Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Blindsided (ok, one more post)

I really am outta here in a few minutes.

I was mulling over how uninformed most of the country is. Many people don't watch news because they don't care, don't have time, etc. There is lots of info on the internet, but again, for many, "current events" is a big ho-hum or at least not something they take time to be on top of. I'm willing to bet that many, many people know nothing about Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation, etc.

How shocked are they going to be when (presumably) top White House officials are indicted? They'll be blindsided, for sure.

I don't feel any particular glee about the fact that tons of doody are about to hit the fan. I'm scared to death of what happens next...although I've also been scared to death of what's come before this.

Our country has been in trouble for a long time. Some people are only just about to find out how much trouble. And many, of course, aren't going to believe it.

God help us all.

I'm outta here

Bitty's Back Porch is going on hiatus for a little over a week while I go to visit my grandmother.

I won't even be near a computer; can you imagine? People still live that way!

Have a splendid week.

A very happy non-anniversary to me!

Had I remained married, today would be my 34th anniversary. (Odd; I could have sworn I was only 34 years can this be?)

Nothing ugly intended, but gee whiz I'm really glad that I'm NOT celebrating that anniversary today! How different my life would be, and I'd rather have it the way it is.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Two obituaries

Since everyone else is talking about this, I will be brief.

CNN reports that by its reckoning, we've passed the 2000 mark on deaths due to the Iraqi exercise. We all must go sometime, but odds are this unlucky 2000th person was someone who had barely begun to live, who hadn't even begun to figure out what mark he or she might make on the world. (Granted, there are those, including perhaps the deceased, who would say that the military service was that mark. I, with military family members, would not disagree and am not disparaging this person's sacrifice. But what more might he or she have done?)

Conversely, the soft-spoken Rosa Parks has also died, but at age 92, after literally changing the world for the better.

I leave you to mull over the possibilities of what might have been for the absent 2000.

Cyber security hell: not a place for the flip-flopper

I am not a person who deals in absolutes. I don't look at the world in terms of black and white, and I certainly don't see it in terms of absolute favorites. Not since I was eleven have I had, for instance, "a" favorite color. Call me wishy-washy if you must, label me flip-flopper, but my answer to that kind of question is, it depends.

Do you want me to wear that color or paint it on my bedroom wall?

Am I going to drive it around or see it in a flower?

Is it my most-preferred shade of sunset or the color I love best in babies' eyes?
Imagine my horror, then, when my banking institution changed its system so that when I logged in today, I was forced -- forced! -- not only to answer one such silly "favorites" question (for security purposes), but three.

First, I had my choice of declaring either my favorite restaurant, band, movie, or song. Uh-oh. In trouble already. Restaurant, for instance? For sit-down or carry out? For cheap eats or splurging? For dining alone or with others?

And because I had to pick three questions (and answers) out of twelve, I had to deal with this agony twelve times over!

In the end, I made these horrific decisions in order to look at my money:

my favorite restaurant
my favorite drink
my favorite (dear God!) person
There are no definitive answers to ANY of these questions, especially the last one. And even though I chose X as my favorite person -- for banking purposes only! -- I still love the rest of you.

Random Act of Kindness...I hope

There's a snack bar of sorts in the building where I work, and on my way there recently, I noticed some mail on the ground next to an overflowing trash can. The mail was stamped but not postmarked.

When I came out, the mail was still there on the ground, so I picked it up. One item was a postcard written in French. (C'est vrai!) The other was clearly a greeting card, kind of fat as if perhaps it contained some photos or a long letter, and it had a local return address with a young woman's name.

Right near the trash can is a I mailed them.

I figure one of three things was going on:

1. She decided not to mail the items and threw them away, in which case I did her a disservice. (But if that were the case, wouldn't she have made darn sure the mail hit the trash can?)

2. It was a decency test: put some mail on the ground and see if people ignore it or deal with it, in which case I guess I passed. (Nah, too 5 o'clock newsy.)

3. More likely (I hope), the mail fell out of her purse or backpack, in which case I did her a favor.

If the #3 scenario were mine and I'd dropped some mail, I hope someone would pick up the cards and mail them.

Monday, October 24, 2005

This week's saddest secret

For more, visit PostSecret.

Life imitates art

...or something like that.

The NYT reports that the White House

found time to add another item to its agenda - stopping The Onion, the satirical newspaper, from using the presidential seal.

