Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas card picture follies

One lesson that we've learned as new parents is that getting a 1-year-old to stand still for a picture is pretty much impossible. Now that she can move, she does. All the time.

Thus began the saga of our attempts to obtain a heartwarming photo of the Peanut to include with our Christmas cards. It's a long story, but suffice it to say that the first time we went to the Sears portrait studio, she screamed continually for an hour while running out of the frame every time the photographer tried to get her to stay put. So we slunk out of Sears without a picture.

A couple of weeks later, we tried again. This time Mr. Fraulein and I stayed in the shot, holding onto her. She was marginally happier than the last time, in that she wasn't actively screaming, but she was still pissed off. As you can see by the look on her face in the picture that we reluctantly purchased just because we were tired of dealing with the whole thing.

So, while my child is actually pretty photogenic most of the time (if I do say so myself) in the Sears picture she just looks angry. Her eyes are all puffy and she doesn't really look like herself. Which wouldn't have been so bad, except that my friends' Christmas cards have been pouring in, and each child looks more angelic than the next. There is little S., wearing a Santa hat and a little plaid vest and beaming cherubically. And there are brothers G. and M., sitting calmly in a Victorian sleigh in matching outfits and matching happy smiles.

Oh well -- there's always next year!

"Jackass penguins"

My first thought when reading this was, my God, don't they have copy editors at the AP anymore?

Baby Penguin Is Stolen From Zoo
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BY DAVID STRINGER Associated Press Writer
December 20,2005 LONDON -- A baby penguin thought to have been snatched from a zoo as a quirky festive gift is unlikely to survive until Christmas Day, his keeper warned Tuesday.
Toga, a three-month old jackass penguin, was stolen from Amazon World on the Isle of Wight in southern England on Saturday.

But it turns out that there actually is such a thing as a "jackass penguin." Who knew? I hope they find the poor little guy.

Thanks Delta, part 2

So several phone calls later, it turns out that -- surprise! Delta can't help us. We are stuck with the connecting flight coming home from L.A. Luckily, since we'll be in New York, we could always go to my parents' house for the night if we miss the connection and are faced with being stuck in the airport for hours. It's going to be quite an adventure for the Peanut, and for us. I'm sure Mr. Fraulein will enjoy carrying the hugely bulky, heavy car seat strapped to his back in the special car seat carrier we bought from One Step Ahead.

To make the experience of getting through the airport less painful, I decided to do an ultra stripped-down packing job for this trip. I packed just two outfits for myself, and no extra shoes -- just the ones I'll wear to the airport. Hope everybody enjoys seeing me wear the same thing for a week and a half!

I know Mr. Fraulein will be impressed by my new approach to packing. He still recalls the trip to London, back before we were married, when we returned home at different times because our vacation schedules didn't quite overlap. I had brought so much clothing with me and purchased so much new stuff during the trip that I had to give him a bag of dirty clothes to take home for me. He kept wondering what he would say to the security people if they went through his bag and found all the bras and panties.

Personally, I will be happy if we can avoid a repeat of the famous Bag of Change incident from a couple of years ago. We were going through the line for the metal detectors when we realized that Mr. Fraulein's luggage was setting off alarms all over the place. I turned around to see him being led out of the line by a couple of security guards. He had forgotten to remove a plastic baggie he had in there which contained a fair number of coins. I guess on the metal detector screen it just looked like a big lump of metal. They probably thought he had a grenade in there. Trust me, this will delay your trip.

Friday, December 16, 2005

N.J. to get "Born to Run" license plates?

This is pretty funny, considering the song celebrates the urge to leave New Jersey...

Senator Pushes 'Born to Run' License Tags
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December 16,2005 TRENTON, N.J. -- A New Jersey lawmaker is hoping to get mileage from Bruce Springsteen's classic album "Born to Run."
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak is driving a proposal introduced Thursday to create specialty "Born to Run" license tags for Garden State drivers. Proceeds would go to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, a Springsteen-supported charity.
To become law, the bill must be approved by both houses of the Legislature by Jan. 9, the last day of the session, and be signed by the governor. The tags would cost $50, plus a $10 annual contribution.
Causes promoted through special-interest plates include wildlife conservation, the Battleship New Jersey and cancer awareness, among others.
Springsteen, who was in the capital city last month for the final stop on his "Devils & Dust" solo acoustic tour, also was recognized Thursday for his contributions to New Jersey and popular music.
A resolution honoring The Boss on the 30th anniversary of "Born to Run" was approved in a voice vote by the state Senate. Senators heard a recording of Springsteen's "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" before casting their votes.
A similar resolution failed last month in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, a snub attributed to Springsteen's vocal campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry a year earlier.
"That was not a very good thing to do," Lesniak said of the Republican brushoff. "In New Jersey, elected officials -- Republican and Democrat -- love Bruce, respect what he stands for. Everyone knows The Boss is from New Jersey, so I thought it would be fitting and proper to honor him and the E Street Band."
"Born to Run" embodies a lot of the New Jersey attitude, added Lesniak, a native of Elizabeth who said he has been to more than 50 Springsteen concerts. "We're on the move. We go away. We come back. Look at Springsteen. He's been around the world several times. He could live anywhere. But he still comes back to live in New Jersey."

Rampant illiteracy

The below story confirms what I've been saying for years. If you need convincing that a huge number of people in this country are functionally illiterate, there's nothing like editing press releases, white papers, and newspaper op-ed pieces written by people (including extremely well compensated lawyers and management consultants) who have no idea how to produce a coherent sentence. Spend a little time doing SAT tutoring, and you'll really know we are in trouble. This cannot be good for the economy.

But, on the other hand, it creates career opportunities for folks like myself, so no complaining here...

