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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Thought police on campus

A George Orwell style visit may be coming to a campus near you.

It's all part of a campaign headed by conservative activist David Horowitz and his Students for Academic Freedom, founded circa 2003. The argument they are presenting is that college students can't safely express conservative views on campus without facing academic retribution. Horowitz wants a law to protect students and safeguard their grievance process.

So-called "academic freedom" legislation has already been introduced in 14 state houses and in Congress. So do we teach exciting, new research, or play it safe and collect that pay check? This "Thought Police" effort would handcuff college faculty or at least make them think twice about introducing controversial material for discussion.

In the U.S. House this week Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner, chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee claimed a breakthrough in getting these tougher guidelines included in the Higher Education Act. While the news release sounds like posturing it is worrisome.

This is another example of the Republican name game, the "Academic Freedom Act", which would do just the opposite. It really needs to be called the "Conservative Education Only Requirement Act."

The bigger problems in American colleges and universities have to do with inflated grades and a failed commitment by professors to update outdated teaching methods and materials. That's where the discussion and effort needs to be focused.


It will kill you quicker than alcoholism

A little light reading for the weekend.

Each year in Japan, more than 10,000 deaths are attributed to overwork. The Japanese even have a word for death by overwork - "karoshi".
I mention this because after a week long vacation I fear I'm suffering from a condition commonly known as "workaholism." I'm basing this on the 50 work related emails I wrote, the daily work related cell phone calls and the fact I actually stopped into work three times.

Why did I feel guilty taking my 12 year old son to a movie and my 80 something mother-in-law to lunch? I clearly need help.

A survey by the online travel company found 12 percent of American workers took no vacation because they were too busy working. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says Americans average working 49 hours per week — 350 hours a year more than Europeans. At least I'm not alone.

Paul Thorne and Michael Johnson, authors of “Workaholism”, identify two kinds, active and passive. The active workaholic probably has a prior history of addictions. The drug of choice is work. The passive workaholic is driven by insecurities, fear or paranoia.

A work ethic is one thing but this is not a respectable addiction or an admirable attribute. I've set a goal of learning how to play. It won't be easy. Maybe my two an a half year old can help.


Friday, June 24, 2005

Living on a Chinese Rock?

Well I'm semi-settled again, catching brief glimses of television, just enough to know that I must be missing much more in blogtopia. Did see the Spurs beat the Pistons, Ted Kennedy whip Donald Rumsfeld, and Ron Reagan deliver a long-overdue smackdown to Monica Crowley this morning, telling her that unlike George Bush, neither Richard Nixon nor his father ever deceived the American people to lead them into war. Monica damn near fell off her Nurse Ratched stool. Ron should be on the lookout for sharp objects in the near future.

Michael Duran sent me an article on the Chinese bid for Unocal:
But even before the communist nation formally announced a rival to Chevron Corp.'s $16.6 billion offer, reports that the bid was in the works prompted members of Congress to send President Bush a letter last week warning him of the threats posed by China's "pursuit of world energy resources."

"Such an acquisition raises many concerns about U.S. jobs, energy production and energy security," Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said in their letter.


CNOOC said the acquisition would more than double its production and estimated that 85 percent of the combined reserves of both companies are located in Asia and the Caspian Sea region.

Indeed, China's hunger for the oil and natural gas needed to fuel its economic expansion will likely result in huge investments to expand the combined company's production around the globe, which will help alleviate existing supply constraints that have helped push prices to $60 a barrel, analysts said.

"Anyone willing to invest in finding supply is doing the world a favor," said Goldstein.
It seems to be making politicans nervous and oil analysts happy. As someone who is pretty firmly convinced that the war in Iraq was launched (among other things) as a pre-emptive move to secure oil for the US as China's demands increase, it will be interesting to see how the administration responds. I haven't been able to spend enough time reading up on the matter to weigh all the pros and cons, so I'll throw it out there -- what do you think? Is it only fair that the sale be allowed, a small acquisition of no import, or is it a strategic move in a looming battle of great political significance?


Thursday, June 23, 2005

Animal House politics

In the movie Animal House the beleaguered frat boys facing expulsion decided to go on a road trip. Faced with eroding public support for President Bush's war in Iraq the White House frat boys and girls are adopting a similar approach.

