but not forgotten
victims of the Asian earthquake and tsunamis, the casualties
of the ongoing Iraq conflict, Ronald Reagan, Yasir Arafat,
Susan Sontag, Marlon Brando, Janet Leigh, Christopher Reeve,
Spalding Gray, Ray Charles, Johnny Ramone, Richard Avedon,
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Theo Van Gogh, Russ Meyer, Alistair
Cooke, Tony Randall, Rodney Dangerfield, Fay Wray, Jack Paar,
John Peel, Julia Child, Estee Lauder, Geoffrey Beene, Rick
Also, Dutch Queen Mother Juliana, Dominican Prime Minister
Pierre Charles, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski.
Actors Uta Haggen, Ron O’Neil, John Drew Barrymore, Paul Winfield,
Robert Pastorelli, Jerry Orbach, Ann Miller, Isabelle Sanford,
Alan King, Anna Lee, Joe Viterelli, Carl Anderson, Frances
Dee, Richard Biggs, Mercedes McCambridge; producer Ray Stark.
Ellis Marsalis, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, Elvin Jones, Robert
Merrill, Russell Jones (a.k.a. Ol’ Dirty Bastard), Jerry Scoggins,
Vestal Goodman, Etta Moten, Randy VanWarmer, Laura Branigan,
Skeeter Davis, James Lawrence, Dave Blood, Ustad Vilayat Khan,
Harry Babbitt, Derek Frigo, Robert Quine, Steve Lacy, Izora
Rhodes Armstead, DJ Scott Muni, Arthur “Killer” Kane, Jerry
Goldsmith, Illinois Jacquet, Doris Troy, Bart Howard.
Authors/screenwriters Arthur Hailey, John Dunne, John Toland,
Olivia Goldsmith, Francoise Sagan, Alexandra Ripley, Jerome
Lawrence, William Manchester, Robert Lees, Nathan Heard; poets
Mona Van Duyn, Pedro Pietri, Mattie Stepanek.
Dancer June Taylor; illustrator George Woodbridge; journalists
Mary McGrory, Philip Hamburger, Norton Mockridge, Jerry Nachman,
Agnes Cunningham; photographers Francesco Scavullo, Eddie
Scientists/researchers Arthur R. von Hippel, Norman Heatley,
Elizabeth Kubler Ross, Francis Crick, Albert Hoffman.
Stax Records cofounder Estelle Axton, record-label pioneer
Greg Shaw, record producer Terry Melcher, music publisher
Athletes Tug McGraw, Reggie White, Hank Borowy; New York Mets
broadcaster Bob Murphy; Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott.
Local saloonkeepers Rocky Nigro, Eamonn McGirr.
Captain Kangaroo creator Bob Keeshan, early MTV veejay JJ
Jackson, game-show host Art James, Frugal Gourmet Jeff Smith,
Palmolive lady Jan Miner, space trailblazer Max Faget, movie
popcorn pioneer Samuel Rubin, McDonald’s CEO Jim Cantalupo,
Central Park Zoo polar bear Lily, serial killer Harold Shipman,
oldest American William Coates (114).
as a world leader in civil rights; candidates Gephardt, Clark,
Kucinich, et al.
presidential press conferences; Miss Mary’s Art Space and
Screed; Albany-Schenectady League of Arts; John Brodeur’s
v. Wade; geocaching; separation of church and state.
marriage; parking on Central Avenue; Bernie Kerik.
and Back Again
wedding ring; Howard Dean; Michael Jackson’s, um, little problem;
the New York City Ballet at SPAC; R.M. Englehardt; Bill Clinton;
racial profiling; logging in national parks.
and Back and Gone and Back Again
and back as intelligent design
for 86 years and back
Boston Red Sox.
to the dogs
skeptical media; the Geneva Conventions.
Red States v. Blue States division; family values; the FCC;
Linsday Lohan; Ann Coulter; John Kerry; Star Jones; Donald
going . . .
cabinet; half of the CIA; Herb Chesbrough.
and the machine
Vermont Gov. Howard Dean campaigned on the unique—at least,
in recent years—notion that the Democratic Party could be
more than an in-name-only alternative to the neo-conservative
agenda and became the favored candidate for Democrats (and
“Deaniacs”) looking for more than just “electability” in their
next president. Instead of tip-toeing around the most controversial
issues like fellow his candidates, Dean made the war—as well
as other progressive issues like same-sex unions and universal
healthcare—a central part of his platform and encouraged other
Democrats to do the same. Whether the Democratic Party will
continue making progressive politics a platform instead of
just an early campaign strategy has yet to be seen, but rumors
are flying about Dean possibly being considered to chair the
Democratic National Committee.
“scream heard ‘round the world” was exactly that. After airing
the footage of Howard Dean’s “Yea!” more than 600 times in
four days, CNN admitted that it might have gone a little too
far in its coverage of what had been—to most of those present
when it happened, at least—an entirely unremarkable event.
Cameras neglected to show the wildly cheering crowd Dean’s
voice was competing against, and the shout had all of the
background noise removed before it was force-fed to television
and radio audiences. While some argue that the previous day’s
loss in Iowa had already begun Dean’s fade from grace, questions
remain about CNN and other news channels’ decision to put
so much emphasis on a nonstory.