Study: 11M U.S. Adults Can't Read English
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By BEN FELLER AP Education Writer
December 16,2005 WASHINGTON -- About one in 20 adults in the U.S. is not literate in English, meaning 11 million people lack the skills to handle many everyday tasks, a federal study shows.
From 1992 to 2003, adults made no progress in their ability to read sentences and paragraphs or understand other printed material such as bus schedules or prescription labels.
The adult population did make gains in handling tasks that involve math, such as calculating numbers on tax forms or bank statements. But even in that area, the typical adult showed only enough skills to perform simple, daily activities.
Perhaps most sobering was that adult literacy dropped or was flat across every level of education, from people with graduate degrees to those who dropped out of high school.
So even as more people get a formal education, the literacy rate is not rising. Federal officials say this trend is puzzling and worthy of research.
Adults with ability to perform challenging and complex reading tasks made an average yearly salary of $50,700 in 2003. That is $28,000 more than those who lacked basic skills.
The adults deemed illiterate in English include people who may be fluent in Spanish or another language but cannot comprehend English text at its most simple level.
"Eleven million people is an awful large number of folks who are not literate in English, and therefore are prevented access to what America offers," said Russ Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences at the Education Department.
Some 30 million adults have "below basic" skills in prose. Their ability is so limited that they may not be able to make sense of a simple pamphlet, for example. This total includes 7 million adults considered not to be literate in English but with enough knowledge of the language at least to be tested. The remaining 4 million deemed illiterate did not have enough English skills to be tested.
By comparison, 95 million adults, or 44 percent of the population, have intermediate prose skills, meaning they can do moderately challenging activities. An example would be consulting a reference book to determine which foods contain a certain vitamin.
The National Assessment of Adult Literacy is considered the best measure of how adults handle everything from completing job applications to computing tips.
Black adults made gains on each type of task tested. White adults made no significant changes except when it came to computing numbers, where they got better.
Hispanics showed sharp declines in their ability to handle prose and documents. The background of U.S. adults has changed since 1992, when the test was last given; fewer people in 2003 had spoken English before they started school.
"We can no longer afford to ignore the unique needs this population has demonstrated for years," said Jose Velazquez, director of the Hispanic Family Learning Institute at the National Center for Family Literacy.
Overall, the study represents a population of 222 million adults. The results are based on a sample of more than 19,000 adults, age 16 or older, living in homes, college housing or prisons.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings pledged to coordinate adult education programs across the government. She also promoted the Bush administration's campaign to increase testing and specialized reading help in high school.
"One adult unable to read is one too many in America," Spellings said.
Millions of adults with limited reading skills have enrolled in literacy programs at high schools, libraries, workplaces and community colleges. Advocates of those programs said the new scores prove that a greater investment in adult literacy and research is essential.
"It's really hard to have a well educated and highly intellectual population of children if they go home to parents who do not have adequate reading skills," said Dale Lipschultz, president of the National Coalition for Literacy, a broad range of education groups.
On The Net:
National Assessment of Adult Literacy: http://nces.ed.gov/naal

Thanks a lot, Delta

Mr. Fraulein, the Peanut, and I are scheduled to wing our way west in a few days to visit relatives in California over the holidays. We long ago booked round-trip non-stop flights, because we had no intention of switching planes with a toddler in tow. But now, Delta has helpfully canceled our non-stop return flight and replaced it with one with a transfer in New York. My travel agent is doubtful that she can find us seats on any direct flight back to Boston. So we'll probably have to just hope for the best, attempting to make the connection in 40 minutes while carrying our gigantic car seat, carry-on bags, and the Peanut. Also we have no idea whether they intend to feed us on these cross-country flights. Thanks, Delta! This should be a real blast.

If a poopy diaper should "accidentally" get left behind when we get off, well, that will just be the Peanut's gift to the airline industry.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Great journalism blog

Just stumbled upon this blog: First Draft. Excellent writing about journalism and other stuff.

Callousness and evil: made, not born

So it turns out that when the military sends home the bodies of fallen soldiers from Iraq, they come home as freight. Nice.

And meanwhile, Bush gives out an Iraqi civilian casualty number that is too low by tens of thousands, and then makes a little joke about it. Because that's how little it matters to him, how many innocent farmers and tradespeople and mothers and babies we've killed over there.

Lately I keep wondering: how is it that anyone can get to the point where they can be so callous about something like this? How do you go from being a child filled with malice towards no one, to an adult so twisted that the reality of this horror bounces off the surface of your mind without making the slightest impression?

The Peanut started doing something a few months ago that truly surprised us. At first it was subtle, but then it was unmistakable: she started dancing. Once she could stand upright, whenever she heard music on the radio, or coming from one of her toys, she would bounce up and down in time to the beat, bending her little knees and grinning. Then it moved on to a more elaborate move, where she would shake her shoulders and waggle her hips from side to side. Sometimes, lately, she dances on the run, as she motors from one room to another at a speed that never fails to astonish us. Nobody taught her to do this. It's just an organic thing. The Peanut is so in love with the world around her that she occasionally has a little outburst of spontaneous joy and starts to dance.

Weren't the neocons kids once too? How does somebody go from being a dancing toddler to being the unrepentant architect of an unnecessary war?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Fun with consumer product packaging

We bought an XM satellite radio package the other day. We're pretty excited to listen to it on our commute in to work. But first we're going to have to liberate the home receiver and the car kit from their respective packages. My husband, who happens to be a highly experienced engineer, has just spent more than a half hour wrestling with the packaging in an effort to extricate the receiver, which the XM people have wrapped up in a container suitable for transporting plutonium. Why is every consumer product -- including toys -- packaged this way all of a sudden? It is SUCH a pain in the ass.

The new Harry Potter movie

So Mr. Fraulein and I had a rare night out sans Peanut recently, and we went to see the new Harry Potter "Goblet of Fire" movie. I have to say I was pretty disappointed. I'm re-reading the book now, and I'm struck once again by how economical and powerful J.K. Rowling's writing is. There is so much more going on there than they could manage to cram into a two-hour-plus movie, so the movie ends up being simply a series of vignettes of interesting scenes from the book. These scenes were interesting in themselves, and certainly the teenage actors' performances are improving, but it was still a disappointment when compared to the all-encompassing world of the books. Even though I know those kid actors would have been in their late 20s by the time they finished the movie series had they done this, I still kind of wish they had split Goblet into two movies.

I can't wait for the movie version of "Order of the Phoenix." I hope they don't screw that one up, because I think it's the best of the books so far.

Toddler Snot-Wiping Torture

I have an idea that Dick Cheney might like. If he's looking for new and creative ways to torment the various people we've got locked up in Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and those secret prisons in Europe, the Toddler Snot-Wiping Torture might do. This is the process whereby the toddler sneezes, expelling a glob of nasal discharge approximately the size of a golf ball (and containing enough germs to infect half the neighborhood) and you, the parent, run over with a wad of tissues to wipe her up before she manages to smear snot all over your couch, the rug, the walls, etc. Much screaming, wriggling and arm-waving ensues. But once you're done, you think, well, at least she's cleaned up now.

Then 45 seconds later she sneezes again, and you start the whole thing all over. We could airlift in a bunch of congested 1- and 2-year olds, allow them to run free among the prisoners, and let the fun begin!

Alternatively, this process could provide the germ (germ, get it? har har!) of a concept for a new movie along the lines of those grade-Z horror films you always see in the Blockbuster video:

The Snotening. "It never ends, and you can't escape!" I'm thinking Paris Hilton could star, perhaps along with a male lead from some show on the WB network. Paris could die in a snot flood or avalanche or something.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

In which I try to sum up the last 8 months...