Unfortunately for all of us this is not a carefree movie comedy classic. The divide and conquer strategy comes from Bush's Brain, Karl Rove. The message at a New York Republican fundraiser; if you oppose the war, if you question policy at Gitmo, if you even think about questioning it, you're a wimp and a traitor.

The Rovian Twist -- wrap your comments in the 911 Tragedy:

"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."... "Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals."
After 25 years in journalism I'm a political agnostic. One of the best lessons I ever learned in the business is to look at the timing of a political operative. In this case why such an incendiary comment now?

The Bush administration is losing the hearts and minds of the American public because of the war in Iraq. They need to re-frame the discussion. 60-percent oppose the war. We're losing a battalion a month either killed or injured and its costing taxpayer’s $5-billion a month.

Yes, Rove wants to reframe the discussion and siphon off media coverage that would have gone to today's war hearings on Capitol Hill. Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld and top war General John Abizaid were on the hot seats. In a moment of Republican candor, Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina told Rummy, "People are beginning to question. And I don't think it's a blip on the radar screen. We have a chronic problem on our hands."

Doc Rove's prescription, a liberal application of the "L" word and hoping the mention of 911 will innoculate the Bush Administration.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Lemmings and other Democrats

I was once told by the Chairman of the Texas Democrat Party, Bob Slagle, that Democrats form a firing squad in a circle. He shared that confidence with me shortly before the party went out of business in the Lone Star State. I mention this because the quote seems to fit the day and the state of national party.

With his voice cracking from emotion Illinois Senator Dick Durbin apologized for questioning the tactics of U.S. military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay. You didn't need a television or a radio to hear the cackling from conservative Republican operatives.

Score another victory for Bushite Forces punching the right emotional buttons with the American public. It's all about marketing your message. If you know how to play the game you can turn a lousy movie into a blockbuster at the box office, sell a car that eats gasoline like a hungry sumo wrestler or in this case sell a political perception.

The goal for the Republican attack team is to make the public believe Durbin was attacking our brave men and women in uniform. Mission acomplished. The Illinois Democrats objective had been a discussion of the operation of a prison camp that has the rest of the world asking questions about the United States commitment to the Geneva Convention.

Here's where the political question comes in for Lemmings. I mean Democrats. Was the right thing to do what Durbin did in the first place -- ask whether interrogation at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp could compare to the methods of Nazis and other repressive regimes? An "in your face" way of raising an issue.

There are two schools of thought. There's Chicago Democrat Mayor Richard Daley's apparent position, of not making waves with the public and waiting for public opinion to shift on its own. Daley cut the legs out from under his home state senator and in the process legitimized the Bush spin line that Durbin was attacking U.S. Service personnel. Dailey told reporters, "I think it's a disgrace to say that any man or woman in the military act like that."

Then there is Democrat National Chairman, Howard Dean. You know the guy. The "I have a scream" speech.

Dean is not willing to sit back. He's more than willing to turn up the political rhetoric on all fronts. But will that style play with the voters? My guess is the Dems are beginning to have the right issues, the wrong messenger and the wrong delivery style. Despite Dean's title, the Daley's control the party and they believe the way back to power is wait for the arrogance of the Bushite, waiting for the right time when the spin cycle won't rotate anymore.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The shame of crabgrass and other life lessons

In my neighborhood I’m the only one who mows their own lawn. I feel competitive with all those lawn service guys who come through the password coded gates. For the past three years I was more than a match for their fancy mowers, edgers, weed-eaters, blowers and chemical sprays.

This year I’ve made some mistakes in the weed killing department and I can see disdain on the faces of my neighbors. Crabgrass has invaded stealthily despite my seasonal applications of herbicides. A man doing his own lawn was questionable before. Now all the questions have been cleared up. My neighbors see me as a failed individual, someone to be pitied.

Thanks to years of psychotherapy I’ve been able to deal with this latest setback. My sessions with Mavis, the psychologist, have served me well. It helped me make the transition from television journalist to college educator and 50 something father of a two an half year old.

Psychotherapy has given me the freedom not to feel guilty, for not watching Meet the Press every week.

As I mow I think about important life lessons. There’s a minister who lives nearby. He doesn’t mow his own yard. You can see the reverend jogging in 100 degree temperatures. Somehow I think I get closer to God with my electric lawnmower. If it works for him that’s fine.

