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web posted July 19, 1999

Robin Hood is gay, says professor. You know some taxpayer somewhere paid for this

England's legendary outlaw Robin Hood was gay, preferring his "merrie men" to Maid Marian, a leading English literature professor said July 11.

The reassessment of one of Britain's greatest folk heroes was greeted by gay activists as a welcome, if belated, "outing." But the Robin Hood Society said the claims were damaging to a great role model for today's children. You know, the guy who steals.

Stephen Knight, professor of English literature at Cardiff University, decided Robin Hood was gay after studying 14th-century ballads that are the earliest known accounts of his deeds.

"The ballads could not say outright that he was gay because of the prevailing moral climate, but they do contain a great deal of erotic imagery," he said.

"The green wood itself is a symbol of virility and the references to arrows, quivers and swords make it clear too," he told The Sunday Times.

He said the ballads showed that Maid Marian, always described as Robin Hood's true love, never existed.

Knight thinks her name was added by 16th-century authors who wanted the tale of the outlaw who robbed from the rich to give to the poor to be more respectable to heterosexual readers.

His theory won backing from Barry Dobson, professor of medieval history at Cambridge University.

"In the 12th century, homosexuality was accepted, but in the 13th the church became much less tolerant and such people were driven underground."

Robin Hood has always been portrayed as a swashbuckling aristocrat who became an outlaw after King John confiscated his lands in the 1190s.

Peter Tatchell of the gay rights group Outrage was delighted by the new academic speculation: "His lifestyle alone was enough to provoke speculation. It's about time school history lessons acknowledged the contribution of famous homosexuals."

But Mary Chamberlain of the Robin Hood Society was outraged: "Robin remains a highly regarded figure the world over and children like to play at being Robin Hood. These claims could do a lot of damage."

The Sunday Times concluded that in Hollywood it was Mel Brooks and not Kevin Costner who got the story right.

"The revelation flies in the face of Kevin Costner's portrayal of the outlaw in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and suggests that the title of Mel Brooks' film Robin Hood: Men In Tights was closer to the mark," it said.

NAACP announces plan to sue firearms companies

The NAACP plans to sue handgun manufacturers, distributors and importers, seeking restrictions on the marketing and sale of firearms in hopes of keeping guns from criminals.

The formal announcement was made on July 12 from President Kweisi Mfume at the 90th annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The move would put the nation's largest civil rights group in league with cities like New Orleans, Chicago, Cleveland and Boston which have sued the firearms industry in hopes of curbing street and schoolyard violence.

The lawsuit will seek no monetary damages, instead, it will seek injunctions to force gun makers to better monitor where guns are distributed and to limit multiple purchases by individuals.

Earlier this year, a federal jury in New York returned a $4 million verdict based upon a new strategy by plaintiffs -- that the industry's negligence in marketing and distribution allowed weapons to flow illegally to states with strict anti-gun laws.

Last February, Mfume said the NAACP was considering such a suit. "We represent a significant constituency that is disproportionately affected by gun violence," he said then. "The time has come for us to look at the proliferation of handguns."

GOP presidential hopefuls denounce attack on Smith

Several Republican presidential candidates say their party was wrong to attack Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire, who quit the GOP to run for president under a third party's banner.

Rivals Gary Bauer and Patrick Buchanan defended Smith's decision to bolt the party and blamed the GOP for the defection, saying it has abandoned conservative ideas.

Another Republican presidential contender, Steve Forbes, said the GOP "should stop running people out of the party" and "go back to our core principles." Forbes said he has no intention of leaving the party.

The fight broke out July 9 after Republican National Chairman Jim Nicholson and other GOP leaders sharply criticized Smith's planned defection.

The decision is a "serious mistake for you personally, with only a marginal political impact -- and a counterproductive one at that," Nicholson told Smith in a letter. "This would not be a case of the party leaving you, Bob, but rather of you leaving our party."

In a letter responding to Nicholson's criticisms, Bauer defended Smith as "a man of deep conviction and unwavering principle."

"Like millions of other Republicans, (Smith) is concerned by the retreat of our party's leadership on matters of fundamental principle," Bauer wrote to Nicholson.

Nicholson's spokesman, Mike Collins, said that the chairman's letter was a "frank and honest expression of his disappointment that a principled, lifelong Republican would find it necessary to abandon the Reagan coalition and go his own way."

The only real political impact of Smith's defection would be to help the Democrats, Collins said. "It could possibly supply some marginal support for Al Gore."

Despite Bauer's outspokenness in defending Smith, he does not plan to follow suit and abandon the GOP. "I have absolutely no intention of leaving the Republican Party," he said a few days later through spokesman Tim Goeglein.

Bauer has urged Smith's supporters to remain in the party and join his campaign, Goeglein said.

Buchanan said Nicholson's letter was "rude and insulting and ultimately very stupid."

"I think the handling of this has been appalling," Buchanan said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Buchanan said he would not rule anything out when asked whether he would consider ditching the GOP and running as a third-party candidate.

Meantime, Forbes said on CNN's "Late Edition" that "instead of haranguing Bob Smith," the GOP should convene a series of debates among its candidates.

"We need these debates so Republican voters can decide what our principles are," said Forbes.

Kentucky Democrats lose state Senate majority for first time

Kentucky's Democrats lost their majority in the state Senate on July 12 -- apparently for the first time since the early 1800s -- when a single legislator switched to the Republican Party.

Sen. Dan Seum's defection left each party holding 19 seats in the 38-seat chamber, producing an uneasy balance that could affect committee chairmanships and the flow of legislation for the 2000 session.

