Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dear Prudence's Bad Advice

A while back Slate's advice columnist, Dear Prudence, gave some advice to a woman who was concerned about her baby niece living next to a pit bull. Prudie agreed that the situation sounded pretty unsafe to her, but then had to throw in a little gratitious slut-shaming.

SHe's just written a year-end column about the letters that got the most response...not that she was owning up to changing her mind about anything just that "isn't it interesting" that some of her columns riled people up.

Naturally I wasn't the only one who got upset about her response to the pit bull letter. She actually quoted my email to her, at least part of it.

Everyone got mad at me for my answer to Uneasy. She was writing because her 20-year-old sister—a single mother with a toddler—just moved in with a roommate who had a nervous pit bull. I said both baby and dog must be intensely supervised when together and otherwise separated to avert a tragedy. Pit-bull lovers said my answer maligned their loyal, loving breed. Pit-bull haters said I exonerated these malevolent dogs and sent me articles from around the country on pit-bull maulings. Single mothers and others were outraged by what they felt was a gratuitous slap when I said that since the mother of the toddler had her while still a teenager, that indicated she lacked an ability to understand the consequences of her actions. "The fact that she is 20 and a new mother and single is why she's not able to clearly see the danger. But you lost me the minute you basically called her a slut," one reader bristled. "Two years ago, the woman had sex. God forbid! If you ever have pre-marital sex, you could end up with an unexpected pregnancy. So what?" asked another.

No, I did not call her a "slut," and, yes, I agree she is too young to be a mother. The "So what?" is that it's a tragedy that so many young women with no education, prospects, or partner are raising children alone.
Prudie then and in her response to me at the time kept talking about "the consequences of [young women's] behavior" but never really spells out which is the behavior that needs watching. Is it having sex out of wedlock that is the sticky wicket or just getting pregnant? Here's the full part of the email I sent to Prudie.
It sounds to me the fact that she *is* 20 and a new mother and single is why she's not able to clearly see the danger. Maybe she's happy in the living situation and doesn't want to face up to the fact that she'd have to move because of the dog. There's a lot of "maybe's" and it's easy to see why a young, new mother might justify the dog saying "I don't see it as a problem." Especially if up until this point, it hasn't been. (I'm with you however, on the issue that she needs to move her child away from the dog. Other dogs can bite but pit bulls' bites are known as especially dangerous.)

But you lost me the minute you basically called her a slut in not-so-many-veiled words. Tsk, tsk, you young woman for having sex.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Red Is the New Blue (Bike)

So six days after my bike was stolen I've bought a new Trek. This time a FX 7.3. As you might be able to guess from the picture, it's a men's bike. I went up a class, partially because there were some differences in the handlebar I didn't like in the 7.2. But the frame of the men's compared to the women's wasn't all that different. Here is the Trek 7.2 FX WSD I was considering.

As you can see, the frame isn't really all that much more angled, although I probably will have to wear bike shorts under my skirts on the days I forgo pants.

I could have gone with the women's FX 7.3 but ultimately, it came down to color. I just preferred the red. Lately everything I buy is red.

However I did figure out one other issue; how my bike was stolen. I was using a Kryptonite U-lock circa 2003. I didn't realize until today that in 2004, there were videos posted how to break the locks using a ballpoint pen and they've been considered pretty unreliable ever since. Until I was in the bike shop looking at locks I had completely forgotten that I bought mine five years ago, right before I moved to DC.

In a way, this comes as a relief. It means that there is an easy solution to my problem and that the issue isn't that I had a good lock that was broken, but a bad lock that was unreliable in the first place.

I probably rushed into the buying faster than I should have, maybe I should have tried out some more bikes. But even walking to the bike shop I realized how much I've relied on my bike to get me to and from the metro quickly. Walking just seems so interminably slow.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Someone Stole My Bike

Goddamn it I want to cry! I loved my bike probably more than any other material possession I own. I bought it almost exactly 11 months ago. I locked it up at the Metro this morning like I've done almost every morning for a year and when I came out it was gone. I even used a u-lock. It was just gone. Even the u-lock.

