Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Big Time Blogging

Today I enter the world of big-time blogging: inuendo, barely substantiated accusations, conspiracy theories. Normaly I hate conspiracy theories, but this is fun. It is an exciting trip.

It was an accident, really. I was reading an article in the New York Times Online on Jack Abramhof and a business partner, Adam Kidan, being sentenced to six years for their role in a fraud scheme to purchase SunCruz lines, a fleet of un-regulated casino boats that opperates out of South Florida. But I noticed a small item in the text, which mentioned that the previous owner had been murdered in a gangland style hit. Whacked, that is. The Times noted that the murder remains unsolved and that there was no indication that the defendants were involved.

I've got a word for the Times. It's "Google." Googling the name of the dead guy, Gus Boulis, I got a lot of info on him. He was indeed whacked, and everybody assumed it was a gangland hit. But the Times was wrong about two big details. I went searching the blogsphere looking for a few of the whacked out accusations from iberal bloggers of the type you still hear about Hilary Clinton and the Vince Foster murder. I did find a few, but not nearly as many as I would have expected. went into the most detail. Heres some of the stuff I learned:

The murder is not technically unsolved. Three Guys named Fat Tony, Little Tony, and Pudgy (I am really not making this up), have been indicted in Florida for the murder.

Adam Kidan, Abramhof's business partner, paid $30,000 (by check no less) to Fat Tony (or maybe it was Little Tony, not sure about that one) about a week before the hit.

Kidan's Mother was murdered in a gangland style hit in New York. Madonna's ex-boyfriend Chris Paciello was convicted of the murder. He's now in witness protection. Not that it's important, but the Madonna connection makes great selatious blogging.

Gambling Boats in America, located mostly in Florida, are totally unregulated, and no background check is required for their operation. There are supposedly a number of organized crime figures involved in the industry, and money laundering is a big part of the business.

Apparently, money laundering was also a big part of Boulis's sandwich chop business, where he made his fortune.

Strangely, some of Abrahamof's business partners in the Casino industry also have strong ties to the religious right. Ben Waldman, another SunCruz executive, ran Pat Robertson's presidential campaign.

Now it really gets weird: Mohammed Atta and at least three of the 9/11 hijackers took a cruise on one of Abrahamof's casino boats less then a week before the terrorist attacks.

Rob Tiller, a former partner of Wally Hilliard, who owned one of the flight schools where the terrorists trained, and who met Mohamed Atta at Hilliard's flight school, took a meeting with Boulis the week before he died. He says Boulis was worried about being whacked.

According to Mad Cow Productions, Boulis was killed in exactly the same manner as Don Aranow, the speed boat captain and reported drug smugler who had been a close personal frined of George H. W. Bush (the day day he gave his famous War on Drugs speech, Bush went saling with Aranow, a reputed associate of Meyer Lansky and suspected drug smugler. Evidence suggests they were close friends).

What amazes me is how little coverage this stuff gets in the mainstream media. Of course there's a connect the dots thing going on. It's all suspicion and inuendo, but that is the stuff of the blog universe. I could here a lot of this stuff coming from Hunter S. Thompson's paranoid mind. But it's all out there. Nightline did mention a bit of it once, aparently, but it needs a thorough going into somewhere other then the blodsphere.

But until then, let's play six degrees of separation for a second:

Bush senior has a Meyer Lansky number of two. He was friends with Aranow, who was an associate of Lansky's.

Ergo, Bush 43 has a Meyer Lansky number of no more then three.

Jack Abramhov has a Mohamed Atta number of three. He knew the whacked guy, Boulis, who knew Hilliard, who met Mohamed Atta.

That means Bush 43 has a Mohamed Atta Number of no more then four, since he knows Jack Abramhof (of cuurse, his number is likely lower then this throught he Bin Ladden familly, but this connection is even more interesting in some ways).

All of these connections, interestingly enough--Bush 41 to Aranow, Abramhov to Boulis, Hilliard to Atta, took place in Florida, the state governed by Jeb Bush.

