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Thursday, August 28, 2003

 
BRI Update 8/28/03 I’ve received a little feedback on the BRI posting of the other day. I just wanted to take some time to clear up a couple of things regarding the measures and the whole project: 1. Yes, it is a (semi) serious effort. While I have absolutely no problems ridiculing Bush, I’m at least trying to do so in a manner that is reasonably objective (but see below). Nevertheless I’ll try to present the information exactly as I find it, regardless of whether it makes Bush, or any other person I decide to analyze, look good or bad. “The truth shall set you free”, is the way I see it. 2. I’m not quite ready to post any new data or analysis just yet; I don’t quite have the time. This is time consuming work, since you first of all have to track down an accurate transcript of publicly made speech by Bush or others. Then, you have to decide whether that commentary was prepared (i.e., read) or was off-the-cuff, not necessarily that easy on first glance. Furthermore you have to edit the text, removing transcription errors and the like that might artifactually result in an error where none occurred (there is also the opposite problkem, where transcripts might eliminate an error that did occur. Finally, to calculate the BRI-2 index, each passage must be checked and grammatical errors categorized to verify if they are valid or not. 3. My goal is to try and post something once a week or so, depending on the availability of an adequate sample of speech to analyze for the parties I want to talk about. 4. At least one person questioned the objectivity of the BRI-2 analysis, since it just seemed to appear out of thin air. I.E., after the original measures failed to verify that Bush’s speech was particularly poor at times, I fished around until I found a measure that did support this conclusion. In a sense this is true. I wanted to be able to at least start out by being able to verify some things that most people would agree were true. For example, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Bush’s language, in his mangled periods, comes off poorly against someone like Bill Clinton. But using these techniques to quantify this difference, you can then ask a number of other questions. How consistent or inconsistent is Bush’s speaking? Does he screw things up in only certain situations? How does his language stack up against other individuals? Is it really as bad as people say it is, or might he come off faring relatively well when compared to other less known figures? My hunch is that he won’t, but I think it will be interesting to find out. 5. If anything, the BRI-2 measure is too generous to Bush. It includes only a subset of things picked up and flagged by the Word spelling and grammar checker. If a sentence or passage wasn’t flagged by Word, then as far as I’m concerned it wasn’t an error for my purposes. But this let’s some sentences slip through that are clearly nonsensical. For example, consider the example from last year, where he said “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, --- we won’t get fooled again”. By any reasonable standard, this should be counted as an example of mangled speech. Unfortunately, Word is not sophisticated enough to pick up things like this. If I included these types of errors, no doubt Bush’s scores would deteriorate even further. So as I said, if anything, Bush is getting the benefit of the doubt right now. That’s all for now. I’ll try to pull together something before the long weekend starts but I can’t make any promises.

posted by gunther at 12:14 PM Link

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

 
Who’s Running Iraq? From Baghdad Burning comes this synopsis of the 9-member rotating presidency in Iraq. A lot more information than you’ll be able to find in the mainstream media. The nine-member rotating presidency is a failure at first sight. It’s also a failure at second, third, fourth… and ninth sight. The members of the rotating presidency, composed of 4 Shi’a Muslims, 2 Sunni Muslims and 2 Kurds, were selected on a basis of ethnicity and religion. It is a way of further dividing the Iraqi population. It is adding confusion to chaos and disorder. Just the concept of an ethnically and religiously selected council to run the country is repulsive. Are people supposed to take sides according to their ethnicity or religion?… The nine dancing puppets- excuse me, rotating presidents- were exclusively selected from the “Governing Council”, an interim council chosen by the CPA. The first thing the 25-member Governing Council did to alienate itself from the people was the fatal decision to make April 9 the new Iraqi National Day. People were incredulous when Bahr Ul Iloom (one of the nine puppets), read out the announcement. Insiders say that all 9 members of the council hate each other. Meetings sometimes end in shouting, name-calling and insults. The one thing they do agree on is that Bremer is God. His word is Scripture. It was decided that each one of them would get a chance to govern their adoring Iraqi population a month. After several arguments and, I imagine, threats, ultimatums and tantrums, it was decided that each one of the members would get their turn in alphabetical order (the Arabic alphabet). So here is the cast of the most elaborate puppet show Iraq has ever seen (in order of appearance). The Puppet: Ibraheim Al-Jaffari 56-year-old head of the Islamic Daawa party who was living in Iran and London. The Al-Daawa Islamic Party debuted in 1958 as the most prominent Shi’a political movement. Al-Daawa ‘activists’ learned their techniques from an extremist Iranian group known as ‘Fida’yeen El-Islam’ and were distinctive for their use of explosives to make political statements. Universities, schools and recreational centers were often targets. The Puppet: Ahmad Al-Chalabi This guy is a real peach. He is the head of the Iraqi National Congress and heavily backed by the Pentagon. He was a banker who embezzled millions from the Petra Bank in Jordan. My favorite part of his life story is how he escaped from Jordan in the trunk of a car… a modern-day Cleopatra, if you will. …He’s actually America’s gift to the Iraqi people- the crowning glory of the war, chaos and occupation: the looter of all looters. The Puppet: Iyad Allawi A former Iraqi intelligence officer, and former Ba’ath member, who was sent to London on a scholarship from the former Ba’athist government. Rumor has it that when the scholarship ran out, he denounced his Ba’ath membership and formed the Iraqi National Accord. He has been living in London ever since 1971. The Puppet: Jalal Talabani Head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The PUK controls the southeastern part of the autonomous Kurdish area in the north. Scintillating rumor on the street: before he became a ‘leader’, he had a nightclub in Turkey where he was running an illegitimate… umm… we’ll call it an ‘escort service’. The Puppet: Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim Deputy leader of SCIRI (Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq). He has been in Iran for decades and is the commander of ‘Badir’s Army’ or what is also known as the Badir Brigade- responsible for a lot of the post-war chaos. The Puppet: Adnan Al-Pachichi A Sunni Arab who is- brace yourself- 81 years old (some say it’s 84). He was foreign minister for 2 years in the ‘60s. My grandfather remembers him vaguely. He has been outside of Iraq ever since the late ‘60s and seems to know as little about modern Iraq as the Iraqis know about him. The Puppet: Mohsen Abdul Hamid The secretary of the Islamic Party- a Sunni fundamentalist Islamic group (a branch of the Islamic Brotherhood). Yet another fundamentalist group, but this one was chosen to keep the Sunni fundamentalists quiet. The Puppet: Mohammed Bahr Ul Iloom Otherwise known as ‘Mohammed Bahr Ul- who???’ Very few people seem to have heard of him. He is a Shi’a Muslim cleric who fled Iraq in 1991. He was in exile in London. He is also in his 80s and his only political qualification seems to be the fact that he fled and considered himself in exile. The Puppet: Massoud Berezani The head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and rival of Jalal Talabani. He was backed by the US in north Iraq. His conflicts with Talabani have resulted in the deaths of thousands of Kurds in bloody battles and assassinations and the exile of others. The most infuriating thing is hearing Bremer talk about how the members of the rotating presidency represent the Iraqi people. In reality, they represent the CPA and Bremer. They are America’s Puppets (some of them are Iran’s). They do not govern Iraq or Iraqis in any way- they are merely very highly paid translators: Bremer gives the orders and they translate them to an incredulous public. The majority of them were trained using American tax dollars, and now they are being ‘kept’ by the CPA using Iraqi oil money. It’s a bad start to democracy, being occupied and having your government and potential leaders selected for you by the occupying powers… On the other hand, could we really expect more from a country whose president was ‘appointed’ by the Supreme Court?

posted by gunther at 3:44 PM Link

Monday, August 25, 2003

 
Is Bush A Moron? The BRI (Bush Readability Index) May Tell Us

OK, that’s a loaded question. The caricature of Bush since he first rose to national prominence before the 2000 election was that he was an idiot. There are many who still feel that way, but is the stereotype accurate? Mark Crispin Miller said in a now famous interview in the Toronto Star that the evidence was that Bush was not an idiot, but in fact a sociopath:

”Bush is not an imbecile. He's not a puppet. I think that Bush is a sociopathic personality. I think he's incapable of empathy. He has an inordinate sense of his own entitlement, and he's a very skilled manipulator. And in all the snickering about his alleged idiocy, this is what a lot of people miss.”

Miller said he did intend The Bush Dyslexicon to be a funny book, but that was before he read all the transcripts, which revealed, according to reporter Murray Whyte, "a disquieting truth about what lurks behind the cock-eyed leer of the leader of the free world. He's not a moron at all on that point, Miller and Prime Minister Jean Chretien agree.”

“He has no trouble speaking off the cuff when he's speaking punitively, when he's talking about violence, when he's talking about revenge," Miller told Whyte. "When he struts and thumps his chest, his syntax and grammar are fine. It's only when he leaps into the wild blue yonder of compassion, or idealism, or altruism, that he makes these hilarious mistakes.”


Is Bush a moron? I decided to apply the methods of behavioral science to the study of this particular question. Subjective impressions can be wrong or biased, and are totally unreliable as a means of establishing beliefs with any degree of certainty. I decided that what was lacking from this debate was some type of objective measure of how stupid Bush’s speech patterns actually are. The goal was to try and show that Bush’s speech patterns are noticeably different from those of his “peer” group. Secondarily, I wanted to see whether Miller’s informal observations regarding the topic specificity of Bush’s language problems were in fact borne out by the data.

This will be an ongoing series of reports, with no definitive end-point in mind. Consider it sort of a sports scoreboard, or a summary of stock market activity. Only instead of reporting who defeated whom, or which stock rose or fell, I’ll be reporting an index that reflects how stupid George W. Bush’s public speaking actually is. This index will be defined using objective methods that will allow others to reproduce (or modify) them if they so desire. What I propose to do is the following:

1. A representative series of quotations from Bush will be selected for analysis. This will not be an exhaustive selection, but will be subject to the following criteria:

(a) The text from prepared speeches will not be used. This would be a poor choice for two reasons. One, it relies on the reading of prepared statements, and not on casual or off-the-cuff speech that better reflects the intellectual capacity of the speaker. Second, and most obvious, because prepared speeches are usually written by someone else.

