ObamaCare: Day One

ObamaCare HealthCare site glitches on its first day

A funny thing happened when I went to sign up for ObamaCare this morning. I couldn't! The official site at HealthCare.gov just referred me over to California's web site for their own Health Exchange. And it was so overloaded with traffic that it was impossible to sign up!

Apparently it didn't take a government shutdown to end Obamacare, because ObamaCare imploded all by itself — at least for today — just because so many different people wanted it. (I guess the lesson is that to overwhelm a government-funded health insurance exchange — it takes a village.) I'm actually relieved that I'm not the only one who's having a problem. Today it was my state's web site that's sick!

In fact, Google News is already showing stories about web sites being overloaded on the first day of ObamaCare in Maryland, Texas, Illinois, and Indiana. "The opening of state- and federal-run insurance marketplaces Tuesday saw a combination of huge interest and balky technology," reported USA Today, "that led to a series of glitches, delays and even crashes that marred the first hours of the centerpiece of President Obama's health law..." Within minutes, the stock market had tanked and — no, wait. Actually, the stock market was up today. Neither the government shutdown nor the launch of ObamaCare deterred investors who remained bullish on America, oblivious to the inability of a few state-run web sites to handle an unexpectedly high number of visitors.



They all have another 19 weeks to sign up for the insurance anyways — which also won't actually go into effect until January 1st. The deadline is December 15th if you want your insurance to be active on January 1st, and March 31st if you want your ObamaCare to be effective in 2014. But millions of Americans apparently didn't want to wait for either of those sign-up deadlines — they wanted to sign up on the program's very first day. "There were five times more users in the marketplace this morning than have ever been on Medicare.gov at one time," President Obama announced from the White House's Rose Garden, adding "That gives you a sense of how important this is to millions of Americans around the country." Later in the week, it was even revealed that at one point, 250,000 differently people were simultaneously trying to access the web site, and that within its first four days, the site had been accessed by a whopping 8.1 million people

"And that's a good thing," the President argued Tuesday about the throngs who wanted to access these online exchanges for health insurance. Citing a demand "that exceeds anything that we had expected," he promised they'd be speeding up the web sites soon, and compared the glitches to the problems Apple had releasing their iOS 7 operating system. "Within days they found a glitch — so they fixed it.

"I don't remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or Ipads, or threatening to shut down company if they didn't. That's not how we do things in America. We don't actively root for failure. We get to work, we make things happen, we make 'em better.

"We keep going."


Even if Microsoft does try to copy our look and feel...

You can watch video of President Obama's press conference at CBS's site — if you're willing to sit through a dog food commercial first. But in the end I'm guessing that it doesn't really matter what any politician (or any dog) says about the health insurance exchanges, simply because America is already more polarized than any time in the last 70 years... So liberals voters will still be cheering. ("Yeah! ObamaCare is so popular, they can't keep up with the overwhelming demand!") And conservative voters will probably point to this as vindicating all their early warnings about the program. ("It looks like the government can't even run a freaking web site. So how can we trust them to administer a complex health insurance system...?!")
 
UPDATE: Sunday, October 6th. Originally this article ended on a discouraged note. ("It's going to be a while before I can get cheap government-sponsored healthcare, like the happy Asian couple on the ObamaCare web site...")


But I feel like it's important to add this update. 24 hours later, I went back to California's health exchange site — and it was running just fine, and I was able to log in and purchase insurance on the health exchange after all. And because I qualified for a government subsidy, the health insurance was over $1,500 a year cheaper than what I'm currently paying for health insurance. And it's going to cover a lot more of my medical bills.

Plus, the site made it easier to shop for health insurance. I had something like 19 choices, and they were sorted automatically with the cheapest ones first. The site was even able to calculate my monthly premiums automatically based on my own unique answers to how many prescriptions and doctor visits I thought I'd be needing each year — something I never got when I purchased healthcare from my employer. And I'm not the only one giving the site a positive review. USA Today made essentially the same point, arguing that what most people "don't know is how cheap the insurance is," and noting that a single 40-year-old non-smoker could easily save over $2,000 a year. And they also applauded the site for being easy and simple to use. So for me, the bottom line is I'm getting better coverage at a cheaper cost — and that signing up for it was surprisingly easy. So yes, while there were some glitches on Day One of ObamaCare...

Day Two was terrific!



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California’s Nastiest Campaign Ads




Across America, it's been one of the nastiest elections ever — but California is on the cutting-edge. It's the one state where Democrats might actually win one of the toughest media wars ever, meaning TV viewers are seeing some of the roughest ads.

And often, your best weapon is your opponent's own words...

1. The Bondage and Leather Festival


When he was mayor, Gavin Newson "wasted tax dollars organizing a bondage and leather festival," according to this ad. (Though to be fair, that city was San Francisco...) While ostensibly complaining about the costs, Republican Abel Maldonado is really pressing the "extreme values" button, saying his opponent "wants to do for California what he did for San Francisco." (And ultimately the ad ends with an announcer complaining about Newsom's "extreme whether-you-like-it-or-not values".) It's the race for Lieutenant Governor, and in a traditionally Democratic state, Maldonado is trying the "kitchen sink" approach — lobbing a hodgepodge of attacks hoping something sticks.



The ad also cites $15,000 of taxpayer money spent "having police drive his car to Montana for his wedding," while a second Maldonado ad tries an entirely different approach — like an episode of "Law and Order." The "Fatal Negligence" ad opens with gunshots and a siren, then announces that while Newsom was mayor, "San Francisco refused to turn dangerous illegal criminals over to authorities for deportation... It took a triple murder for mayor Gavin Newsom to admit San Francisco's Sanctuary City policies were a misguided and costly mistake." Using the same logic as the notorious Willie Horton ad, the announcer argues that Newsom's policies "Let 185 dangerous illegal immigrants go free. One of them — a gang member and convicted felon — is now charged with murdering a father and two of his sons."

The Newsom campaign fought back with a lighter ad, broadcasting their own list of Maldonado's equally damning offenses using a wacky animation of a demented politician which, if nothing else would make an excellent series for the Cartoon Network.


2. Yes, I Will Double-Dip



One political analyst called this ad "a game-changer." In an extremely tight race to be Calfornia's attorney general, two candidates braced for an October 5 debate at the U.C. Davis School of Law. But then Republican Steve Cooley was asked how he'd handle his post-election finances. Did Cooley also plan to collect a pension for his work as Los Angeles County's District Attorney, effectively "double-dipping"?

"Yes I do," Cooley answers emphatically. And then there's an awkward pause...

"I earned it," he blurts out. "I definitely earned, uh, whatever pension rights I have, uh, and I will certainly rely upon that, uh, to uh, supplement the very low — incredibly low — salary that's paid to the state attorney general." (Although what's not aired is the original response of his opponent, Democrat Kamala Harris. "Go for it, Steve. You've earned it, there's no question.")

Sensing an opportunity, the Harris campaign rushed a video clip of her opponent into a TV ad, which hit the airwaves just weeks before the election. Cooley had inadvertently created an instant attack ad. All that it needed was ominous music.

Along with the words "$150,000 isn't enough?" just as Cooley says the words "very low — incredibly low — salary..."


3. The Great California Mash-up



One advantage of the instant attack ad" is it avoids extra (and expensive) production. For example, this ad is sort of a mash-up, using most of Jerry Brown's original "positive" ad — with a clip from a positive ad by his opponent. Democrat Brown splices in an apparent endorsement from the former CEO of eBay, Meg Whitman — who just happens to be his opponent in the race.

"You know, 30 years ago, anything was possible in this state," Whitman says, before the ad reminds viewers that 30 years ago, the state's governor was Jerry Brown. ("I mean, it's why I came to California so many years ago," Whitman says at the end of the ad.)

Jerry Brown was California's governor from 1975 to 1983, starting his term at the age of 36. (He was following in the footsteps of his father, Pat Brown, who became California's governor in 1959, defeating Richard Nixon to win re-election in 1962, and then then losing in 1966 to Ronald Reagan.) Now at the age of 74, Brown seeks a comeback against a tough opponent who's tapped her personal fortune to fund a non-stop television blitz. Meg Whitman's spent over $142 million of her own money, making this by far the most expensive election ever in California's history.



California's second most-expensive election was the $80 million spent in 2002 when Democrat Gray Davis defeated Republican Bill Simon in 2002 — before Davis was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Eight years later, in the race to be his successor, the Whitman campaign has spent a total of more than $162 million, only to find that Brown is still heavily favored. Whitman's campaign was already hurt by stories that she employed an illegal alien — while campaigning on a promise to "hold employers accountable" for hiring documented workers. But last week the Washington Post calls Brown's new mash-up ad "devastating."

But ironically, Jerry Brown himself also turns up in one of the Republican ads attacking fellow Democrat Gavin Newsom.

4. Crushing, Destroying, and Killing



In early October, Carly Fiorina coordinated with the National Republican Senatorial Committee for an extremely stark campaign ad attacking Barbara Boxer. Filmed in black and white, it cites "Trillions in reckless, wasteful spending..." tying Boxer to perceived sins of Washington today — not just "destroying small business," but also "crushing hopes." (Using another strong verb, the ad reports that the established Washington regime isn't just reducing the number of jobs, but actually "killing" them.)

There's always been lots of venom for liberal Senators, but Boxer seems to draw an extra helping of scatter-shot rage. (One photograph in an earlier ad — titled "Crushed" — actually cites the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.) And for web audiences the Republican Senate Committee even created a special ad citing Boxer's "Decades of epic fail" (pointing viewers to a Boxer-bashing site called CallMeMaam.com). It identifies her first as a "political operative" in the 1960s, then a county supervisor in the 1970s, eventually contrasting her with unpopular Democrat politicians like Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton.

Because unlike them, Boxer is still in Washington, seeking a fourth six-year term.

Polls show Boxer may win her race, but the ad wasn't a total waste. With a few changes, the Republican Senate Committee also created an almost identical ad citing "decades of epic fail" for Democrat Harry Reid.

5. Aloha



There was times it was considered one of the closest Congressional races in the country. Four-term incumbent Dan Lungren had actually raised less money than his challenger — for 15 consecutive months — giving Democrats a rare chance to takeover a Republican seat. And that was before a police officer pulled over Lungren while he was talking on his cellphone — during a radio call-in show. ("Can you hang up the phone, sir...?")

The next week his challenger, Ami Bera, showed up at Lungren's office with a special gift — a hands-free cellphone unit. But it all played into the theme they'd already decided on: that Lungren was an arrogant Washington insider. "Our Congressman was one of the first to find a loophole around ethics laws," this ad announces, "so Washington lobbyists could send him off first class to a party in Hawaii." (It taps footage of Lungren applying suntan lotion to his back, plus an ABC News interview where a smiling Lungren explains, "We do a lot of business around pools.")



The footage even captures a cheerful pique in Lungren's voice when he adds, "Do I look like I would go to Pittsburgh in January?" Then the ad invites voters to wallow in their indignation at LoopholeLungren.com — where there's a much-longer video. But in both cases, the message is unmistakable. "My congressman went to Hawaii, and all I got was a campaign ad where his opponents get to wear Hawaiian shirts."

This race follows the pattern of the Democrat using a lighter ad while the Republican goes for the jugular. In this case, Lungren argues Nancy Pelosi reflects the "liberal ideas of San Francisco," then calls newcomer Ami Bera "a Pelosi clone," and then fills his ad with unflattering pictures of Nancy Pelosi.



Lungren seems to be making a direct appeal to the Tea Party, especially in another ad where he warns that "friends, neighbors, people I don't even know, are concerned about losing their freedom — and I haven't heard that word used as often in my lifetime... For whatever reason, they voted for something new, but did not vote for this madness. And I'd like to make sure that the madness does not continue."

California may not be the best state to make that pitch — but maybe it tells us something about the election of 2010. Yes, now Democrats and Republicans often seem to live in two different universes — seeing entirely different facts, or drawing the opposite conclusions. And this was always going to be an unusual election, with the Tea Party energizing some Republican campaigns and the aftermath of a major Supreme Court decision about the financing of campaign ads.

But in theory, the fairest ads still attack a candidate on their actual record. In practice, however California viewers got ads which cherry-picked only the most damning soundbites — almost invariably blowing them out of proportion. The end result is an election where all the candidates seem to be hitting past each other at some horrific, unidentified bogeyman.

And yet on election day, one of those bogeymen is actually going to win.

See Also:
The 5 Nastiest Campaign Ads of 2006
Secrets of Al Franken
20 Strangest Reactions to Obama's Election
5 More Nasty 2006 Campaign Ads
The Awesomest Congressional Campaign Ever

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Secrets of Al Franken



Through 35 years in show business, he left a wake of bizarre sketches. ("Don't worry about your breath and your armpits, Al. It's your personality that stinks...")

Web sites remembered Al Franken's strange past life as a movie and TV comedian when he joined the U.S. Senate last week — in the ultimate weird (or all-American?) triumph. At the age of 25, Franken had started his career playing himself in this parody of a spray-on deodorant commercial in the 1976 movie Tunnel Vision.

"Hi. I'm one of the best-looking guys in town," he explains to a woman in a swimming pool. "Wanna go somewhere and shoot the shit?"

"Where do I meet you with my gun, feeb?" she replies.



One More Saturday Night

Future-Senator Franken even lights up a joint in one rowdy 1986 movie — and sings "I'm gonna get laid! I'm gonna get laid." ("Hey, I can't help it," he explains. "I'm a lesbian trapped inside a man's body.")

In One More Saturday Night, Franken played the singer in a scruffy local band — the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia produced some of the movie's music — and the movie ends with Franken's character taking Percodan and Demerol for a punch in the jaw. ("Idiot could've gotten 20 of those if he'd asked for them," says a bandmember played by Tom Davis — another Saturday Night Live writer who co-authored the movie's script with Franken.)

Their film resembles Fast Times at Ridgemont High, cross-cutting between several interlocking teen-oriented stories. ("Dad, did you ever have sex with any ladies besides Mom?") The widower dad gets busted having sex by the lake, but what's most fascinating is the script's perspective on the state of Minnesota — which would later elect Franken their Senator!

"The state of Minnesota has got more blonde, luscious, genetically pure Swedish women than any place in the world," Davis tells Franken. Al tries to wave Tom off of one hot prospect, saying "She's got kids," but their script supplies Tom with a weird comeback.

"It's okay. They can watch."

But the most scandalous thing about the movie may appear in its closing credits, which thank James R. Thompson, the governor of...Illinois. Franken's movie about a night in a small town in Minnesota was filmed entirely in Illinois, after Minnesota's Film Board deemed its script too obscene, according to Davis's recently-released biography.

He also reveals that this movie was never released on DVD — or even into theatres, after it failed two test screenings in Times Square and Sacramento, California.




Over the Borderline

In March Davis released his tell-all memoir about performing with Al Franken as a comedy team — including a drug stop at the Canadian border. Davis hurtled an incriminating hash pipe into a river — in front of the border police — who then insisted on detaining and strip searching both Davis and Franken, along with their friends. (One friend suggested next time, he'd hide a folded note for the officer between his butt checks.) But when the police tried to intimidate the future Senator, telling him privately that his partner had already confessed to everything, Franken daringly improvised the perfect response.

"We didn't mean to kill that Indian! It was an accident!"

There's also a 1983 visit to Jamaica, in which Franken spends an hour teaching a native how to play Frisbee, "before he finally figured out she was a hooker." But Davis's book also reveals the two most disturbing facts about the man from Minnesota. Franken's wife, Franni, was once Pauly Shore's baby sitter.

And Franken's mouth is so large, he can cram his entire fist into it.


Washington Whispers

Franken loves to tell the story about challenging future-President Ronald Reagan with a question about decriminalizing marijuana. (In 2004 Bill Clinton, at a book signing, greeted Franken by saying "My hero's here.") Franken recaps the incident in his book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. But in 1999, for his second book, Franken described making a (fictitious) run for a seat in Washington — the Presidency — just 10 years before his actual swearing in as a Senator.

"As you know, I have not been elected president," Franken explains patiently to the Supreme Court's Chief Justice, William Rehnquist, in a fake letter which opens Why Not Me, adding "and I have no plans to run for office — local, regional, or national." (Franken then asks Rehnquist if he'd appear on the book's cover...and if he'd travel to New York for the photo shoot — by train, during off-peak hours, to reduce Franken's expenses.)




And the book also includes a campaign speech where Franken promises no major scandals during his administration. But "I'm not saying there will be no scandals whatsoever. No candidate can honestly make that pledge."

Unfortunately, his fictitious administration unravels after the release of an all-too-honest campaign diary. ("May 6... Splurged on hooker.")

The book's election might've gone differently if voters had paid more attention to Franken's campaign biography, The Courage to Dare, which chronicled his experience with entrepreneurial success in college: founding the Fabulous Freaky Freakout Company, along with its subsidiary, the Smoking Doobie Banana Brothers, Ltd.


I Fought the Law

It was the strangest omen of all, when the media and political worlds began merging right before America's eyes.


In 1998, Franken starred in a short-lived NBC sitcom called LateLine. But now real politicians were drawn into Franken's bizarre TV world, and its 19 episodes included cameos by three U.S. Senators — Paul Simon, John Kerry, and Alan Simpson — while the show's fake Senator, "Crowl Pickens", was played by Saturday Night Live's Dana Carvey.

Just eight years later, Franken announced his own candidacy for the U.S. Senate — and he's now working with John Kerry.



The studio's atmosphere was surreal. "Next door was Sesame Street," one of the directors remembers on his blog, "and it was not uncommon to see guys walking down the hall with Muppets on one hand and cigarettes in the other." But the puppets would also share the hall with other misplaced guests from Washington, including Congressmen Dick Gephardt and Pat Schroeder.

There were visits from former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, plus one-time Clinton administration officials like Joycelyn Elders and Robert Reich. The Muppets might also spot real-life political pundits like John McLaughlin, Pat Buchanan, and William F. Buckley dropping by. And the show even had parts for Allison Janney and Martin Sheen — the future stars of The West Wing.

Franken's show would mock journalists — he played a late-night TV correspondent — but ironically, in this episode, the future lawmaker would get pulled over by a cop.

And his night's about to get a lot worse....




Monday Night Live

"I take this oath very seriously," Franken said last week from the Senate Judiciary Committee, as he prepared to question Sonia Sotomayor over her nomination to the Supreme Court. "I may not be a lawyer, but neither are the overwhelming majority of Americans. Yet all of us, regardless of our backgrounds and professions, have a huge stake in who sits on the Supreme Court."

But while he'd later ask many questions — about privacy, internet access, and the right to an abortion — Franken's long strange trip came full circle when he'd eventually grill the future Justice over a TV-related question.

What was the one case that Perry Mason lost?



"Like you, I watched it all of the time," Sonia Sotomayor admitted, though she was unable to cite the fictitious case's title.

"Our whole family watched it," Franken remembers warmly, in one last nod to his television past. "And because there was no internet at the time, you and I were watching it at the same time."



"Is the Senator from Minnesota...going to tell us which episode that was?" demands Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, giving Franken a chance to make one last oddball joke before launching his six-year term.

"I don't know!" Franken replies.

"That's why I was asking!"

See Also:
The Great Wired Drug Non-Controversy
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Lost 'Horrors' Ending Found on YouTube
Five Freaky Muppet Videos

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Bush’s Last Day: 10 Ways America Celebrated



"For 15 minutes, America turned its gaze from the guy who landed the plane in the river to the guy who landed the country in the ditch," joked Jimmy Kimmel — adding that “White House decorators are busy right now peeling the glow-in-the-dark stars off the ceiling in the presidential bedroom.”

Back in Texas, George Bush told a crowd Tuesday that "when I get home tonight and look in the mirror, I'm not going to regret what I see — except maybe some gray hair." But many Americans reacted differently to the Bush presidency, observing the end of his eight-year term with some anger, some humor — and a lot of all-American creativity.


1. Calls for Arrest

At the President's last appearance, the L.A. Times reported, crowds responded with anger. "Just as demonstrators clogged the barricades to protest his court-mediated victory in the 2000 election, so the disenchanted lined Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday to express their dismay..."
On the drive to Capitol Hill, the current and future presidents passed protesters carrying signs reading "Arrest Bush." When Bush entered the grandstand with the band playing "Hail to the Chief" for the last time, the crowd below began singing a different refrain: "Hey, Hey, Good-bye."

One man waved his shoe.

And finally, when Bush's helicopter lifted off from the east front of the Capitol, cheers rose from the crowd and throng stretching down the National Mall.

The Times noted that while Bush is famous for being thick-skinned, "as the morning wore on, his smile appeared to grow more strained..."




2. Signing Off

Some pranksters went even further. Down a two-mile stretch of San Francisco, they changed all the street signs identifying Bush Street to...Obama Street. "The entire street was covered end to end," one of the pranksters told us — adding that the media mistakenly thought they'd missed a few intersections becuase "locals were actually taking them down the next morning as souvenirs!"

Tuesday's prank reminded one area watcher of an even harsher prank eight years ago. "When Bush was first elected all the BUSH street signs were changed to say PUPPET." But one newspaper noted San Francisco voters had rejected the ultimate prank — a city measure that would've renamed a sewage treatment plant after former President Bush.


3. The Onion Gets It Right

The Onion had run a prophetic headline back in January of 2001, mocking President Bush with a fake quote. "Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over." Monday blogger Teresa Hayden collected every Bush-related story from The Onion — nearly 400 of them — arguing that "Other histories of the Bush years will doubtless be more factual, but none will ever be truer."

The Onion kept tweaking the president throughout his eight-year presidency. There's Bush "horrified to learn Presidential salary," and later, "U.S. Takes Out Debt Consolidation Loan." But many of the headlines focus on the war in Iraq.
Bush Won't Stop Asking Cheney If We Can Invade Yet

Bush Thought War Would Be Over By Now

Bush Subconsciously Sizes Up Spain For Invasion

Bush Asks Congress For $30 Billion To Help Fight War On Criticism

Rumsfeld Only One Who Can Change Toner In White House Printer

"[I]n this moment before a changing world overwrites our memories of the era," the blogger writes, "let us pause to salute our constant companion of those years..."


4. Heckling CNN

Oakland's Parkway theatre announced they'd broadcast a feed from CNN on their movie screens Tuesday, including Bush's final departure and Obama's swearing-in. By 7 a.m., nearly 400 people had formed a massive line outside the theatre, and many had to be turned away. Extra chairs were set up in the theatre's aisles, and the huge liberal crowd booed the Republicans as they appeared on the screen — Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle — and later heckled Bush's departure. And as the former president finally stepped onto a helicopter to fly away from the capitol, one heckler suggested an alternate flight plan.

"Send him to Guantanamo!"



Also watching were 5,000 schoolchildren at a community center in Harlem. "It hurt my ears. That's how crazy it got," reported NPR's Robert Smith. But as Bush ceded his presidency to Obama, "Some didn't seem to catch the finer points of presidential transitions," NRP reports. "...about five minutes into Obama's speech, the attention of the younger kids started to drift.

"They threw paper at each other and used their American flags as swords."


5. The Last "Great Moment"

David Letterman assembled a final four-minute montage of Bush's greatest goofs, celebrating the end of a recurring feature on the late-night comedy show: "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches."

"[W]e have to unload what was a tremendous rich heavy-laden vein of comedy for us," Letterman told his audience nostalgically. For over four minutes, the gaffes keep coming, and towards the end, they get even weirder. There's the thrown shoe, the dropped dog — and the infamous moment when Bush's speech was accompanied by a continually-yawning boy in a red baseball cap.




6. Jenna's Last Ride

Jenna Bush and her twin sister Barbara were more famous for partying than for public service — but they observed the transition with a letter left behind for President Obama's daughters. They remembered when their father's father was sworn in — "being seven, we didn't quite understand the gravity of the position our Grandfather was committing to" — but much of their letter seems like it was ghost-written by a Republican spinmeister. ("Our Dad, who read to us nightly...is our father, not the sketch in a paper or part of a skit on TV.") And instead of writing "Eight years go by so fast," the catty Bush twins wrote to the daughters of Obama that "Four years goes by so fast..."


7. Battle of the Presidential Speeches

The site SpeechWars.com created a special exhibit including Bush's own inaugural addresses in 2001 and 2005 — along with those of every president that preceded him. "See how often US presidents have said certain words in their inaugural addresses," the site promised — and it ultimately uncovered two forbidden words which Bush and his predecessors had never spoken in any of the 56 pervious inaugural addresses — but which Barack Obama did.

"Non-believers" and "Muslims."

But Bush's first inauguration speech from 2001 is still shouting out from Google's cache, reminding web surfers how Dubya promised to reform social security — and to "confront weapons of mass destruction." And blogger Andrew Sullivan remembered a Saturday Night Live sketch at the same time which presciently predicted that President Bush would eventually tell the American people that "we had that war thing happen." In the skit, Bush hold up a map showing the Atlantic ocean flooding Louisiana (with the flooding continuing all the way up to Minnesota...) Unfortunately, according to the skit's "glimpse of our future," this alternate reality would be even worse because Vice President Dick Cheney is involved in a hunting accident — where he's killed by President Bush.


8. Perverts Say Goodbye

At a rowdy San Francisco Event called "Bye Bye Bush," San Francisco writer Thomas Roche debuted a new 34-page "gonzo sci-fi cryptozoological horror" story involving evil fish, the Bigfoot monster, and the mayor of a small town in Alaska (and her husband Todd). "I was asked repeatedly to write some political smut," Roche explains, "for a Sarah Palin porn site, for an election reading, and finally for an inauguration-themed reading..."



A half dozen local writers read their short fiction as part of the "Perverts Put Out" series, but Roche came up with a "gonzo Lovecraftian science fiction horror story" in which several Alaska tourists and some unsuspecting environmentalists wander into the dark and mysterious backwoods, and confront — no, no, it's too horrible to describe. "Fairly creepy sexual description..." Roche warns at the top of the story. "Not intended for readers under 18."

"I read an extremely abbreviated version of this story in a room full of weird sexual deviants, and people seemed to like it."


9. Free the White House

"Here's a small and nerdy measure of the huge change in the executive branch," wrote blogger Jason Kottke. The White House's web site had more than 2400 restrictions for search engines — preventing web-crawling spiders from accessing entire directories, photo essays, and the text of certain speeches.

Geeks argued about whether this represented a moving break from the past — or simply an artifact of web coding. But one thing's clear — George W. Bush won't be leaving any more policy statements on the site.

In Texas Tuesday, George Bush joked that his wife Laura "was excited about me mowing the lawn and taking out the trash — it's my new domestic agenda."


10. Losing Facebook

In the last year of Bush's presidency, a Facebook group rose to over 1,000,000 members. The name of the group? "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike George Bush!"

But now many members are commemorating Bush's departure with a final Facebook ritual. Over 190,858 messages appeared on its Facebook "wall," with many now announcing that it's time to move on.
well it was a good run, but its finally over. Later guys...

I still hate George Bush... but he's gone so I don't see the point in having this crowd up my groups now.

"im leaving this group to move on from this era"

"NOW I CAN LEAVE THIS GROUP IT IS IRRELEVANT"

But as George W. Bush finally left office, there was a new group was already springing up on Facebook clamoring for the new president to enact a more liberal policy. Its name? "5 million strong to petition Obama to legalize weed."

It currently has just 3409 members.

See Also:
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
Site Sparks Political Sexiness War
25 Harshest Reactions to the Wall Street Bailout
Why Sarah's Sex Life Matters
Don't Go There: 20 Taboo Topics For Presidential Candidates
Oakland Celebrates Obama's Victory


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Christmas with Hitler



What was Christmas like with Hitler?

The answer comes from a Michigan communications professor, who's created a disturbing web collection showing the Third Reich's attempt to convert the holiday into military propaganda. But Christmas of 2008 also finds authentic reminders of the Nazi era turning up on eBay and YouTube. The question is uncomfortable, inappropriate — and morbidly fascinating. And fortunately, some comedians on YouTube have supplied the last word.

Randall Bytwerk teaches communications at Calvin College, and his web exhibit of Nazi propaganda offers an actual glimpse of the murderous dictator at Christmastime.

"Hitler had thousands of Autobahn workers as his guests in the Berlin Sportpalast at Christmas 1938," explains an upbeat pamphlet called Everybody's Hitler!. "Note the Christmas trees... Hitler's enemies lie when they say that Christmas has been abolished in Germany." (After invading France, the Nazis were assuring its Alsace province that der Führer still celebrated the holiday.)

Another photo shows a decorated tree behind a festive Christmas dinner for Hitler and his soldiers. The blitzkrieg isn't mentioned, but the site does remind us that later — of course — the pamphlet was translated into Dutch.



Professor Bytwerk shows that during the Nazi regime, Hitler's culture department continued producing a Christmas booklet with magical stories, festive songs, and lavish illustrations. (The 1944 edition was 200 pages long.) Several pages quoted the fanatical Christmas Eve speeches of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
On this evening we will think of the Führer, who is also everywhere present this evening wherever Germans gather... The flag and the Reich shall remain pure and unscathed when the great hour of victory comes.

Like Santa Claus, Hitler is everywhere — and he probably sees you when you're sleeping, and knows when you're awake. The book even includes an apparent Christmas card from der Fürhrer himself displaying a red flower with an inspiring Christmas quote: "All nature is a gigantic struggle between strength and weakness, an eternal victory of the strong over the weak."

Another site actually shows Santa paying a visit on Nazi officers and their girlfriends in Christmas of 1944.

But the Nazis ultimately had an insidious agenda for the holiday, and Hitler's propaganda department could show Bill O'Reilly what a real war on Christmas looks like. "The Nazis were out to transform Christmas from a Christian holiday to a celebration of the family in a National Socialist context," writes professor Bytwerk. In 1943 the Nazis released a 64-page pamphlet for Advent which never mentions Jesus. A drawing of lonely soldiers is captioned:
Through your bravery, you give us at home a lovely Christmas season. Each child, as he sees the candle's glow and sings the songs, thinks of you, full of thanks.

The most disturbing entry is a Christmas story about three men lost in the woods — a king, a soldier, and a wood-cutter. Bright stars light a poor woman's hut where she holds her newborn child. She advises her visitors that children fulfill the promise of the future, and the three visitors offer him gifts. "Nazi propaganda intended to remove as much of the Christian content of Christmas as possible," writes professor Bytwerk, "turning it into a family festival with German racial overtones."

There's a page for each day of the month, but each entry is intensely secular, like a sample children's letter to a soldier on the front. ("Mother is already baking for the soldier's package... We think of you so often, especially when we hear the news on the radio...") One YouTube user has even found a clip of a documentary showing Goebbels' Hitler Youth propaganda for Christmas of 1942.

More than 65 years later, it's still a painful subject, and in 2006 the German magazine Spiegel uncovered a bizarre incident:
Germans shopping for Christmas trinkets have been shocked recently to discover row upon row of Santa Clauses looking to all the world as if they are giving the Hitler salute — right arm, straight as an arrow, raised skyward. Never mind that St. Nick is carrying a bag of toys and wearing a silly red hat complete with a white pom-pom. Shoppers were sure — these Santas were Nazis.

It's still possible to buy Nazi artifacts on eBay, including Nazi-era coins and stamps — but not in every country. "This item cannot be sold in Germany, Italy, France, or Austria," reads one page description, "as stated in Ebay Rules." But the web has found more than one way to remember a dark moment in world history. In fact, 2008 ends with Hitler starring in his very own humiliating meme.

There's at least half a dozen videos on YouTube swapping in silly subtitles for Hitler's dialogue in an intense movie called Downfall. The original film chronicled Hitler's final 12 days in a bunker in Berlin, receiving bad news from subordinates as his military crumbles.

But now web wise guys have the dictator ranting insanely over trivial slights — poor attendance at Burning Man, the subprime mortgage crisis, getting his avatar banned from World of Warcraft, or struggling to upgrade Windows Vista. Inevitably, last week someone appropriated the meme to show Hitler complaining about the cost of buying Christmas presents.

"Those of you that think I am being unreasonably cheap better leave now..." a furious Hitler warns his staff.



Magically, the footage has been re-titled again and again, forcing Hitler to endure every possible insult of fate, and this latest video shows him being slowly bankrupted at Christmastime — by requests for iPads and 3DTVs.

See Also:
A Christmas Conspiracy
Christmas 2.0: Subverting the Holidays with YouTube
Death at Christmas
Five Awful Thanksgivings in History

Read More

20 Wildest Reactions to Obama’s Victory



Susie Bright screamed naked. The Santa Cruz-based author belonged to a Facebook group called "I will walk out my front door naked as soon as Obama wins!"

America went a little crazy on Tuesday night, finding a diversity of wild and wonderful ways to celebrate or to protest Obama's historic victory.

Here's 20 of them.


1. Naked in the Streets

That "naked" Facebook group had 227 celebrating members — and on election day, their reports began rolling in. "Its dark and cold here in Vermont, but it felt great!"

"I did it too! In fact, I danced on the front porch, and yelled 'Whoo hoo!'"

"My partner and I went downstairs in our robes, dropped the robes and cracked up like a couple of giddy schoolgirls!"

And in Santa Cruz, Susie Bright reported that she "tore off my clothes and ran out on the front porch and screamed my head off."


2. Impeach Him Already!

Facebook users have already started another dissenting group called "Impeach Barack Obama." In fact, they've started 30 different groups with variations on the same title, with a total of over 9,000 members. But soon other users were joining a competing group — called "Deport Those Who Wish To Impeach Barack Obama."

And another user's group was titled simply "MCCAIN LOST! GET OVER IT!"


3. The Last Word?

Another Facebook user tried creating a group called: "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who hate political Facebook groups."

It currently has just 19 members.


4. Funny Papers

Meanwhile, political cartoonists around the world responded to Obama's victory with images that were nearly identical. Twelve different cartoonists drew Obama with the Lincoln Memorial, while nine more drew him with Martin Luther King.

But the response wasn't confined to the U.S. In Mexico City, Angel Boligan drew Obama wearing a Martin Luther King t-shirt. In Australia, Bill Leak drew King in heaven asking "Am I having a dream?" And in West Africa, Tayo Fatunla drew King in front of a picture of Obama, adding the caption "Having a dream...is the audacity of hope."


5. A Cartoon Gamble

Wednesday South Park aired a story lampooning Obama's victory just one day after the election. The production staff "will be up all night working on Wednesday’s show," their blog announced Tuesday, and Trey Parker told the L.A. Times they'd decided that "we're just going to make the Obama version, and if McCain somehow wins, we're basically just totally screwed."

They were still dubbing in dialogue hours before the episode aired — including actual text from Obama's victory speech. But Parker told the paper he was sure Obama would win — because of the odds at a sports betting site where he gambles on football.


6. Radio, Radio

A celebrating college radio station in Oregon played nothing but musical mixes of Obama's speeches for over an hour.

"It's really great to see people happy again," the DJ explained. "That's what the whole Obama thing is about."


7. Gun Sales are Up

A Utah newspaper reported that "Local gun dealers quickly are running out of stock of magazines for Colt AR-15s and AK models." They're not stocking up for militias, but anticipating Obama's reinstatement of a federal Assault Weapons Ban.

"Pretty much anything with more than 10 rounds is in high demand right now," a gun salesman told the newspaper, noting that one dealer had sold 82 assault rifles in a single day.


8. The Internet Responds

Wednesday someone registered the domain Has Obama Taken Away Your Guns Yet . com. In enormous letters, the site displays a single word.

"No."

And in a smaller subtitle, it quotes a famously-misspelled protest sign.

"get a brain morans"




9. Catch-All Criticism

On Tuesday, a realtor in Georgia had also registered the domain I Blame Obama.com.


10. Flushing the Plumber

In the end, an ungrateful Joe the Plumber said "I was unhappy that my name was used as much as it was." In an interview with a British newspaper, he complains that instead "I think there were real other issues that should’ve been discussed during the debate.”

All the attention landed him a book deal, and he's launched a charity site — where he's promoting his book and selling "freedom memberships" to the site — though he adds that "I will honor and support my president, but there will be no free ride."

Ironically, the actual domain Joe the Plumber .com has belonged to a different plumber in Amarillo Texas since February of 2004. He's using his site to sell American flags, t-shirts — and advertising space on Joe the Plumber.com





11. History by Hanes?

He's not the only one selling clothing to "commemorate" Obama's victory. An ad on CNN argues that history was just made.

"And it comes in your size."


12. Wardrobe Malfunction?

"Dear Sarah Palin," read a sign in a picture framing store in San Francisco.

"We eagerly await your $150,000 clothing donation on Nov. 5th.

"Thanks in advance, Goodwill."


13. You Betcha

Andrew Sullivan supported Barack's candidacy, and celebrated Thursday by noting a sweet vindication from the state Pennsylvania. The county that Sarah Palin had called "the real America"?

"It voted for Obama."





14. No More Bushes

Blogger Steve Benen observed the historic moment with another startling discovery.

2009 will be the first year in 45 years without a Dole or a Bush in elected office.


15. Ebert Gives a Thumb's Up

45 minutes after Obama was elected, Roger Ebert wrote that "Our long national nightmare is ending."

The 66-year-old film critic was quoting a speech Gerald Ford gave after assuming the Presidency from Richard Nixon. "I agree with Oliver Stone," Ebert wrote, "that Bush never knew he had been misled [into the Iraq war] until it was too late.

"I blame those who used him as their puppet."


16. Predicted in the 60s?

After "new left" protesters clashed with police during the 1968 Democratic convention, Norman Mailer had predicted that a torn country "will be fighting for forty years." (One critic complained that "Here at our end of the forty-year war there are no Norman Mailers. Only pollsters. And consultants. And political scientists.")

But shortly before his death last year, 84-year-old Mailer had made one of the only political campaign contributions of his life — to Barack Obama.


17. The Ghost of Chicago

The violent clashes at the '68 convention haunted Democrats — but one liberal who never understood the protesters was Barack Obama's own mother.

"Emotionally her liberalism would always remain of a decidedly pre-1967 vintage," Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, remembering that his mother's heart was "filled with images of the space program, the Peace Corps and Freedom Rides, Mahalia Jackson, and Joan Baez."


18. Rebellious or reasonable

Obama gave his victory speech at the same park as those violent police-protester confrontations in 1968 — and pundits couldn't miss the symbolism. Obama "stands on the shoulders of the crowds of four decades ago," according to one protester. Now a sociology professor, Todd Gitlin told the New York Times that Obama's rebellion "takes the form of practicality. He has the audacity of reason."

But one injury was reported Tuesday night — Chicago Sun-Times journalist Lynn Sweet, who injured her shoulder rushing to cover Obama's speech. In his first press conference, Obama noted wryly that "I think that was the only major incident during the entire Grant Park celebration."


19. What took you so long?

The morning after Obama was elected, he was told he'd been expected by Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple.

In an open letter, the 64-year-old author wrote that Obama had no idea how profound it was for southern blacks, though America's first black president was already "with us" and "in us" in previous generations, and "Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength."

She closed her letter by saying Obama's smile "can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

"We are the ones we have been waiting for."


20. I Have a Dream

In 2004, Martin Luther King's widow had witnessed Obama's first address at the Democratic convention. King's daughter remembered that night after Tuesday's election results, saying her 76-year-old mother had said "Bernice, come here.

"I think we got somebody."


See Also:

Bush's Last Day: 10 Ways America Celebrated
Iraq YouTube Battle Footage
Why Sarah's Sex Life Matters
Drugs and Sex and Susie Bright
How a Barack Obama Site Made Me Famous

Read More

Oakland Celebrates Obama’s Victory



A 20-something reporter from Tennessee said she teared up after voting today. She said she was proud of our president — finally, for the first time in her adult life.

And as I drove to Oakland, it was obvious she wasn't the only one.

One city over, a crowd of people were counting down the seconds to 8:00, when results would be announced, at the Democratic Club in Alameda. But I walked in the door as it came up on the screen: Barack Obama was our next President. Everyone cheered. Several people wiped their eyes. My cell phone rang — it was my girlfriend — but I couldn't call her back, because cell phones stopped working everywhere, because everyone was already calling their friends with the news.

"President Obama," someone said. "I told you. President Obama."
"The whole country is calling each other."
"We did it."
"It's over."
"He's already won."

A black woman in a dirt-colored windbreaker watched to the left of me. She had a birth mark on her face, and her hair was pulled back in a frizzy pony tail. "I never had a doubt," she said. "I never had a doubt."

A young black boy smiled, held his arms over his head, and said "Yes we can."

"Yes we did," someone said.

"God bless America."



People were jumping up and down, and there was hugging. Most of the people in the room were white, and mostly young, but I saw an older blonde woman with a big necklace around her neck. She was tearing up. So was an older guy in a baseball cap. So was the woman in the pony tail who'd said "I never had a doubt." So was I.

At the side of the room was a smiling cut-out of Barack Obama. "California made him win," someone said. "California is what did it." A woman raised her fist over her head. "Obama, y'all!" On the street, I heard a stranger shouting "Obama. Whooo!" And then I left to drive to a celebration party at Everett and Jones, a big barbecue restaurant near Oakland's Jack London square.

At the restaurant, people had screamed when the victory was announced. A news crew filmed people jumping, hugging, waving flags, dancing, and weeping. "Thank you Jesus," the restaurant's owner said, over and over again, clapping her hands. "400 years! We won!"

"I wish my mother and father was here," another woman said. "My mother always worked at the polls, and she always told us to vote. And to believe in ourselves."



Near the restaurant, one street had been blocked off, where a band was performing. There were small balloons woven into an arc — red, white, and blue. Cars drove by honking. Even a truck honked its horn. One honking jeep drove by with two American flags. I heard later they were honking horns in Washington D.C., and in New York. All across America, horns are honking. Three hours later, I'd hear horns start honking again.

A black guy stood at the side of the street dangling an Obama t-shirt to the passing crowds. Later he started dancing — squatting and then kicking. I saw a black kid on his parents shoulders waving an American flag.

I had trouble finding parking, and the barbecue joint was so packed it was nearly impossible to move around. The TV showed a shot of Sarah Palin, and some people booed and held up downturned thumbs. We couldn't hear McCain's concession speech, but were only seeing his expression. Someone said that "He never had a chance."

I saw two black women leaving the crowd. Their eyes looked moist, and that made me mist up too. A young white woman from the Oakland Tribune asked me questions about the election — are you excited? What do you expect Obama to do? What's the first thing you're going to do tomorrow? I started to say that I'd watch everything tomorrow that I missed tonight — that it seemed sad to watch TV tonight when you could be out with the people. I told her I'd been there when they'd counted down to 8 o'clock, and when they'd said Obama was President. I choked up. She thanked me, and moved to someone else.

"This is history right now, Oakland," a woman said from the stage. "This is what we do."



Everywhere I looked I saw cell phones and PDAs. Everyone was still calling everyone else. I found the line for barbecued food — but it was long. After I'd waited for five minutes, I saw the man in front of me greeted by one of his friends. They were both black, and the friend said "I'm so proud. This has been a long, long coming." He didn't say "time" — just a long, long coming.

A reporter from the Oakland Tribune was interviewing a grey-haired black man behind me. Five minutes later, they were still talking.

A lot of the crowd were proudly wearing Obama t-shirts. I saw an "Obama on the cover of Time magazine" t-shirt. And an "Obama on the cover of Ebony" t-shirt. One shirt just said "Black man running, and it ain't from the police."

There was a bright light in the sky. It took me several seconds before I realized it was a helicopter sweeping the crowd. Everyone cheered and waved. Three different people held their hands over their heads, making the "O" sign.

A younger man with dreadlocks and a goatee said "I never really thought I'd see something like this happen in my lifetime." A local news crew filmed him saying Obama had the support not only of African Americans, but everybody. "So America can be what it's destined to be —a melting pot."

A woman from the restaurant was cooking dozens of big dinner sausages on a wide outdoor grill, wearing a sequined "Uncle Sam" hat. The band sang a funk song.
"I thank my lucky stars
I got you in my arms."

I heard the reporter from the Tribune say he was out of ink.

Yes we can.

See Also:

20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
How a Barack Obama Site Made Me Famous
Sarah Palin Photos and a Moose
Site Sparks Political Sexiness War
Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?

Read More

Why Sarah’s Sex Life Matters



A lot of people have said "I don't know if it's fair to look at Sarah Palin's sexuality the way people are — I just don't know if it's sexist or appropriate. Why can't we just treat her like a human being?" Okay, I'm going to tell you why it's appropriate for us to gloat and delve into every detail.
#1. Sexual politics is important. It matters.

#2. Palin has made priggery, prudery and sexual hypocrisy a centerpiece of her law enforcement and public policy directives, as both the mayor of the beautiful Wasilla, Alaska, and the governor of the state.

She ran on a sex-is-icky platform. People who lived in Wasilla remember when being mayor was almost considered a thankless job, like being the town plumber. ("Who wants to deal with all the bullshit down at the city dump and the electrical wiring?") And then Sarah came along, with her Pentecostal church program behind her, saying "I'm not going to talk about issues like whose dog is pooping on whose lawn. I'm going to talk about stopping abortion now." That's the kind of stuff she ran on, and she got a bunch of people who'd never voted before to march down from her little church and put her into office.

About the author: Susie Bright is the host of the weekly Audible.com podcast, "In Bed With Susie Bright." For a free month's subscription, click here. The longer, audio version of Susie's analysis can be found here.

And then Mayor Palin cut funding for rape test kits. It's like, "If you want to complain about being raped, sweetheart, well, you can just get out your checkbook." Because the city of Wasilla, no matter how much money they had in revenue from their oil, wasn't going to spend it on you. So Sarah has made sex a topic by her legislation and her lobbying and her speeches.

But here's the most controversial part, and it's just as rich as any other aspect of her candidacy: we finally have an image of a powerful, fertile, virile woman on the national stage. And it's a female image that's been almost entirely absent from America's pop culture. When you think of women who've been in the news, two kinds come to mind. One we'll call the Paris Hilton model — or Lindsay Lohan, or Britney Spears — this illiterate, anorexic, or drug-addicted pop tart. "She's so rich. Everybody wants to fuck her. She's so special." This, as many mothers wring their hands saying "This is the role model for our daughters? This is who they see as someone they should look up to?" It's been a travesty.



The other kind of strong woman on a national stage has been an older woman like Hillary Clinton. In some ways, you can say that's how sexism worked against her. Every time she got a little ballsy, a little rip-roaring — every time she showed her fierceness and her strength — she was bound to be called a Wellesley lesbian, that somehow she wasn't enough for Bill Clinton, that all those girls she went to college with she was secretly fucking. Now all of this has just been a big pile of right-wing baloney, but it's what happened to Hillary Clinton. She has never allowed herself, or been encouraged to show her sexual side, because it's been considered something that would get her in trouble — like there was no positive way to show it. She had to refrain from being a ball-buster for fear of being dyke-baited.

So here comes Sarah Palin, who apparently is not in menopause at all. She just had a baby a few months ago, so her heterosexuality is just bleeding out all over the place. She's just rolled out of bed! That's the impression we get from this woman. They can't get her on the dyke thing. She's up in Alaska, shooting guns and taking names! So she's gotten a pass on this. And she is irresistible!

We simply haven't had an overtly fecund, butch, straight-woman sex symbol in so long. She's like Annie Oakley with her six-shooters and her polar bears, her caribou dressing and her moose stew. She's got five kids hanging off of her, and you're like "Hells bells, that woman can fuck in the morning, go out for a long hike on the Arctic tundra, take down a polar bear or two, and be back in time to pass some new creationist legislation." She just kicks ass. I mean, she's just so — mmm. So like a powerful woman.

It's exciting, isn't it?

I think for every woman who's been appalled at her politics and the platform she's been running on — and this certainly includes me — well, there's this little part of me that's thinking "Oh, If only she was on my side. If only I could kidnap Sarah Palin and just lick her pussy for a few hours, I think we could just work this whole thing out." Do you know how many lesbians are discussing this? My friend Marga Gomez, who's a fantastic dyke comedian, has this line where she says "Sarah Palin? She's having my baby. And we've already named her Drill." If only we could move her political viewpoint around just a little.

I was talking to my good friend Christina the other night, and when I told her my kidnapping/cunnilingus fantasy about brainwashing Sarah Palin, she said "I don't think it'd really be that hard. I think she really does like us. I think she's ready for anything. She just wants to be a winner. That's all this girl cares about." When she was Sarah Barracuda on the high school basketball team, when she was in the beauty contest — you can just imagine how mad she was that she didn't win Miss Alaska and only won Miss Congeniality.

I don't think she's very congenial. She wants to win. And in Alaska, that meant siding with a certain kind of fundamentalist church. At first, it meant bucking the Republican establishment without leaving the Republican party entirely. It was the same thing with her church. If you go onto YouTube and look at that Wasilla Pentecostal church she belonged to — I mean, they make Ted Haggard look like a sober Lutheran Minister. And when she ran for governor, all of a sudden she stopped going there every Sunday, because it was just a little too wacky. You know, she had a private talk with them and said, "I really love you guys, but it's a little too theatrical for my political career."

What have we learned about Sarah Palin's sex life so far? The most important thing is that, like every other single person in Alaska, she seems to have had premarital sex. You can look at the elopement date, and then you look at when their first son, Track, was born less than 8 months later. All of her children seem to have had premarital sex — all the ones who've gone through puberty, at least. This is not unusual in America, and especially not in Alaska, where you have all these long, long months, a very narrow economy, and not the biggest educational system in the world. There's not a lot to do except fuck, drink, hunt, and fish. In fact, I don't really know how this Wasilla Pentecostal church really works with their abstinence program, because it goes against the Alaska way!

This kind of hurts me, because you know how I hate slut-baiting, but people at Bristol's high school say she got around, according to the National Enquirer. It's easy to imagine this, because when you see all the photos that are floating around MySpace, there's lots of supposed pictures of Bristol, her sister, and her cousins with gigantic tankards of Jack Daniels, tossing them back — jello shots, party, party, party. The kids have apparently been in a lot of hijinx.

I mean, on one level, I'm sympathetic to Sarah Palin having her life torn apart like this, because every other candidate has all kinds of skeletons in their closet, too. The kind of problems this family is dealing with aren't unusual for any American family. But we never found out what was going on with the Bushes, because they were from a ruling class elite that has a shroud of secrecy around their personal lives, and no one in those circles talks. You're never going to find out what they did at Walmart. You're never going to find out if they pulled their pants down and mooned somebody out a car window — because nobody talks among the crowd they've grown up with.

Sarah, on the other hand, in this working class/middle class community in Alaska? Everyone's got a story. There's no veneer of nobility or discretion. It's all up for grabs.



I know the GOP makes it their practice to select candidates — and this very much includes John McCain — not based on whether these people have intelligence or leadership qualities, or experience or character. They pick them the way a modeling agency picks a spokesmodel — they pick them like it's a casting call. Somebody like Richard Nixon would never be picked for a presidential nominee in a million years now, because he's not good television. Ronald Reagan changed everything. Now the GOP believes that government should be handled by professionals whose names you will never know. And they just want the little puppets on the outside to do the song and dance.

"Do you think she's pretty? Do you think she's cute? Great! Vote for her!" And they don't have any respect for her. When they start screaming about how she isn't shown enough deference by the media, I'm thinking "But you don't respect her. You think she's a useful idiot!" If she's really like Annie Oakley, she wouldn't put up with that. If she's really a tough woman who can stand up to a grizzly bear — can she stand up to the GOP?

That would impress me. If she's not going to do that, then she's totally under their thumb — under her husband's thumb, under the GOP's thumb. She's sold out for the money, like so many others, and she doesn't have the barracuda qualities of survival and dignity that we'd hope that she'd have.

We'll see.

I realize some other unbelievable surprise may be unleashed, but until then, all we can do is just turn the pages of the National Enquirer.

See Also:
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
Sarah Palin Photos and a Moose
Drugs and Sex and Susie Bright
CWILF Island: Hottie Candidate Spouses


Read More

Site Sparks Political Sexiness War



A new web site promises to answer "the only question that matters." Who's sexier — Democrats or Republicans?

Sexy female and male voters can now upload their photos to SexiestParty.com and secretly whisper their political loyaties. Strangers on the web rate their attractiveness before the site exposes the secret — whether the picture was a luscious liberal or a cuddly conservative — while running tallies compare the sexiest people in each party.

"Sex and sex appeal have always been a part of politics," the site explains, "but with so much attention being paid to Palin's looks and Obama's charm, it's become a national obsession!" In just a few days the site's racked up nearly 20,000 pageviews, and every visitor has spent almost six minutes clicking around the site. Like Barack Obama, the sexy Democrats currently have a slight lead, while the contest has yet to reach its final climax.



But is this just internet fun, or a dark satire on the shallowness of the electorate? I pinned down the site's spokesman, who was leaving to enjoy an art festival and then watch Friday's debates "along with two or three extremely sexy female poly sci students." His email ended with the words "Stay sexy," but he agreed to do a short interview.

And the word "sexy" just kept coming up.


D: Your site's slogan is "May the sexiest party win."

SP: I think it's just inevitable. And really, honestly, four years of sexy people is better than four years of non-sexy people.

D: But why does it matter which party has sexier members?

SP: The fact that it has no significance is what matters. ;) It's fierce political competition on an issue that has no relevance to good governance. It's Bill Clinton's blow job. Palin's moose hunting. Obama's middle name. McCain's houses.

D: If Americans really will elect the sexiest party, then that means you hold the key to the November election's outcome.

SP: Yes. We do hold the key.

D: I mean in a sense, your site measures which party has the "sexiness edge."

SP: We're providing a public service. Everything else has been covered. The political sensibilities have been mapped and decoded across the land. But the one thing that seems to be missing is who's sexier, so to some extent, we're providing those data points as a public service.

D: What makes you think people on the internet are going to be interested in sex?

SP: It was just a wild hunch.

D: If I'm rating the male Democrats, will I eventually see a very sexy photo of Barack Obama?

SP: The more prominent members of the party, the candidates themselves, get plenty of exposure. I think there's already a solid sense of their sexiness on the spectrum. It's really the real people — the real Americans — we're interested in helping out.

D: But you sound kind of cynical about the choice of Sarah Palin.

SP: We're not the least bit cynical. Sarah Palin, and Obama too — he's also very photogenic, as has been pointed out. And this is nothing new. John F. Kennedy was also criticized for being basically a physically, aesthetically-pleasing candidate.

D: Are you saying that a sexy undercurrent leads to success in politics?

SP: We'll see with this election.

There is a thesis statement in there somewhere, and certainly a critique. I mean, once Palin got into the race, our site suddenly became that much more relevant. It was a demarcation of the shallowness of this whole process. We foreground that shallowness and give people a place to duke it out in our context. It is a place of real competition, but it's also satirical as well.

One interesting thing about this project is we're providing a forum where two different parties actually are on the same page. Both political viewpoints are so skewed. With the division in our culture, it's pretty rare to find a forum where both sides are presented objectively and on par. In version 2.0, we're even going to implement information about each party's participation levels on the site.

D: It's true that America is sharply divided now by a real and bitter partisanship. Do you think maybe you've found the missing common ground?

SP: We're bringing people together so there's no partisanship. We're trying to really focus on the issue that really matters, which is sexiness. (And we also don't allow comments, because we don't want it to devolve into bad behavior.)

This will seem convenient, but I came up with the idea when I was thinking about how deeply and personally many people take the red/blue divide. To the point of having it limit their options in life in areas that really have nothing to do with politics. Reporters ask which party is sexier at the end of interviews as a joke... but there are a lot of people who take it seriously.



D: So then is this all really just about the sexiness?

SP: Well, the site's definitely playful and sexy. But it does hint at some of the silliness inherent in how the red/blue divide has invaded issues that have nothing to do with politics. Why can't good god-fearing hockey Moms enjoy the odd latte?

D: Isn't this kind of sexist?

SP: Yeah, I guess. The whole culture is guilty of that as well. We really don't like to get involved in these kind of issues. We can't be held accountable for the sins of the culture. We just reflect. That's all we do.

D: I guess the "pursuit of happiness" is an inalienable right.

SP: And we all know that sexiness equates to happiness.

D: So if a party is determined to be sexier — does that mean I should join it?

SP: It might sway people to reconsider their positions.

D: Are you a Democrat or a Republican?

SP: We're a non-partisan site, so I really can't say. It's a very sexy party though.

D: There is something timely about your site. This year there've been high profile sex scandals — often, involving the most moralistic politicians.

SP: In all seriousness it's like that generation forgot they were young at one point in some ways. There's sort of a reaction against the excesses and dalliances of their youth, perhaps.

D: But didn't the other half of the political spectrum just embrace all their sexy urges?

SP: In some way, maybe we're putting our finger on sort of the dividing point of the culture. Maybe it really is all about sex — and the reaction against the permissive behavior in the 1960s and how that shaped the great ripples in our culture since then. It seems like we've actually gone backwards. We've gotten less permissive and less open to different types of behavior.

Maybe now through our site, they can lust after their deadly opponent — their enemies.

D: I thought they'd want to lust after the hottest members of their own party.

SP: There's certainly that as well.

D: So if Sarah Palin reminds voters of a sexy librarian, does that increase McCain's chance of getting elected?

SP: Palin is pretty sexy — but I need to see her with her hair down. Palin is definitely my type, yes. Brunettes with glasses. Of course, I want to emphasize that we're an objective non-partisan site, so we really take no position on sexiness vis-a-vis party affiliation.

D: Interestingly, Sarah Palin is actually opposed to sex education.



SP: It makes her seem a little bit like she's playing hard to get. That coy Sarah Palin. (You're not using my name, are you? I don't want any death threats.)

D: Your secret is safe with me.

SP: As you might have guessed, I'm developing this project under an alias... Too many nuts in the political world, and you never know who might get pissed off!

D: Are politically-active Americans sexier than, say, politically-active Canadians?

SP: Oh, absolutely. We're launching a Canadian version of the site to find out — to see how they compare. And we also think that sexiness knows no geographic boundaries.

D: So when will the Canadian version of your site launch?

SP: We're aiming for Monday. [The site just went live a few minutes ago.] It's at sexiestparty.ca. And of course, these are just the first two. We plan to roll them out into all the major political markets across the globe.

D: Maybe you've inspired a sense of national pride.

SP: They're coming from all across this great country of ours, from the farmlands to the urban portions of the country. From sea to sexy sea.

D: One study found that immediately after 9/11, casual sex increased dramatically. I wonder if we're now approaching another spike with the ongoing Wall Street meltdown.

SP: Living for the moment, I guess. Certainly we in no sense condone that — but we also don't condemn it, either. Obviously this is a frothy bit of frivolity, but hopefully there's an appeal to comic relief in these turbulent times, something to look at that's not so weighty.

D: So what happens if someone is determined to be the most sexy member of their political party? Do they get to break ties in the Senate?

SP: As it is an ongoing competition, they're encouraged to keep up the sexy fight lest they fall behind in the sexy race.

D: Why can't libertarians be sexy too? Right now your site only lets me judge Democrats and Republicans on the basis of their appearance. Why can't I also make sex objects out of Ron Paul supporters?

SP: I agree. I'm actually pushing to get third parties implemented on the site too.

D: I see that you registered your sexy domain all the way back in May.

SP: Yes. Due to our programming team's very active sex lives, progress on the site has been slow. There have been a lot of "candidates to interview," so to speak.

If we all weren't so damn sexy it would have been finished a long time ago.

D: But has the site also helped you hook up with other sexy people?

SP: It's not about me. It's really all about the American people.

See Also:
War of the Candidate Music Videos
CWILF Island: Hottie Candidate Spouses
Sarah Palin Photos and a Moose
Democratic Cartoon Candidates

Read More

25 Harshest Reactions To the Wall Street Bailout




"The point is this is one of the most important irrevokable economic decisions we will ever make. Let's make it in a state of panic."

      — Stephen Colbert


*


"The fox is guarding the hen house."

      — A heckler mocking Treasury secretary Henry Paulson


*


Senator Bunning: How long were you CEO of Goldman Sachs?
Audience: (Laughter and applause from a Code Pink supporter skeptical of Secretary Paulson.)

Code Pink woman: And what's your net worth?

Senator Bunning: I don't need help from the audience, I can ask the questions on my own...


*


"I'm not going to fire you; you can still be called Congress. But you don't have any power."

      — Jon Macey, Yale Law School professor and deputy dean, providing an allegory for Secretary Paulson's proposal



*


"As of now we [journalists] are, as a group, behaving just as we did the
last two times the administration sought to rush through a hastily
thought out, ill-conceived plan. Why in the world are we being so
gullible and naive?"

      — Former New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston




*
"What the proposal actually did...was explicitly rule out any oversight, plus grant immunity from future review... [I]f Paulson can't be honest about what he himself sent to Congress... there is no reason to trust him on anything related to his bailout plan."

      — Paul Krugman

*


"If you think the Bailout of All Bailouts...won't saddle American taxpayers with billions, if not trillions, of risky obligations, you don't know politics... Never before in the history of American capitalism has so much been asked of so many for...so few."

      — Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor

*


"We are talking about ten thousand dollars per household, and that money
cannot simply go into a black hole of bad debt."

      — John McCain

*


"Americans can no longer trust the economic information they are getting from this Administration... Secretary Paulson's market predictions have been consistently wrong in the last year."

      — Republican Senator Jim DeMint


*


"Normally, this is a process that would take months — years."

Instead, the law is being worked out, live on television, over the course of a few days.

      — NPR, quoting the chief lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, Scott Talbott





*

"This is scare tactics to try to do something that's in the private but not the public interest. It's terrible."

      — Allan Meltzer, former economic adviser to President Reagan
and Carnegie Mellon professor of political economy, quoted in the New York Times


*


"Watching Washington rush to throw taxpayer money at Wall Street has been sobering and a little frightening."

      — Newt Gingrich


*


"Many economists argue that taxpayers ought to get more than avoidance of the apocalypse for their dollars: they ought to get an ownership stake in the companies on the receiving end."

      — New York Times front-page analysis by reporter Peter S. Goodman



*


"Seriously, is there anybody out there willing to write George Bush a blank check?"

      — Democratic Activist Christine Pelosi


*

"No 'cash for trash.'"

      — Dennis Kucinich, proposing Americans should also take partial ownership of any institutions receiving bailout money.

*

I think it's embarrassing to the United States of America. There is a lot of blame to go around."

      — Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson


*


"For anybody out there living in cave, let me just say this. Congratulations. You've apparently made the soundest real estate investment possible."

      — Jon Stewart


See Also:
The Future of America Has Been Stolen
Don’t Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?
Prior Permission From Government to be Required for Each Flight
Homeland Security Follies

Read More

Sarah Palin Photos and a Moose



There's many strange facts emerging online today in the uproar over Alaska governor Sarah Palin...

Enthusiastic bloggers have already uncovered these 2007 photos from Vogue magazine (plus a fake cover photo, pictured above-left) — and this 1984 beauty pageant photo. Her Wikipedia page was even edited to identify her as "the hot governor of Alaska" until editors increased the security on her page. (Vandals had swapped in a photograph of Hulk Hogan to represent the female governor, while another committed a major revision they described as simply "Replaced content with 'tacos'.") And the corrected entry still points to a URL describing Palin's smoking of pot — when it was legal in Alaska, though illegal under U.S. law. (According to an Alaska newspaper, Palin says she didn't like it and doesn't smoke it, but "I can't claim a Bill Clinton and say that I never inhaled.")



She's drawing lots of comments online. ("For some reason she looks like Kermit the Frog in this picture to me," wrote on Digg user about Sarah Palin.) But one user on Fark was more enthusiastic — "Jesus Christ. This campaign has turned into a Viagra commercial" — and within a few hours, Fark users had posted a whopping 2,700 comments. The snarky discussion continued on Metafilter, joking about how Sarah named her children Track, Trig, Bristol, Willow, and Piper. ("Dear GOD! Vice Presidents don't get to NAME anything, do they?!")

But Palin could also be the center of the biggest controversy for McCain's vice presidential pick. Dubbed "Trooper-gate," the potential vice president is currently being investigated by the Alaska legislature over charges that she pushed for the firing of a state official after they refused to fire her sister's ex-husband. (The couple was locked in a bitter custody battle.) It's been an especially messy divorce, according to Alaska newspapers. Her ex-husband "admitted to using the Taser on his stepson in a 'training capacity' and said he shot a moose on his wife's tag, but didn't think the act was illegal."

Governor Palin actually wrote a letter to his superior saying Molly's trooper spouse had drunk a beer at her house and then drove off in a state patrol car, "waving with beer in hand." And after an investigation, Alaska's Public Safety Employees found her ex-husband threatened Molly "with shooting her father if he hired a lawyer to represent her. Wooten denied making the statement, but [Sarah] Palin, McCann and Palin's son all confirmed that he did."

Sarah Palin joins McCain's campaign at a crucial time. According to one focus group, after viewing Obama's Thursday speech, more than 25% of swing voters switched from undecided to supporting Obama — or from supporting John McCain to undecided. Politically it's hoped that Palin can help McCain with conservative voters. (The Christian Coalition has already issued a statement praising Palin, who has said she believes schools should teach creationism.) Though ironically, Palin has also expressed her support for Barack Obama's energy plan.)

And she's currently taking some heat for an interview she gave with the CNBC.
As for that VP talk all the time, I'll tell you, I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day...? We want to make sure that that VP slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and for the things that we're trying to accomplish up here for the rest of the U.S., before I can even start addressing that question.

But today, it's the online world that's providing her first vetting. And many of the comments have been strongly unfavorable. ("My third grade teacher had more gravitas," wrote a user at Wonkette.) U.S. News and World Report asked "Will Palin Stand Up to Scrutiny?" on one of their blogs — and received a withering critique from a user named "Educated Female from FL."
She's is essentially a beauty queen....a housewife....that became Governor of Alaska.

We are one heart attack away from her as commander in cheif. [sic] Just like when Dubya picked Harriet Miers for Supreme Court Justice.

Why is it that Republicans always pick inexperienced females? Is it that they are trying to be equality minded, but can't get away from choosing someone that is really unqualified, because their insecurities won't let them have a female sharpie next to them? Their idea of women is hilarious...they are stuck on mommy.

Not every online voice is critical. A U.S. News blogger argues that she's a real asset for the McCain ticket. "[T]hough she comes from far-off Alaska, she will help—big time—in Montana, Colorado, and other western states that McCain has to lock up quickly. She can talk guns, and energy, and wildlife, and make conservative dogma sound reasonable."



But after watching McCain's press conference, Politico's Jonathan Martin saw her rural background as a negative — and put his finger on yet-another strange oddity about the life of Sarah Palin.

"There are more people in that arena than in the town she was mayor of."

See Also:
Why Sarah's Sex Life Matters
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?
Here Comes the Judge's Porn
War of the Candidate Music Videos
Is It Legal Porn or Illegal Porn?

Read More

How a Barack Obama Site Made Me Famous


Image via BikePortland.org

Mat Honan worked for two failed dotcoms before becoming a contributing editor at Wired magazine — but his luck changed in February when he created a funny site about Barack Obama in just a few hours. 7 million pageviews later, it's landed him a book deal, a slew of interviews, and even a mention in the New York Times.

The success grew from a personal catchphrase whispered teasingly to his wife: "Barack Obama is your new bicycle." (Her excitement about the candidate matched her previous enthusiasm for cycling.) But it soon exploded, proving once again the strange fame-making power of the web. Mat's publisher had also conjured books out of viral web sites like Chuck Norris facts and the LOL Cats. Is the internet changing the world of publishing as well as the presidential race — and maybe even democracy itself?



A funny thing happened when I tried to buy Mat's book — I couldn't. It had already sold out at my local store, and there were only two copies left at the Borders superstore. ("It's been really popular," the floor clerk said.) But Mat's a friend of mine, so I tracked him down for an honest answer about the role of the internet in 2008, and how it's changing the way we argue about politics.

And the way we argue about Barack Obama....


LOU CABRON: Are you surprised by the runaway success of your site?

MAT HONAN: The thing you have to keep in mind is that I got the idea for the site on a bus ride home, and between 5 p.m. and when the site went live at 9 p.m. — nothing was done after that!

I didn't have any expectation that something I created in a few hours was going to take off like it did. I've worked on a lot of online and writing projects for weeks and months, and sometimes you create things that you think are going to be insanely popular — that people will like — but you can never predict that kind of stuff. And those things you spend a few hours on — I don't know what happened. I basically tapped into some sort of Zeitgeist, and people really related to it!

I think most people who like it are pro-Obama, and it's fundamentally sort of sweet. I was trying to come up with ideas that your wife or your boyfriend or your best friend or something would do for you. That was my criteria.

LC: Like "Barack Obama bought you candy. Barack Obama baked you a pie. Barack Obama folded you an origami crane. Barack Obama built you a robot." For some reason, these non sequitors you came up with resonated with the online world.

MH: I really am sort of amazed by it. Even though I've thought about it a lot, I can't really put my finger on whatever made it take off like it did.

If you had told me 10,000 people would see it, I just wouldn't have thought that was very likely, or that if they did, it might've been if some big blog linked to it — I might've gotten a one-day bump in traffic. I certainly wouldn't have thought it was going to result in a book deal!

LC: It's been said that online media also helped Obama build the "net roots" backbone for his Presidential bid. Is the role of technology in this campaign being overblown?

MH: I don't think it's overblown. I think if anything, there's probably not enough made of it.

I have in the past couple of months become an unintentional and unwitting spokesman for what's right or wrong about the Obama campaign and I just — I'm not an expert on it. But he is internet savvy, and what made me put some of those references in the book — "Barack Obama favorited your photo" and "Barack Obama friended you on Facebook" — is that his campaign did have those internet presences. That was certainly one of the things that led me to include those.

LC: Your web site immediately inspired several other viral sites — about Hillary Clinton, Ron Paul, and even Steve Jobs. But at the same time, political blogs have started to play a real role in fundraising and disseminating campaign information. Is that a good thing?

MH: I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing, because it leads to us not talking to each other as we once did. I think the more that we splinter into little groups, the worse it is for society as a whole. It becomes very easy for me to forget that there are people out there who have some political opinion that's very different than my own, because I just don't go to those web sites. I don't know what people are talking about on Little Green Footballs today. I don't know if it's still around, and if it went away — I wouldn't know.

