Tag Archives: Ray Gustini

The Death Of Shabaz Bhatti

Ray Gustini at The Atlantic:

Minority affairs minister Shabaz Bhatti was assassinated Wednesday outside his parents’ house in Islamabad. Bhatti–Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet member–is the second critic of the country’s blasphemy laws to be killed this year. Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer was murdered in January by Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a member of his security detail. Qadri told authorities he killed Taseer because the governor considered the country’s strict blasphemy law a “black law.”

Fasih Ahmed at The Daily Beast:

“Bhatti’s ruthless and cold-blooded murder is a grave setback for the struggle for tolerance, pluralism, and respect for human rights in Pakistan,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, country representative for Human Rights Watch. “An urgent and meaningful policy shift on the appeasement of extremists that is supported by the military, the judiciary and the political class needs to replace the political cowardice and institutional myopia that encourages such continued appeasement despite its unrelenting bloody consequences.”

News of the attack broke shortly before noon. And two hours after his death was confirmed, it was back to business for the country’s boisterous TV channels, which focused instead on the cricket World Cup, political intrigue in the Punjab, and the fate of incarcerated CIA contractor Raymond Davis. Bhatti and Taseer had both advocated reforming the country’s blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse, and both had been declared apostates by the jihadists and tens of thousands of their mainstream supporters. If the celebratory reaction to Taseer’s assassination finally put paid to the notion that Pakistan’s militants are a vocal but fringe group (the Senate refused to offer prayers for Taseer), Bhatti’s seems to confirm growing national fatigue over the blasphemy-laws controversy.

Before they sped off, the assassins dumped pamphlets at the scene of the crime. “This is a warning from the warriors of Islam to all the world’s infidels, Crusaders, Jews and their operatives within the Muslim brotherhood,” it reads, “especially the head of Pakistan’s infidel system, [President Asif Ali] Zardari, his ministers, and all the institutions of this evil system.” This document from the Punjabi Taliban continues: “In your fight against Allah, you have become so bold that you act in favor of and support those who insult the Prophet. And you put a cursed Christian infidel Shahbaz Bhatti in charge of [the blasphemy laws review] committee. This is the fate of that cursed man. And now, with the grace of Allah, the warriors of Islam will pick you out one by one and send you to hell, God willing.”

Gus Lubin at Business Insider:

Al Jazeera has posted a chilling interview from Pakistani Christian Shahbaz Bhatti from before he was assassinated by the Taliban (via @allahpundit).

Bhatti, the federal minister for minorities, had received death threats for supposedly deriding Islam. He said in this interview, “I am ready to die for a cause. I am living for my community and suffering people, and I will die to defend their rights.”

Aryn Baker at Time:

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are a colonial holdover put in place by British administrators seeking to calm the subcontinent’s fractious religious groups. They were sharpened under the reign of dictator Zia ul Haq, who added a clause calling for death to anyone found guilty of slandering the Prophet Mohammad. Since then some 1000 blasphemy cases have been registered. Though roughly half have been applied to religious minorities the others have been registered against muslims, in what is widely assumed to be the pursuit of personal vendettas. In one recent example a schoolboy from Karachi is being held in jail for allegedly writing insults against the on a school exam paper (because repeating what the boy wrote would in itself be considered blasphemy, the accusation  is enough to keep him in detention. Though considering what happened to Taseer, it could also be construed as keeping him safe). In another example, a religious leader and his son have been accused of committing blasphemy because they tore down a poster promoting an upcoming religious conference.

Yet any attempts to amend these laws to stem such abuse has been met with intense outrage by both religious leaders and Pakistani citizens, who hold that the law is divine, and cannot be changed. The blasphemy cases have become a boon for Pakistan’s religious parties, who have seldom done well at the polls. But with the country’s current government on the brink of collapse, religious group may be gambling that the issue of blasphemy could leverage them into power if new elections are called. Their gamble may well pay off. Qadri, Taseer’s assassin, was feted as a hero in Pakistan. In his confession, he said he had been inspired by the teachings of his local mullah Hanif Qureshi, who condemned anyone standing against the blasphemy law, saying they were worthy of death. At a rally a few days later, Qureshi claimed credit for motivating Qadri. “He would come to my Friday prayers and listen to my sermons.” Then he repeated his point: “The punishment for a blasphemer is death.”

Joe Carter at First Things:

Bhatti is the second Pakistani official in the past two months to be killed after publicly opposing the draconian blasphemy laws. How many others in that country will be willing to take his place and speak up for religious freedom?

