2007 - %3, February

One for the Bizarro File

| Sun Feb. 25, 2007 7:26 PM EST

Not everyday that you see a CNN headline like this: "Genealogists: Thurmond's family owned Sharpton's kin."

The story is this: Genealogists commissioned by the Daily News discovered that Al Sharpton's great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was a slave owned by a woman named Julia Thurmond, whose grandfather was Strom Thurmond's great-great-grandfather. What I really want to know is, did the Daily News get a tip that there was a connection between Sharpton and Thurmond, or do they do genealogical studies of all prominent black Americans to see if their ancestors were owned by the ancestors of prominent white Americans? How creepy would that be?

Late Update: Answers from the WaPo story on the subject:

The genealogy study was produced by researchers for the Web site Ancestry.com. Daily News reporter Austin Fenner initially asked them to research his own roots. He then approached Sharpton and asked if he would permit an investigation of his family history as well, for use in a story. Sharpton agreed. Neither the Daily News nor Sharpton paid for the research.

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Victory Against New Coal Plants

| Sun Feb. 25, 2007 3:08 PM EST

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The Texas-based utility company TXU's plans to build 11 new coal plants, with funding from firms such as Merrill Lynch, have been scuttled. Two equity firms will buy TXU under terms that include trashing the controversial plans. The group Billionaires for Coal had staged protests outside Merrill Lynch offices last week. At about the same time, equity firms entered into negotiations with environmental heavyweights National Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense, asking the groups what it would take for them to support the buyout. TXU will instead look to develop cleaner energy holdings. The New York Times is touting the deal as a beacon of what financial dealings may look like in "a regulatory and public-relations landscape in an era of climate change."

Important Gay Rights Bills Likely to Pass This Session

| Sat Feb. 24, 2007 9:46 PM EST

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports today that two breakthrough bills for gays and lesbians are likely to be passed by the new Democratic Congress. Both possibilities have me on the brink of tears of joy, they are so overdue and yet still seem so implausible. The first is an employment discrimination ban. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) projects that the bill will even include gender identity—which, to have any teeth, it must, lest employers shift from discriminating against those who are queer to those who act queer (which it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out they've long since done).

The only problem with this bill—and it's a major one—is that churches and small businesses would be exempt. Churches: Feh—I don't have the energy to wade into the constitutionally murky waters of whether they should be exempt or not. But small businesses, which is to say most businesses? Why should they be exempt? No one is talking about a quota; the issue is whether GLBT people are turned away from positions for which they are qualified.

The other bill would include GLBT identity among those covered by hate-crimes legislation. That's right, nearly 10 years after Matthew Shephard was executed there is no national hate-crimes protection for GLBT people, who make up 14 percent of all victims of hate crimes. If that's not reason enough to support it, here's what Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has to say: "It's taking us to the point where anyone who opposes the sexual behavior of homosexuals will be silenced." Now, he's probably exaggerating, but just for a moment imagine the utopia of not having to listen to the invented slanderous anecdotes and statistics about GLBTs groups like Perkins' generate. The sweet, sweet silence of it.

But before you let those tears of joy trickle down your cheeks, remember on whose desk the veto pen rests.

Bill Richardson Serious About This "Running for President" Thing

| Sat Feb. 24, 2007 1:26 PM EST

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has an op-ed in today's WaPo arguing that George Bush's refusal to use diplomacy early in his administration led to a nuclear North Korea, and that if we aren't careful we'll repeat our mistakes with Iran. Hard to argue with logic like this:

Rather than directly engaging the Iranians about their nuclear program, President Bush refuses to talk, except to make threats. He has moved ships to the Persian Gulf region and claims, with scant evidence, that Iran is helping Iraqi insurgents kill Americans. This is not a strategy for peace. It is a strategy for war -- a war that Congress has not authorized. Most of our allies, and most Americans, don't believe this president, who has repeatedly cried wolf.
...
No nation has ever been forced to renounce nuclear weapons, but many have chosen to do so. The Iranians will not end their nuclear program because we threaten them and call them names. They will renounce nukes because we convince them that they will be safer and more prosperous if they do that than if they don't. This feat will take more than threats and insults. It will take skillful American diplomatic leadership.