It's pathetic that I have not posted here in so long. OK, so I've been a bit, shall we say, preoccupied with the Peanut (who will be 14 months old tomorrow, which I can hardly believe); taking care of my house, getting ready for the holidays, and the little matter of starting a new full-time job a few weeks ago. (Which is NOT a marketing job, thank God!!) My new boss has been doing quite a bit of blogging so she has shamed me into returning to the blog world once more.

So, let's see, what has been happening since March...well, on the Peanut front, we had crawling when she hit 8 months, and the first teeth breaking through around the same time. Then at 10 months, she walked, which was a bit of a shocker. Now she walks all the time, unless she is sleeping or eating. The only way we can hold her down is to put her into her high chair or the stroller.

Also in the last couple of months, we've had the first tentative attempts at talking. The typical conversation usually goes like this:

Me: Say mama. Mama. Mama.

Peanut: Ad-dddy. Da-da. DA-ddy.

Me: No, Mama. Mommy.

Peanut: Daddy Daddy Daddy!

And a few days ago, a fairly amusing development. Our incredibly fabulous and long-suffering cat, Marcus, (he's got so much wrong with him it's a miracle he's still alive, yet he purrs whenever he sees us) wandered into the kitchen and sat down by his food bowl, as he does when he's hungry. The Peanut, from her nearby playpen, pointed at Marcus and looked up at me.

"It-ttty. GIT-tty. Kitty!" she said.

So now she's talking about Mr. Fraulein and the cat, yet not saying Mommy. Hopefully I'll be next on the list...

Ugh -- I have a million things I want to catch up on, so more later.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The great Joe Conason

Thank God there are a couple of real journalists left in this country. Perhaps the best writer working today is the great Joe Conason. Here's his piece from today's Salon:

The gospel of the rich and powerful

Backed by the religious right, Republican lawmakers are now officially giving hell to the average American.

By Joe Conason

March 11, 2005 Watching the behavior of Republican politicians during the past several days, we are learning the true meaning of "compassionate conservatism." Not the public-relations version promoted by George W. Bush and his party propaganda apparatus, but the core philosophy enunciated by the deep thinkers of the religious right.

With legislative maneuvering designed to punish and deprive the least fortunate among us -- working people at the lower end of the American economy and their children -- the Republicans don't seem to be upholding the caring Christian ideals often proclaimed by the President. They're pushing down wages, snatching away tax credits and food stamps, slashing Medicaid and children's health insurance, and removing bankruptcy protections from families that suffer medical catastrophes. But they're extending tax cuts on dividends and capital gains, and making sure that those bankruptcy laws still protect the richest deadbeats.

In short, they are stealing bread from the mouths of the poor and stuffing cake into the maws of the wealthy.

The bankruptcy "reform" currently pending in the Senate, for instance, would compound the misery of Americans already ruined by enormous medical expenses, which is what drives most filers to seek legal protection. The sponsors of this punitive act, which will further inflate the profits of credit-card companies, rejected every amendment to discourage deceptive and extortionate lending practices, as well as every amendment to soften the impact on destitute veterans and others whose misfortune might ordinarily stir feelings of compassion.

Yet while the sponsors claimed that their only purpose was to stop "abuse" of bankruptcy laws, their bill will still allow every grifter to lawyer up and sequester his pelf in an "asset protection trust," an investment vehicle that limits legal liability, often by using offshore bank accounts. The clever rich will thus be exempt from the same laws that will be used from now on to denude poorer people. (At least a dozen Democrats also have signed their disgraced names onto this billion-dollar gift certificate for the credit industry.)

Those poorer people won't be seeing any increase in their pitiful wages any time soon, either, thanks to the Senate Republicans. Voting almost uniformly along party lines, the majority killed what would have been the first increase in the federal minimum wage since 1998. A recent poll showed that more than four out of five Americans favor this measure, evidently because they cherish the quaint notion that people who work for a living should be able to feed and shelter their children.

Led by Senator Rick Santorum, R-PA., some of the Republicans supported an alternative bill that paired a small increase in the minimum wage with clever language stripping wage and hour protections from millions of workers, and largely negating the effect of the raise. Indeed, Santorum more or less admitted that his bill was a fraud, designed to give Republicans cover while they killed the real increase: According to the Detroit Free Press, "Santorum discouraged senators from voting for either proposal, indicating that an upcoming effort to update welfare laws would be a better vehicle for the minimum wage."

Meanwhile, the House Republicans are not hesitating to trample upon those who are already beaten down. In their version of the 2006 federal budget, Medicaid would lose as much as $20 billion, at a time when state governments already are under severe pressure in sustaining the program. This will inevitably mean depriving poor people of health coverage. Those cuts will also diminish the states' capacity to enroll low-income kids in the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Their parents shouldn't expect too much assistance from the government at tax time, either. The Republican budget decrees reductions in the Earned Income Tax Credit program, a highly successful effort to supplement the income of the working poor that was even supported by the late President Reagan.

None of that money will be wasted, of course. Every dollar taken from poor and working families pays for the preservation of tax breaks on dividends and capital gains for investors, most of them earning no less than $200,000 a year.

The savage litany could go on, and no doubt will.

Appalling as these policies may be, however, they are in no sense inconsistent with the cosmology of the religious right, which melds laissez-faire economics with fundamentalist orthodoxy. Underlying these conservative attacks on the poor by professing Christians is a worldview that dates back to earlier centuries, when the church defended privilege and declared that the wealthy and powerful were God's elect. From that perspective, minimum wages, subsidized health care, and other such laws and regulations only corrupt the poor, who must earn charity by their temporal and spiritual submission.

If these ideas sound a bit old-fashioned -- or even primitive -- be assured that they represent the latest thinking on the evangelical far right, which is where "compassionate conservatism" originated. Guided by the most literal interpretation of Old Testament law, the preachers who have influenced the President are determined to undermine every modern protection enjoyed by poor and working-class Americans. Let's hope they draw the line at bringing back public whippings and debt slavery.

"Freedom on the march" -- only where it's convenient for us

I've been following the horrifying case of the woman in Pakistan who was raped by six men after some tribal council ordered the men to commit this crime because the woman's brother allegedly had had sex with some woman from the neighboring tribe. The details are unclear -- it's like pre-medieval times in that country, apparently. Evidently the men had been convicted, but then the conviction was overturned.

