Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Sunday evening found your blogstress in the thrall of the amazing Anoushka Shankar, composer and sitar player extradordinaire -- and, yes, the daughter of Ravi Shankar. This weekend, the younger Shankar dazzled the audience, equal parts Indian and non-Indian, it seemed, at Washington, D.C.'s Lisner Audiorium.

Anoushka Shankar has taken a daring walk out to the edge of classical Indian music, mixing her sitar and other traditional instruments with piano, electric bass and rock-n-roll-with-a-world-music-twist stack of drums. The results were mixed but always riveting, and those pieces that thrilled were positively transcendent. One particularly astounding piece featured tabla player Tanmoy Bose and Ravichandra Kulur, a virtuoso on the traditional wooden flute trading percussive vocalizations in a a call-and-response mode. Imagine Bobby McFerrin gone South Asian. It was breathtaking.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the evening was the sight of this jewel of a young woman seated, cross-legged in the center of a platform draped in hand-made red carpets, surrounded by some of the most masterful players in her genre. And make no mistake, she was in charge, and in the most charming way imaginable. Regardless of lineage, she has clearly earned her place. Her playing was hypnotic, sometimes Coltrane-fast and loaded with notes, sometimes languid and contemplative. She's 25 years old. Can't wait to see her at 40.


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Happy Samhain!

Your blogstress wishes you and your family a blessed Samhain -- known in these parts as Halloween -- whether you celebrate in the old way (dancing around a fire) or the new way (dressing up as a cartoon character, begging for sweets). Either way, these are our days of the dead, our welcome to winter, our moment to disappear into the form of a different being.

It's also the eve of All Saint's Day, a co-option by the Roman Catholic Church of this ancient pagan festival, wherein we celebrate the pure ones who have gone on to the next world. The following day, All Souls Day, we try to pray any loved ones stuck in Purgatory out of that firey netherword.

And so it mote be...

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Compassion deficit

Today's New York Times offers a superb editorial on the efforts of the president and others in his party to exploit, for the purpose of rallying the party's base, the New Jersey court decision on civil unions for gay people:

If the last month has taught us anything about the Republican Party, it is that homophobia is campaign strategy, not conviction. Congressmen who trust their careers to gay staffers vote for laws to enshrine second-class citizenship for gays in the Constitution. Gay appointees and their partners are treated as married people at official ceremonies and social gatherings. Then whenever an election rolls around, the whole team pretends it’s on a mission to save America from gay marriage.
Add to this the revelations in David Kuo's book, Tempting Faith, of the demeaning way in which White House types were said to refer to the religious right, and the moral bankruptcy of the whole G.O.P. enterprise appears in full.

Your blogstress takes this occasion to saunter out on a limb with a guess that the Times's punchy, unsigned essay is the work of editorial page editor Gail Collins, who plans to step down from that post in January in order to write a book. The Times pooh-bahs assure us that she will return the following year as a columnist on the op-ed page.

And check out Kuo's blog, J-Walking. Fascinating.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

State of the civil union

Today your blogstress is very, very proud to be a native of the great State of New Jersey, given yesterday's decision by the state Supreme Court that gay and lesbian couples are entitled to the full rights and benefits of marriage. And despite the right-wing rending of garments, the decision appears to square with the sentiment of the New Jersey electorate, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll, as reported by The Record of Hackensack.

By more than 2-to-1, New Jersey voters favor conferring all marriage rights to same-sex couples through civil unions, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in June, a full 66 percent to 29 percent. Legalizing marriage is touchier: 49 percent support it, 44 percent oppose.
Some are disappointed that the court stopped short of calling for the same marriage license granted hetero couples to be conferred on same-sex betrothals, but your cybertrix is quite content with this ruling, in the hope that the court will next halt the granting of marriage licenses to heterosexual couples, as well. You see, mes amis, marriage is a religious institution in which the government has no business. The government's job is to enforce the law, including contracts. I say, civil unions for everyone. Leave it to the religious to decide if they will confer the blessing of marriage upon a couple.