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Once again, Pakistan is the most dangerous country of the world. It has 100 nuclear weapons and it seems to be slipping into anarchy. No one is sure how much of its military favors the Islamist path. Several Pakistani friends of mine, people closely associated with the government, are despairing. I truly hope that the U.S. has contingency plans for taking control of Pakistan’s nukes if the Islamist coup that everyone fears come to pass (if we don’t, I expect that India won’t be shy about taking military action).

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Af/Pak, GWOT, Religion

Huh, Don’t Trust Someone Named Curveball. Got It.

Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd at The Guardian:

The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war.

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.

“Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right,” he said. “They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.”

The admission comes just after the eighth anniversary of Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations in which the then-US secretary of state relied heavily on lies that Janabi had told the German secret service, the BND. It also follows the release of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s memoirs, in which he admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction programme.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

But I’m particularly interested in two new details he reveals. First, BND and British intelligence met with Curveball’s boss in mid-2000; the boss debunked Curveball’s claims.

Janabi claimed he was first exposed as a liar as early as mid-2000, when the BND travelled to a Gulf city, believed to be Dubai, to speak with his former boss at the Military Industries Commission in Iraq, Dr Bassil Latif.

The Guardian has learned separately that British intelligence officials were at that meeting, investigating a claim made by Janabi that Latif’s son, who was studying in Britain, was procuring weapons for Saddam.

That claim was proven false, and Latif strongly denied Janabi’s claim of mobile bioweapons trucks and another allegation that 12 people had died during an accident at a secret bioweapons facility in south-east Baghdad.

The German officials returned to confront him with Latif’s version. “He says, ‘There are no trucks,’ and I say, ‘OK, when [Latif says] there no trucks then [there are none],’” Janabi recalled.

So this is yet another well-placed Iraqi who warned western intelligence that the WMD evidence that would eventually lead to war was baseless (one George Tenet and others haven’t admitted in the past).

And Curveball describes how BND returned to his claims in 2002, then dropped it, then returned to it just before Colin Powell’s Feruary 5, 2003 speech at the UN.

We’ve known the outlines of these details before. But it sure adds to the picture of the US dialing up the intelligence it needed — however flimsy — to start a war.

Ray Gustini at The Atlantic:

Guardian reporters Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd tracked down Alwan in Karlsruhe, a medium-sized city along the French-German border. They speculate his admission “appeared to be partly a purge of conscience, partly an attempt to justify what he did,” or maybe just a last-ditch attempt “to resurrect his own reputation” in the hopes of moving back to Iraq. They acknowledge Curveball’s attempted “reinvention as a liberator and patriot is a tough sell to many in the CIA, the BND and in the Bush administration, whose careers were terminally wounded” by his fabrications.

Alwan’s motives, not surprisingly, were of little interest to pundits based in those countries that devoted seven years of blood and treasure to the fight in Iraq. “Yet another nail in the coffin of those who claim that the intelligence was clear about the alleged threat,” writes Guardian columnist Carnie Ross. “We should name this process for what it was: the manufacture of a lie.” Wonkette’s Ken Layne echoed the sentiment. “Tell whatever lies you want for whatever ends you desire. That is the lesson.”

Paul Waldman at Tapped:

Things move fast these days, and 2003 can seem like ancient history to some. But given that the run-up to the war in Iraq was the greatest media failure in decades, I thought this would be a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the tears of joy and gratitude that greeted Powell’s U.N. speech. What’s important to keep in mind is that a lot of Powell’s bogus claims were known at the time to be false or baseless, if reporters had bothered to ask around. But they didn’t, because they were so blinded by how awesome Powell was. Think I exaggerate? Let’s take a look back:

“Secretary of State Colin Powell’s strong, plain-spoken indictment of the Saddam Hussein regime before the UN Security Council Wednesday embodies something truly great about the United States. Those around the world who demanded proof must now be satisfied, or else admit that no satisfaction is possible for them.” — Chicago Sun-Times”In a brilliant presentation as riveting and as convincing as Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 unmasking of Soviet missiles in Cuba, Powell proved beyond any doubt that Iraq still possesses and continues to develop illegal weapons of mass destruction. The case for war has been made. And it’s irrefutable.” — New York Daily News

“Only those ready to believe Iraq and assume that the United States would manufacture false evidence against Saddam would not be persuaded by Powell’s case.” — San Antonio Express-News

“The evidence he presented to the United Nations — some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail — had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool — or possibly a Frenchman — could conclude otherwise.” — Richard Cohen, Washington Post

That’s just a small sample, but you see the pattern: Not only was Powell’s show presented as settling the matter of whether Iraq had this terrifying arsenal and would use it on us, but if you didn’t agree, you were either an Iraqi sympathizer or at the very least anti-American. At that point, the debate over whether we would invade was pretty much over — the only question was when the bombs would start falling. It may boggle the mind that so much of the case for war was based on the testimony of one absurdly unreliable guy. But that was what passed for “intelligence” during the Bush years.

