Monday, December 20, 2004

"Santa Claus's Political Affiliations (With Footnotes)" (Column)

There is no reason for this, but this is one of my favorite columns of all time, bar none.

I always wondered what Santa Claus’ political beliefs are, and yes, I know that’s weird. I figured it to be easy to work out what he believes by what he does. It wasn’t. It wasn’t even easy figuring out where he originally came from, but I did a little research and I think I may be a little closer to the answers.

Some say Santa Claus began as St. Nicholas, a Turkish priest and saint, who gave toys and candy to the yard apes of Asia Minor 1700 years ago. He was canonized and became very popular, becoming the patron saint of children, sailors, and several countries. When the Reformation swept Europe, those pesky Protestants made any celebration involving St. Nick illegal. As usual, the Dutch did their own thing and kept Sint Nikolass part of their festivities. When they came to America and snagged the last remaining parking spots in New Amsterdam, they brought a devotion to Sinterklass, as they called him here. When the Dutch were evicted in the 17th Century, their English landlords turned Sinterklass to Santa Claus.

Let’s see: Santa is Catholic, at least partly Dutch, and he settled in New York. He believes in giving gifts to everyone and he works with (ahem) a small minority. By golly, he’s a Blue Stater!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

"2004 Post-Election Blahs" (Column)

I don't think this one needs any explanation. I'll just say that eight years later, the world's a different place...

Just a few random post-election election thoughts:

Blah blah blah, mandate from the people, blah blah blah, margin of victory, blah blah blah, most votes of any president, blah blah blah, most popular president ever. Tired of hearing the same old, same old from those pundits too…let’s not say stupid; let’s say…preoccupied with saying, “We won! We won! Nanny-nanny-boo-boo!” to actually look at some other facts?

Mandate from the people? There were two, actually. The narrow majority said, “We love you, George!” The narrow minority said, “Get the hell out!” Let’s be honest and say that there were two mandates from the people: “I love you, get out!” It’s like a marriage. No wonder this election was about family values.

Margin of victory? I love this spin: “It’s the biggest margin of victory ever!” Like hell; it’s about average. Don’t just listen to your preachers, kids, look it up. Most popular votes ever? This one is true. George W. swept into office with more popular votes than any president in history.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

"Choose Your Own Election" (Column)

This was fun. It also got mentioned on other sites and a few political sites linked to it. But nobody plagiarized this one. I greatly enjoyed writing this one. There were calls for a sequel, but I knew this was a one-time-only deal.

As much as I’d like to have a column written about the election returns, it just wasn’t going to happen this week. Unfortunately, PW goes to press on Tuesday afternoon, long before the results would start to roll in – and possibly days before the winner is decided. But to stay timely, I decided to do a column that would be accurate for every possible Presidential election outcome – a difficult task to be sure, but one whose answer came to me in the form of a series of children’s books. Anyone who went through elementary or junior high school in the early 1980’s might be familiar with the format, which is in the style of the Choose Your Own Adventure series.

If you could figure out how to vote, you should be able to figure out how to do this. I call this Choose Your Own Election #1: The Ballot of Eternity.

START HERE: Did you vote? If you did, go to 1. If you didn’t, go to 19. If you’re too young to vote, pretend.

Thursday, October 7, 2004

"The Predator Connection" (Column)

For the record, this appeared in print, five days before Saturday Night Live went over much of the same ground (of course, they didn't have the Sonny Landham connection, so I've got them there). Unlike the blogger who ripped off my Iggy Pop reference, I'm not fussing at SNL. It takes a week to set up and rehearse their sketches. I'm saying I'm happy that we came up with these ideas about the same time. It's just that mine saw print before theirs saw air. Don't nobody go saying I ripped off the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time-Players. Great (and sick) minds really do think alike.

With the bread-and-circuses election in California recently, the Left Coast proved once and for all that the liberals out there are not the state’s only wackadoos. The fruits-and-nuts Republicans lined up to throw away their dignity and common sense to cast votes for an aging action star best known for playing a robot. Insert your own Al Gore joke here.

The cable news channels decided that everyone in the country actually gave a damn about who ran that yahoo state, and forced hundreds of mind-numbing hours of coverage on us. It was during some of the hypnotic, droning coverage that I stumbled onto the Predator Connection.
Predator, the 1987 sci-fi actioner, concerned a group of soldiers who ran afoul of a creature whose armor camouflaged itself, allowing him to vanish into the background and attack primarily through ambush – a lot like Gray Davis, but with a less abrasive personality.

