Friday, December 7, 2007

Futurama Review

Futurama is Back
The seminal science fiction cartoon returns on DVD
Hartford Advocate Dec. 07, 2007
Futurama returning in any form is great, but a direct-to-DVD version is nearly perfect. The animated show's creators, including Simpsons progenitor Matt Groening, invented a multi-layered television comedy show that looked both backwards and forwards. Steeped in science fiction minutia, the show portrayed a future where every conceivable science fiction scenario had come true, where the incredible is mundane and where everything is possible, but nothing seems to work.

Bender's Big Score
, the first of four DVD exclusive Futurama films — they're going to be split up and broadcast as 16 half-hour episodes on Comedy Central in 2008 — is both innovative and antiquated. The format allows them to bypass broadcast television, and include a wealth of special features that reward the obsession the show inspires in its fans (including a full episode of Everyone Loves Hypnotoad, and an equally inscrutably hypnotic Futurama-focused higher math lecture). But considering Blu-ray, Bit Torrent, video iPods and such, DVDs frankly seem like a dying technology. Which is perfect for Futurama.

Even Futurama's biggest fans should acknowledge why the show had limited success in its 72 episode run (seven episodes fewer than the original Star Trek. Or was it? Have at it, nerds.). Certainly it was mishandled by the Fox Network, who shuffled its time slot and ultimately canceled it, but the show had a fundamentally narrow appeal.

It rewarded science fiction literacy, referencing pure mind sugar for geeks like the 1939 World's Fair, Invasion of the Saucer Men and the Grandfather Paradox, but presented them with twitchy, irreverent humor. America just doesn't have the hipster nerd resources to sustain such a project.

There's also a matter of tone. Where the show's most immediate ancestor, The Simpsons, centered on a family and occasionally broke up its nihilism with sentimental warmth, the only mainstream concession Futurama made was the broad humor of an alcoholic misfit robot with criminal tendencies. It might as well have "cult hit" written in binary and Klingon in the opening credits.

Freed from the constraints of pretending to have mass appeal, the Futurama team mine the show's mythology and history for Bender's Big Score, packing the screen with obscure references to past Futurama episodes, and meta-references to the Family Guy (another show retired, then revived by Fox) and South Park. The plot, a giddy mix of Primer-style time-travel anomalies, alien con men and a surprisingly affecting romance, would have been pretty much impossible with broadcast television's constraints on time and ambition.

A lot of it's very funny — I mentioned the alcoholic misfit robot, right? — but more importantly, it's viciously smart. The speculative ideas are precise and fully realized. As the creators explain in the commentary track, every complicated time leap was fully sketched out, and scrutinized for logic and clarity. Time travel paradoxes aren't just acknowledged, they're exploited for punch lines.

If after watching Signs you angrily questioned why an alien race allergic to water would invade a planet with water covering two thirds of its surface, Bender's Big Score will be extremely satisfying. If you never considered that, well, maybe Futurama isn't for you. On the bright side, re-runs of Everybody Loves Raymond are on TV, like, all the time now!
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Voting Machine Clash

No-Confidence Vote
A Trinity professor and the secretary of the state square off over new voting machines
Hartford Advocate Nov. 24, 2005

Last week's voting machine demonstration at the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven in Woodbridge was strange. Although the center is a massive space, the actual demonstration was held in a cramped alcove. The six machines on display -- two each from the three companies that had made the cut for consideration, Avante, Danaher and Diebold -- were swarmed with people. There were no lines, no clear sense of order.

The event was the third of five statewide demonstrations of the three voting machines that had made the state's final cut for selection. Avante's and Diebold machines were high-tech touch-screen voting machines with interfaces clearly influenced by Microsoft Windows. The Danaher machine looked like the clunky lever voting machines that the new machines were supposed to replace. Each machine produced a hand-countable paper receipt, in accordance with a state bill passed last February.

"We have had 500 or more people on average at every demo this week," said Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz. It was more than she expected. "I was lying awake on Sunday night thinking 'What if no one comes?' Then we got to Buckland Mall and there were 75 senior citizens lined up early to try to check it out."

Last week's demonstrations were the culmination of a long, much-delayed voting-reform process. In 2004, Bysiewicz's office issued a Request For Proposal, or RFP, to voting machine vendors in order to begin replacing Connecticut's approximately 3000 voting machines, and to complywith the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 which established standards on voter procedures. The state hopes to have the process completed by Jan. 1, the deadline set by Congress for HAVA compliance.

One style of machine was conspicuously absent from the statewide display, in spite of the actions of voter advocacy group True VoteCT. The group, which formed about a year ago, is a coalition of computer science professionals and others with expertise in issues relating to voting technology.

Through their research, the group's members determined that optical scan technology was the best voting system for Connecticut. Optical scan systems work similarly to SAT scoring. A voter would mark up a dots on a form similar to the one familiar to anyone who's taken a multiple-choice test in the last 30 years.

"Optical scans have been around for a long time," True VoteCT organizer Ralph Morelli said. "It's a proven, mature technology."

Morelli, a tenured professor of computer science who has worked at Trinity College for 20 years, is a strong advocate of optical scan technology. He says the optical scan automatic paper trail would ensure transparency, avoid programming glitches that can occur with other machines, and cost less than those touted by the state.

The members of True VoteCT claim that Bysiewicz has largely ignored the group's optical scan recommendation throughout the process, and say the bids she requested are for "Direct Record Electronic (DRE)" machines, or e-voting machines. Bysiewicz and her staff have repeatedly denied that they are excluding any technology, particularly optical scan.

Morelli and other members of his group have made their concerns known to Bysiewicz. In addition to attending public question-and-answer sessions and round-table discussions of voting reform, True VoteCT members have sent several dispatches to Bysiewicz's office (which may be found on website).

On Sept. 19, Morelli sent a letter to Bysiewicz, asking her to reconsider optical scan technology and strongly recommended that she look into one particular machine called the Automark.

In Bysiewicz's reply, dated Oct. 5, the secretary noted that the group had consistently lauded Automark. Questioning the group's independent credentials, she refused to meet with members of True Vote on the grounds that they were endorsing the technology.

"Although you assert your organization is a 'non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group' without 'any kind of relationship with voting machine vendors,' the bulk of your letter is devoted to extolling the virtues of a single product by a single manufacturer, the Automark by ES&S," Bysiewicz's letter states.

Morelli and his fellow True VoteCT member Rich Sivel laughed when asked if they were shills for Automark.

"No one in the group has any interest in the company. No one in the group has any stock in the company. And in addition, we have a healthy skepticism about the technology," Sivel said.

A copy of Bysiewicz's response was sent by someone to Trinity College president Jim Jones. Morelli's letter was not written on college letterhead, and Morelli identified himself as a member of True VoteCT, not as a Trinity professor. He included his business card in the envelope, he says, so that he could be easily contacted.

Bysiewicz said she understood the inclusion of the business card to mean Morelli was speaking as a representative of the college. Morelli said he was surprised that the letter had been copied to Jones.

"I asked [President Jones] if he knew the secretary -- I assumed that's why she might have copied him on the letter," Morelli said. "He said that he didn't know her, and that we should be applauded for working on the issue."

When asked if her office routinely sends copies of letters to the bosses of her correspondents, Bysiewicz said, "That's something you'd have to ask my communication office."
Read more!

DMV Technology

Identify Yourself
New Connecticut DMV technologies cause worries
Hartford Advocate Feb. 10, 2005

On Jan. 11, Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Gary DeFilippo sent out a media advisory concerning steps the DMV is taking to reform the agency. Two bullet points briefly addressed potentially troubling technological changes the agency is undertaking.

The first said the DMV would begin performing "high-tech match-up[s] of faces in its license file to determine if the same face is on a license or if a different one is there." The second said a new document-authentication "proofing process using state-of-the-art technology will be used to determine the validity of passports, out-of-state driver's licenses, military identifications, etc."

The aim is to "combat both the issuance of licenses in criminal matters of identity theft and to illegal aliens or those without the proper immigration and naturalization documentation."

DMV spokesman Bill Seymour confirmed that the DMV is seriously upgrading its hardware.

"We're going to do a couple different kinds of face match-ups. The first kind of face match-up is where we compare your face now to your face when you came in the last time to have your renewal," Seymour explained. "The next match up we're going to do is faces to addresses in our database. That way we can make sure we have one face for one address and not the same face for multiple addresses."

Viisage, a Littleton, Mass., security technologies firm, is supplying the DMV with face-recognition technology (FRT). Viisage has manufactured Connecticut driver's licenses since 2002 -- presumably the license photo library can be easily navigated.

Proponents of FRT believe a face can identity a person as accurately as a fingerprint or a DNA sample. Viisage will provide the DMV with biometric technology that allows for searches and matches of faces in databases.

Viisage is one of several companies at the forefront of biometric technology. According to the website of the Biometric Consortium, a U.S government-funded group that records and studies the technology's development, "biometrics are automated methods of recognizing a person based on a physiological or behavioral characteristic. Among the features measured are face, fingerprints, hand geometry, handwriting, iris, retinal, vein, and voice."

Biometric technology digitizes and analyzes faces, voices and other identifying features. Then the data is converted into a numeric code that becomes, to a computer, as unique and instantly recognizable as a Social Security number.

In theory, biometric face-matching can be instantaneous and precise. A computer can read a line of code and match it to another line. The problem is that biometric technology currently seems about as exact a science as phrenology; it failed in three of the most public tests it has faced.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans wanted science-fiction solutions to problems caused by terrorists whose weapons are barely above the level of cavemen, and were willing to sacrifice privacy for them. Biometric technology became white hot. Stock prices skyrocketed for companies involved with biometrics. The first day of stock trading following the Sept. 11 attacks saw a 90 percent increase in the value of Viisage's share price.

Shortly after Sept. 11, Viisage CEO Tom Colatosti notoriously claimed that biometric face-recognition technology could have been a factor in preventing the Sept. 11 attacks. "If our technology had been deployed, the likelihood is [the terrorists] would have been recognized," he told a group of reporters.

But even before Sept. 11, the United States was pushing biometrics technology really hard on both the federal and state levels. Tests of the technology, before and after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, did not turn out very well.

In a summer 2001 experiment in Ybor City, an entertainment district in Tampa, Florida, the whole city was put under surveillance. Hidden video cameras recorded activities in public spaces like open-air shopping malls and outdoor restaurants. Law enforcement officials used biometric technology provided by a New Jersey company called Visionics (which would later fold into Identix). The experiment was fraught with false positives. The most dramatic is the story of Ron Milliron. According to the St. Petersburg Times:

"Rob Milliron, then 32, wound up on a surveillance camera one day while at lunch in Ybor City. Tampa police used his photo to demonstrate the system to local news media. A woman in Tulsa, Okla., saw his picture and fingered him as her ex-husband who was wanted on felony child neglect charges. Three police officers showed up at Milliron's construction job site, asking if he was a wanted man. Turns out he had never married, never had kids, never even been to Oklahoma."

The Ybor City program was shut down in August 2003. Ultimately, no arrests were made because of the surveillance. Local cops deemed the experiment a failure.

"It was of no benefit to us, and it served no real purpose," Capt. Bob Guidara of the Tampa police told the Associated Press after the experiment was shuttered.

In 2002 Viisage took part in a Super Bowl biometric experiment, scanning the faces of people at the game, allegedly looking for terrorists. At first, the experiment was deemed a modest success -- 19 suspects were fingered due to the technology. No arrests were made because of the surveillance, though.

Then, Viisage and rival security technology firm Identix went head-to-head in a study at Logan Airport that lasted from January to April of 2002. Working with a database of 40 employees, the competing companies tried to identify faces in the crowds. That test had a reported failure rate of 40 percent.