I tend to avoid political web sites like I do somebody who's got a hacking cough. Whether they're left wing or right wing, I think they just tend to be so consumed with anger — I have a hard time getting into it. I don't think it's constructive. It's really easy to get yourself into a feedback loop...

Maybe I don't have enough spare time to be hanging out on the hardcore political sites.

LC: Does it seem like there's too much cynicism — online, and in the real world?

MH: I feel like cynicism is just such an easy cop out to caring for people — or doing anything. I feel like cynicism is the lazy man's sincerity. It's hard work not to be cynical. Social pressures make you want to be cynical, especially among people who might consider themselves urbane or in some way outside of the mainstream.



I try very hard not to be cynical. I think I'm somebody who used to be a very cynical person... There's a lot of social pressure for you to not be enthusiastic about anything — and to just not like anything, or to act like you don't like anything, to be too cool to like anything, too cool to be a fan. I made a decision a long time ago to not be cynical. And I hope it comes through in the book. And yet there's some part of me that's cynical, deep inside of me.

I feel like so few people are engaged and trying to do anything — to put themselves out there, largely because so many other people are engaged in trying to tear down people who put themselves out there. I think that applies to politics, art, business... I think society has become, and maybe always has been, very cynical, and I think ultimately that's not very constructive or helpful. I think that oddly enough, it's to some extent the creative class that is the most cynical and should also be the group of people who are least likely to be cynical, because they're the ones who are most often negatively affected by the cynicism of others.

LC: Your web site is sweet but sardonic — and it's ultimately hard to guess what your true feelings are about Obama.

MH: The book and the web site certainly were meant to be neither pro or anti-Obama. They almost have nothing to do with each other in that regard. I mean, the book is definitely done from a well-meaning and loving place, but in a way that I think could be open to interpretation, as something that you could see as not pro-Obama. And many people have seen it as an anti-Obama site. I was just trying to make a joke, and I think a lot of times jokes work better if they don't have an agenda. And I didn't have an agenda.

But I also was "taking the piss" a little bit — because I felt like there's a certain zeal to the whole Obama thing. I think that people can have conflated expectations of Obama and not necessarily him as a candidate. I certainly think he's the stronger candidate — he was the stronger candidate in the primary, and he is now. But that doesn't mean he's the perfect candidate or the perfect man. No one is. So I was just making fun of the concept of Obama as the person who's all things to all people, which is how I think people perceive him, not that he's presented himself as such. I kind of think those are two different things. When I made the web site, I was just sort of trying to say the whole country seems to have just fallen in love with Barack Obama.

LC: The McCain campaign is comparing the Barack Obama phenomenon to Paris Hilton.

MH: I wasn't talking about Obama as a celebrity. I was talking about him as a boyfriend. I thought it was kind of a good-natured ribbing about my wife in particular and people in general, being in love with Obama.

I certainly think that the McCain campaign is coming from a place of cynicism, which I think is unfortunate. I think John McCain is a great American and I think he is a person who probably is a statesman and I think he's done a disservice to his campaign by engaging in this kind of Karl Rove "scorched earth" cynical campaign. I feel like he's taking things that Obama has said and making it appear that Obama has created a cult of personality or attempted to create a cult of personality, whereas it's the people who have supported Obama who have generated this zeal for him, when it's Obama's supporters who are enthusiastic for him. Obama can't artificially create something like that. No one can.

LC: But do you think that popularity translates into real political change? Do you really think Barack can bring America together?

MH: I think maybe he can. I don't know why, exactly, but I think maybe he can. I think he can, because I think he's sort of an authentic person, and I think he's a leader. There are certain indefinable traits that leaders have, and I think he's got those indefinable traits.

And I think people will support him as a President. I think it's fundamentally bad to have two camps in the country hating each other, and I think you need somebody that speaks from the middle. And I think unless he can kind of be painted into a corner, I think he can do that.

The government's last eight years have been governing from the edge. I felt Clinton and Bush's dad did a good job of governing from the middle. I think it's something Obama will try to do, and if you're a strong leader you certainly stand a better chance than when you just govern from your base.

LC: But you're not actually a Democrat?

MH: I'd never voted for a major party candidate until John Kerry. And that was because I had a cynical view of both parties, and didn't really necessarily feel that my vote was going to change anything. Not that it wasn't important — I felt that it was important, but I also felt like it wasn't going to change anything, because nobody stood for anything that they were talking about. They just stood for themselves. So John Kerry — it wasn't so much that I was voting for him as I was voting against Bush.

I'm 35 and about to be 36, but Obama is certainly the first candidate I have ever been excited about and really believed in. I feel like it's not just necessarily young people. I feel fortunate that there's a candidate like that in this election because I think you maybe get one of those in a lifetime — one candidate in a lifetime who you can really truly believe in. I do believe in Barack Obama because I believe he has some essential authenticity. He comes across as a real human being, as someone who wakes up in the morning and goes to sleep at night and has doubts and isn't just saying what needs to be said in order to be elected. I just — that's my take on it. Why do I think that? It's hard to say.

LC: What about John McCain?

MH: McCain is someone who had his own authenticity, and he squandered it by zagging to go after his party's base, by cozying up to the very people he called agents of intolerance.

Obama — you look at some of the things he's done. I think he made a very risky speech on race. He's the first person I think in my lifetime who talked about race to me as if I wasn't an absolute idiot, who talked to me like he would if it were the two of us in the room rather than speaking to a nation of people. Most politicians won't talk to you like that. They'll talk as if there are 100,000 ears listening in, and they're trying to catch them — which they are.

LC: So if Barack is our new bicycle, what was John Kerry? John Edwards? Al Gore?

MH: I don't think it quite works that way. It was very specific. One of the things that was interesting about the book and the web site is that it's all so enigmatic to people. I was almost reluctant to write an introduction because I didn't know if it would kind of ruin the enigmatic title to explain where it came from. But to me, when I say "is your new bicycle" — the your is my wife's.

If you're talking about John Kerry in her terms, I guess maybe he's a MUNI bus Fast Pass. It still beats driving to and from work, but it's not going to be as fun.

LC: So you don't have a metaphor for the Taft administration?

MH: I think even if you went back to Clinton, I'd be dry.

LC: The Democratic Convention is this week. Any plans to capitalize?

MH: I had actually hoped to go to Denver and try to do some book promoting, but I can't afford the hotel rooms. My wife and I had thought about driving out there and maybe setting up a little table. But I think when I last checked, the Super 8 or the Motel 6 cost $350 a night with a four-night minimum...there were virtually no rooms.

LC: So I'll take it you haven't been offered a speaking slot at the convention. But have you heard anything from the Obama campaign?

MH: Nah. Nothing. I don't know if they know about my book or not.

He did favorite a photo of mine on Flickr. That was great, but I assume that was somebody in his campaign. He's way too busy to be messing around with Flickr.



LC: Your book's last non sequitor is "Barack Obama autographed your book."

MH: And it even have a space for him to autograph it there.

LC: Has anyone....?

MH: My hope is that someone will actually do that and send me a picture.

LC: But meanwhile, back in San Francisco, not only is Barack Obama your new bicycle — you wrote the whole book at a bike cafe. Bikes are fuel efficient, and there was even a minor stir over a photo of Barack Obama riding his bicycle. And yet ironically, bicycles have been almost completely absent from this campaign.

MH: There are going to be thousands of bikes at the Democratic convention to get around on — those pick-'em-up, drop-'em-off bikes. I think anything that gets people on bikes is great.

Good for them!

Buy the book here!


See Also:
Is the Net Good For Writers?
An Obama Caucus Story From Idaho
The Bush Administration's Greatest Hits (To Your Face)
The QuestionAuthority Proposal
Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?

Read More

Can Senator Lieberman Be Recalled?




"He should be recalled," jokes blogger John Amato.

"And then forced to move to another state."

Liberal democrats hate Joe Lieberman — and according to a recent poll, a lot of other people do too. The Connecticut Senator is so unpopular, he'd "be crushed today" in a new election, one headline announced, citing a poll showing that even 46% of Connecticut's independent voters disapproved of Lieberman's performance, while another pollster noted Lieberman's overall approval rating "has dropped below 50 percent for the first time in 14 years of polling..."

Is the discontent building into a political force? Yesterday a petition with nearly 50,000 signatures was delivered to Capitol Hill urging the Democrats to revoke Lieberman's leadership of the Homeland Security committee. And some bloggers have pondered an even more severe question: can you recall a sitting Senator?



Lieberman won a six-year term in 2006 with just 49.7% of the vote — after losing in the state's primary election, and being forced to run as an independent. And since then he's antagonized both parties, caucusing with the Senate's Democrats to provide the crucial vote they need for a one-Senator majority — while endorsing the Republicans' presidential candidate. "Come on, Connecticut, recall this boob," wrote one blogger — even before the latest poll showed Lieberman trailing by a huge 15 points in a re-match against his previous Democratic challenger, Ned Lamont.

But is there enough bad energy around the Senator to launch a recall effort?

According to at least one liberal blogger — no. "I'm pretty certain that as a factual matter he cannot be recalled," says Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo. "Full stop. Can't happen." Some states have a recall procedure in their Constitution, notes Daily Kos blogger Meteor Blades — but Connecticut isn't one of them.

And even then, "there is the matter of whether a state could recall a Senator if it had a recall provision on the books," he adds. "I'm no lawyer — Constitutional or otherwise — but since no serious effort has ever been made to recall a Senator, we don't have any case law dealing with the issue." In 1967, Idaho tried to recall Senator Frank Church, only to be told by a district court that the state's recall laws didn't apply to a U.S. senator, according to Wikipedia. Idaho's Attorney General agreed, saying the U.S. Constitution handles the ejection of Senators.

In fact, 32 Senators have faced expulsion from the Senate over its 219-year history under a provision in the first article of the U.S. Constitution. ("Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings...and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.") The last one was in 1995 — Senator Robert Packwood of Oregon, who resigned after allegations of sexual assault (and a unanimous preliminary expulsion recommendation from the Senate's ethics committee). But a two-thirds vote is hard to achieve — just ask Senators Vitter and Craig. Aside from one treasonous anti-Spanish conspiracy in 1797, no Senators have actually been expelled except for the 14 ejected during the Civil War for supporting the Confederacy.

Recall procedures are listed for 18 states on the official site of the National Conference of State Legislatures — but the number shouldn't be misinterpreted. "We're the national conference of state legislators," says the group's media manager, Meagan Dorsch, "so this page pertains primarily to the recall of state officials. Some of these laws may be applicable for both state and U.S. elected officials — but you would have to read the states' constitutional articles to find out their exact definition of an elected official."

Connecticut isn't one of those states, Meteor Blades points out — and that's only the beginning. "If, somehow, Connecticut managed to put a recall law on the books and then tried to use it against Lieberman, there litigation would start to flow. And everything I've read on the subject indicates that such a move would fail on (U.S.) Constitutional grounds. So, to shorten my answer, 'No,' Lieberman can't be recalled."

But a day of reckoning may still find Joe Lieberman. Until the next election, he's the ultimate swing vote — single-handedly determining which party controls the Senate. In just 16 weeks, however, the Democrats are favored to win at least three more seats — and those election results could change everything. Yesterday reporters directly asked the Democrats' Senate majority leader Harry Reid whether Lieberman should retain his committee leadership posts even after the election. "Let's talk about this year," Reid hedged non-commitally. When pushed on whether he was open to change, the Senate leader countered that he wasn't, then added "I'm just waiting to get through this year when I have a 51 vote majority."

"He will be ousted of all his leadership responsibilities if a few more states vote for Democratic candidates in the Senate," believes John Amato, who founded the political blog Crooks and Liars. In fact, Amato believes Lieberman's recent support of John McCain hides a Machiavellian scheme. Lieberman "latched onto John McCain because...he knows this, and has betrayed the values he says he believes in for purely personal gain."

Meteor Blades notes ironically that Democrats could see Lieberman leave the Senate in November — if John McCain won the Presidency, and then gave Lieberman a cabinet post. McCain might even run with Lieberman on the ticket as Vice President in another scenario. (Though ironically, last week's polling showed the combination would actually hurt McCain's chances of winning Lieberman's home state of Connecticut.) And there's one other option that would remove Lieberman from the Senate. If Barack Obama wins in November "Obama could offer him a good Cabinet position," suggested one commenter at Daily Kos wryly.

"But that has the downside of putting Lieberman in a good Cabinet position."



What about that grass roots petition to strip Lieberman of his committee leadership positions? Lieberman dismissed it as "old, petty partisan politics," according to the response from Lieberman's office. And so far the controversy isn't winning support from the Democrats' leader in the Senate. "Anytime we have a problem here, with the exception of Iraq, Joe Lieberman is with us," Harry Reid told reporters Thursday. "So I wish people would leave him alone."

There's no question that Lieberman is unpopular — but the real question is what to do about it. In fact, Lieberman already has an unexpected supporter for a re-election bid in 2012 — Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos. "My biggest fear is that Lieberman retires in 2012," Markos wrote last week.

"I want him defeated at the ballot box."

See Also:
Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
Prior Permission From Government to be Required For Each Flight
Homeland Security Follies
The Future of America Has Been Stolen

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Here Comes The Judge’s Porn



Judge Alex Kozinski posted porn online, the L.A. Times announced yesterday. But today internet bloggers discovered which porn it was!

"And now, for the more disturbing and/or pornographic images," announced conservative blogger Patterico, who claimed he'd spoken to the Times' source for two hours, and ultimately convinced him to deliver the images he'd downloaded from the judge's site. He's identified the naked women painted like cows (cropped above), the man performing fellatio on himself, and the women exposing their genitalia in front of the "Bush for President" sign. ("That is a funny joke," Kozinski admitted to the L.A. Times...)

And the "slide show striptease featuring a transsexual" appears to be just a PowerPoint quiz jokingly challenging the viewer to guess real women from the pre-op transsexuals.


Some of the photos from the PowerPoint were clearly X-rated, but the blogger posting the contents of Kozinski's directory ultimately was sympathetic. "I could be wrong, but I think that on the whole, most people will say that the actual images are slightly less offensive than one would expect from a text description," he blogged today.

And for some fans online, Kosinski is on his way to becoming their favorite judge.



At Fark, one poster remembered the time judge Kozinski contacted a supposedly female blogger at "Underneath Their Robes," nominating himself for their "Judicial Hottie" contest. ("I have it on very good authority that discerning females and gay men find graying, pudgy, middle-aged men with an accent close to Gov. Schwarzenegger's almost totally irresistible.") He proudly submitted video footage of his appearance on "The Dating Game" in 1968. (When selected, he grabs the female contestant's face and surprises her by planting a very long kiss.)


"I had my own photo-spread in George Magazine, with lots of sexy pictures of me jumping," Judge Kozinski added. "This was a few years back, but I've only gotten cuter with age."

The blog "Underneath Their Robes" was actually written by David Lat, who later became a blogger at Wonkette. "I was surprised, needless to say," Lat emailed us today about the news of the Kozinski porn stash. "But one thing I'd emphasize is that that this material was not easily accessible — you needed to know what subdirectory to enter in order to access items.

"So I'm not as scandalized as it seems other folks are. This was never material that he meant for the public to see."

And the judge himself had another explanation, which appeared today on the blog "Above the Law"
"Everyone in the family stores stuff there, and I had no idea what some of the stuff is or was — I was surprised that it was there. I assumed I must have put it there by accident, but when the story broke, [my son] Yale called and said he's pretty sure he uploaded a bunch of it. I had no idea, but that sounds right, because I sure don't remember putting some of that stuff there.

It's worth remembering that Kozinski has always been an unashamed advocate for freedom of speech — and he has a sense of humor. (When Mattel sued over the song Barbie Girl, Judge Kozinski wrote in his legal opinion that "The parties are advised to chill.") When confronted about the dirty images by the L.A. Times, he argued that at least some of the pictures were funny. Some might be offensive, he conceded, but he didn't think any matched the legal definition of obscene.

"Is it prurient? I don't know what to tell you," he told the newspaper. "I think it's odd and interesting. It's part of life."



The blogger at Patterico says the images the Times discussed had been online since December, according to his source. And one commenter at Slashdot found a cached screenshot of Kozinski's directory, with file dates as far back as 2004. But the screenshot revealed the directory held mostly the kind of viral videos one would usually find on Digg.
funny-cats-2.wmv
john.mccain.sings.wmv
monica.jpg
donkey.mpg
dont.eat.worms.mp3

Yes, some of the file names were a little racy — like fart.exe, orgasm.wav, and esheep.exe. But the Kozinski directory also held a copy of Monty Python's innocuous Lumberjack song — along with two songs by Weird Al Yankovic

Wonkette ultimately called it "the sort of naughtiness you’d find in the dirty birthday cards section at Spencer Gifts," describing Kozinski's directory as "the very worst excuse for hosting a porn stash since Mark Penn told his mom 'I'm keeping that stack of Juggs for a friend?'"

Ironically, one of the Yankovic songs in his directory gave a title beginning with the words "You Don't..." presumably the song parody "You Don't Love Me Any More." ("I guess I lost a little bit of self-esteem," Weird Al sings, "that time that you made it with the whole hockey team.") It's an odd bit of synchronicity, since the judge now faces a media firestorm — and ironically, his curiosity about free speech may ultimately make it harder for him to rule in defense of it.

Though Judge Kozinski has had a stellar career, it may be Weird Al who's ultimately provided its epitaph.
You used to think that I was nice
But now you tell all your friends
that I'm the Antichrist.


See Also:
CNN Exposes Boob Job Giveaway
The D.C. Madam Speaks
Secrets of the Perry Bible Fellowship
Sex Panic! An Interview with Debbie Nathan
Racist Porn Stars

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Is It Legal Porn or Illegal Porn?




I just looked at an exposé from reporter Debbie Nathan, who attended a research convention of The Academy of Forensic Sciences to discover what the geeks at the FBI have learned about the relationship, and potential, between "real" and "computer-generated" pornographic images.



The police's particular interest, in this case, is child abuse. Sexualized images of real children are illegal, but computer-generated images are not prosecuted in the U.S., as yet, because they don't show actual kids.

This debate has gotten hotter, because it's now difficult to tell what's real — computer-editing programs are facile enough to turn anyone, theoretically, into an amateur touch-up artist.

Many questions also arise from the Feds' investigations. Do virtual pictures attract people with ill intent or actions toward children? Or is this a bizarre, if preferable, method of harm reduction?

About the author: Susie Bright is the host of the weekly Audible.com podcast, "In Bed With Susie Bright." For a free month's subscription, click here. The audio version of Susie's analysis can be found here.

Debbie Nathan is perhaps best known for her book, Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt about some of the widely covered sex panic cases that rocked the U.S. in the '80s and '90s, such as the McMartin preschool case in California. Here's what she wrote after returning from the forensic scientists' conference.


"Back in the 1990s, the government outlawed computer-generated ("CG") images of sexualized children. But a few years later, ruling in a case called Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, the Supreme Court said CG child porn is legal... the general consensus was that the technological state-of-the-art for CG human images wasn't so good anyway.

If you concocted a CG image of a child having sex, the thinking went, it wouldn't fool anyone, because it was too low-tech to seem real.

Within a couple of years, though, people caught with child porn images were going to court and claiming they didn't have anything real, only CG — and that if the government thought otherwise, it would have to prove it.

The government developed several responses. One: find the actual child depicted in the pornography, and bring that real child into court, or bring in the cop who handled her case. This would show beyond a doubt that the defendant's material was not computer-generated.

Another strategy is to match the images in evidence to others previously collected by the feds, then show that the whole set dates to pre-Photoshop times, back when anything that looked like a photograph of a real kid really was real.

But what if child victims and old photo sets aren't available? A third government technique is to tell courts that the average person (an FBI agent, a jury member) can still distinguish what's real and what's CG, just by looking with the naked eye.

Is this true? The government would like us to think so. But in point of fact, the boundary between real and CG is getting fuzzier by the year – and the feds are nervous."


Check out Debbie's site to see more incredibly realistic (G-rated! of course) computer-generated images, and to read the rest of her story... it's a science fiction novel come to life:


"After [the experts'] presentations, it seemed clear that the technology exists to make real child porn look fake. And — much more significantly — to make CG porn which looks genuine enough to fool ordinary people.

An obvious question that comes to mind, then, is: how much of this sophisticated child CG porn is already on the Internet?

My sense from attending the workshops is: Probably hardly any.

But the scarcity has little to do with technology. The digital world is now rife with graphics professionals and hobbyists who spend lots of time creating reasonably real-looking virtual people as still images – adults and kids. CG adults (especially women) often look “sexy.” Sometimes they're even having sex. But virtual kids are not portrayed sexually (though teen girls often look “come hither”). CG kids remain chaste, probably, because there's no commercial market for child porn and thus no significant money to be made by doing virtual renditions of the stuff.

Hobbyists, of course, don't need money to pursue their passions. But even they are probably reluctant to do CG child porn. It's not like they can post it on graphic arts websites and get props from fellow artists.

Plus, virtual child porn is legal in the US, but it's outlawed in many other countries. If an American's CG smut got emailed overseas, he could get in big trouble."




Nathan's final conclusion?

" Given the above, I bet most defendants and their attorneys who raise the CG defense are bullshitting. They've probably been caught with the real thing.

But for how long will almost everything on the net be real? One thing is certain: if something becomes possible for human beings to do, someone will do it."

See Also:
Sex Panic: An Interview with Debbie Nathan
The Perversions of Perverted Justice
The D.C. Madam Speaks
Sex and Drugs and Susie Bright

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War of the Candidate Music Videos


Is there an emerging YouTube demographic? Politically-themed music videos may be offering an unacknowledged glimpse at the next generation of voters. But judging from these clips, their real message might be that elections are stupid, and what's really important is who's got the funniest music videos.



This summer famously saw debating candidates facing questions from a cartoon-voiced talking snowman, and Barack Obama's inspiring "Yes I Can" speech eventually morphed into a hip music video. But at the same time, though Barack lost Ohio's primary, he won the support of a whopping 75 percent of voters under the age of 24. If America's future will ultimately be determined by YouTube, it's these young video stars who are running the secret campaign.

So what is the new generation trying to tell us?


1. Hillary Boy



Not only is she mandating universal healthcare for millions — but YouTube user DaveDays also has a crush on her.

He admits candidly in the second verse that "I don't have political views," but states that 60-year-old Hillary has still won his support because of "Those thighs, those eyes. Yeah, yeah, yeah..."

Using doctored footage showing Hillary winning a dance contest, he implies that Barack Obama can't win because his own supporters' videos are insufficiently sexy. "Obama Girl you're a skank," sings Days, warning his sexy video rival that she can't ensure an Obama victory "even if you take off all your clothes." Such is the devotion of this Green Day wannabe (with the Republican mom) that he'd even choose to watch Hillary instead of the Teletubbies. Which kind of puts the whole primary in perspective...

Day's real interest is becoming a video star — as he himself acknowledges in the video's description.

"This is a spoof of obama girls vid.." he scribbles.
dont take it too seriously ;-)




Unfortunately, only 900,000 people have watched his video, putting his efforts slightly behind Taryn Southern's own lesbian-themed video about her own crush on the candidate, "Hott 4 Hill." ("I know you're not gay, but I'm hoping for bi-") But together they've created a visual, musical, sexually-charged dialogue — which is entirely free of any actual political issues.


2. The Obama Girl Revolution



In November "Obama Girl" recorded a public service announcement arguing America's political system suffered from one longstanding dysfunction: public servants who can't dance. The video was viewed just 135,659 times, suggesting that 25-year-old model Amber Lee Ettinger had already fallen from her earlier fame.

As the original video figurehead, Barely Political's "Obama Girl" launched the craze for political musical videos back in June of 2007, though there's no evidence it impacted the campaigns. HCD Research later discovered that the responses reported most-frequently for her famous video were "irritated" (48%) and "embarrassed" (35%). There's even something vaguely fascist about her newest music video, released Tuesday, in which she wails to Hillary to surrender because "it's become an Obama nation."

Ironically, all that crushing didn't actually lead her to vote for Obama. According to a February post on a New York Times blog, Obama Girl skipped the New Jersey primary after a weekend of partying at the Super Bowl.

And she didn't vote for anyone.


3. Viva!



There's a positive side to political music videos. The dialogue has been democratized, with every voice claiming a part of the internet for its own message. Miguel Orozco, a Mexican-American Obama supporter born in East L.A., created Amigos de Obama.com "to fill a void in media outreach to Latinos" according to a message on his site. ("Tu Voto Tiene Swing!" it welcomes visitors...)

The site also displays one of the most sincere music videos, one that actually hopes to persuade voters — in this case, the crucial hispanic demographic — using a mariachi band. "Viva Obama!" the corridos sing...
"Families united and safe and even with a health care plan... His struggle is also our struggle, and today we urgently need a change..."

"Out of many, we are truly one," Barack announced last week in a speech about race — and it seems true even the world of viral music videos. Elsewhere on the web, there's even a video called Barack OBollywood.


4. "Oh my god! No!!!"



In an age of music videos, the worst sin is bad production values. The video Hillary4U&Me became viral simply because it was so bad, and ultimately it even provoked a YouTube counter-meme: the horrified reaction video. ("Oh my god! No! That is horrible! Ah ha ha ha ha ha! Are you serious?!" screams YouTube user CloudIzMe, as his friends gather around laughing in derision.) User "UltimateJosh" attempted to inject some edge by creating a metal "Rock Remix" by replacing the soundtrack with Marilyn Manson's "Better of Two Evils."

"I will step on you on my way up, and I will step on you on my way down...")



The music videos have evolved into post-modern deconstructive "meta" videos. But we still don't know which candidate has the best healthcare proposal.


5. McCain-o-mania



How long until John McCain feels compelled to record his own music video? The answer came in 2002, when the 65-year-old former prisoner of war appeared on Saturday Night Live to sing a medley of Barbara Streisand songs.

"I've been in politics for over 20 years," he tells the audience, "and for over 20 years I've had Barbara Streisand trying to do my job..."

As the tables turned, the young writers at Saturday Night Live thought they were writing a satire. But instead they'd stumbled into a harbinger of the strange future to come, when music and politics would collide into a near-meaningless jumble of amateur glory hounds.

Though it still remains to be seen who they'll vote for.

See Also:
Democratic Cartoon Candidates
YouTube 5 Sorriest Questions for the 2008 Presidential Candidates
5 Best Videos: Animals Attacking Reporters
5 More Nasty Campaign Ads
Pulp Fiction Parodies on YouTube

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Can America Handle a Little Truth?

About the author: dnA is a biracial blogger originally from Washington, DC.

I must confess that I find little of Reverend Wright's sermons to be offensive.

His idiocy regarding AIDS is inexcusable, but when Wright says that Hillary Clinton does not know what it feels like to be called a nigger, he is simply stating a fact. What is missing from that argument is the fact that Barack Obama is equally unaware of how it feels to be called a bitch, or a cunt, or to be referred to as "hysterical" in the sense that it has applied to women. And ultimately such things are not qualifications to be president. (Clarence Thomas knows what it is like to be called a nigger, but I don't want him in the Oval Office.)



I do believe that knowing what it is like to be dehumanized would be an asset to a president, who must make decisions that affect billions of people. That kind of experience is invaluable to a leader, but John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama all know what that is like in some form, so the conversation leads us nowhere, unless we want to talk about the lessons they have learned from those experiences.

I don't think there is anything offensive about arguing that God is displeased with the amount of black men in prison; I just don't know how any human being purports to know what God thinks, period. But Wright would not be the first or last preacher to claim such knowledge as contained in his following words:
America is still the No. 1 killer in the world... We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns, and the training of professional killers... We bombed Cambodia, Iraq and Nicaragua, killing women and children while trying to get public opinion turned against Castro and Ghadhafi... We put [Nelson] Mandela in prison and supported apartheid the whole 27 years he was there. We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God.

The historical fact is that we did indeed bomb these countries, and that these countries are NOT full of white people. We did support apartheid — indeed, Dick Cheney voted against sanctions for South Africa. I have no sympathy or respect for Castro and Ghadhafi, but it is manifestly true that the apartheid system continued with our tacit approval in the form of unrestricted trade. We cannot trade with Iran (except in secret) because they seek a nuclear weapon, but we felt little remorse about trading with a nakedly white supremacist regime, which ended only 14 years ago.

Whether or not America believes in white supremacy and black inferiority more than we believe in God is a question that is impossible to answer qualitatively. But Wright's point — that as a military power, America stays its hand based on what the potential targets of a sanction, bombing or invasion look like — is true.

Put simply, the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq could not have occurred without the racial association that was made between the Arabs of Iraq and the Arabs of Al Qaeda. There were no links between them, no weapons of mass destruction, no grand Muslim conspiracy to topple the West with weapons built by Saddam's regime. There was only an angry, heartbroken country that wanted revenge, and if we couldn't have it against those responsible, we would have it against those who looked like them.



Oddly enough, conservatives would seem to agree with Wright about the role of whiteness in America, so I have no idea why they are all reaching for the fainting couch right now. Presumably, these are the same conservatives who saw O'Reilly sound the alarm over the possible collapse of the "white male power structure," John Gibson's demand that white people "make more babies" and give financial support to the conservative groups working towards that very goal.

There are several ironies at work in conservative criticism of Wright. The first is that I have never heard so many conservatives express concern for black children in my entire life. Unmoved by decrepit, segregated schools, their parents working two or three jobs without guarantee of health care, and dismissive of their abuse at the hand of law enforcement officials, they are suddenly terrified that the Obama children will grow up hating white people.

They shouldn't be concerned about them. They should be concerned about the children living through what I have described above. Those kids don't need a Reverend Wright to tell them what they already know.

A blogger named "Confederate Yankee" (that's right, a man named after the Confederacy has the gall to lecture others on racism) describes Wright as displaying "naked anger, resentment, defeatism, and conspiratorial paranoia." Well that's funny, because last time I checked it was conservatives who were claiming gay people were a greater threat to America than Al Qaeda, that Mexicans were "invading" the country, that greedy Jews were coarsening our culture, that several billion Muslims want nothing more than to destroy us, that unqualified blacks are stealing spots from white students, and that granting women equal rights has made us weak.



It would be more correct for CY to say that that kind of "naked anger, resentment, defeatism, and conspiratorial paranoia" is only appropriate for white people. When white conservatives make blanket statements about race, sexuality, or gender, they are treated as deeply serious. When black people make them, we call it bigotry.

Wright has said that America's cultural chauvinism (the belief that we are greater than others and therefore justified in violating the rights of other nations and people in pursuit of our own goals), informed as it is by white supremacy, happens to be wrong.

But even if you disagree, or you were offended by Wright's statements, the only way to hold Obama responsible is to ignore everything he has ever done and said. You have to ignore Obama going into MLK's Church on Martin Luther King Day to confront black anti-Semitism, his willingness to tell a black audience that homophobia is un-Christian, and you have to ignore his declaration that "the division, the stereotypes, the scapegoating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others — all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face," his recognition that he has "little pieces of America" inside him.

Whatever you think of Wright's words — and I agree with some of them — they are not Obama's. It seems to me those who are intent on putting Wright's words in his mouth are more than anything else interested in maintaining racial divisions as they currently exist and are understood.

Ultimately, I think that we need to be honest about how directly white entitlement has affected America, from slavery to westward expansion to Jim Crow, and how it affects us now, especially in foreign policy: where, when and how we choose to intervene in the affairs of other countries.

If it's not the belief that America is more equal than everyone else, what is it?

See also:
The Future of American Has Been Stolen
Is It Fascism Yet?
Dispatch From a Surrealist Autocracy
Five Nastiest Campaign Ads (of the 2006 mid-term elections)
Racist Porn Stars

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The Collected Controversies of William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley

"Part of me thinks he actually died a long time ago," one blog reader commented, "like maybe the day Rush Limbaugh was awarded the inaugural 'William F. Buckley, Jr. Award for Media Excellence,' by the Media Research Center."



But Buckley always remained his own man, infuriating some neo-conservatives with his independence from their movement. As his smooth genial personality watched over the decades, Buckley observed conservatism in many flavors. There was ultimately nothing unusual about the moment when he called on George Bush to admit the war in Iraq was lost, since Buckley had consistently engaged virtually every social issue in the lifetime that preceded it.

1. Secret Agent Man

Buckley didn't just support the cold war — he actually participated in early CIA actions. In 1951 he became a deep cover CIA agent stationed in Mexico, reporting directly (and only) to E. Howard Hunt (who would later play a role in the Bay of Pigs invasion). Two years before his death, 79-year-old Buckley remembered a strange aftermath to his CIA work more than half a century before:
In 1980 I found myself seated next to the former president of Mexico at a ski-area restaurant. What, he asked amiably, had I done when I lived in Mexico?

Buckley's honest answer? "I tried to undermine your regime, Mr. President."

"It was three months before I was formally permitted to inform my wife what the real reason was for going to Mexico City to live," Buckley later remembered. And in 1986, Howard Hunt affectionately dedicated his spy novel Cozumel, to Buckley: "...como recuerdo de nuestra temporada en Mexico."

2. Yeah Yeah Yeah, They Stink

Throughout his life Buckley continued taking staunchly conservative positions, railing against desegregation in the 1950s and criticizing Nixon for going to China in the 1970s. But as a cultural critic, Buckley also injected himself into smaller controversies. "Beatle Hater William F. Buckley Dead At 82," read one post in the newsgroup rec.music.beatles. In a 1964 essay titled "Yeah Yeah Yeah, They Stink," Buckley had written that the Beatles were not merely awful: "I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are godawful." His diatribe acknowledged the National Review critic who argued that after Sinatra's twitches and Elvis's thrusts, future entertainers would have to wrestle live octopuses. "The Beatles didn't in fact do this," Buckley wrote, "but how one wishes they did!"

"And how one wishes the octopus would win."



But behind Buckley's wit was at least the appearance of fair play, and the essay ends with him knowingly mocking the horror of parents. "What was our sin? Was it our devotion to Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald? We worshiped at the shrine of purity..."

In fact, Buckley was a genuine music lover, and when it came to Elvis Presley, Buckley had always defended him. In 2002, at the age of 77, Buckley even wrote historical fiction about the life of the pop star called Elvis in the Morning. "Ninety five percent of what he sang, in my judgment, is simply awful," he told one interviewer. "But five percent is just terrific. He was a great, great balladeer and his sense of music and his sense of rhythm was fantastic." Unfortunately, despite his genuine enthusiasm, Buckley's final novel drew mixed reviews. "This lackluster affair is filled with so little energy that one suspects that the author was as bored as his readers will be," wrote The Library Journal. "It's hard to imagine someone making Elvis and the 1960s and 1970s uninteresting, but Buckley succeeds beyond all reasonable expectations."

Today used copies are for sale on Amazon for one cent.

3. "Go Back To Your Pornography"

As the sixties heated up, Buckley made one of his most notorious statements. It was during a live television discussion about a police crackdown on demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Gore Vidal and Buckley were in absolute disagreement about the meaning of the clashes, with Buckley arguing there was a legal right to disperse the demonstrators. Vidal cited the support for North Vietnam in parts of Europe, and invoked the importance of freedom of speech in America. "Shut up a minute," Vidal said, as Buckley tried to interrupt.

"No I wont," Buckley replied — and then the debate got complicated. Addressing the question of how to handle dissenters, Buckley said "Some people were pro-Nazi, and the answer is they were well-treated by people who ostracized them. And I'm for ostracizing people who egg on other people to shoot American marines and American soldiers. I know you don't care."
Gore Vidal: As far as I'm concerned, the only sort of pro-crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.

William F. Buckley: Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in your god damn face and you'll stay plastered.

Citing Vidal's book, Myra Breckinridge, Buckley suggested his opponent "Go back to his pornography." Buckley also cited his military service in World War II, which Vidal accused him of exaggerating. There were real bad feelings, though ultimately Buckley himself admitted he was deeply embarrassed about losing his composure.



Buckley remained the best of friends with an equally liberal writer, Norman Mailer, and Playboy magazine once published the transcript of a good-spirited debate between the two. (Buckley embarrassed Mailer by citing an earlier essay where he'd discussed the pursuit of the perfect orgasm...)

For 33 years Buckley held court for intellectual discussions on his talk show, Firing Line, where he gamely engaged the cultural figures of his time, including one legendary interview with Jack Kerouac just one year before the author's death in 1968. Apparently under the influence of an intoxicating substance, Kerouac blurts out "Flat foot floosie with a floy floy" at one point — and the interview was later lovingly recreated in a 2006 stage play.

4. Cigarette Smoking Man

At the time of his death, Buckley was suffering from emphysema, and 14 months earlier (at the age of 82) he penned a remarkable editorial against tobacco. Buckley first turned his witty style against cigarette advertising, skewering Newport cigarettes' claim that they're "alive with pleasure." ("The ads, of course, took no account of those who were dead, presumably without pleasure.") His wife had died the year before, after 57 years of marriage, "technically from an infection," Buckley wrote, "but manifestly, at least in part, from a body weakened by 60 years of nonstop smoking."
My wife began smoking (furtively) when 15, which is about when I also began. When we were both 27, on the morning after a high-pitched night on the town for New Year's Eve, we resolved on mortification of the flesh to make up for our excesses: We both gave up smoking.

The next morning, we decided to divorce — nothing less than that would distract us from the pain we were suffering. We came to, and flipped a coin — the winner could resume smoking. I lost, and for deluded years thought myself the real loser, deprived of cigarettes.

Buckley had defended the free market his whole life, but felt a sadness over his years of silence on the dangers of tobacco, which "puts me in something of the position of the Zyklon B defendants after World War II... They pleaded, of course, that as far as they were concerned, they were simply technicians, putting together chemicals needed in wartime for fumigation... Those who fail to protest the free passage of tobacco smoke in the air come close to the Zyklon defendants in pleading ignorance."

5. Sailing Away

Buckley famously smoked marijuana — after sailing his boat outside the U.S. territorial limits, where it would no longer be illegal. Finally at the age of 78, Buckley wrote an editorial for the National Review decrying the war on pot.

"Legal practices should be informed by realities," Buckley argued, citing 700,000 pot arrests each year, 87% of which involved only possession of small amounts. "This exercise in scrupulosity costs us $10-15 billion per year in direct expenditures alone."

But would America ever rise up and demand a change in marijuana laws?
It is happening, but ever so gradually. Two of every five Americans, according to a 2003 Zogby poll cited by Dr. Nadelmann, believe "the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and make it illegal only for children". The Dutch do odd things, but here they teach us a lesson.

Buckley's position was unexpected, but it offered an honorable example of his real commitment to intellectualism. He began his essay by writing that "Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great."

His son said Buckley died "with his boots on," according to BBC News — writing at his desk. "If he had been given a choice on how to depart this world," the National Review wrote, "I suspect that would have been exactly it. At home, still devoted to the war of ideas."

See Also:
20 Secrets of an Infamous Dead Spy
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
The QuestionAuthority Proposal
The Furious Passions of Norman Mailer

Read More

There Won’t Be Blood

There Won't Be Blood

When Lisa Bloch opened the drawer at San Francisco General Hospital that should have housed the trauma center’s blood supply last month, a lonely single pouch of type O-negative plasma tumbled in the empty space.

Bloch, director of communications at Blood Centers of the Pacific, was seeking to draw attention to the city’s dire shortage of blood by depicting it in graphic terms. The shortage got so bad early in the month that BCoP asked local hospitals to hold off on lesser-priority surgeries.



All across the country, large cities are struggling to keep supplies at sufficient levels. The reasons are a classically tragic conflict of supply (only about five percent of adults donate blood) and demand (day-to-day trauma center crises, national emergencies, the Iraq war).

Unfortunately, agencies that collect blood are fighting the battle to keep local and national blood supplies adequate with at least one hand tied behind their backs, because a sizable percentage of the population is barred from donating blood – gay men.

If you’re a man who has had sex with another man even once since 1977, you are not allowed to donate blood. The ban was instituted during the height of the '80s AIDS outbreak, before proper testing existed that could screen out infected blood.

But despite the leaps and bounds that have been accomplished in testing blood for HIV/AIDS, the Bush administration still doesn’t think the blood of gay males is good enough.

In San Francisco, given its higher-than-average gay male population, this keeps many who would like to donate from being able to help out in what has become a day-to-day crisis situation, let alone in the event of a local or national emergency.

But San Francisco proper has just more than 1 million people. Larger cities with a large gay male presence like Los Angeles and New York City (both of which have suffered from blood shortages recently) are also affected by the inability to tap into its gay males as a blood resource.

“We have gay men come in and are surprised the ban is still in effect,” said Bloch. “They’re ready to give blood, and it’s very frustrating that we can’t use it.”



BCoP was the very first organization imploring the government to soften its stance. In 2006, the Red Cross finally joined in the effort to get the Food and Drug Administration to implement the male-to-male (MSM) deferral.

“Today, we know much more about HIV,” the center wrote to the FDA. “The development of highly sensitive genetic tests for the virus has greatly reduced the “window” of transmission. Therefore, Blood Centers of the Pacific – along with the three national blood banking organizations: America’s Blood Centers, American Association of Blood Banks and the American Red Cross – believes that a 12-month deferral would adequately prevent transfusion-transmission of HIV.”

A 12-month deferral is consistent with other high-risk activities that may exclude someone from donating blood, including sexual contact with a prostitute, getting a tattoo (for hepatitis C) and traveling to a region endemic for malaria.

But the FDA not only refused, it didn’t even dignify the request with a response.

State Assemblyman Mark Leno, an openly gay male, is convinced the Bush administration is letting its obvious agenda against gays influence public policy on an issue that not only involves public health, but national security.

“There is indeed homophobia at work, and it’s not even very subtle,” said Leno. “None of this (the FDA’s inflexibility) is scientific.”

Like many, Leno was unaware of the policy until he tried to donate blood when he was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

“When I was on the board I got an invitation to participate in a blood drive, and was surprised to learn that as a gay man I wasn’t allowed to participate,” he said.



Leno likened the FDA policy to that of the Catholic church, which officially is “okay” with homosexuals, as long as they don’t actually do anything gay.

Ironically, heterosexuals who engage in high-risk sexual behavior are allowed to donate blood. Some feel the whole process needs to be revised to screen out high risk groups accordingly.

“They’re asking the wrong questions,” said Leno. “Ask what behaviors individuals are engaging in, not with whom.”

The issue is expected to go before the FDA again next month, though there doesn’t appear to be much hope that the current administration will implement the MSM deferral that blood centers are counting on.

Leno chuckled bitterly at the prospects, choosing instead to look forward. “With a Democratic administration, which I believe we’ll have next year, I’ll be working with House Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi to not only reverse this dangerous policy, but to address the shortage and the screening process.”

“I don’t know how much longer they can keep stalling,” said Bloch, who agreed that a change of administration might be necessary before the FDA takes any action.

With gay men in San Francisco making up somewhere between five and 10 percent of the city’s population, a change in policy could produce noticeable results.

“I think it could make an impact on local blood shortages,” said Bloch. “Any help is a good thing, especially in times like this.”

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An Obama Caucus Story from Idaho


Idaho Obama Caucus line

We parked and walked to the Qwest Arena on the Grove, where the line snaked out and wound and looped around as shown in the above image. Typically, the line was 5 people thick, and I swear it felt like a mile walk from the beginning to the end. Ironically, the end of the line where we were at 6:30 was about a block from my wife's parking garage, where we started.

There were more than 8,200 Democrats there (and according to the Idaho Statesman 1,600 people caucused in neighboring Canyon County, and more than 20,000 people showed up around the state — about four times more than in the last record year, 2004).



It was cold, and I felt like I was standing in a bread line in the Soviet Union. I felt sorry for the girl in flip flops and a miniskirt in front of me. But there was a lot of camaraderie!

There was no way we were getting in by 7:00, and Obama volunteers walked the line telling us that everyone was going to get to vote. Eventually other volunteers showed up with ballots, and we voted in the freezing cold. I filled in my ballot on a bus bench shaking my ball point pen to get it to work.



We left and got a cup of coffee. Everyone was talking about the caucus.

Some observations:
  1. Although they got a bigger venue in anticipation of a record turnout, the state party needed to think through getting that number of people inside. Other doors could have been opened.
  2. The Obama people were the best organized. In fact, they were the only ones organized! They were about the only volunteers I saw all evening.
  3. I have a friend who got into the building, and he told me that a large area was reserved for Hillary, and no one was sitting there.

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Miracles

Real-life miracles were the subject of Van Jones' keynote address at the Craigslist Foundation's "Nonprofit Boot Camp" last year.

He amused and inspired his audience with the story of his early days at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.


There's probably at least one person, and maybe more than one, who feels like their little not-for-profit just may not make it.

There may be somebody that feels like their cause is too marginal, their constituency is too desperate, their dreams are too big, their knowledge base is too small, and they just don't know if they're going to be able to pull this one off. If you're that person, I want to tell you a little bit about my story, my secret rules for success if you're doing tough things, and to remind you how important it is that you stick this out.



Ten years ago, all I had with my co-founder was a $10,000 grant and a scribble in my notebook, and we had a dream. We wanted to do something about police brutality. We wanted to do something about kids suffering in prison. We wanted to do something about the level of violence that was going on in our community. All we had was each other and that idea.

The very first champion that we got — the first person who was on our side, the chair of our advisory board who was our hero — told us "Frankly, man, you will never raise enough money to cover your own salary on this. I think you're great, I like what you're doing, but you will never raise enough money to actually have a full staff. But I like you, I like what you're doing, and I'm willing to lend my name." And that was our most enthusiastic supporter!

Eleven years later, we have a national organization. We have 24 people on staff, we occupy a two-story building, and we've won international awards and recognition for our human rights effort. We've stopped jails from being built, and we've been able to make a difference. In just ten years. I want you to know that looking back on it, you know what it looks like? It just looks like a series of miracles. Just miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle.

The only way we were able to get to those miracles was that we believed in what we were doing. When we first started out, we had a closet in the back of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights. When I say closet, I'm not joking. It was literally a closet, that we took the shelves out of, wedged in a desk from my house, moved the tiles, dropped down wires so we could plug things in... That was our office for three years.

I'm thankful to Eva Patterson from the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights for giving us that opportunity. We took that closet and a Macintosh SE-30 from my house and our $10,000, and we started announcing that we had a hotline for survivors of police brutality and police misconduct. I think the first week we got one phone call. The second week we got two or three. Within about two months, we were getting three to four phone calls a day from people in the community who had no place else to turn... We were young lawyers and they were calling on us, and we were doing the best that we could.

But we were spending down that little $10,000 very quickly. We got to the place where we literally didn't have any more money. Diana and I looked at each other and we said, "You know what? We'll go on unemployment. We'll do whatever we have to do. We cannot let these people down."

I got on KPFA radio. I said "My name is Van Jones, and I'm working with Bay Area Police Watch. We're running into some trouble right now, but we want you to know, keep calling us. We're going to have to reduce our hours, but we're going to stick in there." The day before we spent our last dime — literally — we got a letter in the mail. An anonymous donation of $50,000.

"Hey! We might be able to keep going!" We took that $50,000, and we decided, you know what? We're going to go after the worst police officer in the Bay Area, a man named Mark Andaya. He had 27 formal complaints against him for racism and brutality. Remember this case? There were five lawsuits against him, and he was still on the police force. We took that money and launched a campaign to get him removed from the San Francisco police department.


Keeping On

We went through hell. We went through three hearings, we went through ups and downs, but at the end of that summer, the San Francisco police department fired Mark Andaya. It was a huge breakthrough. Suddenly we went from being these kids in the closet to being the people who'd really gotten something done in the community. And, we were broke again! Because we forgot to write grants. We're just fighting, just out there, just broke and ignorant — but passionate!

But we'd already had two miracles. We were still there, and we'd gotten this guy who had killed two people out of our community. There was an African-American woman at a prestigious local foundation who'd listened to us on the radio, had seen us on TV, had heard about what we were trying to do. I'd sent her a letter letting her know that we'd like to apply for a grant, but we didn't get a chance to, we'd missed the deadline, and please, please... "Mercy?"

This woman said "You know, I've been working at this foundation for a long time, and I've been waiting for someone to come out of the community, out of the neighborhood, who was really willing to do what it takes to make a difference. I don't have any more discretionary money. But I do have the $40,000 that we've always given to the symphony... And we're going to give it to you."

Miracles.

Now, she no longer works there. But she is well taken care of at another foundation...

We just kept on, and kept on, and kept on. If at any moment we had gotten too rational, if at any moment we'd actually done the math on how many foundations are committed to this thing and that thing, we wouldn't be here at all. You have a dream inside yourself, and it's an impossible dream. That's why the creator gave it to your crazy ass. If it was easy, She'd have given it to somebody else.



So let's talk about your impossible dream. You need some miracles. Good luck with that. But I can give you, as a 10-year veteran, my five counter-intuitive and probably immoral success secrets.
1. Self promote
2. Steal
3. Don't Lie
4. Hate your enemies, but love your rivals.
5. Do less.

Number One, Self Promotion. People say, "Van, you're a shameless self-promoter. We're disgusted with your shameless self-promotion!" And I say, "Au contraire, my friend. I am not a shameless self-promoter. I am a proud self promoter."

Because I'm proud of the work we're doing. I'm proud of the people on our team. I'm proud of the fights we take on. I'm proud there are still people coming out of law school who are willing to take on these crazy crusades. If I don't tell the story, if I don't share the victory, if I don't share the lessons — who will?

We have a simple theory about how we built this organization, and the only thing it requires is you've got to be willing. We call it the three-M conversion: Mobilization, Media, Money. If you're serious about scaling an organization that's small, with a marginal constituency, doing very difficult stuff, you've got to mobilize. You've got to do something! You've got to take on a fight, you've got to help somebody. You've got to get something done. But too many of us stop there, and then we wonder why the support that we need doesn't come.

We get bitter, and we get angry, and we look at the group over there that has two more dollars than we do, and we start making them the enemy, and start this whole competitive thing, and start in-fighting, and it just depresses everybody. Then some poor intern comes to work for you. They see all this drama and all this crazy stuff, and they say "I was just trying to help the poor! I didn't know I was joining an armed faction!"

So let's just de-mystify this whole thing. Do good stuff — mobilize resources, do something — and then, media. Write a press release, think about how to get some coverage. A lot of times, people don't want to cover our stuff? That's fine. Take the photo your damn self! Video cameras are small and cheap. Record your meeting, interview your people... Document your passion.

Document the people that you've helped. Document what you're doing so you can show it to somebody who wasn't there. That's a critical step, and we forget, don't we? We get so passionate about, "The meeting's going to be at 4:00, we've got to have the kids and the pizza..." When we get finished, we're so tired we go home... And there's not one single photograph.

You might've served 10,000 people and don't have one photograph, while the person next door served 20, and has a glossy manual. And you know who you're mad at? Them! You could've had a glossy manual... But you're mad at them, and now we've got drama. Document, and then take that documentation to people who have money.

People say, "Aw, I don't want to deal with the fund-raising. It's not about the money to me." Obviously it's not about the money for you, you're working for a non-profit! But people who have means and who have discretionary income and who have different types of financial instruments want to be helpful, and they want to be engaged — but they don't live in your neighborhood! By definition, they don't. They need some help understanding the situation. That's the media part, the documentation.

You have to get as passionate about talking to the people with as you are talking to the people without. Because we need each other, and you're the bridge person. If you were just desperate and needing of services and help, you wouldn't be working at a not-for-profit. If you were a gazillionaire, you probably also wouldn't be working at a non-profit. So you are the person whose job it is to bring the haves and the have-nots together. And you have to be passionate about that. Yeah, somebody will say "You self promote! You're self-promoting!" Fine, and proudly so! Get that out of your mind as a barrier, and look at the service you can provide by documenting your work.

Number Two, Steal. Steal! I don't mean steal money. Steal ideas! Talk to other people who don't work on your project. If you go to New York to see your friends or your parents, look up the other groups working in a similar area and say hello. If you can't meet with the executive director, that's good, because if the organization is more than five years old the executive director has no idea what's going on anyways.

Talk to the program officer, the deputy director, the receptionist — and steal ideas. And grab onto people that you stole the ideas from. If you go overseas, make sure to visit some of the non-governmental organizations in other countries. It's amazing how many problems have already been solved that you're still stewing in and suffering through.

Our first two years, 100% of all of the paperwork we had for checking in people and interviewing them we'd stolen from a similar project in Los Angeles. I went down there, I'd knocked on their door, I said hello, I told them what we were trying to do... They were very friendly, and said, "This is our paperwork," and I said "Thank you!" I got a Bic pen — remember, I told you we were broke? — and wrote on the top of it, "Bay Area Police Watch." And then we photocopied that thing for two years!

So you've got to be willing to steal. And people love it! People will brag about it, saying "Well you know, we're now the thought leaders in the field. Our model is being replicated." So it's good for them. So I'm not saying anything immoral yet.





Number Three, Don't Lie. This is for real. There is something about the relationship between the not-for-profit sector, the government, the foundations, and the donors that creates a massive incentive to lie — flagrantly, and often.

And it's not just a one-sided thing. The relationship between not-for-profits and foundations is like the relationship between teenagers and parents. You don't really want to tell them everything that's going on, and they don't really want to know. So there's this dance of deceit, shall we say.
"What'd you do this weekend?"
"Oh... Studied! With my friends."

And the parents say "Good! So glad to hear that!" Because they don't want to know. And so what do you say?
"How did the year go?"
"We had success after success! All goals were met, and a good time was had by all."

And what was there left to say? "Good! Good!" They don't want to know about the youth in your program that cussed you out and set the building on fire. They don't want to know that you hired somebody once again who was a complete idiot. They don't want to know, and you don't want to tell them, and therefore we all stay very ignorant. Then the actual innovation curve has flattened out, because nobody's telling the truth about what we're going through any more. We're all self-deceiving and trying to make it look good.

At the Ella Baker Center, we adopted a reporting form that freaked out our board and advisors. It was very simple: highlights, low lights, and lessons learned. We created a discipline in the organization that we would report out the bad stuff. First of all, everybody knows the bad stuff anyway, because the person you fired is talking right now, so it's not like it's not out there. But did you learn anything?

Program officers at foundations, donors, and philanthropists are just inundated with lying, false crap. And they know they're being lied to. If you took all your annual reports and just read them end to end, you'd have to conclude that we're now living in a socialist paradise. Everything's going well, people are being served, and all the children are happy. And then you look at any newspaper, and it's very clear that we might be fudging a bit.

So my experience has been that donors and program officers love to actually get the truth. They don't punish you for it if you learned something. I think if all of us started to confess a little bit more, we would learn a little bit faster.

Number Four: Hate Your Enemies, if you must, but love your rivals — and know the difference. Your enemies are people like Nazis, okay? Your enemies are people who want to do you bodily harm, who hate you, and who are actively plotting your demise, with weapons. Just about everybody else that you don't get along with is probably a rival. They run an organization and you run an organization, or they have a department and you have a department. Or they have a cubicle, and you have a cubicle. And you just don't get along. You don't see eye to eye, there's some jealousy, you have different communication patterns. Their mom was this way, your dad was that way — you're working it out.

But we turn those minor differences into adversarial wars. It's fine to hate your enemies if you must. Jesus, Gandhi, other people would argue with you, but if you insist, fine. Hate your enemies. But most of the people you see every day are not your enemy. I've got emotional scars and damage from being in this work, and I've never even met a Republican! Even with people who fundamentally agree with everything I think, we just fight and hurt each other and say mean things, and think mean thoughts. All the time! That's called the movement. That's called the progressive community, right?

I want to make the case that we should actually love our rivals, and we should develop a discipline about bragging on our rivals. One group doesn't like us very much at all. I started talking about them first at every funder meeting. "I'm so happy to be here. Before I tell you about our work, have you heard about X group? They're doing extraordinary work. They did this last year, they did this this year. If you don't know about them, I want to make sure you know about them before the meeting's over. Now let me tell you about what we're doing..."

I developed the discipline in my own mind that I was going to brag on my rivals. I was going to love them, I was going to learn from them. I was going to try to figure out what it was that I could do differently in the relationship. I want to report that it has made no difference, at all, in the way they treat me. But it's made a tremendous difference in the way that other people view our organization and the way that we view ourselves. We're lighter. Love your rivals.





Number Five, Do Less. When I first came into this movement, we named the organization after a woman named Ella Baker, a civil rights heroine from the sixties. Ella Baker said many, many wise things. One of the things that caught on was something she said in a moment of frustration. Some civil rights workers had been murdered — two Jews and a black — and while they were trying to find these civil rights workers, they kept coming up with body after body after body of black men that had been lynched and drowned down through the ages. The media kept saying, "Well, that's interesting but what about the two white kids?" She got frustrated, and she said in that moment of frustration — and it didn't represent her life, but she said "We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until all mothers' children are honored."

It's rung down through the decades since she said that. I just drank the Kool-Aid on that. "We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We cannot rest. We cannot rest. We cannot..." And I hurt myself. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. I really hurt myself.

July 17, 2000, I had a complete emotional, physical, psychological breakdown. I literally could not get out of bed. I'd gone for years without — I would sleep with my clothes on, and the lights on, books all around me on the bed. I never took a vacation. For years it never occurred to me to take a vacation. Something just popped in my brain. It was almost audible. I was in deep trouble.

I'd been in all these coalition meetings, and it occurred to me that over the past couple years, in every meeting I'd been surrounded by idiots. I had to deal with them, and point out their flaws, and stop them from wreaking havoc, and... I was burning out, and I didn't know it. I had to take about two years of counseling, therapy, learning to go to the gym — things I'd just never done — just to be able to get back to doing this work.

My dad was an alcoholic, so I'd said, "Well I'm not going to do that," but then I was into this workaholism thing. I pulled out of it, and when I came back I saw that it was just everywhere. So what I want to say to you, very clearly, is that you have emotional needs. You have physical needs. You need to get them taken care of outside of this work.

You need to have something outside of this work where you go for re-charging, where you talk to people who don't do this kind of work, so you can keep it in perspective. So when you go into those board meetings and you go into those coalition things, you're coming with something. We who believe in freedom have to rest. We have to rest.


Who We Are

Our country is in a difficult situation now. We're facing difficult days. You're the people who are the reserve strength of the country. You're this nascent, pro-democracy movement trying to revive the best in the United States. It's important that you see yourselves in that way.

We tend in our movement to forget who we are. The legacy that we're carrying out, the shoes that we're standing in, the call that we're answering. Dr. Martin Luther King never gave a speech called "I Have...A Complaint." That wasn't his speech. The brother had a dream. And you have dreams. You have big, beautiful dreams. You will not be able to meet them alone. You need friends, you need solidarity, you need partnership, you need a movement.

But in a difficult period like the one that we're in right now, that's when there's opportunities for she-roes and heroes to step forward. People remember Roosevelt and Churchill and those guys because Hitler made it an awful, hard decade for them, and they rose to that. It's the same with every other hero and she-ro. This is a time for heroes. This is a time for she-ros. I want you to be the people who in the difficult times stood up for the best in this country, who said "We are willing to say that we'll defend America's freedoms." Who will say that the people who want to tear up the Constitution at the first opportunity are not the patriots. The patriots are the people who are willing to defend America's freedoms, the people who are willing to defend people's freedom to marry who they want to, and divorce who they want to.

We're the people who are willing to say America should be number one in the world. But not in war. Not in pollution. Not in incarceration rates. America should be number one in the world in green and clean technology, in solar power, in bio-diesel, in sharing those beautiful things with the world. We should be number one in showing how a rainbow nation — multi-colored, multi-class, multi-hued, multi-language — can come together and fix real problems, and show a rainbow planet how it's done. That's who we should be.

I believe if we do our work in that spirit, with that knowledge, with that commitment, we will build the kind of pro-democracy movement that will get past left and right, past black and white and yellow and every other color, and get back down to the very basics of who we are as people. People who believe, people who stand for something.

People who understand that at the end of the day, when it's all said and done, our love, our hope, our faith, and our commitment, is stronger than a bomb from anybody.

See Also:
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
The QuestionAuthority Proposal
Reverend Billy Wants You To Stop Shopping
Is The Net Good For Writers
When Lego Goes To War

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What If Ben Were One of Us?

What If Benjamin Franklin Were One of Us, CNN Editor Asks

Would Ben Franklin be a blogger? It's a serious question pondered by news "gatekeeper" Walter Isaacson, once the managing editor at Time magazine and the chief executive officer at CNN.

Isaacson shared some startling insights about technology and media, both past and present, at a symposium last year at the Smithsonian Institution's Lemelson Center (which studies "invention and innovation.") Isaacson told the audience that Ben Franklin was influenced by both the mechanics of 18th-century printing presses and a fickle American public. But as an afterthought, Isaacson noted that today the internet creates lots of publishers. "It's turned us back to the days when technology allowed low barriers of entry into the information transmission market."

So are we all Ben Franklin? Or, to put it another way — if Ben Franklin were alive today, would he be one of us? The National Archivist of the United States, Allan Weinstein, had suddenly asked the question.


Isaacson, who'd written a 608-page biography of Franklin, insisted that the answer was no — "not a blogger." The distinction was that Franklin "polished every word." But the question was too provocative to leave without more discussion. Ben Franklin would have a web site, Isaacson speculated. "It would be carefully crafted. It would be more like Andrew Sullivan than your normal blogger in pajamas."

"And he would charge!" added archivist Weinstein.

Yes, Ben Franklin would put his content behind a pay wall. "He would definitely charge for it," Isaacson agreed, "because he believed that if you weren't tested by the marketplace..." But then America's National Archivist cut him off with an important observation about the state of the media today.
Look, you have life going in two directions, as far as technology and democracy is concerned.

In one direction, you have the centralization of mass media to a great extent. You still have the three networks getting — not as much of the audience they did, but it's something...

But at the same time you have so many decentralizing elements in the mass media, the bloggers being just one of the major ones, that there's no coherence any longer.

It's wonderful. There's this great blooming, buzzing confusion in the media world which I think is, by and large, an asset to democratization.


In a poignant moment, the National Archivist remembered his childhood in New York, when there were twelve different newspapers. "That dozen became the three or four that we have now, by 1950." And former newsman Isaacson saw an even harsher reality. "Having three newspapers in New York — however you want to count it — that's unusual. In Los Angeles now you're not going to have three, and the Chicago Sun-Times is about to go under."

But ultimately this discussion led to one inescapable conclusion. Maybe inspired by Benjamin Franklin and America's history of a decentralized media, Isaacson made one irrefutable observation about our media landscape today. In the great American city of New Orleans, yes, there's one monopoly newspaper. "But there's about twenty web sites, and probably a thousand bloggers, all attacking the mayor of New Orleans at any given moment!"

The bloggers and other new decentralized media outlets are "a wonderful asset," Isaacson added. And he pointed out that a decentralized media is almost an American tradition. "Ben Franklin arrives in Philadelphia, and it's a town of what — 12,000 people? It's got four newspapers. So what does Ben Franklin do? Get a fifth!"
All the way through our life as a country, almost, you have low barriers of entry to the technology of information. People could become printers, they could have newspapers, they could be pamphleteers, they could — whatever.

When radio hits, something else happens — a monopolization of newspapers... For a variety of reasons — classified ads, everything else — it was better to have one newspaper in town than seven newspapers, so you started seeing consolidation in the newspaper market. And the barrier to entry into the broadcast world was very hard. You couldn't become an NBC just sitting in your pajamas in your attic or something, because there were public airwaves, there were monopolies. There were three networks.

So for a very brief period in our country's history, approximately from 1940 to the year 2000 — for just that sixty-year period — you have a concentration of media where it's a higher barrier to entry. You can't start a newspaper in town, you can't start a TV network.

Then the internet blows all that away, and everybody can start web sites, blogs, email newsletters, that sort of thing, until you'll see us reverting back to the free flow of information that's more democratized.



Would Ben Franklin really fit into all this? Isaacson thinks it's unmistakable. In his book he identifies Franklin as "A successful publisher and consummate networker with an inventive curiosity.

"He would have felt right at home in the information revolution."

See Also:
Is The Net Good For Writers?
Monkey v. Dog v. Wikipedia
The Furious Passions of Norman Mailer
When Cory Doctorow Ruled The World
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes
How Gay Were the Hardy Boys?

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Bush Administration’s Greatest Hits (To Your Face)


Everybody who is paying attention – and who is not in deep denial – knows that there has been an intense and radical assault on civil liberties in the United States during the Bush Administration. In fact, the blows against the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have come on so fast and furious that few of us have been able to absorb them – or to try to get a complete picture of the damage done. Too many outrages tends to fog the mind against recalling the details of each or of any. Indeed, this tactic – relentlessness – is one that has often been employed by authoritarian regimes.



Working on behalf of the incipient QuestionAuthority organization and the MondoGlobo Social Network, Phil Leggiere has put together what may be the only complete timeline that delineates Bush's Greatest Hits against our rights, as well as relevant Supreme Court decisions, and Acts of Congress.

The Bushies started rockin' hard right out of the gate – well before 9/11. Taking office in January, 2001, the administration introduced it's paranoid style — immediately broadening the scope of documents and information that could be classified, and within a couple of months they had the NSA monitoring domestic calls and internet traffic.

We all tend to remember the big hits. The Patriot Act of 2001. The Military Commissions Act of 2006. But how many of us recall deceptively clever little mindfucks like when the FBI and DOD routed around US law by contracting with private companies to provide them with information on US citizens? And how about the time the Justice Department gave the FBI permission to monitor US religious and political groups? And not to be outdone, the Supreme Court showed off it's own chops in 2006, deciding that it was OK for drug-sniffing dogs to search your car when you're stopped for a random traffic violation. (Full disclosure: I've dated a few drug-sniffing dogs in my time!)


You may think that the biggest hits – the most damage – came in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Perhaps they freaked out — understandably — and it inspired the Bushies to go mental for a few years. Or maybe you would assume that the Bushies would have chilled after his popularity sank to Nixonian levels.

No way! In October, 2006, the Congress, acting in consort with the administration, gave the president the power to – in essence – declare martial law and round up troublemakers. To quote Leggiere, "The 'John Warner Defense Authorization Act' is passed. The act allows a president to declare a public emergency and station US military troops anywhere in America as well as take control of state based national guard units without consent of the governor or other local authorities. The law authorizes presidential deployment of US troops to round-up and detain 'potential terrorists', 'illegal aliens' and 'disorderly' citizenry." And then in May, 2007, El Presidente issued a directive that allowed him or his successor to take charge of all three branches of government in case of "a disaster resulting in extraordinary casualties."
There have been so many awesome hits! I have only scratched the surface here. Collect them all! Check out the timeline here!

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The QuestionAuthority Proposal


This proposal is meant to be considered alongside, or in conjunction with my other recent Open Source Party proposal. They can both be discussed within active, dedicated groups at the new MondoGlobo social network, along with related issues.

A dark cloud is passing over America. We've witnessed, in recent years, the death of many of our constitutional rights and liberties. We've also seen increasingly authoritarian trends in daily life and culture.

Those of us who would prefer to keep our freedoms have been relatively powerless as the events of 9/11 have created an atmosphere of fear and acquiescence. Everybody knows the litany: the virtual death of habeas corpus, the legalization of surveillance against all Americans, the lawlessness and usurpation of powers by the executive branch, ad infinitum.

It is time for all those who oppose this gathering trend towards the worst type of authoritarian governance and culture to put aside their differences and join together in a coalition that can act as a counterforce to this gathering threat to our liberties. It is time for QuestionAuthority (QA).

1: QuestionAuthority — A Coalition

QuestionAuthority is an educational and advocacy project dedicated to defending and extending personal and civil liberties and encouraging free expression. Our goal is to create a broad-based coalition of non-authoritarian groups and individuals who may currently be working in relative isolation on single issues, for political organizations and candidates, or in relatively isolated ideological cohort groups. As a cohesive force, we can do more than just stem the tide one issue — or one court case — at a time. We can exercise political and cultural influence by uniting the vast numbers of Americans who believe that the country has taken a radical turn in an authoritarian direction.

2: QA Platform

We ask you to please endorse the QA Platform below. You can demonstrate your endorsement of the QA Platform by joining the dedicated group on the MondoGlobo Network, and by so joining, you'll send a message to the nation and the world.

1) We call for the resurrection of all basic liberties and protections – including protections against pervasive surveillance – taken away by the federal government and by the executive branch of the Federal Government resulting directly, or obviously, as the result of reactions to the events of 9/11

2) We call for maximum state transparency (an end to excesses in state secrecy). This would include a generous and resilient usage of the Freedom of Information Act; procedural oversight that can bring sane boundaries into the process of classifying materials; and a movement towards the greatest possible realistic use of open source information-sharing and problem-solving in areas related to defense and intelligence.

3) We call for the restoration of a robust system of checks and balances and separation of powers, meant by the Founders to keep concentrated growths of political malfeasance shaken and unable to take root.

We are particularly concerned about centralized power within the Executive Branch of government. In this context, we emphasize a return to active use of "The War Powers Act" in which substantive military campaigns have to be approved by the US Congress.


4) We call for an end to the so-called "war on drugs." This drug war has resulted in frequent violations of limits against search and seizure and an abhorrently large prison population, among other forms of abuse by authorities. (There is room within QA for those who would like an outright end to prohibition as well as for those who prefer more cautious approaches like reform and medicalization to bring to an end the more draconian aspects of the "drug war.")

5) We call for continued vigilance in the defense of free expression, both in the technical legal sense and in a broader socio-cultural sense. There must be a vibrant, vital dialogue around possible contemporary threats to free expression that might not strictly fall under the rubric of censorship. Issues worthy of dialogue and debate include excesses in copyright, hypersensitivity, pressures wrought by corporate media consolidation, state intimidation (such as Congressional hearings) and intimidation of discourse during times of war or during the buildup towards war.

Endorse Platform here


3: Action Agenda for QuestionAuthority

The action agenda for the QA is simple.

1a) We will monitor, inform about, and coordinate public educational responses against any further assaults on the basic constitutional liberties of Americans, and will organize information and educational responses to civil liberties already lost to the "war on terror."

