The Masher

The Wild Stuff that Makes Its Way Around the Internet

Apologies if you have already received via e-mail these two items, which have made their way around the Internet, reaching no doubt millions of people. They represent a digital version of an underground communique system that's too risque (or just plain brutally on target, and always opinionated) to be posted or printed in the above-ground version of the media . But the Masher believes in Sunlight.

Enjoy, and thanks to the people -- you know who you are -- spreading around these brilliant commentaries like prairie fire.

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Jumping Jack Rachel Maddow

It was a cute scene, Rachel Maddow jumping up and down on the stage, her exuberant, comfortable self coming out amidst her progressive stalwarts and Air America cohorts at the Big Tent. "How freaking awesome it is to be here at the Democratic Convention and with all you progressives," she yelled.

She reminded the audience at the Air America Radio/Progressive Book Club super author panel: "The right wing still has this massive infrastructure that funds think tanks and pays writers and buys up tons of books, too often dominating the public dialogue. What we have is great authors, and a small, but kick-ass progressive media, but we've got to keep working until we have an omni media."

NYC Benefit Was Old White Guy Heaven

What Were they Thinking?

"Think of how steel is made. Like steel, our spirit is stronger than iron because the steel making process adds alloys to the basic elements found in nature, and then tempers them under fire to create a new harder substance. In the process of making the American spirit, alloys of virtue and memory, heroism and hardship are continually added to the raw materials of America's past and fused in the forge of history."

-- Souls of Steel, by Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts, Parade Magazine, Oct 12, 2001

Hey Steve and Cokie, the Masher has a question -- what about the rest of humanity?

Concert for New York Doesn't Reflect New York

There were some tear-jerking moments in the Concert for New York at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

The Masher doesn't want to take anything away from performers who gave of their time and energy, or the many people in the audience and watching on TV who were grieving the loss of loved ones and friends.

But the incredible whiteness of the event, the ancientness of the music and performers, and the overall lack of New York character on the stage was pretty appalling. It seemed like the concert was programmed for nostalgic white cops and firemen living in the suburbs, forgetting the other thousands of victims who represented many races, nationalities, communities and neighborhoods of New York.

The stars of the event were a steady parade of over-fifty white guys from England: Elton John, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, David Bowie and Paul McCartney (who reportedly was a key factor in the concert and penned an insipid song called Freedom just for the moment). When joined by Billy Joel, Harrison Ford, Robert DeNiro, James Taylor, Billy Crystal and the misogynist Howard Stern, we crossed the Atlantic, but kept the same "aging white guy" theme on the stage.

Add George Pataki, Rudy Guiliani, Bill Clinton and Tom Daschel and a certain trend continues. Drop half a generation and you've got John Bon Jovi, Richard Gere, John Mellencamp, Adam Sandler, David Spade, John Cusack, Michael J. Fox and Jim Carrey. One step younger and there's Kid Rock, the Back Street Boys, and a couple of all-white bands, whose names I didn't catch.

This after New York City almost nominated a Latino, Freddy Ferrer, in the Democratic primary for Mayor just a week before. The huge concert in the Big Apple did not have even one Hispanic performer in a five hour show. This smacks of racism, and does not reflect reality. To have only one male Black headliner -- rapper JZ, who sang one song in the first few minutes -- and Destiny's Child and Macy Gray as the only other people of color in dozens of acts and presentations is appalling (though Halle Berry was one of a half dozen starlets who gave a brief introductions). To have the ratio of male-to-female performers something like 5-to-1, and have virtually no young artists (sorry, the Back Street Boys don't count) should make the VH1/Miramax/AOL crew that put this thing together do a little soul searching. Why are they are afraid of the real world we all live in?

The event was completely edgeless, except for a couple of notable performances, including Mick Jagger's stirring working class anthem, "Salt of the Earth," and James Taylor's "Fire and Rain." The fact that the newly refabricated The Who played five songs from "Who's Next" -- an album retreived from the qualude-laced eraly 1970's -- reflected a lack of understanding that the world has changed in the past 30 years.

