Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Halloween Scrooge


I have to be totally honest about something. I hate Halloween. Besides the commercial creation of Valentine's Day and the politically correct holiday that is rarely actually celebrated, Kwanzaa, Halloween ranks as the worst holiday of the year.

I never liked it. When I was little, I had to be forced by my family to dress up, despite intense protests. There were plenty of things for me to dress up as, and I was a huge fan of comic book superheroes. From the beginning, I just never saw the point of this holiday other than an excuse for people to dress up as things they're not.

There is relevance to the holiday in Mexico, where Halloween is marked as the "Day of the Dead." It would be very nice if Americans had a holiday where they remembered all those who have passed on, but Halloween as we celebrate is nothing like that. It's an absolutely meaningless day of excess involving candy, pumpkins and costumes. The focus of Halloween being scary has even lost its meaning. What is frightening or chilling about dressing up as Spongebob, a panda or (and I'm not kidding) a plug and socket?

I'm not against holidays. Not by a long shot. Unlike alot of people I've met, I love Christmas. I love everything about it: the music, the gifts, the celebration of the birth of Christ, hanging up stockings, the tree and Santa Claus. Despite being a vegetarian, I always look forward to Thanksgiving. Even though I don't celebrate it very much, I respect Easter as honoring the sacrifice that Christ made.

I'll be sitting this Halloween out, as I do just about every year. I'll be watching a movie off of Netflix, and I will have candy for any kids that knock on the door because I'm not totally cold-hearted. As for dressing up in costume or decorating the house, forget it. That money's getting saved for Christmas decorations.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Review: The 99

The 99 was first created by Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa and is, according to an article in Comic Book Resources, as popular in many parts of the world as the X-Men or Justice League are to stateside fans. After coming into contact with comic book veteran Fabian Nicieza, plans for an American version of the series started and soon evolved into the series that has just been published by Kuwait-based publisher Teshkeel Comics.

While #1 of the series has just recently been published, a free #0 issue, entitled "Origins," is what caught my attention to the series. It started off telling the story of Dana, a privileged girl who is kidnapped by terrorists and manages to escape, while blindfolded and bound, with the aide of the mythical Noor Stones that play a large part in the book. The stone that Dana discovered allowed her to see the good and evil within people's souls, and when a man named Dr. Ramzi recruits her for a superhero team, she is surprised to find that Ramzi's soul is almost completely free of evil.

While "Origins" was impressive, I found #1 to be a bit of a letdown. Readers had been introduced to all of the predominant characters already, and #1 seemed to center squarely around a small child who has the power of the Noor Stones. There was little action, and the art was nowhere near the level of "Origins."

That isn't saying that you shouldn't invest time and money in this series. It is only starting, and has the feel of the Byrne and Claremont runs on X-Men with a dose of modernity that can't be faked. With a writer with a proven track record like Nicieza behind the wheel as well, there's no reason to think this series won't be going places.

Jazzucation at Soul Sides

Soul Sides has a series of posts going called "Who Flipped It Better?" that links classic soul and jazz with the mostly old school hip hop producers that sampled it. There's some great music there, but listening to it makes one feel a little bit melancholy about the state of hip-hop today, especially the mostly unlistenable mainstream gangsta and crunk music that dominates the radio. Don't let that sentiment intimidate you, though, because there are great opportunities for a jazz and hip-hop education.

Let Laura wear the hijab


I'm pretty in deep in studying anthropology right now, and it may be a result of very liberal reading material that I differ with the Weekly Standard and Allahpundit on the issue of Laura Bush donning the hijab on a visit to Saudi Arabia and subsequently rebutting critics, but hear me out.

The struggle against radical Islam is not against the religious practitioners. It is not against the women who follow the custom of donning the hijab, veiling or covering themselves in a burqa. (I have heard it stated many times that this custom has been present for women in the Middle East long before the arrival of Islam, something I will do some investigating into.) It's against the types of guys that pour gasoline on 5 year old boys and set them on fire for no reason. It's against the worst human beings on earth, who are exporting their inhumanity to other countries.

Targeting ancient practices of everyday people seems counterproductive in the face of that kind of terror.

Video: 50 Cent dances to "Stronger"

I have to admit I thought this was pretty funny.



I've been promising it, but my 99 review is coming soon!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saturday Night Funny: Dog Video Dating

I guess even canines need loving.. (Content warning)

RightyBlogs.com

Someone just sent me a link to a nice site that allows easy access to conservative and libertarian blogs across the country. The site is called RightyBlogs.com, and allows you to search through blogs by keywords and most interestingly by individual states, which to find one that is closer to your own backyard.

I'm not sure if I'm on there, but if I'm not I will be soon!

Early Humans Wore Makeup

Evidence showing one of the most constant qualities of humanity, self-consciousness:

Oct. 17, 2007 -- In one of the earliest hints of "modern" living, humans 164,000 years ago put on primitive makeup and hit the seashore for steaming mussels, new archaeological finds show.

Call it a beach party for early man.

But it's a beach party thrown by people who weren't supposed to be advanced enough for this type of behavior. What was found in a cave in South Africa may change how scientists believe Homo sapiens marched into modernity.

Diversity vs. Universalism, and applying it to comic books

I had an economics teacher two years ago who threw some radical ideas into my head. What were these ideas? That human beings were all fundamentally the same and built from the same cloth. This went against what I had been spoonfed throughout public school, where messages of sameness were rejected for "Celebrate Differences," entire seminars on particular cultures and of course the Seattle School District's policy of racial preferences for non-white students.

I'm not a child psychologist, but I have an intuition that if the message of racial differences is not presented to children regularly through teachers, parents or media, they are far less likely to see differences. In my personal viewpoint, this result would be alot better than children who are taught to "appreciate differences."

This message is still being sent to kids. A recent article in Comic Book Resources focuses on a comic book that features a multicultural cast, from the look of it a white boy, a black boy and a disabled Asian girl. The comic book is called The Scrapeyard Detectives and it is produced yearly and given away to libraries and schools. Creator Bill Galvan openly touts it as "promoting ethnic diversity."

I was surprised to see that a white kid was included, as almost all of the multicultural programs in my public school tenure acted as if whites had no culture at all. I can recall in high school monthly "Diversity assemblies" where there were Ethiopian music, Vietnamese dancing and the Black Student Union singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing." When this was combined with a history curriculum that emphasized slavery, genocide of Native Americans, misogyny and environmental destruction, a subtle message was given that having been born a white male, something I never had control of, had to be accompanied with constant apologies for the sins of people I had never met.

In the article at CBR, questions were not asked of Scrapeyard Detectives creator Bill Galvan as to whether or not white guilt was part of his message of diversity. I respect anyone who brings the medium of comic books to children, and to use it to make everyone proud of who they are would be a great accomplishment.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Review: American Gangster



American Gangster Review
By Michael O. Powell

American Gangster
is a modern day gangster classic. Russell Crowe plays detective Richie Roberts, reprising the role of flawed enforcer of the law that he showed himself to be so talented at a decade ago in L.A. Confidential, while the equally adept Denzel Washington deviates from fare like Malcolm X, Remember the Titans and Hurricane to play Frank Lucas, a gangster with few redeeming features.

For those that are used to seeing a heroic Washington, Gangster will be a shocker. The first five minutes show a man being dowsed in gasoline, lit on fire and recieving several bullets from an emotionless Lucas. It's not all violence however, and the cartoony nature of Quentin Tarantino and gangster movies like Scarface is totally absent. This is real, it's ugly and it shows the conflicting emotions of the protagonists. Roberts (Russell Crowe) finds himself facing divorce and the possibility of never seeing his son again while he works to take down Lucas, while Lucas gives his mother a new home and tries to protect his wife while remaining a cold-blooded drug lord.

Crowe's acting was solid, and he fit perfectly into the hardened tough-guy with a heart that matches his own personality. Denzel Washington, on the other hand, got really annoying. Some of his worst habits from other movies, like his continued repeating of "Huh?" when talking to someone, were in excess here and made it hard to not look forward to the scene switching to Crowe.

