) Have starred in two movies where you have sex with lesbians, but at least one of said movies must be critically reviled; now be focused on raising the federal minimum wage
4) Be a very hot but not very good tennis player
5) Be the President of the United States

But getting into the Bloomberg after party? Man, if you’re not Jessica Simpson, I don’t know what to tell you. Jennifer 8. Lee has some suggestions, though.

Please note: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen will not be attending.

See you all there tomorrow!

Don't Forget the Little People

The New York Times reminds us that there are more elections coming up than the highly anticipated Bush/Kerry Smackdown. City Council Speaker Gifford Miller has made no secret of his plans to run for mayor in 2005. City Councilmember Eva Moskowitz is also thinking about a mayoral run in the future, and after 26 years State Senator Olga Mendez may lose her seat in the next election because she changed her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.

The presidential race is sure to be dramatic, but there痴 a real danger in focusing attention on it to the exclusion of local elections. A new president isn稚 going to make much of a difference if city and state governments are filled with reactionary conservatives.

You can find comprehensive, nonpartisan information on upcoming local races at Project Vote Smart (some areas have less information than others, but there will be plenty by election time). And if you致e got the inclination, there痴 no better way to affect public policy than running for office yourself.

Why You Should Always Check References

Anyone involved with a nonprofit institution (like say, the New York Academy of Art) knows that one Board member who drives everyone up a freaking wall. He痴 calling all the time, criticizing the staff, complaining about how the place is run. Then all of a sudden he痴 suing the institution because no one can account for pieces of art he donated, he痴 filing petitions with the state over mismanagement, and finally, you have to physically toss him out of your annual benefit for making a scene. Then, of all things, he hires a Private Investigator to follow your Chief Financial Officer into a restaurant and lift fingerprints from his water glass!

What a jerk that guy is. But how embarrassing if it turned out he was right all along, and your CFO is actually a con artist wanted by the federal government.

April 28, 2004

Crippling Addictions

New York 1 featured a shocking – shocking! - report this morning on a debilitating mental illness: Internet addiction. This terrible condition, which Dr. Eric Hollander of Mt. Sinai Medical Center likens to cocaine addiction, can cost victims their family, friends, and even jobs. It’s interesting to note that Internet addiction, compulsive shopping, and other Impulse Control Disorders are defined as “the failure to resist an impulsive act”, which I do at least once an hour.

Don’t worry, there may be help. Thanks to "a regimen of antidepressants, mood stabilizers and anti-seizure medication", addicts like Quame Prescod (who lost his job due to the “disorder”) can reduce their internet surfing from a high of 48 straight hours to a mere 11 hours per day.

Dr. Hollander, maybe the real disorder is that we just have too damn much time on our hands. The whole thing sort of makes me long for the days when humans lived in caves, and suffered from honest disorders like “eaten by bears” or “freezing to death”.

If you think you suffer from compulsive Internet use, check out the symptoms here. For the record, I exhibit at least four of them. Doctor, quick! Get me some Zoloft!

Bullying is a crime +

16 year-old Joey Bari ("not a crybaby") won a lawsuit worth $195,000 from NYC public education because he was teased, pushed, and tripped while in middle school. I'm not sure if this case sets a legal precedent for defining teasing and bullying as a crime (or at least, charging a school system when they ignore such behavior) but it certainly makes me wonder how little Joey will turn out as an adult. Apparently the bullies teased him for his slicked-back hair and preppy clothes, and the primary bully called him "freckle juice." I don't know about you, but just about everybody I know went through way worse than this during those difficult pre-teen years. There were kids in my middle school who got physically harassed every day. Believe it or not, some kids were even called names way meaner than "freckle juice."

Teasing and bullying are major social problems in every single school in the country, and there are many in-school and after-school programs that encourage kids to accept differences and treat each other with greater respect. However, having a mother like Mary Bari (who is probably majorly bitter over her ridiculous name, and is lashing out at others to try to gain some self-respect) who says things like, "He was going through mental and physical abuse. I always told him never to fight. Now he's emotionally damaged. He doesn't trust older people after the school refused to do anything to stop this" probably isn't going to help little Joey develop into a self-sufficient well-adjusted adult either. Instead of suing the Deptartment of Education, maybe you could have taught Joey a few choice insults and washed the grease out of his hair, Mary.

Hope you fare better in private school, freckle juice.