Believe it or not, with a credited cast of only ten, Predator has spat out three actors who have run for governor in their home states. Jesse Ventura was first in Minnesota four years ago and this year brought us the Arnold Era. Even Sonny Landham, who played the psycho Indian, Billy, ran for governor of Kentucky in 2002, first as a Republican then as an Independent. He dropped out after a few months, but he ran.*

Friday, October 1, 2004

Dr. Ronald Mason, Jr. Interview (President of Jackson State University)

Over about a year, Planet Weekly was doing a series of interviews with the presidents of the local colleges and universities: Belhaven College, Millsaps College, Hines County Community College, Tougaloo College, and Jackson State University. Each school was done by a different writer (which turned out well), and I was assigned Dr. Mason of JSU. It is my belief that he has the most dangerous intellect I've ever seen. He is brilliant and knows exactly what he's saying and doing. I still remain in awe of his brain.

Dr. Ronald Mason, Jr. became the President of Jackson State University on February 1, 2000. In his five years, he has led the school into a period of growth, economic development, and heightened reputation and respect. In this time, Jackson State has reorganized many of its schools and colleges, reached into the community to create a Jackson State-based technology cluster, and begun sweeping programs to increase economic and community development. The student body continues to grow and more and more alumni of this historic institution are making names for themselves in the world of business, public service, and the arts.

Dr. Mason’s inaugural address was “Rivers of History, Rivers of Hope,” in which he spoke of two rivers that came together in Mississippi, one of white history, one of black history. He compared the conflicts and meshing of two vastly different societies as a confluence of rivers that could drown a people or could lead them to a broader, unified river. The confluence was Jackson State University and the state of Mississippi and the one river – our future together. It was a clarion call to all that he was a man with ideas to implement, and that he believed Jackson State was more than just a place; it had a purpose, one that it must achieve.

"A Farewell to Johnny Ramone" (Column)

Two things about this column: the first is that when it came out I was well-known for mixing pop-culture with politics. At Planet, we had a neo-con columnist. He could write very well, but he was also a tool that didn't know when to shut up. He ignored everything I said to go online and try to start something, asking if I knew that Johnny was a Republican. Of course I knew. I'm a Ramones fan. Johnny Ramone was one of the best-known conservative rockers ever. I don't care. He was a guitar god and that's what I was writing about. Idiot. The second point is that I name-checked Ja Rule, and man, did I get that one wrong.

Death and rock ‘n’ roll have always meshed. There is some primal element to rock, and rap, and heavy metal, and the blues that fits neatly with the Great Beyond. The only other aspect of the universe that affects rock ‘n’ roll so much is sex, but that’s because almost every kind of music is about sex: about getting some (rock), about not getting some (blues), about getting it from the neighbor’s wife (country), or getting it gently, romantically, and with candles (folk). Many ancient pieces of music were hymns to God, a celebration of prayer to a higher being, but I believe that some of them were asking for something a bit more earthy. And who doubts that Beethoven didn’t perform his creations hoping to nail that front row fraulein?

Music connects with sex and death more than with just the “gettin’ horizontal” ideas. Musicians of almost every style exist at the center of a triad of “music,” “sex,” and “death”, which is why their lives tend to focus on three things: the music itself, who they sleep with, and how they die. It’s a dramatic, dynamic combination. Understand that these things work in concert – so to speak – and you’ll understand why heavy metal will not lead a kid to kill himself, why rap music won’t make you pop a cap in whitey, and why Goths are simply harmless sorts whose rebellion has the heft of the Bobby Fuller Four fightin’ the law.

(Of course, Bobby Fuller got whacked by the underworld for macking on a Connected Guy’s woman; just another dramatic combination of sex, death, and rock ‘n’ roll, but I digress.)

"People Are Afraid" (Column)

Couple of things about this one: Kane Ditto was the mayor of Jackson during its gunfights-in-the-streets early '90s days; yes, it's stat-heavy; yes, my stats are correct; and yes, I supported Harvey Johnson. In fact, only Planet Weekly and the Jackson Free Press didn't support Frank Melton. The daily paper, the television stations, the radio stations, and the pundits all supported Frank Melton. Melton won in a landslide and is now considered one of the laughingstocks of the political world. Jacksonians got the mayor they deserved. Fear and stupidity are a powerful mix.

Four years after Melton was voted into office, he collapsed on the evening of the Democratic mayoral primary - where he ran against Harvey Johnson. He passed on sometime later. I managed to avoid most "God voted" jokes, but not all.

