Friday, May 21, 2004

Harold Ford and the Reverend Moon

This week's Memphis Flyer has an odd politics short from Jackson Baker, in which he talks with Representative Harold Ford, Jr. about a Reverend Sun Myung Moon event and his purported participation in it.
Only problem: Ford -- one of eight congressmen supposedly honored at the event as an "Ambassador of Peace" -- said categorically he wasn't there, never heard of it, never got any such award, and has never met the Reverend Moon.

Unfortunately, said Ford, public officials' names often get used without their permission.
Which is odd. The event was held on March 23 of this year -- two months ago. What reason is there for putting out this blanket denial statement now? If he hadn't done this, 99% of his constituents would never have known, so what is important enough to make it public now? Is it Baker's deliberately vague and vaporous "and in other media outlets" that covers the problem? What's going on out there?

You can read the original Washington Times story on the event here. This is the relevant passage:
Nearly 90 other religious, civil, political and educational "ambassadors for peace" were cited for their regional efforts. Members of Congress assisting at the event included Sen. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Democrat, Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Maryland, Christopher B. Cannon of Utah and Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, all Republicans, and Democratic Reps. Danny K. Davis of Illinois, Harold E Ford Jr. of Tennessee and Sanford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia.
I found another story which is similarly inconclusive at Alternet, dated May 11th:
On the evening of March 23, a group of the Rev. Moon's powerful political friends gathered at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington. There, the Reverend presided over a ceremony presenting "Crown of Peace" awards to a number of honored guests. Seven U.S. Congressmen – Democrats Sen. Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Rep. Danny K. Davis of Illinois, Harold E Ford Jr. of Tennessee, Sanford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia and Republicans Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Maryland, Christopher B. Cannon of Utah, and Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania – received "Ambassadors for Peace" awards.
Notice that this story says "awards were presented." You don't have to be present to win. Did this story just work from the Times story without fact-checking and new reporting of its own?

The Alternet story also says:
On his way to becoming a powerful, influential and controversial political figure, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon has developed a special relationship with the Bush family. After supporting Dubya's election through his flagship publication, The Washington Times, the newspaper's foundation sponsored a prayer luncheon attended by some 1,700 religious, civic and political leaders the day before Bush's inauguration. The guest list contained a host of religious right luminaries including the Rev. Jerry Falwell, former National Evangelical Association President Don Argue, Trinity Broadcasting Network's Paul Crouch and a host of leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention.
Ford is a staunch Democrat, but he's been known to make overtures to Republicans (He signed a pro-Iraqi War petition with a small group of conservative Republicans before the war was launched.) and is a member of the centrist-y Democratic Leadership Council, President Clinton's organisation that successfully shifted the Democrats to the right and got him elected. Has Ford gotten snared in there somewhere with a Moon-connected group that he now needs to disassociate from?

I found a Moon website that had lots of pictures from the March event, but nowhere can I spot Representative Ford in there, although some commenters on a Moon-watch blog have spotted other Congressmen and a governor there. That page has screen caps from a Moon video that has clips from the March event, which you can find a link to on this FreeRepublic discussion thread. I've tried playing the video, but my Windows Media Player has problems that render it unusable. You might have better luck.

John Gorenfeld has been all over this story from the beginning. John even has a picture of the official event program, listing eight Congressmen, including our Harold. Moe Gorenfeld here and here.

Curiouser and curiouser, as they say. What, if anything, is going on? Why was Ford so bothered as to make a fuss over a decidedly obscure thing? I have sent out some email to see if I can find pictures or some corroboration of Ford's presence at this event, if he did in fact attend.

I had noted and dismissed the Flyer story as an oddity from the Ford-philic Jackson Baker, a long-time Democratic shill. Watching the news locals fawn over Ford is nothing new. Lots of local reporters and commentators have been trying to get in on the ground floor with the rapidly rising Harold Ford, who will be a national political figure for years to come, maybe even a Senator, Cabinet member or Presidential candidate. Who can say? All these locals are locking in future access now.

I figured this was some obscure bit of coverage by Baker until I saw a post from Brock at Signifying Nothing pointing me to John Gorenfeld's website. Thanks Brock! Good catch.

