"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 23 March 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Hit & Run CCXX



No matter how many

demonstrations at McDonald's, no

matter how often you repeat the

phrase "more wholesome, less

violent," there's always a lack

of sex appeal in calls to

improve the planet by eating

less meat. So Monday saw the

15th anniversary of "the

nation's largest annual grass

roots diet education campaign,"

buttressed by Elvira, Mary Tyler

Moore, Casey Kasem, and five

other entertainment figures

identified as "headliners."

Though the Great American

Meatout claims support from "a

broad cross section of the

American people," it's the

former sitcom stars and movie

hosts who matter most in the

quest to provide consumers "a

one-day respite from the meat

industry's relentless

propaganda in schools, food

markets, and the mass media."

(But not, apparently, a respite

from the media.) What the

headliners do other than allow

their mug shots to appear at

MeatOut.org isn't clear; nor has

the direct causal link between

the Farm Animal Rights

Movement's goal of symbolizing

rebirth and renewal and

endorsements from Kevin Nealon

been clearly established. Does

this imply hidden messages in

celebrities' past performances,

like Peter Falk's speech about

buzzards carrying off the young

in The In-Laws — or the

scene in The Brink's Job where

he pulls a boot out of the soup?

(Not to mention The Dick Van

Dyke Show episode where Mary

Tyler Moore played a

thumb-stealing alien in a

walnut.) Granted, nothing

bolsters an argument about

preserving water and top soil

like an appearance by Hayley

Mills. (And remember, as David

Letterman suggested recently,

cows "are keeping a list of

people who eat beef for when

they rise up and kill the

humans.") But Four Non Blondes'

Linda Perry once performed at an

animal rights benefit wearing a

swanky leather jacket. And can

you really hope to sway American

opinion with low-wattage stars

like Rue McClanahan? Tuesday, as

American consumers returned to a

diet rich in animal fat,

supporters had to wonder if

their weak lineup of celebrities

had been any better for the

cause than that Simpsons episode

with Paul and Linda McCartney.



one sympathizer launched a

campaign to get Doctor Demento's

radio show to play vegetarian

songs and pointed fellow

travelers to search results on

the word "vegetarian" at

mp3.com. In a final insult,

though, it turned out most of

the related songs were

anti-vegan odes by indie bands

like Dragster Barbie. "Or

there's always the cannibalism

bits, which i always love,"

another poster added in Doctor

Demento's newsgroup. Which kind

of puts the whole thing in

perspective. Reportedly he's a

vegetarian, but when Weird Al

Yankovic is your champion, the

carnivores have already won.



The New York Times described it

sneeringly: "This afternoon,

after standing in handcuffs and

ankle chains before a federal

magistrate in Montgomery to be

turned over to Georgia

authorities, he looked at a

reporter in the courtroom and

uttered a familiar sentiment:


"'It's a government conspiracy,'

he said, as he was being led



Not that we don't believe early

reports that he shot two

sheriff's deputies in a

black-on-black crime in Atlanta

last week, but, well, look at it

this way: If you're Jamil

Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly H.

Rap Brown, seeing conspiracies

is probably second nature.


After all, it's not everyone who

has a law named after him (the

so-called Rap Brown Law of 1968

was the first federal law aimed

at preventing individuals from

crossing state lines "with

intent ... to incite a riot").

And it's not everyone who's

special enough to have fat

sheafs of COINTELPRO memos

documenting that they've been

singled out — along with

Stokely Carmichael, Elijah

Muhammed, and the Reverend

Martin Luther King Jr. — for

"special attention" for years on

end. (Heck, if we hadn't already

ruined any chance for it all on

our own, maybe we'd have had the

FBI trying to prevent us from

becoming "a messiah" too.) And

it's not everyone who's had

eight bounty hunters (led by a

guy named Buck Buchanan, no

less) after him for the $3,000

he'd bring from the fine,

upstanding bail bondsmen at AAA



Still, things don't look very

promising for Al-Amin at the

moment. As an organizer for the

Student Nonviolent Coordinating

Committee (SNCC) in the

mid-1960s, H. Rap Brown did a

lot of good work. And by all

accounts, Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin

did a lot of good work, too, as

founder of the Atlanta Community

Mosque in that city's West End

neighborhood. Though long out of

print, Brown's 1969 book Die

Nigger Die! (The Dial Press) is

well worth a read, straddling

both autobiography and political

polemic (Rap describes LBJ as

"old cracker ass Lightning Bug

Johnson") and including shrewd

synopses of history, American

culture ("It just goes to show

you, you give the cracker an

inch, he wants a yard, give him

a yard, and he'll BURN A CROSS

ON IT, every time"), and media

crit ("Jet magazine, the cullard

Playboy, a cross between a stag

magazine and the Pittsburg

Police Gazette, talks Black and

sells white"); a riff on the

floating exchange rate; and some

dozens verses guaranteed to put

any opponent in his place:


I fucked your mama
till she went blind.
Her breath smells bad,
But she sure can grind.