You hear it everywhere; a constant refrain from Frank Melton, from the Melton campaign, and from Melton’s followers – “people are afraid.” You hear it in conversations, you see it campaign material, you hear it on newscasts (particularly on WAPT, which long ago jettisoned any attempts to maintain non-biased reporting), and you hear it from the candidate himself – people are afraid. Do you know what you rarely hear?

“I’m afraid.”

It’s much, much harder to find someone who says this than it is to find someone who says, “people are afraid.” Certainly, there are those who are afraid to live in Jackson. WAPT manages to run useless segments on the topic frequently, even though they exist to do nothing except reinforce Melton’s assertion. I was a crime victim two years ago. I’m not afraid, and I think that most people are not afraid. What has happened, though, is that Melton supporters have taken up this chant, in an effort to fool people into thinking it’s true, even though it’s not. A repetitious spurious ideology does not become a fact; it is simply a spurious ideology shoved down the throats of voters. I suggest the next time someone says, “People are afraid,” we respond:

“No, they’re not.”

Thursday, September 9, 2004

"Conventional Migraine" (Column)

Sometimes it really does go this wrong. I put this one in, because it has one of my favorite lines of all time - the Triumph of the Will one. It's also here because I wanted to admit that sometimes - by my own damn fault - that I'm caught flat-footed and have to fake it. (As my buddy Tony would say, "I'm dancing as fast as I can!") The editors at Planet accompanied this piece with my favorite picture of all time: Gov. Schwarzenegger, with the cutline: "Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of the women." I nearly wept with joy when I saw it in print.

By the way, "the Beast" is my doberman/beagle, Adam, who has become one of my best friends over the years.

Well, damn. Deadline is upon me and I have nothing to write about. To be truthful, I do have something to write about, and that’s the problem. I actually had to get John Hicks, our fearless leader, to let me switch weeks this week so I could write about the Republican National Convention. I had every intention of writing a fair-and-balanced piece to go along with my previous DNC one. However, as luck would have it, that ain’t gonna happen.

First of all, there was ArtMix. Now simply put, I’d rather hang out with the folks who want to spend a Thursday night together enjoying the bounties of our dear arts community than sit at the TV and listen to The Great Pretender tell us why he’s the better choice for the job. So I thought, I’ll just tape it and watch it when I get home. Well, due to circumstances like The Beast attempting to eat the VCR that night and me being too stupid to 1) rewind the tape all the way and 2) notice that I had reset the damn thing from its 6-hour setting to its 2-hour setting, I unfortunately got about the first 15 minutes of the speech, and no mas. All of which allowed me to see pretty much nothing of interest, except for the delegates’ clear desire to stand and applaud even the most dynamic words, like “and” and “of.”

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

David Cobb Interview (2004 Green Party Presidential Candidate)

If I'm being honest, this is probably my favorite interview of all time. One day I was off and got a phone call from Carey Miller, our editor-in-chief. He asked if I wanted to interview David Cobb, the Green candidate. I said I would. He asked if I could do it an hour and a half. I agreed to do it, did a fast bit of research and met Carey, Mr. Cobb, and Mr. Fleitas at a tiny old cafe on Farish Street in downtown Jackson. Planet Weekly had long given space to candidates of the smaller parties, and we had a longstanding relationship with the state's Greens. As such, I was lucky to already have a good background of Green politics and Mr. Cobb proved to be a very knowledgeable interviewee. I didn't go easy on him, which prompted an off-record interruption in the middle to ask how many words we were going to use. I told them we were going to do 1500 words in print and 2500 online (our issue was already planned - and this was a bonus we had to squeeze in there). When we were finished, Mr. Cobb thanked us and said he was used to getting a thorough interview in New England, or Washington State, or California, but not anyplace like Mississippi. I won't lie and say I voted for the man; in fact, I told him I wasn't going to. But I will say I understood him and think the world of him.

David Cobb is the Green Party candidate for President of the United States this year. Unlike four years ago, when Ralph Nader ran, Cobb’s candidacy has been below the radar, relying on the Greens’ own grassroots efforts and many stops around the country to get out his name. Cobb, a Houston native, knows he has no viable chance to win, but he stands tall in his belief that, though other parties might stop on November 2, he will continue to campaign – not so much for the possession of a single, vital office, but for increased numbers of extremely valuable members across the country.

On Monday, October 11, when Cobb was in town to speak at Millsaps College and Jackson State, Planet Weekly was invited to sit down and interview the candidate. Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Sherman Lee Dillon said the offer was made because Planet Weekly was the only newspaper “to give a fair shake” to the other parties.