And I'm wondering "did I not secure the lock?" "did I actually miss the loop somehow?" Or did someone who knows how to break a u-lock finally come along and snatch it.

And yeah, bikes can be replaced. But it was pretty! The new Trek 7.2 FX colors are ugly!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Election Al

It's been a long time since I posted a Friday Cat Blogging pic and being both Halloween and close to Election Day I should have been more inspired. I tried taking a certifiable "Cats For Obama" picture but Al wasn't helping. (Neither was my flash). I think Al might be undecided or maybe unregistered. Lena is harder to poll.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dear Prudie Goes For Slut-Shaming

I guess I can't act too surprised if your advice column is named "Dear Prudence." A recent column had a letter-writer concerned about her niece and a pit bull.

Dear Prudence,

My sister is 20 years old, has an 18-month-old daughter, and is a great mother. She doesn't have much money, so she recently moved in with a new roommate. The roommate has a pet pit bull. I met the dog a couple of days ago, and while she is very sweet, she also seems to be pretty nervous. I know I was a new person to this dog, but overall what I saw was potentially a very dangerous situation for my niece. I told my sister that, and she told me that she trusts the dog and thinks she's well-mannered. She said that the dog and her daughter get along well, the dog doesn't mind if the child pokes her, and that the dog lets the child sleep in her dog bed sometimes! Is this one of those situations where I can't tell her what to do, so I should leave it alone? Or should I call child protective services?
So what followed could have been a pretty standard answer. Or should have been.

Dear Uneasy,

No wonder the dog is nervous. Suddenly a small human is sticking fingers in her eyes and sleeping in her bed. You're probably sweet and well-mannered yourself, but surely you would lash out at someone who invaded your home and poked your orifices all day. That a pit bull is involved adds to the potential damage if the dog strikes back, but even a placid basset hound could be provoked to take a hunk out of a toddler's face under these circumstances. When a dog uncharacteristically attacks a child, often the aggressor was the child who simply didn't understand that you can't pull on a real dog's tail the way you can your favorite stuffed animal. Your sister is a 20-year-old single mother; that alone indicates she still lacks the ability to understand how acting on her impulses can lead to life-changing events.

Why is being 20 and having a kid shows you lack impulse-control? Oh it's because clearly you are a slut who can't keep her legs crossed. There is no other way in interpret that sentence. Prudie (which, again, what did I expect when prudence is so close "prude.") is tsk, tsking her for being 20 and having S-E-X.

Did she stop and think that maybe the condom broke. Maybe her birth control just failed. Heck in some parts of this country they would think that baring and raising the child is proof that she's not impulsive. Does Prudie really feel like she needed to get into the circumstances of the child's existence to offer advice?

UPDATE: Prudie responded to my email. She writes:
I didn't call her a s--t, I said she clearly lacks judgment, which she clearly does. I think our out-of-wedlock birthrate is a tragedy and I wish more people spoke out about it to make young women consider the consequences of their behavior.
Which I responded what is this "their behavior" you are speaking of? Having sex out of wedlock? Or getting pregnant?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thought For the Day: Job Applications

My organization just advertised for a part-time, contract postion (meaning no benefits). It's $13/hr, although we did say "hours are flexible" we're looking for someone who can work 2-3 days a week. In my head the kind of person who would want this job would be a college student or a grad student.

I put up one ad, in one spot, on Craiglist. For this job, which didn't have a whole lot of description about us, I got 40 applicants in the first day. There's another 20 that came in today. By three days I bet I have at least 75 applicants. By the end of the week I'll probably get another 25 applicants.

Something to think about when applying for even "crappy" jobs on CL.

UPDATE: It's Friday and the response rate slowed down tremendously. But so far I have about 84 applicants. However of that 84, only about 5-6 are really top candidates. Some over-qualified, many under-qualified, many are applying for everything on craiglist. Some clearly are searching for a full-time permenant job and I'm not sure how this job would work for them. But the biggest hurdle is that people who have no experience in this type of work. It's possible they could do the work and even be great at it. But you can understand why its easier to look for candidates with experience doing a similar type of work. A few I'm putting aside for another position we might hire for.