I’ve been re-reading Studs Terkel's, “Talking to Myself.” His biography is a random collection of memories; mowing allows me to reflect on my own life memories and lessons. It gives me time to think about where I am and where I want to go.

On Father’s Day morning at five A.M., I could hear my youngest calling from his crib, “Daddy where are you?” It’s a good question. I think my answers to that question are getting better.


John Bolton in Neverland

Maybe its the droopy mustache. Bless his heart.

Let's face it - John Bolton can't pass a smell test. When you get enough Republicans backpeddling you got trouble in Potomac City. A "Kiss up, kick down" management style got him some good jobs but it won't get him senate approval as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nation.

The Republican Senate Rat Pack leader Bill Frist took one on the chin with Monday's vote. Someone should get Frist a speed reading class and a copy of Robert Caro's "Master of the Senate" biography of Lyndon Johnson. The cloture vote fell six short of ending debate. Ohio GOP Senator George Voinovich defection probably cost him a White House Christmas Card and a chance for some cool photo opportunities with George W. Oh yeah, and Fox Nooz has put Voinovich on their Enemy's List.

Democrats criticize Bolton for his sometimes blunt comments about the United Nations, including a 1994 statement that "there is no such thing as the United Nations." Now how can we have a U.N. Ambassador who hasn't seen the latest Nicole Kidman movie? There were all those great shots of the United Nations. If Sean Penn knows there's a U.N. is he better qualified?

I really don't see the Democrat's point about not wanting Bolton. A bull in an atomic china shop can be pretty darn entertaining. It's not like there are hair trigger situations anywhere that need diplomacy? A case in point: those talks to control all the nuclear weapons left around in Russia. Bolton, as Under Secretary of State and chief arms control negotiator, kept the impass going for years. After his departure there's been a breakthrough in the talks. Opponents also have criticized his handling of the diplomatic standoffs over the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea during the past four years.

There's a question we should ask. Do we want diplomacy, with respect for other nations or do we want cowboy arrogance that lets the rest of the world know that the United States knows what is best for everyone else?

Not to be out done in the last laugh department, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has hinted to Fox Nooz that the President is ready to appoint Bolton during the Senate 4th of July recess. That would put Bolton in the job until next year. How much damage can he do?


Monday, June 20, 2005

Big Bird Must be stopped

My two year old is in serious ideological danger from PBS. I can tell because the child will not lean to the right. With the help of a number of Bush appointees to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting little Russell should be able to do that by the time he's four.

If you listen to pediatrician Ken Tomlinson, Russell's exposure to PBS has caused incurable, irreparable, liberal bias. Wait a second, Tomlinson is not a kind hearted kid's doc, he's White House political uber-strategist Karl Rove's sidekick and the Bush appointed chairman for the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Tomlinson's choice for president of CPB is former Republican fundraiser and the current head of the State Department's propaganda operation, Patricia Harrison. She's testified before Congress on the value of "news segments" in manipulating public opinion

Tomlinson told fellow CPB and PBS officials that "they should make sure their programming better reflected the Republican mandate," but now dismisses the comment as a joke. Rupert Murdoch must be his comedy writer.

The CPB was created 38 years ago as a firewall from the kind of political meddling that Tomlinson and Harrison are attempting. The recently retired Bill Moyers is being served up as an example for the left leaning bias that must be wiped out. Horse feathers.

As a former public television station manager, I agree with Columnist Molly Ivins characterization:

"Big Bird is not in favor of affirmative action. Bert and Ernie are not gay. Miss Piggy is not a feminist. "The Three Tenors," "Antiques Road show," "Masterpiece Theater, “Wall Street Week in Review" and nature programs do not have a political agenda. "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" is biased in favor of boring, old, white guys who appear on painfully well-balanced panels. "Washington Week in Review" is a showcase for "Inside the Beltway," conventional wisdom, power-parroting, political-geek head, establishment journalism -- there is nothing liberal about it."
Because of the move from analog to digital technology we have the opportunity in the U.S. to invest in public service broadcasting. In a broadcast environment of 2000 digital channels some of those channels need to be set aside for genuine public service. The United Kingdom is already preparing. In the U.K there's a call for the creation a "Public Service Publisher" that would use independent producers to create and distribute content on broadband, mobile networks as well as cable [and] satellite.