Isn't it interesting that the United States is so concerned with promoting "freedom" in places such as Iraq, yet we have very little interest in the freedom of the women of unbelievably backward countries like Pakistan? If we're so committed to spreading freedom, I have an idea how we could do it. Let's arm the women of Pakistan. Hand out weapons, but ONLY to the women, and stick around to teach them how to use them. Let's even the playing field a little bit against the animals who force the women of that country into such a gruesome hell.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The greatest outrage: That so few care

To those of us who abhor the recent descent of our country into a kind of nihilistic, profoundly anti-intellectual, materialistic madness – as long as I’ve got a new SUV and a fancy new cell phone every couple of years, I don’t give a rat’s ass about anything else! I steadfastly refuse to educate myself about what’s really going on in the world! – there is perhaps no greater outrage than the significant lack of outrage over the crimes our government has committed in our name.

Most Americans, we are forced to admit, really don’t care that much that we launched a war of aggression against a country that didn’t attack us. Dazed and dazzled by video games and reality TV, many people only dimly remember that there was a guy named Osama bin Laden who supposedly was the real culprit in 9-11. We never caught him, but at least we got the other guy, Saddam Hussein, and, since he looks almost equally swarthy, he’s probably almost equally guilty, right? I mean, wasn’t Saddam hiding some kind of weaponry over there in Iraq? No? Oh well, it’s over and done with now. No point in getting worked up about it. At least we provided a lesson for anybody else in the Middle East who might decide to screw with us: We will not hesitate to bomb you even further into the Stone Age, so you better watch yourselves.

The Red Cross estimates that we – and by “we,” I mean exactly that, since the government has acted using our tax money, and in our name – may have killed 100,000 civilians in Iraq. Most of these people were relatively poor, people who had already been victimized by Saddam Hussein’s regime. We went in there and we blew up their houses, killed their livestock, destroyed whatever fragile livelihood they had, maimed and killed them by the tens of thousands – FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER. Well, except to provide an excellent business opportunity for Halliburton and other U.S. companies, which I believe was the real reason for this war. And very, very few Americans care.

To get a better sense of how great an obscenity this is, imagine a scenario in which we in the U.S. are the victims of such an invasion. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this, and it’s hardly a comforting thing to envision. Imagine that here in suburban Massachusetts, suddenly one day, paper flyers rain down out of the sky, informing us that in 48 hours, the bombing will begin. My husband has been conscripted into the army, so I am left to confront this situation on my own. How am I supposed to make it out of the neighborhood before the bombs fall? If I’m lucky, I’ll still have our car, and it will be working, and I’ll have money for gas. If not, I’ll have to somehow get out of here on foot – carrying a five-month-old child and whatever food and other personal articles I can manage to drag with me. How far would I get, lugging the baby, several canisters of formula, diapers, bottles, bottled water, and some snack items for me? Could I possibly carry our wedding album as well? What about clothing and blankets? And where would I go? Who would shelter us from the coming carnage? If my husband managed to make it out of the army alive, how would he find us after the battle? What would we do if our house were destroyed in the bombing – where would we go? What if our workplaces were destroyed – where would we work?

There are no answers to these questions. That so few Americans have bothered to ask them speaks volumes about our values. This is the thing that I find it hardest to get over. Most people simply don’t care that we have done this to innocent civilians. Can we doubt that in the coming years, we will suffer the consequences of our apathy and hard-heartedness when terrorist attacks against Americans increase?

Why people turn away from politics

So today in the Globe we read how the Senate has allowed the latest proposal for raising the minimum wage to die on the floor, keeping the minimum wage at the same level where it’s been since 1997. It’s $5.15 an hour, or about $10,000 a year for a full-time worker. Imagine trying to live on that amount of money. Would you choose to pay rent on the kind of dump you could afford at that income level, or would you choose to buy food? You certainly couldn’t do both.

This, I believe, provides the best possible illustration of why so many people turn away from politics in disgust. What is the point of bothering to get involved in the political process when, repeatedly, year after year, we see this kind of class warfare being waged against the non-rich? Of course, this is exactly what the Republicans want. They only want the rich to be involved in the process, because if everyone else is powerless and utterly disenfranchised – exactly the situation we’re in now – they only have to worry about making policy that suits the needs of their base. There is no accountability, because no one else has any power. This might as well be medieval England; those of us who are not rich have the same amount of clout, and the same chance of exerting our will to change the system, as the serfs and peasants of that age had in relation to their monarchy.

Ordinary people turn away from politics in disgust because they see that for all the rhetoric we constantly hear about democracy, what we have in this country is anything but a democracy. We have a professional political class that exists solely to do favors for large corporations and rich individuals, so that those corporations and individuals, in turn, will finance the reelection of the politicians. We see utter scumbags like Rick Santorum standing up and screaming about how the business community will suffer irreparable damage if it is forced to pay its workers a living wage. At the same time, the Republicans are pushing legislation that would make it harder for individuals to file for bankruptcy. I read recently that the leading cause of personal bankruptcy is cancer. People get cancer, their health insurance doesn’t cover all their medical care, and they are forced to declare bankruptcy. The Republicans want to increase these people’s desperation and misery.

Ever since the Clinton years, the professional hand-wringers who run the Democratic party have been standing back and being polite and hoping the Republican blitzkrieg against middle-class America would go away on its own. These people deserve just as much of our contempt as the Republicans do. I find it revolting that so few in the Democratic party can be counted on to stand up and speak the truth. They are so terrified that if they talk about these issues, they will be accused of trying to set off a class war.

Well, I’ve got news for them – in the middle class, we are fighting this class war every day, and we have been for some time. The Republicans are the ones who started this war against the poor and the middle class. Will we wait until the next Depression to start speaking the truth, in plain language and loudly enough for ordinary Americans to hear? Will vast swaths of the middle class have to end up living in the streets before there’s an outcry that is equal to the gravity of the situation? When will we have an active opposition to this insanity?

Pictures of Bevin

Your image is everywhere in the photographic history of my life. There we are together in 1990 in Paris and in Ireland. There is your smile, beaming out at me across the years. There you are, happy, celebrating, on all those Christmases, Thanksgivings and Fourths of July our families spent together. And, heartbreakingly, there you are in my wedding album, in the background of the picture of my first dance with Mr. Fraulein. It’s been a year since you left us, and the hole in my heart is still there. I think it may be permanent. You never got to meet Little Peanut. I don’t even think you knew I was pregnant when you died.

It’s never going to go away, this feeling of wrongness. Something cracked in the universe when you left, and it’s never going to be put right. How I wanted to dance at your wedding. How I wanted to get to know your children. How very much I wanted you to be a part of my daughter’s life.