I don't know, Ames, I think you're being a little hard on the parents. If they attempt to get remediation from the school and don't succeed, I think litigation is a reasonable recourse. The kid should not have to experience the burden of a hostile environment any more than an employee should have to experience harassment in the workplace. -ADM

April 27, 2004

Your Tuition Dollars at Work

When students at New York University have to resort to living in the basement of the library like mole people because they can稚 afford housing, it痴 a sign that tuition costs are just too damn high.

Since NYU isn't very forthcoming about their finances, I致e had my financial staff crib together some numbers for you. Young Steve Stanzak was paying the College of Arts & Sciences, excluding fees, room (obviously) and board $30,095 per year. If you multiply that amount by the 5,700 enrolled students, NYU receives $171,541,500 per year from this college alone.

Now, keep in mind the College of Arts & Sciences is only one of NYU痴 14 separate schools, which include the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (4,100 students at $22,056 per year for another $90,429,600), and the profitable Stern School of Business, whose 6,020 students each pay $34,726 (totaling $209,050,520) into the NYU coffers each year.

Continue reading "Your Tuition Dollars at Work" »

April 26, 2004

The Culture Of Fear

At the risk of sounding like a total nerd, I spent the weekend glued to C-SPAN 2痴 coverage of the L.A. Times Festival of Books. There were many interesting panels this year, but Manufacturing Fear: American Culture Today was a real standout.

The panel was moderated by sociologist Barry Glassner, author of the terrific book The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things. Glassner (who you may remember from Bowling for Columbine) asks why Americans fear crime and violence rather than societal problems such as poverty and ignorance that cause them. The Culture of Fear was published shortly before 9/11, and I was interested to see if Glassner痴 views had changed. As it turns out, the heightened hysteria of our media and government since then has only proven his previous ideas correct.

Other panelists included:
Michael Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror
Michael Shermer, The Science of Good & Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule
Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth: Why America's Obsession with Weight Is Hazardous to Your Health*

Continue reading "The Culture Of Fear" »

April 23, 2004

Charlie Rose and Quentin Tarantino: the two most ghoulish men on TV

Last night's Very Special Episode of Charlie Rose featured a full hour of interview with Mr. Hyper himself, QT. In case you missed it, it was probably the most manic episode of Charlie Rose ever filmed. Quentin revealed some interesting tidbits that I thought I'd share:

1) The casting of David Carradine for the title role in Kill Bill was inspired by Tarantino's reading of Carradine's autobiography, Endless Highway. When he was still considering different people for the role (like Warren Beatty), he gave the book to a good pal -- ETHAN HAWKE -- who agreed that Carradine was the best choice for Bill. Wonder if those two are still in the same book club these days.

2) He made more references to his next movie Inglorious Bastards, a World War II movie. He's now nearly done with the screenplay.

3) As has been previously reported, he is strongly considering making Kill Bill Vol. 3 several years down the road, which will follow the daughter of the Vivica Fox character, Nikki, as she seeks revenge against The Bride for killing her mother, a story that The Bride herself alludes to in Kill Bill Vol. 1.

Young Upstarts

If you're feeling guilty about that unfinished manuscript in your desk drawer - well, you should. It seems like every time you turn around, another teenager is publishing a novel. Last fall 17-year-old Zoe Trope had success with Please Don't Kill the Freshmen, and now Paris-based Flavia Bujor is promoting the American release of Prophecy of the Stones, already a bestseller in Europe. Don't worry though - it wasn't an easy road. Even though Bujor started writing the book at 12, she didn't find a publisher until she was almost 15.

Are young novelists a new trend? As a youngster one of my very favorite books, She was Nice to Mice, was written by a precocious Alexandra Elizabeth Sheedy, Age 12. Yes, before she was shooting up and having lesbian sex in High Art, or even eating popcorn sandwiches in detention, Ally Sheedy was writing was a tale of intrigue and betrayal in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Still not sold? It's also written from the perspective of a palace mouse.

What a thought for a Monday morning. I'm past my novelist prime, and considering the treatment that two mice in my own court received this weekend, no youngster will be writing about my love of animals anytime soon.

April 22, 2004

I Always Wanted to be a Rock Star: Extreme Makeover vs. Made

All O.C. fans* face the same important issue on Wednesday nights at 10. You're still coming down off your Peter Gallagher high, and it's too early to stick in the Crest White Strips and head for bed. But don't fret - Amy's Robot LLC pays me the big bucks to help you make an informed decision between ABC's Extreme Makeover and MTV's Made.

