(Copyright 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)


Subject: Article: Frederick's of Riyadh
Date: Sun, 10 Nov 2002 10:45:19 -0500 (EST)

November 10, 2002

Frederick's of Riyadh


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia " I had been wanting to catch a glimpse of the mutawwa, the bully boys from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice who go around harassing and arresting Saudis in the name of Islam. But since I grew up with "I Dream of Jeannie" and tales of Aladdin's lamp, I should have known that Arabia is not the place to make wishes lightly.

The religious police were reputed to look angry and have long, scraggly beards, and to clean their teeth with a tree root called miswak. They had been so out of control lately that Prince Naif, the interior minister, cautioned them last week to show tolerance, respect the sanctity of private homes and stop spying on people.

This kingdom is a thicket of unfathomable extremes. Frederick's of Hollywood-style lingerie shops abound, even though female sexuality is considered so threatening that the mere sight of a woman's ankle will cause civilization to crumble. As one cleric put it, women can become "the most dangerous weapon of destruction" for Islamic nations.

Saudi Arabia has some remarkable women, but you won't find them helping to run the country; the toilet seats at the Foreign Ministry are routinely left up.

On Wednesday at 11:30 p.m., I walked to the mall connected to my hotel to verify that there is a "women only" lingerie section in Harvey Nichols. (The first wife of Muhammad, who did not seem to mind high-achieving women, was a merchant; during Ramadan, trade is encouraged and stores stay open past midnight.)

My dinner companion, Adel al-Jubeir, went with me. The smooth Georgetown-educated spokesman for the Saudis has been the kingdom's point man on the Sunday talk shows, trying to repair its friendship with America after 9/11. The three-story mall was so chockablock with designer stilettos, bondage boots, transparent blouses and glittering gowns with plunging necklines that it would have made Las Vegas blush.

I felt drab, dressed in black to suit Saudi standards with a scarf over my hair, a long skirt, a sweater over a T-shirt and flats. An earlier outing with a pink skirt had caused my Ministry of Information minder to bark: "Get your abaya! They'll kill you!"

I made some notes on Harvey Nichols's lingerie apartheid " racks of sheer zebra and leopard Dolce & Gabbana nighties and lacy Donna Karan items " and Mr. Jubeir and I headed back to the hotel. Suddenly, four men bore down on us, two in white robes, one in a brown policeman's uniform and one in a floor-length brown A-line skirt (not a good look). They pointed to my neck and hips, and the embarrassed diplomat explained that I had been busted by the vice squad.

"They say they can see the outline of your body," he translated. "They say they welcome you to the mall, which is a sign of our modernity, but that we are also proud of our tradition and faith, and you must respect that." The police took my passport and began making notes about the crime, oblivious to the irony of detaining me in front of the window of another lingerie shop displaying a short lacy red slip.

I figured they'd shrink away upon learning that Mr. Jubeir's boss was Crown Prince Abdullah. But they didn't. I thought I'd catch a break because I'm an American Catholic, not a Muslim. I didn't. Apparently, the mutawwa are not on board with the Saudis' multimillion-dollar charm offensive to persuade America that the kingdom is not a hotbed of hostile religious zealots.

Mr. Jubeir asked whether I'd "placate" the mutawwa by putting on an abaya from a nearby shop. I'd had to wear one of the macabre, hot black shrouds that day to see the crown prince, and I was loath to get shrouded up again to walk a few yards.

After the men argued for 15 minutes, I fretted that I was in one of those movies where an American makes one mistake in a repressive country and ends up rotting in a dungeon. I missed John Ashcroft desperately. The Saudis, after all, have been fighting with the U.N. Committee Against Torture so they can keep using flogging and amputation of limbs as disciplinary measures.

Finally, the mutawwa agreed to let me go, appeased by the promise that I would soon be leaving Saudi Arabia. A relieved scofflaw, I was left to ponder a country at a turning point, a society engaged in a momentous struggle for its future, torn between secret police and secret undergarments.