"A Random Bit of Twaddle, Geeks, and Frank Melton and the Maytals" (Column)

Every now and then, I'd run a column of just random thoughts and wanderings. This one was one of my favorites, because it wasn't really that at all. It was more an illustration of my frustration with the election and my inability to do anything about it. I also included it, because it had an in-column follow up to "Geek Flag Ideologies" that I liked.

When it occurred to me that this column was going to run in our ‘election’ issue – regardless of the fact that Frank Melton has already been anointed emperor by some of our local TV stations; thank God the print media still believes in waiting until after the election to do so – I thought I’d write about why I thought one candidate was better than the other.

Oddly enough, the editors insisted that they wouldn’t print half a page of white space.

Honestly, the problem is that I just don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever not known whom I would vote for this close to an election. This is a problem for me, since it’s in my nature to talk, and write about it.

A week ago, I didn’t know. Four days ago, I decided to switch sides and cast my lot with Rick Whitlow. Two days ago, I’d given up and decided to insist on a paper ballot at the polls, just so I could write in “Incumbent Mayor Harvey Johnson.” Now, I’m back to not knowing. (Really, it goes without saying that I shan’t cast a vote for Frank Melton.)

I don’t believe either Melton or Whitlow are qualified for this type of office. I don’t believe that either has the ability to lead a city of this size. I do believe that Rick Whitlow is forthright, honest, and genuinely believes in what he is doing. He has a base of supporters that believe he is truly the right man for the job and they may be right; I just don’t know.

"Pronounced Cha-Ne" -- Yall Magazine

When I was living in Portland, Maine, I even saw some of his stickers there and wondered about them. I hope he'll break big someday. This was my first piece for Yall, when they said they wanted to write about interesting Southern people, without it looking like a Southern People magazine.

Across the South, the name Chane is becoming known. On the backs of car windows, in places of honor normally reserved for Oakley stickers, more often you will see an oval sticker emblazoned with the word, “Chane.”

Beside the ubiquitous oval logo, you might also see a black “SomÃ¥” or a sticker with “Swell Sk8” on it. These are all labels attached to Chane, a unique man from Jackson, Mississippi. Chane is sometimes incorrectly called a fashion designer. He prefers the term “lifestyle designer.”

“If I feel like I can be creative with it, I’m going to design it,” he says. So far, he has been creative with clothing, skateboards, furnishings, and furniture. He is a one-man industry in Jackson, with four different stores in the arts neighborhood of Fondren: Swell, Etheria, SomÃ¥, and Studio Chane. In September, he is planning to open a fifth store in the same neighborhood, Dwello @mosphere. This might be his most audacious idea yet. Dwello @mosphere will be a showroom in a loft, a place where customers can browse and see the furniture in use. Chane is making this possible by making the store his home.

“I could have the perfect scenario. You know, the most crisp, clean designed museum to live in, where I’d never get tired of my surroundings, because it’s constantly being sold.” To him, this is not just thinking outside the box. He refuses to get inside the box in the first place.

Sunday, August 1, 2004

New Vibrations (Business Feature)

This one's here because, for no reason whatsoever, this is one of my favorite short pieces - and Karen Parker is one of my favorite Jacksonians. If you're ever there, go see her.

New Vibrations owner Karen Parker describes the idea behind her store:

“We call this a store of spiritual and cultural diversity. I wanted to bring things from around the world to Jackson. I wanted to bring things of a spiritual nature to Jackson. It was really important to me to bring the tools and things that people use in different religions.”

New Vibrations opened two months ago on State Street in Fondren. Its bright purple exterior and its location between the Fondren Corner building and Treehouse have brought considerable traffic to the business. Some came following positive word of mouth, some came during Arts, Eats, and Beats, and some simply found it.

“People are beginning to search these days, stepping away from their basic religions, and beginning to open themselves up,” Parker said. “The world is a smaller place than it ever was before. I’ve always felt that we all call God different names, and he or she had different faces in different religions, but that we all pray to the same God and that it’s really important for us to see ourselves talking to – and about – one God and one Creator.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

International Museum of Muslim Cultures (Cultural Cover Story)

This is the kind of piece that made me love Mississippi. When we printed this, the only (and I mean only) complaints we got were from two people from Alabama. One was a guy who logged on and fussed, sight unseen, about them "damn terrorists." The second was an Alabama girl who knew 'me' from some boards on IMDb and followed me on Planet's site. She couldn't believe we'd waste space on the Muslims and blasted on the site. I cut ties with her, but we left her comments up. That was the only bad feedback we got. Most of what we got was, "I've been there. It's pretty cool." It is. I'm not Muslim, and neither is about 98% of the people who go, but it's refreshing to see a place that takes the time to educate you about a people you should know more about - and about how positively they've affected the direction of the world.