Clearly, however, Al-Amin's life

at the periphery of American

politics took its toll. Like

Abbie Hoffman — about whom a

new film, Steal This Movie!, did

well in early screenings at the

South By Southwest film

festivals — Brown/Al-Amin

began as an orator, huckster,

and showman who tried to make

the prospect of political

revolution more urgent and

appealing. And while Vincent

D'Onofrio is, in fact, appealing

as Abbie Hoffman in Steal This

Movie!, the film served mainly

as a simple reminder that, once

upon a time, politics was

something worth watching on

television. We can only hope

Court TV will do justice to

Rap's trial.



In other news, more of the stuff

H. Rap spent his life opposing,

now available in convenient

invisible form. Few of the

various comprehensive coverage

fun-paks mentioned Brown's

contributions to theories about

the West African origin of parts

of American black vocabulary.

Whether or not they pan out,

this plays into the now-moribund

Ebonics debate in a way that

subtly proves Brown wasn't just

being paranoid — sometimes

the system really is out to get

you. To wit: In our country,

we've unquestionably gained from

the language of young black

people (whom we imagine to stand

for black people in general),

because it's been incredibly

productive in how we think of

ourselves. White guys use it to

build white guy-ness around the

cooler ("You da man!"), and

Blanglish continues to be our

favorite stream for marking

things as cool, funny, sexy, or

bad. Yet the same language in

the mouths of its "real owners"

quite mysteriously becomes a

stigma of being valueless and

intellectually helpless (oh,

sorry, "sullen" and

"complacent," as The New York

Times Magazine helpfully pinned

the tail on Knicks' star forward

Latrell Sprewell). Who is using

the language is at least as

important as what the words say.

And yo, if language is one thing

that puts us above animals,

denying that this is "real"

language labels it a failed

attempt at speaking the refined

classical tongue of Ted Koppel

(whom we haven't noticed

successfully speaking like a

black kid)? What up with that?

To give black English a "real"

pedigree, Brown and others

traced it to "real" foreign

languages, associated with

peoples real enough to have

their very own countries. These

2-dimensional word games don't

always work because real life

rotates our clear-cut dictionary

entries into at least three

dimensions, which, like Edwin

Abbott's flatlanders, we can't

always see, and to which our

mythical view of language as

just a big pile of words blinds

us. Mr. Safire, are there rules

for how to put those etymologies

in order to make sentences? Is

there a way to tell what kind of

words you're allowed to use

around what kind of people? Does

everybody have the same power to

distance themselves from their

own and manipulate other

people's languages? In language

as in politics, it's a tricky

maneuver to confront the masters

on any terms other than theirs,

whether that be etymology or




Celebrate spring by watching

vintage seasonal TV commercials

advertising cigarettes.

("Salem's special new high

porosity paper adds even more to

Salem's springtime freshness

because it air-softens every

puff....") You've come a long

way, baby; today's generation

faces tax-sponsored billboards

showing a Marlboro-like man

telling his horse that

chemotherapy scares him.

Consumers now live in a world

where televised pitches for

cigarettes have been replaced by

weird ads for TheTruth.com, a

hip-hop multimedia extravaganza

promising that "our music and

our media stand up tall to

question business as usual." But

if this is an image war, big

tobacco is fighting back. Brown

and Williamson tobacco — the

corporate bad guys who employed

whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand in

The Insider — have retooled its

wacky outgoing answering machine

message to include a male chorus

singing doofy lyrics about how

tobacco is a big person's plant.

("If you've reached this number

in error, you're in luck,

because we're about to serenade

you....") This prompted

predictable accusations

and predictible denials —

that it was trying to lure

children into smoking with

super-sophisticated reverse

psychology. Antismoking

advocates should probably be

more concerned about Tuesday's

Supreme Court ruling that the

FDA doesn't currently have the

authority to regulate tobacco

products and that there have

been complaints that money

earmarked for antismoking

campaigns has been diverted to

shore up various unrelated

causes. But at least the

incident shows that tobacco

companies haven't lost their

artful touch for covertly

advertising to children. One

eBay auctioneer still has

something identified as a Salem

cigarettes baby teether

and the Web has also preserved

footage of Winston ads by the

Flintstones. (Barney says he

hates to see their wives working

so hard in the yard. "Yeah, me

too," answers Fred. "Let's go

around back where we can't see

them....") Perhaps people were

just less sensitive back then.

The children's show Diver Dan

even featured a

cigarette-smoking fish.

courtesy of theSucksters