Doug Mataconis:

The Germans returned to Janabi in May 2002, just when the propaganda run-up to the Iraq War was beginning. It doesn’t take too much to figure out that this likely occurred at the behest of the United States, which was eager for as much information proving that Saddam Hussein was pursuing a WMD program in violation of UN sanctions as it could find. Despite the fact that he had been previously established as a liar, he was apparently taken seriously and given incentives for sharing as much information as he could come up with. Which he obviously did.

At the same time, there’s no evidence that the United States knew about the problems with Janabi’s credibility, or even that they knew who he was other than “Curveball,” the code name assigned to him by German intelligence. So, absent additional information, this doesn’t strike me as implicating the Bush Administration in Janabi’s lies. What it does demonstrate, though, is the extent to which, during the period from late 2001 through early 2003, the United States was singularly focused on finding any evidence it could to justify war against Iraq to the exclusion of anything to the contrary. Obviously, the Germans, as our allies, picked up on this and provided us with the information we needed. The problem is that nobody in Berlin or Washington seems to have bothered to make any effort  to independently verify what Janabi was saying before deciding to use it as the basis to go to war. And that’s a problem.

So far at least, this story seems to be be drawing very little attention in the blogsphere, and none at all among conservative bloggers. That’s too bad, because the fact that we fought a war based not only on bad intelligence, but on intelligence that was based on evidence provided by someone who was already a known liar strikes me as something that we ought to be concerned about.

Moe Lane:

I probably wouldn’t be on Colin Powell’s Christmas card list, nor he on mine – not for any particular enmity on my part, or (hypothetical) on his; we’re just not the same kind of Republicans – but I have to admit:

Colin Powell, the US secretary of state at the time of the Iraq invasion, has called on the CIA and Pentagon to explain why they failed to alert him to the unreliability of a key source behind claims of Saddam Hussein’s bio-weapons capability.

…I’d like to know the answer to this one myself.  I mean, contrary to Lefty mythology, the liberation of Iraq did not hinge on the presence of WMDs (although I will admit that their proven past existence and use on civilian targets by the late, unlamented-by-civilized-people Hussein regime did make quite a few Democrats at least temporarily capable of being swayed by reason); but the failure to find any in significant amounts after the fact was definitely embarrassing to the Bush administration, and I join former Secretary Powell in wanting to hear the bureaucrats explain themselves.  Because we’re still counting on these people to tell us what the heck is going on, and President Obama needs to be better served by them than former President Bush was.

Leave a comment

Filed under Iraq

Turn Off The Spiderman Musical

Ray Gustini at The Atlantic:

With a history of sending spandex-clad stunt doubles hurtling towards earth and terrible buzz, there was little suspense about how the nation’s top theater critics would review Julie Taymor’s latest musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. On Monday night, they posted their reviews, breaking an embargo that was supposed to last until the show opens on March 15, and it became clear that the true contest was to see which critic could craft the most withering put-down.

Patrick Healy at NYT:

“Spider-Man” has not even officially opened yet. The date has been delayed five times to fix myriad problems, with Sunday afternoon being preview performance No. 66 and the opening planned for Monday night being pushed back five more weeks to March 15. But this $65 million musical has become a national object of pop culture fascination — more so, perhaps, than any show in Broadway history.

Starting with Conan O’Brien’s spoof of Spider-Man warbling in rhyme on Nov. 30, two nights after the musical’s problem-plagued first preview, the show has been lampooned on every major late-night comedy show and by The Onion, which portrayed the producers as still being optimistic about the show despite a nuclear bomb’s detonating during a preview. Recently, Steve Martin slyly referred to it in a series of tweets about watching the “Spider-Man” movies at home.

“Settling in to watch Spiderman 3 on deluxe edition DVD, but I fell from hanging cables in screening room. 2 hour delay,” he wrote.

Media celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Glenn Beck and the hosts of “Morning Joe” have all raved about the musical, especially Mr. Beck, who said in an interview on Friday that he had seen it four times.

Mr. Beck has framed its appeal on his radio broadcast as a face-off between regular Americans and cultural snobs (i.e., liberals). In the interview, however, he was more fanboy than fire breather, rattling off plot points and design elements with the practiced eye of a Sardi’s regular.

“The story line is right on the money for today, which is to be your better self, that you can spiral into darkness or — ” here he quoted one of the show’s anthemic songs — “you can rise above,” said Mr. Beck, who estimated that he sees a dozen shows a year. “In fact, I just wrote an e-mail to Julie” — Ms. Taymor — “about how much I loved the new ending.”