Jackson has its fair share of good museums. The Old Capitol Museum is one. The Mississippi Museum of Art and the Smith Robertson Cultural Center are both well known far beyond the borders of our state. One of the most important ones sits less than a block from the Museum of Art and is, quite literally, unique in this country. There is no other like it.

That museum is the International Museum of Muslim Cultures (IMMC). The museum opened its doors in April 2001 with the exhibit, Islamic Moorish Spain: Its Legacy to Europe and the West. Developed by Okolo Rashid, the current executive director of the museum, and by Emad Al-Turk, the board chairman of the museum, the exhibit was conceived as a companion piece to the Majesty of Spain exhibit when the organizers, Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange, Inc., decided not to include any pieces that reflected the nearly eight hundred years of Moorish influence in the exhibit. Islamic Moorish Spain received considerable local press in its first few weeks. The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience and the Catholic Diocese of Jackson both gave their blessings to it.

"Civil Unions" (Column)

This was one of my serious columns, regarding a situation about which I feel very strongly. Living here in Calfornia now makes me glad I wrote this all those years ago.

For the first time, the issue of gay marriages – or civil unions – has been brought up for serious discussion. With the Commonwealth of Massachusetts deciding that they are legal, there is finally real, tangible discussion about this issue. Yes, the State of Vermont allowed civil unions several years ago, but Vermont is a small state with little influence on others. When Massachusetts took this big step, it became major news.

The conservatives’ views on this issue are already well known. In a nutshell, they believe that allowing gay marriages leads to the end of civilization, as we know it. This is not a surprise. A bit more surprising is the mixed reactions occurring in the various liberal camps. Even my man Wesley Clark splits this particular hair, supporting “civil unions,” but not going so far as to call them “marriages.”

Personally, I don’t see the problem. I totally support the idea of gay marriages. And I don’t feel a need to qualify the statement. I don’t think they should be called “civil unions.” I think that if a marriage is recognized in one state, it should be recognized in every state. I think a gay married couple should be allowed every right that a straight married couple receives. Call me crazy, plenty have, but I simply don’t believe that allowing gay men and women to marry will cause the downfall of the American Way.

Saturday, May 1, 2004

David Banner Interview (Rapper/Producer/Actor)

This interview was arguably the one I was best known for - and one of Planet Weekly's most memorable. Banner's record company linked their websites to our website, resulting in hundreds of comments from people who had no idea who we were. This being Mississippi, we also had a few disgruntled caucasians who lambasted us (me) for wasting paper & pixels on a 'guy who just makes stupid noises over thumps and calls it music.' The fact is, David Banner is one of the most intelligent people I've ever met, in any capacity, and one of the best interviews ever. He says what he means and he says it well. He couches it in language that his audience will listen, though, and anyone who doesn't get that is the one with the intelligence issue. I also found him to be direct, generous, and talented.

David Banner is not the average rapper. He is a producer who has worked with Snoop Dogg, Nelly, Trick Daddy, Busta Rhymes, and Nappy Roots. He is a local boy who began his career with Crooked Lettaz, one of the casualties of Tommy Boy Records.

He takes his name from the Hulk’s alter ego, the man who said, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

He is a smart man, an educated non-intellectual who was the president of the Student Government Association at Southern University.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

"Crossroads Film Festival Post-Game Report" (Column)

This was the first column I ever wrote where I threw the rules away. It's about 95% true. I just don't remember what's untrue now.

I’m a dedicated film nut, so I spent most of last weekend at the Crossroads Film Festival. I had planned to write a coherent account of it, but since the first three nights ended at Hal and Mal’s, I’ve discovered that most notes I have are illegible. I’ve decided to write down what I remember. If you were there, some of this will seem familiar. If you weren’t, maybe you’ll want to give it a go next year.

Thursday night, Parkway theater. Saw “Leo.” Had the guy from “Shakespeare in Love” in it, with Elisabeth Shue, the one from the babysitting in Las Vegas movie. Not so good. Too long. “Up, Up, and Away,” a short film, two minutes long. Much better. Not too long.

Went to Hal and Mal’s for a pale ale. Had more than that. Had political discussion with folks from another free newspaper. Fell in love with a bartender.