Extreme Makeover is a plastic surgery fantasy camp that borders on the unwatchable. This week's episode featured a "shy loner" named Peter, who in merely two months (or one hour in tv land) became a strong-chinned and heavily made up American Idol contestant. The new, improved Peter then "revealed" himself to his friends and family, electric guitar awkwardly held aloft, and exclaimed "I've always wanted to be a rock star....and now I look just like one!" (emphasis mine)

Continue reading "I Always Wanted to be a Rock Star: Extreme Makeover vs. Made" »

In the News...

What an exciting time to join the Amy's Robot staff here at the Midtown Bureau. There's always news here in our fair city; it seems that even when boats are finally docking safely, you turn around and devious eight-year-olds who are high on sugared drinks are cheating on tests.

Why, it almost makes you want to blog pictures of wet cats instead.

ps. This is Emily's first post, and we're still picking out a color scheme...sorry if it's not perfect. -ADM

April 21, 2004

America's unhealthy relationship with food: Night Eating

The authors of a new book, Overcoming Night Eating Syndrome, say that getting up in the middle of the night and eating uncontrollably is not a new problem, but an old problem that is getting new attention. Night eaters seem to mostly be women, and they are characterized by lack of hunger during the day, insomnia, and inability to fall asleep unless they get up and eat. A lot. Which makes them feel horribly depressed, and sometimes suicidal. It's not related to dieting or anorexia, but rather to stress and insomnia. The authors say, "Eating becomes a conditioned response to waking, working better than any sleeping pill."

If night eating is really a result of insomnia and life stressors, why does it just so happen than these women are turning to food as their source of relief? The many different ways that people can have weirdly secretive and dependent relationships with food ("I sometimes fall asleep with food in my mouth") that have been problems for decades points to a larger problem that our culture still has with food. Therapy for night eating mostly consists of eating three regular meals a day, instead of addressing the underlying stress and depression that is causing the behavior in the first place. Even the experts on this issue are identifying food and overeating as the problem. Eating three meals a day might make night eaters lose weight, but will their lives and self-images improve? This kind of treatment sounds to me like prescribing Pepto-Bismol for bulimics, or suggesting that alcoholics stop going to happy hour so much.

April 19, 2004

Dial-up fans: a loving study

The NY Times can be a stick in the mud, and sometimes its writers appear to enjoy being behind on trends. Like an article last month about this great new service called "Netflix" that people really like. Now, they write a piece about the over 50 million Americans who are still using dial-up internet access. Their numbers are shrinking, but they still outnumber high-speed folks by 2 to 1. The article approaches dial-uppers with real warmth and understanding for their sometimes illogical aversion to high-speed: they are described as "neither Luddites nor laggards, but consumers content to pay for a service that is less than optimal, and at times even frustratingly slow, because they say greater speed is not worth the trouble." A retired lawyer says, "I bring a newspaper and sit and read" while waiting for downloads, and a 31 year-old HR rep says "I just tell [my friends] I'm more patient than they are." See, suffering through dial-up is a virtue! Morality issues are also raised by some users of dial-up, who "sheepishly acknowledge that they avoid admitting their low network speeds when they are with their better-connected friends." Be proud of yourselves, patient low-speeders of the world: The New York Times will stand by you.

Some of us, of course, use dial-up because it is still a lot cheaper, and we have high-speed at work for when we need to download big files of disco-dancing Bush games or streaming videos of William Hung mixed with the Star Wars light saber kid. A former journalist in California says it's just "fear and inertia" that prevent her from switching over. Service providers are working hard to overcome these factors, and it looks like married, older women will be the hardest group to convert. I wonder if the popularity of high-speed among young, single men and the success of internet porn sites might be (heh) connected?

Amy's Robot: Personnel Changes

The loyal and acutely observant among you may have actually noticed that two people, not just one, write this site. There's Amy (yellow posts), and then there's ADM (pink posts, like this one).

In any case, after 2+ years in which we've produced over 2600 posts, one of us -- namely, me -- has decided to scale back involvement in the site.

For the last couple of months, I've lacked the time and energy to contribute much that I thought was interesting or valuable, so I wanted to formally step away before I damaged our site's hard-earned reputation as a purveyor of trash, snipery, and traitorous politicking.

