Saturday, June 30, 2007

Covering iDay: Two approaches

iDay: I was torn between "This is sooooooo (expletive deleted) cool" and "It's an inanimate object, people! Besides, it will be better and cheaper in nine months! Get a (expletive deleted) life!"

Nevertheless, it's a cultural phenomenon (for better or worse) and it needed to be covered by the print and broadcast -- and Internet! -- media everywhere. Here's how a couple of newspapers did it online.

At the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, there's no local story from the Mall of America to be found. Just the standard national overview off the wire. But that faux pas is forgiven, for on the Strib's community site,, we have the inimitable James (Think outside the box? There's a box?) Lileks blogging and doing a video report. Here it is:

MEANWHILE, over at the Omaha World-Herald -- my local paper -- there's a serviceable local story (score an attaboy for getting the local angle), no blog (a.k.a., "live update" in World-Herald speak) and a competent, if formulaic, video.

Here 'tis:
LILEKS' VIDEO exemplifies what newspapers need to do to survive in a world that's both wired and starving for community -- it connects. It's personal. It's quirky. It has a point of view.

It's human.

And isn't human what we need in a world where we get more excited about handheld computer-phones than we do about one another? Isn't human what we crave, even when we don't consciously realize it?

In one another, we see a reflection of the divine, a reflection of He Who Completes Us.

iPhones are just another distraction to dull the ache of alienation. Which, come to think of it, is an angle I'd like to see some ink-stained (or silicon-saturated) wretch tackle the next time we have one of these People Go Nutso Over the Latest Thing feature pieces.

Some questions for webcasters

Dear webcasters,

A question, being that it seems there likely will be no timely legislative -- or perhaps even judicial -- relief for webcasters regarding the patently absurd Copyright Review Board royalty decision: At what point does this become a matter begging for civil disobedience, on the principle (St. Augustine via Martin Luther King) of "an unjust law is no law at all"?

Every five years, the entire industry -- an entire medium of mass communications -- is thrown into utter chaos by a regulatory structure guided by something akin to whim. It is like trying to build a skyscraper upon shifting sand.

Furthermore, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act treats similar media -- radio broadcast vs. Internet radio -- in a fundamentally unequal manner, maintaining a preferential system of no royalty payments (other than ASCAP, BMI and SESAC) for terrestrial broadcasting, moderate rights fees for satellite broadcasters and exorbitant fees for Internet media. To this layman, that doesn't seem to pass the "equal-protection clause" smell test, much less any basic-morality smell test.

So, given a "legal" environment where Internet broadcasting is screwed no matter what it does while others receive preferential treatment under the "law," when does the industry take matters into its own hands and say "non servium"? Pay nothing apart from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC royalties?

Does not this whole issue involve fundamental matters of justice and equal protection under federal law? And if webcasters decided not to play by unjust rules, would the government, could the government take legal action against everybody?

And at a basic level, wouldn't the cost of fighting and losing be exactly the same as that of playing by extortionary rules -- webcasters going out of business one way or the other?

Perhaps I'm all wet, but it seems to me those are some fundamental matters few people are talking about. With the exception, of course, of the record labels, who would dearly love to soak terrestrial radio, too. (But they'd need to change the law to be able to try it.)

In a 1967ish mood
some 40 years on,

The Mighty Favog

Friday, June 29, 2007

Who stole my patchouli oil, man?!?

Somebody stole my patchouli oil, man, so I'm having to go back to 1967 to get me some more.

Being that multitasking is an essential -- and the podcast does have to get done, you know -- I'll be doing the thing from 1967 this week. I'll be near Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco.

I'm the guy with the headband. No flowers in my hair, though. Sorry.

ANYWAY . . .
we'll be hearing from the Beatles, of course, during our trek back to The Year of the Summer of Love. Weird to think of that being 40 years ago, which happens to be . . . now. Because we're back there.


Things get complicated quick when you start screwing with the space-time continuum.

Let's see, what else? Well, we have some well-known stuff and some rarities, too. F'rinstance, we have "Piece of My Heart" -- but it's the original (and stunningly wonderful) version by Erma Franklin.

As in Aretha's big sister.

And we also have some 13th Floor Elevators, some Vanilla Fudge, some Stones, some Spencer Davis Group and some Harpers Bizarre.

Harper's Bizarre?

HEY, 1967 was a big, big year. Room for a little bit of everything. You know?

Peace. Make love, not war. Fight the Power,

Be there. Aloha.

It's not madness. It's marketing.


Music industry attacks Sunday
newspaper's free Prince CD

$#!* . . . why didn't we
come up with this first?
Well, it's like this. English music retailers are furious, and Prince's label is running for the hills because the whole bloody lot of them forgot how to commit marketing a couple of decades ago.

Now, a British newspaper -- a biggie in an industry just as desperate as the music industry -- is showing signs of relearning how to market itself, rejigger the broken advertising model and create a win-win situation for itself and Prince. It makes so much sense, it's no wonder the retailers are going nutso and the label is soiling its collective knickers.

Here's the scoop from The Guardian in London:

The eagerly awaited new album by Prince is being launched as a free CD with a national Sunday newspaper in a move that has drawn widespread criticism from music retailers.

The Mail on Sunday revealed yesterday that the 10-track Planet Earth CD will be available with an "imminent" edition, making it the first place in the world to get the album. Planet Earth will go on sale on July 24.

"It's all about giving music for the masses and he believes in spreading the music he produces to as many people as possible," said Mail on Sunday managing director Stephen Miron. "This is the biggest innovation in newspaper promotions in recent times."

The paper, which sells more than 2m copies a week, will be ramping up its print run in anticipation of a huge spike in circulation but would not reveal how much the deal with Prince would cost.

One music store executive described the plan as "madness" while others said it was a huge insult to an industry battling fierce competition from supermarkets and online stores. Prince's label has cut its ties with the album in the UK to try to appease music stores.

The Entertainment Retailers Association said the giveaway "beggars belief". "It would be an insult to all those record stores who have supported Prince throughout his career," ERA co-chairman Paul Quirk told a music conference. "It would be yet another example of the damaging covermount culture which is destroying any perception of value around recorded music.

"The Artist Formerly Known as Prince should know that with behaviour like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores. And I say that to all the other artists who may be tempted to dally with the Mail on Sunday."

IF THE RETAILERS and the label had any sense, they would have been giving away Prince's new CD at music stores all across the UK. And the world.

The stores would have been mobbed. All would be raking in the love from Prince fans. And those fans would be buying back catalog -- or other new releases -- with the cash they'd just saved.

But now they're not. They're going to blackmail Prince just like they go all Tony Soprano on their customers. That's called cutting off your nose to spite your face.

And what of The Mail on Sunday, newest distribution channel for major new releases?

The Mail on Sunday is going to sell a bloody boatload of newspapers.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

If God can speak through an ass,
then why not through the Voice?

When the ass saw the angel of the LORD there, she cowered under Balaam. So, in anger, he again beat the ass with his stick.

But now the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she asked Balaam, "What have I done to you that you should beat me these three times?"

"You have acted so willfully against me," said Balaam to the ass, "that if I but had a sword at hand, I would kill you here and now."

But the ass said to Balaam, "Am I not your own beast, and have you not always ridden upon me until now? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way before?" "No," replied Balaam.

Then the LORD removed the veil from Balaam's eyes, so that he too saw the angel of the LORD standing on the road with sword drawn; and he fell on his knees and bowed to the ground.


RUDY GIULIANI MANAGED to feign trepidation when a lightning strike knocked out his wireless microphone at one of the Republican presidential debates.

But now that God is talking directly to him in a far more shocking manner than Balaam being rebuked by his ass -- being rebuked as a Bad Catholic and poseur by The Village Voice, for pity's sake! -- he'd better manage to scare up some real fear and trembling. And maybe some weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, for good measure.