"This is a high-tech Band-Aid that's not going to make us any safer, and will give us a false sense of security," Barry Steinhardt, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Program on Technology and Liberty, told the Boston Globe after the results of the Logan Airport tests came to light. "As someone who flew 100,000 miles last year, I don't want to risk my safety on this technology."

Applying biometric technology to photographs -- how the DMV is using the technology -- is likely to be a more accurate use of the approach than scanning faces in crowds. With photographs, particularly institutional identification photographs, the circumstances are far more controlled than in the case of videotaped people in a crowd. All the backgrounds are the same, faces are the same proportion and caught at the same angle. Crowd photography variables like lighting and shadows are eliminated.

However, judging from other reports on biometrics, there are still more factors to consider.

Last December, the New York Times reported that international passport guidelines advised people posing for passports that, "only closed-mouth, 'neutral' expressions will be allowed," so that they could be read by biometrics instruments. Throwing a bone to the irrepressibly cheerful, the guidelines state that a "smile with closed jaw is allowed, but is not preferred." So don't you dare smile with an open mouth unless you want the terrorists to win.

The assumption is that while faces change as people age, the mathematical value of their features stays fundamentally the same over time. Once the biometric features of the face are determined, the theory holds, they can be used as identification throughout an individual's life. Critics argue that this premise is fundamentally flawed, claiming that skin diseases and aging can throw biometric data out of whack.

In light of last year's scandals at the agency, few argue that the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles needed restructuring and reform. But it's not clear how much face-recognition technology and biometrics directly addresses those problems.

In August 2004, an employee at the Norwalk DMV was charged with accepting bribes in exchange for providing illegal immigrants with driver's licenses. Further investigations uncovered over 400 other fraudulent licenses issued by that employee in 2003 alone. Three DMV workers have been charged in connection with the investigation.

The scam the DMV employees worked was notably low-tech. The operation relied on corrupt insiders working at DMV offices and a lack of supervision of those employees. A high-tech scan of faces in a database provides for more accountability, as does the agency's implementation of biometric fingerprint-scanning systems for recording employee use of machines.

But still, the question of motivation lingers. Viisage provides identification work for six other states' DMVs. A recent Associated Press article listed Rhode Island, North Carolina, Delaware, Illinois, Oklahoma and another state that declined to be identified because of security concerns, as customers. Viisage also works on U.S. passports and, according to the Viisage website, provides services for the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, several city law enforcement agencies and, curiously, for Pakistan's national identification program.

Despite repeated inquiries to Viisage and the public relations firm that represents the company, I was not able to speak with anyone representing the company. As a result, I don't know whether Viisage maintains a central database of photographs and biometric data or if its clients create their own using Viisage's technology.

If Viisage controls the database, well, that's quite a bit of technology in the hands of a private company. If it doesn't, it's easy to imagine how several databases that share the same technology could be linked up.

Of course, Viisage is not the only company that works with biometrics or face-recognition technology, nor is it the largest. Firms such as Identix and Digimarc are also major players in biometric security.

Since Sept. 11, the idea of a national identification card and information database has been floated and rejected several times. All of these unconnected pools of centralized information, though, could easily be channeled together after a national crisis.
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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sarah Silverman Review

Hartford Advocate Sept. 27, 2007

It can be hard to say why something is funny, but sometimes it's just as difficult describing why something isn't funny. In both instances you run the risk of looking humorless, uptight or obtuse.

Take the curious case of Sarah Silverman, whose Comedy Central show The Sarah Silverman Program is entering its second season. She's a dirty alt comedienne, endorsed by some of the greatest comedy forces of the day (David Cross, Vice Magazine). Respecting publications, from Vanity Fair to The New Yorker, have lavished her with praise. By saying she's not funny, you risk looking like a prude, or someone out of touch with the comedy zeitgeist of the moment.

But Silverman has never been and never will be funny. She's like Jenny McCarthy, except less blonde and more wry. Like McCarthy, Silverman's an avid student of four of the most wretched forms of comedy: fart jokes, fake dumbness, zany faces and bad puns. Of course, The New Yorker would never run a glowing review of McCarthy under the headline "Quiet Depravity."

Of course, she's not exactly Jenny McCarthy. Silverman is good looking, but approachable, so dudes think they have a chance with her and women don't hate her for looking like a cartoon version of sexual attractiveness. But more importantly, Silverman's vapidness is presented ironically. Even when a joke flat-lines — which happens constantly in her stand-up act and television show — it doesn't really flat-line. It was meant to flat-line, and that's the gag.

The fake filth performs the same function. Silverman and her writers seem to believe that a joke doesn't have to be well crafted or even make sense if it has the appearance of being potentially insulting. Let's pick an issue and display horrible taste about it.

It makes for frustrating television. The first episode of the second season of her show contains a key scene where she fondly remembers past abortions. I wasn't insulted. I was impatient, waiting for the jokes to start. A couple of great comic talents are wasted on the show, including Brian Posehn and Jay Johnston, who, like Silverman, got their start on HBO's Mr. Show. They're miscast and typecast, respectively — Posehn's big galoot persona is muted playing a domesticated gay man and Johnston plays an awkward, stiff cop like he did on several Mr. Show sketches and episodes of Arrested Development.

In her stand-up, Silverman acts like an eight-year-old who just learned her first swear word. On the show, she also adopts a faux-naive persona, but adds an unhealthy dollop of faux cluelessness.

It seems like a female variation on Chris Elliot's destructive idiot man-child shtick from Get a Life. That show worked because it was a dark deconstruction of the then-dominant family sitcom genre. The Sarah Silverman Program isn't a parody of anything — it's a platform for absurdist edgeless "edgy" jokes.
Even when the show wades into a deeply fraught issue, like abortion, it's just an excuse for subpar jokes about how clueless Silverman's character is. It's both as subvervise and pleasant as a migraine.
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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Right Wing Counter Protest

Where Eagles Dare
The Counter-protest Group The Gathering Of Eagles Cause A Ruckus As Bush Comes To New London's Coast Guard Ceremonies.
By Adam Bulger
Hartford Advocate May 31 2007 (No longer online)

The first encounter I had with right wing protest group the Gathering of Eagles was watching an Eagle upbraid young, female demonstrators outside the New London Coast Guard Academy.

The demonstrators had come to protest President Bush’s visit as commencement speaker last Monday. The heavy-set man with a personal PA system challenged the “hippy girls’” loyalty to their “homo,” “girly-man” boyfriends. Later, he accused the anti-war protesters of getting paid to attend the May 22 protest. An anti-war protester yelled that he paid $20 for gas to get there. The Gathering of Eagles member suggested he “should have driven a hybrid vehicle.”

He ran out of steam, one-liner-wise, after that, but he and other less-light-on-their-feet Eagles with megaphones and speakers droned on for the next hour or so, including a long droning “swim to Cuba” chant during a Latino anti-war speaker’s speech.

Before the protest, the group’s Web site,, said the group planned to “welcome the families of the graduating Coast Guard academy” and “support … these families and graduating cadets.” The group, at least nominally, was worried the Coast Guard graduation would be unfairly disrupted by the anti-war rally planned by the ANSWER coalition and other anti-war groups, including Veterans for Peace and Connecticut Opposes the War.

“We believe that ANSWER’s protest was very ill-timed, and a very bad location. … For ANSWER to protest the President on what’s supposed to be the happiest day of these people’s lives so far, that was shameful and very disgraceful,” Connecticut Gathering of Eagles organizer Jim Bancroft said. (Turns out he shouldn’t have been so worried — the Presidential motorcade avoided the protest. Neither the demonstration nor the counter-demonstration impacted the ceremony.)

Bancroft claimed an early remark by an anti-war speaker changed the Eagle’s gathering’s purpose from a celebration of the cadets to a hectoring of the anti-war demonstration.

“We were there to welcome the President. When we got there, the first thing that happened was someone called us baby killers,” Bancroft said, adding that the slur was stated sometime between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m.

His claim seems extremely unlikely, in light of an ANSWER’s spokesperson’s version of the timeline.

“Our sound permit didn’t start until eight. We might have done a sound check, but they would have just heard ‘Check, check,’” ANSWER organizer Tahnee Stair said.

Elliot Adams, a Vietnam veteran and the president of Veterans for Peace, attended the rally, and said he viewed the Eagles with resigned sadness.

“I feel sorry for them. A number of them are vets, and I understand the misplaced anger associated with [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder],” Adams said. “With PTSD, you have what’s called misplaced anger that goes off in all directions. It’s a real common thing.”

He added, “Also, they believe in the American dream, and they don’t just see that we’re losing it.”
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The Insulting Bartender

Smart answers to stupid drinks
Originally appeared on, a long-defunct website I was an assistant editor for, sometime in 1999. Was reprinted in Think Magazine later that year.

Want to figure out who your date really is? What they order may tell you more than you think. New Jersey native Adam Bulger explains.

Rum and Coke: The drink's okay, but it's ordered by so many eighteen-to-twenty-two's that they should change the name to "My First Highball" and have a Mattel logo on the glass.

Scotch and Soda: It's not 1960s, your friends are not named Sammy, Dino, or Frank; and that whole Swingers retro look is getting tired.

Cosmopolitan: Remember that time when you were working the door at the Limelight and you wouldn't let me in because I was wearing sneakers? Go to hell.

Sex on the Beach: What? You got an exotic dancer waiting for her drink back at your table, or something?

Bourbon: You're a good 'ole boy, never meaning no harm, but, apparently, that's just a little bit more than the law will allow. If I were born with a name like Cletus or Rosco, I'd be sucking down a hundred-fifty proof liquor, too.

Tequila Shots: Congratulations on turning twenty-one. Don't let any of your frat brothers throw up on my shoes.

Budweiser: Whassuuuuuuuuuup? You're a sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. Here's a new concept for you. It's called other brands of beer. Look into it.

Mint Julep: The War's over. The South lost. Get over it. Better hurry back to your table, looks like your date, Blanche DuBois, is getting overcome by the vapors.

[Any drinks whose titles include Freeze or Electric:
Dude, you've been spending way too much time at TGI Fridays.]

Gin and Tonic: The G&T was invented by British colonialists when they were treating malaria with quinine-spiked tonic. The Limeys added gin to make the combination palatable. So what does that say about you? It says that you're a pale-skinned imperialist and the sun never sets over your hangover.

Margarita: Okay, fine. Whatever. Just understand that the first guy who puts a Jimmy Buffett song on the jukebox is gonna end up in the basement with duct tape over his mouth.

Jello, Body, and Test Tube Shots: You enjoy drinking, incoherently hitting on girls, and sleeping in closets. You hope you won't be the first of your dorm-mates to pass out. The last time you passed out first they pulled the old ''hand in warm water'' trick on you.

Jagermeister: No, I don't want to hear the story about how you lost your teeth, and no, my refusal does not constitute "fighting words."

White Wine Spritzer: Without looking at you, hearing you, or knowing anything about you, I am supremely confident that I can kick your ass.

Sam Adams: Obviously, you're a dude in your mid to late twenties and you're either wearing a suit or some kind of corporate casual equivilent. You're an investment banker in your mid-twenties and you're nervous about what beer to order in public. You have a subscription to Playboy, but you think about men when you masturbate.

Long Island Iced Tea: You cats from Long Island sure do get wasted. Does that come from having to put up with Billy Joel and Rosie O'Donnell?

Whiskey Sour: You're an old man who has been drinking steadily since the mid-eighties. You smoke Camel straights and like to get into fights with strangers. And could you please come home? Mom's getting worried.
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CT Murderball

Connecticut Murderball
Hartford Advocate December 28 2006 (No longer online)
By Adam Bulger

Depending on how you read the situation, the Connecticut Jammers are either having a bad year or a great one.

