Friday, October 28, 2011

More Adventures of Mitt and Rick

by Gaije Kushner

The social conservatives who currently constitute the Republican base have never loved the prospect of a President Romney. They don't find him trustworthy, they say. His shifting positions on some of their pet issues have them questioning the depth of his commitment. Some even say they wonder if he has any core principles at all, or if he's willing to say anything to get himself elected. Oddly enough, the same group seems untroubled by Rick Perry's recent changes of heart around the very same issues. Maybe it's just my suspicious mind, but I can't help thinking they aren't being entirely forthcoming about the precise nature of their issues with Romney.

It's certainly true Romney's positions on abortion, gay rights, school prayer, health care reform, and taxes, have changed dramatically since his Massachusetts days. Where he once was pro-choice, he now values lives fetal over those full grown and female. Promises to advocate for gay rights have given way to support for the Federal Marriage Amendment. Despite having increased an array of fees and taxes as governor of Massachusetts, he's signed a pledge to neither create nor increase any existing taxes, should he be elected president. The senatorial candidate who supported a federal health insurance mandate, the governor who proposed and signed Massachusetts's universal health coverage law, has become a presidential candidate calling for the repeal of national health care reform, its mandate, promises of something approaching universal coverage, maybe, one day. In 1994, he was an opponent of school prayer. By 2007, he'd somehow become a supporter.

It is indeed a lot of change, all in the more conservative direction one might reasonably expect to appeal to Republican primary voters. Romney's held to his new positions consistently since at least 2007 though, rendering questions about his commitment somewhat suspect. Granted, it's impossible to know what he, or anyone else, believes deep down in his innermost heart of hearts. But why does that matter, in the face of his endlessly avowed conservatism, his clearly stated support for their agenda?

Perry's about faces, on the other hand, are of a much more recent vintage. They began in August, and seem still a work in progress. Shortly after becoming a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Perry was predictably questioned about some of the more extreme ideas he'd voiced in last fall's manifesto, "Fed Up!" These included declaring social security unconstitutional, along with child labor laws, environmental regulation, and the federal income tax. He went on to call for the repeal of the 16th amendment, which establishes that federal income tax, and the 17th, which provides for the direct election of senators.

How did Perry respond to the questions? Did he take the opportunity to further articulate his thoughts? Explain them, carry them to their logical conclusions? No, not exactly. In a matter of days, his communications director was saying, "Fed Up! Is not meant to reflect the governor's current views," his campaign announcing he did not in fact believe the 16th and 17th amendments should be appealed. His critique of social security no longer centered on constitutional concerns. Instead, he doubted its long term financial viability.

The ideas in his book aren't the only ones Perry's repudiated. As recently as July, his support for the 10th amendment's protection of states' rights was a governing principle. He went so far as to say both abortion and gay marriage were issues to be addressed by individual states, as each saw fit. By August, he was supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment, and pledging to use every means available to him as president to deprive American women of control over our very own bodies.

Perry's changing views are, again, much more recent than any of Romney's. If they aren't politically motivated, they are so plentiful, so sudden, as to be inexplicable. Yet, neither conservative advocates nor mainstream media seems much bothered about them, especially compared to their responses to Romney's. It's impossible not to wonder what the difference could be. Might it have anything to do with Perry's endlessly professed evangelical Christianity, Romney's Mormonism?

About 25% of all Americans consistently say they are less likely to support a Mormon presidential candidate, as do 15% of Republicans. When it comes to the white evangelicals amongst them, the number jumps to 30%. In September, a Gallup poll found religious Republicans preferred Perry over Romney by a margin of about 2 to 1. A CBS poll just two weeks ago found 42% of white evangelicals saying most people they know would not vote for a Mormon.

In 2009, in the wake of Romney's failed first go at the Presidency, then RNC chair Michael Steele opined, "it was the base that rejected Mitt because it has issues with Mormonism." If Mormonism promoted political positions or values in opposition to the white evangelical Republican base, this antipathy might not be so disturbing. As it doesn't, it seems nothing but a religious test, based on the belief Mormons are somehow not real Christians. Is there any reason to think they'd feel any different about a Jewish or Muslim candidate? A Buddhist, or maybe a Hindu? I'd love a way to see all this as anything but religious bigotry and hate, but it continues to escape me.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Occupying Eric Cantor

by Gaije Kushner

Until now, the erstwhile occupiers of Wall Street, and wherever else, have been little but an annoyance to me. Almost everything they've said, or done, or Facebooked, has irritated me beyond description. But last Friday, shockingly enough, some of them, the Philadelphia branch, to be precise, did something fabulous. They shut down, shut up, Eric Cantor, which can only ever be a good thing.