Last month, “Spider-Man” became the first Broadway show since “The Producers” to land on the cover of The New Yorker; the cartoon, by Barry Blitt, who also did “The Producers” cover in 2001, showed several injured Spider-Men in a hospital ward.

“For our cover we always ask ourselves, would our one million readers know what we were making reference to?” said Francoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker. “But in no time at all, ‘Spider-Man’ has gotten enough notoriety that we knew the cover would make people laugh. Even the show’s producers laughed; they’ve been hounding us to buy copies of the artwork.”

Nina Shen Rastogi at Slate:

Reading through the reviews this morning, it became clear that the main character in this drama isn’t Peter Parker—it’s Julie Taymor. Theater directors rarely receive the kind of mainstream attention that their Hollywood brethren do. (Do you know who Daniel Sullivan is?) But in this case, the specter of steely, uncompromising Taymor looms large over the critical discussion.

There’s a reason for this: Spider-Man is very clearly Taymor’s production, stamped with her trademark mix of spectacle and folklore. (She first gained widespread fame for her shadow-puppets-on-the-savannah production of The Lion King.) And she seems to have created a proxy for herself with Arachne, Spider-Man‘s ancient, eight-legged antagonist.

Scott Brown at New York Magazine:

Some of my colleagues have wondered aloud whether Spider-man will ever be finished — whether it is, in fact, finishable. I think they’re onto something: I saw the show on Saturday night, and found it predictably unfinished, but unpredictably entertaining, perhaps on account of this very quality of Death Star–under–construction inchoateness. Conceptually speaking, it’s closer to a theme-park stunt spectacular than “circus art,” closer to a comic than a musical, closer to The Cremaster Cycle than a rock concert. But “closer” implies proximity to some fixed point, and Spider-man is faaaar out, man. It’s by turns hyperstimulated, vivid, lurid, overeducated, underbaked, terrifying, confusing, distracted, ridiculously slick, shockingly clumsy, unmistakably monomaniacal and clinically bipolar.

But never, ever boring. The 2-D comic art doesn’t really go with Julie Taymor’s foamy, tactile puppetry, just as U2’s textural atmo-rock score doesn’t really go with the episodic Act One storytelling. Yet even in the depths of Spider-man‘s certifiably insane second act, I was riveted. Riveted, yes, by what was visible onstage: the inverted Fritz Lang cityscapes, the rag doll fly-assisted choreography, the acid-Skittle color scheme and Ditko-era comic-art backdrops. But often I was equally transfixed by the palpable offstage imagination willing it all into existence. See, Spider-man isn’t really about Spider-man. It’s about an artist locked in a death grapple with her subject, a tumultuous relationship between a talented, tormented older woman and a callow young stud. Strip out the $70 million in robotic guywires, Vari-lites, and latex mummery, and you’re basically looking at a Tennessee Williams play.

Kamelia Angelova at Business Insider:

We loved the show, and here is why we think people will see it:

• Flying is awesome.

There are aerial acrobatics; airborne fight scenes; the actors fly up and land among the audience. The wires are visible but don’t obstruct any of the view or movements of the actors.

• The story is familiar, yet fresh.

It is based on the classic comic books, and the movie, so the audience knows what to expect — nerdy Peter Parker gets bit by a mutating spider and acquires superpowers. After his uncle is killed, he becomes a crusader against crime. And, of course, Peter is in love aspiring actress Mary Jane who is in love with Spiderman.

Spiderman faces off with a bunch of villains, most notably the Green Goblin.

There are only two new story elements that the writers have introduced: the Geek Chorus — four teenagers that are obviously creating/narrating the story of Spiderman that unfolds before our eyes; and a new villain — Arachne, a character from Greek mythology, that tempts Spiderman to give in to his powers and cross over to some abstract dimension to become her boyfriend.

These new elements make Spiderman: The Musical fresh and different that the usual Spiderman adaptation. And who is to complain about an old-fashion love triangle plot?

• The sets are creative.

Unfolding backdrops, huge video screens; most of the set invokes the theme that this is a comic book story. The sets move surprisingly quickly, given how massive and detailed they are.

• The music is by Bono and The Edge.

The songs are very U2 and very rock at times, and it’s loud. As it should be.

• The cast

My favorite were the villains — the Green Goblin and Arachne.

• The choreography

Cool slow motion sequences.

• It’s the most expensive show ever.

With a price tag of $65 million, this is indeed the most expensive Broadway show ever produced — which is another reason why tourists and locals alike would flock to see it and judge it for themselves.