The state’s wheelchair rugby team’s one-and-nine record isn’t impressive, but other factors have to be considered. Like how the team’s roster has swelled to 10 players thanks to recent mainstream exposure to the sport, and some of the team’s troubles are explained by the addition of players new to the game.

“My team is fairly new and fairly young. I have a bunch of new players, which is good, but it’s going to take us a while to get back up to speed,” Jammers coach Bud Harvey said. “Some of my older players are starting to retire. We’ve lost a couple of experienced players and gained a couple of new players. We’re in a building year.”

Earlier this month, the annual Connecticut Classic Wheelchair Rugby Tournament was held in Wallingford. Four teams — the Jammers, the New York Jets, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Casco Bay Navigators — competed in a six-game round robin tournament.

The Jammers took the court for their second game of the day at around 1:30 (I missed their first game which was played at the ungodly Saturday hour of 9 a.m.) to play the Philly team. Techno music played over the PA system as the 10-man team rolled up and down the indoor basketball court in a series of drills.

Soon the game got underway. Several of the players moved the angled wheels on their specially designed wheelchairs with surprising dexterity and speed. The metal and plastic plates covering the chairs’ spokes clanged loudly when one player battered another with their chair, and the audience responded with concerned gasps.

The concern is understandable. Quad rugby is played exclusively by people with disabilities affecting both their arms and legs. The players themselves think the concern is unfounded. Sure, quad rugby is a high-impact sport, and collisions not only happen, they’re encouraged. But the injuries are mostly minor and the game’s benefits outweigh the minor risks.

“You’ll see a scraped elbow here and there, but the sport’s pretty safe,” Jammer Rick Farmiglietti said. “I’m usually good to get knocked out of the chair about once a tournament.”

In quad rugby, a player scores by carrying the ball through the goal. Moving the ball across the court, players must dribble or pass the ball every 10 seconds.

The Jammers seemed overmatched by the Philadelphia team. It looked like the Jammers were a little lost on the court. Four of the team’s 10 players were rookies, including Clinton Cowen; the team hasn’t quite had a chance to gel yet. For two of the latest additions to the team, Joseph Stramando and Jon Sigworth, it was the second and first times they had played in competitive games, respectively.

Sigworth, a freshman at Wesleyan University and a former extreme unicyclist, broke his neck while mountain biking in northern India earlier this year. After finding out about the team through Villardi, he was anxious to play.

“I had my accident early this February. I went to a practice wearing my neck collar. They said I could roll around in a chair for a while, but that I couldn’t play until I got my neck collar off. I was like ‘Darn it.’ But I’ve been playing with them since July,” Sigworth said.

Unlike the other players on the team, Stramondo is not a quadriplegic. The Trinity College administrator and voting member of the state’s Independent Living Council has a rare form of dwarfism called micromelic dysplasia, and uses a motorized wheelchair. His fellow Independent Living Council member Jim Quick encouraged him to join the team.

“My Disability is something I’ve lived with all my life, and organized sport is something I haven’t had the opportunity to do, and especially not organized sport that’s this exciting,” Stramondo said.

Quad rugby was invented in Canada in 1977. While other sports like wheelchair basketball were already established, quad rugby — or murderball, as it was called originally — was the first sport that allowed quadriplegic athletes of all functioning abilities to have important roles on both offense and defense. Despite the name, it has little in common with traditional rugby.

“Rugby and wheelchair rugby are totally different as far as the rules go,” International Quad Rugby Association official John Bishop said. “The name ‘rugby’ was chosen because of the similar camaraderie and the aggressiveness of the sport.”

The game spread like a virus to countries all across the globe, and now is considered the fastest-growing wheelchair sport in the world, played in 26 countries and a featured part of the Paralympic Games.

The game made its way to Connecticut in the early ’90s when a group of dedicated wheelchair athletes started playing ramshackle games outside Gaylord rehab hospital in Wallingford.

“We were practicing on a tennis court in the parking lot. We were basically using everyday chairs that we would duct tape pieces of wood over the chairs so they wouldn’t fold up when we hit each other,” Jammers co-founder Jimmy Quick said.

Quick added: “It was pretty gruesome in the early days.”

Quick, the former president of the Connecticut chapter of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, was a member of the national wheelchair rugby team in the mid ’90s. This season marks his return to the sport after a five-year hiatus.

Gaylord rehab hospital has been active with the team since its inception.

“We’ve sponsored the team for about 10 or 11 years. We sponsor the team financially through fund-raising we do through the sports association,” Gaylord Hospital Sports Association Coordinator Todd Munn said.

Despite Gaylord hospital’s support, the team is currently looking for a place to play.

“We need a gym and we need storage. Ideally, it would be a basketball court on a Saturday or a Sunday for three or four hours,” Jammers coach Bud Harvey said.

The sport is currently enjoying a surge of popular interest thanks to the acclaimed 2005 documentary Murderball . The movie documents the rivalry between the U.S. wheelchair rugby team and Canada’s team. Despite the sport’s Canadian roots, America has traditionally dominated quad rugby. However, when one of America’s star players, the cantankerous Joe Soares, became Canada’s coach after getting cut from America’s team, the Canadian team took the gold medal in 2002. The movie documents Soares and players for the American team preparing for the 2004 paralympic game.

The film is gripping, entertaining, human and at your local Blockbuster right now — rent it immediately. Thanks to its success, the Connecticut Jammers and teams across the country have enjoyed renewed interest among both disabled and able-bodied people.

“Just before the movie came out we were struggling to field a team and have enough athletes that have the spinal cord injury level come out and be on the team. Murderball drummed up a lot of interest among people both injured and not injured,” Munn said.

A review of the film on the Web site said Murderball “doesn’t dispel myths and stereotypes. It takes big fat bites out of those sugary sweet, pathetic images and stereotypes, chews ’em up and spits ’em out.”

One reason why the movie is so engaging is its frankness. Joe Soares, for instance, comes across as one of the world’s biggest assholes. The honesty makes the film entertaining, but it also makes it more important. There’s a temptation on the part of a lot of able-bodied folks to think of disabled people as saints, or objects of pity. As coach Harvey said, often upon meeting wheelchair-bound people you only see the chair; seeing past the disability and seeing the person is a challenge for a lot of people.

“You’ve got to be able to get over the chair. The instant response is to say ‘look at these poor guys.’ There’s nothing poor about these guys,” Harvey said. “They are tough and they don’t cut each other any slack. They’re human beings and deserve and demand to be treated like human beings.”

In the recent tournament, the Jammers and the other teams’ players didn’t look like saints. In fact, many of the goateed, tattooed crew wouldn’t look out of place closing down a disreputable dive bar on any given Tuesday night. The guys I talked to are really good dudes, and aspects of their lives are heroic, I suppose. But they’re not saints. They’re, for lack of a better classification, normal dudes who happen to be in chairs. “People are always like ‘you’re a saint, or you’re an inspiration’ — I hate it when people say I’m an inspiration,” Jammer team member Joseph Stramondo said. “I’m an inspiration because I can wipe my ass? Thanks. I don’t want to be your inspiration; I want to be your equal.”

Several members of the Jammers told me they believed quad rugby helps to shift people’s perceptions because it’s an aggressive game with a sexy allure.

“I think the game breaks a lot of barriers down because they see people trying to have fun with sports like everybody else and being crazy like everybody else,” Quick said. “We aren’t china dolls. We’re not going to break.”

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Immigration Rally

The Immigrant Throng
An Anti-immigration Rally Meets An Immigration Rights Rally.
By Adam Bulger
Hartford Advocate August 17, 2006

The anti-illegal immigration rally held at the Capitol building in Hartford on August 8 was political spectacle of the purest sort, as was the counter demonstration organized by local activists. Held in the shadow of the state’s Democratic primary, the event was coordinated by part of a national anti-illegal immigration group called the 21st Century Paul Revere Riders. Like the Minutemen, the riders are opposed to illegal immigration, only they express that opposition by traveling the country on motorcycles.

Hartford was their 40th, or maybe 41st stop — event organizer Frosty Wooldridge wasn’t sure. It was the first time the counter-protestors had encountered them, though, and they took advantage of it, outnumbering the Riders two to one.

The counter-demonstrators had gathered at Minuteman Park outside the Armory when I arrived around 11:15. I recognized a lot of faces from other demonstrations. They were seasoned veterans, and had come prepared. Seven “peace keepers,” who were there to marshal the protesters, wore bright yellow vests and talked with members of the crowd. They had professional-looking signs and banners, along with immigrants’ rights literature and shirts.

Organizations ranging from Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) to the Connecticut Chapter of NOW endorsed the rally. Maggie Russell of Latinos Contra La Guerra (Latinos against the War) was partially inspired to protest the event by her parents, who are immigrants.

“A lot of groups in Hartford are enraged. We live in such a diverse city,” Russell said. “It’s filled with immigrants, from the North End to the South End.”

Hartford activist Jerimarie Liesegang, who came along with Queers without Borders, said there were parallels between immigrant struggles and those of gay people.

“The issue affects a lot of people in the communities. There are gay people in the immigrant community and immigrants in the gay community,” Leisegang said, noting that the protest represented “general bigotry.”

There was evident energy in the crowd, and they looked ready to face the Riders and pronounce their counter message.

“By no means am I saying that they don’t have a right to talk. I’m just going to talk louder,” Russell said.

The counter-rally was primarily organized by Peter Goselin of the National Lawyers Guild’s Connecticut Chapter. Thanks to a tip off from local activists who monitor anti-immigration web sites, he heard about the event. The loose-knit coalition protesting the event formed quickly.

I asked him if anyone in his coalition brought a chopper. He apparently didn’t think the question was as funny as I thought it was.

“This whole business of motorcycles is they’re trying to make a fake working-class statement. But they’re not working people,” Goselin said. “These are people who are able to take the summer off.”

At a quarter after 12, no motorcyclists had shown up, and it looked like maybe none would. The six police officers stationed by the north entrance to the Capitol looked bored and drank Gatorade. Just as I was working out an angle about a motorcycle immigration rally that didn’t happen, Earl Jackson and Bruce Coolbeth pulled into the Capitol building’s parking lot on their bikes. Jackson, who wore a yellow T-shirt reading “no amnesty for illegals,” had heard about the rally through an XM Satellite radio show hosted by Libertarian Rollye James. Coolbeth, whose arms and neck were covered in tattoos, had “South Vietnam University” written on his bike windshield.

“I’m more socially liberal than you’d probably expect,” Jackson said. “It’s not so much about immigration as it is about border security. If your basement is flooded, you should plug up the hole first.”

Waiting for the motorcycles to show, I walked back to the counter-protest. On Capitol Ave, I saw Diane and Bob Black and Larainne Bellito walking towards the Capitol building holding anti-immigration signs. The trio, who looked as suburban as a minivan, told me they came from Danbury, where they were a part of an anti-immigration group with hundreds of members.

“Obviously, not everyone shows up at every rally, because they have to work,” Diane Black said.

As we spoke, the counter-protest marched by, and the Danbury group’s comments were lost in the din of megaphones, chanting and drumming.

“These are the people who call us racists because we’re trying to protect our country,” Bellito said.

Maybe it was the sun, but when I met Frosty Wooldridge all I could think was that he looked like Will Ferell in some Grizzly Adams-themed comedy sketch. He wore an American flag bandana on his head and a leather support belt around his waist. His face was red from sun and wind, and he seemed a little rattled. Before handing me a list of six illegal immigration bullet points he wanted to impart, he tried to recite them from memory. This led into a great exchange where I would tell him he was on four, not three, and so forth.

“We don’t know the intentions of millions of illegals. We don’t know their terrorist intentions; we don’t know what kind of diseases they’re carrying,” Wooldridge said when he got the order right long enough to stay on point.

