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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: October 1-November 4, 2006

Thursday, October 12, 2006:

Remember that asinine post on the Alternative Tentacles website shortly after September 11, 2001, that began, "Many people have written in asking what Jello thinks about the terrorist attacks"? That got some attention, didn't it?

Many people have written into Desiccant Records: Do Not Eat! asking what Chris Willie Williams thinks about the Mark Foley scandal.

Chris Willie Williams does not especially care about the Mark Foley scandal.

Given that we've now killed over 650,000 Iraqi civilians for no reason, my Social Security number is being broadcast on Jumbotrons across the land, and I suspect Jeffrey Poseur Sebelia may win Project Runway next week, I don't have a lot of indignation left over for Mark Foley.

I can, however, spare some indignation for Ben Stein. He's been going off recently about how hypocritical Democrats (pejoratively referring to them as "the party of gays") are by calling attention to the whole Foley thing and, presumably, by calling for Dennis Hastert's ousting. He claims this is hypocrisy since Democrats (and, we can infer, liberals at large) continue to sing Bill Clinton's praises despite his extramarital blowjob. That's a load of crap, which is disappointing, as I've previously had a fondness for Stein. Even when he bizarrely rampaged against Mark Felt twenty years after the fact, I could see his loyalty to Nixon as backwardly charming. It's kind of like how I contend that Roxette were talented despite all evidence to the contrary. I know I'm not alone when I say that Stein will always have a place in my heart because of his iconic role in Ferris Bueller, and furthermore, Win Ben Stein's Money not only proved that he's a bonafide smartie, but was a genuinely entertaining show. (This has more to do with Jimmy Kimmel than Ben himself, but Ben's in the title, so he deserves some credit.) But his recent remarks have ensured that I will never buy Clear Eyes optical lubricants or rent Honeymoon in Vegas. Let's talk about it.

For sake of argument, I'll grant Mr. Stein a similarity between Foley's situation and Clinton's. As has been widely emphasized lately, the age of consent in Washington DC is 16, so Foley's cyberfun didn't mean he was contributing to the moral decay of an underage boy or anything, legally. The situation is certainly gross- not because of the homosexual component, of course, but in the same way that Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are just gross- and exploitative as well, but if the pages were legal, I'm honestly not outraged. No actual sex occurred, and plenty of 16-year-olds are having consensual sex anyway. Even in schools with abstinence-only sex ed! No, seriously! It happens all over the place, and as long as no one feels violated, I don't care. I know lots of people who willingly had sex at 16, and by the unscientific anecdotal evidence I've compiled, the ratio of those who regret it to those who remember the experience fondly is about the same as that for any 18-plus sexual encounter. So whatever. I don't approve of what Foley did, but I haven't necessarily approved of each of my friends' romantic choices either, and that doesn't mean they're objectively wrong.

(I should pause to note that I am not comparing any of my friends to Mark Foley.)

Anyhow. Foley's icky, but not technically a pedophile. Even the fact that he was reportedly engaging in some softcore cybering while officially participating in a congressional roll call strikes me as more funny than maddening. I'd be lying if I said that I don't sometimes have Cute Overload open in the background while I'm working on meeting minutes at work, so if Foley wants to engage in some manner of online hijinks on the clock, who am I to rebuke him? He and Clinton both did sex-related things while serving (heh heh) the public, and I think it's none of my business in each case as long as they can argue that it didn't affect their work.

Now that we've established that the Clinton-Lewinsky and Foley-toddler incidents are equal for our purposes, let's address Stein's accusations of hypocrisy. Stein's argument seems to be (and he's welcome to correct me if he wishes) that there's no need to keep going on and on about this scandal, particularly since Foley immediately stepped down, came out of the closet, and ducked into the safety of rehab when these reports were published.