It's disconcerting when an event like this concert can only honor the brave cops and fireman who lost their lives, and not make mention of other victims. The NYPD and FDNY -- all 6,000 strong -- were seated in the front rows with cameras constantly panning them. Given such attention to this predominantly white group all but ignores the fact that people from 80 countries perished at the World Trade Center. Countless immigrant workers, foriegn businessmen, even somewhere around 200 Pakistanis died in the attacks. Meanwhile, hundreds of union members lost their lives -- but the word union was not mentioned once in a show that seemed as long as eternity.

The crowd was decidedly pro-war, and the comedians that got stage time -- including Adam Sandler, who cracked jokes about bin Laden's "smallcox" -- egged the audience on. Hillary Clinton was practically booed off the stage, and Richard Gere's lone attempt to raise the notion of all humanity was meet with instant hostilty and cat calls. He retreated fast. Only the graceful teenager Natalie Portman was able to get in a sensitive comment regarding innocent victims around the world.

This concert was a crass commercial event; a patriotic rally that had none of the class of the first benefit concert on September 21. At that concert, the performers didn't even mention their own names. At this concert, artists promoted their new songs, new albums and recussitated careers.

When you think New York music, it is easy to think Paul Simon, Bruce Springstein, Lauryn Hill, Jennifer Lopez, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Willie Colon, and whole host of rappers and R&B performers. But these New York characters were not on display in Madison Square Garden.

Instead we had the British invasion all over again, giving new meaning to The Who's anthem: "Won't Get Fooled Again."

The Masher Returns

Media Mash Returns

Yo, long time no contact. But the Masher hasn't been in hibernation. First it was a long trip to Europe, then stranded in Amsterdam because of the events of 9/11 (for which the Masher received virtually no sympathy), then an avalanche of work to keep pace with the events that have transformed our lives and threatened all things progressive and liberty-oriented. This is an unprecedented crisis, but has brought huge numbers of people together in common experience and hope for collaboration.

Three cheers for AlterNet, which reached new heights this past month -- receiving more than 250,000 unique visitors a week, syndicating hundreds of stories in more than 60 newspapers, and creating four new topic sites related to 9/11 (Terrorism and Counter-terrorism; U.S. Policy in the Mid East & Central Asia; The Anti-War Movement; Understanding the Mid East & Central Asia). We also produced terrific, informative background primers on all four of these topic sites.

These articles and topic sites were designed to help readers grapple with the dilemmas and complexities of a country traumatized. In contrast, the mainstream media tends to frame the situation in black and white: 90 percent of the public wants war, they trumpeted, and 10 percent are peaceniks.

But we know that's far from the truth. Many of us, maybe even a majority of the population, believe some kind of intervention is required but also know the devil is in the details. Terrorism must be contained. However, we do not want to make things worse by killing innocent people, destabilizing countries and ignoring an underlying motivation for intervention theme: vast oil reserves in Central Asia.

This is a complex and long-term struggle; we need to stay informed and stick to our principles. Fortunately, some great analysis and writing is being produced by smart and caring journalists and intellectuals. In particular Geov Parrish, David Corn, Stephen Zunes and Mark LeVine on AlterNet, Richard Falk and Edward Said in The Nation and Robert Fisk in the UK’s Independent have been tremendously enlightening. But ...

We Need to Hear More From the Women

As Richard Goldstein writes in the Village Voice, "In the spectrum of opinion following this awful event, women were barely heard from, so we were deprived of their perspectives on the crisis ... Female writers showed a far greater willingness to come to complex conclusions than their more powerful male colleagues. If women were more included in the national dialogue it wouldn't be such a monologue."

The gender gap also appears in reactions to and ways of dealing with terrorism. In a controversial column, Arianna Huffington writes about conversations at a recent dinner party with Hollywood executives: "The alpha males ... kept pooh-poohing the idea of preparing for chemical or germ warfare. It seemed that none of these masters of the universe could allow themselves to even imagine being in a situation over which they had so little power and control." The women, meanwhile "were busy setting up crisis networks, discussing the proper way set up a safe room and trading tidbits on the best antibiotics to stock up on."