I'll let you know if I learn anything more.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Angel Series Finale

Last night was the series end of Angel. It was anticipated in a lot of quarters and this morning the opinion on its success seems divided. A lot of folks were upset with what they perceived as a "cliffhanger" ending, or the lack of character resolutions.

Me, I kinda liked it. I thought Joss (Whedon, series and Buffyverse creator) was true to his vision of the show as the on-going fight between Good and Evil. It could have had more drama and more "bang," but it did get to a place that feels satisfying. A lot of folks felt cheated by the end coming just before a climactic battle was about to ensue, but as a some-time fiction writer I like how Joss leaves us to imagine what is to come.

Some folks thought the ending was ambiguous, in that we don't see Gigantic Evil vanquished or our heroes slaughtered. It's a device that lets the viewer imagine! Joss was clear enough in the past few episodes that our heroes were going to die. Angel said as much when he finally let the Fang Gang into his plan. He admitted that evil was always with us, would always be with us, was unvanquishable and unending. He also said that the measure of a life was in whether those who were called continued the fight, or gave in. When, in the finale, Gunn went to visit Ann (a minor character from a couple of seasons back who runs a shelter for troubled youth and had a run-in with uber-bad guys Wolfram & Hart), she even reinforces that point. When given a choice of fighting unstoppable evil or continuing to do good works, she immediately chose to keep doing good.

I believe that all of the final four -- Angel, Spike, Gunn and Illyria -- will die in the fight. But, as Angel said last time, their fight would trip up, however momentarily, the Senior Partners and would shock and surprise them. Evil wouldn't win after all, but would also have to keep fighting.

Harmony proved to be a traitor, and self-serving to the end. After being revealed, she has the nerve to ask for a letter of recommendation! And Angel has already left one for her in her desk. We also got to see her in some Victoria's Secret underwear for just a few moments, which was quite pleasant.

Some character beats deserve special mention. When former Wolfram & Hart bad guy Lindsay is brought into the team and sent out with Lorne, we know he hasn't changed his stripes. So when Lorne turns on him after they complete their mission, it was a great film noir moment. Lindsay is outraged that a "sidekick" is the one to kill him and not the hero, Angel. Lorne, on the other hand, has been getting increasingly dissatisfied with everything. Killing Lindsay in cold blood, no matter how necessary it was, is simply the last straw. He walks away from Team Angel a tired, sad, and bitter man. The light-hearted, fun-loving bar owner is now dark and will never be the same. It's a terrible thing to see after Lorne was so much the source of series comedy, but emotionally powerful.

The resoltuion of the Fred/Wes relationship -- in Wes' death -- also was stunning. Wes has, since Fred's death and her subsequent reappearance as the demi-god Illyria, been a shattered and grieving man. He's been yanked back and forth between hope and despair as Illyria has denied having any of Fred left in her while showing that in fact quite a bit remains! I think Illyria being a god who sees humans as meaningless ants and who despises us and our world, would naturally deny and suppress any part of Fred she found. Wes' yearning for his lost love has bothered and intriqued her. When Illyria takes on Fred's form in Wes' final moments, she whispers earnestly, "I love you. I love you. My beloved," it almost broke my heart. Then to see Wes' face shine in return was devastating. Illyria finally understands and begins to accept her human part; Wes is finally given peace of heart.

However, I haven't seen anyone note that Wes' death was typical Wesley Wyndham-Price. He went off alone to kill his demon, full of the usual Wesley overconfidence, and failed. He failed! His demon survived and had just given him a fatal knife stab when Illyria burst in to rescue him. She killed his demon. We've seen Wesley be successful when he's allowed his darkest side to come forward, but whenever he leads with his "hero to the rescue" persona, he always screws up. He screwed up fatally this time. It was painful to see him die, and die in failure, but so very right for Wesley to go that way. It was going to happen sooner or later.

Spike got his moment as well. Remember that we first met him as a failed and ridiculed 19th century poet. His poetry was laughed at, which is what drove him to accept vampirism. So, when we see him reciting a poem at a Poetry Slam full of bikers and get an ovation, it was a small gift to him, salve for his pain.

The Shanshu prophecy was resolved, in a manner of speaking. Angel supposedly gave up any chance at becoming human again when he signed his name to the parchment. But some have noted that he signed it as "Angel" and not "Angelus." Lawyers can debate which is his "real" name, or which him the prophecy refers to: the vampire he first was, or the ensouled vampire from the prophecy. It's wiggle room for any possible later movies. Note however, that Spike is also a vampire with a soul, so the Shanshu prophecy might now apply to him instead!