(b) Transcripts from interviews, press conferences, and informal remarks at public events will serve as the main source of material for these analyses.

2. The selected text materials will be placed into a word document, and checked for spelling and grammar. The two “readability” indexes that Word provides will serve as a proxy for how “high-level” the speech was in the samples.

3. A measure of the “readability” of Bush’s speech patterns is not particularly informative in and of itself. Instead we need to conduct two types of analyses. First, Bush’s speech patterns will be compared to representative selections from “peers”. This will, for the time being, consist of political figures from both the left and right, subject to the same criteria as described above. Thus, we will be able to tell whether, for example, Bush’s speech is more garbled, less garbled, or equally as garbled as Al Sharpton’s or Al Gore’s.

Secondly, given Mark Crispin Miller’s hypothesis that Bush mangles speech in only some situations, we will attempt to categorize Bush’s comments as falling into the two general areas Miller described, i.e., as “warrior” versus “idealist”. In turn, we will attempt to determine, using objective methods, whether Bush’s speaking actually becomes less intelligent in the latter case.

The “readability” measures are actually calculated by Word whenever you do a spelling and grammar check. The Flesch Reading Ease score Rates text on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score rates text on a U.S. grade-school level. For example, a score of 8.0 means that an eighth grader can understand the document. A simple prediction is that Bush’s speech patterns will, on average, reflect a lower grade level than that of a comparison sample. Regarding the Reading Ease score, the prediction is a little less clear. A higher score means that it is easier to understand, but this could be because the language used is in a very simple form. On the other hand, a very low score would indicate speech tat is very difficult to comprehend, but this could be because it is grammatical but complex, or because it is ungrammatical and garbled.

Why use these particular measures? Convenience, mostly, since they are easily calculated for any document typed into Word. At some time in the future there may be modifications, or other procedures might be incorporated into this project. But for now these two measures will suffice.

Now for some pilot data: The first set of data I’d like to present are merely a pilot study, to demonstrate how the procedure works and some of the conclusions that may be drawn from it’s use. I decided to compare seven samples of political speech. The first four come from a website that as complied some of Bush’s more egregious uses of the English language. A representative sample of quotes by Bush from the years 2001 through 2003 were used, e.g., ”Security is the essential roadblock to achieving the road map to peace.”,…”It's very interesting when you think about it, the slaves who left here to go to America, because of their steadfast and their religion and their belief in freedom, helped change America.”,…”Oftentimes, we live in a processed world — you know, people focus on the process and not results.”

The fifth sample also comes from Bush, but this is selected from a transcript of his responses at the March 7th press conference just before the war.

Sixth is a sample taken from Howard Dean’s appearance on Meet The Press on June 22nd, 2003.

Finally, a seventh sample comes from an interview with Bill Clinton on the PBS News Hour in 1998, around the time of the Lewinski scandal.

The following are the Flesch Reading Ease scores and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scores for these four samples of unscripted speech by Bush, dean and Clinton:

Bush funny 2000: 70%, grade 6.7
Bush funny 2001: 62%, grade 9.2
Bush funny 2002: 66%, grade 8.2
Bush funny 2003: 67%, grade 7.3
Bush press conference: 71%, grade 6.6
Dean interview: 70%, grade 7.5
Clinton interview: 68%, grade 8.7

The results of this informal preliminary survey are somewhat counterintuitive, given the prevailing views of these individuals. While Clinton, who is supposedly the articulate, smooth talking intellectual, did receive a respectable grade-level score, the sample with the highest grade-level was actually from a compilation of Bushisms from 2001. On the other hand, Bush did receive the two lowest grade-level scores, including his performance during March’s press conference.

To supplement this data, I attempted one further set of measurements. For each of the seven samples, I used Word’s grammar and spell-checker to count the individual errors made. Trivial errors that might have been due to faulty transcription, e.g. misplaced commas, were ignored. Included were such things as unidentifiable words (“misunderestimated”, “suiciders”), lack of subject-verb agreement, and misuse of that vs. which. This total count was then divided by the total number of sentences in the sample. I refer to this second index as the BRI-2. For example, if one made 5 grammatical errors in a passage that has 20 sentences, the BRI-2 index score would be 5/20 = .250, not particularly good performance.

The BRI-2 index was then calculated for each of the samples described previously, and the scores are presented below:

Bush funny 2000: .182
Bush funny 2001: .182
Bush funny 2002: .250
Bush funny 2003: .074
Bush press conference: .053
Dean interview: .027
Clinton interview: .000

The pattern here is clear, and very close to a perfect trend. Specifically, Bush gets extremely high BRI-2 scores for three of the four examples of his erroneous speech compilations, exactly what would be expected. However in his March press conference, his score improved to a respectable .053, still higher than Dean’s score of .027. Clinton, interestingly enough, made not a single grammatical error during his News Hour interview, resulting in a perfect score. The only Bush score that fails to fit the pattern comes from the compilation of 2003 speech errors. This, however, is the smallest sample of the seven surveyed, and may well change in the weeks and months to come.

So there you have it. The first empirical study of GW Bush’s speech patterns has provided suggestive evidence that while he may talk like an idiot at times, during others he approaches something approximating normalcy. Expect to see further replication and investigation of this phenomenon in the future.

posted by gunther at 11:11 PM Link

 
No Longer Fair And Balanced Now that FOX News has dropped its lawsuit against Al Franken, I have dropped the "Fair & Balanced" designation from the website title, hoping to return Fox news to the obscurity that they are normally accustomed to.