As I wrote a couple days ago, I totally agree. The funny thing about this is that it isn't just Democratic boilerplate from a presidential candidate. Bill Richardson knows diplomacy. Bill Richardson knows nukes. The man was U.S. ambassador to the U.N., negotiated with Saddam Hussein way back when, negotiated a ceasefire in Darfur more recently, and briefly ran the U.S. Department of Energy under Clinton. (All of this leads me to believe that Richardson, who is unlikely to get the nomination for president, would make an excellent Secretary of State.)

Minnesota Goes Green, Really Green

| Fri Feb. 23, 2007 10:20 PM EST

Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota signed a law yesterday requiring that all state utility companies generate at least a quarter of their power from renewable sources by 2025. (One company, Xcel, which provides the state with half of its electricity, must meet 30% by 2020.) This plan is more ambitious than the state's previous 10% by 2015 objective.

Not ones to count on feds whose idea of an energy bill includes reversing decades of renewables wisdom and polluter protection waivers to solve the nation's energy problems, some two dozen states have adopted renewable energy goals. California, Hawaii, New York, Nevada, and New Jersey have all set their mark at 20% or more. "As states are catching up with us, we want to raise the bar," Pawlenty said.

Minnesota's law passed just days after EU energy ministers weakened a "20% renewable energy by 2020" plan by recommending that the target be made voluntary. Last year, China enacted a 15% by 2020 law, and Australia remains committed to producing enough renewable energy to power the homes of 4 million of its 20 million people by 2010.

Though New Hampshire and Colorado are considering stricter standards, Minnesota's initiative to more than triple its 8% renewable energy production in less than two decades prompted analysts to call it "the most aggressive in the country." If Pawlenty's bar-raising doesn't inspire other domestic and even international actions toward going greener, his Republican-governed Northern Great Plains state may become the most environmentally progressive place in the world.

--Nicole McClelland

Green Cars Electrify the Red Carpet

| Fri Feb. 23, 2007 8:39 PM EST

This year Tim Robbins won't be the only one stepping onto the red carpet from a hybrid. Global Green USA says it has 30 green cars ready for Oscar night to transport stars like Penelope Cruz and Orlando Bloom to the ceremonies. Celebs who have previously used Global Green's eco-cars include Charlize Theron, Robin Williams, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Jack Black, and Will Ferrell.

Ferrell, who called eco-cars "just plain sexy," may be proven right this year. A prototype of the lipstick-red, two-seater Tesla Roadster sports car will make its TV debut at the red carpet roll-up. The super-quiet, totally electric vehicle can go from 0 to 60 mph in four seconds, costs $92,000, and has the smooth, curving body of a traditional hot-rod. Commercial production will begin later in 2007.

Consumers interested in more, ahem, affordable eco-friendly cars can see Global Green's list of the most environmentally-friendly vehicles here .

—Jen Phillips

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New Documentary Broaches the Big O

| Fri Feb. 23, 2007 8:34 PM EST

When Chris Anderson, director of The O Tapes, first read the findings of the Laumann study that made public the information that 43% of women experience sexual dysfunction, he was shocked. If this was the case for men, he thought, there would be a pill. Just a few months after reading the findings, one was released—for men, not for women. After doing a bit more research, he discovered that the incidence of sexual dysfunction in men was believed to be about half that recorded for women by the Laumann study.

Anderson, who had been working as a film editor, was in the market for a documentary film project, and after doing a bit of research into the subject himself, the elusive female orgasm became its subject. The only problem, he determined was that he was the wrong gender to carry this project through. But this didn't deter him. He hired an all-female staff and proceeded to interview hundreds of women and a few noted (or notorious) experts in the field about sexuality. Many of these interviews revealed that women just don't talk about sexuality.

