Dump Bush, Er, Never Mind . . .

It’s official. I’m a hatemonger.

I don’t think of myself as a hatemonger. I think of myself as a “cartoon writer” or a “novelist,” as a “dog person” or a “reluctant gardener.” You could toss in “cheapskate,” “lazy butt” and “cranky old coot,” and I couldn’t raise an honest objection. But . . . hatemonger? How did that happen, and who says? The Microsoft Small Business Center, that’s who. Here’s the how:

I’ll admit to hating George W. Bush, his administration and most of Texas in general. There’s a long list of things I hate, from people who drive faster than I do to people who drive slower, from mosquitoes to killer asteroids. But when I find negative feelings rising to the surface, I make a beeline to my tranquil center and resign myself to the fact, say, that I can be smashed at any moment by a thousand tons of space rock and there’s nothing I can do about it. Aside from eliminating standing pools of water from my back yard, there isn’t even much I can do about mosquitoes.

When it comes to George W. Bush, though, I feel a moral imperative to do something dramatic to keep him from getting re-elected. No need to go into all of the reasons why. In summary, I’m convinced that he sucks at the job of being president. So I did what any morally outraged person with too much time on his hands would do. I designed a T-shirt. And a bumper sticker. This is what they look like:

I made the shirts and stickers available through a shop at CafePress.com. Then I contacted the Microsoft Small Business Center (MSBC) to place as many banner ads on the Internet as 50 bucks would buy. I paid the money, and I submitted the banner.

Of course, I knew that the MSBC would have to approve the banner. I checked back the following day and was shocked to discover that not only was it rejected, but my entire campaign had mysteriously disappeared, had been totally erased with Orwellian thoroughness, as if it had never existed.

I leaped into action and fired off an inquiry through the site’s feedback form, and received the following e-mail in reply:

Hello Jan,

Thank you for writing to Microsoft Small Business Center about the status of your campaign.

We checked your campaign and confirmed that it was not accepted due to the content of your Web site. As stated in our Terms of Use: “You may not use the Microsoft Small Business Network or the products or services provided through or in connection with the network to publish, post, distribute, disseminate, advertise or link to any software, content, other material or Web site that constitutes ‘hate speech,’ whether directed at an individual or a group, and whether based upon the race, sex, creed, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation or language of such individual or group.”

You can review our Terms of Use at http://www.bcentral.com/help/policy/terms.asp. As with your refund request, we will have to forward this request to our Billing department. Our Billing team will get back to you soon.

We appreciate your cooperation.

Sincerely, Rose Microsoft Small Business Center Support

I had just been branded a hatemonger!

I telephoned the Billing Department and spoke with a customer-service representative and her supervisor (Linda and Lee, respectively). They both confirmed that my campaign had been rejected as “hate speech.”

I pointed out that I was not in any way advocating violence against the president. That would be Wrong. I was merely encouraging people not to vote for the man, which is political speech, which is free and protected.

Linda and Lee remained adamant. The campaign would not run.

“Okay, fine,” I said from the serene confines of my tranquil center, “then refund my money.”

Here’s where it gets really scary. They wouldn’t give me my money back!

“It isn’t our policy to issue refunds,” Lee said, as if that explained everything. As if I were expected to reply, “Oh, it’s your policy to take people’s money for a service, to arbitrarily decide not to provide that service, and to keep their money anyway. I understand now. Never mind, and I’m sorry for the intrusion.”

Yeah, right.

As it turns out, I have some policies of my own. One of my policies is not to put up with obvious crap, even when it comes from mega-corporations like Microsoft.

The problem is, this is not even a David-vs.-Goliath battle. The scale is entirely different. If Microsoft was Goliath, I was a flea on David’s sandal. All I could do was hop over to the sandal of another Goliath — my credit-card company — and file a complaint and get the charge removed from my credit-card bill. Which I did. And it didn’t make me feel one little bit better.

 

I am not a hatemonger! Expressing a political opinion is not hate speech! And even really big corporations that donate heavily to Republican political campaigns have to either provide the service they’ve been paid for or give the money back.

This is still America, damn it! The rule of law and the dictates of common sense have not been repealed by executive decree.

At least, I don’t think so.

So I’ve taken my case to the state Attorney General’s Office and to the ACLU, and I’m standing up and declaring in my most outraged voice, “This is not right!”

I wonder if this, too, would be considered “hate speech.”

P.S. to Michael Moore: I tried to send you an e-mail through Microsoft’s Outlook Express, but it wouldn’t go through. Should I add “paranoid conspiracy theorist” to my list of character descriptions?

—Jan Strnad

Editor’s Note: The Weekly received the following comment from Microsoft spokeperson Vivecka Budden: “This kind of policy is standard in the industry. For example, when eBay took down the auction of Nazi memorabilia, it was based on a policy like this. There are certain limits to the right of free speech because of the need to protect other public interests. The policy strikes a balance between these sometimes competing interests.”