1b) Imagine every authoritarian absurdity and outrage carefully explored and catalogued on a single website. Imagine networked groups that can spring into action to alert and educate the public the next time authorities savage the Bill of Rights

2a) We will do everything in our power to bring non-authoritarian and anti-authoritarian thinkers and speakers before the public and particularly before youth.

2b) Imagine a QA publicity/speakers bureau that would get a wide variety of QA types onto college campuses, on the various media talk shows (let's change the dialogue from Right v. Left to Authoritarian v. Non-Authoritarian) and before various civic groups.

3) We will encourage, initiate, and provide an online place for a wide-ranging discussion among supporters of the QA principles. We envision a QA virtual library of various "question authority" texts, videos, audio files, blogs and other media forms that give expression to diverse non-authoritarian and anti-authoritarian views.

We envision QA members organizing meetups, regional meetings, local forums and perhaps an annual or semi-annual QA conference. We envision QA members and supporters expressing these concepts in their own style through their own websites, wikis, blogs, videos, podcasts, and through other forms of communication directed towards those who are not online.

4: QA FAQ

Q: What is the difference between QA and other organizations and candidates that fight for our rights?

A: First of all, our goal is to create a broad-based coalition of non-authoritarian groups and individuals who may currently be working in relative isolation on single issues, for political organizations and candidates, or in relatively isolated ideological cohort groups.

Also, in cases where civil liberty types of issues are involved, people tend to sit back and let them be fought out in the court. As a cohesive force, we can do more than just stem the tide one issue — or one court case — at a time. We can exercise political and cultural influence by uniting the vast numbers of Americans who believe that the country has taken a radical turn in an authoritarian direction.

Secondly, look again at what we promise to do in terms of organizing informational and educational materials. If these things were being done by anyone else, we wouldn't need to do them. QA proposes to be dynamic and participatory in ways that other organizations are not.

Q: Why should non-authoritarians want to unite in a big centralized organization?

A: They should unite only to the extent that it's necessary to show our numbers to the nation and amplify our influence as a way to counteract the influence of well-organized authoritarians.

How many times, in recent years, have you heard folks wonder why people don't "do something" when major, fundamental outrages against basic constitutional liberties are committed by the state? Now imagine a large, networked group of "question authority" types who can spring into action the next time something of this sort occurs to educate and advocate. Next time, do something! Additionally, the "myth" of a grand QA with a large membership filled with both influential and diverse people could have power to influence media and political discourse.

Q: How will the QA be organized?

A: QA will seek tax-deductible non-profit status. We imagine a very minimal centralized "bureaucracy." Everything about the actions of the QA as an organization, including its use of funds, will be open and transparent. For a brief period, QA decisions will be made by a Board of Directors. It will be comprised of people representing a wide variety of political (and perhaps "anti-political") views. We would hope to move quickly towards making decisions via open source, democratic processes.

We also imagine that many QA activities, right from the start, will be decentralized and taken by local and cohort groups.

Q: This document calls for action to educate and alert the pubic about basic losses of essential liberties. Isn't it time to move beyond education and into activism?

A: The rules guiding the creation of an educational organization and the rules around activism are subtly different. There is room for activist types of activity in an educational context, and those kinds of responses can be discussed and debated by the group. Also, some people will be more comfortable joining an informational/educational project than an activist project and we want a big fat sassy coalition.


Q: Who will join the QA?

A: We hope everybody who agrees with our platform (or who agrees, but with minor quibbles) will join us, so that our numbers and influence will act as a powerful counterforce against the authoritarian activists. Let's let them know we're here.

But let's be blunt. It's obvious that many of those who agree with this platform will tend to be people who are labeled "liberal" and "libertarian." Beyond that, we believe that this coalition will appeal to an even larger disenfranchised group of Americans who believe in questioning authority, but who have very few ideological certainties.

Finally, let's be excessively blunt. We want all the nation's most influential anti-authoritarian individuals and organizations to join in this coalition. We want the ACLU and the Cato Institute; Bob Barr and Mos Def; the EFF and the People for the American Way; MoveOn.org and AntiWar.com; Hitchens and Chomsky; Penn Jillette and George Carlin, Reason magazine and Harpers magazine; Howard Stern and Amy Goodman; Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich; Paris and Nicole… (OK, maybe not.) Anyway, by now, you get the point.



5: CODA

These days, those of us who question authority find ourselves shocked and astonished by the actions of the state – both small and large – on nearly a daily basis. As individuals, we find ourselves wondering, "Why isn't there mass outrage?"

Of course, there is quite a bit of outrage. It's distributed all over the web and all over the culture, but this sense of outrage does not have the coherence it needs to be perceived as a player on America's political stage. We can no longer afford to let that be the case. We need to act now.

Visit our newly re-purposed MondoGlobo Network to get more involved with this idea and/or in a social network for people who question authority.


See also:
Is It Fascism Yet?
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free Or Not?
Catching Up with an Aqua Teen Terrorist
Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
Homeland Security Follies
Prior Permission Required by Government Before Each Flight
Anarchy for the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf

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The Open Source Party Proposal


This proposal is meant to be considered alongside, or in conjunction with my other recent QuestionAuthority proposal. They can both be discussed within active, dedicated groups at the new MondoGlobo social network, along with related issues.

The duopoly will have its way again in this year's election.

Ralph Nader and whoever the Libertarians and Greens nominate as their candidates will drag their asses around the country, sometimes saying interesting and important things, sometimes not. Many of us will wish, once again, that there could be a dynamic discourse about the many real issues and problems that get ignored; and then we will vote (or not) for the one who has at least a fingernail grip on sanity, or for one of the sad and hopeless alterna-candidates.

But we could make the political season less depressing by using networking tools to create a very large and dynamic discourse about the things that we believe really need to change, and we could evolve a new political organization that would be ready to kick up some noise by the time the next political season (2010) rolls around.

In that spirit, I propose a Liberal/Libertarian/Other unity party that will develop ideas and solutions to America's political problems through an Open Source process that will be engaging and fun. We will have online conferences, social networks and wikis, we will have meetups, we will have parties, we will create games that model likely real world responses to our proposed ideas, we will field candidates starting in 2010, get "crazed" anti-authoritarians on TV and radio, and maybe change a few things before the apocalypse, the Singularity, the second coming, the complete conquest of the world by Google, the election of another generation of Bushes and Clintons, or whatever other event you may be expecting.

There are two ways to go with an Open Source Party. One way would be to just throw it open to everybody. Everyone gets to pour their ideas into the maelstrom whether they're anarchists or fascists, conservatives or moderates — or if they just miss Ross Perot.

But I'm not an absolute believer in the wisdom of crowds and all that. I prefer another idea. I would bring together people who feel they are in agreement with at least 5 of the 7 points in the party platform below – giving us a starting point from which to launch activities on the basis of the platform and to have interesting fun in a democratic process that adds to or subtracts from the platform.

We ask you to please endorse the Open Source Platform below. You can demonstrate your endorsement of the Open Source Platform by joining the dedicated group on the MondoGlobo Network and/or by contributing money to the "establishment campaign." By so doing, you'll send a message to the nation and the world.



Here, then, is the Open Source Party Platform...

1: Let's Have A Democracy

It's a wacky, wacky idea that may have started in early Greece and was cautiously revived during the American Revolution in 1776 when voting rights were granted to property owning white males living in most states of that Union. Since then, the hint of democracy has grown and spread, but the actual practice has been far from complete. Recently, many citizens of the US have questioned whether democracy is still in practice here at all. It's an excellent question. The Open Source Party suggests two steps to ensure actual democracy.

A: One person/one vote: Every US citizen over 18 has a Social Security number. Many activities on the internet are protected from fraud by strong data encryption. Surely, computer geniuses thinking together in an Open Source process can come up with a way that every person over 18 can use his or her number to effectively and efficiently vote once and only once. Citizens can vote from their homes or they can vote from public polling stations using social security numbers tied to data encryption. If this solution isn't possible, let's brainstorm others. Shouldn't actually having a democracy be a priority for the world's oldest "democracy"?

B: Demolish the duopoly: There are dozens of rules and regulations designed by the two political parties that have had a virtual monopoly on power for many decades that prevent other political parties and independents from competing on a fair playing field. We should eliminate all those barriers that give unfair advantage to the ruling parties.

NOTE: There are a number of other ideas that we are not now advocating — including direct majority voting on presidential elections; run-off votes when candidates fail to win 50%; various scenarios to control or change campaign finance and media access in the electoral process; and even direct voting on legislation — that will provoke controversy and discourse within the Open Source Party. Some of these ideas may be added to the platform following a radically open and democratic process that will be suggested at the end of this statement.


2: Let's Have Civil Liberties and a Bill of Rights

Here we have yet another notion that only cranks subscribe to — that civil liberties can survive crime, mind-active substance use, and even terrorism.

For starters, we seek the return of civil liberties, rights, and basic, sane conduct by the Executive branch of government that has been lost in the post 9-11 environment. This includes the reform or repeal of the (mostly) unnecessary Patriot Act; the return of Habeas Corpus; the end of essentially infinite surveillance rights for the federal government; limits to privilege and secrecy in the executive branch; the end of — or the imposition of judicial limits onto — presidential signing statements. (What have I forgotten? You tell me.)

We support strong free speech that includes an end to implicit censorship through government intimidation, and an end to the so-called "War on Drugs," which has resulted in frequent violations against limits on search and seizure and an abhorrently high percentage of US citizens imprisoned.

NOTE: There is plenty of room here for dynamic, open debate among Open Source Party members, including whether to reform or repeal The Patriot Act and what kind of surveillance is necessary and appropriate for the defense of the nation. Also, ending the "drug war" could involve anything from reform of draconian policies and medicalization of illegal drugs, to an outright end to prohibition. Again, we will follow a radically open and democratic process that may add to the party platform.


3: Let's End the Imperial Foreign Policy

Or, if you prefer, let's stop playing the world's policeman. However you phrase it, we should no longer invade or attack sovereign nation states, either directly or indirectly, that haven't attacked us by force of arms. The emphasis of American foreign policy needs to change from "defending our interests" to "defending our sovereignty."

NOTE: Here we can have a dynamic discussion about many possible aspects of defending the US, including, the size of the military budget and the interests of what President Eisenhower called a military-industrial complex; what to do about weapons systems and weapons testing (including nuclear); whether we should provide weapons to other nations and under what circumstances; whether to allow mercenary groups to operate out of the US; whether and when to participate and help in peace negotiations among other nations as a humanitarian act; whether and when to participate with other nations in interventions in extreme cases of genocide; whether or when to intervene in extreme cases if and when another nation launches repeated interventions of its own and seems clearly bent on regional or global conquest in the tradition of Genghis Khan, Napolean and Hitler; how to cope with the development of nuclear weapons by other nations (and by our own); whether or not to have military alliances and what our degree of commitment to them should be; and whether and when to cooperate with the UN.


4: A New "Energy Task Force"

A tremendous number of energy pioneers have been thinking and working for decades on energy solutions that don't involve oil, natural gas or coal. These organizations include Rocky Mountain Institute, Pliny Fisk’s Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, and the folks at WorldChanging, ad infinitum. Let's bring people like these together to map out how best to bring us as completely into the age of clean energy as possible within 10-20 years — whether through the state, the market, decentralized voluntarism, or all three.

NOTE: Obviously, there's nearly infinite room here for debate and discussion about these solutions, but we imagine a passionate discourse about whether the transition can happen primarily through encouragement of the market or whether it should emphasize government solutions. We also look forward to an interesting debate among Open Source Party members over whether to develop and deploy more nuclear power.


5: Let's Explore The Possibility of an Open Source Monetary System

Monetary policies and systems change all the time and it is always necessary to remind ourselves that "money" is a symbol (presumably) of wealth, and not an actual material value. We should encourage and empower a public discourse around how money should be issued, understood, defined and valued. Ultimately, we may want to think in terms of an "Open Source" monetary system and we may want to encourage "alternative" forms of currency.

NOTE: Again, there is nearly infinite room for new ideas and debate here, including questioning the essential premise — thus the "let's explore" aspect of this part of the platform. Open Source currency may be achievable through networks of trust, through virtual money (like Linden Dollars) or simply by removing the state from the equation and then publicly encouraging a multiplicity of exchange signals. We are most of all intrigued by ideas that might lead toward a post-scarcity monetary system.


6: Let's End Corporate Personhood and Other Rules that Unfairly Advantage Corporations

Corporations today have the rights but not the responsibilities of persons, and our laws are riddled with other advantages that tilt the balance of economic and political power in favor of these giants. This platform suggests a simple libertarian approach toward disempowering what some have called the corporatocracy by removing their state advantages.

Note: There is tremendous room for discussion and debate about other measures to rein in corporations, including — no doubt — discourse about whether to simply take away corporate advantages or to regulate them, democratize them, utilize the corporate approval process to punish corruption and/or anti-social activities, ad infinitum.


7: Let My Web People Go!

Digital stuff exists in a land without scarcity. It is natural and spontaneous that when people reside there, they tend to share and to re-purpose content without guilt. On the other hand, "content creators" need to pay bills just as much as programmers and other virtual laborers do. We need to support the natural evolving ecology of copying and sharing on the web. At the same time, we need to find a way to sufficiently reward creative content.

Note: This requires lots of real creative thinking and there is lots of room for discussion and debate around the nuances of netiquette and law.


Democratic Processes Within an Open Source Party

We suggest that decisions to take on "official" activities and to make additions or subtractions to and from the Open Source Party platform would take place along the lines of "near consensus." We would suggest a 75% yes vote among registered members would be requuired to adopt any action or platform point. We also suggest that the democratic process would include serious campaigning and some degree of hilarity.

We suggest that erecting a pay wall would be instrumental not only in helping to finance a dynamic organization but necessary to keep out all but the most motivated griefers, and help us to verify the legitimacy of voters, who would vote only once. Naturally, we would hope that enthusiasts who can would contribute substantially more.

Final Thoughts

We imagine that this in-group, Open Source, participatory democratic process could be a way in which people who have been more or less on the fringe of American politics can encourage one another to think clearly in terms of actually making policy. It's very easy to stand outside the system and protest or call for some absolutist ideological solution ("Anarchy, dudes!"), but it's more interesting and valuable to try to realistically envision the consequences of policy. We also want to emphasize again the ample potential to keep this playful — to create dynamic virtual worlds (in Second Life, or wherever), games, fanciful as well as serious candidacies, videos and podcasts, songs, etc. Such media can now be created by a large proportion of the general internet public, so why not do it?

Note: Special thanks to Jon Lebkowsky for help and encouragement with this document. The Open Source Party is currently a gleam in the eye and not an extant organization.

Visit our newly re-purposed MondoGlobo Network to get more involved with this idea and/or in a social network for people who question authority.


See also:
Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
The Future of America Has Been Stolen
DC Sex Diarist Bares All
Libertarian Chick Fights Boobs With Boobs
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free, Or Not?

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Catching Up With an Aqua Teen Terrorist

Mooninite Terrorist Zebbler
January 31, 2007: a day that will live in infamy. The great city of Boston was brought to its knees by the appearance of unexpected L.E.D. placards in places where they didn't belong. Alert to potential connections between terror and anything a wee bit unusual, stout citizens and government officials alike in the land of the free and the home of the brave peed their metaphoric pants. The L.E.D. character was described in a CNN report as "a Mooninite, an outer-space delinquent… greeting passersby with an upraised middle finger." Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley was quoted in the same piece as saying, "It had a very sinister appearance." The horror. The horror.



A pair of young Bostonians were arrested for perpetrating this dastardly act as hired guns in a guerrilla marketing campaign to promote the upcoming movie, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie. The two lads, Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens were charged with "placing a hoax device in a way that results in panic," a felony, and disorderly conduct. At a news conference, Berdovsky and Stevens refused to talk about the case but expressed a willingness to opine at length on '70s hairstyles. They were not taken up on their generous offer by the gathered media.

Berdovsky, known popularly as Zebbler, has plenty of hair to think about – long dreadlocks down to his waist. He also has a reputation in Boston — and increasingly around the world — as a popular VJ, video artist, performance artist and painter. Sentenced to 80 hours community service for his crime, he made the most of it, painting a delightfully trippy mural for Spaulding (physical) Rehabilitation Center. He was also recently voted the #12 VJ in the world by London-based DJ Magazine and was named Boston's Best Artist by Improper Bostonian Magazine. Zebbler also recently appeared in Berkeley, Caliifornia where his surround sound HD projection set was part of the opening reception for RIP.MIX.BURN.BAM.PFA at the Pacific Film Archives — an exhibit that "celebrates the cultural and artistic practice of remix."

Meanwhile, the film that brought down the city, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie was, undeservedly, a commercial flop. (Maybe if they'd shut down more cities, people would have noticed.) But it is now out on DVD, so don't wait to discover what happens when Carl gets strapped into the insane-o-flex. Like the cartoon, the movie is, at times: ridiculous, stupid, hilarious, clever, and – of course – composed of cheesy bad animation. Rent it. You can't go wrong.

I interviewed Berdovsky aka Zebbler by email.

RU SIRIUS: Most people who read this will probably just know you as the guy with the long dreads who got caught up in the big Aqua Teen Terrorist scare of 2007. Were you in any way prepared to get caught up in anything that absurd?


ZEBBLER: Well it depends. I never expected anyone to freak out over the L.E.D. placards. However, I recognize people's perceptions of me. I behaved in a manner that was consistent with my knowledge of how I am perceived, although there were definitely a few unknowns. I have never seen a guy with long dreadlocks in a situation like mine. People's reactions were pleasantly positive. On the streets, in airports, stores, events — people who recognize me are generally very positive and curious.

RU: I've known a couple of people who have wound up in situations with Homeland Security basically around technologies that were not understood. They found themselves facing a veritable platoon of armed agents and various other types of hostility. How was your treatment at the hands of law enforcement, homeland security and so forth? Did anybody on that team say or do anything particularly bizarre or interesting?

Z: Yeah, there were lots of interesting statements from them. My interrogator gave me nothing but carrots to eat. I cooperated fully — since I had nothing to hide — but at times it was uncanny as to how convincing he was. He made me want to tell him my deepest secrets — a genuinely weird feeling. I had to snap out of it a few times. He promised to give me back all of the mooninites they have confiscated from me. It was a lie and I knew it as he was saying it.

The biggest surprise was from one of the older state police person. On the way out of the holding cell where we were held in overnight, there were whispers about us being famous as a result of what happened. One of the higher-ups came up to me as I was being led away in shackles and said: "My daughter is a huge fan of you. She watches the show and knows all about what happened. She was so excited that I get to see you." He paused for a second and added: "So... did you really mean to blow up Boston?" I think I just growled with disbelief after that statement and walked out to face the press staking out the holding cell in the bitterly cold morning.

RU: You're a pretty well known video artist and VJ. What do you try to do with the medium and tell us about a few high points in your career?

Z: I am moving more and more in the direction of solo surround sound custom HD video performances. I have spent several years creating custom psychedelic content in my resolution. To my mild surprise, it's starting to be recognized by the fine art community. I recently performed solo at Berkeley Museum of Art (California) as part of their RIP.MIX.BURN.BAM.PFA. There are also talks about performing for the Anchorage Film Festival (AK).

I tend to get physical in my performances. I am known for wearing costumes and masks during performances and potentially more than other VJs I have been mistaken for DJs during many shows.

Right after graduating from Mass College of Art, I went on a major US tour providing custom video projection performances for Ozric Tentacles. That was pretty great. A lot of work (25 shows in 30 days all over US) — but a great introduction to the industry and craft of live performance in big venues.

RU: You also worked recently with Alex Grey, the painter who is much known and admired in psychedelic circles. How have psychedelics influenced your work... and do you think your experiences helped you maintain your sense of humor throughout the whole Aqua Teen Terror crisis? You guys were pretty gracious and disarming when you went on Fox with Geraldo.

Z: Mmm... that's a big question. Psychedelics were a major part of my inspiration to create art. As a teen, I read a lot about human psychology and heard about the sensory deprivation experiments, where people are faced with nothing but their inner world. It inspired me to seek similar experiences. Probably, it was my desire to seek the unexplained, the otherworldly. It was a yearning to prove to myself that there's something outside the box. I have since learned to differentiate between genuine revelations and delusional mind tricks. I am not as intensely into mental experimentation these days — instead I'm trying to recreate a lot of the feelings, concepts and sensations through my art.

A life-changing psychedelic experience is an honest slap in the face with a realization of our own arbitrary position in the universe. Regular societal roles become unglued. Personal impulses reveal their egotism. It did not seem to offer a path to salvation, just a widening of perspective.

One doesn't need psychedelics to achieve those kinds of realizations however. While it helped my sense of humor to a degree — I think ultimately it's my personality that's responsible for my sensations and behavior during the Aqua Teen Boston Bomb Scare. When I am faced with an uncontrollable situation, I let go of trying to control what's beyond reach, and focus on what I can change. Both Sean and I didn't want this case to intimidate or frighten people. We were sick of media spinning stories to make them scarier. So we came up with a way to disarm the media — first with our press conference.



RU: Tell us about your video show, "I Wash My TV in Fear"

Z: It was my reaction to seeing so many fear-inducing messages constantly on our TV screens. Since the news became a business, they realized that fear creates the need to watch. The TVs at my performance were literally awash in fear. I recorded a day or two of television news and selected the most frightening messages to create a hyper saturated barrage of FEAR that I then perform live on multiple screens with custom music/edits/animations.

RU: So what did you think of the Aqua Teen movie? I thought it was pretty hilarious nonsense but you may disagree. And do you think it's weird that all the publicity didn't create any curiosity for the flick?

Z: I thought it held up strong with a hilarious start and beginning/middle. But, ultimately I was hoping for a more intelligent ending. Instead, it all just went to hell. But so be it — I had a good time. And it was a little strange that it didn't get that much attention. I attribute some of it to the execs freaking out and backing off from the promotional opportunity that this event gave them.

See also:
Is It Fascism Yet?
Burning the Man with Hunter S. Thompson
The Great Wired Drug Non-Controversy
10 Worst Spiderman Tie-Ins
Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
Homeland Security Follies
Prior Permission Required by Government Before Each Flight

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Are We Losing the Fight for Porn?


It may not matter what the courts say about free speech or what the law is about adult content — because our Department of Justice has its own agenda.

The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals recently ruled that the government's 2257 statute against pornography is unconstitutional, which immediately prompted an ecstatic round of premature celebrations. Salon's tech blogger Machinist popped a boner the size of the Empire State Building. ("Hallelujah!" he wrote. "Haul out your 8 MM, put on some lounge music, get your partner — and maybe a gaffer, some stage hands, a caterer, a boom operator and your parents, who'll be so proud —and get down! The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has just ruled that you are free to make your own porn...")



Digital rights pundit Declan McCullough joined the frenzy, cheering that "this is likely going to be the last word unless the U.S. Supreme Court gets involved." But what looks like good news for porn looks like exactly the opposite — with a little history.

Explicit Justice

I wish I could be so blissfully ecstatic about the ruling, but this "unconstitutional" law enforcement has gone on for too long without any real consequences, despite previous major court rulings. In 1998, I was working my first adult content gig at a West L.A. company called Sundance and Associates, which among other things produced a series of print magazines which ran explicit classified ads, and was henceforth considered a "secondary producer" of adult content.

In 1998, Sundance sued Janet Reno, insisting that the first incarnation of the 2257 legislation failed to prove that by running these ads, Sundance was their "producer." The magazines were almost exactly the same as the Ohio magazines involved in last month's court decision, and our case ended up in the Tenth Circuit court, which ruled in our favor.

However, that ruling was never put to the test, because the Department of Justice never launched the inspections many producers feared they would. Instead, many content providers ranging from hardcore porn sites to internet dating services continued taking the greatest care in creating and keeping detailed records, fearing they'd otherwise face federal prosecution under a statute with "child pornography" in its title. Many even assumed the ruled-against legislation had remained intact and unchallenged!

In fact, U.S. Code 2257, which was passed under the guise of protecting children during the Clinton administration, instead puts anyone who's ever taken a sexually explicit photograph in jeopardy of federal prosecution. In 2005, Senators Hatch and Brownback overhauled the statute to address new technologies of production (like the interwebz), but with the troublesome "secondary producer" language remaining. The language in 2257 was ultimately slighted by the courts as being "poorly drafted...should never be used as a model of the English language" and "overbroad." (It's presently worded so that the naughty photo of you and your partner stored on your iPhone qualifies you as a producer of adult content.)


It's unknown how much producers struggled to adhere to this incarnation of the 2257 statute — but the wave of fear it produced is tangible. Attorneys for some websites, many unfamiliar with the code's storied history, have cowered under the threat of inspection, choosing instead to change their sites to avoid scrutiny.

Which is why the government will most likely stall any further judicial review as long as it can.

After all, it's already taken two more years just to get to this point, and if this administration knows the statute is eventually doomed, its best interests are served by postponing the inevitable. Until the highest court in the land puts the beat-down on this unconstitutional code, the chilling effect of possible prosecution will continue to be felt in what has always been the vanguard of the fight for free expression — the adult entertainment industry.

Even if you don't have an entire wing of your estate dedicated to the canon of Ron Jeremy, history has proven it unwise to encourage the persecution of one group, lest that group contain you later on. Especially with that iPhone photo we talked about earlier.

The Tragic Failure

Perhaps the most perverse element of 2257 is that, by using it as a blunt instrument to attack all adult content, it fails on its own premise of being a weapon against the creation and distribution of child pornography.

When the statute was first passed almost 20 years ago, both the porn industry and the Department of Justice were still smarting from the whole Traci Lords debacle, where it was revealed that the starlet had been working in the industry well before her 18th birthday. And while the millions in lost revenue from the loss of her catalog was fair evidence that the studios had been fooled by Lords' fake ID (and a talent well beyond her young years), the government nevertheless leapt at the chance to regulate an industry that they loathed.

So currently, every adult title must keep detailed records of everyone involved, just in case dark-suited FBI agents invade their offices. And that's every adult movie — even the ones that feature 70-year-old women and well-worn former fluffers engaged in geriatric carnal knowledge that nobody with half a brain would confuse with kiddie porn. As with the undocumented immigrant labor issue, many regard this extra record-keeping as an unreasonable burden. Opponents of the current 2257 statute maintain that the Constitution gives the government the burden of establishing whether or not adult content is child pornography — instead of placing a burden on the producers of proving content isn't child pornography.


In their new unanimous decision, the three judges of the Sixth Circuit also noted this peculiar irony: the tragic failure of 2257 to actually protect children by concentrating heavily on material so obviously outside this scope.

Leading the charge against the legislation was the Free Speech Coalition, a renowned trade organization and constitutional crusader — and they cited our 1998 victory against Janet Reno.

Reed Lee, the chair of their Legal Committee and an FSC board member, agreed with the Court that the legislation was too vague to actually afford any protection to children. "This is one of the arguments that we have been asserting all along and that we will continue to carry if necessary."

Of course, the court's decision is by no means the last word on 2257, and Lee believes the government will probably make its next move in the coming weeks. The Department of Justice could request that the Sixth Circuit court review its decision, or it could ask the United States Supreme Court to take up the case. It could also try to re-write the statute to address the court's concerns, though of the three justices on the Sixth Circuit, only one even believed that "portions of the section can be judicially salvaged."

Even if it's ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, Congress can always try to create a new statute without the same defects. (This isn't the first time the Department of Justice has been spanked for trying to bully the adult industry with anti-lifestyle legislation disguised as child protection.) But not everyone's as cynical about the outcome as I am.

In a press release, the currently-victorious FSC assessed the possibility that Congress could simply attempt a third iteration of the code. "Given the decision yesterday, that would not be easy to do and might not result in anything like the burdensome record-keeping requirements now on the books, but we must remain vigilant against efforts to revive Section 2257 legislatively.

If there's any hope today, it's the end result of a very long fight. "The Free Speech Coalition has worked hard over the past few years to be in a position to influence events in Congress as well as the courts. Our efforts there may not always be high-profile, but we are confident that we are in a position to be heard on policy issues as we never have before."

Eliminating the tools with which zealous, almost always Republican-controlled, U.S. Attorneys use the War on Porn to target whomever they don't want running around in society, is not just good for the adult industry — it protects all of us.

See Also:
Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
Ed Rosenthal, Big Man of Buds
Sex Panic: An Interview with Debbie Nathan
Is It Fascism Yet?
Prior Permission From Government To Be Required For Each Flight

Read More

CWILF Island: Hottie Candidate Spouses

michelle obama

Let's face it, being attractive has never exactly been a prerequisite for being First Lady of the Nation.

Take Margaret Taylor, wife of 13th President Zachary Taylor. Now there's a face only a shovel could love. And Herbert Hoover's wife? I dare any erection to withstand that vision. (It bears noting that, of course, these guys weren't exactly Marky Mark, either.)

Sure, there was the occasional Jackie Kennedy, the odd Ellen Arthur, betrothed to 21st President Chester A. Arthur. On balance, though, most of them were as funny-lookin' as their presidential partners.



Times have changed, of course, and today a shady character like Nixon — that shifty, sweaty fucker — could hardly run for dog catcher. So obviously (and especially in this culture where double standards rule the day), everyone's had to step up their game to be taken seriously in national politics.

But in Campaign '08 the candidates' wives have taken it to a level that didn't exist even just four years earlier. Don't believe me? Take a look at how much worse they looked in 2004!

Ga-a-a-a-ck!



So while most of the media are content to pretend to quibble about issues, we've decided to assess the fledgling campaign the only way it really deserved to be qualified – by rating the Top 5 CWILFs of the 2008 presidential race!

Just so that we're clear here: CWILF = Candidate's Wife I'd Like to Fuck. I'm embarrassed to have even had to spell that out, but you never know.

Now without further adieu, let's bring on the CWILFs!

5. Judith Giuliani

Judith Giuliani


Madonna mia! I'm a sucker for Italian broads, so in some ways I like her more than some of the others. But, she's guilty by association, so the fact she's willing to be with this skeevosa makes the baby Jesus cry. What can you say about a guy whose own daughter didn't tell him she was accepted to Harvard, and who publicly endorsed Barack Obama just to spite him? But more on her later …

4. Jackie Dodd

Jackie Dodd


The hotter of the two (!) Mormon candidates’ wives. And you never know about those magic underwear – everyone assumes that these must be granny panties, but since nobody’s talking about it, they could have modernized them into thongs or bikinis. And the fact that she managed to make her husband forget about dating the likes of Bianca Jagger and Carrie Fisher (in her hot Jedi days) says something, right?


3. Michelle Obama

michelle obama

Oh my, forget about the historical implications of Barack in the so-called White House, how about some hot chocolate in the Oval(tine) Office? Some bootylicious lovin’ in the Lincoln Bedroom? Is that even irony? I’m not sure, but I’m into it. The fact that she’s no wallflower (she’s described herself as having a “loud mouth”) only makes my hardened wood petrified.

2. Elizabeth Kucinich

Elizabeth Kucinich


Progressive superhero Dennis Kucinich has been getting his balls broken over his new hot, young trophy wife, and I for one am going to make sure this doesn't stop anytime soon. I haven't seen an example of beauty and the beast this extreme since, uh... the last time I got laid. Thank god she at least has a little beaver tooth thing going on with her mighty incisors, or else someone might accuse him of pandering to the electorate.

1. Jeri Thompson

Jeri Thompson

Despite the ick factor of actually imagining her curling up with that flubbery fossil, the wife of jowly, drawling old bastard Fred Thompson takes the fuckability cake. She's one of them there smart chicks, too (if I go to my grave without ever having banged a political consultant, it'll only be because god thinks I'm a douche and wants to see me unhappy).

Honorable Mention: Bill Clinton

Okay, he’s actually more of a CHILF, and I certainly don’t wanna fuck him, but I’m amazed by how many girls consider this guy an unqualified, no-questions-asked panty-dropper. Issues of age, infidelity, even politics fly right out the window. So for the love of god, if Hillary wins, somebody keep him away from zaftig Jewess interns, will ya? Also: can a First Gentleman be impeached? Pray for a Democrat-controlled Congress.



Honorable Mention: The Daughters


I decided not to make a separate list of candidates’ daughters I want to fuck. Not because that would be “wrong” (please!) – only because I couldn’t come up with a cool acronym. CDILFs? Doesn’t work.

But I can't resist calling out the previously mentioned Caroline Hanover (Giuiliani) and Meghan McCain, who’s just about the complete opposite of Hanover. McCain is accompanying her father on the campaign trail, maintaining a blog, and looking like the hottest prospective First Daughter since, um, the last REAL one. (Yes, I'm the father of Jenna Bush's baby. There you have it. Though she told me girls can't get pregnant that way.)

See Also:
Racist Porn Stars
Democratic Cartoon Candidates
The Five Faces of Bush
Senator Vitter's Suppressed Statement
John Edwards' Virtual Attackers Unmasked
YouTube's 5 Sorriest Questions for the 2008 Presidential Candidates

Read More

Prior Permission From Government to be Required for Each Flight


The Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security are quietly pushing for a set of crazy new rules. All travellers in the U.S. will be required to get government-issued credentials and official clearance before every flight, both within the United States as well as internationally.

And Monday we received a new political action alert from Edward Hasbrouk, The Practical Nomad blogger who's been fighting the plan (and who testified about it at a TSA hearing). "The international Advance Passenger Information System rules were published, as 'final' effective February 19,2008, with no further opportunity for public comment even on the changes from the original proposal."



Hasbrouck sees this as a very ominous development. "The Department of Homeland Security can now evade debate on the similar elements of their Secure Flight proposal by claiming that it's needed to 'harmonize' the domestic and international travel restrictions — as though travel within America was tantamount to and subject to the same government restrictions and controls as crossing international borders."

The stakes are high — and air travel may never be the same. "The Secure Flight proposal also includes new and odious requirements that travelers display their government-issued credentials — not to government agents, but to airline personnel (staff or contractors), whenever the Department of Homeland Security orders the airline to demand them… " That alone will create a huge potential for abuse. "The proposed Secure Flight rules would leave travelers hopelessly at the mercy of any identity thief who claims to be an airline contractor (subcontractor, sub-subcontractor, etc.) demanding 'Your papers, please!' anywhere in an airport."

But your personal information faces an even bigger risk. "In addition, the proposed rules would leave the airlines free to keep all the information obtained from travelers under government coercion, even after they've passed it on to the government. Your personal data would continue to be considered, at least in America, solely their property. Not yours..."

According to Hasbrouk, the Identity Project — an organization defending our right to travel freely in our own country — has made requests under the Privacy Act and they "have uncovered many more details (and many more problems) with the U.S. government's dossiers of travel records, which include everything from what books travelers were carrying to phone numbers of friends and associates to whether they asked for one bed or two in their hotel room."


Unfortunately, Monday, October 22 was the deadline for posting public comments on the proposed rules.

But it's never too late to express your outrage... against another act in the continuing project to turn the United States into North Korea.

See Also:
Homeland Security Follies
Is It Fascism Yet?
Art of Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
Anarchy for the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf
Venezuela: Dispatch from a Surrealist Autocracy

Read More

Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?

Strange Culture film

The Emergency Response Team might have thought they'd stumbled upon an underground bioterrrorist's laboratory.

On May 11, 2004, 911 received a call from SUNY Buffalo University professor and artist Steve Kurtz reporting the death of Kurtz's wife Hope from heart failure. The responders entered the home where Kurtz worked on his projects for Critical Arts Ensemble (CAE) — projects which explore and critique bio-issues like our contemporary use of biotechnology for weapons programs, reproduction, and food. The responders noted a table with scientific equipment and peculiar substances that are an essential part of Kurtz' work.

The FBI detained and questioned Kurtz for 22 hours. His house — and his wife's body — were confiscated. Kurtz' entire street was quarantined while agents from numerous agencies, including Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, descended on his home in hazmat suits. Everything was confiscated – computers, books on bioweaponry, garbage, posters with "suspicious" Arabic lettering on them… everything.



After about two days, the authorities had tested the biological materials and declared that no toxic material had been found. On May 17, Kurtz was allowed to return to his home.

Whoops!

So did the authorities apologize to the grieving professor before busying themselves with pursuing real crimes and threats? Not on your life!

Despite the Public Health Commissioner's conclusions about the safety of Kurtz's materials, and despite the FBI's own field and laboratory tests showing they weren't harmful to people or the environment, the Justice Department still sought charges under the U.S. Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989, as expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act — Prohibitions With Respect to Biological Weapons.

A federal grand jury rejected the charges, but instead handed down indictments with two counts each for "mail fraud" and "wire fraud." According to the CAE, the charges "concern technicalities" about how Kurtz obtained "$256 worth of harmless bacteria for one of CAE's art projects." (Robert Ferrell, former head of the Department of Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Public Health, and a collaborator on several of CAE’s projects, now facing charges along with Kurtz) In this interview, Kurtz characterizes the charges even more bluntly. "The Department of Justice can drop a major felony on someone for filling out a warranty card incorrectly and mailing it."

To bring more attention to the case, film director Lynn Hershman Leeson (Teknolust, Conceiving Ada) has released a unique new film, Strange Culture. Starring Tilda Swinton, Peter Coyote, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Josh Kornbluth — plus Kurtz himself — the film effectively communicates the story while also reinventing the documentary genre in Leeson's unique style.


Strange Culture was screened in the virtual world of Second Life as part of the 2007 Sundance Festival, a first for the festival. The film has also been screened in Los Angeles, Albequerque, Chicago, Buffalo, Seattle and Minneapolis and is just finishing up showings in San Francisco and San Rafael on September 27. The film has not gone into conventional release, but future showings are planned for New York City.

RU SIRIUS: Describe the project you were working on that caused you to have the materials that caused law enforcement officials to go nuts.

STEVE KURTZ: Three projects seemed to really bother law enforcement. Critical Art Ensemble was working on a biochemical defense kit against Monsanto’s Roundup Ready products for use by organic and traditional farmers. That was all confiscated.

We had a portable molecular biology lab that we were using to test food products labeled “organic” to see if they really were free of GMO contaminant. Or, when in Europe, to see if products not labeled as containing GMOs really had none. We'd finished the initiative in Europe and were about to launch here in the U.S. when the FBI confiscated all our equipment.


Finally, we were a preparing project on germ warfare and the theater of the absurd. We were planning to recreate some of the germ warfare experiments that were done in the '50s (which were so insane that they could only have been paid for with tax dollars). We had two strains of completely harmless bacteria that simulated the behavior of actual infectious diseases — plague and anthrax. To accompany these performances, we were in the middle of a manuscript on the militarization of civilian health agencies in the U.S. by the Bush administration.

Everything described was confiscated. We had to start from scratch on the project and the book. Happily, we did eventually do the experiments, and published the book — Marching Plague: Germ Warfare and Global Public Health.

RU: Would you say that originally, they authentically suspected they had found some sort of bioterror weapon, and once they realized they hadn't, they found other reasons to remain hostile?

SK: What I think they thought was that they had a situation, along with a vulnerable patsy, out of which they could manufacture a terrorism case. After all, the rewards that were heaped on the agents, prosecutors, and institutions that brought home the so-called “Lackawana Six sleeper cell” case — another railroad job — were witnessed by others in these agencies and noted. This made it too lucrative to pass up turning anything they could into “terrorism”.

They also had plenty of other reasons to be — and remain — hostile.

RU: Could you describe the scene of the raid? Did they use a lot of weaponized overkill?

SK: I really don’t know any more than anybody else about that. At the time of the real action, I was at the Yes Men’s compound in Troy, NY. (Due to the initial media circus, I was told by my lawyers to leave town for a few days.) From what I can tell from the news footage and the reports of neighbors, the entire alphabet soup of the federal investigative agencies was launched. Each took a turn entering my home wearing hazmat suits with guns drawn, and proceeded to do their “bioterrorism” exercises.

RU: Oh, I had the impression that the entire situation involving your wife's death, the discovery of the materials, and the raid all happened fairly instantly. Did this scene stretch out over days?

SK: It did stretch out a ways. Even though I was illegally “detained” for 22 hours the day after my wife’s death and they had confiscated my house, the raid didn’t begin. It took a few days for them to assemble all the troops and to obtain a search warrant.

RU: And did they think you were trying to avoid arrest since you were hiding?

SK: No. I was out of town on advice of my attorneys. I had already been in custody and released. They knew they only had to contact my lawyer and I would self-surrender.

RU: This must have all been a tremendous strain, coming as it did coupled with the death of your wife. Can you describe some of the thoughts and emotions you had around all this?

SK: I think all adults know the feelings of intense grief and depression that are brought about by the loss of a loved one. My feelings were in no way unique. But when you spice it with the adrenalin and the hyperanxiety of being attacked by the full weight of federal forces, which in turn causes all your survival instincts to really kick in, you have a bad trip from which you are not going to come down for a long time. In my case, it was six months or so before I started feeling anything approaching normal. This close proximity to mortality stemming from two different extremes (loss and attack) creates a feedback loop that turns your brain into static. Patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior deconstruct and seem to lose any identifiable point of origin. I was a zombie— an animated organic mass with modest brain function.

RU: Have you run into particularly Kafkaesque scenarios given this cases' attachment to The Patriot Act and Homeland Security?

SK: The case has been a hyperreal, bureaucratic grind, but I have yet to wait endlessly in any hallways not knowing why I was there or what I was charged with.


RU: Explain a little bit more about the project you were planning around these materials related to biological warfare and theater of the absurd.

SK: We did the projects. You can see them at our website at critical-art.net. We just recreated a couple of the experiments that different militaries did to see if germs were viable candidates for weaponization.

For the British Plague experiments, Critical Art Ensemble went to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland where they had originally been done. The British tests started south of this location and were land-based, but the results were so appallingly bad from a military perspective that they began to believe that the only way infectious disease could possibly be of use militarily was as a tactical ship-to-ship weapon. To test this idea they moved to an even less populated area (the Isle of Lewis). They put a bunch of monkeys and guinea pigs on a pontoon and started shooting germs at them in both powder and wet forms from about a mile away — a very difficult shot in the blustery weather of Northern Scotland.

The infection rates were again poor, and included a fishing vessel that unsuspectingly sailed through the experiment. The British Navy had to follow the vessel to make sure it didn’t land or make physical contact with other ships until they were sure no one on the boat was infected. No one was. The only conclusion reached from this experience was to move the test to the colonies — in this case, the Bahamas.

Critical Art Ensemble did the same thing, only we recreated the harmless simulant tests (not the actual plague tests), and only used guinea pigs overseen by the SSPCA — no monkeys. Our results were just as bad, so it seems as if we reliably replicated the test. CAE went to the end of the world to shoot bacteria at guinea pigs.

Can there be a more absurdist gesture than that? Well yes — one: Bush reinitiating a failed germ warfare program at public expense and at the cost of civilian interests in world and national health policy. The Bush administration is usurping public civilian agencies (such as the CDC and countless universities) and using them to play out the administration’s fantasies of a terrorist germ warfare attack. The resources to study infectious diseases are limited, and it's criminal to use them for a remote “what could be” scenario at the expense of real, ongoing health crises like AIDS, TB, hepatitis, malaria, and other diseases that are killing millions every year.

RU: I never thought of CAE as a really obscure project, since I'd read various manifestos or statements by you and seen stuff about you here and there. And yet, outside the avant-garde art community, very few people know about this bizarre and outrageous case. Do you think this says something about our cluttered and diffuse culture.

SK: I think you have stated the situation as well as I can. Information is ubiquitous and overwhelming. Only so much can be processed in a day. And when you think of how many outrages are occurring each day because of the war and the current U.S. constitutional crisis, who has time to follow one of the many ridiculous court cases brought by the Department of Justice?

One has to be motivated by a very direct interest in the case to take notice, no matter how precedent setting the case might be. In my case, the Department of Justice is attempting to completely implode civil and criminal law, but if you are not in the arts and sciences, there’s too many other events and situations to worry about.

RU: Is there some way we can make it more difficult for arbitrary authority to pick off people who are on the so-called fringes?

SK: I have no idea. The FBI has been a Dr. Jekyll/Mr Hyde type of institution from its inception. While I am happy for its work against organized crime, for example, I have always been completely outraged by its continuous assault on those individuals and sometimes entire communities (as with the current attack on peoples of Islamic faith) who openly express ideological difference. The FBI has worked against socialists and communists from the 20s through the 60s, and against the equal rights movements of the same period.

The COINTELPRO operations of the 60s and 70s are basically back, so exercising our rights is more risky than ever, but it’s for that very reason we must. Rights are won and kept through struggle, and in our struggle to preserve our Constitution, it pains me to say that the FBI is and has always been one of the anti-democratic enemies.

RU: What do you think abour Lynn Hershman's film, Strange Culture?

SK: It’s inspirational and well worth seeing. It has brought awareness about the case to new audiences.

RU: Did you participate in the creative direction at all?

SK: No.

RU: What kind of effect do you expect from it?

SK: Exactly what it’s doing — bringing an awareness of the case to people and communities that otherwise would not hear about it.


RU: According to the CAE defense fund FAQ, you were originally charged under prohibitions on biological weapons, but a grand jury instead handed down indictments related to "wire fraud" and "mail fraud." And then it also states that the terrorism charges could come back to haunt you.

I wonder how your attorneys are coping with all this. Are they simply trying to get across the absurdity of the whole mess, or are their any legal fine points?

SK: What they have been arguing in motion hearings is that the Department of Justice is making an absurd interpretation of the mail fraud law. The DoJ has thrown away its guidelines (which state my case should not be prosecuted) and interpreted the law in a way that is unique for my situation.

My co-defendant Bob Ferrell and I are the first citizens to ever be indicted for mail or wire fraud because we supposedly broke a material transfer agreement. The “defrauded” parties do not believe we did anything to harm them — the crime is a DoJ fantasy that they hope to prove. We’ll see at trial if rationality prevails.

If it doesn’t, the case will set a precedent that will mean that the Justice Department can drop a major felony on someone for filling out a warranty card incorrectly and mailing it. This will be a major tool for them. Talk about being able to pick off people at will!

Lynn Hershman Leeson invites 10 Zen Monkeys readers to sponsor showings of the film. For sales and exhibition information contact: [email protected]

Strange Culture Screenings
Critical Arts Ensemble Defense Fund


See Also:
Homeland Security Follies
Halluncinogenic Weapons: the Other Chemical Warfare
Is It Fascism Yet?
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free, or Not?

Read More

D.C. Sex Diarist Bares It All

Washington D.C. Sex Diarist Speaks Out - an Interview With Washingtonienne Blogger Jessica Cutler

Jessica Cutler was a bored, envelope-tossing, congressional staffer for former Republican Senator Mike DeWine — until the online diary about her sex adventures got some unexpected notoriety. Her stories about adventures with the political elite snared a few pious policy-makers, including her apparent S&M fuck pal, Robert Steinbuch, DeWine's former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Naturally, she was canned from her job, accompanied by media fireworks.

Did Ms. Cutler crawl away, hide under the bed, enroll in a 10-day rehab, or issue a non-denial denial? Hardly. She wrote a scintillating novelization of her experience — the bawdy, smart, and hilarious The Washingtonienne — and posed for Playboy.



Jessica retired her online diary — also called The Washingtonienne — after blogger Wonkette revealed her identity. But she continues to blog at JessicaCutlerOnline.com while contemplating her next novel and jumping out of the occasional cake.

Jessica and I talked about the hypocrisy of Capitol Hill's Christian conservatives, the differences between prostitution and getting paid for sex, and which drugs are best for getting it on.

For a free month's subscription to "In Bed With Susie Bright," click here. The full audio version of this interview can be found here.


SUSIE BRIGHT: It seems like you found yourself writing a novel because you were forced to. I mean, you had your little private life, and your girlfriends, and you were gossiping like anybody else would with their friends. And then all of the sudden, your secret blog got outed! So you kind of had to write a book to say your piece, or to set the record straight.

JESSICA CUTLER: Yes. I think that was totally the situation, you know? And not a lot of people understand that. The longest thing I'd ever written prior to that was like a 5,000-word article for a magazine.

SB: About what?

JC: Shoes. It's so clichéd — a "Sex and the City" type thing. Whatever. I didn't like writing. That's why I quit a job at a magazine and ended up working in D.C.

The thing is... my life wasn't perfect, but I was really happy! You know, I was dating lots of guys and just living my life. We were talking among friends, you know, and at the time, we just thought, "Oh, we're using up all our minutes on our cellphones, and... I don't want to email this to you because it has our IP addresses and you never know."

SB: So when you blogged the gossip, you were actually trying to be more private.

JC: Yeah! And I thought, worst-case scenario, if this ever gets back to me, I will delete it, I'll deny that I wrote it, and it will be bygones! (Laughs)

SB: Well apparently you learned your lesson in D.C. — just deny and shred!

JC: (Laughs) But then I thought taking responsibility was the right thing to do. It's better than lying about it. I remember the first couple of days when all this came out, after I left my job, I went on the Internet and there was all this speculation over who was writing it. And they were suggesting other people in my office, and people in other offices. I felt bad, you know?

So I started getting phone calls from reporters, and they have my unlisted number. I figured, they must know. How did they get my number? So I figured that whoever knew it was me was emailing reporters. It really freaked me out. I was a journalist in college, so I know what it's like to be a young reporter. If you hear about this girl who could be another Monica — that's sort of what everyone's hoping for. If you find out her address and where she lives, what are you gonna do? You're gonna go to her house!

Other people were telling me, "You probably better call these people back before someone shows up at your apartment." And that was something I didn't want. So I thought I handled it the best I could.

SB: Well, it's interesting when you say, "the best you could." Because you have this air about you, especially in person, where you're self-deprecating. And everything I'd heard about you before I read your book made me think that you were sort of like a deer — a sexy deer — caught in the headlights.


But when I started reading your book, I thought, "My god. She can write! Her timing is incredible. She has acute observational skills. She can Write with a capital W." This book just flies. And then I thought, well, okay… maybe it's ghostwritten and this is just a creation of a scandal. But then I went to your blog, and there was that same voice again. And there was your wit and your authority. You have so much authority in your writing...

JC: Thanks!

SB: You do! If only people could see the look on your face. It's all squished up, like you're saying… "What?!"

JC: Well, I think when you read a lot of criticism, you start to see yourself through their eyes. But I'm proud of the book. I think a lot of people just try to diminish any kind of accomplishment. You know, 'cause it always goes back to… "Well, she was a hooker."

SB: You've gotten all the stigma and criticism of being a sex worker without the paycheck.

JC: I know! It's not fair! (Laughs)

SB: It's more like you were a party girl. Maybe you're still a party girl. You enjoyed going out and having all the usual fun, whether it meant drugs, dancing, great sex, bad sex, crazy adventures.

And then just having the fun of talking about it the next day — but you weren't charging by the hour!

JC: (Laughs) I know. That is one of those things that just doesn't go away. And it's like a big sticking point for people

SB: I want to know what your own response is to that, Jessica. Because I've also been characterized as a full-time pro. And I have not run my life as a prostitution business. Not because I think it's wrong, but it's just not my life story.

So I find when I get that sort of attitude from someone, I get kind of feisty. In many respects, I identify with whores. If I'm around other whores, I feel like part of the crew. Because we'd have some things in common, in terms of our life experience, in the way people perceive us. And I can identify with a lot of their values – their sense of the reality of what really goes on with sex that people don't like to talk about. I wonder if you feel the same way, or if you just want to be as far as possible from anyone thinking you have anything to do with it.

JC: The latter is totally not the case. When I start to feel defensive, my attitude is sort of like, if people are calling me a whore, "Well, what's wrong with being a whore?" You know? I mean, I think girls who are sex workers — and men, all sex workers — they see another side of humanity and sexuality. People who've never worked in the sex industry — people who've never done it — don't know the half of it.

I've heard girls I know who escort say, "I think every woman should do this, because you find out a lot. You learn a lot about men." They tell me, "You don't even know. You wrote a book and even you don't know the half of it." And I'm like... "Yes, I want to know all about it..."

I really don't know what the hang-up is about that. I don't know why people really seem to dislike prostitutes. I don't understand that attitude at all.

SB: Are you more confrontational than you were when you first started working in D.C.? I ask because you worked for a lot of conservative guys that have… like, piggy opinions about how women should stay at home with their legs crossed. And god forbid they have an abortion. You know, the attitude that America would be better if women were basically barefoot and pregnant.

You worked for some really famous so-called Christian conservatives. [Ed: Jessica worked for Senator Mike DeWine (R) - Ohio, who was defeated in the 2006 election.] And the way you describe D.C. political life, it's just as hypocritical and full of shit as everyone imagines it to be.

JC: Oh yeah. I mean, the platform the Senator I worked for had... he was a Christian conservative.

SB: And was he really? Do you think these people have a grain of sincerity?


JC: The way it is, each Senator is a figurehead. And you have the staffers doing the work. But you know, like… from hanging out with them and partying with them and stuff, like — I wasn't the only girl in my office that had an abortion.

I went there not knowing anyone, you know? I'm not the daughter of any contributors and didn't know anyone who had anything to do with Capitol Hill. I just went in there for my interview. I would have worked for anybody, you know?

SB: You were a whore!

JC: Yes, I was! (Laughs) Ideologically, yes!

It was sort of like I just took whatever, because you need names on your resume. And they didn't ask me what I thought about anything. They didn't ask me, "Have you had abortions? What do you think about that? What are your views on this or that? You're single. Are you sleeping around?" It didn't matter… then.

And even when I started working there, people knew I was dating around. They knew I was seeing someone in my office, and that we had, you know… non-vanilla sex. And none of it was a problem until it got out.

SB: There's a part of your book that doesn't get as much attention, but was riveting to me. It actually created both a lot of tension in the storyline, a sense of suspense — and also, I hate to admit this to you, but it brought out the mommy in me.

It wasn't your sexual activities. But I found myself thinking: "Jessica, don't keep drinking! Jessica — Jessie, you're getting too high! That's the fifth night in a row! You've been a wreck in the morning! Oh, this poor little baby. I'm just all worried about her." And then I would think to myself, "God, you are such a mom."

And it was actually quite interesting to read a female narrator being so blasé and straightforward about being high and saying what she likes about being high. Because, of course, male novelists do this constantly, and they don't provoke such a protective reaction. If it's Ernest Hemingway or Bret Easton Ellis or whoever, you know, they drink every night, they're always loaded out of their minds, and everybody still sort of expects that they'll work it out in the end. But when a young woman talks about it, even I start to worry.

And the way you write about it, it's often hilarious — your drug adventures had me rolling on the floor! I couldn't believe all the nutty shit you did. But I also found myself saying to myself, "I wonder what's gonna happen?" Actually, if it had ended up with you saying, "And now I am a good AA member and all this is over" — I don't know if I would have liked that. That would've been too neat.

Anyway, I want to get your opinions about what drugs are the most fun, as far as sex is concerned. And where you're at in terms of the peril of being high all the time.

JC: Obviously drugs are a distraction from… you know, real sex, and the way intimacy is when you're sober. But if you really don't want to deal with that, you will have a lot of drunk sex, high sex. It's fun, but it's not real. I mean, I don't do this frequently. I would say the last time I, you know... (laughs) got high and had sex was last week. And I woke up the next morning and thought, "That was sloppy!"

SB: But why is it attractive?

JC: If you're doing this with someone, and you're really not secure with them, or you're worrying what they think — if you're both messed up, you're not thinking about it so much.


SB: Have you given any thought to your next book?

JC: Well, I have meetings with editors and they just want to hear about my life. I tell them, and they say, "Oh you have enough material for three books." But I don't want to do that. So I have some outlines. I think it'll sorta be chick lit.

SB: Well, I'm going to jump in and give you some advice. Fuck the chick lit notion, because it's already over. You have acute powers of observation, and you've seen into some interesting lives. Your candor comes out when you write.

I just interviewed someone who was talking about how she studies the Victorian Age. And she told me that in those days, best friends would write each other's biography. I thought that was fascinating. Like, what if I had to write another friend's memoir...

JC: Oh, I would love to do that! I've met so many girls who just blow me out of the water. You know?

And I've met girls who had really sad stories. Like, "If I wrote a novel, you could def…" But the thing is — they're too scatterbrained or too troubled to actually get around to it. And people are always saying, "Well, you should write it for them!" But then I'd feel like I'm stealing her stories...

SB: Well, when you're a writer, you become a story stealer.

JC: I hate people like that! I mean (laughs), there was a book kind of written about me. I left things out of my book, out of respect for the author, and then she wrote about them! And I was like… ohhh!

I was kind of surprised that she did that. And I wonder if her husband knows the scenes are real. He probably doesn't. [Ed: Maybe he does now!] Or maybe he knows and he doesn't care. But if I'd put it in my book, she might be suing me! (Laughs)

SB: Well, I think the fertility of your blog is probably going to show you the way. Every time I turn to it, you get me screaming or you get me giggling about something.

JC: It's supposed to be fun. In a way, I wish I never took the original blog down.

SB: You could always resurrect it.

JC: But I'm being kind of sued over that. (Laughs)

SB: Nothing would be happening if they didn't perceive you as someone with deep pockets to go after.

JC: I so don't. Actually, I filed for bankruptcy yesterday.

SB: Oh! Why?

JC: (Laughs)

SB: Congratulations, Miss Cutler!

JC: Yes. I am officially broke. Kind of a relief. You know...

SB: Well, not to be a target.

JC: There's that.

But with a blog — I mean, what happens when someone's offended by something someone's posted. Usually, there might be some email exchange, or some blog war...you know, if someone writes an attack on you, you can respond to it, if you want to acknowledge it at all.

It's mostly really silly. Especially someone calling you ugly or slutty. Okay — how many times do I have to go through this? Okay, I'm an ugly slut. And you're not? "You're better than me, you're so much smarter, you have a better blog..." What else do I have to say?

SB: Well, I'll just clear it up for our audience. Jessica Cutler is a talented writer. She is not ugly — she is so not-ugly. She is bankrupt, however. She's very pretty, very bankrupt... And she's slutty in all the good ways that so many of our slut-positive friends like to be.

JC: Sluts are the nicest people in the world. They're people pleasers!

See Also:
The D.C. Madam Speaks
Senator Vitter's Suppressed Statement
Five Nastiest Campaign Ads So Far
Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Politics
Deep Throat, Big Brain: Sex Blogger Chelsea Girl
Three Hundred Pound Porn Queen Decimates Oklahoma Town
Drugs and Sex and Susie Bright

Read More

Ed Rosenthal: Big Man of Buds

The Big Book of Buds

From a certain perspective, Ed Rosenthal may have caught a break when Judge Breyer sentenced him to just one day in prison plus time served when he was convicted for growing hundreds of marijuana plants in Oakland, California. But it would be difficult to argue that his trial was anything short of Kafkaesque. Rosenthal had been deputized by the City of Oakland to grow medical marijuana. But after being busted by the Feds, he was not even allowed to mention his relationship to the lawful government of Oakland nor was he allowed to present witnesses who could talk about it.
So after his conviction, Rosenthal took his case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and won. His conviction was overturned, but it was overturned on a technicality. Then, in a clear case of vengeful prosecution, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California who prosecuted the case decided to bring up charges again, adding new charges to the original. Again Rosenthal was not allowed to present the obvious defense — his deputization with the City of Oakland — and he was re-convicted.



Before Rosenthal became one of America's best-known martyrs in the "War on Drugs," he was legendary for his work advising pot growers on how to produce the finest gourmet cannabis. His books have included the legendary Marijuana Grower's Handbook and the recent Big Book of Buds, Vol. 3. He wrote the popular "Ask Ed" grower's advice column for High Times during the 1980s and '90s. Rosenthal continues to write "Ask Ed" for the Canadian magazine, Cannabis Culture.

I was joined in conducting this interview for the RU Sirius Show by Steve Robles and Jeff Diehl
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: So how long have you been stoned?

ED ROSENTHAL: Well, I only smoke when I'm alone or with people. And I only smoke when I'm awake. I also do food fasts because, you know, life is speeded up. So instead of doing a 24-hour fast, I do, like, 6 hours at a time over a four-day period. It's sort of a fast fast.

RU: Let's talk about your own personal experience with pot. When's the first time that you tried it. How old were you?

ER: Um, I was...

RU: You can't remember!

ER: I was 21.

RU: What year was it?

ER: '65.

RU: It was weak back then, was it not?

ER: Yeah, it was. It was Mexican.

RU: Did you get pretty ripped? Do you remember?

ER: I got stoned enough. I remember thinking, "This is the greatest thing that ever happened in my life." I remember that. I thought that this was going to be a really powerful ally for me. And then, years later, I read the Don Juan books, and there it was.

RU: Did you associate pot in 1965 with beat culture?

ER: Folk music.

RU: And did you think that pot produced insight? Why did you like it?

ER: it was very introspective for me at that time.

RU: So let's talk about the recent wrinkle in you medical marijuana case. Why were you re-convicted, and why didn't you present a defense?

ER: We would've liked to have presented a defense. When you're on trial, you would like to do that. But the judge said he didn't like our defense. For instance, we wanted to talk about the prosecutor's RICO relationship with one of the witnesses. But we weren't allowed to present any of our defenses. One by one, the judge said that we couldn't present witnesses. For instance, we wanted to present Nate Miley, who had been a city councilperson in Oakland. He would've testified that what I was doing was in line with the city of Oakland's regulations, and that I had been deputized as a city officer. I would've brought in Barbara Parker with the city attorney's office, and she would've verified some of those things. And I would've brought end users. You know how prosecutors often bring victims in to court? Well, I would've wanted to bring in the "victims" of my actions. Those "victims" would've been the people who actually received either starter plants themselves, or the marijuana that was grown from the starter plants.

But the judge wouldn't let me do that. He wouldn't let me say to the jury that I was an officer of the city of Oakland. I couldn't testify that I had been deputized to do this and that I had been assured that I was free from prosecution.

RU: You mentioned something about the prosecutor having a RICO relationship with one of the witnesses. What's that about?

ER: Well, a prosecutor is allowed to give a witness immunity for things that they've done. For instance, if somebody's killed somebody or committed a robbery or something, often they'll give one person immunity for ratting on the others. But a prosecutor is not allowed to give a person immunity for things that they will do in the future. They can't say, "Okay, this is a pass for killing one person. You get one free death." They can't do that.

So this fellow — Bob Martin — appeared as a witness for the prosecutors and then he continued his medical pot business. He even opened up a second dispensary. He was never bothered. He had a 100,000 square foot grove that was busted by the DEA, but no charges were ever filed. That happened in 2004.

So this guy has a free pass. Basically, each member of this conspiracy was getting something out of it. My prosecutor, George Beven was getting the information — or so-called information that he wanted. And Martin, who owns two dispensaries here in San Francisco, got a free pass. To me, that's a RICO relationship. And in this case, we don't have to show any paperwork, meetings, assignments or anything like that. We have actions that actually took place. So I'm initiating a civil suit against this action because their illegal enterprise has cost me a lot of money.

You know, I wasn't allowed to present these facts in either case. And the jurors were misled, because a half-truth isn't a truth. A half-truth is a lie. The jury was told that I had distributed this material, but they didn't hear that I had been told that I was free from prosecution.

That's an estoppel issue. Let me explain that. Let's say there's a red light, but a cop waves you through. Another cop, on the other side, can't give you a ticket for crossing the red light because you have been told that what you're doing was legal, right? You're following the cop's orders.

So I was told by the city attorney's office that what I was doing was legal and I was free from prosecution. So even if she was wrong, I should've been able to say to a jury, "Hey, look. I was led to believe that what I was doing was legal by an official." But the judge said, "No. Even though this person is a government official, she can't testify for you."

RU: The jury from the first trial was outraged after your conviction when they found out what was actually going on. That was very unusual. Describe what happened with the jury after the trial.

ER: (Medical marijuana activist) Hillary McQuie actually met with the first jury as they came out from the courtroom after the trial. And she told them that she thought they had made a terrible mistake and that they should look the case up. They did. They found out the truth. They were all dismayed and started calling newspapers. Eight out of the 12 jurors, plus one of the two alternates agreed that an injustice had been done.

RU: I remember when they were in the news, but I can't remember — did they actually petition the court, or did they release a statement? I remember they were active about their unhappiness.

ER: Three of them became activists for a while, and it changed all of their lives. They learned that they couldn't trust the government.


You know, the judge was very upset this time when we said we weren't going to present a defense. But we said, "We have no witnesses left. You've eliminated all our witnesses." He looked down at his list and he realized he'd eliminated everybody except for my wife and myself. So he said, "Well, I'll tell you what. I'll let you say anything you want to the jury. I'll let you talk to the jury, unimpeded. I'm not going to say anything to the jury while you're talking. I'm not going to interrupt you." And I said, "Okay, that sounds pretty good, but I want corroborating witnesses." And he said, "Oh no, I'm not going to allow you to have your corroborating witnesses." I said, "Well, you're going to allow me to give my theory of the case, but your not allowing me to corroborate it. This is insane." And I basically said that I was not going to play the game in his Stalinist show trial. I wouldn't be a part of it. The entire transcript is online at the Green-Aid website.

RU: Do you think you could've swayed the jury if you had testified?

ER: If I had testified and been allowed one witness, that would've been it.

STEVE ROBLES: Without the witnesses, the jury would just think you're some kind of nutter. The jury will be sitting there thinking, "Why didn't I hear a witness? Why couldn't this guy back it up?"

RU: Well, he could explain that. Weren't you really able to give your full story, including your objection to...

ER: No, not at all. And I'm appealing this. And anybody who's listening to this who has $100,000 that they'd like to spend on a court case, just get in touch with Green Aid. It's all tax deductible.

Win or lose, this case has made it apparent that the federal laws have to change, and that we need the Peter McWilliams "Truth in Trials" act. That act would let you use a state medical marijuana law in your defense in a federal case. It also indicates that the State of California has to start protecting the providers, because there are now over 100 providers who have been arrested and charged. Dozens are in jail and there are over 100 under indictment right now. And the only difference between them and me is that I'm a little more notorious or famous, and I have perhaps a little more media savvy than they do. Most of them are going to wind up doing time. And very often they say to the person who runs the medical marijuana operation, "If you don't plead to a long term, we're going to take all your workers and give them each five years."

RU: What is the next stage of your appeal? Where does it go?

ER: We're preparing our appeal to the 9th Circuit.

RU: You already went through the 9th Circuit once, didn't you?

ER: Yeah. We're asking for a new trial, and if not, we're appealing. We have a number of new grounds to appeal. I mean, these colloquies that I had with the judge were very unusual. You wouldn't believe what our conversations were. And they're all on transcript.

SR: It's the same judge again?

ER: It's the same judge. And, you know, people think he's a really nice guy because he only sentenced me to a day. But first, he took away my constitutional rights. And he only gave me a day because it was well publicized and it was looking really bad. But he regularly gives people five years, ten years, seven years, all the time. And he has a reputation for not letting defenses prove their cases.

RU: In going before the 9th Circuit court before, you got the case thrown out but it was basically on a technicality. You didn't really accomplish a mission in terms of having a positive effect on people who grown medical marijuana. Do you have an approach for trying to have an effect the next time you go before the 9th Circuit?

ER: Winning. But win or lose, I think that the policies are going to change, because the state is going to realize that they have to intervene. And also, there's more impetus for the Peter McWilliams "Truth in Trials" act.

RU: Is this something that's before the House of Representatives?

ER: Yes.

RU: How could California be counted on now to confront the U.S. Government? Schwarzenegger, who sort of played at being libertarian on his way into the governorship, has been a drug warrior through and through since he's been in office.

ER: Well, he's been trying to free himself from the power of the Corrections Department bureaucracy and the prison guards union. And he's found out that he can't do it.

RU: Right. That group basically owned Gray Davis.

ER: The Democrats have to get away from that. And there are incremental steps the system can take. For instance, police need to continually get credits for learning new techniques and stuff like that. One of the places where they can get this credit is through the California Narcotics Officers Association. So they pay for these courses where they're miseducated. Right on the homepage of the CNOA website, it says, "We believe medical marijuana is a myth." That's what they teach officers.

RU: These are people who are supposed to be enforcing California law, which approves medical marijuana.

ER: Other things need to change, For instance, in Oakland, the local narcotics officers work out of the DEA office in the Federal Building. They're cross-deputized. They're paid by the city, but they also function as a federal official. So the city needs to keep them separate.

SR: Some activists think that one of the big problems is Proposition 215. People think it's a hastily put-together proposition. It's swiss cheese — full of holes. They think the state needs to pass something a lot more substantive.

ER: I don't really think that's the issue. Look, marijuana is more popular than any politician. It wins by a higher percentage than politicians do. I'll give you an example. Bush won in Montana in 2004. But marijuana won there by a much higher margin than he did.

RU: People are getting stoned and voting for Bush!

ER: So there's a disconnect between the politicians and the voters on this. And the voters consistently say, "We do want these dispensaries. We want easy access." But the politicians are in the hands of the criminal justice system — the cops, the judges, the prosecutors. It’s such a big financial interest that nobody wants to let it go. We now spend more on jails than on higher education. We have a thousand people in California prisons for marijuana.

My suggestion is that we take this on a very local level – at the level of the councilperson. It's got to be city-by-city and they've got to push back the police.


Do you remember when Proposition 36 passed?

RU: Right. The idea was that people shouldn't go to jail for drug possession.

ER: Right — not for the first or second offense. So it passed, but then – first of all, the criminal justice establishment wanted to tighten it up. And if you go online and find all the arguments against it, they're all from people who are part of the criminal justice system.

See — if marijuana was legal and other drugs were treated with a harm reduction strategy, a huge bureaucracy would be eliminated – and a lot of jobs. There are 750,000 arrests a year for marijuana in the U.S. 88% of those are for personal use. That's about 5% of the entire criminal justice arrests throughout the United States. And it's an upward funnel, because when you get to second and third offenses, the sentencing for marijuana is much higher than the sentencing for violent offenses. So you have people spending more time in prison. Also, when they get out, they need social services, another bureaucracy.

RU: But doesn't this all have to be changed through the federal government, since they come in and shut down local medical marijuana and so forth? And if pot is more popular than politicians, why don't people make the politicians take their side?

