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May 31, 2005

Memorial Day, a day late

Read this tale of good men dying, in an out of combat accident. Think about what it means to protect our country, the skills and training it takes that themselves take a toll. It's not just war that kills our people. Being in the military is high risk even in times of peace.

It is a beautiful, heart-felt piece. Don't miss it.

(Link via Hoglog, via Chicagoboyz. Read the Chicagoboyz link too, and help if you can.)

Posted by susanna at 06:52 PM | TrackBack

May 25, 2005

Unequivocally pathetic

I'm sorry, but any list of "Top 10 US campsites" that forms a half-ring around the middle of the US - with a little anomoly called Golden, CO - tells you more about the living and vacation habits of the editors of MSN than it tells you about good places to camp. How did three places in California make the cut when none in Tennessee did? How did two in Texas when none in Florida or Oklahoma or Minnesota or the UP did? Malarkey. Hogwash. Bullfeathers.

Maybe it just tells you who paid to be on it. I can tell you right now, without having been to any of those 10, that no more than two of them at the most would be in any reasonable top ten. The law of averages wouldn't allow it.

Yeesh. I should have known better than to look. It's MSN, for goodness sake.

Posted by susanna at 11:10 PM | TrackBack

Pulling out my hair (or, why I hate Microsoft and Dell)

I'm very sorry for being absent; I truly have good intentions to post every day. But it's something like writing letters or calling someone - you have more to say if you talk every day, and the longer it is between contacts the less it seems there is to say. Or perhaps there's so much to say, but it all seems unimportant in retrospect, and probably whatever had you so exercised on Tuesday is resolved by Wednesday, so who wants old news? That's as good an excuse as any, I suppose. I've been thinking lately that one of my regrets as a writer is that I totally blew the opportunity I had when I wrote a weekly column for two years back in the 1980s. What drivel I put out there! What I'd do to have that platform back! So what may evolve here is my effort to recapture some of that.

Part of the reason is too that I just honestly don't have the time to know enough about what's in the news to make anything I have to say of much value, on a day to day basis. I'm really slammed, in terms of both time and emotion, trying to get a freelance writing business off the ground. Teaching isn't going to provide much $$, and I've finally figured out that writing is what I need to be doing. Now just to convince others... I've immersed myself in this book, and its followup, this book, by Peter Bowerman, both of which I recommend without reservation if you think this path is for you. One of the tenets he preaches is cold-calling - as in, calling hundreds of strangers to ask them if they need your services. I've called about 50 so far, and it's a scary thing. But some people want to know more, so... that's a good thing. When I'm not calling, I'm building my calling list (Bowerman recommends 700-1000 calls to kick things off. !!! Do you know how much time it takes? Answer: Lots). I'm also working on a project for Spirit of America - I'm their Volunteer Project Manager for the Library Books for Iraqi Children project, and you'll be hearing more about that very shortly. Loosen up those wallets! I'm gonna be diving in!

In the midst of this, I've finally come to terms with needing to make Microsoft Outlook work on my computer. I've always been terrified of Outlook, because I'd always heard using it was tantamount to standing with your doorway wide open saying, "Come on in, Trojans! Right this way, Viruses! Worms? Why, yes, yes, lots of room for you too! Make yourself at home! There's tasty data to eat and software to demolish. Enjoy! Enjoy!" I've been using my Bellsouth email account just through the online interface, but I need to be able to download large attachments into my computer for work. So, I have to get Outlook and Bellsouth to be friends. Well, as of this morning, they're behaving like two spitting wet cats in a burlap bag.

Here's the problem: When I hit, "Send/Receive" I get this message: "The operation failed. An object could not be found". When I explore further, it says that Outlook found the Bellsouth server but the server isn't responding. So I called Bell South. I spent about 30 minutes with them, making sure all the settings were correct; the tech even took over my computer by remote connection and checked it all himself. He found nothing to change, and concluded it was a software problem. He referred me to Microsoft. I called Microsoft and they said, um, Dell is your primary software support but we'd be happy to help you for $35. I called Dell. Three times. Waited. Waited. Finally, I took their singsong advice and connected to the online chat help instead. There I was blessed with the gracious assistance of a charming young person by the name of Anush.

Did you detect the sarcasm there?

We proceeded to accomplish about 5 minutes worth of tech help at the blistering speed of 35 minutes. I don't know why there were huge unexplained gaps in responses from her, some of more than 3 minutes, but perhaps it was the fact that those little bytes had to travel all the way to India and back. At one point I threatened to start typing in Bible verses and send them to her until she responded. When all was said and done, she concluded the exchange by giving me a link to a Microsoft self-help page. My goodness! Nothing I could have done for myself! She said if that didn't work I could contact another tech for additional help. Of course, after such a great experience, I'm likely to do that, ohhhhh, sometime in the next millenium. But perhaps that is their goal. If their tech help absolutely sucks, then it stands to reason no one will use it and thus they will cut costs. You like to deal with a company like that.

So here I sit, having wasted all told about three hours of my day on figuring out this problem. Or, rather, trying to resolve the problem without success. At this point I'll just wait until my friendly live&local computer tech is available, and give HIM $35 to fix it. grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

On a bright note, my sis in law and two nieces came over for a visit, and we went to Subway for lunch. A very very bright spot in a frustrating day. Now I have to get ready for Bible class tonight (anyone have a gourd lying around that I can cut up?), then I'll work on SoA stuff until time to go to church. At least thinking godly thoughts will keep me from stabbing my computer to death with a #8 steel crochet hook.

Posted by susanna at 03:35 PM | TrackBack

May 22, 2005

On photographing death and tragedy

Greyhawk has an excellent post about the journalists and newspapers trying (and at times succeeding) in photographing the deaths of US military in Iraq. It's worth your time and thoughtful consideration.

The question of how to react in the face of injury or death was one I struggled with in my four years as a journalist. It was one of the reasons I decided to leave the field. I don't think it's wrong in all situations, but I do think that journalists should be humans first, historians second and business people a distant third. Let me tell you of my own experiences.

At small newspapers, like the ones where I worked, a reporter is often also the photographer. I did a lot of that, and even carried a police scanner with me so I could be notified of accidents, fires and other police activity. In a small community a car going off the side of the road can result in a front page photo. And since everyone knows everyone in those communities, we in the newsroom had frequent discussions about what precisely we could show. The general rule was, the further away the tragedy, the more you could show. Thus, you didn't use photos showing the face of a local injured person, but if the incident were far removed - say, in New York City - you could show the mangled body and bloodied face of a dead person. If, that is, your community in general wouldn't rise up in arms over such graphic depictions. Let me emphasize that the discussion was not what was tasteful or morally correct, but rather what the market would bear without backlash against the newspaper. As journalists, we were expected by our profession to seek out the most startling, compelling images regardless of the context, circumstances or morality of it. The morality came from individuals, not the profession.

In my own journalism career, several incidents stand out - most especially from my last job, at a weekly outside of Louisville, KY. It was a good newspaper, very small, but my editor was pretty good and to some degree concerned about the morality as well as the market. I was the only full-time reporter/photographer, so both my editor and I carried police scanners. I was the one who would get up in the middle of the night to take photos of whatever was going on.

The incident that stands out the most clearly was one I came upon almost before it was reported to police. I was driving home from work along a road I didn't usually travel - I did that sometimes to see if there were things I was missing that would make a good story. Around a curve, I saw a car driven off the road and into a field, near some houses in a more rural area. Another car was off to the side, apparently a good samaritan, and some people were peering out their doorways to observe. I parked my car, hopped out with my camera, and went over to the car. I yelled at some of the observers about calling the police, and they said they had. Knowing that the rule about "no face shots of the vics" would apply here, I stood waiting for the police because I couldn't take photos of the car and its occupants.

