Conceived above a saloon, delivered into this world by a masked man identified by his heavily sedated mother as Captain Video, raised by a kindly West Virginian woman, a mild-mannered former reporter with modest delusions of grandeur and no tolerance of idiots and the intellectually dishonest.


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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Headline of the week:
Humuhumunukunukuapuaa Dethroned in Hawaii

Ralph Kramden devotees held political power in Hawaii?

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Quote of the day

Under current law, it is a crime for a private citizen to lie to a government official, but not for the government official to lie to the people.
Donald M. Fraser

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

50 Most Loathsome People in America

It's that time again, The Beast's list of the prior year's 50 Most Loathsome People in America. Wow. And I thought I was a cynical curmudgeon. This is like Andy Rooney on crystal meth.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Living down to my expectations

NBC has succumbed to pressure from Christian fundamentalists and has dropped The Book of Daniel from its schedule. This Friday at 10, NBC will instead air- surprise, surprise- an episode of Law and Order.

The network originally ordered eight hours of the series; only four have aired. Perhaps NBC will run the series on one of its cable properties. Maybe Bravo, which airs mostly The West Wing reruns and shows with a non-mainstream bent.

Fortunately, for those of you who enjoy their Christianity perverted by hate and distorted interpretations of the scripture, The 700 Club is still available.

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New stuff from Barry

For many years, one of the highlights of ABC's overnight newscast, World News Now, was commentary by comic Barry Mitchell, presented as song parodies he'd sing while accompanying himself on the accordion.

Actually, it's much better than it sounds.

Barry and ABC, alas, parted ways. He used to show up as the Accordion Guy on CNN's Newsnight With Aaron Brown; interesting symmetry, since Brown was also the original co-anchor of World News Now. (Brown was, of course, replaced by Anderson Cooper- who also was a WNN co-anchor and who, with then-producer Jonathan Larson and co-anchor Juju Chang, made a team that presented inspired news comedy unrivaled until Jon Stewart began anchoring The Daily Show.)

Wait a minute. This is about Barry.

Mitchell has his own web site now, where he hones his satirical skills. His newest work, available here, pays a tribute of sorts to ABC's Liz Vargas:

Network anchormen were once the king,
But now there's plenty to choose
Among the Internet and everything,
Like twenty-four/seven cable news
Well to attract younger viewers to ABC
They said two co-anchors makes good TV
Bob Woodruff isn't bad, but the guys agree

Viva Liz Vargas!
Viva Liz Vargas!

Viva Liz Vargas, a working mother,
She's perfect for a modern anchor role
Viva Liz Vargas, a hot Latina
Who doesn't even habla Español

Podcast platforms are the latest craze,
Consumers want their headlines to go
But young viewers stay informed these days
By watching Jon Stewart's Daily Show
Well now Anderson Cooper knows how to dress
And Brian Williams is ok, I guess
But even if Katie goes to CBS

Viva Liz Vargas!
Viva Liz Vargas!
Viva, Diva, Liz Vargas!

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Quote(s) of the day

(Special football edition...)

Sharks are as tough as those football fans who take their shirts off during games in Chicago in January, only more intelligent.
-Dave Barry

Baseball players are smarter than football players. How often do you see a baseball team penalized for too many men on the field?
-Jim Bouton

When I played pro football, I never set out to hurt anyone deliberately... unless it was, you know, important, like a league game or something.
-Dick Butkus

Pro football is like nuclear war. There are no winners, only survivors.
-Frank Gifford

Football players, like prostitutes, are in the business of ruining their bodies for the pleasure of others.
-Merle Kessler

Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it's important.
-Eugene McCarthy

Baseball is what we were, and football is what we have become.
-Mary McGrory

The pride and presence of a professional football team is far more important than 30 libraries.
-Art Modell

Football is a mistake. It combines two of the worst things about American life. It is violence punctuated by committee meetings.
-George F. Will

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Monday, January 23, 2006

If you thought the story about the kid going to Baghdad sounded a bit fishy,

You may be right:

Baghdad Boy
What was really behind Farris Hassan's trip to Iraq? Ask his father, who has a fascinating and checkered past.
By Bob Norman
Broward-Palm Beach New Times

The media pined for Baghdad Boy last Tuesday night. Six satellite television trucks jammed the teen's usually quiet street near Las Olas on the Intracoastal. About 40 reporters and crew members mulled about the front yard of his mother's mansion with the TV lights on and the microphones ready.

What would he say? How would Farris Hassan, the 16-year-old Pine Crest student who had made a dangerous sojourn to Iraq over the holidays, explain himself? He'd already made headlines from Pascagoula to Pakistan. Would this be Baghdad Boy's first news conference?

Burly, and momentarily surly, CNN correspondent John Zarrella didn't seem to expect much. He muttered to no one in particular, "I'm standing here for nothing."