Thursday, April 1, 2004

"Bumper Sticker Politics or the Band That Scared Your Mom Has Sold Out" (Column)

This one is dated, too, but because of the ads I mention. I'll also mention that at least one blogger out there plagiarized my column, lifting my lines about Iggy Pop word for word. It was pointed out to Planet Weekly by half a dozen different readers, who found two sites that had done it. One had written-and-displayed two weeks after me, and the other was done five weeks later. We don't know if the second guy plagiarized me or the other guy, which is why I said there was "at least" one blogger who ripped me off. I don't care. It's nice to have written something good enough to have been stolen.

There is a certain segment of the population whose – how shall we say it? – stupidity prevents them from being able to separate who a person is from what they do, and who a person is from what they believe. They’re unable to see someone as a whole, instead defining them by a particular belief, or by something they do. What could be a good neighbor is instead dismissed as a “dirty liberal.” What could be a good friend is shouldered aside because he supports capital punishment.

(I am put in mind of a particular mouthbreather who visited our Web site and insisted that he would refuse roadside assistance from anyone with a Kerry/Edwards sticker on his or her car, which made me wonder what he does to everyone in the service industry. “Hey, you in the Che shirt! I’ll pump my own gas, punk!” “Excuse me, miss, before you bring the menu, do you believe in a faith-based nation or should I change tables?”)

Monday, March 1, 2004

2004 Juried Student Exhibition Competition (Arts Feature)

This small piece is one of the most formative of my career so far - if not for anyone else, than for me. My friend and colleague at Planet, Talamieka McNeil, gave us the heads-up on this arts competition at JSU, where she attended school. As a fan of the arts, I decided to cover it with her. However, as someone who had been to all the other student museums in the area, I was ready to be disappointed. (Sorry if this upsets people from the other schools, but it's true.) I was blown away by the quality of art from Jackson State, and I believed then what I believe now: the best arts program in that part of Mississippi is there. I was also blessed to meet Lorenzo Gayden, a young man whose talent comes as an embarrassment of riches. I've given him press several times - and he's deserved it each time.

Many art aficionados appreciate a chance to see art from young, raw talents. A good place to do that now is at Jackson State University. The 2004 JSU Juried Student Exhibition Competition is over, the winners have been selected, and their works are on display on the campus. The competition gives the students a chance to have their work appreciated by the judges, the university administration, other students, and by the public.

Sponsoring the competition are JSU’s own Clay Club and James Allen Antiques of Atlanta. Allen is the owner of the controversial “Without Sanctuary” exhibit of lynching photos, currently on display at the university.

Several different awards are given, including Best 2-D Work, Best 3-D Work, and Merit Awards. In addition, members of the administration give five Purchase Awards to the students.

"Adrift on the Sea of Consciousness" (Column)

Wow. Janet Jackson, Arsenio Hall, and "Yes, Dear" all name-checked in the same column. Sometimes folks, the pop culture references kill the first time out - and then kill you in the long run.

Welcome to the stress-addled mind of the Bipolar Extremist. I’m feeling like going down the stream of consciousness without a paddle…

Let me get this straight. CBS has apologized for the now-infamous “Boobgate” incident at the Super Bowl. They’ve apologized for the delays they are now using for their “live” broadcasts. And now they’ve apologized for Atlanta-based Outkast’s Grammy performance, which had the band members in Lone Ranger-era faux Indian garb. I’m suddenly reminded of Monty Python’s legendary apologies for the apologies.

CBS, so long as you’re offering up apologies for all slights, real or perceived, I have a few requests.

Where the hell is our apology for Yes, Dear? You owe the world a big freaking “my bad” for that piece of crap. And since that segues nicely into Arsenio Hall, you better start doing “mea culpas” for Star Search, too.

It’s not that I want to bash on CBS even more than I bash on Planet’s competitor, but the Tiffany Network makes it so damn easy.

Yeah, I’m angry this time. My man Clark bailed out of the race before Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich. It both annoys and disappoints me that the General left the race before the Righteous Rev and Ernie Keebler bailed out. Well, at least he won one state before he left, which is one more than Howard Dean has managed to accomplish, at least by press time.

By firing his campaign chairman for speaking out, Dean showed that he is again willing to cut off his own nose to spite his face. Knowing of his manic behavior, I’m surprised he didn’t use a chainsaw to do it.

John Kerry. What can I say about him that his opponents haven’t already said? If he’s been knocking boots with an intern, it only goes to show that he’s trying to learn from a better man. But, to give him his props, he picked a more cuddly intern to corrupt. If it’s true, do you suppose he’ll apologize, or will he instead attack the Dean campaign through a series of mudslinging commercials?

