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The Daily Banter Mail Bag: Bradley Manning's Sexual Transformation, Al Jazeera America and Our Desert Island Books!

In this week's edition of The Daily Banter Mail Bag, Ben, Bob, and Chez discuss Bradley Manning's transition to Chelsea Manning, the debut of Al Jazeera America and our desert island books!

In this week's edition of The Daily Banter Mail Bag, Ben, Bob, and Chez discuss Bradley Manning's transition to Chelsea Manning, the debut of Al Jazeera America and our desert island books!

The questions:

1. How do you feel about Bradley Manning's decision to transition to being a woman? He says he wants to be called Chelsea Manning and wants to undergo hormone therapy. Do you think this request should be honored considering that he was just sentenced to 35 years in prison?
-- Tracy

Ben: From what I've read about Manning, she is a pretty complicated and vulnerable person - brave, narcissistic naive and confused, but above all, a human being. If she wants to be considered a woman and go through hormone therapy, then she should be granted that right. To deny her that would be, at least in my opinion, cruel and unusual punishment. I have a huge amount of sympathy for people with gender and sexual identity issues - I have close friends who are gay and transgender and I think society should bend over backwards to help them out given the shit they have to endure growing up. Manning may have leaked government secrets after swearing an oath not to, but she's still a human being and deserves to be treated like one. For the record, I personally don't think she should be in prison anywhere near as long as she was sentenced. It still confuses me that the criminals who took us to war in Iraq are now giving lectures for hundreds of thousands of dollars and making millions shilling for investment banks, while someone who tried to speak out about it has to go to jail for 35 years.

Chez: That's a tough little question. The politically correct answer is that I support and applaud his decision to make whatever personal choices he feels he needs to regarding his sexual orientation and identity. The general Stylebook answer is that I'll refer to him by whichever sexual designation he uses to refer to himself, particularly if he's undergoing transitional hormonal therapy. The honest answer is that I'll roll my eyes and sincerely not give a shit one way or the other. I think the one concern I have isn't so much about what Manning now wants to be called; that truly is his prerogative and if people choose to honor his wishes, fantastic. It's more the outrage and accusations of trans and gender discrimination that media organizations and figures are sure to face should they choose not to refer to the public figure of Bradley Manning as "Chelsea" or as a "she" beginning the moment he publicly declared that everyone should do so.

Bob: I thought I had read something about Manning being a cross-dresser, but I didn't know he was transsexual. Look, whatever Manning decides to call herself is fine by me, not that she needs my permission, and authorities should probably let her have the hormone therapy.

2. What do you think about Al Jazeera America? The swipes they took at MSNBC and Fox were pretty sweet. Is there now a flicker of hope for news to actually be reported in this country with their arrival?
-- Kristyne

Chez: I admittedly only watched the opening and what I've found online, given that Time Warner is my cable provider and not only do they not carry AJAM, I can't even watch CBS or Showtime. What I've seen so far doesn't exactly blow my skirt up. I certainly don't want 24/7 excitement, since that's the format of most cable news networks and it's what's ruined TV journalism. But I do need my coverage to be interesting and what I've seen so far is anything but. I wrote about this in Banter before: A lot of the people drafted for AJAM's staff are TV news lifers who've never really made a mark, and not because they've been rebels bucking the constraints of the system but because they didn't really offer anything worthwhile. Time will definitely tell and I'm the first one to say that I'm not going to judge the entire operation based solely on a few quick interactions, but it seemed to get off to something worse than a rough start -- a "meh" start. As for its very light jabs at MS and Fox, they were easy to make but not without merit. Although the idea of Antonio Mora as the face and voice of the montage that's taking those shots -- to say nothing of him being the out-of-the-gate face of your network -- just screams boring. The man is human valium.

Bob: If they can stick with real news and avoid the screeching and pandering, then they should be applauded. The problem is: will anyone watch a news network that doesn't contain the screeching and pandering? I don't think so, but here it is, America -- a chance to watch real news. If this is what you want, support it. If not, stop complaining about how cable news sucks.

Ben: I have to confess I haven't watched it yet. Been a pretty busy few weeks at Banter HQ and I haven't watched much of anything. I'm actually supposed to be going on Al Jazeera in the near future, so hopefully I can give our readers some inside info on the new set up. From what I gather the line up is pretty serious, so I'm hopeful it will do some good.

3. Rounding out my triptych, five desert island books. Go!
-- JP

The Civil War, Shelby Foote
Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horwitz
Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, Ted Sorensen
The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
Skeleton Crew, Stephen King

The Road, Cormac McCarthy
The Delivery Man, Joe McGinniss Jr.
Collected Poems 1905-1935, T.S. Eliot
Underworld, Don Delillo
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
Boy & Going Solo, Roald Dahl
Understanding Power, Noam Chomsky
Ishmael, Daniel Quinn
The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins