Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Well, the muck-rakers at Channel 7 News in San Francisco have done it. A a result of their sensationalist non-story on the subject, the Solano County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ban open field coursing, and a statewide ban seems a foregone conclusion at this point. PETA Nazis. I hate PETA Nazis.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The President Has No Coattails

For a short time—let’s say September 11, 2001 January 19, 2005, it most decidedly was not the economy. Perhaps we could extend that to August 29th, 2005, but certainly no later. From the terrorist attacks through the 2004 elections, terror and war were the issues driving people to the polls, and President Bush was seen as a strong and decisive leader who could protect America.

Have you seen his numbers lately? They are dismal. In today’s CNN poll, only 32% of Americans said they approved of the job President Bush is doing. Even he can’t ignore numbers like that. But more telling are two other numbers that come out of the polls: Americans would favor a Democratic candidate for congress over a Republican, 50% to 40%, and a whopping 69% of Americans say they have been harmed by recent price increases.

In just a few days gasoline has jumped .25 cents a gallon. While helping me out in my personal quest to replace fossil fuels with bio-mass entirely (go Brazil!!), it is also really hurting the Grand Old Party. I’m tired of saying “this is what you get for putting oil executives in charge of the Whitehouse,” or comparing it to the old adage about foxes guarding hens or wolves sheep. But that, combined with the stunning rise in housing costs, and the drop in real wages, spells doom.

Looking back on it, I think the costliest blunder the president made recently—certainly since Katrina, was what he did when he went to India. I’m not talking about gutting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty. American’s couldn’t care less about global politics. They hardly ever read the papers (like our president). But when he stood in a factory in Bangladore or wherever it was and said with a straight face “Outsourcing is good for America,” he committed mass suicide for the republican party, like Jim Jones leading them toward the Coolaide.

That “wooshing” sound you just heard was the American Dream being flushed down the toilet.

Even his rather principled and unusually moderate stance on immigration reform is backfiring on him, because no matter how much it may make good economic and business sense to have a fairly open immigration policy, Lou Dobbs will always be able to whip nervous Americans up into a xenophobic frenzy over the little brown people crossing the border to steal their jobs and hubcaps.

Six years ago, when Bush II got elected, a big deal was made out of the fact that while there had been lawyers and professors and soldiers in the Whitehouse, he would be the first MBA. We were going to have the corporate presidency. And look where it’s gotten us. On the one hand the corporations have reaped all the benefits of having a business friendly president, while on the other there is obviously a reason why Bush’s oil business failed. We are not talking a Jack Welsh or Warren Buffet level of management skill.

The saying during the Clinton administration was “it’s the economy stupid,” and, except for 2004, it was and it is. I said to JP back in 1996, only half facetiously, “it’s all about the money. The best president in the world could not get reelected if gas prices and unemployment are high, while if everybody’s got a job and a great big car, a guy could be selling little girls into slavery off the Whitehouse lawn and they’d still give him a second term.”

Well, Bush got his second term, but the elephants control congress and the courts to.

And judges have tenure.

And the president has no coattails.

Baa Baa Billboard

I can’t stop laughing.

In today’s New York Times it was reported that a company in the Netherlands, Easy Green Promotions, has started a business selling advertising space on sheep. They create a sheep blanket, or shirt, and arrange for sheep in pastures alongside Dutch highways to wear them. So far the only company to take them up has been, a Dutch reservations company, which pays 1 Euro per day per sheep. They also pay a little bit more, since the town of Skartserlan is fining them 1,000 Euros a day, claming that sheep blankets violate the town’s ban on roadside advertising. is fighting the ban but is paying it and is likely happy to do so: sales are up 15% since the campaign started.

Now, for the most part, I’m with the town on this one. When I’m driving through the bucolic Dutch countryside, or the bucolic Pennsylvania countryside, as I was on Saturday, I want to look at rolling hills and livestock uncluttered by adds and uncorrupted by commercialization. However, when I was in Prague back in ’99 for the FIRT conference on postmodern scenography, I caused a minor argument by suggesting that there is no such thing as non-commercial space anymore. The Europeans, especially the Eastern Europeans—were mortified by this idea. I don’t know why: it was a conference on postmodernism. Hadn’t any of them read Frederick Jameson? Anyway, this is the best example I’ve seen of postmodernism in advertising, of the fact that there is no such thing as non-commercial space anymore—since I read Nobrow. I mean, sheep, for crying out loud! It’s hilarious, and it’s certainly not as odious as the Pepsi executive who wanted to shoot a satellite into space that would display the Pepsi logo visible from Earth (talk about there being no non-commercial space!!).