I'm not a conspiracy nut, and this is all a bit Michael Moore weak for me. I'm a firm believer in Okham's Razor. But this connect the dots game is fun.

Now I suppose I should read Big Wedding. It's sitting on my shelf just waiting for me. :)

Monday, March 27, 2006

She said what?

Here’s something I never thought I hear come out of the mouth of a member of this administration. On Meet the press this weekend, Secretary of State Rice said, “we have to respect Afghan sovereignty.” I couldn’t believe it. This is the administration that made unilateralism and preemptive strike the cornerstones of its foreign policy. Were we respecting Afghan sovereignty when we invaded them in 2001? The invasion might well have been justified, but we certainly didn’t care about Afghan sovereignty at the time. We certainly didn’t respect the sovereignty of Iraq, which didn’t attack us at all. It’s ridiculous to suggest that we respect anybody’s sovereignty, because we don’t. If we respected Iran’s sovereignty we would have nothing to say about them developing Nuclear technology. We seem to respect Sudanese sovereignty, though I can’t fathom why, unless it’s because they have no oil. I’m still waiting to see how much we actually respect Venezuelan sovereignty. My guess is not much. They’ve got oil. Lots of it.

The topic which brought up Rice’s confusing comment (I’m sure she just hadn’t had enough coffee that morning) was the trial in Afghan of a Christian convert. This morning it was reported that after rumors came out that the man was to be released, over 700 Afghans rallied t demand the man’s execution. And we have to respect Afghani sovereignty, a country we supposedly liberated from a tyrannical fundamentalist regime. In the same interview, Rice tries to make the case that this is a young democracy and that our constitution allowed for slavery until after the Civil War, and universal suffrage did not come for 100 years, and that as recently as fifty years ago there were Jim Crow laws. She’s right about all of that. We had to have a civil war to suppress the conflict between the northern, industrial, federalist states and the southern, agricultural, state’s rights states. This same argument is used to whitewash the insurgency in Iraq. But a few things are worth noting. One is that it took the bloodiest war in our history to suppress the north-south conflict and that we are still fighting it today under guise of liberal vs. conservative. The second is that our constitution had religious freedom written into it when it was ratified. In Afghanistan, Christianity is a capital offence.

Rice says that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear and that Afghanistan needs to abide by it, but they have to do so on a case by case basis. I say bull. The Afghani parliament could simply adopt the UDHR by referendum. That would go a long way to addressing the fears of people who, with justification, fear we may have simply changed the face of a still tyrannical regime.

But we won’t insist on that. We can’t, because we need the Afghanis still, just for a bit longer. Because we are hypocrites. I don’t know why we don’t just own up to the truth about our foreign policy:

We don’t’ care crap about human rights. We don’t recognize anybody’s sovereignty but our own. We act strictly in our own national interests, and those are basically limited to, in order, our national security, oil, banking, and big business. Get in the way of our oil and we’ll find a way to invade you. Murder all the Christians in your dessert country and, since you don’t have any oil, we will look the other way. Murder all the Christians in your mountain country and, if you’re a partner in the War on Terror, you too get a pass. We will urge you not to do so, because it’s bad PR for our war and we may even believe in Human Rights deep down in our souls, but we will respect your sovereignty if you decide to go ahead and cut the apostasists (is that a word?) head off.

Bush likes to compare himself to TR, but TR was more upfront about the big stick. Yes, he did the same thing as bush on a small scale—sending troops into morocco after Berber pirates (terrorists? I think under the standard definition yes) kidnapped an American woman and her children, but he was always upfront about what his driving ideal was. America had to be a global power in order to protect its borders and keep business running smoothly. But this was also the greatest conservationist president, and a trust-buster whose administration filed 44 suits against major corporations. This administration, which is run by two former oil executives and appears consistently to be on the side of big business and in the pocket of oil, which wants to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, claims the mantle of the man who designated 16,000,000 acres of national forest, created Yosemite National Park and declared before congress that “Conservation is a national duty.” Hypocrites.

