Friday, June 24, 2005

rambling musings

I go through this every summer. Going on vacation when you are unemployed is very weird. It's like you are just moving your lazy ass from one boredom zone to another. It's not much different then changing positions on the couch: just a matter of scale.

I'm away for till the eleventh of July and may not post much during that time. It's ok. I'm running out of things to say anyway. Or maybe I'm running out of energy to care. I don't know. I do know that I'm going out to the left coast for awhile to visit the family and hang with my peeps, so if you don't see anything here for awhile that's why.

But I can leave you with something that came to me the other day while watching George Bush and listening to the spin cycle. Here's yet another differnece between republicans and democrats: in order to get votes, Democrats pretend to be cmarter then they are while Republicans pretend to be stupid. This became obvious when John Kerry's grades from Yale were released and, low and behold, he was a C STUDENT! JUST LIKE BUSH! they were both right around 76. Now, it's true that Kerry's GPA was dragged down by the four Ds he got his first year, when it appears he was a perenial fuck up (hey! I can relate. I was on accademic probation my first year in college too, due to the combination of the death or our department head, many late night rehearsals for Bartholomew Fair and way too much weed).

We've already talked about Bush's charade. He pretends to be stupid because it disarms his opponents and makes him look folksy. Other republicans do the same. Bill Frist, for instance, who is not stupid enough to believe that he could force the courts to ignore the consitution, but pretended to be so he could appear to be fighting the good fight (a cynical play for votes if ever there was one). Dems like Kerry pretend they are intelectuals so they will look competent. This opens them up to accusations of elitism (only in George Bush's America could intelegence be scorned as a bad trait to have), but they like people to think they're smart enough to solve everybody's problem.

Maybe my mom is right and they're all whores. But if so I'll stick with the whore who gives me the best service.

Welcome to the Donkey Show. :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Is it just me? Is it only me who’s disturbed that Thomas Massereau, Michael Jackson’s attorney, did not do a press conference immediately after the verdict but has granted an exclusive interview to Larry King—Lary King who agreed to be a witness for the defense. Ok, so he didn’t end up testifying, but still, aren’t the lines blurring here just a bit?

So I come home this afternoon and bam! Michael Jackson everywhere! Every broadcast network and every cable news network is carrying the Michael Jackson verdict live. My favorite comment came, of course, from Fox News. While the real news channels were trying to analyze the verdict, a Fox commentator said that instead of being called the King of Pop Michael Jackson’s new name should be “The Teflon Molester” (I guess that’s the working version of “Fair and Balanced”). When interviewing the jurors the Fox reporter tried to get them to say that they thought the accuser’s family was a bunch of liars and cheats. We report, you decide. I think they’re really disappointed that the story is over.

So what about this story? What do we think about Michael Jackson? That he was tried and convicted in the press but tried and acquitted in a courtroom? It wasn’t a racially motivated verdict—there wasn’t a black person on that jury. The jury behaved with class and dignity throughout their press conference, and said again and again that they carefully weighed all the evidence and read and re-read the 93 pages of instructions and came up with reasonable doubt. I thought it was a brilliant performance, even though some stupid talking (air) head on CNN tried to make it sound like the jury had a vendetta against the alleged victim’s mother.

The DA’s news conference, but contrast, was an embarrassment. He looked those reporters in the eye and said that he had no vendetta against Michael Jackson. What a lying sack of (excrement). One expert (and I don’t know which network, I was flipping between all of them) noted that for him the turning point in the case was when the lead investigator was asked under cross examination whether or not the case was investigated before the arrest warrant was issued, and he admitted that as soon as the complaint was made they issued the arrest warrant-before they investigated. As somebody else said (I think on MSNBC) “This Guy was playing God.”

And he was. In 1993, the first time this DA went after Michael Jackson, I was standing in line at the Cala Foods on Geary Street in San Francisco and the checkout clerk asked me what I thought of the Michael Jackson case. I said “Michael Jackson is getting the Fatty Arbuckle Treatment.” Some guy behind me, who looked like Abbey Hoffman at 19, said “Fatty Arbuckle was guilty.” I was amazed not only that someone had actually heard of Fatty Arbuckle, but that he had an opinion, and an opinion that nearly every historian and criminologist now agrees is dead wrong. Arbuckle was innocent.