I think Stein's assertion is completely at odds with the actual issue. Observe:

Foley's gone. Out of Congress. His continuing presence as a representative for Florida constituents is a non-issue. Yet some people aren't letting the scandal's reverberations dissipate. The majority of these people are to the left of the political spectrum, but as the Washington Times editorial linked above proves, this is not exclusively the case. Lots of people still think that Speaker of the House should resign or be drummed out of office because Hastert didn't do anything when he was first alerted to Foley's activities. Does this mean you're a hypocrite if you opposed Clinton's impeachment for a similar offense, but are in favor of Hastert getting the boot? I don't think so. In my opinion, the Hastert situation simply means that those of us who thought the Ken Starr investigation of Clinton was an unconscionably expensive witch hunt are now calling the bluff of the Republicans and conservatives (largely) who supported it.

Even nearly six years after Clinton left office, there are plenty of people who demonize him because of the Lewinsky scandal. Republicans who've made my acquaintance, at least one of whom I actually respect, have argued that he was a horrible president solely because of that issue. Some felt he was thoroughly and irretrievably immoral because of it, some merely felt that the issue was embarrassing to our nation, but whatever their reasons, they feel the Clinton presidency was a wash because he whipped out his pasty, erect member and fucked an intern's soft, pink mouth.

It's kind of disgusting to put it that way, isn't it?

Not a nice image to have in your head.

I apologize for making you think about it, but now that you are... is the momentary revulsion so bad that it cancels out eight years of a strong economy, a low unemployment rate, a low crime rate, and a complete lack of unilateral invasions that piss off the entire planet?

I don't think so either.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of people for whom that image is apparently a deal-breaker. These people apparently think that any sexual act outside the marriage bed is the worst thing a person can do- not just to that person's family, but to 300 million Americans. No matter what your accomplishments may be, if you have sex outside of marriage, you deserve to be impeached if not imprisoned.

With that in mind, I think that the reaction of the left to Dennis Hastert's role in the scandal is not hypocrisy, but a demand that the right-wingers described in the previous paragraph put their money where their, er, mouth is. Hastert was clearly complicit in Mark Foley's sexual acts that did not take place within a heterosexual marriage; Hastert could've shut Foley down long ago, but didn't. Therefore, by the "logic" that says the sexual activities of our elected officials are clearly more important than any activities that actually involve policy, shouldn't Hastert get the heave-ho? (That's to say nothing of the rampant homophobia of the Republican Party, which should further damage Hastert's standing among their kind if they're to claim any kind of consistency. He allowed man-on-man action right under his nose!)

The left already wants Hastert gone because of his wide-reaching idiocy rather than because of anything having to do with sex. That is, I want him gone because he's an asshole, not because he didn't try to stop Foley from coming onto boys. I don't care a whit about the latter. Regardless of whether the right's motives are the same, though, shouldn't there have been a near-unanimous call for his resignation by this point? It's not hypocrisy to bring this up, Ben Stein; it's demanding consistency rather than ad hominem demagoguery from the GOP. Your fucking move.

CURRENT MUSIC: Air's Late Night Tales mix.
Indignant. Dammit, they tricked me!
Did Owen Gleiberman leave Entertainment Weekly? Why hasn't he written any reviews for, like, a month?
7:57 PM.

Doot? | |

Tuesday, October 10, 2006:

(Clockwise from left: Ian Allcock with camera, Mark Prindle with Black Flag T-shirt, Andrew R. with Artbomb T-shirt, Chris Willie Williams with Pernice Brothers shirt, passed out drunk on the floor.)
(Photo taken 2002, courtesy Mark Prindle.)

When I graduated high school in 1998, I don’t remember feeling a sense of any particular accomplishment, nor of any great optimism for the future. I just remember a feeling of relief that I was officially beyond the reach of the Troy School District crew, who (apart from certain teachers I remember fondly) had made my education thoroughly miserable over the previous 13 years. I know it sounds ugly and self-centered to say this, since I was lucky enough not to attend a violence-plagued and underfunded inner-city school or anything, and I admit that I had an insufferably shitty attitude myself through much of the process. Furthermore, there may not be anything unique about the district’s infuriating policies among Midwestern public schools (indeed, there probably isn’t, if Elinor Burkett’s fine book Another Planet: A Year in the Life of a Suburban High School is any indication), but I still count my K-12 experience as a tremendously unpleasant and largely counterproductive one for a number of reasons, and the point is that I became a far happier guy once I knew the Troy school system could no longer touch my life.

Another, more relevant point is that I was wrong about this.