Lots of great moments: Harmony in the underwear. "Can I deny you three times?" The battle with Angel and Connor against Hamilton. "Blue Thunder." “I mean, really. I crap better magic than this.” “Can you pick out the one word there you probably shouldn’t have said?” “I feel grief for him. I can’t seem to control it. I wish to do more violence.” The whole approaching horde of Evil at the end did carry the appropriate sense of overwhelming odds and certain doom, especially the thirty or forty foot tall monster glimpsed in the background!

Still, it was a bit underwhelming. We get told numerous times this season how evil and all-pervasive the Senior Partners are, but we don't see any evidence in the final run of episodes. Regular viewers know they're high-level nasty, but it would have raised the dramatic stakes to have seen some.

Introducing the Circle of the Black Thorn in the final run-up may have given Team Angel a focus in their fight, instead of the amorphous Senior Partners, but it also brought in something we haven't heard of or seen in the years previous. They didn't come with a cache of evil that would make the end more impressive.

They try to wrap up the Angel, Spike, Buffy triangle in a clumsy (though really hilarious) episode that doesn't have Buffy in it! This is something that's lurked in the series for several seasons -- since the beginnging of Buffy -- and it deserved better. Fans have anguished over this far too much for such a knocked off resolution.

And I've felt that the show has been just a tad turgid for the past couple of seasons. It's meant to be dark and we get a lot of character writing, but the sense of forward momentum is really slowed as a result. Instead of a sense of hurtling to an apocalyptic finale, I felt more like we were trudging morosely, like sullen children.

Ah well. It was still great fun and I did enjoy it. Give it maybe an A- or a B+.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Ugh...Summer's Here

Up until recently, Memphis had long, enjoyable Springs. You could turn off the heat and the A/C for weeks at a time, throw open your windows and enjoy the weather. But in the past couple of years, Winter and Summer have been like a crowded bus, pushing their shoulders up against Spring and making life uncomfortable.

This year was no exception. Winter hung in a bit too long, so we had a shorter open-window season. Then there was the past Week of Rain. Now, today, we have the first day of real summer weather.

It's the residual humidity that's doing it. I was horribly surprised by my first Memphis summer fifteen years ago. The air really was like soup. You could see it waving in the heat. It clung to your skin like an unwelcome suitor and made your clothes a sodden mess. I can stand heat, but I wasn't prepared for air that actually pressed up against you.

Temps are running about five to ten degrees above normal, but it's that sticky air -- made so by a week of rain and a large high-pressure system shovelling humid Gulf air up into the Mid-South -- that's made today a mixed blessing. I'm waiting still for the front we need to blow through and clear the air.

We'll be dealing with this mess until early October. A long summer comin'....
Follow-up on the Monroe Avenue Story

Slightly more than a week ago, the Attorney General, my landlord, some cleaners and some sheriffs, and the whole panoply of local television news showed up at my apartment building to cover the eviction of some drug users and dealers from their apartments. It made all the news shows all day.

I blogged about my experience of the day down below. Now it's time to follow up the story.

The most notable change has been the dramatic drop in drug traffic on my street! There were still some folks cruising in over the weekend, getting the news from the stragglers still here, but overall it's way, way down. The hooker who used to ply her trade out front has gone down low, but she's still here. The folks in the building down the block who were hooked up with my complex's drug dealers have gone to ground. Overall, it's a much nicer atmosphere now on Monroe.

Of course, last week's weather was cloudy and rainy, so that played a part in it, but I think it's fair to say that a hammer blow was delivered.

But. Yeah, there's always a but. We have a new hooker now. She's older, mean and part-crazy and walks right out in the middle of the street in "fuck me" clothes. Not sure where she came from, but she's a worry. It's very obvious she's a long-time pro out to make herself some money.

Although the former crowd of young men -- eyes restlessly wandering the street, cell plastered to their ears, talking with the other no-accounts who wandered by -- who just stood in the middle of the apartment drive right under my front door are gone, a new bunch has shown up. One seems to live on my block, but has made a second home right underneath my door, sitting behind the cover of the large shrub there. Another is my neighbor from behind me, who is OK in a loud and thoughtless way, and some of his friends. As best I can tell, they get bored out back and come to the front to hang out. There are signs that some of the old activity has moved down the block.