But now you’re elsewhere. I still think about you all the time. I just want to sit down and have a beer with you again. Someday, in another place, we will meet again and have that drink – I know that we will. In the meantime, I try to take some comfort in knowing that you are out there somewhere, a guardian angel for your niece and nephew, and hopefully for Little Peanut as well.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Journalism, RIP

At least we've got Salon:

Fake news, fake reporter

Why was a partisan hack, using an alias and with no journalism background, given repeated access to daily White House press briefings?

By Eric Boehlert

Feb. 10, 2005 When President Bush bypassed dozens of eager reporters from nationally and internationally recognized news outlets and selected Jeff Gannon to pose a question at his Jan. 26 news conference, Bush's recognition bestowed instant credibility on the apparently novice reporter, as well as the little-known conservative organization he worked for at the time, called Talon News. That attention only intensified when Gannon used his nationally televised press conference time to ask Bush a loaded, partisan question -- featuring a manufactured quote that mocked Democrats for being "divorced from reality."
Gannon's star turn quickly piqued the interest of many online commentators, who wondered how an obvious Republican operative had been granted access to daily White House press briefings normally reserved for accredited journalists. Two weeks later, a swarming investigation inside the blogosphere into Gannon and Talon News had produced all sorts of damning revelations about how Talon is connected at the hip to a right-wing activist organization called GOPUSA, how its "news" staff consists largely of volunteer Republican activists with no journalism experience, how Gannon often simply rewrote GOP press releases when filing his Talon dispatches. It also uncovered embarrassing information about Gannon's past as well as his fake identity. When Gannon himself this week confirmed to the Washington Post that his name was a pseudonym, it only added to the sense of a bizarre hoax waiting to be exposed.
On Tuesday night, the reporter who apparently saw himself as a trailblazing conservative "embedded with the liberal Washington press corps" abruptly quit his post as Washington bureau chief and White House correspondent for Talon News, that after earlier taunting those digging into his past that he was "hiding in plain sight." Contacted by e-mail for a comment, Gannon referred Salon to the message posted on his Web site: "Because of the attention being paid to me I find it is no longer possible to effectively be a reporter for Talon News. In consideration of the welfare of me and my family I have decided to return to private life. Thank you to all those who supported me."
The Gannon revelations come on the heels of the discovery that Bush administration officials signed lucrative contracts for several conservative pundits who hyped White House initiatives and did not disclose the government's payments. The Talon News fiasco raises serious questions about who the White House is allowing into its daily press briefings: How can a reporter using a fake name and working for a fake news organization get press credentials from the White House, let alone curry enough favor with the notoriously disciplined Bush administration to get picked by the president in order to ask fake questions? The White House did not return Salon's calls seeking answers to those questions.
The situation "begs further investigation," says James Pinkerton, a media critic for Fox News who has worked for two Republican White Houses. "In the six years I worked for Reagan and Bush I, I remember the White House being strict about who got in. It's inconceivable to me that the White House, especially after 9/11, gives credentials to people without doing a background check."
Gannon reportedly did not have what's known as a "hard pass" for the White House press room, which allows journalists to enter daily without getting prior approval each time. Instead Gannon picked up a daily pass by contacting the White House press office each morning and asking for clearance. Mark Smith, vice president of the White House Correspondents Association, says it's up to White House officials to decide whom they want to wave in each day. "They don't consult us." If they had, Smith says, he would have been "very uncomfortable" granting Gannon the same access as professional journalists.
And the association never would have backed a reporter using an alias. Says Pinkerton: "If [Gannon] was walking around the White House with a pass that had a different name on it than his real name, that's pretty remarkable." Smith, who covers the White House for Associated Press radio, says he "could have sworn" that he saw credentials around Gannon's neck with the name "Jeff Gannon" on them.
"Somebody was waving him into the White House every day," notes David Brock, president and CEO of Media Matters for America, an online liberal advocacy group that led the way in raising questions about Gannon and Talon News.
Earlier this week, when asked about Gannon's access, White House press secretary Scott McClellan essentially threw up his hands and said he has no control over who is in the press room and whom the president calls on during his rare press conferences. "I don't think it's the role of the press secretary to get into the business of being a media critic or picking and choosing who gets credentials," he told the Washington Post.
"That's like [McClellan] saying, 'I'm chief of staff at a hospital and when a patient dies in surgery and it turns out the guy operating wasn't a doctor ... [it's] not my business to be a medical critic,'" says Ron Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who has written extensively about the inner workings of the Bush administration. "Nobody is asking him to be a media critic. They're asking him to make sure people in the press room -- the ones using up precious time during extremely rare press conferences -- are acting journalists, honest brokers dealing with genuine inquiry to get at the truth."
Suskind questions the White House's explanation that Bush had no idea who Gannon was when he called on him during the press conference. "Frankly, my sense is that almost nothing happens inside the White House episodically. They are so ardent with their message discipline. It all happens for a reason."
And it's not as if finding out the connection between Talon and GOPUSA was difficult. The Standing Committee of Correspondents, a group of congressional reporters who oversee press credential distribution on Capitol Hill, did just that last spring when Gannon approached the organization to apply for a press pass. "We didn't recognize the publication, so we asked for information about what Talon was," says Julie Davis, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun who is on the committee. "We did some digging, and it became clear it was owned by the owner of GOPUSA. And we had asked for some proof of Talon's editorial independence from that group ... They didn't provide anything, so we denied their credentials, which is pretty rare," says Davis. She adds, "There's limited space, and particularly after 9/11 there's limited access to the Capitol. Our role is to make sure journalists have as much access as possible, and to ensure that credentials mean something."
Talon's unusual access to the White House has upset journalists at other small outlets who don't enjoy the same privileged connections. "We're a weekly newspaper with a circulation of 22,000 and I'm pretty sure we couldn't get a White House press pass," says Mike Hudson, editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter in Niagara Falls, N.Y. "How does Gannon, which isn't even his real name, get past security?" Hudson wrote to Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., asking her office "to look into how a partisan political organization and an individual with no credentials as a reporter -- and apparently operating under an assumed name -- landed a coveted spot in the White House press corps."