There were two women in the car, the driver a woman about 40, the passenger a teenage girl about 17. I don't remember much about the woman, although I think she was unconscious. I was standing on the passenger side, about 20 feet away from the teenage girl, whose door was open. Her face had hit the dashboard, knocking out several teeth. She was in shock. Blood covered the lower half of her face, and flowed in sluggish rivelets to drip on her shirt. She moved in her seat slowly, shifting from side to side, and finally turned to look right at me. Her eyes were glazed, and I know she didn't really see me. But there I stood, while she bled, waiting for someone to come help her so I could photograph it. I've never felt lower or more useless in my life. When the paramedics and cops came, I photographed them helping her, and ultimately she and her mother were both fine. And I had a good relationship with the local cops and emergency people, so they didn't think a thing of it that I was there. But I've never forgotten the look on that bloody teenaged face.

Another time the police were called out to a scene where a young man was injured in a four-wheeler accident. I raced to the scene, exhilirated by the excitement of being in the know and an insider. When I got there, I photographed the paramedics stabilizing him; they'd already called a helicopter to take him to the nearest trauma hospital. But the boy - man, really, he was also about 17 - had gone into spasms and they were having difficulty controlling his body while they administered care. One of them yelled at me to help. I was the only other person there who could help. Suddenly I was terrified, and sick. I wasn't an observer anymore, I was called upon to help. Should I? I didn't really think about it. I put down my camera and knelt at the boy's feet, pressing down on his legs to keep them still while they worked. I can remember the warm skin and rough hair under my hands, the pounding of my heart, the green of the field, the fear in my throat. What if he died? Before long they released me to go back to my job, which I did. But I never forgot that either.

I wasn't always so conscious of my job as an intrusion. Another time I followed the cops to a car accident on a winding narrow road up near the river. It was a beautiful stretch of scenery, horse country, a place where homes cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the mid-1980s, and the cars on the roads were usually BMWs and Mercedes and Volvos. It was the day of an annual fundraiser at a nearby horse farm, a day of gourmet food, alcohol and horse watching. The cops hated it because all the high brows would drink themselves into a near stupor and then drive that winding road home. The local government didn't want too heavy enforcement either, because the annual fundraiser was a very prestigious event they wanted to keep in the county.

This time two cars were zipping along when the second one didn't make one of the curves, slamming into a tree. Fortunately the road itself had kept their speed relatively low, so while they had to be cut from the car, the occupants survived. I got there after cop and emergency vehicles blocked the road before and after the accident scene; they were cutting out the occupants as I came in to photograph. There was lots of action, and I was able to get the shots I needed without showing identifiable shots of the victims. About halfway through, a guy from the first of the two cars came up to me. The ones in the accident car were his buddies. He had obviously been drinking, quite a bit, and yelled at me to stop taking photos. I said calmly that I was in a public place doing my job and please get out of my way. He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me the short distance outside of the ring of vehicles, calling me quite a few names in the doing. I jerked my arm loose and told him if he touched me again I'd make a complaint to the police, and he would go to jail. I stalked past him as he yelled more expletives, and finished my job. A little later one of the cops came over to chat, and I told him about it. He immediately wanted to arrest the guy for hassling me. I said no, he's just upset about his friends.

I thought then, and still think, that photographs of that accident scene weren't a bad idea. The event was instructive of what happens when you drink and drive, and weren't solely voyeuristic. But I thought of that guy when I read the photojournalist's account (on Greyhawk's site) of the military men closing ranks around her when she would have photographed their injured and murdered buddies. I don't fault them at all.

I wouldn't say that all or even most of newspaper photography is voyeuristic or inappropriate. I do think some of it is, and I also think many times the intent is either to push an agenda or to increase commercial success of the publication, not to record accurate history in an objective way. I got sick of that kind of photography, and it was one of the reasons I left journalism. I couldn't stand on the side of the road and watch people hurting without having any role in the situation other than to photograph it. I couldn't justify earning my living as a vulture feeding on pain. Are most journalists that way? There's an element of it, yes. Vultures form an important function in the ecosystem, after all. But that doesn't mean I have to be one. And you can be a journalist, the very best kind of journalist, by carrying with you the realization that you have a responsibility to your readers and your community to tell them what's going on honestly and without pandering to commercialism. But if you do that, you'll be swimming upstream in a flood.

I don't hate journalism or journalists. But I hated myself as one.

Posted by susanna at 09:00 AM | TrackBack

May 18, 2005

PepsiCo posts Nooyi's speech

PepsiCo has posted a transcript of Nooyi's speech here in PDF, and a message from her here. Thanks to Powerline for pushing this forward.

While the tone of her speech isn't quite as bad as portrayed, I'm still not very impressed. She loves loves loves the country, but focuses on how the world perceives America as giving them the finger, not a helping hand. She has a very good point in that everyone needs to be concerned about not being rude or insensitive when dealing with, well, anyone. But that's true even when you're dealing with a business in your own town where everyone speaks your own language and has your same background. People who go overseas and behave as the people she describes did, should a) have been trained better before leaving their own country and b) should be disciplined by their company for their behavior. Their hosts should know of the disciplining too. It seems to me that what she's saying is just basic business savvy, and not something to hammer on. And while she's mostly making a point about how these graduates should approach the international business world, she didn't have to portray the US in such a one-sided manner in doing so.

The truth is, the United States has a permanently extended helping hand as a nation, and it's pretty bloody most of the time from getting bitten and gnawed and hacked and shot and beaten. But still we extend it. Where's the criticism for the countries that get the help then do the blooding? I don't think there's ever a place for arrogance about being an American - what we are is blessed, although, yes, in many ways as a result of our labors. But there is a lot of room for pride and pleasure in our country, and we shouldn't be remonstrated with about that.

I also disagree with her analogy about the hand, because I don't think it "all needs to move together" if that means we diminish ourselves to appease selfish profitmongering on the part of others. If we're all working together to achieve a common goal of success for all, then sure, we should (and do) go out of our way to do it. But if getting that smooth movement means giving not only without getting back, but actually getting hammered in the giving, then I'm not much into smooth movement.

I acquit Nooyi of deliberately trashing the US in a frothing anti-American speech. But I still think her message was not the right one to give.

Posted by susanna at 11:01 AM | TrackBack

Update on PepsiCo's Nooyi

Powerline has actually communicated with a PepsiCo representative, and the latest information is here and here. The New Criterion weighs in here.

I didn't mail the letters yesterday after all - I faxed them, because things are moving at quite a little pace and I figured whatever was going to happen would all be over by the time snail mail letters got there. I did send one set via email, to QTG president John Compton, after speaking to his assistant on the phone. She was very nice, and later confirmed that she had received the letters and passed them on. "Letters" because I wrote a separate cover letter for each of the copies, writing specifically to the person who would receive it.

So, except for avoiding the PepsiCo products and tracking what Powerline is doing, I guess I'm done with this. For now. Who knows about tomorrow.

Posted by susanna at 08:45 AM | TrackBack

May 17, 2005

PepsiCo's head chews on US

UPDATE 2 - Moving at the speed of blog: There are updates to the Nooyi story, including, not surprisingly, claims of misrepresentation by Pepsi. At the same time, there are mucho claims of, "Yes, it was just that way" from other attendees at the recognition ceremony. Keep an eye on it. Meanwhile, I'm looking for a fax number to send these pages to PepsiCo now.

---Original post---

This morning I read a post on Powerline about a speech made Sunday by Indra Nooyi, the President and Chief Financial Officer of PepsiCo. She savaged the US. In response, I've written a letter that will go out to her today, and will be copied to CEO Steven S Reinemund and the heads of each of the North American divisions of PepsiCo. I encourage you to read the Powerline post, and then write a letter of your own, however you feel moved to do it.