The show needs to make about $1 million a week to break even, and should run about 2-3 years to be profitable. Since the start of the previews in December 2010, Spiderman’s weekly gross earning have been about $1.2 million on average.

So if there are no more injuries, and the production irons out the technical glitches that do occur and are tolerable during previews but will be unacceptable once the show opens, Spiderman should pull through for its investors (who include theater veterans like James Nederlander and Terry Allan Kramer, as well as Disney via its acquisition of Marvel, the franchise for the Spiderman comics.)

Sorry, esteemed Broadway critics, but we are with Glenn Beck on this one.

Brian Clark at Movieline:

And so, while we usually reserve our “Most Scathing Reviews” feature for movies, we’ll make an exception for this Broadway production that seems to wish it was a movie.9. “Never mind turning off the dark. I spent much of this dreadful new musical muttering Please, Lord, make it stop.” — Charles Spencer, The Telegraph

8. “For without a book with consistent rules that a mainstream audience can follow and track, without characters in whom one can invest emotionally, without a sense of the empowering optimism that should come from time spent in the presence of a good, kind man who can walk up buildings and save our lousy world from evil, it is all just clatter and chatter.” — Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune

7. “Spider-Man is chaotic, dull and a little silly. And there’s nothing here half as catchy as the 1967 ABC cartoon theme tune.” — David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

6. “More dispiriting is the music… [Bono and the Edge] transformed their sound into stock Broadway schlock pop—sentimental wailing from the early Andrew Lloyd Webber playbook, winceable lyrics and the kind of thumpa-thumpa music that passes for suspense in action flicks.” — Linda Winer, Newsday

5. “Or wait, maybe the bottom of the barrel is a weird on-the-runway sequence, in which a cadre of second-tier villains with names like Swiss Miss and Carnage do a bit of high-fashion sashaying. In the running, too, is a bizarre military number, as well as the first-act closer, a rip-off of a Rodgers and Hart song. The latter is sung by – get out your score cards – the other main-event evildoer, the Green Goblin, a former scientist played by the talented classical actor Patrick Page.” — Peter Marks, The Washington Post

4. “Who exactly is “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” for anyway? The only answer I can come up with is an audience of Julie Taymor types who care only about panoramic sensibility— a bit of slow-mo choreography here, a smattering of diabolical mask work there. Much as I enjoyed the clever shifts in perspective during the skyscraper scenes, it was hard for me to picture adults or young people yearning for a second visit, never mind critics who may feel obliged to check back in with the production when (or should I say if?) it officially opens. Nothing cures the curiosity about “Spider-Man” quite like seeing it.” — Charles McNulty, The LA Times

3. “After all this expenditure of talent and money, “Spider- Man” is probably unfixable because too much has gone into making humans fly, which is not what they are good at. It imitates poorly what the “Spider-Man” movies do brilliantly with computer graphics — and without putting live actors in jeopardy.” — Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg

2. “This production should play up regularly and resonantly the promise that things could go wrong. Because only when things go wrong in this production does it feel remotely right — if, by right, one means entertaining. So keep the fear factor an active part of the show, guys, and stock the Foxwoods gift shops with souvenir crash helmets and T-shirts that say “I saw ‘Spider-Man’ and lived.” Otherwise, a more appropriate slogan would be “I saw ‘Spider-Man’ and slept.” — Ben Brantley, New York Times

1. “It’s by turns hyperstimulated, vivid, lurid, overeducated, underbaked, terrifying, confusing, distracted, ridiculously slick, shockingly clumsy, unmistakably monomaniacal and clinically bipolar…At this point, I honestly hope they never fix the (non-injurious) glitches: They puncture the show’s pretense and furnish meta-theatrical opportunities that can’t be staged. We’ve had Epic Theater, we’ve had Poor Theater — is this the dawn of Broken Theater?” — Scott Brown, From his review in New York Magazine, which is actually neither negative, positive or even neutral, but seems to sum up the irrationality of the whole enterprise better than any other.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Music

Aqua Buddha A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop

Ray Gustini at The Atlantic with the round-up

Jason Zengerle at GQ:

What’s truly interesting about Rand Paul and Baylor is not the issue of whether or not he graduated; it’s what he did at Baylor during the two-and-a-half years he spent there. As I discovered in the course of reporting a story about Paul for GQ, he wasn’t your typical Baylor student.