Cantor is, of course, the House majority leader, tea party suck up, and D.C.'s foremost douchebag du jour. He is also a power hungry media whore, and a bad, bad, man. Yesterday he was scheduled to give a speech at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school. He'd no doubt anticipated a cozy gathering of one percenters, baring their tiny souls, and sharing tax evasion tips. But that, alas, was not to be.

No tickets had been sold, or reservations taken. Nothing to ensure the friendly audience Cantor had expected. Instead, admission was on a first come, first serve basis, for the first three hundred in line. If that kind of free for all wasn't bad enough, imagine Cantor's dismay upon hearing all three hundred were likely to be protesters associated with Occupy Philadelphia.

Maybe he saw no point in wasting his words of wisdom on people who would never donate to any campaign of his. Maybe he wanted to keep his illuminati plans to help the 1% complete the enslavement of the other 99 a secret from the rabble. Maybe he was scared the mob would teeter over the brink of violence, and burn his castle to the ground. Whatever the reasons, Cantor cancelled his speech, making the world a better place, as long as he stayed silent, and disappointing the 500 protestors who'd gathered to greet him.

Happily enough, the university's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, obtained a copy of the speech Cantor had planned to give. It's hard for me to imagine it wasn't handed to them by some GOP staffer, who just didn't understand it was full of the kinds of things nice people just don't talk about in public.

Surprisingly, Cantor did acknowledge the existence of income and opportunity inequality. Even feigning empathy for a moment:

We know that we all don’t begin life’s race from the same starting point. [...] The fact is many in America are coping with broken families, dealing with hunger and homelessness, confronted daily by violent crime, or burdened by rampant drug use. Recently I was asked, “What does your party say to that 9-year-old, inner city kid scared to death, growing up in a life of poverty? What can you do for that little girl?  That child needs a hand up to help climb the ladder.

He almost sounds human here, doesn't he? Recognizing other people exist, and might even be deserving of a little help sometimes?

As second in command of the House majority, Cantor is one of the few lucky people in a position to actually offer real help. What might he propose? Subsidized after school activities? A private/public partnership to get poor kids into internships and summer jobs they might not otherwise have access to? Reimagining subsidized housing, or community policing? No, of course not. Don't forget, that empathy was only make believe. Instead, he offers something he calls, "The Steve Jobs Plan."

I believe that the most successful among us are positioned to use their talents to help grow our economy and give everyone a hand up the ladder and the dignity of a job. We should encourage them to extend their creativity and generosity to helping build the community infrastructure that provides a hand up and a fair shot to those less fortunate, like that little 9-year-old girl in the inner city.

So, the plan seems to be asking the billionaires amongst us to do nice things for poor people. Which I'm just not seeing turning out terribly well for the poor.

Surprisingly enough, Cantor's non-plan somewhat echoes what some of the occupiers have been saying about shifting the culture's moral compass, rendering greed and the will to power socially unacceptable. I didn't think much of the idea coming from them either. Maybe seeing their thoughts reflected in such an unflattering mirror will bring about an occupational epiphany, a new understanding of the impossibility and irrelevance of shifting a nonexistent moral consensus. Then this might not be a one time thing. They might start to annoy me significantly less, on a daily basis. They might even start thinking about accomplishing something real. That would be delightful.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Remember the Good Times

by Gaije Kushner

Muamar Gadhafi is dead, NPR tells me. Having just had a look at the corpse video, I expect they're right. They usually are. I understand he was a terrible, horrible, dictator. I do. The Libyan people are celebrating in the streets, and rightly so. Prisoners are hoping to be released, their death sentences overturned. I hope they, and all of Gadhafi's surviving victims, find peace and justice. It's certainly long overdue. Despite all that, I find myself wondering if I'm the only one who's going to miss him, just a little? Probably so, yeah.

I realize this probably makes me a bad person, but so many things already do, I can't start being bothered by that now. It's nothing to do with his policies. I find them all appalling; of course I do. It's just that over the years, he has proven such an excellent source of entertaining crazy. I can't imagine who could ever take his place.

Gadhafi's antics first came to my attention a decade or two ago, when I discovered his Amazonian Guard. Beautiful women, all decked out in make-up and heels, fully armed. They looked like they'd been plucked straight off the set of a Robert Palmer video, to surround and protect him, at all times. They travelled with him, took vows of chastity for him, got into scuffles with other security contingents on his behalf, some may have even died for him. He saw them as symbols of modern Libyan women, powerful, glamorous, and virginal.