May 17, 2005

Indra K. Nooyi
President and Chief Financial Officer
PepsiCo, Inc.
700 Anderson Hill Road
Purchase, NY 10577

Dear Ms. Nooyi –

When I was a child, one of my favorite treats was a glass of Pepsi, which my mother doled out in small amounts because the caffeine was a bit much for one my age. In the decades since, my favorite soft drink has always been Pepsi, to the point where I ask for Pepsi in restaurants and tell waiters they should get it if they don’t have it. I love Pepsi. And I’m a fan of other PepsiCo products too – right now in my home, I have Frito-Lay, Tropicana and Quaker Oats products, and when I go to the gym, I buy Gatorade to drink while working out.

As of this morning, I’m seriously reconsidering whether to ever purchase a PepsiCo product again. The only reason I might is because I suspect that at least a few of your employees don’t have the same disgust for the United States that you obviously do.

In the mornings, while eating my usual breakfast of oatmeal and orange juice (Tropicana Grovestand, to be precise), I read the news online, and also read a variety of blogs, which – in case you don’t know – are personal websites with commentary and news. This morning while reading Powerline, a blog written by a trio of very reputable attorneys and long time pundits, I came upon this entry written by one of their readers, who yesterday heard your talk at Columbia Business School’s recognition ceremony for new MBAs:

At yesterday's recognition ceremony for newly minted Columbia Business School MBAs, we had the CFO of PepsiCo as our distinguished guest speaker. After beginning her speech with words of praise and recognition for the graduates and their families, Ms. Indra Nooyi began to make the political statement du jour. After talking of her childhood back in India, Ms. Nooyi began to compare the world and its five major continents (excl. Antarctica and Australia) to the human hand…

Finally, the US (not Canada mind you) - yes, you guessed it - the middle finger. She then launched into a diatribe about how the US is seen as the middle finger to the rest of the world. The rest of the world sees us as an overbearing, insensitive and disrespectful nation that gives the middle finger to the rest of the world. According to Ms. Noori [sic], we cause the other finger nations to cower under our presence. But it is our responsibility, she continues, to change the current state of world opinion of the US. It is our responsibility to make the other fingers rise in unison with us as we move forward. She then goes on to give a personal anecdote about some disrespectful US business women in an Asian country and how that is typical of Americans overseas. No talk of what the US has done for the world throughout its history…

If you’d like to read the entire thing yourself, here is the link:

Ms. Nooyi, I was horrified. I wanted to regurgitate all that lovely oatmeal and orange juice. Have you no shame, to come to the United States and profit beyond what any other Indian-born woman has, only to turn around and give the United States the finger? Obviously we are very different in our political beliefs, and I’m not someone who thinks everyone needs to agree with me. And I’m delighted to see people from other countries come here and succeed – after all, I’m here because my ancestors saw the same hope for their future that you did in moving to the United States. But this arrogance and disdain, this savaging of the hand that feeds you extremely well… It’s abhorrent.

The United States is not now and never has been perfect. Its people – including you – have not and will never be perfect. But neither have any of those other lands you apparently revere. It would take little time to find truly wicked histories in any of those lands – genocides in Africa and Europe, on a scale not seen in the US’s history; the caste system in India, which continues to this day. But there is also good, and good people, in each land. The United States and its people have been a force for good much more often than not, and certainly do not deserve to be singled out as the evil in the world. To go out and speak such ugliness about the US – about your customers, about me, as I sit here eating your oats and juice – is a betrayal, pure and simple. The United States deserves better than that from you, its adopted daughter.

I have a blog of my own, and I have posted this letter there. I will make note of the products PepsiCo produces, and I will not buy them until I hear that you have apologized for stomping on the country where you live and work, and the customers who pay your no-doubt quite adequate salary and benefits package. I will make sure others know of your words, and will ask them to write to you. I will provide them with a list of PepsiCo products, and ask them to rethink their purchases. We have American men and women dying to help preserve your right to give them your middle finger. I can’t in good conscience continue to support your doing so.

Susanna L. Cornett

It's a genuine hardship. I really do eat those products, those things really are in my house right now. But alternatives are available. There is no alternative to ending support for an America-hater.

Here is the list of officers and directors, including the addresses, of PepsiCo. Here is a list of all their products. I encourage you to consider alternatives until Ms. Nooyi decides that perhaps the United States isn't the evil in the world after all. Or at least says so publicly.

Ooohhh, Doritoes and Pepsi. I miss you already.

UPDATE: I did some minor tweaking, corrected the day of the speech in the first graph, added a sentence in the next to last graph, and cleaned up some grammatical mistakes - which were cleaned up in the letter itself, too. The letter online is the same as the letter I'm sending. No huge changes, just letting you know I did change a little.

Posted by susanna at 11:15 AM | TrackBack

May 16, 2005

When is a Bible not sacred?

I've not written about the Newsweek idiocy spitefulness gleeful disregard for human life article by Michael Isikoff and John Barry that sparked riots in the Middle East, because a lot of other people have done a fine job with it. But one thought I've had several times while reading about it showed up in a tangential way on Instapundit, so I decided to weigh in on it. Glenn says:

I want to add that I don't think there's anything immoral about flushing a Koran (or a Bible) down the toilet, assuming you've got a toilet that's up to that rather daunting task, and I think it's amusing to hear people who usually worry about excessive concern for religious beliefs suddenly taking a different position. Nor do I think that doing so counts as torture, and I think that it debases the meaning of "torture" to claim otherwise. If this had happened, it might have been -- indeed, would have been -- impolitic or unwise. But not evil.

It's certainly rude to tear up a book containing what a person believes to be the words of God, especially if you're tearing it up deliberately as a means of hurting that person. But even a Bible is only paper, typeset and designed by man, printed with ink made by man on paper made by man, and sewn together by man. God's Words - found in that Bible - tell us not to have idols, not to rever man-made things. Although the words in the Bible are God's, the book itself shouldn't be an object of worship. And therefore, tearing it up, even for evil reasons, is not in and of itself a desecration. The desecration is the disobedience to God, the ugliness in the heart toward Him. Would I be angry if someone took away my Bible and did disgusting things with it? Yes, because of the disdain it showed to God. Would I think he had desecrated something holy? No.

Of course, one of the problems I have in general with the reaction of the more fanatical in the Muslim world (which unfortunately seems to encompass a distressingly high percentage) is that their reaction to what they perceive as an insult to their god is... to kill people, cause property damage and generally behave like wild animals. Kind of Eric Robert Rudolph in a long tunic. You don't meet unrighteousness with unrighteousness. Or, as the saying goes, two wrongs don't make a right. But then, a lot of what they consider right involves acting worse than wild animals (a dishonor killing, anyone?).

In the final analysis, I think the major of the "unrest" in the Middle East in response to the Newsweek arrogance-in-a-teapot is opportunistic, people either twisting it to accomplish their own ends or people just seizing the chance to run amuck and create havoc for the sheer pleasure of meanness (a la the LA riots after the Rodney King trial). I don't really think the majority of the ones up in arms are genuinely worked into a froth of religious vindication. But even if that's true that the rioting emerges from cynicism, not religious fervor, it doesn't excuse Newsweek's shoddy reportage, which gave the cynical that foothold. And it doesn't change the fact that our military and civilian personnel are now in greater danger because of Newsweek's sub-bloggish journalistic and ethical standards.

Sometimes words can hurt you. A bastion of the MSM should have figured that out by now.

Posted by susanna at 10:23 PM | TrackBack

What's going on?!

I'm sorry for the low blogging lately, but I've been neck deep in other projects. And my computer is totally freaking me out, I don't know what to think about it and I'm almost scared to use it. I do use it, but feel like somehow its days are number and thus, so are mine.

Here's what's happening: It's running fast all the time. The sound like a fan is going at a high whine a lot of the time, and the little lights that show it's working are often shining at a rate of three of the four. When I do the "control alt delete" to see how it's running, it's whipping up to 92% percent, then down to 4%, then up to 100% for a few seconds, then back down, and I'm not doing anything. I have nothing open. Sometimes it sits peacefully and runs quietly, but increasingly it is at that high whine. I'm having more difficulty with web pages - they don't want to load quickly, and often when I close a page I have to end the program with the control-alt-delete intervention. Sometimes things run normally. Sometimes not. Being connected to the Internet seems to have no impact either way. I've run AVG virus program, and it finds nothing. I'm just... clueless. And worried.