The newspaper regularly produces a parody of President Bush's weekly radio address on its Web site (, where it has a picture of President Bush and the official insignia.

"It has come to my attention that The Onion is using the presidential seal on its Web site," Grant M. Dixton, associate counsel to the president, wrote to The Onion on Sept. 28. [...] Citing the United States Code, Mr. Dixton wrote that the seal "is not to be used in connection with commercial ventures or products in any way that suggests presidential support or endorsement." Exceptions may be made, he noted, but The Onion had never applied for such an exception.

The Onion was amused. "I'm surprised the president deems it wise to spend taxpayer money for his lawyer to write letters to The Onion," Scott Dikkers, editor in chief, wrote to Mr. Dixton. He suggested the money be used instead for tax breaks for satirists.

More formally, The Onion's lawyers responded that the paper's readers - it prints about 500,000 copies weekly, and three million people read it online - are well aware that The Onion is a joke.

"It is inconceivable that anyone would think that, by using the seal, The Onion intends to 'convey... sponsorship or approval' by the president," wrote Rochelle H. Klaskin, the paper's lawyer, who went on to note that a headline in the current issue made the point: "Bush to Appoint Someone to Be in Charge of Country."

Moreover, she wrote, The Onion and its Web site are free, so the seal is not being used for commercial purposes. That said, The Onion asked that its letter be considered a formal application to use the seal.

No answer yet. But Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said that "you can't pick and choose where you want to enforce the rules surrounding the use of official government insignia, whether it's for humor or fraud."

O.K. But just between us, Mr. Duffy, how did they find out about it?

"Despite the seriousness of the Bush White House, more than one Bush staffer reads The Onion and enjoys it thoroughly," he said. "We do have a sense of humor, believe it or not."
Can't wait to see what The Onion does with this one.

Jill Explains It All

If you're a legal nerd or just like to know the facts, Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast kindly offers the statute under consideration in the Fitzgerald probe of the Valerie Plame leak and has gone so far as to highlight relevant language.

Just in case you were wondering what all the fuss was about.

The Bush Quiz

Offered by The New Yorker, go see how up-to-date you are on All Things Bush.

Sample questions:

1. Who is Ben Marble?

(a) The Pentagon official who said that George W. Bush’s staged videoconference with U.S. troops in Iraq made him “livid.”

(b) The Texas liquor-authority agent who arrested George W. Bush’s intoxicated nephew John for resisting arrest.

(c) The former White House speechwriter who said that Harriet Miers, the Supreme Court nominee, told him that George W. Bush was the most brilliant man she’d ever met.

(d) The Gulfport, Mississippi, onlooker who twice interrupted Dick Cheney’s conversation with reporters to tell Cheney, “Go fuck yourself.”

2. True or false: During Sky News Ireland’s coverage of George W. Bush’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina, the network paraphrased his comments with the caption “BUSH: ONE OF THE WORST DISASTERS TO HIT THE U.S.”

(I know those first two, and I'll bet you do, too, but my Bush proficiency dwindles somewhat after that. Still, 17 out of 20 isn't bad.)

Answer key is provided. Good luck!

Patrick "Eliot Ness" Fitzgerald

In profiling the special prosecutor, Reuters declares Patrick Fitzgerald

has a reputation as an incorruptible prosecutor in the mold of Chicago crime-fighter Eliot Ness, who took on Al Capone's criminal empire.
I find that a very satisfying analogy. (Fitzgerald is to Ness as Bush Administration is to ....)

He even looks a little like Robert Stack...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Five and a half hours at Firestone

Yesterday I went to Firestone to get a pair of front tires. Of course they found another problem, which led to ordering of parts, which led to much waiting. Five and a half hours' worth, to be precise. Everyone initially in the waiting area left and many came and went during my time there. But griping about that is not the purpose of this post.

I took some work with me, but not 5-1/2 hours' worth, so after a while, I had to look around for other forms of amusement. Here are my observations, for what they're worth.

1. Firestone included a Bible on its reading table. First time I'd ever seen that. Although no one opened it (in fact, people repeately moved it out of the way to get to newspapers and magazines), by hour four I was considering finding some religion.

