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Tonight, Oct 18, PBS stations will air “The Net at Risk,” a 90-minute documentary produced by Bill Moyers, which hails our grassroots efforts to support Net Neutrality. Please check your local listings and tune in. After the show, participate in a live Web debate featuring Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott and phone company flack Mike McCurry.
For more information to participate in the PBS debate visit:
Read the Salon story:
Stay up to date on the latest developments at the blog:

I generally don’t react to anything that Ann Coulter says because she is so extremely ridiculous and, as Svetlana on the Sopranos said about Janice—she is a “boring voman.”

However, the disinformation that she spreads is truly remarkable and troubling when you consider that Fox News at prime time has over two million viewers.

Ann Coulter to O’Reilly, in reference to the Foley scandal:

And by the way, this is a perfect example of the Democrats way overplaying their hands. They’re talking about, you know, just because Foley is gay and sending, you know, asking a kid what he wants for his birthday, we should have been wiretapping the guy’s phone. They don’t want to wiretap…

I think their [Democrats] hysterical overreaction to Foley — when the New York Times ethicist says we should boycott the Boy Scouts, because they don’t want gay men camping with a 14-year-old boy, but they think we should be wiretapping a congressman for asking a kid what he wants for his birthday.

That’s two separate references to Foley’s emails in which she reduces the content to “asking a kid what he wants for his birthday.”

Hmmm. Let’s look at one of these transcripts. A conversation in which someone asks a kid what he wants for his birthday doesn’t usually come with the following billboard-sized disclaimer, on the ABC News site:


ADVISED: Foley’s Exchange With

Underage Page

And here’s an excerpt from the exchange, in which they discuss masturbation techniques:

Maf54 (7:53:54 PM): do you really do it face down
Xxxxxxxxx (7:54:03 PM): ya
Maf54 (7:54:13 PM): kneeling
Xxxxxxxxx (7:54:31 PM): well i dont use my hand…i use the bed itself
Maf54 (7:54:31 PM): where do you unload it
Xxxxxxxxx (7:54:36 PM): towel
Maf54 (7:54:43 PM): really
Maf54 (7:55:02 PM): completely naked?
Xxxxxxxxx (7:55:12 PM): well ya
Maf54 (7:55:21 PM): very nice
Xxxxxxxxx (7:55:24 PM): lol
Maf54 (7:55:51 PM): cute butt bouncing in the air
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:00 PM): haha
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:05 PM): well ive never watched myslef
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:08 PM): but ya i guess
Maf54 (7:56:18 PM): i am sure not
Maf54 (7:56:22 PM): hmmm
Maf54 (7:56:30 PM): great visual
Maf54 (7:56:39 PM): i may try that
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:43 PM): it works
Maf54 (7:56:51 PM): hmm
Maf54 (7:56:57 PM): sound inetersting
Maf54 (7:57:05 PM): i always use lotion and the hand
Maf54 (7:57:10 PM): but who knows
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:24 PM): i dont use lotion…takes too much time to clean up
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:37 PM): with a towel you can just wipe off….and go
Maf54 (7:57:38 PM): lol
Maf54 (7:57:45 PM): where do you throw the towel
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:48 PM): but you cant work it too hard….or its not good
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:51 PM): in the laundry
Maf54 (7:58:16 PM): just kinda slow rubbing
Xxxxxxxxx (7:58:23 PM): ya….
Xxxxxxxxx (7:58:32 PM): or youll rub yourslef raw
Maf54 (7:58:37 PM): well I have aa totally stiff wood now

Well, you know what comes next, so to speak. That’s one heck of a yucky birthday present that they’re discussing there. I almost feel guilty just posting that conversation within close proximity of yesterday’s innocent panda bears.

I would say “shame, shame, shame,” to Coulter, I mean, except that when you look the word shameless up in the dictionary, you find Ann Coulter’s picture.

The 9/11 story, already mythologized and told and retold from a thousand different angles, will now be used as the latest propaganda tool by those who would rewrite history.  According to some who have viewed and reviewed the series, it innacurately depicts some critical events and tends to place more blame on the Clinton administration for failings that might have led to the attack.  One scene that presents the Clinton administration in a bad light is, by the producer’s own admission, completely fabricated.


According to the NY Times, Richard Ben-Veniste of the 9/11 commission reviewed part of the movie along with other commission members and stated:

As we were watching, we were trying to think how they could have misinterpreted the 9/11 commission’s finding the way that they had . . . They gave the impression that Clinton had not given the green light to an operation that had been cleared by the C.I.A. to kill bin Laden.