I'm just sayin'. Here's a bit of Balaam's Cover Story:

When Pope Benedict XVI attacked Catholic politicians in Mexico who supported abortion rights last month, Rudy Giuliani was asked for his opinion. The presidential candidate replied in the language of the church: "Issues like that are for me and my confessor. I'm a Catholic, and that's the way I resolve those issues, personally and privately."

Giuliani has invoked his Catholic heritage on Larry King; he's been described by The Washington Post as a "devout Catholic"; he's appeared on Fox News with the label "Catholic" floating on-screen; and he's handled a CNN debate question about a bishop who denounced him with a declaration unfamiliar to those who covered him as mayor. "I respect the opinion of Catholic and religious leaders of all kinds," he said. "Religion is very important to me. It's a very important part of my life."

The ex-mayor's newfound piety also includes a mantra about abortion that wasn't heard while he was in City Hall. "I hate abortion," he now says across America and, in a proposed 12-point plan, he declares that he's committed to decreasing the number of abortions. "I would encourage someone to not take that option," he says, though as a candidate for mayor he said he would pay for an abortion for his daughter. Today, he says it would be "OK to repeal" Roe v. Wade, though he hosted celebrations of its anniversary three times at City Hall. His wholesale reversal on Medicaid funding, late-term abortions, and parental consent are all part of a repackaging designed to soften not just his New York public record, but also the inconvenient details of his personal life.

Married three times, Giuliani simply isn't the Catholic candidate he claims to be. He can't have a confessor. He can't receive the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist, or marriage. While bishops disagree about whether or not a Catholic politician who supports abortion rights can receive the sacraments, there is no disagreement about the consequences of divorcing and remarrying outside the church, as Giuliani did a few years ago.

Young Rudy went through 16 years of Catholic education, flirted with the priesthood, and trekked to East New York to teach catechism lessons. The 803-page catechism—reissued in 1994 under the supervision of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who has since become pope—lays out the ways in which Giuliani's personal decisions have estranged him from the church. "Divorce brings grave harm to the deserted spouse. . . [and] to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them," reads the catechism. But it is remarriage, not divorce, that's a deal-breaker for Catholics. "Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture; the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery."

This may sound harsh in a culture where half of Americans divorce. The question, however, is not whether this church teaching is fair, or whether it's compatible with American social standards. The question is: Can Giuliani run for president as a Catholic—identifying with the swing vote that has picked the winner in virtually every modern presidential race—when he is so out of step with the church's code of personal conduct? We're all familiar with Catholic politicians who defy the church with their positions on issues like abortion or contraception. But Giuliani is the first major national figure to run for high office as a Catholic even though he has defied church law in his personal life.

"Any Catholic who remarries without annulment" assumes an "irregular status" within the church, says Monsignor Joseph Giandurco, who until recently was the canon-law expert at the seminary run by the Archdiocese of New York. Also a judge on the appeals court of the archdiocese's marriage tribunal and a canon-law adviser to Cardinal Edward Egan, Giandurco declined to answer questions about Giuliani individually, but speaking in general terms about someone with Giuliani's marital history, Giandurco added: "The marriage is not recognized by the church, and the person cannot receive communion or confession. He's not supposed to play a public role in the church." While a baptized Catholic is "Catholic forever," says Giandurco, a remarriage "breaks the covenant and objectively contradicts what the marriage bond signifies."

Giuliani's own history shows how well he understands that. When he divorced Donna Hanover in 2002 and married Judith Nathan a year later, he was at precisely the same crossroads with the church as he was in 1982. It's his actions then, when he took drastic steps to preserve his Catholic credentials as he navigated the breakup of his first marriage, that belie the Catholic claims of his current campaign.

OH, THERE'S MORE. Much much more. Like the priest friend he hired at Giuliani Associates after the guy became a priest-who-can't-function-as-a-priest friend. Because of allegations he liked to grope boys.

Yeah, after the Bush Nightmare, just the kind of judgment one wants in the White House.

The RIAA can download this

Yesterday, I heard a cable-news roundtable panelist remark that the United States most assuredly today is a plutocracy and an oligarchy.

Sounds about right to me: This country, and its government, is dominated by the wealthy and the powerful. That's the plutocracy part. And it's being run, often crookedly, by those plutocrats for the benefit of the plutocrats -- at the expense of ordinary Americans. That's the oligarchy part.

One example of this would be immigration, illegal and otherwise. The central question is not how many, and who, we ought to let legally immigrate to this country, for the greater good of all Americans. Including those immigrants who, the assumption used to be, would someday be Americans themselves.

How quaint. Now we ignore millions upon millions of illegal aliens because they're blackmailable, and thus will work really, really cheap and will keep their expectations in check and their mouths shut.

Great system. Employers pick up the extra profits; taxpayers pick up the tab for the "benefits package."

ANOTHER EXAMPLE of oligarchy would be this:

The recording industry sued Tanya J. Andersen, 44, in 2005, accusing her of violating copyright laws by illegally downloading music onto her computer. Andersen claims in a suit she filed last week in U.S. District Court in Oregon that the recording industry refused to drop its case after its own expert supported her claims of innocence.

Instead, industry officials threatened to interrogate Andersen's 10-year-old daughter, Kylee, if she didn't pay thousands of dollars. The intimidation included attempts to contact Kylee directly. A woman claiming to be Kylee's grandmother called the girl's former elementary school inquiring about her attendance, according to Andersen's suit.
The (Portland) Oregonian, in an article in today's paper, explains how the record industry's lawyers have been hounding the disabled single mother, who lives in Beaverton and -- coincidentally -- never illegally downloaded a solitary thing. Why? Because they could, and they thought she couldn't fight back.
Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the recording industry association, said he respectfully declined to comment on the specifics of Andersen's case.

But Lamy defended the recording industry's overall strategy to combat illegal file-sharing, which he said has stolen billions in revenues in the past few years. After taking on the Internet businesses that made it easy to copy music for free and mounting an education campaign, the industry was still losing lots of money, Lamy said.

"Despite all these efforts, there was still not a sense of risk by the individual person downloading music online," he said.

So the industry started taking legal action against individual computer users it accuses of illegally downloading music -- 21,000 people since 2003.

Tanya Andersen was one of those people.

KIND OF the record-label version of "shoot one, instruct a hundred."

But Mama's shooting back, and the recording industry shills dropped the lawsuit June 1.

She said she received a letter in 2005 from a Los Angeles law firm accusing her of illegally downloading music. As directed, she called the Settlement Support Center, which Andersen's suit called the "debt-collection arm" of the recording industry's campaign.

Andersen said she had never illegally downloaded music but was told she had to pay $4,000 to $5,000 or she would be ruined financially.

An employee said he believed she was innocent, according to the suit.

"He explained, however, that defendants would not quit their attempts to force payment from her because to do so would encourage other people to defend themselves," the suit says.

Andersen offered to have her computer inspected. Instead, the recording industry sued her.

The record industry claimed that she used a certain Internet name to illegally download music at 4:20 a.m. on May 20, 2004. Andersen searched the Internet for the name and easily learned that it belonged to a young man in Everett, Wash., who admitted on his MySpace account that he illegally downloaded music.

Andersen provided the information to the record industry, but officials responded by publicly accusing her of downloading a series of violent, profane, obscene and misogynistic songs. Andersen was an avid user of mail order CD clubs, so "defendants knew that Ms. Andersen listens to only country music and soft rock," the suit says.

The recording industry's expert finally confirmed that Andersen's computer had not been used to download music, but attorneys still demanded that she pay money before they would drop the case.

"They wanted it to appear publicly that they prevailed," the suit claims. "When Ms. Andersen declined to pay them, defendants stepped up their intimidation."
STREET GANGS AND THE MOB have a more highly developed sense of fairness and justice than this. And they do their own "enforcing." They don't fob it off on the courts, cynically turning the process of the law against the spirit of the law.