I asked him what diseases illegal immigrants were carrying over the border. After a short, but dramatic pause, Wooldridge blurted out “leprosy,” like it had only just then occurred to him.

Which, of course, did absolutely nothing to kill the Ferrell comparison. Incidentally, John Shanley, professor of medicine and director of infectious disease at the UConn Health Center, said that while leprosy does still exist and is found in immigrants from South and Latin America, it is far less contagious and easily treated than its scary Biblical reputation implies. Shanley said tuberculosis, the other disease Wooldridge accused illegal immigrants of infecting Americans with, presented far more of a health risk.

Wooldridge and his crew started the rally. Until they plugged in a megaphone they were in danger of getting drowned out by the counter-protesters, who had finished their march and gathered nearby. The anti-immigration people mostly wore jeans and T-shirts, with the notable exception of one gentleman who wore an Uncle Sam suit over an T-shirt.

The speakers were more boring than scary or funny, with the exception of Rick Chiesa, who ripped out a Larry the Cable Guy “git-r-done” during his speech.

Speaking after the event, Goselin cautioned me against writing Wooldridge and his group off as a collection of buffoons. Goselin said that in his writings and public statements, Wooldridge has dehumanized illegal immigrants, portraying them as scum and carriers of disease.

“This is not the language of immigration reform. This is the language of eugenics. This is the language of the master race. That’s what Frosty Wooldridge is,” Goselin said.
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Monday, September 24, 2007

Sin City Law review

Viva Las Violence
New Sundance documentary series explores the consequences of crime in America's playground
By Adam Bulger
Hartford Advocate September 6, 2007

What happens in Vegas does not always stay in Vegas. Debt, STDs and criminal charges travel. As the new Sundance Channel reality series Sin City Law implies, a more honest marketing campaign for the city of sin might be billing it "the unhappiest place on earth."

The show takes place in the innards of the Clark County criminal court system. The gleaming surface of Las Vegas is present mainly in short shots that cut between scenes, with glitz providing ironic contrast. The eight-part documentary series focuses on four notorious court cases, and while the courthouse is strikingly well designed, the show's primary aesthetic is unadorned honesty.

The series doesn't gradually wade to progressively more intense tragedy, it tosses the viewer into the deep end with the first case, which follows Beau and Monique Maestas, siblings accused of stabbing a three-year-old girl to death and paralyzing the girl's 10-year-old sister in a crystal meth-induced mania.

I don't throw around the word "evil" a lot, but stabbing children over crank? That's pretty much evil distilled to its most petty and human form.

The Maestases seem like Jerry Springer guests, poor and poorly educated, with misplaced priorities and a hair trigger sense of indignity. They're products of a jaw-droppingly awful childhoods, illustrated by the comments their sister makes about family visits to their incarcerated father. Looking at a photograph, she casually says "this is when we visited him and he put his hand up my shirt."

Beau pleads guilty, and, in an attempt to save his sister, claims that he full responsibility for the attack. However, evidence indicates that Monique shared responsibility.

The moral center in this first trial is public defender Alzora Jackson, who represents Monique. A soulful black woman in her 50s, Jackson not only provides Monique the best defense possible, but also helps to pick out an outfit for the accused child murderer to wear during her hearing. She also gives Monique extremely good advice, advice that seems to have unfortunately come several years too late, when she tells Monique that during the trial "you have to control your impulses."

Interspersing news footage and images from newspaper articles, Sin City Law touches on the darkness at the center of the modern soul more than any reality show. The series is an onslaught of pure sober truth. In the second case, Pascual Lozano's mother puzzles over why her surrogate son would rather be executed than rat out his fellow gang members during his trial for the 2002 murder of a 9-year-old girl.

The crimes of Sin City Law aren't reenacted or illustrated with fancy graphics or edits. Sin City Law is mostly set in courts. The bare bones presentation of emotional subject matter makes the show all the more effective. Attorneys argue the fate of a murder in a back room of the court where cameras weren't allowed. Instead, they film a woman wiping computer screens with the attorney's conversation playing as an audio track. It's a surreal and chilling moment.
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Horse the Band review

Horse the Band
A Natural Death
Hartford Advocate August 9, 2007

I haven't heard such a fluid mix of cheesy synthesizers and death metal guitars since, I don't know, either Andrew WK or maybe never. Songs start out like the music from Contra or a John Carpenter soundtrack, then break into silly death metal mosh jams. The dudes in the band are clearly skilled musicians. The keyboards, guitars and drums tightly synch in a manner that's almost disconcerting. The sounds themselves don't really mesh, which is actually kind of fun. While the music's not always listenable, these guys deserve gold stars for originality and balls. — Adam Bulger Read more!

Chthonic Article

Made in Taiwan
Taiwanese black metal band Chthonic comes to Hartford, again
Thursday, September 13, 2007

Black metal bands aren't knocking down my door, asking how to stand out from the crowd. That's too bad. If they did, I would give some very useful advice. Like make sure you're from someplace weird, like Taiwan, and then get involved with a political cause that only subscribers to the Economist would understand.

Musically, I'd suggest including spooky atmospheric songs in between the over-the-top operatic metal ones. Or employing a native folk instrument that no metal head in the world has ever heard of into the music. And, lastly, having their band's name begin with a silent "ch." All of that advice and more was taken by Taiwanese melodic black metal quartet Chthonic (pronounced "thonic"). On their seven studio recordings and in their hundreds of live shows, the 10-year-old band employs many seemingly standard black metal moves, and combines them with a distinct Taiwanese flavor that makes everything seem novel.

Their onstage makeup and outfits, which at first glance appears similar to King Diamond or Kiss style, are derived from Taiwanese Taoist priests and pay tribute to the Eight Generals, face-painted figures that figure in southern Chinese ritual dance. And their lyrics fulfill requirements for black metal, but also have a Taiwanese twist. While their Scandinavian black metal compatriots sing about the devil and Vikings, Chthonic's lyrics are about the conflicts between ghosts and gods in traditional Taiwanese folk stories.

"It would be ridiculous for an Asian to write about Vikings or the anti-Christ. We write about Taiwanese mythology and folklore, and we think that's the right way," lead singer Freddy Lim said.

Chthonic shares musical DNA with other leading metal groups. At their heaviest, the guitars are fierce, the drums are battering and Lim's vocals swing from guttural growls to stratosphere-soaring screams. It's loudness polished to a high shine in the mold of Emperor and Enslaved. It's the definition of "Ozz-festian."

But their quieter, spookier sounds are what sets them apart. Their sounds are unique to the genre, notably their use of the folk stringed instrument called a hena, or erhu, which adds a haunting element to their music.

"I was looking for the right instrument for a melody that couldn't be played on a keyboard or a guitar. The core meaning of those melodies are sad, and the hena fit perfectly," Lim said.

They're playing Hartford twice this month; their first was an intimate show last week at the Webster Underground, and the next will be on Sept. 21, opening for Cradle of Filth on the Webster's main stage. The shows are part of Chthonic's Unlimited tour, across America and Canada.

"We're going to play unlimited to the end," Lim said.

The tour name refers to their Taiwanese roots and the message they hope to convey. "The second meaning is to let the fans know that Taiwan is still limited by the United Nations," Lim said.

Taiwan has a thorny political identity. The island, located off the coast of China, has one of the world's 20 largest economies. Self-ruled since 1949, the country had a seat on the UN by the name "Republic of China" until 1971, when the Chinese government claimed sovereignty over Taiwan and threatened military force if it tried to secede. Applications to have Taiwan recognized as an independent nation by the UN have been repeatedly denied, most recently this year.

"Taiwan is as independent as America or Canada. We vote for our own government, we have our own army, everything," Lim said. "The only difference is that we have a country that always wants to block our way, which is China."

Metal is often a bastion of nihilism, but Lim is at the forefront of a political movement. He's active in the movement within Taiwan that seeks recognition as a country independent from China. Lim organized a huge a concert in Taiwan for the cause. On Sept. 16, Chthonic plays a New York show to coincide with the beginning of the Sept. 18 UN session.

The Taiwanese government is evidently grateful, as they've footed some of the bill for the tour. Also, Taiwanese show support in other ways, attending concerts and making sure the band doesn't go hungry. Lim said the gifts of Taiwanese food were overwhelming.Their tour bus was overloaded with Taiwanese delicacies.

"Taiwanese Americans always attend our shows. Maybe one percent of them are metal heads. There are some older people. At some of our early shows they tried to get close to the stage and were smashed by the mosh pit," Lim said.

The rocking call for Taiwanese independence has garnered attention from surprising sources. Articles about the band's politics have appeared in high-end daily newspapers like the Washington Post and the International Herald Tribune, and the band has been interviewed about its political beliefs on National Public Radio and at the National Press Club.

The focus on geopolitics sometimes frustrates the band — they'd prefer the music to speak for itself — but they understand that it's necessary.

"This tour is a musical tour and the biggest priority for us is our musical career. But if we can't join the international society, we have no other choice," Lim said. "If a French musician or a German musician suffered the same thing, their citizens would treat them like us."
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Ex-Offender Reform Article

Activists seek more help with substance abuse and job placement for those behind bars
By Adam Bulger
Hartford Advocate September 20, 2007

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Connecticut legislature held a special session to discuss the state's criminal justice program in light of the brutal July triple murder in Cheshire. Lawmakers explored the state's ability to share information between law enforcement agencies, and considered proposals about three-strikes laws and increased prison construction. An important voice, advocates say, was missing from the discussion.

"The people who are not part of this dialogue are the people who know something about what it would really take to prevent people coming out of jail from re-offending," Peter Goselin, coordinator of the Connecticut chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, said. "Those are people who have been through that process."

An ad hoc collection of social justice groups, spearheaded by three-month-old ex-offender rights organization the Clean Slate Committee, spoke on behalf of the currently and formerly incarcerated at a press conference on Sept. 11 outside the Legislative Office Building. A part of Connecticut drug policy reform organization A Better Way Foundation, Clean Slate aims to change the way the state treats former offenders.

"They're talking about building more prisons, they're talking about GPS tracking, they're talking about electronic bracelets," Clean Slate's David Samuels said. "Nowhere in that conversation is there any talk about rehabilitating inmates while they're incarcerated."

Connecticut offers tax incentives to companies that hire former convicts and employment services for the formerly incarcerated. Samuels believes they're ineffective. "The policies on the books that supposedly address the issues of discrimination against ex-offenders have no teeth," Samuels said. "There's nothing on the books that provides ex-offenders with the legal avenue of taking an employer to court."

While a handful of Connecticut businesses hire former offenders, nothing legally compels private sector employers to consider former offenders for work. One state legislator noted that when former felons compete in the job market against non-felons, the former felons lose out, perpetuating a cycle of incarceration.

"We have 400 ex-offenders coming into Hartford a month. There are scant services for them and very little housing," State Representative Art Feltman said. "People bounce around and look for work, and get turned down for work because of their criminal records, and everyone is surprised when they end up back in jail. No one should be surprised given how few options they have."

Several former convicts I spoke with had employment problems stemming from their criminal records. Hartford resident Stanley Johnson, 41, who was released from prison in 1992 after serving 18 months of a three-year sentence on drug charges, was recently fired from a job because of his criminal record.

"On the job application, it asked if you've had a felony within the last five years," Johnson said. "I hadn't had one within five years, I applied for the position. Once they realized I had a felony, they let me go."

Johnson said the recent incident was part of a long pattern of employment issues. "I've been back and forth, see-sawing between jobs just because of my background and felonies," Johnson said.

Jeff Sherman, 49, of Bristol, was released in 2002 after serving 11 months for drug charges. At that time, he re-started his house-painting business. While many of his former clients signed on with him again, many were wary of hiring him again because of his criminal background.