Any thoughts? Suggestions? Email me at biasblog-at-hotmail-dot-youknowtherest.

Posted by susanna at 11:27 AM | TrackBack

May 15, 2005

I'd loved to have seen it

I don't know who Victoria Jackson is, really. I may have seen her on SNL, although I doubt it, since mostly I watched it in the 1970s. I'm sure I've seen her on something else. But when I saw a post on Galley Slaves comparing Rita Cosby to her - in a tone that suggested it was not a favorable comparison - I decided to google her. I still haven't heard her voice or seen her act - she apparently is an airhead persona - but I was intrigued to find that she is vocal about her Christian beliefs. Not popular in Hollywood. There's an interesting interview article on her on The Door website, which you have to get to by clicking on a link at the bottom of her Bio page, which you reach from the front page of her site.

This is the part that amused me the most: She was on SNL for six years, and Al Franken was a writer for the show during that time. She recounts an exchange between them that I would have loved to see.

One day when I was in the writers room, Al Franken came up to me in the hallway alone and said, "I just want to tell you something. This really offends me but you act like an airhead all the time and you're really smart. And it really bugs me." It was like someone hit me in the face. Because I hate fake people and I always think I'm never fake. I said, "Well, my voice is weird and I can't help that, but maybe I act giddy and happy and silly or something because I'm over-compensating for what I'm really thinking inside, that everyone here is going to hell and I'm supposed to tell them about Jesus." And he looked at me, his face went red and he walked away. Ever since that moment he was very nice to me and respectful and he wrote me some funny stuff. He would write me things to do on Update that were promoting his liberal philosophies, but I was playing an airhead who didn't know what I was talking about.

I sympathize with her dilemma, although I can't say I go around thinking, "All these people... going to hell..." I do think about the need to talk about God with people, and finding ways to do it that aren't rude or disrespectful of their intelligence or beliefs. The most important part of a human is his soul, but it's the most difficult part to talk about honestly. And I think a lot of what passes for religion these days (or any past days, for that matter) is more about people feeding the spiritual part of themselves without having to actually obey any rules that go against what they want to do. It's not a God-based religion, but a self-based one. That's kind of difficult to work into a conversation. You have to admire her for cutting right to the heart of it all.

And to Al Franken. That's just beautiful.

The rest of her interview is intriguing too. She's obviously got some strong ties to Scripture, pointing out to her daughters that the free-wheeling sex on Friends is fornication. However, she's managed to make some rather bizarre accommodations in her career, appearing in sexually suggestive roles and clad (or unclad) in sexual ways and making it somehow okay with her belief in the Bible. But then, I would imagine it'd be difficult to make it in Hollywood if you played the righteous card. Perhaps that's a lesson right there.

Posted by susanna at 03:38 PM | TrackBack

Isn't that sexual harrassment?

I don't generally keep up with men's fashions, in which lack of observance I am in keeping with the majority of men, as far as I can tell. I'm not all that current on women's fashions either, but that's for another post.

My brother is quite conversant in the world of silk ties, summer weight wool suits, high-end leather shoes and what it takes to be a man of fashion without being a metrosexual. Not, I hasten to add, that he is a clothes horse or extravagant. Just ... knowledgeable, and always well-dressed. Through him I've come into contact with some of the - to me - more obscure corners of men's fashions. To wit, cufflinks.

I've learned to admire cufflinks, despite the distressing fact that they are worn on French cuffs. (One endeavors to see the word without actually saying it in one's head, so the conversation of the mind goes: "and he wore blurrrrr cuffs...") I envy men their little bits of jewelry, the tie tacks, lapel pins and cufflinks, which can say so much in such understated ways. Women's jewelry tends to get lost in the amalgam known as The Outfit, absorbed into the whole without sufficient attention to their own distinctness.

Given my interests, it's unsurprising that I like these cufflinks, or these. I drool over these cufflinks and find these sufficiently spooky to use in a novel sometime. However, I was completely unaware of a whole genre of cufflinks that, knowing men, I should have anticipated. Yes, porno cufflinks. In my meandering around men's fashion websites, I was startled to see just how unabashed they are. Some are kitschy, some are graphic, and some can even cause an international incident.

My question is... isn't this sexual harrassment? How very curious in this politically correct world to find extensive selections of cufflinks, priced so you know that it's upper-level business or political types who have them, that are guaranteed to make quite a few women blanch. Do they wear them only in non-business settings? It would appear from the Tony incident that they don't. Would those same men put a lovely framed photo of a Playgirl on their office wall? Wouldn't they be at least a little nonplussed if one of their female employees came into the office with an obviously expensive, charmingly designed and inlaid representation of male parts on her lapel? Or dangling from her ears? At work? Winking at them with every movement?

I don't need political correctness to encourage me away from public displays of that sort. I'm not delicate, and I'm highly unlikely to be intimidated by a cufflink, of all things. I just think it's in poor taste, and says something less than savory about the person who wears them. But mostly, I'm intrigued and a tiny bit flummoxed that naked female pulchritude is permissible in the workplace as long as it's expensive enough, and plays hide and seek in a less obtrusive location.

Posted by susanna at 03:02 PM | TrackBack

May 14, 2005

Why don't Jews rule the world?!

I was browsing a newish blog where a self-proclaimed Hollywood insider is posting actual script proposals that have come across her desk (I assume "her", since the blogger uses the name "The Empress" - I could be wrong, but I'll go with it). This one deals with the Jews and, for some reason that escapes me, the Masons, who are either collaborating or competing for rule of the world. It's a messy proposal, as The Empress obviously believes as well. But it made something new occur to me...

If the Jews are so powerful, as is claimed by all kinds of very odd and theologically suspect people, why don't they rule the world?

Supposedly the Jews run Hollywood, and the US government, American business and American universities, and assorted other powerful entities in the world. And supposedly all these Jews are in cahoots with one another - they're operating with a common agenda, to take over the world, and to hear some views of it, they also have a sub-agenda, to erase all Muslims from the earth. Generally those who put forward the claim that Jews Are Ruling Everything!! are themselves valiantly fighting back against nearly overwhelming odds. They are, in their own minds, Heroes. Jews, collectively and individually, are The Enemy.

Of course there are any number of logical fallacies going on in that reasoning, and I'm not saying there's any basis for the claims. But let's play along here. Let's assume that they are correct that the Jews Rule Everything!! My question is - why is there any battle left? If the Jews already rule everything, why don't we all speak Yiddish and Hebrew and have matzo balls for dinner every night? If the Jews control Hollywood and Congress, the US Government and US business, why does the Arab world still exist? If that's the case, why does Israel struggle to survive? Why doesn't it now encompass the Sinai Peninsula, (the by then former) Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen and Kuwait? What's the purpose of hiding their power? What is gained by playing hide and seek with the Muslims?

Of course people who lie steeped in conspiracy theories are not the most rational people, or they wouldn't lie steeped in conspiracy theories. But I'm confident that their reasoning (to the extent you could call such concepts "reasoning") would be very entertaining reading. If, that is, the Jews allowed it to be published. You know how the Jews are. They! Rule! Everything!

Posted by susanna at 01:16 PM | TrackBack

May 12, 2005

Oh, those rampaging Christians!

Alan at Theosebes posts on the L&O episode last night where a lawyer tried to get a murderer off because he'd become a Christian, and on an all too real-life effort by the Montgomery County, Maryland, public school leaders to promulgate their own religious beliefs in the schools, most specifically in this instance as a means to teach that homosexuality is okay and any religious group that says otherwise is dealing with a mythological interpretation of Scripture.