Of course, I’m assuming that you, gentle readers, know who Fatty Arbuckle is and why his case was such a scandal.

Fatty’s was the first sensational celebrity murder scandal of the mass media age. It predates Roxie Hart, even. Arbuckle, at the time the biggest star in Hollywood, was accused of raping and causing the death of a young starlet at a drunken party at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco on Labor Day weekend, 1921. The DA, Mathew Brady (whose name somehow became the name of the prosecutor in Inherit the Wind, a thin caricature of William Jennings Bryan), went after morally decrepit Hollywood in the form of the fat man, and tried to build a political career on his conviction. The news media, particularly Hearst, went wild in their denunciations of Arbuckle and demands that Hollywood be cleaned up. Public and congressional outcry against vile, evil, morally bankrupt Hollywood (I hope this is all sounding familiar) led to the formation of the Hayes office and, eventually, the production code. After three trials Arbuckel was acquitted. The third jury was so outraged at the prosecutor they felt obliged to make a statement condemning the prosecution as baseless. Arbuckle’s career was essentially over, and the Hayes office for a time blacklisted him. Hearst tried to crucify Arbuckle throughout his three trials. He made no pretense of covering the Arbuckle scandal objectively, and said years later that he didn’t care what Arbuckle had actually done he was only trying to sell papers (this statement was made to Arbuckle himself when Hearst was one of the few people willing to give Arbuckle a job after the scandal). I’ve always said Murdoch was the new Hearst (and so have a lot of other people). The Arbuckle case proves that celebrity’s can be targeted for unfair prosecution just because they are celebrities, and that the Press will nearly always convict them in the court of public opinion, with absolutely no regard to either truth or justice.

To me the Arbuckle case is interesting because it laid the groundwork for all future celebrity trials. I have in the past argued that “celebrity justice” is an oxymoron. The fact of celebrity makes justice much harder to obtain. Celebrities are easy marks for malicious prosecution by DAs hoping to further their careers or just grind an ax. That was certainly the case with Arbuckle and seems to be the case with Jackson—at least from the Jury’s point of view. With acquittals of Robert Blake, Jackson, O.J. Simpson, and Kobe Bryant (who’s case was dismissed, which I don’t think is actually an acquittal but amounts to the same thing), many people are arguing that Celebrity’s got off scott free—but this is mostly because the accused have all been tried and convicted by a rabid tabloid press that feasts solely upon misery, sensation, and scandal. Fox was screaming that Jackson guilty (just like Doonesbury did Nixon) throughout the trial, as were most of the talking heads. They screamed even louder when he was acquitted. And why not: not only is Jackson a freak, but an acquittal would be a very anti-climactic story. Guilty would sell a lot more papers. And that is, after all, the idea.

So can celebrities get justice? I mean, guilty or innocent, can the system fairly prosecute or exonerate them? The media circus surrounding these trials, combined with money, combined with the fame of the accused, makes it hard for justice to remain blind. A guilty celebrity has a whole arsenal of fame and money to help him get away with it, while an innocent celebrity is an easy target for some wannabe congressman and will likely never recover from the harm done to his reputation by a scandal hungry tabloid press. (and have you seen State and Main? See it!) My very favorite thing about the Arbuckle Case is how it ties in with my favorite San Francisco writer, Dashiell Hammett. Hammet was one of the Pinkerton detectives assigned to protect Arbuckle during the trial. He intensely disliked Arbuckle, so much so that he made Arbuckle the basis for one of his greatest creations, the arrogant villain Casper Gutman from The Maltese Falcon.” Nonetheless, Hammett insisted that Arbuckle was innocent, saying “The whole thing was a frame-up arranged by some of the corrupt local newspaper boys. Arbuckle was good copy, so they set him up for a fall.” (from 13). When the local newspaper is Hearst’s flagship operation that’s a lot of juice. Hammett succinctly sums up the heart of celebrity justice: it’s good copy.