"Some people looked at me and figured once a drug addict, always a drug addict. I'm self-employed, but if I went in somewhere and filled out an application, I'm sure it would hold me back," Sherman said.

Under the tenure of current commissioner Theresa Lantz, the Connecticut Department of Correction adopted what's called a re-entry model of corrections, which emphasizes job readiness for convicts.

"Basically, their discharge planning starts the second they get in. They know day one what they're going to need once they leave here so that they won't come back here," DOC representative Stacy Smith said.

Samuels contends that inmates with release dates are often denied access to those programs, in favor of inmates serving life sentences. As a result, Samuels said, many released prisoners encounter difficulties with jobs, putting their parole in jeopardy. "When a person goes to see a [parole officer], the one thing they're going to hear is, 'Find a job or else,'" Samuels said.

James Hanton, 44, of Bridgeport, said that while he was on parole, employment concerns were placed ahead of treating his substance-abuse issues.

"I got into some issues with the director of the halfway house. His issue was work, work, work. My thing was that I had to get into some outpatient treatment, because being clean in prison and being clean out in the world are two different things," Hanton said.

Smith said prisoners are allowed into drug treatment and job-readiness programs based on their records. "Individual histories determine what programs people qualify for," Smith said.

Samuels said the criteria are flawed, claiming that people with release dates, the people who could benefit the most from those programs, are often excluded from them. Hanton, who was imprisoned for a robbery he committed to feed his addiction, was able to get into the tier-two program after a protracted legal battle.

"The Attorney General's office was sitting there, trying to defend their position on this. Basically, the court was going to make a decision in their favor until I said to the judge, 'Listen, I'm right around the corner from parole. Do you want to be my next victim?'" Hanton said. "That's how I got through to him, and he ordered the treatment."

Samuels and his allies characterize Connecticut's justice system as a criminal factory, a system that — intentionally or not — encourages recidivism. Barbara Fair of New Haven-based criminal justice reform group People Against Injustice and others worry that in the wake of the Cheshire murders, things will get worse for former offenders.

"Because of their knee-jerk reaction to what happened in Cheshire, the people on parole are going to have to pay," Fair said. "All the persistent offenders are going to have to pay dearly."

Fair's son was released from prison the morning of the press conference. She's already seen firsthand how the state has begun cracking down on former offenders.

"Already, my son's parole officer told him he had to be on a bracelet for 90 days, with a 9 o'clock curfew. Which is ridiculous," Fair said. "Like my son said, 'If I'm going to commit a crime, and I know I have to be in the house by nine, I'm going to do it before nine.'"
Read more!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Berlin Turnpike article

Turnpike at Crossroads?
With a spate of new developments in place, Berlin now has to deal with its image, and the oldest profession in the world on the Berlin Turnpike
By Adam Bulger
Hartford Advocate August 22, 2007

Driving south from Hartford on Route 15, which for the stretch between Hartford and Meriden is commonly called the Berlin Turnpike, you’ll notice several shifts in the landscape. The sections of the pike in Wethersfield and Newington are dense with big-box stores, strip malls, chain restaurants, gas stations and motels.
Farther north, in Berlin, the landscape becomes less crowded, and trees and unpopulated properties become more commonplace. Industrial parks, homes and stores are scattered among cheap motels. The crowded retail sprawl of the north end is absent.

However, the Berlin section of the Turnpike has gone through significant changes over the last several years. It’s becoming denser with retail stores and new developments. There are still several empty properties, but with a newly opened liquor store, a gas station/mini mart and a Dunkin’ Donuts currently under construction, they increasingly seem like the exception, not the rule.
“We’ve had quite a few changes on our strip of the Berlin Turnpike,” said Hellyn Riggins, director of Berlin’s Department of Development Services.” Newington built up quickly, but people have discovered Berlin.”
Unfortunately for the town, the new construction is set against a long-standing problem that has become more pronounced in the last year: prostitution on the pike.
“It’s a sporadic problem that pops up once in a while. It’s really only one or two individuals that seem to ply their trade on the turnpike,” Berlin Chief of Police Paul Fitzgerald said. “We arrest them, they go to court. They go away for about a month and then they come back.”

Berlin officials note that Berlin’s population has risen dramatically in the last five years. As a result, the town has been very aggressive about marketing their section of the pike for development. It’s not just a question of more things on the Berlin section of the turnpike. The nature of the businesses is changing.
“Obviously, we have areas for industrial. Most of it nowadays is becoming more retail,” Berlin Mayor Adam Salina said.
The Newington section of the pike is so developed that there’s little room for more construction. The logical thing seems, at first blush, for retail to push further south, into Berlin. And to an extent, that’s what’s happening.
“Retail is starting to filter down into Berlin,” Salina said.
Another important element is that the town of Berlin and surrounding areas are attracting more people.
“We have the people. We have the population. You need to have numbers to attract businesses. Berlin is attracting those numbers more and more,” Riggins said.
The nature of Berlin’s section of the strip and the way the residential neighborhoods that are around the road prevent the Berlin section of the turnpike from perfectly replicating the look and density of development on the Newington section.
Homes were built closer to the turnpike in Berlin than in Newington and Wethersfield. As a result, the lots are often too small to support a store like a Best Buy or a Target.
In addition, the road is surrounded by protected wetlands areas.
The easiest things to slot into the narrower spaces are strip malls. Considering though, that strip malls are among the most maligned commercial style, that poses some challenges for the town. While more retail would be good for the town in many ways, strip malls are viewed as ugly and undesirable. Riggins said that the town is being vigilant about quality control with the buildings. Her office is monitoring the aesthetic nature of the buildings that are going up. However, the town has realistic expectations of what the turnpike can support.
“We don’t expect the turnpike to look like a quaint New England town,” Riggins said.
She added: “we’re looking for quality architecture and style.”
As an example, she pointed to the new building housing the liquor store. It’s a strip mall, but one that’s dressed up with a roof furnished with cupolas (the things that look like little houses on building tops). She showed me a sketch of the currently under-construction Dunkin’ Donuts, and noted its relatively subtle signage and its elegantly designed outer lamps.

Some in the town are confident that the increased development on the turnpike will deter prostitution and other illegal activity.
“Good business and good industry kind of scares other kinds of businesses away,” Fitzgerald said.
But Laura Michaud, the founder of a group called No-VIP which opposes adult businesses on the strip, worried that more business would mean more places for prostitutes to hide.
“It might increase their odds. I don’t know. I think that rather than looking at these women as criminals, I’m sure they’re drug addicts,” Michaud said. “The real solution would be for them to get treatment.”
A Berlin police detective said that the women had been offered social services. However, the arrest reports don’t seem to support Michaud’s supposition about drugs; according to one report, an alleged prostitute told an officer where to buy crack upon the undercover officer’s request. Otherwise, the arrest reports have been drug free.
There seems to be few secondary effects of the prostitution on the pike. By all accounts, it’s a safe place to live and work.
“This is more of a poor impression than a dangerous situation,” Fitzgerald said. He stressed that while the women may be visible, they are few in number.
“I think they travel the length of the turnpike. I haven’t heard much about Newington, but I know they’re in Meriden. They might not like to travel down to Newington, or maybe they’re more discreet in the motels,” Fitzgerald said.
Prostition on the turnpike is not a new problem for Berlin, but it seems to have spiked recently.
“We’ve gone years without this sort of activity, but in the last six to eight months there’s been a number of reports. Everyone is aware of it,” Berlin police detective John McCormack said. It’s a visible problem — the women walk on the road in the daylight. In the last year, three women have been arrested on prostitution charges on the Turnpike: 41-year-old Kimberly Bowers, 46-year-old Catherine Smith and 42-year-old Vicki Wilson. Bowers and Wilson have of both been arrested twice. Berlin police detective John McCormack said that Bowers was unable to make bail, and was currently being held by the town.
Michaud, who lives in a house facing near the turnpike, said that when she and her neighbors organized to fight the adult entertainment store VIP from moving onto the turnpike, prostitution quickly became a point of concern.
At first, Michaud and her group were hesitant to alert the police when they saw a woman who they believed might be a prostitute. They weren’t comfortable with accusing people of prostitution. “You don’t want to think that just because someone looks down on their luck, you don’t want to automatically label them as a prostitute,” Michaud said.
But eventually she and her neighbors decided to start alerting police when they spotted the women. So in the last year, the Berlin police force has stepped up enforcement of prostitution. But proving that women are prostitutes is sometimes difficult.
“It’s a difficult arrest to make. We do occasionally arrest people for walking on the turnpike, not just women. If you’re a pedestrian on the turnpike and you’re on the road, you’re supposed to walk to the edge of the road facing traffic,” Fitzgerald said. “There are different rules for pedestrians. Obviously, these individuals will [flout] those rules because they’re trying to attract attention.”
The prostitutes seem to act boldly and recklessly. A Berlin police detective told me the women have flagged down unmarked police cars that the average citizen would recognize as an unmarked police car. Records of undercover operations show the women being forthcoming about being self-described “working girls.” In one notable report, the accused prostitute said “you got me” after being told that she was under arrest.
Berlin’s police have not yet aggressively prosecuted the men who hire prostitutes — commonly known as johns.
“Initially, we wanted to make the case against the women, hoping they would move on,” Fitzgerald said. “If they return and that doesn’t appear to have worked, then we might go after the johns.”
The johns haven’t been targeted in the past, Fitzgerald said, because arresting johns isn’t as effective a deterrent as arresting the women.
“The problem is with the johns is that it’s a different person every time. How do you get that message out? You can arrest one john today and they might be in the paper but that doesn’t scare every other john away,” Fitzgerald said.
Read more!

Connecticut For Lieberman

Whose Party Is It?
The two leaders of the Connecticut for Lieberman party -- one who is for him, one against -- squabble over who gets to be chairman
By Adam Bulger
Hartford Advocate August 16, 2007

It's difficult, perhaps impossible, to forge accurate declarative sentences about the Connecticut for Lieberman political party. It seems that every attempt at a simple statement of fact needs to be qualified. Attempt to list a series of facts about it, and you end up with a paragraph pockmarked with parentheses.

Fairfield University politics professor John Orman is the elected chairman of the party (but he opposes Lieberman).

Cheshire resident and medical physicist Stuart Korchin is the chairman of the party (but no one elected him).

The party exists to advance Senator Lieberman's political career (except it doesn't, and Lieberman doesn't support it).

The second annual meeting of the party was held on August 9 (except one of the battling party chairmen contends it wasn't really a meeting at all).

There are two men claiming control of the party, which was started by Lieberman supporters after Lieberman lost the democratic primary to Ned Lamont on August 8, 2006.

The party is simultaneously one of the smallest political parties in Connecticut, with a membership numbering in the low two figures, and one of the most powerful, as it holds one of the highest offices in the state (sort of — sorry, last one.).

The man the party is named for is not a member of the party. And Korchin says he didn't consider inviting or even informing Lieberman about the Aug. 9 meeting when he planned the party's most recent event.

"[Lieberman's people] don't have much interest in doing much with the party right now, and I can't blame them to tell you the truth," Korchin said. "The party is really very small. I don't know that they're terribly interested."

Korchin, who some have accused of being a shill for Lieberman, denies having a relationship with the senator.

"I've met him. I've met him on more than one occasion, but not recently," Korchin said. "And he and his office have certainly not given any endorsements to what I'm doing or what the party's doing."

Korchin said he contacted party members about the event. Since Lieberman is a registered Democrat, that means he's likely blissfully unaware that the meeting took place. Actually, more than likely, as Korchin opted to not send him an invitation.

"I have no reason to contact his people," Korchin said.

Speaking before the Aug. 9 meeting, Korchin said he expected about 30 party members to attend the meeting. Assuming that's true — Korchin wouldn't tell me where or when the meeting as held — that would represent a 1900 percent increase from the previous CFL meeting Korchin organized; below the minutes from that meeting, held August 9, 2006, are reproduced, almost in their entirety.