Baylor seemed like a natural fit for someone like Paul. Located in Waco, it’s the world’s largest Baptist University and has a long history of educating the children of prominent Texas conservative politicos. As the son of Houston-area Congressman Ron Paul, young Rand—or Randy, as he was known back then—appeared to be following in that tradition. But when Paul showed up in Waco, he didn’t conform to type. According to several of his former Baylor classmates, he became a member of a secret society called the NoZe Brotherhood, which was a refuge for atypical Baylor students. “You could have taken 90 percent of the liberal thinkers at Baylor and found them in this small group,” recalls Marc Burckhardt, one of Paul’s former NoZe Brothers. Sort of a cross between Yale’s Skull & Bones and Harvard’s Lampoon, the NoZe existed to torment the Baylor administration, which it accomplished through pranks and its satirical newspaper The Rope. The group especially enjoyed tweaking the school’s religiosity. “We aspired to blasphemy,” says John Green, another of Paul’s former NoZe Brothers.

And so the NoZe Brothers would perform “Christian” songs like “Rock Around the Cross”; they’d parade around campus carrying a giant picture of Anita Bryant with a large hole cut out of her mouth after the former beauty queen proclaimed oral sex sinful; and they’d run ads for a Waco strip club on the back page of The Rope. In 1978, the Baylor administration became so fed up with the NoZe that it suspended the group from campus for being, in the words of Baylor’s president at the time, “lewd, crude, and grossly sacrilegious.” During Paul’s three years at Baylor, according to former NoZe Brothers, if the administration discovered a student was a member of the NoZe, the punishment was automatic expulsion.

[…]

The strangest episode of Paul’s time at Baylor occurred one afternoon in 1983 (although memories about all of these events are understandably a bit hazy, so the date might be slightly off), when he and a NoZe brother paid a visit to a female student who was one of Paul’s teammates on the Baylor swim team. According to this woman, who requested anonymity because of her current job as a clinical psychologist, “He and Randy came to my house, they knocked on my door, and then they blindfolded me, tied me up, and put me in their car. They took me to their apartment and tried to force me to take bong hits. They’d been smoking pot.” After the woman refused to smoke with them, Paul and his friend put her back in their car and drove to the countryside outside of Waco, where they stopped near a creek. “They told me their god was ‘Aqua Buddha’ and that I needed to bow down and worship him,” the woman recalls. “They blindfolded me and made me bow down to ‘Aqua Buddha’ in the creek. I had to say, ‘I worship you Aqua Buddha, I worship you.’ At Baylor, there were people actively going around trying to save you and we had to go to chapel, so worshiping idols was a big no-no.”

Nearly 30 years later, the woman is still trying to make sense of that afternoon. “They never hurt me, they never did anything wrong, but the whole thing was kind of sadistic. They were messing with my mind. It was some kind of joke.” She hadn’t actually realized that Paul wound up leaving Baylor early. “I just know I never saw Randy after that—for understandable reasons, I think.”

Ben Smith at Politico:

Paul spokesman Jesse Benton didn’t respond directly to Zengerle’s question about the incident; I’ve e-mailed him to ask whether that story is true, and am also trying to reach the accuser.

UPDATE: Benton repeated his non-denial to me in an e-mail, adding: “We’ll leave National Enquirer-type stories about his teenage years to the tabloids where they belong.”

Josh Green at The Atlantic:

I’ll bet they were listening to Rush.

David Kurtz at TPM

Dan Amira at New York Magazine:

Just … wow. Kidnapping, drug use, sacrilege — how could the Paul campaign possibly explain all of this to its many conservative supporters?

Steve Benen:

A lot of folks had some rowdy experiences in college, but I suspect the number of Senate candidates who kidnapped a fellow student, forced her into some bizarre ritual, and worshiped the “Aqua Buddha” is fairly low.

This is, by the way, the same Baylor University that Paul didn’t graduate from, despite some suggestions to the contrary.

In the grand scheme of things, Paul’s radical ideology — he’s the one who opposes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act — is far more relevant than his ridiculous behavior in college. But given the right-wing ophthalmologist’s razor thin public record — he’s never sought or held public office at any level — incidents like these help flesh out a better understanding of Rand Paul’s background.

And as we’re learning, Paul is a weird dude.

Wonkette:

Anti-statist Senate candidatista Rand Paul didn’t actually finish college because he did well on his MCAT and got into Duke Medical School, which is actually sort of “bad-ass.” Now, according to Gentlemen’s Quarterly, it turns out “Randy” Paul was part of a SECRET SOCIETY at Baylor made mostly of LIBRULS who smoked POT and did PRANKS and put out a SATIRICAL NEWSPAPER criticizing the university administration. Nowadays, that sort of thing would segue you into a high-paying management-professional job at your Wonkette, but back then it turned you into an ophthalmologist.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent

Alex Pareene at Gawker

Allah Pundit

Steve Benen

1 Comment

Filed under Political Figures

Roll Over Johann Gutenberg…

Ray Gustini at The Atlantic with a round-up. Gustini:

Amazon announced Monday that, over the past three months, Kindle book sales outnumbered those of hardcover books for the first time in the company’s history. The announcement comes less than a month after the company slashed the price of its flagship e-book reader from $259 to $189 amidst growing competition from Apple’s iPad. So far, the move seems to have paid off–Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said Kindle sales have tripled since the price cut.