But what are we going to do, just release (or execute) every celebrity that gets arrested because justice is hard? It’s hard, but is it impossible? The jury in this case, as in the third Fatty Arbuckle trial, seems to have acted with a great deal of thought. I really believe justice was served in this case. I have my own opinion about Blake, Simpson, Bryant and Jackson (maybe guilty, maybe guilty, railroaded and set up) but none of that matters because in spite of its flaws we have to trust the system. The alternative is to have Fox News decide who should go to jail, or else to have each of us just have the right to gun down anyone we believe to have wronged us. The justice system is not really about right and wrong, nor is it about vengeance; it is a set of rules we agree to live by, one in which one side (the state) has a lot of power and so the other side (the defendant) is given a lot of protection; it is designed to get at the truth but it sometimes gets it wrong.. It is designed to be fair at the expense of always being just, and to err on the side of caution. That’s the idea behind “reasonable doubt,” innocent until proven guilty, and unanimous verdicts: it’s better to let a guilty person go then to wrongly convict the innocent. But right or wrong it is the system, and not the result, that is important. This is one thing the prosecutor understood. In his press conference he kept insisting that he accepted the verdict because he believes in the system. He refused to attack the jury, the judge, or even the defense; and (unlike the rabid wolverines at Fox News) he was right.

Ah, but the job of the press is to be neither just nor fair. It is to sell as many papers or attract as many sets of eyes as possible, and the best way to do that is to scream about weird celebrity pedophiles getting away with it. Scandal sells, it’s as simple as that.

The best places to research crime on the web (including Fatty Arbuckle) is at Court TV’s

Paul Henry’s fairly good analysis of media coverage of the Fatty Arbuckle trial is at

Finally, I am a hard core San Franciscan. I used to hang out on Nob Hill where most of the Maltese Falcon took place, I eat at John’s Grill, and every time I give somebody a tour of the city the spot where Miles Archer was killed by Bridget O’Shaunessy is always the top spot I take them to. Don Herron leads a Dashiell Hammett walking tour that everyone should take is the make it to San Francisco. The website is

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Dick Cheney on Pot

I got to say every time this Dean guy opens his mouth it makes me think about moving to Vermont. If this is the kind of guy who gets elected up there, well, that's where I want to live. If nothing else, it makes me wish he'd stuck it out longer, or done better in Iowa. This is the guy we should have run for president. This guy's a fighter.

But what does it all say about Dick Cheney? He's been all over the talk shows lambasting Dean as someone who's "over the top" and saying "as far as I know he's never been elected to anything." Well, in fact, he was elected governor of Vermont five times, which has got to be at least as important as being a congressman from Wyoming (I don't count being elected Vice President: we don't vote for Vice President, everybody says so). Cheney says Dean isn't the kind of guy you'd want representing your political party: well I'm a Democrat, and Dean is the guy I want representing *my* party. But considering the mean, dishonest, viscious attacks Cheney launched against the democrats in 2004, doesn't this seem a little bit like the kettle callingthe pot black? ;-)

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

I saw this movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith Friday night. It was fun. It was everything it had been advertised to be, a slick action film with stunningly beautiful co-stars, but it was a bit more then that as well. The film was structured as a comment on marriage, particularly a marriage on the rocks. Assassination was presented as a metaphor for infidelity. This was done in some transparent ways—Mr. Smith takes off his wedding ring when he goes out to kill someone and puts it on when he gets home; Mrs. Smith dresses up in a sexy outfit underneath a raincoat and sneaks out to rendezvous with her victim in a hotel; typically, the both almost get caught by one another. But it is also done in some subtle ways as well. In one great exchange, once they’ve begun being honest with one another, Mr. Smith asks “how many.” Mrs. Smith tells him to go first and he says something like “I don’t really keep count, but, fifty or sixty,” to which she quickly responds, “Three hundred and Twelve.” Of course, he repeats incredulously “THREE HUNDRED AND TWELVE?!” At no point do they specify what they are talking about. It is assumed that they are talking about the number of murders they have committed, and this is how it is portrayed, but that same conversation could be about the number of people they’ve each slept with (I’m reminded of the cry “Fifty-seven?!” from Kevin Smith’s Clerks). What makes this movie special is that it could be about anybody. In fact, it is possible to see this whole films, which begins and ends in a marriage counselor’s office, as an elaborate fantasy they’ve concocted to spice up their marriage (don’t laugh: this theory is given a bit of credence by the fact that at one point a person Brad Pitt is interrogating is wearing a “Fight Club” t-shirt--fight club was, aftr all, a big fantasy created by the main character to spice up his life). This universality makes a pretty enjoyable little action flick into a hilarious and very interesting film. Check it out.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