That was after he'd been waiting more than an hour. Farris had already stood them up the night before, saying he needed to study for a calculus test. Another hour went by with nothing. And the idle time led to a lot of idle speculation. Peering at the ten-foot-high wooden doors leading into the stately home, one NBC crewman remarked that the $4 million digs reminded him of other gaudy buildings he'd seen.

"This place looks like one of Saddam Hussein's palaces," he said. "When he opens the door, we're going to see the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the background. The kid should come out in camos and one of those berets."

Behind him, neighbors gathered. One said she'd heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that big news was soon going to break about Farris.

"This story doesn't make sense," she said. "Someone very close to the family said his father had gotten into all kinds of trouble over terrorism in New Orleans and the kid was really going over there to join al Qaeda."

Al Qaeda? Terrorism? It couldn't be true. After all, the headlines across the globe showed that Farris' hazardous trip was a "quest for knowledge" and that he went to Iraq to "promote democracy."

He was just a boy with a dream.

Unfortunately, nothing is ever that simple when it comes to the Iraq War and the Middle East. Although an al Qaeda mission doesn't seem realistic, there are some disturbing questions about Farris Hassan's journey that have been left happily unanswered by the swarming, yelping media seals. And most of them center on his father, Dr. Redha Hassan, a 57-year-old anesthesiologist who does indeed have a rather shady past that we'll explore a bit later.

First, though, it seems to me that Dr. Hassan, who didn't respond to my requests for an interview, should be charged with child endangerment. The man admitted that he arranged for his son's flight into Baghdad through "political connections" even though he knew foreigners like Farris were targeted for kidnappings and, potentially, beheadings.

His excuse for facilitating his son's trip into a war zone was that if he didn't let him go, it would have left an emotional scar. What a sensitive father, willing to risk his son's being cut ear to ear just to save him from disappointment.

We all know now that Farris is a spoiled rich kid, but that excuse is ridiculous. And it gets even more unbelievable when you consider that Dr. Hassan was suspected by the federal government of conspiring to commit terrorism 20 years ago. Didn't hear about that one? Probably because it hasn't been reported, at least not in all its weird glory. You see, the FBI arrested Dr. Hassan back in 1985 after he tried to manufacture thousands of false Iraqi passports and military identification cards. The doctor's capture happened in Fort Lauderdale, but the covert web of Hassan's cohorts stretched across the world. Also arrested were two of Hassan's brothers, Nouri and Ali, and a "pro-Khomeini" activist named Salah Jawad Schubber.

At the time, the ayatollah's country was at war with Saddam Hussein, whom Hassan apparently had good reason to hate. He has claimed that a brother was murdered by the imprisoned dictator and that he was involved in a resistance movement against Saddam when he was Farris' age.

In other words, the good doctor was radicalized, which makes his alliance with pro-Iranian Shiite Muslims understandable. The problem is that, at the time, the United States was in cahoots with Saddam and considered Iran one of its bitterest foes. And that may be one reason why the FBI took Dr. Hassan's covert and apparently illegal activities very seriously.

The investigation began after the FBI received a tip from Redha Hassan's next-door-neighbor, a printing store owner named Joel Feinstein. Hassan had asked Feinstein, who now lives in retirement in Pompano Beach, if he would make the passports and IDs. In all, he wanted 4,000 fake documents.

"He said, 'They're for my family,'" recalls the 71-year-old Feinstein. "I said, 'You must have a big family. '"

Feinstein notified the FBI and within an hour had two agents sitting at his kitchen table. He agreed to work as an informant in the investigation, though to this day, he still doesn't know exactly how Hassan planned to use the fake papers. "I figured they would try to get into the country to get into military installations in Iraq to get sensitive information or blow them up," he says. "The investigation went to Europe and around the world."

The bust occurred in Feinstein's house one morning after an unidentified man flew from Europe to South Florida to take a look at the documents.

"There must have been 20 or 30 agents who plowed into the house with rifles, shotguns, automatic weapons," Feinstein remembers. "It was unreal. They arrested everybody."

He said that his FBI handlers told him the investigation led to the breakup of a plot to assassinate Rajiv Ghandi, then India's prime minister. While such plots were common (Ghandi was killed by a suicide bomber in 1991), I couldn't find independent verification of that allegation, though there is no reason to suspect Feinstein of lying.

The State Department clearly suspected that Hassan had terrorism on his mind.

"Any time you have people trying to obtain fake passports, the possibility of terrorism raises its head," a government spokesman said after Hassan's arrest.

The charges, however, were later dropped, and Hassan was allowed to continue living and practicing medicine in the United States.

"The FBI got Hassan to work with them," Feinstein says. "They sat him down and scared the shit out of him."

If Feinstein is correct, Hassan has been in the employ of the U.S. government. But with the hated Hussein out of power, where does the doctor stand now?