"For the good of the country," Huffington closes, "the Alpha male leaders we've entrusted with our national security should all have a long talk with the women in their lives (if, in fact, there are any still speaking to them)."

There are some noteworthy exceptions to the male domination of 9/11 coverage. In The Nation, Ellen Willis upbraided the social commentators who view war as another purification of our national soul. Salon’s Laura Miller interviewed an expert on courage, who explains why suicide hijackers are not heroic, and her colleague Joan Walsh grappled with Osama bin Laden's creepy charisma, almost mythic status, speculating about whether his penis size has anything to do with his murderous ways.

There has been some female writing, mostly in the alternative press, about the Taliban's brutality against woman (see "Afghan Women Speak from Behind the Media Veil," by Laura Flanders) but very little information about how adulterous women have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia, our "reliable" ally. Herein lies an unsettling contradiction: to criticize the awful consequences of the male supremacy in virtually every fundamentalist culture -- including our so-called "moderate" Arab allies (moderate only in the fact that they are friendly to the U.S.) -- is seen as being disloyal to the U.S.'s war efforts.

The one woman who did speak out most forcefully was Susan Sontag, who questioned whether a mature nation must rush to unquestioning unity and chided Bush for being robotic in insisting "Americans have to stand tall." Sontag became one of the original "unpatriotic pariahs," along with the sad sack Bill Maher, who rightly questioned the then-prevailing Bush line that the terrorists were cowards, but when criticized ran so far and fast with his tail between his legs that he should just have kept running.

Sontag, on the other hand, was the target of some vicious rhetoric from self-appointed patriotic guardians like the New York Post's John Podhoretz. As part of a long diatribe, Podhoretz ranted, "the Hate America crowd is still here." As the Voice's Goldstein points out, "Such philistine posturing comes with a crisis. It also comes with a price. By demonizing intellectuals who question common values, we dismiss their ability to make us see beyond our reflexes. In the current situation, that could be a deadly error."

It also could be why many women writers are holding their tongue, or many male editors are not assigning them to the story -- a possible collusion to avoid grappling with the tough questions in a time so fraught with emotion and complexity.

Queen Arianna Wins Big

Arianna's Media Moment #1

Arriana Huffington, the tsarista of the last week's Shadow Conventions, has quickly emerged as the most visible "woman of conscience" on the American media scene. The Shadows, held concurrently with the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, are meant to draw attention to issues that the two main political parties largely ignore -- campaign finance reform, the poverty gap and the drug war. With the help of prominent friends, Hollywood allies and a somewhat raptourous media, Arianna has positioned herself to influence the public dialogue about those key issues.

Andrew Gumbel of the London Independent, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, offers this description of Arianna: "Peppy, witty, shamlessly contrarian and eternally combative ... Count on her to keep things lively ... If anyone is going to shake the over-rehearsed stiltedness out of this summer's political conventions and capture the imagination of the voters -- then surely Arianna is the woman for the job."

How Arianna has ascended and what it all means is worth some serious thought. Underlying her success at the Philadelphia Shadow Convention was the fact that she attracted stars like Jesse Jackson, John McCain, Al Franken, Jonathon Kozol, Ben Cohen and Harry Shearer (notice that they are all men) to her stage. She also offered substance. During the Shadow Convention session that focused on America's failed drug war, numerous family members of drug war victims graced the stage to speak about their incarcerated loved ones and broken homes -- the Masher thought it was one of the most moving political experiences in quite some time.

Arianna also invited maverick Republicans to Philly, like Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico and California Senate candidate Tom Campbell (who puts his opponent, Democrat Diane Feinstein, to shame on the drug issue). Their presence underlined Arianna's philosophy of transcending party lines to seek common ground.

And, of course, Arianna worked the media with enormous savvy. Throughout all three nights of the Shadow, she had prodigious energy and was always on message. She was articulate, calm and steady. For reporters and pundits in attendance, it was a winning combination.

Los Angeles should be even riper territory for the second round of the Shadows, which will run from August 13 to 17. The issues being put forth -- campaign corruption, poverty and drug war madness -- are much closer to the agenda of many more Democrats than Republicans. There will be delegates inside LA's Staples Center whose hearts will be with the Shadowers. Stay tuned.