Rev. Al Sharpton has no church, no congregation, no actual
constituency and his failed presidential campaign was funded,
to a great extent, by Republicans. So why do we still like
him? Of course, there’s the hair, and the fact that he’s snagged
all those cool TV guest shots lately. But back during the
campaign, he said the things no one else but Kucinich would
say, with a passion the more sincere Dennis couldn’t muster:
“The promise of America is that we stand for human rights,
whether it’s fighting against slavery in the Sudan, AIDS in
Lesotho, or police misconduct in this country.” That’s passion
Kerry couldn’t buy.
that kept going
after his fellow non-Kerry Democrats dropped out of the race
for the Democratic
presidential nomination, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) soldiered
on right up to the convention, building on some impressive
second and thirdplace showings in the primaries and some shining
debate moments (including his scolding of Ted Koppel for asking
superficial questions) to try to keep issues like peace, justice,
and corporate responsibility on the table and in the Democrats’
platform. He got some language regarding troop withdrawal
into the platform, and got to speak at the convention, and
then endorsed Kerry.
wrote him off, we warmed up to him, we groaned, we were pleasantly
surprised, and we were seriously disappointed. And that was
all before the election that he conceded for the sake of his
political career, even when recounts were being called for
and reports of serious voting problems kept pouring in. The
upper crust yet ethical, progressive on many fronts yet crushingly
wimpy on others senator from Massachusetts led the country’s
non-Bush supporters (who go way beyond Democrats) on a roller
coaster ride we’d rather forget.
PAC, the powerful Internet advocacy group, kept up its ceaseless
work raising unprecedented amounts of money from small donors
for everything from anti-Bush TV ads to a sophisticated swing-state
volunteer effort. They must have been doing something right,
since they became worthy of vicious attacks by the Bush apparatus.
first bad sign
such a big year, you’d think the Democratic National Convention
would’ve been an interesting affair. But by then the worried
Dems were lined up behind Kerry as their man, and his famous
last-minute sprint had not yet begun. The mélange of protest
and commerce outside the barricades got about 300 times less
media coverage than the not-as-bad-as-predicted inconvenience
to Boston commuters.
dykes’ Uncle Tom
a widespread campaign by marriage equality advocates to encourage
Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, Mary Cheney, a partnered
lesbian, to speak out for gay rights, Mary stayed mum, and
continued to earn a big salary working for her Daddy’s re-election.
Though Cheney was clearly uncomfortable with the position
this put him in, thanks to the Dems’ Twilight Zone
tactics he managed to come off sounding more gay positive
than Edwards in the VP debate. And yet it was apparently a
“cheap shot” for Kerry to mention the issue at all.
GOP and the RNC in the NYC
August, the Grand Old Party threw a wild one just a few blocks
from the remains of the World Trade Center, despite vowing
never to politicize the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Massive
protests, heavy-handed arrests and red-white-and-blue cowboy
hats filled the avenues, while loyal Republicans were shuttled
around the city like foreign ambassadors. If you didn’t toe
the party line, you got caught in the crossfire—as one of
Metroland’s own can attest.
the Navy teach honor?
a move oily with Karl Rove’s fingerprints, “Swift Boat Veterans
for Truth” attacked John Kerry’s status as a war hero—to distract
from the fact that their candidate not only hadn’t seen combat,
but was a deserter (ABC’s fake memo scandal aside, there’s
plenty of other evidence for that, not to mention no evidence
to the contrary). Despite their shameless chicanery—including
listing as supporters swift-boat veterans who explicitly didn’t
agree with them—the blitz of SBVT advertising successfully
sowed doubt and confusion and steered the campaign away from
Miller, Democratic senator from Georgia, went a little funny
in the head this year. Just, you know, a little funny. He
vehemently repudiated nominee John Kerry in a blistering speech
at the Republican convention that had viewers wondering if
Miller’s head was going to explode. Then, he challenged cable
bobblehead Chris Matthews to a duel. Most recently, on Don
Imus’ execrable radio show, Miller referred to Maureen Dowd
as “Maureen Loud,” and called The New York Times columnist
a “highbrow hussy from New York” with “horns sprouting out
of her Technicolor hair.” It’s time for an intervention, or
at least a competency hearing.
summer long we waited—how we waited—for John Kerry to go on
the offensive against George W. Bush. We screamed at the TV:
“C’mon, John. That idiot lied about the war—call him on it!”
(We also yelled at him to answer those spurious Swift Boat
charges, too, to no avail.) Finally, on Thursday, Sept. 30,
in post-hurricane-ravaged Florida, Kerry cleaned Bush’s clock
in the first presidential debate. After four years of no one
asking tough questions, President Bush couldn’t handle it.
The war? “It’s hard work.” The deficit? “I’m working hard.”
His failed education policies? “It’s hard work.” Bush seemed
dumb as hell, acting peevish and thoroughly unpresidential.
Alas, this golden moment was the only one John Kerry—and the
rest of us—would have.
Cheney suggested that only the Bush administration was up
to the task of defending the United States against terrorism,
and that a Kerry win would trigger massive terrorist attack,
so, folks, well, feel free to take your chances . . .
you have to suspend democracy to save it
just in case of a terrorist attack before the election
(or, maybe, a poor showing in the polls?), the Bush administration
floated the possibility that the election might have to be
suspended, you know, to protect us from . . . too much democracy?
to the CBC, voter turnout in Canada’s 2004 national election
was “lower than in any national election since Confederation
in 1867.” (Yes, kiddies, that’s when Canada was born.) South
of the 49th parallel, however, more people voted in the U.S.
presidential election than ever before. OK. They get gay marriage
and Cuban cigars. We lose Roe vs. Wade and, oh, numerous Constitutional
freedoms. Too bad our morons didn’t stay home like the nice,
obliging Canadian stupid people.
has spoken, sort of . . .
Big Guy turned up everywhere this year—from feature films
to national politics—but nowhere was the earthly presence
of God made more obvious than in America’s favorite annoying
hangnail, Florida. Between four major hurricanes, giant sinkholes,
and Katherine Harris, Florida really felt His wrath in 2004.