The lawsuit against Andersen went away only after her lawyers filed a motion to force the record labels' lawyers to ante up evidence that she illegally downloaded music. She continues to press her attack, though, seeking justice -- and reimbursement of legal fees -- from the courts the record industry attempted to subvert.

Here's hoping she gets more than legal fees. Tanya Records has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

That, however, is too much to hope for. We live in a plutocratic oligarchy, remember?

IF YOU ASK ME (which you didn't), there's only one way to fight rich bullies who sue their customers. Make them poor.

Quit putting money in their pockets. Don't buy new music from major labels. Do buy used music from your local independent music store -- you get music, the store makes more money than it does on new stuff, the labels get squat.

Makes sense, doesn't it?

An excellent question

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ideologues behaving badly . . . and TV as enabler

If this is the new standard of how we do politics -- and public policy -- in this country, I'd like to go back to reading and hearing about Paris Hilton, please.

In this clip from Hardball on MSNBC, we have a group of juveniles playing political games for profit, thrusting with faux moral outrage and parrying with bitchy disdain as the umpire and crowd leer and cheer: Cat fight! Cat fight! Cat fight! It's almost enough to get me started on that letter to Kim Jong Il, asking where the hell is that damned nuke-as-electromagnetic-pulse-weapon, already?

IT MERELY WOULD BE ANNOYING if not for the real issues facing the United States right now. As in the overrunning of this country by Mexican peasants illegally crossing our unsecured southern border, ready and willing to be exploited by unscrupulous American capitalists eager to drive down wages and run up profits.

All on the backs of blue-collar workers born here, raised here and fast becoming marginalized strangers here. Here in their own country.

The shocked, shocked Elizabeth Edwards and the snarky, catty Ann Coulter merely would be aggravating, if not for the thousands of American soldiers killed and maimed for no damn good reason in a deeply unjust, deeply unwise and deeply counterproductive war in Iraq. We sit on our fat asses in our overmortgaged suburban houses -- with SUVs we no longer can afford to drive -- and
we get this for bread and circuses.

When, of course, we're not watching the Perils of Paris on E!

IF YOU DON'T HAVE the stomach to watch the clip, I understand. You're probably saner than I am. Still, here's a bit of the transcript (you're not gonna get off THAT easy):

Edwards: I'm asking you politely to stop personal attacks.

Coulter: How bout you stop raising money on the Web page then?

Edwards: It didn't start it did not...

Coulter: No you don't have cause I don't mind

Edwards: It did not start with that you had a column a number of years ago

Coulter: OK, great the wife of a presidential candidate is calling in asking me to stop speaking...

Matthews: Let her finish the point...

Coulter: You're asking me to stop speaking, stop writing columns, stop writing your books.

Matthews: OK, Ann. Please.

Coulter: OK

Edwards: You wrote a column a couple years ago which made fun of the moment of Charlie Dean's death, and suggested that my husband had a bumper sticker on the back of his car that said ask me about my dead son. This is not legitimate political dialogue.

Coulter: That's now three years ago --

Edwards: It debases political dialogue. It drives people away from the process. We can't have a debate about issues if you're using this kind of language.

Coulter: Yeah why isn't John Edwards making this call?

Matthews: Well do you want to respond and we'll end this conversation?

Edwards: I haven't talked to John about this call.

Coulter: This is just another attempt for –

Edwards: I'm making this call as a mother. I'm the mother of that boy who died. My children participate -- these young people behind you are the age of my children. You're asking them to participate in a dialogue that's based on hatefulness and ugliness instead of on the issues and I don't think that's serving them or this country very well.

[Applause from the crowd]

Matthews: Thank you very much Elizabeth Edwards. (Turning to Coulter) Do you want to -- you have all the time in the world to respond.

Coulter: I think we heard all we need to hear. The wife of a presidential candidate is asking me to stop speaking. No.
FIRST OFF, Coulter's shtick was old a couple of years ago. No one likes a B-I witch, and that goes double when the B-I witch is pimping herself out to a political party or ideology.

That said, Coulter's column in which she allegedly "made fun of the moment of Charlie Dean's death, and suggested that my husband had a bumper sticker on the back of his car that said ask me about my dead son" wasn't that bad. It was well within the bounds of political discourse, broadly condemning pathos as politics.

It's horrible that Charlie Dean Edwards was killed in a car wreck. But a dead son is about as much reason to elect a man president as his wife's sadly incurable cancer. In other words, no reason at all.

But still, it was nice to watch Coulter squirm, then cover herself in ignominy.

AND BEFORE WE GO and actually buy Elizabeth Edwards' "heartfelt" plea for civility in politics and in public discourse, does anybody remember this?

Obviously not.

'I'm as mad as hell. . . .'

From the Radio and Internet Newsletter:

Webcasters are speaking with a powerful voice today, as nearly all U.S.-based Internet radio streams have "gone silent" in a reaction to new royalty rates that threaten to decimate the majority of the webcast industry within weeks.

Webcasters of all stripes, from public broadcasters like KCRW to major webcast-only services like Yahoo! LAUNCHcast and Pandora, in addition to some of the country's major terrestrial simulcasters (including Greater Media, Saga Communications, and B-101/Philadelphia), are participating in today's "Day of Silence" to underscore the urgent need for Congressional intervention to keep webcasters alive.

Running up to today's event, national media outlets have been following webcasters' struggle against the excessive rates with growing attention and coverage. Today, that coverage, most of it highly sympathetic to webcasters' efforts, continues to pour out, including in the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, the Associated Press, the BBC, and more.

Many webcasters have blocked access to their streams, while others are broadcasting loops of ambient sound interspersed with PSAs urging their audiences to take action today by contacting their representatives in Washington D.C.

Looped continuously throughout the day, KCRW will broadcast a one-hour program titled "D-Day for Webcasters" that provides background on today's event and informs listeners how they can take action to help. Webcasters can send their listeners to KCRW to hear the program, or provide the following link to play the looped show (which starts at the top of every hour) in a new window:

HD Radio: The "HD" must stand for "Half Dead"

Legendary radio programmer Lee Abrams is not impressed with HD radio. And if the man who made his name ushering in the heyday of some legendary rock stations -- for example, one of my all time favorites, WRNO, "The Rock of New Orleans" -- says HD radio is looking a lot like a boondoggle, I am inclined to listen.

Even if he has, as chief programmer of XM satellite radio, a horse in this race.

Anyway, Abrams says in his
latest blog entry:

Got an HD Radio. What a piece of crap. In the MP3 player world, this particular unit looks like a Heath Kit from 1968. I’m sure there are cooler models, but the $59 one I saw was pretty bad. Fred Jacobs, a respectable consultant recently wrote about how HD radio programming is being thrown away. Well, you can add the hardware to the list of reasons that the HD boys better get their s*** together of they’re looking at AM Stereo---where you could hear static in BOTH channels!
A FEW WEEKS AGO, I was in a Radio Shack in one of the Omaha malls and wanted to check out their "Accurian" HD Radio. Check it out, not actually pay $159.99 (after rebate) for the thing, which is really just a basic stereo table radio.

After looking around the store a few minutes -- as unengaged staff stood behind the counter for an equal amount of time -- I found the thing on a shelf in the middle of the store, in the middle of rows of shelves holding various boomboxes and clock radios.

Turns out it was a wobbly, unattached-to-anything shelf -- as I discovered when I tried to turn the radio around to see the rear connections. Fortunately, my middle-aged reflexes were still quick enough to catch the radio -- and the shelf -- before anything hit the floor.

And if you realize putting a radio toward the back of a metal framed retail space in a metal framed megamall isn't exactly the best way to ensure clean HD radio reception . . . you know a lot more than the Radio Shack people. Who didn't even bother to hook up a better antenna than the included cheapo length of wire.

I managed to pull in exactly two HD signals, both on FM. I didn't manage to pull in the HD signal on the local 50,000-watt AM blowtorch. And if the regular programming on your average local radio station these days is less than compelling, trust me, the "HD-2" station piggybacking on the primary signal will be even less so.