Then came the nurses, the pretty Ukranian nurses. They lived in luxury apartments, had their own drivers, frequent lavish shopping trips, and called their employer Papa. They also monitored his blood pressure, insisted on frequent exercise, and travelled with him. When he visited less developed nations, they insisted he wear gloves at all times, to protect against exotic diseases they saw lurking on every surface. One nurse in particular, Halyna Kolotnytskya, was reported to have a special connection with her employer, constantly at his side. On her flight back to the Ukraine in February, she drank more than might have been wise, telling her fellow passengers, "Papa is good and Papa is eternal. Quadaafi will be victorious, and in one and a half to two months I will return there." She clearly lacks the gift of prophecy.

In recent years, apparently thinking his work on behalf of Libyan and Ukrainian women was done, Gadhafi turned his attention to the plight of western European women. During a 2007 trip to Paris, accompanied by 30 of his Amazonians, camels, and probably a nurse or two, requested a meeting with 1000 French women. The women were instructed to stand when he entered the room, and not to upset His Excellency.

He began by telling them all he'd done for Libyan women, reforming divorce laws, employing them as bodyguards, and such. But he wasn't there to talk about himself, or his country. Oh, no. He wanted to express his wish to "save European women" from their "tragic conditions" under which they were "sometimes forced to do work they do not want to do." Tragic indeed.

Paris was just his trial run. In 2009, Gadhafi paid his friend Silvio Berlusconi a visit. In Rome, he had a hostess agency, whatever that is exactly, round up 200 women. They had to be at least 5ft. 7, attractive, and couldn't dress too revealingly. The women were bussed in to the Libyan ambassador's residence. There, they were treated to Gadhafi's thoughts, not on their tragic plight this time, but Islam. His efforts to convert them included the assertion Jesus had not been crucified. Instead, "God in heaven took him. They crucified someone who looked like him."

After two hours of such pearls, the women left. Some offended by their host's portrayal of Christianity, all complaining they hadn't been offered any refreshments, and at least one, by the name of Rea Balko, sold. "He convinced me," she said. "I shall be converting to Islam." Her family must be very proud.

Last fall, Gadhafi took things to the next level, bringing 20 of those same Italian women to Libya. For two weeks, they stayed in 5 star hotels and resorts, rode camels, drank warm camel milk, and enjoyed the Colonel's company. Clio Evans, one of the lucky ladies, describes a cozy time, "We sat in a tent and joked and laughed for ages." Can't you just see it? Gadhafi and 20 Italian women, bonding in a real way in that tent? Doing each other's hair, and having pillow fights, no doubt. But was he really fully present for the slumber party? Or was his mind elsewhere, filled perhaps with thoughts of his beloved Condoleeza Rice?

Gadhafi made no secret of his feelings for Condoleeza. In a 2007 interview he declared, "I support my darling black African woman. I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders . . . Leeza, Leeza, Leeza . . . I love her very much. I admire her, and I'm proud of her, because she's a black woman of African origin." When Rice visited Libya the next year, he continued addressing her with his private pet name for her, Leeza, and showered her with $212,000 worth of sparkly gifts. But none of us could have prepared us for the discovery, deep within his lair, of a photo album, filled cover to cover with Condi. It's not quite a stalker style altar, but really, close enough.

I could go on and on. The endlessly changing spelling of his name, the tent he wasn't permitted to pitch in Central Park, inspiring Ronald Reagan to utter the comic book words, "Madman of the middle east."

Who could possibly take his place? Hugo Chavez is too ill. Kim Jong Il doesn't leave the house enough. Vladimir Putin's too busy wrestling bears underwater, and coming up with ever more creative methods of assassination. Maybe a Kardashian will prove equal to the task, or one of Bravo's Real Housewives? I see some potential there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pink Fatigue

by Gendanken

Pink is the color of breast cancer awareness. It’s also the color of rash, that pigment of excess from grating a nerve too long. This year’s rub is the pustular “Pink Snuggie” that’s promised to donate $50,000 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. I’m being asked to believe that the creeps who will sell you a robe you wear backwards at 4 times the price, the same rogues behind “HeadOn” and the ComfortWipe (an overpriced stick used to distance the hand from the atrocious act of wiping one’s bunghole), can simultaneously wish  to help a demographic they’d squeeze dry for a profit. This October, I’m being asked to be the idiot that would actually buy their blankies in honor of Breast-Cancer-Awareness.