And have you seen the new Planet Weekly commercial? You soon will. Watch for it on WJTV. It’s made by local director Philip Scarborough and graphics genius Matt Beall. No mud is slung.
A question for the baseball fans out there. Does anyone think that CNN is spending far too much time harping on the Alex Rodriguez trade to the New York Yankees? Does anyone not in a 212 area code actually care? And if so, why? The Yankees have become nothing more than a sad commentary on baseball, proving that it is all about the bottom line. With a payroll three to four times the size of most other clubs, they prove that they really do have the finest team that money can buy.

And why should CNN care? Come on, this is an easy one. CNN…Ted Turner…Atlanta Braves…the club that actually claims to be America’s Team. They’re the National League version of the Yankees, without the annoying burden of talent.

Of course, if there was any Atlanta-based group that should apologize for being insulting to American Indians…it’s not Outkast. Maybe we can get TBS to do it.

Hey Ya! Yankees fans, let me know why your team rules. Braves fans, let me know why the Yankees suck. Red Sox fans, let me know why your guys suck. Send comments to: ed@planetweekly or log on at planetweekly and let’s all hope nobody’s cyber-squatting in our living room.

Cowboy Mouth -- Yall Magazine

This was my most contentious piece ever. The editor of Yall loved the idea. The band loved it (and the publicist loved it, of course). My photographer colleague, Tom Beck and I met them in New Orleans, I wrote it, and we submitted our work. The photo editor kept asking Tom for different shots - the editor had no idea what he wanted, and he apparently was still in college. The editor I was dealing with had left and the publisher was running things. He decided that he wanted a Southern People and bumped this story without notice for one issue. No big deal, except that, in doing so, the band released a live album in the interim and their publicist wanted that in there now. Further troubling things was that the publisher changed his deadline for work three times, finally calling me and saying he needed a rewrite and could I do it in 10 days? I told him I could. He called me 2 days later and asked where it was. I told him I still had 8 days. He said he meant 2 days, but said 10. I sent him a rewrite, which someone reedited, and they published it. This is the version I originally submitted.

November 28th, the night after Thanksgiving. A crowd approaching one thousand men and women have come in out of the cold and filled Howlin’ Wolf, a music club in the warehouse district of New Orleans. The patrons, who have been warmed up by local punk-pop band, Gang of Creeps, and by a three-song reunion gig by The Red Rockers, generate happy, anxious excitement. They crowd the stage, awaiting Cowboy Mouth, one of the South’s favorite bands.
When the band takes the stage, an eruption of cheers that would be more at home in a stadium greets them. With little ceremony, they launch into “Light it on Fire,” a barnburner guaranteed to create a roar. It does. By the time they tear into their second number, “Disconnected,” the crowd is moving as one organic unit, almost desperate to absorb the band’s energy and return it to them tenfold. In return, Cowboy Mouth does their level best to blow the audience out the front door.

Standing front and center, Fred LeBlanc, the Mouth’s lead singer and drummer, pounds the skins and exhorts the fans to cheer, to jump, to take part in the show. The front man and chief cheerleader, he builds energy both on and off the stage with his ferocious drum work, his vocals, and his interaction with the crowd. He brings them into the show, refusing to let them be passive witnesses to the performance. There are no passive witnesses.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Darrah Johnson Interview ("Survivor" Contestant)

Darrah was Mississippi's first entry into the world of Survivor - and was fondly remembered as 'the girl that took the shower.' She was very pretty, genuinely very sweet, and - trust me - a lot smarter than you thought she was. When I did this short interview, she was already becoming a canny interviewee.

This year’s Grand Marshal of Mal’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is Darrah Johnson, the first and so far only Mississippi contestant on “Survivor,” the current reigning champion of the reality TV sweepstakes.

On the show, Johnson played her game quietly, allowing others to take the spotlight – and promptly be shot down – time and again. She kept somewhat to herself, allowing others to come to her and propose alliances and deals. In her Delta-infused accent, she made nice with almost everyone else, at least until it was time not to.

Late in the game, she rose to the occasion, winning three immunity challenges in a row and taking control of the game while simultaneously scaring the hell out of her opponents. She made the final four, lost the next challenge, and was immediately voted out by the others.

Sunday, February 1, 2004

"Head vs. Heart" (Column)

This one is serious, and I won't make any comment, except to say that it cost us readers and advertisers. About a month after it ran, we actually gained half a dozen advertisers who wanted to come aboard, but were afraid to do so after I had written this. In the end, we took a bit of a loss, but not too much.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was unconstitutional, declaring that the act interfered with a woman’s right to choose. The decision was made in San Francisco, well known for its political leftness. It can be seen as the first blow to the Act, another stride toward a place where conservative, male-dominated minds can no longer tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her own body. I suppose this is true.