Dog Day Afternoons

On the other hand, sadly, the coalition of R2K demonstrators have little to show for their efforts in Philly, despite their enthusiasm. Starting with the sparsely attended Unity 2000 march and rally on Sunday, R2K organizers were on the defensive for most of the week. The only message they ended up communicating to most observers was that they were victims of a brutal Philly police force.

Unfortunately, the American public has too much tolerance for rough cops. By setting two protest leaders' bails at $1 million each, the cops tried to demonize the demonstrators. Hopefully it's not a message that gets repeated by the LAPD, which is known for its brutishness.

As one longtime observer of progressive protests pointed out, "the R2K protests were a classic case of tactics getting ahead of strategy. For most people a political convention is not a sufficiently evil event to come out for and demonstrate. With most of Labor inside the convention hall, I fear that their message will be even more muddled in LA."

The lesson from Philly should be that blocking traffic and hoping to inconvenience convention delegates is not a winning message. Protest organizers have to get smarter about what they want to accomplish, before the momentum from Seattle is squandered. They face an uphill battle. Since all subsequent actions have been measured against Seattle's spectacular success, the media can easily paint everything else as a failure. And by choosing every major political event on the calendar as a target, protestors throw themselves into situations they can't possibly control or even influence. The result is that the protests are treated as a sideshow or, even worse, an irrelevant annoyance. Again, stay tuned.

Brill Stumbles, Tasini Saves His Butt

The National Writers Union got very lucky last week. And, to their credit, they seized the political moment. Contentville, Steve Brill's new, hundred-million dollar online shopping mall for all things written, had come under some serious heat. Journalists and dissertation writers were accussing Contentville of stealing their work, which was for sale on the site. Threats of lawsuits were mushrooming.

The savvy Jonathan Tasini, President of the National Writers Union (affiliated with the UAW), saw in this situation an opportunity to save Brill's butt, put his previously low-visibility organization on the map, and reap some cash for freelance writers. He reached out to Brill to talk turkey.

Brill, no dummy, jumped on the chance to make nice with Tasini and solve his huge PR headache. After all, he was screwing some of the very writers who would be writing about Contentville. The result: a signed agreement between the two parties that will give freelance writers 30 percent of the fees paid by Contentville customers (Contentville has been selling articles for $2.95, so writers have to hope that the public buys a lot of articles.)

The big coup for Tasini is that Brill agreed to have the previously underutilized Publication Rights Clearinghouse distribute that 30 percent to the writers. A project of the Writers Union, the Publication Rights Clearinghouse is a mechanism for protecting freelancers' rights and distributing royalties for their work. Overnight this put the Union in a credible position to act as a liasion between thousands of freelancers and the media corporations dependent on their content.

The Masher suggests that this story will still have some twists and turns before resolution, but mark this one as a win for the workers.

Are the Indy Media Centers Missing the Target?

Most progressives agree on the acute need for broader coverage of the issues that protesters will raise outside the Democratic Convention in LA. But sources close to the LA Indy Media Center report that antagonism toward Pacifica Radio, its local LA affiliate station KPFK and Marc Cooper, host of the popular show Radio Nation (originating at KPFK), have led to discussion among local media activists about banning Pacifica and Cooper from the LA Indy Media Center.

The antagonism toward Pacifica and Cooper runs deep among the IMC crowd. Cooper, who is one of the most prolific and distinguished journalists on the left, earned the ire of some media radicals when he questioned conventional wisdom about the Pacifica radio battle, and also when he suggested that activists might be too preoccupied with the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, to the exclusion of other important battles.

The Indy Media Centers seem to swing back and forth from highly cooperative ambition to irrelevance. It gives the Masher agita. In Philly, enormous effort went into producing live television coverage of the protests, which was sent via satellite to dish owners and public access stations across the country.. Amy Goodman's Democracy Now was televised through the satellite network as well, along with additional evening reports. This was a significant first for independent media.

Yet almost simultaneously, one of the lead stories on the IMC's Web site was a completely scurrilous, totally factless rant about how the left, labor and Nader were advocating the killing of disabled people. Apparently anyone could post whatever they wanted to the Web site and it became journalism. (A system of voting and ranking stories for the site has been since instituted.)