Richard Clarke, who knows better than anyone what actually happened, is apparently upset about the depiction.  According to Think, President Clinton’s, Madeline Albright’s, and Samuel Berger’s office have been denied advance copies of the film or script, but copies of the film have been given to Rush Limbaugh and a variety of bloggers and other folks, apparently for the purposes of promoting it.  While ABC emphasizes that the miniseries is a “docudrama,” not a “documentary,” thus exculpating it from charges of inaccuracy, it apparently plans to widely distribute it to schools.  One hopes that every schoolteacher who shows this series in his or her classroom will know all the facts and be able to place the depiction in its proper context, but that is a lot to hope for.  The 9/11 Commission report is so thick and detailed, the best reader would never remember all of the facts that are outlined in it, and five or ten or more years from now, collective memory may rely almost solely on sources such as this program.  Thus the importance of accuracy in popular and mass-marketed depictions of the events.


If all of this is correct, it smells pretty bad.  Think Progress, which has reviewed the film, has posted an action alert on its website, asking people to use their form to send a message to ABC. The letter requests that ABC fix the inaccuracies in the program or not air it.  Personally, I’m opposed to censorship, and that’s what asking ABC not to air this would amount to, in my opinion.  Particularly if you have not seem the film yourself.  How can you object to something that you have not even seen?  This is what right-wing fundamentalists do all of the time. 


But it doesn’t hurt to send a letter to ABC, criticizing their decision to air and distribute an inaccurate program.  It might be even more effective to contact the program’s sponsors and tell them you will boycott them.  This is a little bit different than telling ABC that they should not air the program.  It’s more like saying, because you have shown something inaccurate and propagandistic, I’m not going to support you.  That’s a decision that someone might make on their own, after viewing the program.


In this interesting  New York Times Op-Ed piece, “Pack of Lies,” dog expert Mark Kerr finally issues a critique of the mighty Dog Whisperer and questions the validity of his techniques.

Cesar Millan is, without a doubt, charming and engaging, the embodiment of “tough love.”  His results, as depicted on his program, are simply amazing.  Yes, his techniques seem a little hard-assed at times, but if he can prevent a wayward dog from being disowned or euthanized, great.  If he can prevent an aggressive dog from causing harm and mayhem, so be it.  If he can encourage more people to work with their dogs rather than give up on them, well, that is simply wonderful.  I enjoy watching The Dog Whisperer, perhaps because there is something satisfying about seeing hopeless cases rehabilitated, especially when they are cute and furry.  Also, I believe that it is a noble endeavor to attempt to better understand animals and communicate with them.

But Kerr argues that Cesar doesn’t really understand dogs and that his philosophy of dominance and submission is highly problematic. He cites a wolf behavior expert in arguing that not all wolf packs are structured the way that Cesar suggests and that dominance contests are rare.  Furthermore, he says, domestic dogs are not wolves.  Their collective psyches have been irrevocably altered by 15,000 years of selective breeding and association with humans.  They are more psychologically complex than wolves in a pack, more like individuals with individual “talents and limitations.”  He argues that Cesar’s techniques, although mild compared to some, are punitive, regressive, and quick and dirty.  Dominance and intimidation might work in the short run, he says, but much is sacrificed and overlooked in the process, including subtle factors that might be causing the unwanted behavior.

I admit that I have always felt a tad uncomfortable with Cesar’s methods and ambivalent about his results.  In changing a neurotic animal into a “calm, submissive” one, how much of its spirit is broken?  Since they can’t talk to us, we will never know for sure.  While it is true that most dogs respond well to authority and clear limits, most also need the latitude to be the goofy and exuberant creatures that they are. 

And the phrase “calm, submissive” often troubles me.  I worry that these little reformed miscreants have become lobotomized zombies.  And is a jumping Min Pin so bad any way?  Is a feisty Chihuaha so out of the ordinary?  I always thought that feistiness was part of the small package.  And is it possible to control that feistiness rather than subdue it?  Cesar’s results may make the dog’s people happier, but do they make the dogs happier?  And I wonder about the recidivism rate of these creatures.  A year later, are the animals back to their old tricks?