"A meeting of the CONNECTICUT FOR LIEBERMAN Party was held at [Korchin's home in Cheshire] at 4:30. Membership currently consists of Stuart R. Korchin, a registered member of the party, attended. There being no current business, the meeting was adjourned."

Speaking before the meeting, Korchin promised this year's event would be much more involved. Lieberman isn't up for re-election until 2012.

"I have some items on the agenda, mainly about the future and what we're going to be doing in terms of activities," Korchin said. "I don't think we're going to make any endorsements this meeting, but I'm open to suggestion."

Another notable non-attendee to the meeting was nominal party official John Orman, who said he was not informed about the gathering.

"I'm the chair of the CFL, and it's unusual that the chair wouldn't be invited to a CFL meeting," Orman said.

Orman, a longtime state political activist, joined the party after Lieberman was elected to the Senate. Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz's office told him that no one was registered with the party, and Orman — who opposed Leiberman's bid for the senate — took the opportunity to "punk" the newly independent Senator by hijacking the party.

"What we said was that if the state was going to allow a fake institution to exist, we were going to turn that fake institution into a real party to hold Joe accountable," Orman said.

The political punking hit a snag after Korchin saw a New York Times article about Orman's takeover.

"First of all, it wasn't true. I was already a member of the party. Obviously, he was declaring he was the only member of the party, which was false," Korchin said.

Evidently, there was a problem with Korchin's registration.

"I don't know if it was the town registrar or a mistake at the Secretary of the State's office," Korchin said. "The people at the Secretary of the State's office were unaware I was already registered with the party."

Subsequently, Orman held his first party convention, which Korchin attended as one of the six registered party members. Korchin contests the legitimacy of that convention, saying that Orman took control of the party illegally.

While both men enjoy using interpretations of fine points of election law to their advantage, they sharply contrast in attitudes towards Lieberman.

Korchin is a Lieberman supporter. Orman switched his registration as a Steven Colbert-style political joke, and a way to protest what he views as legislative improprieties on Lieberman's part.

"He had this promise to start a new party. I consider that to be a false petition. He told the Secretary of the State he had every intention of forming a new party, but then didn't. To me, that was like electoral fraud," Orman said.

The Secretary of the State's and Lieberman's offices did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Trachtenburg Interview

A Family Affair
The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players bring their loopy genius to Hartford for the first time
By Adam Bulger

If J.D. Salinger ended his self-imposed exile and moved to the Lower East Side, he'd invent the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. The three-piece ensemble is fronted by Jason Trachtenburg and supported by his wife Tina, who accompanies her husband's pop ditties with ancient slides collected from estate sales. The real star of the show, however, is their 13-year-old daughter Rachel who plays drums and sings harmony. Rachel, who has been performing with the band for the entirety of their seven-year history, has become something of a celebrity, appearing on magazine covers and a popular YouTube video where she performs Syd Barrett's "Effervescent Elephant."

The society-tweaking presentation of America through slides, the familial nature of the performers and the genuinely catchy music create a perfect storm of cute, smart and funny. It's indie rock fun for the whole family, by a whole family.

A: How did the slide concept come together?

JT: With everything we do in the band — which is me, my wife Tina and my daughter Rachel — we're trying to create a ground-breaking artistic statement. That can mean creating an entirely new genre, as well. The possibilities are there. We tapped in on the concept of combining the slides with music, taking these images we found from estate sales and using songs to narrate those songs.

I was a struggling songwriter up until about the age of 30 or so. I was having trouble finding an audience for my music. Tina said "you gotta do something. You've been trying for ten years and nothing's happening. Why don't you try and reach your audience and really communicate with them through the visual medium of imagery through slide show projection?"

A: You play catchy pop songs that could stand on their own. Do you ever want to ditch the slides?

JT: I think the audience has come to expect the full presentation. They want to see the slides; they want to see Rachel on drums. They want the dynamic of a family band, and I don't blame them.

A: Rachel is 13 now, and she's kind of becoming a celebrity.

JT: She has a lot of skills, and she's very sincere. She could teach kids a lot of things, through her experience. She's working on her own show, which focuses on things kids can do themselves. It's something for kids that isn't dumbed down or patronizing, like a lot of Disneyfied culture.

A: Does her celebrity worry you as a parent?

T: Actually, that might be a better question for Tina.

A: Hello.

Tina Trachtenburg: Hey.

A: Well, the question is whether Rachel's celebrity worries you as a parent?

TT: Not really. I don't know if there's much to worry about. We live a quote unquote normal life. I think you should worry about are the ones that come from your basic tragic situation. She just has a really great family and friends and support system. She has tutors and teachers and us teaching her. There's a conglomerate around Rachel.

Right now we're doing puppets for the Rachel morning show that we're debuting in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She's also performing it in London.

A: When I was 12 or 13, I think I didn't want to have much to do with what my parents were doing.

TT: I think about that too. When I was 13 the last thing I wanted to do was hang out with my parents. With Rachel, I guess we're quote unquote cool parents. We do fun stuff. We're not sitting in an office. We're not doing things she can't do.

A: There's the Alex P. Keaton syndrome, where cool parents' kids rebel by being stiff and corporate.

TT: That's always a possibility. She said something to me like "It'll be interesting what I'll do when I'm 21, because by then I'll have already toured the world and been in every bar and rock club." Her friends will come and stay with us and they can't wait to go to a bar. Rachel's like "Whatever. You want to go to a bar, I'll go there. They're dumb. It's boring unless you're performing. You stand around, they drink and smoke, and talk to each other. It's dull."

A: Does she rebel against the concept of the band. Does she ever wants to do hip-hop or something?

TT: She doesn't like that kind of music. She likes classic rock. ... Doing the slideshow players is more Jason's thing. ... It's a fun family thing we do. Rachel, who has now picked up the ukulele and started playing a lot of ukulele songs — she loves that. Drumming, she likes, but I don't think she loves it like the ukulele. It's not her passion.

A: A major part of the band's appeal is that a cute little girl plays in this quirky rock ensemble. Is there an end date in mind — like OK, you're 16 and it's not so cute anymore?

TT: I guess we're not thinking about that. By her having her own show, that really broadens her thing. If she doesn't want to be in the band anymore, she can always get out of the band. She can do her own show, which she loves doing. I don't know if it would ever not be cute. When she's 16 it'll still be fun to see a family still doing some songs.
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Turbonegro Record Review

(Cooking Vinyl)
Hartford Advocate August 02, 2007

Have Turbonegro come to praise rock or to bury it? Are they trying to be Motorhead or Spinal Tap? Jack White or Jack Black? On their new record the Norwegian butt-rock MVPs rock it out like they have something to prove, with snaky intertwining guitar lines and shout-along choruses. It's fierce and fun, with seemingly no potential for irony. But then they have crazy funny song titles like "Everybody Loves a Chubby Dude" and "Hell Toupee." The second song, which actually seems to be about hair, contains the near perfect post scum rock couplet "Other day I was doing a bump/and then I found myself taking a dump." Are these the words of a candid, depraved rocker or a committed, convincing satirist? Does it matter when the riffs approach the level of Appetite for Destruction? Well, it does, sort of, and I have a feeling I'll be unraveling this mystery at top volume for the next couple of months.
— Adam Bulger Read more!

Cops Against the Drug War

You Know the Drug War is Going Badly When Law Enforcement Turns Against It
Originally published by the Hartford Advocate in August 31, 2006, no longer online

The idea that America's 35-year-old war on drugs has serious problems isn't new. Multiple long-standing organizations ranging from NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) to Libertarian think tank the Cato Institute have advocated drug legalization for decades.

The debate has even permeated American popular culture to a degree, with films like Traffic and Maria Full of Grace exploring the human impact of drug prohibition.

The message that drug policy reform group LEAP is bringing to Connecticut in a series of speaking engagements in September - that the drug war is unwinnable and indefensible - is neither novel nor unique. It's the people making the argument, not the argument itself, that's noteworthy. The members of LEAP, which stands for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, are retired and active police officers and government agents who helped shape and enforce America's drug laws. These are veterans of the front lines of the war on drugs who are now speaking against it.

"[What better group] to challenge the efficacy of the policy than the people tasked with promulgating that policy?" LEAP member Mike Smithson asked.

Smithson said he believes LEAP's message is supported by the majority of Americans, but needs the authority that the police and other law enforcement veterans in LEAP offer for it to resonate.

"We believe that most of America is opposed to this prohibition, but are afraid to say it," Smithson said.

The group is largely the brainchild of retired New York State Police Captain Peter Christ. While Christ doubted the effectiveness of drug laws during his time as a cop, he still enforced the law.

"I went into law enforcement with the hope that I would see the stupidity of my position. I hoped I'd look into the drug business, see its effects and say "boy am I ever wrong." What really happened is the more I saw, the stronger my position became," Christ said.

When he retired after 20 years on the force in the early '90s, he started working full-time to change those laws. After attending conferences by NORML and the Drug Policy Foundation, Christ realized many cops shared his stance, and enlisted them in the cause.

"I started talking about creating an organization of law enforcement people basically modeled after Vietnam Veterans Against the War. That was a group of people that you may not have agreed with their position against the war, but you couldn't dismiss them by saying they didn't know what they're talking about," Christ said.

He hooked up with Jack Cole, a 26-year veteran of the New Jersey state police, to create an organization of his peers who advocated ending the drug war. With the help of three other retired police officers, Cole and Christ founded LEAP in 2002. From those beginnings, membership swelled to over 5,000 in four years.

Their website, , has a 12-minute video in which speakers make the case against the government's prosecution of the drug war. The video has made the rounds of the blogosphere, including being featured on Time magazine's daily dish.

"Prohibition doesn't work. ... The bad thing is that it creates crime and violence that need not exist," Christ said.

When he speaks, Christ says the war on drugs has destabilized society.

"We know from studies that 85 percent of the drug-related violence in our society is not related to drug ingestion and the high from the drug, but from people fighting over the market place," Christ said.

Christ was careful to distinguish between being against the war on drugs and supporting drugs.

"There's a drug problem, the use and abuse of these dangerous substances, which I am not minimizing. It's a serious problem we have to deal with as a society," Christ said. "Then there is a crime and violence problem attached to the drug problem the same way we had it attached to alcohol prohibition."

Christ believes the war on drugs enables rather than fights the drug problem.

"When you institute a blanket prohibition, at that instant you give up all your ability to regulate and control that thing. Who regulates the purity of these drugs on our streets? The gangsters and the mobsters. Who determines the selling points and sets the age limits? The gangsters and the mobsters," Christ said.

"We at LEAP believe that a regulated and controlled marketplace is superior to a prohibition marketplace that creates crime in our society."

Eric E. Sterling was Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary from 1979 until 1989 and is now a LEAP speaker. Sterling, who helped write many of the drug laws passed by Congress in the 1980s, now says that much of the drug legislation in the '80s resulted from misguided political opportunity seeking.

"I began to see the way in which criminal justice and drug policy were taking a backseat to political opportunity," Sterling said.

Sterling said the policy set in the '80s has had a regrettable effect on America's legal system and economy.

"Most people are not aware of the enormous economic consequences of what we are doing. By giving out millions of felonies for drug offense convictions over the course of your anti-drug crusade, we have put a tape worm into the American economy that is sucking a lot of life out of it. One out of nine men in America has a felony conviction," Sterling said. "Once you have a felony conviction your ability to get a job is dramatically reduced. Once that happens, your role in the global economy is substantially undermined."

The felony convictions have a cumulative, debilitating effect on our consumer-driven economy. We're making it harder for potential consumers to consume.