Marie Claire has an article this month by a certain Lea Goldman, who asked a charity executive how much money his organization actually donates and what does he mean by saying he donates “company capacity” if not actual “money?” What he actually means is “manpower,” which amounts to handing out flyers, not money. That’s a long string of male pronouns, don’t you think, for a cause so inherently female? That’s because the majority of breast cancer “non-profit” founders not only make 6-figure salaries, but they’re also quite male: the founder of Coalition Against Breast Cancer, sued last June by the NY Attorney General? Andrew James.  His “treasurer?” A  housepainter with a criminal record, and the owner of their telemarketing firm, Garret Morgan. The Arizona-based Breast Cancer Society is the nonpareil of James T. Reynolds II, with the title of “II” dangling on the end of his name like a booger in salute to his father, who owned Cancer Fund of America before being pummeled by the BBB for donating less than a penny for every dollar raised. Remember that—less than a penny; that’s not even currency.

Sometimes founders are actually women who’ve survived The-Cancer-That-Maims, but when they are, like Janelle Hail who founded the National Breast Cancer Foundation, they quickly roost and create a network of rank despotism to churn out huge salaries for sons and husbands as well. All enjoy annual raises and personal loans, nary one of them making under $150,000 yearly. Turns out anyone can file a tax-exempt 501(c) and many, who are well-meaning survivors not educated enough to thrust their good will beyond breast intentions, eventually get swallowed by people like Reynolds who feed on pink glut.

What’s astonishing is discovering what they mean by “research-and-education,” deducted as an expense on their financial reports, required to be made public. Suppose they hire telemarketers charging 50 cents for every dollar they make from donations. If the charity writes something like “Don’t forget to douche!” at the bottom of the bill they send you, why, that’s considered education! No lumpy silicone to grope and no booklets with scary words like “ductal carcinoma” and “health care;” the invoice they send is your path to vaginal enlightenment thanks to the fine print and the narcissistic warmth of knowing you gave to a Good Cause.  Telemarketers being incredibly expensive, with the added costs of pink, pointless, cheap garbage, we can safely imagine how much money actually goes to people with cancer.

More women are affected by breast cancer awareness than any other disease and why? Because of a lesson girls learn every time mothers crowd conversational space to proudly talk about pregnancies in glorious detail: like Gloria Steinem and Madonna, women are obsessed with their ‘parts’ and whatever comes leaking out of their girly poots. Surf the web—feminist literature is beset with cant on Reproductive Rights and Abortion unlike the earlier suffragist who actually cared about traits above the poot: intelligence, character development, money, and voting. That was boring, so they made the movement sexy, catering to that stubborn need to talk about clots and children. Heart disease is the number one killer of women, but breast cancer is voluptuous whereas a brown ribbon for colon cancer is not.

In India, the Pink Chaddis Campaign (“chaddis” means “underwear”) recently had women throwing their panties at the ‘patriarchy’ in response to right-wing conservatism. Sound familiar? Like their sisters, they too think throwing their delicate “parts” at a problem will solve it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Fountain of Youth

by Lee Waites

It does not matter what kind of alcohol you choose. Inside of that bottle is magic, a veritable Fountain of Youth .

From your first sip you start to feel a little younger. As you drink your first beverage you feel youthful, full of energy, like a 16 year old. You can do anything, talk to girls, shoot a great game of pool.

Your second and third drink you are still fine, coasting along in youthful bliss. Everything is wonderful, you spend your money freely as if there is no tomorrow.

By the time you reach your fourth drink you're getting quite young. With the mentality of, let's say a 13 year old, you stumble through your words not knowing quite what to say. You begin to get a little socially awkward not walking smoothly, stumbling slightly, bumping into things, awkward. If only you were self aware enough to know.

A few more drinks, you're a toddler. You don't walk well at all, don't speak well at all, don't have any idea where you're going, what you're doing. You bump into people, trip over things, grope at unknown ladies. Unfortunately it is nowhere near as cute in this situation as it was when you were actually 2 or 3 years old.

The smiles that you once received have been replaced by jeering and sneering. They just don't understand.

If only others could simply realize your state of mind. If only they could appreciate what you have achieved. Reaching the pinnacle of your journey you slobber, drool, spit up and attempt to nurse at the closest source.

The Fountain of Youth. I'll drink to that.

The G-Babes Return Home

by Glenn A. Griggs II

Today my mom informed me that Kobe and Kori would be returning home to their biological family. Three years have passed before I could bat an eye good. The sperm donor of the boys couldn’t be found in a game of hide and seek, which is way too common within the Black community. Their mother was drifting in the streets of Birmingham, searching for that feeling. Rather than see the boys be bounced from home to home and school to school, my mom and dad enrolled into foster care parenting classes and received their certification. They took the boys in.    