Wishful thinkers implied that God might have been trying to
make a point about the election or something like that. In
the long run, He proved to be no match for ol’ Jeb, and things
pretty much returned to normal, as vote fraud abounded and
the state went red in November.
Blue, and Chilled All Over
W. Bush was declared the winner of the presidential election
in November, so Bush, Cheney, Rice and a slew of new cabinet
members will be running the show for four more years. What
can we expect? Operation Mission Accomplished will drag on
indefinitely, killing who knows how many more Iraqis and American
troops. Bush will protect our homeland security by replacing
veteran intelligence gatherers with yes men. He will invigorate
our faltering economy by pouring billions more into the war
and cutting taxes for the wealthy. He will protect our Constitution
by appointing activist right-wing judges. He will make environmental
protection easier by reducing the amount of environment left
to protect. He will unite us by dividing us. And those of
the Red State persuasion can feel reassured that it was all
necessary in order to stamp out gay marriage.
where you goin’ with my vote?
were more reports than ever of voting irregularities this
year, especially in Ohio, where Bush’s small margin of victory
handed him the election. From suppression (too few voting
machines in heavily Democratic precincts, phone calls directing
urban voters to the wrong location, etc.) to charges of fraud
(touch-screen machines showing Kerry voters that they had
voted for Bush, tabulators recording more votes than the number
of voters, etc.) to charges of fixing the recount (in one
instance, a technician from a Republican-connected voting-machine
company was allowed to tinker with the tabulator before it
recounted the votes), there were hundreds of accounts of vote
manipulation, and the stories are still being told. For his
part, Kenneth Blackwell, the Ohio secretary of state and also
the head of the state’s campaign to reelect Bush—how cozy!—has
simply refused to answer any questions about the irregularities.
Whatcha hiding, Kenneth?
2: Meet the New Boss
four years of relative stability, George W. Bush’s cabinet
has undergone a major reshuffling. Out went the unreliable
(Colin Powell, State), the controversial (John Ashcroft, Justice),
the ineffectual (Tom Ridge, Homeland Security), the incompetent
(Rod Paige, Education) and, dare we admit it, the competent
(Tommy Thompson, Health and Human Services). Most of their
places were filled with Bush-friendly hacks. You know, folks
who never say no to W. Who stayed? Incompetents like Donald
Rumsfeld (Defense) and John Snow (Treasury). It’s gonna be
a long four years.
blogging (that’s the gerund for maintaining a Web log, by
the way) is hardly a new phenomenon, the popularity of such
politically oriented sites as Matt Drudge’s Drudgereport
and Ana Marie Cox’s Wonkette caught the attention of
the more mainstream media this year in a major way. Though
blogs provide ostensible competition in the commenting field
(Drudge’s site notched a million hits on election day, beating
the New York Times’ site by more than 30,000 users),
some newspapers, networks and major cable news providers embraced
them, giving ample column inches and even inviting them on
air as talking heads. The immediacy and fluidity of the medium
as opposed to traditional outlets often provides for drama
and humor; but, though some provocative and seemingly prescient
observations were posted, on election day itself the greatest
advantage seemed to be the ability to rapidly retract.
so I’m only supossed to kill the healthy ones?
serviceman Staff Sgt. Johnny Horne was sentenced to three
years in prison, after a court martial found him guilty of
unpremeditated murder for the August shooting of a wounded
16-year-old Iraqi, whom Horne had decided to put “out of his
you can’t stand the heat, get out of the split-screen
April, after freedom-of-information activists successfully
obtained release of photographs of the caskets of servicemen
returning from Iraq to the air force base in Dover, Del.,
both the Bush administration and the Pentagon indicated they
would work to prevent such releases in the future. As justification
for such action, Bush pointed to a 1991 photo ban enacted
by his father during the first Gulf war. Bush Sr.—as would
his son later—cited respect for the affected families’ privacy
as motivation, but critics pointed out that the ban was created
shortly after he was depicted on network TV in a split-screen
image that juxtaposed his laughing face with a row of caskets.
Thus far, the younger Bush has avoided such problems: The
issue of Time magazine proclaiming him Person of the
Year issue, for example, contained an image of George W. bicycling
while listening to “Brown-Eyed Girl” on his iPod, but not
a single shot of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of flag-draped
the grand tradition of supporting our troops, the U.S. Armed
Forces started covering up their terrible over-extendness
in Iraq using the fine print. They can—at least they claim
they can—keep troops on duty after their time is up, and call
retired servicepeople back to duty. Add to this the shipping
overseas of middle-aged National Guard members who expected
to serve at home, and there’s a lot of folks over there who
didn’t exactly volunteer for what they’ve gotten. And a lot
of families back home who didn’t either.
and propaganda, live at 11
a video of American businessman Nicholas Berg’s grisly beheading
by Islamic militants in Iraq was posted on the Internet in
April, television audiences and Internet surfers around the
world soon bore witness to similar incidents at the rate of
nearly one every other week. One of the most upsetting aspects
of this trend—second only to the actual beheadings, of course—was
the speed with which American intelligence agencies announced
links between militant groups and the victims, who often denounced
the American occupation of Iraq during their ransom videos,
as if the victims were somehow responsible for their own murders.
sadly, the sword’s still pretty powerful
was a treacherous year for journalists: Worldwide, 54 reporters
were killed while on the job, the highest number in a decade.