Going forward, our friend Emily will take over, and our other friend Andrew will contribute from time to time, and of course Amy will continue with her usual zeal. I'll still add stuff to the Amy's Robot Link Factory, and every now and then, I may write something, too. I'm also taking on an advisory role, crafting mission statements, business plans, and organizational flowcharts for the Amy's Robot Information Superhighway Manifest Destiny Corporation, the holding company of this site. And I'll be continuing my award-winning* work on The Ledger, my ill-conceived effort to thoroughly document each of the 320 or so episodes of Law & Order.

Before I start all that, however, I'm looking forward to spending more time with my family -- and by "family," I mean my Tivo and my porn collection.

Thanks for reading.

*Winner, Most Tedious Blog Award, 2003.

April 15, 2004

Franz and James Wright

NY Times has a great article on Franz Wright, one of my favorite poets, who won the Pulitzer Prize recently. His father, James Wright, also won it about 30 years ago, also for poetry. Franz grew up almost entirely without his father around, but their lives have followed very similar paths involving a lot of drug and alcohol abuse, and general misery and self-destruction.

James Wright's life as a poet involved a lot of famous people: Theodore Roethke, Anne Sexton, John Berryman. Says Franz about his childhood with his father and his friends: "I thought that all adults were insane drunks and chain smokers." That's poets for you.

More Violins in the News

Someone left a $95,000 violin in an NYC bar the other night, but it's been found -- in an alley behind the bar. The violin didn't even belong to the guy who lost it -- he had borrowed it from a friend.

See our previous post on violins in the news.

Important Fox TV update

In case any of you were as panic-stricken as I was when there was no 24 on Tuesday night, don't worry. Fox is airing the episode on Sunday night at 9. OK, maybe panic-stricken is going too far: the show has been getting lamer and lamer all season, reverting to drawn-out maudlin scenes of death and facial decay (Gael going on about 'tell my family I died without pain' and rolling his bleeding, pulpy head around, and 'I can't kill myself to end my hideous misery because of my religious beliefs' and on and on and JUST DIE ALREADY.) Kiefer still kicks ass every week, saving vital MI-6 hard drives and hopefully blowing that pissant Chappelle away next week. But it's getting harder to sit through any scene that doesn't feature him.

On to The O.C. Last night's episode was as histrionic and overblown as ever, particularly the scenes involving Luke blasting Bob Seger, throwing beer bottles off the hill, and driving headlong into a telephone pole. Also, a nice reference to the pilot (but isn't it a little early for a show still in its first season to make self-referential jokes?) with Luke's "Welcome to Portland, bitch" line, allowing him and Ryan to share a lighthearted moment reminiscing about when they used to beat the crap out of each other. Shemrock suggests that, should Fox decide to do a Luke In Portland spin-off next season, they could call it The ORE. However, apart from the fine "stud finder" jokes as Seth and Summer reconstruct Marissa's room ("Seth, you have to find the stud." "...Like you did, Summer?"), the episode was not quite funny enough.

April 14, 2004

Bush's Unintentionally Cinematic Rhetorical Style

Our friend Andrew sends in his analysis of the press conference:

Last night the President dared to face a firing squad of reporters. For so famously a gaffe-prone fellow as George W. "He's Not as Dumb as He Seems" Bush (who is probably as dumb as he seems), this would appear to be political suicide. Indeed, if the White House was the setting for a horror movie (and isn't it?) then the lectern before the assembled press corps would be the basement our brainless cipher would blunder into.

I will not recount here the numerous slips of the tongue, tangled sentences, or perplexing twists of logic he displayed. Instead, I thought it would be fun to compare the President's remarks to some similar speeches from the movies:

The Drunk Guy Speech

(as delivered by George W. Bush)
The people know where I stand, I mean, in terms of Iraq. I was very clear about what I believed. And, of course, I want to know why we haven't found a weapon yet. But I still know Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. I don't think anybody can -- maybe people can argue that. I know the Iraqi people don't believe that, that they're better off with Saddam Hussein -- would be better off with Saddam Hussein in power.

The Drunk Guy Speech

(as delivered by James Dean in Giant and transcribed by my sister, Kathy):
Ladies and gents . . . ladies and gentlemen distinguished guests I . . . I just want to count the blessings that this great domain has bestowed upon her humble son. [mumbles] This . . . this man. Old mother Texas what did she give to me? Not a goddamn thing. You work and sweat and see no [incoherent]. But I got mine right out of the ground. Poor Jett. Fight for what is good. Lucky lucky for Bick Bennedict. Her husband. Poor Jett. Pretty Leslie. Pretty Leslie. Pretty Leslie wonderful beautiful girl bride. [incoherent] Rich Mrs. Bennedict. She's beautiful lovely the woman a man wants. The woman a man's gotta have too. Governor! [to nobody] [incoherent] [falls down onto some tables and chairs]

The Dying Old Guy Speech

(as delivered by George W. Bush)

Continue reading "Bush's Unintentionally Cinematic Rhetorical Style" »

April 13, 2004

Bush and Dead People

From a Reuters article about tonight's presidential news conference, which will begin with a 15-minute long speech from the President:
So far more than 670 U.S. troops have died in the conflict. Between 4,000 and 6,000 Iraqi military have died and between 8,000 and 10,000 civilians have lost their lives.
So let's say 8,000 civilians have died in Iraq since the start of the war. Percentage-wise, this would be like if 96,000 American civilians had died on 9/11. (I think my math is correct, assuming the US population is ~290 million and Iraq's is 24 million.)

Update: And so for those outraged readers who wonder, "Yeah, but what about all those people who died under the Baath regime," give me a break: if all we can say is, "We killed 8,000 people but at least we're not killing as many people as Saddam did," that's really not saying much. Come to think of it, between 1992 (after the massacre of the insurgents whom GWB I abandoned) and 2002, was Saddam killing 8,000 people a year?

Here's more on torture in Iraq, pre- and post-Saddam, via Amnesty International.

Guest blogger: Andrew Does Miss USA

miss new hampshire

Some observations my roommate Todd and I made during the Miss USA telecast on NBC last night:

* Host Billy Bush (Todd: "???" Me: "Access Hollywood!" Todd: "??????") informed us that the competition would feature an evening gown competition, a swimsuit competition, and an interview competition. What's missing? Yes--the /talent/ competition. But why axe the most reliably cringe-worthy part of the pageant? Todd concluded that it was probably too time consuming to give each woman three minutes to perform. Plus, too many apples vs. oranges, belly dancers vs. baton twirlers. No joke here, just an observation.

* A profile on last year's Miss USA winner concluded with the message that with hard work and dedication anything is possible. So long as you're also reasonably attractive. [Amy: and under 27 years old.]

* The runner-up in the competition admitted during her interview that her proudest achievement was founding a program pairing "stray animals with stray children."

* Before the commencement of the swimsuit competition, they made a big deal about how the competitors--sorry, I meant "delegates"--would be wearing nothing but "swimsuits and heels." How porno is that?

* But what makes the above even weirder is that, in truth, these pageants are targeted towards a female audience (as the commercial sponsors clearly indicate). In trying to think of a male analog to the beauty pageant--a true celebration of masculinity enjoyed by other men--the best I can come up with is the "World's Strongest Man" competition, wherein hulks toss kegs of beer over their heads. Football, too.

* We wondered if the celebrity judges really do judge the pageant, or if they are just props.

* NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon must have been wondering why he agreed to be on that panel of judges. He was easily the biggest name there.

* America learned that there is an NBC soap called "Passions," thanks to one of the judges being from that program. Later in the telecast we learned that the winner of Miss USA would win a guest role on that show. In short, one of the judges was selecting her co-star.

* Thanks to an overabundance of make-up, there was only one "delegate" whose eye color we could discern. (Miss Oklahoma. Blue.) [Amy: Though Miss New Hampshire, above, is pretty cute.]

Some suggestions my roommate Todd and I have for improving the Miss USA telecast:

* Instead of using pseudo-celebrities, have the judges of the pageant be a randomly selected panel of 14 year-old boys.

* Each of the contestants should compete against one another in grueling physical challenges. Wait, I forgot. They did that on "Fear Factor: Miss USA Edition," right before the pageant. Which was much more entertaining.

* . . . although they could have done better than a modified flexed arm hang for the final stunt.

* Make the entire competition follow the arc of a real relationship. Start with a small-talk sort of interview. Move on to the evening gown competition. Then a lingerie competion. Then on to a very serious interview. Then change the channel. -Andrew

Whiskas adds:

I was wondering last night - when do you make that decision, to go for Miss USA vs. Miss America? Is it when you realize your boobs are too big, or you're just a little too trashy? Or is it like major league baseball, with different divisions?

I know you've always wondered, so yeah, what does Miss USA win?

1) a cameo on "Passions"
2) A crystal chandelier
3) A scholarship to the NY Film Academy
4) 2 round trip airline tickets to anywhere in the Continental U.S.

I mean, for god's sake, is it Miss USA or the fucking Price is Right? -Whiskas [Amy: I think the nonprofit community center where I work comes up with better prizes for the raffle on staff appreciation day.]