2. I'm a "Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications" addict. (These include all the many specialized decorating/gardening/remodeling mags published periodically--some quarterly, some only yearly.) I can't bring myself to throw any of these lovely, high-quality magazines away and they're taking up a LOT of room at my house. So I decided a few months ago to stop buying them, except for Decorating, unless an article or cover photo was absolutely irresistible. So far, so good. As I thumbed through through Firestone's collection of the Mama Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, I was surprised to discover its lousy paper quality. It's printed on something not too many shades better than newsprint. Huh.

3. I learned a few surprising things about halitosis from BH&G, and it turns out I've been doing some things right. Tea contains something that tends to kill mouth bacteria, so it's a good bad breath preventative. (How about that, Alanna?) Ditto yogurt. There was a third thing, too, although I forget what it was. But I'm doing that, too. Just call me Sweet Mouth.

4. Trapped in a small place with only one unisex bathroom, I had little choice but to use the facilities provided. Lo and behold, I once again came along behind a victim of Can't Flush Syndrome. This one was male, judging by the position of the toilet seat. So not only did I have to flush his business away, I had to adjust that public toilet seat. Yes, a large wad of toilet paper was involved.

5. Among the hours (five and a half, remember) of CNN that I watched or half-watched was a hour-long show (apparently a rebroadcast) entitled CNN Presents: Voices from the Homefront. In it, John King explored a variety of attitudes about Iraq among "regular" people, many of whom have military ties: parents of the dead, parents of those currently serving, retired military. In its exploration of opinions both pro- and anti-war, the hour seemed quite -- ahem -- fair and balanced. Two things in particular stood out:

A. During that hour, three of us "waiters" watched the show from beginning to end (and a few watched some and then wandered off) and not a one made a single comment during the hour. Considering what a highly-charged issue this is, and considering what a red county I live in, I expected some noise. But no. (Earlier in the day, a group of men were blaming the Katrina victims for their predicament. Some of the "evidence" presented was the corruption of Louisiana's governor, an interesting accusation since the gentleman repeatedly referred to said corrupt governor as "he," a pronoun not usually used to describe Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco.)

B. Probably the real reason I'm writing this post is that in the broadcast, a retired Marine officer said: "Talk to the sergeants. I've talked to them. Talk to the majors, the lieutenant colonels, colonels. They'll tell you then, and they'll tell you now, they need more forces on the ground [...] Particularly among those who are familiar with war, there is a real, almost a loathing of the secretary of defense for the way he's prosecuted this war." (The transcript on Lexis-Nexis, from which I took this, "identifies" the speaker as "unidentified male" [as many interviewees are identified in this transcript], but I'm fairly certain these are the words of retired Marine Colonel Jim Van Riper.) I bring this up because in the early days of this blog, in comments to my post "Fight fair, children," I was taken to task for saying, "I'm [...]fairly certain that the President of the United States uses the death of 1800-plus soldiers to push his political agenda (e.g., 'We have to honor the sacrifices of the fallen by completing the mission...'), one that for absolute certain endangers our understaffed, underequipped soldiers." My commenter replied, " Our units are not 'undermanned'. That is liberal opinion, not the military's assessment." At the time I got into that little shoving match, I knew my comment was based on something beyond "liberal opinion," although at the time I was not inclined to go looking for proof. Perhaps Col. Van Riper doesn't have sufficient credibility to convince conservatives, but I, who have very close military relatives, am inclined to believe the man.

That was the heart of my Saturday. I hope yours was more fun!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Watch This Space

Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post reports that Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Special Counsel with the Dept. of Justice, currently investigating the Plame outing, has opened a website.

As Froomkin notes, "It's certainly not the action of an office about to fold up its tents and go home."

Could get interesting.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

My Name is George

NBC's new comedy My Name is Earl operates on the premise that

Earl [...]has taken one too many wrong turns on the highway of life. However, a twist of fate turns his life into a tailspin of life-renewing events. Earl wins a small lottery, and, after an epiphany, he is determined to transform his good fortune into a life-changing event as he sets out to right all the wrongs from his past.
Before Earl can begin his journey, his inevitable attraction to misfortune surfaces once again. Seconds after winning the lottery, he is hit by a car and while unconscious; the winning lottery ticket blows away. While in the hospital, Earl watches "Last Call with Carson Daly" where Carson says that his success is a direct result of doing good things for other people. It is at that moment Earl discovers karma- and in hope of a better life, he sets out to correct every bad thing he's ever done.