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Embryonic consciousness

In response to your blogstress's exposé, at The American Prospect Online, of the cleverly named group, Feminists for Life, she received this thoughtful missive from an artist:

I hear your points but I also can't help but hear a differing point. I heard a lady ask a question, "Why am I not fit to live?" She was asking the question because, as a child conceived as the result of a rape, she had a question which is not so easy to answer.

The pro and anti forces couch the issue of abortion in terms far too conveniently simplistic.

--Joseph David Marshall
True enough that, in the sound-bite age, all arguments get reduced to their essences. However, with regard to the woman conceived through a rape, your pro-choice cyberscribe is not saying that the woman is not fit to live; rather, I'm saying that her mother's choice to carry to term the embryo yielded by the rape should remain the pregnant woman's choice.

The framing of the issue as whether or not the woman conceived through rape is "fit to live" is not only not the issue, but is a frame around the ego of an adult human. It is safe to say for any of us, I think, that if the embryos from which we developed as humans had been aborted, we probably would not miss never having existed as humans.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

October Surprise: A sermon on the mound

Tonight, World Series fans, you will get to view the latest in the paid political advertising entertainment served up for the mid-term election stem-cell wars of the Cardinals' home state. Watching, on YouTube, a fuzzy preview of the ad -- which was apparently thrown together in response to Michael J. Fox's latest star turn as an advocate for stem-cell research -- your blogstress felt the hand of Mother Church orchestrating this video confab of right-wing Roman Catholic sort-of celebrities. Now, your Webwench is not saying that she knows for a fact that Big Ma is behind this whole thing; that grail continues to elude her.

However, her ears pricked up at the mention of the name of Patricia Heaton, whose face graces the misleading Feminists for Life ad that has run on various political Web sites -- including that of The American Prospect Online, for which your cybertrix writes -- off and on for the last month. As your écrivaine reported for The Prospect's site last week, Feminists for Life is closely allied with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and even took funding from the bishops for its first ad campaign.

The television spot featuring Heaton makes a case against a Missouri ballot measure, Amendment 2, that would, according to a pro-amendment editorial in the Kansas City Star, "guarantee Missouri scientists the right to conduct all forms of stem-cell research permitted under federal law." The ad, which also features Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in the Mel Gibson's Jew-baiting film, "Passion of the Christ" and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan, will air tonight during a World Series game in which Suppan is slated to pitch.

To learn more about the links between the bishops and the anti-stem-cell spot, check out your net-tête's post on TAPPED, the blog of The American Prospect Online.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hey, Faddah! Who you callin' a feminist?

Check out your blogstress's riff on the anti-reproductive rights group, Feminists for Life, today at The American Prospect Online. There you will learn of the group's deceptive ad campaign, aimed at young women, and its relationship to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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What say the church?
Foley's priestly nemesis tells some

Were any further evidence needed of the spiritual bankruptcy of 21-century America, one might look to the Mark Foley scandal, where the vicissitudes of secular politics -- a realm in which the Roman Catholic Church wields no small measure of power -- have rubbed up against the sanctimony of the church in a most unbecoming way, reviving a scandal of its own that church fathers likely thought they had put to bed with a flood of money paid out to the victims of sexually predatory priests.

Mr. Foley, you'll recall, sought to, at best, explain his sexual harassment of young men (or, at worst, to excuse it) by revealing, through his attorney, that in his teen years Foley himself had been molested by a Catholic priest. This week, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune tracked down a priest who admitted to having a sexual relationship with the young Foley who was, at the time, an altar boy. The church has yet to comment.

Most telling in the the Herald-Tribune's interview with Foley's former confessor is the priest's own sense of victimization by the scandal.

Father Mercieca said he taught Mr. Foley “some wrong things” related to sex, though he wouldn’t specify what he meant. He also said they were naked together in a sauna twice.

Father Mercieca said that, at the time, he considered his relationship with Mr. Foley innocent. But he now says he sees that his actions may have been inappropriate.

Father Mercieca said his encounter with Mr. Foley was an aberration, and that the Catholic Church never had to send him for counseling during his 38 years in the priesthood in Florida.