One of the really interesting things about American Gangster is how many rappers are involved. While gangsta rap has been a permanent subgenre in hip-hop for a long time now, there were some surprise guest stars here. A representative of about every aspect of hip-hop shows up in this movie. Conscious rapper Common plays one of Lucas' brothers, while renowned producer RZA plays a cop helping Roberts bring down Lucas. Southern rapper T.I. ironically plays a nephew of Lucas and the son of Common's character. Both RZA and Common have been interviewed in regards to T.I.'s recent arrest.

Two albums are spawning out of this film, one a soundtrack featuring a mix of new songs by Anthony Hamilton and classics by Bobby Womack and others, the other a new album by rap legend Jay-Z inspired by the film. The lead single, "Blue Magic," is entitled with the term used by the characters in the film to the describe the prized commodity they are fighting over. Once I saw American Gangster, I went to iTunes and pre-ordered Jay-Z's album.

Like any classic film, there are some classic quotes in this film. Going away from it, my favorite was by Russell Crowe, which appealed to the libertarian in me, "I'm not sure they really want to stop it. You stop bringing dope into this country and about 100,000 people are going to be out of a job." Those are the perils of creating a bureaucracy to fight a problem.

With a DVD quality bootleg of American Gangster showing up two weeks before the movie is released, it will be interesting to see whether moviegoers stay home or if the leak, which is uncommon for films, results in creating a buzz around the film and around Jay-Z's next album. Whatever happens, this film is definitely an Oscar contender.

Vintage Video: Quiet Please, Attacking Leeches

It seems like it's been forevere since I've posted a "Vintage Video," and seeing as it happens to be a Friday, the day I usually saw fit to post these, it's somewhat appropriate. Be careful with this one, as you may find every nerve in your body exploding...

The 99

I just finished the first issue of the US edition of the hit Middle Eastern comic book The 99. I read a preview issue that came out last month as well and I'm impressed with both. It's a bit late, as I'm writing this, so a review will have to wait but it will be posted here very soon.

If you're curious about what I'm talking about, the website for the comic book has issues available for sale as well as plenty of information to wet your appetite.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Politics, politics

I'm hoping that I'm not alienating the readership I built up over at Townhall by all the posts I've been doing lately on comic books and music. I'm trying to diversify, but part of it also has to do with the sentiment that Dan Carlin recently espoused in his latest podcast in regards to the political campaign.

We're over half a year into the presidential campaign, and there's going to be a whole other year more of this stuff. It's getting really quite tiring to hear a bunch of professional truth-stretchers talk down to the electorate on a daily basis. I like covering social issues and am quite passionate, but playing the role of pundit is a little bit exhausting.

I don't want to cover politics to cover politics, but I've noticed a lack of comments lately, and I want to be someone that people want to read. Let me know what you want to see and what you like.

The Source talks to Brother Ali

Brother Ali recently was interviewed by the Source magazine (yes, it's still being published) and Ali said some good stuff in regards to crap that calls itself music on the radio these days:

Will the ability to connect with fans on the indie level with the financial backing of major label ever lead Hip-Hop back to that Golden Era radio-wise?


I know that in the '80's they had Glam Rock guys on stage dressed like women with long hair, and then Nirvana came out and then they had Grunge Rock. it was a backlash. People wanted to get back to dirty rock music. I know that nobody is taking what is on the radio seriously, except for some kids. People always want music to mean something to them. Hip-Hop means dollars. You can't change that . but people are more open to hear something different. It can't stay like it is for too much longer. There are songs on The Undisputed Truth where I talk about caring about the legacy of the art - "Pedigree" and "Whatcha Got." It's one of the most important things in society and culture, and how it affects the whole world. And Hip-Hop is a real distinct thing that people for the richest country in the world -- but a the bottom of that totem pole -- created. There is something to be said about that.


Read the whole thing, it's not long.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

KRS-One: Kill A Rapper

Just came across this track and found it pretty interesting when you consider that KRS made this song and then went in front of the cameras and talked about how 50 Cent is his favorite rapper and how he likes to bump "I'll Still Kill" in his car. Maybe that will be the theme song to the "Stop the Violence" campaign?

Hillary Clinton graces Seattle with her presence

Either every single donor at Hillary Clinton's appearance was female, or that was how KIRO made it look. I do have to agree with one of the women who spoke, every sign shows that there will be another President Clinton in 2009.

"True Magic"

Okayplayer has a post on Mos Def's last album, True Magic, which was a little bit unorthodox:

• We bumped into Mos Def's manager the other night and took the opportunity to inquire about the anomaly that was Mos's True Magic and the bizarre manner in which it was released (no fanfare, no hype, clear plastic jewel case with a simple cd inside with a graphic of Mos on the cd). There's been much speculation surrounding this record, especially considering it was his last commitment to Geffen Records. Although released a while back (12/29/06), rumors have lingered that the album could be return in some sort of more "official" manner, possibly with a different tracklisting. Mos's manager explained that they had no further plans for the project. It turns out Mos wanted the album put out the way it was, with no frills attached, all about the music. He wanted a simple release, with literally no media promotion, just some great music on disc with his name on it. It was intended for those who knew, and for those who missed it, well. And now Label Guy has confirmed this from their end. And btw, it is some great music so cop if you haven't!


I have to disagree. While there were some good tracks ("Lifetime" had all the great qualities I like about Mos Def crooning in his unique singing style that can only be compared to Gil Scott-Heron) the album overall wasn't very good and seemed more than half-assed, as if music had taken the backburner to Mos Def's film career.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Review: Fantastic Four - Rise of the Silver Surfer


I can see why alot of average moviegoers wouldn't be very appreciative of this. The FF are corny, goofy and wholesome, qualities that are valued when looking at old films but disregarded as stupid in modern day culture. This was the best superhero movie I've seen since X2, nailing the character of Silver Surfer and the interpersonal banter and familial love of the FF perfectly. Recommended for any comic book fan or fan of a good adventure.

Education through Dennis Prager

I've lived around Jews and seen men wearing yamakas my whole life, yet I never knew what the purpose of them was. In fact, the politically correct atmosphere may have contributed to it never being addressed. After being asked by a listener on Friday, radio talk show host and religious Jew Dennis Prager simply explained that they were meant to remind the wearer that God was above him, a reason that Catholic cardinals also wear them, and that "yamaka" actually means "to fear God."

Common to play Green Lantern in upcoming movie?



From Comic Book Resources:

Chicago-based rapper Common talked to Superhero Hype about going to guns in a comic book movie. "I just like to go out for good roles, anything, that's all it is really," Common said, "whether it's a comic book or true story or whatever it may be. I wanna be a part of great projects, but yeah, I'm familiar with Green Lantern because I collected (them) when I grew up." When we asked how the "Justice League" auditions went, it was obvious that he had been prepped well by his handler, because he said with a smile that he couldn't talk about it right now.


Which of the Green Lanterns he plays isn't made clear in the brief article, but my guess is John Stewart (second from right).

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Small Sins

I'm wrapping up an article on the electro/indie rock band Small Sins. Check out their MySpace, which lists tour dates and has songs from their album.

From the Vault: Photos from Poland of Auschwitz and Majdanek

I have a blog at the conservative site Townhall, which until recently I used as my main writing outlet. After a bit of tinkering around with projects using Blogger, I have finally come up with what you see now.

There were some blog articles that ran on Townhall that I am especially proud of, and I'm going to try to post some of my favorites here for people that haven't read them.

Originally published August 26, 2007, the subject of this one is a little heavy, so some readers may want to skip it.