But I digress. In Foreign Policy, T.R. was not a hypocrite.

And how can we support a regime that says one particular religion is punishable by death?

Monday, March 20, 2006

newsflash! Dr. Phil makes you stupid!

The under 30 crowd has known it all along, but proof has just been offered that watching Dr. Phil makes you stupid. According to Reuters, a recent study at our sister-campus Brooklyn College (Go, CUNY!) has found that watching a lot of talk shows and soap operas on afternoon TV prompted older women to score poorly on mental acuity tests. Talk show fans are at greater risk of mental impairment and dementia. Soap opera fans are seven times more likely to develop an impairment then women viewers who prefer to watch news, while talk show fans are 13 times more likely. Researchers called the risk "alarming." No kidding. Dr. Phil makes you stupid.

Who really cares--other then Kevin Federline--whether Britany Spears is fat or pregnant?

Sarasota Florida has been named the meanest city in America. No surprise there: have you seen some of those old ladies after ten years tanning on the beach? Their skin looks like oak-tan leather and they have a permenant grimace baked into their faces.

So Tom Monaghan of Dominoes Pizza fame is founding a town in Florida to be called Ave Maria which is supposed to be a Catholic haven. The businesses will be restricted from selling pornography. Television will be censored. So will print media. Everyone in the town will attend the same catholic church, and the main employer will be the new Ave Maria catholic university. Civil Libertarians have gone ape-shit. They scream that it is unconstitutional. But is it? At first glance the whole thing certainly seems un-American. Seperation of Church and State is (at least in the America I grew up in) supposed to be absolute. But we all know that's changed a lot in the last twenty years. Jefferson was always clear on what he meant by no religion in government, and the establishment clause means exactly what it says. But Monaghan apparently is going to own all the land himself and lease it to people. While there are laws against discrimination in housing based upon religion, those laws are somewhat bendable in certain situations. Monaghan also has the backing of Governor Jeb Bush, a practicing Catholic. But more then that, while I find this idea a bit disturbing, I find Monaghan repulsive, and I certainly wouldn't live there, this is absolutely *not* un-American. American history is full of this type of religious utopianism; attempts to found "the shining city on a hill" in a small village where only people of like faith live. The second colony, the Puritans of Plymouth Rock, were only the first example of people trying to found their own religious community so they could worship and live as they saw fit, away from what they saw as the sins and persecutions of greater society. The Amish and the Menonites practiced the same sort of "build a wall to keep the world out and God in" living. And, of course, the Mormons founded Utah specifically to get away from it all. So the idea of founding a Catholic only community built around a church and a university is not really that far removed from American main stream thought. If what they end up with is a kind of a Catholic commune, wherein the rules are maintained by some sort of community association and not by the local chartered government, I'm not at all sure what the ACLU can do about it. Are they going to go around and close down every Ashram in Oregon, because in the end this is all we are talking about, a big Catholic Ashram that happens to be financed by a big time Pro-Life billionaire. And lest my brethern at People United for the Seperation of Church and State forget (and believe me, they haven't) there are now five Catholics on the Supreme Court.

Like I said, I wouldn't live there (have you guys read *the Handmaid's Tale*, by the way? Or, for that matter, *A boy and His Dog*?), but it is a very American ideal.

More Message Movies

The Brat tells me her housemates and she watched Srash this weekend and pronounced it "aweful" in the first half hour, an opinion which did not change. Most people don't go to the movies to thing or be preached to, they go to see the good-guys kick the bad-guys butts, which is why George Bush is president, in a round about way.

Lest we hear too much more about Hollywood liberalism and how out of touch the industry is, here's antoher note about Oscar and "message Films." The last great year for message movies was probably 1976. It might be the best year for film since 1939. A lot of good message movies were made that year and two of them, *All The President's Men* and *Network* were nominated for best picture, along with two other serious films, *Taxi Driver* and *Bound for Glory* (i told you it was a good year), but the best picture oscar wen to the ultimate feel-good melodrama, *Rocky*.