ER: It's not necessarily a primary issue with most voters. Also, the criminal justice system can provide a potent opposition to politicians. If the Police Benevolent Association and the local police union says the politician is "soft on crime," that can be trouble. So a lot of politicians are cowed.

You wind up with people like Judge Breyer. Breyer knows that pot isn't a harmful substance, but he sentences people to prison for it. He's a war criminal! When you send somebody to prison, it doesn't just affect them. It affects their families. It affects their employers or employees. A whole community of people is affected.

RU: These are acts of destruction that are woven so deeply into the system that people don't even see them as being acts of destruction.

ER: Yeah! I don't know if you heard about some of my antics, but outside the courtroom I would say nasty things to the prosecutor. For instance, I called him a liar, because the judge found that he lied to the grand jury (but said no harm had been done). I called him vindictive. I called him a coward. So he went and complained to the judge about it. And the judge said, "Well, we all should be very civil and polite here." Meanwhile, they're putting one person after another in jail for providing people with marijuana. It's outrageous! How can they say that?

So the judge talked to my lawyer and said, "Can you try and control your client?" And my lawyer said to him, "Well, judge — perhaps it's my fault. I did advise him not to say anything nasty in the courtroom. But I didn't say anything about the hallway." So the judge said, "Oh, well, please speak with Mr. Rosenthal about this." But he also said something like: "This is in a federal building, but we may have First Amendment issues." So after this exchange, I went up to the microphone at the podium, unasked, and I said, "Your honor, I'd like to thank you for protecting my First Amendment right to call this man a coward, a liar, and vindictive. But I left something out. He's also a tattle-tale and a cry baby."

JEFF DIEHL: Does the "three strikes" law relate to these two marijuana convictions?

ER: I now have three non-violent felony strikes. You get into a fight with me; I'm away for life.

RU: All right, so, be gentle with me, man.

SR: Keep away from Terence Hallinan (ed: Rowdy pro-pot former DA of San Francisco.) because that guy's a maniac.

RU: So a lot of people think there are no consequences for you because the judge only sentenced you to one day. But all those felonies – those are big consequences.

On your site, there's a mention that you might be working on a book about pot legalization. What's your favorite method of legal distribution? Do you think it should be any way people want? Or should it be in specialty shops or liquor stores? Or should it be only homegrown? Do you have a favorite procedure for doing it?

ER: I see the tomato model. Let me explain. Home gardeners grow more tomatoes than are grown commercially. But there's also a gigantic commercial market for tomatoes. Some of them are served in restaurants. Some of them are canned, dried, served in different ways. So there are lots of different commercial ways that tomatoes are distributed. I see something like that. I don't think that it's ever going to be restriction-free. I think that there's going to be the same kind of civil regulation that we have with alcohol and tobacco. There are going to be taxes on it. But I think that many more people are going to grow their own than make their own beer or wine or grow their own tobacco. I think people are going to have all of those models. In terms of buying product, I think it'll mainly be through specialty shops.

RU: So, how soon?

ER: Well, in Oakland, we have Prop Z, which says that it should be able to be sold in private clubs.

SR: In California, within 5-7 years.

RU: Before I let you go, tell us about your new book, The Big Book of Buds, Vol. 3. You told us you have some new information in there.

ER: I have a piece in their about terpenes. Terpenes are the odor parts of flowers. Almost all flowers that produce odors have terpenes. It's four simple molecules, but there's a lot going on in the way they're assembled – like with DNA. So the structure of assembly of the terpenes creates all the different odors. So I used to say that the reason why different marijuanas give you different highs is because they have different recipes of cannabinoids – somehow one will have a little more CBD or a little more CBL or other cannabinoids. But it's been shown that most modern marijuana has a big spike of THC and hardly any other cannabinoids. So the question is: what else causes different types of marijuana to give you different highs? It comes down to the terpenes. And it's in the odor qualities of cannabis.

See also:
The Simpsons On Drugs: 6 Trippiest Scenes
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Willie Nelson's Narcotic Shrooms
Paul McCartney On Drugs
Hallucinogenic Weapons

Read More

The D.C. Madam Speaks!

The D.C. Madam Speaks - Deborah Jeane Palfrey Interview

Reached for comment today, the D.C. Madam had this to say about Larry Craig.

"My former position...does not qualify me to comment upon such matters. Folks like Senator Craig and for that matter Senator Vitter most likely need the opinion and guidance of professional psychiatrists!"

Deborah Jeane Palfrey was an experienced madam — that is to say, an escort service manager. A brothel-keeper whose customers at least chose a different path than Senator Craig — they never had to solicit sex in airport bathrooms.

Ironically, the clue that tipped off the Justice Department was a Homeland Security "terrorist watch program," Palfrey tells us. In one of her first interviews, she complains that she'd run her service for 13 years without so much as a peep of trouble from the police until one day, 11 months ago. And then all hell broke loose — just four weeks before the crucial 2006 elections. Under pressure, and suspicious about the timing of her bust, Palfrey eventually decided to go nuclear. She published the phone list of everybody who'd used her services.



Hypocrites beware! Among her customers was Randall Tobias, Condoleeza Rice's #2 senior official in the State Department. (Tobias was responsible for withholding funds for AIDS treatment and prevention if it didn't come packaged with "education" preaching abstinence and monogamy.) And though Senator Craig wasn't a customer, another implicated visitor was the conservative Senator from Louisiana, David Vitter — or "Vitter the shitter," as prostitutes often call him in his hometown of New Orleans, for his alleged diaper fetish. All these folks who rode into town on a moral majority agenda turned up on the D.C. Madam's phone list.

But what does she have to say now?
For a free month's subscription to "In Bed With Susie Bright," click here. The full audio version of this interview can be found here: Link

SUSIE BRIGHT: Has there been any silver lining to the notoriety of being busted so wide open?

DEBORAH PALFREY: Hmmm...

SB: On the one hand, it seems like it must be the biggest stress in your life, and that maybe you'd give anything to be back in Vallejo, just quietly running your business. But I wonder if there's an aspect that you couldn't have predicted where you're thinking, "You know what? I'm kind of glad this happened!"

DP: Well, first of all, it came as a tremendous shock. (Laughs) I had no concept whatsoever that this was about to hit.

In the beginning — from the time that everything happened to me on October 4 of 2006 until I was indicted five months later... I tried desperately to maintain the status quo. I tried desperately to keep this quiet, to make this go away, and to try to understand what the government was doing. I figured surely there must've been some rational explanation for why they came after me. I can say without equivocation that my civil attorney — Mr. Montgomery Sibley and I — tried in vain to get this to stop.

And we don't know what the rationale has been for them to go forward with the case, other than the fact that we simply wouldn't fold and give them what they wanted. At that time, I think they pretty much wanted to just take my entire life savings from me. So of course they ratcheted it up a notch, and it went into the criminal realm.

It's at this point in time that the status quo pretty much went out the window. We went public for all intents and purposes — although I believe this was made public by the Department of Justice when they leaked this information to the Smoking Gun in October, shortly after my home was raided and the search warrant was executed upon my property.

SB: Who tipped them off? Was it a customer who was really a police officer investigating you? Was it somebody who worked for you and got pissed off and decided to blow a whistle? Why, out of all the zillions of escort services in Washington and Virginia, did they decide to bug you?

DP: I was obviously sitting on a powder keg of information. There is much still to come out. David Vitter is not the sole and substance of my entire 13 years of operation, that's for sure. I was sitting on something — or they thought I was sitting on something. I was under observation — J. Edgar Hoover-style — from as far back as March of 2004, until the trigger was pulled on me early in October of 2006.

SB: Wow.

DP: For 31 months I was being observed! Any good vice cop will tell you that a simple prostitution bust or investigation takes no more than a few days to a few weeks to a few months to put together — from start to finish. It doesn't appear that I was being looked at for prostitution-related activities, as much as I was being watched for my own personal and professional actions. My banking, my business affairs, my personal acts. So as for the question: why me and me alone? I think it's logical to conclude that there was something that I had, or knew, that they found to be very valuable.

Who are they? We don't know. Is it the GOP? Is it this administration? Is it Homeland Security? Is it the CIA? Who is "they"? We don't know who they are...
For a free month's subscription to "In Bed With Susie Bright," click here. The full audio version of this interview can be found here: Link

SB: Do you feel like your legal pressure strategy of focusing on the customers — do you think that's making the prosecution say, "Oh, god. Just make her go away. Drop everything." Is the fact that you've been so much more defiant than they ever could've imagined helping?

DP: Oh, well... defiant, yeah. I just think they don't know what to do with me any more.

SB: Have they ever suggested, even in a low-key way, "You know what? Just pay us a couple hundred bucks and we'll go away." Or are they still acting really fierce.

DP: When we were quiet as church mice — from last October 4, when the search warrant was executed, until March 1, when I was criminally indicted — we went to them on three occasions. We went to them in late October/early November, again in mid-January after New Year's, and then finally at the last pre-indictment conference in late February. And we did everything — beg, plead, threaten, and cajoled the Assistant US Attorneys in this case. We asked them, "What is it that you want? What is going on here?" But they would not talk to us! They stood us up for an appointment. They did the most rudimentary motions work that they had to do... They wouldn't hand over discovery! They stonewalled, stonewalled, stonewalled. And they were able to do so procedurally in the civil phase of this. We got nowhere.

At the very end, at this last pre-indictment conference in late February, we took the now famous photocopy of one page of that August, 1996 phone bill. And we said, "Look. We've got 46 pounds of this."

SB: Wasn't that what they were after to begin with?

DP: That's the biggest irony. You have to remember — I was under observation for 31 months, and they didn't do anything. So why would they pull the trigger all of a sudden, in October of last year?

SB: I suspect something partisan is going on. J. Edgar Hoover used to watch certain people he was politically afraid of, like Martin Luther King. "I'm gonna get all this sex shit on him, so that I can use it later."

DP: That's what came to our minds eventually, because October was one month before the very crucial November election of last year, when both the Senate and House went Democratic, and the balance of power in this country shifted.

And, here I was, after 13 years, this very routine life... They must've watched me and thought I was the most boring person in the world. And all of the sudden, I start making these rather unusual or aberrant moves. I put my house of 15 or so years on the market. I closed my business rather unexpectedly — it wasn't really unexpected, but if you're watching me from afar, it would be a flag. My 13-year-business was shut down. And then I wire money — $70,000 — over to Germany, and make a little trip to Germany.

Which by the way was picked up on one of those Homeland Security terrorist watch programs — the ones which are supposed to be watching the terrorists?

They were watching me.

And I think when I made that wire transfer, that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Because as soon as I made that wire transfer, on September 28 of last year, the next day this languid, non-investigation/investigation went into warp drive. A few business days later, on Tuesday October 3, I had two postal inspectors who flew out from Washington D.C. to Northern California, standing outside my house, seeing the sale sign that's in my front yard and apparently calling my real estate agent. They identified themselves as a couple being transferred from Washington D.C. to the Bay Area — they loved my neighborhood, they loved my house, could they get in and see it?

When my real estate agent told them no, they could not — because she did not have a key for the property, I was in Germany, they could not get access... We believe it's at this point in time, that they drove up to Sacramento, which is about an hour from where I live. They got a search warrant based on information that was three and a half to five and half years old. To put this into perspective for your audience, rarely is a search warrant ever issued in this country in any kind of case in any jurisdiction based on information that is older than 6 months.

SB: Were you leaving Vallejo because you'd always wanted to live in Europe, and you were just ready for a change...

DP: That's it. You got it right there.

SB: So you were just planning your life.

DP: That's right.

SB: You weren't trying to be a fugitive or anything.

DP: Nope!

SB: You were just moving on to the next stage.

SB: My favorite part of your story is that you had your own newsletter when you were running your service. How did you get the idea of starting a newsletter. I mean, you have a lot to say...

DP: Boy, I have a lot to say now!


SB: And plus, you know, even — when I read your use of the word "misogynist," I think to myself: that's somebody who has a very political point of view.

DP: Oh, I have very definite views about the police. But aside from that, let me say this. Those newsletters have been largely taken out of context and made to seem a little more tawdry than they are.

SB: I'm not interested in the tawdry part. I'm interested in the feminist part!

DP: I understand that. However, they are quite colorful.

SB: Yes they are!

DP: Yes, they — I did make them colorful, because I wanted to get my point across, because I had a staff that was ever-changing.

One of the topics, of course, was misogynists. These cops — the vice cops, you know, the lowest on the food chain at the police department — they love to go after defenseless women. You know, it's, it's... It is something that I want to explore when this is all over -- when my actual civil/criminal case is all over. I am even talking to some folks right now about putting together a documentary on what the police have done, do, and will continue to do to defenseless women in this country involved in the sex industry.

The very first person who emailed me when this all broke was a woman. And the subject header was: "My mother is an ex-madam." She went on to explain who she was, and the terror that she, her mother, and her family experienced at the hands of the police. This particular email was followed up by many many others, all having their own little monikers. Some were very well-known madams who have stories to tell that will make your blood curdle.

SB: You had already had — going back to the early 90s at least — a really harsh experience with the criminal justice system. And you had a prison experience. How come when you got out you stayed in the business? I mean, why didn't you say "That's it! I'm joining bible study groups, I'm becoming a missionary... This was horrible! They just put me on the rack." How come it didn't scare you straight?

DP: Well, first of all... You come out prison with a scarlet F — "Felon" — across your forehead. Despite the fact that I had a four-year degree, and a little less than a year of law school — I was a fairly well-educated, well-traveled, well-read, sophisticated young woman in my mid-30s... there was no chance in hell for me in this society — certainly not back in the early 90s — to go forward, to get any kind of a job, or to do anything. I had no choice. My life was in tatters financially, emotionally...

I came out of prison almost blind, because I have this little hereditary defect in my eyes which made my cornea detach, and it made me kind of go blind for a while.

SB: Oh, god!

DP: Oh it was — it was a lovely experience. The whole ordeal.

So, I was really not in a position to do much of anything but to go back into the business. And to go back into it in a way that I felt — and I believed — I would never have a repeat experience.

SB: And how were you going to feel protected this time?

DP: Well, I was going to not open up a business in San Diego, for starters! I was going to go to the other side of the country — Washington D.C. or New York. And then I was gonna set it up in a way where I hoped no one would do anything that would get me into trouble. And I guess I did a pretty dog-gone good job, because for 13 years, from late 1993 until last August of 2006, we did not have one bust!

SB: I'm glad you brought up the J. Edgar Hoover connection, because — you know, I'm about the same age as you, and I know the era you're speaking of. And it makes me wonder — when you decided "I'm going to set up this service in the D.C. area from a remote location" — was there any part of you that thought, "Oh god, D.C. It's gonna be all government workers! I should go to Chicago or New York or L.A."

DP: Oh no no, no. We didn't live in fear in 1993, Susie. We were only living in fear in the day and age of the Patriot Act.

SB: (Laughs) Okay. Well I just wondered, because there is going to be a certain kind of style of person you're going to be dealing with in Washington.

DP: True. And in the beginning, I alternated between New York and D.C. And I ultimately ended up choosing Washington. I still do believe, to this day, that it had a higher brow base of clients — as does New York — without that Tony Soprano element.

SB: (Laughs) Okay. I see what you mean. It's kind of — yes. I get it exactly.

SB: From my own experience, I know there's a lot more to an escort business than the woman who's entertaining the customers. Did you decide "I want to be a manager, I want to own my own place," because you yourself had been an escort? And were you always thinking, "I could do this so much better, and this is so stupid..."

DP: I knew some people in San Diego who owned and operated an escort service many years ago. I looked at what they were doing and I thought, "My god. They're nincompoops."

SB: What did they do that was so nincompoop-y?


DP: (Laughs) I thought they were trashy people. No business sense! No ability to just run a simple business operation. That's exactly how I saw the situation — a simple business operation. And if they could just run it like a commercial enterprise, it'd do so much better.

So I got into it more or less that way. As I've often said, I got into it because the money attracted me — just like it does with each and every other person who ever enters the escort service business.

You know, the classic male question, and the hoped-for response is...

SB: Is that you're a nyphomaniac? (Laughs)

DP: Yes, yes... Nobody does it for that. Everybody looks at it as a business opportunity. I just chose to take it on as a real business opportunity, and to cultivate it accordingly.

I think a lot of these men enjoyed women who were strong personalities. Who were smart and engaging. That is what they were looking for. And that's who I hired.

SB: How could you tell that someone was tough enough to handle the secrecy, or ready for the pressures and the risk.

DP: Well, you know — up until last October, there was no pressure. We had a great gig goin' on, let me tell you. We all had a great gig! I did, the clients, the girls — We were not under pressure. We all had a happy life. We were all happy.

SB: So you didn't feel like, when you talked to someone, that it was like interviewing them for the Marines — "Are you tough enough to handle this? You need to be mentally tough..."

DP: Well, I made sure that they understood that there was a sexual component to this business. Albeit legal, again — you know, I've got to stand up for my attorney, who is not here at the moment, to jump in and make sure everybody understands... "albeit legal." There was a sexual aspect to this, and I needed to make sure that they understood — was this their cup of tea? They had to know that they weren't just going to go out and be wined and dined at the best restaurants in D.C. and given hundreds of dollars when the night was over. They had to know that there was an aspect to this where they would have to earn their money...

SB: When women interviewed to work for you, what were the things you looked for or didn't look for?

DP: Let me say this. Even though I'm heterosexual, I have excellent taste in women. I've been told I have excellent taste in women. I thought like these men did, a lot of times. I'll tell you what they're looking for — and that's the same thing I was looking for.

You don't have to be particularly pretty, but pretty doesn't hurt. You have to have a nice figure, but you don't have to have a rockin' body, by any means. Weight is important. It's an indicator of health more than anything. Education. Sophistication. Good sense of humor. A charming disposition. And not someone who's particulary a sap.

SB: Did everyone already feel really comfortable with kinky fantasies and eroticism? Did you feel like you had to vet people to make sure they weren't gonna be shocked or disgusted?

DP: Yes. I told them in general what the business required, and made sure this was something that they could go along with? And many times, the answer was "God, yeah! This is hardly anything compared to what my boyfriend would've expected of me!"

SB: (Laughs) And that was the right answer?

DP: That was the right answer.

SB: "My boyfriend already has himself in diapers...."

DP: Okay, well, we were not going down that road...

SB: Oh, come on. It's so funny.

DP: Well, yes.

SB: I mean, when I think about... It's almost like everything these people rail against becomes the very thing that they're into. It's almost as if they're revealing themselves by their preaching. Whatever they're screaming about...

DP: What is that word when you beat yourself up?

SB: Self-flagellating?

DP: Yes. Of course, I'm just a regular gal from southwestern Pennsylvania, you know, growing up in the '60s like you. I just, for the life of me — professionally, personally, and any other way — I could not possibly imagine the sexual kick out of that one.

SB: Some of my friends who haven't had experience in the sex business will say to me, "Well, what's in vogue? What's the top thing people want to do?" But I think most guys just want someone to listen to them and be charming and deferential. And, you know, provide very basic stuff. That was my guess. That it wouldn't be, like — "Everybody wants you to be in a French maid's outfit."

DP: My girls can probably give you a better answer than I could. But I would tend to think that a lot of it has to do with companionship. I absolutely would agree with that. I experienced it myself. I became quasi-friends with many of these people over the years.

SB: And they would want to have, you know, like, phone time with you, just to be chatting...

DP: Just chatting. And we weren't talking about sexual things. We were simply talking as one person to another.

SB: Did you get a sense of how many people want a "girlfriend experience" versus how many people want a one-night stand — a "Don't tell me your name"-type experience?


DP: Yeah, there was a lot of that going on. And I would always tell these folks, as kindly as I could... "Look. This is not Match.com." It's just not! It's another animal.

So many men were confused, thinking that this was the way they could do it. You know, like they could go to Russia and buy a bride! It just wasn't that way.

SB: Well, what do you think of having personal relationships, particularly with men, when you're in this business?

DP: Well, I was not in the business. I ran the business from California. To clients who said, "Well gee, can't you come see me?" I would say, "It would be a heck of a transportation fee."

SB: I mean, does romance become sort of ridiculous...

DP: I would have to explain myself and how I make my living.

SB: I would think that you probably didn't feel like you could just be somebody's wife and act like nothing had ever happened, or that you didn't understand what you understand about men's sexuality.

I mean, you probably don't believe that monogamy is very possible. I would think you couldn't have an "Ozzie and Harriet" point of view about heterosexual relationships...

DP: Actually, in an odd sort of way, I do. Doesn't everyone want to find their soul mate?

SB: Well soul mate, yes. But that could mean so many things.

DP: Let's put it like this. Now that I am freed from the chains of this business, in a way that I never thought I would be free... I have great hope, in the coming months, as I work my way out of my current predicament, to end up in another place, obviously. And in that place, I hope, indeed, to find a nice man.

SB: I just can't wait to see who it's gonna be!

SB: What were your thoughts about sex when you were young? And what changed as you started growing up and opening your mind up to new ideas?

DP: Well... I had to have to somebody explain to me what the word "queer" meant because I had no concept that such a thing could ever occur. That was in the ninth grade. It was explained to me that that's when two boys kiss each other like a boy would kiss a girl.

And then, I never — it wasn't until I got out of high school that I connected that girls could do the same thing. So that might give you a really good basis of where I was at sexually.

SB: You were sheltered.

DP: I had no concept of sexuality on any level, or in any way. Uh... I was — I will say this on air — I was absolutely a virgin in high school. I was a virgin.

SB: I've seen the picture somebody ran of you on some kind of a prom date, and you look like a virgin. You look like a girl who's nervous about her prom, but trying to look her best. But you don't look like somebody who's a wild-haired, bra-less hippie.

DP: No. I was not a hoochie cootchie girl, that's for sure. So, you know, my understanding of sex really was very limited. I grew up in such a loving home, with doting parents. I was completely shielded. I had no concept of sexuality.

SB: What were your thoughts about money?

DP: I grew up in a very nice, very good blue collar household. I did all the odd jobs to earn a few extra dollars, like most kids do in junior high and high school. And when I got out on my own, I was working like a dog, like most people, trying to go to school, doing two-or-more jobs... killing myself! In high school I'd done a great deal of food waitressing, in these family-style, Denny's-type restaurants. I advanced from working as a food waitress to a cocktail waitress position. Because you could make so much more money.

And then I figured "This is ridiculous!" By then I had become somewhat pretty. I wasn't the mousey little thing I might've been in high school. And I thought — you know, well why not? This is ridiculous!

And then that led to the next jump. To my foray into the escort service world. Also — it should be pointed out, it was never about greed. I think it's about leveling the playing field a little bit financially — and that was certainly true when we were coming up in the 70s and then into the 80s...

SB: (Laughs) When I think of the prominent people who've been revealed in this whole escapade so far, do you feel like you've made your point? You can say, "Look. These people are hypocrites. It just exposes the whole nonsense of the prosecution. Back off." Or do you look forward to a future where you can discuss more of the names and the politics on the list, because there's a further point to be made.

DP: I don't wish to ruin anyone's life. However, I do share the same mindset as Larry Flynt: expose the hypocrites. And for those few dozen to a hundred or so that ultimately will be revealed — like David Vitter — I go to sleep very easily at night without any guilty feelings whatsoever about the David Vitters of the world.

He has the ability to send us to war, in part. He has a vote. We don't have a vote, but he has a vote. So these people not only are hypocrites — they're kind of dangerous.

And these people can and should be exposed, as far as I'm concerned. And that's the very reason I let the records go as I did, in the very end.

SB: I heard from one of Randall Tobias's staffers, who is an international aid worker, working with AIDS — after his name was made public, and he had to go away, quickly. My friend had to listen to this man pushing his "abstinence" policy all around the world...

DP: Mmm hmm...

SB: And they were just, like, "Thank god. He's out of here." Everything about public service and what decent people here are trying to do was being ruined by people like this.

DP: I am so happy you told me that. I had not heard that. Because that's exactly why I released the records.

See Also:
Drugs and Sex and Susie Bright
Senator Vitter's Suppressed Statement
World Sex Laws
Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
Libertarian Chick Fights Boob With Boobs
Three Hundred Pound Porn Queen Decimates Oklahoma Town

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Don’t Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates

Presidential Candidates

They call it retail politics. It's a politic that has to appeal to an awful lot of people, but it doesn't have to appeal to them all that much.

The successful presidential candidate wants to establish just enough passion for their political stances that voters will waddle down to the polling place on the first Tuesday of November and vote for them (or send in the appropriate form). Too much passion could be a dangerous thing, because it probably indicates that the candidate has moved off of the acceptable boilerplate messages of the retail campaign and has introduced ideas and possible political solutions that are both novel and challenging. Winning presidential candidates don't want to be any more challenging than blockbuster movies.



Establishing an adequate but bland affinity with voters around their politics is, of course, not the main job of the blockbuster Prez candidate. The main job is to create a comfort level with the candidate's personality and backstory. They have to live up to a fantasy of mainstream family life. Sure, we've gotten used to Republican divorcees, but if Ronnie had left Jane for Johnny instead of Nancy, he would have ended his career as a fluffer for Joey Stefano.

What's sort of weird about all this is that a lot of people actually seem to agree with the "fringe" candidates – those who confront some of the taboo topics on my list. Ron Paul has had some luck pressing forward with ideas and positions that are considered taboo. He's the breakout "fringe" candidate this year, but fringe nevertheless. And substantial numbers — maybe even a majority — of Democratic primary voters like Dennis Kucinich's positions on the issues better than those of Clinton or Obama. But Kucinich's campaign has never even caught a light breeze.

Obviously, perception trumps content. Voters may agree with nearly everything a fringe candidate says, but when the media echo chamber dismisses that candidate as "fringe," they are drawing a big "L" for Loser across the candidate's face. And while voters will eventually develop some measure of contempt for the actual President, loser candidates are beneath contempt, and can't really be taken seriously.

Of course, some topics or lifestyle choices are truly taboo for presidential candidates because very few potential voters are ready or willing to deal with them. In deciding on this list of taboo topics for Presidential campaigns, I used several criteria. First of all, the issues had to deserve discussion. That would exclude stuff like: "Hitler was awesome!"; "Let’s make seven-years-old the age of consent!"; or "Let's force all blondes to dance naked in public squares every Tuesday at noon!"

There are also some topics, like the loss of civil liberties; the usurious policies of credit card companies; or the undemocratic methods used to prevent "third" political parties from challenging the duopoly, that candidates could popularly confront, but won't. I have not included those either. I am only choosing topics that candidates both won't and can't reason about if they hope to have a chance of being elected President. It's also worth noting that candidates can confront a few of these issues and get elected to lower offices, but they can't go for the big kahuna.

Also, in deciding how to assign different topics their place on this Top 20 List, I had to decide whether to emphasize the issues of importance to the health of the nation or just those with the most totally awesome taboo-ness. I decided to put the most taboo topics at the top, rather than the most important ones. I believe this is an accurate reflection of the triviality of our political culture.

#1: Sexual Non-Conformism (Personal)
Presidential candidates can't be openly gay or transsexual. They can't have open marriages and relationships or practice polyfidelity or polyamory. They can't openly enjoy orgies, consensual gangbangs, or pornography. They can't even be real swingin' bachelors or bachelorettes. During the '90s, we made it to: "I don't care if he got a blow job, as long as he does a good job." Now we need to get to: "I don't care if he's going to move his pet sheep Sweetiecakes into the White House and post videos of their long nights of passion on YouTube. If his policies could save millions of lives, what's more important?"

#2: Sex Positivism (Socio-Political)
No presidential candidate can advocate sex-positive attitudes including open marriages and relationships; they can't be pro-porn, positive about teen sexuality, or generally advocate the sophisticated notion that eroticism is life's greatest gift.

#3: Open Borders
Who are we kidding? They're not going to pay a big fine, touch down in the home country and then come back again. And we'll never round up 12 million people and kick them out of the country or keep out the next few million. For all intents and purposes, we have open borders and it can't be stopped any more than drugs can. But no Presidential candidate can say so.

4: "I Dig Pot and Shrooms"
Many adults know that some mind drugs – particularly marijuana and psychedelics – can be quite kind, enlightening, and creatively stimulating. There has also been a mountain of good news about the therapeutic and medical potentials of these substances over the last several years, thanks to legal testing allowed in the US, Europe, and Israel. But no Presidential candidate could ever say anything positive about the experiences these drugs induce, even though several of them have known better. (Hello, Bill and Al.)

5: No Atheists, Agnostics, or Pagans
Candidates must pay lip service to the prevailing native superstitions and they'd better be able to back it up with some evidence of genuine piety (or at least church attendance).

6: U.S. Militarism
"Americans are a peace-loving people." Not so much, actually. In my lifetime (b.1952), we sent (substantive numbers of) troops into Korea, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq again. We've dropped bombs on Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Libya, Iraq, Iraq again, Sudan, Bosnia, Yemen, and of course more Iraq. (Listing all the conflicts where we've tried to overthrow states through less direct but nevertheless violent means, or that we've been involved in peripherally, or through "client states" could probably fill a book.)

7: Weird With a Beard
Remember when Al Gore grew himself an existential beard after being ripped off for the presidency? Oh my, what a snarkfest! Of course, pretty much all the 19th Century presidents had furry faces, but nobody had to look at them much. If you display any non-conformity in dress or appearance, you're a damned hippie and won't be allowed anywhere near the White House.

8: Daddy, Where Does Money Come From?
Today, money is issued in the form of bank credit. In the past, it was related to "the gold standard." Throughout history, these exchange signals have had different forms and significances. Money isn't a physical commodity; it's a signifier of value. It's the dominant social force in our world and the specifics of how it functions at its root are pretty much completely occult, even in the business world. "Social Security is going to run out of money in thirty years." You can't run out of money, in the way that you can run out of oil, potable water, or spotted owls. Any presidential candidate worth his or her stripes should talk about how money works and ask whether we couldn't make it work better, but he or she would be labeled a "fringe crazy."

9: No Muslims!
Maybe, just maybe, we can elect someone named Barack Obama. But he better not get caught bowing toward Mecca.

10: Stop The Drug War
Most sophisticated commentators admitted a dozen or so years ago that the drug war is unwinnable, unfair and a corrupting influence on American culture, creating the types of criminal gangs and violence that we saw with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. But no Presidential candidate dares to suggest that this nightmare be ended.



11: Bloated Military Budget
Home of the brave, my ass. What kind of a country needs to spend more money on "defense" than all the other nations on earth combined and is still as collectively paranoid as a cuckolded husband in the throes of an amphetamine psychosis? A huge Military-Industrial complex overcharges taxpayers on a scale that makes the pharmaceutical industry look like Robin Hood. It's the biggest financial scam in human history, but no serious candidate dares to say peep, less he or she be seen as unpatriotic. (In a less trivial time, this would be the #1 taboo issue.)

12: Question Israel's Authority
Dear candidate. You may not seriously question or challenge any of Israel's military policies or actions. My fellow Jews in Israel can, and they do it all the time, but you can't. (Nyah nyah!) I guess it's sort of like with black folks and the "N Word." Except this is kinda like about war and peace in the Middle East and the future survival of humankind and stuff. Mazel Tov! Signed R.U. Sirius, a Jew.

13: Vote for me — I'm smart!
When we give someone an important job that engages a lot of complex problems, we usually want the smartest cookie we can find. But heck, Americans like Presidents that are just like them — simple-minded and borderline literate. Is this you?
Favorite book: A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.
Favorite film: The Marriage of Maria Braun by Rainer Warner Fassbinder.
Favorite Album: Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass.
Favorite Job: Definitely not President.

14: Let's Have More Democracy!
Representative democracy was a fine idea back when people were riding around in a horse-and-buggy and we didn't have airplanes, phones, and portable devices connected to the internet – a series of tubes that does magical things! Now I can apparently register a signal about every issue I care about over an encrypted secure line that is more likely to be accurately registered than the vote I make on election day. Maybe we should think about direct democracy, rather than leaving policy to our elected representatives and the elites that gather around them. Now, direct democracy scares the crap out of me unless the power of the people is mitigated by a robust, libertarian system of rights protecting us all from the majority. Still, the tools for giving citizens agency are at hand and we may as well talk about it.

Of course, the only candidate talking about this is way out on the fringes – Mike Gravel. And he's treated like a total lunatic. Oh, wait a second. He is a total lunatic.

15: The Nanny State
How coercive should the Federal government be? And do they have to stick their nose into everything? It's a common discourse among libertarians and it's a valid question. Do we really need the federal government to investigate television, movies, and video games? Should "This is bad for people" automatically translate into government action or even bluster? If you are what you eat, is it your personal right to be a ton of lard? Well, if you're running for President, you've got to pay some lip service to taking on bad choices people make that might best be private.



16: "Think of the Children!"
All candidates must dance to the tune of "family values." Nobody can suggest that remaining childfree could be one way of doing this overburdened planet a service. Should people get special privileges for having kids? And if we love kids so much, why do we let approximately 20% of them live in poverty? In American, the best family values can be found at Costco.

17: The Great Gun Debate? Irrelevant!
It's all a bunch of populist hype. Nobody who is taken seriously is proposing to entirely ban guns or to even make it difficult for most citizens to get them. And nobody who is taken seriously is seriously proposing to completely deregulate guns. It's all a lot of hand waving, so stick 'em up. Unless you're running for President, in which case you better be televised hunting (Hillary?) while also waxing responsible.

18: Are Our Leaders Accountable?
Two administrations got something like 2 million people killed in Viet Nam. Another administration completely scammed all American laws during Iran-Contra and completely got away with it. And those guys in the White House now? Don't get me started. But if you suggest that Henry or Ollie or George, Dick, and Donald should like maybe spend a few more days in jail than Paris Hilton, you will be portrayed as "way outside the mainstream" (unless you can find some sex tapes.)

19: The Prison-Industrial Complex
We're warehousing a greater percentage of our people in iron cages than all the nations in the economically advanced and even semi-advanced world. (We're kicking Russia and China's ass!) It's turning into a substantive form of slave labor with prisoners receiving anywhere from 8 cents to 15 cents per hour. It's also a massive, partly privatized industry that will defend its vested economic interest in human incarceration. The prison industry is central to the economy of several counties in America. But don't talk about it if you want to be elected President. For one thing, it's too depressing.

20: I Shouted Out Who Killed The Kennedys
And they shouted back, "Who cares!" Some conspiracy theories are true and some are false. Congressional hearings in the 1970s concluded that the murders of JFK and Martin Luther King remained unsolved. You'd think that when we celebrate these men's birthdays, we'd like to know who killed them, and if some of those people might still be alive and in positions of power. The majority of Americans believe in pretty much all the conspiracy theories, but they will also believe it when the media repeats over and over again that you're too far outside the mainstream to be President if you bring even the most plausible ones up.

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The Male Scale: 10 Archetypes


Legends of the Fall - Brad Pitt

Manhood is in flux.

Until the 19th century and the beginning of the Women’s Suffrage movement, traditional gender definitions prevailed. But as women gradually claimed their share of political power, they were not content with the classic male-work-rational-strong vs. female-home-emotional-weak dichotomy that dominated — and of course they shouldn’t have been.

Men resisted the movement until they could do so no longer. As women took steps to define their own gender roles, men missed the opportunity to do the same. We were left with a confused, ragtag concept of what it means to be a man, defined not by ourselves, but rather by contrasting ideals from two sources — liberated women and posterity.



But most modern men defy these narrow stereotypes, taking pieces of each. So without further ado, I now present to you...

The Male Scale

John Wayne1: John Wayne
The cowboy. Solitary, doesn’t need anyone else, but everyone else needs him to save the day. He is untethered by the world, an emotional Gibraltar. Therein lies his power, and his doom.
 
 

James Bond2: James Bond
Bond is…almost untrammeled. As a spy, he is defined by his one “weakness,” a desire to save the women who he encounters, and not solely for the sex. It is this chink in his armor, this mite of sensitivity in an environment where it could mean his death, that has made his image an echoing one.

Hemingway3: Hemingway
Hemingway would pretend to be Wayne, hunting and fishing and eschewing the women for the guys. For Chrissake, he got a special dispensation to hunt U-Boats in the Caribbean during WWII, which really just was him and his buddies getting drunk in pleasant waters. But his manliness, down to his nickname — Papa — was always a bit of trying too hard, always a dodge from the heavy emotions that consumed him. His characters were constantly hurt and refused to show it. He was the sensitive man who couldn’t bear to think it, so tried to cover it up with obscene displays to the contrary.

Jason Bourne4: Jason Bourne
As we reach the middle of the scale, Bourne is a twist on Bond. He has that something that many men crave, that surety that every other guy he sees, he can take in a fight. But he’s also a man in search of himself, haunted by his status as an assassin. If you choose to see it that way, he represents a drive towards self-awareness that few action heroes attempt.

Harry Potter5: Harry Potter
Harry isn’t the best wizard. He’s not the smartest. But he is the bravest. He alternates between brash actions that make you cheer cringe, and moments of self-doubt and emotional connection that, well, make you cheer and cringe. He is motivated by the desire to protect, but also for love and family. And, of course, he combats evil. It’s fitting, perhaps, that the balance is embodied in a child, who is less affected by the cultural ideas that can take root in the soul after so many years.

Brad Pitt6: Brad Pitt
Right, right. We all know he plays a badass Irish boxer, a secret agent, and Tyler Durden. But let's not forget roles like Tristan in Legends of the Fall. (Sure,Tristan was one of the Knights of the Round Table in Arthurian legend, but the name also means "sad"). And, since hooking up with Jolie, Pitt has actively been trying to change his image from sex symbol to humanitarian aid symbol. That Vanity Fair cover he got so upset about was said by some to be working against this new image.


Barack Obama7: Barack Obama
Obama is a sensitive voter’s fantasy, hitting all the right notes of compassion and unity and hope. He lets us fantasize about the possibility of a President who isn’t a 1 or a 2 like most of those we’ve gotten over the years (particularly from the Republican party). Although he displays a strong chin, he is constantly criticized for his “lack of experience,” meaning his indecisiveness, lack of definitive policy, etc. In effect, he’s being criticized for not being more like Wayne or Bond.

Anderson Cooper8: Anderson Cooper
The compassionate anchor. Cooper vaunted into celebrity, of course, with his impassioned reporting from New Orleans during the Katrina disaster. He attracts viewers who want something beyond that dispassionate traditional approach, an anchor with whom they can connect emotionally. His stature, fine features, and blue blood are also not prototypically masculine, but are part of a package that a lot of people find appealing.

Danny Tanner9: Danny Tanner
On Full House, he was father and mother, teaching his children about emotions really more than anything else. He was respectable, the kind of dad a lot of people would want. Of course, that didn’t stop everyone from calling him gay to the point that Bob Saget wrote a hysterical song defending Tanner’s heterosexuality.

Mr. Sensitive10: Mr. Sensitive
Just to get the point across, I’m going with a caricature here. In the certifiably crappy movie Bedazzled (whose only redeeming feature was Liz Hurley in shifting, besequined outfits), Brendan Fraser for his wishes switches his personality around in an effort to win the heart of this one girl. At one point, he wishes to be “sensitive,” which just means that he starts crying over crap like the flight of a bird. The lesson I think we’re supposed to take away: some, or even a lot of sensitivity is good, but for God’s sake, be a man!

So now I ask you: is this scale accurate? Is it skewed in one direction or another? Where do prominent figures you know fall? (I think Bush is a 1.)

Ethan Todras-Whitehill is a freelance writer who covers technology, travel, and subcultures. He contributes regularly to The New York Times and several national magazines. He also blogs at crucialminutiae.com.

See also:
The Scientific Laws of Romance
Nancy Drew's Sexy Secrets
Girls Are Geeks, Too
Why Chicks Don't Dig the Singularity
Top 5 Cartoon Hunks

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Democratic Cartoon Candidates


Pundits claim that in 2008, the issues will magically fuse with a Presidential candidate's personality — and reflect the ultimate wishes of the American people. So which hopes and dreams will rise to the surface?

Ask the people who've already imagined the candidates into cartoons. Their "one step from reality" videos reveal a sort of enhanced "hyper truth." Or at least, the truth as seen by six wise guys on the web.

1. Super Size Me



The Democrats' "excitement" over their '08 candidates may just be relief — that George Bush won't be President any more. Capturing this glee is a Saturday morning cartoon showing the Bush administratration as "The Legion of Doom." And they're about to get their asses kicked by a team of Democratic superheroes.



In this dream world, Karl Rove is transformed from an evil prince of political disinformation into The Joker, and Condoleeza Rice becomes Catwoman. They've teamed up with arch villians Bush and Cheney for a "conquest of the universe" — but four Democratic Presidential candidates are flying to the rescue. Hillary Clinton appears as Wonder Woman — of course — and Barack Obama is "Captain United." Former attorney John Edwards gets a special crest on his chest — the scales of Justice. And Al Gore isn't the Green Lantern, he's "The Green Solution".

At the end of the video, there's even a pointer to a web site analyzing their various super powers. Hillary Clinton's weakness?

"A severe aversion to interns."

2. Barack Obama: More than Meets the Eye?



America ignores the primaries until Labor Day, focussing on summer blockbusters instead. But one voter imagines the world-conquering robots from Transformers taking a break from dominating the box office to discuss...Barack Obama.

Sure, he's set fund-raising records, but are we being blinded by his skillful speechmaking? Even "Optimus Prime" can't stop talking about the Obama phenomenon. There's thoughtful questions about his experience — could Obama handle a nuclear Iran? Or maybe the Transformers should be voting for Bill Richardson.

But ultimately this video demonstrate the most powerful truth of all. That most political conversations in America devolve into nothing but personal attacks and defensiveness.

3. Hillary Clinton: Please Don't Hurt Me.



It's not any particular position, just...a weird vibe. Hillary Clinton is the front runner. Hillary Clinton scares people.

To be fair, the former First Lady (and former lawyer) endured eight years of right wing vilification, and it's given her a tough skin. But one Mason-Dixon poll found that more voters reported a negative reaction to Hillary than a positive one. Despite her name recognition, she remains an enigma — everyone thinks they know her, but no one knows why. While inventing her political self, Hillary's moved from "the left" to "the center" and even to "the right." But it's not that. It's just...something.

YouTube user "thefreemind" has created a video he's labeled "My opinion" that captures this disconnect. It offers the electorate one simple message.

Hillary Clinton? Please don't hurt me.

4. John Edwards meets Hanna Barbera



Electability! That's what Democrats crave most.

So while John Edwards babbles on about that war in Iraq and the need for universal health care, there's a secret second message. Just think how many Electoral College votes he could win!

With an earnest, low-key delivery, Edwards packs the charisma of Bill Clinton — the only Democrat who actually won the Presidency in the last 21 years. And it's that charming Southern accent that gives him extra empathy points. Who does he remind you of?



Here's a hint. Southern voters include "yellow dog Democrats" — who are said to be so loyal they'd vote for a yellow dog if it were running as a Democrat. But this video asks a related question. Would they also vote for a blue cartoon dog wearing a bow tie?

There's also a second political truth. While creating this video, user "Meadowfrost" ignored everything Edwards said about warring factions in Iraq — and then spliced in dialogue from a Huckleberry Hound cartoon.

That tells you everything you need to know about the American electorate.

5. The Good, the Bad, and Bill Richardson



When Bill Richardson ran for governor in 2006, his campaign came up with a full-fledged western in 30 seconds. But at least there was a point to mimicking old movie cliches — as governor he claimed credit for "$600 million worth of movie production."

It's a cartoon of sorts — a sugary over-simplification of both the campaign and its candidate. (What will they call the sequel — A Fistful of Bill Richardson?) But political ads always reveal the inner thoughts of hired political consultants, and how they're privately viewing the electorate. In this case, their message seems to be: voters won't listen without a feel-good story.

And sadly, the consultants are probably right.

6. An Inconvenient Al Gore



After years of being called a robot, Al Gore finally appears with one. Al Gore's daughter is a writer for Futurama, and to promote An Inconvenient Truth, Gore appeared in a cartoon with Futurama's robot, Bender.

Our former Vice President says he's not seeking his party's nomination — but no one believes him. Instead, Gore's denials are seen as a brilliant stealth campaign that includes both An Inconvenient Truth and this year's Live Earth campaign. In an age of YouTube debates and viral video, voters have more media options than ever, and if Al Gore enters the race, he may have unwittingly revealed the most inconvenient truth of all.

If you want to be President, you can't be afraid to step into a cartoon.

See also:
Senator Vitter's Suppressed Statement
The 5 Faces of Bush
John Edwards' Virtual Attackers Unmasked
5 Nastiest Campaign Ads So Far
YouTube's 5 Sorriest Questions for the 2008 Presidential Candidates

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Senator Vitter’s Suppressed Statement

Senator David Vitter10 Zen Monkeys received the following document from a friend who works as an aide to Republican Louisiana Senator David Vitter. It is the handwritten draft of the statement Senator Vitter planned to give before the press conference about his involvement in the "D.C. Madam" scandal.

Members of Vitter's staff talked the Senator out of his planned line of discussion and convinced him to go with the more conventional apology combined with partial denial. We are certain of the authenticity of this document, because we slipped it, along with a crisp Jackson, to our friend, Dolores "Bambi" Malone. Bambi has spent several weekends in Ibiza partying with the Senator, and she told us, "Yep. That's David. That sounds exactly like David. Hey! That's his handwriting!"

Here, then, are the notes for the statement Senator Vitter planned to deliver:

Friends, members of the press, fellow citizens. (PAUSE)

If bitches squirted their seeds like dudes do, I'd sure have egg on my face. (PAUSE for a moment so the morons can get the joke) Boo-yah!

But seriously, I stand before you today not to apologize or deny my behavior, but to give you a serious reality check. Remember that scene in A Few Good Men where Jack Nicholson said, "You can't handle the truth"? Well, that's surely the case here in Washington, D.C. and all across America as regards sex.

Now the fact is, I'm a natural born lover's man. From the day I turned 17 and my mama took me out to the shed and taught me the truth about Southern love, I've had a taste for it — if you know what I mean. Nowadays, I like 'em short or tall, fat or skinny, blonde or brunette, young or old. Hell, I've even had me one of them chicks with dicks. Craziest night I ever spent. We did it all, and though I won't get into too much detail, I will say Señor Dirty Sanchez did make an appearance.

The point is — I'm a pretty good looking guy and I've got money and power. I don't have to pay for it. But the nice thing about hookers: you don't have to please 'em. You know what I mean? I mean, it's nice to make a lady cum, but as you get older, you really just want to be serviced by a pro. And Deborah Palfrey had her a full stable of fine mares, if you know what I mean.

Now I'm sure some of you are sitting there feeling sorry for my wife, Wendy. Give me a break! Just check her out in that leopard-skin dress. You think she ain't got a couple of boy toys down in Louisiana? Not only that, but we've shared a few of Debbie's finest together. When Wendy goes down on a muffin, bitch'll be frightenin' the horses for miles around. And besides, every time I turn around, Wendy wants another addition to the house, new clothes, a couple of weeks' vacation alone with one of her boy toys in Rome. (PAUSE. Look sympathetically at Fred Dodds from The Post and wink. And then get all folksy) So don't y'all be feelin' too sorry for Wendy.

Listen. I got into politics because a friend of mine who is a big time corporate attorney thought I'd be good at it. He said I should be a Republican. He explained to me all about crony capitalism and told me I'd make great connections and scads of money. And all I had to do was represent the interests of my friends and donors. They'd tell me what to do.



It was a totally sweet deal. But he didn't tell me about the moralism part — about how you've got to be all about family values, and you've got to be for teen abstinence and against the queers and porn and abortion and Janet Jackson's nipples. And that's because the common Christian folks down in Louisiana don't care that much about whether my financial supporters make butt-loads of money or not. They care about pretending to hate sex — like it tells you to do in The Bible.

Y'all know what a rube is? It comes out of the circus. It's a word for folks who are easily scammed. Or, do you know what a mark is? It's an old term used by petty thiefs for people who are easy pickins. I think, originally, the word was used by pickpockets. Here's how it works. You got yourself a mark, and with your right hand, you're waving around the bible in front of his face and shouting about salvation. Then, with your left hand, you're picking the asshole's pocket. (PAUSE for laughter) Now, the common folks — working folks, poor folks who put me into office — they're marks and rubes, right?

OK. That's about all I have to say. I'm gonna stay in the Senate unless someone kicks me out. And those who paid this piper will continue to call the tune. I signed on to give my financial supporters a sweet deal, and that's what I intend to do. But I can no longer be a hypocrite about sex because… shit, like I said, I'm a natural born lover's man. So I will fight to legalize prostitution and any other kind of sex adults want to have. Gays can get married for all I care, although I can't see why they'd wanna. (PAUSE. Glare at Wendy.) And girls, if you're looking for a nice chunk a change, you know where to find me.

I'll be in the U.S. Senate where I plan to stay until my term runs out.

Any questions?

See Also:
Awesomest Congressional Campaign Ever
My Opponent Pays for Gay Teen Bestiality!
Is It Fascism Yet?
Libertarian Chick Fights Boobs With Boobs
The Future of America Has Been Stolen

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Don’t Call It a Conspiracy — the Kennedy Brothers


Kennedy with Cuban exiles

The military and national security establishment of the United States is supposed to be under the control of our democratically elected civilian government. But is it?

An explosive new book by David Talbot, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, examines the hostility that existed between the Kennedy brothers and their own military, intelligence and enforcement agencies during the JFK administration in the early 1960s. The book also reveals that Robert Kennedy, who was Attorney General during his brother's presidency, believed that JFK was killed by an insider conspiracy of powerful players who didn't like some of the president's actions.

It underscores a troubling lesson we seem to never learn: that within all power structures, and certainly within Presidential Administrations, there are often struggles for domination, competing agendas, and subterfuge. Policies and military actions can veer in dangerous directions that have little to do with normal democratic processes.



The book is also a fascinating read, illuminating a contentious cast of characters including Jack and Bobby; CIA weirdos like James Jesus Angleton and Howard Hunt; and military madmen like Curtis Lemay and Lyman Lemnitzer.

I interviewed David Talbot, founder and former Editor-In-Chief of Salon.com for The RU Sirius Show. He was also Senior Editor for Mother Jones, and has written for Rolling Stone and many other publications. He recently debated Vincent Bugliosi about the JFK assassination as part of a cover feature in Time magazine.

Jamais Cascio and Jeff Diehl joined me in this interview.

To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.


RU SIRIUS: Your book shows that there was a terrible relationship between JFK and some members of his administration and the entire National Security establishment. It's all of a piece, but I think the situation with Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military really stands out...

DAVID TALBOT: They were his nemesis.

RU: They were very frightening.

DT: Yeah. The Kennedy administration was beleaguered and besieged by its own government. That was a revelation for me. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, when Kennedy refuses to reinforce the CIA with U.S. troops and the Air Force, the government was pretty much at war with itself. Up to that point, they believed that Kennedy was a weak President – he was in over his head. And they were determined to run the country the way they wanted to.

RU: They suckered Kennedy into letting this invasion happen. Apparently, there was a fairly recent revelation that the CIA knew the Bay of Pigs wasn't going to work and they were sure that Kennedy would be forced to mount an invasion.

DT: That's right. I think they were trying to sandbag him. They knew he was young and inexperienced. According to the CIA's own internal history of the Bay of Pigs, which was released and de-classified in 2005, they knew that it would fail. They knew that their own motley brigade of Cuban exiles weren't sufficient to defeat Castro, and they thought that Kennedy's hand would be forced to send in the Marines and Air Force once these guys were pinned down on the beaches. But he didn't. He was very loath to widen the war. He knew — as the CIA itself later determined in an intelligence estimate — that if we were to do that, it would end up like what we're seeing today in Iraq. U.S. forces would have quickly swept aside Castro's military, they'd have marched on to Havana and then they would've gotten bogged down in a long and bloody occupation.

JAMAIS CASCIO: Did Kennedy suspect that he had been sandbagged?

DT: Yes. And he was furious. Afterwards, he famously threatened to shatter the CIA and scatter it to the winds. And he did fire the top two officials of the CIA — Allen Dulles, who ironically later became the most active member of the Warren Commission (to investigate the assassination of JFK), and Richard Bissell. And he was constantly re-shuffling his Joint Chiefs, because they were some frightening characters as well. The head of the Air Force, Curtis LeMay, actually thought you could fight and win a nuclear war.

RU: LeMay comes across in this book as actually very anxious to just get right into a nuclear war. And there's another character – Lyman Lemnitzer — true psycho maniacs. Talk a little bit about these characters.



DT: Those are two of my favorites! Curtis LeMay was this cigar-chomping World War II hero who had devastated Japan with firebombing assaults during that war. He knew that, in the early '60s, America had massive nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union. And he thought that was our window of opportunity to take the commies out. Do it now. We would, of course, suffer millions of casualties of our own, but he argued with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara that you could still win the war as long as you had more weapons in the end.

RU: The one who dies with the most bombs wins.

DT: Exactly. LeMay, of course, was the inspiration for General Jack Ripper in Dr. Strangelove.

RU: And he was George Wallace's Vice Presidential candidate in 1968.

DT: Lyman Lemnitzer is another frightening character. Kennedy thought he was a dope — that's what Arthur Schlesinger, the Kennedy historian, told me. This is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

RU: Right. A complete idiot.

DT: Yeah, a complete idiot. And at one point, he came up with a scheme called Operation Northwoods, which he presents to McNamara and Kennedy.

JEFF DIEHL: The 9/11 conspiracy people bring that up all the time.

DT: Yes, because it obviously has some potentially interesting parallels with what happened on 9/11, depending on what you think 9/11 was all about. In any case, this was a plan to provoke a number of terrorist acts on U.S. soil and blame it on Castro as a way of creating a pretext for a war on Cuba. The plan included setting off bombs in Miami and Washington and killing American citizens and blaming it on Fidel.

RU: In Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, James Bamford reported that one of the ideas was to blow up John Glenn in space, and blame it on the Cubans.

DT: (Laughs) Yes.

RU: You asked McNamara about it, and McNamara didn't even remember it. I get the sense that the Kennedy administration didn't even take it seriously. They just kind of tossed it in the wastebasket.

DT: I found a memo that Lyman and Lemnitzer did bring it up in the meeting with Kennedy, and he dismissed it out of hand. And Kennedy said, "I hope you're prepared for a wider war." In other words, he thought the Soviets would move against West Berlin if we were to move on Cuba.

I think Jack Kennedy was a wise and temperate man who'd learned the horrors of war firsthand as a young Navy officer in World War II. His own brother, who was a Navy pilot in World War II, had been shot down and killed during that war. So he wasn't like the kind of rich kids we see in office today in the White House…

RU: Although he was a rich kid.

DT: That's right. He was a rich kid. But he actually served in the military, and he knew firsthand the horrors of war.

RU: I love this expression that you use to describe how Kennedy operated. "In the end, JFK threaded the needle of Berlin, as he would do repeatedly during his administration, avoiding either an explosive confrontation or embarrassing capitulation in an artful dance, combining tough speech, symbolic military measures, and back channel diplomacy." Threading the needle – he was trying to sneak down the middle.

DT: Right. He was a skillful guy at the game of politics. He knew that if he came out too publicly as a force for peace, he would be pilloried by the far right, which was on the rise in those days – and was strong in the military — and he would be portrayed as a wimp. And, of course, Democrats have been portrayed that way ever since. But Kennedy was artful about avoiding that label. At the same time, behind the scenes, he was clearly trying to thread the needle and get out of these war situations — in Berlin, in Vietnam, in Laos, and in Cuba.

RU: How would you compare the pressures that he had from the right wing military establishment and the CIA — and a public that was prone toward being swayed by labeling someone a wimp — and the situation today. Because in reading the book, it makes me think things were much crazier then than they are now.

DT: Well, the stakes were certainly higher. The world was on the brink of nuclear holocaust throughout the Kennedy years. And there was a very active right wing in this country agitating for war. Within the military, there was a figure named General Edwin Walker. He was actually a very revered figure in the army. He was stationed in West Germany where he distributed far right John Bircher propaganda to his active duty soldiers and advised them how to vote. Of course, he was telling them to vote against the Democrats. Kennedy finally forced him out of the service and he became very active campaigning against Kennedy policies. He even went down to Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi, at the height of some serious disturbances there. A black student, James Meredith, was the first to enroll at the University and it set off white riots. Walker was stirring up those riots.

RU: Talking about how crazy things were then, the Ole Miss story is perhaps one of the most intense moments in your book. We would totally freak out if something like that happened now.

DT: Absolutely. And if a movie were ever made of my book, this would be one of the most intense scenes in it.

RU: Cinematic.

DT: Cinematic. You know, the Kennedys get blamed for being slow to move on Civil Rights. But certainly by 1962, his second year in office, JFK and his Attorney General Bobby Kennedy were moving pretty aggressively on Civil Rights. And when James Meredith, a former Air Force sergeant, becomes the first black student to enroll at this all-white, racist university — the University of Mississippi – all hell broke loose in the South. The governor, Ross Barnett, was riling people up down there and the local Klan was mobilized. And this former military officer, Edwin Walker attempted to rally the entire South to take its final stand on the campus to prevent desegregation. It was called the last battle of the Civil War.

RU: It was almost like civil war.

DT: Yeah, thousands of people from all over the South descended on the university. Some of them had squirrel guns; some had homemade bombs, bricks — anything they could throw at the beleaguered federal marshals who were protecting James Meredith. A thin line of federal officers had been quickly mobilized to protect Meredith, as well as prison guards. They even used drug enforcement people. They had all been sort of mobilized at the last minute under Nicholas Katzenbach, who was an aide to Bobby Kennedy.

So they were outside the administration building all night long as the riot got more and more out of control. They were down to their last tear gas canisters, which is all they have to try to disperse these rioters who were armed to the teeth. Two people were shot and killed and many wounded. Many of the federal marshals were wounded and bleeding. It was a scene of complete bloody chaos.

The military was supposed to reinforce these marshals and drive away the rioters, but they were very slow to move. And there are tapes of conversations inside the White House that night between President Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, and their aides Ted Sorensen and Kenny O'Donnell. There was an increasing level of hysteria within the White House as they realize that the federal marshals are about to be overwhelmed and Meredith could be lynched by this mob. And they were on the phone to the army, constantly...

RU: One of Kennedy's friends was right there in the thick of it.

DT: The deputy aide, Nicholas Katzenbach, was right there. He was a World War II veteran, but he too was beginning to sound increasingly desperate … "Where is the military?" And Bobby Kennedy was yelling at the military, "Where are you?" In retrospect, it looks like it was probably just a badly run operation, and they weren't prepared to move as quickly as they had to that night. But the feeling within the Kennedy group that night was that it was treasonous. And they talk about the book, Seven Days in May, which was a best seller at the time. It was written by Fletcher Knebel, who was a friend of Kennedy's, about an attempted military coup in Washington. And the Kennedy's were asking themselves, "Is this happening in the United States?"

RU: Kennedy wanted to get that film made.

DT: He wanted that film made — I think — not only as a shot across the bow to the generals but also as a warning to the American people. You know, you think the President's in command of the military at all times, but the Kennedys' felt – that night at least — that the control was slipping out of their hands.

RU: And this seems to be the story of the book. During the '60s and '70s, within underground culture, a lot of people liked to say that the Kennedy assassination was essentially a coup d'etat. This doesn't seem far from the story you tell in your book. Would you embrace that language?

DT: Well, you know, the assassination of JFK is a dark labyrinth. It's possibly the darkest labyrinth in my lifetime, the biggest mystery. Many books have been written about it and I didn't want to go down that same tunnel. But I wanted to follow Bobby's footsteps, because Bobby Kennedy was the Attorney General of the United States and one of the most aggressive investigators in American public life in his day. And he was utterly devoted to his older brother, President Kennedy. So I wanted to know what he really thought.

I thought doing that would shed light on this case. And the truth is, starting from the afternoon of that terrible day in Dallas; Bobby Kennedy believed that his brother's assassination was a conspiracy. He looked immediately at the CIA and its secret war on Castro as the source of the plot.

RU: His public posture was to embrace the Warren Report, but in the meantime he organized his own explorations.

DT: That's right. I believe he rather tepidly endorsed the Warren Report in public because he knew his own power to investigate the crime was quickly fading, as soon as his brother was killed. The new President, Lyndon Johnson, hated his guts. The head of the investigation into the assassination, J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, was also a poisonous enemy of Bobby Kennedy's. So Bobby knew his own power as Attorney General was quickly evaporating. He was determined to get back to the White House as President to re-open the investigation.

RU: Assuming that this assassination was an inside job, and that it was on behalf of the people who wanted to go to war with Cuba — why didn't something happen after Kennedy was gone and then Johnson was in office?

DT: Well, they got their war, but not on Cuba. They got their war in Vietnam. I understand that JFK was determined to withdraw entirely from Vietnam after he was successfully re-elected in '64. He knew he would be facing a strong challenge from Barry Goldwater, and he wasn't about to give Goldwater a weapon by withdrawing from Vietnam before the campaign. But he told his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara — who I interviewed — and Kenny O'Donnell, and other key aides that he fully intended to withdraw. And, of course, he only had 16,000 troops there at that point. Not the half million that LBJ and Nixon later had. He knew that it was up to the South Vietnamese people to win that war, and the Americans couldn't win it for them. Just like Iraq today.

This is what McNamara told me, and I think it's true. McNamara has no reason to lie about it. In fact, he has every reason to say the opposite because, of course, he was responsible, along with Johnson, for the tragic escalation of that war. He could've pinned it on JFK, but he didn't.

So I believe the military-industrial complex — these forces that work in America, did get their war finally. Kennedy constantly frustrated them, but they got their war. It was in Vietnam.

RU: Some of the theories around the JFK assassination tend to be bizarre. Oliver Stone's movie is maybe a little bit out there. And the New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison became sort of the focal point for theories. What do you think about Garrison, and what did Bobby Kennedy think about Garrison?

DT: Well, I actually think there's a certain heroism to both Garrison and Oliver Stone for standing up — particularly Garrison, who tried to re-open the case. I think he was in over his head. He made some wrong decisions. Ultimately, he set back the cause of the investigation when he lost his case. So I think of them both as flawed heroes. I think many of the things that Stone was looking at in JFK were close to the truth, and close to what Bobby Kennedy suspected. So Oliver Stone wasn't completely off the wall. But he's not a historian or a journalist, and it wasn't a documentary, so he used dramatic license. But he certainly succeeded in re-opening this debate. As a journalist, in 1991, I became interested in all this because of that film. As did many Americans. So he provided a service when the American media and the government had completely failed to get at the truth. It took a filmmaker to re-open the debate.

RU: A shitload of books have come out since that have claimed to prove that it was, in fact, Lee Harvey Oswald and he was a lone gunman. The most recent one by Vincent Bugliosi came out virtually at the same time as yours.

Bugliosi's book is massive. Have you read it?

DT: 1600 pages! No, I couldn't face all 1600 pages. But I have dipped into it. I read sections that pertained to my book. He's a lawyer so he can essentially prove anything, and that's what he's done. He's attempted to pin it on Oswald. There are many flaws in the book. In terms of his material about Bobby Kennedy, for instance, he's all wrong. He thinks Bobby Kennedy accepted the Warren report, both privately and publicly. And that's just not the case.



I think there's such enduring fascination with this because it's still the biggest mystery in American political history. Americans know, in their hearts, that something very dark happened in Dallas, and they haven't been given the full truth. Polls consistently show that upwards of 75-80% of the American people don't believe the Warren report.

But people say, "Oh, we'll never know the truth. There are so many theories out there." But in truth, we know more than we think. And a respectable body of opinion by the best researchers has really coalesced around one theory of this crime, and it happens to be what Bobby Kennedy thought. He believed that the plot against JFK grew out of the CIA's shadowy operation against Fidel Castro. It was an operation that brought together the CIA, the Mafia and militant Cuban exiles. And that, I believe, is where the conspiracy came from.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations, which I think is the best governmental investigation into Dallas, also came to similar conclusions in the late 1970s. Anthony Summer, a very good Irish investigative journalist who worked for the BBC came to similar conclusions in his book, The Kennedy Conspiracy. Jeff Morley of the Washington Post, who I think is the best working journalist on this beat in America, is also looking in the same direction.

RU: We're talking about the Mafia, the CIA, and Cuban exiles. But are there some specific individuals that you feel were very likely to have been involved in this?

DT: Well, one of them, of course, is Howard Hunt. He was the head of the Watergate burglary team and a former CIA agent who was very much a part of the war on Castro. And in January of this year, as he was dying, he made a series of confessions to his son, St. John. And he said that he was invited to a CIA safehouse meeting in 1963 in Miami where the plot to kill President Kennedy was discussed. He named William Harvey and David Morales as other likely suspects. In fact, he says that David Morales, who was another well-known CIA figure, was at that meeting. And he names David Phillips. Those are key CIA names.

RU: What comes across in your book is that Bobby Kennedy, like his brother, played a delicate game in behaving militantly towards Cuba, and even taking small actions, short of invasion and bombing — tepid stuff that really wouldn't do anything.

DT: That's right. And Bobby Kennedy was militantly anti-communist. He was no fan of Fidel Castro. But he was outraged after the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs. He knew this was a humiliation for his brother and he took it personally. He was that kind of guy.

Someone described him to me as being like an Irish cop — he was a young man and he tended to see things in black and white. He was a work in progress at that point. He was 35 when he became Attorney General. But I think he grew quickly while he was in office. And my evidence suggests that by 1962, the Kennedys were doing a two-track strategy with Castro. As you say, they were operating something called Operation Mongoose – a series of pinprick actions directed against Fidel Castro meant to de-stabilize his government. These were not assassination plots. And it looks like they were doing it for political reasons back home because they were under intense pressure from the far right to do something about Castro. It was more or less for show. Meanwhile, in the final months of the administration, JFK opened up a secret peace channel to Castro through an assistant to our U.N. ambassador named William Attwood and an ABC newswoman named Lisa Howard. She also happened to be sleeping with Fidel.

RU: And she was bugged by the CIA.

DT: That's right.

RU: I can sort of understand the right wing's level of paranoia. Here you have John Kennedy going through back channels to Cuba with a woman who's sleeping with Castro. And Bobby Kennedy, at some point, seems to become friends with somebody in the Khrushchev government. He sort of gripes about the right-wingers he has to deal with to this guy. And I can imagine how some rightwinger listening in might think, "What? That's treason!"

DT: Consorting with the enemy. Exactly. I think you could understand the hard-liner's point of view. They believed the Kennedys were young; they were in over their heads, and they were kind of out of control. In fact, they're wiretapping a former CIA wife named Mary Meyer, and they found out that, after her divorce from her husband, Cord Meyer, she was sleeping with President Kennedy. And she was trying to turn him on to LSD.

RU: Half my audience is having an orgasm right now, because they've been waiting for us to bring up the Mary Meyer thing. And my old friend Tim Leary does have a brief cameo role in your book.

DT: Absolutely.

RU: Tell a little bit about that.

DT: Well, Mary Meyer met JFK when they were both in prep school. She started off very much a blueblood from the very prominent Pinchot family. Then she married this CIA official, Cord Meyer. And she divorced him as he became more and more right wing. She was going in the opposite direction, politically. By the early 60s, Mary Meyer was kind of a pre-hippie hippie. She was an artist and a painter living in Georgetown. And she had divorced her husband and she was having an affair with the President. And I think it was quite a serious relationship — it wasn't one of these fiddle-and-faddle kind of flings that Kennedy would have.

He was really deeply into Mary Meyer (in more ways than one). And in this idyllic period in the early '60s, she was taken with the idea that peace, love and drugs could change the world. Specifically, she was out to turn on the world's leaders to the idea that they don't have to be in a constant state of war. So she went to Harvard, where Timothy Leary, of course, was still a respected professor in those days.

RU: Semi-respected.

DT: (Laughs) And she asked his help. She was setting up these acid experiments involving some of the more prominent men in Washington. She was doing this through their mistresses and wives. Apparently, she has some of these sessions, and she thought they were succeeding quite well. But one day she came back to Leary in a panic and told him things had gone terribly awry. One of the women had sort of gone public and exposed what was happening. And Mary was very alarmed about what the consequences would be and even asked if she could hide out at Leary's...

RU: ...at Millbrook. Not a great place to hide out. A big estate, but probably spied upon just as much as the White House!

DT: Leary lost touch with her a while and JFK was assassinated. About a year after the assassination, he looked up Mary Meyer and found out to his horror that she had also died a violent death while walking on a towpath along a canal in Washington. In broad daylight, a man came up to her and killed her, execution style — shot her through the head and the heart. She wasn't sexually violated and nothing was stolen. It was just an execution-style murder that was never solved.

RU: Apparently at some point, James Jesus Angleton mentioned Mary Meyer in the context of LSD.

DT: That's right. He played a strange role in this. Angleton is one of the more spectral and spooky figures in the CIA history

RU: Just an incredibly weird guy.

DT: Very odd man — head of CIA counter-intelligence. He spent his whole life doing these mind games in which he was trying to prevent the Soviet Union from penetrating American intelligence. And some people believe that he ruined the CIA through his paranoia.

In any case, he was obsessed with Mary Meyer. Ben Bradlee, the former editor of the Washington Post, knew both of them because he was Mary Meyer's brother-in-law. He thought Angleton was romantically and sexually obsessed with Mary Meyer. He wiretapped her. And I believe that he knew about the affair between Mary Meyer and Kennedy. So potentially, the CIA knew that Kennedy was doing drugs. One more nail, I think, in JFK's coffin. They believed this young President was out of control.

After Meyer was killed, Angleton showed up at her home, and then at her studio, trying to pick the lock... which he was good at. Ben Bradlee and his wife found him there. Apparently he was looking for her diary. And the diary's a source of much speculation. Eventually the diary was found. And for some reason, Mary's sister (Bradlee's wife) gave it to Angleton to destroy. He didn't do it, and she later asked for it back. She claimed that she disposed of it. In this diary, of course, are entries about her affair with JFK and who knows what else.

RU: We presumably have an elected representative who is Commander-In-Chief of the military and is in control of these other organizations. But we know that both Carter and Clinton had a hard time with the National Security establishments. I guess any time anybody to the left of Attila the Hun gets into power, the question becomes whether they're really in control of the military or whether the military is in control of them.