Slaughter, a vocal critic of the administration's pundit payola practices, wrote to the White House on Monday urging Bush "to please explain to the Congress and to the American people how and why the individual known as 'Mr. Gannon' was repeatedly cleared by your staff to join the legitimate White House press corps."
Until this week, what little was known about Gannon was vague. But several Web sites he is connected with provide some possible clues. Introducing himself to readers of his ConservativeGuy.com Web site, Gannon once wrote, "I've been a preppie, a yuppie, blue-collar, green-collar and white collar. I've served in the military, graduated from college, taught in the public school system, was a union truck driver, a management consultant, a fitness instructor and an entrepreneur. I'm a two-holiday Christian and I usually vote Republican."
When the recent controversy erupted, Gannon positioned himself as more of an ardent right-winger, not to mention ardent Christian. On JeffGannon.com he wrote, "I'm everything people on the Left seem to despise. I'm a man who is white, politically conservative, a gun-owner, an SUV driver and I've voted for Republicans. I'm pro-American, pro-military, pro-democracy, pro-capitalism, pro-free speech, anti-tax and anti-big government. Most importantly, I'm a Christian. Not only by birth, but by rebirth through the blood of Jesus Christ." Posting on the right-wing FreeRepublic.com, Gannon, while working as a White House reporter, once urged fellow Freepers to stage a demonstration outside Sen. John Kerry's headquarters and chant Jane Fonda's name and throw DNC medals, a reference to the Vietnam ribbons of honor Kerry threw away during an antiwar demonstration in the early 1970s.
As a would-be reporter, Gannon often copied entire sections from White House press releases and pasted them into his stories, according to an analysis done by Media Matters. This despite the fact he once ridiculed legitimate journalists for "working off the talking points provided by the Democrats."
According to his bio on Talon's Web site (which has now been removed), he's a graduate of the "Pennsylvania State University System," which could mean anything from Penn State to a much smaller state-run school such as West Chester University. He also noted that he's a graduate of Leadership Institute Broadcast School of Journalism -- which is a two-day, $50 seminar run by Morton Blackwell, a longtime Republican activist who co-founded the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and has said that those on "the ultra left harness hate and envy in their quest for unlimited power." Blackwell's journalism seminar aims to "prepare conservatives for success in politics, government and the news media," according to the institute's Web site. The classes are also designed to "bring balance to the media."
It was Blackwell, serving as a Virginia delegate to the GOP convention this summer, who handed out purple bandages in an effort to make fun of Kerry's Vietnam War wounds. They read: "It was just a self-inflicted scratch, but you see I got a Purple Heart for it?" Blackwell also served as a mentor to a young field organizer who is now Bush's deputy chief of staff. (Karl Rove called Blackwell just days after winning the 2000 election to thank him for his help.)
What likely forced Gannon to quit Talon News Tuesday were the revelations uncovered by bloggers such as World O' Crap, AmericaBlog, Mediacitizen, Daily Kos and Eschaton, along with their readers, about Gannon's past. For instance, bloggers uncovered evidence suggesting that the person and company that own the Web site JeffGannon.com also registered the gay-themed sites hotmilitarystud.com, militaryescorts.com and militaryescortsm4m.com. And according to this online research, that company, Bedrock Corp., is owned by a man named Jim Guckert, leading to speculation that Guckert and Gannon are one and the same. Bedrock is based in Wilmington, Del., where Gannon apparently is from.
As for Talon, its Web site says it is "committed to delivering accurate, unbiased news coverage to our readers." The site is run by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican Party delegate and political activist who also runs GOPUSA.com, which touts itself as "bringing the conservative message to America." As Media Matters documented, "In addition to Eberle's dual role as the head of both entities, both domain names TalonNews.com and GOPUSA.com are registered to the same address in Pearland, Texas, which appears to be Eberle's personal residence. The TalonNews.com domain name registration lists Eberle's e-mail address as bobby.eberle@gopusa.com ... Talon News apparently consists of little more than Eberle, Gannon, and a few volunteers, and is virtually indistinguishable from GOPUSA.com ... GOPUSA's officers and directors show a similar lack of journalism experience, but plenty of experience working for Republican causes." After Media Matters highlighted the background of Talon's "news team," Talon quickly yanked their bios from the site.
There is evidence that ownership of both Talon and GOPUSA changed hands Monday, just as the Gannon controversy was growing. More recently, many archived stories, including some dealing with the issue of homosexuality and defending the ban on gay marriage, were scrubbed from the Talon site. Eberle at Talon and GOPUSA did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Last year Gannon and Talon made a blip on the Beltway radar over an interview Gannon did with former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, whose wife, Valerie Plame, was exposed as a CIA agent by conservative columnist Robert Novak. That potentially illegal disclosure prompted an independent counsel investigation. Gannon apparently attracted investigators' attention when, in the interview with Wilson, he referred to an unclassified document that may have been distributed to conservative allies in the press to bolster the administration's case that it was Wilson's wife who suggested he be sent to Niger to investigate the claim that Iraq tried to purchase uranium, or yellowcake, from the African nation.
It's likely Talon and Gannon would have remained obscure had the swaggering reporter not popped his now famous question to Bush. The details surrounding the Jan. 26 press room incident are telling, as they highlight the elasticity Gannon and other partisan advocates often use in their "reporting." Gannon asked Bush, "Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy." He continued, "[Minority Leader] Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there's no crisis there. How are you going to work -- you said you're going to reach out to these people -- how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"
Reid never made any such comment about soup lines.
That afternoon conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh crowed that Gannon's question was "a repeat, a rehash, of a precise point I made on this program yesterday." However, Limbaugh conceded that Reid had "never actually said 'soup lines.'" That was simply Limbaugh's exaggerated characterization of Reid's concerns. Gannon either heard that phrase on Limbaugh's show or read it in Limbaugh's online column and then inserted it into his loaded question to Bush. On Feb. 2, with Gannon under fire for his lack of journalistic ethics, Limbaugh suddenly flip-flopped and told listeners that Gannon's question about Reid and soup lines "was an accurate recitation of what the Senate Democrat leaders had said." Then, in a Feb. 7 article in the Washington Post, Gannon finally conceded the quote was made up, but suggested he had nothing to apologize for.
All of which begs the question, "Who are they issuing credentials to?" asks Hudson at the Niagara Falls Reporter. "Could a guy from [Comedy Central's] 'The Daily Show' get press credentials from this White House?"
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About the writer
Eric Boehlert is a senior writer at Salon.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Getting laughs from a four-month-old