Last night, I attended a sparsely populated screening of The O Tapes in San Francisco that was followed by a short panel discussion featuring the director and three local experts on human sexuality. Either San Franciscans think they already know everything about sex or the rainy weather served as a deterrent, because the Lumière Theater wasn't even a quarter full. But I guarantee that everyone in the audience learned something new, whether it was a historical fact or a point of view put forth by someone interviewed in the film.

While I would have preferred a more narrative approach, the organization of the film around subjects was effective. As Anderson pointed out during the panel discussion, the interview covered about 60 subjects, most of which could not be included in the final version of the film. Instead, he used his editing skills to define a more narrow set of topics including "orgasm" "foreplay," and "self image" to provide organization for the project.

The primary strength of The O Tapes isn't the film's organization, but rather, the diversity of voices that Anderson was able to capture during the interview process. The women in this film range in age from 25 to 84, and are from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds. While almost all of the women are heterosexual, a few queer women are also given a voice. The project is more than reminiscent of The Vagina Monologues (click here for a Mother Jones interview with Ensler), but the diversity of voices and content goes beyond that normally attained in sex-positive film festivals.

Even though the so-called sexual revolution started something moving in the right direction, we have a long way to go when it comes to understanding female sexuality. For Chris Anderson, part of the solution might be found simply in talking about, rather than around, sex. Getting this dialogue going isn't an easy undertaking in a culture that has many taboos centered around female sexuality. Fortunately, as revealed in the film, many women do love to talk.

Click here for show times.

--Rose Miller

Florida Appeals Court Rules Against Girl Based On Fantasized Future Events

| Fri Feb. 23, 2007 6:07 PM EST

In 2004, two Florida adolescents--16-year-old Amber and 17-year-old Jeremy--took digital photos of themselves nude and engaged in some sort of sexual contact. They then sent the photos from a computer at Amber's house to Jeremy's email address. Somehow, the Tallahassee police got possession of the photos, and both Amber and Jeremy were arrested and charged with producing, directing or promoting a photograph featuring the sexual conduct of a child. Jeremy was also charged with possession of child pornography.

Amber appealed the charge, believing she had the law on her side. In 1995, a Florida court ruled that two 16-year-olds could not be found delinquent for having sex with each other. Since Amber was engaged in legal sex, she and her attorney reasoned that the police had violated her guaranteed right to privacy.

Remember this (edited) exchange between Alice and the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass?

"Suppose he never commits the crime?"
"That would be all the better, wouldn't it?"
"Of course it would be all the better, but it wouldn't be all the better his being punished."
"You're wrong there, at any rate. Were you ever punished?"
"Only for faults."
"And you were all the better for it, I know!"
"Yes, but then I had done the things I was punished for. That makes all the difference."
"But if you hadn't done them, that would have been better still; better, and better, and better!"

This month, a Florida Appeals Court voted 2-1 to uphold the charge against Amber. Writing for the majority, Judge James R. Wolf, speculated that both Amber and Jeremy could have eventually sold the photos to child pornographers or shown them to friends. He also said that transferring the digital images from a camera to a computer and then sending them via email created "innumerable problems" because the computers could be hacked.

Judge Wolf's reasoning must make every Florida parent with photos of their naked children a bit uncomfortable. After all, they might show the photos to friends, and those friends might even sell them to child pornographers. Or one might slip out a of parent's pocket or purse and be picked up by a stranger, who could then sell it to a child pornographer. And who knows how many parents with photos of their naked toddlers might become child pornographers?

Amber and Jeremy are too young to be listed on a sex offender registry, thank goodness, but there is no doubt that their privacy was violated, and there is no telling what kind of psychological effect this circus has had on them.