An aquaintance of mine, Ireina Apoe, recently visited Poland, where she took several photos from inside the buildings of the concentration camps. The following photos are of Auschwitz and Majdanek (click on the images for larger view):











Apoe added some very insightful, and somewhat frightening, facts about the Majdanek extermination camp. According to Apoe, "Majdanek has not been touched since the war. It can be operational in 48 hours. This may mean that the Holocaust could happen again or something similar if a country (such as Iran) were to seize Poland. The leader of Iran was talking exactly like Hitler a matter of weeks ago."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Robert Llewellyn announces Red Dwarf competition

The man who played Kryten comes out of his shell to announce this contest. Now when do we get some new episodes? (It's been eight years!!)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Turning Kids into Sex Offenders"

John Stossel's latest column, which focusses on the imprisonment of two pre-teen students on charges of sexual harassment, is a must read:

At least Chris wasn't sent to jail, as were 13-year-old Cory Mashburn and 12-year-old Ryan Cornelison of McMinnville, Ore. The boys were charged with five counts of felony sex abuse in the first degree because of their conduct toward some 13-year-old girls at their middle school.

Cory's mom, Tracie, got the terrible phone call. "He had been touching some girls, and we needed to get down to the juvenile detention. They were arresting him," she told me.

Police officer Marshall Roache read the boys their Miranda rights. "Then he asked me if I understood them, but I didn't," Cory told me. "I thought you had to say yes. So I said yes."

What had the boys done?

"It was just a game," Cory said. "You'd slap somebody, they'd slap another person, you got slapped, and you slapped somebody else."

Read the whole thing.

PICK: X-Men #204

I must say the cover to X-Men #204 is great! If you're thinking of buying it, I can't guarantee you'll like the content. Comic Book Resources has a preview.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Champion"

Check out this post over at Fader, but make sure that you read what the blogger has to say before you listen to the audio accompanying it. You may very well laugh out when you hear the "ultra recognizable sample."

What to do about coyotes

If you're living in Washington and are experiencing coyotes, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has guidelines for how to live with them.

"Arab Honor's Price: A Woman's Blood"

I'm taking an Anthropology class through Washington State University and was assigned a very good, yet disturbing, article about honor killings in Arab society. I thought I'd share it, but please take note that it was written eight years ago if you notice any inaccuracies:

It took six years for the al-Goul family to hunt down their daughter Basma.

She had run away with a man, afraid for her life after her husband suspected her of infidelity. Her husband divorced her and, in hiding, she married the other man. But back in this overcrowded, largely Palestinian village, where a woman's chastity is everyone's business, the contempt for her family kept spreading.

''We were the most prominent family, with the best reputation,'' said Um Tayseer, the mother. ''Then we were disgraced. Even my brother and his family stopped talking to us. No one would even visit us. They would say only, 'You have to kill.' ''

Um Tayseer went looking for Basma, carrying a gun. In the end, it was Basma's 16-year-old brother, just 10 when she ran away, who pulled the trigger.

''Now we can walk with our heads held high,'' said Amal, her 18-year-old sister.

What is honor? Abeer Allam, a young Egyptian journalist, remembered how it was explained by a high-school biology teacher as he sketched the female reproductive system and pointed out the entrance to the vagina.

''This is where the family honor lies!'' the teacher declared, as Mr. Allam remembers it. More than pride, more than honesty, more than anything a man might do, female chastity is seen in the Arab world as an indelible line, the boundary between respect and shame. An unchaste woman, it is sometimes said, is worse than a murderer, affecting not just one victim, but her family and her tribe.

It is an unforgiving logic, and its product, for centuries and now, has been murder -- the killings of girls and women by their relatives, to cleanse honor that has been soiled.

Across the Arab world, in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, the Palestinian territories and among Israeli Arabs, a new generation of activists has quietly begun to battle these honor killings, an enduring wave of attacks prompted by sexual conduct that is sometimes only imagined.

In Jordan, home to the most candid talk about the issue, the Government under King Abdullah has promised to join in the fight, following the example set by the late King Hussein and Queen Noor, who helped to lift a lid on public discussion of the killings. At a conference in Jordan in early June, delegates from the region were asked to develop ways to respond ''sensitively to the situation in countries of concern.'' But those engaged in the battle say it would be hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the opposition they face.

Across today's Arab world, modernizers may be wrangling with traditionalists, and secularists with Islamists, but a nationalism overlain by Islam remains a powerful political force. Even leaders like the late King Hussein and Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarak, long entrenched, have had to balance pro-Western outlooks against the risk of being seen as the instruments of outsiders.

Activists trying to call attention to honor killings say they face a similar challenge from those who portray their campaign as an assault on Arab ways. ''They accuse me of trying to make the country promiscuous,'' said Asma Khader, a Jordanian lawyer who is a leader in efforts to tighten the laws against honor killing.

Even in places like Resaifah, a largely Palestinian village of noisy streets and dirt alleyways 45 minutes from Jordan's capital, Amman, contempt for honor killing can be heard. ''If you spit, does it come back clean?'' said Sheik Ali al-Auteh, 57, a tribal leader, mocking the idea that honor could be cleansed with blood.

''A guy who kills might think that dishonor goes away,'' said his daughter, Yousra, 17. ''But when he walks past, people will say, 'There goes the guy who killed his daughter.' ''

The CodeBroad Acceptance Of Tribal Justice

Yet the stories told by the al-Goul family and others, including killers and women who were attacked by their families, suggest a broad acceptance of an unwritten code, one that sees the unchaste woman as a threat. As long as they can remember, girls like Amal al-Goul say, their brothers warned them: If you stray, you die.

And when a woman like Basma al-Goul is thought to have crossed the line, her family is ostracized, with her eight sisters deemed unmarriageable by the neighbors, and her five brothers confronted with taunts in the street. It was after other boys questioned his manhood, saying that Basma should be dead, the family said, that Mahmoud al-Goul ran to shoot his sister down.

''Before my sister was killed,'' Amal, the 18-year-old said, ''I had to walk with my eyes to the ground.''

Most often, the killings occur among the poorer and less educated, particularly in Arab tribal societies like Jordan's and the Palestinians, with long traditions of self-administered justice. The killings are rare among the educated and urbane.

But even among those upper classes, it is rare to hear condemnation of the killings. Across Arab society, a bride is expected to be a virgin, and other people's justice is not a subject for polite company.

In dozens of conversations in the Arab world in recent months, lawyers, laborers, clerics, cooks, physicians and politicians said most often that, personally, they could not condone honor killing. But most also said they felt the tug of traditions that could lead a man to kill, and some suggested that they would be inclined to act on them.

''I would do what I have to do,'' said Bassam al-Hadid, a Jordanian with an American doctorate who spent 12 years as a hospital administrator in the United States, when asked whether he would kill a daughter who had sex outside marriage.

Even some victims of the attacks said they deserved their fate. ''He shouldn't have let me live,'' said Roweida, 17, who was shot three times by her father after she confessed to an adulterous affair, and, along with dozens of girls with similar stories, is being held for her own protection in a Jordanian prison. ''A girl who commits a sin deserves to die.''

The SystemBuilt-In Empathy For the Killer

Among all Arab countries, only Jordan publishes what are considered credible crime statistics, so the extent of honor killing is difficult to gauge. Often the killings are hushed up, experts say, and disguised as accidental deaths. And, most often, the killings occur outside the big cities, far from government scrutiny.

Except in Jordan, government officials tend to treat the issue as taboo, at least in response to queries from foreign journalists.

But the statistics show that honor killings regularly claim 25 lives a year in Jordan alone, about one in four homicides in a country of just four million people, according to Jordanian officials.

In Egypt, which last reported crime statistics in 1995, a Government report counted 52 honor killings out of 819 slayings. In Yemen, with a population of 16 million, Mohammed Ba Obaid, who heads the department of Women's Studies in Sanaa University, said his surveys found that more than 400 women were killed for reasons of honor in 1997, the last year for which research is complete.

''The culture does not allow any other choice for males,'' said Dr. Obaid, who attended the recent conference in Jordan and called the figures ''very alarming.''

The killings are also known in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and other Persian Gulf countries, and among Arabs in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The experts say it would be safe to estimate that the number of Arab women killed for reasons of honor amounts to hundreds each year.

But in most countries, activists and human-rights groups say, most killers receive light punishment, when they are prosecuted at all. Arab judges, who are almost always male, are generally allowed great latitude in sentencing, and most tend to see honor as a circumstance akin to self-defense.