Earl has a very long list of misdeeds -- 250 or so --and one by one, he's trying to make amends to each of the people he's hurt. As he feels his way through his new life philosophy, he and his dim-bulb brother learn firsthand that good deeds bring rewards; bad deeds just bring more misery.

Earl's mantra: Do good things and good things happen to ya; do bad things an' they'll come back to haunt ya. I'm talkin' about karma.

Some prominent Republicans just might want to take note.

Music to an English teacher's ears

Pretty, articulate, smart student: I really liked that Tim O'Brien story ("On the Rainy River") that we read yesterday, so I went to the library and checked out two of his books.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

You say it's your birthday....! It's my birthday, too, yeah!

Today is my birthday.

These days it takes me by surprise. I only remembered a few days ago that it was almost that time, which means more than anything time to renew the car tag and (this year) the driver's license.

When I was a kid, it was for me, like probably all of you, a big deal to have a birthday. However, I came from a rather underprivileged family, so birthday gift dreams often tended to be just that, dreams. Still, a kid always hopes. (And I am the oldest of ten; five of us have birthdays on the 13th, 15th, 17th, and 19th of October. Even in our destitute family, on the 19th my siblings were likely to say, "cake again?") As a teen and young adult, I rather expected a little something from friends and then-husband. And usually there was a little something.

But as time passed, gifts were rare, and the only card I knew for sure I'd get was from my grandmother (who in the past few years has resorted to calls like everyone else, and that's ok). Birthdays had become rather passé for me.

I'm not sure why I was surprised, but I received a number of lovely things today.

My ten-year-old grandson A called and sang "Happy Birthday." Every word of it, with "cha-cha-cha" at the end of each line. (Thank you, A.)

My mother called. This is rare for reasons I won't go into here, but it has nothing to do with disinterest on either of our parts. (Thank you, Mom.)

My wonderful friend S gave me a pure silk handsewn scarf from China, which she visited recently. The feel of the scarf defines luxury, and the colors are divine: blues and lavenders with a touch of citron. I love scarves and own several, but I am ten thumbs when it comes to tying them. I must Google scarf-tying, and immediately. (Thank you, S.)

My most wonderful-est friend E, who may well read this before I get a thank-you out to her, wrapped up a new bio of Eudora Welty in floral paper, a bio I didn't even know existed. She couldn't have made a better choice (and she probably knows it). (Thank you, E.) I am a Welty groupie. (My favorite Welty story is "Livvie," if you'd like to know.) I visited Jackson, MS three weeks after Miss Welty died. We found her home easily thanks to the fact that the Clarion-Ledger printed her address in a tribute story; we sat nervous and awestruck in the street outside her home for about 10 minutes. A black cat ambled across the front lawn and disappeared behind the trash cans neatly lined up next to the house. Mail peeked out from an overstuffed mailbox. Signs of life as usual, but the infamous resident of the legendary home was gone. (This photo is not Welty's house, goodness, no, but is a photo taken by Welty of a bottle tree like that described in "Livvie.")

Finally, a student gave me two cupcakes. I didn't advertise the day (as I'm doing here), but he mentioned that his b-day is soon, and I fessed up to mine, which later resulted in cupcakes at a particularly hungry moment in my day. (Thank you, J.)

There may well be other things at home, if I ever get there.

It's not original, but this is just to say that the best gifts are the love of family and friends, as symbolized by these lovely tokens, and I am surprised and pleased and humbled and thankful.

Stay away from crack, and other complaints

Once upon a time, it was construction workers and especially plumbers who were the -- ahem -- butt of the jokes. Hard workin' guy with a heavy tool belt leans over to do his job and it's moon over Miami time, baby.

Today, it's a fashion statement.

I spend my days on a college campus and can testify that when young women in those low, low, low ridin' jeans sit down, the natural by product is a full moon. (Sometimes those moons are alarmingly full.)

Can they not feel the breeze kissing their delicate cheeks?

I'm not sure which is more distressing: the vertical and horizontal elastic bands of the thong that playfully peeks over the waistband or the absence of the bands.

When students rearrange their chairs for group work, heterosexual me is treated to an unwelcome chorus line of cheeks. I can only imagine what this floor show does to the libidos of the straight males and lesbians in the room.