Well, he's sounding to me a lot like the South Florida version of Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile and leader of the self-styled Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi, a convicted bank embezzler, had close Pentagon ties and spread lies to help encourage popular support for the war. After that, he was accused of spying on behalf of the Iranian government. Today, he seems to be back in America's good graces and was named Iraq's oil minister this past spring. The Iraqi people, however, largely despise him, as evidenced by his abysmal showing in the recent Iraqi election. Preliminary returns show that he failed to win election to the new Parliament and that his Iraqi National Congress was shut out across the land, winning only half of 1 percent of the vote.

Like Chalabi, Dr. Hassan has a dubious past and unsettling ties to Iran. But what about the propaganda? That's where his son Farris comes into the picture. Before leaving for Iraq, the Young Republican sent out an e-mail to friends that began: "There is a struggle in Iraq between good and evil, between those striving for freedom and liberty and those striving for death and destruction... Those terrorists are not human but pure evil."

Ah, the robotic parroting of the architects of the war, the utter lack of intelligent analysis, the mind-numbing repetition of the e word... Dick Cheney couldn't have put it better.

I asked the boy's Baghdad-born mother, Shatha Atiya, if her son might be taking on the radical tendencies of his father. Atiya, a tall and striking 48-year-old psychologist who divorced Dr. Hassan in 1999, seemed horrified by the suggestion.

"Nobody should ever confuse Farris' simplicity and naivete with something that happened with his father 20 years ago," she told me.

I asked her, on a whim, if her ex-husband is linked to the CIA. She laughed. "I'm not going to talk about him," she said. "You'll have to ask him yourself."

That's one of many questions that will have to go unanswered for now. One reason for that is Farris never showed last Tuesday night, proving Zarrella right. Instead, he gave an exclusive interview to MSNBC that aired Monday and Tuesday nights. In it, he basically admitted that his father knew about his travel plans and offered that, while in Lebanon, he'd visited the offices of the Islamist group Hezbollah, which has carried out countless terrorist acts.

"With each group of persons I immersed myself, I changed my persona," he told interviewer Rita Cosby. "When I was with Christians, I told them that I was a Lebanese Christian, an American Christian, and my name was Jason.

"And when I met with the Hezbollah leader... I told [him] that I work for a school newspaper and that I wanted to show Americans that Hezbollah is, in fact, a good organization that's fighting for the Shiite people in Lebanon."

So the kid's a chameleon and, apparently, a born liar. I wonder what role he was playing while immersed with Rita Cosby. Oh yeah, it was the idealistic rich American boy who played hooky from school to promote democracy.

Forget journalism. This kid's got a future with the CIA.

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Quote of the day

I'm an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.
-Raymond Chandler

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Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow is January 24

No one know depression like the English, and Cardiff University's Dr. Cliff Arnall is an expert on the subject, or knows how to serve up morsels of pseudoscience upon which the jaded media will jump like a jackal on a rotting carcass.

Arnall claims tomorrow is the most depressing day of the year, using a formula that somehow assumes human emotional states can be represented mathematically and which- surprise, surprise- confirms his assertion.

The formula is:

[W+(D-d)]TQ M NA

In addition to providing a lame graphic that can be inserted in a series of stock shots of teeming masses under gray skies, people drinking and smoking in bars, and weather-induced traffic jams, this morsel for the mathematically illiterate defines W as the weather; D as debt; d the amount of your next paycheck; T the time since Christmas; Q the time since you failed keeping a New Year's resolution; M your general motivational level; and NA the need to take action to have something to look forward to.

Dr. Cliffy interviewed a thousand people attending stress management classes. Now there's a nice core group on which to base a study gauging emotional stability. Rupert Murdoch's Sky TV paid for the research, apparently to have one of those insipid feature stories on which television new producers like to end their broadcasts, so the anchors can all have a chuckle before heading off to the local pub to try to drown the unbearable ennui that consumes their vapid lives.

God, I'm depressed. And it's only January 23.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Quote of the day

"We need to keep it in perspective. It's a very, very important game, but it's not the be all and end all of everything. The city better get its act together regardless; I'm talking politically, with its business leaders, its religious leaders, everybody's got to get back to work."
-Dan Rooney (quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 23, 2005)

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So there.  
The kgb@kgb.com e-mail address is now something other than kgb@kgb.com saga.
kgbreport.com used to be kgb.com until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up kgb.com and adopting kgbreport.com created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the kgb.com domain name in 1993, and had since that time used kgb@kgb.com as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that kgb@kgb.com was no longer kgb@kgb.com but rather kgbarkes@gmail.com which is longer than kgb@kgb.com and more letters to type than kgb@kgb.com and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than kgb@kgb.com but actually just as functional as kgb@kgb.com? I sent e-mails from the kgb@kgb.com address to just about everybody I knew who had used kgb@kgb.com in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the kgb@kgb.com change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which kgb@kgb.com was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for kgb@kgb.com would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that kgb@kgb.com no longer is the kgb@kgb.com they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. kgb@kgb.com. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...

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