''Nobody can really want to kill his wife or daughter or sister,'' said Mohammed Ajjarmeh, chief judge of the High Criminal Court in Jordan. ''But sometimes circumstances force him to do this. Sometimes, it's society that forces him to do this, because the people won't forget. Sometimes, there are two victims -- the murdered and the murderer.''

That sense of empathy is built into judicial procedures.

An explicit exemption in Jordanian law, for example, allows a man who kills a female relative surprised in an act of adultery or fornication to be judged ''not guilty'' of murder. Another loophole sought out by most defendants allows leniency for those who can persuade the court that their sense of lost honor caused them to act in an uncontrollable rage.

A Jordanian found guilty in an honor killing can be sentenced to as little as six months as prison. If the killing is ruled to be premeditated, the minimum penalty is a year. No similar forgiveness is offered to a woman who kills, even if the circumstances are the same.

Those are the laws that Jordan's Government has signaled that it intends to toughen. But, in an indication of the depth of opposition in place around the region, the speaker of the lower house of Parliament, Abul-Hadi al-Majali, and the District Attorney of Amman, Tawfiq al-Quaisi, said in interviews that they opposed the effort.

''There is an internalized belief that the woman is the one responsible for shame, because she could have resisted the seduction,'' said Zahra Sharabiti, a Jordanian lawyer who specializes in defending those accused of honor killings. In Egypt and in Jordan, convicted killers who opened their doors warily to a Western stranger soon spoke with a defiant pride about the justice they administered and received.

''We do not consider this murder,'' said Wafik Abu Abseh, a 22-year-old Jordanian woodcutter, as his mother, brother and sisters nodded in agreement. ''It was like cutting off a finger.''

Last June, Mr. Abu Abseh killed his sister, bashing her over the head with a paving stone when he found her with a man. He spent just four months in prison.

Marzouk Abdel Rahim, a Cairo tile maker, stabbed his 25-year-old daughter to death at her boyfriend's house in 1997, then chopped off her head.

He also said he had no regrets. ''Honor is more precious than my own flesh and blood,'' said Mr. Abdel Rahim, who was released after two months.

In fact, honor is so precious that it is not unusual, experts say, for a victim to be slain on the basis of rumor alone. As often as not, said Dr. Hani Jahshan, the deputy medical examiner of Jordan, his autopsy of a woman slain for reasons of honor will find that her hymen is intact.

In Jordan, premarital sex is a criminal offense, regarded as equal to adultery, while a girl under 18 who engages in consensual sex is deemed to have been raped. A woman cannot leave home without the permission of her family, and an unmarried woman who becomes pregnant is not merely a criminal, but, by law, her child is taken away at birth to be raised in an orphanage.

Dr. Jahshan's duties include examining girls and women taken into custody and accused of involvement in breaking sex laws. His findings are reported to the police and prosecutors, not to the girls' families. But three times already, girls he examined alive have been returned to him dead.

The most recent was a 17-year-old girl arrested as a runaway this spring. Her father had heard that the girl and her 16-year-old sister had been in restaurants with men. Dr. Jahshan found that the girl was a virgin, and she was ordered released by the authorities, who first obtained assurances from her family that she would be safe.

But two weeks later, the girl was back on his table, killed, along with her sister, by her father and two brothers, who could not believe that they were innocent.

''Working here is very difficult,'' Dr. Jahshan said, as he showed forensic photographs of the bruised, burned, battered or punctured bodies of the young women who have come to him as corpses. ''We have to solve this problem.''

Honor killings are not exclusively an Arab phenomenon. They are known in India, Pakistan and Turkey, among other places, particularly among poor, rural Muslims. Many Arabs complain that attention to their society's portion of the problem reflects a Western tendency to see them as backward.

''When a Western man kills his lover or wife, the crime is called a crime of passion,'' said Mohammed Haj Yahya, an Arab-Israeli sociologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem who is active in efforts to combat honor killings. ''But when it happens in Arab societies, it is called a family honor killing, and we are viewed as barbarous.'' Still, the prevailing tendency in the Arab world has been to leave the phenomenon unexplored. In Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and other places where honor killings take place, newspapers rarely mention such killings.

The FervorIslam's Teachings And Chastity

And when an American news magazine wrote earlier this year about the killings in Jordan, its Egyptian counterpart, Rose al-Youssef, issued a loud defense, saying that the notion that such a ''brutal custom'' was still being practiced was a product of foreigners' imaginations.

But what distinguishes honor killings in the Arab world is that they are seen less as crimes of passion than as inherently just. ''Women are largely looked upon as bodies owned and protected by the husband, by the father, by the brother or even other relatives,'' said Salwa Bakr, a novelist who is Egypt's most prominent feminist writer. ''And these crimes are committed under the pretext that these men are defending not only their honor, but society's morality.''

Mr. Abu Abseh, the Jordanian who killed his sister with a paving stone, was doing more. He was administering God's law, he said. ''We are Muslims,'' Mr. Abu Abseh's older brother said, ''and in our religion, she had to be executed.'' That is certainly a misunderstanding of Islam, Islamic scholars say, but it is not an uncommon one.

As a result of a fundamentalist fervor that has touched much of the Arab world in the last two decades, Islamic faith has come to be worn more and more often as a badge of honor. Sometimes, it as a badge less earned than invoked, for purposes that do not always have a basis in the Koran.

''These crimes are occurring because of ignorance of Islam -- by the women who commit these un-Islamic acts, but also by the men who kill them,'' said Abul Menem Abu Zant, a prominent Islamic leader in Jordan.

For women, and for men, Islam does put a premium on chastity, and it prescribes harsh punishments for sexual misconduct -- death for adultery, flogging for fornication. But Islam also teaches that religious authorities, not family members, be the judges, and that any punishment be deferred until a considered judgment is reached.

Islamic teachings caution further against false accusations. Only repeated confessions from the accused or the testimony of four male witnesses are seen as conclusive evidence of sexual misconduct. ''Treat your women well, and be kind to them,'' the Prophet Mohammed is recorded as saying.

But Islam has always coexisted and, in some practices, become intertwined with older Arab traditions. One pre-Islamic Arab custom still prevalent in Mohammed's time was known as al-maoudeh -- the practice, explicitly condemned in the Koran, of burying baby daughters alive so that they would not later cause the family shame.

The era that preceded Islam's arrival in the 7th century is now known to Muslims as Al Jahiliya, or the Age of Ignorance. But its traditions of harsh justice, rendered in verse by the 10th-century poet Al Motanabi (''Your utmost honor will not be cleansed, until blood is spilled,'' he wrote) have survived in Arab folklore and culture.

Even today, Arab Christian as well as Muslim men are often advised on their wedding night, only half in jest, to ''slaughter the cat.'' The phrase is a reference to a tale in which a groom brutally beheads a kitten in the bedchamber before having sex with his virgin bride. If she strays, the man tells her, she will suffer the cat's fate.

Honor killings are not committed by Arab Muslims alone. Arab Christians are a small minority today in places like Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories, but they account for a proportionate share of those killings, experts say.

It is among Arab tribes, whose centuries of intermarriage have created powerful bonds, that traditional notions of honor may be most enduring. Even in modern urban life, in places like Jordan, many people identify most strongly with a tribe, so that the conduct of one reflects on all.

''When a man's daughter does a wrong, he cannot sit amongst men,'' Banjes al-Hadid, a member of Jordan's Parliament and a prominent tribal leader, told a visitor to his home, atop Amman's highest hill. ''He will be ostracized. They will not even give him coffee. Who would like to kill his wife or daughter? But if he does not, in a village or among a tribe, they will look down on him.''

Some people, like Sheik Abu Zant, the Islamic leader, argue that stricter allegiance to Islam is the answer. They note that honor killing, by most accounts, is far less common in Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have imposed strict Islamic law and where premarital sex, sometimes, is indeed punished by lashing, and adultery by death. If Jordan were to follow that example, Sheik Abu Zant said, fathers, brothers and sons would be less inclined to carry out the honor killings that some now justify as taking Islamic law into their own hands.

But a broader consensus holds that a better solution is silence, when it comes to sexual misconduct. ''You have to cover it up,'' said Sheik Hadid. ''If no one knows what happened, everyone will be more secure.''