posted by gunther at 7:52 PM Link

 
Blogging From Baghdad I just found this interesting blog, supposedly written by 24 year old Iraqi female living in Baghdad. Although you really can’t tell whether the site is legitimate (i.e., for all I know it might actually be written by a 40 year old male living in Queens), there’s nothing I’ve been able to see that raises any red flags. Time will tell. Some choice quotes: Aug 17 - Waking up anywhere in Iraq these days is a trial. It happens in one of two ways: either slowly, or with a jolt. The slow process works like this: you're hanging in a place on the edge of consciousness, mentally grabbing at the fading fragments of a dream... something creeps up around, all over you- like a fog. A warm heavy fog. It's the heat... 120 F on the cooler nights. Your eyes flutter open and they search the dark in dismay- the electricity has gone off. The ceiling fan is slowing down and you are now fully awake. Trying to sleep in the stifling heat is about as productive as trying to wish the ceiling fan into motion with your brain. Impossible. The other way to wake up, is to be jolted into reality with the sound of a gun-shot, explosion or yelling. You sit up, horrified and panicked, any dream or nightmare shattered to oblivion. What can it be? A burglar? A gang of looters? An attack? A bomb? Or maybe it's just an American midnight raid? Aug 18 - You know what really bugs me about posting on the internet, chat rooms or message boards? The first reaction (usually from Americans) is "You're lying, you're not Iraqi". Why am I not Iraqi, well because a. I have internet access (Iraqis have no internet), b. I know how to use the internet (Iraqis don't know what computers are) and c. Iraqis don't know how to speak English (I must be a Liberal). All that shouldn't bother me, but it does. I see the troops in the streets and think, "So that's what they thought of us before they occupied us... that may be what they think of us now." How is it that we're seen as another Afghanistan? The best part of the last two days was watching tv yesterday- the latest news from our rotating presidential council: Jordan is trying to get Washington to hand Ahmad Al-Chalabi over to authorities in Amman!! That was great to watch... you know what? He's my favorite out of the whole interim government hand-picked by Bremer. If Bremer has learned anything about the Iraqi people he's been attempting to govern these last few months, he would hand Chalabi over to Jordanian authorities with a red ribbon around his neck (as a sign of good will). I haven't seen anyone who likes the rat (and his buddy Qambar is even worse). For those who don't know, the interim governing council chosen by Bremer to 'represent' the Iraqi people couldn't decide which of the power-hungry freaks should rule Iraq, soooooo... Bremer decided that 3 people would govern (as temporary presidents) until the Americans could set up elections. The three people were Al-Hakim (as a representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution), Bahr Al-Uloom (another Shi'ite cleric) and Adnan Al-Pachichi. Naturally, the other members of the governing council objected... why should Iraq only have 3 presidents?! And the number became nine. Each of the nine (including Adnan Al-Pachichi, Ahmad Al-Chalabi, Al-Hakim and various others) get to 'rule' for a month. You know, Iraq just needs more instability- all we need is a new president each month... anyway, our current "Flavor of the Month" is Ibraheim Al-Jaffari who is the head of the infamous Al-Daawa Party (responsible for various bombings in Iraq before and during the Saddam era). I'll talk more about him later... Aug 19 - The UN building explosion is horrible... terrifying and saddening. No one can believe it has happened... no one understands why it was chosen. For God's sake these people are supposed to be here to help. I'm so angry and frustrated. Nothing is moving forward- there is NO progress and this is just an example. The media is claiming Al-Qaeda. God damn, we never HAD Al-Qaeda before this occupation... fundamentalists kept their heads down. Now they are EVERYWHERE- they 'represent' the Iraqi people on Bremer's puppet council... You know what? Something like this could never happen to the Ministry of Oil. The Ministry of Oil is being guarded 24/7 by tanks and troops. It has been guarded ever since the fall of Baghdad and will continue under Bremer's watchful eye until every last drop of oil is gone. Why couldn't they have put a tank infront of the UN building? Why? Why? Why? We know the Pentagon's planning has been horrid up until now, but you'd think they would have seen this one coming from a mile away... Aug 20 -Sergio de Mello's death is catastrophic. We are all a little bit dazed. He was, during these last few months, the best thing that seems to have happened to Iraq. In spite of the fact that the UN was futile in stopping the war, seeing someone like de Mello gave people some sort of weak hope. It gave you the feeling that, no, the Americans couldn't run amuck in Baghdad without the watchful of eye of the international community. Aug 21 - So I just saw Al-Chalabi on tv. He was interviewed by a prominent reporter for Al-Arabiya. I missed it last night and this morning. But my cousin, who has a generator, kindly recorded it for me (she knows Al-Chalabi is one of the few ‘politicians’ that can make me laugh). What can I say? He is incredible in interviews- almost as good as Bush (comically infuriating). I can see why the Pentagon adopted him- he would be fun to train, a pet monkey of sorts… Anyway, the interview started out more or less reasonably- he was shining all over (I could swear there was lip-gloss). He really doesn’t know how to talk. I think Bremer should forbid him from giving interviews from now until elections- and if they decide to make him president, someone can just write his speeches for him. But he really is an embarrassment to the CIA at this point. The most amusing part of the interview was when they showed one of his former bodyguards (who he denied knowing with a vengeance worthy of an Oscar). The ex-bodyguard was complaining how when the INC first came into Baghdad, and began recruiting people, they seemed reasonable enough. Suddenly, they had overtaken the “Sayd Club”, a recreational club (not exclusive to the past regime) and turned the INC into a militia. They were hijacking cars in the middle of Baghdad during April, May and June, claiming that the cars they were 'confiscating' at gunpoint were ‘looted’ (hence, property of Al-Chalabi?). The cars were kept in the ‘headquarters’ and smuggled out of Iraq and to the Kurdish territory. The nicer ones were split amongst the 'members' of the INC. Someone or another who wasn't getting a piece of the action complained to the CPA and Al-Chalabi & Co. were given a collective slap on the wrist and told not to do it again. After this was brought up, Ahmad Al-Chalabi was just charming- he promptly sneered and told the reporter that it was all LIES! LIES! LIES! And just how much had they paid that witness!? Then he continued to insult the reporter, telling him that they had stooped to a new low (Al-Chalabi's specialty) or in7i6a6 (in Arabish)! The reporter asked him about Jordanian allegations and the Jordanian parliament wanting to bring him to justice… he said that it was all LIES! And the Jordanian parliament was a disgrace to the people, etc. He wasn’t a crook, he wasn’t a thief, he wasn’t a puppet. The Iraqis and Jordanians are collectively deranged and ridiculous... Aug 22 - I’m going to set the record straight, once and for all. I don’t hate Americans, contrary to what many people seem to believe. Not because I love Americans, but simply because I don’t hate Americans, like I don’t hate the French, Canadians, Brits, Saudis, Jordanians, Micronesians, etc. It’s that simple. I was brought up, like millions of Iraqis, to have pride in my own culture and nationality. At the same time, like millions of Iraqis, I was also brought up to respect other cultures, nations and religions. Iraqi people are inquisitive, by nature, and accepting of different values- as long as you do not try to impose those values and beliefs upon them. Although I hate the American military presence in Iraq in its current form, I don’t even hate the American troops… or wait, sometimes I do: - I hated them all through the bombing. Every single day and night we had to sit in terror of the next bomb, the next plane, the next explosion. I hated them when I saw the expression of terror, and remembrance, on the faces of my family and friends, as we sat in the dark, praying for our lives, the lives of our loved ones and the survival of Iraq. - I hated them on April 11- a cool, gray day: the day our family friend lost her husband, her son and toddler daughter when a tank hit the family car as they were trying to evacuate the house in Al-A’adhamiya district- an area that saw heavy fighting. - I hated them on June 3 when our car was pulled over for some strange reason in the middle of Baghdad and we (3 women, a man and a child) were made to get out and stand in a row, while our handbags were rummaged, the men were frisked and the car was thoroughly checked by angry, brisk soldiers. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put into words the humiliation of being searched. - I hated them for two hours on July 13. As we were leaving Baghdad, we were detained with dozens of other cars at a checkpoint in the sweltering, dizzying heat. - I hated them the night my cousin’s house was raided- a man with a wife, daughter and two young girls. He was pushed out of the house with his hands behind his head while his wife and screaming daughters were made to wait in the kitchen as around 20 troops systematically searched the house, emptying closets, rummaging underwear drawers and overturning toy boxes. - I hated them on April 28 when they shot and killed over a dozen kids and teenagers in Falloojeh- a place west of Baghdad. The American troops had taken over a local school (one of the only schools) and the kids and parents went to stand in front of the school in a peaceful demonstration. Some kids started throwing rocks at the troops, and the troops opened fire on the crowd. That incident was the beginning of bloodshed in Falloojeh. On the other hand… - I feel terrible seeing the troops standing in this merciless sun- wearing heavy clothes… looking longingly into the air-conditioned interiors of our cars. After all, in the end this is Baghdad, we’re Iraqi- we’ve seen this heat before. - I feel bad seeing them stand around, drinking what can only be lukewarm water after hours in the sun- too afraid to accept any proffered ice water from ‘strange Iraqis’. - I feel pity watching their confused, frightened expressions as some outraged, jobless, father of five shouts at them in a language they can’t even begin to understand. - I get hopeless, seeing them pointing their guns and tanks at everyone because, in their eyes, anyone could be a ‘terrorist’ and almost everyone is an angry, frustrated Iraqi. - I feel sympathy seeing them sitting bored and listless on top of their tanks and in their cars- wishing they were somewhere else. So now you know. Mixed feelings in a messed up world. Aug 25 - Over 65% of the Iraqi population is unemployed. The reason for this is because Bremer made some horrible decisions. The first major decision he made was to dissolve the Iraqi army. That may make sense in Washington, but here, we were left speechless. Now there are over 400,000 trained, armed men with families that need to be fed. Where are they supposed to go? What are they supposed to do for a living? I don’t know. They certainly don’t know. They roam the streets looking for work, looking for an answer. You can see perplexity and anger in their stance, their walk, their whole demeanor. Their eyes shift from face to face, looking for a clue. Who is to answer for this mess? Who do you think? …Over a month ago, a prominent electrical engineer (one of the smartest females in the country) named Henna Aziz was assassinated in front of her family- two daughters and her husband. She was threatened by some fundamentalists from Badir’s Army and told to stay at home because she was a woman, she shouldn’t be in charge. She refused- the country needed her expertise to get things functioning- she was brilliant. She would not and could not stay at home. They came to her house one evening: men with machine-guns, broke in and opened fire. She lost her life- she wasn’t the first, she won’t be the last.

posted by gunther at 1:40 PM Link

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

 
Republicans: Kids Should Be Seen, Not Heard From the Houston Chronicle comes this heart warming story that reveals the deep level of concern that State Republicans have for the children in Texas schools. A Pasadena fifth-grade teacher may be fired after school district officials learned that she asked her students to write letters to the state's top education official and voice their concerns about education issues. The Pasadena School Board proposed Vicki Williams' termination during a June meeting, citing failure to meet the district's standard of professional conduct. Williams is a teacher at Mae Smythe Elementary School. Her students' letters were addressed and delivered to Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, during the last legislative session. Kevin Lungwitz, an attorney for the Texas State Teachers Association, said he wanted to negotiate with the Pasadena Independent School District. "We are working feverishly to resolve our differences and believe we can do so," Lungwitz said in an article in Wednesday's editions of The Pasadena Citizen. "That's where we're putting our energy now instead of fighting each other." A settlement between the district and Williams could be reached by Wednesday morning, the newspaper reported. As a member of the teacher's association and president of the Pasadena Educators Association, Williams participated in a lobbying trip to Austin during her spring break in March. She dropped the letters off at the office of Rep. Joe Moreno, D-Houston, who later delivered them to Grusendorf, who chairs the public education committee. Many of the letters asked for more education money or told leaders to keep class sizes small. Grusendorf took offense at some of the remarks, said Sherrie Matula, a member of the Pasadena educators executive committee, but would not say specifically what statements he found troubling. He sent the letters to the State Board for Educator Certification, and the board sent them to the school district, Matula said. Grusendorf would not disclose any information before Pasadena school authorities made a decision on Williams' employment. "He just doesn't have a comment at this point in time," said Brett Price, public education committee clerk. "At this point, I don't think it's appropriate." Matula said Williams may have overstepped her boundaries, but thought her colleague's actions warranted only a reprimand, or at most, a suspension. "Her intent was never to have come across in this manner. She was only honestly answering questions that students had asked," Matula said. OK, so maybe this teacher overstepped her bounds. Maybe it was improper for her to have involved the students in this letter writing campaign, but the details are so sparse that it’s hard to say whether the students played any active role in the whole affair. Were the students intimidated or forced to do this? Did they volunteer to? Exactly what did the letters say? Is this a case of an overzealous teacher making a well-intentioned, but stupid, attempt at giving her students a lesson in grass-roots politics and democracy in action? Or is it a case of a thin-skinned Republican who decided that rather than answer questions posed in the letters with reasoned arguments, he would rather stifle dissent by intimidating and bullying the person who was the source of the criticism? For some insight into how Mr. Grusendorf works, consider this article from the Texas ISD website that explains how he rammed through a bill on school vouchers. In a move that is practically unheard of on a major piece of legislation, House Education Chairman Kent Grusendorf called a committee meeting with 10 minutes notice at HIS DESK ON THE HOUSE FLOOR to vote on the voucher bill. H.B. 2465 passed on a 5-3 vote. While it is technically legal under House rules to do such a maneuver, it is not good public policy and a sneaky practice--and especially on a bill that has serious statewide financial implications. Or this from a longer profile appearing in the Dallas Morning News: When Kent Grusendorf first ran for the State Board of Education in 1982, he was an outsider, lobbing criticism into the education establishment. Now he is the establishment. The things he has pushed for -- a strong accountability system for schools, less power for teachers, more autonomy for school districts -- have largely become reality. "When I was running for the state board, I was deemed pretty radical at the time," he said. "Now those ideas are mainstream." Thursday, the Arlington lawmaker is expected to be named chairman of the Texas House's public education committee, one of the state's most powerful posts in setting rules for schools. It's his first real taste of leadership after years in the minority. For his fellow conservatives, his new role is validation for the many battles they have fought and won over the last two decades. For his opponents, it puts the state's education gains at risk. In addition to defending education financing in a severe budget crunch, Mr. Grusendorf will push for a pilot voucher program that would allow parents to spend tax dollars on private school tuition. He also wants to end the state's minimum teacher salary, one of several ideas teacher groups will oppose. "Public education is a powder keg in this session, in no small part because of Mr. Grusendorf's agenda," said Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, an advocacy group that opposes social conservatives. "He's one of the more ideologically driven members of the Texas House." Mr. Grusendorf doesn't shrink from being called a conservative. "I'm a proud Ronald Reagan Republican," he said…. ..."Teachers still have a lot of power in Texas," Mr. Grusendorf said. "It's amazing when you sit in an education committee meeting -- you've got all these special interests sitting there." In 1988, he made headlines for criticizing a state teacher evaluation system, calling it a "dismal failure" and a "joke" because it protected incompetent teachers. Only about 500 of the state's 175,000 teachers that year were rated less than satisfactory. Three years ago, he founded the Texas Education Reform Caucus, a group that, among other things, makes recommendations before each legislative session. Among the changes the caucus is advocating this session: Giving school districts more freedom to discipline and fire teachers. Allowing districts to ignore the state teacher salary schedule. State law requires districts to pay starting teachers a minimum of $24,240 a year. Allowing any adult with a bachelor's degree who can pass a standardized test to be certified as a teacher. Giving any school rated "recognized" or "exemplary" the same flexibility that charter schools have, including the ability to hire uncertified teachers. The idea behind all the measures is to give local districts maximum flexibility. Teacher groups would typically back none of them. "When we saw those recommendations, we were fairly chagrined," said Jeri Stone, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators. "We've got some clear differences. But he's fervent in his beliefs, which is what makes him a formidable opponent when you're on the other side." Representative Grusendorf also supports the ability of local school districts to manage tgeiur own affairs, as explained here: State Rep. Kent Grusendorf stepped out of the Texas capital and into the classroom Saturday to field questions from graduate students regarding education issues… “In my opinion, school districts should be given the means to control and manage their own schools,” he said. “I feel there have been too many laws passed on common sense and good ideas. There’s a big difference between good ideas and good laws.” He cited the zero-tolerance drug law as an example. Recently, when one student tried to influence another to smoke marijuana, the innocent student took the marijuana to the school’s principal to report the incident and was expelled for possession of the substance. Grusendorf shouted and pounded his hands on a table as he related the story. “It’s one of the lousiest laws we’ve ever passed,” he said. “You have better ideas about how to handle problems by being in the class than I do. If there’s one thing we can do in this session of Legislature, it’s to allow local districts to manage themselves.” Apparently, local school districts should be allowed to manage issues like discipline themselves. Except when it comes to disciplining teachers who criticize him, in which case he’s perfectly willing to go over their heads and take it to State level authorities.