Really, ladies, the old joke holds true for you, too: Just say no to crack.

On a disturbingly related note, I have just one question for those of you who use public restrooms, but are apparently in a big ol' hurry: just exactly how hard is it for you to flush a toilet?

That's all for now. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

William Shakespeare and the Cosmic Gravy Train

More Google poetry (see post immediately below, which frankly is the better poem)...

Patterns works really well. Not all poems are that satisfying, but this one married a strong title with just the right form, the pantoum. I was never that hot at Magnetic Poetry, but I might have a talent for this.

Bitty presents her latest creation, with the help of Google Poetry (interesting that Karl Rove, completely unbidden, appears in this one, too):

William Shakespeare and the Cosmic Gravy Train
Compiled 10/19/2005 12:05:48 AM GMT

If Only a couple of well-known names pop up:
Distressed Jeans 30.8.05 31 Next up for the budding actress:
Its own justification - it is not a gravy-train, -
Hand came from William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. - Kali

Distressed Jeans 30.8.05 31 Next up for the budding actress:
Island Rail Road · He Who HesitatesHamstrung!
Hand came from William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. - Kali
Riding the Gravy Train, What Karl Rove

Island Rail Road · He Who HesitatesHamstrung!
Wimsatt D-Stroy - Who was he?;Ham
Riding the Gravy Train, What Karl Rove
- Little Rule Britannia made a gallant appearance

Wimsatt D-Stroy - Who was he?;Ham
The chain that can be yanked is not the cosmic chain.
- Little Rule Britannia made a gallant appearance
Appears there, rigid in facial - RTF

The chain that can be yanked is not the cosmic chain.
06:21 PM The Smiths: "Shakespeare's Sister"
Appears there, rigid in facial - RTF
bush puts iraq up for sale us firms hog gravy train

06:21 PM The Smiths: "Shakespeare's Sister"
Artist William Kentridge’s work makes Little plastic ninjas
bush puts iraq up for sale us firms hog gravy train
Shakespeare Handbook · Leslie Esdaile - Sister

Artist William Kentridge’s work makes Little plastic ninjas
Cabot Niccolo "Prince" Machiavelli
Shakespeare Handbook · Leslie Esdaile - Sister
Beardless, appears there, rigid in facial

Cabot Niccolo "Prince" Machiavelli
Seen Gainsborough and the grass. - Similar to Homer,
Beardless, appears there, rigid in facial
That for most on the train, the show

Seen Gainsborough and the grass. - Similar to Homer,
To readers of women’s In the January 1996 issue
That for most on the train, the show
Sucker - III The Secret of a Train All this talk of a railway

To readers of women’s In the January 1996 issue
RICHTER, CONRAD. - (advances with a tilted dish of
Sucker - III The Secret of a Train All this talk of a railway
Janet’s nipple Several big publishers have

RICHTER, CONRAD. - (advances with a tilted dish of
Fall.98 Bard of Avon : The Story
Janet’s nipple Several big publishers have
Ashland The cosmic light show finds her curious and indifferent

Fall.98 Bard of Avon : The Story
Its own justification - it is not a gravy-train, -
Ashland The cosmic light show finds her curious and indifferent
If Only a couple of well-known names pop up:

Karl Rove Gives Me the Shivers

(Edited October 19)

I'm always up for a little internet fun, and what could be more fun for an English geek than the ultimate in "found" poetry, that which is written by the internet?

Follow the link to have your own fun.

My first attempt at Google poetry was titled "Karl Rove Gives Me the Shivers," and I swear it was a bloody work of art. Since the 'net changes constantly, however, I re"wrote" the poem today and found it had both a more satisfying beginning AND ending, so here's "Karl Rove Gives Me the Shivers," part deux:

Karl Rove Gives Me the Shivers
Compiled 10/20/2005 3:24:09 AM GMT

And, just as Karl Rove
was engineering the
scuttling of Trent Lott and the
Eewwww - gives
me the
shivers. And what Melanie reported above - no wonder ...
The Rove
defense evolves. Yesterday his attorney told CNN that "Karl has truthfully
told ... Their arrogance still gives
me the
shivers when I think of it. ...
... attacking WH spokesman Scott McClellan over the
Karl Rove
fiasco. ... It gives
me the
shivers. And I just realized something as I typed in the
title. ...
It's clear you've become too dependent on me, and it's time you started thinking
... Karl Rove
gives a reporter a lead on a CIA operative who works on WMDs, ...
If Newsweek's report is accurate, Karl Rove
is more morally repugnant and ...
Gives me
the shivers. Like a potato bug, Rall will crawl back beneath a rock ...
*Karl Rove, Grover Norquist and Tom DeLay. *Military strongmen from Latin American
... Newt Gingrich still gives
me the
shivers Jerry Farwell.. eewww ...
Because I live in this very safe, predictable life style, it gives
me the
freedom to
... It’s the
kind of thought that would give Karl Rove
the shivers. ...
... Texas Rangers, Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Hillary Clinton, National Guard, ...
I tell you, it gave me
the shivers. Then, when I thought it couldn't get ...
Man, thinking of that mushroom cloud gives
me shivers. ... When Bush's evil
wizard, Karl Rove, wants to leak that John Kerry might have had an affair and ...
Time Magazine is reporting that Karl Rove
has a plan in place for if he is actually
... A scenario that gives
me a great deal of hope for the
future. ...

Saying hello to my own blog

Life has just been tough lately. I've been experiencing the wisdom behind the cliche too busy to breathe, having caught myself holding my breath several times lately. This is never a good sign.

To the friends who check in here occasionally: hello, friends! I still love you and will try to write or call soon.

To the rest of you: hello as well!

And to my blog: sorry I've been neglecting you. I'll try to do better in the future.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

What are you reading THIS blog for? All the fun is over at Shakespeare's Sister (Brush With Fame Edition)

Andy Warhol once wrote: In the future everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.

That still may be, but a corollary to the maxim is that everyone will manage to cross paths with several famous people. It's a decent get-to-know you game; I have yet to have the conversation with someone and not get a fairly cool response.

They're playing that game over at Shakespeare's Sister. Go read. Go get involved. Or give Bitty an exclusive and post your encounters here.

Here's the expanded version of my response.

If we're talking about people I've crossed paths with long enough to snag an autograph, that list includes Susan Faludi (yes, my copy of Backlash is autographed), Bela Fleck, and (nobody cares but me, maybe, but he wrote my favorite non-fiction book, China: Alive in the Bitter Sea, also now autographed), Fox Butterfield.

If we're talking about airport sightings, I was in line with Kasey Kasem (he didn't say any bad words) and stood around waiting with Leslie Nielsen (yes, for an Airplane!; too funny!)

However, my best "famous person" encounters are political.

I shook Bill Clinton's hand when he was campaigning in 1992. (At that time, I wasn't worrying about where that hand might have been...) I have pictures that I took of the man my own self. The Secret Service, by the way, is fascinating to watch up close.

My best encounter, however, wasn't as close but the image will be with me forever. When I was in 6th grade, I went on a bus patrol trip to DC. This would have been spring of '65. We went to Arlington National Cemetery to see JFK's grave, and of course at that time the man had not been dead much more than a year. The crowds (us) were kept on sidewalks with ropes along the sides to keep us on the paths and off the grass. There were several other unoccupied sidewalks leading to the grave. Suddenly the crowd started buzzing and pointing. Bobby and Ethel Kennedy and all the many little Kennedys were walking up one of the sidewalks. Bobby and the boys were dressed in matching dark suits. Ethel and the girls were dressed in matching lime green sleeveless shifts (a term probably not used much any more, but the dresses still exist).

Since I was a punk kid, I didn't have a camera. Kids didn't have those kinds of things back in the 60s. It doesn't matter. The image is seared in my brain and is all the more poignant since of course Bobby himself was in the grave just a few years later.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Why the American press has no Carole Colemans

In 2004, the Columbia Journalism Review assessed the state of the interview and found it, well, wanting. In her aptly titled article, "Answer the &$%#* Question!," author Trudy Lieberman asserts that those people from whom journalists might attempt to elicit real information have all been media-trained to avoid questions they don't like and steer the interview to the topics they do want to discuss. Lieberman says,

When interviewees twist an interview to fit their agenda, they are in effect warning the questioner what to avoid and signaling how they want to structure the questions.
Lieberman charges that American journalists play the game along with the media-savvy interviewees when they fail to ask the hard questions or follow up the lame, off-topic answers they receive. Late in the article, Lieberman concludes:

[I]n my examination of some fifty news transcripts, sharp questioning is unusual, raising the larger question of what the audience takes away when journalism appears to be little more than disguised public relations. Does the audience see through the culture of caution and obfuscation that permeates the news business? When TV guests practice question evasion, does the audience think twice about their credibility? Does the public see through polished answers and the platitudinous comments? Does it ask where the real meat and potatoes are?