As the backlash builds against postmodernism, more places like Skartserlan will undoubtedly continue to restrict advertising in one way or another. And they’ll succeed. Advertising executives are largely considered to be the third scummiest executives in the world, right after oil and tobacco executive (neither of who are as hated as lawyers and politicians, to be sure). In the meantime I just have to laugh. I think the idea is brilliant. Easy Green wants to expand beyond the Netherlands and add horses and cows to their stable, as it were (and can you imagine what Gary Larsen could do with that?).

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Cat in a Tree

Ok, I’m pissed. I wanted to watch Boston Legal last night, which I love but don’t get to watch very often, and Channel 7 here in New York had pre-empted all it’s programming for several hours to cover the Roosevelt Island Tram being stuck. THIS IS NOT NEWS!!!! A stuck tram is not news! If the tram falls and everybody aboard drowns in the East River, then it’s news! Until then it’s a cat stuck in a tree!

Or a cat stuck in a wall. It is in the nature of news organizations to manufacture news, to make a tragedy out of an everyday occurrence. The cat stuck in the wall in the Village last week was a good example. The stuck tram was a better one. I mean, we all saw Nighthawks. We know how the Roosevelt Island Tram works (interestingly, the rescue system they use in Nighthawks apparently does exist, but this one time when the tram was stuck they didn’t actually use it. Apparently the passengers didn’t like it. I don’t get people some times). Everything in America is a melodrama. The heroic police and firemen are going to rescue the poor trapped passengers or the poor trapped cat, unless they don’t, when it becomes a tragedy, and then they sell more papers. Except that it isn’t really a tragedy, it’s a tragic melodrama, which is a different animal.

If there is one thing I’ve come to understand studying media, it is that the melodramatic paradigm completely dominates American news. We don’t want information, we want entertainment, suspense, and a feeling that good triumphs over evil and that somebody out there will rescue us from the terrorists or the stuck tram (or both, and we’re back to Nighthawks). We want tabloids! And it’s all crap. This administration shovels this crap at us and we are happy to wallow in it because it doesn’t force us to think about anything. All we have to do is (a) be afraid and (b) believe that the President will protect us. It’s in everything he says in every news conference. “My number one job is to protect the American People.” And with a ready made permanent boogie man in the form of international terrorism (a better boogie man than communism, really), the government will have an excuse to lock people up without trial, suspend civil rights, and bully their critics right through the end of GW’s administration and probably through his brother’s first term as well.

What I wouldn't give for Howard Beale right now.

And that’s why this cat in a tree syndrome, and the fact that Channel 7 pre-empted Boston Legal last night, pisses me off so much! As long as we keep accepting this crap as news we will have the society, and the government, we deserve. Plus, I like Denney Crane. Sue me.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Guns and stuff

So the New York Times had a big write up on Smith and Wesson in today's business section, chronicling the gunamkers near oblivion and recent minor rebound. Apparently, in addition to competition from Glock and Beretta for service pieces, the assault weapons ban, and the lawsuits against the company by municipalites, Smith and Wesson until recently didn't have any lobbyists in Washington. None. Could it be that this once great company is just too stupid to survive? One thing the times dnaced around but didn't really mentioned: nobody (well, nobody but me) wants a wheel gun anymore, and wheel guns are what S&W has always been famous for. You think S&W you think the .38 special, the snub-nosed Chief, and Dirty Harry's .44 magnum revolver (I've fired those a few times. Ouch!). In New York City only detectives who were issued them years ago and some transit cops (I don't know why) still carry .38s.

Now S&W is at the forefront of a "buy American" campaign that it hopes will win it more defense contracts, maybe even the new pistol contract, which would be a $600M godsend. Here's hoping.

In the course of the article I read that Winchester had shut down. I hadn't heard a word. Sure enough, Winchester closed it's doors less then two weeks ago, on March 30th. What a dark day for America! The lever action carbine was at least as important as Colt's Peacemaker or Browning's auto rifle in American history.

but who really cares? Guns are passe. Most of my students think of them as some almost mythical evil: except, I was reminded recently, my students from the projects, who love handguns like the love cars, and one student who gave a speech last week on her hero, John Moses Browning. Hardly anybody hunts anymore (including me--I've been exactly once when I was about thirteen). People want Glock and Berettas, or maybe pump action shotguns. Real beautiful old New England manufactured firearms are long gone for the most part. Besides Smith and Wesson, Colt is still there pumping out M16s. Browning is still out in Utah. They don't count.