posted by gunther at 9:47 PM Link

 
Rimshot Exchange found at Body and Soul: Quote of the Day: Arnold Schwarzenegger "No one that has been around me would believe that a woman would be complaining about me holding her." Comments: #1 - Playboy interview again? It is 15 years old, after all. And it's Playboy; not hard to believe that Ahnold was playing to the audience. Posted by: Randolph Fritz at August 20, 2003 11:51 AM #2 - No. It's from a 2002 interview with the Weekly Standard. But maybe that's the same audience? Posted by: Jeanne at August 20, 2003 12:03 PM

posted by gunther at 3:17 PM Link

 
The Bride Went Berseck! Courtesy of Wizbang comes this charming story about the aftermath of a wedding reception held in a restaurant in South Windsor, Connecticut. It sees that come closing time, the guests didn’t want to end the party and go home. The bride got into the act, as described in the accompanying article: Adrienne T. Samen, 18, was arrested on criminal mischief and breach of peace charges on her wedding day, last Saturday, Aug. 16. Samen and her wedding party allegedly went on a rampage during a drunken reception at the Mill on the River restaurant after the marriage ceremony. Even after last call, the guests continued to take bottles of liquor from behind the bar, Wolf said. He claimed the blushing bride became enraged when he told them all to leave. Samen allegedly threw vases and pieces of her wedding cake. "I think the highlight of the whole thing was her straddling the white Bronco that her groom was driving," said Eric Jubenvilld, a waiter at the restaurant. "I can't really get into the details of what she had said but it was pretty much along the lines of 'I cannot believe I married you. I cannot believe I did this.' " When police arrived, they found her barefoot and running down a road away from the restaurant. Police said that even after Samen was handcuffed, she kicked a window in the police car hard enough to knock it off track. "The officers then went over across the street, got in the car and tried to restrain her a bit. They were able to put the seatbelt on her. At that point she lunged towards the officer as if to try to take a bite out of his arm," said Sgt. Matthew Reed. The bride posted $1,000 bail Saturday night. She was reportedly on her honeymoon Monday. Here is a police photo of the blushing bride. It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for this woman, since she basically has to move to another state now. I cannot imagine ever facing anyone I knew or family members after this kind of fiasco. But maybe this was just a typical weekend... The website for the restaurant where this whole sad affair happened shows that there is a 4-1/2 hour open bar with its wedding package (obviously Ms. Samen should have consulted her banquet coordinator for the necessary details, as specified on the restaurant website). Advice to future patrons: eat plenty of the Salmon Beurre Blanc and Chicken Cordon Bleu to offset the effects of any excess alcohol consumed, and go for the “Viennese Table without Liquors” rather than “with”.

posted by gunther at 1:12 PM Link

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

 
Texas Republican & Democrat Websites For a “fair and balanced” view of how the Texas Republican Party operates, why not pay a visit to their website? If you are fortunate enough reach this location you’ll get such unbiased analysis and discussion as the following: One prominent item on the site is a photo essay, titled “See New Mexico through the eyes of a Democratic Senator”. Featured in this collage are things such as the following; Photo: Lear jet, with the caption “One thing we know for certain, Senate Democrats know how to run away in style. When traveling from Austin to Albuquerque, first-class private jets are a must for Democrat Senators!” Photo: Hotel lobby, with caption “The Marriott Pyramid North is one of the most luxurious resort-like hotels in Albuquerque. With dozens of nearby restaurants to choose from, an outdoor pool, excellent workout facility, and located just minutes away from 4 golf courses and Albuquerque's largest casino, a senator fleeing from any state would be a fool not to choose the Marriott.” Photo: hotel swimming pool, with caption “Why work when you can play? With temperatures in the low 90s and pool side waiters at their beckoning, Senate Democrats can bask in the refreshing New Mexico sun as they sip cocktails and unwind after a hard day of not working.” Photo: golf course, with caption “lbuquerque is home to some of the finest golf courses in the Southwest. Senate Democrats can take the whole day to play 18 holes knowing that the 19th hole is a lot closer than the Texas Capitol.” Photo: gambling casino, with caption “Senators can enjoy gambling as they gamble away Texas' future. And if the Democrats don't like the odds of winning at the area casinos, they can always walk out.” Photo: mountains, with caption “What better way to forget about the millions in funding for health, education and transportation improvements the Democrats are jeopardizing than to take an evening stroll through the picturesque Sandia Mountains.” Phpto: Sandia Casino Ampitheatre, with caption “Austin may be the Live Music Capital of the World, but at the Sandia Casino Amphitheater Senators can hear some of today's greatest cover bands play songs like “On the road again,” by Willie Nelson, “Coward of the County” by Kenny Rogers and “Albuquerque By Morning” by George Strait.” Photo: reporter with a handful of republican fake protesters, caption “Protesters? Not to worry, the Senators are experts at blocking out the voices of these angry New Mexico citizens, just like the voices of the people of Texas.” All in all, exactly the kind of evenhanded approach one would expect from the Texas Republicans. Also on the site, an unbiased poll, which asks the question: "Who will be the biggest loser if Democrat senators continue their irresponsible walkout?” The only options available for possible responses: a) The people of Texas, because they will lose $800 million in funding for critical health care, education and transportation projects in addition to not having congressional districts that reflect their votes. b) Minority Texans, because they will not have the new leadership opportunities they deserve. c) The Democrat Party, because the people of Texas are outraged at their irresponsible behavior and will hold them accountable in future elections. Yeah, that’s a valid poll. And finally, for insight into what “the little people” think, there is the section titled “Republican Testimonials – In their Own Words”, in which members of the public write in with their own personal feelings on why they are Republicans. Included are such responses as follows: …no party—no political party in the history of this country—has done more to advance the cause of civil rights than the party of Abraham Lincoln. We are a Party that is life affirming for the young, old and everyone in between. A Party that believes in the individual rights guaranteed to all Americans under the Constitution First and foremost though, I am a Republican because of the Party’s commitment to the 'Sanctity of Human Life,' from conception to natural death. An an American of Mexican descent, I want to state to my fellow Hispanics that the GOP is the party of the future for Hispanics and other minorities. …The other party wants us to be dependent on government so that they can control us. I am a child of God, a wife, a mother, and a mortgage loan counselor. I am a Republican because the Republican philosophy encourages me to be all those things. I am a Republican because the Republican philosophy encourages me to work to become who I want to be, and does not believe in a welfare state that keeps me oppressed and hungry. I am involved in the Republican Party for the purpose of sustaining and strengthening this organization which helps put men of Godly principle into positions of authority. I am a Republican because my parents and grandparents were Republicans. The Republican site is very effective at propaganda, at focusing the attack on their opponents, and at highlighting a few representative quotes (I can only assume that they are real) from “average citizens” that include talking points and address issues that many voters might sympathize with. What about the Texas Democrat site? Well, it’s rather lame by comparison. While there is lots of talk about the issues and criticism, it is all done in a relatively “high minded” way. For example, the main link criticizing Tom DeLay brings you to an editorial from the San Antonio Express News. While it does attack DeLay, it is, in the end, an editorial. Even if some of the information it presents is accurate and merits consideration, it’s not likely to move or motivate anyone in the way that something more harsh and in-your-face would. For example, one point raised in the DeLay editorial is that he received a $25,000 from Westar Energy, and that this contribution is the subject of several federal investigations. So why is no House committee investigating DeLay for the Westar controversy? A fair question, but the answer should be obvious – he’s Tom Delay, and Republicans control the House. Would something less subtle be more effective as a means of getting point across? Possibly so, but that would appear to be the crux of the problem. As ever, Democrats are more interested in debating, and in talking policy and facts, while Republicans instead use attacks that may be only marginally accurate but are much more effective. About the only sign of life apparent on the Democrat website is an advertisement for the “Deny DeLay” t-shirt. Cute, but it won’t cut it as an alternative to the kind of snarky, combative attack strategy that the Republicans feature on their site.