White face in the media

Not much blogging today, but I do have one thing that is striking me. Pictures of Natalee Holloway, the young girl who dissapeared in Aruba, are all over the web right now. AOL has an eight picture photo essay up that begins with a portrait shot of this beautiful, blonde haired, blue eyed girl smiling at us. It all leads me to wonder: if she were a black girl from Brooklyn would her picture be plastered everywhere? Would we even know about her case? Would the media care near as much as they apparently do? Think about it.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Five Steps to Save America

Perhaps there is a liberal bias in the news after all—at least over at UPI. I checked the online headlines this AM and found the usual garbage about Angelina and Brad, war in Iraq and terror suspects in Lodi (of all places). On the other hand, the lead story at UPI was a column by Martin Walker titled “Democrats Thinking at Last.” As I wrote on these pages a few months ago, the dems have finally begun taking their playbook from the republicans and funding big liberal think tanks in which to flesh out policy ideas and chart a comprehensive strategy for the entire party, much the same way the GOP does. It might not work, of course. It has been said (accurately) that conservativism is a movement while liberalism is a collection of causes. Getting environmentalists, globalists, unionists, farmers, doves, hawks, and free speech advocates (just to throw out a few constituencies) to work together is a tall order. But they’re trying.

Walker’s column details the biggest of the big picture projects likely to come out before the midterm elections of next year, a report title “Integrated Power” from the progressive think tank Center for American Progress. It reportedly lays out how foreign policy, foreign aid, military policy, and domestic policy can all be integrated toward achieving national security without the type of aggressive bullying and unilateral tactics employed by the Bush administration. A central theme appears to be getting contentious Washington bureaucracies to work together as a cohesive unit. Walker doesn’t say it, but what the report seems to amount to is a Marshal Plan for the post 9/11 world, something I’ve long advocated.

I haven’t read the report yet (I’ll get to that this after) but I want to propose my own five step plan for fixing America. Because I think all big ideas should, mine is based on core principles, not simply on wonkish policy ideas. These principles are that it is the primary duty of government in a just society to protect the well being of its people not just from violence but other threats such as poverty, ignorance, malady and oppression; that the only way to secure freedom is by respecting the dignity of people and their right to self determination; and that all our policies, foreign and domestic, should be based on Roosevelt’s four freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. Yes, I am well aware that President Bush can lay some claim to enforcing those ideals and has done so to justify his wars. And let’s give props where props are due: spreading democracy is not only a laudable goal, it is the most important component of our security, for democracies don’t go to war with one another. But we simply cannot spread democracy through military power. You can’t force people to be democratic, you have to teach them through example (and a very poor example we have made of late). To enforce your will at the point of a gun is the brigand’s way. It is Chairman Mao’s way and Stalin’s: let it not be ours.

By the way, this is not advocacy of appeasement or some touchy-feely peacenik strategy. Read Roosevelt’s speech: it is very aggressive, militaristic, it could have been made by G.W. Bush after 9/11. But there are a number of differences: FDR called for raising taxes to support freedom, and vowed that no one would be allowed to get rich off their defense efforts (take that, Halliburton). Most of all, he declared the primacy of human rights, a concept toward which the current administration is completely antagonistic. He advocated sacrifice, not a series of get rich quick schemes. As FDR preached, we must be strong—the difference is we must be strong and just, not a bunch of fascist bullies like Bush and his clowns.