IF YOU WANT a digital jukebox with no announcers and no sizzle, go buy an iPod. At least that will be your digital jukebox with no announcers and probably at least a little sizzle.

And that "digital-quality sound" everybody keeps hyping? Ask yourself: What exactly is digital quality? "Digital" quality depends entirely on the number of "digits" you put into a sound file, and that varies wildly in the "digital" universe.

In the case of HD Radio, it sounds like regular FM, just with a little less background noise and a little bit wider stereo separation. Your CD player will not be worried about losing the "digital quality" war with HD Radio.

So, given that the radio conglomerates are trying to sell us marginally better-sounding "digital quality" versions of the same old crap we increasingly aren't listening to -- and given that their marketing prowess does not exceed their programming prowess -- give Lee Abrams and all the other HDetractors a cigar.

This thing has AM stereo written all over it. In other words, a big, BIG flop.

AND IF YOU NEED even more proof, note that the manufacturer of probably the highest-quality portable and table radios out there, Tivoli Audio, is not rolling out an HD Radio model yet.

It is, however, rolling out two WiFi radio models. That's big, assuming the greed-crazed record labels and their associated lackeys don't kill off Internet radio first.

Monday, June 25, 2007

What people just don't understand anymore

Fifty years ago, Hurricane Audrey wiped out Cameron Parish, La., killing between 400 and 600 people. The survivors rebuilt.

Less than two years ago, Hurricane Rita wiped out Cameron Parish again. Here's how Charlie and Macilda Theriot -- ages 95 and 91, survivors of both hurricanes -- responded:

Charlie Theriot epitomizes the standard-issue Cameron Parish way of life: Live off the land, dodge the hurricanes, pass the torch.

Born north of the Mermentau River in 1912, he became a trapper and farmer like his daddy before him, raising cotton in the rich soil of the river plain and catching mink and muskrat in the marshes. Also in 1912, his future father-in-law and brother-in-law built, with wooden pegs, the sturdy two-story farm house in nearby Grand Chenier where Charlie and his bride, Macilda, eventually would rear their family.

When Hurricane Audrey took aim at Cameron Parish 45 years later, lots of grateful neighbors joined the Theriots in that sturdy house to ride out the storm.

"We had 26 people in the house for Audrey," Theriot recalled one recent afternoon. "People from five and six miles away came to that house."

When the water came in, everyone inside moved upstairs.

"There was a family across the road from us, and he brought his wife and son to the house," said daughter Lidian Richard, who was 11 at the time. "But he went back to his house to open the cow-pen gate. He said he didn't want his cattle to be trapped if the water came up -- and it came up so fast that he drowned. He never made it back."

Memories like that tend not to fade away in this place.

"I remember after the storm," Richard was quick to add, "some of the men left our house and went and rescued some people that were up in the trees, holding on to branches."

Survivors came to respect all the storms that would follow in ensuing years.

The hurricane of 1918 had blown the roof off Theriot's boyhood home, but Audrey was the one everybody remembered. By the time he reached his 90s, Theriot figured one galvanizing event like that was enough for him, his family and his community in his lifetime. Hurricane Rita had other ideas.

The Theriots evacuated for Rita like everyone else, and they spent about 2 1/2 months with a grandson and his family outside Lafayette before they got back home.

There was no house to go back to. But it was still home.

After a family friend made temporary arrangements for them up in Grand Lake, it didn't take long for Charlie, now 95, and Macilda, 91, to decide on a long-term plan.

"I had $34,000 worth of dirt brought in to raise up the property," he explained in a manner that suggested the decision was so obvious it needed no explanation. "We bought a double-wide trailer, and we're going back."

That, after all, is the Cameron Parish way.
THE "CAMERON PARISH WAY" is a sign of contradiction to modern-day combox warriors who say people like Charlie and Macilda Theriot deserve what they get for living where (fill in the blank here).

I think maybe the degree to which we cannot understand the "Cameron Parish way" more reflects on what is wrong with us as Americans today and not upon any shortcomings in the southwestern corner of Louisiana.

Or in the below-sea-level neighborhoods of New Orleans.

Or in the earthquake-prone cities of California.

Or in Tornado Alley across the Great Plains.

I think maybe our real problem is that we've put way too much stock in status, self and stuff, and not so much in who we really are, where we really are. Not to mention to Whom we really belong.

NO, THE PROBLEM is not that some (pick your collective epithet), live in places we think they oughtn't. The problem is that we can't understand why they do anymore.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Net rats flee bright light of bad pub

Well, that took about 24 hours.

Turning on the lights exposed all sorts of goings on in the world of TV "news," and all the network rats ran for a dark corner, their little rat windbreakers pulled up to hide their little rat faces.

This, it would appear, has ruined Paris Hilton's million-dollar get-out-of-jail payday.

Reuters has the story:

Paris Hilton appeared to be a celebrity without a spotlight on Friday after two major U.S. television networks snubbed the hotel heiress they initially fought over for a first post-jail interview.

An ABC executive said his network declined interview offers from the multimillionaire socialite after Hilton and her mother, Kathy, personally sought to secure a deal in a flurry of telephone calls to ABC News veteran Barbara Walters.

Meanwhile, rival network NBC issued a statement saying it, too, had informed Hilton's representatives that it was "no longer interested in pursing an interview with her."

Contrary to reports of a $1 million deal in the works, NBC said it was "never going to pay them any money."

CBS News, which had not been deeply involved in the initial tug-of-war for a Hilton interview, likewise said it was not interested.

The unexpected turn of events came as the Los Angeles County sheriff's department announced that Hilton would be freed on Tuesday, 23 days after she began serving time for violating her probation in a drunken driving case.

Fierce maneuvering to be first to get Hilton on national TV after her release came to light on Thursday in the New York Post, which reported that NBC had agreed to pay as much as $1 million for a "Today" show Hilton exclusive.

That report ignited a media frenzy over where the 26-year-old "celebutante" would make her homecoming TV appearance, how much it might cost and the propriety of news outlets paying -- directly or indirectly -- for interviews.


But an ABC executive who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Hiltons informed the network earlier this week that they had opted for NBC because of a more lucrative offer to license accompanying family photos and video for up to $1 million, compared with $100,000 offered by ABC.

After the NBC deal fell through, the ABC official said, Hilton and her family sought to restart talks with ABC by reaching out to Walters in a series of phone calls to her home late on Thursday night.

"Barbara listened and, today, the executive producer of (ABC news magazine) '20/20' called (Hilton's father) Rick Hilton and told him that ABC News was not interested in an interview with Paris," the executive told Reuters.
HEH, HEH, HEH. . . .

Friday, June 22, 2007

Reality check

Paris Hilton gave E! News (talk about your contradiction in terms) a presumably free interview Thursday which contained the following gem, as reported by The Associated Press:

"I am behind glass and I want to give my dad a big hug and they won't even let me do that," she said.
"I'm not a criminal,
I'm not dangerous.
... It's hard but I'm stronger every day."
UH, EXCUSE ME . . . PARIS? Honey? I don't know how to tell you this, so I'll just come out and say it, OK?





Like, that's why you're in jail. Duh!

You drove drunk, were duly tried and convicted, violated terms of your probation and got your ass thrown in the slammer. I know I'm just white trash, but that says "criminal" to me.

OR IS "CRIMINAL" a word the high and snobbish reserve for PWT and folks with dark skin who live in places like East L.A., Watts and Compton? Hmmmmmm?

A night in A morning with Paris?
Looks like NBC's Johnny on the spot

From The New York Post:

NBC has agreed to pay as much as $1 million for Paris Hilton's first after-jail interview, which will appear on the "Today" show, The Post has learned.

Sources told The Post the sit-down will be conducted by Meredith Vieira the day after the heir-head is sprung some time next week.