I once went to Springfield MA, where S&W is located. It looked like a ghost town--the movie set of a decaying rust-belt town that had seen better days. You got the impression that everything in American history was inventeed in or around Springfield. Basketball (the hall of fame is there) volleyball, the automobile, the motorcycle and the repeating rifel. Outside Orange New Jersy and maybe San Jose, it is the most imortant center or innovation in American history. And now it's more or less dead.

And how much of this has been covered in the news? How mny of you--even my Gun people out there--knew Winchester had shut down? Props to the Times for it's piece on S&W.

And speaking of John Moses Browning, why don't we learn as much about him in school as we do about Edison? He was, let's face it, the edison of firearms. He invented the pump action shotgun, the automatic shotgun, the BAR, the Colt 1911, .25 ACP, several water-cooled machineguns and, of course, the afformentioned Winchester lever-action rifle. But who knows that outside of Guns and Ammo readers? I know, it's my own fault, mine and my liberal bretheren, most of whom just can't stand guns.

Oh well. It's not a big issue with me (if it was I'd join the NRA and vote republican). I'm still a true-blue liberal on just about everything. But it is kind of sad that Winchester is gone.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Page One Becomes Page Six

Take note. yesterday, April 8, the New York times became a scandal sheet. Reporting on the page six scandal, in which New York Post contributor John Paul Stern has been accused of attempting to extort more the $100,000 from california bilionaire Ronald Burkle, the Times became a tabloid themselves, in spirit if not in format. The Times splashed a full color eight photo colage above the fold, and on the fold a Post-like headline "Scandal Jolts a Scandal Sheet, and Gossip Swirls."

While the story of Stern is good news and raises a lot of issues about gossip as journalism, the Times is taking a tabloid joy in seeing the trouble its competitor is now in. They have become that which they most despised. And That's an even more interesting story.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Flash from Canada

So, dig it. I got this piece of news from The Daily Show’s “This Week in God.” Nobody else seemed to want to cover it. The Canadian Supreme Court (or whatever they call it up there) ruled recently that a 16 year old Sikh must be allowed to wear his ceremonial dagger to school. The knife is one of the five Ks, or articles of faith, that Sikhs must keep with them at all times (the others are uncut hair, long underwear, an iron bracelet and a comb). How do I know so much about Sikhism? JP knows. Anyway, it has always seemed to me that in a society that guarantees freedom of religion you have to allow people to keep the covenants of their faith. The dagger in high school issue surfaced in California when I lived there. There are a lot of Sikhs living in the central valley. It is a very tricky problem. In the interest of public safety California decided it had to force Sikhs to break faith with their religion. That always pissed me off.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Just a thought

I'm not trying to defend Zacarias Moussaui. I've been following his case fairly closely the past few weeks. I'm not at all surprised that he was ruled eligible for death, and I'm opposed to the death penalty. But my problem is this: the heart of the prosecutions case has been that if Moussaui, after his arrest on imigration charges, had admitted to being part of a plot to fly airplanes into buildings that security would have been upgraded and the 9/11 plot foiled, and that his silence ammounted to a conspiracy. Let's ignore for a moment the huge leaps in logic involve in this stance. I'm more interested in the actual conspiracy charge then whether or not the 9/11 attacks could actually have been prevented in this case. The prosecution is equating Mousaui's silence to conspiracy. But doesn't that go against his fifth ammendment right to avoid self incrimination? As far as I can tell, the prosecution is saying "he should have confessed, and by not confessing he took part in a conspiracy."

That's really confusing to me.

I'm sure there must be precedence for this somewhere. I'm sure there is case law saying silence can equal a conspiracy. And I can see that if you are being silent about what you know other people are doing. But if you are being silent about what you wourself are doing....while under arrest....well, aren't you practicing your right to remain silent? I'm sure this guy had that right. I hear it on Law and Order every week. If he had a right to remain silent then how can the state kill him for remaining silent? I'm just asking.


Idiscovered today that according to the U.S. Census Bureau my zip code, 11218, is the most idverse zipcode in America. Pretty cool, really. I felt so enlightened to have moved in here. the fact that I did so to be close to the horses is inconsequential.