Not surprisingly, Iraq proved to be the hot spot, recording
23 killings (up from 13 last year). Most of those killed were
Iraqis working for Western media. After Iraq, the most dangerous
place to be a working journalist was the Philippines, where
eight reporters were killed.
a stunningly cynical bit of informal policy making, the Bush
administration used a number of legal memoranda to effectively
gut the Geneva Conventions in regard to U.S. activity in Afghanistan
and Iraq. The administration identified opponents in those
countries as “unlawful enemy combatants” (a term unrecognized
by international law), and claimed that as such they were
not protected; further memoranda were released permitting
“coercive interrogation techniques,” such as sleep deprivation
and forcing prisoners to maintain stressful and painful physical
positions. These techniques, the administration argued, did
not violate the Geneva agreement, because, well, because—weren’t
you listening?—we’re choosing not to pay attention to it.
QED. Journalists such as Pulitzer-prize-winner Seymour Hersh
and military experts such as Phillip Carter have argued that,
despite administration finger-pointing at a “few bad apples”,
it was exactly this no-holds-barred pursuit of “intelligence”
that facilitated abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
for your own good
attempts to protect us from terrorism still continued to climb
to new heights of surreal. While they didn’t involve extra
border protections, taking nuclear power plants off line,
or reducing our dependence on middle eastern oil, the Bush
administration and likeminded fear-mongers has suggested,
proposed or tried: removing public access to Global Positioning
System data in some areas, refusing to publish books by dissenters
in “enemy” states, banning photography and movie-making in
subways, preventing Edward Kennedy and Cat Stevens from flying
on airplanes, and diverted money away from mitigation measures
that would prevent damage and loss of life following natural
disasters. I feel safe. How ‘bout you?
real danger to Americans
casualty rates in Iraq are rising, there’s no end to the war
in sight and American soldiers are using cardboard boxes for
armor, but don’t worry. After this year’s State of the Union
address, you can feel safe knowing that the current administration
is taking steps to end the real threat to the American Dream—the
use of steroids by professional athletes. Drug users in high-level
political seats or on the airwaves extolling the virtues of
morality? No problem. But drug users in the football or baseball
record books? Now that is the stuff of Code Orange
high priestess of evil Ann Coulter outdid herself with this
holiday message to Muslims posted on her Web site: “To The
People of Islam: Just think: If we’d invaded your countries,
killed your leaders and converted you to Christianity YOU’D
ALL BE OPENING CHRISTMAS PRESENTS RIGHT ABOUT NOW! Merry Christmas.”
Yikes. Double yikes. Ann, dear, in the immortal words of Jamie
Kennedy: “Don’t be hatin’!”
of the Year
Daily Show is the hottest (and funniest) fake news
program on cable. His America: The Book is a runaway
best seller. Best of all, he called the bowtie-wearing conservative
twerp Tucker Carlson a dick on national television. Forget
Howard Stern. Jon Stewart is the new King of All Media.
is war in Iraq. There is now a tragedy of massive proportions
in South and Southeast Asia. But let’s not forget Sudan, where
government-backed rebels are still killing innocent refugees
in the Dafur region. We—as in our government and other world
entities—have agreed that it is a genocide. Yet, little is
done. After the Holocaust, we said “never again.” Then, after
Rwanda, we said “never again.” Again. People continued to
die, first in Congo, and now in Sudan. Maybe we should do
something about genocide, or just shut the hell up.
including women, went to the polls for the first time this
year. Despite widespread worries about voting fraud—the numbers
suggested widespread multiple registrations and the indelible
ink used to mark people who had voted in many cases rubbed
off within an hour—election monitors said it had gone smoothly.
U.S.-backed Hamid Karzai, who has been the interim leader,
faced 15 opponents, who threatened a boycott of the results,
claiming fraud. The United States dispatched negotiators to
get them to agree to accept a Karzai win—before the ballots
had been counted. Karzai it is.
Russian for “Nothing for me, thanks”?
the battle for the presidency of the Ukraine, things took
a turn for the macabre when challenger Viktor Yushchenko was
administered a dose of the highly toxic chemical dioxin (allegedly
served to him in a meal by members of the Ukrainian secret
service, said to be loyal to Yushchenko’s opponent, Prime
Minister Viktor Yanukovych). The 50-year-old Yushchenko went
on to win the race by a significant margin, though Yanukovych
says he will “never” concede.
week, an apocalyptic tsunami caused by a record-breaking 9.0-magnitude
undersea earthquake devastated the South and Southeast Asian
countries of India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Maldives,
Myanmar, Tanzania, Thailand, Somalia and Sri Lanka. The destruction
and loss of life is astronomical. The most current death toll
at publication was 80,000, and surely that number will increase
by leaps and bounds by the time all is said and done. To give
you an idea of the damage: The tiny island nation of Maldives
is the lowest-lying country in the world (the average height
of land is about three feet), and one of its islands, Kandolhudhoo
(population 3,500), was completely immersed in water, making
it entirely uninhabitable. Rescue workers are rushing to get
things cleaned up for fear of epidemics of respiratory and
waterborne diseases that could break out within the next couple
Americas At the Movies
Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and Michael Moore’s
Fahrenheit 9/11 had three things in common: they were
too long, they were carefully sold to specific markets and
they made a lot of money at the box office. Unless you were
a liberal Catholic mystic or a movie critic, however, it’s
unlikely that you saw both films. To sum up: Gibson’s Biblical
splatter film was a couple of hours of a man being flayed
to death, with a soupçon of anti-Semitism for bad measure.
To be fair, it was often moving. Moore’s polemic was a couple
of hours of Moore beating on George W. Bush like a rented
mule, with a soupçon of grisly Iraq war footage thrown in
for good measure. To be fair, Moore made many, many excellent
points. Final domestic box-office for Passion? $370
million. For Fahrenheit? $120 million. Anyone surprised
Year” grips America!
past year provided a veritable cornucopia of linguistic contradictions
aimed at winning over the hearts and minds of Americans to
the current administration’s cause. Take, for instance, the
“anti-Iraqi” forces that, for some reason, mainly target Americans
in Iraq. And then there’s the “moral values” vote attributed
to evangelical Christians, which enabled more federal money
to be diverted towards abstinence-only sexual education curricula
that, according to a recent federal study, violate that commandment
against lying. Of course, you don’t need to take our word
for it—turn on Fox News and hear it for yourself.