Naturally, the boys cried when they were removed from their familiar surroundings into a safer and more stable environment. At the ages of two and four, you couldn’t separate them. They bickered amongst themselves yet came to the conclusion that I was an easy target to get sweet treats. What a beautiful bond! They wouldn’t let “G Momma” out of their sight. And I can still hear my Pops telling the little G Babies to stick together through thick and thin because if they didn’t have each other, what did they have?

Kobe and Kori brought life back to our family and street. They raced their dirt bikes up Nassau Avenue like Nascar. Later a game of Church would break out as one little girl played the preacher, Bible in hand. Kobe and Kori shouted as they imitated the adults they just saw on Sunday. “Hallelujah!” One lil' one screamed, “Amen!”

My parents gave the boys exposure to different cultures and cities, including Orlando, Dallas, and New York. Speaking of New York; I can recall my brother Malcolm having a party and some of his female friends were in attendance. Kobi and Kori couldn’t go to sleep that night. Too much was going on and the pretty girl wouldn’t let their eyes rest. They entertain the ladies as only lil' boys could, by showing off toys. Kori even changed and got into his favorite Spiderman pajamas. For sure, these PJs will work their magic, he must have thought, to give him the super powers to charm his date. The four year-old said with great confidence to the 21 year-old female, “How bout we go to New York, eat at PF Chang and see the Statue of Liberty.” Who could say no to that? Playboy Hugh Hefner better watch out for this young one!

I would like to commend my parents for stepping up to the plate and giving these boys a solid foundation, guidance, and love, and also for expressing the importance of character. They easily could’ve said nope we don’t have the time; there are not enough hours in the day. Besides, our work is done; we have raised four kids and all have graduated college. But that would be selfish, and G Daddy always taught Kobi and Kori to share. My Pops would call giving me reports on Kobi’s reading ability. The excitement in his voice was one of a proud father.

We didn’t expect the G Babies to stay with us forever, but at times it seemed as if they would. Their chitter chatter will be greatly missed. Almost 7,000 kids in Alabama are in foster care. Give a kid a chance; it might change your life.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Good Deeds Punished: The Sequel

by Jim Reed

In my previous column, City employees L.G. and G.L. were busily coming up with suggestions to present to their bosses—ideas on how to improve revenue. This is a transcript of their second meeting. – JR

L.G. and G.L. are meeting in the musty conference room for a follow-up on their “Make More Money for Birmingham” project. G.L. is still on the payroll, because L.G. has not yet found a way to isolate this employee, who just a week ago was asking too many questions.

L.G. slurps some coffee and ponders the scrawls on the legal pad next to the cup. “Well, what’s the progress on pleasing the Big Bosses?” L.G. inquires, without looking G.L. in the eye.

“Good news!” says G.L. “Revenue is up because of the penalties we’re enforcing on shoppers, tourists, visitors, loft dwellers, merchants, professionals and the like.”

L.G. wrinkles a brow. “What penalties does that cover?”

G.L. consults note cards. “There’s the fine we imposed on people who park on the street and stay more than two hours.”

“You mean the SHOPPING PENALTY?” L.G. is a very specific person.

“Yeah. We chased away a lot of rule-breakers this month,” chuckles G.L. “Like parkers who didn’t know you can’t feed a meter all day and stay in the same spot. We don’t post the rules, so we get to give out more tickets that way. They don’t know they’re breaking any rules, so we rake in even more dough. They’ll never come back downtown again!”

L.G. likes the sound of this. “What else are we doing to the rule-breakers?”

“You know those Loading Zones, where everybody thinks that you can stop for ten minutes and load or unload a car?” G.L. becomes more animated. “We made sure we don’t post any rules, so lots of people are getting big fines for parking there. They don’t know it’s wrong so they are sure to get tickets!”

L.G. doesn’t like G.L., but it looks as if some progress has been made. “What else can we do to increase revenue without spending any money on public relations or promotion?” L.G. asks.

G. L. is stumped. This is as far as the thinking has gone so far.

L.G. is patronizing. “Have you thought about beefing up the patrols? You know, for 40 years, meter maids have stopped giving tickets for on-street parking after 4:30pm. Why don’t we change their hours and have them give tickets up till 6pm, at least?”

G.L. likes this. “Yeah—and why not give tickets all night and on weekends?”

L.G. doesn’t want to work more than the four-day week on the books, so this doesn’t seem like a good idea right now. “Let’s think about that one for a while.”

G.L. is disappointed but wants to get in good with L.G., so he makes one more effort. “Why don’t we increase the $15 parking fine—uh, shopping penalty—to $50 and really teach those overtime shoppers a lesson?”