I was highly amused when I observed Cesar trying to settle a long-standing dispute between a family cat and dog, and, when he finally got them settled, he stated, “Now you have a calm, submissive dog and a calm, submissive cat.”  I have known many, many calm cats, but I have never known a submissive one.  The most passive of their kind will take their chances on the street rather than submit to your will, and this is only one of their many charms, in my opinion.  What Cesar did not understand is that the cat was probably just weary of the whole game.

The notion of a “quick fix” is highly addictive.  There is something appealing I think, even to the most liberal and independent among us, about having a strong and gentle authority figure come in and quickly and decisively set things right.  There is something enormously comforting in knowing that no matter how tough the problem, there’s a big, strong guy out there who can solve it for you, even by using force, if necessary (and there is a political point mixed in here, in case you haven’t noticed) so that you don’t need to think about it anymore, so that you don’t need to wrangle and wrestle with it. Perhaps this is the fundamental appeal of The Dog Whisperer.


Last night on Larry King Live, Bill Maher complained vociferously about the overblown cable news coverage of the latest chapter in the JonBenet Ramsey story, referring to the coverage as “eye candy.”    

Eye candy, of course, is standard on cable TV news.  News anchors and commentators, particularly female ones, are nearly indistinguishable from mannequins.  Their appearance is so extraordinarily polished and perfected that most supermodels, placed next to them, would appear more flawed and natural.  Add to this the surreal colors and lighting of the newsrooms; the careful selection of compelling images regardless of relevance to content; and busy, complex graphics, and you have a recipe for visual fixation and mental distraction.  Maher is disappointed by this because he was brought up, as he said, to think of cable news as news for “smart people.”  Come now, Bill, PBS and C-Span is news for smart people, not CNN.  A whole team of makeup artists could work on Margaret Warner, and she would still look like the neighborhood librarian, god bless her.  And I suspect that most “smart people” prefer her that way, given her necessarily serious and authoritative role.

But this is neither new or surprising. What shocked me is that Maher proceeded to provide a more specific example of “eye candy” by suggesting that the revival of the JonBenet story gave the media the chance to show images of the child “prancing around like a whore,” as he put it.  Now, this was a remarkable statement, even for Bill Maher, and I expected Larry’s switchboard to light up with outraged callers defending the child’s and, perhaps, even the parent’s innocence.  But either those calls weren’t put through or they were never received, perhaps because too many agreed with Maher’s assessment to comment.  But what exactly might they have agreed with?

This statement, “JonBenet prancing around like a whore,” particularly within the context of its reference to constant media coverage and image repetition, is remarkable for a number of reasons:

First, it suggests that the child was so successfully fetishized and sexualized that her image fascinates people to the point of obsession;

Second, it suggests that an innocent child, when fetishized in such a manner, appears “whore”-like and thus, by definition, sexually provocative to an adult male onlooker—a clear taboo;

Third, it suggests the public voyeurism that is inherent in such a display, which is both remarkable and hypocritical in a culture in which pedophilia is so demonized that its perpetrators are literally cast out of society, even after they have served their time;   

Fourth, it openly acknowledges the culture’s obsession with what is, according to Maher’s characterization, taboo imagery intended to titillate or at least fascinate even a “normal” man; and

Fifth, it imparts some of the blame on the victim, or, in this case, not the poor child but the parents who were complicit in her victimization by using her in such a manner.

Public and law enforcement suspicion of the parents’ involvement in the girl’s murder, which has never really let up since the beginning, is a direct consequence of item five.  Any mother who would treat her child as a doll and display her as such might be tempted to objectify her in more perverse and horrible ways.  So it goes. The Boulder D.A.’s latest efforts to vindicate the parents led to the current fiasco—a first-class trip out of Thailand for a very creepy, but apparently innocent man.  As has been pointed out countless times, had this been a poor black child that was so murdered, her case would be long forgotten, as would any efforts to vindicate the parents.  Her image would not fascinate in the same way as that of the blonde-haired blue-eyed child whose defiled innocence captured the imagination of those such as Mr. Karr and John and Jane Q. Public, who were raised to admire the fair-haired, fair-skinned face and regard it as the cultural standard for beauty and wholesomeness.

As for CNN, eye candy, and tabloid TV—nothing new.  What is troubling is what lies beneath the surface, the subtext of the imagery, whether it is Nancy Grace’s highly buffed and plasticized face or JonBenet’s dolled-up one.  Those who would object to open and natural depictions of human sexuality (within the context of a narrative about and for adults, for example) will continue to be fascinated by imagery that fetishizes the individual and thus obscures reality and distracts from the conscious awareness that is the essence of civic and political involvement and responsibility.  Such imagery might be appropriate in entertainment, but not in the news.