Such questions bring up others: What are journalists for? Are they to analyze and interpret the news and arbitrate conflicting opinion for the public, or are they to act as mere carriers of other people’s messages?
Last year, Carole Coleman, an Irish "pit bull" with a gentle brogue, interviewed George Bush (an interview not aired in the US as far as I can tell) -- and for real, something he's not used to. In doing so, she reminded us that not all journalists are "mere carriers." At least some non-American journalists still remember how it used to be done.

Read Lieberman's article and the categories of media obfuscation that interviewees deploy, then compare them to the Coleman/Bush interview. Repeatedly we see Bush hard at work "taking control," "dodging the question," "telling a story," "spreading the word," "answering the easy parts," and "pitching platitudes." Only he doesn't exactly succeed because Coleman persistently interrupts him, reiterates her questions, and follows up. For this, many critics (read the comments) and the Bushies themselves deem her rude.

Here resides an excerpt from Coleman's upcoming book in which she recounts the hard-hitting interview that made Bush squirm and smirk and stutter and led to this post-interview exchange between Coleman and a White House press secretary (MC):

“You were given an opportunity to interview the leader of the free world and you blew it,” she began.

I was beginning to feel as if I might be dreaming. I had naively believed the American president was referred to as the “leader of the free world” only in an unofficial tongue-in-cheek sort of way by outsiders, and not among his closest staff.

“You were more vicious than any of the White House press corps or even some of them up on Capitol Hill . . .The president leads the interview,” she said.

“I don’t agree,” I replied, my initial worry now turning to frustration. “It’s the journalist’s job to lead the interview.”

It was suggested that perhaps I could edit the tapes to take out the interruptions, but I made it clear that this would not be possible.

As the conversation progressed, I learnt that I might find it difficult to secure further co-operation from the White House. [...]

Clearly the White House had thought they would be dealing with an Irish “colleen” bowled over by the opportunity to interview the Bushes. If anyone there had done their research on RTE’s interviewing techniques, they might have known better.

MC also indicated that she would be contacting the Irish Embassy in Washington — in other words, an official complaint from Washington to Dublin.

I don’t know how we are going to repair this relationship but have a safe trip back to Ireland,” MC concluded.
A request for real answers = international crisis? Fortunately the White House whining amounted to just that, whining.

Carole Coleman is my new hero. Lately SOME members of the US press have been following her lead, but more need to continuously (not just occasionally) ask hardball questions as did Coleman -- and more importantly, perhaps, press for real answers, as did Coleman. Trudy Lieberman's concerns about audience perception are unfortunately valid, as we daily suffer the ugly results of having a misled, misinformed public.

(To give proper credit, the information on the Coleman saga comes to me from The Green Knight, through Shakespeare's Sister. At The Green Knight's site is a link that'll take you to see the video of the interview, although, sadly, not of the post-interview smarminess that Coleman describes. Seeing that would have been downright fun.)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Justice Bitty

Other than George Bush himself, we thought we’d seen the ultimate example of the Peter Principle in action with Horse Commissioner/FEMA head Mike Brown…until we were presented with Harriet Miers’ nomination to the Supreme Court. Bush insists that Ms. Miers is the “most qualified” person for the job despite her relatively thin resumé. One must wonder what, exactly, the qualifications are.

If Miers isn’t confirmed or if a third opening appears on the court, I’d like to offer myself for the position since I too have a comparably thin legal resumé. I too have no judicial experience. I too have served as a secretary.* I too have legal experience: twelve years of writing legal documents for my attorney boss. (And you thought attorneys wrote them themselves! Suckers!)

Except for the facts that I have no deep, personal bond with George Bush and don’t consider him to be one of the most intelligent men ever, I appear to be fully qualified for SCOTUS. Pick me! Pick me!

*"As Bush's staff secretary, she was known to correct spelling, grammar and even punctuation errors in memos to the president. But she has no judicial experience and not much appellate experience."

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

My son is a SUPER kid!