The deal has infuriated ABC executives, the sources said, because they were banking on Hilton's first remarks as a free woman going to Barbara Walters, who has become close with Hilton's mom, Kathy.

ABC was the front-runner until NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker personally called Hilton's father Rick and made the pitch, the sources said.

Hilton agreed to the interview, but said she'd only speak with Vieira because of "disparaging" remarks her co-host Matt Lauer made about her.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Early to podcast. . . .

Look! The podcast is up a day early this week! Will wonders never cease?

Actually, you get to enjoy the Revolution 21 podcast in all its musical glory 24 hours this week because I'm going to see BeauSoleil at the Omaha Summer Arts Festival tomorrow evening. Friday night is when I'm usually finishing up The Big Show and uploading it, so I just moved everything up a smidge.

Anyway, this week we're even more all over tha place than usual. Look for a tribute to when New Wave really was -- in other words, the real stuff of the late '70s and early '80s, as opposed to the soulless glop of the mid- and late '80s.

Also look for a walk on the Jazz side of life and a musical trip with the Big O hip.


Just listen, you'll figure it out. Download now.

Be there. Aloha.

You may see me on TV with an illegal smile. . . .

Betty McManus, 53, was gracious enough to take a moment to speak with assembled TV reporters after a single-engine plane crashed in her Baton Rouge, La., back yard.

Her granddaughter, 15-year-old Betty McManus, also was gracious enough to speak with reporters showing up to cover the crash, which miraculously injured no one. The pilot walked away after being helped from the wrecked Cessna by a neighbor.

Southern hospitality truly is a blessing. And a curse.

See, while everybody was being helpful and gracious to pilot and press, no one remembered to get rid of the 14 potted marijuana plants in the back yard.

And after the more pressing matters were attended to, Baton Rouge police took the elder Betty McManus away to jail on felony marijuana-cultivation charges. She reportedly will plead "Won't you please tell The Man I didn't kill anyone, no I'm just trying to have me some fun."

The Advocate has the details:

Police found the plants Wednesday afternoon while they were working at the crash site at 3229 Canonicus St.

Betty McManus, 53, who lives in an apartment behind the house, was accused of growing the marijuana, police spokesman Cpl. L’Jean McKneely said. Darryl Jenkins, 51, who also lives in the apartment, was issued a misdemeanor summons on a possession of marijuana count.

The Cessna 206 crashed in the yard just after 10 a.m. after pilot Robin Tendolkar said the plane lost power, a Metro Airport official said Wednesday.

Tendolkar, an aerial photographer for Gulf Coast Aerial Mapping, had finished a 35-mile flight and had received clearance from the airport to land, said Bill Profita, an airport spokesman.

Soon after Tendolkar checked his landing gear, the plane lost power, Profita said. Why it lost power is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Tendolkar, who was not injured, declined comment. Although he wasn’t injured, he had to be pulled from the cockpit by a neighbor who saw the plane go down and ran to help.
Donald Ray Henry said he was standing in his backyard on Canonicus Street talking to a friend when he heard the sputtering engine of a plane overhead.

Henry’s friend, Clarence McGarner, a Baton Rouge police detective, glanced up and said out loud to himself: “That plane is kind of low.”

Seconds later, the southbound Cessna flew right over Henry’s roof, grazed the top of a towering pine tree and crashed into a live oak tree three houses down the street.

The oak spun the plane around and it came to rest at 10:19 a.m. atop a downed tree branch.

“It was an almost perfect crash,” McGarner said.

After he saw the plane hit the tree, McGarner jumped into his car to call police headquarters and report a plane had gone down, while Henry ran toward the plane to check on anyone inside.

He found an alert pilot who was able to talk and help push out a broken window.

Numerous agencies, including the Baton Rouge fire and police departments, EMS and State Police, arrived at the crash site.


Later that afternoon, police found the marijuana plants 10 to 15 yards from the plane.

“You never know when you’re going to have a plane crash in your backyard,” McKneely said.

I'M FROM BATON ROUGE, and I miss home. Nothing like this happens in respectably Midwestern and sedate Omaha (By God!) Nebraska.

The closest thing we've had here recently was last year's "Bare-Bottom Bandit," whose pants fell down as he drunkenly burglarized a liquor store, only to be caught red-handed and bare-assed by security cameras.

But a plane crashing in the 'hood, leading the cops to discover Ganja Acres? That, podna, only could happen in my hometown.

So if there's any lesson to be learned here, it has to be what the Baton Rouge police spokeswoman said: Don't grow pot because “You never know when you’re going to have a plane crash in your backyard.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Georges of a feather. . . .

George Armstrong Custer.

George Walker Bush.

Both share a "whatever it takes" mentality in battling a rival civilization, even if the "whatever" part cuts at the heart of one's own. Both acted boldly to the point of recklessness in attacking their enemies. Both got themselves in deep, deep trouble when their boldness linked up with a fundamental misjudgment about the nature of their adversaries.

In Custer's case, all that little blunder at Little Big Horn cost was his batallion -- down to the last man . . . including Custer.

In Bush's case, all his fundamental misunderstanding of the Muslim world, coupled with his rush to rash action, cost was . . . we don't know yet. If we're lucky, the United States will slink, humiliated, out of a ruined and genocidal Iraq.

IF WE'RE NOT, it's gonna be a lot worse than that.

For example, George Bush thinks democracy is a talisman that will, of its own accord, purge the Islamic world of its violent and hegemonistic demons. But didn't fair and free elections hand the Palestinian Authority's parliament to Hamas, a fundamentalist Islamic movement sworn to obliterating Israel?

How's that working out for all concerned, George?

In his Creators Syndicate column, Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley points to a book Islamic scholar Akbar Ahmed has written. Everywhere and in every way, things are not working out very well at all.

Dr. Ahmed is a worldly man of letters who profoundly believes that collective good can be accomplished by individual acts of good conscience -- that each of us (Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu) must connect with others and live out our convictions for our common humanity in the face of tribalism, religion and other dividing forces. Thus, his reach out to me, a fiery American nationalist TV commentator and editor to find if not complete common ground, at least common friendship.

His new book, "Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization," is thus particularly heartbreaking for me. As a trained anthropologist, he took three of his students on a six-month journey around the Muslim world to investigate what Muslims are thinking.

His conclusion: Due to both misjudgments by the United States and regrettable developments in Muslim attitudes, "The poisons are spreading so rapidly that without immediate remedial action, no antidote may ever be found." And Dr. Ahmed has always been an optimist.

He divides Muslim attitudes into three categories named after Indian Muslim cities that have historically championed them: Ajmer, Aligarh and Deoband.

Ajmer represents peaceful Sufi mysticism, Aligarth represents the instinct to modernize without corrupting Islam, Deoband represents non-fatalistic, practical, action-oriented orthodox Islam. It traces to Ibn Taymiyya, a 14th-Century thinker who lived when Islam was reeling from the Mongol invasions. He rejected Islam's prior easy, open acceptance of non-Muslims.

In short, Dr. Ahmed is an Aligarth. As a young man he was one of new Pakistan's best and brightest, led by Pakistan's founding father and first president, Dr. Jinnah. They hoped to build a modern democracy, overcome tribalism and the more obscurantist aspects of Islam while still being "good Muslims." The Deobands are the Bin Ladens and all the other Muslims we fear today.

Even one or two years ago, I think Dr. Ahmed was reasonably hopeful that his views had a fighting chance around the Islamic world. So, my jaw dropped when I got to page 192 of his new book and he described his thoughts while in Pakistan last year on his investigative journey: "The progressive and active Aligarth model had become enfeebled and in danger of being overtaken by the Deoband model ... I felt like a warrior in the midst of the fray who knew the odds were against him but never quite realized that his side had already lost the war."