Bill Moyers’ new series, Faith and Reason, is in some ways more compelling than his topical series, NOW, which has been truncated to a half-hour, sans Bill Moyers, due to right wing accusations of liberal bias. Moyers is more in his element here, conducting longer, in-depth interviews with writers on a subject that obviously fascinates him, harkening back to his now classic interviews with mythologist Joseph Campbell.

These interviews are significant and compelling because they further problematize what is already problematic—the tension between organized religion, still part of many people’s lives, and the secular humanist values that define much of the western world’s social infrastructure, particularly in a democracy. Sam Harris explored these issues, in a decidedly biased way, in the bestselling book The End of Faith. In a world in which fundamentalist religion wreaks so much havoc, it seems that people are, unconsciously at least, seeking new paradigms for their conception of the divine. Did the fervor over the Da Vinci Code spring from people’s need for a damn good mystery or from the need for a more fully human Christ, a family man that one can relate to, rather than the rabbinical and cryptic Jesus of Mathew or the more abstract, inaccessible, and iconic Jesus of John? Or did it spring from a desire to debunk and transcend beliefs that many consider metaphoric and many others consider poppycock?

The latest interview, with Salman Rushdie, was truly provocative and thought provoking, and if not seen, can be appreciated through the transcript, available on Moyers’ site. Rushdie speaks about Islam; fundamentalism; the fatwa that caused him to go underground for nearly ten years; the role of the artist, particularly in relation to religion and spirituality; and the nature of morality.

Rushdie had the following to say in response to the Danish cartoon controversy:

I think there’s two subjects on the Danish cartoon. There’s the cartoons themselves. Would you have published them, should you have published them? And I think these are arguments that newspapers have every day. You know, what’s an appropriate editorial stance on a given issue? So, I think we could have that argument in a kind of straight forward civil discourse. And we can have different points of view about it. I think the second thing that happened was the enormously violent and intimidatory response. And then the question I think changes. The question becomes how do you respond to intimidation? And I’m afraid that many of the people who refused to stock the cartoons, who refused to reprint them, claiming that they were being respectful were actually not being respectful, they were being scared, you know. And I think the problem is with intimidation is that if you do surrender to it you make sure that there will be more intimidation in the future.

Rushdie recently appeared at the PEN World Voices festival of writers where he read from his work. PEN International continues to do the important work of promoting free expression and advancing literature and literary fellowship. Its Prison Writing Program has been particularly successful.

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The USA is famously founded on democratic principles of enlightenment. Openness, expansiveness, life, tolerance, affirmation, individual liberty, progression, optimism, and freedom of movement are all operative forces within this paradigm, which is the foundation for structures such as the internet. Blogging could not be possible without this type of conceptual framework.

The “Dark Side” (who’d have thunk it?) represents a dangerous paradigm shift. Stay informed. Be mindful. Kep watch. Be wary of those who would curtail the freedom of others in order to defend yours.

Television, in general, is occasionally entertaining, sometimes educative, and satisfyingly unchallenging. The worst television (generally network) is puerile, cliché, sanitized, bereft of substance, and mind-numbing. HBO’s Deadwood represents the best television because it is all that the worst is not—sophisticated and complex, cynical, vulgar and filthy in both language and image, and challenging to watch. I have to watch each episode twice in order to a) understand what the characters are saying, b) understand what they mean, and C) understand the basic plot. But therein lies the pleasure.

Deadwood is called by Newsday reviewer Verne Gay, “a terribly, terribly hard show to love.” Elsewhere, however, Deadwood has been called “Shakespeare in the mud,” and it is true that nowhere else on television can one find dialogue that is so richly and beautifully formed, yet constantly peppered with the worst profanity (every one of George Carlin’s seven). Indeed, Al Swearengen is some strange combination of Iago, Falstaff, and maybe Prospero, with Dan as his unrelenting Caliban and Trixie as a very odd Ariel.

In addition, Deadwood adds to the tradition of westerns that are more than westerns because they achieve a kind of mytho-realism through sometimes campy and equally inaccurate depictions that deconstruct the genre and challenge expectations. One need only compare Robin Weigart’s Calamity Jane with Doris Day’s to see this deconstruction in action. It is unfortunate that HBO has caved in to economic pressures and reduced the fourth season to two films. One hopes for better.

And for those who are completely clueless–here are the transcripts:

April 2017
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