Charlie Sorrel at Wired:

As reported by my silver-tongued editor Dylan Tweney over on Epicenter [ED: flattery will get you nowhere], this has accelerated in the last month, with Amazon shifting 180 Kindle copies for every 100 hardbacks, and this is due to the price drop which saw the Kindle go from an expensive $260 to an affordable $190. Breaking the magic $200 mark has caused Kindle sales to rocket. Bezos again: “The growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price from $259 to $189.”

While the “growth rate of unit sales” is far too cryptic a metric to go by (note that the actual sales have not tripled) it shows that people are ready for e-books and e-readers, if they are priced right. It also shows that they completely disregard the big advantage of the paper book: buy it and it is yours. Whereas a Kindle book is pretty much still the property of Amazon, and can be deleted from afar whenever it likes, a paper book can be lent, resold and used to prop up a wobbly table.

The same limitations never held up the iTunes MP3 store, however. And the fact that you can read your Kindle books on almost any platform certainly helps to hide these problems. One thing is certain: with the number of e-book-capable screens we carry around today, it won’t be long before the paperbacks also fall into a minority market.

MG Sielger at TechCrunch:

Amazon also says that it sold three times as many Kindle books in the first half of 2010 as it did in the first half of 2009. The store now has over 630,000 books available for the Kindle. And over 510,000 of those are $9.99 or less — one clear advantage over Apple’s iBookstore, which is more expensive. Plus, Amazon has access to over 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books for the device.

Also interesting is that there have been five authors now that have sold over 500,000 Kindle version of their books: Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts.

Earlier this month, Amazon also announced that an updated version its larger DX model with a better screen and a black frame.

All that said, Amazon is going to have a tough battle competing in hardware with the likes of Apple going forward. The Kindle, while great for reading, still offers only a fraction of what the iPad can do (and even Amazon highlights this). And I suspect another Kindle price cut down to $99 may be coming sometime in the next year. If Apple stays at $499 for the iPad, that should be enough to differentiate itself for a while. Amazon is also smart to offer its Kindle software on devices like the iPad, iPhone, and Android phones. This ensure that Amazon’s future in the book business will remain intact whether or not they’re the ones in charge of the hardware.

Also, why is Amazon issuing press releases about these numbers? They’ve famously shied away from saying much about the Kindle sales in the past. Of course, they weren’t the subject of a weekly “iPad is killing Kindle” story in the past.

Chris Morran at The Consumerist

Jared Newman at Technologizer:

I hope book publishers are encouraged, not frightened, by the news. They should be converting books into electronic form faster than ever to capitalize on the e-reader craze. But they might also liken e-books to paperbacks — both are less profitable than hardcovers — by delaying the digital versions to drum up hardcover sales.

Delaying the digital version of books is a bad move because there’s nothing comparable to hardcovers available in digital form. If publishers want to charge more for new releases — and they can with the agency model, which allows several major publishers to set their own e-book prices — that’s fine. But as Amazon’s latest numbers show, Kindle owners are determined to build their e-book libraries, and publishers should do everything they can not to hold those readers back.

Megan McArdle:

I now have an iPad and a Kindle, and while I think the Kindle reader for iPad is terrific, the device itself is too fragile for many uses, and the shinyness of the screen is a serious problem, because I can’t easily use it outside, or even in front of a big window.  I wouldn’t want to have just one or the other.

And ultimately, I’m not sure how much Amazon cares how much profit it makes on the Kindle–the machine is a way to sell more content, not a profit center on its own.  So far, Apple is trying to pull all of its profit out of the device, not the content stream, but I wonder if that will last.  The more powerful Apple gets, the more disenchanted the hard-core tech fans become.  Meanwhile, they’re getting stronger and stronger competition from devices like the Droid, which may push their margins down the way they pummeled the margins on the Kindle.

If Apple needs to pull more revenue out of its content stream, it will be interesting to watch.  They haven’t positioned themselves as the low-cost or the high-performance provider in that space; everyone I’ve talked to with an iPad reads their books on the Kindle reader, not iBooks.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Technology

Troubled Times At The Times

Howard Kurtz in WaPo:

The Washington Times, which gained a strong foothold in a politically obsessed city as a conservative alternative to much of the mainstream media, is about to become a drastically smaller newspaper.