In the U.S. Big Media and Madison Avenue will dominate the digital broadcast world. 30-billion-dollars worth of analogue public spectrum airwaves will return to the U.S. Government from commercial and public TV stations. Some of that money should be used to underwrite the unique public service PBS and NPR are providing.

Russell promises he won't lean too far either way if we keep Sesame Street.


I heart Gitmo

You have to excuse me. I’m extremely nervous these days about federal agents asking my librarian what I’ve been reading. There’s also that issue of why I regularly email a professor in Egypt. Even worse in the eyes of Homeland Security – why is the godfather to my youngest son an Arab? In these days of the Patriot Act and Freedom Fries you got to be more careful in what you read or say. Anything less ain’t being a good American. It’s downright disloyal to those brave men and women serving in our armed forces.

In the spin world of the Bush League you need to march in lock step. Anything less and the Bush Spinmeisters pull that “disloyal to the troops” line. Ask Illinois Senator Richard Durbin. You would have thunk he rustled cattle from the Bush Ranch while he planned a garden party fundraiser for Osama Bin Ladin. Durbin’s crime was an effort at a candid debate about the humanitarian and international PR nightmare known as Gitmo.

Here's what Durbin said:
“When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here [at Guantanamo Bay]--I almost hesitate to put them in the [Congressional] Record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:

‘On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.’

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime--Pol Pot or others--that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.”
The Righteous Right is pounding Durbin for mentioning Gitmo in the same breath with Nazis. The Bushmen know the trump card of being disloyal to our troops plays well with the public. Between pot shots from official GWB propaganda operatives at Fox Nooz, Durbin fired back, “My statement in the Senate was critical of the policies of this Administration, which adds to the risk our soldiers face."

GWB practices a “don’t ask don’t tell policy” toward Muslim detainees and winks in a folksy manner at the Geneva Convention. Durbin is not a bleeding heart Liberal , but an important independent voice in a democracy. He sees the damage to international support and to the principles of freedom the U.S. advocates. Are we bullies? What should that “shining city on a hill,” that President Reagan talked about represent? If we are fighting for democracy we have to represent the change we want to implement in the Middle East.

A quote by Avi Schlaim, an Israeli historian, on the issue of comparisons to Nazi Germany (in this instance referring to Israeli government and military leaders, but the parallel works here as well) says it best: "The issue isn't whether or not we are the same as the Nazis, the issue is that we aren't different enough."


Sunday, June 19, 2005

On the Road Again

Gord points us to a review of the new Toyota Highlander hybrid in the WaPo. The review itself is pretty jive, and seems to judge the car negatively because the price is $7,000 more than the gas-only Highlander. Which completely misses the point, as far as I'm concerned -- as Gord points out, cars like this are "in the forefront of a sea change in American attitudes toward oil conservation and the environment." And GM couldn't see this coming years ago? My dogs would do a better job running that company.

As someone whose lease is up in 2007, this is the first car I've seen that might meet my needs for a fuel efficient dog-hauler. The review notes that since hybrids actually get better mileage in stop-and-go city traffic than they do on the highway (didn't know that, but it makes sense), the Highlander got 28 mpg in wilting city heat with the air conditioner blasting. It handily beats even the best rated gas-only SUV on the market, the Toyota RAV-4 which the EPA rates at 22-24 mpg in the city, but that mileage probably goes way down once you pump up an air conditioner the way the WaPo evidently did the Highlander. And it's pretty cute. We like cute.

The dogs and I are going to be on the road for the next few days in our fuel efficient non-SUV, so I will be checking in as time and the WiFi capability of dog friendly motels allow. In the mean time my brother-in-law Loren is going to be doing some guest blogging, and he is much smarter than me so enjoy.


Keeping Those Gas Tanks Full

(Promoted from the comments -- Michael Duran wrote what I think is a very smart and quite comprehensive rundown of the real reasons the Bush Administration made the decision to go to war in Iraq):

Given that the plan to invade Iraq was made in full before 9/11/01, and given that parts of those plans had been on the drawing board for more than a decade before that in various incarnations, I think that the war planners had more than one clear goal in mind. In fact, I think that such profiteering was planned, as was the oil grab, as were military bases to secure the middle east in our name (esp Saudi Arabia) and Iran was considered next. That's why they wanted the war so bad, why they pushed for it so hard to the extent that they lied to the public, congress, fabricated "intelligence," the whole lot.