Sex and Free Speech, Renaissance Style

What do Queen Elizabeth I, the woman responsible for the Golden Age of England, and porn queen Layla Jade, the woman responsible for Butt Banged Hitch-hiking Whores, have in common? Both are British and, last Saturday night, both were in attendance at the Sheraton Universal Hotel for the Free Speech Coalition’s Renaissance-themed “Night of the Stars XVII, a Fantasy Ball.”

All right, it wasn’t the real Queen Elizabeth, and those butt-banged whores, well, they weren’t really hitchhikers, but it was a fantasy ball, remember, a night where the exciting, lusty worlds of porn and Elizabethan England could commingle for a few magical hours.

The coalition acts as “a legislative watchdog for the industry, lobbying for laws that will protect adult entertainment,” according to its mission statement. And, as the sun did set over the realm of Universal City, the good people of the Kingdom of Porn spilled out onto the hotel’s front lawn to tarry and feast.

“It’s all about seeing your friends and networking,” offered the comely, Devon-born Jade, who became a coalition member just days ago. And her thoughts on the Renaissance? “Oh, you mean this,” milady clarified, gesturing to the hale group of period minstrels, commoners and royalty. “I thought you were talking about some kind of rock band. I love the fact that Queen Victoria is here, I totally love that.” Well, she’s actually Queen Elizabeth I. “Oh, I didn’t realize. It’s easy to confuse them, you know. They all look stern and solemn.”

Now here’s a scoop: If it weren’t for the Renaissance Faire, Berkeley’s own Nina Hartley, surely the matriarchal porn counterpart to Queen Elizabeth, may never have entered the world of adult entertainment. “My sexual awakening was at the Ren Faire when I was 14, working at the kissing booth,” revealed the venerable sexual artiste behind user-friendly classics like Young Girls in Tight Jeans and Deep Trouble, I Cum From a Land Down Under, Battle for the Bulge and the self-explanatory 100% Blow Jobs Vol. 3. “It was 1973 and I worked in the Drench-a-Wench Kissing Booth, and I had a revelation that this was going to be the life for me. It was the year I discovered written pornography and The Joy of Sex. It was so fabulous, and to see these people brings back great memories.”

But soon the attendees were summoned by stout-voiced town criers to enter the hall; the festivities and the filet mignon were about to begin. Among those to be recognized were some of the industry’s giants: Christy Canyon, receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award for 20 years in the business. Twenty years? Could it really be true? There were always two things in her big brown eyes that I found utterly beguiling: sweetness and guilt. It was a strange sensation, indeed, juxtaposing the caught-in-amber memory of her fevered teenage turn in 1984’s On Golden Blond with the mature, radiant woman delicately applying a sharp Gucci toe to a smoldering cigarette on the Sheraton steps.

And there was the famous, sexy millionaire Jenna Jameson, nabbing the Coalition’s Positive Image Award for her positive image. Which means she’s made the leap into mainstream entertainment by appearing on TV’s Nash Bridges and in movies like Private Parts and something called Porn ’n Chicken. The outspoken Jameson was no fan of the evening’s 16th-century theme. “Bad idea,” she stated. “I think that this event is incredibly important, and it needs to be taken seriously. The Renaissance people add a little bit of a fun feel to it, but I think everybody should take notice of how serious free speech is.”

 

Perhaps Chip “Ever Ready” Daniels, recipient of the Gay Actor Lifetime Achievement Award and star of queer faves like Scorcher, Male Triangle and Tight Ends and Wide Receivers, Parts 1 and 2, put it best in a heartfelt, almost Ed Woodian speech. “I fear for our future!” he cried. “That is why I hope our industry, every one of you, and me, can put our often intramural squabbling behind us. If we can do that, and come together and work together, we can defeat Bush!”

In a night filled with high-minded First Amendment passion and low-cut slinky dresses, one man’s simple words stood out. Luther Campbell, founder of 2 Live Crew and a veteran of major obscenity trials, took home the Celebrity Freedom Fighter Award.

“This is the first award that I’ve ever received in my entire 20-year career,” said the hip-hop kingpin, waving his trophy. “Because of the fight that I fought for our First Amendment rights, I probably been blackballed by the whole business. I never got a MTV award, I never got a BET award, I never got a Source award, I never got honored for anything because of the fight that I fought.”

