Thursday, September 04, 2003


This little tidbit from p. 24 of Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right perfectly describes the difference between right-wing patriotism and liberal patriotism:

[Right-wingers] don't get it. We love America just as much as they do. But in a different way. You see, they love America the way a four-year-old loves her mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups. To a four-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad, and helping your loved one grow. Love takes attention and work and is the best thing in the world.

That's why we liberals want America to do the right thing. We know America is the hope of the world, and we love it and want it to do well. We also want it to do good.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003


While web-surfing I came across a rather laughable column from a surburban Chicago newspaper written by a man named Michael J. Bowers. It's an attempt to excuse Ann Coulter's advocacy of a terrorist attack against The New York Times by saying in effect, "Oh, it's a bit intemperate, but you lefties are far, far worse at spewing hate speech."

I was especially amused by what he called "one of the most vile comments I have ever heard": Maureen Dowd actually referred to Clarence Thomas as "barking mad."

Yep, this is what Mr. Bowers considers left-wing "hate speech."

Now, I could've done a point by point "fisking," but I really don't have the time. So I just responded to a few of his points:

Mr. Bowers:

A few points regarding your column defending the most definitely barking mad Ann Coulter:

1. Norman Thomas is not Evan Thomas’s father. He is Evan’s grandfather.

2. While the term “barking mad” may in fact be a metaphor that refers to a dog, it’s also a rather commonplace piece of modern British slang. I’m not sure I’d agree with Maureen Dowd about Clarence Thomas—I didn’t read that entire column—but having read the recent dissent in the sodomy law case before the Supreme Court, as well as news stories about recent speeches, I can most definitively declare Justice Antonin Scalia as stark, raving, barking mad.

3. As much as I hate to defend Howell Raines—I hope never again to read one of his pompous, self-righteous, intellectually dishonest editorials excoriating President and Senator Clinton over the phony Whitewater “scandal”—I wouldn’t exactly term “Reagan couldn't tie his shoelaces if his life depended on it” as hate speech. If you’re trying to insinuate that he’s making a slur about President Reagan’s Alzheimer’s, you should be reminded that the quote was from a book published in 1993 while the public announcement of Mr. Reagan’s Alzheimer’s came in 1994.

4. I’m certainly not going to defend Julianne Malveaux’s remarks about Clarence Thomas. But then again, I’d never even heard of Julianne Malveaux till I read your column. It’s not like she’s constantly appearing all over the cable TV bloviate-a-thons like a certain barking mad blonde does.

5. Oh, and I notice you didn’t mention the remarks Ann “she is right more often than she is wrong” Coulter made just in the past month about Gray Davis and Al Gore: “Both were veterans, after a fashion, of Vietnam, which would make a Gore-Davis presidential ticket the only compelling argument yet in favor of friendly fire.” Barking mad indeed!

Monday, September 01, 2003


Just a couple of hours ago, I watched Michael Moore's controversial "Bowling for Columbine" for the first time. Immediately afterward, with the help of Google, I looked up some of the criticisms that have been leveled at it by the right wing, and came to the conclusion that they might have a point or two or three.

First of all, the bank sequence. Moore's central point is correct: You can get a free gun for opening a CD account, and the fact that a waiting period for a background check is required is mentioned twice. However, some viewers may miss those remarks, and the editing may lead them to believe you can just walk in, open an account and leave with a gun, all in just a matter of minutes. Also, some of the critics have claimed that you generally can't pick up a long gun at the bank itself, that you have to go to a sporting goods store that has a deal with the bank. From what I can gather, both from what critics have charged and what Moore's defense is, I'm assuming here that Moore made special arrangements with the bank to pick up the gun at the branch.

Sounds to me like Moore "sexed up" (as they say in the UK) this sequence for dramatic purposes, but no one denies that the bank gives out guns as a premium for opening a CD account.

Second, the Willie Horton ad. There is some text superimposed over the notorious 1988 "revolving door" ad, which was funded by the Bush/Quayle campaign, saying something along the lines that Willie Horton was furloughed out into society where he could kill again. (I probably don't have that exactly correct, but I can't recheck it because I already returned the DVD to the video store.) Now, I saw that ad when it aired, and like many of Moore's critics, I don't recall that text being there. I'm guessing that one of two things happened: either Moore "sexed up" this sequence himself or, more likely, superimposed the other, even more notorious Willie Horton ad – which was not an official Bush/Quayle ad – over the revolving door commercial.

Third, the Charlton Heston sequence. I've seen some general criticism of the editing, but nothing specific enough for me to judge it as dishonest. Yes, there seems to be some time-shortening, but nothing that is really unethical. You've probably seen a lot worse on "60 Minutes."

Finally, lies, damn lies and statistics. I wish Moore had used per-capita gun murder statistics rather than just raw numbers. He still could've made his point very well, since per-capita US gun murders are still much, much higher than Canadian or European rates. But IMHO using raw numbers is dishonest when, say, comparing a 300 million population country, the US, to a 30 million population country, Canada. The per-capita rates are damning enough, Michael, and it's more honest to use them.