L.G. likes the punitive feel of this suggestion but needs to think about whether the Big Bosses would consider this to be a bit much right now, politically speaking.

G.L. is trying to be helpful, so he makes one more stab. “By the way, I did some research on what other cities are doing about on-street parking.” L.G. awakens, hoping there’s some more good news. “There are no parking meters in just about every downtown area I can find. There is slanted parking in lots of places, which means people can park quickly and efficiently. There are some places where police officers actually feed the meters of overtime out-of-towners and leave a note welcoming them to the town and hoping they’ll come back to shop.” G.L. has a long list. “And in these towns, Loading Zones are really Loading Zones, and no-one gets a ticket.”

L.G. says, “Yes, but if we went to those systems, we’d lose penalty revenue.”

G.L. says, “But my research shows that a lot of these places are booming with new retail, new loft dwellers, new professionals, more tourists and the like, thus bringing in more tax revenue.”

L.G. has never thought about tax revenue being a greater boon than penalty revenue. Some pondering must be done, and in the meantime, G.L. must be calmed down and encouraged to share these radical ideas with no-one. “Well, I don’t know whether the Big Bosses want more tax revenue. They seem to be happy with doing little and penalizing more,” L.G. says.

“Have you run this by them?” asks G.L.

L.G. Frowns and looks down. What an idiot! he thinks. I’m not going to be the one to run this by the big bosses. They’ll probably think I’m crazy, trying to shake things up by doing more public relations and less penalizing. L.G. finally gains some composure. “Well, let’s keep this under our hats for now. As long as we don’t change what we’re doing, we stay out of trouble. We’ll just keep on handing out tickets, and wait for an opportunity to bring up these new ideas—at the right time.”

G.L. is discouraged, because of the long list of things not brought up. maybe at the next meeting, he thinks.

To be continued.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tweeting Wolf

by Gendanken

Here's a little story, written while tropical storm Lee promised to rejuvenate the drying carcasses of local television careers with the promise of another April 27—that “unprecedented development” that keeps developing unprecedentedly. It ends with how the meanest hick can grow up to wear bowties on television and how people named “Cleetus” employ him. It begins with Iowa peasants gaping at their televisions.

Midwesterners in the late '60s were enraptured by a recent technological wonder known as the Weller Method. You had to warm the television up to channel 13, darken the screen with the knob, then turn to channel 2 for a dazzling feat of human ingenuity: the screen would suddenly glow white, and there, in the mouth of an electromagnetic god in Cletus’ own kitchen where granny skinned marsupials on Sundays, a man could predict tornadoes by assuming one was within 20 miles of yonder. It was believed that channel 2, at 55 megacycles, was sensitive enough to detect lightning in tornadoes; this obviously made it Truth and was therefore superior to granny’s superstitious wallop of feeling “shooting corns, coming storms” in her bloated varices.

Weller’s method had circuitry. You could be modern using words like “frequency” and “megacycles” when referring to your share of That Scientific Method because your little piece of Industrial Progress had an antenna, F connectors, and aerial plugs with electrons zooming through a cathode tube.

Never mind that tornadoes don’t always yield lightning or that some televisions actually had filters weeding out signals. Never mind that granny could easily thwart the growing hysteria with a knuckle—no, the entire Cletus household had to run like chickens because the television said so.

This is why half a century later, with the Facebooks and the Twitters and all the little Birmingham articles praising the “most advanced communications web” in the world, you still found yourself caught in a storm because you thought it was “only raining” until that piece of insulation splattered on your windshield.

This is what happened to a lot of us on April 27, 2011.

We’re like Cletus drunk on Technology and the Cult of Personality— a dangerous hybrid ripe for doing stupid things because we believe people on television are actual people, and now that loveable but stupid weatherman has cried wolf on storms so long that a tornado has snuck up on your lawn.

Why? Because we love that fuzzy-wuzzy Mickey Ferguson, he who makes weather cute and user-friendly with his bowtie. We loved watching James Spann shrieking out tornado warnings—never mind that millions had no power. We loved the science of it all, with him on his MacBook juggling video from Skywatchers while, like a good housewife, simultaneously tending a million Tweets. But when Skycam zoomed in on the giant funnel eating Tuscaloosa, the light caught on spittle foaming on Spann’s lip. Cletus could never appreciate what this man actually said at that moment when the blackened wind loomed darkest on the screen: that this was a “once-in-a-career” phenomenon.

It was a moment plucked from Dickens, glossed with a mucus of subterfuge and clammy hands wringing in anticipation. While homes were being destroyed, this weatherman was frothing over its significance to his career. He’s like the yenta delighting in the transport of a little piece of gossip.