Anyway, here’s the plan:

1) Outlaw oil. Do it right now. Forget about hybrid cars and hydrogen cars and all of that: we have the ability to fix the economy and most of the terrorist problem tomorrow if we just outlaw oil. It takes very little (some carburetor modifications, mostly) to rig internal combustion engines to run on either alcohol or (for diesel engines) vegetable oil. I read an article not long ago about a guy who runs his company truck off of waste oil from a deep fryer. To switch our infrastructure over will be fairly easy once we get production up and running, but the beautiful thing of this is that it will help the economy by giving a huge boost tot eh farm economy. As we begin to power our cars on soybeans and corn the Midwest will once again become the economic center of America. Yes, it will mean a return to nuclear power, but this fear of science is a hallmark of the conservatives and shouldn’t bother liberals like us.

2) Tax the Rich. I mean it. Tax them hard. A recent item in the New York Times reported that the very rich are now so rich they are leaving the mere millionaires behind. There is no real reason for the Trumps and Gateses of the world to be as spectacularly wealthy as they are. Under the Rove/Bush “starve the beast” plan, a cornerstone of conservative policy in which they are undoing all of FDR’s new deal reforms by simply cutting taxes and forcing programs to be scrapped, tax breaks for the upper-crust have made them wealthy like princes of the Middle Ages, while the burden of paying for basic services (forget about Pell grants and the NEA, I mean the army and the police) has fallen harder and harder upon the shrinking middle class. The only way to remedy this—in spite of the supply side gibberish spouted by the Right—is to create a more equitable and progressive tax system. In other words stop the giveaways to the super wealthy. End the party. Tax the rich.

3) Get the feds out of the business of running state programs. A little anti-federalism is not always a bad thing. While enforcing the law is a good thing, micromanaging policy is bad. Yes, I know this gives Kansas more power to teach bogus pseudo-science like “intelligent design,” but they have a big ally in the White House for teaching it now. While I know this pisses off education advocates, environmentalists, and many others, the States deserve and need more autonomy to run their own government. And find away to make the commerce clause make some real sense. As it’s interpreted now it gives the courts the ability to control anything the states do, and that’s just wrong.

4) Shift priorities on the national level. Get rid of the bogus war on Drugs and admit that the so-called war on terrorism is a law enforcement and foreign policy issue but not a military one. While we must provide for the common defense we need to spend more to support the general welfare at hand. This can be done in a lot of ways but three are absolutely essential: increase college financial aid in all its forms and direct it toward the financially needy (most people getting financial aid today are in the middle class); expand Medicare so it covers all Americans-- That’s right, real single-payer socialized medicine; finally, along with universal healthcare enact universal service: require every citizen of the united states to serve either two years in the military or five years in some form of social service (nurse, elementary school teacher, cop, fireman, etc.) by age 32. Those with great power have also great responsibility.

5) Fully fund the UN. America must be fully engaged with the international community. We cannot continue the destructive and wrong headed course of the conservatives in antagonizing the rest of the world. The UN is not a bogeyman: it is the only valid international body in which disputes between nations can be worked out. We do not have to give up any sovereignty to be part of the UN, but by disengaging from the UN we loose all moral and civic authority. We become a rogue state and other states will be able to justify banding against us. We chartered the UN for a purpose and it still serves that purpose, and we need to be part of it. The current administration has proved, tragically, that we cannot go it alone. By ignoring international treaties, using unilateral force and basically trying to bully the rest of the world into submission, the current administration has made the world a more dangerous place and made Americans the most hated people on earth. Don’t believe me? Go anywhere and hear what they are saying about us. We must be a part of the international community, not an antagonist toward it. I’m not talking about some stupid “global test.” I’m not talking about a world government. Those are meaningless catch phrases. I’m talking about being a citizen of the world not an outlaw.

Of course there’s more: gay rights, funding stemcell research, protecting affirmative action, maintaining a woman’s right to medical treatment including abortion, funding for the arts and humanities, a strong commitment to civil liberties and freedom of the press, and getting those bozos out of Washington. Most of all I believe in tearing down the Orwellian fascism being built up by the Bush administration. But the five steps above are where we start once that has been accomplished and Bush is off running Major League Baseball where he belongs.