T-Bone sent me an e-mail this morning with a link to a Detroit News article clumsily titled “Lost Data Riles Athens Grads.” It seems someone at Troy Athens High School, from which he and I graduated, left a computer containing the confidential transcripts of 4,400 former students sitting in the hallway while the place was being renovated over the summer. The article doesn’t state whether Troy School District officials also left hundred-dollar bills sticking out of all available ports before dipping the computer in delicious milk chocolate and leaving it beneath a giant banner depicting the Cookie Crisp Cookie Crook saying, “Attention, fellow thieves!” but it wouldn’t surprise me.

At any rate, the computer’s hard drive was pilfered, to use a Carmen Sandiego word, putting the transcripts and Social Security numbers of Athens graduates between 1994 and 2004 in someone’s nefarious clutches. (I’m picturing the transcripts as 4,400 of those harmless little oysters from the Alice in Wonderland cartoon, who sit all trusting and happy before the walrus slurps them up. This is because the Lexapro does nothing for my brain’s tendency toward hyperbolic imagery.) This all happened in August. Naturally, the Troy School District waited until October 5 to send notification letters to alumni. In the above article, Superintendent Barbara Fowler is quoted as defending the school district’s decision to wait two months after the theft to tell anyone by saying, “We had a lot of due diligence to do. … We wanted to make sure we had all our ducks in a row before sending out a letter.”

I certainly hope she’ll “step up” and “think outside the box” to come up with a solution that “speaks to” our concerns.

Failing that, however, 1999 Athens graduate Nick Britsky has registered the domain www.troyathenssucks.com (which my friends and I totally would’ve done ten years ago if we’d thought of it) to host a petition demanding that the Troy School District, at the very least, pay for five years’ worth of periodic credit monitoring for the affected alumni. Britsky himself will apparently be meeting with the District on Wednesday, so I think this specific online petition has somewhat better odds of success than your average “Ban 'Bonsai Kitten'!” or “Bring Back Wagon Train!” e-chain letter.

[Sidebar: If anyone reading this thinks she may have been affected by the theft, Britsky’s site recommends calling the national credit bureaus and placing a 90-day fraud alert on your personal credit report. I called Equifax’s fraud alert number this morning—1-800-525-6285—and they helpfully informed me that they would issue an alert with the other two major credit bureaus, TransUnion and Experian, themselves. Not that I expect this journal has a huge following among Athens graduates, since I went out of my way to alienate most of my peers upon graduation, but I figured I’d pass this information along just in case.]

Honestly, I’m not feeling worried about the theft so much as I’m feeling incensed. A few months ago, when I was researching identity theft for the senior citizens’ workshops I was designing (on identity theft prevention, not implementation), I came to the conclusion that it’s really not difficult to do all you can do to defend yourself against such fraud. At one lecture I attended, Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe said, “If you don’t feel safe, you’re not safe,” and I disagree with that. It’s easy to become paranoid about the possibility if you listen to those ubiquitous Citibank ads or those rare Dateline NBC segments that don’t have to do with online sexual predators, but as long as you follow some simple rules like not giving out personal information during phone calls you didn’t initiate, you can easily minimize your risk.

However, it’s impossible to guard against other people’s stupidity. No matter how careful you may be, there are times when you will need to share, say, your SSN because it does exist to be used for certain purposes. (Sorting you by race, for instance.) (Kidding.) Once the number is out of your hands, you have to assume that the person or organization to whom you’ve given it will take reasonable measures to keep it private. You have to assume that file cabinets will be locked, temps will be screened, computers will not be accessible to all and sundry. (Emphasis mine.) I’m not saying that every orthodontist’s office needs to employ Pentagon-level encryption of their patient files, but you as a citizen have a right to expect a certain level of precaution and discretion from organizations with whom you are required to share personal information. To my mind, that assumption seems fundamental to our nation functioning properly nowadays, because you have no choice but to trust these people. That's why organizations like Amazon spend so much money and time ensuring their data collection is secure; one leak, and they'll forever be seen as disreputable. Like the Troy School District.