One option pursued by some young Arab women is surgery. On her wedding night, an Arab bride is expected to bleed. A woman who does not can expect to be hauled to a gynecologist by her husband, who would demand to be told whether she had truly been a virgin.

The SolutionsProposals of Sharia And of Silence

For women who have had premarital sex, a way to avoid discovery is known as hymen restoration. As long as the woman's sexual experience has been limited, gynecologists say, the surgical procedure is simple and inexpensive -- a stitching together of what remains of the hymen, usually a few days before the wedding, so that it will tear again during intercourse.

In Egypt, Jordan, and most other Arab countries, the procedure is illegal, because it is seen as defrauding the husband. But it is also widely practiced. ''What's important is saving the woman's life,'' said a Jordanian gynecologist who asked not to be identified.

But the more traditional Arab way to cover up is through a kind of shotgun marriage that keeps honor intact. Tribal leaders in Jordan, who serve with the blessing of the Government, say they act as intermediaries many dozens of times a year, sometimes at the request of young women, and sometimes by their families, in the hope of legitimizing a union before it becomes fodder for gossip.

If the male partner is reluctant, Sheik Hadid said, he makes a powerful plea: ''Do you want her parents to kill her? Do you want her to die?'' And as cruel as it may sound, Sheik Hadid said, he tries to arrange marriages between the sexual partners even in cases of violent rape. ''It might not be her fault,'' he said, ''but as I see it, the girl has no other choice.''

Until the Egyptian Parliament acted in April, that thinking was built into Egyptian law, with the statute that promised a pardon to any rapist who agreed to marry his victim. One attempt to change that statute failed last December, and the usually compliant Parliament did not finally acquiesce until Mr. Mubarak ordered it repealed by decree.

And even now, some Egyptian legal scholars argue that old provision should be restored. ''Executing or putting a rapist in jail does not help anyone,'' said Mustafa Ewis, a senior lawyer in Cairo's Legal Resource Research Center, which describes itself as a human-rights advocacy group. ''But if he marries the victim, then it helps both of them, giving them a chance to start fresh and to protect the girl from social stigma.''

The attitude is repellent to people like Fawziya Abdel Sattar, a leading law professor and former member of the Egyptian Parliament who was active in pressing for the change. ''Instead of punishing the rapist, the law gave him back his victim to re-rape her, legally this time,'' Ms. Abdel Sattar said.

Still, once the specter of shame begins to loom, some families come to see killing as the only choice. In March, the family of Amal, a 17-year-old Jordanian, discovered that she was pregnant. She told them she had been raped in December by a friend of her father's, who was staying in the family home. Her sister-in-law sold her gold jewelry to pay for an abortion. But the doctor refused to perform the procedure, which is illegal in Jordan. And so instead, Amal said, her father decided to use the money to buy a gun.

The next day, he sent her mother and younger siblings from the house, closed the windows and curtains, then turned the music loud. As Amal lay on a mattress in her room, the father and her 22-year-old brother took turns with the revolver, shooting her eight times and leaving her for dead.

Amal's brother is still in jail, but her father is already free on bail. And Amal, now bullet-scarred and six months pregnant, is also in jail, with much less hope of swift release.

Officially, she is being held for her protection. Her father, brother and her cousins all still want to kill her. But she is also a prisoner of her culture, and of a paternalistic Jordanian law that allows a woman to be released only to a close male relative.

Among the 40 or so other Jordanian women caught with Amal in a similar limbo, prison officials say, many have been in custody for years -- one since 1990.

Some activists have begun to conclude that their only escape from honor's thrall may be to leave Jordan forever, through complicated arrangements that require the help of foster families abroad. ''They should be considered social refugees,'' said Ms. Khader, the Jordanian lawyer.


UPDATE:
I forgot to add that the article was originally published in the New York Times. Here's the link.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Mishal Moore has thick skin

If you don't know who she is, she is an up and coming R&B singer making it big through YouTube. Leave her a comment or two, but keep it nice.

A nudist and a clown make up a diverse "mayoral platter" in San Francisco

I'd be for the chicken fella if I wasn't vegetarian and if I was totally insane.



And a sharp ouch from one of the Hot Air commentators:

One great thing about San Francisco… well, actually, two great things… it’s 8 hours drive away from where I live and it’s poised to fall into the ocean and be wiped off the face of the Earth when the ‘big one’ hits.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Vicente Fox Statue Destroyed


Via CBS News:

(CBS/AP) Opposition protesters have torn down a bronze statue of former Mexican President Vicente Fox, just hours after it was erected this morning.

Workers put up the commemorative 10-foot statue before dawn in the city of Boca del Rio, in Veracruz state.

But by midmorning a crowd of about 100 angry protesters began egging the statue, fastened a rope around its neck and pulled it to the ground.

Many were members of the centrist Revolutionary Institutional Party, which governed Mexico for much of the 20th century until Fox (of the conservative National Action Party) won a presidential election in 2000.

Your Sunday funny: Britney Spears

Oh, how I would love to be the person who is paid to make these ads...

From the Vault: A review for Robert Glasper

I have a blog at the conservative site Townhall, which until recently I used as my main writing outlet. After a bit of tinkering around with projects using Blogger, I have finally come up with what you see now.

There were some blog articles that ran on Townhall that I am especially proud of, and I'm going to try to post some of my favorites here for people that haven't read them.



Now, I bet from looking at the above album artwork, you're guessing that Robert Glasper is a rapper or hip-hop musician. You'd be wrong in that assumption. While his biography reads that he has experienced performing hip-hop along with other genres, Glasper's In My Element is an exercise in jazz at it's rawest and most pure form.

I never would have discovered Glasper on my own. I only discovered him about a month or so ago while I was cruising through iTunes and discovered the song "One for 'Grew" being given away as that week's "Discovery Download." By most accounts jazz is if not dead at least somewhat comatose, a shadow of the swing, bebop or fusion eras, but when hearing Glasper I felt as if I were listening to a new or undiscovered recording by the likes of John Coltrane or Miles Davis.

My favorite song on the album is "Of Dreams to Come." That song creates images of romance and peace, of calmness in an urban concrete jungle. Juxtaposed with that is the first song of the album, "G&B," which speeds through and blurs you with sound in the way of classic 60s jazz albums like A Love Supreme.

Echoing John Coltrane, In My Element goes through speedy piano and rythm, backed up by superb bass. There's nothing polished or fake about it, and performs for the jazz fan, not the Top 40 listener. In an age where jazz means Norah Jones or Kenny G, hearing the real thing is truly a breath of fresh air.

From the Vault: Dan Carlin talks to Deschamps Blog

I have a blog at the conservative site Townhall, which until recently I used as my main writing outlet. After a bit of tinkering around with projects using Blogger, I have finally come up with what you see now.

There were some blog articles that ran on Townhall that I am especially proud of, and I'm going to try to post some of my favorites here for people that haven't read them. This is an interview with radio talk show host turned podcaster Dan Carlin, originally posted May 18, 2007:



Dan Carlin is a veteran of media, working as a radio talk show host for the last dozen years. Carlin has taken great advantage of new media, running a large website with a large discussion board, regularly updated blog and user-friendly layout. He runs two podcasts, Common Sense with Dan Carlin, which showcases his independent political commentary, and Hardcore History, which uses the podcast medium to entertainingly bring history to listeners.

Carlin is fiercely independent, and you'll likely find as much that you disagree with him over as you agree with. One thing you won't find yourself thinking is how dull he is, because he most definitely is not that.

I managed to get Carlin to answer a few questions on the current political scene, ranging from American politics to education. The only previous interview that's appeared at Deschamps was with the guys at Fantagraphics Books, so this is a definite step in a new direction. I hope you enjoy it.


Deschamps: For those that don't know, how would you describe your political ideology?

Dan Carlin: I like to say I'm a “forward-thinking pragmatist”. Inventing unique adjective combinations to describe one's self seems mandatory today because the terms that we have traditionally used to describe people politically seem less and less relevant. We have to say “I'm a conservative on this...I am liberal on that” or “I'm basically a liberal, but I disagree with them on this, that, and the other thing...”.