As for new message movies: the other night we went to see *V for Vendetta*, and how its messae is going to play interests me, because it clearly, on one level. glorifies terrorism ad stronly suggests that President Bush is leading America toward a fascist police state. The republican blog in a review titled "V for Vendetta, T for Terrorist" is dismissive and flippant in it's disgust at the movie's themes. The CNN review "V for Vendetta, O for OK," (I sense a theme) notes that it's hard not to hear undertones of Osama bin Laden in V's call to arms, bt it also notes that this is hardly a subversive film in a land where subversion is marketed by coporations as a cultural identity. I'm with CNN on this one. I liked the movie more then the CNN critic did, but I think both the lefties and the neo-cons, boh sides calling it "radical" and "subversive," are naive. This is a fun movie that does make a few statements--like it or not--about current world affairs, but it gave up any pretense to subversion the minute it was optioned by Warner Brothers (which is why anarchist Alan Moore, who wrote the graphic novel, has asked to have his name removed).

But Naive or not, I really liked it, and it did $26.1M at the box office.

Friday, March 17, 2006

A Media Frenzy

That is what all major sports events are. ESPN did to sports what FOX Netwok News has done to politics: changed it from a thing that existed for itself to a thing that exists for TV. The sound bite and the highlight are really more or less the same thing--the subject's moment in the sun, national exposure that feeds both the ego and the wallet. The congressman with the best quip and the baseball player with the home-run swing, or the basketball player with the best dunk, are really just he same thing. They have encapsulaed, in an easilly digestible bite, the essence of their endeavor. They have attracted the eye, and the attention of a TV producer, with their skills, and having been deemed good enough to get on the air, they can capture the attention of the paying public, which can lead to either a few more votes or perhaps a new shoe contract. I wonder: how many pro-basketball players would rather get their dunk on ESPN then win a game? How many politicians would rather get their soundbite on FOX or CNN then get their bill passed? Just asking.

It's worth noting because I, for one, think the penchant for highlights over fundamentals is one of the many reasons why we, the USA, were so ignominiously dismissed from the World Baseball Classic last night. We got beat by small ball, by teams with great pitching and great defense and great fundamentals; teams that can bunt and run and steal bases and throw strikes and that were strong up the middle. We had some great power hitters in the middle of our lineup against Mexico last night. A lot of good it did us. One of the announcers said that these games looked like games from the sixties, when teams struggled to scratch out one run and let guys like Marichal and Kofax just do their thing. We don't play like that anymore. That is to wimpish and unmanly. We swing for the fences and launch home runs that travel as far as our juiced players can hit the juiced ball. Korea, the only undefeated team in the tournament, has no erors. Think of that. No errors for the tournament. Of course, when you can pick the ten or twelve best pitchers in your country to play for you, most hitters are going to look foolish, even guys with names like Jeter and Damon and "A-Rod." But there are no excuses. We do not play small ball anymore.

We did not deserve to be in this tournament. At least, we did not deserve to be considered contenders. We had to fend off South Africa to advance to advance to the second round. We lost to Canada, to Korea, to Mexico, and by all rights we should have lost to Japan, save for one of the worst calls in the histoy of televized baseball. Honestly, I'm glad Japan advanced. It was just.

And as for the politicians who are playing to their bases, saying outragesous things to get on camera, posing and postulating and pontificating while destroying both civility and statecraft....well, as long as we keep voting for them they'll keep feeding us this garbage.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

More Print on Demand

The more I learn about Print on Demand the more fun I have. I've read a number of writers' sites that have denigrated PoD as "dreck." They note (accurately) that most PoD business comes from people who are publishing their own novels and non-fiction trade books, things that are usually associaed with vanity presses. The call it "drivel" and "swill" because it hasn't been chosen by a publisher, edited by a professional editor, and marketed by professional marketers. In otherwords because it has bypassed the gate-keeping system, the very thing that keeps most authors from being published. Since this is PoD's raison d'etre, I look on statements like these and laugh. They should be helping PoD's cause. Writers who think PoD is a waste of time ignore the long history of self publishing, that some of the greatest writers in the Western tradition--Joyce, Marx, Twain, ad others, all published on their own. PoD just makes it easy for anyone to do so.