DT: I think so. Clinton, of course, set them off right away with his policies on gays in the military. And that provoked a sharp reaction.

RU: He couldn't salute properly.

DT: He couldn't salute properly. He hadn't served himself — he wasn't one of them. And I think that any progressive president that takes office now will face a similar kind of response from hardline elements in the government that JFK was forced to confront. That's why these historical lessons are very important for us to understand. It's important to see what any progressive in the White House is going to be up against.

There will always be elements of this military-industrial complex that will be pushing war for power and profit. There will always be that impulse. It takes a formidable leader to stand up to those pressures.

JD: Today, with Iraq, weren't some people in the military advising not to invade?

DT: That's the irony. The real nut cases are in the White House today, and not so much the Pentagon or CIA. The CIA and the Pentagon have been forces for restraint under the crazy Bush-Cheney administration.

JD: Does that bode better, then, for a progressive White House?

RU: I think they might be happy to get a centrist back into the White House.

DT: Maybe, but there are always these lobbies. You know, Rumsfeld and Cheney came out of that kind of thing. They were working for military contractors and lobbying organizations that were always pushing for the next war. We're already hearing about Iran. Bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran, as McCain joked. Not really a funny joke.

RU: Steve Wozniak thought it was funny.

DT: Strange sense of humor, that Steve. In any case, I think whoever's in the White House is going to be facing those pressures. And sometimes you have someone in the White House who's part of that kind of crazy war lobby, like the current administration.

JC: In American culture, we now have a sensitivity to conspiracy. While there were certainly conspiracies and scandals in the era before Kennedy, there wasn't the expectation that the government was going to be corrupt in such a violent way. Today, we're maybe overly conscious of the potential for conspiracy. A perfect example is the willingness of so many people to believe in the most massively bizarre conspiracies around 9/11. So it seems to me that it's much trickier for these conspiracies to be carried off successfully.

DT: I think that's true and it's not true. But I agree with your point that the public is more conspiratorially inclined today than when I was growing up as a kid, before Dallas. On the other hand, the gatekeepers — the opinion elite in this country. The media...

RU: They've had a backlash.

DT: Very much so. They're very suspicious of any conspiracy theories. The reaction to my book in the media world is very interesting.

RU: Are you a wingnut?

DT: It's been very mixed. I was severely chastised in the Boston Globe and the Washington Post for being too conspiracy minded. But that's why I didn't really frame this book as a conspiracy book. And I rooted it in historical fact, and documented it all very carefully. I interviewed over 150 former Kennedy administration officials, friends and colleagues. I went through thousands of documents that are available now. And it's very clear from those documents that the Kennedy administration was at war with itself. And it's clear that Bobby Kennedy suspected a plot. That's historical fact. That's not my speculation. That's the truth.

RU: Have people talked about Bobby Kennedy's suspicions in the past – or is this a breakout news item?

DT: It's the headline from my book. I mean, there have been rumors about it, and little bits about it in a couple of other books like Robert Kennedy and His Times by Schlesinger. But no one has really delved deeply into it.

I believe that these questions about conspiracy are important in a larger sense. The American public's imagination has become so inflamed because they know — on some gut level — that they're being lied to by one administration after another — and particularly by this administration. And they lied about something as important as war — the run-up to the war in Iraq. I think the American people are so fed up with this — they're so skeptical now that, in a way — it's even more difficult for researchers like me to break through and to say, "Look, not everything's a conspiracy, but some things are." American power works like power does around the world. Sometimes we like to think we're exceptional. Dark things happen in Latin American countries. Dark things happen in European countries. But for some reason, some Americans have a certain naiveté – particularly the media. We like to think we're above that kind of thing. But America is capable of dark things. We should know that by now. We have to sort that out. As researchers, journalists and historians, it's our job to sort fact from fiction. Everything isn't a conspiracy — I'm very skeptical of a lot of the 9/11 stuff that I've seen. But on the other hand, I think that what happened in Dallas was clearly very dark and sinister, and we haven't been told the full truth about it.

RU: As you said, these things do happen, and in some ways, none of this is terribly shocking. And I thought about this as I was reading about Bobby Kennedy's struggles with the Mafia. And there was this interesting contrast in the personalities of the Kennedy brothers — JFK was more of a hedonist and Bobby was a very strict moralist. And Bobby got into this thing with the Mafia while John was still hanging out with Frank Sinatra. Reading this, at some point I almost start to identify with the Mafia guys...

DT: After Bobby's been at them for a while, you have to sympathize with them.

RU: Well, you know, these guys are saying (New York Italian accent) "'ey! I thought we had a deal here!" You know? They did. They thought they had a deal.

DT: Exactly. They had a deal with the old man, Joe Kennedy. I think that was actually the source of Bobby's energy and fervor on the subject. It was a great Oedipal drama. Joe Kennedy, the great family patriarch, built the fortune any way he could. He was a pirate. He built it through Wall Street speculation; through shady Hollywood deals and building a movie empire; and through bootlegging. The bootlegging business and the Hollywood business brought him into contact with the mob, as partners. I believe he brought the mob into the campaign in 1960 when JFK ran for President in 1960 and they helped push JFK over the top, The Kennedys weren't alone in this, of course. That's the way the game was played. Nixon had his own mob contacts and his own vote theft. But Bobby was a devout Catholic and he was aware of this. He loved his father deeply, but I believe he was also ashamed of much of his father's past.

RU: Was there conflict between John and Bobby because they had such different personalities?

DT: I think JFK was bemused by how ardent his younger brother was. As you say, Jack was more like a prince. He was a debonair, sophisticated guy who had no problems hanging out with some shady characters himself, like Frank Sinatra.

Bobby Kennedy was a different animal. But JFK also loved his brother's devotion and his energy and commitment, and respected him enormously. And he kept giving Bobby more and more responsibility in that government. They didn't trust the CIA, the Pentagon, and much of their own administration, like the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk. So their government really became a family affair. He kept giving more and more of the tasks of government to his Attorney General — his brother.

JC: Was the assassination of Bobby Kennedy part of this, or was it just a lone nut.

DT: I didn't focus on that much in my book. But I do raise questions about it. I interviewed a number of people who were there that night in Los Angeles when Bobby Kennedy was gunned down at the Ambassador hotel after winning the California primary. One of them was Frank Burns. He was an aide to Jesse Unruh, speaker of the California Assembly, and a Democratic Party lawyer. He was one of the guys wrestling with the convicted assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, for the gun. He said Sirhan was standing four to five feet in front of Bobby as he's walking through the hotel pantry, but the fatal shot was delivered at point-blank range behind Bobby's ear, right into his skull. Thomas Naguchi, the coroner of Los Angeles County, also said there was no way Sirhan could have fired that fatal shot, given where he was standing. Obviously Sirhan was playing some role that night. He had a gun. He fired at Bobby. But I don't think the fatal bullet came from Sirhan's gun.

RU: Most of the book is not about the assassination. It's about the Kennedy administration. You're basically rehabilitating their progressive reputation and their intentions regarding war and peace.

DT: Yes!

RU: Is there a final take-home lesson for us?

DT: JFK wanted his epitaph to be, "He kept the peace." And he delivered a beautiful speech along these lines at American University in 1963, saying "We all live on the same small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we're all mortal."

He was saying that about America and our enemies — the Soviet Union. I think we need to have this kind of visionary leadership again to make this world a safer, more peaceful place.

See also:
The Chicks Who Tried To Shoot Gerald Ford
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free or Not?
Anarchy for the USA: A Conversation With Josh Wolf
Homeland Security Follies
The LA Cop Who Became the Leading 9/11 Conspiracy Spokesman

Read More

Sex Panic! — An Interview With Debbie Nathan


Woman Screaming


Editor's note: We experienced some hesitation at publishing this piece. We know that people have strong emotions about these topics and, obviously, the sexual abuse of children is no trivial matter.

But given the players, including the New York Times, the Justice Department, the Internet, and Free Speech itself, we feel confident that it will start an important debate on a number of issues that are usually dominated by hysterical, reactionary voices.

About the author: Susie Bright is the host of the weekly Audible.com podcast, "In Bed With Susie Bright," and is the editor of Best American Erotica, 1993-2008.

For a free month's subscription to "In Bed With Susie Bright," click here. Links to the full audio versions of this interview can be found here: Part 1, Part 2.


Debbie Nathan is the expert on sex panics and is perhaps best known for her book, Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt, about some of the widely covered sex panic cases that rocked the U.S. in the '80s and '90s, such as the McMartin preschool case in California. Susie and Debbie share a deep distrust about former New York Times journalist Kurt Eichenwald's much talked about articles on Internet child pornography.

SUSIE BRIGHT: First of all, you uncovered the bizarre so-called "satanic abuse scandals" that were happening in Southern California in the 1980s, and I remember thinking, "How could people re-create the Salem witch trials in this day and age?" And the next time you popped up in my life, I was reading these sensational stories in the New York Times about child pornography, which the reporter described in amazing, titillating detail — and of course he was on a campaign to stop it.

Nevertheless, I put down the newspaper I was reading, and I thought, "How does this guy get to look at anything that is remotely like 'child pornography' when the whole genre is utterly and completely illegal in the United States? What is the deal... Did he do a deal with the Justice Department? And what are they showing him?" And, "How come he doesn't talk about any of this?" (Ed: Former New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald has denied ever looking at illegal pornographic images.) The very next day, there's an article in Salon — by you, Debbie Nathan. And it had this provocative title, Why I Need To See Child Porn.

DN: And then the next day, it was gone.

SB: And then the next day, it was gone! Because the reporter who'd written the original piece just blew his stack and threatened Salon with legal action if they didn't take this piece down. Well, I want to get back to your rebuttal — the very first thing you said, which is: If child porn is such an immoral outrage, then why does anyone need to look at it? Why is it anybody's business? Aren't we just supposed to say, "My god, that's aberrant," and turn our heads away?

DN: Well, there are two reasons for that, and I'm not sure which one is more important. But the first one has to do with technology. It has to do with the fact that in this country — not all countries, but in the United States where we respect the First Amendment — the reasoning behind outlawing child pornography is that it is the record of the victimization of a real child.

SB: The photographic record.

DN: The photographic record. Now, we don't outlaw photographic records of other crimes. For example, we didn't outlaw looking at the Abu Ghraib torture pictures...

SB: Boy, I'll say.

DN: ...which were sexual tortures. But we do outlaw looking at photographic records of sexual crimes against children. Now, of course, that brings up a whole other can of worms, which is that a lot of child pornography involves 17-year-olds or 16-year- olds. It used to be that you could make pornography in this country if you were over 16.

SB: How recent was that?

DN: You know, I can't tell you the exact year, but it seems to me that it was changed in the 80s. It might've been the late 70s. But the age of model consent used to be lower than it is now. So then you get into the whole argument and controversy about what is a child? We have statutory definitions, but in the real world, I think we know that there's a huge variation in emotional development.

SB: Let's say it's non-consensual, it's basically rape on camera. You know, there'd be no question that everyone would be horrified.

DN: Let's say an 8-year-old who's being raped. Okay?

SB: Oh, god. Okay... Why does anybody need to scrutinize that, aside from the Department of Justice?

DN: I still haven't even finished my first point. And my first point about the technology is that it might not be a real child. Because we now have morphing. We have ways to take pictures of adults, for example, and fiddle around with pixels in Photoshop. We have ways to make adults look like children. You can actually make a young adult look like an 8-year-old. You can do cartoons.

SB: This is reminding me of when I was a good Catholic, and we discussed venal sin. There, somebody might say, "Okay. So you didn't really do this. But you thought it."

DN: You thought about it! That's right.

SB: "And we should lock you up forever and chop your balls off for even thinking about this!"

DN: Yeah, — well, that's where we're at. Now we've got the technology to produce sexualized representations of children where there's no children. So it's not a record of the exploitation of anyone. It's just a piece of art. You might consider it tasteless and repulsive, but it's just a representation and it's not a representation of reality. Now in this country, that is not illegal. In other countries it is, but not in the United States. So how do we know what's on the internet? This is question #1. The government goes around saying there's a tremendous amount of child pornography on the internet. No one really knows how much of it is photographic records of real crimes against real children and how much of it is morphing imagery. So that's question #1. How much illegal stuff is on the web? We don't know. People need to know. And somebody needs to be able to look at that stuff who's not in the Department of Justice, because they've got their own agenda.

SB: At this point, the Department of Justice's reputation is so bad, I wouldn't give them authority to walk across the street.

DN: The thing is, this is the last frontier of authority for the Justice Department. And that's the second point — not only do we not know how prevalent child pornography really is, the government is claiming that it's a multi-billion dollar industry and it's huge. And they're now using that claim to justify the Patriot Act.

And we all know Gonzales is in big shit right now because of a bunch of things including illegal use of the Patriot Act and the firing of all of these attorneys. So he's trying to divert attention by saying, "Well, I'm not so concerned about all that because I'm still following my agenda, which is to attack this terrible problem of child pornography on the internet."

And when the DOJ puts this stuff out, nobody makes a peep. Because this country, this culture, is so ready to believe anything that the government says about child pornography. And that's why you need people outside of the government to be able to look around on the internet. No one has any idea what's really on the internet except maybe — you know, the FBI. Although I'm not sure what they know either. But they're very quick to make claims. And that's dangerous!

SB: Well, when it comes to how to get at the perpetrators of child abuse, why isn't the law completely focused on the criminal act, as it happened, as opposed to whatever record there is of it?

DN: Well, the DOJ will tell you that it's very hard to go backwards and find the child. I mean, there are a lot of people in the world who like to look at representations of children having sex. And most of them, it turns out, never touch kids. It's just like most of the sort of more far-out pornography — people don't do the stuff that they look at. You know? And that's true, apparently, with people who like looking at child pornography. They never touch kids. So there is a lot of stuff out there that's consumed by people who don't touch kids, and the government claims that they can't go back and they can't find the kids.

But the government also makes this argument, which is completely specious in terms of any research, that child pornography causes or incites people to molest children. There's no evidence for that whatsoever.

SB: Maybe I should get to the big picture question behind a lot of this — the notion of sexually taking advantage of an innocent. Child porn boils down to the ultimate taboo. The ultimate "big picking on little" — sometimes the incestuous thing is brought into it — the notion of somebody who has all the power taking advantage of someone who has nothing. It is a classic, epic taboo. Yet, if it's so taboo, then why do we hear about it all the time as if it was a tuna fish sandwich? I mean, how do those two things reconcile? Something that cannot be spoken — unspeakable, makes people's stomachs turn. And yet, oh — child porn here, child porn there, kiddie porn, massive billions. You know, where is the truth in those two completely opposite pictures?

DN: I think they go together. Censorship goes together with the proliferation of porn and this incredible fascination with porn. But it's even moreso with child porn. And, you know what's interesting, Susie — if you look cross-culturally, and you go way back in history, you'll see that whenever a culture is worried about something, or feeling guilty, it puts kids up as a symbol of the ultimate innocence of the culture. And it also posits kids as the symbol of its future. So if it's worried about the future, and it feels culpable — then people just really zero in on the endangered child. And then you combine that with Western, and particularly modern Western fears, since the last couple hundred years of sexuality — and you get this incredibly potent, overloaded symbol in the sexually abused child. And also, over the last couple of generations, there's the increasing use of sexuality as a consumer god.

SB: My own political roots are as a feminist. And part of the way feminists changed public conversation was to say, "You know what? Next time people start blithering about the plight of women and children..." — and of course, they're always put together. They're infantilized together — "...we're going to take a different tack. We're going to talk about this differently. Not just for women's sake, but also for children's sake." And I was wondering — you're a feminist. What do you think would be a healthy way for anyone to discuss young people's sexuality — whether they are children or teenagers?

DN: I highly recommend a book by one of my good friends, Judith Levine, which is called Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex. It's a wonderful book about the fact that children really do have sexuality. Children are not "innocent" in the way that term is used in our culture. And how do you deal with children's emerging sexuality? Well, I think the first thing you have to do is acknowledge it. The second thing you have to do is teach kids how to own their own sexuality, and I think you start that immediately. Children are conscious human beings from the time that they're born. But of course in this country, we have this complete crisis — this total attack on sex education. So the first thing you have to do is have a national conversation about the fact that children are sexual beings.

That's a Freudian idea that's completely out of style now. And I'm not saying Freud should come back, but the actual baby got thrown out with the bath water when people started critiquing Freud.



SB: That's ironic, isn't it? In some ways, I was part of the rejection of Freud that went on during early feminism. But we had our own version of claiming one's sexuality, as the rhetoric put it, which had a lot to do with masturbation, and the idea that this is your body, it's yours to decide — your virginity does not belong to somebody, it can't be sold to the highest bidder. You know, it's not something that your father is protecting, to hand to another man in marriage. All those kind of ideas were getting the big heave-ho with the notion that you have your own sex stuff. It belongs to you. And I don't see that kind of consciousness being very popular today. It's more like, oh, you're growing up? You're starting to come into your own? Well, how can you look sexual? And then, how can you pitch that look to your advantage? That is what I notice in popular culture now.

DN: That was certainly true when I was a teenager. I think it's gotten exacerbated because every year consumerism becomes more powerful. People express themselves more and more through consumption, through commodity consumption. And sex has been colonized by —

SB: The aliens?

DN: ...by the aliens who make all these commodities! Whether it's clothes or makeup. 15-year-olds who are virgins are now getting Brazillian waxed. It's like, every single part of the body and every form of expression is being colonized by the idea that you've got to buy something. And sex is the way that you convince people to buy things. Because, you know, you terrorize people by thinking that if you don't buy this product, you're not going to be sexy!

SB: When the words "child porn" or "kiddie porn" are referred to as a business or some sort of industry that's in progress — I feel a little suspicious. Because there are millions of kids around the world who are being used as slaves, basically — they're forced to work in a factory, or in someone's home. Or just sweat labor. And they have no out. They have no passport. They have no wages. Nothing. This is monumental. And certainly, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised, considering they have so little power, they might be sexually exploited at many ends of their situation. But it is not a child porn business, per se. It is an "exploiting children" business — it's got a lot tentacles, it goes in every direction. It's not like it's a cut-out. Do you know what I mean?

DN: Absolutely. Anyone who has spent any time in a poor country knows that there's a continuum of exploitation. Everyone is exploited, and kids go to work early. Kids go to work in a country like Mexico, working class kids, when they're 8 or 10 or 12 years old. And they can be working in a factory for $4 a day. They can be out on the street selling pumpkin seeds for $5 a day, or they can be in a red light district for $50 a day. So, for women in the third world, it's more lucrative to do sex work. And I've talked to poor women and to poor children. They don't even consider themselves children any more! You know? They're out working by the time they're ten years old. So in their minds, they're not children. They're contributing to the livelihood of their families. They have "agency" — that's that word that sociologists use. They will sit and talk to you — they're very rationale, in their own 10-year-old, or 12-year-old, or 15-year-old way. They've figured out how to support their families the same way that older women try to figure out how to support their families. And, you know, it's a political/economic problem. It's not, to my mind, a moral problem. Unfortunately, the sad thing is no one cares about girls who work in factories. And no one cares about girls who sell pumpkin seeds. And no one cares about women who work in factories.



I wrote a piece in The Nation a couple years ago suggesting that there was far more slavery in this country involving non-sex work. (Actually, two years or three years after I wrote that piece, the Government Accounting Office has just released a study suggesting that's probably right.) It was a very controversial piece. And the biggest attacks I got were from self-described feminists who want all prostitution to be defined as slavery, even when it's voluntary. So it's very hard to get people excited about people being forced to pick broccoli in a field, but they will get really excited about the idea of sex slaves. It sounds prurient. It gets people excited. It's another one of those S&M fantasies.

SB: You have a new book out called Pornography , and it's part of a learning series for young adults to grapple with issues of the day, but it's a good primer for anyone who might want to look at some of the basic arguments about porn. And what amazes me is, when it comes to the huge majority of porn that is produced and consumed, it is the same banal sucking and fucking over and over and over again that dominates the market.

DN: I think the stories that you hear in the media, the gloom-and-doom, scary stories about the bukkake and the donkeys — that's all coming from the so-called clinical samples. That's coming from the people that are in therapy because they consider themselves to be porn addicts, and they've spent all their time finding the weirder and weirder stuff. That's the story, right? "I lost control of it. I wanted to see weirder and weirder and weirder stuff." And that's the porn consumer in the popular imagination now.

SB: I totally reject the notion that that's the cycle. Most people don't sit around with their porn having to have more and more and more extreme...

DN: No, but that's the clinical tale. That's the tale that the media likes, because it's the scary tale.

SB: Well, it's funny you should call it "clinical." Because it's not even accepted by most of the psychiatric profession. There is no such thing as porn addiction in the DSM manual.

DN: I know. And if you look in my book, you'll see that I debunk that. But that's the story the mass media likes to tell. That's what they hang the problem on — the weirdo stuff.

SB: Explain that, because people hear this all the time. "Are you a porn addict? Are you going to become addicted to porn?" Why is that an inappropriate word to use?

DN: Addiction is a physical thing, like nicotine is an addiction, and alcohol is an addiction, and heroin is an addiction. These are things that your body becomes physically dependent on. And people reject the use of the word "addiction" for things like brushing your teeth, or as Leonore Tiefer puts it, "spending too much time reading the New York Times."

SB: Guilty!

DN: Or spending too much time at work, which is a huge problem. Or spending too much time, in your own estimate, watching sports on TV. Or spending too much time in the garage, playing with your drills and making boats in bottles. And now we have spending too much time watching porn. These are just — as Leonore calls them — "bad habits."

SB: What's the difference between a bad habit, or maybe feeling like, "Gosh, I really wasted too much time doing that," and what would be diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive disorder?

DN: I think that's pretty subjective. I mean, if you look in the DSM, it says most disorders have to do with whether the person feels troubled by the behavior. Even if you look at pedophilia, the definition of pedophilia is that you have an attraction to pre-pubertal kids and it bothers you. If it doesn't bother you, then it's not a disorder.

SB: What if it it bothers everyone else?

DN: Well, they wouldn't know if you didn't go out and act on it. If you go out and act on it, then you're a child molester. But not all child molesters are pedophiles, and not all pedophiles are child molesters. The same thing with porn. Certainly, if you're the president of Vivid, and you have to look at 14 hours of porn a day to make your $300,000 a year, I don't think anyone would call you a porn addict. That would be a useful thing to be doing!

SB: What do you say to people who say, "Debbie, look! I personally feel like I look at porn too much, and it's upsetting to me, and it's upsetting my life."

DN: I'm not a therapist, but the therapist that I talked to for the book said that...

SB: Don't they ask you anyways? They don't care whether you're a therapist or not!

DN: They only call me the evil journalist who doesn't care about kids.

SB: But when you're not an evil journalist, I bet you get treated like a shrink sometimes.

DN: Okay, so here's what the therapists say. They take that very seriously. And what they say is, "We need to look at what the problems are in your life that are causing you to sooth yourself?" They see looking at a lot of porn as a self-soothing activity, in the way that many activities are self-soothing when you're anxious, or you're suffering from anxiety, or from depression. And so they try to get the person to look at the behavior in terms of — "Why did I decide to look at porn on the net instead of read the New York Times all day?" Or "Why did I decide to look at porn on the net instead of watching too much basketball?" And if you really look at the meaning of your habits — because everyone's a complicated individual, with a complicated, intra-psychic past — you can come up with some pretty good stories about yourself, and what your attraction is to this particular self-soothing activity.

The therapists that I've talked to have said, "If the person's depressed, you treat the person for depression. If the person's anxious, you treat 'em for anxiety." And you also work on trying to understand what the behavior is, and what the fantasies are that lead to the behavior. And again, I mean, it's a wonderful thing to explore your fantasies. And not all fantasies have to do with pornography. Some of them do, some of them don't, right? We need to understand all of our fantasies.

SB: I often say "sexual expression" rather than using words like "pornography" or "eroticism." Because I'm so tired of all the baggage those words carry.

DN: Well, Leonore Tiefer has a lot of patients who come in complaining that they're addicted to pornography. And she says, maybe the person started looking at pornography on the web because he came from a very restrictive, strict background, and it's a way of rebelling against an overly-strict authoritarian father. So then the fantasy is not so much sexual as it is rebelling against that father. Now, of course, you get a whole sexual overlay, because the bad habit happens to be porn-viewing. But the real profound thing might be what happened in childhood with the father that has nothing ostensibly to do with sex. People are just very complicated.

SB: Also, porn is typically discussed in terms of whether it's harmful, or it's benign.

DN: Yeah, it's so utterly overloaded with moral stuff. And that makes it even more troubling to people.

SB: I come from a place of saying, "Well, I'm an artist. And I'm interested in including the sexual part of creativity in the work that I publish or produce." And so it's not a matter of me deciding whether something is harmful or benign. But rather, in an artistic work, a creative work — sexuality is going to make all the difference in understanding it — its pathos, or its comedy, or its tragedy. It's hard to imagine a lot of the greatest artistic works that people revere if you took the sexual element out of them. That doesn't seem to get discussed in political debates.

DN: It's really weird that you just made that statement, and juxtaposed it with this sort of really sad conversation we're having about people in deep distress. You know? Because your statement is a very joyful, aesthetic statement, and what we just talked about is people coming in hating themselves, feeling that they're evil and out of control. It's very sad. And porn is just so completely overloaded with moralism that the therapist that I spoke with said, "It's really hard to get people to even think deeply about what their relationship is with it, when they're in therapy and they come in with these complaints. Because they're so ashamed!"

SB: Well, as a fellow professional journalist and a researcher into this sort of thing, you have this tendency — like I do, to just throw yourself into the most volatile situations! And then you say, "What's a nice girl like me doing in this anyway?"

DN: Yeah. It's really true. You've heard me kvetching, haven't you? (Laughs)

SB: Yeah, I have. But I understand it, because I often tell my friends, "I'm so scared." You know, I took on this monster. I've put myself right in the middle of it. And I can't handle it. I can't handle it! And they're like — are you kidding?

DN: You know what it was with me, Susie? The first time I got involved with this — what I call sex politics and sex panics around children — was with the Satanic daycare panic.

SB: And did you know what you were getting into?

DN: No. I had a two-year-old when I first heard about the Satanic daycare centers. I remember hearing about the McMartin case. I was sitting in a rocking chair, giving my kid something or other — like maybe a bottle or a book. And on the radio, they were talking about the little old lady at the McMartin pre-school — the 80-year-old who killed rabbits while she brutalized children sexually. And I believed this! I can remember sitting there saying, "Oh my god! Oh no! I can't send my kid to daycare..."

I can remember this so well. I thought, you know what? People will do anything. They're capable of anything. Well, then Ellen Willis, god bless her, who just died last year, started getting suspicious about this stuff. And she asked me if I looked into McMartin. It's a long story, but there was a case in my own community in El Paso, Texas. The first two women to ever be convicted were in my little city. And I was supposed to spend six weeks — but I spent eight months looking at this case. And I had no idea what it was when I first started. But I was just knowing that there's certain ways that kids act, and that you probably wouldn't be able to put a 14-inch knife up a 2-year- old's rectum...

SB: Oh, god!

DN: ...and then have the kid come back from daycare smiling and telling you that he couldn't wait to get back the next day. You know?

SB: And yet those were the stories.

DN: Now do you need to have a two-year-old child to know that? I don't know. But the thing is, I was a mom, and — you know what? I didn't feel guilty about critiquing the believability of these cases. A lot of the reporters back then were men, or they didn't have kids. And if they would have asked any questions about those cases, people would have said, "You don't care about kids."

SB: Or you're a pervert yourself.

DN: "You're a guy." You know? "You're a man, you're a pervert, you're supporting the molesters..." Fortunately I was a woman and a mom. When I read the interviews of the kids, I could see the way the cases went forward forensically. The adult interviewers, whether they were detectives or social workers or psychologists, brainwashed the kids. They interjected their own fantasies into those kids by asking them leading questions over and over and over and over. I heard some of the tapes of kids who would walk into the room loving their teachers. And they would walk out utter basket cases, thinking that they'd been brutalized by Miss Mickey or somebody that they loved before. And I would cry. I would say — these kids have been brutalized by the investigation and by this whole panic. So were the women that were working in public daycare. That pained me to no end, the fact that public child care was under such assault. And it pained me to see women so guilty about going to work. But the thing that really got to me was the fact that relationships that were really beautiful were destroyed. You could hear it on the tapes. It was horrible to hear those interviews. And then you're like, "Oh my god. I have to tell the world about this."

SB: Well now that you've seen and researched a number of these stories, do you have any conclusions about what the seeds are for a sex panic? Like, can you recognize certain things that are in play before it blows up? Or is it still kind of unexpected when it happpens?

Some people said, after these daycare scandals were exposed, "This is to try to get women to be afraid of using daycare." You know — an anti-child care plot. I thought, well that's interesting, but how would anybody have known that to begin with? What is it about a community where the beginning of a Salem witch trial is just bobbing underneath the surface?

DN: I cannot predict it. In fact, what's happening right now is a panic about kids and the internet. And there is a panic about teenagers having sex with each other. Those two things are working off each other. Did I predict those? No! I didn't predict them. And it seems to be happening since 9/11, actually. I think that the most proximate thing is fear of the internet. There's always a panic over a new technology. There are moral panics all the time. I mean, there was a moral panic over the telephone when it was first introduced.

SB: That's right! Because strangers would call you...

DN: Yeah. Male voices would call up young women in their homes.

SB: And god knows what would happen from there.

DN: There was a panic about comic books. There's always a panic about new technology. We're looking at it in hindsight. We're looking at a panic, and we're looking back and saying, "Oh, the internet."

SB: Oh yeah. Remember when that was such a big fright? And now it seems like nothing. That's what always happens as soon as the technology ages.

DN: But it's not nothing for a lot of people with kids today, you know?

SB: Well, I had another interview on our show with a social scientist named Mike Males. And he has these great papers that say, "Look, your kid statistically is in greater risk being in church or at the shopping mall than they are on their MySpace page." The notion of the actual risk that young people are facing on the internet is completely blown out of proportion.

DN: Right. And are people going to listen to that? I mean, that's not what a panic is about.

SB: They're going to, because I'm going to say it until I'm blue in the face!

DN: That's right. Say it! Yes.

SB: The thing that gave you a little bit of liberty to speak out was the fact that you were a woman and a mom, and people couldn't easily toss you aside and think you had bad motives. But have you ever felt the sting from a different direction — people saying you're unfit to be a mother? How dare you speak about this? You know, "You're crazy, you need to be discredited." How do you cope with attacks from people trying to undermine you?

DN: When I was doing the daycare work, I actually had the cops at my door.

SB: That must've been terrifying.

DN: It was pretty scary. Yeah. Back then I had little kids. Now my kids are big, so nobody can use my kids against me, because they're adults.

SB: Did you ever feel like "Gosh, I'm going to have to join the Daughters of the American Revolution" or the PTA?

DN: I was already in the PTA! I was living in El Paso, Texas. I was a Brownie Scout leader. Come on! I had street cred down there.

SB: This reporter who you called into question at the Times, Mr. Eichenwald. He got your story thrown out of Salon [with] a phone call to the editor.

DN: It wasn't one phone call, believe me.

SB: Well, okay, continuous screaming phone calls and emails. Suddenly, you're put into the limelight as...

DN: The flake?

SB: Well, you were not just described as a flake, but it was — "she's obsessed with looking at pornography. And here this reporter (Eichenwald) is just trying to save the children. Why doesn't she care about saving the children?" What do you do when people get that picture of you as cold and unfeeling and just ready to trample over all these poor sex slaves with your calculated attempts to defend the first amendment. I'm trying to conjure up some of the stuff you might have heard.

DN: You know, I don't mind criticism, when it's honest criticism conducted in a normal, democratic forum — i.e., letters to the editor. Things like that. I mean, somebody threatening to sue you is really beyond the pale. But when people criticize me, there's always a whole bunch of other people — there are never as many as the people who criticize me, but the people who defend my point of view are often quite eloquent. In the Salon piece, for example, there was a very active discussion going on before that piece was pulled. There was dozens of letters that came in, just in the first few hours. I was very gratified by them. And my biggest regret about that piece being pulled, and that there were legal threats made — was that the discussion got shut down. And I'm really looking forward to starting that discussion again.

I think it's a really important discussion. I think child pornography needs to be de-mystified, and all the politics need to be broken down. And all of the First Amendment issues need to be laid out on the table. And the criticism — I don't know. I'm just getting too old to worry about it.

SB: Are you a First Amendment absolutist? Or do you feel like there is a certain place where you want to kick in a certain exception for those under 18?

DN: I don't know. I mean, honestly? This is where people who I have great respect for have taken issue with me, because in the Salon piece I said that there should be a vetting system put in place by the government so that legitimate researchers and journalists should be able to review what's on the web. There were critics who were very sympathetic to my opinion that child porn really needs to be looked at by civil society, who nevertheless said, "That's a terrible idea. To call for the government to put in place a system that decides that some people deserve to do that and other people don't. That's a lousy idea!" But I've also said before that I just don't know. I haven't come to a position about whether everyone should be able to look at child porn — that we should all just be able to look at records of assaults against children.

SB: Well there's a lot of scrutiny going on right now about who are the bodies of people who make decisions about what can be seen, or can't be seen — like the motion picture ratings association. It's always been shrouded in secrecy. Who are these people that decide that something's an "R," and something's an "X"? As it begins to get peeled away, and you look at the actual fallible human beings who are selected to these bodies, you say, "What the hell do they know? And this has nothing to do with democracy.

DN: Yeah. And, you know, really, when you look at the content of child porn, to the limited extent that people in civil society have been able to study child porn, a lot of it is older minors. A lot of it is a 14-year-old standing in a lake with her breasts exposed. Some juries and some judges will say that's not pornography, that's just simple nudity. Other judges and juries will say it's obscene and exploitative. So the definitions are very hard to parse out. But this is my irrational spot. I haven't got this all figured out yet. Because there is really awful stuff, too, of little kids, and there was no consent whatsoever. It's very horrible stuff. Some people talk about civil suits. There should be a way to bring civil suits against people who make this stuff and publicize it, because it's embarrassing, potentially. I just haven't figured it out yet.

See also:
The Perversions of Perverted Justice
Sex Expert Susie Bright Lets It All Out
Sex & Drugs & Susie Bright
World Sex Laws
My Opponent Pays For Gay Teen Bestiality

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Anarchy for the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf

Josh Wolf (photo by Steve Rhodes)
Photo by Steve Rhodes

Josh Wolf spent more time in prison than any other American journalist in U.S. history for protecting his source materials — videotapes taken at an anti-globalization demonstration in San Francisco. He was finally released on April 3 of this year. Press reports about Wolf have described him as an anarchist, and he has described himself as an anarchist sympathizer.

Wolf has been all over the media talking about his free speech struggle with the U.S. Government. He was on "Democracy Now!"; received a now-traditional media hazing on "The Colbert Report"; and even had a brief but fairly sympathetic interview in Time.

While we conversed about his case, we also wanted to delve more deeply into the issues that motivated the case in the first place: anti-globalist activism, anarchism, and his new projects to "Free The Media" and give prisoners a voice in the blogosphere.

Scott J. Thompson, Director of Research at the Walter Benjamin Research Syndicate, and Jeff Diehl joined me in this conversation, originally recorded for The RU Sirius Show.

To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.


RU SIRIUS: There's been plenty of talk about your case, so we're going to go into some other things, but I think we should talk a bit about the conclusion. I think people found it a bit confusing and anti-climactic.

JOSH WOLF: It was a bit anti-climactic. And it was also reported incorrectly all over the place in the press. The stories ranged from things like: "The government decided they have no interest in Josh Wolf and therefore they are letting him go" (that would've been nice) — to "He finally caved under the pressure." Both of those are factually inaccurate.

Basically, there were two things that the government wanted. One of those things was that tape. I felt that I shouldn't have had to turn that over to the government, but at the same time there was absolutely nothing sensitive or confidential on it. So it was worth fighting for, but once I had lost my fight in the district court level in the 9th circuit, there wasn't really any reason not to publish the tape and simultaneously turn it over to the government. I mean, yeah, those shots of my shoes are a bit embarrassing but they're not worth going to jail over. So once we had exhausted our appeals, we offered to turn over the tape in exchange for my release. But the U.S. Attorney said he wouldn't accept anything but full compliance with the demand of the subpoena. That would have involved testifying before a grand jury and turning over my documentation for my video-editing software... there was a pretty exhaustive list of demands in the subpoena. But on February 14, the judge suddenly ordered the case into mediation with a magistrate judge. During the course of two mediations, we came to an agreement – I would publish the tape and then turn it over to the federal government, and they would not object to my release. And they decided to call this full compliance with the subpoena, although it wasn't full compliance at all.



So that's where we stand right now. The government still has the option to re-subpoena me to try to make me testify about the content of the tapes or what I saw there that night. But I don't think they're going to because they know that I'm not going to testify. I'll go back to jail and it will be an even bigger public fiasco for the U.S. Attorneys office. And they're not really short on public fiascos right now.

RU: You got a fair amount of support from the mainstream press on this. I assume that the government figured you were some punk blogger, and they could yank you out of all social circumstances and throw you deep into the hole, and there would be very little discussion about it. But quite a few journalists expressed their concern in terms of the protection of journalists. Did this surprise you at all?

JOSH: The reception from the journalistic community has been very much mixed — especially in the mainstream journalist community. Even from the alterna-press, there were some mixed receptions. Some journalists realize that if they're coming after me — they're next. And they realize that this whole concept of objective journalism is kind of a misnomer. You can never be objective. But some get very offended by the idea that I should be protected, because protecting me makes it easier for them to be attacked as being part of the same group. And I think that's one of the things at the crux of the public's reception to protests in general. I mean, in this particular protest, there was one violent incident where one police officer was injured probably by one protester. And because of that. the 150 people that were there now get described as terrorists.

RU: The big mainstream media question is "Can bloggers be journalists?" In fact, you wrote an essay with that name. And I think the counter-argument would be that nearly everyone could become a blogger, and then everyone would be protected from giving evidence. So a group could conspire to break laws and members who blog could be protected. Karl Rove could become a journalist and make the same kind of claim!

JOSH: That argument's flawed, because if you are involved in a criminal activity, you don't have to testify because you're protected by the Fifth Amendment.

RU: Good point!

JOSH: But it's true that in Grand Juries they like to get rid of the Fifth Amendment. They say, "Here's a waiver. You no longer have the Fifth Amendment." But I've been reading the Constitution over and over again, and I can't find any section on giving waivers to the Fifth Amendment. And consider the First Amendment — freedom of speech. Why doesn't that include freedom of silence? Why does the freedom to speak not include the freedom not to speak? And so, yes — journalists should be protected in order to protect the act of journalism. But in a larger context, why do we have coercive custody to force people to testify? I mean, it's really a form of very low-grade torture — we're going to hold you in custody until you break down and speak.

RU:: It's definitely something we don't accept from gangsters, but we do seem to accept it from the state. Tell us a little about your prison experience. What kind of prison were you in and what kind of interactions did you have with the prisoners?

JOSH: I was in a federal detention center, which is sort of like a…

RU: (jokingly) It's a country club!

JOSH: It wasn't a country club but it was kind of like being in a really, really low-rent camp. But you can never leave. I kept waiting for the fishing trip, like when you're at camp, you're thinking about the fishing trip. It never came.

SCOTT THOMPSON: That's torture.

JOSH: It was kind of like being in a college dorm, except there were fewer choices. There weren't any girls. Unlike college, there was not much in the way of drugs or alcohol. The guys were all pretty cool. They were mostly a combination of bank robbers, drug dealers, a few white-collar criminals.

The most interesting segment of the prison population are the "Piezas." (A "Pieza" is a Mexican Roadrunner. The term has been adapted to those that are here from Mexico.) Most of these guys had no prior criminal history. They were in jail for crossing the border — an imaginary line. We've decided that's a felony. And they've been getting between three and five years in jail. And while they're incarcerated, they have to work. And they're often fined for their crime. They're fined an amount that just happens to add up to the 12-cents-an-hour that they make while they're incarcerated. So our government has time-share slaves. Instead of getting our slaves from Africa, we're getting people that come to America to build better opportunities for themselves. And they end up spending three-to-five years building government furniture.

RU: This kind of slavery or serfdom becomes even more interesting when you have privately-owned prisons. I imagine that you were in a state-controlled prison.

JOSH: It was a federally-owned prison. I think there's somewhere between three and five privately-contracted prisons in the federal system. A lot of states, particularly in the south, have more private prisons than public prisons. It's very disturbing that we have contracted out our prisons because there's a certain public oversight that's expected — or at least should be expected — when it comes to a government-run operation. But when you give prisons to the Wall family to run, it becomes a private business. And lots of things that are private in private businesses remain private. When that involves controlling human movement, it becomes really dangerous

RU: I think having a profit interest in incarceration is about as skeevy as you can get. Although I certainly know some libertarians who would disagree with me. Did you wind up finding any compatriots in prison? Did people discuss politics? And did people there know why you were there?

JOSH: Most everyone was aware of it. Of course, the level of understanding varied. In its simplest terms, I was there for refusing to cooperate with the government. I was going to jail for not being a snitch. Having not committed a crime and then also "not snitching" – that's pretty respectable in the prison hierarchy. I think the only person above that was probably Greg Anderson because he's a friend of Barry Bonds. Not snitching on Barry Bonds… that was like… "Whoa! And he's a trainer! And people in prison are into working out so that's a sort of demigod-like position.

In terms of the politics, I found compatriots at different levels. I spoke about political activism. I had a few books about anarchism that were sent to me that were passed around the prison. It's kind of interesting that those got in. They didn't try to censor it.

RU:: They didn't understand what they were, probably.

JOSH: They weren't going to allow a press release to come out that the prison was censoring reading material.

RU: Tell us about the project you are developing involving prisoners.

JOSH: I've started prisonblogs.net. We want to pair up individual prisoners with sponsors on the outside who agree to type up what they have to say and post it on their own blog. There are lots of military blogs, which the government's currently trying to crack down on. So now we'll have prison blogs. The media oftentimes can't get access to what goes on behind those walls. And the people I've encountered have amazing stories about prison culture and their oppression at the hands of the guards – stories that don't get out to the public.

RU: Are they ever allowed to blog at all? Also, wasn't there a law passed against interviewing prisoners — a sort of blockade against prisoners communicating to the media?

JOSH: It can be different between the states and the feds. In federal prisons, you can interview prisoners — I've seen prison interviews. At the facility I was in, they refused any filmed interviews, but they permitted phone interviews. I don't know exactly what the state rules are, but I know Schwarzenegger just vetoed a bill that would've opened the gates a little further. But I'm dealing with what prisoners can do, in terms of self-publishing. I know they can't get publish with a byline and they can't get paid for it. Now I don't know whether a blog counts as publishing with a byline, but...

RU: …Is there evidence that this will be allowed?



JOSH: There's no evidence so far to indicate that they won't allow it. Some prisoners have blogs right now. We've found about a couple-of-hundred. But there are no avenues for prisoners who want to blog but don't necessarily come from tech-centric backgrounds or families. They don't have a chance to get their voice and artwork out there. So this will sort of democratize the media for a class and a group of people who are cut-off and denied all the opportunities that, say, middle-class Americans have – people who already have their YouTube, MySpace, and Flickr accounts.

RU: There's been a lot of talk about your case in the media, but there hasn't been a lot of discussion in the media about the demonstration that lead to the case. How would you characterize the issues that were at stake at the demonstration and your interest in that?

JOSH: The demonstration was against the G8 Summit that was going on in Gleneagle, Scotland at that time. I happen to align myself philosophically against globalization. With The WTO, the G8 and these other sort of private groups, large governments plan how to exploit smaller governments and small helpless communities and individuals. It's a winner-takes-all, king-of-the-hill sort of approach to planning our future. So I'm opposed to that. And I did take to the streets with my camera in order to document this demonstration that I knew wasn't going to get a lot of attention. In terms of the activities that were used in this demonstration, I think most of them were not necessarily tactically sound. I think there's a time and a place for people to drag newspaper stands into the streets in order to stop, say, a threatening stream of riot cops that are about to attack. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to drag a newspaper stand in the street when the cops have already called off the riot squad. So there were numerous things going on there that I felt were not tactically sound. I wouldn't have engaged in them myself. But I do support a diversity of tactics. And I feel there should be balanced between the privacy of those involved and the need to expose the news of what they're doing to the world.

RU: Some of these tactics have been associated with a concept or a group that's called "black bloc." Basically, the idea seems to be what we used to call "trashing" back in the early 70s – when I did it. (Laughs) The idea is violence against property. Is it ever effective? Was it effective in Seattle? And isn't it stupid to keep doing the same thing over and over again?

JOSH: Any discussion about the effectiveness of tactics that involve breaking the law becomes very sensitive. Just describing what is effective is opening the door to conspiracy to commit terrorism. So it's a very shaky topic to get into.

I think it's not effective to try to cause economic damage to large corporations, because the amount of isolated damage that is done at these sorts of protest is really a rounding error. It's like, "Oh, we had to spend $500 to fix this window and cover up this spray paint."

RU: It's sort of embarrassing, really.

JEFF DIEHL: It's the public exposure. It suddenly gets the media eye looking at this movement or…

RU: It worked once in Seattle, maybe.

JOSH: I think if a Starbucks is coming into your town, and it's the first Starbucks, and some people who don't like it decide, "We're going to do something to prevent this Starbucks from being built" — then I think that could be tactically sound. I'm not saying that people should do it, but it does make some tactical sense.

But to simply go and hit all these windows — you know, smash up a few Starbucks — it can create some attention. In the post 9/11 world, that attention is too easily connected to groups like al-Qaeda. So I don't think it's going to further the cause of trying to achieve a non-hierarchical, mutually fair, non-capitalistic society.

RU: That's the question. Do these tactics have any place at all in successfully changing things, or are they really just getting their rocks off?

SCOTT: Around 1987 - '88, on Haight Street, there was an attempt to build a Walgreens. That nascent structure was dynamited by malcontents. And it turned into...

RU: We're not getting a confession here, are we? (Laughter)

SCOTT: No, I was living in Chicago at the time. Anyway, they realized that the community really doesn't want a Walgreens.

JEFF: There was a philosophical argument after the Battle of Seattle. That action basically got the mainstream — and the public's attention around this whole anti-globalization issue. Hardly anybody had even heard about it. Some would argue that there wasn't much of an anti-globalist movement before Seattle

JOSH: Not in America, no.

JEFF: And some would argue that the spectacle of the damage created the success there, so the damage was necessary.

RU: But it was also mixed with the fact that a lot of demonstrators showed up. That – in itself — was unusual. But a peaceful demonstration definitely could've been ignored, like many other large protests.

JEFF: Right.

JOSH: Look at what the Weather Underground was able to accomplish during the Vietnam war. They had a tactical place and were somewhat effective. But the enemy has been changed from communism to terrorism. So acts that the government can easily label as terrorism can very quickly become counter-productive. I think that's part of the reason that we have this vague war on terrorism — anyone that does anything disruptive can be treated as a terrorist.

SCOTT: Right now, the government is attempting to label any oppositional show of force of any kind as terrorism.

We're surrounded by cops of all stripes. We're surrounded by security guards of all kinds. We're surrounded by all sorts of military people, and they are the only ones that are allowed to use brute force against an unarmed populace that dare not even organize on a premise without a permit. It's just completely a violation of the whole idea of the right of freedom of assembly in the United States

JEFF: Josh, obviously it's not to your benefit to be thrown in jail again. But if we can't even talk about tactics, then the authors of the Patriot Act have won, right? This whole area has been bracketed off for people who are involved in opposition. And historically, this has been the only type of activity that has ever caused any significant social change – confrontation, destruction of property, or violence.

JOSH: Our founding fathers were engaged in terrorism or direct confrontation during the Boston Tea Party. That would be labeled terrorism now. If the Boston Tea Party happened last week, what do you think George Bush would say about it?

RU: They'd be in Guantanamo.

It's interesting that you brought up the Weather Underground, because there are two things to think about with their tactics. Number one: historians show that the reason Nixon didn't nuke Hanoi during the Vietnam war was because he was frightened of what the anti-war movement would do to America. He wasn't thinking of the Quakers. He was probably thinking of the Weather Underground; the freaks who burned down the Bank of America and stuff like that.

But on the other hand, fear is a very effective tactic for organizing reaction. We see it now, particularly, under the guise of terrorism. Basically, the current unofficial Republican slogan is "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

The Weathermen sort of had this theory that youth was a class that could be excited and organized for revolution. It was possible to believe that in the early 1970s. I don't know if there's even a receptive audience for this kind of thing any more.

SCOTT: I think there's actually a very receptive audience. I think that many people might be experiencing a real disappointment and disaffiliation from the "mainstream left" — these people that organize some of the mass demonstrations that are always held in the same place. And we all get together and we all get photographed by the same helicopters flying overhead. They've seen us all before. Nobody ever thinks, at the last minute, let's change tactics. Let's hold it n front of "The Chronicle" building, and scare the hell out of those people.

JEFF: Well, you wouldn't have a permit for that.

SCOTT: Of course. You must have a permit. The populace dare not spontaneously get together and show its discontent with the powers that be.

JOSH: Protests have been reduced to nothing more than processions. They have a cathartic effect. Everyone feels like they're doing something. And in a sense you're doing more than just voting. But civil engagement begins at voting, it doesn't end there. And protests are just one step further. But in order to really make a change, people have to actually really get their hands dirty and do something. That could involve writing a law, and then working your butt off to actually get it passed, if that's the course of action that you choose. Or you could make a blockade around a business that you think needs to be shut down; you could start a picket line and yell at people when they cross it and make it so that business can't continue its enterprise. Or maybe you think it's most effective to burn down the bank like they did at U.C. Santa Barbara in the late '60s. All of these tactics have limitations and they all have values. It really just depends on what you think is going to work and why you think it's going to work.

RU: I question whether any of these things — demonstrations, riots — are really effective anymore. And you've been involved recently in trying to work with the system. You've been helping to create a law to protect journalists. Do you see any contradiction between being an anarchist sympathizer and trying to get the federal government to create a law to protect journalists?

JOSH: I'm sure many other people do. My political philosophy is that the best society would be one where the precepts that we followed were formed through consensus. But we don't live in that society. We live in a system of laws made by people who claim to represent us, but so often don't. For instance, on the night Nancy Pelosi was elected, her own constituents passed a law saying that they want the President impeached. And Pelosi immediately made a statement that impeachment was off the table. So clearly, these people don't represent us. But at the same time, they still make the laws that we live under. If I can help pass a law that would've prevented me from going to jail for seven months — a law that defines journalist as anyone who's gathering and disseminating information (with a very limited exceptions that involve imminent harm to human life) — then why shouldn't I work for that? Sure, it's a band-aid. It doesn't deal with the fact that we have a repressive grand jury system that needs to be abolished. It doesn't deal with the fact that the right to a fair trial just doesn't exist.

RU: I agree with you because I'm a reformist. The way I view human nature — I don't think that the anarchist ideal is very likely to work in the foreseeable future. But still, any attempt at change is a discussion of tactics. I mean, Nancy Pelosi's argument is about tactics too, really. She's saying, "Well, I'm actually in the Congress and in order to pass laws, I have to use these tactics. I have to take impeachment off the table because it's not going to be accepted in mainstream discourse and if I go for it, I'm not going to be able to change anything."

JOSH: But whether impeachment is accepted or not, she's elected as a representative. And this is one of the clearest cases where the city she represents voted for a resolution to impeach George Bush on the very day she became Speaker of the House? Is she a representative of the Democratic Party? Is she a representative of San Francisco? It doesn't look like it. How indirect is this representation, and how indirect should it be?

RU: She's either sold out or she considers herself wiser, tactically, than the people she's representing. And you can have either interpretation.

SCOTT: I think this highlights the bankruptcy of representational government in this particular time. I think you can count on one hand the number of representatives who actually pay attention to their constituency. These people in Congress are only taking orders from very wealthy donors or powerful corporate people. They don't really listen to the people that don't make a certain amount of money, or don't have any money. They don't listen to the people they should be listening to. It seems to me that that there's no sense of civic responsibility in this country. We're not taught civics. People have a tendency to think, "Well I just don't really want to think about that. I don't want to worry about that. I elect X, and he or she will take care of everything for me." And he or she is actually totally in the hip pocket of the powerful interests.

JEFF: Josh, you had this thing happen where you got a lot of attention. And this was maybe a big chance to publicize a lot of the views of the circles that you were in before the protests – people with certain shared goals related to anarchism and so forth – stuff that doesn't get much publicity in the mainstream media. I could see some of them being a little bit disappointed that you're focused on passing a law.

JOSH: The way I see it — there are a lot of things you can and should do. And to embrace as many of them as possible really can't hurt. I mean, maybe you can say, "Hey, we shouldn't pass a law because these band-aids – these reforms – because they are going to make the system more livable, more tolerable. And we should actually do things to increase suffering in order to foment a revolution." A lot of people take that view. But I don't see it that way. I think anything that reduces suffering shouldn't be ignored.

RU: Some people might not object from that old "heightening the contradictions" argument. They may just make the argument based on decentralization. Don't ask for the protection of the federal government. (Of course, as we know from the medical marijuana situation, the federal government trumps everyone else.)

JOSH: I think it would be a great thing if San Francisco absolved itself from the federal government. It didn't work in the Civil War, but that was fourteen states trying to go. If San Francisco said, "Yo. We're sick of the Patriot Act. We're sick of you raiding medical marijuana clinics. We're sick of the fact that two people that love each other don't have the right to get married. We're doing our own thing now, what would the federal government's response be?

RU: Armed invasion?

SCOTT: The federal government will soon be dealing with that and not just from California. Many states are going to move away from a federal system. Or that's always a fear…

RU: I think that's going to be a while. (ironically) The Balkanization of America could take a few days. It might happen someday.

SCOTT: But you know, in 1986 - 87, if you had suggested the Soviet Union would not exist in three years, people would've said you're out of your gourd. That's not possible. Now look at it.

RU: I just saw Chalmers Johnson on PBS yesterday. He has a book out that is basically about the fall of America. It's apparently coming up next Tuesday, right after you listen to the R.U. Sirius Show.

SCOTT: The fall of America's coming up next Tuesday?

JOSH: Let me put it on my calendar.



RU: Tell us a little bit about your Free The Media project.

JOSH: I'm trying to build something called the "Free the Media" coalition. It will be at MediaFreedoms.net. (There's an alpha site up right now.) Basically, I'm trying to create an environment for discussing issues of media literacy. I'm planning a sort-of Open Source forum as well as meat-space satellites at various college campuses. We'll get into the role of the news media. We’ll talk about how independent or alternative media – along with established media — really fill in the marketplace of ideas. So we're trying to build a dialogue with independent journalists, establishment journalists, and then everyday viewers to try to shape the future of the media. And we'll look at what sort of protections and new formats and new ideas should exist. And it will also involve raising public awareness of issues and gathering funds for worthwhile stuff. The next time, a journalist in a legal situation like the one I found myself in might not have the backing of The Chronicle or the New York Times.

RU: There seems to be a sort of techno-anarchist paradigm, if you will, that has emerged over recent years. You might call it the decentralization of the means of production of reality. You have democratization through open source and Wikipedia and blogging and all those kinds of things. Do you see the use of this technology as a tactically effective way of bringing about a post-hierarchical society or is it peripheral?

JOSH: Well, that breaks into all sorts of schisms very quickly. I mean, we have blogs that allow people to post their own radio shows and put up their own videos. And that really does democratize the information. But then, simultaneously, we have these large corporate constructs coming in and controlling and censoring much of that dialogue. When Digg decided that they weren't going to permit the copyright code for the HD-DVD...

RU: Well, their was a popular revolt and they backed down.

JOSH: They did back down. But how often do things get censored without any revolt happening at all? Flickr was deleting someone's comments, at some point, because they said they were combative in nature.

RU: Well, wait a second! You just deleted somebody's comments.

JOSH: I actually never deleted any comments...

RU: Oh. But you kicked somebody off your site, didn't you?

JOSH: Someone made a particularly vile comment, and I said I'm reserving the right to delete comments that look like this.

JEFF: Did you set a principle about what type of comments you would allow in the future?

JOSH: I basically set a principle that I was reserving the right to remove comments, rather than saying what I would allow. I haven't actually removed anything. But when one commenter attacked another commenter with a sexually vile comment about sand in her vagina with no provocation – I start to wonder. I mean…

RU: Well, was it consensual sand, or... (laughter) forced sand. [Awkward silence] Errr… let's move on.

JEFF: What more is there to say, really, than "sand in the vagina?"

See also:
A Conversation with Justin Kan of Justin.tv
Dispatch From a Surrealist Autocracy
Dear Internet, I'm Sorry
The Perversions of "Perverted-Justice"

Read More

YouTube’s 5 Sorriest Questions for the 2008 Presidential Candidates

What if my President was selected by MySpace? It's the nagging concern raised when young video bloggers lob questions at the Presidential candidates. In July when the Democrats gather in Charleston, they'll find CNN has swapped in questions that were uploaded as videos to YouTube.

At least that was the hope when the CNN/YouTube "debate" was announced. Unfortunately, no one cared about the announcement (except the commenter who added "omg the youtube guy is fucking HAWTT!!!"). Nearly a week later, YouTube has managed to assemble just over 120 questions to choose from. And five of them are the dogs below.

Yes, for years we've dreamed of an interactive democracy — a giant techno-village wired into a real, two-way discourse. Why shouldn't our lawmakers get the same crowd-polling technology that's available to contestants on 1 vs. 100? (Answer: because the wisdom of the crowd is matched only by the buffoonery of the individual.)

While it's morbidly amusing to imagine candidates groveling for LonelyGirl15's endorsement, YouTube is slyly attempting to appear democratic without actually accomplishing anything. But maybe that's YouTube's cynical comment on democracy itself. Maybe they're imagining the event's slogan as: "It's participatory! It's YouTube! And it's stupid! Just like voting..."

1. Headzup



This question comes to us from "HeadzUp", who specializes in badly-animated cartoons of jabbering heads — in this case, George W. Bush.

The cartoon President starts a familiar gotcha question — if a dirty nuclear bomb killed millions, and a second bomb risked millions more lives... But never mind. It's a joke.



"you are totally a moron," replied an irate YouTube commenter, "and if youtube had a star rating for the DUMB FUCKS, you would most certainly qualify, hands down LMAO,FOAD."

We've elevated the discourse already.

2. We are not alone



A user named "DickGhostmoon" wants to ask the candidates "a very, very serious question...about aliens." He's titled his video "alien autopsy CNN YOUTUBE Debate," and includes footage of a 2001 press conference seeking the declassification of secret government information about extra-terrestrials.

And there's also some footage of Santa Claus.



Interestingly, the question comes from England, and YouTube also received questions from Spain, Canada, Australia, and Malaysia.

We're guessing these questioners aren't even voting. They're just mocking our hopelessly compromised electoral system while enjoying their universal health care.

3. "88% of Californians..."



Imagine the next President of the United States fielding questions from "The Wine Kone." His YouTube channel identifies him as a Canadian, and promises "video responses and who knows what else (probably lameness)."

His self-described "very important question" concerns Arnold Schwarzenegger, his re-election as governor of California, and... No wait. It's another joke, this one about cyborgs and the plot of Terminator III.

"YouTube didn't put me up to this," adds a superfluous title at the end. (Really? Because it's hard to believe that YouTube would allow something so edgy unless they had an ironical hand in it.)

Maybe one day, with enough help from biting Canadian jokes like this one, Americans will penetrate the haze of our Puritan, bi-polar system and, like Maplestan, finally see how ultra-silly it is to elect actors as politicians.

4. "Hi, Hillary..."



OMG! It's a cartoon animation of Hillary Clinton! Asking a question to Hillary Clinton! My head is about to explode!

The question — read by a speech synthesizer — presents scenarios about access to health care. By the way, did I mention it's read by a Hillary Clinton avatar? "Give us a nice answer," it asks, "so you look good — and I look good!"



Video hides the face of the American asking, but maybe it reveals a deeper truth — that the real appeal of politics is the opportunity to preen and pose. "Please advise me on your future vision for addressing our health care crisis," the video seems to say...

"And also, check out my cool new widget!"

5. "So cool..."



16 people have rated this video. It's average score? One star. YouTube user Netram59 summed up the response. "You say YouTubers have a lot to say but it seems you don't."

But the uploader — "GoodNeighbor" — is actually part of an L.A. based sketch comedy crew. "They all like to draw," reads their YouTube profile, "and make music and movies and stuff!!" Hooray!

Is it better or worse that "GoodNeighbor" skipped the chance to question our next President for a quick laugh? I'm honestly not sure. YouTube may have empowered a generation, but maybe it's a good thing that the giant internet corporation hasn't been able to channel them all into a specific, YouTube-directed activity.

Maybe the revolution was never meant to be televised...


See also:
YouTube, the 20-year-old, and Date Unknown
Should YouTube Hear Me?
John Edwards' Virutal Attackers Unmasked
Iraq Battle Footage
The 5 Sexiest Apple Videos

Read More

Venezuela: Dispatch from a Surrealist Autocracy


Hugo Chavez



Hugo Chavez was once Venezuela's media darling. The love affair has taken increasingly bad turns. Now, he is the media.
A note about the author:
Rodrigo L. Arcaya is a 36-year-old Venezuelan who owns a web development company in Caracas. He is an iconoclastic, anti-authoritarian opponent of excess state power.

As the world now knows, Chavez shut down Venezuela’s respected 53-year-old TV station RCTV, accusing it of "subversive activities." Out in the streets of Caracas, and in many other cities, people have been taking to the street — particularly the high school and college students. This has caused incredible traffic jams here in Caracas, as the most common form of protest is to close the streets, leaving only one lane for the cars. Many of the drivers that have been trapped in these traffic jams show their support for the dissenters by keeping their emergency lights on, shouting slogans against the government and even stopping their own cars on the only open lane.

But why are people here so upset? Because Chavez is clearly making a play to control the national TV media as a mouthpiece for his government. He is doing this using a little-known law that resembles the U.S.'s Emergency Broadcast System.



Some background on the relationship between Chavez and the Venezuelan TV media is needed. In Venezuela, we have four TV channels that have national coverage, and about twelve local ones. Of the four national channels, we have RCTV (whose license was just revoked), Venevision and Televen, which are privately owned, and VTV, which is owned by the government. At the local level, the most important is Globovision (which Chavez is threatening), a 24 hour news channel. It has coverage in all major cities (it's pretty spotty in rural areas). It's also worth mentioning the Asamblea Nacional channel (think C-Span, owned by the government), and TeleSur, a 24 hour news channel that is co-owned by the governments of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American countries.

We don’t really have many local cable channels. Most cable channels are Spanish language versions of U.S. networks (FOX — the entertainment channel, and MTV. We also get the U.S. versions of Fox News and CNN in English) or channels oriented toward Latin America as a whole.

Venezuela has an odd little law that most international analysts don’t comment on. But the law plays an important role in this narrative. It allows the president to order all TV (including local stations going through cable) and radio station to transmit the same signal that is being transmitted through the government channel. The idea is that the president can have a way to talk to all the country in an emergency. In theory, it is not much different from the U.S. Emergency Broadcast System, but it's centralized through the presidency. We call it a “chain” — as all the signals are chained to one.

However, the idea is not the same as the application, as we will see in a moment.

Hugo Chavez is truly a Media Phenomenon. He entered Venezuela's collective psyche when he led an unsuccessful coup against Carlos Andres Perez in the year ’92, while he was an active officer in the Venezuelan army. After he was captured, some of his army accomplices did not put down arms, so the government put him on camera to prove that they actually had him in custody. He was shoved in front of live news cameras, and he said, “Comrades, I assume all the blame for the failure of our operation. We have been defeated. For now...”

With those words, people fell in love with him. Not only had he assumed responsibility for his failure (an uncommon trait among political leaders everywhere), but even in his defeat, he had the courage to see a future where he would be victorious.

And if the people fell for him, the private TV channels positively swooned. The private TV networks were instrumental in getting the idea out that Chavez and his people were not actually traitors to their oath to protect Venezuela. In fact, they were young idealists who — by following that oath to its last consequence — had to rid Venezuela of its corrupt ruling government. In that climate, Chavez and his co-conspirators were pardoned by then President Caldera. The love affair was not surprising. Since the end of the ’80, most of the private media had turned really critical of the government.

Fueled by this media frenzy, Chavez created his party MVR, and against all prognostics, managed to win the ’99 election.

For the first two years, the relationship between private media and Chavez can only be described as a honeymoon. The happy marriage started to fray when, after having a new constitution approved, Chavez started to demand “legislative powers.” The idea was that the presidency could draft up new laws and get them approved, bypassing congress. Private media was critical of the move, but Chavez had a convenient way to retaliate. Every time he wanted to tell his side of the story, he just ordered a “chain” and started talking through all the TV and radio channels.



Things quickly became quite surreal. One time, I was driving to work and turned on the radio. The only thing I could hear was a “thump-thump-thump” noise. I flipped to the next station, and the next one, and the next one. "Thump-thump-thump." Was my radio broken? Had aliens attacked, jamming all the radio waves? I got to my office, turned on the TV, and found that the president had decided to “chain” a live broadcast about the inauguration of the construction of a tunnel where Chavez worked on a hydraulic hammer for about half an hour. "Thump-thump-thump."

This brings to mind the strangeness of the April 11, 2002 "coup." I’m not even going to try to explain that Gordian knot of surrealism in this dispatch — but let me introduce a few basic facts.

On that morning, quite a few people in Caracas took to the streets (the numbers range from the Government estimate of 20,000 to over a million claimed by the opposition — judge for yourself from this picture or this one.) This throng of dissenters had decided to march to Miraflores (think the White House) to show the President that they were real. (You see, Chavez' government had claimed that there were only a few people at previous protest marches. They claimed that the TV channels were using special effects and most of the protesters were actually “virtual people.”)

The crowd on April 11 got a little out of hand. In fact, it was a bit of a riot, but the demonstrators were essentially unarmed. (Venezuela is a bit like Texas, so we have to assume that some folks may have had guns).

Just as the march was approaching Miraflores, Chavez “chained” the broadcast, and started giving a speech. He told the people that the situation, which people had been watching on their TVs, had been calmed. He appealed to the few "misguided people" that were coming to Miraflores to think twice. At the same time, open warfare had come to the streets of Caracas. People on both sides were dying. A group of Chavez supporters that were “guarding” Miraflores opened fire on the march. The police and some people on the march started firing back. Or, maybe the government narrative was correct and the marchers started shooting the government supporters first. Either way, el Presidente was on live TV saying everything was under control while, less than 6 blocks away, people were firing guns at other people.

At this point, all the TV stations came to a decision: They would respect the spirit of the law, and keep the president’s feed, including the audio. But they split the screen, so that people could see what was actually going on at the same time. This is the main reason the government now says that RCTV was behind the coup. You see, if those images hadn’t been broadcast, people would not have started rioting all over the country.

Of course, RCTV, Venevision, Televen and Globovision all did this. So why did Chavez single out RCTV? This one is a no brainer: over the last two years, there has been talk about the end of the concession to RCTV, Televen and Venevision. And in these last two years, both Televen and Venevision have been letting go of their hard-hitting journalists. They have stopped reporting things that the government doesn't like. This self-censorship hasn't been at all covert. Everybody here knows. It is telling that the ratings of Televen and Venevision have dropped, while RCTV’s ratings climbed to over 40%. It is also telling that cable subscriptions have jumped to 60% in urban areas and is rapidly increasing.

The concessions for Televen and Venevision have been renewed for five years. And, as everyone now knows, RCTV – Venezuaela's first network — stopped broadcasting this Sunday, May 27.

Many naïve, foreign “Chavistas” seem to believe that the government “only” stopped a concession, and that they did not interfere with a private, independent media company. That is false. This is particularly illustrated by what followed.

On Thursday, May 24, a group of “concerned citizens” entered a plea with the Supreme Court. They claimed that shutting down the RCTV signal was unconstitutional, because RCTV was the channel with the greatest coverage in the country. The litigants claimed that if their signal was to disappear, a lot of people were going to be left without TV. The intention of this suit was devious. On Friday (less than 24 hours later — it usually takes a year to get a case before the court) the Supreme Court ruled that, in defense of the citizen’s rights, RCTV had to give, without payment of any kind, all their broadcast equipment to the new government channel that was to operate in their old frequency.

So the government has a brand new channel. This is not about a concession. This is about a Government taking control of a private media company. They claim they're doing this to “increase the free speech in the country.” Here's the logic: before Sunday, we had two strongly critical networks (RCTV and Globovision, which is local), two uncritical but indifferent networks (Televen and Venevision), and one strong Chavez supporter (VTV). With RCTV out of the picture, the number of strong opposition messages are reduced. According to government spokespeople, these voices are somehow replaced by something they call community messages: “Messages produced by The People, for The People”, as they say. Thus, of course, there will be more free speech. (I’m not making this stuff up. These are actual arguments used by government spokespeople.). Of course, when you realize that one of the principal party slogans of the government is “Chavez is The People,” this message turns even more sinister.

As of today, there are still people who refuse to give up. They are willing to keep the protest going for as long as it takes to bring RCTV back. Meanwhile, a YouTube channel, created by the news crew of RCTV, continues to post news content, including footage of protests that no other TV channel here is showing. It has had more than 71,000 views in just two days — an enormous number when you consider that Internet penetration here is below 15%. As of this writing, it is number two on YouTube's "Channels" listing for new subscribers.

It looks like things will get worse. The President is talking about shutting down Globovision for — and I swear that I'm not making this up — "subliminal association." His evidence: during a talk show with the head of RCTV last Friday, every time that they cut to commercials they showed a little clip of the most important news events that have been covered by their news department: the first landing on the moon, the return of democracy to Venezuela in 1958, and so on. During one of these segments they showed the Pope's assassination attempt, while playing Ruben Blades song that says, “Everything comes to an end” as music background. The regime claims that they were subliminally inciting people to kill President Chavez. Yesterday the General Attorney announced that both the General Director of Globovision, and the anchor of the talk show have been summoned to be “interviewed” regarding this “plot”.