Grass or Ass
off the wires: The Russian space agency has told NASA that
beginning in 2006, the free ride is over. With the U.S. space
shuttle fleet grounded, astronauts have been hitchin’ a ride
to the International Space Station in old-school Russian Soyuz
space capsules. Gratis. The cash-poor Russkies, however, say
they can’t afford to haul us American freeloaders anymore,
and it’s time to pay up. They also want us to get out of the
way and allow tourist spaceflights to the station. Why not?
If Bush thinks the free market should rule on Earth, why not
steps forward two steps back
week of Valentine’s Day, the country swooned, watching scores
of deliriously happy same-sex couples emerge married from
San Francisco’s City Hall. Various other officials followed
suit on smaller scales, including New Paltz Mayor Jason West,
and ministers and couples in many locales, including Albany,
stepped up the requests for licenses. Legal same-sex weddings
started quietly in Massachusetts. But then things turned less
cheery. Courts invalidated all but the Massachusetts weddings.
The absurd Constitutional amendment defining marriage as one
man, one woman nearly made it to a vote, and the November
elections saw a flurry of new state-level pre-emptive marriage
discrimination provisions. Guess we just need to wait for
a less squeamish generation to come of age.
was easy to like, even admire, Ronald Reagan personally. He
had a tough childhood, and remade himself first as a credible
film actor, and then as a politician. President Ronald
Reagan, however, sucked. His administration funded right-wing
death squads in Central America, transferred wealth from the
poor and middle class to the rich, opposed sanctions on South
Africa, tried to gut environmental regulations and declared,
when it came to school lunches, that ketchup was a vegetable.
So, while we were sorry when he passed away this year, we
were even sorrier to note the universal praise for the now
seemingly God-like Reagan. Put him on Mount Rushmore? Replace
Franklin Roosevelt on the dime with his mug? Over our dead
Channels (And One Thing On)
the crime was horrific—the killing of a pregnant woman, on
Christmas Eve no less. But the fascination with the Scott
Peterson case, and the accompanying wall-to-wall media coverage,
leaves us a bit mystified. How and why does a nation of viewers
become so invested in what is essentially a local murder case?
Peterson’s not even a celebrity; he’s a former fertilizer
salesman. And unless you watched every minute of the trial—as
a juror would—what makes people feel so certain that Peterson
was either innocent or guilty? Real life as spectacle is not-so-mildly
disquieting. Especially when there’s real news to follow—like
some war over in Iraq.
word on whether she got a room with direct sunlight for her
March, Martha Stewart was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction
of justice, and making false statements in the ImClone stock
scandal. Though she could have postponed her five-month prison
sentence until after her appeal, in September, she announced
her decision to begin serving—which will get her back home
(to five months of house arrest) just in time for spring planting.
(But she has noticed something other than the décor—just recently
she joined a long list of incarcerated celebs who have officially
taken a stand for drug-law reform.)
climate, your climate
United States further distanced itself from its neighbors—well,
everyone except for Saudi Arabia—at the recent international
conference on global warming held in Buenos Aires. The U.N.
conference was a final opportunity to discuss next year’s
implementation of the Kyoto Protocol (which the United States
still hasn’t agreed to participate in). U.S. representatives
at the conference insisted—among other things—that the phrase
“climate change” be changed to “climate variability,” and
that Saudi Arabia be compensated for lost revenue if the world’s
oil consumption is reduced. Even though the United States
produces nearly a quarter of the world’s total greenhouse
gases, some government and scientific groups said that future
environmental efforts might make better progress if the United
States and Saudi Arabia were excluded from the discussion.
farther away than Canada
movements and discoveries of the Mars robot Spirit captivated
the attention of many in the early months of a year as it
overcame physical obstacles and programming crises to send
home the most detailed information about the Red Planet we’ve
got to date—including intriguing information about the water
content of the planet and whether it had ever been in liquid
form on the surface. Evidence so far says it likely was, in
spades. Who knows, maybe Martians are next?
software and advocacy group Mozilla set out to do the impossible
this year, challenging Microsoft and the company’s Internet
Explorer Web browser in the battle for the Web-surfing dominance.
And recent reports indicate that this David and Goliath story
might have a happy ending. Mozilla’s free Firefox browser,
a combination of the computer code once used in Netscape Navigator
and freely distributed code contributed by programmers around
the world, currently counts more than 10 percent of all Internet
users as converts, and its popularity is growing exponentially
as word of the free browser’s improved security, privacy and
user-friendly features gets around. If you haven’t checked
it out yet, download it at www.mozilla.org.
Gone Wild: Part One
which Janet—Ms. Jackson, if you’re nasty—reveals that she
is, in fact, for real. In the year’s most TiVo’d moment, January’s
Superbowl halftime show ended in a “wardrobe malfunction”
(we still get a chuckle out of that) that revealed Jackson’s
right breast to approximately 140 million viewers. “It was
just a titty,” some would say, but Michael Powell and his
fine-happy cronies at the FCC were not amused. Even though
parent company Viacom stood by their word that the incident
was unplanned, CBS was handed a $550,000 fine for the boob
shot. As a result, live television shows across the board
implemented broadcast delays to avoid future incidents, effectively
eliminating the concept of “live” television.
jumps ship. Get it?