Party affiliation records are sketchy, especially before 1908. However, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said it was the first time since Kentucky's Democratic Party was founded in the early 1800s that it did not control both chambers of the legislature. Kentucky became a state in 1792.

Kentucky Democratic Chairwoman Nicki Patton, daughter of Gov. Paul Patton, said Seum's switch raises the stakes for Democrats in 2000, when 19 of the Senate's 38 seats will be up. Democrats now hold 11 of those 19 seats.

Democrats had a 30-8 majority in the Senate just nine years ago. Twice before in this century -- the sessions of 1920 and 1922 -- the Democratic majority fell to 20-18.

They still have firm control of the House, with 65 of 100 seats.

Seum, a 16-year legislator from Louisville, said he had philosophical conflicts with the Democratic Party and had been considering a switch to the GOP for years.

Seum is considered conservative but is not easily categorized. He opposes abortion, for example, but is staunchly pro-labor. He disdains government regulation of business, opposes abortion and higher taxes, and supports school prayer.

"This is not easy. This decision was not made overnight, it's been a long time in coming," he said. "I do live and represent an area that is heavily Democratic. Quite frankly, the easy thing to do would have been to just coast, just to ride on out."

Wisconsin tobacco attorneys billed 24 733 hours

No wonder why so many mothers want their sons and daughters to become lawyers. Three law firms that represented Wisconsin in its lawsuit against the tobacco industry charged $3 032 an hour for each of the 24 733 hours they worked, newly released documents show.

The state attorney general's office released the information on July 12 in an attempt to end an open records lawsuit filed by three newspapers seeking to learn details on work the firms performed in winning the state a $5.9 billion settlement with cigarette makers.

The tobacco lawsuit was settled in November as part of a multistate agreement that would give Wisconsin $5.9 billion over 25 years.

The attorneys had resisted releasing their records, citing "ethical issues," but agreed to release them to Attorney General James Doyle, who then gave them to reporters.

The hundreds of pages detail how the law firms spent their time working on the case.

Between Oct. 23, 1998, and Jan. 25, for example, two of the firms -- Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek of Milwaukee and Brennan, Steil, Basting & MacDougall of Janesville -- spent more than 1 820 hours reviewing 39 000 previously secret tobacco documents.

Robert Scott, an attorney at Whyte, declined to comment, except to say "I considered the final chapter when we settled the case."

The documents also provide details about $2 million that the law firms spent on the case. Robert L. Habush of the Milwaukee firm Habush, Habush, Davis & Rottier, frequently traveled in style, including limousine trips and a $7 818 chartered flight to Washington, D.C., that would have cost $906 if he had flown coach, the records said.

The firms said the tobacco industry would pay them $75 million over five years. Based on 24 733 hours of work, that equals about $3 032 an hour.

The Wisconsin State Journal of Madison, The Capital Times of Madison and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sued the state in May for the records.

Police enforce calm after worst Iranian riots in 20 years

Police and hard-line vigilante groups patrolled Tehran's deserted streets with automatic weapons late July 13, bringing a tense calm to the capital after a day of violent street protests.

Riot police fired into the air and used tear gas and batons to break up a demonstration of 10 000 protesters outside the main gate of Tehran University, sparking a rampage through the city center.

Officers moved into the crowd and pulled men and women away by the hair. Scores were hauled away in police trucks, witnesses said.

Protesters regrouped in nearby streets where they burned buses, smashed shop windows and tried to burn down the offices of the hard-line Kayhan newspaper before they were stopped by police.

Hundreds of demonstrators had tried to storm the heavy iron gates of the Interior Ministry, which controls the police.

Tehran radio said "a significant number" had been arrested but was not specific.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami condemned the riots, saying they threatened national security. He said what started out as a peaceful protest by students six days earlier had degenerated into a riot led by people with "evil aims."

"I am sure these people have evil aims. They intend to foster violence in society, and we shall stand in their way ... We take the security of our country and our citizens very seriously," Khatami said on national television.

The unrest is the worst since the 1979 revolution that brought Islamists to power, and it marks the first time students and ordinary Iranians have taken to the streets in such large numbers to confront the powerful hard-liners opposed to Khatami's social and political reforms.

In a bid to restore calm, the Tehran governor's office announced that "no form of gathering is allowed" any longer.

In all, demonstrations have attracted as many as 25 000 people amid widespread fears the protests would spin out of control and invite a brutal police crackdown.

The demonstrations were triggered by the police storming of a university hostel, where students were rallying against the banning of a reformist newspaper that backed Khatami.

Leading media have called on the students to end the demonstrations, saying any violence will only weaken Khatami's reforms. Since the president's May 1997 election, largely due to student support, many citizens had hoped that the strict social and political restriction they have lived under since the revolution would be loosened.

Much of the protesters' anger has been directed at supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who leads the hard-liners.

Traditionally, Khamenei has been considered beyond reproach. But calls of "Khamenei must quit" and "Ansar commits crimes and the leader backs them" have given new direction to the protests.

Ansar'e Hezbollah is one of Iran's hard-line vigilante groups opposed to Khatami's reforms.

The Ansar, armed with clubs, formed human chains at key junctions at busy downtown districts to prevent more pro-Khatami demonstrations.

In another show of force seen as a move to undermine Khatami, the hard-liners called for a massive rally the next day. State-run Tehran radio, which is controlled by the hard-liners, broadcast repeated appeals for people to come out in force.

Pro-Khatami protests, some turning violent, spread to at least eight other towns: Yazd, Khorram Abad, Zanjan, Mashhad, Isfahan, Urumiyeh, Shahroud and Tabriz.

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