Hugo Chavez is a world-class authoritarian. Those of us who are anti-authoritarian and who have seen it up close, tend to know more than those beyond our borders, about what he has done and how he has done it in his almost 8 years of government. It seems that there is a sort of racism underlying some of the sympathies and excuses made by American and European dissidents (who should know better) for the Chavez regime. They imagine that Latin American people are backwards and need an authoritarian government. In fact, most educated Latin Americans are quite accustomed to free speech and basic human rights. We don't really need the paternalism… but thanks anyway.

Of course, this regime is no ordinary Autocracy. If it were, probably most of the people in Venezuela (and in the rest of the world) would have wised up and recognized it as one. What we are living now down here can only be described as a Surreal Autocracy.

Frankly, I've kind of enjoyed this government. Its comedic moves have provided daily amusements. If I wasn’t aware of the really terrible consequences of continuing down this road, I’d be trying to prop up this regime and find it an agent in the entertainment industry. If people outside the country really knew what is going on here, they could make an astounding reality show and sell it on pay-per-view. We have members of the Congress who claim they have discovered that the DirectTV set-top boxes have bi-directional communication capabilities and that they had cameras and microphones that transmit, by satellite, to the central headquarters of the CIA. (Actually, I guess some American conspiracy freaks wouldn't find this claim the least bit nutty.) Then there was the very serious announcement from Chavez about how the government managed to stop a plot to kill the president. You see, they found this bazooka in an empty lot that lies kind of near the flight path of Venezuela's biggest commercial airport. And — ohmygod! — it's the very same airport that the presidential plane uses. They also found a picture of Chavez. Aha! This was a plan to hit the presidential plane — the picture of the president was for “obvious identification purposes." No one was ever arrested for this clever and devious plot.

These sorts of things happen here at least on a weekly basis. Indeed, I've developed a morbid obsession with the entertainment value of this government. But now, I think it's time for a new show.

See Also:
Closing Pandora's Box: The End of Internet Radio
Homeland Security Follies
Is It Fascism Yet?
Detention and Torture: Are We Free Or Not?
EFF and 10 Zen Monkeys vs. Michael Crook and DMCA
The Crooks of the World Hurt Copyright, Free Speech

Read More

Raising Hunter S. Thompson


B. Duke

Hunter S. Thompson lives on. In the play, Gonzo: A Brutal Chrysalis, performer and writer "B. Duke" incarnates the Last Free American Writer as he was during the intense and difficult years 1968-1971.

The play's publicity package tells it like this: "Fresh from his breakthrough success chronicling — and nearly being beaten to death by — the Hells Angels, Thompson embarks on a one- and two-man war on the Death of the American Dream. From Big Oil and the Big Three to the NRA and the Kentucky Derby, Richard Nixon and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the usual suspects are strafed and castrated by the Man Who Would Be Raoul.

"What he could not conquer from without, he co-opted from within by becoming the single greatest and most effective danger that anyone before or since has been to the bipolar establishment that is American politics."



I would only add that on November 11, 1971 Rolling Stone published the first installment of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And in the following year, they ran his Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72. A generation was thus given an opportunity to learn the truth about America in the only way it could truly be told, through a cracked acidic lens that blurred fiction and fact and came to be called "Gonzo Journalism."

The SF Weekly said about "Gonzo: A Brutal Chrysalis,"
If you're looking for the fun loving and hilariously drug-addled Hunter S. Thompson portrayed on screen by Johnny Depp and Bill Murray you'll be surprised and uncomfortably mystified by this one-man performance about the founder of gonzo journalism. Gonzo is an interesting look at a lesser-seen side of the counterculture icon, but the performance feels like a reckless, all-out verbal assault. The theater's concession stand sells cheap whiskey and balloons filled with nitrous oxide, and the gunshots onstage feel dangerous and deafening. But perhaps, Hollywood sheen aside, this show is a truer look at the man who reinvented modern alternative journalism.

I interviewed "B. Duke" on the RU Sirius Show. Steve Robles joined me in questioning "B." Indeed, the media hook here may be that Robles waxed way obscene about Condie Rice days before Opie and Anthony's moment of infamy. Read on.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS (INTRODUCING SHOW & GUEST): We were just starting the R. U. Sirius Show when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a little light-headed, maybe Steve Robles should host the show." Then suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us, and the room was full of what looked like huge bats swooping and screeching and diving around the studio and a voice was screaming, "Holy Jesus, they've just eaten Diana Brown!"

"B. Duke" was shot from a cannon August 20, 2005. He landed in my back yard and we raised him on belladonna and chili dogs, and he grew. Today he is a freelance counter-intelligence operative feared throughout the empire and certain precious gem syndicates. After giving notice to friends and family, he dove body, mind and soul into Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Recent sightings reported in South Dakota, Wyoming, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, read like confessions from some hideous corruption and conversion spree. He prefers LSD to all other drugs and aggressive seduction to passive supplication. (Most of this description is written by "B" himself.)

I don't know if I'm going to do aggressive seduction or passive supplication today, but...

B. DUKE: You seem like a really nice guy, but you're just generally not my type.

RU: Yeah. Well, we'll see what happens. I might change into something entirely otherwise after you finish drinking that water we just served you...

BD: My god, man, what did you do? Are you sure you put enough in?

RU: You might notice I look like a spider. So, describe the genesis of "Gonzo."

BD: My producer, "A. Duke," came to me in July of 2005 and expressed some frustration… wanting to get out of life as a techie. He'd done theatre work before, and he'd seen me do spoken word and other play performances in San Francisco. I did "Dr. Strangelove" and "Night of the Living Dead."

So "A." called me up and said, "I think we should do a play together." And I said, "Well, what did you have in mind?" And he said, "I think we should do a play about Hunter Thompson." I nearly hung up the phone on him. But he's been one of my best friends for over a decade. So instead I said, "I'll have to call you back," and then hung up the phone on him. I called him back in December, and...

RU: Why did you hang up the phone?

BD: I thought it was way too close to Thompson's checkout for us to be diving into something like that. It felt a little bit scavenger-like. Disrespectful. I'm a big "respect for the dead" person. Also, even though he had a pretty good influence on my life from an early time, he wasn't exactly the godhead idol of my universe. So we met in December, and I told him and "C. Duke," our director and executive producer that if they wanted to re-create Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was out right then.

RU: Right. Been done.

BD: Everybody had tried to capture that zany madness and that sort of zeitgeist. So I suggested that we use Fear and Loathing in America : The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist. That's a collection of Thompson's letters from '68 - '76. I had read that a few years earlier and I'd become keenly aware that the nuances of a real man were there.

A great little history book called Don't Know Much About History tried to lift the veil of lionized demi-gods by remembering that George Washington once said to Henry "Ox" Knox as he was crossing the river, "Henry, shift your fat ass over, you'll swamp the whole boat." The object of the book was to treat historical figures as real people.

RU: There's a lot of material from Hunter… bitchy letters and notes…

BD: He was ferocious. He would start in on speed, probably somewhere around 11 PM or midnight, and he would go to bed about 8 or 9:00 in the morning – around the time his young son Juan was getting up. He'd get up around 3 in the afternoon.



We secured an original 1968 IBM Selectric Model I typewriter off of eBay for the play. I learned from working with it that you can lie through a computer really easily. You can delete whole swaths of material real easily. On the typewriter, you have to think continuously. Also, we're used to firing out our emails right now. Nobody takes time to think about anything. In these letters, he'd stop and start. They would take hours for him to create. And in between, he was hosting a lot of druggie friends and doing a lot of shooting and some traveling and...

RU: It's interesting to think that he didn't send those letters out impulsively. And yet some of them certainly have an impulsive quality about them.

BD: Well, he starts off 1968 in a pretty bad state. The Hells Angels almost beat him to death out — and that was the Oakland club. He had the incredibly bad sense to harangue a guy named Junkie George, He was considered one of the more uncontrollable guys on that squad. And if you can picture the Hell's Angels having guys on there that even they admit are uncontrollable...

Junkie George had smacked around his wife and kicked his dog across a fireplace. And Thompson quipped at him that only punks did that. And Junkie George laid into him. And once one Hell's Angel is on you, the rest will follow. And he got out of there only through the grace of a man nicknamed Tiny — who was massive. Tiny hauled Thompson out of there.

So he pretty much fled San Francisco and went out to Colorado for his best friend's wedding. And he kind of fell in love with the whole area just outside Aspen. But for Hunter, success immediately involved getting sued by publishers who pretty much wanted a settlement agreement that would chain him to a typewriter for them.

RU: A lot of his anger and a lot of his juice came from being really pissed off as a writer. Pissed off at mainstream publishing. Pissed off about not getting paid. Pissed off when his articles weren't published in full. That sort of thing. He was a warrior for writers.

BD: That's part of it. But at the same time, I think it does a disservice to Thompson to classify him as chronically pissed off. The top of my bong used to read, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." And I still firmly believe that.

He hated hippies because they weren't doing anything. There were other radicals around here, like the Diggers and SDS — people who really were fomenting change. But he thought the hippies were just lazy. But the main thing that was driving him in early '68 was that he couldn't come up with a new idea. He didn't know where he was going.

RU: There was a book about Lyndon Johnson, and then that got screwed because Johnson dropped out.

BD: That book was part of a settlement agreement from court cases. He was going to do that, The Rum Diary, and then he had sold the idea for a book called "The Death of the American Dream." And then Lyndon checked out of the race. And that cost Thompson about $10,000, which in today's money would be about $80,000 or $90,000. And he very much needed the money.

So Hunter became obsessed around that time with the death of the American dream. He could see things going just horribly wrong. In writing a piece titled "Presenting the Richard Nixon Doll—Overhauled 1968 Model" — the overhauled 1968 New Nixon model, he pretty much lays out the road map for why the Democrats are going to fail in 1968.

RU: This is before the Chicago convention?

BD: Yeah. That was another galvanizing point for him. That was the big face-off. And we make a big issue of that in the play. One of the first things that came up for me in writing the script was that this was a humungous turning point for him. Because he'd pretty much socked himself into Woody Creek, and wasn't going out much before he went there.

By the way, he read tremendously. His inventory of magazines and publications was twenty or thirty publications long — newspapers, magazines. And he didn't just read one side. It's not as though he just read all the left-wing stuff. He wanted to know what the other side was thinking. He read religiously.

RU: He was a political junkie. In fact, he was a mainstream political junkie. In a way, he followed it the way he followed sports. He loved sports and he loved electoral politics.

BD: He was a pragmatic realist. He very much wanted to see America succeed on the promise of America — hence "The American Dream." He wasn't trying to define that for anyone. He just didn't want to see it get perverted by people who were really just using us and selling us their version of the American Dream. And this becomes a very heavy point with him.

When he went to Chicago, he had originally wanted to go around and see the delegates. He bugged Random House for months to get him credentials to get in the convention. But as it approached, he realized that the convention itself was going to be largely irrelevant, and what was going to happen there was a pretty good-sized battle. And Richard J. Daley was no slouch. This is Chicago we're talking about

RU: Before the Chicago convention, Daley had recently given shoot-to-kill orders in a race riot.

BD: This is the old school Democrats. My grandfather worked for a steel mill, and when they were on strike, the mob would come in and try to break the strikes down. So when you're in a tough industrial production area like Chicago… the Democrats were not, you know, the spineless creatures of today. These were people who lifted bricks, worked steel, built cars, and would do it to it if you tried to screw with them.

RU: Right. They weren't going to put up with a bunch of flower punks.

BD: Well, there was a schism in the Democratic Party at the time. And the tremendous youth movement that came largely from California kind of fanned out from there. And so you had these older liberals there who Thompson would come to absolutely detest for their uselessness. They'd had the baby and built the family business and they were very comfortable and didn't want too much change. So there's this kind of uneasiness between the two parts of the Democratic party — the young people really wanted to turn American away from this travesty and end the war.

RU: Also, many of the Southern Democrats were still segregationists… Please perform a segment from the play.

BD AS HUNTER S. THOMPSON:
The blowback from the mayor's race was pretty catastrophic. I was no longer a fellow among the people. Instead I'd become a dangerous freak among the misfits. "Communist!" "Dope fiend!" "Motherfucker!" I was commonly all three at once. "Thompson, you communist dope fiend motherfucker!"

Certain people who had once called themselves my friends and allies now said openly that Aspen and Woody Creek in general would be far better off if I met with some hideously violent fate that the Hell's Angels would do for free. Those treacherous cocksuckers would have to come up here and get me first. Randomly firing the .44 at the gongs I had mounted on the ridge crest kept any such fuckers from thinking that was a realistic possibility.

Besides, it's not like I'm a journalistic recluse any more. Whereas Playboy and Esquire may have cut me off at the knees, Warren Hinckle has decided to give me a platform from his new magazine, Scanlon's Monthly. Even when he lopped off entire sections of my NRA and Killy pieces, I was still able to take a head-on run at the fat bat bastards who have almost done this entire country in. The money was pretty good — kept things around here relatively fluid… that is, when they actually paid me. You see, Warren's intentions were noble but he has absolutely no idea how to conduct national distribution or spur an expanding subscriber base. I figured the entire thing was going to go down in flames owing me a ton of money in the process.

RU: Is this writing basically you trying to do the voice of Hunter S. Thompson? Are you incorporating his stuff? Is it all him? How does it work?

BD: I had originally intended to take certain passages from Fear and Loathing in America : The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist and kind of knit them together. I quickly abandoned that. I knew it wasn't going to work. Also, we would run afoul of copyright issues with the estate and I don't really care for his widow. She's done several stupid things that I really detest. So I didn't want to pour more gasoline on that fire. And unlike Johnny Depp or Bill Murray, I didn't have the luxury of moving into Thompson's house and getting the Hunter experience.

So I did more research and it was the political stuff that he did that really caught my attention. And at that time, I lived alone. So I had a great luxury of time to myself to do this. And I really kind of absorbed him through his letters, and went back and re-read things that I had read before, in the context of the letters, to get the complete effect. And I really allowed him to take me over. I spent a lot of time with my eyes closed imagining the world as he would see it.

And it's very easy to translate elements of his frustration — the Vietnam war to the Iraq war; spineless, useless Democrats to spineless, useless Democrats; vile Republicans to vile Republicans. Oil companies fucking everybody.

So I realized that I couldn't just try to sound like him. I had to reach in and find that agony. And I knew there was something in there that no one was really getting to because we're all fascinated with the myth of the gonzo maniac. But at the core, even our more outlandish people are real people (with the possible exceptions of Paris Hilton and Barbra Streisand). And as I started to find out more about his personal life, I could see where that pain was coming from. His wife had two miscarriages, one at four months and six months, both in 1968. And in 1969 she delivered a stillborn daughter.

RU: And that plays into your piece...

BD: Oh yes, it does. Yeah. We went for the man not the myth. Everybody knows the myth.

RU: Did you have any trepidation about trying to do this, in terms of a responsibility towards him as a man?

BD: I wouldn't say I had trepidation. I knew what we were going for, and my cohorts in were very patient with me in letting me get this together in a kind of organic way. There was none of this: "must meet milestone A to get to milestone B." We didn't work that way.

But I was really concerned about having to experience all of that pain. And up to the point where I got the Selectric, the process of writing this script was nothing but agony. It hurt all the time. After the stillborn baby, he really lost his mind. If you had given Hunter Thompson a button to blow up the world at that time, he would've pushed it. He was very blackened, and just horrifically torn

RU: Was he doing a lot of the drugs he was famous for during this time?

BD: He was doing a lot of speed at the time. He'd laid off the LSD, but was trying to get mescaline every now and then. The speed actually came from a nuclear lab in New York where his wife Sandy had been a secretary, and those poor scientists were paid so badly, they started producing methamphetamine.



RU: That nuclear crank is the best shit.

BD: Yeah, well... I think that's why he really didn't like the Hell's Angels so much. They were still fucking around on Benzedrine and he's got "Fusion power." Anyway, if you've ever been around someone who takes speed, the emotional roller-coaster ride they go through is pretty extreme.

RU: I've been very close to someone who took speed.

STEVE ROBLES: (Knowingly) Yeah, (Laughs) In fact, you could argue that the ability to have some kind of grip on reality becomes...

BD: ... very strained.

SR: At least as tenuous as while on LSD, I think.

BD: But Hunter slept. A lot of speed freaks will go and go and go and go until they collapse in dehydration, starvation, exhaustion. You know — spun out tweeker. But he slept every night and Sandy took good care of him. And let's not forget that we're talking about Hunter Thompson,

But Thompson rode the ups and downs of this, and he did drink quite a bit. And so that had an impact. And, of course, being sort of sequestered with Sandy there the whole time was a compound misery. And he was from an age where men didn't really talk about their feelings. They kept it locked up. He didn't believe in psychiatry. He took it on alone. So he was trying to grapple with all of this agony in his personal life. Meanwhile, the country's disintegrating around him. He got the shit knocked out of him in Chicago by the police. He started to feel like the whole nation was really slipping into a type of internal Civil War bordering on anarchy.

RU: He really felt it. He was not a cynic.

BD: No, he wasn't. And he'd already covered very heavy things as a journalist. He had been in South America for a time, and had covered riots down there and had done some tough reports in New York City and the Caribbean. He knew true toughness. He was unafraid to go into it. And remember, Thompson was like 6'5" and 185 pounds. He was monstrous.

SR: I think part of his wanting to speak out came out of frustration because there weren't a lot of other strong voices that he agreed with.

RU: Nobody quite put it into the package that he did. I was actually one of the people who would read Rolling Stone back when those articles came out. So I got the initial surprise of reading him… wow! Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was the first one I read.

BD: He and Hinckle and Ralph Steadman hooked up and pretty much made a pact to go ahead and rip these assholes out. I don't mean to say that he was ready to step up and become a John Lennon. But he was keenly aware of his ability to reach people and sway their minds, even one-on-one. And he was an ardent prankster and a total psych-fucker. He really enjoyed that.

RU: There are a bunch of stories about him doing some crazy shit. Do you have any favorites?

BD: Oh yeah. My personal favorite is when his friend was living in New York on the fifth floor of a walk-up in Hell's Kitchen. Thompson went over there to see him one day, and the guy wasn't home and Thompson got bored. And, with all the windows open on the fifth floor, he took a belt off and started smacking this wall with it: Whack! Whack! "Beg for it, bitch!" Whack! Whack! Whack! "Who's your daddy!?" Whack! Whack! Whack! And so the neighbors got really distressed and called the police, and the police stormed the place. So they went up there and found Thompson sitting alone. "Where's the other guy? What's going on there?" "I don't know what you're talking about. Who? What? Huh?"

RU: (Laughs) In writing this, did you feel like you had to adopt his lifestyle at all?

BD: Absolutely. I've been chain-smoking Dunhill reds since October and I don't smoke. My mother and my grandmother and my girlfriend are all very concerned that if the play continues to be a success, I will have to continue smoking.

RU: What about all the other enjoyments? Had any adrenochrome? Did you bring any adrenochrome with you? (Laughter)

BD: My attorney's not as good as his!

SR: You don't have the Samoan?

BD: Hey, he was Mexican, dammit! (Laughter)

SR: How about Wild Turkey?

BD: Absolutely. I've been drinking 101 pretty much rabidly for a while.

SR: Yowch!

BD: (Laughs) Smoking a lot of pot, and taking acid.

RU: It would be really hard to be a Gonzo journalist right now. In terms of mainstream publications, nobody let's you do it! Lester Bangs was sort of the last one to get away with it in the rock press.

BD: Matt Taibbi. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone is the heir apparent to Hunter Thompson. He is on the mission...

RU: I guess I haven't been reading it lately

BD: I first noticed him about two years ago when he went to Burning Man and proclaimed it for what it is — toothless and wallowing in its own muck and irrelevant to anyone or anything. The next week, he went out to New Orleans with Sean Penn, who was on some insane rescue mission for a single black woman in an underwater parish. Tabbi went into this destruction with Penn and filed an incredible story. He has been in Washington since, ripping every single one of these vile greed-heads that we love to hate. And he names the names. He tells you exactly who they are and what they're doing. He went into a Senate fundraiser for this one Senator from Alaska posing as a Russian oil company investment banker. And the company name he made up translated to "oily fart gas." And he really did kind of go in and invade this scene Thompson-style. But he doesn't do drugs like Hunter did. Or at least if he does, he's very quiet about it.

RU: It's great that it can still happen. I think the magazine industry — the magazine people are much more tight-assed than they were in the late 60s. I'm surprised and pleased to hear that Wenner lets somebody rip. Of course, people can do gonzo on the web. But the other question is, does anybody do it well? What do you think about that? Certainly, lots of people are trying to mix fiction and non-fiction and tell wild drug tales and so forth. But who does it well?

BD: Well, Arianna Huffington, when she finally saw the light and was forced to admit that our government was freely for sale — I sent her a letter. She and my father are friends. I sent her a letter welcoming her to the punk rock club, and recommended that she purchase Dead Kennedys albums and Black Flag and the Circle Jerks and catch up on things. She never wrote back...

RU: She's never written back to me either.

BD: She could go far. She could go far with that dyed red job and just a little shave on the side. She could be hot! Think about it.

SR: Could be?! I would bang the living crap out of her. I'd bang her so hard that her fucking ex-husband would feel it.

JEFF DIEHL: Is that before or after Condoleezza Rice?

SR: I'd do both at once, man. How about that? How about a little salt and pepper in my hotel room.



BD: No no no... listen. Condoleezza Rice needs a devoted line of slave boys under her desk to try to achieve the impossible, and that is an orgasm.

But getting back to what we were saying about being a gonzo journalist in the early 21st century. What it takes is guts, determination and belief. Rolling Stone ran an interesting piece a couple years ago that showed how most journalism schools are turning their graduates towards marketing. And journalism has always been right up there with teaching in terms of poverty. But that's not true any more. Journalists can make it. And then there's the fact that these — as Thompson would've said it — castrated editors and publishers are afraid to rock boats. No one will touch GM or Westinghouse. And then we had the brainwashing from the Bush administration. People were genuinely afraid to step out. This was the most dangerous time since at least the McCarthy era for this country, where the backswing of the administration, in terms of curtailing liberty and intimidating free speech, really did put a clamp down on all of us. We're just now getting out from under that.

But there's no journalist Gary Cooper for this generation. First of all, it has to start in the schools. This is where Thompson's death could really help us out. Thompson is going to become a college course in places like Columbia.

RU: Right. And people are going to wonder: Why can't we do this? I mean, there was a whole narrative around this idea of New Journalism that has kind of disappeared.

BD: Professors need to be willing to take chances, and to do more in the publish-or-perish environment than stroke their own egos. We're at war. Our country really is going to hell. I feel like it's the Roman Empire, circa 425. One more venal or weak leader, and we're done.

RU: Before we let you go — give us another piece of your act.
BD (AS HST): Steadman's still recovering from that debacle in Newport at the America's Cup last year. He really went at it from all angles, including a rock band whose single at the time was "Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!" Including Ralph on his first hallucinogens, and for his bravery, he was treated to a near hopeless flight from harbor police and private security as we tried to spray-paint "Fuck the Pope" on a large yacht and were undone by steel balls in the spray can. I was using the flare gun to cover our asses for a graceful exit from this. And there's Ralph — barefoot and psychotic, ambling onto a plane for New York. His plan is to get to the Scanlon's offices, and to sort of blend in with the other freaks and get some down time. But he lands there, takes a cab to Scanlon's, and finds out that they are locked up tight. They'd folded the day before. I already knew that. But Ralph's mind was in such a delicate condition at the time that I couldn't tell him. One last thing, and that would've been it. And he was far too valuable for future excursions. So I think I'm going to have to give him a pass on this one. I mean, last time I talked to him, he was still having severely debilitating flashbacks, and hoping for a soon return to a relatively peaceful normalcy as much as Ralph really can.

It's time to dial in the other hardcore pro. Oscar Zeta Costa and I had been working both sides of this wretched street for years. He's the main engine in the Mexican brown power movement down in Los Angeles – an attorney of unflinching gall, hypnotic oratory, and the will to do what the other guy won't every single time. He can shut down large stretches of that vast nightmarish metropolis by calling for a one-day strike among the Latinos. And yet, he's under the delusion that he can build a country where freaks like us are safe from prosecution as he settles into a tweed-and-loafers existence as a UCLA law professor. Oh yeah, we've traded barbs over who's the bigger sell-out — co-opted into a comfortable existence just outside the wires. But being called an infantile anarchist by that Mexican dunce with the moles… That was the last straw. It's time to call that rotten little spic on his shit, haul his ass out of Los Angeles, and to a place where he cannot escape the overwhelming filth that is America. Las Vegas is neutral territory for both of us. Neither one of us has any connections there, or any clout that's going to count for anything other than a quick getaway if we need it.

"Gonzo: A Brutal Chrysalis" will be performed in Seattle in September-October.

September 20-22, 27-29
The Freehold Theater
1525 10th Ave.
Seattle, WA
www.freeholdtheatre.org

October 4-6
Capitol Hill Arts Center
1621 12th Ave.
Seattle, WA
www.capitolhillarts.com

They are also seeking a venue for a planned a September run in Los Angeles and would welcome any information about those venues at: [email protected]


See also:
When Kurt Vonnegut Met Sammy Davis Jr.
Willie Nelson's 'Narcotic' Shrooms
Drugs and Sex and Suzie Bright
Did Bush Spin Like Nixon?
The Chicks Who Tried to Shoot Gerald Ford
David Sedaris Exaggerates For Us All
20 Secrets of an Infamous Dead Spy





Read More

The Future of America Has Been Stolen


Monica Goodling from the Washington Post

Investigative reporter Greg Palast says 4.5 million votes will be shoplifted in 2008, thanks largely to the "Rove-bots" that have been placed in the Justice Department following the U.S. Attorney firings. Being the guy who uncovered the voter "purge lists" of 2000 that disenfranchised black voters, he's worth listening to, even if the mainstream press chooses not to.

This time around, he claims to have 500 emails that the House subpoenaed and Karl Rove claims were deleted forever. They prove definitively, says Palast, that the Justice Department is infested with operatives taking orders from Rove to steal upcoming elections for Republicans and permanently alter the Department.



The "clownocracy" of Bush and Rove is criminal and even evil in its attempts to steal past and future elections, according to Palast, and can only be stopped if "Democrats...find their souls and find their balls."

In an updated new version of his best-selling book, Armed Madhouse, Palast lays out the case for the future theft of the presidency, along with lots of other Executive malfeasance. I chatted with him about the role of the Justice Department in this scheme, and what it means for the viability of our "democracy."


PUBLISHER'S UPDATE: Here are some of the 500 emails. —JD

JEFF DIEHL: First off, the "lost" emails. I guess you're confident those 500 emails aren't themselves a hoax? Considering the source? [John Wooden, the man behind the spoof site, whitehouse.org, forwarded them on to Palast after someone accidentally sent them to Wooden's georgewbush.org domain.]


GREG PALAST: Oddly, the GOP verified their authenticity to BBC. I almost fell over dead when they did that.

JD: How did they do that exactly?

GP: We asked them on camera. They did not deny they were the party's internal emails — just disagreed what the "caging" lists were. Saying, for example, they were "donor" lists. Men in homeless shelters?

Remember, there's no First Amendment in England. I'm wrong, I'm sued, I'm broke, I'm toast.

JD: Let's move on to former Justice Department counsel (and Regent University graduate) Monica Goodling's recent testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee, since it's so fresh...

GP: The blondeling underling of the Police State. The lady was trying to tell us something important, but the dim bulbs of the U.S. press and the committee dolts wouldn't listen. She began by accusing her bosses of perjury. The issue was her allegation that they knew all about "caging." And no one asked her one damn question about it. Like what is "caging" and why would they commit perjury to cover it up?

JD: Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) asked, and Goodling said, "It has to do with direct mail."

GP: And that was it. D'oh! It's not about "direct mail." Direct mail has to do with Victoria's Secret and stuff like that. This was all about stealing the 2004 — and 2008 — elections. That's why she wanted immunity. She was afraid it would all unravel, the caging game...but she had nothing to fear.

JD: Well, it is a direct mail term, but it's also a voter supression term. Do no senators know that, not even Committee Chair John Conyers?

GP: Conyers knows — and he knows me. He's keeping his powder dry. The others are clueless.



Caging works like this. Hundreds of thousands of Black and Hispanic voters were sent letters — do not forward. Letters returned as undeliverable ("caged") were used as evidence the voter didn't live at their registered address. The GOP goons challenged these voters' right to cast ballots — and their votes were lost.

But whose letters were caged? Here's where the game turns to deep evil. They targeted Black students on vacation, homeless men — and you'll love this — Black soldiers sent overseas. They weren't living at their home voting address because they were shivering under a Humvee in Falluja.

JD: As you put it in regard to election rigging, 2000 was about "purge lists," 2004 was about "caging," and 2008 will be about "verification." Can you briefly explain the difference between these?

GP: Sure. In 2000, I cracked the computer disks (CD-ROMs then) from Katherine Harris' office showing 56,000 names of voters "purged" from voter rolls as felons who aren't allowed to vote. In fact, every one — every one — was an innocent voter, though most were guilty of VWB — Voting While Black. That was the 2000 "purge."

In 2004, it was nearly identical. Except, instead of calling voters "felons," they called them "suspect" voters, fraudulently using a false voting address. The effect was the same: the voter would lose their registration; or their vote on election day when they showed to vote; or, in the case of soldiers, their absentee ballot would be challenged and tossed.

JD: You claim the reason for Democrat inaction in election scandals is because of racism, that the white caucus is bigger than the black caucus. But don't Democrats gain by making sure black people are enfranchised?

GP: Which Democrats? The huge purge and block of voters in Georgia [were done by] reptiles like Zell Miller in control of the Georgia Democratic Party. There's an awful lot of Democrats who would not win primaries if dark-skinned citizens could just vote any time they pleased.

JD: My mind goes back to Conyers. What did you mean earlier by "keeping his powder dry?"

GP: We talk. 'Nuff said.

JD: Fair enough. So you're working also with former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, David Iglesias, yes?

GP: Claro que si.

JD: I was watching Chris Matthews' TV show — "Softball," as you've called it — and he asked Iglesias what his long term plans were — if he was writing a book. Iglesias indicated that he was, and also, that he wanted a TV show similar to Matthews' at some point, and seemed to be totally serious. Given that Iglesias has been willing to go "along with the game" in the past, are you concerned that his recent turn might be motivated by opportunism?

GP: I don't care if he's motivated by a love of Barbie dolls. He's been pushed by the Rove-bots to expose the game. I'll take it anyway I can get it — the facts, ma'am.

JD: Do you have a wide-angle view of the current Administration's strategy with the Justice Department, and if so, give us the summary. Is it about election theft, or is it mostly about stocking the lake for future conservative judge appointments?

GP: Yes. First, it's elections. They don't want the voters making any foolish choices. Specifically, while the attention's been focused 100% on the firings, no one is talking about the hirings. That's what Goodling was trying to get across.

The key: at the "Pearl Harbor Day Massacre," they replaced the prosecutors with Rove-bots, a sleeper cell of anti-Constitutional saboteurs who will explode in 2008, led by the new prosecutor for Arkansas, Tim Griffin.

JD: Talk a little bit about the relevance of Tim Griffin — the perp who became prosecutor — and Arkansas in 2008.

GP: It was Griffin who directed the "caging" ops for the GOP. Caging, by the way, is illegal. Law Professor Bobby Kennedy pointed out it violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — and I'd add, as a former racketeering investigator, mail fraud statutes. So Griffin's a felon — now U.S. Attorney.

JD: Is Kennedy still actively publicizing this?

GP: Yes. The incriminating email is reproduced right in Armed Madhouse. That's why Griffin and Goodling were high-fiving over the fact that no one's picked up the investigations of that "British reporter" Palast.

The key thing is, Griffin is not just "involved," he is directing the scheme. His denial was confidential — had to be subpoenaed. Remember, as Goodling testified, the line of the Bushies is that Griffin had nothing to do with caging.



JD: So is Congress eventually going to get to all this? Is that the end game with the Justice Department investigation?

GP: No, Congress won't do squat. Did anyone do anything about the felon purge? It went backwards: Bush signed the Help America Vote Act. God forbid.

Explore more of Greg Palast's reporting on his website.

See also:
Homeland Security Follies
John Edwards' Virtual Attackers Unmasked
Iraq Battle Videos
Did Bush Spin Like Nixon?
The Chicks Who Tried to Shoot Gerald Ford
World Sex Laws
Is It Fascism Yet?
Detention and Torture
Awesomest Congressional Campaign Ever

Read More

Keith Henson Back in Jail – Space Elevator Will Have To Wait

Keith Henson

On April 26, 2001, Keith Henson was convicted of interfering with a religion — a misdemeanor under California law — for picketing outside Scientology's heavily armed, razor wire-enforced base, outside Hemet California. He split for Canada, becoming the world's first "Scientology fugitive," and he's back in the U.S. dealing with a variety of court cases related to Scientology.

Henson was just thrown back in jail. As best as I can make out from the limited information currently available, Henson and his lawyers were scheduled for a hearing at 1:30 pm on Tuesday, May 8th. They were apparently unaware that warrants had recently been signed by the Governors of California and Arizona, and after the hearing, Henson was handed over to the Yavapai County Sheriff Department for incarceration until a hearing on Wednesday May 9th at 9 a.m. (A note received this afternoon — May 9th — from Henson's wife, Arel Lucas, says that he will remain in the lockup at least until Monday, May 13th. She invites people to write to him at: Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, Howard Keith Henson, 255 E. Gurley St. Prescott, AZ 86301. She also reminds you that the prison authorities read the letters before passing them on.)



Henson's travails in his ongoing battle with Scientology and the law have been amply covered here.

I heard about Henson's renewed captivity as I was editing this interview I did with him for The RU Sirius Show on March 29th. While we talked about scientology a bit, the main focus was on another one of Henson's interests. Just before he was originally arrested in his conflict with the Scientologists, he was scheduled to talk at a European Space Agency conference on how Space Elevators could completely solve the carbon and energy problems.

Keith Henson has been a space buff since he was eight years old. Back in 1975, he and others — including nanotech guru K. Eric Drexler — founded the L5 Society. They promoted space colonies and solar power satellites built out of metals extracted from moon rock. The L5 Society eventually became the National Space Society.

Jeff Diehl joined me in interviewing Keith Henson on the show.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: So what's your favorite Tom Cruise movie?

KEITH HENSON: (Laughs) None of them. My dislike for the cult has spilled over into everything that's associated with it. But I do have to admit Tom has been very effective at taking Scientology down. He certainly did more damage to their image in a year than I did in ten. And he and Katie aren't done yet, I betcha.

RU: He played a creepy head-fucker quite effectively in the film Magnolia. It's worth seeing if you decide to break your Cruise fast.

It's been said that you fear the Scientologists will get to you in jail. Some people who are otherwise sympathetic have expressed skepticism about this. Do you have any evidence, any reason to fear the thuggery of Scientologists in the tank?

KH: I sure do. I have evidence that I accidentally acquired a few weeks ago that the Riverside courts themselves were engaged in outright criminal acts — that is, using the power of the courts to entrap me into a crime.

RU: That's a pretty heavy charge. Can you substantiate it?

KH: You can find a letter I wrote about this back in 2001 on my website. I just never imagined I would get paper evidence pulled out of the county's court files. Well, recently, I was handed a paper out of the Riverside court files that had never been listed as part of the files. Obviously somebody went looking for a warrant to send over to Arizona and pulled it out without looking at the date. I know now, of course, that Riverside Court illegally keeps secret documents that are not listed in the docket. So I accidentally found out that it's the very warrant that would've been used to arrest me at that deposition. It's dated September 15, 2000, and sure enough, they listed the charge of "Failure to Appear" on it. And that's just not a crime that happened on September 15. So the arrest warrant could not possible have been filled out that day. It was most likely filled out weeks before the date on it. And by issuing a warrant for a crime that never happened — the court itself was complicit in a serious criminal act. If a person were convicted of this, they could spend many years in prison.

RU: Well, obviously the Scientologists are very well-connected. But you've received a lot of public support. Does that make you safer?

KH: Yes it does. I was treated fairly roughly until hundreds of phone calls came into the jail. And then they realized that this was not a person they could just shove down a hole and forget.

RU: Have any establishment figures come to your side?

KH: Mostly, no. It's amazing how some people who are considered really brave heroes get terrified by the Scientology cult. I hesitate to say which one of them panicked when I asked him to make a phone call for me to keep me in Canada. But if you think about it, you could probably figure it out.



RU: Well, I'm sure it's not Jerry Brown, who used to be an L5-er and is now the Attorney General of California. Did you ever have any interactions with him?

KH: Not directly. I've got an email from his office that says that I should essentially file a complaint against the District Attorney and the courts.

RU: Did you have any interactions with him back when you were in L5?

KH: I'd never met Jerry back in those days. I met other people in his administration like Rusty Schweickart, who was a good buddy with Jerry Brown.

RU: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about your upcoming case.

KH: (Laughs) Which one? I've got three of them open at the moment. There's a motion to correct an injunction the Riverside court was not permitted to issue; a bankruptcy case that has got tangled up recently with O.J. Simpson's; and this extradition business in Arizona. That last one requires the California governor to sign an extradition warrant, and there's been enough complaints to him about it that I don't think he's going to do it. (ed: He did, on May 1)

RU: It's weird to hear O.J. Simpson's name come up. I don't suppose you can talk any more about your connection with OJ. There could be a book contract in there for you — the book industry loves OJ!

KH: Well, I can give you a quick thing. It turns out that that the lawyer for the other side in a bankruptcy case involving my bank worked against OJ Simpson – I think it was for the Goldbergs. So he asked for a delay in my case.

RU: We will contemplate all aspects of your possible connections with the OJ case over the coming weeks and months and maybe get back to it. "If the e-Meter doesn't fit, you must acquit" or something.

You've been working on ideas for power satellites recently. What is that, and how old is the idea, and how did you wind up back in the space engineering area again?

KH: Well, it's actually connected to the Scientology cult. I couldn't be employed while I was trying to hide out from them. They have agents inside the IRS, so when you use your social security number, they just pull it and come and get you. So I spent a lot of the time in the past year working on a post-Singularity novel. I didn't want to write about wars and violence, which is in the cards if we don't solve the energy crisis. So I had to make the people in the novel able to solve that. There are only a few ways to get the amount of power needed to replace the fossil fuel sources that we've been using up — and power satellites are one of them. Power satellites are a way to put solar power collectors where the sun shines more of the time, and no clouds are in the way. They're just giant solar collectors in orbit with microwave transmitters and gigantic receivers on earth. They're an old idea. It's been 38 years since Peter Glazer invented them. I revived the idea to cope with energy and global warming for this novel. It's one of the few ways you can deal with both.

RU: So, just to be really clear: how does it resolve energy and global warming problems?

KH: Well, there are a few approaches that are big enough to replace the energy that we get from oil and coal. Power satellites are one of them, and if you have the capacity to build power satellites, you can build planetary-scale sun shades as well.

RU: Aren't there terrestrial energy alternatives to this?

KH: The only ones I know about are fusion and fission plants — a lot of fission power, huge fusion plants. But they both suffer from a really nasty problem. It's just too easy to divert neutrons toward making high-quality plutonium — like 99% plutonium 239. And with that, it becomes very easy to make terrorist nukes. I wrote about it.

RU: OK. So apparently these things could be a threat. Let's get back to the power satellites. Tell us more about those.

KH: Okay. There are three parts to the power sat. Making the energy out of sunlight in space — there can be enormous structures — lightweight structures in geosynchronous orbit. And you would probably use solar cells on the thing, but you could even use steam turbines. And then you have a big transmitter to turn the power into a microwave beam of huge size. And then you need a gigantic antenna on the ground that converts the microwaves back to electricity.

RU: How big would it be?

KH: Well, if you could fit one in an area of forty square miles — that's the size of a medium city — the ground antenna would be about 50 miles. That sounds like a lot of land, but the receiving antenna is just light mesh. It doesn't block the sunlight, so you can put it over farmland and still farm underneath it. Terrestrial solar power takes a lot more land.

RU: Might this not kill off all the bees or something? Might not living under this antenna do something else strange to people?

KH: Well, yeah...

RU: I mean, for instance, people are talking about cell phones killing off all the bees.

KH: Well actually, that's ridiculous. Cell phones were around a long time before the bees started disappearing.

RU: That's too bad, because I'm putting, like, a dozen cell phones on my front porch...



KH: (Laughs) But I'll tell you this — the power level that you get in a power satellite, out in the middle of the thing, isn't any more power than you get to your head when you've got a cell phone running. It's pretty low.

JEFF DIEHL: So could you fly through this beam?

KH: Well, yeah. I propose that we use much higher-powered beams, and then we just have a restaurant on wheels, where you put the thing in a duck flyway. And you just move the restaurant around to the north side in the spring and the south side in the fall, and the ducks just fall out of the air completely cooked. (Laughter.)

RU: So you and a number of people have been talking about this for a long time. Why haven't we moved in this direction?

KH: Well, the big holdup is the transport cost to orbit. Rockets are just terrible, efficiency-wise. I mean, you see this enormous blast of … well, you've seen the launches of the Apollos. It's just terribly wasteful. But using nanotubes, we can build a space elevator.

JD: Getting the stuff up there is just a one-time expense, right?

KH: It is, sort of… and it isn't, sort of. You have to power these things because there's no free lunch. But you can probably haul up a couple of hundred tons of material at a time. You have to push it clear out to geo-synch, and then you have to unreel it in both directions. Anyway, once you've built one of these things, it only costs you to run it. Now, for a long time, people working on a related idea have been hung up on a pathway that was just plain wrong. They've been trying to use, design, figure out how to use climbers that use beamed power — mostly lasers — to beam the materials up there. The idea there is to have electric driving wheels on the things, powered by lasers. That's better than rockets, which are around maybe 1% efficient. But the best estimates I've gotten from the people that are working on it are that they would be around 7%, which is still just terrible.

So working on this novel, I came up with a moving cable design, because — if you're going to try to solve the energy problem, the traffic you need going into space is enormous. It's a couple of thousand tons a day.

Anyway, the idea is an elevator that runs on a bunch of pulleys up into space and you just power the thing from the bottom.

RU: So how fast is this baby gonna take me up into space?

KH: I'm not sure. The faster you go, the more throughput you get. I think you can run it maybe as high as a thousand miles an hour. At that speed, it's 22,000 miles out there, so at that speed it would take you 22 hours to get to geo. You've got to bring your lunch and dinner… and I guess even breakfast.

Of course, we're not transporting people, and I think you'd actually want to run faster than that. But remember, I'm driving this thing as an endless loop from the ground. So that means the lowest part of the thing is in the atmosphere. And running up through the atmosphere at a thousand miles per hour is all sorts of supersonic shock waves and everything else like that.

RU: Now you have to use nanotube cable to do this, right? So is this cable technically plausible at this point?

KH: They've actually measured the strength of nanotube cable, and it's strong enough to do the job. If you can get it up to 63 gigapascals, you can just run it over a pulley at geosynch. But if you can't do that, there's a way that you can run intermediate stepped pulleys in the thing where you can get a constant diameter cable, and a stepped number of strands in parallel on it. It has to be nanotube. Steel isn't anywhere near good enough. With nanotubes — they've measured it as handling almost 6 million pounds per square inch. And it's only 30% denser than water, so it's strong enough and light enough — but it's a bit expensive.

RU: How expensive is it?

KH: (Laughs) Carbon nanotubes, if you buy them at $75 million a ton...

RU: So you can actually buy these now?

KH: Oh yeah.

RU: I could… wait a second, what if I just wanted one nanotube.

KH: (Laughs) Well, one nanotube, you'd blow away with your breath. In fact, you'd blow away an entire pound of the things. Anyway, the elevator takes about a hundred thousand tons, so unless the price comes down, that's $7.5 trillion worth of elevator cable. But my guess is that the stuff will come down to cents per kilogram. There's a neat method that's not really been sufficiently investigated. If you can figure out how to get metal solvent to precipitate nanotubes...you're in business!

RU: How long would it take the power satellite to pay back the energy that it takes to get itself into orbit?

KH: It takes roughly a gigawatt of power to drive the motors that drag all this stuff up into orbit. You wind up with a five gigawatt power satellite. It takes one day for this thing to re-pay the energy. When it comes online, it's generating 5 gigawatts every day.

After you account for everything on it — all the energy to refine the metals and make the solar cells, or whatever else you're using — it may well take something like a hundred days. But you get 24-hour sunlight, unfiltered by clouds, and no night. And you can really use much lighter structures for it.

The idea is that the cable would bring up enough materials to build one. So if you're talking about building 60 or 70 power satellites in a year's time, that would displace all the existing coal plants in the U.S. And if you keep doing it, in a few years you displace all of them in the entire world.

RU: Is there anything you can imagine that might go wrong with these solar panels?

KH: Oh, tons of things can go wrong with it. One of the nasty problems is you've got to clean all the stuff out of lower orbits.

RU: Space junk.

KH: Yeah, you've got to clean up the space junk. So part of the project is 50 or 100 ion tugs that are capable of running around and gathering up all this stuff.

RU: Sounds like Pac-Man.

If I remember correctly, you're talking about 50 square miles, the size of a medium-sized city? And where might we try locating this thing, on the ground?

KH: You gotta put it on the equator, or really close. There's only one place that the U.S. owns that's on the Equator — it's called Baker Island. It's right smack out in the middle of the Pacific. It's 13 miles north of the equator, but if you put a ship anchored 12 miles south of there, it'd still be in U.S. territorial waters. And guess what we use for a ship?

RU: Yeah?

KH: The Enterprise.

RU: Well, that belongs to the Navy. So you get the Navy's cooperation? Is that in the plan?

KH: I think so.

RU: The US government is going to give up a perfectly good island that they could put prisoners on?

KH: (Laughs) The point is to put it under U.S. law, maybe. That's the trick. I don't know whether you want to do that or not, but if you do — that's the place you can do it. You actually need the Enterprise, because you need the initial power to get the thing up there. The Enterprise puts out about two-tenths to the gigawatt. So you can bootstrap this thing. The Enterprise is due to be decommissioned in seven years. So we've got seven years to put the business plan together.

JD: It's nuclear-powered, right?

KH: Yes, it's the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

RU: In seven years, the carbon nanotubes can perhaps come down in price a little bit. I imagine that once they start being used more, the price on those should come down quite a bit. Is there stuff being made out of this now? What are likely to be some of the first products that will be made from these before we build a space elevator?

KH: There are a few things that are being made out of them now. They're used for the scanning probes on scanning/tunneling microscopes, for instance. But they're going to be useful for all kinds of things. A quarter-inch cable made from carbon nanotubes can pick up a 150-ton locomotive up with these things.

JD: When can I hold a carbon nanotube in my hand… something made out of carbon nanotubes?

KH: If it was a really fine tube stretched really tight — like, say a thousandth of an inch in diameter — and you ran your hand through the thing, you'd have two pieces of hand.

RU: Let's go back to your origins. You've been interested in space for a really long time. Three decades ago we had the L5 Society. I've heard that the guy who now runs NASA Ames is sort of into the Gerard O'Neill concept of space colonies, so maybe that will come back. What do you think has happened with the movement towards space, and do you see some hope in the civilian programs? What do you think about human beings moving up there?

KH: I don't think it's going to happen.

RU: Never?

KH: No. Not to any serious extent. And the reason is… Second Life.

JD: Virtual reality?

KH: By the time we have the ability to get into space cheaply, it's going to be late 2030s or early 2040's. We may well be so far into the Singularity time that there won't be hardly any population left.

RU: Really?! So that's your analysis. You think that human beings will have been replaced? Or we'll have a Singularitarian disaster of some sort?

KH: I don't know. Even a singularity that isn't a disaster could easily wind up removing people's desire to go into space. Space was an adventure.

RU: There's also the idea that humans need a frontier. You think that disappears into cyberspace?

KH: It could easily happen. I was amazed by the fact that there are 300,000 people in Second Life, a year after it started.

RU: Yeah, I actually suspect that this is the Second Life, and that's the Third Life. And each version of it seems a little worse than the previous one.

Returning to our creepy friends in Scientology, there's a religion written by a science fiction writer. Rumor is, that L. Ron Hubbard started the religion to prove that he could. But it's sort of a science fictional religion. And certainly the areas that you've dealt with in your life have sort of a science fictional aspect also. So it's like some science fictional battle. There seems to be a great novel in there somewhere.



KH: Yeah, it's kind of interesting. My own connection with it started clear back when I was in 7th grade, and my mother read me Farmer in the Sky.

RU: Which is not by Hubbard, it's by Robert Heinlein.

KH: Heinlein. Hubbard was, at best, a third-rate science fiction writer. But he did manage to latch on to a technology that indeed works — it parts people with their money. By the way, if you want to find my theory paper on why this occurs, just Google sex drugs and cults.



See also:
"Scientology Fugitive" Arrested
Great Moments in the War Against the DMCA
California Cults
Thou Shalt Realize the Bible Kicketh Ass
Keith Henson on Memetics, Scientology and Evolutionary Psychology

Read More

Closing Pandora’s Box: The End of Internet Radio?


Internet Radio has become a powerful resource for people looking for greater musical diversity when they tune in. Now that diversity is threatened by a draconian rate increase for every copyrighted tune that these stations play.

In a ruling that was made public just after this article was initially published, the Copyright Royalty Board has extended the deadline for implementing the new rate structure to July 15th. According to the AP: "Webcasters can file a notice to appeal the decision in federal court, something they have said they plan to do."

Tim Westergren is one of the leading spokespeople for SaveNetRadio.org, the organization that is fighting back against the new regulations.

Westergren is also founder of the Musical Genome Project and Pandora Internet Radio. Coincidentally, Pandora has just hit a snarl with international licensing. On Wednesday, Pandora sent an email to its 6.5 million subscribers with bad news — they would now be forced to curtail access to subscribers in most non-U.S. countries. ("[W]e are deeply, deeply sorry to say... It is difficult to convey just how disappointing this is...")

I recently interviewed Westergren on NeoFiles. Jeff Diehl joined me.

To listen to the full interview in MP3, click here

RU SIRIUS: Let's start with the basics. What has the Copyright Royalty Board done?

TIM WESTERGREN: It's pretty simple. We pay a licensing fee for every song that we stream, which was determined by the Copyright Royalty Board. And the royalty board just voted to almost triple those fees within the next couple of years. So overnight, they've made webcast radio pretty much impossible. It's impossible, at these new rates, to really operate a radio station online.



RU: So who is the Copyright Royalty Board and how did they become so empowered?

TW: They're members of the copyright office in D.C. They were empowered by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Its purpose was, sort of, to govern webcasting; to provide a structure, both in terms of the constraints and the licensing structure. There were three judges assigned to this case.

RU: So there are no existing checks and balances at this point other than to try to go back to Congress?

TW: It looks like our only recourse is to get some legislative help. So in the last couple of weeks, under the "Save Net Radio" coalition, we've tried to organize as many webcasters and musicians and other folks to put pressure on Congress. There was such an uproar in the first week following this ruling that a bill was just introduced on Thursday of last week to roll it back, and to further alter the basic structural problem that really discriminates against internet radio.

RU: Who's sponsoring the bill?

TW: Representatives Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington, and Don Manzullo, a Republican from Illinois, are the lead sponsors. Many co-sponsors are signing up as we speak.

RU: Tell us a bit about the bill.

TW: It's called the Internet Radio Equality Act. As the title indicates, it's trying to establish parity between internet radio and satellite radio. Right now, internet radio is treated differently and worse than satellite and much worse than terrestrial radio for the same function. We're asking to be treated equally — which means paying a percent of revenue. The bill would void this Royalty Board ruling and establish parity with the percent revenue that's used for satellite radio.

RU: Do people who oppose this equal treatment argue that internet radio is harder to keep track of? Maybe more stations can slip through the cracks because the internet is virtually infinite.

TW: I don't think I've ever heard that argument. Originally, there was some argument that it was easier to copy off the internet because it's digital. But of course, HD radio is digital. Satellite radio is digital sometimes. So that argument is no longer used.

RU: Going way back, we could always slip a cassette in and record directly off the radio.

It's probably pretty difficult to get anything like this through Congress. My impression, for instance, is that the entertainment industry owns many Congresspeople, particularly in the Democratic Party, where a lot of your support would seem likely to come from.

TW: In general, I think that's historically true. When it comes to things like licensing and issues as it relates to media and music, Congress has been the domain of the industry. But I think in the last three or four years, we've started to see a reversal of that leverage. The internet has empowered this huge class of musicians and "participative listeners" now. I think that power is just starting to show and I don't think they're going to take this sitting down. In the end, I hope and believe that Congress is going to react to their constituents. There were hundreds of thousands of FAXes and letters sent to Congressmen within a couple of days of the coalition starting.

RU: Now, there seem to be two dates on this. I understand it's retroactive back to January of 2006 — but then there's another date approaching. Is that correct?

TW: Well, that's D-Day! July 15 is the day. That's the latest date we've heard when these rates are going to become law. And when they do become effective, the payments are retroactive back to the beginning of '06. On that day, every webcaster will be suddenly faced with a fee that they can't afford.

RU: Did they inform people of this in January of 2006?

TW: A plan for this rate to be readjusted was announced at the end of '05. It took a long time for them to set the rate, but I think what they came up with was a shock to everybody.

RU: But technically, you're playing songs in January of 2006 for one price, and then they're coming along and charging you more money. That doesn't sound legal to me.

TW: Well, I don't know about the legality of it, that's not my expertise. But I can tell you that on that day, the bills will be due from everyone from college radio to non-profits to small webcasters. For folks like us at Pandora, the costs are going to be astronomical.

I think that this ruling has virtually no constituents.

RU: Well, there's the RIAA

TW: I would argue, though, that if they really thought this through, they would recognize that this is a bad decision. It's crushing a promotional channel.

JEFF DIEHL: Did they give a rationale for such a huge hike in the rates?

TW: Well, Sound Exchange is the organization that pushed for it. And their rationale is that it's fair, and that if you can't run a business on it, you shouldn't be in business.

RU: That's not much of an argument.

JD: But why that amount of a hike? An incremental increase would be one thing, but this is exponential. They don't give any reason for that?

TW: All I can do is take at face value what I hear, in terms of press releases and commentary. And it's all been, "It's fair, and if you can't run a business on it, then you shouldn't be in business."

RU: Who does Sound Exchange work for? They're supposedly representing musicians, right?

TW: That's an interesting question. Sound Exchange is meant to represent all musicians. And their board is comprised of artists, and representatives of the small labels and the large labels. And I'm a musician myself. I used to play in bands. I spent ten years living in a van and doing that whole thing. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a dozen musicians who — if they got fully educated on the subject — would actually support this ruling that is ostensibly supposed to help them.

RU: It's sort of mysterious how this could emerge from an artist's organization rather than from the music corporations. I mean, obviously radio had promoted music for several generations. It's baffling.

TW: There were two sides in the discussion – the webcasters and some artists were on one side; and then Sound Exchange, the RIAA, and these various constituents were on the other. They argued in front of the Royalty Board for different solutions. And the Royalty Board, in a very flawed ruling, went all the way in one direction. So my guess is that the ruling surprised even Sound Exchange, although they've defended it since.



RU: I'm still trying to figure out whose interests are being served...

TW: Well, if this goes through, it basically ruins internet radio. But maybe a small handful will continue to stream – folks who can somehow continue. And in order to continue, they'll be forced to sign direct licensing agreements with labels. When they do that, there's a big difference in the way the royalties are divided up. In the current DMCA statute, all the royalties get split half with the artist, half with the label. In the world where you're dealing directly with a label, it virtually all goes to the label. So that could be one incentive.

RU: Okay, I'm beginning to see some interests who would like to monopolize Internet radio and who could be behind this.

On the Save Net Radio web site, there's talk about a 300% - 1200% percent increase. That's a big difference. How is all that mapped out?

TW: That's a good question. The reason for the difference is that in the previous rate structure, there was two ways stations could pay. Smaller and non- commercial webcasters could pay a percent of their revenue. And if you got beyond a certain size, you had to pay per tuning hour rate. The new ruling creates one rule for everybody, and it's all just "per song." So if you take someone who's paying a percent of revenue, and then translate that to what they would be paying in this new rate, in some cases it's over a 1,000% increase.

RU: Stations that have very little revenue had a way of functioning before and now they won't.

TW: And I think that's important. Pandora is all for paying musicians. We completely believe in that and we've done that since the very beginning. But the rate that they're paid needs to make sense in this business as it exists right now. And it's all about promotion. Online radio is the only hope that your average indie musician has for getting any kind of exposure.

RU: It's become common knowledge that most people hate terrestrial radio. They hate the radio stations and what the corporations have done to them. And people are looking all over the place for alternatives.

TW: The growth in internet radio is certainly partly because folks are looking for alternatives. And it's an alternative for musicians too.

RU: Of course, it took a while to work out an agreement where internet radio stations were legally allowed to play music that's owned. I think it was really after the DMCA in 1998 that some agreements were worked out. Do you know anything about that history?

TW: I'm not a perfect historian on this, but basically in 2002, that whole legislation that you're talking about was re-considered. And that's when new language was inserted into the bill that changed the standard for rate setting for internet radio. It's called the "willing buyer, willing seller" standard. It's a standard that's only applied to internet radio — it's not applied to satellite and it's not applied to terrestrial radio. It opened up a doorway for this kind of crazy rate-setting to come along.

RU: Many people have observed that the smallest webcasters are the ones that are really going to get screwed by this. Most college stations stream on the web, and they will be among the first to go. Where is Pandora in this?

TW: Pandora's a large webcaster…

RU: Are you guys going to survive?

TW: Not at these rates. Pandora can't make it work at these rates.

RU: That's very honest of you. Your investors must be...

TW: Yeah… they read a quote in the news from me one morning saying, "We're dead if this stays." It wasn't hyperbole. Larger webcasters like Pandora… we're actually a viable alternative for independent musicians. We have 6.5 million listeners right now, and that figure is growing fast. That's the kind of critical mass that's really going to allow you to build a new independent artists' foundation. And I'm a huge fan of indie, but even indie musicians need scale. They need to support the growth of large internet companies that do this, as well as the small ones.

JD: What role do the record labels really play for the artists anymore — marketing, getting musicians on the radio? Isn't it possible that an outfit like yours could connect directly with artists and say, "We'll support you"? Is there a chance to get rid of that middleman?

TW: Well, I think that the industry is starting to bifurcate. There is still the sort of "hit" industry that is the traditional business. And the stations that play that are largely marketing vehicles, like you said. But with some good software editing tools and good recording chops, you can make a CD now without borrowing half a million dollars, which was the whole premise for the record deal in the beginning. So technology has now allowed musicians to make professional-sounding CDs, and make them available globally, virtually for free. The record labels won't go away. They're going to change and consolidate more and more, which they've already been doing.

RU: There are some startups that are trying to do that — to eliminate the middleman.

TW: Oh yeah. There's a whole industry growing up around the "new label" — which is more like a quasi-management/distribution/promotions company. I think that's going to play a bigger and bigger role.

RU: And then some rock stars who have enough of a reputation can also...

TW: … do it on their own.

RU: Prince has done some of that.

TW: Pandora is not going to go into the label business. We really need to separate the radio from having any kind of agenda related the music we play. I think that's really important.

RU: Does it bug the music industry that people can make their own radio stations with companies like yours? It was always a dream of mine that I could just run down a list of all my favorite artists, and just have some station regurgitate their entire catalogues in some randomized fashion.

TW: I think that one of the debates around internet radio, is: is it promotional or is it substitutional? When it gets really interactive and you can choose at any time to listen to "Dark Side of the Moon" from front to back — chances are you're not going to buy the album. And when that happens, whoever is doing that is providing something that's kind of in lieu of buying a CD or buying a single. They would need to charge something different for that.

RU: It seems like you guys are pretty close to that boundary compared to, say, a station where DJs spin tunes that they choose.

TW: To me, the real bright line is that we're not offering songs on demand. On Pandora, you won't know when a song's coming, just like on terrestrial radio. I think that makes it fundamentally different. And Pandora's a wildly promotional service.

RU: The big broadcast stations also have streaming on the internet. Are you getting any support from any of them?

TW: Yeah. The National Association of Broadcasters is with us too. Every radio company wants to be part of the online world.

RU: So what's in it for us podcasters? When do we get a voice in Washington?

TW: Well, I think this is a great bill for anybody who wants to include music in their programming because it's acknowledging the internet format as radio. So I think it's a step in the right direction for podcasters too.

RU: Good! Do you think we could grandfather ourselves in under this? We could just say, "Hey, this applies to us!" and maybe make a test case out of it.

TW: Well, I think the one difference between podcast and radio is that you create and post copies of your shows. So you create a copy of a piece of music that you can replay, rewind, and so on. So it's in a different category. And I think that if you're making a copy of a piece of music that can be used and re-used, it's legitimate to worry that people won't buy the music. So it's different.

RU: Before I let you go, tell us a little something about your own work. How was the Musical Genome Project conceived and how does it work?

TW: It's something that we started about seven and a half years ago in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. It's an enormous collections of songs that we have been analyzing, musicologically, one song at a time to try to capture their musical DNA. A team of musicians literally listens to songs — one at a time — and analyzes them for their attributes. We have 50 musicians working for us now. We've been at it for seven and a half years, so it's really been a long path to create enough music in one collection to power the radio service. It takes between 15 and 30 minutes to analyze each song.

RU: I was trying to think about whether music can really be broken down into its component parts. So I tried your station. I combined Brian Eno, Leonard Cohen, The Beatles and Sonic Youth and it worked pretty well. But then I was thinking, if I added my absolute favorite band, which would be The Rolling Stones circa 1966 – 1972, I'd wind up getting lots of stuff that sucks like Aerosmith and Guns 'N' Roses.

TW: Musically, there's always going to be some stuff that's great that you can't quite put your finger on. I think that's part of what makes music so great. But yeah… it works most of the time, but there are going to be some situations where you're not going to be happy with what you hear.



RU: Give folks a final pitch for how they can get active to save net radio.

TW: Go to SaveNetRadio.org where we're keeping all the news and recommendations on what to do and we’ve got the latest news on the bill. But the basic call to action is for folks to call their Congressperson to urge them to support this bill, which is called the Internet Radio Equality Act, and it's House Resolution 2060. Call your Congressperson for your district. You can look it up on the web just by typing in your zip code. All that information's at SaveNet Radio.org. Make a call and say "Support the bill!"

See Also:
Dear Internet, I'm Sorry
Is Yahoo/Flicker DMCA Policy Censorship?
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free, or Not?
How the iPod Changes Culture

Read More

Create an Alien, Win A-Prize!


We won't discover the first alien lifeforms out amongst the stars, says Dr. Alan Goldstein. We will create them in our own laboratories.

Goldstein is a professor of bio-materials at Alfred University (currently on leave). He writes about nanotechnology and biotechnology for Salon and other publications. Goldstein recently conceived of The A-Prize, which is “awarded to the person or organization responsible for creating an Animat/Artificial lifeform with an emphasis on the safety of the researchers, public, and environment OR the person or organization who shows that an Animat/Artificial life form has been created." Goldstein's concept has been brought to life under the sponsorship of The Lifeboat Foundation.

So if you know about any Artificial Life forms, you can now win $26,300. (Or you may want to hold out until the cash winnings increase.)

I interviewed Dr. Goldstein over two episodes of NeoFiles
To listen the full interviews in MP3, click here and here.

See video here.

RU SIRIUS: You've convinced the Lifeboat Foundation to offer an A-prize for creating an "Animat" — or as I read it — for noticing that one exists. So what's an Animat and why are you offering a prize for making one?

ALAN GOLDSTEIN: Well, The X Prize was offered to induce people to achieve space flight. The capitalist concept is that private enterprise can do it better and more cheaply than the government. But there was another purpose – to make people consider the possibility that going into space wasn't actually that hard. Private people and private companies could get it together and make a vehicle and get into space.

So we designed the A-Prize to make people aware that creating synthetic lifeforms is not that hard either. Many people in many labs are working on it right now, and it will probably occur in the near future. So the A-Prize is broken up into two parts. You can win the A-Prize by being the first person or scientific group to invent a synthetic lifeform, or you can win the A-Prize by blowing the whistle on a person or group that has invented a synthetic lifeform. Many researches are afraid to be associated with the creation of a synthetic lifeform. So they might be making it, but they're not going to tell you. It could go unnoticed, and it probably will go unnoticed.

RU: And by your definition, an Animat is an artificial organism.

AG: In the article "I, Nanobot", I define lifeforms. And the central idea there is that a lifeform is any entity capable of executing a sequence of chemical or physical activities that result in the perpetuation or propagation of itself.

Why bother to define the difference between a biological lifeform and an artificial lifeform? So we will know one when we see one. It's like SETI, right? We're scanning outer space for signs of intelligent life, but who's scanning inner space? Who's watching for the invention of the first self-replicating, non-biological molecule? The answer is: no one. So the person who invents it might report it and they might not report it. If it's invented inside of a bio-defense laboratory, they probably won't report it.

RU: There are two things — there's secrecy, and there's also the possibility that somebody might not even think of it in those terms, and you think it's important enough to...

AG: Exactly! They're not looking for it. So it's really very simple. If you can accomplish everything you need to accomplish to go through your life cycle and the information for all of your activities can be stored in DNA and/or RNA, you are biological. In other words, if all of the code for your life processes can be stored in DNA — our genetic material – or RNA, the genetic material for some viruses and other organisms... you're biological. If you use any other form of chemistry to get through your life cycle, even one step of your life cycle, then you're something that has not been on earth for four billion years.

You know, most people think that DNA is the basis of life. In my opinion, that's not the correct way to look at it. DNA is the chemical programming language that evolution selected, so it's a chemical programming language that biological life forms use to replicate. But there's nothing special about DNA. It just won that particular evolutionary race.

RU: In the A-Prize statement, you write, "Considerable advancement in synthetic biology has been made recently." Can you point at anything particularly?

AG: In Berkeley last year, there was a synthetic biology meeting. It was called Synthetic Biology 2.0. Now, Synthetic Biology is supposed to be where we build biological life forms from the ground up. So we make the DNA. We make the genome, essentially — one base at a time. It's synthetic because we build it one molecule at a time, but in the end, we have a biological lifeform that works the way biological lifeforms (like us) do. But if you go to the website for Synthetic Biology, you will see that their logo is a single bacteria cell full of lasers and nano-wires and all kinds of synthetic, non-biological materials. So they've already violated their own definition in their logo. These people are so confused that they don't even know what they're talking about now!



RU: Let's back up a bit. The first discussions of Artificial Life that I was aware of popped up in the late 1980s. And at that time, people were really talking about stuff that was happening digitally on computers. They were talking about digital stuff that could imitate the way life evolves.

AG: That's the key to the problem! Nearly all the people interested in artificial and synthetic life come out of systems engineering and AI research. They don't understand that it's about the chemistry. Again, biological life is not based on DNA. DNA is just a particular chemical programming language that we happen to use. So when other chemical programming languages become available for replication, we will have non-biological lifeforms. And a non-biological lifeform, as I define it, is an artificial lifeform. Or an alien lifeform – we're actually talking about creating an alien lifeform. So the first alien lifeform will not come from the stars, right? It will come from ourselves. We will make it!

Imagine that I create a self-replicating silicon molecule that is a clot buster. It works just like some of the blood thinners that people take, but it is self-catalytic. When it binds to a biomolecule, it assumes a replicative form and makes a copy of itself. So it can be only one molecule — 45 atoms. But because it is self-replicating, it's a silicon-based life form. So if you're only interested in systems, in things that are complex enough to be AI, the fact that a self-replicating molecular entity that is not biological is a lifeform would slip right by you! You wouldn't even notice it. Why would you? You're not looking for it.

RU: The people behind the X Prize offered the prize because they actually want people to build vehicles that will go into space. Is the A-Prize really about raising public awareness or are you actually interested in seeing somebody create an Animat?

AG: It's inexorable. Artificial life forms will be generated. People are working on them right now. So the question is, should they be generated in secret? Should they be generated randomly? Should they be generated by whoever has enough money to generate them? Or should we formulate an organized, coherent set of definitions and guidelines, and work within those, just like we did with recombinant DNA? I'm not against this research — I do this research. But it needs to be regulated. And right now, it is completely unregulated.

RU: Well, why do you do the research? What can be accomplished by Animats?

AG: Well, it's just another form of chemistry, right? Until it begins to self-replicate, it's just an interesting way to build things. Molecular manufacturing and molecular self-assembly are the manufacturing systems of the future. There is a new industrial revolution coming – the molecular manufacturing revolution. And if we don't get on board, someone else will do it. It's not going to go away because America doesn't participate or because Alan Goldstein doesn't participate.

RU: So you're basically talking about the same sorts of promises and dangers that people have been talking about in terms of nanotechnology.

AG: Nanotechnology has become a completely meaningless term. What is really happening now is molecular engineering.

RU: Well, that's what Eric Drexler meant by nanotechnology.

AG: I advise calling it what it is: molecular engineering. And if you start mixing molecules from living organisms with molecules from non-living organisms, you create molecular hybrid entities. And if these things have the ability to self-replicate, what have you made? And if we don't have a set of definition, what do we even call it?

RU: One prize is for creating a safe Animat. How can you tell?

AG: The purpose of the A-Prize Is to draw attention to this question and then develop coherent guidelines under which to proceed. I was on the National Research Council Committee that reviewed the National Nanotechnology Initiative. It was a Congressionally mandated review of our government's nanotech program. We published the report on December 8. It became public property and sank without a trace. And one of the reasons why it sank is that it was completely sanitized. If you look at the section called "Responsible Development," it's just a bunch of fluff. There's nothing in there. All of the hard recommendations that I made essentially got lost in the editing process.