                           Copyright The New York Times Company   ##

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Subject: Article: The Boomers' Crooner
Date: Sun, 24 Nov 2002 23:19:47 -0500 (EST)

November 24, 2002

The Boomers' Crooner


A gaggle of my girlfriends are surreptitiously smitten with Eminem. They buy his posters on eBay. They play him on their Walkmen at the gym. They sing along lustily to "Cleanin' Out My Closet" and "Lose Yourself" in the car. They rhapsodize that his amazing vignettes of dysfunctional families make him the Raymond Carver of hip-hop.

They crowd into movie theatres along with teenage boys in watch caps, and then insist that Eminem's rapping his way out of a Detroit car factory in "8 Mile" is way hotter than Jennifer Beals's dancing her way out of the Pittsburgh steel mill in "Flashdance."

They put off helping their kids with homework so they can watch the rapper's trailer-park mom being interviewed on "Primetime Live."

"My 11-year-old daughter is repulsed that I like him," a friend says, as her daughter chimes in that mom is "psychotic and weird." Mothers, the little girl explains, are not supposed to like people who talk about "drugs and sex and hard lives." Kids don't want to see their parents hopped up over a 30-year-old hip-hopper.

It doesn't feel quite so rebellious to like The Most Evil Rapper Alive, as Zadie Smith dubbed Eminem in Vibe, if your mom is rapping along when he describes how he'd like to rape and kill his mom.

"I have to listen to his music in the car because my kids don't want to hear him anymore," a friend with teenage boys says. "He's attractive and smart and very, very macho. There's no fake posturing in his music. He blasts away."

Frantic to be hip, eager to stay young, we are robbing our children of their toys. Like Mick Jagger, we want to deny the reality of time and be cool unto eternity. Eminem sings only about himself, which makes him a perfect boomers' crooner.

But yo, dawg, our suffocating yuppie love has turned Marshall Mathers into Jerry Mathers. Eminem is now as cuddly as Beaver Cleaver.

Lynne Cheney and Tipper Gore haven't criticized him lately. Instead, his talent has been hailed by the arbiters of real culture.

In a radical chic ode to the rapper in The New York Observer, Paul Slansky, the Los Angeles writer, suggested that middle-aged fans liked to echo Eminem's anger after they drove in the car pool: "So we drop off the kids, roll down the windows and blast Eminem."

In the same paper, Andrew Sarris called the star the new James Dean, and in The Times, Neal Gabler deemed him "the meta-Elvis."

Pat O'Brien chatted with Eminem on "Access Hollywood" about his "crib" in a Detroit suburb and his Oscar chances. Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times Magazine that the singer's "mayhem is so calculatedly over the top that it seems no more or less offensive than typical multiplex Grand Guignol."

As Don Imus drily observed to Frank last week: If we're talking about Eminem, isn't he over? Can his street cred survive his being on the short list for Time magazine's Person of the Year, alongside Dick Cheney?

He's charming the people he's supposed to be menacing. What happens when Rebel Without a Cause becomes Rebel With Applause?

Eminem used to become irritated when interviewers and other musicians, like Moby, criticized the misogyny, homophobia and violence in his lyrics. Now he probably misses being able to get a rise out of people.

The biggest fight he's had lately is with a hand puppet, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, whom he and his posse pushed around at the MTV awards. (The dog later sniffed, "My mom was a bitch, too, but I don't go writing songs about it.")

Rock 'n' roll and hip-hop used to be about protest; now they're the soundtrack of commodity capitalism, pushing cars, clothes, computers, vodka and running shoes.

It used to take longer for rebellion to go commercial. Deadheads were truckin' for decades before Jerry Garcia began peddling his tie-dyed ties in Christmas catalogs.

Eminem says he will never shill, and he told Pat O'Brien he can still be raw: "I can't see losing that edge . . . especially now being on top. I got new problems." Yet he's flipped the script, rounding his edges for the mainstream. In "8 Mile," he's portrayed as a defender of women and gays. On the cover of his latest CD, "The Eminem Show," he has traded his do-rag and baggy Nikes for a black suit.