Stern jumps ship?
our next installment of FCC Gone Wild, professional rabblerouser
and longtime “decency” scapegoat Howard Stern goes head-to-head
with the FCC and wins . . . or does he? Powell and company
took to Stern hard this year, nailing him with huge fines
for a show broadcast in—get this—2003. Clear Channel—big Bush
supporters, by the way—responded by removing Stern’s morning
show from six of its stations. Although the show returned
to the airwaves in most markets (albeit with a lengthy delay),
Stern surprised few when he wrapped the year by announcing
a move to Sirius Satellite radio in 2006. Expect a plethora
of zany “morning-zoo” programs to pop up in his absence, which
should finally make morning radio completely unlistenable.
You Know it’s True
Ashlee Simpson chose to play it safe, Milli Vanilli style,
by using a “guide” track during an October appearance on
Saturday Night Live. Hilarity ensued when the wrong track
was played and Simpson’s disembodied voice began to pipe through
the P.A. As her backing band attempted to play cover-up, a
visibly embarrassed Simpson stormed off stage less than a
minute into the song. She later blamed her band for playing
the wrong song (not technically true), her handlers scrambled
to pawn off the folly on acid-reflux disease (possibly true),
and fans posted a flurry of messages on her Web site, threatening
to disown her (if only it were true). Meanwhile, Simpson’s
debut album Autobiography went triple-platinum in the
United States, inducing acid-reflux in a whole generation
of music fans.
no secret that right-wing nutjobs have controlled the talk-radio
airwaves for some time now, but then right-wing nutjobs are
generally the kind of people who enjoy listening to blowhards
like Michael Savage telling them what they already believe.
Meanwhile, the lefties have had to settle for NPR and Amy
Goodman all these years, but not anymore: This year saw the
launch of Air America (inadvertently named after a lame early-’90s
Mel Gibson vehicle), an all left-wing talk-radio network with
more than 40 stations nationwide. While the station has pulled
huge ratings in many markets, otherwise funny folks like Al
Franken and Janeane Garofalo just came off as boring old cranks.
At least arguing with Rush Limbaugh is fun.
woefully overlooked foreign-policy/Jerry Bruckheimer satire
Team America: World Police hit theaters in October,
but not quite as Trey Parker and Matt Stone had originally
intended it. Days before the film’s release, Stone and Parker—creators
of the irreverent South Park—were asked to cut more
than a minute from an explicit sex scene to avoid the dreaded
NC-17 rating. The catch? The film’s cast is entirely composed
of puppets, which raises the question: If a tree falls in
the forest, and that tree is carved into a puppet, and that
puppet tosses another puppet’s salad . . . oh, never mind.
Death of an Innocent
it technically happened last year, our year-end issue was
put to bed minutes before the tragic shooting of 24-year-old
passerby David Scaringe. Scaringe was walking across State
Street at Lark in Albany’s Center Square when Albany police
officers Joseph Gerace and William Bonanni opened fire on
a car they were pursuing that was being driven by Daniel Reed
of Delmar. Reed had pulled his car onto the sidewalk and gunned
in reverse at the officers, who were on foot. When the cops
started shooting at the car (against department policy) Reed
escaped down State Street, but Scaringe was not so lucky.
A bullet struck him as he walked, and he fell dead. The two
officers in question were not charged.
cop poor people like? Can’t have that
January, Cmdr. Christian D’Alessandro was fired from the Albany
Police Department. Residents of the neighborhoods he had been
serving turned out en masse to protest his loss, and he has
filed a lawsuit against the city. The turmoil over his firing
brought all sorts of questions about APD use of funds, overtime,
and policies to light. Though D’Alessandro didn’t get his
job back, much-criticized Pubic Safety Commissioner John C.
Nielsen, whose resignation was being called for by the newly
formed Coalition for Accountable Police and Government, suddenly
took a new job—in Haiti.
Memory of John Finn
not worth rehashing the bizarre, unfortunate circumstances
of the shooting of Albany Police Lt. John Finn a year ago.
It is worth remembering that he was loved by his family, and
respected by his fellow officers. It’s worth honoring his
distinguished record as an Albany cop, which included an Officer
of the Year award in 2000, and two lifesaving awards. It’s
worth contemplating his difficult, two-month-long fight for
life, which ended on Feb. 12. Most of all, it’s worth commemorating
the extraordinary memorial celebration held at the Pepsi Arena
on Feb. 21, organized by his wife, Maura McNulty-Finn. Finn’s
family, including young daughters Clara and Molly were there.
Every Albany police officer, and thousands of officers from
as far away as Maryland were there. The place was packed with
local notables, from Bishop Howard Hubbard to scores of politicians
to people from the community who knew and respected Finn as
a police officer and as a man. There were speakers and music.
It was sad, yes, but it was also a testament to Finn’s unifying
effect on the department and the community. He is missed.
APD Chief Robert Wolfgang had a pretty stressful beginning
of the year. But when he left to pursue other ventures—namely
running amphibious “Aquaducks” tours of Albany—he seemed markedly
happier, despite the chuckles. The vehicle and the honking
(quacking?) of its riders’ duck whistles quickly became a
familiar sight/sound on Albany’s streets. We’re still not
certain what they’re saying about Metroland when they
pass our offices, though. Did that sound like laughter to
little candidate that was surly
Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne was not expecting
any serious challenge from his former employee David Soares
in the DA race. So for the primary he put up a few ads, and
sat back, declining debates on the principle that Soares didn’t
deserve a debate. When he got soundly trounced his campaign
manager told the press that the people of Albany County “better
wake up before Nov. 2.” It appears the voters still didn’t
like the attitude come Nov. 2.
little candidate that could
round the clock with the backing of devoted and incredibly
diverse volunteers and the best minds of the state’s Working
Families Party, David Soares got national attention by showing
that voters really are interested in drug-law reform and crime
prevention. After handily winning the primaries, he kept going
through a vicious three-way race to become the second black
DA in New York state.
that big are easily bruised
the midst of the tizzy that David Soares’ primary win threw
Albany Democrats into, Mayor Jerry Jennings, the only Democrat
not to hastily line up in Soares’ camp, let forth a protestation
worthy to compete with “Bring ‘Em On”: “I’m the only important
Democrat in this race,” he told the press. And gosh darn it,
people like me.