The landlord put up some fence signs mid-week warning tenants that he was pro-active about drugs and evictions. They were pulled down a couple of days later.

For the three weeks prior to the raid, we had a constant stream of police cars coming down the street. They would roust people, blare messages through their PAs, shine spotlights around the buildings and generally make their presence a nuisance to those with something to hide. Since the raid, the police patrols are back to the former, occasional, level.

I'm still told that the landlord will be putting some more folks out the first of June, including the woman on the other end of my building who is an enabler for some of the problem folk in the neighborhood. We'll see. He's been more visible and there are signs he's ready to start filling the buildings back up, though no serious clean-up crews have been around yet.

One note for County Mayor AC Wharton: AG Bill Gibbons made a well-publicised event of the evictions. It was all over the news. It was an action of County government that put a whole lot of possessions and garbage on the sidewalk. And yet, no one came to pick up the mess! Some of it is still out there today, waiting for clean-up. If you're going to tout clean street measures, then your AG dumps a lot of crap on the streets, it should behoove you to follow up, no?

One thing I didn't notice the day of the event, but which has struck me since is the fact that the whole she-bang was for nought. Supposedly, the purpose of the event was to evict a lot of drug dealers on camera. But all, repeat all, of the tenants were gone before they arrived! And I know for sure they were there the night before. So, what happened? Who leaked the word? Blew the surprise?

If I were Bill Gibbons, I'd do this regularly. Make a lot of commotion with the Sheriff's office about evicitions coming up at one complex or another. Give it a date and make some realistic preparations. Call the media. Then, don't bother. The folks will have already fled and you can do something else. Same result, but with less work!

Just a thought....
Now Let's See What Happens

Hi, it's me again. I wanted to be sure to get this post up before today's evening news comes on, just in case I'm right.

News reports today say that a US copter shot up a wedding party in Iraq last night, killing as many as 45 people. The Army, being a bureaucratic organisation, hasn't officially commented on what happened as they have to let their wheels grind, but reporters and cameras are already in the area.

From the AP story:
Associated Press Television News footage showed a truck containing bloodied bodies, many wrapped in blankets, piled one atop the other. Several were children, one of whom had been decapitated.
I'll stake a bet right now. You will see this video on network television. It will not be as severely edited and trimmed as the Nick Berg video, but will be digitised like the Abu Ghraib photos. You will see the decapitated child.

The television network news organisations will say that they are responding to complaints about their handling of the Berg video. And mainstream papers will respond sagely to the resulting outcry when they do by saying, "Well, this is what you wanted. Don't complain now, when it's the other side."

But that's the point. The Berg video was handled differently, markedly so, than the Abu Ghraib photos. AG was all over the news shows, and still is. The Berg video is already gone. One story, the one that makes America look bad and encourages a defeatist mood, gets continuing play; the other, that would inflame American anger at terrorist action, is seemingly pushed aside. This wedding party video allows the nets to have it both ways, and smugly so. They get to once again focus on the bad things (Yes, they are very bad. We need to investigate what happened, prosecute those who did wrong, and correct the process that led to this tragedy if possible.) that make America look bad, while getting an undeserved free pass on shocking and outrageous images that amplify their apparent anti-war point. Read this Jay Rosen column for more on that.

This is my prediction: you will see the headless body of that poor decapitated child on the major television and cable news shows tonight. Probably you will see that image in the major papers tomorrow. It will be contrasted with the Berg video, which will lead back to the Abu Ghraib story. More time will be spent on the child / wedding party images and the Abu Ghraib story individually than will be spent on the Berg video.

Let's see what happens.

INSTANT UPDATE Well, good thing I didn't take that bet! I watched ABC, CBS and NBC. All three showed the same APTN tape mentioned in the story above, even to showing the same clips from that tape. There was only one shot of a dead child, a brief glimpse. No sign of the decapitated child.

However, all three nets played the story as a new trigger for increased Arab anger at Americans. The guilty plea from the first trial of an Abu Ghraib guard was connected to the wedding story in all three reports, and of course, all three showed the Abu Ghraib photos once again.

Still, we'll see what tomorrow's news cycle brings.