He'll have to be very smart and very wicked if he doesn't want to hear himself in elevators.

                           Copyright The New York Times Company ## 

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Subject: Article: Disco Dick Cheney
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2002 23:19:47 -0500 (EST)

December 11, 2002

Disco Dick Cheney


WASHINGTON'some hush-hush bang-bang is going on at the vice president's house: big blasts twice a day, morning and night, that cause the whole neighborhood to quake and shake. 

Rattled neighbors cannot learn what's going on at Mr. Cheney's Disclosed Location from the Navy, which maintains the official residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory.

"We're doing infrastructure improvements and utility upgrades," says the Navy's Cate Mueller.

If Dick Cheney won't tell us which energy fat cats drew up our energy policy, he's not going to tell us why we're paying to renovate his pad.

The construction, which could last 16 months, is related to "national security and homeland defense," according to a letter from the observatory's superintendent printed in The Washington Post.

I'd say we have four possibilities:

1. Mr. Cheney is building a giant vault. Now that a judge appointed by the president says that anything the vice president does can be kept secret, there is even more incentive for him to run the government so everything can be secret and stored away in the vault.

2. He's suffering from a bad case of bunker envy and wants a command center and bunker like the president's in the White House and Rummy's in the Pentagon.

3. He's digging a tunnel in case he has his priorities backward and we should be more concerned with Al Qaeda than Iraq. A secret tunnel at his house could easily feed into the secret tunnel at the nearby Russian Embassy leading up to a safe house; the tunnel was built in the late 1970's by the F.B.I. and National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Russian diplomats, and abandoned after the Russians found out about it from the F.B.I. counterspy Robert Hanssen.

4. He's constructing an underground disco. If he appears in a Travolta white suit and gold chains, his desire to replicate the Gerald Ford era would be realized.

It's a mystery why President Bush doesn't want to stock his cabinet with his contemporaries from Yale, Harvard and Texas, rather than retreads from the wilted salad days when Cheney and Rummy were ruling the Ford White House.

On Monday Mr. Bush again heeded Mr. Cheney and chose a Ford official to be Treasury secretary (replacing the Ford official who was just fired from the job) to work with the Ford official who is Fed chairman.

Yesterday he chose an old Ford hand as head of the S.E.C. And we have the recrudescence of the secretary of state under Ford and Nixon, Henry Kissinger.

Ford was the Fillmore of our time. His administration was famous for its hapless economic policy, fighting inflation with marketing, passing out those silly little buttons that read WIN (Whip Inflation Now). What do we remember of that era except the pardoning of Nixon, the fall of Saigon and the falls of Chevy Chase?

The lasting mark of that White House was tamping down the post-Watergate zeal for truth, containing Congressional and media investigations into C.I.A. abuses such as assassinations of foreign leaders and F.B.I. overreaching on infiltrating civil rights groups.

It was in that battle that the Ford alumni " Rummy, Cheney & Kissy " forged their worldview that the greatest threat to the country was the prying eyes of the public, the press and Congress.

Trent Lott may want to turn the clock back to Jim Crow. Mr. Cheney just wants to go back to a time before Vietnam and Watergate, when there was more government secrecy and less moral relativism.

The administration is chockablock with people who kept the public and Congress in the dark on foreign intrigue. Adm. John Poindexter, who took the fall for Iran-contra, is now in charge of expanding the universe of secrets to include dossiers at the Pentagon on every living American, under the Orwellian heading of Office of Information Awareness.

Elliott Abrams, who misled Congress on Iran-contra and was pardoned by the first President Bush, is in charge of the Middle East for the second President Bush. Otto Reich, who worked with Ollie North and ran the covert program to get public support for the contras, now runs Latin American policy.

Maybe instead of worrying about American children who don't do history lessons, we should worry about American presidents who don't care about the lessons of history.

                           Copyright The New York Times Company  ##

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