I had a unprecedented win too!
overshadowed by David Soares’ dramatic campaign, local lawyer
Margaret Walsh pulled off her own impressive and unusual campaign,
running the first-ever Democratic primary for Family Court
judge in Albany County, and winning a nice solid victory despite.
Even in these strange days, it seems her opponent’s “A Family
Man for Family Court” slogan still rang too creepily 1950s
with the voters.
you should have seen the T-shirt she was wearing
under investigation by the New York State Commission on Judicial
Conduct, Cheryl Coleman resigned her judgeship on the Albany
City Court. Coleman had been criticized for questionable judgment
on a number of occasions; the most damning incident occurred
during and after a 2003 Bon Jovi concert in which she apparently
instigated a fight with four women dancing in the aisles,
and then improperly used her influence to have them arrested.
Our sources tell us the commission also was investigating
other allegations of bad judgment: that she had permed out
her hair for the concert, and that she was playing air guitar
and mouthing every song word-for-word.
the Dems honest
was the year in which New York state’s labor- and left-friendly
Working Families Party came into its own. Organized as a means
to make the Democrats acknowledge and adopt a more progressive
agenda, Working Families was instrumental in the election
of Albany County D.A. David Soares. Plus, they succeeded in
re-electing an Albany county legislator (Lucille McKnight)
who had been spurned by her own party. What’s next—could it
be the Albany Mayor’s office?
means to an uncertain end
abuse by priests remained a difficult topic on the national
level, with settlement costs sending some dioceses into bankruptcy,
and new stories about abusers shuffled to other jobs with
kids still emerging. Locally, John Aretakis, lawyer for a
group of victims, launched a media crusade against Bishop
Howard Hubbard and several other priests, lobbing accusations
(some that seem founded, many that don’t) of clandestine affairs
with men and prostitutes as well as sexual abuse. A wildly
expensive private investigation by high-powered lawyer Mary
Jo White (hired by the diocese) cleared the bishop, and Aretakis
himself is under investigation for unprofessional conduct.
The people who are still being left out in the cold? The victims.
close for comfort
shootings came to the Capital Region in February, when Jon
Romano, a depressed, suicidal teenager took his birthday present—a
shotgun—to school and fired it at students and teachers, wounding
two before he was tackled. The event was traumatic, but nonetheless
many people have spoken out against the plea bargain that
recently handed Romano 20 years in prison, with no assurance
of the mental health services he needs.
still don’t get it
after a blistering audit by the New York State Office of Parks,
Recreation and Historic Preservation—which documented mismanagement
and raised questions of conflict of interest involving the
board—the board of the troubled Saratoga Performing Arts Center
seems to have taken a “What, us worry?” attitude. Board chairman
Stephen Serlin has refused to discuss the grotesque, recently
scuttled separation agreement with SPAC president Herb Chesbrough,
and was quoted as saying that he hopes Herb’s wife Kathy,
SPAC’s fund-raiser, remains in her job for “a long time.”
(The audit questioned her duties and salary.) This is not
called “legal procedures” for a reason
County District Attorney Patricia DeAngelis wants to prove
that, like a metal band, she’s meaner, tougher and harder
than you. And, like a not-very-good metal band, she keeps
undercutting her position and coming off as weak—where it
counts. Twice in the last six months, appeals courts have
cited her for prosecutorial misconduct. Twice, convictions
of sex offenders have been reversed and the accused granted
a new trial. DeAngelis better get her act together and follow
accepted procedure, or her term in office will remembered
as being as farcical as Spinal Tap.
up a parking lot
been a great month of movies, hasn’t it, Schenectady? The
Diamond Cinemas opened on time in November, and crowds of
happy Schenectadians have been lining up along State Street
to see Meet the Fockers and Ocean’s Twelve.
Shops and restaurants have opened, and all is joyous. . .
. Not. The Metroplex-backed deal to build the cinemas fell
apart last spring, after the site was cleared. Too bad. On
the bright side, Schenectady has another shovel-ready vacant
the best… around!
York state legislators extended their 20-year streak of ineffectiveness
this year, as the April 1 deadline for a state budget passed
without any agreement between the Senate and Assembly. In
doing so, New York continues to be head-and-shoulders above
the rest of the nation when it comes to elected officials’
slackitude. Even after the two halves of the legislature announced
an agreement on reforms to the budget process earlier this
year, the necessary legislation has yet to be signed into
law, making a continuation of New York’s dubious record likely
promise not to keep doing what I’ve been doing
incumbents and challengers alike, government reform was the
foundation of every New York state legislative campaign platform
this year. After a study ranked New York’s state government
as the nation’s most dysfunctional (no surprise there), legislators
vowed to make everything better—as long as we voted them and
their fellow party members back into office, that is. And
for the most part, that’s what we did, with very few incumbents
losing their seats. In fact, Colonie Assemblyman Robert Prentiss
was one of the only local incumbents to become a casualty
in the reform war. Oh, and since the election, many of those
names on campaign signs have been conspicuously absent from
reform legislation. What was that line about “fool me once?”
to get ahead in New York State politics
New York’s state legislators didn’t devote much effort to
passing an on-time budget this year, their attention did seem
focused on one part of their office—the internship program.