The bottom line is that molecular engineering is viewed by many as the next industrial revolution. So to certain people in government and in industry, responsible development of nanotechnology means we can't afford to lose the nanotechnology war. We can't let China beat us to the next industrial revolution. We can't let Korea beat us to the next industrial revolution. If we get beaten, we're irresponsible. We've lost our leadership. That's what responsible development means to these people. They're not worried about safety. In their minds, chemical safety plus biotechnology safety equals nanotechnology safety. But that's not true.

RU: So why is this development a threat to life?

AG: Because the behavior of an entity that is capable of using non-biological mechanisms of replication can't be predicted. We have experience with biohazards, which are biological organisms that are dangerous. And we have experience with chemical hazards. But we have no experience with Animats. So it's the apex of hubris for us to sit here and say, "Well, we know how this thing's going to behave." Because we have no bloody idea how this thing's going to behave.

RU: Do you have a vision of how things could go awry? There seem to be many science fictional possibilities.

AG: No, no — it can be very simple. For example, the most probable scenario is a viral nano-biotech weapon that goes out of control. Imagine a viral weapon that has added to it the capability to coat itself with diatom-like silica structures that would make it highly aerosolizable, and then to disperse it. And then, make it also highly resistant to chemical corrosion – to digestive acids. We've never seen a virus that can coat itself in spiky glass nano-particles. And no matter what anybody says inside the government or in industry, we don't know how to deal with that. And yet, that could be made — right here, right now. A large enough facility – a major pharmaceutical company or DARPA or the DOD could make it right now if they wanted to.

RU: Say I get an animat — what advantages might I wind up having?

AG: These synthetic forms of chemistry — the products of nanotechnology, if you want — will start off as therapies that let you live longer and healthier. But once these forms of chemistry are in your body, they can talk to your body in the language of chemistry. And they can learn. I mean, with genetically modified crops, people fear that the DNA we put in is going to learn a new trick. And the people that make GMOs say, "No, we taught this gene. This gene is only like a gene that's in the second grade." Or, "This gene has been intentionally blinded."

The bottom line is that DNA is a smart molecule. It's a smart material. It is capable of talking to the rest of the DNA, and talking to protein and other molecules in the cell, and maybe learning new things. With DNA we call that a mutation.

RU: So aside from getting rid of blood clots, suppose I wanted to make something really strange and amazing happen inside my body. Is there any potential there that you can think of? Can I grow a third arm?

AG: You know, I talked to a guy from UCSF that's doing what's called deep brain stimulation. They put electrodes deep inside your brain. And he's a wonderful person who is helping people that are in a lot of pain. But if they put electrical stimulation in the wrong place, then you can get other effects. Maybe you can induce depression or make someone hyperactive. Maybe if they put it in the right place, you could have a perpetual orgasm.



Once we learn where these connections are, we won't want to do anything as crude as putting electrodes in there. We will want to go in and bridge these circuits with carbon nanotubes or something like that. Right now you can tailor carbon nano-tubes to specifically block certain types of ion channels in the cell.

RU: How do you get that into the brain?

AG: You can have people breath it. Or you put in genes that will encode the bio-synthesis of carbon nano-tubes, which I'm sure will be happening in the near future.

Now, think about a bio-weapon that's a combination of nano/bio material. It gets into your body and the first thing it does is it runs a quick PCR assay on your DNA. It checks out genotype — finds out your ethnicity. If you have one of its targeted ethnicities, it releases carbon nano-tubes that block the neurotransmitter ion channels in the pacemaker cells of your heart. Bang. Instant heart attack. And our body doesn't know what to do with carbon nano-tubes. We have no natural defense against it. They're too big to be taken up by macrophages. If you haven't seen them before, you won't have antibodies against them.

RU: So this could be put into an aerosol spray….

AG: Right. Then you put the silicon coating on the surface...

RU: Then it just gets all the white people or all the Arabs or whatever…

AG: Yeah. Exactly. How about a bio-nanotech weapon that just makes your enemy so suicidally depressed they kill themselves?

RU: I think it's called "American Idol."

AG: Given the enormous potential for controlling the chemistry of biology with non-biological chemistry, it's inconceivable that people will not build these things.

RU: I thought it was kind of funny that Stewart Brand's Long Now Foundation sponsored a lecture by Vernor Vinge titled "What if the Singularity Doesn't Happen?" And 99% of the American people probably don't know what the fuck the singularity is and then a substantial segment of the scientific community thinks its bullshit. But for this one group, it's like a total stretch to imagine that it might not happen.

AG: The only Singularity that matters is the carbon barrier. Do you know what Ray Kurzweil's biggest problem is?

RU: That he blinks his eyes when he speaks…

AG: He still can't get outside the box enough to stop thinking like a human. And his Singularity is based on the idea that, even though we are no longer human beings, we will still want human things. That's a mistake. As we become more integrated with our technology, our psychology is going to change. So the idea that humans as we know them are going to hang around long enough for his type of Singularity to occur is specious. The real Singularity is breaking the carbon barrier. The day that we create a life form that requires a non-biological form of chemistry to propagate is the day that biological evolution changes forever.

RU: It would be pretty hard to develop a fiction narrative with nothing anthropomorphic about it. Can you think of anybody who's done that?

AG: Yes. James Tiptree Jr. wrote a beautiful story called "Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death," where she inhabited an insect mind, I think, very well. Read that story. I think she does a great job.

RU: So do you have any thoughts about what the Animat might want? Or about what we — in combination with the Animat — might desire?

AG: What if I was able to put a small form of self-replicating chemistry into you that homed to your epidermal cells and started generating photovoltaic energy for you; feeding it to your cells so that you could in effect harness the energy of the sun so you would feel better. You'd have more energy. You'd be a more high-powered individual.



Not only is that going to change the way your body metabolizes energy; it's going to change the way you feel. It's going to change the way you think. And if you start adding all of these non-biological enhancements over time, they will have a cumulative effect. This is something like a mutation. You don't see a biological mutation immediately. It has to be selected for. I use heat resistance as an example. Say some organism at the top of the Sierras gets a mutation in a crucial enzyme that allows it to operate in the Mojave. It doesn't say "Whee! I've got a great mutation! I'm going to run down to the Mojave and start propagating!" Over a few generations, it spreads down the side of the mountain and ends up in the Mojave. You don't see it until it gets there. You say, "Oh, there's a heat-tolerant version!" But you've got to backtrack to the original mutation to know when that actually happened.

So if we're not looking for molecular events — the implantation of synthetic chemistry into biological organisms — we're not going to know it when it happens.

See Also:
SF Writer Rudy Rucker: Everything Is Computation
Why Chicks Don't Dig The Singularity
Death No Thank You
There Won't Be Blood
The Mormon Bigfoot Genesis Theory


Read More

Homeland Security Follies

Bruce Schneier
According to the sleeve of his latest book, Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security, "in an Uncertain World, Bruce Schneier is the go-to security expert for business leaders and policy makers." If only the policy makers would listen, we'd be safer, happier and still free.

Other books include Applied Cryptography, described by Wired as "the book the NSA wanted never to be published."

Beyond Fear deals with security issues ranging from personal safety to national security and terrorism. Schneier is also a frequent contributor to Wired magazine, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and many other fine periodicals. He also writes a monthly newsletter, Cryptogram.

I interviewed him on The RU Sirius Show.

RU SIRIUS: First of all, why did you become a security expert? Were you a secure child? Did anybody steal your lunchbox at school?

BRUCE SCHNEIER: I don't think I had any defining security episodes in my life, but I think you're right that security is something you're born with. It's a mentality. I remember as a kid walking into stores and figuring out how to shoplift — looking where the cameras were. You're born with a mindset where you look at security in terms of a system and figure out how to get around it. It's a hacker mentality. So doing security just was natural for me.



RU: I want to get right into the political area of security against terrorism. You wrote that security works better if it's centrally coordinated but implemented in a distributed manner. Tell us a little bit about that and maybe say a bit about how that might work.

BS: In security — especially something as broad as national security – it's important that there be a lot of central coordination. You can't have people in one area doing one thing, and people in another area doing another thing, and then not have them talking to each other. So sharing information across jurisdictions and up and down the line of command is important. When things happen, you need a lot of coordination and you can see coordination failures again and again. In the aftermath of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina there was a lot of replication of effort. A lot of things that were obvious… everyone thought someone else was doing. But the other half of that is distributed implementation. You can't be so rigid that your people in the field can't make decisions. In security today, we see smart people being replaced by rules. A great example is the Transportation Security Administration. They will blindly follow the stupidest rule rather than using common sense. Security works much better when the individuals at the point of security — the guards, the policemen, the customs agents — are well-trained and have the ability to follow their instincts. Think about how September 11 could have been prevented. A field agent in Minnesota was really first to put her finger on the plot, but she couldn't get her voice heard. And she didn't have the power to do anything herself. When you look at the real successes against terrorism at the borders, it's not custom agents following rules, but noticing something suspicious, and then following their instincts. So security works best when it's centrally coordinated, but distributedly implemented. A great example is the Marine Corps. That's their model. There's a lot of coordination, but individual marines in the field have a lot of autonomy. They're trained well, and they're trusted. And because of that, it's a good fighting force.

RU: You're talking about de-centralization, basically — the organizations making decisions on the local level.

BS: Right. Another analogy is the human body. There's a lot of coordination, but it's a very distributed organism. The pieces of our body do things autonomously, without waiting for approval. There's a lot of communication back and forth, a lot of coordination, but different pieces have their job, and they're empowered to do it. And it's robust and reliable because of that.

RU: What about radically democratized security, like Open Source kinds of efforts involving citizens?

BS: It's good and bad depending on how it works. I like Open Source intelligence. I like Open Source information gathering and dissemination. There's a lot of value in that. The downside of that is something like Total Information Awareness — TIA — where you have citizens basically spying on each other. And there you get pretty much nothing but false alarms. People will turn each other in because their food smells funny or they don't pray at the right time. Done right, a radically democratized, distributed security model works. Done wrong, you get East Germany where everyone spies on their friends.

RU: They were trying to get the postmen to spy on us for a while.

BS: Right. They were going to have postmen and the meter readers. That will work well if the postmen are properly trained. Where that will fail: if you tell a bunch of postmen, "Report anything suspicious." Because honestly, they don't know what "suspicious" looks like in this context. So the question is: given all the police resources we have, what should they be doing? I don't want the government chasing all the false alarms from the postmen and meter readers when they could be doing something more useful. So that's a bad use. If you train them properly, you'll have something better. But then you don't have a postman any more. You have a security officer.

Think of a customs agent. They're going to watch people, and they're going to look for something suspicious. But they're trained in how to do it. So they're less likely to be overtly racist or a fool for dumb profiles. They're more likely to look for things that are actually suspicious. So it's a matter of training. And that's pretty much true of Open Source security models. Think of Open Source software. Having a bunch of random people look at the code to tell you if it's secure won't work. If you have well-trained people who look at the code, that will work! Open Source just means you can see it, it doesn't guarantee that the right people will see it.

RU: Even with trained security people, it seems like they make an awful lot of errors. It seems like America, over the past few years, really has that "Can't Do" spirit. Is there anything you can tell us about trained security people, and how they could improve their efforts.

BS: Well, they're always going to make errors. Fundamentally, that's a problem in the mathematics called the base rate fallacy. There are simply so few terrorists out there that even a highly accurate test, whether automatic or human-based, will almost always bring false alarms. That's just the way the math works. The trick is to minimize the false alarms.

You've got to look at the false alarms versus the real alarms versus the real attacks missed — look at all the numbers together. But terrorist attacks are rare. They almost never happen. No matter how good you are, if you stop someone in airport security, it's going to be a false alarm, overwhelmingly. Once every few years, it'll be a real planned attack… maybe not even that frequently.

With training, you're less likely to stop someone based on a dumb reason. When airport security stops a grandma with a pocketknife, that's a false alarm. That's not a success. That's a failure. It's, of course, ridiculous. So the trick is to alarm on things that are actually suspicious so you'd spend your time wisely. But the fact that almost everybody will still end up being a false alarm — that's just the nature of the problem.

RU: Most of us experience the so-called "War on Terror" in one place, and that's at the airport. What are they doing right, and what are they doing wrong at the airports? Are they doing anything right?

BS: (Laughs) Since September 11, exactly two things have made us safer. The first one is reinforcing the cockpit door. That should have been done decades ago. The second one is that passengers are convinced they have to fight back, which happened automatically. You can argue that sky marshals are also effective. I'm not convinced. And actually, if you pretend you have sky marshals, you don't even actually have to have them. The benefit of sky marshals is in the belief in them, not in the execution.

Everything else is window dressing — security theater. It's all been a waste of money and time. Heightened airport security at the passenger point of screening has been a waste of time. It's caught exactly nobody; it's just inconvenienced lots of people. The No Fly List has been a complete waste of time. It's caught exactly nobody. The color-coded threat alerts – I see no value there.



RU: A recent BoingBoing headline read "TSA missed 90% of bombs at Denver airport." (Obviously they weren't talking about real bombs, but a test.)

BS: And the real news there is it wasn't even surprising. This is consistent in TSA tests both before and after 9/11. We haven't gotten any better. We're spending a lot more money, we're pissing off a lot more fliers, and we're not doing any better.

There's a game we're playing, right? Think about airport security. We take away guns and bombs, so the terrorists use box cutters. So we take away box cutters and small knives, and they put explosives in their shoes. So we screen shoes and they use liquids. Now we take away liquids; they're going to do something else. This is a game we can't win. I'm sick of playing it. I'd rather play a game we can win.

RU: The reactive thing is terribly absurd. The whole shoe-bomber thing — my ongoing joke is that if he were an ass bomber, taxpayers would now be buying a lot of Vaseline.

What do you think about John Gilmore's court fight — that he shouldn't have to present an ID to fly inside the country. Do you think that's a legitimate goal?

BS: I don't know the legal and constitutional issues. I know they're very complex and he unfortunately lost his case on constitutional grounds. For security purposes, there's absolutely no point in having people show a photo ID. If you think about it, everybody has a photo ID. All the 9/11 terrorists had a photo ID. The Unabomber had one. Timothy McVeigh had one. The D.C. snipers had one; you have one; I have one. We pretend there's this big master list of bad guys and if we look you up against the list, we'll know if you're a bad guy and we won't let you on the plane. It's completely absurd. We have no such list. The no-fly list we have is full of innocent people. It catches nobody who's guilty and everybody's who's innocent. Even if your name is Osama bin Laden, you can easily fly under someone else's name. This isn't even hard. So there is absolutely no value to the photo ID check. I applaud Gilmore based on the fact that this is a complete waste of security money.

RU: So if you were in charge of airport security, are there any things that you would implement?

BS: I think we should ratchet passenger screening down to pre-9/11 levels. I like seeing positive bag matching. That's something that was done in Europe for decades. The U.S. airlines screamed and screamed and refused to do it, and now they are.

Really, I would take all the extra money for airport security and have well-trained guards, both uniformed and plainclothes, walking through the airports looking for suspicious people. That's what I would do. And I would just give back the rest of the money. If we secure our airport and the terrorists go bomb shopping malls, we've wasted our money. I dislike security measures that require us to guess the plot correctly because if you guess wrong, it's a waste of money. And it's not even a fair game. It's not like we pick our security, they pick their plot, we see who wins. The game is we pick our security, they look at our security, and then they pick their plot. The way to spend money on security – airport security, and security in general — is intelligence investigation and emergency response. These are the things that will be effective regardless of what the terrorists are planning.

RU: You emphasize intelligence. Is there any truth to the claims made by various agencies that intelligence people couldn't do things that they should have been able to do to protect us because of the Church Committee rules in the mid-1970s?

BS: I think that's overstated. The controls that the Church Committee put in place made a lot of sense. The purpose was to stop very serious abuses by law enforcement — by the police, the NSA, and the CIA. If you look at the failures of 9/11, they weren't based on the Church Commission restrictions. So I think we're making a mistake by dismantling those protections. In effect, those are also security measures that protect us from government abuses. Unfortunately, those abuses are far more common than terrorist attacks.

RU: Do you ever watch the TV show Numb3rs?

BS: I don't. People tell me I should, and I do see plot summaries occasionally — but no, I'm not a big TV person.

RU: It's pretty amusing. But it makes it look like if you combined data mining with some complexity theory, you could predict everything anybody will do, and exactly when and where they'll show up.

BS: If that was true, there'd be a lot more people making money on Wall Street, wouldn't there?

RU: Right. What are the limitations of data-mining? You find data mining pretty much useless in the case of terrorism, but you find it useful in other areas.

BS: Data mining is a really interesting and valuable area of mathematics and science, and it has phenomenal value. The data mining success story is in credit cards. The credit card companies use data mining to constantly look at the stream of credit card transactions, and find credit cards that have been stolen. It works because credit card thieves are relatively numerous. There's some percentage of credit cards that are stolen every year and credit card thieves tend to follow standard profiles. When mine was stolen, the fraudster bought gas first (you do that to test that the card is valid), and then went to a large department store — they went to Canadian tire — and bought a bunch of things that were easily fence-able. So my credit card company caught that immediately. So there are a lot of thieves with a well-defined profile and then also the cost for false alarms isn't that great. Most of the time, the company calls us to check, and we're happy to receive the call. Or in extreme cases, they cut off the card, and you have to call and get it reinstated

It doesn't work well looking for terrorists. The number of terrorists, with respect to the general population, is infinitesimally smaller than the number of credit card fraudsters to the number of credit cards. Also, there is no well-defined profile. You know, you hear all sorts of things that are supposed to profile terrorists — people who move suddenly — one-fifth of the population does that. Or who you talk to and communicate with. Lots of people have weird friends. In a lot of ways, a surprise birthday party looks like a terrorist attack. The only difference is how it's executed. So you don't have this large database of existing events that you can data-mine for a profile.

The other problem is that false alarms are expensive! For a credit card, they're cheap — a phone call, or you turn off the card, and they have to reinstate it. In looking for a terrorist plot, a false alarm costs maybe three weeks work from a handful of FBI agents? It's an enormous amount of money and an enormous amount of effort. So when you apply the math to looking for terrorist attacks, you have no good profile; there are so many false alarms you'll never find a real attack; and the false alarms are so expensive that they divert resources from what could be actually useful anti-terrorist activities. So I don't think it's ever going to work. The numbers are just not on your side.

It is far more valuable to do traditional police investigative work. Think of what caught the London liquid bombers. It wasn't data mining. It wasn't profiling at the airports. It wasn't any of these new-fangled ideas. It was old-fashioned detective work — following the lead. It was smart investigators investigating. It's not sexy, but it's effective. Before diverting resources from that, you better have something really good. And data mining isn't.

RU: I guess the idea of Total Information Awareness would seem sexy to some portion of the geek population. That's where it came from!

BS: We're so desperate to find ways to harness technology to solve the problem. We're used to that working in other areas of society — just apply more computing power, you get better results.

This is fundamentally a human problem. It's not a data problem. It's a problem of human intelligence connecting the dots. If I'm looking for a needle in a haystack, throwing more hay on the pile isn't going to solve my problem.

I need a better way to methodically follow the lead into the haystack to the needle. Another lesson of the liquid plot is that if they got to the airport, it would've gotten through. It would've gotten through all the enhanced screening; it would've gotten through all the enhanced profiling. The reason it failed had nothing to do with airport security.

RU: Moving on from terrorism, but still thinking about haystacks — you have a bit in "Beyond Fear" about learning about security from insects, which I found really fascinating. What can we learn from insects?

BS: There's a lot to be learned from security from the natural world in general. All species have evolved as security beings — we need to survive enough to reproduce. We need to be able to protect our offspring so they can survive. We need to protect our food supply. We attack other creatures to kill them and eat them. There's so much security interplay in the natural world. And it's a great source of strategies and anecdotes. I find insects particularly valuable, because they evolve so quickly. You see so many interesting strategies in the insect world, because of the wacky evolutionary turns they take. Evolution doesn't give you the optimal security measure. Evolution tries security measures at random, and stops at the first one that just barely works. So you tend to get really weird security in the insect world. You do get some real neat examples of distributed security measures. Think of the way ants protect their colony. There are ant species that just wander around randomly, and if they hit a predator or a threat, they run right back to their colony to alert everybody. Individual ants are very cheap and very expendable, so if you have cheap resources, you just sort of do random things.

The lima bean plant is interesting. Effectively, when a certain mite attacks it, it calls an air strike. It releases a chemical that attracts a predator mite that will eat the mite that's attacking it. Very clever.

RU: We are moving into a society very much like the ones that have been written about in various cyberpunk novels in the early 90s. We can imagine people running around with suitcase nukes and bioterror or nanoterror weapons that are extraordinary. This kind of destructive power is moving from the government to the small group to the individual. Does that imply a need for a Total Surveillance society — basically, we need to watch everything everybody is doing, all the time?

BS: I don't think it implies that. It does imply we need some kind of different security. I think society is inherently good. Most people are inherently honest. Society would fall apart if that weren't true. In a sense, crime and terrorism is a tax on the honest. I mean, all of security is a tax. It taxes us honest people to protect against the dishonest people. The dishonest people are noise in the smooth running of society. The attacker gets a lot more leverage when the noise becomes greater – so in a complex society, a single person can do a lot more disrupting. But I don't believe that surveiling everybody will solve the problem. We have to start thinking about different ways to cope with these problems. But I sort of discount massive surveilance as ineffective. I don't even need to say: "I don't want to live in a society that has that."



RU: So let's say President Obama asks you to be the Homeland Security director. If you accepted, what would you do with it?

BS: If I was in charge of Homeland Security, I would spend money on intelligence investigation and emergency response. That's where I'll get the best value. And I think there is security inherent in civil liberties, in privacy and freedom. So I wouldn't be messing with that.

RU: Before I let you go, what are you exploring now?

BS: In the past, I've done a lot of work in the economics of security. Now I'm researching the human side of security — the psychology of security. I'm looking into how people make security decisions, how they react to security. Why is it that we're getting security wrong? Why is it that people fall for security theater instead of doing what makes sense? And it turns out there's a lot of very interesting things about how the brain works, how we process security trade-offs. I'm researching that. There's an enormous body of research that hasn't really been applied to the technological community. I'm really new to this research, but there's a lot there to look at.

See also:
Is Iraq Really THAT Bad?
Catching Up with an Aqua Teen Terrorist
20 Secrets of an Infamous Dead Spy
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free Or Not?

Read More

Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams

Ecstacy pills

Are psychedelic drugs medicinal? Can you picture yourself walking into the neighborhood pharmacy with prescriptions for ecstasy (MDMA) and psilocybin?

If MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies) has its way, the days of prescription psychedelics may not be too far away. For those who know the history of psychedelic research, this eventuality has been a long time coming. But others — who may only be familiar with the intense emotions and activities around the "War On Drugs" over the past several decades — may be surprised to learn how much progress MAPS has made.



Jag Davies is the Director of Communications for MAPS, a non-profit research and education organization that assists scientists to design, obtain approval for, fund, conduct and report on research into the healing and spiritual potentials of psychedelics and marijuana. He joined Steve Robles, Jeff Diehl and myself on The RU Sirius Show.

Let it be said that Mr. Davies has the patience of a saint (and a sense of humor). Despite the fact that we were unable to resist the urge to crack drug jokes throughout, Jag managed to convey vast quantities of important information about psychedelic research.

DRUG I: MARIJUANA

RU SIRIUS: We should all drink a toast! You have some good news about marijuana research. Why don't you share some of that stuff with us?

JAG DAVIES: Sure. We just found out on February 12 that a DEA administrative law judge ruled in favor of MAPS in our lawsuit against the DEA.

MAPS would like to design and fund and do the FDA clinical trials necessary to get marijuana approved as a prescription medicine. It's never been put through the FDA clinical trials to see if it meet the standards for safety and efficacy of any other drug under certain conditions.

The reason that hasn't happened is because the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a monopoly on the supply of research-grade marijuana. It's the only Schedule 1 controlled substance where the federal government has a monopoly on the production.

So what MAPS has been trying to do for the past six years is start an independent medical marijuana production facility. We're working with professor Lyle Craker, who's the director of the medicinal plant program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He had no history of working with marijuana, but he's a very well rounded botanist. In 2001, we sent NIDA an application, and first they took a year to tell us they had lost it. Their primary strategy is delay. (Laughs) And then they took another three years to reject it. And when they reject an application, there is a formal process where you can request a hearing with a DEA Administrative Law Judge. But the DEA's power is so unchecked that even once the ruling is decided in your favor, they can reject it. So there was this two-year hearing. We were represented by the ACLU and some Washington D.C. law firms. And the case took about two years for the judge to rule on our side. But now the DEA can still decide whether to accept or reject the recommendation. So there's still a lot more work to be done. But it was an 87-page recommendation. The judge rebuked all of the DEA's arguments and explained why NIDA needs to stop obstructing legitimate scientific research. So it's very exciting.

RU: The DEA is famous for ignoring their administrative judges. I remember their Administrative Judge made a strong ruling against making Ecstasy Schedule One in the '80s. And they proceeded to completely ignore it. The DEA is the Politburo of America.

It sounds like you guys are trying to unhook a little Catch 22 there. You can have marijuana experiments, but you can't have the marijuana to do the experiments.

JAG: Yeah. Well, you can't do FDA-approved research without the legal supply, and the only legal supply for research would come from NIDA. So once you get a study approved by the FDA, then you have to go through an entirely separate review process, through NIDA and PHS (Public Health Service),which is part of Health and Human Services. They have three to six months to respond. By contrast, the FDA has thirty days to respond. And there's no formal appeals process. So they basically can arbitrarily decide what they want to do.

JEFF DIEHL: Is it MAPS policy that marijuana should only be available through a prescription?

JAG: Not in the long-term. Our long-term goal is to regulate all drugs for different uses, because we don't think drug prohibition works. It's not sound public policy. But our strategy for the foreseeable future—at least for the next five to ten years—is working only on these medical cases, because that's what the public is most comfortable with. It's really a strategic decision. But we don't think marijuana should be illegal for recreational purposes either.



STEVE ROBLES: But the problem is—going through agencies like NIDA is kind of like being in Germany in 1939 and asking Hitler for Passover off. I mean, they're beyond resistant — they're hostile.

JAG: But Congress does control their funding. So if there was a major political push from Congress… if they felt that there was really going to be a political backlash... In 1989, DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young recommended that marijuana be re-scheduled to Schedule 3. And they didn'tdo it. But that would have been much more drastic measure than what we're trying to do. We're just trying to get them to allow for a research supply. What we're asking for is so conservative, really.

JEFF: Are these DEA judges appointed? How do they get in their positions?

JAG:: They're appointed by the Department of Justice. The DEA is part of the Department of Justice.

RU: There doesn't seem to be much percentage in being reasonable about pot for a politician. Even though a lot of people smoke marijuana, there doesn't seem to be a lot of people who feel strongly about it as an issue at the national level.

SR: I always say it needs to be "Datelined" to appeal to the public. Say somebody like Bob Dole is begging for medical marijuana while he's rotting away from cancer.

RU: You guys got support in this recent case from the Senators from Massachusetts—Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. And we all know about John Kerry. (OK, we don't. But I've heard rumors that Kerry still tokes.)

SR: Which explains how he fucked up in the last election. I love pot, but…

JEFF: "Whatever, man. It'll all work itself out." (Laughter)

SR: "I'm not gonna let him kill my buzz." (Laughter)

JAG: We got 38 representatives to sign on to a letter of support before the judge made the ruling. We're headed for a bigger sign-on support letter in the Senate and we've got a few months to formulate a political response. In the '80s when Francis Young made his recommendations, there was hardly any political support. The only organization doing any work was NORML, and they were small and had some issues. There's much more of an infrastructure now behind all of these different drug policy organizations that are going to help us. And there are already 160 congresspeople that voted in favor of the Hinchey Medical Marijuana Amendment. And there's a former conservative Republican representative that is going to be lobbying in support of this case. I can't say who it is. We can't announce it for about a month.

RU: Bob Barr!

JAG: (Laughs) I can't say anything.

RU: Bingo! (Laughter)

JEFF: We got it first! Isn't it the case that everybody is taking all these high-grade mood-altering pharmaceuticals now—all the anti-depressants—stuff that really has a strong effect on your daily functioning. So it seems like it's a little bit more difficult to be against even the study of marijuana as a possible prescription substance.

JAG: Yeah, it's like people are used to the concept.

JEFF:: … of "dosing," basically.

RU: As a culture, we're pretty conscious of chemical mind alteration.

DRUG II: ECSTASY (MDMA)

RU: Let's move on to ecstasy. We're going to do one drug at a time.

JEFF: Should've done that first! It takes too long to kick in, man.



RU: So a while back, MAPS got approval for a study in MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. Where are we at with that?

JAG: It's almost over. They've treated 15 out of 20 patients. It's very slow. There are lots of pre-conditions for the study because it's such a controversial substance. But the results are ridiculous. Their CAPS score—(CAPS is the Clinician Administered PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] Scale) is about five times higher than in treating chronic treatment-resistant patients with Zoloft. It's very likely that we're going to be able to go on to do our next set up studies—Phase III studies. And there are a whole other slew of studies that are sort of copying this one that we're doing in a bunch of other places like Switzerland, and Israel, just to be sure.

JEFF: So does it look like MDMA is going to become something that's used pharmaceutically?

JAG: After careful analysis, we decided that MDMA is probably the most likely of any psychedelic drug to get approved. First of all, it has a very gentle sort of pharmacological profile.

But the other reason is sort of interesting. People ask us, "Why don't you try MDE or MDA, drugs without the same cultural connotation." It would be easier politically. But because it was so demonized by the government in the 1980s and 1990s, there has been hundreds of millions of dollars of research done into its risks. So they've done all the work for us!

RU: You mentioned a comparison to Zoloft, the implication being that MDMA could be an effective anti-depressant.

JAG: The difference is that MDMA is not used on a daily basis. That's why there's not a profit incentive.

RU: But what would the prescription be — once a month? Or ten sessions?

JEFF: They didn't dose them daily in the study?

JAG: No, not at all. They do about 15 regular psychotherapy sessions. And then with two or three of them, depending on the study, there are sessions where the person takes either a placebo or the MDMA. It's very methodologically rigorous. It's double-blind and you don't know if you got the placebo or not.

With something like Ritalin, you have to keep taking it every day or every week or whatever. With MDMA, or a psychedelic drug that you use in conjunction with therapy, which is how we're trying to get it approved, you would only use it maybe five times at the most. So the incentive to make money isn't there.

JEFF: What kind of dosage did they use? Was it comparable to a street hit?

JAG: Actually, it's a bit larger than a street hit. It's 125 milligrams pure. And then we actually got approval about halfway through the study to make a couple of changes. One of them was to take a booster dose, basically, although we call it a "supplemental" dose. They take another 60 milligrams about an hour and half into it.

JEFF: You're not calling it "a bump"? (Laughter)

RU: It's been easier to do studies in Europe for a while, hasn't it? I seem to remember that stuff was happening in one of the Scandinavian countries in the early '90s.

JAG: There's been work in Switzerland, although not with psychotherapy. And we just got a study that's already ongoing in Switzerland with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. And then there's another study that's about to get approved this year for LSD-assisted psychotherapy for end-of-life anxiety. And that would be the first LSD psychotherapy study, or the first real study looking at LSD's benefits at all, anywhere in the world.

RU: Most of the countries in Europe don't have a drug war at the level of intensity that we have here. There have been some experiments allowed, and there have been various levels of drug decriminalization in a lot of countries. In Amsterdam and London, you can buy mushrooms quasi-legally. So why aren't we hearing about how their societies have been changed by the relative freedom to experiment with psychedelic drugs? Why aren't we hearing, "Wow. Look at what's happening here. Everybody's so enlightened!"

JAG: Well, things are better. At least as far as drug prohibition-related harm goes, it's a lot better. Their prison populations are incredibly lower. But I think more people use marijuana and psychedelics in the U.S. than in those countries. Just because they're legal, that doesn't mean more people are using them.

RU: A few days ago, I saw an item in the newspaper which said that people are now abusing more prescription drugs than illegal drugs in America. That's a result of the war on drugs.

JAG: Yeah, vastly many more people die every year from prescription drugs in America than from illegal drugs, even despite the harm that's caused by all the misinformation about illegal drugs.

SR: I've heard that Spain was doing some Ecstasy research.

JAG: The first MDMA-assisted psychotherapy study in the world was sponsored by MAPS and approved in 2001 in Madrid. It started but was shut down by the Madrid anti-drug authorities after there were positive reports in the press.

RU: There's nothing worse than good news to the medical establishment.

JAG: We've been trying to start a study up there again. In the mean time, we've got studies approved in Charleston, South Carolina, at Harvard, in Switzerland, and in Israel. So we think it's a bit more politically feasible now. Spain might be able to swallow it… so to speak.

RU: I interviewed (MAPS President) Rick Doblin about a decade ago about the relationship between MAPS and the FDA. And there was a loosening up about psychedelic research within the FDA that hadn't occurred since the 1960s. It started actually under Bush I in the '80s and continued under the Clinton administration. Has the relationship with the FDA changed?

JAG: The FDA continues to be very supportive. Since 1990, the FDA has been supportive of our protocols. The problems have really come more from the DEA and NIDA. In order to do any study, you need approval from the DEA to have a schedule 1 license to actually possess the drug for the study. It's usually been the DEA that has held everything up, because the FDA is more based around science, and the DEA is based more around criminal justice and law enforcement.

RU: Very few people know that in the middle of all the drug hysteria, the FDA had started to allow these kinds of experiments to begin. It's kind of amazing.

When I skim the MAPS site, I see all this stuff about approved protocols and activities that are going to lead up to tests, and then maybe an occasional test. But has there been any results?

JAG: Well, yeah, there have been some results. We finished the Phase I MDMA studies. There's three phases to FDA approval. The Phase I studies are the safety studies, and those took quite a long time. The Phase II studies aren't finished yet, though. And we did studies with vaporizers and marijuana. For example, we found that water pipes are worse for your lungs than smoking a joint.



SR: When that news came out I just about cried.

JAG: We've done all sorts of background research too. We did survey studies about LSD and cluster headaches and about what happens when you hook people on Ayahuasca up to EEGs.

The background research sort of assembles the literature needed to get these drugs approved as prescription medicines. That's really our main focus — getting the drugs approved rather than just doing basic science.

DRUG III: PSILOCYBIN

RU: The big news item last year was about results from psilocybin experiments conducted at John Hopkins. A New York Times headline read: "Mushroom Drugs Produce Mystical Experiences." Next they'll be telling us that bears shit in the woods.



SR: "Beans cause gas in humans."

RU: You guys weren't directly involved in this one, right?

JAG: No, we didn't sponsor that study. That study was amazing. This team of researchers has a different approach than MAPS. They kept their entire protocol secret and kept it totally hidden from the media right until the day of publication. This was sort of basic background science research on mystical experiences. And they actually used grant money from NIDA for the study. NIDA disavowed the study afterwards. The former director of NIDA, Bob Schuster, wrote one of the commentaries for it. He said it was great. He loved it, but of course the current director of NIDA couldn't go along with that. So they sort of issued a rebuke saying, "Don't listen to this."

RU: Do you hear about this a lot? Has this changed the culture around moving this work forward? It was all over the media.

JAG: Yeah, I think it definitely helped legitimize psychedelic research.

RU: They were basically doing one of Timothy Leary's studies from the early 1960s over again.

JAG: It was the follow-up on a study that was done in the 1960s called "The Good Friday Experiment" where they gave psilocybin to divinity students at a chapel somewhere in Boston. And they had them fill out all these questionnaires and asked them about whether or not they had any mystical experiences. They found that most of them had the most mystical experience of their lives. So the John Hopkins Study actually sort of repeated that same methodology with a new group of subjects who weren't familiar with the drug.

RU: But they weren't divinity students were they?

JAG: No, I think they were a more general population.

DRUG IV: IBOGAINE

RU: On this show a few weeks ago, we were talking about Ibogaine as a cure for heroin addiction. What data do we have now about Ibogaine?

JAG: We have a study approved that's just starting right now. It has full government approval in Vancouver. Ibogaine is illegal in the U.S., but it's legal in Canada and Mexico. So we're sponsoring an observational case study of patients treated at the Iboga Therapy House in Vancouver. No one's actually done the long-term follow-up research to see whether – six months or two years later — people relapse into using opiates or not, and whether they relapse in a way that's dangerous. All we have at this point are various anecdotal reports. We're doing a similar study at a clinic in Mexico.

It lasts, like, 24 to 36 hours. The last 12 hours people report feeling sort of physically paralyzed. It's a very intense experience so you have to really want to do it to do it.

RU: If you think Ayahuasca is not fun...

JAG: The government hasn't really had to fight it off because it hasn't spread recreationally.

JEFF: I heard a story on "This American Life" about a guy who was administering Ibogaine treatments to junkies that he knew, because he himself had been a junkie. And it was underground. He wasn't a doctor. He didn't have any medical training. He just started a program and tried to develop it but somebody died under his treatment. And he kind of went off the deep end because he felt so guilty about encouraging this guy to take Ibogaine who died.

Is Ibogaine dangerous?

JAG: Compared to other psychedelics, it does interact badly with certain dangerous pre-conditions because it lasts for so long. People with heart problems shouldn't take it — people with really high blood pressure. But there are tons of people like that all around the country – these sort of underground therapists who have been practicing with Ibogaine. A lot of the people support MAPS. They want to be able to use it above ground as part of their practice.

JEFF: Unfortunately, this guy wasn't even a therapist or anything. He was just kind of an ex-junkie who'd gone straight and wanted to…

RU: ...help his friends. How many of those people would have died from heroin overdoses?

DRUG V: KETAMINE

RU: Speaking of dangerous drugs, I was watching cable news one day when one of those screen crawls went by, and it said something like "Research finds low doses of ketamine effective for depression." Do you know anything about this?

JAG: Yeah. A study that was funded by the National Institute on Mental Health showed very promising results for ketamine as an anti-depressant. I think the media portrayal was a bit over-optimistic because Ketamine has its drawbacks – some people see drawbacks in daily dosing because it can cause dependence. But then again, so do the psychiatric drugs that are being approved today. And ketamine was showing much better results than those.

RU: Do you know what the dosage level was on those experiments?

JAG: I know it was very low. They were functioning doses, not K-Hole doses.

DRUG VI: LSD

JAG: Most other psychedelics we study don't have... like, no one's ever died from an LSD overdose.

SR: And believe me.... (Laughs)

JAG: I'm sure some people have tried!

RU: Do you ever watch the TV show "House"? This doctor is always taking all kinds of drugs. He's a vicodin addict for one thing. On one episode, he gives himself a cluster headache and then injects acid to cure it. The show is actually very smart about drugs. Anyway, what's up with LSD and psilocybin as a cure for cluster headaches?

JAG: I'll give you a bit of background. Cluster headaches are a type of migraine that lasts for weeks at a time. They're really difficult to treat. I've read that up to a fifth of people with cluster headaches end up committing suicide because it's so difficult to treat and so painful.

A few years ago, people started noticing that taking threshold doses of psilocybin and LSD at regular intervals would break their cluster headache cycle. And it was the only thing that would do it. So we did a survey study that's finished and now there's a study that's been approved at Harvard. So all these people who wouldn't use psychedelics otherwise have been using the drug to treat their cluster headaches.



JEFF: Do they feel any psychedelic effect?

JAG: Yeah, some people do it in slightly sub-psychedelic doses but it can still have the effect.

RU: Do they start believing in UFOs?

JAG: (Laughs)

See Also:
The Great Wired Drug Non-Controversy
Hallucinogenic Weapons
Paul McCartney On Drugs

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EFF Attorney Jason Schultz vs. Stephen Colbert

Starting with a whiteboard and a teacher’s instincts, Jason Schultz makes the Michael Crook free speech case as clear as a flowchart. He also explains why the EFF made a video apology part of the settlement.

Please note that this video was posted to Blip days before Stephen Colbert ripped Jason Schultz off, using a whiteboard to diagram the problems of the EFF’s case against Viacom to John Perry Barlow!

Colbert and Barlow

To watch the Schultz video, click here.
To watch the Colbert video, click here.

See Also:
Crook Apologizes
In the Company of Jerkoffs
The Case Against Crook
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks

Read More

Official Launch: 10ZM.TV

One of the reasons for the "video apology" term in the settlement agreement with Michael Crook is that we were already planning to launch a video property. Having Crook's apology in video seemed an appropriate format, and its wide viewing would help get some visibility for this new effort. We figure he owed us that much. There are a few things we're going to experiment with in the show, called 10ZM.TV, and hosted on the Blip.tv video sharing network. First, we'll be collecting video commentary from web figures on stories and themes we explore on our various other properties, such as this site, The RU Sirius Show, NeoFiles, Destinyland and Pastor Jack. Second, we'll record bits from our own writers and commentators. And finally, we're going to publish hot little bits from the continuous series of mind-blowing interviews conducted by RU Sirius. Rudy Rucker's interview is the first one we videotaped, so you'll see several clips from that in the coming weeks. So stay tuned, subscribe via RSS or iTunes, or watch Rudy Rucker now:
Science fiction writer Rudy Rucker, author of the book, Mathematicians In Love, claims that any natural process can be regarded as a computation, and that computers are not "digital."

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“Dear Internet, I’m Sorry”


Crook on Fox News

Even while delivering a video apology "to all bloggers, webmasters and other individuals" as part of a settlement agreement with 10 Zen Monkeys, he somehow seems determined to be the most hated man on the internet — if he could just get people to stop ignoring him. (You'll find that video further down on the page.)

But, let's back up a bit first...
I'm writing a new story for 10zen tonight.

Dana Plato?

Nah, the piece is about that Michael Crook guy.

That's how it started last September. We'd already written about a Seattle prankster named Jason Fortuny, who'd pretended to be a woman on Craig's List and then published horny male respondents' private info on the internet. In the fateful 27th comment on that story, a new site popped onto our radar.
He's inspired a website that exposes people nationwide — craigslist-perverts.org

That web site was registered to Michael Crook, and to this day I'm convinced Crook himself left the comment, hoping to skim off some of the attention. Sure enough, the site showed that Crook had duplicated Fortuny's stunt; he'd posted a fake ad on Craig's List pretending to be a young woman seeking sex in Syracuse, New York. But no one even noticed; according to Crook's own blog, he only got a few dozen responses. He tried posting more fake ads in more cities — Las Vegas, Dayton, South Jersey, Kansas City, and Anchorage — and created a web site with the results.



We noticed, but we weren't impressed. The original title for our article about Crook was "wannabe asshole," although we later changed it to In the Company of Jerkoffs, calling Crook "another sad member of the 'griefer community'... not only pathetic, but a pathetic copycat."
As an after-thought, I'd sent Jeff Diehl, our editor, a screenshot from Crook's appearance on Fox News to accompany the story. ("I think the bad hair and stiff tie and collar say a lot about the guy...")

We knew Crook wouldn't like it — but that's life on the internet. (I'm sure the men who answered his fake Craig's List ad didn't like it when he called them at work, either.) Life continued at our up and coming webzine — our next story questioned the press coverage about Willie Nelson's September arrest for possession of mushrooms. And then something weird happened...

Our internet service provider got a nasty email from Michael Crook. Crook wanted the embarrassing picture taken down, and to make that happen, he was pretending he had a copyright over the screenshot from Fox News, citing the "Digital Millenium Copyright Act" (or DMCA). I suggested a new headline for Jeff. "Syracuse jerk uses heavy-handed DMCA mumbo-jumbo to try to intimidate web pages he doesn't like."

We were clear that Crook had no legal claim. But his amateurish legalese spooked our spineless (pre-Laughing Squid) ISP, who asked Jeff to remove the image anyways. Jeff knew there was something wrong. In the world we live in, internet services can absolve themselves from future legal liability — if they quickly remove the suspect material. This means if someone wants an embarrassing picture taken down, simply masquerading as its copyright holder can be enough. So Michael Crook was pretending he owned a copyright on someone else's picture of his face.



Crook's legal interpretation was as laughable as the Batman comic book where the Joker claimed a copyright on a fish that looked like him.

But deep within the DMCA law is a counter-provision — 512(f), which states that misrepresenting yourself as a copyright owner has consequences. Any damage caused by harmful misrepresentation must be reimbursed. In 2004 the Electronic Frontier Foundation won a six-figure award from Diebold Election Systems, who had claimed a "copyright" on embarrassing internal memos which were published online. So not only was Jeff Diehl legally free to publish Crook's picture; Crook was in violation of the law for pretending he owned a copyright.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation now agreed to represent us. Crook hadn't just issued a copyright notice to 10 Zen Monkeys; he'd sent them to other web sites, again pretending to own the copyright on Fox News' image, to trick the sites into taking his picture down. (There were even cases where he served DMCA notices to websites that published Fair Use quotes from his blog.) Crook was a serial abuser of the copyright law — and so far his misuse of it had been rewarded every time. Some webmasters and bloggers obeyed the takedown notices without considering the counter-claim process, to avoid having to give Crook their identifying information — which he'd publicly demonstrated he enjoyed using maliciously.



But it was a mistake to try his stunt anywhere near Silicon Valley, where people closely follow how technology is evolving, and care deeply about protecting free speech online. Local web stars cheered on the lawsuit at sites like BoingBoing and Valleywag (where Nick Douglas wrote, "This Emo Kid is Getting Sued," and later begged Crook for a DMCA takedown notice of his own — which he got and displayed proudly). Someone had finally noticed Michael Crook — but for all the wrong reasons. Web sites were now re-posting even more copies of the picture he hated.

Crook tried hiding from the delivery of the legal documents — then later blustered on his web site that he'd successfully re-structured his business holdings to make it hard to collect. In a futile go-for-broke strategy, he then sent even more bogus DMCA notices — to other web sites which were reporting on his original bogus copyright notice. "I wonder if this is another one of his stunts for 'bad attention,'" I asked Jeff. "Everyone online hates the DMCA; maybe he's deliberately abusing it, the way Andy Kaufman used to bait professional wrestling fans."



For a brief moment it was Michael Crook versus the internet — until Michael Crook lost in a blow-out. Ignoring Crook's amateurish legal posturing, Fark.com users created over 50 versions of the supposedly-forbidden photo, photoshopping Crook's face into even more embarrassing poses. Someone tracked down Crook's high school yearbook photos (which, ironically, ended up being mocked in the blog of the original Craigs List prankster, Jason Fortuny.) Someone even uploaded the photo into the virtual gaming world Second Life. (Crook then tried unsuccessfully to issue a DMCA notice against a photo of that photo.) The ongoing mockery became a kind of online seminar, reminding web surfers to stand up to copyright law abusers, and to never pay attention to the Michael Crooks of the world.

In November, web writer Tucker Max called out Crook for an online debate. Crook accepted — though he only made three short posts, apparently caught off guard when Max refused to take Crook's weird positions seriously and instead attacked Crook himself. "You are desperate for attention," Max wrote, "and the ability to feel something, anything, you are willing to be the most ridiculed, hated person on the internet. Look at yourself dude. Look at your life." Max even claims he used his contacts as a law school graduate to guarantee that Crook, who says he wants to one day be a lawyer, will never pass the bar.

But abusing copyright law was only Crook's latest attempt at provoking attention. He'd previously claimed to hate the military, Jews, gays, immigrants, non-whites and children. Max noted that Crook tried to join the army, and had been rejected; and that Child Protective Services had taken his children away. Were Crook's attacks just a misguided lashing out over his own bitter failures?

The online world was faced with the griefer paradox: that griefers want bad attention, and the only real answer is ignoring them. Behind the scenes, the EFF was working to establish the only true point of the case — that web sites didn't have to buckle in the face of bogus copyright threats, and that abusing the DMCA would bring consequences.



Because Crook proved himself to be legally indigent, and was representing himself in an incompetent way that would likely have lessened the impact of an official judgment, it was decided that a settlement agreement could accomplish just as much, possibly more. Crook eventually signed such an agreement. It requires him to 1) take a course on copyright law basics; 2) never again file any cease and desist notices concerning the image of him on Fox News; 3) withdraw each and every DMCA notice he served regarding the image; 4) refrain from filing any DMCA notices for 5 years unless the material in question is personally authored, photographed or originated by him; 5) include in any DMCA notice during that 5 year period, URLs pointing to the EFF's web page summarizing this case; 6) turn over ownership of any domain names to Jeff Diehl and 10 Zen Monkeys if he is caught violating any of the terms of the agreement.

And, finally, he had to formally apologize to those he harassed. In video. Here now, is that video:




Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.


Subscribe now to MondoGlobo's new video show, 10ZM.TV!

In the San Francisco Bay Area? Celebrate free speech and the EFF: Free Speech Ain't Free!

See also:
EFF's Jason Schultz Explains the Crook Case
EFF's Diehl v. Crook page
Settlement Agreement
In the Company of Jerkoffs
The Case Against Crook
Crooks of the World Hurt Copyright, Free Speech
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued

Read More

Who are Second Life’s “Patriotic Nigras”?



They're brash, articulate and unapologetic; and they have a message for America. Mudkips Acronym is co-founder of "the Patriotic Nigras," the group who attacked John Edwards' virtual headquarters in Second Life, and Wednesday he agreed to an email interview.

Talking about Second Life and the blogosphere, Mudkips explains how his group operates and their pranksterish motivations, and insists that... no, they're aren't Republicans.

LOU CABRON: Why did your attacking avatars wear "Bush '08" buttons?

MUDKIPS ACRONYM: Everything we do is for laughs, and we thought "Bush '08" would be interpreted as humor — as I'm sure you know, Bush obviously can't be re-elected in '08.



However, the resulting aftershock from the "blogosphere", particularly on the left, has been enormous, when they thought the raiders were Republicans. This was completely unexpected, and frankly hilarious. I'm a bit disillusioned with my own party after this event, actually, as someone who did read blogs like the Daily Kos and expected some honest and truthful journalism. However, it seems as if everyone played a giant game of telephone, taking the Republican assumption and adding on more and more anger and hostility as it went on.

While I felt Kerry was a bit wishy-washy, I voted for him in 2004. I'm sort of conservative on economics but very, very liberal on anything else. I'm all for Bush impeachment over the Iraq war and all that jazz. I'm currently rooting for Obama, but that doesn't mean we won't raid him or anything. We'll hit anyone if it's funny, and if the guy I want to be president in 2008's campaign provides the lulz, we'll certainly not cross him off our list.

I'm not going to deny Patriotic Nigras is a troll group. We exist primarily to make people mad. Unlike most trolls, however, the attention is not the biggest concern. However, the reaction to this whole mess has been a troll's DREAM. An "attack," placed in an unofficial spot on an unofficial blog, has been a large story if only because the political persecution factor was tacked on to it.

While a few of us might be racist or something (who knows with this group), that's completely irrelevant to our cause. N3X15, our webhoster guy and acting Second Life leader, is a Republican. I probably disagree with him on a lot of things. But we're willing to overlook that in the fact that we all are allied to the same goal. I think laughs transcend party lines.

I think this whole incident is telling of where our priorities lie (and by "our" I mean America, if you happen to be outside the U.S.). But let's not make this too much of what it isn't.

Returning to the Bush thing, my answer would be "for the lulz". Claiming to be from the Republicans, we thought, would just add some irony to the whole thing. We didn't know that it would become the centerpiece of the event.

LC: Can you tell me about your group? How many people are in it?

MA: We have around 70 members on the forums. Of those, maybe 35 are active and confirmed.

The first attack was somewhere in December or January. I don't remember exactly when, but it was around Christmas-time. Like it says in the Encyclopedia Dramatica article, though, the first attacks were somewhat sparse. Me and a couple other guys, doing random crap.

As for hating John Edwards himself...nah. He (actually, the camp seems to be unofficial, so rather whoever set it up and posted the news on the blog) was simply a high-profile target exploitable for maybe a day or two of chuckles, maybe more, at least we thought at first.

It was only when we'd become able to get to a critical-mass of sorts of members that the "attacks" become organized and large-scale. I'd put that around the time of the third Fort Longcat, the middle of January. Once we got that set up, we were able to organize efficiently and had a place to retreat and regroup when things didn't go right.

The planning for the Edwards attack was actually fairly minimal. We have experience doing this sort of thing with the furry and gorean sims. However, and without trying to be too dramatic, we did have "spies" in and around the physical Edwards campaign HQ.

Our original plan was to arrive in a bunch of Black Hawk helicopters and have sniper areas. We had it planned out for a while, but a couple people from the organization decided to go in prematurely. Like I've said, it would have caused much more of a hubbub had the original plan went through!

LC: What do you tell people who say your group is racist?

MA: As an organization, we have no racist, sexist, or political bias, except in the case of when it serves our interests. The "nigra" thing could be seen as a racist remark at first glance, but Encyclopedia Dramatica explains it well

"Since the Internets is largely Anonymous and because the term was invented by a /b/tard (a cyber being of indeterminate and irrelevant sex/age/heritage) in the virtual, 'colourblind' environment of Habbo Hotel as a way to say 'nigga' without alerting their dirty word Department of Habboland Security feds, any suggestion that the word 'nigra' is racist is not only completely without merit, it's racist against the inhabitants of Internets."

LC: So how are you able to operate in Second Life?

MA: Even though Fort Longcat was deleted by the landowner, we're still setting up small scale forts to organize. Since our forts are usually deleted within the week by landowners, we're constantly on the move, and the fact we have permanent forums (no ProBoards free stuff that can be taken out from under us) now has helped keep us together. Our webmaster has engineered a half-working separate Second Life server/sim as well, where we can meet up independent of the main grid.

As to who we are, all I can say is that we're big-A Anonymous.

LC: So what kind of people are in the group? Are you high school students, middle-aged geeks...?

MA:The stereotype of us being high school geeks with acne is funny. Most of our members are well in their twenties and even thirties. The site where we originated from from has an active no-under-18 policy.

As for the site's identity, I have to clarify two things:

1. We're not from Something Awful.

2. Ebaumsworld is a cover, and we're not from there. Rule one in our book is "do not mention the site we come from." Anyone caring to analyze the content (signs, things we say, the "nigras" part of our name) of our raids, however, should be able to figure it out with a little Googling. However, while we originated from that board, we're a separate entity and do not organize there.

LC: Is your group worried about getting busted?

MA: Nah. As far as bans go, IPs can be changed, we can spoof MACs, we can change or send gibberish HD IDs. Thanks to our resident programmers, and Linden Labs' generous open-sourcing of the client package, we have tools that can do most of that already.

As for getting in trouble in general - no. First off, cases involving prosecution on Internet sites require tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, are often dragged out for years, have little evidence to support their claims, and so forth. Add that with the fact that everything being done is according to the game world's own mechanics, and I'm not too worried about anything serious going on.

I think if someone were to be sued (even in a civil court) for putting giant phalluses on somebody's Internet lawn, they'd be laughed out of court. If anything, Linden Labs is attracting more attention to Second Life thanks to this incident. Nevertheless, you're still going to have people like intLib threatening us with obscure felonies to try to dissuade us. At that point, the best way to deal with them is to ignore them.

LC: You sound very libertarian.

MA: I don't support all libertarian causes, but I am of the opinion that people should be able to do what they wish unless it negatively impacts someone else. I'm anti-drug but completely for the legalization of marijuana (though I don't use it), as well as completely against the Patriot Act and things that I feel invade American liberties.



LC: So what happens next? What do you think the Edwards camp should do?

MA: Good question. I'll assume you mean the campaign and/or the people supporting it, not the physical location itself.

The fact is, Second Life is not a credible or effective way to make a campaign statement. Whether or not the headquarters was officially sanctioned by the Edwards campaign, having something like this is a waste of time. Second Life's actual membership numbers are vastly inflated, as is the more literal artificially inflated Second Life economy. The bubble will burst eventually.

Anyways, if the Edwards campaign wants to try to get more public support, they need to take less time trying to be edgy and Web 2.0 and more time focusing on issues and traditional publicity. It's nice when someone takes the trouble to make a video on YouTube explaining their campaign goals, but half the time they're recycled or just plain corny. If anyone in the campaign wants to bring the young demographic in, they need to actually care about their potential constituents, not just put out a video of old campaign meets with cheesy background music, set up a fort in Second Life, and be done with it.

LC: What are your plans for the future?

MA: Well, we'll keep bombing the furry sims, but other than that, who knows?

If I say anything else, there might be some lockdowns, but other candidates in Second Life are a possibility. Anything high-profile is fair game.

See also:
John Edwards' Virtual Attackers Unmasked
Craiglist Sex Troll Gets Sued
Thomas Hawk versus Rent-a-Cops
20 Wildest Reactions To Obama's Victory
The 5 Faces of Bush

Read More

John Edwards’ Virtual Attackers Unmasked



The attackers have been identified — and they're alive and gloating.

"Guess what: we're not Republicans. In fact, I'm one of the most hard-core liberals I know."

A post on the John Edwards blog claimed credit for an attack on his campaign HQ in Second Life — saying that "We simply did it for the lulz... The fact you were so bent out of shape to make a blog post on the OFFICIAL JOHN EDWARDS BLOG about how some people placed a bunch of shittingdicknipples on your lawn is mighty telling."



The post was deleted from Edwards blog. (Its last line was "Enjoy your AIDS!") But the poster used the name Mudkips Acronym, which also turns up in a January entry on Encyclopedia Dramatica, identifying him as a member of a longstanding Second Life "invasion group." Its name is given as "Patriotic Nigras: e-terrorists at large," and Saturday the entry was updated to claim credit for the Edwards attack.

This would make the Edwards attack just the latest installment in a longer history of random assaults. The page describes the group's first attacks as griefing pranks on Second Life's "Gay Yiffy" virtual nightclub — blocking the exit doors on a disco's private rooms, and filling its dance floor with an annoyingly large box. They returned to build a wall with a swastika of American flags, and eventually acquired a "Doomsday" weapon that creates endlessly replicating cubes.

The group also claims weapons like "the Dong Popgun" (which fires a barrage of penises), and the "Cosby Block" (a profilerating posters of the Jell-o pudding pops spokesman). One Second Life blogger accused the group of distributing the infamous Goatse picture, a tactic confirmed by a Second Life newspaper. And the group's ultimate weapon — the "Mario mosh pit" — even floods an area with images of Nintendo's Mario character.

YouTube footage apparently captures the attacks, set to musical soundtracks like "America: Fuck Yeah", or the soundtrack to Star Wars. A climactic January attack targeted another night club in Second Life, according to their Wiki page — followed by a permanent ban of the group's members. (They believe Second Life had successfully identified their computer hardware, according to the web page.) It claims the group is now armed with an "unbanning" tool, and having grown to at least 15 members, now hides in a secret base somewhere in Second Life's virtual sky.

On the Edwards blog, Mudkips Acronym also posted that "we had something much bigger planned, and the actions of a few in the organization sort of spoiled it." Even then, he was amused by the online coverage and wrote that "If this sort of hilarity is getting out after something rather routine, we can only dream of what would happen later."

John Edwards had been running a flawless online campaign, with a web site promising Edwards will "ensure America's greatness in the 21st century." The candidate assembled an impressive online outreach effort, with pages on all the major social networking sites. (Although his LiveJournal site still sports embarrassing ads for cheap flights to Las Vegas because the campaign didn't pay the $2.00 a month for an ad-free account.) Last month an Edwards volunteer decided to create a campaign headquarters in Second Life — prompting mixed reactions. ("Edwards To Pin Down Crucial Techno-Savvy Shut-In Vote," joked Wonkette.) But other Edwards volunteers were clearly excited. "Excuse me, your netroots are showing!" gushed a poster on the Edwards site. "The Edwards campaign once again proves its Web 2.0 credentials..."

It was barely more than two weeks before the attackers struck — setting off an interesting discussion about the state of the online world.

"This is the modern-day equivalent of hippies freaking out the squares," wrote a blogger at Wired. "You see countless news stories about this, over and over again: the gray humorless drones of political parties or corporations rushing to establish a presence in Second Life because it's the thing to do, only to find themselves staring directly into the collective Goatse.cx of the Internet's soul."

One of the attackers struck the pose of a manifesto writer. "[T]he truth is, there is something terribly wrong with Second Life, isn't there...? [W]here once you had the freedom to object, think, and speak as you saw fit, you now have IP bans and hypocritical labelers coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission."

But their real motivation seems to be the thrill of griefing. "You don't have to have furries to be a target," notes another comment, "all you have to be is so full of yourself that you freak out over an attack. Freak out once and they'll come back because the more you struggle and complain, the funnier it is."

And one poster goes even further. "The thing is... griefing is pretty much the only way to make Second Life fun if you aren't a furry or a pedophile or something."

Second Life's creators, Linden Labs, were compelled by the incident to issue a middle-of-the-road response ("At Linden Lab we do the utmost to ensure the protection of creative expression, within certain bounds. Ultimately, instances in which residents engage in vandalism will have to be taken on a case by case basis according to our terms of service.") And Second Life boosters had already been sharing their tips for dealing with griefers. But perhaps the best summation came from a comment at the Game Politics site.

"Why does everyone think that this was political? This is what happens in Second Life."

According to the Second Life Herald, the Edwards virtual HQ had already been targeted by a pesky next door neighbor who insisted on touting the presidential candidacy of John Edward — the psychic host of TV's "Crossing Over."

Q: Will Edward be making a visit to SL?
A: He's already here. He's inside all hour hearts and minds. Because he can read them.
Q: how can he concentrate?
A: I imagine he just squints his eyes really hard

In an unpredictible online environment, political campaigns will face situations that are new and unexpected. (The Huffington Post went to the trouble of pointing out that while Edwards had a virtual headquarters, there were "scantily clad vixens nearby.") One observer even found their way to Edwards' blog and posted "John, welcome to the internet. If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen, but if you are willing to laugh at the insanity you'll find many friends there."



As a kind of confirmation, the online pranksters themselves updated their Encyclopedia entry with a link to an apparently-related web page. Accessing the page plays the dramatic finale to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture while showing a picture of a giggling anime girl — and a five dollar bill with John Edwards' face.

"Sorry we broke your intertube campaign, Mr. Edwards," it says.

"So here's 5 bux."

See also:
Who Are Second Life's "Patriotic Nigras"
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
Thomas Hawk versus Rent-a-Cops
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued
Is Yahoo/Flickr DMCA Policy Censorship?

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Is Yahoo/Flickr DMCA Policy Censorship?


Mashup of Michael Crook by Thomas Hawk

Reflections about the Michael Crook affair will surely be all over the web soon. People will look back in anger, although the prevailing sense of outrage may be tempered by many notes of caution — it's not all fun, being hassled by a griefer. I probably leaned more towards that sense of outrage in this recent conversation with Thomas Hawk, popular community photographer, prominent blogger and all-around evangelist for the digital revolution.

Jeff Diehl: So I guess the first thing is to offer you a chance to disclose some stuff.

Thomas Hawk: I'm CEO of Zooomr. We would be considered a competitor to Yahoo's Flickr photo sharing site. I've been very active on Flickr both before and after joining Zooomr.

JD: Explain precisely what happened when Crook DMCAed you.

TH: I posted a photo of Michael Crook on Flickr. I've got a reasonably popular Flickr photostream and so I posted an image of him there using a mashup that I made with the image of Crook. After posting these images of Crook I received DMCA take down notices from Crook for the images on Zooomr and thomashawk.com. Flickr also received a DMCA notice and used it to take down my mash up of Crook.



I don't so much have an issue with Yahoo taking down the image (at least temporarily until the legitimacy of the claim could be investigated) but I do have a problem with Yahoo taking down all of the conversation and meta data around the image and permanently deleting it. There was a long conversation on the image by many different people about Crook and this case. Public discourse, opinion, ideas, etc. that was just wiped out by Yahoo without telling me first.

After they took it down they sent me a threatening email. I responded back to Yahoo staff about it and pointed them to a Boing Boing link where Fox News in fact had given Boing Boing, and anyone else, permission to use the images, but that email went unanswered. They never did put my stuff back up and now an important discourse is permanently lost.

JD: Do you feel the discourse is especially "important" because it's about free speech? Or does that just make it ironic?

TH: This is most certainly about free speech in my opinion. It sucks that all anyone has to do to kill a conversation at Flickr is to claim a DMCA violation. Irrespective of the fact that Yahoo should have done a better job actually investigating the claim before deleting the image, there was no reason to delete the words and comments associated with the image.

I'm a strong advocate of free speech. Especially on a community based photo sharing site. Especially one like Flickr where people frequently use their photostreams to express opinions, thoughts and ideas.

JD: It seems that Yahoo has an extreme policy regarding DMCA takedown notices; even beyond what the law stipulates.

TH: I don't know how many photos of Crook Yahoo wiped out but there was no need to wipe out the metadata, comments, descriptions, posts, etc. And there was no need to permanently delete this stuff. Yahoo went way beyond what the DMCA requires and I don't like that anyone can just send in a bogus DMCA notice on my Flickrstream and have hundreds and thousands of lines of text deleted that might be associated with an image.

Yahoo needs to change their policy on this.

JD: Do you know of any other community sties (other than Zooomr!) that have a different, more reasonable approach?

TH: Unfortunately I'm not as familiar with other sites so I'm not sure how they would handle all this. Eventually Yahoo sent me a notice after Crook rescinded his bogus DMCA notice. But when this happened they didn't put my old photo and all of the commentary and dialog that went along with it back up, they merely said I could reupload it if I wanted because he rescinded. He held the power. Not me, not Yahoo. And he largely succeeded at least there because he wiped out tons of negative personal criticism about him and his behavior. This is censorship to me.

JD: I know my host, Laughing Squid, handled it brilliantly, but it's a small company; it's more complicated with a behemoth like Yahoo, isn't it?

TH: Well yeah, Scott Beale handled it really well. But Yahoo's being big and corporate and all that shouldn't be an excuse. I pay them money for Flickr. Lots and lots of people pay them money for Flickr. If they need to hire a few more people to better review DMCA takedown notices I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. They are a billion dollar company and certainly have the resources to do the right thing here. In any case, irrespective of investigating the bogus claim there is simply no — zero — reason to kill the text that accompanies an image. Ideas are important and ought to be protected.

JD: You say in your comments: "My biggest problem is that they destroyed *my* metadata associated with the image." That's a powerful way of putting it.

TH: Well some of it was mine. The post that accompanied the image for instance. And lots of comments that I made in a public discussion about this. The metadata also belongs to others at Flickr as well though. In fact anyone that commented on the photo and expressed their thoughts and opinions had their metadata destroyed.

The biggest distinction between my vs. Yahoo's, though, is that I consider the stuff I post on the site to belong to me. They are profiting from my data no doubt, but all of the images, text, comments, thoughts, ideas expressed on Flickr don't belong to Yahoo, they belong to the users and the users should be treated with more respect than I was when I just had my stuff unceremoniously deleted.

JD: I'm not sure when exactly the take down and safe harbor provisions of the DMCA were drafted, but it seems possible that sites like Flickr, where original images are intertwined thematically with original words, weren't on anyone's radar.

TH: Maybe not, and I certainly understand that Yahoo can find itself in a dilemma and feel that they don't have much choice about it. But they still shouldn't allow just anyone to kill speech attached to an image. I've posted many many images on Flickr that are political. Images where I've run into harassment from security guards while shooting out in SF. Images associated with what I've considered child abuse. Images of a sleazy camera retailer that almost ripped me off, etc. In these cases, like the Michael Crook case, the commentary that accompanies the image is super important and should be protected. There is no way that Yahoo could be held liable for free discussion. They take things too far by deleting all of the commentary with the image.

I'm not concerned with any kind of retribution on this. I'd just like to see Yahoo apologize, admit the mistake, put my old photo and the commentary back up if they can (if they still have backups, hopefully). And I'd like to see them change how they handle DMCA stuff in the future by only taking down the image (not the commentary, metadata, etc.) and doing it temporarily so that someone could dispute it.



JD: Did you have any final thoughts?

TH: No, but just want to say thanks to you for really being a catalyst around this entire issue as it relates to Crook and his behavior. You played an important role in bringing up a very important issue, DMCA abuse. The conversations around this are important ones and have important implications for both free speech and democracy.

Details of a settlement will be announced on this site soon. Also, there will be a party and fundraiser for EFF in San Francisco on March 22nd.

See Also:
"Dear Internet, I'm Sorry"
The EFF's Diehl v. Crook page
The Case Against Crook
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued
Thomas Hawk versus Rent-a-Cops

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Keith Henson Talks about Memetics, Evolutionary Psychology & Scientology


I interviewed Keith Henson for the NeoFiles Website (disbanded in favor of the NeoFiles Podcast Show) back in 2003. I figured with Henson's recent arrest on charges related to his battle with Scientology, people would be interested in a broader view of Henson. In this interview, we talk about a range of topics, finally ending with a discussion on his thoughts about his problems with Scientology at that time. The interview appears below in full, including the title and introduction:

Exile On Meme Street: Keith Henson Interview

Keith Henson is sort of an ur-transhumanist. In the 1970s - '80s, he was one of the founders and leaders of The L5 Society, an organization dedicated to building homes in high orbit using raw materials from the lunar surface. The L5 group attracted the interests of those seeking practical solutions to predicted resource scarcities, among them K. Eric Drexler. Henson formed a friendship with him, and was among his contacts as Drexler was conceiving nanotechnology



Once Henson was convinced that nanotech was feasible, he became a member of Alcor, an organization advocating and providing cryonic services. In the late 1980s, he became associated with the much-storied Extropy Institute, a transhumanist organization that was the subject of substantial media coverage during the cyberculture hype of the 1990s.

But none of this work brought Henson as much notoriety — or heartache — as his conflict with the Scientologists.

It all started when the Scientologists tried to close down alt.religion.scientology, a newsgroup that fostered open discussion of the church and its activities. When Scientology sued critic Grady Ward, Henson responded by posting a secret church document, "NOTs 34," which Henson claimed was an instruction manual for criminal acts, including the practice of medicine without a license. He was successfully sued by the church who also got an injunction preventing Henson from supplying law enforcement agencies with a copy.

Protesting the death of two women in 2000 — Ashlee Shaner and Stacy Moxon — at the church's headquarters, Henson picketed that location. As a result, in April 2001, he was convicted in a California court of "terrorizing" the Scientologists. Henson was forbidden by the court (motions in limine) from bringing up either why he was picketing or Scientology's vindictive "fair game" policy. (The same kind of motions were used to forbid Ed Rosenthal in his more famous case from telling the jury he was acting for the City of Oakland growing pot for sick people.)