Very interesting, both things. It's very very obvious that many liberals and lefties in the US are nearing hysteria over what they see as the religious tsunami heading for their favorite ideals. Of course, the fact that they swamped and pushed out of public arenas the ideals of the religious decades ago isn't of concern to them - you see, they're right. That makes all the difference. It really isn't about freedom of speech or right to live as they please - they are quick enough to put on their stomping shoes whenever someone speaks things they don't want to hear or lives in a way that offends their delicate sensibilities. It's not about rights, it's about getting it right. And conservatives, especially ones that happen to not only believe in God but try to follow His Word, are outside the pale. The leftist mantra: You can believe and do anything you want as long as it doesn't go against what I think you should believe and do. Hmmmm.... sounds like what they accuse religious conservatives of, doesn't it?

The L&O thing was intriguing, I thought, but obviously not written or vetted by people who know many "born again"* or other varieties of Christian. As far as I know, the Bible teaches that you must pay for the consequences of your actions here on earth even if you repent of the sin of committing them. If you steal, you have to give it back, and if the person you stole from calls the police, then you do your time. If you kill, then part of your asking for forgiveness means telling authorities what you did. This business of deciding that God must have "other plans" for you because the cops didn't find out you did murder is a convenient dodge. God expects you to use your brain and not look for mystical messages that - as far as I can see - usually seem to miraculously point people in precisely the direction they wanted to go all along! How convenient. Well, Christianity isn't convenient.

As for the Maryland public school folks... sigh. Since when did "keeping religion out of the classroom" transmute into "actively tell kids their moral values are malarkey"? Quite frankly, I think the whole "values" training movement is suspicious. I've never seen anything about such "training" that didn't clearly indicate that the "values" taught are straight out of a liberal lexicon. Well, maybe your values aren't my values. And maybe we should dismantle the boondoggle we call public education and set up competitive schools where teachers are measured on skill, not years of service, and parents can choose with vouchers where they want their kids to go. That doesn't mean pathetic schools where science is regarded with suspicion and controversial classic literature is banned. It means a school where the basics - reading, writing, math, science, history - are taught rigorously with a major emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving skills. Maybe there would be religion classes, but that wouldn't be all. At least I could be sure that "values" I think are abhorent aren't force-fed to my children, that I wouldn't be paying my hard-earned tax dollars to support a school system that mocks me at every turn and tells my child I'm an idiot.

The public school system needs a sharp smackdown. I think it's time we uncapped its lid and exposed the writhing rot within.**

* I'm not one to divide Christians into "born again" or "not born again". I know what the common venacular says each is. But Jesus Himself said that unless a person is born again, he won't enter heaven. So, "born again" is not a kind of Christian, it's a synonym for Christian. However, you don't have to be a member of the "born again" movement to be a Christian - I'm not. "Born again" just means baptized into Christ and starting a new life following Him. It's kind of like saying that a person who registers for college classes is a "born again" student, while one who does not register is not a "born again" student. That's silly. The person who registers is a student. The one who does not is not. The person who follows God's will for becoming a Christian is a Christian. The one who does not is not.

** There are thousands and thousands of fantastic teachers in the public school system, and I don't include just those who are religious. I have no problem at all with teachers who are agnostics or even atheists. What I do have a problem with is when teachers go beyond teaching critical thinking skills and start teaching their own belief systems. Many do that. More often it's the administrations - boards of education, superintendents and their minions, faculty in education programs at universities, assorted permutations of the National Education Association - who come up with these bone-headed stupidities they call progress. You can call a skunk a rose, but it's still a skunk and stinks to high heaven.

Posted by susanna at 08:51 AM | TrackBack

May 11, 2005

Evolution smevolution

A "surgeon/scientist" takes me to task for my earlier post tsking at his takedown of Scrappleface satire on teaching evolution in the schools. He has me for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a couple of snacks too, but still manages to leave a little for a few friends to gnaw on. Enjoy.

Posted by susanna at 09:10 PM | TrackBack

Home again, home again

Sorry to be MIA without notice or information, but I was out of town and didn't want to advertise it. I realized that I have amply identified my space, and it's a lot easier to find here in the semi-rural South than it was in the middle of Jerseyurban. Not that I think burglars read blogs. But you never know when someone may be secretly lusting after all my Dean Koontz first editions that everyone else has too because they make millions of those these days, which means all the burglars would be getting is something they could find at the Salvation Army for $4 if they're willing to hold vigil for a few weeks. But burglars aren't known for their patience, and maybe they have a driving need to again read about the massacre in the bakery...

Which is a very long way of saying, I'm home! And will be back in the blogmode forthwith.

Posted by susanna at 05:32 PM | TrackBack

May 06, 2005

Evolutionists against natural selection

There's an interesting debate going on in Kansas - some want schools to be able to discuss the fact that there is controversy about the theory of evolution. That seems a reasonable request, since there is controversy within the scientific community itself about what permutations of the theory are most correct. But the evolutionists are Horrified, Horrified that someone would question them, and the possibility that a Much Debunked Idea (we don't want to say "intelligent design", that will just bring them here in hordes, again, to debunk me) may slip in some classes as a result of this door opening. I think Alan addresses this quite well:

It's an odd 'science' that will not endure investigation, criticism and scrutiny, but that is exactly what the evolutionist wants. A science class would be a poor one indeed that did not present the theory of evolution to its students. But that same science ought to be a search for truth. Closing the door to debate is the sure way to see that never happens.

Amen, brother.

The fever to debunk is so strong that one blogger even debunked Scrappleface. When you feel a need to debunk satire, you may want to consider professional help. Interestingly, Scrappleface lowered himself to consort with ordinary humans in response, leaving a comment on the debunking, which naturally led to additional debunking by the blogger. I would debunk his debunking, but I don't want to descend further into parody over satire.

Here's Scrappleface's original post, if you want to see what gets an evolutionist's Irish up.

Congratulations, Scott, on your descent into the realm of hack. You know I've been praying for your career advancement. Looks like God came through again.

One of the arguments of evolutionists against intelligent design is that it is not amenable to scientific exploration, and that if you believe in intelligent design, you basically have no foundation from which to launch scientific inquiry. I say, hogwash. Intelligent design as an explanation of origin is as robust as the Big Bang Theory (or whatever the Theory Du Jour is, since it changes all the time, despite the scientific claims that whatever the Theory Du Jour is is finally the final word), which doesn't explain to anyone's satisfaction a) where the original matter or energy came from or b) how their origin theory presupposes a type of behavior of matter that their own science has found to be absent from current behavior of matter - that is, everything now is degrading, not improving. I don't know how they get by with such bad science, flying in their own faces.

As for depressing scientific discovery, that's a presumption with no foundation either (are we seeing a trend here?). The reason for scientific discovery is exactly the same regardless of how you think the universe got here - that is, we all want to know more about how it got here and how it works. My believing an intelligent purpose created everything doesn't mean I don't want to know how that worked, or what all the details are. I do want to know all those things. You can develop scientific hypotheses based on previous knowledge and observations without having to establish absolutely what the origin of everything was. Of course you can, because it's done all the time - NO ONE knows for sure how it all came to be. They have good guesses. That's all. And they want to be the Wizard of Oz about it.

Quite frankly, I think dismissing intelligent design out of hand as an option is unscientific on its face too. I'm not saying they have to like it, or agree with it, or even use it. But to say categorically that it is not true when they have no solid evidence to reject it is to close the door on a whole range of possible answers. As it is, what they do is limit their explanations to the range of possible within their preconceptions.

Not very rigorous scientifically, in my view.

Posted by susanna at 09:18 AM | TrackBack

May 05, 2005

A good and honorable woman

You always wonder what you will do if defining moments of history happen in your lifetime. So many of us think of ourselves as so small, with little influence. But we have more than we think, and we can all do something.