“I have been in many parishes, and I have never been” accused, he said.
He apparently did not say that he had never committed other such acts.
Father Mercieca said during his two years in Lake Worth, he ate dinners with Mr. Foley’s family and that Mr. Foley’s grandmother “was delighted to see me all the time.”

Father Mercieca said he is confused about why Mr. Foley has decided to come forward after almost 40 years.

“Why does he want to destroy me in my old age?” Father Mercieca said.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Ode to Susannah

If you've never heard of Susannah McCorkle, then David Hajdu's masterful review, in The New Republic, of a new McCorkle biography by Linda Dahl, might not sing to you. But then again, it just might:

I pictured McCorkle aging into a figure like Blossom Dearie, an odd bird revered after a long career as an endangered species.
Indeed, you might just love it for the sentences.

Alas, McCorkle was not to see old age, having thrown herself out of the window of her 16th-floor Manhattan apartment several years ago, after she lost her regular singing gig at the Algonquin. McCorkle was a singer who worked with jazz musicians, but you wouldn't exactly call her a jazz singer. And she wasn't exactly a typical caberet singer, either, possessed, as she occasionally was, with the bombast born of a rock 'n' roll past. But, wow, could she put over a song, as she teased her own emotional color out of every note she chose to sing -- sometimes a little flat.

I saw her perform twice -- once in some room in Manhattan whose name I can't remember, sitting next to a drunk who kept calling out, "Sing Curly Sue!" -- a pickled-brain reference to one of McCorkle's signature tunes, "The Legend of Pearly Sue," a charming feminist anthem by Gerry Mulligan. The lyric tells the story of a little girl who plays the trumpet and becomes president of the United States. I think she also goes into space. It was a great tune for McCorkle, who was a lot of things besides a talented performer. She was a writer of both fiction and non-fiction (winner of an O. Henry Award), and a linguist. That song had been the vehicle by which my dad turned me onto McCorkle, with a father's conceit that the protagonist's exploits somehow echoed those of his daughter (who, though not exactly famous herself, knew a couple of famous people).

The second time I saw McCorkle perform, it was at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., with my soon-to-be-ex-husband. The singer did a mystically melancholy set of Brazilian tunes in Portuguese, offering, as well, a brilliant imitation of João Gilberto singing a Cole Porter song in English. The seminal "Getz/Gilberto" record that brought bossa nova to the United States in the early 1960s had provided a large part of the soundtrack for my marriage, my husband having purloined the vinyl from his father's collection. McCorkle was the closer.

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Do you know Jack?

Yesterday Sen. Max Baucus, ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, issued a minority report on the use of right-wing, tax-exempt non-profit organizations to provide, in an apparently illegal fashion, services in exchange for donations -- a practice forbidden to exempt organizations by the tax code. Most delicious, aside from the report's exquisite timing, is the exploration of an axis of evil composed of Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed and Jack Abramoff.

For background on this all-but-forgotten facet of the Abramoff scandal -- the one that shows the religious right and so-called secular, economic conservatives in cahoots with a sent-by-Central-Casting villain -- refer back to your blogstress's March post on the whole, ungodly mess.

More of your Webwench's wisdom on this seedy affair (not that she would have any expertise in seedy affairs) may be found at TAPPED, the blog of The American Prospect Online.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Media Pundit sees loophole in Bush pledge

This just in to your blogstress from a colleague in the blogosphere, heretofore unknown to your Webwench:

Bush says U.S. Won't Attack North Korea

That is the headline of an AP article that hit the wire just over an hour ago. It is currently the top headline on many news sites. Anyone who listened to the press conference, however, knows that the headline is misleading. From the AP article itself: Bush said the United States remains committed to diplomacy but also "reserves all options to defend our friends in the region."

Reserving all options does not sound like he has ruled out the possibility of a military response. What Bush actually said was that the U.S. "has no intention of attacking" North Korea. Where have we heard that phrase before? In 2002 Bush repeatedly claimed that he had "no intention of attacking Iraq."