Christopher Lasch, an American historian, wrote of the “public men” that our society markets like cereal and deodorant: “Public men fret about their ability to rise to crisis, to project an image of decisiveness, to give a convincing performance of executive power . . . Public relations and propaganda have exalted the image and the pseudoevent”- Changing Modes and Making It

The token symbols for that pseudoevent are Crayola-coded “terror alerts” and sleeves rolled up to the elbows, like all the weatherboys wear after pulling 5 hours on a cut-in, and people like that need people like Cletus to keep them in sleeves.

If Cletus were alive today you’d find his little cowlick in the crowd of thousands stalking Ferguson on Twitter.

So keep in mind that these ‘scientists’ are performers, under-educated peons who in Spanish broadcasts actually report the weather in stilettos bracing a swollen d├ęcolletage of eye candy (in Russia it’s an actual striptease), actors pantomiming the ancient noise of commerce, malcontents unworthy of the hosannas scribbled out for them in local papers.

Man prides himself in not being the earth’s cuckold, delighting in his secular ability for words like ‘networking’, ‘megabyte’, and ‘tweet’; he will mutate the last quark in the universe if it meant putting that much distance between himself and a savage divining gods in excrement and that much moral height above granny’s corns, yet he’s still the peddler he’s always been selling beads in Rome.

Is it any wonder, then, that another one of American’s sweethearts, Mr. Lewis Black, states the definition of ‘meteorologist” in the English language means “liar”?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Tightening the Beltway

“Highway projects generally contribute to economic development but do not automatically generate or guarantee such growth.” This statement is taken directly from the economic impact study commissioned by the pro-Northern Beltline Coalition for Regional Transportation (CRT). It is an ironic place to find an affirmation for our fight against this $4.7 billion highway project.

At a time when many cities are spending money to retrofit inefficient, sprawling settlement patterns, the Northern Beltline will create more of the same, all in the name of supposed “economic development.” Worse yet, neither the Alabama Department of Transportation nor the CRT has performed necessary studies to ensure that this massive investment is a good one. They have never examined alternatives that could potentially deliver greater growth and more jobs, with fewer negatives and for less cost. Why?

Perhaps it is because we live in a 1950s time warp where highway projects are still considered wise investments and where what is good for big business is good for us all. Prominent and influential members of the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) who stand to directly benefit—large landowners, utilities, developers, builders and others—have pushed for the Beltline for years. They even admit that it is their number one legislative priority.

Atlanta tabled a similar economic development project called the Northern Arc. Detractors argued that the project would promote unsustainable development and congestion, further perpetuating the urban sprawl and traffic that are Atlanta’s hallmark. They pushed instead for more compact, mixed use and transit-oriented development as well as for the adoption of “smart growth” strategies. And who were these quixotic environmentalists? A coalition of Atlanta-based corporate, utility and real estate interests.

Meanwhile, here in Birmingham, our corporate elites pursue a more archaic course. Stung by the effectiveness of initial grassroots opposition, they ponied up money to start the CRT, whose only job is to shill for the Beltline. And they commissioned a very limited economic impact study which focused narrowly on questions that would support their pro-Beltline bias instead of asking fair questions about the project’s long term pros and cons.

We too, want jobs and a prosperous, thriving Birmingham. But we also believe in good stewardship, not just of the environment but also of possible investments in the region. The Beltline is bad on both counts.

Eva Dillard
Staff Attorney
Black Warrior Riverkeeper

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Two Major Losses

by M. David Hornbuckle

Yesterday, we lost two major figures of recent American history, Steve Jobs and Fred Shuttlesworth.

The news spread quickly, in Birmingham at least, about Shuttlesworth. For several hours, my Facebook feed was chock full of remembrances and eulogies. They were discussing it on NPR all afternoon too.

Shuttlesworth was a true American hero. Kyle Whitmire said on the radio, and I agree with him, that from a global perspective, the Civil Rights movement is probably the most important thing to come out of the United States ever. It happened in the United States, largely, because of events in Birmingham. It happened in Birmingham because of Fred Shuttlesworth.

Sometime in the evening, Steve Jobs passed. The news eclipsed the news about Shuttlesworth, naturally. In recent years, Jobs has certainly been in the news a lot more. Most people have heard of Steve Jobs even if they haven't heard of Fred Shuttlesworth. There's no denying that Jobs was probably the Thomas Edison of our time. His impact on the technology industry has been no less than revolutionary. He changed the way we live.