April 12, 2004

The confusing mess of politics and religion

Religion has played a central role in the current political landscape, and two Op-Eds published today highlight how the trend will probably continue into the next election. The LA Times has a piece by Susan Jacoby, a historian of American secularism, and she's predictably enraged at the blurring of that old-fashioned church/state division that our country was built on. She recounts a number of examples from history when U.S. Presidents resisted pressure from evangelical religious groups to insert their beliefs into public policy: Jefferson refused to publicly thank God for blessing America; Lincoln ignored ministers' requests to amend the Constitution to "declare Jesus Christ the supreme government authority" (!) But Bush stands alone in his tendency to move in the opposite direction. Jacoby writes, "The Bush administration, by contrast, has consistently taken aggressive measures to favor the most conservative religious elements in American society." What I wonder is why Bush's overt and widely proclaimed religious beliefs are not subject to the same suspicion as were JFK's, our first (and only) Catholic President. I guess Presidential religiosity is OK as long as it is Protestant Christian.

Over at the Washington Post, columnist Jabari Asim questions the assumption that black people are more religious than white people. He makes some interesting points about the assumed connection between race and religion, and quotes a professor from Brown: "What makes me slightly nervous is there's a sort of venerable intellectual tradition that goes back to 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and beyond that blacks are more spiritual and emotional while whites are rational, cerebral, restrained and civilized. The notion that somehow blacks are these incredibly spiritual people often alarms me because it smacks of familiar racist drivel dressed up in new ways."

What I wonder is whether the Bush administration shares the assumption that black people are more religious. It would certainly be to his party's advantage to appeal to Christians of all races, rather than solely white Southern Christians, which seems to be their strategy. I think the political division of the South along race lines, courtesy the Republican party, points out the flaw in Bush's use of religion as a political strategy. He talks about bringing Christian values to politics, but he seems to mean only those values that benefit wealthy white people. Eventually, everybody else will start to notice that his "Christian" values have little to do with religion, and will hopefully remember that religious beliefs have no place in politics.

April 10, 2004

Hell Breaks Loose in Iraq; Bush Goes Fishing

Yesterday, while things were continuing to spiral out of control in Iraq, President Bush went fishing with a TV fishing show.

In Iraq:

Gunmen running rampant on Baghdad's western edge attacked a fuel convoy, killing a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi driver and causing a fiery explosion. Two American soliders and an unknown number of civilians were missing after the attack, and 12 people were injured.
In Texas:
At about 5:30 p.m., Bush looked at his watch and said he had time to "make a couple casts, so we jumped into the boat real quick."
In Iraq:
Another U.S. soldier was killed in an attack on a base elsewhere in the capital, and large groups of insurgents battled U.S. troops in two cities to the north, Baqouba and Muqdadiyah.
In Texas:
They floated on the pond for about 1 1/2 hours. White House aides told Martin that "things were kind of calmed down" in Iraq and that prospects were good for another session Saturday.
In Iraq:
The death -- along with those of three Marines a day earlier announced Friday -- brought the toll of U.S. troops killed across Iraq this week to 46.
In Texas:
Iraq didn't come up. "He didn't really talk about politics at all," Martin said. "He was just relieved to have a minute to fish."

Wondering what Bush is doing at the ranch in the middle of this crisis? The Washington Post reports that he's spent nearly 40 percent of his presidency at a retreat:

This is Bush's 33rd visit to his ranch since becoming president. He has spent all or part of 233 days on his Texas ranch since taking office, according to a tally by CBS News. Adding his 78 visits to Camp David and his five visits to Kennebunkport, Maine, Bush has spent all or part of 500 days in office at one of his three retreats, or more than 40 percent of his presidency.

April 8, 2004

Managing Credibility Gaps, Vol. 3: Scalia

We've already examined the way the concept of truth has become a malleable piece of silly putty in the hands of our current administration. Joining in the White House's machinations is good old Antonin Scalia, who is making the school speech circuit (much like he did in 1996, when he spoke at my graduation. Yeah, I know.) It seems that Scalia doesn't like his speeches to be taped by the press, and has convinced local (Mississippi) authorities to take recording devices away from journalists. And what is the content of his speeches that he doesn't want to be recorded, one might ask? The enduring value of the Constitution of the United States, which, as you might recall, guarantees freedom of the press. "People just don't revere it like they used to," said Scalia. And thousands of high school kids were sent overtly duplicitous messages about what our country is about, and what it means to be a patriot.