If you go that route, I'm a fiscally conservative, socially libertarian, small government, pro-Constitution, America First, non-interventionist, political independent who thinks we need to worry about the average working stiff more.

I'm sure that clears things up.

D: Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani really went at it in the last Republican debate. Who do you think looked better and who do you suppose the average American walked away thinking was the better man?

DC: Well...it depends upon the audience. Let's remember that these guys are competing for the Republican nomination in these debates, not the presidency. Nixon used to say that you “run to the right” in the primaries and head back to the political Center for the general election. Ron Paul would be the candidate that most Americans would want representing the Republicans...but that number would include a great many Democrats and Independents (and I suspect accounts for some of the reason Paul is polling so highly in the post-debate surveys...you don't have to be a registered Republican to vote in them). I suspect that if you only polled current registered Republicans that Paul would not have done nearly as well.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that Giuliani looked better to the Republican “base” and Paul looked better to everyone else.

D: Fox News viewers voted Ron Paul as the winner of the South Carolina debate. Could Paul actually be a viable candidate?

DC: No.

Heck, the Republicans even want to bar him from future debates. These actions are proving that the idea that someone like Paul could come into the Republican party and move it more in a Libertarian direction is (at least for the time being) false. The fact that the Republican establishment is so upset at how Paul's message is resonating shows how afraid they are, and how far they would go to keep such a shift in party priorities from happening. They are openly trying to short circuit Paul's campaign and it is a surprisingly naked move to stifle him and silence a message that would be popular with many Republicans who don't share the neo-conservative views of the current Republican establishment.

Paul would need everything to go his way for him to be a viable candidate. Having your own party trying to decapitate your campaign just as you are proving it has legs takes you out of viable candidate land in my mind.

D: Both Bush and the Democratic Congress have deplorable approval ratings. Is this a sign that Americans are ready for something new in the world of political ideas?


DC: Well, I'm not sure that they haven't been ready for something new for a long time now. It is hard to know when they have never had the chance to choose anything other than what the Big Two parties are offering. I DO think that the post Baby Boom generation is now reaching a critical mass in terms of voting demographics. I see lots of political changes on the horizon, and much of it, I think, will be due to the breaking down of our old political labels and fault lines and their replacement with new ones. It's going to be the post Baby Boomers that prompt these changes.

D: We talk alot about education at Deschamps Blog, especially when it relates to those with "special needs." It's largely apparent that we need change in our education system. What kind of changes do you think politicians and activists should be looking at?

DC: This is a really important issue. Unfortunately, the changes that might be needed are so much more than tinkering that it might be impossible to talk about REAL education reform without sounding radical (in any numbers of directions). I think it might be useful to start with an overriding idea and then build from that. On the education issue, I think that idea would be OPTIONS.

Let's give parents more choices than they currently have. Many of the problems the public schools face these days are controversies over how and what they teach. This is because we have a one-size-fits-all system trying to minister to the most diverse population in the history of the world. Is it any wonder there are problems? I think we could be doing much more experimentation in the education realm and think that the longer we avoid real, meaningful innovation in how we teach people the more we will suffer the society-wide effects of an undereducated populace. Few people in the education establishment favor any sort of “radical reform” though. And who can blame them?

D: What do you think will be the American role in Iraq two years from now?

DC: Good question. I don't know.

D: Where do you think we should be?

DC: Ultimately, I'd like to see us out of the Middle East. I think Iraq should be split up into three nations and we should let them see if they can defend what they have been given. Our job should be to keep outsiders from joining the fight. Use diplomacy and carrots and sticks to keep the Turks and Iranians from attacking the Kurds, work to get the power brokers in the region to support the new reality on the ground in Iraq and then lay the groundwork for a landmark regional summit to discuss bringing free elections to the region.

While such changes are a long shot, it would begin to re-establish the U.S.'s position of being in favor of freedom and progress for the people of the Middle East. That's the best way to start creating a counterforce on the ground to fight the Islamic terror message. If we become, for example, the greatest proponents of equal rights for the woman of the Middle East, we begin to develop a base of support, underground though it might be at first, for our conception of a 21st Century Islamic world. A safe, free, prosperous one.

D: Congress has just passed an Immigration Reform Act. Do you think that Congress is going about tackling illegal immigration in the right way?


DC: No. And I'm pretty sure there IS no right way. Ask the Pharaohs of the Biblical-era Egyptians how well they were able to keep the Libyans they used as labor and domestic help from settling in increasing numbers in the Nile Delta. They were in a very similar dynamic to what the USA has now. Eventually, the Libyans put a Libyan Pharaoh on the throne of Egypt.

I think the key is to improve things in Mexico and you eliminate some of the need on the part of people to come to the U.S. It is easier to stay home if things aren't so bad at home. The Mexican government uses migration to the U.S. as a safety valve to diffuse domestic tensions that might otherwise be channeled into political reform. The USA provides an outlet for desperate Mexicans that, if it were not available, might force some big changes that would, in the long run, help Mexicans a lot. So, in that sense, perhaps Mexico is addicted to the USA that way. And we North Americans are certainly addicted to the low-cost labor the Mexican workers provide. Addicts will get their drugs, one way or another...wall or no wall, visa or no visa.

D: Harry Truman is viewed as a hero among many Democrats but in his time was an unpopular president leading an unpopular war. As a historian as well as political hound, do you think history will make Bush look better or worse?

DC: Well, let's clear one thing up...I may have a history degree, but I'm no “historian”.

That having been said, Presidents DO end up looking better the farther back into history we are looking. Events compress as you pull back from them and only the bigger things will matter. With President Bush that will be Iraq and the War on Terror.

My own view is that it will be tough for him to overcome the foreign policy mistakes and improve his popularity with historians down the road. Even if future events justify the Administration's view of the seriousness of the terrorism threat, the fact that the wrong choices were made in order to combat that threat will never look better to history. They won't be saying “Well, at least his heart was in the right place” a hundred years from now, and Iraq will never look like a good place to have decided to fight “terrorism” with boots on the ground.

I doubt he will be treated gently by historians.

D: What do you think of the idea of a "League of Democratic Nations" that would include only countries that allow for free speech and human rights?

DC: What would it be used for? Are we hoping the “don't you want to be in OUR private club?” effect works on the North Koreas of the world?

Besides...what's the criteria? Can the USA join?

D: As a political commentator, which of the mainstream political pundits (Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, Jonah Goldberg, Lou Dobbs, etc.) do you find yourself most able to stomach?


DC: Hmmmm...not Beck...or Goldberg. I can stand Olbermann and Dobbs. I don't watch any of them to be honest. I watch nothing. Where does everyone find the time?

D: As someone with alot of radio experience, how do you feel about the recent push for reimplementing the Fairness Doctrine?

DC: The horse has left and the barn door is closed on that one. It will never happen...and probably shouldn't. After all...what does “fair” mean today in terms of presenting all views? Are we going to include Greens? Libertarians? Or are we just going to say that conservatives and liberals have to balance each other out like Hannity and Colmes on the airwaves? Besides...the Old Media doesn't control things anymore.

I'd worry more about the Net Neutrality issue instead...if we start doing things to stifle the New Media then there would be real problems beyond any old fashioned “Fairness Doctrine” issues.

D: The internet has provided means for millions of people to express their opinions and views in a way that was unimaginable a decade ago. What effects do you think this will have on the political system?

DC: It is going to be huge...and it is going to happen more quickly than people think. It is going to break the current ideological stranglehold in the USA and allow a wide spectrum of ideas hitherto unexpressed to be shared and built upon audiences and groups. And not just within the U.S., but also between Americans and those who live in other nations.

It is the greatest reason for optimism I can think of.

D: The American Motion Picture Association recently proclaimed that smoking will be included with scenes of sex and violence as grounds to up the ratings given to films. How do you feel about this?