After that, there was another kind of fight, a vicious fake sword battle between two Elizabethan noblemen. And the hearty folk of porn did applaud, and the night did come to an end, and one could not help but be reminded of the words of the real Queen Elizabeth, spoken lo these many years ago. “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

—Peter Gilstrap

Frag or Be Fragged

Eleven men and one woman faced each other, armored from head to toe in steel and leather. They gripped swords, maces, axes and shields. The sun was setting, and the west-facing room, still steamy from a burning afternoon, had cooled off just enough to begin the battle. Behind protective hay bales, a phalanx of spectators crouched, stood and spilled out onto the street, straining to hear as Aaron Darkhelm, clad in a tunic (but no dark helm), officiated at the opening of the battle. “If you are killed, acknowledge the kill, go off the field, and wait to re-enter,” he announced. “Each melee continues for 10 minutes solid. There will be nine melees. You’re going for the most kills. Pace yourself; it’s gonna be brutal.”

These were the basic rules for Untitled War, a performance presented at the Machine Project gallery on Alvarado at Sunset and organized by Brody Condon, an artist whose work is rooted in video games and their culture. Condon invited fighters from the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a group that seeks to live and fight according to the technology and values of the Middle Ages, to do battle in the manner of online first-person shooter competition. When you log onto such games, there may be 10 players already “fighting”; whoever gets the most kills, or “frags,” wins. If you are killed online, a few seconds pass before you re-spawn. Likewise, at Machine Project, a fragged fighter would re-spawn — in this case, behind the hay bales — before rejoining the fray.

As technicians tweaked the ceiling cameras sending a video game–like composite view of the action to a screen at the Echo Park Film Center next door, scorekeepers got ready to count frags, the “populace” cheered, and combat commenced. Dr. Tom Davidson, a maiden frolicking in a somewhat medieval-looking costume replete with diaphanous veil and who is also a practicing M.D., leaned over to whisper, “I’m a little worried about the safety precautions.”

Swordplay is loud in a small space. Despite the fact that the fighters wielded rattan mockup weapons cushioned with duct tape, they took genuine swings. Which were deflected by genuine shields, or absorbed by genuine armor and helmets. Of those, Philippe de Tournay’s pig-nose Bascimet was particularly striking. It was fashioned, he had told me while suiting up, after a genuine 15th-century helmet style that was contemporaneous with the era of his SCA character, a courtier to the schismatic pope of Avignon circa 1460. On the field, Philippe cut a nice figure in a red coatehardie, bearing a Vanguard of Honor, a colored ribbon that waved with each parry and thrust.

And yet Phillippe was not as seasoned as some of the other fighters. The SCA is not the Renaissance Faire, Condon had told me; nor is it a medieval version of Civil War re-enactment. These battles are not choreographed, and the hierarchy within the SCA is based on battle skills. In the Machine Project arena, a few of the 12 combatants quickly distinguished themselves as superior warriors. Lord Johannes the Southerner racked up four kills in just the first round, and that was with an already-broken kneecap. Sir Eronric of Devon and Sir Gavin of MacDomhnuill were close behind.

 

Beneath the clatter of the medieval mano a mano, I got commentary from Julia Rupkalvis, a Marine veteran and military adviser to Hollywood with a degree in hoplology. (That’s the study of representing military action theatrically.) Rupkalvis, who owns more than 150 swords herself and recently trained Colin Farrell in the bladed martial arts of antiquity for his title role in Oliver Stone’s Alexander, noted that the successful fighters in the gallery employed better defensive strategy. (She also told me that Brad Pitt’s leaping sidewinder stab in Troy was an art of combat known as “total B.S.,” but nevertheless “looked pretty cool.”) As Untitled War unfolded, Rupkalvis liked one burly fellow in a cloak who made nice use of his shield, and frowned when an opponent aced him with a quick flat snap to the head. “That would never have happened in real combat,” she said. “That guy’s sword would be way too heavy to move that fast.”

Meanwhile, the one skirmishing woman, Condessa Battista de Kie del Goya da Lagos, was having trouble fighting Florentine style — wielding two weapons and no shield. Battista was getting battered by a hulking knight with a broad sword and a round shield. “Two swords wasn’t a good idea. She would have had an advantage in maneuverability because of her size and speed,” Rupkalvis explained as one of Battista’s flailing swords, in a moment of medieval friendly fire, accidentally disabled an ally. “But that was negated by the confines of the gallery.”

By the final round, the action had slowed significantly. Most of the fighters, sweating profusely, ate platters of pickles for their salt and water. The spectators drank Coors and Bud Lights out on the sidewalk, paying only loose attention to the battle through a TV mounted above the doorway. Mark Allen, the owner of Machine Projects, was nonetheless pleased. “The crowd is losing interest,” he said. “But that’s kind of a perfect development — like in today’s world, where there’s a war going on in the distance, up there on a television. And we all pay close attention at first, but then start to relax and watch with a few beers.” Inside the gallery, Johannes the Southerner, heaving with exhaustion, managed to raise his sword for yet another kill.

—Joshuah Bearman


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