The ruling does apply only to Planned Parenthood clinics and doctors, and is only one of three lawsuits brought against the Bush-supported legislation signed into law in 2003. New York and Nebraska federal judges have not yet ruled, but their outcomes might be divined by the fact that all three judges – Hamilton included – initially blocked the act from being enforced, though to be truthful, geography will almost certainly play a role in the decisions. Regardless, any decision is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Harvey Johnson Interview (Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi)

I seemed to happier with this piece than most of our readers. I think this was because it was originally planned as one thing, but became another. There really is no one to blame for that; it just happened. I'd been doing a series of interviews on Jackson's Urban Redevelopment. I thought a nifty third part would be talking to the only mayor in history who'd taken an active role in trying to clean up the city. That was the plan. However, we also decided to use the interview to go along with the first issue of a new graphical look, and it was the beginnings of election season. As such, the series was faded into the background and it looked like more of a stand-alone interview. Because of that, I was accused of tossing softball questions at the mayor, which I can't deny. Worse yet, I was a Harvey Johnson supporter, which I won't deny. I wish the interview had come out more like I had originally planned, but I've always been personally pleased with it.

Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson has, in two terms, become one of the most visible mayors in the history of the city. He has elected to take an active role in public education and economic development of the city, pushing to make Jackson the Best of the New South – a city of excellence. Born in Vicksburg, Johnson received his first degree in political science from Tennessee State University and followed that up with a Masters’ Degree in political science from the University of Cincinnati. He has studied toward a doctorate in public administration at University of Southern California’s Washington Public Affairs Center in Washington, DC.
Johnson spent 25 years in the field of planning and community development, served as an assistant professor of political science at Jackson State University, and was a member of the Mississippi State Tax Commission and the Mississippi Gaming Commission. He also served his country as a Captain in the United States Air Force.

Thursday, January 1, 2004

Brian Fuente, Musician (Music Feature)

Brian Fuente is one of Jackson's most talented young musicians. I knew nothing about him before going to listen to him for a writing assignment. I liked him, then became a fan. I wish someone in the business would give him a fair shake. He's really, really good.

Brian Fuente is a happy man. On Friday, January 9th, Hal and Mal’s is hosting his CD release party. Fuente has released his first solo CD independently. The disc, entitled Sky Down Here, is a collection of pop songs that shows off his strong singer/songwriter chops. Backed by Don Morrison on guitar, Joe Partridge on drums, Gabriel Golden on bass, and with an appearance by Rufus Mapp on percussion, Fuente officially puts in a bid to join the recent musical scene dominated by John Mayer, Jason Mraz, and others of the same style.

Sky Down Here is a strong opening bid, with a few songs – “Temporary Sugar,” “Everyday,” “Against Me” – that would not be out of place on any mainstream pop radio station, and with several of a more melancholy, introspective nature – the kinds of songs appreciated both by critics and by fellow musicians. It was recorded at Terminal Recording Studio in Ridgeland and produced by both Fuente and by well-known producer Randy Everett.

Sky Down Here has already been released to the college radio stations in Mississippi. Clinton Kirby, the program manager at WUSM 88.5 in Hattiesburg, says that Fuente is receiving regular airplay on the station and requests for his music come in fairly frequently. He believes Fuente has a future in the business.

"The Politics of Death" (Column)

There are no punchlines with this one.

Death is one of only two things that all persons are guaranteed to experience once in their life, along with birth. Sex isn’t a given, love isn’t a given; pride, hope, joy, happiness, sadness, faith or friendship offer no guarantees that one will ever experience them. Only birth and death are promises always met.

Birth is the overture of life, full of the promise of what has yet come. But death, which comes at the very end, signifies the finality of years or decades of living, turning a once-vital person into memories shared by those around her. Death is the final note of life’s symphony and is, by nature, the more dramatic of the two. And as the most dramatic guarantee life has to offer, it has become arguably the most contentious subject in politics; capital punishment, assisted suicide, abortion, and euthanasia are discussed at every political level and numerous other subjects – stem cell research, disease, drunk-driving laws, and drug addiction all have the idea of death as part of the vast discussions that accompany them.

On very few of those issues do conservatives and liberals agree. Certainly no one in their right mind thinks that drunk driving is a good idea and most everyone supports the government and private industry’s work to eradicate diseases as best they can. But the hot-button issues continue to divide the country and sadly, both sides seem to be rooted in inconsistent thinking.