Still, there is something about the coincidence of these two losses happening so close together that bothers me greatly. I don't want to try to equate the two. I never met Fred Shuttlesworth, and I'm not what you'd call an "Apple fanboy." So neither of these losses are especially personal to me, but I feel the impact of both deeply. I think the thing is this: I'm a little bit in denial about Steve Jobs until I've had some more time to absorb the first loss. If Steve Jobs was the Thomas Edison of our time, it's not too much of a stretch to say that Reverend Shuttlesworth was something like the Moses.

I suppose I just feel compelled to remind everybody, just not forget that we lost more than one revolutionary this week.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Local Limbaugh Clones

by Stephen Smith

When Rush Limbaugh first became nationally syndicated in 1988, he started a phenomenon that would spearhead an entire industry and revitalize AM radio. Limbaugh’s formula proved to be so successful that few of his imitations dare veer far from his established formula. Right-wing talk radio is successful simply because righteous indignation is fun to listen to. The average person might not have cared much when Walmart began offering a Spanish language option for its credit and debit systems, but listeners to AM radio were treated to passionate tirades predicting the downfall of western civilization. The minutia of some obscure tax bill might be boring but diatribes about class-warfare and creeping socialism make for good radio.

Locally the best stations for right-wing propaganda are Crawford Broadcasting’s 101.1 The Source and Cumulus Media’s 100 WAPI. As no one listens to music on the radio anymore, the behemoth Limbaugh started has moved to the FM frequency. Though most major cities now have progressive radio options too, that is not the case in Birmingham. For years one of the most enjoyable local right-wing radio personalities was Hank Erwin. Before being elected to the State Senate in 2002 Erwin could always be counted on for a laugh when you were stuck in rush hour traffic. Who doesn’t enjoy a lisping representative of an ex-gay ministry bragging about his wonderful relationship with his ex-gay wife? No one has risen to replace Hank in bringing the metro area tragic tales of pornography addicts or warning us about the satanic underpinnings of Karate and Tae Kwon Do.

 Russ and Dee Fine did a good job of feigning outrage until 2006 when they were unceremoniously fired from The Source in the middle of a show without prior warning. Russ insisted it was a plot by the fraternal order of Freemasons and then Governor Bob Riley, who schemed covertly to get the Fines off the air before President Bush visited the area. It couldn’t have possibly had anything to do with the fact that their rhetoric had gotten to a point they were claiming Hispanic people don’t wash their hands after they go to the bathroom. The Birmingham Free Press had a long feud with the Fines after Dee defended an Auburn University frat boy who was photographed at a Halloween party in a Ku Klux Klan costume pretending to hang another boy in blackface. Dee actually said on the air that—you might want to sit down for this—“kids dress up as witches on Halloween. You don't see the witches out protesting.”

 Most of the current on-air personalities at The Source are nationally syndicated Limbaugh clones. The closer you get to home, the more they talk about Jesus. Michael Hart is on weekday mornings from 6 to 10. He is an autodidact who educated himself by reading Atlas Shrugged and the Bible supposedly in order to get a really unique perspective that would make him stand out from other right-wing pundits.

 The Source airs Lee Davis from 11 to 1 weekdays. Lee also loves the Lord and Ayn Rand. He is at his best when he talks sports or regales his listeners with stories about war or history. Forced into the role of a Limbaugh clone by market demands, Lee missed his calling as an audio book narrator or fiction writer. Seriously, when this guy weaves a tale of woe or heroism it can bring a tear to your eye. Even if it’s about how FDR ruined the country with social engineering or Joseph McCarthy was a defender of freedom.

 Over at WAPI Matt Murphy hosts the weekday morning slot. Murphy champions all of the right-wing talking points you would expect from a Limbaugh clone. I had a long back and forth with him through email after he did a show on global warming. He repeated all the misinformation of the denier conspiracy theory and we basically got nowhere. It was Rush Limbaugh that started this particular anti-science movement and it can be assumed Murphy’s research is limited to the websites of other talk radio hosts.

 The best local Limbaugh clone is Richard Dixon on WAPI in the afternoons from 2 to 6. Richard’s bio states, “at the age of four he was abandoned by his parents at a local mall and raised by security guards.” Though it is his job to parrot all of the standard right-wing talking points, Richard is quick-witted and genuinely funny. The only time I ever called into a talk radio show it was the Richard Dixon show. He was going on about how evolution wasn’t true. Shockingly, the only people willing to call in who accepted the reality of evolutionary theory were me and a biologist from UAB. I was followed by a dozen or so other callers who painted me out to be a gullible fool for believing in evolution. With a listening audience that must have snacked on paint chips as kids the Limbaugh clones feel no need to educate but rather choose to misinform, stir the pot of social division, and promote an anti-intellectual agenda that can’t be good for the country.