"Your felony conviction becomes part of a background check that goes into your credit score. Even if you have a job, and can afford a car, your ability to finance it is greatly lessened. Your ability to buy a car is dramatically reduced," Sterling said.

As an attorney and a veteran of national legislation writing and advocacy, Sterling said the effect the drug war has had on the way America enforces its laws has been dramatic.

"At another level, in the criminal justice system itself, the drug laws are enforced through lies and perjury," Sterling said.

The dishonesty underlying the prosecution of the drug war, Sterling said, has influenced the rest of our legal system.

"In courts, judges and prosecutors blind themselves to the lies that are routinely told in support of drug cases. When cases go to trial and drug suspects testify against friends and partners to get reduced sentences, lying again is frequent," Sterling said. "Witnesses know that unless their performance is adequate, they're not going to get the plea bargain deal they're hoping for. This is routine. The habit of perjury has become ingrained and routine in the criminal justice system. Judges and attorneys have become inured to fraud in the courts."

One prominent local law enforcement official indicated that while the war on drugs may be flawed, legalization and regulation of drugs is a long way off.

"There may be a need for some changes [in the drug war]. But I am not advocating the legalization of drugs," newly appointed Hartford police chief Daryl K. Roberts said.

A former vice cop, Roberts has seen the effects of drug addiction firsthand. He said that while gun-related violence would be his highest concern as chief, he would also have the Hartford force concentrate on enforcing drug laws.

"I was in vice narcotics for 10 years, four and a half as a detective and five as a sergeant. It's a high priority because I do think it's a catalyst for a lot of our crimes. A lot of our crime comes back to our drug dealing. When you use drugs you're not just destroying yourself, you're destroying your neighborhoods and families."

Roberts said that because of the nature of drugs and addiction, he believes they should remain illegal.

"Whether drugs are legal or not, they still have the same harmful effects on the body," Roberts said.
Read more!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Hunter Thompson Interview

The Hunter S. Thompson Interview
BY ADAM BULGER 03.09.2004

This interview took place in early March 2003, shortly after the publication of Kingdom of Fear.

(To Answering Machine) I had an interview scheduled with Hunter Thompson--

(Explosion of music over the telephone.)
Hey hey hey hi. Sorry, this thing is just dragging on longer than I thought. I'll call you, I'd imagine, in like ten minutes.

OK. Sure.


I got caught up in some goddamn weird old English romance of some kind.

Was it something you were writing, or reading?

I was watching a movie. (Yelling to someone in the room.) Sense and Sensibility, I think. I couldn't believe it, I was wrapped up in this ancient goddamned thing.

Jane Austen, right?

Yes, it is.

I've never seen it, I think I've read the book, though.

Goddamn, I must be in a unique mood of some kind because I got completely into it.

Really. I wouldn't think you'd like that.

I wouldn't either. I've never been into Jane Austen, particularly. But that was well done. A nicely done movie.

OK, then. What is the state of the American dream today?

Oh, god. That's a pretty pre-thought out, written-on-a-list kind of question. Not very good. Yeah, I would say not. The American Dream ran out with the American century. I'm still figuring it out. That's a pretty strong statement. I'm still putting the pieces together right now.

What do you think Horatio Alger would do if he was alive today?

He'd probably be a terrorist.

Do you think its possible for a man to be free in present day America?

Well, it depends on who it is. I'm doing pretty well. I don't know about you. I have a feeling it's going to be more of a struggle than it's been for a while.

Why's that?

Look around you. The military state we're being sort of formed into--shit, I wrote about this last night, I forgot what I said. The military structure--did you read the book I just wrote?

Yeah. Kingdom of Fear. I thought it was a very apt title.

Yeah, more so than I realized when I came up with it.

What do you think of how the Bush Administration is cracking down on civil liberties?

The Bush administration is a heap of Nazi shit. Bullshit. Yeah, you can put it that way. I don't know what your audience is ready for. What kind of target...

In the 70s you had a meeting with Richard Nixon and you talked about college football. What would you say if you had the same face time with G.W. Bush?

Oh, ahhh. To put this on realistic lines. I was the only person in the press corp who could talk about football, and Nixon wanted to talk about football. I don't know. I don't think Bush would want to talk to me. I'm a journalist, of course I would talk to him.

But the impression that I had was that Nixon probably didn't want to talk to you that much, either.

Well he sure as hell wanted to talk about football. Once I got into the car we became instant buddies. He was good company. I enjoyed him. He got me on the plane, showed me all around. I almost dropped a zippo into the gas tank of his Lear jet.

On purpose?

No, no, no. I liked him, at the time there. He was good company. That's all we talked about was football. I was warned that if I mentioned wars or tear gas or protests or anything like that he'd [inaudible].

Do you think you'd be able to talk baseball with the former owner of the Texas Rangers?

Well, I don't know baseball that well. I met Bush at some point, long ago and I don't know what the hell I'd talk to him about now. I mean, Nixon wasn't honest about anything but football. And Bush? I don't know. I'd be curious to talk to him, I'd like to ask him what the fuck he's doing. But I know I wouldn't ask that either. I'm a professional journalist. I would conduct a professional interview. I don't know. We'd probably find something to talk about.

What do you think of the state of political journalism?

Very bad. Very lazy and almost cowardly in its obsequiousness.

What important questions are they not asking?

God damn, man. Who wrote these questions for you?

I did.

Well, they're all kind of pertinent, but let's take a break and kind of work up to some of these.

OK. I'm going to ask you some more softball questions. What are you driving these days and what's its top speed?

Oh Jesus, you really are one of these, aren't you? It's snowing out. I drive a Jeep Cherokee through the snow.

If they offered you the post of the governor of Samoa today would you accept it?

Oh. That's interesting. Well, yeah, if I thought I could really have free hand. It would be an adventure. I'd try it for a year.

You're the last public figure to use a cigarette holder. What's the deal?

For one thing, it is not a holder. It is a filter. A big difference. A filter clears a full ounce of scum and tar a day, keeps it from ruining my lungs. The first time I used it, I saw what came out of a filter and I never stopped.

How does that compare with your double life as a character in the Doonesbury comic strip?

Well that's a horrible piece of shit. I got used to it a long time ago. I used to be a little perturbed by it. It was a lot more personal. The bastard was, well, I don't read it or follow it. It no longer bothers me.

What's the best drug to write on?

You've got dumb questions.

Um, sorry. Have you ever done ecstasy?

Yeah. It seemed kind of mild and talky. I didn't mind it. It's not in the nature of the kind of drug I am normally accustomed to, it was a quasi-drug, I guess.

What kind of music are you listening to?

Let's see. I just got the new Bob Dylan box set from the Rolling Thunder tour from 1975. It's kind of a big package with a book and several CDs in there. It's maybe the best rock and roll album I've ever heard.

You don't think that was after his peak?

Shit. You really are dumb. You have to listen to it and find out. If you think that, you really are ignorant. What do you want to talk about--Eminem?

Is writing still fun for you?


What's the best firearm for home security?

Twelve-gauge short-barrel shotgun.

And what's the best for just fucking around?

Machine guns are kind of nice. You can have a lot of fun with them. It's like watering the lawn. I don't get to play with them very often.

Ralph Steadman said that you almost killed him in a gun-related explosion while he was visiting you in Aspen. What happened?

I don't know that story, but no doubt it's right. I can think of several times. Ralph is well acquainted with my lifestyle.

He also said that you claim that you are one of the few people who should be allowed to own a handgun, and he said that you definitely shouldn't be allowed to own one.

(Laughs.) Ralph is one person who definitely shouldn't be allowed to drink whiskey.

Why's that?

I'll wait for his reason why I shouldn't have handguns. Whiskey is not beneficial for Ralph.

You were a very vocal critic of the Clinton administration, but you were in correspondence with Sandy Berger, Clinton's Defense secretary. Are you guys still friends?

Oh, yeah, definitely, he's a good boy. I disagree with a lot of my friends. Just because he's my friend doesn't mean he has to agree with me.

Are you still in touch with Patrick Buchanan?

Occasionally. We're still friends. Patrick is a libertarian, or at least in that direction. I think of politics as a circle, not a spectrum of one line not just right and left. Patrick and I are often pretty close. Patrick's an honest person. He's a straight guy and very smart guy.

His magazine, the American Conservative, is really interesting. It's all anti-Bush, basically.

I'm pleased with that. I frequently agree with him. He's an intelligent--you might call him a politician.

He did run for President a couple of times.

Yeah, he's a politician.

Why exactly did you try to deliver an elk's heart to Jack Nicholson's house?

I thought it would be fun and it's in the spirit of our relationship. A little humor. I don't know, it just came to me tonight. I had a few bombs, you know. We do that pretty frequently, exchange bizarre presents. I couldn't have foreseen the horrible circumstances around it. He had just gotten in from LA. I didn't know it, but he had a stalker. I saw him the afternoon he got in. I said I'd see him later. I figured, shit, I have some presents for the kids. I was supposed to get there a little earlier. I feel a little queasy looking back on the night. Of course it was all in good humor. It went wrong in so many weird ways. I went out there and sort of did my thing and left, feeling rejected sort of. Bear in mind I was pretty much wanked up, in the mood I frequently get in with Jack. He's pretty fast. He's one of the natural aristocrats of our time.

He's fast?

Oh, yeah, we have a good time talking. Jack is quick. One of the smartest people I know.

What do you think of how the Hell's Angel's have gone mainstream?

Don't confuse the Hells Angels that I wrote about with what the Hells Angels are now. I consider Sonny Barger to be a friend of mine.

Really. Even after his boys beat you up?

Shit, he didn't do it. You swim with sharks, you're going to get bit once in a while. I wasn't surprised by that. In fact, I thought it was long overdue by the time it happened. I always got along fine with Sonny. I haven't seen him in a while. He's an extreme case of a sociopath, but I like him.

After Altamont, too.

That was way over the line. I've seen stuff like that before. Not kill people in that sense, but I wasn't surprised at all at the Angel's behavior. That's what they do. The Stones and Rock Scully, the people who decided to have the Angels as their personal security, I would blame them.

You would blame the incident on whoever chose the Angels as security.

Right. I don't know who I would have chosen, but that's a guarantee of an explosion and a disaster.

Do you ever watch Fox News?

Very rarely.

What do you think of their level of discourse?

I think it's low and dumb.

I heard that you and Allen Ginsberg had the same weed dealer in the 60s.

That's an obscure and arcane story, isn't it? But yeah, yeah. I had met him before in New York during his poetry readings and things. In San fransicisco, it turned out that we did have the same weed dealer. That's when you bought weed in tins, tabacco tins. Ten dollars, fifteen. I lived in an apartment right next store to the guy he was buying it from. I was working on the Hells Angels book. I got to talk to him about it, and he was a big help. Allen was a good one.

You liked him a lot.

He was the real thing, in the way. He was involved in everything. Allen was a gentleman and an honest man. He was fun, wonderful sense of humor. He helped me with the book. He took some time.

How was he in a crisis?

He did that ohm thing [starts chanting] OOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHM. He just tried to hum it away. I first saw that in La Honda. There were Cops, he was trying to get people out of jail. I was being a journalist I had, more or less a neutral zone pass. I could go back and forth between the Angels and the cops. I could negotiate. I had gone down there. My son was two years old at the time.

In La Honda?

No, I was out in Sonoma. I went down to La Honda for a little fun. I took my kid with me. Fun, you know. Allen and I got in a police chase. I was driving. The cops had pulled some people over. It was a madhouse over there, that whole La Honda scene. Blinking, blazing, lights going on all the time. I know that I've described that some place else, so I won't get into it. We stopped to intercede on some other arrest the cops were making. As a journalist I could do that.

You have claimed to be the most accurate reporter people could read. A lot of people would disagree. How would you defend that claim?