The range of books is great too, from poetry to political screeds to novels to a lot of civil war history, PoD--like blogging--allows people who otherwise would get ignored in the big media machine to have a voice. Indeed, publish "Best of Blog" books is another great use for the technology.

I'm having a blast working at Vox Pop ( and encourage anyone who has a book to drop me an email at

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sac-Town represents!

Wow! As someone who grew up in Sacramento, I got to say "wow" to the news that McClatchy has purchased Knight Ridder newspapers. Home town pride, baby! Elanor McClatchy was the patron saint of theatre in my home town. The bee was on the table every morning. I even had Kevin McClatchy in my cab once. Good folks all around. Hooray. I won't even go on and bitch about consolidation of media for a whole week just to celebrate.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

What is Courage?

What is Courage?

I’ve always said that I’m not a pacifist because I don’t have the courage. In my mind it has always taken more courage to be a pacifist then to be a soldier. Soldiers will march into battle knowing that they might be killed, and that takes courage. But a soldier fights back. If he is successful in his fight he will live and win to fight another day, usually killing his enemy in the process. Fighting gives a soldier some hope of survival, and through combat he resists his death. A pacifist marches forward knowing he may be killed but a pacifist cannot fight back. He must stand there and accept his fate without resisting. This requires a much deeper and more profound type of courage.

I write this because of a man in the news today named Tom Fox. A Quaker and a discharged Marine (there’s no such thing as an “ex-Marine:” once a marine, always a marine), Fox was recently found dead in Iraq. He had been kidnapped last year and held hostage by a group calling itself “The Swords of Righteousness Brigade.” The name is somewhat appropriate, I think—men who claim the mantle of righteousness by their use of the sword, killing a man who demonstrated his righteousness by his quest for peace. Fox was in Iraq as part of a group of Christian peace activists. They had gone there to stand against the soldiers and kidnappers on all sides of the conflict—Sunni, Shiite, Kurd or American, it didn’t matter. He worked as a sort of chaplain for the families of incarcerated Iraqis, praying with them and taking messages to their loved ones in prison. And he was an advocate for peace.

George Bush implies that God told him to go to war. Tom Fox believed that God would never do such a thing, that God prompted him to work for peace. By all accounts he did not seek martyrdom, but he knew that he was doing was dangerous. He was quoted as writing in his blog:

"I am to stand firm against the kidnapper as I am to stand firm against the soldier, Does that mean I walk into a raging battle to confront the soldiers? Does that mean I walk the streets of Baghdad with a sign saying 'American for the Taking'? No to both counts. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am asked to risk my life and if I lose it to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of Satan."

That is real courage. I haven’t got that kind of courage. I resisted being a soldier when I was young, true to my granola munching past, but if I was physically fit I could and would be a soldier now. I would want to avenge people like Tom Fox and 2800 of my fellow New Yorkers. Even though I didn’t support the Iraq war and still don’t, I didn’t protest it because my cousin Danny and several of my friends were there, and I did support the invasion of Afghanistan because they had attacked us. I am not a pacifist. I wish I could be. I think they are right. But I don’t have their courage.

The martyrs to peace, Jesus, Gandhi, Dr. King, they are the greatest of heroes and the bravest of men. Theirs is true righteousness. And to their names should be added Tom Fox and those like him who die in the quest for peace in Iraq. I don’t recall anything in the bible about blessed are the soldiers (though he did heal the servant of the centurion). But I do recall:

“Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mathew 5: 9 & 10).