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Light a candle

North Korea has declared its conduct of a test of a nuclear weapon, and geologists report seismic activity in the region that suggests Pyongyang is telling the truth.

President Bush has called the test "a provocative act," which indeed it is -- leaving one to shudder at the thought of what response may be provoked. Let us not forget who we've got at the United Nations, representing U.S. interests. Yes, it's still John Bolton, the man who has expressed his contempt for that very institution. Pray that the gods of multilateralism hold out against the titans of go-it-aloneism. Your blogstress takes some comfort in the notion that the opportunities for Bush-friendly contractors seem somewhat minimal in an occupied North Korea.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Stock up on denture-friendly munchies

From Reuters:

Marijuana may stave off Alzheimer's

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) -- Good news for aging hippies: Smoking pot may stave off Alzheimer's disease.

New research shows that the active ingredient in marijuana may prevent the progression of the disease by preserving levels of an important neurotransmitter that allows the brain to function.

Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in California found that marijuana's active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, can prevent the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from breaking down more effectively than commercially marketed drugs.
If I could only remember where I left the bong...

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Just another word for nothin' left to lose

President George W. Bush with Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev in the Rose Garden at the White House, Friday, Sept. 29, 2006, following their meeting in the Oval Office. White House photo by Eric Draper.

This comment by our commander-in-chief caught your blogstress's delicate ear earlier this week, but being an easily distracted, prone-to-the-vapors sort of gal, your blogstress must concede that la tête de t'écrivaine was set spinning by the scandal, murder and mayhem that has besieged our benighted nation over the course of the last few days. What momentarily drew your Webwench's attention to the mystical realm of foreign policy was the president's description of Kazakhstan as "a free country." This he said with the dictator of that oil-rich Central Asian nation by his side -- Nursultan Nazarbayev, the dictator who has ruled the Kazakh people with an iron fist since before the republic gained independence in the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Thankfully, Ted Rall served up this thoughtful piece:

Bush Gives 15 Million Muslims More Reasons to Hate Us

SEATTLE--George W. Bush says lots of nice things about President Nursultan Nazarbayev. On September 29 he portrayed the leader of Kazakhstan, who came to Washington for a state luncheon, as a "steadfast partner in the international war on terrorism." Nazarbayev, according to Bush and U.S. state-controlled media, is leading a transition to democracy and liberalizing his nation's economy. He's been lauded for privatizing old Soviet-era state industries and inviting foreign companies to invest in the exploitation of what may be the world's largest untapped oil reserves. Kazakhstan, Bush says, "now is a free nation."
Of course, given the Mr. Bush's standards, Kazakhstan might just qualify as "a free nation," in much the same way as the U.S. is "a free nation."

Oh, sure, we have a bit more in the way of freedom than the Kazakh people. Note that President Nazarbayev apparently resorted to ballot-stuffing for his widely-discredited 2005 electoral victory. President Bush, on the other hand, had to repress the vote in one critical state -- Ohio -- in order to win re-election. (What Allah giveth Nazarbayev, the Lord taketh away from President Bush, with remarkably similar results.)

Should anything good come out of the Mark Foley scandal, it will hopefully be the repeal of the awful law passed last week by Congress that suspends the right of habeas corpus and shields the Bush administration from war crimes prosecutions. If the Dems get the House, that should be the first order of business, along with the immediate suspension of the NSA domestic spying program and the dreadful "compromise" Congress made with the White House -- the one that will make it impossible to know what the executive branch is up to when it peaks under the covers of American citizens.


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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Giving alcoholics a bad name?

Unlike many of her colleagues in the blogosphere, your blogstress does not find herself in a position to judge whether or not former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who has checked himself into a subtance-abuse rehabilitation facility, is actually an alcoholic. To make that determination, your cybertrix would have to take the former congressman's inventory, a practice strongly discouraged by the cult of powerlessness through which your Webwench became sober.

Yes, one imagines rehab to be a good place to hide from scandal, and it would be a pity if that were the raison seulement for which the teen-eyeing politician sought entry. However, either way, the 12 steps he is likely to learn in that facility, if taken to heart, could help with the management of that behavior, as well.

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