With the exception of typos, I have some ungodly types in my work. In terms of my...I might not get the dates right every once in a while. I try to be more accurate than other journalists, which is not that difficult. You have to distinguish between what happened and what the situation was. I'm not doing a very good job of this. And imagination.

Do you think that's due to your willingness to put objectivity by the wayside?

Well, you can't be objective when you're dealing with passionate situations, politics and so forth. I guess you can, I never have. For instance if you were objective about Richard Nixon, you would never get him or understand him. You had to be subjective to understand Nixon. You have to be subjective to understand the Hells Angels. Would you be objective about Altamont, I guess. A million people gathered, a riot started. I was supposed to be there.

Oh yeah?

I took one look at it on the last day and figured fuck this. Like a million people. Guaranteed explosion and disaster. Imagine having gone in there early and going down by the stage and not having a helicopter to get you out? I know people who were trapped under there for eight hours! Just horrible... then I don't know... it [inaudible] of police brutality. I can't really be objective. I can claim I am. Well, I mean, free press, street press, it's the goddamned street press right now that's the only, that's doing this job with us, on us, with Bush and passing propaganda. Just, uh--disgusting!

The mainstream press, you mean?

Yeah, the mainstream press is uh, is uh, in the bag, in the pocket of Bush and the military and they seem to like it there! Not all of them, I've got a lot of good friends, good people in journalism, that feel more strongly than I do, or at least as strongly.


The uh, New York Times, eh, yeah, it's a different animal. There's not too many papers like that. But the press in general, the media, the TV, is doing a disgraceful job in covering this situation in this country and around the world. This is where I have to bring some subjectivity into it that I believe is right! A president that came in here, uhhh... about two years ago...

Right, barely elected.

Barely elected, yeah, and I guess it's only been two years, and he's taken this nation from a, uh, um, let me think looking at it from a, uh, just objectively, from a prosperous nation at peace to a broke nation at war.

Right, but I mean, there were those assholes who flew the plane into the World Trade Center.

Who were they indeed? Now, [cough] do you believe that, that a bunch of Arabs jumped up from some kind of a campfire and fucking mountains over there and snuck into this country and hijacked those planes and did that by themselves?

Well what are you proposing? I mean I think they were funded years ago by the CIA and it was a blowback, but, I don't think there was any direct... Are you saying there might be some other American agency or some international agency that directly supported them in that?

Uhh, this is tricky territory, but yeah, that's what I'm getting at.


I can't sit here and jerk up documents like Joe McCarthy, there's no proof of that. But I'm sure there is. And the idea that we're getting the whole story, uh, through the uh, the media, or from the president, is absurd on it's face because you never do, for one thing. And there's so many unanswered questions and loose ends and uh, lets see, well, lies! Yeah, about what happened. That they, in the run-up to that day, the years, I wrote a column about it right after it happened.

Yeah, I've read it. I thought that was great, the thing about your phone conversation with Johnny Depp, right?

Yeah, that was one of them. Yeah, that one and the one right before it. I was just finishing my sports film for ESPN when, I was about to go to bed, and I had been up all night, you know the usual, you know struggle, deadline...


And sort of on my way to bed, I saw something on the, heard or saw, something about a plane hitting the World Trade Tower. The first reports were of the "small plane"--like one of those things that sometimes hits buildings around the world. That got my attention just enough not to go straight to bed. I turn around and have a look at the TV set, just in time to see that other one go straight in. Jesus.


Hang on a second there... there's so many things about who uh, oh boy, this is a dangerous area. But I talked to witnesses, I'm just thinking of one in particular, a guy, a driver who watched the, just happened to be taking uh, maybe the owner of the Giants, I forget who he was, but he was out at the Meadowlands. But he saw both of them hit.


Direct line of sight. The first one, he didn't get really get a line on, but it got his attention, though he hadn't seen the approach. But the second one, he said, uh, and I heard this from other people, but very few, really, calm and sane accounts the moments of insanity. I happened to see the second one go in, but just the last few seconds, as it came out of the left, stage left, and then plowed right into the front of the center of the TV picture and the center of the building, uh, perfectly. And I wrote that it was one of the most efficient, uh, most skillful and just about impossible um, acts of piloting... That's a very rare, uh, uh pilot... can take a big plane and plant it right as if a target or bulls-eye was on the side of the building. Apparently that second plane approached, and veered off, and made sort of a half-loop and then sort of came back and aimed again and then hit the building.


Have you heard this, or did you see that, or do you know about it?

Yeah, well I've seen the tape so many times.

But have you seen what would be before the tape that we see, like a minute before the hit?

No, I haven't.

Well, I haven't either, really. But there were eyewitnesses. And several people have said that, but you had to be watching. This guy happened to be at the Meadowlands. Cause I've kind of seen it as something that's really horrible and atrocious but not that hard to pull off. I mean it just seems like they got some box-cutters and they hijacked a plane and they flew it into a building. It doesn't seem like there was that much skill or that much preparation really. It's pretty broadly assumed that there's is a lot more to that story than the uh, the simple, kind of evil guys who just wanted to learn enough about flying to take a plane off but not land it.


Remember, everything we know about that, that incident, and it was a horrible thing, I mean tragedy! Uh, and about Iraq and about Afghanistan and the people allegedly inside those countries, you know, Bin Laden... Everything we know in this country is spun through the CIA or NSA, but lets call it the CIA.

Do you think that the foreign press is any better off?

Well the foreign press is not necessarily...don't agree with us, do they? No, I would say that, the, just the round-the-world feeling about our invasion of Iraq using, I'm not sure what the hell they're using now as a pretense. Did they say the World Trade Towers?

What, the pretense for invading Iraq?

Yeah, is it more of that stuff or is it...?

No, they want to spread democracy now, that's the message.

Well I've been dealing with these guys for forty years. I've been covering politics and I was in the air force and kind of around that stuff. I know... something about the structures and behavior of the military and politics, the White House. And uh, it gives you a certain perspective, at least to ask questions.

Yeah, your depth of knowledge and personal experience...

Well, plus if you go back and read some of the things I've written, I don't stand by that first column I wrote on the World Trade Tower, uh, tragedy. Like I said, I was just going to bed, and they called back and said, 'you gotta write another column about the bombing in New York.' Nobody really knew what it was. And I wrote a column, and it's in the book.

What newspapers and magazines are you reading right now?

Well, I mean lemme look here, umm... New York Times, New York Observer, The Nation, uh, Consumer Reports, Sports Illustrated. Now I look up and I see the Statistical Abstract of the United States... I see Legal Affairs, uh, let's see, Time, National Geographic, Foreign Affairs Quarterly, uh, The Progressive, The Economist. It goes on and on. It's a, it's a load. But I find that I really stay uh, more, certainly not more knowledgeable out here than I would be if I were in Washington, but the people I know and can call and then see frequently, I stay pretty well informed out here. There's a network that has taken me forty years to cultivate and build.

The end of your ESPN columns it says you live in a fortified compound in Aspen. How exactly is it fortified?

Well it's not really fortified, it's, I put that in there I guess, it helps me keep gawkers away. And it helps to--somebody gets shot out here every once in a while.

You get shot out there?

There was a story about me shooting my secretary a while ago. It was bogus. But now I have, it keeps me a little bit, it keeps people from being too eager to rush in here and knock on the door. I had a lot of that. Huge amount of kinda curiosity seekers.

Ok. What do you think of um, I'm sorry, I'm getting back to my list of questions.

You can tell that right away, 'what do you think of...'

Yeah I know, I'm sorry man.

Go ahead.

What do you think of the state of America today vs. when you were writing in the 60s and 70s?

Ho, it's a whole different game. Yeah, this is a, uh, oh, a corporate, uh state, really. Pretty much on the order of uh...

Like the Weimar Republic, kinda?

Yeah, yeah, exactly. There we go! And it's, ah, I don't know, National Socialism in a way, that would be a good conversation. Let's, wait, let's say something about that. Let me hear, what do you think about that, just, I'll go on, I just want a little, uh... lets see, the thing that fascinates me is, I've been reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich again. I see parallels throughout the Third Reich to the extent where I often refer to this as the Fouth Reich.

The post-American Century then.

Well it's a convenient break you know, the new century. And it just happens to be that we started off with, well, you might call it a bang, you know? Why the voters in this country continue to vote for the same people who plunge them into economic doldrums and real trouble?

Why do you think that is?

That is what brings us I guess to the uh, Third Reich and that comparison. It baffles me, enrages me. And I can't, it seems to me like simple stupidity.

You think people are just dumb?

Well, the education [in this] country, the patriotism, the boom boom boom drum, and the propaganda, and the cooperative media, yeah. That, well come to think of it, the Germans were economically stricken, weren't they?

Yes, that's why they weren't so opposed to getting the Nazis in.

Exactly but, the country on paper, in a state of prosperity. And we know better about who was, you know, what stocks were really worth what. But, it was a prosperous country, seemingly, people weren't wheeling wheelbarrows of dollar bills through the streets to buy a loaf of bread. And, just to watch the quality of life in this country go down and down, and lesser expectations of happiness and freedom and discretionary income, leisure, all the things that seemingly defined this country uh, in the past let's say 50 years. It has been... moving forward and upward, a lot of quarrels in there, a lot of things to argue about, but I don't think it has been, in most peoples eyes, a nation where the current generation of children can, and does look forward to a standard of living lesser and lower than their parents. You know, not live as well.

What's that?

What, excuse me. I, I didn't hear you.

No, I didn't catch your last comment, I'm sorry.

Oh, well it's the diminishing of personal expectations in this country. And the uh, the hope, the feeling of hope. I talk about this all the time to a lot of people: Are you more optimistic about the next ten years than about the last, when you started?

Who, me?


No! I... man, to rip you off, I'm full of fear and loathing. I am a citizen in the Kingdom of Fear. I'm scared every waking moment, man.

Well, uh, Jesus, that's horrible! That's a kind of, uh, prevailing sentiment.


And you know, you look at fear and people, a population that's uh, just riddled with fear and confusion and, uh, loathing, goddamn. Never did it occur to me when I came up with those words that I would be using them to describe the state of the nation 30 years later or whatever.

Yeah, you said that 30 years ago, and fear keeps coming through in your works. I mean it's so powerful, like your use of it. And I was just kinda wondering what you're fearing right now.

Well I don't, I'm past, uh, fearing things. I'm old enough to, not really uh, worry about some of the things that maybe I once did. I'm a successful writer, I'm out here, I'm you know...

I just had one last question, and it kind of plays into what we were just talking about. Your friend Warren Zevon was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. [Warren Zevon died on Sept. 7, 2003 - ed]


And I just wanted to know how you have reacted to this, if you've mellowed out at all, if this has kind of affected what you're fearing, or your concept of fear.

Well, no, I'm very sad about Warren's situation, but I think it's my job to, uh, console him, to ignore it. They're all quacks out there, and many people have come through fatal uh, prognosis. I assigned him to write the music for this movie we're working on here, the Rum Diaries.

I'm curious about why you're doing the kinda sports-centric thing with ESPN. I know you started as a sports journalist, but...

I got a soft spot in my heart for sports and what the hell, I bet on it, I'm into it all the time, I might as well make some money on it. One of the things I think I've learned over time is I have to make movie on, excuse me, money on, I have to get paid for my vices somehow, or else its gonna be destructive. If you're paid for being crazy, then you're not crazy, is that right?

And when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

I think the real difference is functional and dysfunctional rather than sane or insane. And John Walsh at ESPN is an old friend. And I like it, it keeps me, the column kept me kinda sane, a regular deadline every week. I gotta finish it and read it the next day. I like the regularity of it. I grew up in newspapers. And it just gives me a nice little break every week.

Well, that was my last question.

Well, that's, uh, good luck! And you're gonna need it.

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