What's Next, Mosh Pit Cruise Packages?

| Fri Feb. 23, 2007 5:31 PM EST

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For the love of punk rock, is nothing sacred? The American Association of Retired Persons is now running a TV commercial that shows healthy, vigorous elders moving about to a backdrop of the song "Everybody's Happy Nowadays," by the English punk band the Buzzcocks. This from a band whose first, unashamed single was the BBC-banned "Orgasm Addict," a band that wrote songs about bisexuality and had lyrics quoting Beat poet William S. Burroughs, and a band who had enough street cred to open up for the Sex Pistols in Manchester in 1976.

And the AARP commercial is not even the Buzzcocks' first ad gig. A Subaru commercial once used "What Do I Get," a song about sleepless nights and the search for lover. Predictably, ageing punks have filled the blogosphere with comments dissing the band for both.

Adfreak riffs on the song title with the headline, "Everybody's Getting Ancient Nowadays" and says the Rolling Stones would have been more appropriate for the AARP. Cult Punk calls the Buzzcocks ad an unfortunate "culture shift." The blogger behind Corporate Satan Speaks Out shouted "What th...!??!?!" when he first heard the commercial, but later admitted that since the band members are pushing 50, it did make sense, sort of.

Come to think of it, since punk has been around since the 70s, it's likely that punk rockers are turning 50 and potentially joining a group like the AARP. The AARP knows this, and they're revamping their image to attract a new generation of folks who used to pogo at punk shows but who now can benefit from health tips and tax-filing advice. Their website even has an online jukebox featuring an array of music Baby Boomers might like, including Ray Charles, Rod Stewart, Tony Bennett, Beazley Phillips Band, Willie Nelson and Madonna. But it is a little strange that punk music ¬ known to be dissident, vile, nonsensical, unrehearsed, angry, aggressive and DIY¬ is being used to push product with the consent of the artists.

Steve Garvey, the Buzzcocks' 49-year-old former bass player, broke it down recently when he told the Chicago Tribune that his royalty checks are helping pay for his kid's college education. Garvey said he loves to play golf, survived cancer of the salivary gland, and has had two rotator cuff surgeries and has bum knees. In a year, he'll be eligible to join AARP.

The Buzzcocks are not the only punk band on heavy rotation in TV commercials. An M&Ms commercial uses "This is The Day," a song by The The, a 70s English post-punk band founded by Matt Johnson. Mitsubishi scooped up "Blindness," a post punk song by the English band The Fall.

Blogs like "Big Mean Punk" relentlessly track other examples, such as Iggy Pop's Lust for Life, a song about heroin addiction, that now sells Carnival Cruise vacations. Various songs from the The Ramones push beer and cell phones, and Devo tunes have popped up in Target commercials and Swiffer spots, which have also used Blondie songs. (Check out more ironic and shameless advertising and product placement in our current issue.)

It's got to be nice for punk rock musicians to finally earn some cash for songs that originally might have earned them a only beer and a sandwich. The downside is, some of the obscure songs punk kids would crowd into small, unknown, sweaty venues to hear played live by their punk heroes don't alienate the general, mainstream public anymore—they welcome them with open arms.

--Gary Moskowitz

Global Warming and Your Kids' Health

| Fri Feb. 23, 2007 3:31 PM EST

LiveScience reports on a study from Australia published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research showing that a warming climate is bad for kids' health. Lawrence Lam, a pediatrics lecturer at Sydney University, compared emergency room visits for kids under age six to climate data, finding that higher temps outside correlated to more children with fevers and gastroenteritis visiting the ER.

The possible reason: Children's bodies can't cope with extreme changes in temperature as well as adults.

"The results from this study suggest a detrimental effect from climatic changes, particularly in terms of maximum temperature, on children's health," Lam said. "As global warming is becoming more apparent, there is an urgent need for more in-depth and thorough investigation of climatic factors on human health, especially in early childhood."