posted by gunther at 9:41 PM Link

Monday, August 18, 2003

 
Pierre Trudeau’s Son Has made A Documentary About Iraq The Toronto Star has an interesting article featuring an interview with Sacha Trudeau concerning a documentary that the 29 year old filmmaker has made. Trudeau, son of the late Prime Minister, went to Baghdad in late march and lived with an Iraqi family throughout the course of the war. The 29-year-old filmmaker and son of the late prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau quietly slipped into Iraq during the run-up to war. Armed with his digital camera, living with a family in Baghdad, he went there to document the war from the inside. "I wanted to go, first of all, because I was against this war," he says during our interview at Toronto's Four Seasons hotel. "I felt it was illegal." … "We are living now with the spectre of all the false proofs and all the games that were played just to get to that war. It was sick, sick. And in the face of that sickness, I said, `I'm going straight into the middle of it.'"… Trudeau arrived in Baghdad on March 18 and took up residence with the A-Saadi family, which he met through a journalist friend. Over the next 40 days, he set out to film the war from their perspective. The result is an intensely personal snapshot of a middle-class family struggling to make sense of the chaos at ground zero. "When I arrived, I said: `I'm here because the war is coming.' And they said: `No, the war is not coming.' They never believed it. They said: `No, Saddam and the United States are friends. They help each other out and we pay the price.'" "I wanted to get closer, beyond the media images, the surreal vocabulary. If journalists could be embedded with the American and British armies, why couldn't I do the same with Iraqi civilians?" The full article is worth checking out. At this point the documentary is scheduled to be shown in Canada on September 7th. No word on its future availability in the states.

posted by gunther at 1:45 PM Link

 
Collegiality Could Be Main Victim of Redistricting Battle This is probably not the most surprising development to come out of the battle over redistricting. But the concern now is that whatever the ultimate outcome, collegiality and civility will be a thing of the past, which will have unpredictable consequences for how the Texas legislature conducts it’s business in the future. An article published Monday in the Austin Statesman-Chronicle brings up this possibility. For generations, the 31-member chamber has prided itself on collegiality and, far more often than not, a brand of cordial bipartisanship foreign to the halls of the U.S. Congress. A Senate session is always a lot of "I'll yield to my good friend from (fill in the blank)" and has a generally congenial tone no matter how hot the debate gets. Even during the ongoing separation, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and the Senate Republicans have always talked about the missing Democrats as "friends and colleagues." The fines imposed by the Republicans on their "friends and colleagues" soon will hit the $35,000-a-week level, a level that can tend to put a strain on friendships. As a result of the Democrats' flight to Albuquerque to block congressional redistricting - and the Republicans' decision to fine them - there's increasing talk that the collegial feel may be on the endangered species list. "It's getting to a point now where it has become very personal," said Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, one of the Democrats-in-exile. "These wounds may not heal in this generation."… …"Civility is gone," said Bill Hobby, a Democrat who served as lieutenant governor from 1972 to 1990. "It's very sad. It's moving more toward the congressional model where everything is partisan. When you start trying to impose penalties you've crossed some kind of a line." The Texas Senate and House are nothing like their federal counterparts. There is no seating by party, and committees are headed by members from each party. And doing his best to bring a sense of healing to the controversy, Tom DeLay has weighed in with some comments of his own. In a Houston Chronicle article DeLay criticized absent Democratic senators and accused them of violating the U.S. Constitution. "We're supposed to, by Constitution, apportion or redistrict every 10 years," DeLay, R-Sugar Land, said on Fox News Sunday. "We in Texas have prided ourselves on honor, duty and responsibility. Unfortunately, the Democrats in the state Legislature don't understand honor because they're violating their oath of office to support the United States Constitution." Just in case you need to be reminded what a sweetheart DeLay is, the people behind this website have taken the time to document his contributions to democracy and civility in government.

posted by gunther at 11:32 AM Link

Friday, August 15, 2003

 
Bill O’Reilly Is Not fair And Balanced Before I forget... La facture O'Reilly n'est pas juste et équilibrée. Rechnung O'Reilly ist nicht angemessen und ausgeglichen. La fattur a O'Reilly non è giusta ed equilibrata. A conta O'Reilly n?o é justa e equilibrada. La cuenta O'Reilly no es justa y equilibrada. And yes, I know that "Bill" wasn't translated correctly but I don't care.

posted by gunther at 6:05 PM Link

Thursday, August 14, 2003

 
Power Outage: Cyberterrorism? As everyone probably knows by now, there has been a massive power outage in the northeast, affecting areas as widely separated as Ottawa, New York; Boston,; Cleveland, and Detroit. Although so far the Office of Homeland Security says the outage is not due to terrorism, it is also unlikely to be due to an overload in the naigra Mohawk grid, which serves only 1.5 million people. Despite official denials, cyber-terrorism is a distinct possibility. Hacking into computers that control the electrical grids could well allow someone (exactly who is a mystery at this point) to cause something like what we are seeing today. And the possibility of doing so has been addressed by any number of experts, e.g. here, here, and here. We will know soon enough whether the cause of todays events is benign or whether this is something new and dangerous.

posted by gunther at 4:24 PM Link

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

 
OK, Now I’m Confused Just when I thought I had him figured out, Arnold What’s-his-face had to muddy the waters by hiring Warren Buffett as an advisor for his campaign. Arnold Schwarzenegger has hired Warren Buffett as his senior financial and economic adviser in his bid to replace Gray Davis if the governor loses the recall vote, the Republican actor's campaign announced Wednesday. Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is a billionaire investor legendary for his financial prowess. He is also a Democrat. "What he will be doing is assembling other prominent business leaders and economists and setting up a team to address the issues facing California," said Schwarzenegger spokesman Sean Walsh. Buffett said in a statement: "I have known Arnold for years and know he'll be a great governor. It is critical to the rest of the nation that California's economic crisis be solved, and I think Arnold will get that job done." By buying at low prices into well-known, solid companies, Buffett built Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway into a huge conglomerate. In his investments, he generally avoids high-tech companies, arguing he cannot tell which will be usurped by advances in technology. Buffett, of course, recently and famously criticized the Bush administrations economic policies, specifically their strategy of using large tax cuts for the wealthy as a way of getting the economy moving. And right on the heels of this, Bush today backed off an apparent endorsement of yesterday, where he said that Schwarzenegger would make a fine Governor. Today, he said that Schwarzenegger was not the only good candidate, not quite a repudiation of Arnold but not exactly a ringing endorsement. It’s hard to say what is going on here. Is Bush trying to distance himself from Schwarzenegger because of the soon-to-be-famous stories about Arnold’s reputation as serial sexual assault perpatrator? Or is it that they don’t have that much in common politically after all? Schwarzenegger’s selection of Warren Buffett as an economic advisor would certainly suggest that, since I doubt that Buffett is stupid enough to allow himself to be used by anyone, let alone a political novice like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Buffett’s selection certainly hasn’t gone over too well with the freepers, judging from the comments posted at this thread. My favorite: To: Pikamax Buffet, 2nd richest man only to Bill Gates, supports Schwarzenegger. Both are avowed RATS and RAT supporters. Schwarzenegger, called a RAT by his H'weirdo buddies, and his RAT wife will continue RAT policies. The national RATS are determined not to lose CA. With RAT Schwarzenegger as governor, Californians will be swapping the devil for a demon. And RATS will still rule California.