DC: I think it is nonsense. Do we really wish to go down this road? What if they show someone eating a bunch of hamburgers like Wimpy in the Popeye cartoons? Is that dangerous example of an irresponsible lifestyle choice to be considered in the ratings as well?...Or will cigarettes be a lone, special case? I suppose they can do anything they like...but I think using something like a ratings system for films as a tool to improve our society is weird.

D: Having been in both new and traditional media, do you think traditional media is on the way out?


DC: Well, that depends on what you mean by “traditional”. Because “traditional” media has been “on the way out” since the early 1990's. We have been in a transitional stage since then. It started with the consolidation phase that was a result of things like the Telecommunications Act in the 1990's and moved from there to the current decentralization of media that is a result of the Internet and the opening of the modes of content distribution. It was thought owning a lot of radio stations (as just one example) was going to be a great way to corner content distribution...now it's apparent that owning NO radio stations is probably a better business strategy. After all, is owning a transmitter really that much of a broadcasting advantage anymore? It has a very limited range, it sure costs a heck of a lot more to broadcast using it...and in the end you are still going to want your content simulcast on the Internet anyway. Better to scrap the transmitter altogether.

That's why I worry so much about things like the Net Neutrality issues. I believe the ex-“gatekeepers” of content miss their former editorial control. I can't think of too many ways they could ever put the genie back in that bottle, and regain control over the distribution of content. The proposals involved in the Net Neutrality issue are some of the few that might do this. If they can turn average, Internet broadcasters into second class citizens when it comes to online media they will have restored themselves to a premier position. I think that all the good societal advantages we discussed earlier that our system might glean from the Internet would be put at risk if the New Media were controlled, for all intents and purposes, by those who control the Old Media.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Rapper T.I. arrested on federal weapons charges


It seems like guns are all I'm writing about right now, but those are the stories being thrown at me right now. This one is about southern rapper T.I.:

Rapper T.I. was arrested Saturday as he allegedly tried to add three machine guns and two silencers to whahttp://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=7901629136659489810&postID=2339619740491165079t authorities said was an "arsenal" of weapons that, as a convicted felon, he was not allowed to own.


This sort of thing is ridiculous. T.I. isn't very good in my opinion, and sometimes I wish these guys would go work at a gun magazine or at shows instead of trying their hand at music.

Captain America, gun nut?

The new Captain America costume is so bad that I had to go to the message boards and see what other comic book geeks thought of it. One of them dug up proof that this isn't the first time Cap has been carrying heat:

Hip-hop, you're the love of my life, but does anyone else feel the same way?

When I first heard those words, it went through my ears as simply the lyrics of another verse on a conscious rap album. In that case, it was by the Roots, but it could have been Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def (and Common did elaborate with his song "I used to love H.E.R.").

When I heard those words again, I related. Like any other great love, there is a time when there is a fight or a large period of distance. For about a year, I felt that. Feeling like the years of gangsta rap had had a negative effect on me, I sold the large majority of my hip-hop CDS, with exceptions being Kool Keith, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and RJD2. I thought I could quit cold turkey and listen to rock, electronic, jazz and world music.

It didn't work out, though. I was at a record store and saw The Return of Dr. Octagon, copped it. There was alot of controversy as to whether Kool Keith, the voice behind Dr. Octagon, actually supported that album, but I enjoyed it. I soon found myself getting caught up in the 50 Cent vs. Kanye West media circus and bought West's Graduation, which I liked alot more than his previous albums.

I've been listening to hip-hop since I was at least eleven or twelve, starting off with Kool Keith and Eminem, who at those points in their careers appealed to the oddball that I've always been. I might not wear really baggy clothes and a chain around my neck (though I do have Fresh Jive and Sean John in my wardrobe) but hip-hop is an integral part of me that I can't get rid of even when I've tried.

I might not be able to make hip-hop leave my life, but unfortunately it may be leaving other people's lives. Album sales are plummeting for the music industry in general, but sales are hitting hip-hop especially hard. In a piece on the Kanye vs. 50 hype, Slate writer Jonah Weiner reported on the fact that ringtones are providing a large part of rappers' revenues as they no longer see it come from album sales. Indeed, when I bought Graduation, there was an ad in the liner notes that had the codes for buying ringtones for every song on the album.

The whole Kanye vs. 50 thing was only a momentary bump, but after it who is going to cause any excitement. Those are the two big rappers. Jay-Z has his 376th album or something coming out, and Nas has his Greatest Hits. There's got to be more than that. If you look at alternative and rock music, there are a flood of new bands coming out all the time.

Aaron over at Canned Thinking drew me to up and comer Termanology, who might be the blood transfusion that can get hip-hop out of life support. Check it:



After watching his video, I went and downloaded Termanology's last mixtape, which came out in July. It's got a healthy mix of mainstream and "backpack" style beats (I always hated that term).

There's also Lupe Fiasco, who was at this year's Lollapalooza and is already being compared to Kweli and Kanye. His new video, "Dumb it Down," is a great statement on the box hip-hop is being put into:



Brother Ali got a video out, though the chorus sounded a little bit too much like Everlast:



Then there's the gothic weirdos from my neighborhood, Grayskul. I'll put them in this blog because I have love for them, but I really doubt they're gonna be chart-toppers:



All around, I'm not sure that's enough to get record sales up. We really need some new blood and excitement in the game.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Marvel unveils new, gun-weilding Captain America

In my opinion, Ed Brubaker is writing a great run on Captain America, turning a superhero book into something akin to a spy thriller. Brubaker executed and handled the assasination of Steve Rogers (AKA Captain America) very well, and I actually look forward to reading what happens next.

Granted all that, the redesign of the Captain America costume is hidious. It's not even really a redesign, but simply the old costume with black pants and carrying a gun.



I'm not the only fan to object to the redesign. Comic Book Resources has the full story.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Fantagraphics publishes the works of Bill Mauldin

Fantagraphics, a Seattle-area publishing company known for everything from The Complete Peanuts to Safe Area Gorazde, a graphic novel based on war in Bosnia, is publishing the works of embedded cartoonist Bill Mauldin. Comic Book Resources has more information:

�The real war,� said Walt Whitman, �will never get in the books.� During WW II, the closest most Americans ever came to the �real war� was through the cartoons of Bill Mauldin, the most beloved enlisted man in the U.S. Army. Television viewers this week will recognize Mauldin from being featured in Ken Burns' epic PBS documentary about WWII, "The War."

Here, for the first time, Fantagraphics Books brings together Mauldin�s complete works from 1940 through the end of the war. This collection of over 600 cartoons, most never before reprinted, is more than the record of a great artist: it is an essential chronicle of America�s citizen-soldiers from peace through war to victory.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Wily Coyotes


I live in the Capitol Hill area, near downtown Seattle. There has always been a presence of wild animals in the area, from feral cats to moles. A new species has popped up in the 'hood recently, however: coyotes.

I had heard about them for months, but finally caught my eye on one a week ago as it crossed a main street during rush hour traffic. It was the first time I had ever seen a coyote. Having been to New Mexico, California, Arizona and Texas, I never thought that the first time I'd see one of these wild beasts would be in my neighborhood, but life is strange sometimes.

There has been a rash of cats going missing, and on just the next street from mine a cat was found torn apart. Having three cats myself, I've made sure that they don't go out. Coyotes are wild animals and as soon as they see my cats they'll be thinking about dinner.

The coyotes have yet to attack humans, so there doesn't seem to be a strong effort to get them moved out or killed. I don't know how coyotes managed to get in Seattle. The whole thing is pretty bizarre.

London Calling

From the United Kingdom, here is a picture of the famous British double decker busses, laid out with a ad attempting to convince British citizens that Islam is a religion of peace:



The photographer, Brian of London, who hosts the podcast Shire Network News, had this to say about it:

This is one of the very buses blown up by a devout Muslim 2 years ago. Maybe they should be spending their money convincing devout Muslims it's a Religion of Peace™ rather than me.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Revolution Void



For several years in my adolescence, I listened to strictly electronic music. I've met alot of people with autism spectrum disorders who have been attracted to this kind of music as well. I don't know if there's anything to it, or just the times I live in and the people I meet.