Over the last few weeks, very slowly, Little Peanut has started giggling at random things. So now our new game is to try and figure out what will coax a laugh out of her. In my new Mom/Baby class, we learned one trick that seems to work. It's the second verse to "Ring around the rosy." You lie the baby down on the floor, sit in front of her, and sing, "Cows in the meadow/eating buttercups" while using your fingers to make horns behind your head. Then you go "Thunder!" while thumping on the ground on either side of her; "Lightning!" while gesturing with your fingers; and then the big finish: "We all jump UP!" while either flinging your arms over your head or picking up the baby and swinging her in the air.

Patriots extravaganza

So all of New England is atwitter over the latest Patriots Super Bowl victory. The next day the Globe headline was "DYNASTY," in a type size more appropriate for "Aliens land on Boston Common." Oh, the thrills, the excitement...oh wait, I forgot: I actually don't give a rat's ass.

Could there be anything more boring than watching a bunch of fat overpaid nitwits wearing spandex, running into one another? Aside from baseball, I mean?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

More Boston Globe buffoonery

Today's right-wing idiocy in the Globe comes to us courtesy of the always-entertaining Jeff Jacoby. I'd call him a Republican whore, but that would be like calling Michael Jackson mildly eccentric. Jacoby is at it once again, pulling stuff out of his ass, with nary a complaint from his editors. (Do they even have editors over there? Note to the Globe: just because somebody writes an opinion column, that doesn't mean you don't have to edit it. If a blatant falsehood is someone's opinion, it's still a blatant falsehood...)

Old Jeff has got his panties in a twist over the possible ascension of Howard Dean to the post of Democratic National Committee chairman. Dean is just too...angry to head the DNC, according to Jacoby. He is outraged that Dean once said he "hates" the Republicans. How is it possible that someone could use such crude language in American politics? This is simply beyond the pale! It's giving Jeff the vapors:

"...the willingness of so many Democrats to openly call themselves 'haters,' to make contempt for the other party their stock-in-trade -- that is something we haven't seen before."

Jeff was apparently in a coma during the Clinton presidency. Remember when this was a regular event?

Republican Whip Renews Attack On Clinton

By John King/CNN

WASHINGTON (April 24, 1998) -- House Republican Whip Tom DeLay renewed
his attacks on President Bill Clinton's integrity on Friday, playing off Democratic outrage that a GOP House committee chairman called the president a "scumbag."

In a sarcastic "open letter" to the House Democratic leadership, DeLay suggested a House debate to determine just what language can be used to describe "an administration that relies on spin, the whole spin and nothing but the spin?"

This is one example; of course if you do a Google search you can find hundreds more, from Clinton's time in office and beyond. But like most Republican whore journalists, Jeff has both a selective memory and a selective sense of ethics. It's OK for the Republicans to commit all nature of sins, but for the Democrats to express anger about any of it...well, we can't have that.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

State of the Union drinking game

Instructions are here. Warning: it could be lethal. I'm sure there will be dozens of references to "freedom," a "mandate," etc., so drink with care...

Thank God for the Daily Show

...it's keeping me going, in spite of the Republicans running the world. And oh my, do I love Stephen Colbert. Just the sight of him sitting there cracks me up, before he even opens his mouth. I particularly enjoy his "This Week in God" segments.

And the Republican Media Whore Lifetime Achievement Award goes to...


Here is what I want to know: who is responsible for publishing this putrid rag, anyway, the goddamn Republican National Committee? Are they kidding with this crap, from the Jan. 24 issue? "(Bush) is hands-on, detail-oriented and hates 'yes' men." Yeah, that sounds about right. At least half the time, he looks so zoned out that you have to wonder if he's on drugs, he himself has admitted that he doesn't read anything, and he demoted or fired pretty much everyone in his first administration who disagreed with him about Iraq, but whatever. His buddies say he's "detail-oriented," so it must be true! We've got ourselves a scoop here, kids!

There are so many places to go with criticizing this garbage that it's hard to know where to begin. Like high school sophomores writing for their school paper, the intrepid "reporters" at Newsweek have gone straight for the really tough interviews, quoting "senior aides," Andrew Card, and Karl Rove. Just the sources you'd expect to provide an unbiased view of their boss Bush. Did they bother to interview anybody who isn't a slavish GOP partisan? Um, no. Absolutely every source quoted in this article is either explicitly described as a Republican or labeled a Bush "friend" or "confidante." At least at one time (during the misty past of the 1990s, when I was a reporter) there was a term for this kind of story: it was called a "blow job." If you did this kind of thing at the highly unremarkable local daily newspaper where I used to work, you had a tendency to get fired. Today this caliber of reporting gets you a job at the most elite media outlets in the country.

"Bush's aides and friends describe...a restless man who masters details and reads avidly, who chews over his mistakes and the failings of those around him..."

I mean, truly: what in God's name do the people at Newsweek think they're doing? What do they think their job actually is? It's not like they could be getting paid off by the Republican party, or anything, because, you know, that would be nuts.

Oh, wait...

Speaking of the payola scandal, those wacky pranksters at Newsweek were at it again in the Feb. 7 issue, assuring us that the Bush administration will no longer be paying "pundits" to shill for its various causes. Well, that's nice to know. It's also nice to have the assurance of Newsweek's fine, upstanding, and totally impartial reporters that it doesn't matter anyway, because the entire definition of journalism has changed. You know, because of all those, whatdoyoucallem, "bloggers":

"Today, it's not even clear what a 'journalist' is, or what 'covering' something means."

Hey, Newsweek, how about I spell it out for you: A "journalist" is someone who recognizes that it's unethical to write nothing but puff pieces about the powerful people and institutions he or she covers -- particularly in the face of mountains of evidence of the corruption of said people and institutions. Also, to "cover" the White House does not mean accepting its PR team's invitations to go to all kinds of swanky Washington parties, and then conveniently omitting any remotely critical views from your coverage of said White House. To "cover" a person, government institution, event, or anything else, really, means just what you'd think it means: you try, to the very best of your ability, and without being swayed by any attempts to bribe you into positive coverage, to find out what the truth is, to determine what is newsworthy, and to publish it, without embellishment or omission. That's pretty much it.

If we could do it at my college paper and at every small paper where I ever worked, the national media should be able to do it.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Bumper sticker of the day

Seen today on a car parked on my street: "Jesus was a liberal."


Friday, January 28, 2005

In-Style Celebrity Weddings

So last night I watched "In-Style Celebrity Weddings," because I simply can't get enough of that kind of thing, and I was fascinated/horrified by their feature on Star Jones' wedding. First of all: who the hell is this woman? I had never heard of her before that "View" show came on the air. But according to the In-Style people she is also an "attorney and author." (If I could find a law firm that allows its attorneys to parade around in gigantic hair extensions and extremely flamboyant eye makeup, I might actually go back to legal marketing.) Anyway, she apparently had one of the most alarming weddings in history, rivaling the famous Celine Dion nuptials. She supposedly had the longest veil ever -- she deliberately had it made two feet longer than Princess Diana's. Classy.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Cabin fever

Now I understand why women go slowly insane being trapped in the house with their kids in the winter. We had 24 inches of snow on the ground already, and today it's been snowing all day again. I'm watching it through my third floor windows as it blows sideways. Earlier I bundled Little Peanut up in one of her many pink snowsuits (90 percent of the clothing I've received as baby gifts has been pink) and we went downstairs to stand in front of the house for 10 minutes, watching the snow fall. That was the first time I'd been outside the house in days. Then it was time to go back in so she could spit up on me some more.