While visiting Canada — in bankruptcy and facing a year in prison as the result of court decisions — Henson made a spontaneous decision to seek refuge from our "neighbor to the north." His request for refugee status is still pending in the Canadian refugee processing system.

I interviewed Henson via email about his personal evolution within the context of transhumanist philosophy.

RU SIRIUS: When did you first realize that you were a novelty-seeker?

KEITH HENSON: When I was about 8 years old. My mother read Robert A. Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky to me. I was enthralled and eventually read every published Heinlein (and many other SF authors) I could find. She could not have imagined that 25 years later I would be giving a paper at Princeton University, "Closed Ecosystems of High Agricultural Yield," that was partly based on descriptions in Farmer in the Sky.

RU: What are some of the qualities that people can notice perhaps even in children that might indicate a progressive, neophiliac potential?

KH: That's a hard one because most kids are interested in new things. The rare person is still interested in new advances when they are adults. There is possibly a correlation with intelligence. In any case, you have to be fairly bright to keep learning and changing attitudes as you get older.

RU: The L5 society received a lot of attention in the 1970s; after that, public interest or at least media coverage dissipated. Can you briefly tell my audience what the L5 society was about and what has happened with it in the intervening years?

KH: L5 was a group set up to promote space colonies and solar power satellites. It eventually merged with von Braun's National Space Institute forming the National Space Society, which still exists today...though the fire has certainly gone.

RU: How did your participation and leadership in the L5 society come about?

KH: It was indirectly related to "Limits to Growth" memes that were so active in the early 70s.

In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins discussed anxiety-provoking memes such as the hellfire meme — linked to the western religious memes by natural selection among memes. (The linking came about simply because the combination is more successful in gaining and keeping active meme spreaders for both memes.) Something like this happened to me linking the Limits to Growth (LTG) meme to the space colony meme. Dr. O'Neill's writings and early issues of the L5 News made the link explicit. (Princeton physics professor Dr. Gerard O'Neill generated the space colony concept with the assistance of his undergrads)

Personally, I found that the distasteful worldview implied by the Limits to Growth meme raised my anxiety level much like good hellfire sermon affects conventionally religious people. (It was much worse for the people in whom the LTG meme first arose. Rumor has it that one of them boarded himself up in a cabin in the remote woods and waited for the food riots to start and, for all I know, he may be there yet.)

Disaster memes like Limits to Growth capture the imagination and spread well. But only a small fraction of the population actively responds to threats as remote and indirect as those of the LTG meme. At that time, joining the Zero Population Growth organization and having a vasectomy were some of the few possible responses.

A small subset of those who were concerned, however, took the step of searching for a meme — or of creating a meme — that would counter the bleak LTG meme. Eric Drexler, for example, hunted down Dr. O'Neill in 1973 by asking questions of his professors at MIT about who was working on the exploitation of space resources. A copy of the first widespread space colony publication (the 1974 Physics Today article) was in my hands within hours after reaching Dan Jones (Ph.D. in Physics and occasional rock climbing partner) who knew of my interest in this topic.

The space colony meme reduced anxiety about the long-term future by providing an alternative, but it raised anxiety too. It was apparent from the start that we would have to work hard to bring about a world that included space colonies. Our beginning point was to infect all the people we could with the space colony meme. Inducing people to spend effort in spreading a meme, as well as successfully spreading itself in competition with innumerable other memes, is the definition of a successful meme. In this sense, the space colony meme was moderately successful. (Though it didn't lead to colonies in space.)

As for leadership, I am the kind who leads reluctantly and more by example than anything else. Someone had to be on the incorporation papers as president. After two years I fobbed it off on my former wife. In the sense that my thoughts on the subject had a lot of influence, I was a leader.



RU: I think you have to agree that the "Space Colony" meme lost some of its currency in terms of media coverage and general cultural excitement after the 1970s. Would you care to reflect on why that happened?

KH: In 1975 we expected a program (such as Solar Power Satellite) leading to space colonies would start by the early 80s, and that we could disband by about 1995. By 1985 it was clear nothing leading in that direction in space was likely to happen for a long time. The problem was mainly one of cost. Had the cost to get into space been proportional to the Pilgrims or the Mormon migration, we would have been there on our own, but it was about 10,000 times too expensive.

Memes lose their intense hold on people with the passage of time, especially when the promise of the meme is at great variance with reality. The Society carried on from inertia for a while before merging with the National Space Institute.

RU: Does cyberspace in some ways satisfy some of the needs and desires raised by space colonization?

KH: Perhaps. Games provide a lot of previously unknown "area" to explore. You can't live there yet though [ed. Today, we have Second Lives.]

RU: Do you still believe that the L5 plans laid out by O'Neill are the best bet for moving into space?

KH: Based on old technology, that of the middle of the last century, yes. I suspect that when people actually move off the planet they will do it with the awesome powers of nanotechnology.

RU: Many advocates of space colonization seem to have changed their focus to nanotechnology which, in turn, would make colonization less expensive and more feasible.

KH: I don't know that's the right way to put it. Nanotechnology will give us vast wealth in terms of control over the environment. It also might completely destroy us at either a physical level or just from giving us so much synthetic enjoyment we never bother going into space. Reducing cost or increasing wealth, colonizing space will become something an individual or a small group can do, provided we maintain the desire to do so.

RU: Moving forward a bit in time, did you consider yourself part of the Extropian movement and do you agree with their principles?

KH: I contributed to the early private extropian mailing list and seem to have had some degree of influence there, i.e., what Extropians and related transhumanists consider important is very close to what I consider important. I knew Max More through Alcor before he started the movement and was the (not very active) memetics editor for the magazine when it was in paper. I don't disagree with the principles, though they are perhaps a bit optimistic. On the other hand, my view is certainly colored by being driven out of the US.

RU: Do you consider yourself a utopian?

KH: No. I can't think of anyone who is up on evolutionary psychology and related areas who is deluded enough to be called a utopian. I think most of us consider staying out of ugly distopian states is about as good as we can get — pre-Singularity, anyway. After that who knows?

RU: How did you enter into your epic battle with the Scientologists?

KH: It's a well-documented story.

I had mentioned scientology in an article or two but had taken no serious interest in it before January 1995. At that time Helena Kobrin, a lawyer for Scientology, issued a command (rmgroup) to remove the Usenet news group alt.religion.scientology from the Internet, apparently thinking that this "denial of service" attack on the Internet would end critical discussion about Scientology.

This attack on free speech backfired, having somewhat the effect of a gang of thugs riding into town and burning down the newspaper. This attempted censorship drew in dozens of Internet free speech advocates, me among them. A Google search on Kobrin rmgroup turns up hundreds of pages.

RU: How would you define the boundary between an organization that constitutes a "cult" and a group that simply shares a set of intentions and an overall memeplex?

KH: There isn't a clear-cut boundary. Humans evolved in tribes and our reward circuits are still set up to reward behaviors that aided reproductive success in tribes. People still do things that reward them, such as socializing with others and doing things which gain the respect (and attention) of their associates just like they did 100,000 years ago when such behaviors were more directly connected to gaining the status needed to reproduce (i.e., obtain a wife or two...or three). Cults tap into this reward mechanism, but so does every other rewarding activity from local sports clubs to the Nobel Prize.

Still, you can say that some groups are cults. LaRouche's bunch, Moonies, scientology, Heaven's Gate, etc. There are published scales to measure how much some group is a cult.

RU: From your experience, do all organizations (like L5 or the Extropians) tend to accumulate cult-like behaviors over time?

KH: No. If anything, L5 lost the cult kind of intensity as it aged. I don't think the Extropians ever had even the level of the early L5 Society, but then I was not deeply involved with them.

If a group stays around long enough, it tends to lose its cult aspects. Religious cults tend toward main stream religions. Calvinism started as an intense cult. Heck, Calvin had a dozen and a half people publicly executed, something the scientology leadership would drool over, but 300 years later the Methodists are as mellow as you could ask for.

RU: Would you agree that there are quasi-religious overtones in the belief that we are headed towards a singularity; in the sense that it promises to resolve so many problems and existential dilemmas (sickness, death, material scarcity, other limits) that Salvation isn't too strong a word for the hopes that it evokes?

KH: It definitely has the potential to be the techno-rapture. It is deeply connected to SETI and the searches for planets around other stars. Oddly, the worse things look out there, the better they look here. The logic runs this way, if planets with life (and particularly life that eventually becomes technologically capable the way we are headed) are common then it looks really dire for us, because we don't see any evidence of a "tamed" universe. Everywhere we look there are massive wastes of energy and matter. If technophilic civilizations are common, then something happens that removes them from the observable universe. Contrary wise, if the universe doesn't harbor any others inside our light cone, then we are looking at an unknown future instead of a deadly one. There isn't much hope for controlling the final stages; all we can do is build in as much good will as we can.

RU: How would you compare life in Canada to life in the US?

KH: Colder. :-)

The cult seems to have less influence here. I suspect going back would be as disorienting as coming here in the first place. I understand the money doesn't look the same now and the US is talking about reinstating the draft. Plus there have been lots of changes — few of them good — since 9/11. If anyone wonders why the airlines are not doing well it is because flying has been made such an unpleasant and degrading experience.

NF: How can people help you to defeat this attack on your liberty and everyone's freedom of speech?

KH: It's really hard to do anything effective. The problem is that the individuals in law enforcement agencies know they will be targeted personally if they take steps against the cult's abuses and corruption. Not only by private investigators stealing their trash and stalking their children, but if they take action against the cult, Scientology will turn a scary part of the government against them by suing them in the courts. This fact of life was picked up in an episode of Millennium:
Peter: The Millennium Group's not interested in publicity.
Frank: No, no, it's not about us: in fact, he's working on a case that could be of great interest to the group. This Selfosophist was found...
Peter: Whoa, Selfosophy? No, no ...
Frank: What is going on, Peter? We've never backed away from anything. We've even faced evil incarnate.
Peter: Evil incarnate can't sue. All I'm saying is be careful about what you say around your writer friend.

Starving Scientology of new members is perhaps the best we can do. To do that, inform yourself, inform your friends. If you really want to help, picket them.

Scientology has this "chosen people" status they got by intimidating or perhaps even blackmailing IRS management. A Jewish guy name of Sklar tried to get the same deal for his religious practice and was turned down. The judge in the appeal said that if what Sklar claimed about the IRS's treatment of Scientology was true, the IRS was violating the law and that someone should file a suit to put an end to that practice. It has been nearly two years and nobody has stepped up to file this invited lawsuit. The few lawyers who used to go up against Scientology will no longer do so because Scientology is just too good at using lots of money to pervert the courts. Put Rosen Exhibit 185 in Google to see a listing of $35 million they spent over a few years to destroy critics. (Over a million on me.)



And if you want to understand how cults use the same brain reward pathway that drugs activate, go here to look at my paper on the subject.

See Also:
"Scientology Fugitive" Arrested
Keith Henson Back in Jail — Space Elevator Will Have To Wait
California Cults
Adopt an African Hottie's Clitoris

Read More

“Scientology Fugitive” Arrested

Keith Henson

On Friday, Arizona police arrested a 64-year-old man — a fugitive since 2001 in a bizarre war that mixes free speech, copyright law, and the Church of Scientology.

Keith Henson's journey began seven years ago while innocuously watching another critic mock the group on an internet newsgroup. In a gonzo discussion about procuring a "Tom Cruise missile," they'd joked about working with "Secret Agent 99, wearing a stunning black leather biker outfit." Other posters joined in the internet discussion, asking whether Tom Cruise missiles are affected by wind."No way," Keith joked. "Modern weapons are accurate to a matter of a few tens of yards."

The police were informed of his "threatening" posts, and Henson was arrested.



The police tipsters were the Scientologists themselves, who had already been the targets of an annoying picketing campaign by Henson over the death of a woman near their complex. Besides Henson's inability to acquire long-range missiles, his wife notes bitterly that it would be impossible for any church members in the complex to feel threatened by the internet posts, since they aren't even allowed to access the internet. Scientology officials have also claimed Henson followed their employees home — though Henson counters that "the same people who claimed to have been 'terrorized' by the picketers offered to take them to lunch on June 25, 2000, evidently to distract them from the death scene being cleaned up."

Though Henson was found innocent of long-range missile terrorism, for his activities he was convicted of interfering with a church — a California hate crime for which he received a six-month misdemeanor prison sentence. But Henson said he feared his life would be in danger from Scientologists if he were imprisoned - and he fled to Canada in 2001.

He was already bankrupt from an earlier ruling that he'd infringed on Scientology copyrights. But Henson continued picketing Scientologists in Toronto, and they apparently retaliated by informing Canadian police of his presence. (Henson believes the Scientologists told police he was a terrorist and bomb maker.) L.A. Weekly reported two unmarked vans pulled up and "a handful of emergency-services task-force officers — Canada's version of a police SWAT team — spilled out, wearing body armor and carrying submachine guns." Describing the event, the EFF reported Henson was "arrested in a shopping mall parking lot, by a heavily armed paramilitary unit."

EFF Executive Director Shari Steele argued that Free speech was at stake in his case: "This trial seems intended to punish Mr. Henson for his opposition to a powerful organization using the barest thread of legal justification to do so."

His wife added in an interview with a Canadian newsweekly that "It's horrifying to me and to his friends how they've managed to twist his words."

Henson was ultimately released from a Canadian jail after filing an application for political asylum — reportedly the first ever accepted for review by the Canadian government, and for the next three years he lived as an expatriate in Canada, awaiting their decision.

When asked to describe life in Canada, he replied "colder." As the years rolled by, Henson explained his picketing strategy evolved out of a desire to have a real impact. In a 2005 interview he argued that heavy-handed legal tactics intimidated police from acting against the organization, and "Starving Scientology of new members is perhaps the best we can do."

But when Canadian officials reached a decision in 2005, Henson was suddenly filled with concern. The hearing could result in his deportation back to the prison where he feared for his life. He reportedly said, "I'm not going to be shoved across the border into the hands of Scientologists," Henson slipped out of Canada, returning to fugitive status, and joked that he was hiding in the Mortmain Mountains — the treachorous range in Lemony Snicket books.

For 17 months he lived on the lam. Yesterday, in the small town of Prescott, Arizona — the law finally caught up with him. Henson had been driving his wife's car, and when stopped by police, was soon informed of the outstanding warrant for his arrest. He was taken into custody, and faces extradition back to the California prison he's feared for the last six years. Saturday morning Henson's wife, identifying herself as a "soon to be widow," issued a plea asking the public for legal help, publicity — "anything but the usual Scientology private eyes who have harassed her for years."



Henson has a long history of activity within tech culture. He was one of the founders and leaders of the L5 Space Colony movement in the 1970s. (California's new Attorney General, Jerry Brown, was also in the L5 orbit when he was Governor of that state.) He was a close associate of K. Eric Drexler while Drexler was conceiving nanotechnology. He has also been active in the digital encryption movement, and has been associated with the Transhumanist movement — particularly Extropy Institute.

Former Extropy Institute members and other well wishers have already created a legal defense fund. There is also now a "Free Keith Henson" blog where people can keep track of new developments. Henson has many friends and late Friday night one supporter even called the jail, according to a Usenet post, and spoke to a prison staffer.

"I asked if he'd tell Keith that Tory sent her love. And I asked him to please watch after Keith."

See also:
Interview with Keith Henson
California Cults
Adopt an African Hottie's Clitoris
Crooks of the World Hurt Free Speech
Keith Henson Back in Jail — Space Elevator Will Have To Wait

Read More

20 Secrets of an Infamous Dead Spy


E. Howard Hunt

During his time on this planet, Howard Hunt was everywhere — in both the Pacific and Atlantic theatres in World War II, and in the CIA during its earliest experiments with regime toppling. But he achieved fame for his spectacular failures — including a role in planning the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and an infamous break-in to the Watergate hotel. And he also wrote some really rockin' spy novels.

He died on Tuesday.

Here now, a whole slew of stuff you may not have known about this bold political operative...

1. Hunt's CIA work was preceded by a successful career as a writer

Though he attained infamy for the Watergate break-ins, Howard Hunt wrote his first novel, East of Farewell, when he was 24, in 1942. After being medically discharged from the Navy after an injury in the North Atlantic theatre, he became a war correspondent in the South Pacific for Life magazine.

Later book jacket biographies note that Hunt worked as a press aide to Averell Harriman during his work on the Marshall Plan in Paris, where he met his future wife Dorothy.

In the mid-1940s Hunt won the prestigious Guggenheim fellowship for creative writing, a distinction he shares with authors like Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike, and Eudora Welty. Other recipients of Guggenheim fellowships include Ansel Adams, e. e. cummings, and John Cage, as well as Linus Pauling and Laurie Anderson.

Howard Hunt received $35,000 from Warner Brothers for the movie rights to his novel Bimini Run, when he was just 31.

That same year he joined the CIA — just two years after it was established.



2. Howard Hunt was the direct-report for William F. Buckley

Future conservative pundit William F. Buckley served as a deep cover CIA agent in 1951 in Mexico — and reported directly to Howard Hunt.

Buckley remembered a conversation he had 30 years later when he found himself sitting next to the President of Mexico at a ski resort restaurant. "What," he asked amiably, "had I done when I lived in Mexico?

"'I tried to undermine your regime, Mr. President.'"

Hunt dedicated his 1986 book Cozumel to Buckley: "como recuerdo de nuestra temporada en Mexico."

3. Hunt played a role in the rise of Che Guevera as well as his death

Within four years of joining the CIA, Hunt helped the U.S. overthrow the left-leaning president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz. ("We got Arbenz defenestrated," Hunt bragged to Slate. "Out the window.") Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara cited this event as hardening his belief in armed violent struggle to protect socialism from imperialism.

Shortly before his death, Hunt also recounted the CIA's role in Guevera's death. In Hunt's re-telling, Castro dispatched Guevera to Bolivia as a way to get rid of him. Easily tracking Guevera's radio transmissions, the CIA tipped off the Bolivians on Guevera's position. "We wanted deniability," Hunt remembered. "We made it possible for him to be killed."

4. Hunt saved the life of the Guatemalan President

As Hunt tells it, Arbenz was surrounded by hate-filled Guatemalans and CIA agents. Fearing an assassination for which "we'd be blamed," Hunt gave word to set him free. Arbenz then began a twenty-year exile which included Mexico, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Uruguay, and post-revolution Cuba.

Wikipedia notes that in 1971 Arbenz died in his bathroom, "either by drowning or scalding due to hot water. The circumstances under which Arbenz died are still suspect."

5. Hunt regretted cutting and running from Guatemala

"We should have done something we never do — we should have maintained a constant presence in Guatemala after getting rid of Arbenz."

Ironically, Hunt later became Arbenz's neighbor.

When Hunt became the CIA station chief in Uruguay, he ended up living on the same street as Arbenz. "We went to the country club for dinner one evening and lo and behold, the Arbenzes were seated a few tables away," he told Slate. He sent the CIA a telegram asking them to be more careful in the future about advising him of new arrivals.

6. Hunt performed reconnaissance in Cuba prior to the Bay of Pigs

Prior to the Bay of Pigs operation, Hunt visited Cuba and surreptitiously asked Cubans how they'd feel about a U.S. invasion, according to Slate. (He also made a point of cautioning them "don't count on it because it's not going to happen." )

During preparations for the invasion, an FBI agent once tipped him off that the police received a complaint from one of his neighbors about strange men coming and going to his Florida house late in the night. He'd thought Hunt was running a gay brothel.



In a strange coincidence, it was during the Bay of Pigs that Hunt first met the four men he would later use in the bungled Watergate break-in. Hunt secured their cooperation by telling them that Fidel Castro was surreptitiously contributing money to the Democrats to buy softer treatement.

7. Hunt refused to deny a Kennedy role

Hunt maintained a lifelong bitterness over Kennedy's role in the Bay of Pigs failure. Some conspiracy theorists even believe Hunt was one of "the three tramps" on the grassy knoll in Dallas when President Kennedy was assassinated. Two years before his death, Slate confronted the 86-year-old former spy and asked him about the charges.
Slate: There were even conspiracy theories about you being in Dallas the day JFK was killed.

Hunt: No comment.

8. Hunt was fingered as Deep Throat in the 1990 novel Gordon Liddy Is My Muse

The gonzo collection of short stories culminates with a meditation on the identity of Woodward and Bernstein's source, Deep Throat — and comes to this conclusion:
It's the lost love story of the Watergate Caper. Howard Hunt so loved his country that he gave himself up to rid it of a gang of scoundrels. But he didn't do it like a hero, he did it like a hooker, a prostitute, a ratfucker for hire, to take everybody down with him... [H]e couldn't be a simple witness, because he knew he wouldn't be believed. He'd just be another guy trying to lie his way out of a crime. So instead he fed Woodward the story and watched his cronies squirm.

Although in the far-fetched guessing game about the Washington Post's source, some conspiracy theorists even suggested that Deep Throat could have been Nixon himself.

9. Howard Hunt was armed and dangerous

In All the President's Men Woodward and Bernstein note news reports that the FBI had found a gun in Howard Hunt's White House office.

Deep Throat also told the reporters that after news broke of the Watergate break-in, John Mitchell conducted his own investigation and "At some point Howard Hunt, of all the ironies, was assigned to help Mitchell get some information."

Nixon lawyer John Ehrlichman eventually realized his mistake, and "Like lightning, [Hunt] was pulled off and fired and told to pack up his desk and leave town forever."

Two of the Watergate burglars had Hunt's phone number, under the name "W. House" or "W.H." According to the police report, the Watergate burglars also had "two pieces of yellow-lined paper, one addressed to 'Dear Friend Mr. Howard,' and another to 'Dear Mr. H.H.,' and an unmailed envelope containing Hunt's personal check for $6.36 made out to the Lakewood Country Club in Rockville, along with a bill for the same amount."

Hunt was one of the first people Woodward called for his first reports about the break-in, and in All the President's Men, he remembers the conversation in which he asked Hunt why his phone number was in the address books of two Watergate burglars.

"Howard Hunt here... Yes, what is it? Good God! In view that the matter is under adjudication, I have no comment."

Hunt then disappeared, and while 150 FBI agents searched for him, the book reports that he did not re-appear until after his lawyer received $25,000 in cash in a brown envelope.

10. Howard Hunt's White House safe included forged anti-Kennedy documents

Documents destroyed by acting FBI director Patrick Gray included fake telegrams implicating President Kennedy in the 1963 assassination of the president of South Vietnam, plus a dossier on Senator Ted Kennedy. (Hunt worried Kennedy would run against Nixon in 1972).

11. Hunt orchestrated the first Watergate coverup

According to Time magazine, Hunt urged the four Watergate burglars to plead guilty to avoid an embarrassing trial — and offered them $1,000 for every month they'd spend in prison (to be paid upon Hunt's own release).

All the President's Men reported that Hunt personally visited the burglars in Miami, also promising the burglars executive clemency and support for their families.

Eventually their lawyer instructed the burglars to "stay away from that son-of-a-bitch Hunt." But he was still unable to dissuade them from entering guilty pleas. Time quoted Watergate burglar Bernard Barker as telling the judge that to work with Hunt had been "the greatest honor."

Although according to All the President's Men, Barker's exact words were, "I have the greatest honor and distinguish him." [sic]

12. Watergate was the tip of the iceberg

Investigators focused on the Watergate break-in and attempted bugging of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. But Hunt and "the Plumbers" were also involved in a series of "ratfucking" dirty tricks to aid Nixon's re-election campaign in 1972, according to All the President's Men. Political operative Donald Segretti remembers Hunt asking if he'd create a fake anti-Nixon demonstration to embarrass Nixon's Democratic opponent. Segretti told the reporters, "It sounded illegal to me, and I didn't want anything to do with being violent or breaking the law."

A friend of Hunt's told the reporters that Hunt lined up an elaborate scheme to discredit John Lindsay in Florida's Democratic primary. "Howard had some fliers printed saying that Mayor Lindsay of New York was having a meeting and there would be free beer. Howard handed these fliers out in the black areas, and of course there was no meeting or beer, so the blacks would come for their beer and leave hating Lindsay.

"Howard thought this was the greatest thing since Chinese checkers."

Calling himself "Ed Warren," Hunt also visited the man who, 12 years earlier, had been the PR director for a hotel used as John Kennedy's staff headquarters in 1960, seeking sex scandals that could be used against possible candidate Ted Kennedy. "I tried to persuade Hunt that it was a waste of his time," the man told the Post's reporters, "but he said he represented some group that he couldn't tell me about. He seemed dedicated to something. The country, the group, or himself."



But Hunt's most notorious political service was getting lobbyist Dita Beard to disavow a damaging memo she'd written linking a Nixon political contribution to favorable anti-trust treatment. Using the alias "Ed Hamilton," Howard Hunt visited her in a hospital wearing "a cheap, dimestore reddish-colored wig." Her son told the reporters Hunt's wig was on "cockeyed, as if he'd put it on in a dark car," and added that Hunt was also wearing makeup and was "very eerie."

A few days after the Watergate arrests, the same wig was found in the Watergate hotel.

All the President's Men contains two entries in its index for "Hunt, Howard - wigs of"

Hunt even testified that he'd been asked by Nixon lawyer Charles Colson to connect Arthur Bremer, the man who shot and paralyzed 1972 third-party candidate George Wallace, with left-wing political groups. Colson's attorney countered that an already-imprisoned Hunt was under pressure and clearly unstable.

13. Hunt knew of the journalist murder plot

In a 2005 commentary on the revealed identity of Deep Throat, William F. Buckley remembered a day in 1973 when Hunt's daughter (and Buckley's goddaughter) came to visit him. During the visit Hunt told Buckley that one of Nixon's "plumbers was ready and disposed" to kill columnist Jack Anderson if the order was given.

14. Hunt supervised the infamous break-in to a psychiatrist's office

After leaking top secret Pentagon papers about the Vietnam war, Daniel Ellsberg was facing a lifetime in prison. Howard Hunt supervised the infamous break-in of Ellseberg's psychiatrist's office. The judge in Ellsberg's trial was notified by the Watergate prosecutors, who eventually dismissed all charges against Ellsberg, saying government misconduct had "incurably infected the prosecution."

15. Howard Hunt appears in Nixon poetry

Nixon referred to Hunt as one of " the jackasses in jail." Even stranger, Nixon's ruminations on Howard Hunt appeared in The Poetry of Richard Milhous Nixon, a novelty book in which the transcripts of Nixon's Watergate tapes were re-published and typeset as surreal freeform poetry.
It is going to require
approximately a million dollars
to take care
of the jackasses
in jail.

That can be arranged.
That could be arranged.

But you realize that after
we are gone
and assuming we can
expend the money
then they are going to crack
and that would be
an unseemly story.

Frankly, all the people aren't going to care that much.

16. Hunt's blackmail was big-time

The index of All the President's Men also includes two pages listed under the heading "Hunt, Howard - blackmail by." In the book's climax, as Woodward played a Rachmaninoff record to thwart possible bugging, he typed for Bernstein that "Hunt was key to much of the crazy stuff and he used the Watergate arrests to get money...first $100,000 and then kept going back for more... The President himself has been blackmailed. When Hunt became involved, he decided that the conspirators could get some money for this. Hunt started an 'extortion' racket of the rankest kind."

"Coverup cost to be about $1 million. Everyone is involved."

"President has had fits of 'dangerous' depression."

17. Hunt spent nearly three miserable years in prison

As one of the first Watergate conspirators to plead guilty, Hunt served 33 months on charges of wiretapping, conspiracy, and burglary. His term included time in 13 different federal prisons, during which he was ferried from jail to Capitol Hill to testify against other Watergate conspirators — and then back to jail.

During his prison term his wife died in a mysterious plane crash. With their mother dead and father in prison, his children "went into drugs," according to his second wife.

18. During his prison term, Hunt released a book about the Bay of Pigs

In the midst of his Watergate notoriety, Hunt published a biography about his role in the failed 1961 invasion of Cuba. Ironically, It was the Washington Post who in a review called Hunt "the Great Gatsby of the cloak and walkie-talkie set."

Give Us This Day promised "The inside story of the CIA and the Bay of Pigs invasion" offering "a rare account of human courage — and political bungling."

In the book Hunt bitterly blames the Kennedy administration for scapegoating the CIA over the invasion's failure — while admitting serious mistakes by the CIA.

The 1973 book ends by quoting professor Hans J. Morgenthau in a remarkably prescient article from Foreign Affairs magazine. "In order to minimize the loss of prestige, the United States jeopardized the success of the intervention... and we lost much prestige as a great nation able to use its power successfully on behalf of its interests... It sought the best of both worlds and got the worst."

Hunt added that "For the sake of our country one can only hope that this analysis of needless failure will be remembered by our national leadership during some crisis yet to come."

The back cover calls him "America's most famous spy," but then quotes a CIA colleague who called him "The dumbest son-of-a-bitch I ever worked with."

19. Hunt wrote autobiographical spy novels under a pseudonym

Wikipedia lists Howard Hunt as "an American author and spy." (Though in All the President's Men Woodward noted that, "The characters in Hunt's novels were always ordering dishes Woodward had never heard of and telling the chef how to prepare them.") Throughout his life Hunt continued writing spy novels, often under a pseudonym, prompting a guessing game as to how much of the books were autobiographical.

On the dust jacket of his 1980 book The Hargrave Deception, the author's biography describes Hunt as a man who "has twice spent time in prison for obeying the orders of seniors who went scot-free." And the plot description? "Morgan was an ex-employee of the agency who, as a younger man, did high-level dirty work for God and country and then went to prison for refusing to talk out of deference to an out-of-date idea: national security. Now he spends his time in Florida fishing and keeping house with [the] granddaughter of a Cuban diplomat."



20. Hunt had only one regret

Two years before his death, Slate visited the 86-year-old former spook on his ranch in Miami.

"Hunt answered the door in a wheelchair. One of his legs has been amputated due to atherosclerosis, and for the past few months, he's battled lymphoma localized in his jaw (it is now in remission)... While no longer the dapper spymaster, he remains salty and unremorseful."

"Posted around his door are warnings against trespassing."

Finally they asked Hunt if he had any regrets about his life.

"No, none," Hunt replied. Then there was a long pause. And then Hunt added one last thought.

"Well, it would have been nice to do the Bay of Pigs differently."

See also:
Don't Call It a Conspiracy — The Kennedy Brothers
The Chicks Who Tried to Shoot Gerald Ford
Did Bush Spin Like Nixon?
The Five Faces of Bush

Read More

Did Bush Spin Like Nixon?


George Bush political cartoon - State of the Union 2007

In this interviewer's humble opinion, the great question now regarding the Iraq debacle isn't: Should we stay or should we go? The more important question is: Have we learned anything?

We should go, but it's going to be a horrible mess either way. And once we go, inevitably, the spinmeisters who favor consistently deploying America's military might will effectively place blame for the ensuing horror on those who opposed the war; rather than those who led us, and lied us, into the biggest train wreck in the history of American foreign intervention.



That's why Norman Solomon's new book clearly delineating the rhetoric and tactics of war spin is so important. War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death neatly organizes the rhetorical and tactical spin that administrations employ to get us all hopped up with war fever. And he also shows how the mainstream media has enthusiastically played an equal part in selling one military incursion after another. Let us hope for a bigger and better "Vietnam Syndrome" — one in which the people, the press, the congress and even administrations become much more skeptical of the spin that is used to rush us into military action.

I contacted Solomon to ask him a few questions about Bush's spin during yesterday's State of the Union address and about the future of spin in general.

RU SIRIUS: Nearly every chapter headline in your book describes an essential element of America's war spin over the last few decades. Which tactics did Bush employ tonight?

NORMAN SOLOMON: At this point, Bush has run through the standard repertoire of how to make war sufficiently "easy" in the minds of most Americans. He has banged on the same drums for so long that now most of the public recognizes the hollow sounds.

Some of the generic assumptions summarized in the War Made Easy chapter titles — such as "America Is a Fair and Noble Superpower," "This Is About Human Rights," "This Is Not at All About Oil or Corporate Profits" and "They Are the Aggressors, Not Us" — are still in place and largely operative in the presidential and media spin cycles. And those assumptions help to put a brake on efforts to shut down the U.S. war effort.

But many of Bush's other boilerplate themes, such as "Our Leaders Will Do Everything They Can to Avoid War" or "Our Leaders Would Never Tell Us Outright Lies" or "Opposing the War Means Siding With the Enemy" — or even the highly serviceable claim that "This Is a Necessary Battle in the War on Terrorism" — have either been overtaken by events or worn very thin. I think it's fair to say that Bush has told so many lies since the heady war-agenda-building days of 2002 and early 2003 that he can no longer keep track of them.

RU: Most of your book is about the propaganda spin that is used to lead us into war. This is only our second experience, in my life, with propaganda spin after the war turns into a disaster (yes, I'm old enough to remember Vietnam). How does spin get altered when the circumstances don't go right? And do you see shades of Nixonian spin in Bush's comments on the war tonight, or is he taking a different approach?

NS: Well, speaking to the first part of your question: What remains as the cutting edge of Bush's arguments, such as they are, can be largely summarized by the last two chapter titles of War Made Easy: "America Needs the Resolve to Kick the 'Vietnam Syndrome'" and "Withdrawal Would Cripple U.S. Credibility." Much of Bush's discussion of Iraq during this latest State of the Union address meandered through themes having to do with American resolve. But the brashness and outright arrogance of the President Triumphant has been replaced, out of necessity, by a more circumspect affect from Bush. The "Mission Accomplished" gleeful zealotry has been supplanted by the line that caused some pundits to swoon after the speech Tuesday night: "However you voted last November, you didn't vote for failure!" So after the war turns — as you said — into a disaster, the spin is altered by regrouping and retrenching — and perhaps downscaling — the rhetoric.

Thematically, on the subject of Iraq, the latest State of the Union speech is a more toned-down and limited version of what Richard Nixon said in a nationally televised address about the Vietnam War, which may have been the most important speech of his presidency. "There were some who urged that I end the war at once by ordering the immediate withdrawal of all American forces," Nixon said on November 3, 1969. "From a political standpoint this would have been a popular and easy course to follow." As President Bush did on Tuesday night, Nixon portrayed himself as opting for sacred principle rather than opportunism: "I had a greater obligation than to think only of the years of my administration and of the next election. I had to think of the effect of my decision on the next generation and on the future of peace and freedom in America and in the world."

A quick withdrawal might well be popular at home, Nixon said, but it "would result in a collapse of confidence in American leadership, not only in Asia but through-out the world." He provided the evidence and then the conclusion: "For the future of peace, precipitate withdrawal would thus be a disaster of immense magnitude. A nation cannot remain great if it betrays its allies and lets down its friends."

So, the president said, as the host government's "forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater." But there was an emphatic catch: "I have not and do not intend to announce the timetable for our program. And there are obvious reasons for this decision which I am sure you will understand."

An actual withdrawal rate would depend on many factors. Clearly, Nixon said, "It is not wise to be frozen in on a fixed timetable. We must retain the flexibility to base each withdrawal decision on the situation as it is at the time rather than on estimates that are no longer valid." The course of action he had chosen, Nixon added, "is not the easy way. It is the right way." And he said: "In speaking of the consequences of a precipitate withdrawal, I mentioned that our allies would lose confidence in America... Far more dangerous, we would lose confidence in ourselves."

Nixon went on to say: "We have faced other crises in our history and have become stronger by rejecting the easy way out and taking the right way in meeting our challenges. Our greatness as a nation has been our capacity to do what had to be done when we knew our course was right." And: "Let historians not record that when America was the most powerful nation in the world we passed on the other side of the road and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces of totalitarianism." All of those themes add up to standard-issue rhetoric when a president is facing heavy domestic opposition to a war that he wants to continue.

RU: Bush's ratings are falling below Nixon's at his lowest point. Do you think he did himself any good tonight?

NS: Bush is in a much weaker position politically than Nixon was in late 1969 and given the current situation, I don't think Bush did much in his speech other than shore up some of his remaining base — mostly the Republicans who never met an American war they didn't adore. This may be a slim majority of Republicans, but overall it's a distinct minority of Americans, maybe 30 percent. Bush has lost the other two-thirds of the public on this war, and nothing he said in this State of the Union address could do much to effectively woo them back.

RU: Some pundits are seeing this as a move to the center — with the talk on health care, the environment and immigration. Of course, Bush has always blown kisses towards environmentalism in these speeches.

NS: Yes, one more parallel to President Nixon is appropriate, and ironic. You're correct that Bush "blows kisses towards environmentalism," and he's been notably and transparently insincere in doing so — if his record is to be the measure of sincerity. For all his horrific faults, Nixon had a decent environmental record as these things go. Bush's environmental record has been atrocious. After a half-dozen years of ignoring or implicitly mocking concerns about climate change and fuel efficiency, Bush now throws out mild rhetoric and tepid policy proposals that supposedly address those concerns. Politically, he reminds me of someone adrift on a bar of soap, finally — out of concern for his own survival — curtailing his habit of splashing vast quantities of water onto his feet.

RU: Are any of the basic elements of spin a harder sell as the result of the Iraq disaster? Have we (the US body politic) learned anything? Will we be harder to spin next time?



NS: I think that's a big concern of Bush's most militaristic backers — such as the neocons clustered around Dick Cheney. The credibility of a war-seeking president — at least this one — is in tatters. The "Project for a New American Century" vision of an American military giant striding across the Middle East and remaking it in the process has gone blurry because of the debacle in Iraq. Yet we shouldn't be too confident on this point.

For one thing, Bush represents a reckless "double or nothing" mentality: When things go wrong, he ups the stakes and keeps gambling (with other people's lives, of course). So in that sense, Bush has never been more dangerous. For instance, a U.S. missile attack on Iran seems to me to be quite likely before the George W. Bush presidency ends. Bush is clearly a big believer in (Pentagon) violence as an efficacious means of implementing what he imagines God's patriotic will to be.

Also, the U.S. news media don't like the spectacle of Team USA losing. This was articulated, so to speak, by then-CBS-anchor Dan Rather just days after Baghdad fell in the spring of 2003. He went on CNN's "Larry King Live" and emphasized his professional allegiance. "Look, I'm an American," Rather said. "I never tried to kid anybody that I'm some internationalist or something. And when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of 'win' may be. Now, I can't and don't argue that that is coverage without a prejudice. About that I am prejudiced." The vast majority of mainline U.S. journalists remain similarly prejudiced, and their objections to this war turn largely on the failure of the Bush administration to "win" it.

A backdrop and continuing context for all this is what the chapter "If War Is Wrong, the Media Will Tell Us" describes as a military-industrial-media complex. A few sections of the chapter are especially relevant here:
Strong economic pressures are very significant — and combine with powerful forces for conformity at times of nationalistic fervor and military crisis. "Even if journalists, editors, and producers are not superpatriots, they know that appearing unpatriotic does not play well with many readers, viewers, and sponsors," media analyst Michael X. Delli Carpini has commented. "Fear of alienating the public and sponsors, especially in wartime, serves as a real, often unstated tether, keeping the press tied to accepted wisdom." Journalists in American newsrooms don't have to worry about being taken out and shot; the constraining fears are apt to revolve around peer approval, financial security and professional advancement.

The attitudes of reporters covering U.S. foreign-policy officials are often similar to the attitudes of those officials. "Most journalists who get plum foreign assignments already accept the assumptions of empire," commented longtime foreign correspondent Reese Erlich. (I traveled to Iraq with him in September 2002, and we later co-authored the book Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You.) He added: "I didn't meet a single foreign reporter in Iraq who disagreed with the notion that the U.S. and Britain have the right to overthrow the Iraqi government by force. They disagreed only about timing, whether the action should be unilateral, and whether a long-term occupation is practical.' After decades of freelancing for major U.S. news organizations, Reese offered this blunt conclusion: 'Money, prestige, career options, ideological predilections — combined with the down sides of filing stories unpopular with the government — all cast their influence on foreign correspondents. You don't win a Pulitzer for challenging the basic assumptions of empire."

Far from restraining the reliance on war as an instrument of foreign policy, the widespread media support for economic "globalization" boosts the view that the U.S. government must strive to bring about favorable conditions in international affairs. The connections between military might and global commercial market-share are not shouted from Washington's rooftops, but the links are solid. With matter-of-fact approval, Thomas Friedman wrote in his 1999 book The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization: "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."

Workday concepts of professionalism have routinely included parroting Pentagonspeak. And when corporate-media journalists step out of the pack, they usually get slapped down for it. In late April 2003, a few weeks after Saddam statues began to fall in Iraq, MSNBC correspondent Ashleigh Banfield caused a stir when she spoke on a college campus in Kansas. "There are horrors that were completely left out of this war," she said. "So was this journalism or was this coverage? There is a grand difference between journalism and coverage, and getting access does not mean you're getting the story, it just means you're getting one more arm or leg of the story. And that's what we got, and it was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news. But it wasn't journalism, because I'm not so sure that we in America are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war, because it looked like a glorious and courageous and so successful terrific endeavor, and we got rid of a horrible leader: We got rid of a dictator, we got rid of a monster, but we didn't see what it took to do that." Four days later, responding to a flap over Banfield's remarks, a spokeswoman for NBC management admonished the fleetingly errant reporter in the course of issuing an apology: "She and we both agreed that she didn't intend to demean the work of her colleagues, and she will choose her words more carefully in the future."

The Banfield-in-Kansas episode was part of a classic pattern: In a wartime frenzy, TV correspondents blend in with the prevailing media scenery. Later, a few briefly utter words of regret, although next time around they revert to more or less the same pattern of cheerleading the current war.

Mark Twain remarked that it was easy to quit smoking — he'd done it thousands of times. When the White House pushes for a new war, the U.S. news media seem to be pretty much back to square one.

See also:
Is It Fascism Yet?
Hallucinogenic Chemical Warfare
Is Iraq Really That Bad?
Detention and Torture
Ford's Would-Be Chick Assassins
The 5 Faces of Bush
9/11: The Wingnuts vs. the Sheeple

Read More

Kneecaps, Eyeballs and Livers for Sale: The World Organ Trade


The World Organ Trade

Hey there, First Worlder! Worried about bodily decay? If you're starting to notice the effects of beer, grease and couch-potatohood on your longevity potential, no need to wait around for human cloning. Emaciated slum-dwellers the world over are eager to sell the body parts you need to maintain your gluttonous Western existence as long as humanly possible. And thanks to the magic of warfare and endemic poverty, the cost to you can be less than treatment on a dialysis machine.



Sure, Turistas tells a morality tale of twisted Brazilian justice resulting from needs like yours, but hey — that's just a dumb splatter flick. Don't let its terror and graphic violence sway you.

"What you can get is the cornea — and often the whole eyes are removed — you can get skin grafts, you can get heart valves that are used in various operations, you can get pituitary glands, whatever," says Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies the organ trade.

And that list only applies to corpses that are looted for organs in South Africa, Argentina and, most famously, China. For other items, such as the much-coveted kidney, you'll want to hook up with a live seller in Brazil, or even Iraq. But the real heavyweight is that notorious cesspit of human organ-farming — India.

On January 5th, the Indian national paper The Hindu ran a cover story about the gruesome killing of young children for their kneecaps! "[T]he bodies appeared to have been cut up by skilled hands. The person who cut up the bodies may not necessarily be a doctor, but was skilled enough not to damage the vital parts," Dr. Vinod Kumar was quoted as saying.

Nonetheless, don't think your quest for fresh bits will be an easy one. You'll want to stay under the radar of American do-gooders such as Scheper-Hughes and her Berkeley compatriot Lawrence Cohen. Staunch foes of the organ trade, they even try to put the kibosh on media reports they consider disrespectful. Cohen once ordered a journalist not to "write one more groovy story about how gross India is."

Unfortunately for Cohen, India really is gross. The country became famous in the mid-90s for a vigorous organ trade patronized by wealthy Europeans, Middle Easterners and Asians. In certain regions known as the "kidney belt," poor villagers regularly sell that organ. The Madras slum of Villivakkam is widely known as "Kidney-vakkam" due to the role organ sales play in the local economy.

India recently banned the organ trade, but that hasn't kept an entrenched class of brokers from continuing their operations on the black market. Visitors to Villivakkam can still see women with large, curving scars peeking out from under their sari tops. Residents of the slum may not know how to read or write, but they're savvy about blood types, tissue-matching factors and going rates.

Those rates are hard to pin down thanks to the black-market nature of such sales. One estimate puts the profit at $10,000-20,000, of which the broker takes a cut of about $6,000. Another puts the seller's take at more like $1,000. One of the most common uses for the money is to fund that other emblem of Third-World backwardness, the dowry. In many "kidney belt" villages, Cohen says, it's common for girls to go under the knife in exchange for dowry money.

Still, it's hard to peg the number of people selling organs. The Voluntary Health Association of India estimates that more than 2,000 people in the country sell their organs each year, but that figure defines "sale" to mean "exchange for money." Countless other transactions are "soft barters," with body parts being traded for some vaguely-defined reward.

"They aren't asking for a fixed fee, they're asking, maybe, for help with getting a daughter married or help with buying a house or a down payment or some other form of exchange," Scheper-Hughes says. She encountered one case in which a woman donated a kidney to her wealthy uncle in exchange for a fancy suburban home.

So how is an out-of-towner supposed to hook up with a donor? The Internet might seem an obvious research source, but would-be online brokers — such as the individual who recently attempted to peddle his kidney on eBay — are quickly traced and shut down. Instead, you'll want to scan Brazilian newspapers for classified ads placed by people claiming they want to be of help. "People say they're willing to be anonymous donors and that they want to be helpful," Scheper-Hughes says. "That's the language that's used, but often what that really means is [they want money]. Very few people who are poor really want to be anonymous donors."

In India, you can try a more direct route — simply visit a clinic and ask if the doctor knows anyone who can hook you up with a donor. Throughout the '90s, journalists found that the most casual inquiries bore immediate fruit. This method doesn't work in Brazil, but you can at least rely on the transplanting surgeons not to ask too many questions about your donor. Which isn't to say they won't wonder.



"I don't want to know what kinds of private exchanges have taken place between my patients and their donors," one Brazilian doctor told Scheper-Hughes. "But obviously you do have to suspect something when the patient is a wealthy Rio socialite and her 'donor' is a poor, barefoot 'cousin' from the country."

See Also:
World Sex Laws
Venezuela: Dispatch from a Surrealist Autocracy

Read More

Hallucinogenic Weapons: The Other Chemical Warfare


Nurses and Subjects

There were many acid tests happening in the 1950s and 1960s. Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters dosed sometimes-unsuspecting proto-hippies. The CIA was dosing unsuspecting mainstreamers. Leary dosed fully cognizant artists, therapists and students. But meanwhile, over at Army Chemical Center at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, psychiatrist James S. Ketchum was testing LSD, BZ and other psychedelic and deliriant compounds on fully informed volunteers for the U.S. military.

As an Army psychiatrist just out of residency, Dr. James E. Ketchum was assigned to Edgewoord Arsenal's Medical Research Laboratories, first as a research psychiatrist in 1961. He became Chief of the Psychopharmacology Branch in 1963, and then became Acting Chief of Clinical Research in 1966. After a brief hiatus at Stanford University, he returned as Edgewoods' Chief of Clinical Research in 1968, staying there until 1971. Dr. Ketchum and his team were looking, primarily, for non-lethal incapacitating agents, and he was central to many of the experiments with these compounds that took place during that time.



Now, Dr. Ketchum has released his fascinating self-published memoir, Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten, primarily detailing his times at Edgewood. The book boasts charts, graphs and experimental reports — a veritable goldmine of information for those who are interested in psychedelics, deliriants, or chemical warfare. It's also a funny, observant, and reflective personal memoir, casting a light not only on Ketchum and his work, but on a decade that saw 60s counterculture and the military share an oddly intersecting obsession with mind-altering drugs.

Dr. Ketchum himself has remained intrigued by these chemicals, as reflected in his ongoing friendship with Dr. Alexander (Sasha) Shulgin, who wrote a foreword for this book.

I recently interviewed him for The RU Sirius Show. Steve Robles joined me.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: Tell us about the research you did at Edgewood Arsenal with various substances as weapons. What was the political environment?

JAMES KETCHUM: It was during the Cold War and there was great concern about what the Soviet Union might be plotting. It was known that they were investing a lot of money in chemical warfare research — about ten times as much as we were. And at the same time, there was an interest in the U.S. in developing weapons that might be called more "humane" as opposed to "conventional" weapons. In 1955, Congress was entertained by Major General Creasy, who described what LSD could do. At the time, that was the latest drug of interest. And as he described it to Congress, they became very enthusiastic, and voted in favor of doing research into LSD as a possible incapacitating agent that would be life-sparing. Congress passed a resolution with only one vote against it, which is perhaps indicative of the philosophy of the times.

So money was allocated to build a project at Edgewood Arsenal, the army chemical center. And over the next few years the budgeting increased, supported by John F. Kennedy, among others. I was given the opportunity to go there after my residency in psychiatry in 1961, and I thought it would be interesting. I ended up spending about ten years there. When I arrived, the program was just in its nascency. There had been some work done by others there with LSD, but they had never had a psychiatrist. And they'd run into a few problems that made them think they ought to have one. So I was given pretty much a free hand over the next few years to develop a program that would be safe and also provide the information that was being sought, not only about LSD but about drugs like BZ, and others.

RU: So you actually ended up having a long strange trip of your own. You had some very interesting experiences with it.

JK: I enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately at the time, classification of that research was so great that very little of the information we found was leaked out to the public or allowed to be spread among the public. And as is the custom in the army — or was the custom — classified papers usually remained classified for 12 years before they'd be downgraded and made available. By that time, most people had gone separate ways. The program itself had been pretty much terminated. No one really wrote the history of that decade. I thought, later, that was a serious omission. And that's what led me to write this book.

STEVE ROBLES: Did you find any evidence that the Soviets might have taken this tack in their own chemical warfare research?

JK: There was information indicating that, around 1960, the Soviet Union was importing vast quantities of contaminated rye from the satellite countries. This was interpreted as being indicative of their interest in producing LSD, since there's not much use for contaminated rye except that it contains ergot, which is a form of contamination [ed: ergot is used to prepare lysergic acid, the raw material for LSD]. That made us think maybe they were having a big LSD development program of their own.

SR: So there was a different kind of space race going on at the same time.

JK: That's right. Inner space.

RU: The meat of this book, and the fun part, is descriptions of people undergoing the experiments. I wonder if any moments in particular pop into your head showing the way that human beings behave under the influence.

The Volunteers

JK: I watched a number of people — actually, more than a hundred — going through the experience of having BZ, which is a long-acting atropine type compound. It produces delirium if given in a sufficient dose. Half-a-milligram is sufficient in the case of BZ, as compared with about 10 milligrams of atropine. To describe the tripping in detail would take some time. In the book, I've documented an entire BZ trip over a hundred-hour period, including everything that was said and done.

RU: You had a man watching an entire football game on his fingernail or something?

JK: It was a tiny baseball game on the padded floor. The hallucinations were "real" hallucinations. I'd like to make a distinction between BZ hallucinations and LSD so-called hallucinations, which are really not hallucinations — they're more illusions. People generally know that they're not real, but produced by the drug. Whereas with BZ, the individual becomes delirious, and in that state is unable to distinguish fantasy from reality, and may see, for instance, strips of bacon along the edge of the floor.

RU: Belladonna would probably be the most common deliriant among drug experimenters.

JK: Right. Loco weed. Belladonna, in the form of Asmador, for example, was used for asthma and contains atropine. People were getting high on this in the 60s. My brother described one young man trying to crawl across a street in New York City and grabbing onto the pants leg of a police officer. People don't know what they're doing when they're under the influence. They mistake people for objects and objects for people. They'll salute the water fountain or bump into a nurse and say, "Excuse me, sir," and the like.



RU: Were you guys doing a lot of chuckling while this was going on? You're trying to maintain a certain degree of decorum, but...

JK: Yes. I would tell the technicians that it wasn't nice to laugh at these things, even though the subject probably wouldn't remember it later. It was sometimes hard to suppress it. Like when one individual asked another, in the same padded room, if he could have a cigarette. And then, when the other individual held out an empty hand that looked like it was holding a pack, he said, "Oh, I don't want to take your last one." So it was fully "out there" on a fantastic scale.

RU: I had a friend who took belladonna at a rock concert. And about halfway into it, he thought he was back in his own room and that the music on the radio really sucked, and he was going to turn it off. That basically involved twisting this girl's kneecap until he got kicked out. Fortunately, it was just the kneecap.

JK: One young man tried to straighten out my arm, as if it were a pipe of some sort! He tugged on it, and pulled it, and didn't seem at all aware that I might be discomforted by that.

RU: So this book, which is about a very serious subject, is actually quite an amusing read.

JK: Yeah, I tried to keep it from being too heavy, and included a number of anecdotes about people who weren't delirious that were equally funny.

RU: Some of the inter-office activity was amusing too. Describe what happens when soldiers try to deal with mock-up battle conditions under the influence of BZ.

JK: Well of course, commanders wanted to know what would happen if this stuff were ever used in the field. So at first we set up an indoor type of situation, a sort of simulated command post with four soldiers in it. One of them was given a full dose of BZ while the others were given either small doses or none at all, in order to have some possibility of maintaining order. So this one individual would continually go to the door and try to get out. He'd turn around and say, "I'll see you later," but it was locked, and he finally concluded that he was trapped. When the cameras, which were behind these sliding plywood doors, were opened, he came over to one and looked into it as if it were the eye of a Martian. And then he tried to climb out through the medicine cabinet. Then he went over to the water bag and yelled, "Hey, this broad just committed suicide." It took quite a bit of help from his teammates to keep him from hurting himself. But fortunately, nothing serious happened.

RU: You write that nobody was really injured or permanently damaged by these experiments, and you make a distinction between the work that you did at the arsenal and work done by the Central Intelligence Agency.

JK: I tried to dissect out the work done by the army from the work done by the CIA. The CIA, of course, was the first to undertake studies of LSD. They did it without any real scientific structure; and they took liberties that they shouldn't have taken, giving it covertly to American citizens and the like. This was the MK-ULTRA program. Unfortunately, Edgewood Arsenal acquired a reputation for being somehow involved in the MK-ULTRA program — being somehow underwritten by the CIA. And this was not true. There were a couple of individuals who had a secret connection to the CIA, but the program itself was transparent, at least within the military, and there was none of the hijinx that the CIA carried out in San Francisco and other places. [ed: they gave LSD to customers in a house used for prostitution and watched them through a two-way mirror.]

RU: You recently gave testimony about the CIA program. Tell us a little bit about that.

JK: I testified on behalf of Wayne Ritchie, a deputy U.S. Marshall who had been an ideal officer — four years in the Marines, a year at Alcatraz as a guard. He was regarded as perfectly stable — normal. After a Christmas party, where people from the CIA office next door were present, he came back to his office and began to believe that everyone was against him. And then he went out on the street and walked home for the first time without his car, and was convinced that his girlfriend was against him; and the bartender was against him. So he decided to hold up a bar and get enough money for his girlfriend to fly to New York, and then he'd be arrested and they would kick him out of the US Marshal Service and everyone would be happy. So this is what he did, and this is what happened. And when he came to and realized what he'd done, he felt terrible. He wanted to commit suicide. He asked for a bullet to save the state some money, and he submitted a letter of resignation.

From that point on, he was regarded as a pariah and he spent the rest of his life believing he had committed a serious crime for which he'd never be forgiven. Then Sidney Gottleib — who was the head of the MK-ULTRA program — died. And in his obituary, it mentioned that he was supervising the administration of LSD to unwitting American citizens. [ed: The CIA also dosed unsuspecting attendants at office parties, as documented in Acid Dreams and elsewhere.] And so the light went on in his head at that point, and Wayne realized, or believed, that that's probably what happened to him. So a case was eventually brought to court, and I was asked to testify on behalf of Wayne. I spent two-and-a-half days on the witness stand, mostly answering questions from CIA lawyers. Ultimately the outcome was not favorable, unfortunately. The judge didn't feel convinced, and neither did the Appeals court. The judge said, in effect, "If you can explain this man's criminal behavior with LSD, then I suppose you could blame anyone's criminal behavior on LSD." And this really wasn't very logical and didn't fit the facts, but that's how it ended up. It was a rather unhappy ending to an unhappy story.

The Ward

RU: A number of your volunteers in the LSD experiments expressed feelings of having had a profound experience. More frequently than not, they expressed a sort of regret in coming down and having the experience end.

JK: Yes. We were primarily interested in measuring performance on a systematic basis. But, of course, clinically it was pretty hard to ignore the differences in the responses to LSD that we observed. Some individuals would become very frolicsome and laugh a great deal. Some would become depressed and withdrawn; some became paranoid. Seeing the spectrum of responses in otherwise normal young men was quite interesting. One individual in particular, I believe, actually had a therapeutic experience. He was in a group of four, and we held a televised discussion after the test, and he admitted finally under pressure from his buddies that he had had some unacceptable erotic thoughts about the nurses that he was reluctant to reveal. And they told him that was all right, there's nothing wrong with that. And when he went back to his unit, I heard indirectly that his personality was different. He became more sociable and outgoing. I have to give LSD some of the credit in that case.

RU: Also a frequent response from some of the volunteers was to find the tests just silly and absurd and to just laugh at the things they were asked to do.

JK: Yeah, under LSD, they perceived the absurdity of being asked to solve as many arithmetic problems as they could in three minutes. Sometimes they refused to do it all together. But in other cases they did their best, but couldn't do as well as they did before the drug. I took it once and I had precisely the same difficulty solving arithmetic problems, but I didn't have any of the wonderful visions and fantasies. I guess because I was thinking of the psychopharmacology of the LSD going through my raphe nucleus and so forth.

RU: You took 80 micrograms. It's a little bit shy of a trip.

JK: Yeah. But it was chemically pure, U.S. Army-grade, 99.9 percent...

RU: Got any of that stuff left?

JK: Well, there was 40 pounds left in my office one day in a big black barrel...

RU: Oh yes! Do tell the story of the canister.

JK: I was chief of the department at that point. When I came into work one day, I noticed that there was a big, black, sort of oil barrel-type drum in the corner of the room. And no one said anything, or told me anything about it. So after a couple of days, my curiosity overcame me. After everyone had gone home, I opened it up and pulled out a jar. And I looked and saw that it was about 3.41623 kilograms of LSD. And so were the rest of the jars.

RU: Drop that baby on Iran and see what happens.

JK: But after another couple of days, the barrel was gone! I never heard anything; I never got a receipt for it. The LSD there was probably worth about a billion dollars on the street. And it just stayed there for a few days and went away.

SR: Speaking of getting onto the street, I've never heard of BZ, I guess it didn't penetrate the black market?

RU: That's really not the sort of thing people tend to want to take.

JK: Well, as I say, it's similar to atropine or belladonna, which some people have taken for trips, and it's been used through the ages for ceremonial purposes, for various purposes.

RU: I remember Durk Pearson saying it was interesting.

JK: It lasts about 72 hours in a dose that is just sufficient to incapacitate someone. It can last longer if you take more, but we kept the doses as low as we could. Delirium is not something that anyone particularly wants to go through. It's more of a shipment than a trip, I would say.

RU: You don't remember much. It's probably more fun to watch other people take it.

JK: Right. Not too much intelligent insight emerges under its effects.

RU: Let's get back to the purpose of this research. What you were hoping for?



JK: I felt I was working on a noble cause because the purpose of this research was to find something that would be an alternative to bombs and bullets. It could also be helpful in reducing civilian casualties, which have increased ever since the Civil War from almost zero percent to the eighty percent now or maybe higher — 90 percent perhaps in Iraq, because you can't really avoid "collateral damage" if the enemy is going to hide among the civilians. Perhaps it's a good time to rethink our use of incapacitating agents as a humane alternative.

The Russians did very well with this. When the Chechnyan terrorists took over an auditorium filled with attendees at a Moscow concert and held them captive for three days, the Russians brought in an incapacitating agent. It happened to be a morphine derivative of high potency, and they pumped it in through the ceiling and the floor, waited for a while, and then rushed in. And those terrorists did not detonate the bombs they had strapped to their bodies; they did not fire their weapons; they were all down on the floor unconscious, as was most of the audience. They were able to save about 80% of the audience.

RU: Do you feel that maybe they could've used a better incapacitating agent that would've allowed them to save everybody or nearly everybody?

JK: No, I don't think there was anything better they could've used. This was a quick-acting drug, which is what it had to be. If they'd used BZ or some drug like that, the effects would have come on too gradually. The terrorists would have had time to figure out what was going on. So this was a knockout effect, and it worked very well. And I credit the Russians for doing this, although they seem to be embarrassed about giving out the details, because in the United States and the rest of the world in general, chemical warfare in any form is a no-no.

RU: It's illegal internationally, isn't it?

JK: A number of treaties were drawn up, the last of which was the chemical warfare convention. And it's now illegal to use any drug that can either cause death or seriously disturbed behavior. And I think it's unfortunate that we went in and agreed to this treaty because we're now in a different kind of war from anything we've been in previously.

SR: I wonder what effect of LSD would have in either dislodging — or maybe even reinforcing — the beliefs of real serious believers, like fanatical Islamists, for example.

JK: Well, LSD was discarded pretty early on as an incapacitating agent when it was realized that it produced highly unpredictable effects and that people could still retain the ability to fire a rifle or push a button on a bomb-release mechanism. So I'm pretty sure LSD would not be used. It would have to be something in the opiate category, like what was used in Moscow; or perhaps one of the rapid-acting belladonna-like drugs. Incidentally, although BZ was adopted briefly and even packed into munitions, as far as I know, it was never used, despite rumors to the contrary. And later on we found rapid-acting compounds in the same category — short-acting, rapid-acting compounds that would've worked much better. But by this time, the whole notion of militarizing incapacitating agents had lost its window of opportunity. That's one reason that all this research was kind of left in file cabinets.

RU: We've talked about psychedelics, and we've talked about deliriants. But what about disassociatives like ketamine and PCP? Do those hold any potential in your opinion, and do you know if they were looked into at all?

JK: A little work was done with PCP before my arrival. They had a complication. One individual became psychotic and required hospitalization. And this kind of scared them. In fact, that's one reason I was asked to go there. So PCP would probably be an unacceptable drug.

SR: That's not an uncommon reaction to PCP, right? Violence...

JK: It definitely can produce aggressive and resistant behavior that's very hard to overcome.

RU: The 1970s was a time of great revelation of government crimes, and Edgewood Arsenal and your work got roped into the general attitude in the media towards the establishment, towards the military and so forth. Talk a little bit about how you feel the media misinterpreted your work.

JK: It grew out of the Congressional hearings, the most famous of which was the Kennedy hearings. The CIA was investigated. Congress attempted to find out just what they did with LSD in the early 50s. The CIA had destroyed all their records and the people who were still around claimed they couldn't remember anything. But as a result of that, the army was asked to look at its work with similar agents. The Inspector General held a very comprehensive review, the National Academy of Sciences was asked to do a review of the work with BZ, and although they produced follow-ups finding no harm, somehow in the public mind, the CIA work and the U.S. Army work became interwoven. I believe that's an unfortunate thing.

Another mistake was that the media characterized BZ as a super-hallucinogen, which really is not a good way to describe it. It's a deliriant, basically — pure and simple.

RU: You've indicated the effects of some of today's potential chemical weapons have been exaggerated in the media. You've spoken about the potency of VX, for example

JK: That's right. This is in relation to nerve agents. I wasn't an expert on that — that work was going on next door. But people have been told that a couple of drops of VX on the floor of Macy's would wipe out the entire customer population. And things of that nature have been represented in programs like 24. (It's a great series but...). People have a morbid fear of anything chemical, which has been encouraged by the media. Many inaccuracies have been brought out. As a matter of fact, ironically, nerve agents are a good antidote for drugs like BZ, and vice versa. Atropine's used to treat nerve agent poisoning, and nerve agents can be used to treat atropine or BZ poisoning. We found this out in the lab. Of course anyone who heard that they were going to be treated with a nerve agent for their atropine or BZ poisoning would probably be very unhappy and nervous. But it works very well!

RU: So tell people how they can get a hold of this book. It's an independent publication, with a unique design. It's almost like a coffee table book.

SR: I thought you were going to say, "Tell people how they can get a hold of that black barrel!"

RU: Yeah. Where did you hide that black barrel?

JK: Here.

See Also:
Excerpts from Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
The Great Wired Drug Non-Controversy

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The Chicks Who Tried to Shoot Gerald Ford


"Want a really radical look, grrls? Duct tape a revolver to your inner thigh and carve a goddamn X in your forehead."
— Richard Metzger, 21.c, 1998


On the morning of September 5, 1975, President Gerald Ford walked out of his room at the Senator Hotel in Sacramento California to speak to the California legislature about crime. A 26-year old woman in a sort-of all red nun's outfit stepped in front of Ford and pointed a 45-colt automatic pistol.



She was immediately grabbed and restrained by the Secret Service and Ford was hustled off to safety. Weirdly, although the gun was loaded with four rounds, there were no bullets in the firing chamber. Since Fromme was a leading member of the notorious acid cult the Manson Family one could conjecture that although she failed to correctly load the gun, she may have gotten herself properly loaded. According to eyewitness accounts, upon being captured, she said, "Don't get excited. It didn't go off. It didn't go off. Can you believe it?"

The FAQ section from a Squeaky Fromme tribute site asks whether Fromme intended to kill Ford, and answers, "Fromme told the Sacramento Bee that she had purposely ejected the uppermost round in her weapon before leaving her home that morning in 1975. 'I was not determined to kill the guy, obviously, because I didn't do it.' The round was later found by investigators in her bathroom."

Other narratives have said that this was just her way of trying to get the President's attention, and that she wanted to talk to Mr. Ford about stopping nuclear power. Fromme's concern regarding nuclear power is also evidenced by a rather threatening letter to California Governor Jerry Brown, who — with typical Jerry logic — attended protests against nukes and then turned right around and allowed them to continue to be built, blaming "the establishment" all the while.

The pixie-like Fromme looked a bit like Anne Heche at her craziest (but not as hot) — and she was a frequent figure of fun during the 1970s. Her presumably botched assassination attempt somehow conflated nicely with President Ford's public image as a stumbler who fell out of Air Force One and occasionally bumped his head on the way out of that very same airplane. At the same time, her picture, taken after the assassination attempt, was on many a hipster's wall; a symbol both of the depth of alienation many people felt at that time and an evolving sense of irony within a generation that took itself way to seriously.

Obviously, Squeaky Fromme never had the kind of media juice that her intended victim (or conversation partner) had, but she is not entirely obscure. A fascinating, in-depth biography of the squeakster, written by Jess Bravin, was published in 1998 revealing — among other things — that, as a child, she performed with a dance group on The Lawrence Welk Show and at the White House.

And then there's the fan site, where you could read her thoughts on Charles Manson: "His sight and awareness is and has always been far ahead of mass consciousness, and for this he, like many KNOWN historical geniuses, is forced to suffer for what others do not understand." There, you can also learn that Fromme remains the last holdout among all the Manson girls currently in prison who still worships at the altar of Chuck. She also refuses to participate in parole hearings so long as her savior remains behind bars. You can even savor Ms. Fromme's embroidery. Hell, her colt .45 is even part of a roadside attraction exhibition dedicated to all things Jerry (Ford). All in all, it seems that she's gotten more publicity than Jerry's son Jack, whose major claims to fame was that he shook hands with a Beatle and the rumor that he was allowed to smoke weed in the White House under Secret Service protection.

Sarah Jane Moore, who tried to off President Ford a couple of weeks later, is a harder nut to crack. Very little has been written about Moore, possibly because she was far from cute and wasn't associated with a world famous psychotic hillbilly acid shaman cult leader. This attempt took place in San Francisco, where the vibe for extreme acts of terror against American power had already been ripened by the actions of the Symbionese Liberation Army, famous mostly for kidnapping and converting newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. Some reports say that Moore was an FBI agent working on the Patty Hearst case and Bay Area radicals had figured her out, just before she shot Ford. So although she remains really obscure, she does play a minor role in many conspiracy theories.



Over the next thirty days, as the flags fly at half-mast and the mainstream media doles out big wet good-vibe kisses upon the legacy of the man who pardoned the President that oversaw a serious criminal operation from the White House (not to mention that he got over 1,000,000 people unnecessarily killed in South East Asia and whose illegal bombings of Cambodia helped bring Pol Pot into power), you might spare a few thoughts for two confused chicks who tried to engage with Mr. Ford in their own weird ways.

See Also:

Did Bush Spin Like Nixon?
Robert Altman's 7 Secret Wars
20 Secrets of an Infamous Dead Spy
Raising Hunter S. Thompson

Read More

George Bush vs. Spider-Man


Is Spider-Man's next super-villain going to be George Bush?

Spider-Man crashed into a newscast this month to criticize government policy on secret detentions. Granted this took place in a comic book — but it was clearly addressing specific policies of the Bush administration.

American politicians have already launched a preemptive strike on Spider-Man. For years conservatives have been justifying foreign imperialism by invoking the famous words of his kindly uncle Ben — that "with great power comes great responsibility." (Senators currently invoking the wisdom of Spider-Man comic books include Republican Deputy Whip Jim Demint, and Sam Brownback, whose web page still argues that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.) This month someone writing for Marvel Comics had apparently had enough. Specifically, contributing writer J. Michael Straczynski.



Straczynski — also the creator of Babylon 5 — crafted a story where Spider-Man reconsiders similarly controversial government actions in an alternate war on terror. Straczynski has been a frequent critic of the Bush administration, posting to internet newsgroups for years. And Marvel's characters were already bristling in a story about government roundups of anyone deemed too powerful and dangerous. So a showdown was probably inevitable.

In Straczynski's story, Spider-Man lays out a remarkably clear case against the government's secret detention program. The costumed superhero tackles the abstract good of a national identity while speaking simply, in what could easily be considered a plot to turn the youth of our nation against the President. Pr