In fact, I would say that one could categorize the various intentions for the Iraq war and their beneficiaries as:

1) Halliburton, etc., and the "Insiders" circle of Big Dick and the people on his Rolodex.

2) Oil companies, and their officers, on the Rolodex of the Bush/Cheney families.

3) Oil availability from Iraq, for the members of the outer circle of US government, i.e. most of congress, who would have implicitly understood the first problem with invading Iraq : money. But they would "understand" that oil prices could be manipulated better by us (instead of the Cartel) and with more homeland preference after an American war than they were even during the sanctions, and that this would therefore offset expense for the war (which we know it hasn't )

4) Iraq as a backdoor to Saudi Arabia. The Buskin circle knows very well how much oil there is left in the world, and that Saudi has most of it and is extremely unstable. Regime change in Saudi would be a mess for us and the world economy. We've known this since the 1940's (when Truman set up alliances with them after having won WWII largely on petroleum supply strategies) through the so-called Carter Doctrine where Carter promised military force to keep our access to Saudi oil secure; through the end of the cold war, which had a lot to do with our cutting off of energy access for the Soviets and how that affected their economy; to our military presence in Saudi since 1990 which has pissed off people like Bin Laden so much. The importance of Saudi stability is so important, and is no secret to the members of government, that this imperative was surely on the minds of many voting for the Iraq war.

5) Iraq as a staging ground for war on Iran and Syria; again oil reserves, as well as pipeline routes (ala Afghanistan) from the Caspian area to the Persian Gulf, as well as to secure shipping routes through the gulf for Saudi and other oil, which could well be threatened. This again benefits the American way of life (lets it continue) as well as financially benefits the inner circle and their stockholders, those who resell the oil, and therefore would have its direct and indirect supporters.

6) Securing oil from competitors, such as China and Russia, and why not Europe too if need be. That is at least one reason why Europe did not support our war. Again an implicit benefit surely in the minds of many supporters who know their stuff.

7) It will benefit the Iraqis. The only reason this was important to the planners is that it should have made the endeavor easier, they thought, and therefore successful despite our other intentions above. The administration members are hardly ignorant of the tremendous suffering and mass death the people within the borders of Iraq had taken under Hussein; just as they knew that most of the American as well as Iraqi public was ignorant of the fact that Hussein was literally kept in power and supported with money, weapons, and rhetoric by America, almost from the beginning, through his torture and assinations, through his chemical warfare experiments, through the UN sanctions which the US spearheaded in the UN which killed > million, up to the eve of war. The administration thought that we would be welcomed with open arms for putting an end to what we had perpetuated. Well, it worked in this country. Until a relative few Americans died, then maybe we didn't like the idea so much.

The public of this country falls into a few general categories on the war: 1) those who are educated in history and politics a bit, and know what control in the middle east means to our way of life regardless of any suffering born by the brown people far away in barbarian land. These people drive Suburbans and say things like "white man's burdern, Lloyd, white man's burden. 2) The vast majority who are raised on sitcoms, fast food, and cheery fantasies about America's role in the world and their own futures. For these people, Machiavelli and Leo Strauss have a plan. 3) The rest of us.

In other words, they wanted this war so bad because success promised everything: to increase the wealth of the planners; to do what is "right" for the American standard of life; and, oh yeah, help out some brown people, whatever.


Halliburton Stock Prices and Dick Durbin

from CBS Marketwatch

In 2002 Halliburton stock prices were in the tank, way off the highs they had experienced during the dot com boom. In the wake of the war with Iraq, Halliburton stock prices have surged nearly 450%.

Through Kellog, Brown & Root, its corruption-plagued subsidiary, Halliburton was just granted the $30 million contract to spiff up Guantanamo Bay. According to the Financial Times, the full contract could be worth up to $500 million to Halliburton.