Monday, March 06, 2006


I told you so.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Message Movies

So, as usual this time of year, we've seen lots of reports about how Oscar voters are out of touch with "mainstream America." I wrote most of what I think about htat last year, but one or two points: I heard one comentator write "this is a death sentance for Hollywood." Well, that's ridiculous. If you can speak of "Hollywood" as speaking with a single voice (a generalization I reject), you'd have to admit that all that really happens is that for two months a year they pretend to care about art and issues, and the rest of the year they care about putting butts in the seat. They all know that March of the Penguins made more money then all the best picture nominees combined.

But this argument assumes that popular block-buster movies and message movies are incompatible. But that's just not true. The biggest movie of the year, Star Wars 3, was according to George Lucas an allegory for the Bush administration and the abuse of executive power. It was definitely a message movie. The last huge blockbuster to win, "Lord of the Rings," was both an anti-war and a pro-environment film. What's this idea that message movies can't be blockbusters? People who say stuff like that know nothing about movies, the movies business, or art in general.

And why do I care?


So the Oscars are tonight. They start in about an hour and 45 minutes. I'm already watching the red carpet shows. Everybody makes Oscar predictions. Here's mine:

Matt Dillion will win best supproting actor and make a joke referencing "In and Out." Like "I was really inspired by Truman Capote. And he's gay."

That's it.

Oh, you already know I think Philip Seymore Hoffman deserves the Oscar, and it looks so far like everybody else agrees with me.

I know I said "Brokeback Mountain" will win, but my students, who don't care a bit about politics, terrorists, gay cowboys or gay journalists, are united that "Crash" is not only the best film from last year but the best film they ever seen period. And it's got momentum. And it would please the conservatives a bit. I think it's got a real shot.

But I'm alone. No Oscar parties this year. Not even a game of strip Oscar. Oh well.

Friday, March 03, 2006

A Sermon on Brokeback Mountaint

So a Christian group, The Center for Reclaiming America for Christ (and isn't that the most offensive thing you've heard today?) wrote a letter to the MPAA signed by 61,000 Christians protesting Brokeback Mountain. They say their mission is “positively affecting the culture and renewing the vision of our Founding Fathers.” Obviously they've never read Jefferson. Or Franklin. No matter. Another story I came accross noted that Michelle Williams' old school, the Solana Beach Santa Fe Christian School, wants nothing to do with her since she stared in a movie they claim "promotes the homosexual lifestyle."

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the two news stories I picked up on was the sources. The first one came from "The Christian Post." The second, from "" In other words, they were from news sources that aren't really news sources, faux news sources that have their own agendas to promote. Of course, if you agree with Hunter Thompson, there's no such thing as objectgive journalism and we all have axes to grind

Spread the Word!

We need authors who want to publish their books. We need companies who want to produce catalogues at a great price! Students who want to print up their papers. Send them all to

Out in foggy San Fran they are trying to ban open field coursing. Write the legislature. Deluge them with letters. These animal rights whackos are getting out of control!!

No fan of Howard Stern myself, I am none the less outraged by Leslie Moonves lawsuit against the King of All Media. For fourteen months Moonves was happy to have Howard Stern on his show, even though he had signed a contract to work with Sirius Satellite Radio once his contract at CBS was up. He made tons of money off of Howard while Howard promoted his move to satellite. Never once did he say “Howard, you can’t do this” or “Howard, you’re under contract to us,” or “Howard, don’t go.” Now that Stern is on Sirius and CBS’s morning programming is tanking, Moonves is suing Stern, claiming that he hurt CBS’s business by promoting his move to Satellite on the air, and that he violated his contract by jumping ship in the first place. The suit is for damages in excess of $600 Million dollars. Moonves knows that Howard moving to Satellite was the coming out for that industry, and that he can destroy satellite radio if he wins this lawsuit. At any time he could have said “Howard, you can’t do this,” but instead he waited, knowing that if he did so e could sue for hundreds of millions of dollars and put both Howard and Sirius out of business. He is lower then whale turds, and those are at the bottom of the ocean. I can just hear him now, after 14 months, “I am shocked, shocked! To find there is gambling going on in this establishment!"