An investigation into one Assemblyman’s booze-up with an underage
intern in May prompted a flurry of reports from interns who
said such activity was simply an unwritten rule in the “frat
party” atmosphere of the Capitol. If that’s the case, is it
any wonder why legislators want to stick around Albany as
long as possible?
shalt not leave the party
you paid any attention to this year’s race between state Sen.
Neil Breslin, a lifelong Democrat, and Albany County Comptroller
Michael Conners, a recent Democrat-turned-Republican, you
might think that the greatest evil a person can do in this
world is to switch political parties. Instead of making the
race a competition between campaign platforms, Breslin and
fellow party members ripped Conners apart in television and
radio ads for his decision to leave the Democratic Party—as
if that decision was enough reason for voters to brand him
unfit for elected office. In the end, lobbing the “flip-flop”
accusation achieved the same effect locally as it did nationally—it
helped win an election for the accusers, but sure made them
look petty in the process.
magical Wellington Hotel
the mythical town of Brigadoon, the Wellington Hotel seemed
to suddenly appear before Albany city officials’ eyes in all
its neglected glory this August. Despite the building’s close
proximity to City Hall, it took a five-ton cornice dangling
over State Street to make the building’s condition visible
to city officials. Preservation groups rallied against Mayor
Jerry Jennings’ initial demolition order and the city eventually
back-tracked, shifting blame to the building’s absentee owner,
Samuel Sebba, whose demolition application was soundly rejected
by the city Historic Resources Commission last month. Looming
over the entire saga is the possibility that the Wellington’s
block of State Street may become the future home of the Albany
Convention Center, a mayor-backed project that could only
benefit from the sudden removal of the Wellington and surrounding
it’s a boy, we’re going with Pork Lo Mein!
have a storied history of giving their children wacky names,
dating back to Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa. But that was Frank
Zappa. This year’s crop of oddly monikered ankle-biters
included an Apple (Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay’s Chris Martin),
a Hazel (Julia Roberts) and a Phinneus (also Julia Roberts).
By comparison, however, this was a relatively tame year, considering
2003 included such gems as Audio Science (actress Shannyn
Sossamon) and Pilot Inspektor (Jason Lee). Perhaps the days
of Michael, Mark, Elizabeth and Susan are soon to return.
won! . . . Um . . . Whadda we do now?
fans of the Boston Red Sox were overjoyed at their team’s
astounding playoff comeback against the Yankees and surprisingly
easy World Series sweep of the Cardinals. But no sooner did
the victory parade end than reports began to trickle out of
Boston that some characteristically gloomy fans had already
begun to wonder, now that they no longer had “The Curse” to
fret over, where they would turn to find meaning in their
Ain’t Over Till Lord Stanley Weeps
coolest game on Earth? Not this year—and who knows how much
permanent damage the current lockout will do to the NHL, especially
if the season is canceled and there is no Stanley Cup winner
for the first time since influenza derailed the final between
Montreal and Seattle back in 1919. The players blame the bargaining
impasse on the team owners and Commissioner Gary Bettmann,
but polls consistently show a wide majority of fans blaming
the players for being too greedy and too unrealistic about
what the league needs to do to keep 30 teams afloat.
Artest, sports industry hero
Pacer Ron Artest did sports fans a favor last month when he
filled the violence void created by the absence of a 2004
National Hockey League season. While sports analysts used
the sort of terminology typically reserved for stories about
mass genocide to describe Artest’s infamous brawl with Detroit
Pistons players and fans, they seemed perfectly happy with
the ratings boost the brawl created for the two teams’ rematch
on Christmas Day. In fact, everyone involved with the brawl
seems to have made a buck off it—kernels of popcorn allegedly
thrown during the brawl sold for nearly $10 on eBay in recent
“91ers”—Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm
and Kristine Lilly—capped their brilliant careers on the U.S.
women’s soccer team with a heartwarming gold-medal win at
the Summer Olympics in Athens. Barely noticed by the media
when they won the first-ever Women’s World Cup back in 1991,
the five have anchored the team ever since, winning Olympic
gold in 1996 and another World Cup in 1999. They eventually
became media darlings almost by popular demand; more important,
their success, sportsmanship (sportswomanship?) and relentlessly
upbeat spirit were an inspiration—not just to young girls,
but to athletes and fans everywhere.
a tree falls in the Prada store . . .
News gossip columnist Lloyd Grove has promised to never
again write about Paris Hilton, claiming she offends “the
American sense of fair play: the idea that you get ahead by
working hard, playing by the rules and acquiring a skill of
some sort.” Reached for comment in the kitchen of L’Ironic,
a visibly shaken and panty-less Paris snorted back a quick
bump, and gave a blow job to a 34-year-old film producer no
one’s ever heard of.
an island in Indonesia, archeologists discovered evidence
of a tiny human species who lived alongside homo sapiens
some 18, 000 years ago. Scientifically classified homo
floresiensis, the little people were quickly labeled Hobbits,
after the diminutive heroes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of
the Rings series. The hobbits grew no taller than the
average modern three-year-old, had heads the size of grapefruits
and hunted pygmy elephants. Though the discovery excited scientists
and hardcore sword-and-sorcery geeks alike, creationists around
the world nearly shit themselves.
retired than a 18-wheeler after a tarmac full o’ tacks—or
folksiest of all recent anchorpeople, Dan Rather, announced
his retirement this year. As did Tom Brokaw. But toward the
end there—even with the journalistic lapses, even the Memogate
scandal following Rather’s too-
credulous response to information about Pres. Bush’s National
Guard service, even with the creepy feeling that watching
Rather unwind on national TV was somehow like watching grandpa
shower—we started to love the guy all over again. Courage,
Dan—you sweet Texan nutjob, you.