In thinking about how to describe what Natalia Dmytruk did, I thought of the hymn, "To The Work". It's a fitting thought:

Let us do with our might what our hands find to do

Dmytruk was born to deaf parents, and while hearing herself, she learned sign language from a very young age. As an adult she earned her living signing for the official television station of the Ukrainian government. And when she saw her chance, she took it:

During the tense days of Ukraine's presidential elections last year, Dmytruk staged a silent but bold protest, informing deaf Ukrainians that official results from the Nov. 21 runoff were fraudulent. Her act of courage further emboldened protests that grew until a new election was held and the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko , was declared the winner...

On Nov. 25, she walked into her studio for the 11 a.m. broadcast. "I was sure I would tell people the truth that day," she said. "I just felt this was the moment to do it."

Under her long silk sleeve, she had tied an orange ribbon to her wrist, the color of the opposition and a powerful symbol in what would become known as the Orange Revolution. She knew that when she raised her arm, the ribbon would show.

The newscaster was reading the officially scripted text about the results of the election, and Dmytruk was signing along. But then, "I was not listening anymore," she said.

In her own daring protest, she signed: "I am addressing everybody who is deaf in the Ukraine. Our president is Victor Yushchenko. Do not trust the results of the central election committee. They are all lies. . . . And I am very ashamed to translate such lies to you. Maybe you will see me again -- " she concluded, hinting at what fate might await her. She then continued signing the rest of officially scripted news.

"My legs became so heavy. I was terribly scared," she said.

I've heard it said that having courage isn't about not being scared, it's about being scared and doing it anyway. Dmytruk is a courageous woman. And she has rightly been honored for it:

Dmytruk and three other Ukrainian women received the Fern Holland Award on Tuesday night at the Vital Voices Global Partnership's fifth annual ceremony honoring women from around the world who have made a difference.

I've not heard of Vital Voices before, but good for them. I hope Dmytruk gets more accolades as well. She shows what happens when we "do with our might what our hands find to do".

And the hymn "To The Work"? It was written by Fanny Crosby, a woman blind from a baby, who spent her life writing praise to God and encouragement to Christians. Each one picks his own battle and fights with what they have.

Posted by susanna at 02:46 PM | TrackBack

More later

Today is One of Those Days. This morning I'm off to B'ham to interview someone for a writing project I'm doing, and then this afternoon I have to finish grading papers and turn in my grades for the semester. Not too arduous a task - I only have four students here at the end of the semester. But I have to then deliver the grade book to the school, a 40-mile round trip. Too bad I don't have access to teleporting.

The only reason you may remotely care about all this is that it means posting at any length probably won't happen until this afternoon. But I promise something. Sometime. Today. You know, you could spend that newly-open free time writing me long admiring emails.

Just a suggestion.

Posted by susanna at 08:37 AM | TrackBack

May 04, 2005

Hillbilly hammering

Growing up in eastern Kentucky, I wasn't much aware of the general attitude about Appalachia in the rest of the country. I loved the hills, I loved my family, and the lack of sophistication was a part of the tenor of life. Both my parents were school teachers, and we lived a very middle middle class life - brick ranch house, vacations every summer to some national park or historical spot, Chef Boy Ar Dee on the dinner table after a day at school, listening to Donny Osmond and Barry Manilow on the stereo. I knew a lot of people didn't eat produce straight from the garden most summer days, and didn't have squirrel or quail or fresh-killed beef in the freezer. But then we didn't have baked ziti every day or munch on lutefisk. Every culture has its quirks.

It wasn't until I was in my teens that I realized the culture of my community wasn't just considered different-like-everyone-else, but actually a source of derision. People would ask me if I "wore overalls because it was the fashion or because that's just the way you are". They would ask if I wore shoes most of the time and laugh uproariously. They asked if my grandmother chewed tobacco. It wasn't the questions so much as the tone that bothered me. I actually did wear overalls sometimes, but not often. I did prefer to go barefoot in the summer. And neither of my grandmothers chewed, but one of my great-grandmothers didn't just chew, she grew and cured her own tobacco. Black as tar, my Dad says.

Eastern Kentucky, like everywhere else, has its lazy good-for-nothings. It has criminals and unsophisticated unskilled workers and people who've never been more than 30 miles from home. But I've lived in Florida and New Jersey and Tennessee and Alabama. I've spent quite a bit of time in Manhattan. I've visited friends in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, California, Arizona and Indiana. I've been to pretty much every state east of the Mississippi and a lot west of it. Everywhere I've gone, there's the same array of folks. Manhattan is pretty different from Pine Lick, but someone who's never been outside of New York City can be just as parochial as someone who's never left their home county in Kentucky. It's not so much what your experience is, but the narrowness of it and the mindset that accompanies it that results in the Boss Hoggs of this world. And from what I've seen, there's more than a few Boss Hoggs in the Upper East Side.

Appalachia isn't perfect. The people there aren't perfect. Some of them have chosen lives that would disgust no matter where they lived. But the vast majority are normal, everyday people who live their lives within a cultural context no better or worse than any other cultural context. That's not how they're treated, though, and I'm sorry to say that yesterday James Taranto, Glenn Reynolds and others took their little potshots.

The context was commentary on the A&E program City Confidential, which profiled the Lillelid murders. The six teens who killed the Lillelids in Tennessee for their car were all from Pikeville, Kentucky, which isn't that far from where I grew up. The program prides itself on scene setting, spending as much or more time on the locale of a crime as on the crime itself. I've watched the program a lot, and take whatever it says with a grain of salt. Obviously they work to be dramatic, and when a town doesn't lend itself to drama they emphasize whatever parts of it will spark recognition, trigger cultural memes about that part of the country. Naturally, when featuring Pikeville they emphasized its hillbilly context. And they found lots of hillbilly imagery to show. What they didn't show was the parts of the town, and the activities in the town, that could have been in any town in America. Of course not - that's not distinctive. What resulted was a skewed portrait, and a program that placed a lot of blame on the town for the teens who went on a murder spree. And there probably were things the town could have done to help the teens, but no more than Knoxville or Manhattan could do to help their teens, and don't either.

City Confidential is no L&O, and the show would have sunk under the waves of cable television had the Pikeville city fathers not taken serious umbrage and asked A&E for an apology for portraying their town in an unflattering light - actually, apparently, using "the town from hell" as a descriptor, although I don't remember that phrase from the show.

PIKEVILLE, Ky. - Residents of this eastern Kentucky town are demanding an apology from the A&E network after an episode of "City Confidential" that they say was unflattering and unfair.

"Obviously, being labeled the town from hell can not be interpreted in any way as positive," City Manager Donovan Blackburn wrote in a letter to the network.

Blackburn said local residents cooperated in the production of the documentary show, which revolved around murders committed by a group of occultists, after a producer told them the town would be portrayed positively.

One thing that people fail to get, over and over and over and over, is that you can't believe or control journalists, especially television journalists. Expect that they will lie to your face to get what they want until you have enough experience with a specific journalist or media outlet to know how far you can trust them. I say this as a former journalist. And you also have to interprete what they're saying - they probably thought portraying Pikeville as a town of well-meaning, bumbling rubes was positive. At least they didn't say everyone in the place was a spawn of Satan. What more do you want?

But that aside, what Pikeville has done is taken a minor but painful insult and turned it into a much more widely discussed insult that isn't minor at all. Not that many people, especially big corporate types, watch or pay attention to City Confidential. They do read newspapers. And while they would see the City Confidential portrayal as the drama queen version that it is, the followup from city officials is more real and less flattering. My advice would have been to let it go.

But they didn't. And that has given assorted people who should know better a nice opportunity to pull out their hillbilly hubris. James Taranto in Tuesday's Best of the Web:

Just Like Any Other City?

The city fathers of Pikeville, Ky., "are demanding an apology from the A&E network after an episode of 'City Confidential' that they say was unflattering and unfair," the Associated Press reports from the town. City Manager Donovan Blackburn has written a letter to the network:

"You start the piece by showing a rebel flag on Julius Avenue, an overweight man without a shirt smoking a cigarette and an old pickup with a few women in the back," Blackburn said. "As I am sure you would agree, you can go to almost any city in America and find the same."