posted by gunther at 8:29 PM Link

 
the Next Governor of California Arnold the Barbarian By John Connolly in Premier Magazine March 2001 Once, he was a box office terminator. But now that Arnold Schwarzenegger has lost some of his muscle in Hollywood, stories of his boorish behavior can no longer be routinely erased. Then again, he'd make a helluva politician. The tabloid press got a nice Christmas present late last year when Arnold Schwarzenegger tore through a day of publicity work in London, promoting his latest film, The 6th Day, which had just opened there. In less than 24 hours, the star was said to have attempted to, as high school boys used to say, cop a little feel from three different female talk-show hosts. The level of consternation expressed by those who received this hands-on treatment from the hulking, Austrian-born international superstar ranged from none whatsoever (Denise Van Outen of The Big Breakfast invites her guests to lie on a bed with her and, hence, probably has a rather elastic definition of what constitutes inappropriate behavior) to irked (on tape, Celebrity interviewer Melanie Sykes looks a little thrown off after Arnold gives her a very definite squeeze on the rib cage, directly under her right breast) to, finally, righteously indignant. Anna Richardson of Big Screen claims that after the cameras stopped rolling for her interview segment, Schwarzenegger, apparently attempting to ascertain whether Richardson’s breasts were real, tweaked her nipple and then laughed at her objections. “I left the room quite shaken,” she says. “What was more upsetting was that his people rushed to protect him and scapegoated me, and not one person came to apologize afterward.” No apologies, indeed: A subsequent statement from Schwarzenegger attorney Martin Singer characterized Richardson as someone trying to get her “15 minutes of fame.” After all, why else would she create such an “outrageous fabrication” (Singer’s phrase) against a married man—Schwarzenegger has been wed to NBC’s Maria Shriver since 1986—a father of four, someone who ceaselessly espouses family values in the press? On the other hand, the stills of Schwarzenegger grinning as he pats Van Outen’s hip or of his give-me-some-sugar-baby expression as he tries to draw Sykes close to him are a little unsettling. Was Arnold jet-lagged? Going through a midlife crisis? “You don’t get it,” says a producer who’s worked with Schwarzenegger. “That’s the way Arnold always behaves. For some reason, [this time] the studio or the publicists couldn’t put enough pressure on the women to kill the story.” Terminating bad press was once relatively easy for Schwarzenegger, who for much of the ’80s and a good part of the ’90s was a veritable money-making machine for the studios. And while some of his most recent films have enjoyed less-than-stellar box office performances, he is still a very huge star and one of the highest-paid actors in the world: He reportedly received $25 million for his work in the 1999 disappointment End of Days. Accordingly, Schwarzenegger films are always big-budget affairs; as such, they provide lots of jobs to lots of people and generate lots of money to lots of studio suits and other peripheral players. Arnold is not just a rich movie star; he’s the straw that stirs the drinks. The sort of person, in other words, who tends to get indulged. A lot. --> “The second I walked into the room,” Anna Richardson says, several weeks after the incident, “he was like a dog in heat.” Other stories about Schwarzenegger tend to fit her simile. During the production of the 1991 mega-blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a producer on that film recalls Arnold’s emerging from his trailer one day and noticing a fortyish female crew member, who was wearing a silk blouse. Arnold went up to the woman, put his hands inside her blouse, and proceeded to pull her breasts out of her bra. Another observer says, “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This woman’s nipples were exposed, and here’s Arnold and a few of his clones laughing. I went after the woman, who had run to the shelter of a nearby trailer. She was hysterical but refused to press charges for fear of losing her job. It was disgusting.” A former Schwarzenegger employee recalls another incident from the T2 days. At the time, director James Cameron was married but having an affair with one of the film’s stars, Linda Hamilton. One evening, while riding in a limo with Cameron, Hamilton, and others, Schwarzenegger suddenly lifted Hamilton onto his lap and began fondling her breasts through the very thin top she was wearing. The witness says, “I couldn’t believe Cameron didn’t have the balls to tell Arnold to get off his girl. The whole thing made me sick.” A female producer on one of Schwarzenegger’s films tells of a time when her ex-husband came to visit the set. When she introduced the man to Schwarzenegger, the star quipped, “Is this guy the reason why you didn’t come up to my hotel room last night and suck my cock?” A woman who went to the set of 1996’s Eraser recalls the friend she was visiting there being asked to retrieve Schwarzenegger from his trailer for a shot that was ready to roll earlier than expected. “He asked me if I wanted to meet Arnold, and I said sure. When we opened the door to his trailer, Arnold was giving oral sex to a woman. He looked up and, with that accent, said very slowly, ‘Eating is not cheating.’ I met him again about a year later and asked him, in German, whether or not eating was cheating, and he just laughed.” It’s clearly convenient for a guy who preaches family values in interviews—particularly when he’s promoting the Inner-City Games Foundation, his youth charity, and citing single parenting as a major social woe—to have some loose parameters as to what constitutes cheating on one’s wife. (It depends on what your definition of define is.) By some accounts, Maria Shriver has not had it all that easy. Two people witnessed an incident at a 7 a.m. tennis game that Mr. and Mrs. Schwarzenegger were playing at their hotel, during the shooting of Total Recall. One of the witnesses says, “Mariastarted throwing up. She couldn’t play, and Arnold started berating her and then stomped off the court. At noon that day, the smiling couple announced that Maria was pregnant.” Schwarzenegger was also seen carrying on with his Total Recall costar Rachel Ticotin. A journalist who once accompanied the (then) married Ticotin and Schwarzenegger on an evening out says, “The three of us had gone to dinner, where the two of them were all lovey-dovey. We then went to a nightclub, but I left to go back to the Hotel Nikko México soon thereafter. When I left them, they were making out and were all over each other on a banquette. The next day, I saw Arnold and Maria strolling out of the elevator. Maria gave me the look a married woman does when she knows that you know her husband is cheating on her. I felt terrible for her.” A lot of people must feel the same. A lawyer who frequents Café Roma, a Beverly Hills bistro that is a hangout for real and wannabe wiseguys, says, “When ever I see Schwarzenegger and his crew [walk into the place], I leave quickly and go to another restaurant. This guy is a real pig. He will say the most disgusting sexual things to women he doesn’t know. Everybody knows he is Arnold Schwarzenegger. . . . But in any other city, somebody would have cracked him by now.” In Hollywood, though, nobody cracks a billion-dollar box office gorilla. Schwarzenegger’s extraordinary rise to international stardom can be traced back to the release of the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron, directed by George Butler and Robert Fiore. The film, an extension of the book of the same title, about the world of bodybuilding competitions, portrays Schwarzenegger in a fascinating light; the practically Machiavellian way he psychs out contest opponent Lou Ferrigno (the muscleman who later went on to portray the Incredible Hulk on television) is something to behold. (As is a prior film of Schwarzenegger’s, 1970’s Hercules in New York, a no-budget Z-picture that paired the muscleman, appearing in the title role under the stage name Arnold Strong, with archetypal nebbish Arnold Stang.) It wasn’t until 1982’s Conan the Barbarian that Arnold demonstrated his box office drawing power. Conan producer Edward R. Pressman says, “We signed Arnold to a three-picture deal, which called for him to be paid $250,000 for the first film and the same for each sequel. The movie turned into a monster hit, and we sold our sequel rights. I’m sure Arnold was able to renegotiate his salary for the sequels.” Within just a few short years, he was on his way to becoming one of the highest-paid movie stars in history. Because he has achieved such an enormous level of respectability and credibility, it’s easy to forget that early in his Hollywood career, he was seen by many as a walking cartoon, if not an out-and-out joke. (He might have experienced an unpleasant frisson while costarring in a 1980 TV-movie biopic of Jayne Mansfield, playing Mickey Hartigay, Mansfield’s bodybuilder-turned-actor husband, who spent the latter portion of his acting career in such ultra-shlocky Italian horror pics as The Bloody Pit of Horror.) As do most megastars, Schwarzenegger has a retinue of agents, managers, advisors, and hangers-on (to whom he has often demonstrated great loyalty; his former agent Lou Pitt recalls that über-agent Mike Ovitz “tried to steal my client Arnold from me any number of times—he was all over Arnold like a cheap suit!” but that Arnold brushed Ovitz aside, staying with Pitt for almost 15 years). Still, he has largely made his own decisions. He has always done it, as the song says, his way. Which is entirely in keeping with his self-image. “I was born to be a leader. I love being a leader,” he told Britain’s Loaded magazine two years ago. He’s not the only person impressed with his alpha-male mien. “He has a completely single-minded style. It is his agenda or no agenda,” says a longtime associate of Schwarzenegger’s. A producer who worked with Arnold on True Lies says, “Arnold is incredible. At one of the marketing meetings, Arnold got up and spoke and not only knew the direction we should take in marketing the film, but was so full of confidence, he inspired everyone in the room.” But confidence can cut a lot of different ways, and Schwarzenegger’s can manifest itself cruelly. During the filming of Terminator 2, Schwarzenegger had a dresser who, it was generally conceded, had not been hired for his looks. Often, in front of the whole crew, Arnold would order the man, “Sit, you ugly dog,” and the man would drop to his knees like a trained dog. Crew members would laugh, perhaps nervously, but no one spoke up in protest. The man was finally put out of his misery when a producer witnessed the spectacle—and fired the man rather than allow him to continue to be abused by Schwarzenegger. “I love the fact that millions of people look up to me,” Schwarzenegger told Loaded. One reason people continue to look up to him is because he—and the people around him—have been so successful at hiding the real Arnold from the world. The star cleaned house several years ago, not only letting go of Lou Pitt but also longtime publicist Charlotte Parker, who, for years, had reputedly been a veritable bull when it came to protecting her client. In 1990, Team Schwarzenegger attempted to derail the publication of an unauthorized biography of Schwarzenegger by Wendy Leigh. At the time, Leigh was engaged in a lawsuit with Schwarzenegger over her contribution to a piece about the star in Britain’s News of the World; she was offered a settlement on the condition that, among other things, she not publish the book. She didn’t accept that condition; the suit was settled some time later. Charles Fleming reported in Spy magazine that before Leigh’s book was published, Franco Columbu, a longtime bodybuilding associate of Schwarzenegger’s, offered Leigh’s publisher, Contemporary Books, the choice of either a large amount of money or an “authorized” bio, written with Arnold, if it would agree to cancel Leigh’s book. Contemporary Books refused. Once Arnold: An Unauthorized Biography was published, Parker went into overdrive to bury it. Fleming wrote, “When Time did a cover story on Arnold and was granted an interview, Parker explained that the interview would be ended instantly if the reporters introduced the subject of Leigh’s book.” A source close to Parker says, “When Charlotte couldn’t kill a story about one of Arnold’s infidelities, he canned her.” Parker had done her best. The story was originally slated to be a feature on a television entertainment-news show; it wound up as a small gossip-column item that didn’t make many waves. (When Parker, who no longer does publicity for the star or the Arnold Classic, a Schwarzenegger-affiliated bodybuilding competition, was first approached about this story, she said that she would answer specific questions; later, she politely demurred: “I prefer to not participate in your story.” Schwarzenegger, too, declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this article.)…. Despite the diminishing domestic box office returns of his pictures, studios still pony up big bucks for Schwarzenegger’s services. He is still slated to star in Terminator 3, though the possibility of its being made seems to grow dimmer with every announcement or news story. The fact that his star may be waning has led to renewed speculation that Arnold the Kennedy might pull a Ronald Reagan. Schwarzenegger has long espoused right-wing politics—he campaigned furiously for George Bush in1988, concocting (or at least pronouncing) the infamous sound bite, “I only play the Terminator. When it comes to the American future, Michael Dukakis will be the real Terminator!” He’s also often hinted that he might eventually seek political office. In the Loaded article, he said, “In America I could go all the way to Speaker of the House. I think I could bring a little spice to the job. I think I could put a little fire up their asses.” The governership of California has been mentioned; that would be another jewel in the crown, another fitting step-up in a life story so amazing that if you had made it up, nobody would have believed it. In a recent interview with Christina Valhouli ofSalon.com, Schwarzenegger dances around the question of whether he will run for political office. In answering her question, “Is it true that you’re thinking of running for Governor of California?” Schwarzenegger replies, “I have thought about it many times in the past, but I have no specific plans at this point.” Perhaps he knows to quit while he’s ahead.