For the UPI column check here:

The Center for American Progress can be found here:

For the text of FDR’s Four Freedoms speech, read here:

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Intimidation and Misinformation

Let’s talk intimidation and misinformation for a moment, because a couple of items in today’s New York Times caught my eye. Now, I know my conservative readers out there (well, reader: hi Mom), are saying “if it’s in the New York Times it’s obviously liberally biased so we can ignore it anyway. For those of you who feel that way there’s some really cool news playing over on Fox. Everybody else I want to consider this:

On the front page of today’s Times is an article headlined “Bush Aide Edited Climate Reports.” Apparently some oil industry lobbyist is now advising the president on climate change (big surprise there) and has had the authority to vet and edit scientific documents on climate change. By adding words, cutting paragraphs and changing emphasis, he managed to water down several documents which argued that global warming was, in fact, real. This guy was an economics major. He has no scientific training whatsoever, yet he is editing and changing scientific documents that affect the very industry he came from, to support the position he used to lobby congress over. His objective seems to be to employ the current oil industry tactic of muddying the waters and claiming that there is a controversy over climate change, so we shouldn’t enact any legislation to prevent it.

On the front page of the arts section is a headline “Rejected Radio Spot Raises Eyebrows.” It details how KQED radio in San Francisco and WNYC radio in New York, two of the largest public radio stations in the country, had rejected and underwriting grant from The New Israel Fund, a group that raises money for religious tolerance and civil liberties in the Middle East. The two stations, apparently cowering under pressure from the right, claim to have rejected the grant because it represents the type of advocacy that they do not allow in public broadcasting, but an email message leaked from an advertising executive whose company represents KQED said that the removal of the credit came in response to complaints about Public Radio’s news coverage of the Middle East. The article details some of the recent attempts by the corporation for public broadcasting to supervise content at NPR, especially in their coverage of the Middle East. Much of this criticism has been spearheaded by Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the conservative chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. His position, and that of many conservative critics, is that since CPB distributes taxpayer monies to NPR that there coverage should not be so, well, liberal. They have threatened and intimidated NPR stations, suggesting that unless more conservative programming shows up they will pull the plug.

This is part of a pattern I’ve discussed before (see “The Death of Freedom,” February 4 in the archives). Conservatives use a two pronged attack of intimidation and misinformation to silence their critics, either scaring them into shutting up or else confusing the audience so they will no longer care. The common fight for teaching “intelligent design” is another example. The current conservative battle cry is “teach the controversy” when in fact there *is* no controversy—at least there is no scientific controversy, only a manufactured political one. So too, there is no real scientific controversy over global warming (though I wish they’d explain to me how Greenland could have been warmer in the 13th Century then it is today). The only controversy is that created by the greedy corporate pigs in the oil industry and their political butt boys in the White House in their efforts to protect their profits.

And as for the whole NPR thing, well, maybe they are not balanced, but at the risk of sounding like FOX News for a second, you don’t have to be balanced if you are right. Let’s take a hypothetical example for a second: let’s imagine that it’s say it’s the 1930s. Liberal elements in full control of the government (they have the presidency and both houses of congress) are moving to oppose German expansion in Europe while powerful conservative elements in the US, led by Henry Ford, Charles Lindberg and, significantly the current president’s two grandfathers, Prescot Bush and Herbert Walker, openly supported the Nazis and opposed any involvement in Europe. Arnold Schwarzeneger and Karl rove also have links to the Nazi’s: according to the (admittedly liberally biased) Common Dreams News Center, Rove’s grandfather was a party official who helped build Birkenau, and it is well known that Arnold’s father was an officer in the SA. And we now know about the Pope. But they were Germans and we are talking about Americans now. Lindberg, Ford and the others, bastions of conservativism, made millions doing business with the Nazis and argued until they were blue in the face that we should support Germany and avoid entry into Europe’s war. And they were wrong. There was no controversy other then the one they created by their open support of evil and their attempt to muddy the waters of debate with anti-Semitic hatred in pursuit of profits. There is no controversy when you are right, and right now the right is wrong. Dead wrong. CPB’s McCarthyite tactics are frightening, but they are also to be expected from conservatives in this day and age.