I’m going to tempt fate and reiterate that I’m not feeling especially worried right now, because I feel the odds of some no-goodnik doing something truly bad with illegally-obtained information about me are slim, and I’ve taken the steps I can take to prevent that already. (I could’ve taken them sooner if the Troy School District hadn’t sat on the news of its disappearance for two damn months, but still.) From this day forward, though, there will always be a tiny kernel of discomfort in the back of my mind, because as my brother’s friend Paul Nagy said in the Detroit News article, it could be years before someone makes a nasty move with whatever data they’ve obtained. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible, and that’s an unpleasant, uncertain, and unfair notion to plant in the heads of 4,400 people who placed their trust in you.

So thanks, Troy School District, for letting some negligent, incompetent fool in your employ validate my bitterness. Thanks for throwing another neurosis on my pile so late in the game, for old time’s sake. Appreciate it.

CURRENT MUSIC: Something/Anything by Todd Rundgren (I’m taking the CosmicReviews challenge and rather enjoying it).
CURRENT MOOD: Furiousick.
CURRENT MORE MINOR ANNOYANCE: If the manufacturers of the Tweeze hair yanker want it to be pronounced “tweezee,” why the hell don’t they spell it “Tweezee”?
TIME: 6:11 PM.

Doot? | |

Sunday, October 1, 2006:

Yesterday morning, I'd planned on attending an anti-war rally at the Bangor Waterfront, but was feeling oddly peaceful in a way that an anti-war rally couldn't help but disrupt, so I skipped it. I changed course and took a nice drive out to Bull Moose to pick up the new Electric Six and Sparklehorse records.

A red light forced me to spend a couple minutes idling next to the street team of some Congressional hopeful: about ten people wearing their candidate's T-shirt and waving signs around with his name on them. I guess they were trolling for name recognition rather than an informed electorate, because none of them was distributing literature or chanting anything more informative than "Woo!" and the shirts and signs offered no information about the candidate's platform or even his party affiliation. I've forgotten his name already, so well done, candidate!

There's been a lot of clueless advertising in the Bangor area during this election season. Those of you who know me well know that the television is never turned off, so I don't think I've missed any big ad pushes or anything, and it's been giving me headaches because the good movements and candidates have totally been screwing the pooch. Incumbent Republican Senator Olympia Snowe has been plastering her mug (and strange, part-free hair) all over the airwaves, and Democratic nominee Jean Hay Bright has seemingly done nothing to catch up. Opponents of the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment (a horribly shortsighted tax cap based on a bogus mathematical formula that will result in sliced funding for education, elder services, health care, public safety, etc.) have come up with only one commercial I've seen: an uninformative and jokey spot featuring a box marked "TABOR" being dropped in Maine by a cowboy, who quickly absconds. It's lame and, frankly, nearly as grating as those Head On commercials.

Even incumbent Democratic Governor John Baldacci hasn't made himself a presence, instead seemingly taking himself out of the discourse while the Maine Democratic Party runs attack ads against conservative gubernatorial candidate (and punchline waiting to happen) Chandler Woodcock. This last may not be an entirely bad strategy, since Baldacci's approval rating is one of the lowest in the country and Woodcock is far enough to the right that the Democratic Party's ads are successfully tying him to Bush's insane policies. Furthermore, Woodcock is a hilariously poor speaker, so he may well hang himself before the election (at work, we watched an AARP-sponsored "meet the candidates" video in which Woodcock answered the question, "Do you support increased funding for community- and state-based elder services?" by saying, "I applaud health care workers!"). So I can understand Baldacci's desire to stay out of the spotlight and let his opponent self-destruct, but when you're more apt to see a commercial for the Green Party candidate than the incumbent governor's re-election, that governor runs the risk of seeming less than forceful in his campaign.

Of course, if the level of campaigning has fallen to that of groups of overenthusiastic loiterers waving signs around on street corners like cheerleaders trying to entice gross middle-aged men to get their car washed, maybe the Dems aren't doing such a bad job this season after all. Still, there's plenty of time to change people's minds before the election, so I hope they get it in gear.

Turned out my peaceful, easy feeling was just the prelude to a soul-eating headcold, too. Oh well.

CURRENT MUSIC: The Outsider by DJ Shadow.
7:11 PM.

Doot? | |

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