posted by gunther at 11:48 AM Link

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

 
Fair and Balanced As have others, I'll be adding the phrase "fair and balanced" to my title until this ridoculous FOX news lawsuit against Al Franken gets settled.

posted by gunther at 12:09 PM Link

Monday, August 11, 2003

 
Some People Just Can’t Take A Joke According to Drudge (and you know he never gets anything wrong), the Fox News network has sued Al Franken over his use of the phrase “fair and balanced” on the cover of his soon-to-be-released book. The original citation actually comes from a brief article in the Washington Post, so the story may have some credibility (at least as much credibility as anything else appearing in the Post). According to the court papers, Fox lawyers referred to Franken as follows: "Franken is neither a journalist nor a television news personality," according to the complaint. "He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight." Lawyers for Fox who filed the complaint also take issue with Franken's book cover because it "mimics the look and style" of two books written by Bill O'Reilly The court papers refer to Franken, who is a former "Saturday Night Live" writer and performer, as a "parasite" Franken is also accused of verbally attacking O'Reilly and Sean Hannity on at least two occasions, and of being "either intoxicated or deranged" The Post article states the following: …The trademark infringement lawsuit seeks a court order forcing Penguin to rename the book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." It also asks for unspecified damages. Fox News registered "Fair & Balanced" as a trademark in 1995, the suit says. Franken's "intent is clear - to exploit Fox News' trademark, confuse the public as to the origins of the book and, accordingly, boost sales of the book," the suit said. Other than the utter absurdity of Fox news attacking anyone else as “shrill, unstable” or as having “views lacking any serious depth or insight", perhaps the most surprising thing to me was the fact that Fox news claimed to have the rights to the phrase “fair and balanced”. It all put me in mind of a lawsuit threatened in the 40’s by Warner Brother’s studios against the Marx Brothers. It seemed that the Marx Brothers were planning to film a comedy titled “A Night in Casablanca”. Someone at WB thought that this title was to derivative of their own film Casablanca, which had been released five years earlier. This resulted in a threatening letter from Warner brother’s legal department to the Marx Brothers. Groucho penned the following response (found at Chilling Effects). Dear Warner Brothers, Apparently there is more than one way of conquering a city and holding it as your own. For example, up to the time that we contemplated making this picture, I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers. However, it was only a few days after our announcement appeared that we received your long, ominous legal document warning us not to use the name Casablanca. It seems that in 1471, Ferdinand Balboa Warner, your great-great-grandfather, while looking for a shortcut to the city of Burbank, had stumbled on the shores of Africa and, raising his alpenstock (which he later turned in for a hundred shares of common), named it Casablanca. I just don’t understand your attitude. Even if you plan on releasing your picture, I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don’t know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try. You claim that you own Casablanca and that no one else can use that name without permission. What about “Warner Brothers”? Do you own that too? You probably have the right to use the name Warner, but what about the name Brothers? Professionally, we were brothers long before you were. We were touring the sticks as the Marx Brothers when Vitaphone was still a gleam in the inventor’s eye, and even before there had been other brothers—the Smith Brothers; the Brothers Karamazov; Dan Brothers, an outfielder with Detroit; and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” (This was originally “Brothers, Can You Spare a Dime?” but this was spreading a dime pretty thin, so they threw out one brother, gave all the money to the other one, and whittled it down to “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”) Now Jack, how about you? Do you maintain that yours is an original name? Well it’s not. It was used long before you were born. Offhand, I can think of two Jacks—Jack of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and Jack the Ripper, who cut quite a figure in his day. As for you, Harry, you probably sign your checks sure in the belief that you are the first Harry of all time and that all other Harrys are impostors. I can think of two Harrys that preceded you. There was Lighthouse Harry of Revolutionary fame and a Harry Appelbaum who lived on the corner of 93rd Street and Lexington Avenue. Unfortunately, Appelbaum wasn’t too well-known. The last I heard of him, he was selling neckties at Weber and Heilbroner. Now about the Burbank studio. I believe this is what you brothers call your place. Old man Burbank is gone. Perhaps you remember him. He was a great man in a garden. His wife often said Luther had ten green thumbs. What a witty woman she must have been! Burbank was the wizard who crossed all those fruits and vegetables until he had the poor plants in such confused and jittery condition that they could never decide whether to enter the dining room on the meat platter or the dessert dish. This is pure conjecture, of course, but who knows—perhaps Burbank’s survivors aren’t too happy with the fact that a plant that grinds out pictures on a quota settled in their town, appropriated Burbank’s name and uses it as a front for their films. It is even possible that the Burbank family is prouder of the potato produced by the old man than they are of the fact that your studio emerged “Casablanca” or even “Gold Diggers of 1931.” This all seems to add up to a pretty bitter tirade, but I assure you it’s not meant to. I love Warners. Some of my best friends are Warner Brothers. It is even possible that I am doing you an injustice and that you, yourselves, know nothing about this dog-in-the-Wanger attitude. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover that the heads of your legal department are unaware of this absurd dispute, for I am acquainted with many of them and they are fine fellows with curly black hair, double-breasted suits and a love of their fellow man that out-Saroyans Saroyan. I have a hunch that his attempt to prevent us from using the title is the brainchild of some ferret-faced shyster, serving a brief apprenticeship in your legal department. I know the type well—hot out of law school, hungry for success, and too ambitious to follow the natural laws of promotion. This bar sinister probably needled your attorneys, most of whom are fine fellows with curly black hair, double-breasted suits, etc., into attempting to enjoin us. Well, he won’t get away with it! We’ll fight him to the highest court! No pasty-faced legal adventurer is going to cause bad blood between the Warners and the Marxes. We are all brothers under the skin, and we’ll remain friends till the last reel of “A Night in Casablanca” goes tumbling over the spool. Sincerely, Groucho Marx Unamused, Warner Bros. requested that the Marx Brothers at least outline the premise of their film. Groucho responded with an utterly ridiculous storyline, and, sure enough, received another stern letter requesting clarification. He obliged and went on to describe a plot even more preposterous than the first, claiming that he, Groucho, would be playing “Bordello, the sweetheart of Humphrey Bogart.” No doubt exasperated, Warner Bros. did not respond. A Night in Casablanca was released in 1946. I think Franken should milk this for all it’s worth by similarly, and publicly, responding to this lawsuit with the contempt and humor it deserves. He’ll sell a lot more books, and might even be able to add an extra chapter in future printings.

posted by gunther at 11:10 PM Link

 
Overheard at the DMV I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this information, but this is what I heard the people behind me saying while I was waiting in line at the motor vehicles office to get a replacement drivers license. There was a man and a woman, talking about the general issue of traffic court and the difficulties that arise when you get ticketed and want to fight the charges. The conversation eventually moved on to the topic of Houston courts and judges in general, and the guy started talking about one judge in particular, who he had seen in action many times. The gist of the story was that this judge fancies himself some kind of “Texas Hammer” hardass, and is known for handing out harsh sentences. The kicker for me came when the guy described the procedure often used to determine sentencing: Unidentified Guy – “I’ve seen him hand out sentences by just counting his pocket change. He’ll basically say to the guy, ‘I’m just gonna count the change in my pockets, and that’s what you’ll get. And you’d better hope that I don’t have any quarters there.’ He’ll reach into his pocket and throw the change onto the bench, and start counting; I see a nickel, and a dime. OK, 15 years. Goodbye.’” I have no way of verifying whether this story is true, and I didn’t catch the name of the judge in question. If it is true it’s pretty outrageous. Anyone out there know anything about this?