Well, we've never seen such a scene in New York, where we live, or in Washington, where we spend a fair amount of time. Granted, those two cities aren't typical either, but we have to wonder if Blackburn isn't selling his town short in terms of its uniqueness.

A nice little bit of snarkiness there, James. I've not seen any rebel flags in Manhattan, but I have seen fat shirtless men smoking cigarettes out on a sidewalk in downtown. I haven't seen an old pickup with a few women in the back in Manhattan, but I have seen a little compact car so packed full of Hispanics you couldn't count them driving down a street in Manhattan. I've seen lowrider cars vibrating from cranked up rap music, cruising with a full load of black men in do-rags and floppy jeans cinched below their butt cheeks (which you see when they lean out of the car to wave at bros on the street). I've seen limos with hollow-cheeked society matrons in the back, rushing home from a hard morning of shopping to change for lunch with the girls at the club. Same thing, all of them, different cultural context. Nothing wrong with any of them. They just are.

I'm sure if I spent much time in DC, I could identify similar cultural iconic images. But Taranto is deliberately mocking Pikeville as some ignorant rube place.

Glenn Reynolds, who lives in Knoxville, TN, and who likely knows some towns like Pikeville, linked to Taranto's snark and added a few comments of his own. He knows the Lillelid story more than most, because his wife did a (pretty good) film about it. I don't object to his saying, "Pikeville has a lot to be embarrassed about where the Lillelid murders are concerned". That's probably true. But the context of what he's saying, and linking to Taranto's East Coast elite sneer, indicate a little more nose-in-the-air than I think the situation warrants. And then he links to some guy going by the name Ol' Gravyhand Johnson, with the teaser, "Not a lot of sympathy around the blogosphere". You'd think Ol' Gravyhand would have commented at a little length. You'd be wrong. You'd think more than one other blog talked about it. You'd be wrong.

It just reminds me that eastern Kentucky can't catch a break.*

If you want to know what folks from Appalachia think about their own culture and land, spend a little time at Appalshop. It tends a little liberal for me politically, but overall I think they do a good job. And my mom is from Whitesburg, which makes me like them even more for some obscure reason.

* I will note that the South is the only region of the country that has been found to be statistically correlated with violence - that is, being from the South is a predictor of violence, while being from any other part of the country is not. I have my opinions about that, and will write about them at some point. But my point here is that for the most part, Appalachia isn't that different from anywhere else if you just look at behavior, not at the cultural context for it.

Posted by susanna at 09:40 AM | TrackBack

Just don't tell my mom

Hey, I'm [a] vicious, name-calling right-wing extremist and George Bush-supporting hate-monger! Cool!

Nice to know he doesn't sink to my level.

[In case you forgot, John Needham blogged from the liberal side at the DetNews political weblog during the run up to the 2004 presidential election. I did too.]

Posted by susanna at 08:10 AM | TrackBack

May 03, 2005

I do 20% better

How would Bush's Social Security changes affect you? Find out:

It would increase my average monthly SS payment by about $400. Not insignificant, especially if I draw for 20 years, which is quite possible. That's groceries for a month, or half of a small house payment, or an insurance payment. Works for me.

[Link via Ipse Dixit]

Posted by susanna at 02:50 PM | TrackBack

Those pesky parents - trying to horn in on education!

Paul at Powerline posts on an article in The Washington Times pointing out that:

...Montgomery County Public Schools (here in Maryland) have barred parents from sitting in on classes in which a new sex-education curriculum will be taught.

They usually encourage parents to be in the classroom, but not this time:

The school system justifies the restriction in the case of sex-education on the theory that the parents' presence in this environment would have "a chilling effect" on frank discussion by students.

This rationale might be more compelling if the school system actually were interested in a frank exchange of ideas. However, such is not the case. In fact, teachers in the pilot program have been admonished not to offer any "information, interpretation, or examples" beyond what is prescribed when discussing sexual identity and orientation.

Paul says it's not education that's going on, but indoctrination, and parents are being kept out because they could disagree. In my judgment the education system has gotten completely arrogant. It is indoctrination, on a number of levels, not the least because unions associated with public schools lobby nearly hysterically to keep any alternative to their service from being allowed the same support they receive. I say, throw open the doors, give everyone vouchers, and if a school's students consistently fail basic skills tests for three years, shut the place down and send the students elsewhere. We have enough money in education in this country to teach every child math, spelling, English and history. That's the baseline of what they need. Sex education, especially liberal sexual mores indoctrination, isn't quite as imperative.

The "educators" want to get public funding but don't want anyone to question their use of it. It doesn't work that way. We need to make sure that when it starts working that way, we disrupt it. Accountability is the only way to make sure things are done properly, and public education is consistently trying to expert its way out of accountability. I'm not buying it. I hope the parents in Montgomery County show up en masse and join the sex education class. I think it'll have at least as much of a chilling effect on the teachers as on the students, and that's not a bad thing.

Posted by susanna at 10:24 AM | TrackBack

You see what you expect to see

It's most excellent to see that they've found the Ivory Billed Woodpecker again; conservative that I am, I appreciate conserving land and species and I'm delighted when earlier losses are found to be not quite so severe after all.

Of course, the discovery of where the woodpecker's been all this time is not new news - we knew about it last week. What is new is James Gorton, the NYT journalist who wrote the article, revealing one of his news filters:

Furthermore, as a journalist, I'm not used to good news. There's just not that much of it.

Actually, there are reams of good news, piles and mountains and ridges of it, every single day. People get out of debt, people marry, people have babies and beat the odds by recovering from serious illnesses. People get promotions, win awards, graduate from school. New businesses succeed, estranged couples reconnect, runaways go home. There is much beauty in just the fact that the majority of Americans live average normal lives.

What Gorton is actually revealing is that amongst the events and conditions he and his cadre of associates consider news, few of them reflect the world in a positive or pleasing light. In actual fact, some definitions of news almost presuppose negative things, since the usual state is a relatively positive stream of events. Only those things that disrupt in a harmful way are worthy of reportorial attention. Except, of course, for the odd woodpecker sighting.

I'm actually not faulting Gorton particularly for this. I think it's a mindset almost definitional in journalism -that is to say, having that mindset is part of what makes you a journalist, and not having it will not earn you any accolades in most journalism circles. It's just interesting to see Gorton using his negativity filter as a point in his article on the woodpecker. I'm sure he saw it as immutable truth, not a subjective condition.

Posted by susanna at 10:10 AM | TrackBack

PBS gets it right

Good article today in the NYT about the new leadership of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) - leadership with a right bent, sending the liberals scurrying for their denials. No, Bill Moyers is not biased! they cry. They probably believe it. And that is one major source of their problem - inability to see their own filters.

Posted by susanna at 09:48 AM | TrackBack


I enjoy reading biographies, especially of people who came up with new ideas, new ways of doing things, people who are or were intellectually brilliant. It's intriguing how many of them had freakish quirks, some of which could be life-threatening. I wonder if it's at high enough a rate to say the highly intelligent are also unusually quirky.

Tonight I was reading about mathematician Kurt Gödel, who did something about axioms that is very much appreciated in mathematical circles. He lived up to the reputation of intellectual quirkiness:

He had rheumatic fever when he was six years old, but after he recovered life went on much as before. However, when he was eight years old be began to read medical books about the illness he had suffered from, and learnt that a weak heart was a possible complication. Although there is no evidence that he did have a weak heart, Kurt became convinced that he did, and concern for his health became an everyday worry for him...

The lectures by Furtwängler made the most impact on Gödel and because of them he decided to take mathematics as his main subject. There were two reasons: Furtwängler was an outstanding mathematician and teacher, but in addition he was paralysed from the neck down so lectured from a wheel chair with an assistant who wrote on the board. This would make a big impact on any student, but on Gödel who was very conscious of his own health, it had a major influence...

He became convinced at the age of 8 that he had a weak heart, and it influenced him so greatly that in his late teens it carried weight in his decision about what subject to major in. He was not receptive to the idea that he was wrong:

Concerns with his health became increasingly worrying to Gödel as the years went by. Rudolf, Gödel's brother, was a medical doctor so the medical details given by him in the following will be accurate. He wrote:-
My brother had a very individual and fixed opinion about everything and could hardly be convinced otherwise. Unfortunately he believed all his life that he was always right not only in mathematics but also in medicine, so he was a very difficult patient for doctors. After severe bleeding from a duodenal ulcer ... for the rest of his life he kept to an extremely strict (over strict?) diet which caused him slowly to lose weight.

Although he did have a couple of nervous breakdowns, there's no evidence that he was physically weak. But eventually his health obsession and absolute confidence in his own logic and decision making led to his death - not his ostensible weak heart:

Towards the end of his life Gödel became convinced that he was being poisoned and, refusing to eat to avoid being poisoned, essentially starved himself to death...

Very quirky. Terminally quirky.

I was also caught by this from his brother Rudolf, quoted above:

My brother had a very individual and fixed opinion about everything and could hardly be convinced otherwise.

My grandfather was a mathmetician, and this sounds very like him. He was an excellent man, very fair and honest, spiritual and mostly humble. But he was also a man of intense logic who approached everything in life like it was a math problem. Once he came to a conclusion, he was stuck to it like superglue. He was not open to the truth that in human situations, you don't always or even usually have all the pieces you need to come to an absolutely correct conclusion with no fear of contradiction, as is true of a lot of math. Even uncertainty had patterns to him, which actually is probably true, but he thought he could discern and interprete the patterns until he was nearly infallible if he really put his mind to a problem. He wasn't right nearly as often as he thought he was.

I had some clashes with him about those things, as my intellectual bent is more a wandering flow instead of a militarily straight line. But as I got older, and even more in the years since his death, I've realized how much of his attitude was just an outgrowth of the same brain chemistry that drew him to mathematics. Somewhat nurture, but largely nature. That gives me some comfort when my own nature seems intractably the other way - nothing linear in sight.

(One thing I can do linearly is track back the way I got to a thought. It may seem odd that I would be reading about Kurt Gödel; it's not usual for me to be googling "mathmetician", although I have enjoyed reading Against the Gods. Here is how I got there: I was looking through my referrer stats when I came across Aaron and I have had some pleasant exchanges and some tussles in the past, but I'd not been to his blog in a while. I thought, hmm, I'll go check it out. So I did. The top post is a reading list for people who want to know more about alpha theory. Now all I know about "alpha" is that it's the first letter of the Greek alphabet ("Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end"; memorialized also, of course, in the word "alphabet") and that it's used to indicate supremacy or dominance in social settings ("alpha male"). So what's alpha theory? I didn't know then, and [sorry, Aaron] I still don't know. However, it has something to do with axioms, which is where Gödel comes in - he proved something about axioms in mathematics that managed to bypass Bertrand Russell, which no doubt really annoyed Russell. Since the people in the comments on Aaron's blog talked about Gödel like he was someone everyone should know about (like, say, Dean Koontz or Jane Stickle), I thought, hmmm. I should know who he is. So I googled him. He was interesting enough to where I wouldn't mind knowing more about him and his work, but probably not interesting enough for me to actually try to read any of it. I reached the outside edges of my ability to deal with math when I read Against the Gods. Which is very good, btw.*]

* Don't even, EVEN try to tell me that probability theory isn't really math. I don't want to know. I really really really mean that. Really.

Posted by susanna at 12:52 AM | TrackBack

May 02, 2005

Can't win for losing

Saturday night Laura Bush interrupted her husband's annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner speech and took over. I listened to the speech, and thought she did an excellent job. I probably wouldn't have keyed off Desperate Housewives, and that venue wouldn't have been where I chose to get risque. But all things considered, it was well done.

The media, which is all about being sophisticated and which always looks down its collective noses at "stuffy" Republicans, laughed their heads off at the dinner, then got their shorts all in a wad after. First, the sneer:

Mrs. Bush's impeccable delivery and timing -- at one point, she said her "Aunt Bea"-like mother-in-law is "actually more like ... hmm ... Don Corleone" -- was a surprise to most in the crowd, who have seen the former librarian only stand by her man and smile smartly.

And this from the Washington Times! That's a clear reference to the Tammy Wynette song, Stand By Your Man, and also to Hillary Clinton's cookie faux pas while running for her first co-presidency*. Because Laura Bush chose to make her role as wife and mother her career, somehow it's acceptable to diminish her and refer to her in a condescending way as if having a thought or a skill would be a new thing for her. Somehow it offends them that she's been a professional woman instead of a woman with a profession. And here I thought the goal of feminism was to make it okay for a woman to choose any role, not to make women who choose traditional roles the objects of pity and the butts of jokes. But that's only the beginning - then the oh so Puritanical media get their morality knickers in a twist over the "risque" content of the speech:

Although Washington's movers and shakers laughed at Mrs. Bush's performance, some in the press woke up with a Sunday morning hangover and began to criticize her monologue as immodest at best and downright bawdy at worst.

"Laura Bush cracks risque jokes at the White House Correspondents' dinner," sniffed Agence France-Presse.

CNN reporter Elaine Quijano, who attended the dinner, also apparently had her sensibilities scarred by some of the first lady's quips.

"In some respects, I think for some folks it was a little shocking because she kind of crossed the line a little bit in some people's minds," she said.

"It was very risque," the Nation's David Korn said yesterday on Fox News. "I was wondering what the social conservatives and James Dobson had to say about all these jokes that were laced with sexual innuendo. Not a very family-values-type speech. I'm not sure I want to explain a lot of those jokes to my 4-year-old."

What's Korn's kid doing up so late? What's he doing watching C-Span? When did The Nation start caring about family values? Laura Bush was talking to adults, not children. Korn is clearly taking a jab at Bush supporters, and trying to drive a wedge between them and Bush by gasping in exaggerated horror at something he thinks will do it. Here's a special delivery clue for Korn: When you have Whoopee Goldberg and a lot of others making jokes about female anatomy in a sound-alike riff on the President's name, you're not going to find social conservatives jumping off the Republican boat and into the Dem life raft when Laura Bush jokes about going to see the Chippendales.

All this sniffing is just hypocritical, coming from people who spend 2/3 of their time hying off after the latest sex scandal and the other 1/3 wishing they had a sex scandal to hye off after. The media are prudish only when it serves ratings or an agenda. What they don't like is someone they've enjoyed mocking showing herself to be just as amusing and savvy and self-aware as people they admire on the liberal side, and yet content to not only stick by her decision to be wife and mother, but happy about it. The very least she could do, if she can't be bitter, asexual and stodgy, is to be wistful that she can't "fulfill her potential". That would mean being a woman with a profession, by the way.

It's just one of those things that burns my biscuits.

* Hillary's first "co-presidency" was from 1992 through 2000. She wants another one. Only this time I'd say there won't be much talk about co-presidency. Nobody will ask her if Bill Clinton will be making the decisions - no, they don't want to give the impression that she's not fully capable on her own. It wasn't inappropriate to ask Bill Clinton if he would rely on Hillary for advice and assistance, because it is assumed any successful man with a strong professional wife does everything as part of a team. But it would be inappropriate to ask Hillary because everyone knows that any successful woman got where she was by her own grit and gravel, and scoffs at the idea that a man's support is welcome, much less needed or appreciated.

Posted by susanna at 11:25 PM | TrackBack

Posting to resume later today

Sorry to be missing in action, but I have another cold that is making me draggy, and I'm also trying to finish up work on a freelance writing job. My landlord's needs must come first. I'll be back later today, though, I have a couple of things to write about.

I know you're just sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation.

Posted by susanna at 02:03 PM | TrackBack