I also understand now why so many mothers gain tons of weight and never lose it. Exercise? You've got to be kidding me. Does brushing my teeth count? I suppose theoretically I could pace the length of the condo 9,000 times in a row -- that might add up to a decent amount of walking. In the meantime, I'm trying to come to terms with my disturbing post-pregnancy stomach fat roll and my expanded new ass. Pregnancy is like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." When you give birth, you expect to get your old body back, only to find that it's been replaced by one that you have no recollection of.

Luckily Little Peanut is exceptionally cute. Mr. Fraulein and I both thought so anyway, but many unbiased observers have confirmed this. She has luxurious eyelashes and a little bow-shaped mouth. Her latest thing is blowing raspberries, and she smiles a lot. So she's not the worst person to be stuck in the house with.

31 Marines killed in Iraq

31 killed in Marine chopper crash in Iraq
By Sameer N. Yacoub

Jan. 26, 2005 BAGHDAD -- A U.S. military transport helicopter crashed in bad weather in Iraq's western desert Wednesday, killing 31 people, all believed to be Marines, while insurgents killed five other American troops in the deadliest day for U.S. forces since the Iraq war began.
Militants waging a campaign to derail Sunday's election carried out at least six car bombings and a flurry of other attacks on schools to be used as polling stations, political party offices and Kurdish sites, killing or wounding more than two dozen people.
While al-Qaida warned Iraqis to stay away from the polls -- saying they would only have themselves to blame if they are hurt in attacks -- President Bush called on people to ‘‘defy the terrorists” and cast ballots in the crucial election.
A Bush administration official said the cause of Wednesday's crash was not immediately known but that there was bad weather at the time.

These people's families will undoubtedly believe they died advancing the cause of "freedom," whatever the hell that means. It seems everyone's too polite to point out that they're actually dying for nothing whatsoever. Well, except for providing business opportunities for Halliburton.

A couple of weeks ago, after another bunch of American soldiers was taken out (I forget whether it was another accident, or a roadside bomb) I saw one soldier's mother speaking on a network news program from her home in Nevada. "He died to keep us free," she said. "They were going to overrun this country. If we didn't go into Iraq, I'd be wearing a burqua right now."

This is what these people actually believe. That Saddam's army was on the point of marching into Las Vegas when the courageous Bush administration declared war on Iraq. Believing these lies is the only thing that keeps them going.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

123 years ago today

...Virginia Woolf was born.

"Is it not possible that if we knew the truth about war, the glory of war would be scotched and crushed where it lies curled up in the rotten cabbage leaves of our prostituted fact-purveyors; and if we knew the truth about art instead of shuffling and shambling through the smeared and dejected pages of those who must live by prostituting culture, the enjoyment and practice of art would become so desirable that by comparison the pursuit of war would be a tedious game for elderly dilettantes in search of a mildly sanitary amusement -- the tossing of bombs instead of balls over frontiers instead of nets? In short, if newspapers were written by people whose sole object in writing was to tell the truth about politics and the truth about art we should not believe in war, and we should believe in art."

-- Three Guineas

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Boston Globe Right-Wing Whore of the Day!

Some days, it's going to be pretty hard to choose, because there are oh so many right-wing whores at the Boston Globe. But today's whore is Brian McGrory, who wrote a particularly asinine column Friday about the Larry Summers flap. Summers, the Harvard president, asked a very stupid question recently about whether women are somehow biologically disadvantaged when it comes to math and science. McGrory, who's obviously been reading the Bill O'Reilly Republican media whore talking points handbook, is shocked (shocked I tell you!) that people were offended by this.

To see why such a question is offensive, let's imagine how a portion of McGrory's column would read if you used, let's say, the word "blacks" where he uses the word "women," and where he discusses men in general, we could focus on "white men." For example:

"What did Summers do? He addressed the obvious, that blacks have a harder time achieving success in math and science careers than white men. And he posed a thorny question: Are blacks somehow innately, meaning biologically, inferior to white men in these fields?"

It's still a technically true statement, right? I mean, it's literally true that there are both fewer women, and fewer black people generally, than there are white men in the very loose category of "math and science careers" (assuming we're defining this category as including jobs such as engineering jobs). But when you phrase it the way I have here, you can see that the very question of whether black people are "biologically inferior" is racist. So too is the question of whether women are "biologically inferior." But at the Globe, it's like the 1950s (hell, the 1920s) never ended. Any obnoxious right-wing bullshit is acceptable to publish, as long as it's criticizing alleged "political correctness."

Friday, January 21, 2005

"...I'll write, from this day forward, to please myself."

Welcome to Purple Ink! After 10 years as a journalist, during which I was required, all too often, to write to please editors who had little clue what was happening in the real world, and several more years as a marketing writer, which requires one to write to please a staggering array of overpaid, not-terribly-bright corporate overlords, this is an experiment in writing what I want to write, the way I want to write it.

In the second chapter of Virginia Woolf's novel "Orlando," the title character is reeling from his interaction with the famous but cash-strapped writer Nick Greene. Greene, after initially sucking up to Orlando in an attempt to gain his patronage, has publicly trashed the aristocratic Orlando's poetry. Traumatized, Orlando gives up on his pursuit of literary fame: "'I'll be blasted,' he said, 'if I ever write another word, or try to write another word, to please Nick Greene or the Muse. Bad, good, or indifferent, I'll write, from this day forward, to please myself.'"

I've been thinking about this quote from "Orlando" a lot lately, given my latest career transition. Reporting was fun, but it was the rare occasion when I got to cover a topic I was actually interested in. My experiment in corporate marketing writing only succeeded in convincing me that when marketing directors say they want to hire a writer, what they mean is that they want to hire someone to type up their boss's ideas and to tell him what a brilliant guy he is, even if he is in fact a drooling jackass.

That can get kind of old. So three months ago, shortly after giving birth to Little Peanut, whose adventures will be detailed here, I quit my last marketing job. (And I do mean, my last marketing job.) Now in addition to being Mommy, I'm going to be a person who writes for myself. I'm going to write about politics, journalism, literature, parenthood, and whatever else comes to mind.

Oh, about the title: Virginia Woolf wrote her novels in purple ink because she loved the color. It just made her happy.