Or not. It’s not a good basis to build an argument on. It would be much better to argue for a free and open debate. But they are not proposing a free and open debate. They are trying to stifle debate through intimidation and misinformation. It would also be better to argue on the values of freedom of the press to determine content, or of freedom of speech, or of academic freedom or checks and balances and all sorts of other things, but that seems to be a lost cause nowadays. The pigs have gone on a total war footing nad are employing scorched earth tactics. Constitutional niceties went out the second the 2004 elections returns were in.

Oh, by the way, linking Tomlinson to McCarthy is not merely rhetoric. It is fact. Check out this article on the web:

…and try googling Bush Rove Nazis and see what comes up. You’ll get a wealth of knowledge.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


So the West Side Stadium went down in flames last night after a ten year battle. This guy Doctroff had better be out of a job this morning. I for one am furious. Surprising to those who know me, since I’m involved in an anti-development campaign here in my neighborhood in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn (they’re trying to knock down all the single family homes in favor of six to eight story apartment buildings), and because I was a drama major and our stereotype is that of people who hate sports. I supported the stadium on the West Side, and I support an arena in Brooklyn, for two reasons.

First, even though I come from the arts, I learned as far back as high school that the supposed conflict between arts and sports is a stupid one. I believe both arts and sports are important both for the development of a person and for the spiritual well being and identity of a population. The Greeks, after all, created both the theatre and the Olympics. On a more simple level both are forms of entertainment, and although they compete for one another for audience, they are in fact often complimentary.

Second, and much more importantly, I believe in the stadium because I think it is a good idea economically. I used to live in San Francisco, and every time I go back there I see the amazing activity and business and buildings that have grown up around SBC ball park. With the park as it’s anchor, China Basin, once one of the worst neighborhoods in the region, has become, arguably, the most desirable real estate in all of California Seriously: while Atherton commands the highest home prices, density makes the land around the stadium much more valuable. A condo near the ball park runs about $1,000,000 per bedroom. But it’s not just the housing prices: it’s all the businesses that have moved into the area near the ballpark since it was built, all those people. All thos visitors, all those jobs. There is a valid argument (and I’ve made it) that development of this part of San Francisco and the loophole created by “loft” zoning priced people out of the City (myself included), but you can’t deny the amount of money and tax base the park helped create.

Interestingly, SBC Park is also an example of the pitfalls of stadium construction for a professional team. It was completely privately financed (a publicly financed park wouldn’t fly in The City), which was seen at the time as very progressive, but it has really hurt the Giants. Even though they put a decent team on the field, play in the most popular ballpark in the country, consistently sell out and get good TV and merchandising revenues, the amount they have to pay back on their loans means they can’t afford to get good pitching and, let’s fact it, a few years ago they were one seventh inning meltdown away from the winning the world series, and their collapse was entirely due to their pitching. As this season has demonstrated, they can’t win without Barry Bonds, but even with Bond’s they couldn’t win the series without some real pitching. Perhaps after Barry retires they may have more money to spend on pitchers, but his contract isn’t the reason they can’t afford to go after good free agents. It’s the fact that they, not the city, paid for the park (that, and they’re not owned by George Steinbrener).

But back to Brooklyn and Manhattan: a West Side Stadium was a good idea. The Olympics are a good idea. A Brooklyn Arena is a good idea and moving the Nets to Brooklyn is a good idea. Those people who are opposed to these good ideas oppose them for purely selfish reasons, some anti-business, some anti-sports, most anti-anything that could change their neighborhoods, even if the change is for the better. As reported in today’s Times, we have become a society in which the whiners hold veto power over the visionaries. Think one that for a moment, and consider no Moon Walk, no skyscrapers, no Eiffel Tower, no cathedrals, no hanging gardens, no Angkor Wat, no Pyramids, no civilization, no fire. And then think of no West Side Stadium. And good luck on that Freedom Tower thing. If Pharo had had lived in Manhattan, there would be no pyramids. Think on that.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Deep Throat

The first time I visited Washington DC (which every American should do) I stayed with Gerry and Mel O’Leary, two of the finest people I ever knew. I had met Mel through the SCA, and didn’t know Gerry, but he took it as his responsibility to introduce me to the important parts of DC—the monuments, symbols, buildings, and institutions in which American power is enshrined. The first place he took me was the Watergate (I would really love to live there). To Gerry, as to everybody else, Watergate was a watershed moment, and like most New England democrats he saw it as a great moment as well as a great tragedy—the moment when the pigs were spitted and cooked. Watergate was a watershed for me too. I was eight years old when it happened. I already knew about the war from my draft age cousins (who taught me to sing “The Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag” when I was five). I remember going to the State Fair to watch the nightly anti-war riots (my first wiff of tar gas). I also knew about the election. My mom took me to meet George McGovern at a campaign rally at the Unitarian Church in Sacramento. (He was a nice guy and I liked him. Mom goosed him as he walked by us. My grandpa asked her “was his ass cold and calloused like other politicians?” Hunter Thompson would probably say, at that point, yes. More on that another day). For an eight year old I followed Watergate pretty closely. It was easy: I was an only child and it was all my folks were talking about. To me, it was vindication for all the hippies and freaks and war protestors who always said these guys were corrupt pigs. Nixon, who looked and sounded the part, turned out to be every vile, disgusting, evil thing the left had claimed him to be. He was worse then the parodies of himself.

But to me, growing up when I did, the best take on Watergate had to be the movie “Dick.” It was not the hilarious parody of Kissinger, nor the giggling girls who brought down the government calling themselves “deep throat,” nor even Dan Hedeya’s spot on perfect Dick Nixon (it sounds weird to say it, but he was head and shoulders better then Anthony Hopkins). No, what really made the movie for me Harry Shearer’s amazing G. Gordon Liddy in painted on Groucho Marx moustache. What a great choice! Liddy as Groucho: a maniacal clown with a gun (which is what he really was).

It turns out a giggling blonde teeny-bopper was *not* deep throat (though one could certainly imagine it to be true in Artie Mitchell’s world). Deep Throat turned out to be some guy named Felt, former deputy director of the F.B.I. (if there was ever a more boring name, please tell me. It’s what you put on the tops of pool tables, or use for kindergarten craft projects). Not only that, but it turns out Deep Throat was somebody who had an established relationship with Woodward long before the break in, somebody Woodward knew before he even became a reporter. A friend, even, whom woodward had gone to for advice.

Of course the conservative smear machine is out in full force on this one, and for a thirty year old story it’s getting a lot of ink. It is the big scandal, after all. The main thing the Rove spin crowd is doing is attacking Felt’s motives, claiming that he was leaking information because he was upset at being passed over for the directors job. The big rallying cry from the right is “he is not a hero”—as if his motivation for doing what turned out to be the right thing really mattered. What they really want to do is distract people, especially those who don’t remember it, from the knowledge that it *was* the right thing, that Nixon, despite his protestations, really was a crook. We had a sinister cabal running the country and they needed to be brought down. We had a president who spied on his critics, intimidated his opponents, and burgled the office of the other party. We were in what was rapidly becoming a junta-led police state, the type of banana republic government we were propping up in Central and South America at the time. Nixon made it that if he could figure out how to get away with disappearing his political enemies he would have done so (watch out Paul Newman). Nothing surprises me anymore, but the nerve of the right to go out and assassinate the character of the man who helped to save this nation from evil…well, it takes a lot of gall.

Of course Felt is a hero! He saved this country! At great personal risk he did the right thing and protected the people. That’s what heroes do! He took an oath to defend the constitution from all foes foreign and domestic (interestingly, I had to take the same oath when I started teaching at CUNY), and, unlike nearly everyone else in the upper reaches of the executive branch, he upheld that oath. This is the stuff of which heroes are made.

I’ll tell you one thing. He would certainly have been a hero to Gerry. Gerry died in October after a long fight with diabetes. He had recently had his foot amputated and he died of heart failure (or a heart attack—whatever). I will miss him forever. Of all the men I ever knew he was in the top one or two percent of people I admired. He never lived to know who Deep Throat was, but he whole heartedly believed that Deep Throat had saved America. I hope he is up in Heaven giggling like a school girl.