He likewise reported from Indonesia -- invariably characterized as practicing a more moderate form of Islam. There, too, his report was crushingly negative. Meeting with people from presidents to cab drivers, from elite professors to students from modest schools (Dr. Ahmed holds a respected place in the Muslim firmament around the globe), reports that 50 percent want Shariah law, support the Bali terrorist bombing, oppose women in politics, support stoning adulterers to death. Indonesia's secular legal system and tolerant pluralist society is being "infiltrated by Deoband thinking ... Dwindling moderates and growing extremists are a dangerous challenging development."

Although I dissent from several of Dr. Ahmed's characterizations of the Bush Administration, Washington policymakers and journalists should read this book because it delivers a terrible message of warning both to those who say things aren't as bad as Bush says, and we can rely on the moderate voices of Islam -- with a little assist from the West -- winning; and for those who argue for aggressive American action to show our strength to the Muslims (because, in Bin Laden's words, they follow the strong horse).

To the first group he says that the "moderate" voice is in near hopeless retreat across the Muslim world. Don't count on them. To the second group he says, whatever Bush's intentions, our aggression only strengthens our enemies.
SO, OUR POLICY to date is to pursue a disastrous and pointless war in Iraq that, according to Dr. Ahmed, only strengthens our enemies -- kind of like the Enterprise firing its phaser banks into an energy-eating alien monolith. Unlike George Bush, Captains Kirk and Picard always had sense enough to Quit Doing That when they saw what the deal was.

No, our policy is to strengthen the Radical Islamic Monolith by firing our phasers at it over in the Alpha Quadrant . . . er, Iraq. And then, to make sure our cause is good and hopeless, we want to make sure the strengthened (and popular) energy-chomping monolith achieves real power all across the Islamic world via Exporting Democracy(TM).

Good God. George Custer isn't dead, he's president.

And if I hadn't been conscripted into the cavalry, I'd be putting my money on Crazy Horse.

HAT TIP: Crunchy Con.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The 'Appalachian Emergency Room' of politics

New Orleans' fine alternative paper, Gambit Weekly, offers up a cheery (NOT!) cover story this week.

For folks like your Mighty Favog, born and raised in Louisiana -- where characters, crooks and eccentrics are mainstream fare -- this is more a matter of 300th verse, same as the first. Depressing, but what the hell else is new?

Jeremy Alford and Clancy DuBos report:

It's been said that when the rest of the nation zigs, Louisiana zags. Democrats took over Congress last fall right after Louisiana elected two Republicans to statewide offices. A major issue for the Democrats nationally was alleged corruption and cronyism in the Bush Administration. Less than six months later, Congressman Bill Jefferson, a New Orleans Democrat with his own section in the Winnfield hall, faces a 16-count indictment for racketeering, money laundering, bribery and conspiracy to bribe foreign officials. Jefferson is being stiff-armed by Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress -- at a time when his district and the rest of south Louisiana need all the help they can get from Washington.

Meanwhile, a handful of other state and federal investigations, along with scandalized mismanagement of post-hurricane resources, continue to paint Louisiana as a political backwater, if not a cesspool of corruption, cronyism and incompetence. It's not a pretty picture when taken in whole. Consider the following:

• The brother of state Rep. Francis Thompson, a Democrat from Delhi (and a hall-of-famer), was indicted last week for allegedly misusing funds as executive director of Poverty Point Reservoir District in Richland Parish -- a pet project of Rep. Thompson. Michael Thompson, who formerly served as mayor of Delhi, faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.

• The FBI launched a series of raids this month in connection with the state's much-ballyhooed movie tax credits. According to a whistleblower lawsuit filed by the former head of the Louisiana Music Commission, an economic development official no longer with the state allegedly accepted kickbacks in exchange for favorable treatment on some tax credits. In addition, Republican state Rep. Gary Beard of Baton Rouge was taken to task by The Times-Picayune for seeking film tax credits for work his engineering firm did for a proposed film studio that he controls. The film studio never paid the $798,250 engineering bill, but instead gave Beard's engineering firm a promissory note and then sought tax credits of approximately $320,000 for the engineering work -- or 40 percent of the fee. The state denied the tax credits, citing the fact that no money actually changed hands, among other reasons.

• The state's Road Home program, which is responsible for disbursing federal housing money, is now short between $2.9 billion and $5 billion of what is needed to complete its mission. ICF International, the company administering the program, has been criticized by Congress for alleged mismanagement, and last week attorneys filed a class action lawsuit against the company in state court in Baton Rouge.

• Subpoenas indicate that Louisiana's fabled Angola State Penitentiary is under investigation, particularly its popular rodeo, as well as the prison's potato chip contracts and massive farm, which was the subject of an award-winning documentary. The details are still sketchy, but former Prison Enterprises director Jim Leslie pleaded guilty last year to witness tampering in a case involving a man who accused long-time Angola warden (and political hall-of-famer) Burl Cain of shaking him down for a $1,000 donation to the prison chapel fund, based on reports.

• The state Ethics Board is considering a request by state Sen. Robert Adley, a Benton Democrat, to investigate Republican Rep. Mike Powell of Shreveport regarding a $12,334 contract for a political mailer. Powell suggests he never worked on the mailer, but Shreveport demographer and political consultant Elliott Stonecipher says he has paperwork proving Powell completed the work and manipulated the paper trail to keep his name out of campaign finance reports.

• A series of audits and reviews revealed earlier this year that the Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the state's insurer of last resort, is unable to produce accurate financial data because of software problems -- and hasn't reconciled its bank statements since 2006. The Legislative Auditor also concluded that state officials charged with overseeing Citizens may have broken the law by taking hunting and fishing trips on the agency's dime.

At a time when Louisiana sorely needs an image makeover, the Jefferson scandal, which has gained international media attention, and these developing stories seriously undercut the best efforts of our state's best citizens. Because the scandalous headlines aren't going away anytime soon, Louisiana faces an ongoing, uphill fight to change its widely-held and iconic association with corruption.
DO YA' THINK? As I said in an earlier post, the problem may not ultimately center on Congress' not wanting to give integrity-challenged pols in a dysfunctional state another flippin' dime, but instead the national government's will and ability to ignore popular calls for Louisiana's quarantine . . . or worse.

I jest, but only by half.

So, will Louisiana ever be able to shed its image as a bastion of corruption? Opinions vary, but crusaders like Brandt, Moret and Erwin contend lawmakers and others merely need to step up, close a few loopholes, increase transparency and generally avoid conflicts of interest. If that happens, they say, word will spread that a new days has dawned in Louisiana -- and that can be used in marketing and economic development initiatives.

"You just do it," Erwin says. "That's how you do it. That is how you move up on the lists."

Meanwhile, as Louisiana continues to beg the federal government for more money to support recovery efforts, the Beltway is paying close attention to the state's circus-like political atmosphere, says Brent Littlefield, a D.C.-based Republican strategist with Political Solutions. Littlefield, who is often interviewed on Fox News, cites a longstanding concern in Washington about corruption in Louisiana -- and he notes that the Jefferson indictment has only made matters worse.

Jefferson's case alone may doom Louisiana's fiscal prospects in Congress, but the other pending matters won't help, either. "That is why there has been great concern, although expressed quietly, over monies sent to Louisiana for the recovery," Littlefield says. "Similar concerns do not seem to exist for other states, like Mississippi, that have received recovery monies for disasters."
TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH, there's not a bloody thing wrong with Louisiana, and Louisiana politics, that a coterie of military firing squads couldn't ameliorate pretty quickly. But that's Not How We Do Things in this country.

OH . . .
this should explain the headline.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

War crimes aren't just for Serbians . . .
or Saddam . . . or Nazi Germany anymore

Oh, Lord. Seymour Hersh has another blockbuster about American war crimes in the "War on Terror."

The general who first investigated Abu Ghraib, now retired, is pointing fingers. So are some other military and congressional insiders. And all those fingers are pointing to the top.

HERE ARE LENGTHY EXCERPTS from Hersh's piece in The New Yorker (which I strongly urge you to go and read), but they're only a fraction of the whole long, horrifying article.