April 7, 2004

(Un)Intended Consequences of 'The Passion'

The Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta is making news today for two conservative actions: Women are banned from foot-washing ceremonies at Holy Thursday masses this year, though they have participated in previous years, and two employees who complained that the diocese wasn't doing enough to combat sexual abuse were fired. The women who got fired were coordinating the diocese's sexual abuse victims assistance program, and spoke out against the continuation of reporting alleged abuse first to church officials, and not to law enforcement. The diocese also rejected their training program for priests on recognizing signs of abuse, and its effects on victims. In 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made sexual abuse victims assistance staff positions a requirement for all dioceses. The Archdiocese of Atlanta has paid $1.5 million in settlements to victims of sexual abuse in recent years.

Neither of these events are directly related to Mel Gibson, an ultra-conservative Catholic, and his movie. However, it's not surprising that The Passion's enormous popularity among conservative U.S. communities and support from the Church would push the Catholic church away from progress, and toward the kind of policies that keep women excluded from church leadership and permit sexual abuse to continue.

Thugs and Assassins

When Bush finds a phrase he likes, he sure likes to use the hell out of it. His latest favorite, "thugs and assassins," a way of describing the resistance in Iraq, is showing up in public comments almost as much as his inappropriate references to 9/11. Cheney's chiming in, too.

  • "We will pass sovereignty on June 30. We're not going to be intimidated by thugs and assassins." (Bush 4/6/04)
  • "This collection of killers is trying to shake our will. America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins." (Bush 3/31/04)
  • "This collection of killers is trying to shake the will of America. They don't understand our country. America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins." (Bush 4/05/04, 3/25/04)
  • "The thugs and assassins in Iraq are desperately trying to shake our will. They attacked a Baghdad hotel on Wednesday. Their goal is to prevent the rise of a democracy -- but they will fail." (Cheney 3/18/04)
  • "The thugs and assassins in Iraq are desperately trying to shake our will. Just this morning, they conducted a murderous attack on a hotel in Baghdad. Their goal is to prevent the rise of a democracy - but they will fail." (Cheney 3/17/04)
  • "This collection of killers is trying to shake our will, to shake the will of America. You know, they really don't understand our country. America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins." (Bush 3/11/04, 3/8/04, 3/3/04)
  • "We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins." (Bush 11/27/03, during Baghdad visit)
It's funny how the thugs and assassins are not going to "shake our will," and "we won't cut and run," but Bush still clings to the June 30 hand-over as if it will solve all the problems we and the Iraqis face over there.

As is often the case with this administration, and perhaps most politicians, Bush is using the mantra-like repetition of this phrase to stifle debate about what's going on over there. By dismissing the opposition as "thugs and assassins," the administration influences the way people talk about the conflict and curtails debate about the underlying political reasons behind it, which in turn influences the way we think about it. (Much like the White House tried to do with its failed efforts to re-brand "suicide bombers" as "homicide bombers" a few years ago.)

Here's a piece about the questionable cultural history of the phrase "thugs and assassins," and the way it recalls earlier East vs. West campaigns.

April 6, 2004

Alanis and Hypocritical Censorship


By now, you have probably seen the photo of Alanis Morrisette wearing a bodysuit with removable nipples at the Canadian music awards the other night. The outfit was part of a bit where she lambasted America for "hypocritical...censorship," told a story about having to remove the word "asshole" from the song "Everything," and said she was "overjoyed to be back in my homeland, the true North... strong and censor-free." [source]

Well, not quite. In fact, it's interesting that Alanis didn't take the opportunity to criticize her own country for some recent official actions that have come a lot closer to censorship than what's been going on here lately. A few months ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (which in part serves as Canada's federal investigative bureau) began sifting through a reporter's garbage and eventually 20 officers raided her home, looking for information and sources for a story the reporter wrote about a suspected terrorist the US had recently deported to Syria. The incident caused such a kerfuffle the prime minister had to issue this clarification: "We are not a police state and we have no intention of being a police state." This, despite the fact that some of the officers dispatched to the reporter's apartment were from the RCMP's "the truth verification section." The raid happened in January, and the government is still reserving the right to prosecute her for the story. (The other day, she wrote about her experiences in Canada's National Post.)