Now, let me try to put these comments in perspective. When I started looking at the criticisms of BFC, I was reminded of another documentary I saw about 20 years ago called "Six O'clock and All's Well," which was a student-directed film that examined the inner workings of a local TV newscast, in this case that of New York's ABC-owned WABC-TV. What was mind-boggling at the time for me was how many of the stories covered were staged to a certain degree; in one story, numerous retakes were done until the interviewee finally expressed the appropriate amount of dramatic enthusiasm. And the TV crew displayed an attitude of "This is just standard operating procedure."

My educated guess is that nothing in BFC is any more "staged" than what you might see on your local newscast or network magazine show. Yeah, I'm a bit bothered by it, but at least Moore doesn't pretend to be a journalist. He's a leftist documentarian who uses a camera and microphones in much the same way a commentator or pundit uses a word processor and search engine.

As far as the distortions and misrepresentations, well, they bother me too – but again they're relatively minor faults. You'll find far more and far worse distortions and misrepresentations in, say, five minutes of Rush Limbaugh's show than you'll find in two hours of BFC. And Moore's sins also don't reach the incredible level of dishonesty that the New York Times displayed in its "investigative reporting" of the phony Whitewater "scandal."

All that said, "Bowling for Columbine" is an excellent, thought-provoking documentary. It would've been so easy to blame guns, or video games, or music videos, or lack of prayer in school for irrational acts of violence like the killings at Columbine High School. Moore examines these arguments and, based on good, hard evidence from home and abroad, finds them all lacking. Then he comes up with another possibility: the culture of fear in the US. Constantly bombarded with media messages that instill Fear of "The Other," we Americans come to believe that violence is our only protection against evil, our safety net that keeps the bad guys away from us. Violence solves all. "Shoot first, ask questions later." "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out." Is that not The American Way?

One final point about "balance." I've never been convinced of the need for balance in journalism or in documentaries with a point of view, like BFC. To use the most obvious example, if you're doing a documentary about World War 2 death camps, should you have to present a positive take on the Nazi perspective in order to have balance? Another of my favorite documentaries is Errol Morris's "The Thin Blue Line," about an innocent man who was sentenced to death for murdering a policeman in Texas. Should Morris have "balanced" TTBL by presenting a positive view of the local D.A.'s quest for vengeance against cop-killers? No, a great documentary can be a skillfully argued point of view; it doesn't have to be a balanced debate.

"Bowling for Columbine" very skillfully presents its arguments in a generally fair manner, with some lapses, but it most definitely is not balanced.

And that's okay.

Sunday, August 31, 2003


Just this past week, several people on boards I frequent commented on rather odd remarks MSGOP talk show host Chris Matthews made with regard to Howard Dean's masculine qualities. Dean spoke at a New York City rally on Tuesday August 27th that was broadcast by C-Span, and Matthews later commented something along the line that Dean looked quite good on stage, with the candidate's short-sleeve shirt emphasizing his muscular arms.

Suddenly my gaydar alarm went off.

Now, I haven't been able to find a transcript of these remarks, and I will post it if I find it. But I do have an exact quote of similar remarks "Tweety Pie" Matthews (a nickname he earned as a result of a bad blond hair dye job) made about Shrub earlier this year, after the aircraft carrier photo-op pseudo-event:

"We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple." Then Motormouth Matthews delved even deeper into homoeroticism: "Imagine Joe Lieberman in this costume, or even John Kerry. Nobody looks right in the role Bush has set for the presidency - commander-in-chief, medium height, medium build, looks good in a jet pilot’s costume - or uniform, rather."

Yup, Tweety Pie seems to have a soft spot -- or maybe even a hard spot -- for a manly man.

Now, as an openly gay man -- but one who, like Tweety, was raised Catholic and educated in Philadelphia area Catholic schools -- here's my take on Chris Matthews' admiration of Shrub's "manliness" and Howard Dean's muscular forearms:

Tweety's a self-loathing Catholic boy, a liberal who has sold his soul to the ReTHUGlicans for 30 pieces of GE's gold. Deep down in his heart he knows he's a shill for the evil forces that are destroying American democracy. And like the good Catholic boy he views himself as, he often feels guilty, occasionally going so far as to actually attempt to do something good -- like, say, opposing Shrub's war at first -- to make up for his evil actions. But then he witnesses what happens to uncompromising do-gooders like another Catholic boy, Phil Donahue, whose higher-rated MSGOP show was cancelled because of his antiwar views, and he forces himself back into line so he won't lose his access to GE's gold.

Tweety wants to do good, but he also knows that doing good will cost him his career. So now his entire life consists of dishonestly shilling for an evil ideology he doesn't even really believe in, while at the same time repressing his true do-gooder side.

Now, I don't think Matthews is necessarily gay, but he is perhaps a repressed bisexual, maybe a Kinsey 2 or 3 who is basically hetero but has some strong same-sex feelings. And with all the turmoil he's twisted himself into in order to advance his career, occasionally the homoerotic fascination comes bubbling out of his emotional cauldron. Thus, our eyebrows rise when we hear him praising Shrub's alleged maniliness or the forceful beauty of Howard Dean's muscular forearms.

And of course, if Dean actually manages to get the Democratic nomination, Tweety will do a 180 and trash him as thoroughly as he trashed President Gore.

After all, what's most important in Tweety's life right now is receiving a steady flow of GE's gold.

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