On the afternoon of May 6, 2004, Army Major General Antonio M. Taguba was summoned to meet, for the first time, with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in his Pentagon conference room. Rumsfeld and his senior staff were to testify the next day, in televised hearings before the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees, about abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq. The previous week, revelations about Abu Ghraib, including photographs showing prisoners stripped, abused, and sexually humiliated, had appeared on CBS and in The New Yorker. In response, Administration officials had insisted that only a few low-ranking soldiers were involved and that America did not torture prisoners. They emphasized that the Army itself had uncovered the scandal.

If there was a redeeming aspect to the affair, it was in the thoroughness and the passion of the Army’s initial investigation. The inquiry had begun in January, and was led by General Taguba, who was stationed in Kuwait at the time. Taguba filed his report in March. In it he found:

Numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees . . . systemic and illegal abuse.

Taguba was met at the door of the conference room by an old friend, Lieutenant General Bantz J. Craddock, who was Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant. Craddock’s daughter had been a babysitter for Taguba’s two children when the officers served together years earlier at Fort Stewart, Georgia. But that afternoon, Taguba recalled, “Craddock just said, very coldly, ‘Wait here.’ ” In a series of interviews early this year, the first he has given, Taguba told me that he understood when he began the inquiry that it could damage his career; early on, a senior general in Iraq had pointed out to him that the abused detainees were “only Iraqis.” Even so, he was not prepared for the greeting he received when he was finally ushered in.

“Here . . . comes . . . that famous General Taguba—of the Taguba report!” Rumsfeld declared, in a mocking voice. The meeting was attended by Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy; Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (J.C.S.); and General Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, along with Craddock and other officials. Taguba, describing the moment nearly three years later, said, sadly, “I thought they wanted to know. I assumed they wanted to know. I was ignorant of the setting.”

In the meeting, the officials professed ignorance about Abu Ghraib. “Could you tell us what happened?” Wolfowitz asked. Someone else asked, “Is it abuse or torture?” At that point, Taguba recalled, “I described a naked detainee lying on the wet floor, handcuffed, with an interrogator shoving things up his rectum, and said, ‘That’s not abuse. That’s torture.’ There was quiet.”

Rumsfeld was particularly concerned about how the classified report had become public. “General,” he asked, “who do you think leaked the report?” Taguba responded that perhaps a senior military leader who knew about the investigation had done so. “It was just my speculation,” he recalled. “Rumsfeld didn’t say anything.” (I did not meet Taguba until mid-2006 and obtained his report elsewhere.) Rumsfeld also complained about not being given the information he needed. “Here I am,” Taguba recalled Rumsfeld saying, “just a Secretary of Defense, and we have not seen a copy of your report. I have not seen the photographs, and I have to testify to Congress tomorrow and talk about this.” As Rumsfeld spoke, Taguba said, “He’s looking at me. It was a statement.”

At best, Taguba said, “Rumsfeld was in denial.” Taguba had submitted more than a dozen copies of his report through several channels at the Pentagon and to the Central Command headquarters, in Tampa, Florida, which ran the war in Iraq. By the time he walked into Rumsfeld’s conference room, he had spent weeks briefing senior military leaders on the report, but he received no indication that any of them, with the exception of General Schoomaker, had actually read it. (Schoomaker later sent Taguba a note praising his honesty and leadership.) When Taguba urged one lieutenant general to look at the photographs, he rebuffed him, saying, “I don’t want to get involved by looking, because what do you do with that information, once you know what they show?”

Taguba also knew that senior officials in Rumsfeld’s office and elsewhere in the Pentagon had been given a graphic account of the pictures from Abu Ghraib, and told of their potential strategic significance, within days of the first complaint. On January 13, 2004, a military policeman named Joseph Darby gave the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (C.I.D.) a CD full of images of abuse. Two days later, General Craddock and Vice-Admiral Timothy Keating, the director of the Joint Staff of the J.C.S., were e-mailed a summary of the abuses depicted on the CD. It said that approximately ten soldiers were shown, involved in acts that included:

Having male detainees pose nude while female guards pointed at their genitals; having female detainees exposing themselves to the guards; having detainees perform indecent acts with each other; and guards physically assaulting detainees by beating and dragging them with choker chains.

Taguba said, “You didn’t need to ‘see’ anything -- just take the secure e-mail traffic at face value.”

I learned from Taguba that the first wave of materials included descriptions of the sexual humiliation of a father with his son, who were both detainees. Several of these images, including one of an Iraqi woman detainee baring her breasts, have since surfaced; others have not. (Taguba’s report noted that photographs and videos were being held by the C.I.D. because of ongoing criminal investigations and their “extremely sensitive nature.”) Taguba said that he saw “a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee.” The video was not made public in any of the subsequent court proceedings, nor has there been any public government mention of it. Such images would have added an even more inflammatory element to the outcry over Abu Ghraib. “It’s bad enough that there were photographs of Arab men wearing women’s panties,” Taguba said.

On January 20th, the chief of staff at Central Command sent another e-mail to Admiral Keating, copied to General Craddock and Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the Army commander in Iraq. The chief of staff wrote, “Sir: update on alleged detainee abuse per our discussion. DID IT REALLY HAPPEN? Yes, currently have 4 confessions implicating perhaps 10 soldiers. DO PHOTOS EXIST? Yes. A CD with approx 100 photos and a video—CID has these in their possession.”

In subsequent testimony, General Myers, the J.C.S. chairman, acknowledged, without mentioning the e-mails, that in January information about the photographs had been given “to me and the Secretary up through the chain of command. . . . And the general nature of the photos, about nudity, some mock sexual acts and other abuse, was described.”

Nevertheless, Rumsfeld, in his appearances before the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees on May 7th, claimed to have had no idea of the extensive abuse. “It breaks our hearts that in fact someone didn’t say, ‘Wait, look, this is terrible. We need to do something,’ ” Rumsfeld told the congressmen. “I wish we had known more, sooner, and been able to tell you more sooner, but we didn’t.”

Rumsfeld told the legislators that, when stories about the Taguba report appeared, “it was not yet in the Pentagon, to my knowledge.” As for the photographs, Rumsfeld told the senators, “I say no one in the Pentagon had seen them”; at the House hearing, he said, “I didn’t see them until last night at 7:30.” Asked specifically when he had been made aware of the photographs, Rumsfeld said:

There were rumors of photographs in a criminal prosecution chain back sometime after January 13th . . . I don’t remember precisely when, but sometime in that period of January, February, March. . . . The legal part of it was proceeding along fine. What wasn’t proceeding along fine is the fact that the President didn’t know, and you didn’t know, and I didn’t know.

“And, as a result, somebody just sent a secret report to the press, and there they are,” Rumsfeld said.

Taguba, watching the hearings, was appalled. He believed that Rumsfeld’s testimony was simply not true. “The photographs were available to him—if he wanted to see them,” Taguba said. Rumsfeld’s lack of knowledge was hard to credit. Taguba later wondered if perhaps Cambone had the photographs and kept them from Rumsfeld because he was reluctant to give his notoriously difficult boss bad news. But Taguba also recalled thinking, “Rumsfeld is very perceptive and has a mind like a steel trap. There’s no way he’s suffering from C.R.S. -- Can’t Remember Shit. He’s trying to acquit himself, and a lot of people are lying to protect themselves.” It distressed Taguba that Rumsfeld was accompanied in his Senate and House appearances by senior military officers who concurred with his denials.

“The whole idea that Rumsfeld projects—‘We’re here to protect the nation from terrorism’—is an oxymoron,” Taguba said. “He and his aides have abused their offices and have no idea of the values and high standards that are expected of them. And they’ve dragged a lot of officers with them.”