We used to have some fridge magnets given to my kids by their father's then-girlfriend. When the kids grew up, I threw the magnets away (sorry, A!), but I kept them as long as I did because of the message:

M is a SUPER kid!

E is a SUPER kid!

A is a SUPER kid!

You want to keep those kind of affirmations around for your kids, no?

I'm wondering if Nicolas Cage's mommy bought one of those magnets for him. He certainly seems to have internalized the message and wants to pass it on to his own offspring. MSN gossip reports that Cage and his barely-out-of-braces wife have named their new son...Kal-el.

Now don't you want to rethink those unkind thoughts you had about Apple?

Looking out for my money -- and yours

A rant and then a warning...

First, I literally can't spend my money fast enough.

I headed out to buy groceries and gas, a depressing task in itself, and I ran into a minor glitch at the Hess station, where I was trying to buy my $2.91 gas. The touch pad wasn't responding to my attempts to use my debit card, so I went inside to pay. For reasons that made little sense, I couldn't. The cashier said that he couldn't run the pump from inside the store (???????) and I needed to move to another pump. Well, all the pumps were occupied, and as it was, I had waited in line to get my crack at THAT one. Since I was out and about and burning precious fossil fuel, I decided to continue up the road, get my gas at the Gate, and run a quick errand. There's another Hess station almost directly across the road from the one I was leaving, and as I passed it, I checked the price: $2.91.

In the olden days of -- oh, say -- June, gas prices were predictable. Hess and Gate always ran the same prices, the Shell was five cents more. No more.

At Shell, the gas was $2.99, eight cents more. At Gate, $2.98, seven cents more. I kept on to my errand destination and decided to hit Hess #2 on the way back.

No more than 20 minutes later, errand complete, I had looped around and was headed back in the general direction of home and toward the other Hess station.

In those 20 minutes, the price went up three cents.

This seems patently unfair, and I've heard this griped about elsewhere. The gas underground is bought and paid for. It would seem fair to raise the price on the next delivery, or even at the end/beginning of the sales day, but in almost mid-pump?

I bought it anyway because, of course, I have no choice.

Later, as I passed the first station I'd visited, a fella was outside raising the price on its sign to $2.94 as well.

End of rant.

Secondly, a little sticker at the first gas station reminded of something I just recently learned. I pass it on to you in case there are no little stickers at your gas station.

If you use your debit card at a pump that does not require a PIN, the station regularly will block out an amount -- often $50 or $75 -- on your card.

That amount doesn't “un-block” as you drive away. Instead, the hold remains until that evening, and sometimes for up to several days, until the station does a “batch” transaction, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
This freeze on our bank accounts can lead to unpleasantries, most especially BOUNCED CHECKS since who among us has an extra seventy-five bucks chilling in our accounts?

The solution seems to be to know your gas stations well and know which ones allow you the debit (using the PIN) option. Not all do. Then, remember to USE the debit option. Otherwise, use cash or be prepared to have your 75 bucks frozen for several days.

Monday, October 03, 2005

What the heck is going on?

Today's news:

Student one's father has had a serious accident; it may prove fatal.

Student two's father may have cancer. Test results pending.

Student three's father has cancer. Maybe curable; maybe not.

So much for avoiding reality.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Maybe reality isn't all it's cracked up to be

I've been engaged in a lot of reflection over the last few days, and I'm thinking that Bushco might actually be on to something.

Reality stinks; fantasy is much more fun.

I'm thinking that for the near future, I'd rather live by the "if-I-say-it's-so-it-is-so" credo.


This is a world in which the evil and selfish get their just punishment, just as the good and compassionate get rewarded.

This is a world in which people use their brains to figure out the difference. In fact, this is a world in which people use their brains regularly, all in the service of good.

This is a world in which the spirit and message of the ten commandments mean something. That is, "the ten commandments" are not a symbol of rigidity and intolerance but instead some rather fine words of wisdom.

This is a world in which "worth" and "money" have no direct connection. That is, a person does not have "worth" simply by virtue (pun intended) of having money.

This is a world in which no one suffers just because he or she was born with the "wrong" kind of body and/or in the "wrong" part of the world.

This is a world in which none of the personal and work-related issues I've discussed below exist.

I may or may not blog much over the next few weeks. To blog, for me anyway, means to face reality. And I'm not much into that right now.