There are a couple of ironies here. Goodman's Democracy Now show is welcomed at the IMC, but the other Pacifica and KPFK shows aren't -- even though they all get funded from the same sources, especially money contributed by the local stations. At KPFK, Cooper's show is the biggest money earner at fundraising time. Furthermore, Cooper recently received the Radio Journalist of the Year Award from the Greater LA Press Club, in part for his strong coverage of -- you guessed it -- the WTO demonstrations in Seattle. There are times to squabble and times to struggle together against common foes. Does the IMC know which is which?

Media Mash

Barbie Doll Brouhaha -- Get Your Collector's ItemThe small Seattle-based feminist publisher Seal Press was justifiably proud of their title, "Adios Barbie." The book, a collection of essays edited by Internet whiz Ophira Edut, forcefully and cleverly deconstructs the impact on women of the "perfect" Barbie body.Seal was very happy, that is until Mattel, the makers of the Barbie doll, decided to sue them. In typical corporate fashion, Seal learned about the suit from an article in the New York Times business section.Seal publisher Faith Conlon told Seattle Weekly, "We thought it was pretty outrageous. The book had been out an entire year and we just thought that the First Amendment provided us with the right to evoke the outrageousness of tall, thin and white being the only widely accepted body."But Mattel claimed "consumer confusion," particularly because Seal used Barbie's unmistakable pink heart locket, her high-heeled foot and her familiar fuchsia-colored clothing on its playful cover -- all of which Mattel claimed was a big a no-no to their trademark. Said Conlon: "I didn't know they could trademark a color, but they did."One of the ironies of Mattel's heavy-handed corporate approach is that their suit helped sell books. Seal has sold 12,000 copies of "Adios Barbie," a very large number for a feminist essay collection by a small publisher. However, the suit also threatened to put Seal under. Fortunately, the ACLU offered its help and the case was settled out of court in January. Seal, after it sells the remaining 3,000 copies, will have to change the title and redesign the cover.So if you want a collectors item, run to your local bookstore and grab a copy of "Adios Barbie." Because when this batch sells out, according to Conlon, the book may be called, "Arrivederci Babs," and the cover may be something in the way of hot pink.Women, You Don't Have to Menstruate, At Least Not Every MonthMalcolm Gladwell is all the rage. His book, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference," which received a million dollar advance, is being hyped as the hot literary item, much like Dave Eggers' book was last month.Although "The Tipping Point" has been described as a pop treatise on how ideas become epidemics, Gladwell, a staff writer for The New Yorker, has really written a book about social change and why change so often happens quickly and unexpectedly. It's a bit of an eye opener for social change advocates, who have spent days and nights trying to figure out how ideas catch fire.Gladwell argues that three personality types -- Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen -- are the chief change agents, somewhat like the older notion of opinion shapers. Of course, these pop notions of change tend to drive traditional organizers a little crazy, but it's interesting nevertheless. He lays it all out at his Web site, Masher confesses to enjoy Gladwell's writing and take on ideas. His most recent piece in the March 13 issue of The New Yorker was one of the most interesting. In it, he argues that the 28-day menstrual cycle, which was the basis of John Rock's birth control pill, is unnatural and potentially dangerous. Why? Well, according to Gladwell and the American anthropologist whose theory he promotes, women in pre-modern times menstruated one fourth less than contemporary women because their cycles were constantly being distrupted by pregnancy. The irony for Gladwell is that with the birth control pill John Rock was trying to replicate the "natural" cycle -- and get the Catholic church to approve it on this basis -- but that a sped-up cycle is in the end far from natural.Gladwell is rather inspired by his womanly discovery. Deanna Isaacs of the Chicago Reader reported that Gladwell said, "Women need to give it up (their periods). They've built a whole culture around something that is bad for them. It's making them anemic and giving them breast cancer, and there is no precedent for it. Woman are having hundreds more cycles than they did even a century ago ... It's a phenomenon of modern life that ought to be stopped."Bizarre Media Politics in San FranciscoAs most media watchers know, the San Francisco Examiner (a Hearst publication) recently