Richard Armitage, a former Navy counter-insurgency officer who served as Deputy Secretary of State in the first Bush term, recalled meeting Taguba, then a lieutenant colonel, in South Korea in the early nineteen-nineties. “I was told to keep an eye on this young guy—‘He’s going to be a general,’ ” Armitage said. “Taguba was discreet and low key—not a sprinter but a marathoner.”

At the time, Taguba was working for Major General Mike Myatt, a marine who was the officer in charge of strategic talks with the South Koreans, on behalf of the American military. “I needed an executive assistant with brains and integrity,” Myatt, who is now retired and living in San Francisco, told me. After interviewing a number of young officers, he chose Taguba. “He was ethical and he knew his stuff,” Myatt said. “We really became close, and I’d trust him with my life. We talked about military strategy and policy, and the moral aspect of war—the importance of not losing the moral high ground.” Myatt followed Taguba’s involvement in the Abu Ghraib inquiry, and said, “I was so proud of him. I told him, ‘Tony, you’ve maintained yourself, and your integrity.’ ”

Taguba got a different message, however, from other officers, among them General John Abizaid, then the head of Central Command. A few weeks after his report became public, Taguba, who was still in Kuwait, was in the back seat of a Mercedes sedan with Abizaid. Abizaid’s driver and his interpreter, who also served as a bodyguard, were in front. Abizaid turned to Taguba and issued a quiet warning: “You and your report will be investigated.”

“I wasn’t angry about what he said but disappointed that he would say that to me,” Taguba said. “I’d been in the Army thirty-two years by then, and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia.”


Taguba eventually concluded that there was a reason for the evasions and stonewalling by Rumsfeld and his aides. At the time he filed his report, in March of 2004, Taguba said, “I knew there was C.I.A. involvement, but I was oblivious of what else was happening” in terms of covert military-intelligence operations. Later that summer, however, he learned that the C.I.A. had serious concerns about the abusive interrogation techniques that military-intelligence operatives were using on high-value detainees. In one secret memorandum, dated June 2, 2003, General George Casey, Jr., then the director of the Joint Staff in the Pentagon, issued a warning to General Michael DeLong, at the Central Command:

CIA has advised that the techniques the military forces are using to interrogate high value detainees (HVDs) . . . are more aggressive than the techniques used by CIA who is [sic] interviewing the same HVDs.

DeLong replied to Casey that the techniques in use were “doctrinally appropriate techniques,” in accordance with Army regulations and Rumsfeld’s direction.

Abu Ghraib had opened the door on the issue of the treatment of detainees, and from the beginning the Administration feared that the publicity would expose more secret operations and practices. Shortly after September 11th, Rumsfeld, with the support of President Bush, had set up military task forces whose main target was the senior leadership of Al Qaeda. Their essential tactic was seizing and interrogating terrorists and suspected terrorists; they also had authority from the President to kill certain high-value targets on sight. The most secret task-force operations were categorized as Special Access Programs, or S.A.P.s.

The military task forces were under the control of the Joint Special Operations Command, the branch of the Special Operations Command that is responsible for counterterrorism. One of Miller’s unacknowledged missions had been to bring the J.S.O.C.’s “strategic interrogation” techniques to Abu Ghraib. In special cases, the task forces could bypass the chain of command and deal directly with Rumsfeld’s office. A former senior intelligence official told me that the White House was also briefed on task-force operations.

The former senior intelligence official said that when the images of Abu Ghraib were published, there were some in the Pentagon and the White House who “didn’t think the photographs were that bad”—in that they put the focus on enlisted soldiers, rather than on secret task-force operations. Referring to the task-force members, he said, “Guys on the inside ask me, ‘What’s the difference between shooting a guy on the street, or in his bed, or in a prison?’ ” A Pentagon consultant on the war on terror also said that the “basic strategy was ‘prosecute the kids in the photographs but protect the big picture.’”

An aggressive congressional inquiry into Abu Ghraib could have provoked unwanted questions about what the Pentagon was doing, in Iraq and elsewhere, and under what authority. By law, the President must make a formal finding authorizing a C.I.A. covert operation, and inform the senior leadership of the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees. However, the Bush Administration unilaterally determined after 9/11 that intelligence operations conducted by the military—including the Pentagon’s covert task forces—for the purposes of “preparing the battlefield” could be authorized by the President, as Commander-in-Chief, without telling Congress.

There was coördination between the C.I.A. and the task forces, but also tension. The C.I.A. officers, who were under pressure to produce better intelligence in the field, wanted explicit legal authority before aggressively interrogating high-value targets. A finding would give operatives some legal protection for questionable actions, but the White House was reluctant to put what it wanted in writing.

A recently retired high-level C.I.A. official, who served during this period and was involved in the drafting of findings, described to me the bitter disagreements between the White House and the agency over the issue. “The problem is what constituted approval,” the retired C.I.A. official said. “My people fought about this all the time. Why should we put our people on the firing line somewhere down the road? If you want me to kill Joe Smith, just tell me to kill Joe Smith. If I was the Vice-President or the President, I’d say, ‘This guy Smith is a bad guy and it’s in the interest of the United States for this guy to be killed.’ They don’t say that. Instead, George”—George Tenet, the director of the C.I.A. until mid-2004—“goes to the White House and is told, ‘You guys are professionals. You know how important it is. We know you’ll get the intelligence.’ George would come back and say to us, ‘Do what you gotta do.’ ”


Rumsfeld was vague, in his appearances before Congress, about when he had informed the President about Abu Ghraib, saying that it could have been late January or early February. He explained that he routinely met with the President “once or twice a week . . . and I don’t keep notes about what I do.” He did remember that in mid-March he and General Myers were “meeting with the President and discussed the reports that we had obviously heard” about Abu Ghraib.

Whether the President was told about Abu Ghraib in January (when e-mails informed the Pentagon of the seriousness of the abuses and of the existence of photographs) or in March (when Taguba filed his report), Bush made no known effort to forcefully address the treatment of prisoners before the scandal became public, or to reëvaluate the training of military police and interrogators, or the practices of the task forces that he had authorized. Instead, Bush acquiesced in the prosecution of a few lower-level soldiers. The President’s failure to act decisively resonated through the military chain of command: aggressive prosecution of crimes against detainees was not conducive to a successful career.

In January of 2006, Taguba received a telephone call from General Richard Cody, the Army’s Vice-Chief of Staff. “This is your Vice,” he told Taguba. “I need you to retire by January of 2007.” No pleasantries were exchanged, although the two generals had known each other for years, and, Taguba said, “He offered no reason.” (A spokesperson for Cody said, “Conversations regarding general officer management are considered private personnel discussions. General Cody has great respect for Major General Taguba as an officer, leader, and American patriot.”)

“They always shoot the messenger,” Taguba told me. “To be accused of being overzealous and disloyal—that cuts deep into me. I was being ostracized for doing what I was asked to do.”

Taguba went on, “There was no doubt in my mind that this stuff” -- the explicit images -- “was gravitating upward. It was standard operating procedure to assume that this had to go higher. The President had to be aware of this.” He said that Rumsfeld, his senior aides, and the high-ranking generals and admirals who stood with him as he misrepresented what he knew about Abu Ghraib had failed the nation.

“From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service,” Taguba said. “And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.”
READ THOSE WORDS AGAIN. Read them, and weep for your nation, for your military and for all of us. Read them, and weep for Iraq. For what we have done to Iraq. Read them for, as Longfellow wrote, "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. . . ."

Here is the "money graf" again:

“From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service,” Taguba said. “And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.
THE WAR ON TERROR is over. The United States has defected to the terrorist camp.

We invaded Iraq to -- allegedly -- bring that country freedom and security. It has neither.

Saddam Hussein is dead. Long live Saddam Hussein. He lives on in the disorder we have exacerbated in the Middle East. He lives on in every IED. He lives on in every American interrogator who stoops to torture "for the greater good."

Saddam lives. Saddam is victorious. A part of him lives on at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Allahu akbar, y'all.