Nearly three decades after its founding by officials of the Unification Church, the Times said Wednesday it is laying off at least 40 percent of its staff and shifting mainly to free distribution.

In what amounts to a bid for survival, the company said the print edition will focus on its core strengths: politics, national security, investigative reporting and “cultural coverage based on traditional values.” That means the Times will end its run as a full-service newspaper, slashing its coverage of local news, sports and features.

The dramatic move is fueled by both internal church politics and a severe industry downturn that has forced a spate of big-city papers to shut down or declare bankruptcy. It represents a big bet on a digital future, with the Times attempting to chase a national audience while maintaining only a modest print presence in Washington.

The cutbacks are “very sad,” the company’s new president, Jonathan Slevin, said in an interview. At the same time, he said, “I see a very fine opportunity for the Washington Times to continue to advance the mission of the newspaper as an independent voice in the nation’s capital.”

Michael Calderone at Politico:

The notice was given to all 370 staffers to insure that the Times was compliant under the WARN Act, which according to the Dept. of Labor, requires “most employers with 100 or more employees to provide notification 60 calendar days in advance of plant closings and mass layoffs.”

So everyone remains in limbo until told that they’ll be staying on after 60 days. It’s expected that some staffers could be told very soon, with others informed either way later in the 60-day window.

A Times release went out after the meeting began that outlines some of the major changes taking place in the first quarter of 2010.

The news operation, according to the release, will focus on what it considers core strengths — “exclusive reporting and in-depth national political coverage, enterprise and investigative reporting, geo-strategic and national security news and cultural coverage based on traditional values.”

There will be “controlled-market local circulation,” with the local print edition free in certain areas of Washington with a premium price for home delivery. “No-cost distribution will focus on targeted audiences in branches of the federal government as well as at other key institutions,” the release said, although there will be single-copy sales in newspaper boxes and select retailers.

It’s been a tumultuous past month at the paper, and staffers were only informed of the meeting about an hour ahead of time in a one-line e-mail.

Justin Elliott at TPM:

Among the changes to be made gradually through 2010 are: free circulation to targeted groups, an expansion of the Timestheconservatives.com, more partnership with United Press International (UPI), which, like the Times, is owned by the Unification Church.

The turmoil at the Times, which was founded by church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon, began when three executives were fired in early November. The resignation of top editor John Solomon was announced a few days later. Solomon and the fired execs haven’t been talking, but sources and reports point to a combination of Moon family politics and financial problems driving the chaos at the paper, which has long been subsidized by the Unification Church.

Adding to the trouble has been a very public set of allegations made by now-former editorial page editor Richard Miniter, who has accused the Times of religious discrimination and breach of contract.

John J. Miller at National Review:

The free-dropped newspaper is becoming a very crowded space in the nation’s capital. There’s the Washington Examiner, the Express (a condensed version of the Washington Post), Politico, The Hill, and Washington City Paper.

How many free papers can one person read? How many free papers can one city sustain?

Joe Strupp at Editor and Publisher:

Daily circulation had taken a hit in the recent Audit Bureau of Circulations FAS-FAX Report for the six months ending Sept. 30, dropping from 80,962 to 67,148 compared to the same period a year earlier. Slevin said circulation would be reduced further, but did not indicate by how much: “There is still some due diligence we need to do to determine what circulation will result in what advertising revenue.”

But he noted that “more than a simple majority will be no cost, it will be more than half, significantly more than half.”

News coverage will be altered, Slevin said, stating “the newsroom will be smaller and we will focus on our strengths, which are national security, national politics, geo-strategic areas and cultural coverage, in addition to the opinion pages and investigation.”

The overhaul announced this week follows a recent management shake-up in November that included the dismissal of former president and publisher Thomas McDevitt, chief financial officer Keith Cooperrider and chairman Dong Moon Joo, as well as the departure of Editor John Solomon.

Slevin said a new editor may not be appointed, citing the ability of the two current managing editors to run the newsroom. “We are going to have something that is not a traditional news structure,” Slevin said, noting the editor post “is not a spot that necessarily needs to be filled.”

During the upheaval some employees, specifically former Editorial Page Editor Richard Miniter, have claimed Times employees were forced to attend Unification Church religious events. Slevin declined to comment on the issue.

Overall, he called Wednesday a “bittersweet” day. “It was known that a good number of people will no longer be with us,” he said. “But the forward-looking part is that we have a plan by which the paper and the multimedia company will get better.”

UPDATE: Ray Gustini at The Atlantic

1 Comment

Filed under Mainstream