announced that it was going to buy the SF Chronicle for $660 million. But because of JOA issues, or politics, the Justice Department has moved slowly on approving the sale. So instead of closing down the small circulation Examiner -- an afternoon paper that would be losing money if it didn't revenue-share with the Chronicle -- Hearst sold the Ex to businessman Ted Fang. The Fang family currently publishes a free rag called the Independent, which just about everybody agrees has no journalistic standards and a huge, nasty, political, in-your-face agenda. The Independent's front-page star writer is Warren Hinckle, who has veered politically every which way over the years, but mostly acts as a frontman for less-than-progressive politicians.The Chron apparently agreed to pay the new owners $25 million a year to run the paper for at least three years. Fang says he'll be moving the Examiner to the morning to compete with the Chron. In theory, this could end the concern of San Francisco becoming another one newspaper town. But there's much more going on behind the scenes. Sounds pretty bizarre to get payed big money to buy a paper, right?The Masher would like to tell this story in all its juicy detail, but instead will defer to an article written by John Mecklin of the SF Weekly. ( Mecklin's pull quote for the story: "The insulting phony corruptive absurdity of the Hearst Corp.'s 'sale' of the Examiner to the Fang family is impossible to overstate." Other than that, he likes the deal a lot. Enjoy.Latino Media Hunger StrikeAccording to the San Francisco-based Media Alliance, Spanish-speaking journalists and technicians at KFTV in Fresno have been on a hunger strike for more than 30 days! They're protesting the low rate of pay of workers at Spanish-language stations compared to those at English-speaking stations. KFTV Channel 21 is owned by media giant Univision and is the number one station in its market, but workers there barely earn a living wage -- a 10 year employee in master control is paid $21,000/year, a reporter with 3 years at the station earns $26,000, and the anchor of 3 news shows and the morning show earns $32,000.Journalists at KFTV have asked other media workers and community members to write letters to Univision Chief Operating Officer Henry Cisneros urging him to negotiate a fair contract with the TV station employees' union, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians.Henry Cisneros, COO Univision1999 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 3050Los Angeles, CA 90067hcisneros@chartwell.netFor more information, see Rah for the Village VoiceFor quite some time, it's been fashionable to disparage the Village Voice. It's irrelevant and unhip, people say, and not measuring up to the good old days when the Voice was a real reporter's paper. The Masher has never quite agreed with that assessment, but lots of writers have complained about how the place is run, and in recent years the Voice has lacked direction and soul.But not now. The horrors of an epidemic of police violence and a mayor completely out of touch with community opinion have given the paper focus, passion and moral fire. And Gotham media mavens are taking notice. Larry Smith, a top editor at Yahoo Internet Life, recently commented, "The New York situation is ugly, but the Voice has been great, really staying on top of the story." This week's cover story has a ringing call for the resignation of Police Commissioner Howard Safir, written by the legendary Frank Serpico, who knows a thing or two about the corrupting influence of cops out of control.But it's not just the Voice's newfound focus that deserves attention. When you think about it, the Voice offers a lot more than other weeklies and magazines. Its journalists are committed and hard working. Community-oriented, the Voice provides steady coverage of unsexy topics like housing, covered by J.A. Lobbia, and prisons, covered by Jen Gonnerman. Sharon Lerner's Body Politics is consistently interesting. As part of the mix, there are nicely crafted pieces by Guy Trebay, cranky classics by Nat Hentoff, provocative inside views of black politics from Peter Noel, and you still can get Jim Ridgeway's steady outrage from D.C. Occasionally the investigative grit of Bastone, Barrett and Ireland appear. Throw in decent tech and media writing, good coverage of the queer community and a large investment in film, music and culture and you have a mature newspaper. On top of that, the Voice will invest in something fundamentally important like Mark Schoof's series: "AIDS: The Agony of Africa."Bottom line -- the Voice represents the broad diversity of New York City far better than other publications and is probably the strongest city-based periodical in the country. You get an awful lot for free from the Voice every week. Sure it can be better, but stop complaining.