posted by gunther at 12:08 PM Link

Thursday, August 07, 2003

 
And Just Like The Real One, It’s Hollow If you thought that the California recall fiasco was the stupidest thing going on in the country right now, check out this. Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush - U.S. President and Naval Aviator - 12" Action Figure I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

posted by gunther at 3:40 PM Link

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

 
Arianna’s In According to a column posted in Salon by Joe Conason late on Tuesday, Arianna Huffington will declare her candidacy for the Governorship of California on Wednesday morning. She will make the announcement at 10:30 a.m. at A Place Called Home in South Central Los Angeles. According to Conason, …nobody should be surprised that Arianna is taking this daring plunge. Her candidacy for something, somewhere, has been coming for a long time -- probably ever since her former husband's awful Senate campaign. More importantly, her intuition that frustrated voters are going to make themselves heard is undeniable. How Democrats deal with that anger may well determine things to come in Washington as well as Sacramento. If this turns out to be true and not a hoax, it may well seal the fate of Gray Davis, and most if not all of the prominent names who have been floated as possible candidates in the upcoming recall vote. Huffington may have the name recognition, political savvy and outsider status that it will take to give California voters a legitimate third choice between an unappealing incumbent and the conservative fascists who are seeking to seize power via the back door. Whatever else happens, her candidacy should make for a very interesting election. Huffington’s decision to announce her candidacy at A Place called Hope is Interesting. The organization’s website says: A Place Called Home's mission is to provide at-risk youth with a secure, positive family environment where they can regain hope and belief, earn trust and self respect and learn skills to lead a productive lifestyle free of the gangs, drugs and poverty that surrounds them. The vision of APCH is to revitalize the community of South Central Los Angeles in a continued effort to provide inner-city youth with a safe environment and a safe place to develop and grow. This vision includes growth and expansion of the APCH center, community park and garden. It is also part of the vision to rehabilitate a six-block radius around the center within the next five years. One block at a time, the community will be slowly cleaned up, changing perceptions and forming pride in the neighborhood. It is our hope to work with the community and collaborating agencies in an effort to make the inner-city a better place for the children and everyone. APCH’s activities place it squarely within a realm that both Republicans and Democrats have neglected for at least two decades. Namely, the underprivileged classes that make up an enormous sector of society. While people like Bush, Clinton, the RNC and the DLC tout the advantages of welfare reform, it is left for organizations like APHC to pick up the pieces. Huffington has long been an advocate of more humane measures in government, and became disillusioned with the so-called “Republican revolution” when she decided that it was based on rhetoric and had nothing to do with any genuine concern for helping ordinary people or the less powerful elements in society. Announcing her candidacy at APCH sends a powerful message that she will seek the support of voters who are tired of the choices they have been given and fed up with governments that are more concerned with business interests than they are with the problems of ordinary people.

posted by gunther at 11:14 PM Link

Monday, August 04, 2003

 
Don’t Quit Your Day Job. On Second Thought, Please Do I note that Roger Ailes has a post today commenting on last weeks rant by Christopher Hitchens, where he most courageously criticized a dead man. The question that Hitchens addressed was whether Bob Hope was funny. Needless to say, Hitchens, in his usual snide manner, says no. But to be paralyzingly, painfully, hopelessly unfunny is a serious drawback, even lapse, in a comedian. And the late Bob Hope devoted a fantastically successful and well-remunerated lifetime to showing that a truly unfunny man can make it as a comic. There is a laugh here, but it is on us. This is comedy for people who have no sense of humor and who come determined to be entertained and laugh to show that they "get it." Hope had a huge vault of material, much of it mercifully unused, that was amassed by "researchers" and cross-indexed by subject. The great thing, for him, was to be able to bang on the existing funny bone by daring, say, to make a gag out of Reagan's notorious propensity for naps. It's true that Hope had a mobile face and could twist it to look suggestive or leering (though he wasn't in the same class as Benny Hill or John Cleese in this respect). The idea that all women are attractive, not especially thigh-slapping as a concept in itself, can often work with audiences who are very easily pleased and whose members don't want to be left out of the general mirth. The sexlessness of Hope's routines, however, was just another clue to their essential conformism and cowardice. Eye-rolling and wolf-whistling are among the weakest forms of crowd pleasing that we possess. And Hope never stretched or challenged an audience in his life. For him, the safe and antique moves were the best, if not the only. The smirk was principally one of risk-free self-congratulation. Even the most determinedly fawning obituarists had to concede that most of his movies and many of his "joke" anthologies were basically insulting in their unfunniness. Elvis Mitchell in the New York Times, stuck with writing an appreciation on the same day as Canby's labored obituary (and stuck by the newspaper with the exact same vaudeville photograph as illustration) fell back on the exhausted line that Hope always played the same character, which was Bob Hope. A fitting tautology. Hope was a fool, and nearly a clown, but he was never even remotely a comedian. Now I was never much of a Bob Hope fan, even back when I watched his TV specials as a kid in the 60s and 70s. It was the kind of humor my parents would laugh at but would leave me staring blankly at the television, trying to figure out what I’d missed. I had seen a lot of his old movies, especially the road ones with Bing Crosby, and I liked those. His TV specials were pretty dreadful, though, even at my young age. But this whole “angry-drunken-young-man” schtick of Christopher Hitchens is getting a bit tiresome. I mean, the man is dead, for God’s sake. Bob Hope may not have been the best comedian of the last 40 (or even 50) years, but it’s not like he ever shot anybody’s dog. Is Hitchens running out of defenseless targets to attack? There aren’t enough 90 year old nuns and female country singers to vilify? All of which reminded me of an article in the Financial Times from a couple of months back which recounted an evening of humor featuring Hitchens. The fawning description of the evening, written by one Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, offers some insight into what Hitchens considers to be knee-slapping comedy: Christopher Hitchens arrives on stage at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival in Wales, wearing dark glasses and clutching a glass of wine, cigarettes and an ashtray. It's Late Night Hitch, an event billed as "Lenny Bruce meets P.G. Wodehouse", and a near-packed house is in to catch the combative political journalist in a startling new guise: that of stand-up comedian. Yeah, Lenny Bruce meets P.G. Wodehouse, they decide they have absolutely nothing in common, and part without speaking. "So, it's a long day at the shrink," he begins. "This guy comes in, hasn't made an appointment, just stands there, panting. The shrink says, 'Can I help you?' More panting. Finally the guy says, 'I'm just a dog.' And the shrink says, 'Well, do you want to get on the couch?' And the guy says: [Pause] 'I'm not allowed on the fucking couch!'" It's a terrible joke, but the audience laughs like a drain. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for coming to my cabaret venue," he says. It's been a busy day for Hitchens. Earlier, he had chaired discussions with the historians Linda Colley and Eric Hobsbawm and taken part in a debate about American power. The next day he is due to join a panel on Evelyn Waugh. Clever and unpredictable, he's the intellectual equivalent of the lone gunslinger. Thanks to him, Bill Clinton, Mother Teresa and Henry Kissinger have something in common: all have been mauled in print by Hitch. Hitchens is the intellectual equivalent of a lone gunslinger? I guess if the gunslinger is willing to work for the highest bidder, the analogy works for me. He's usually described as a leftwinger, but is currently at war with liberal opinion because of his support for US foreign policy since September 11. The roar of battle seems to have hyped him up somewhat. At the debate a few hours earlier, he lost his temper when someone asked about country band the Dixie Chicks and the flak they copped for criticising George W. Bush's Iraq policy. "Each day they dig up dead bodies in personal death camps run by a Caligula dictator," Hitchens shouted, "and I'm being asked to worry about these fucking fat slags - do me a favour!" The debate broke up soon after. Ah, what a sense of humor. What wit. If Bob Hope had a few more like that I’m sure he would have made it into Mr. Hitchen’s good books. At Late Night Hitch, an altogether more convivial mood reigns. "What I really live for is stand-up and karaoke," he reveals to laughter. He once sang Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" in North Korea. "It was to a stone-faced, Aztec-faced audience of members of the Korean Workers party. You can't bomb like you can bomb in Pyongyang," he says. He wears a suit and an unbuttoned shirt. His hair is tousled and, as the evening progresses, a dislodged curl swings down over his forehead. He's attractive in a fleshy, rakish sort of way and each puff of smoke and glug of wine seems to shout "danger". There's the sound of singing. "When I fell into the gutter, thinking thoughts I dare not utter," croons Hitchens in an Irish accent. He has a famous thirst, and his day's labours clearly haven't prevented the odd visit to the hospitality tent. But he reels off a series of lewd jokes faultlessly and to much mirth. Once he was a finalist in a celebrity comedy competition in Washington, DC, which he lost to Senator Joe Lieberman. I’m speechless. First of all, how lame a comic do you have to be to finish behind Joe Lieberman in a comedy competition? Even if the participants are limited to denizens of Washington, DC? Beyond that, the description of Hitchens as being “attractive in a fleshy, rakish sort of way” is beyond disgusting. And I’m not even sure why. Finally, the article states that each puff of smoke and glug of wine seems to shout "danger". Is that “danger” as in, “I’ve knocked back half a bottle of Tangueray this evening and I may just fall of the stage onto you, crushing you underneath my fleshy but attractive body?” The comedy of cruelty is his favoured form. "A joke isn't a joke unless it's piercingly at someone's expense," he says. "Taste is not a factor." A variety of force-10 limericks follows. Amid the torrent of verses about young ladies of Kew and vicars who withdrew, he pauses to praise the modern geniuses of the limerick genre: Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin and Robert Conquest. Limericks??? Limericks?? The guy uses limericks on stage, and he has the gall to criticize anyone else’s comedic skills? His stand-up act abruptly ends as he invites questions from the audience. "Ask me anything you like, I promise the answer will be true," he says, expansively. A woman who was at the US power debate asks why he's now playing the clown. "The reason I like P.G. Wodehouse and Oscar Wilde is that they teach you to take frivolous things seriously and serious things frivolously," Hitchens replies. "It's all a complete farce, you understand, we're born into a losing struggle. In the meantime, I think, I must show some contempt and defiance and the best means of doing that that I know are irony and obscenity." Laughter, applause. "Which is why it was a mistake for that man to ask me about those slut Dixie Chicks," he adds. We head towards midnight with Hitchens discoursing in the same steady tone even as his eyelids droop southwards. There's Hitch on his friendship with Martin Amis: "The only blonde I have ever loved." On how to offend black Americans: "Tell them they're articulate." On whether he would vote for Bush or the democrat John Kerry: "Bush" (he doesn't like the way Kerry exploits his Vietnam war record). On his biggest fear: "Boredom." On why the fairer sex don't make for best friends: "Men will never let you down." Stop it, Chris. You’re killing me! Really. And oh yes, about your last comment that “men will never let you down”. Tell that one to Sidney Blumenthal.

posted by gunther at 3:44 PM Link