Dick Durbin has always been a good guy, the conscience of the Senate, a man who voted against the bankruptcy bill when others acquiesced for the sake of political expedience. He isn't one to take the temperature of public sentiment before speaking, he says what needs to be said. He has also been the prime mover behind the push to re-convene the Truman Commission on War Profiteering, and Karl Rove has had him in the crosshairs for just this very reason for quite some time. If the right is successful in silencing and neutering Durbin, you can kiss any investigation goodbye. At that time the smart money would say buy Halliburton. I'd rather have my money in something less morally objectionable and soaked in blood myself -- maybe internet porn.


Dear Prudence

In Tom Jones, Henry Fielding once wrote: "Indeed, I have observed (though it may seem unaccountable to the reader) that this guard of prudence, like the trained bands, is always readiest to go on duty where there is the least danger."

The "trained bands" in 18th century England were a sort of military reserve of local citizenry, and Fielding notes that they were often criticized for incompetence and cowardice. Which brings to mind the Virgin Ben, who is smarting this week in his Clown Hall column from TBogg's tidy summation of his own prudence ("some people choose celibacy, while others have it thrust upon them. Poor Ben. He no more chose abstinence than Clarence Thomas chose to be black.") But Ben is proud of the moral superiority his immaculate condition confers, which somehow lends him the expertise needed to pen his new tome entitled Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism is Corrupting Our Future.

Says Ben:
Such heated, inarticulate and unreasoned hatred for moral standards should not be shocking. Social liberalism seeks to promote a "live and let live" society wherein all types of deviant behavior is tolerated and accepted.


By discarding traditional morality in favor of amoralism, we have catered to the lowest common denominator. Social liberals have taken control of our culture through music, film, television and other mass media. R-rated films today often include soft-core pornography; television shows like "Friends" promote a fun-filled, promiscuous lifestyle with no consequences; rap music is misogynistic, glorifying its own degradation; pop music holds aloft cultural wrecking balls like Madonna as empowered feminist heroes.
Although his previous works have been pockmarked with factual errors, Ben is still quite smugly Better Than All That. In proudly trumpeting his own purity and measuring the decline of western civilization by using himself as a yardstick, Ben joins a long tradition of patronizing, intolerant right-wing kooks who practice bigotry and hypocrisy for fun and profit.

He writes a book called Porn Generation, for starters. Not Low SAT Score or High Triglyceride Generation. It's called Porn Generation, for which he tells us he interviewed many porn stars. Nice. Ben gets to stare unblinkingly at this most popular of past times without ever taking responsibility for it. In this he is much like the agents for the New York Society for Suppression of Vice (NYSSV), who used to show up at Minsky's burlesque house in the 30s and "tisk-tisk" as they counted the number of bosoms that appeared each evening. It's a neat trick if you can manage it -- you get to take a bath in the so-called "depravity" even as you're railing against it, and in Ben's case, capitalize on a sexy title to make a fast buck.

The NYSSV was the bastard child of Anthony Comstock, who like Ben appointed himself arbiter of public morality with no more than the dubious qualification of a hairy palm. He managed to get Walt Whitman fired from the Department of the Interior for writing Leaves of Grass, campaigned against birth control, cried out against George Bernard Shaw for his "smutty" plays, and directed the burning of 120 tons of literature -- including works by Dos Passos and Hemmingway. Comstock was downright dangerous. So far the Virgin Ben is just an annoying, grubby little opportunist.

In her excellent book Striptease: The Untold History Of The Girlie Show,Rachael Shteir notes that the early crusaders against burlesque like Comstock and Sumner were basically promoting themselves as civic leaders by playing into class and ethnic bigotry. The broad physical comedy and risque dancing found at the burlesque halls were the entertainment of working class patrons, who were often immigrants and enjoyed a show whose appreciation did not depend on tremendous cultural sophistication. When Fiorello LaGuardia finally closed the burlesque halls in New York in 1939, it is telling that the ban on nudity did not apply to the high-brow shows put on at the time just down the street by Flo Ziegfeld, where long legged beauties regularly posed bare-ass naked for the enjoyment of the upper classes at a much higher price. Likewise, Ben picks his pop-culture targets with care. It is the common man who cannot be trusted with his own penis.

When Mary Carey made her trip to Washington to profess her love for George Bush, at least she was honest about her intentions -- she has a flair for self-promotion and the desire to make a buck. But Ben cannot lay claim to either the honesty or the self-awareness of a Bush-loving porn star. His imminent dread that she will corrupt him and (God forbid) others like him is, quite frankly, unneccessary.