Another issue that affects free speech in Canada is that they have fewer limitations on prior restraint than we do here. Judges can, and do, suppress verifiable information before that information is made public, something that happens only very rarely here. As the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out in 1998, this can have a grave impact on investigative reporting in Canada. To wit:

Canadian journalists face other obstacles, many of which would not pass muster under the U.S. Constitution. Broadcast journalists, for example, are forbidden to use language that does not display "sensitivity to problems relating to sexual stereotyping." Reporters are barred from reporting background on the case between the time charges are brought and the start of the trial. Judges can stop the broadcast of a documentary when a company complains that proprietary information would be revealed. Prior restraint of publication, anathema in the States, is permissible in Canada because, as its chief justice pointed out in a recent ruling, the country does not have a First Amendment.
I'm not going to get into an Google-powered inventory of all the problems this has caused over the years, but one incident that comes to mind is the suppression of details in a rather grisly rape/murder case there about 10 years ago. A judge prohibited journalists from printing details related to the case, and Canadians ended up smuggling in American papers to learn about the case. Fortunately, the internet had just begun to be accessible by the common person, so devoted Canadians set up a Usenet group to trade information about the case, which the government then tried to limit access to. After that turned out to be fruitless, Canada began to prosecute people who distributed photocopies of articles about the case. (In fairness, the judge who barred coverage of the case did so to ensure an accomplice's right to a fair trial, one of the few cases in which prior restraint is permissible here, though the publication ban went on for years after the trial ended, and journalists are still being charged with reporting on the case.)

Anyway, everybody who loves me knows I love Alanis and Canada, but she should take a closer look at her own country before she starts criticizing us.

Finally, I think Canada's free speech restrictions are extensive enough that it should give some pause to all those Americans thinking of heading north post-election.

April 5, 2004

The Softer Side of Prison

So say you're a young Crip, in prison in California, and it's your cellmate's birthday. How do you make him feel special? Taking their cues from administraive assistants in corporate offices everywhere, gang members in prison are creating and passing around birthday cards for everyone to sign. However, the messages in the cards are more likely to say "Well cellie what can I say. Happy Birthday homie. I got nothing but love for you. Homies will celebrate later, I promise you. All right then fool. Your cellie, Drifter," than "Happy B-day Sharleen, you're the best!!! Don't eat too much cake!!!"

Because of encrypted gang-related messages in the cards, and the use of nicknames that law enforcement might not be aware of, the Department of Corrections in CA is taking notice of these cards. Cards from members of the Crips usually say "Happy C-Day" because of members' avoidance of the letter "B", associated with Bloods. Some cards include obvious references to gang activity that mention specific people, which helps investigations. The cards themselves use both goofy comic book-style drawings and more expressive artwork: "The sillier cards are full of cars and girls and stylized homeboys smoking pot or drinking 'pruno,' the noxious homemade prison wine. The serious ones are more likely to feature buxom pre-Columbian princesses, fantasy-themed collages or the laughing and crying clowns that symbolize the highs and lows of the gangster lifestyle."

The Entenmann's crumb cake, brownies, and diet coke of office birthdays also have their cellblock analogs. In prison, the cards are often presented along with a spread of snacks, some "pruno", and if you're lucky, a dose of heroin. Nice to know that even if you get sent up the creek, your cellies will still make your day special.

Mission Accomplished!

This morning's headlines:

Yep, our mission in Iraq has been accomplished for just over 11 months now.

April 1, 2004

Bloomberg on Law & Order

Last night's episode of Law & Order featured Mayor Bloomberg.

Screenshots, a very detailed plot summary, and a little bit of analysis are over on The Ledger, a site about Law & Order that I write.

Lots of Email

gmailAssuming that Google's Gmail idea is not an April Fool's joke, we could all have free email with up to a gigabyte of permanent storage space at our disposal -- enough for 500,000 pages of email. It raises questions like: (a) will people use it as a distribution system and upload archives of movies, mp3s, etc., into their accounts and then make their passwords public, and (b) how will they prevent people from signing up for multiple accounts, thereby taking more than their fair share of disk space.

Regardless of that, a reader on Slashdot recalls the good old days of 1994 when AOL quietly offered its users 40 gigabytes of storage space. Here's how it worked:

Each AOL account could have up to five screen names. Each screen name could have up to 550 e-mails in their Inbox. Each e-mail could have a maximum file attachment of 15MB. So...15MB times 550 is 8GB times 5 is about 40GB.
Although it seems like Gmail has to be a joke, it's being widely reported, including by the NYT's John Markoff.

About April 2004

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in April 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2004 is the previous archive.

May 2004 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.35