Anyway, electronic music eventually progressed to hip-hop, and the two went back and forth. I only got into rock a little bit, and usually I was attracted to bands that used alot of keyboards, electronics and unusual instrumentation.

When I must have been in seventh grade or so, I heard a song called "Science and Space" by a kid name Jonah Dempsy AKA Revolution Void. I spent years trying to pin down who he was so that I could get a copy of that song. Today, about eight years later, without even trying (isn't that always the way it is?), I found Dempsy through his blog, where he is provided much of music for free.

It's all pretty chill and perfect for reading, thinking and writing. Sometimes words are distracting and I come up with no better solution to a distracted mind that the best electronic music.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Pitchfork on 50 Cent

I think I just read the best music review I've ever read. In Pitchfork Media, writer Robert Dombal takes apart 50 Cent from a psychological point of view, showing the (former?) rap juggernaut's faults and weaknesses in a manner that I wouldn't expect to be so eloquent:

In direct opposition to Kanye's fearless, risk-taking Graduation, 50's new album is a blatant rehash-- a bottom-line sequel that insults the same audience it mindlessly panders to. Once again, from Rolling Stone: "'Kanye receives trophies because he's safe,' 50 Cent says, punctuating the word 'safe' with a lisp and a limp wrist." At this point, those grandstanding put-downs aren't just wildly off-the-mark, but genuinely sad; like Curtis, such remarks are too pathetic to be taken seriously and too stupid to be funny. In his insular quest to recapture the king-sized popularity of his massive debut, 50 is sacrificing the same thing that Kanye (and Jay and Nas...) has so tirelessly worked to cultivate: an engaging music career worth remembering.


To be honest, I think it's a habit of critics to add more intelligence to these guys than they deserve. I wouldn't credit Curtis Jackson's ambition to his reading up on The 48 Laws of Power, I would credit it to him being a drug dealer and hustler who turned his skills of talking people into giving him their cash towards music. There's a certain type of personality in some people that is able to talk someone into buying anything, and that's 50. (You would have to have some pretty good hustling skills to be able t o sell music as terrible as what he makes.) If he hadn't come from Southside Jamaica Queens, and instead was from say Woodinville, Washington, or some other American suburb, he would've become a car salesman.

Column: Are pricey public bathrooms worth the cost?

Writers get a lot of their ideas from others, and I'll have to concede that I never would have thought to tackle Seattle's techno-toilets if it weren't for a short blog written on the subject by nationally syndicated radio host and Seattle area resident Michael Medved:

The city of Seattle has committed the staggering sum of $6.6 million for three high tech public toilets for the homeless. The pricy privies, with purportedly advanced but frequently malfunctioning self-cleaning features, have already become a magnet for prostitutes and drug dealers according to a report to the city council, while attracting at least as much filth as traditional porta-potties—that would have cost the city less than one-twentieth as much to lease and maintain. Meanwhile, the Seattle Times describes city parks where human waste appears nightly on benches, just yards from the gleaming techie toilets installed with so much fanfare. The city council defends the inane program as a noble attempt to “do something” for the homeless—illustrating the folly of good intentions. In truth, any effort – public or private—that makes it easier for transients to continue sleeping on the streets, only harms these unfortunates – as well as deeply damaging the downtown neighborhoods they invade and occupy. True compassion for the homeless begins with an absolute refusal to allow them to continue living on sidewalks, in alleys, underpasses, parks or empty lots, and certainly must avoid any move at all to facilitate or prolong such urban camping.


Here's my column, which I hope measures up somewhat:

Over the years, I've noticed a decrease in one thing throughout Seattle: a free restroom.

With the rise of drug use by homeless downtown occupants and a migration of transient University District inhabitants toward Capitol Hill, many businesses have really put their foot down on making sure that only customers are able to use their restrooms.

The downtown McDonald's has even hired a security guard to stand outside its restroom.

Some of the bathrooms that have been publicly used, such as those in the Pike Place Market or Westlake Mall, have been infamous for being used by drug users. After many attempts to crack down, the Seattle City Council went a different route and instituted high-tech public restrooms that have been placed throughout Seattle.


DIFFERENCES IN PERSPECTIVE

The restrooms, which have been called everything from "pricey privies" to "space toilets," are strange-looking contraptions. If you walk by one, you can see that it opens with a sliding door, an electronic voice announcing whenever the contraption is free to use.

The city has allocated $6.6 million to these technological portable toilets, and when they were originally opened, they were met with fanfare.

A news article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 2004 had the headline "At Last, Relief is in Sight as Plush Public Potties Open Downtown." The article described the bathrooms as similar to a "space ride at Disneyland."

At the time of their opening, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) spokesperson Susan Stoltzfus said, "People will be more likely to use them because they stay clean." According to the Seattle Times, however, public benches are frequently marked by human waste, left by inhabitants who didn't seem to find much use for the portable potties set up for them.

Luigi Gephart, a homeless resident of Seattle, told The Seattle Times that he calls the bathroom a "revolving crackhouse," adding, "These are the worst bathrooms you can go to."

In a blog by nationally syndicated talk show host Michael Medved, who happens to reside in the Seattle area, he went all out against the notion that these bathrooms were anything more than another use of tax dollars or in any way helped the homeless.

Medved declared, "True compassion for the homeless begins with an absolute refusal to allow them to continue living on sidewalks, in alleys, underpasses, parks or empty lots, and certainly must avoid any move at all to facilitate or prolong such urban camping."


GETTING 'OUR MONEY'S WORTH'?

SPU spokespeople have contended that the worst problems aren't with the bathrooms themselves, but with public relations. SPU spokesperson Andy Ryan said, "The real problem we're having with [the toilets] is that there is a public perception we're not getting our money's worth."

The bathrooms are costly to remove as well, at about $500,000 each.

Whatever the city decides, they should take into account the costs and benefits over the possible benevolence their intentions may carry.

If the toilets are supposed to fix public bodily performances, why is it that, as reported in an article on the joke website Poopreport.com, there is "more poop on the streets?"

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sean Penn, 21st century useful idiot

I just ended the Hugo Chavez Watch blog that I started around half a year ago. Updates were infrequent, and the people that had helped start it seemed to lose interest as fast as myself. Just as I should have expected, as soon as I end a blog dedicated to monitoring this rising Communist tyrant, more news comes in regarding Pirate Boy (my pet name for Hugo) and the Hollywood celebrities that love him.

This was taken from a Newsbusters linked transcript of Sean Penn's appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman:

LETTERMAN: But isn't he talking about nationalizing the media? That always makes me a little concerned when somebody's talking about doing that.

PENN: He's, well, you know, one of the things that's been said about him is he's shut down a television station. What happened is that since 1998 they had been encouraging the assassination of Chavez every day on that channel -- something that they would have gone to prison for here. And so he just didn't re-up that license. But meanwhile, you know, the idea that, that there's no freedom of expression, I mean the loons on Fox News are broadcast there every day.


In contrast, here is the Reporters Without Borders analysis of the closing of RCTV:

Widely condemned abroad, RCTV’s closure was much more than just an administrative measure. It was a political move without precedent in Latin America, a key element in a government takeover of the broadcast media that is part of a determined effort to control and occupy the entire public arena…

The press freedom organisation found that the decisions to close RCTV and transfer its terrestrial broadcast channel to a new public TV station, Televisora Venezolana Social (Tves), were conducted outside of all regular legal channels and in defiance of the jurisprudence established by the Organisation of American States, to which Venezuela belongs.

Doing what you love

It's nice doing stuff you love, isn't it? I grew up listening to Fatboy Slim and Chemical Brothers, and I just did an interview with a new band on the Astralwerks label that both Fatboy and the Brothers have been on for years. That will be running on Mstation at the end of the month, if all goes well.

Writing freelance isn't all I'm doing write now, and I am a part time student through Washington State University at the same time I am writing. Fortunately, I enjoy reading and writing, so this doesn't turn into too much work on my plate. It does mean that blog posts aren't as frequent as they had been during the summer, when I had seemingly endless amounts of time on my hands.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Video: Jackie Mason, Republican Boy

H/T Hot Air.

I guess you do what you need to do to win elections.