Another thing I realized, interviewing people is harder than it looks.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Right Way to Write a Sarah Palin Op-Ed

Sometimes I just want to point out the correct way to write an op-ed. Ever since she got nominated, my office has been flooded by authors who want to write about Sarah Palin. Some were okay, but many were way too strident. No one reading the op-ed was going to be convinced of anything other than that the author really didn’t like Palin’s policies or how they thought she would govern.

I’ve written before about how op-ed writers need to make themselves be an “expert” on the subject they are writing about. Just because you have an opinion about Sarah Palin doesn’t mean anyone should listen to you -- unless you can tie yourself into the subject. You have to find the logic that give you the “in” to subject matter.

This Washington Post column by Catherine Iino is nearly perfect example in tying a non-national name to a national subject.

I serve on the Board of Selectmen of Killingworth, Conn., a town that has about the same population as Wasilla, Alaska, and I share Sarah Palin's affection for small-town life.
Notice there isn’t much of a preamble. She goes right into who she is and what she’s going to talk about. Then she uses her background in serving on the board of a small town to explain why that experience is relevant to talking about Sarah Palin.
It's been widely reported that Sarah Palin hired her friends for high offices and turned to her family for advice. You do that in a small town. The talent pool is limited. You know who is sensible, who gets things done, who is willing to donate time and energy. In my town, few positions -- appointed or elected -- are paid. Even the opportunities for graft and corruption are small potatoes. (Killingworth hasn't received any earmarks.) You call your friends and cajole them into serving on one more board or committee.
There’s nothing horribly partisan or accusatory. Sarah Palin did hire her friends for office and turned to her husband for advice. The author isn’t saying that’s wrong. But she manages to turn the fact to the point she wants to make.
This is not the way you want the federal government to be administered. Everyone knows everyone in Wasilla and Killingworth, but obviously, you can't know everyone in the United States. We need the people heading federal departments and agencies to have knowledge, competence and track records that inspire public confidence. And we need a chief executive who knows how to seek advice from independent experts, not just her friends and family.
And that’s the key. Catherine Iino is just a a boardmember in the small-town of Killingworth, Connecticut. Why is her opinion important? Because she can illuminate why running a small-town (even as “executive experience”) is entirely different than running a country.

Her ending is a bullseye.
Of course, small towns have distinctive vices as well as virtues. Because we don't have many professional administrators, we reinvent a lot of wheels. Decades-long feuds often color political debates. Sometimes we cut the wrong people too much slack. We muddle through, and I wouldn't want to see Killingworth tie itself in red tape trying to prevent these problems. But you couldn't run Safeway Inc., much less the federal government, the way you run a farm stand.

There is an aspect of small-town life that we should do our best to send to the national level: the attitude toward our neighbors. We need to believe that we are a community, that we all must contribute to the common good. Small-town executive experience, however, would be a risky thing to send to Washington.
Could Iino have tacked on more about Palin’s experience as governor? Sure, but the op-ed didn’t need it. Palin and the McCain campaign have made a virtue out of “small-townness.” Iino’s op-ed, without being harshly partisan or strident, simply points out the errors in the line of logic.

It’s a great op-ed written by an outside voice who knows what she's talking about.

--crossposted at Feminist Underground

Friday, October 03, 2008

LA Times Opinion Editor Is Fooled

Since I spend a lot of time talking to people who want to write op-ed columns, one of the first things I tell them is they have to figure out how they have a connection to the subject they want to write about. Basically, why should anyone want to read what you write? What makes you an “expert” on the subject?

Now when I say “expert” I don’t necessarily mean that you work at a think tank and write policy papers all day on the subject (although that would be great). But if you are writing about immigration, the economy, the presidential election, whatever, you have to somehow find a way to tie yourself to the subject matter. For example, in this piece, a New York woman is writing that like Sarah Palin, she’s also a “hockey mom.” She writes that she shares a lot of the same background as Gov. Palin. But she splits with her on position on reproductive rights. Her “expertise” is that she is also a hockey mom commenting on another hockey mom.

But Salon pointed to a great example of the Los Angeles Times picking up an op-ed by David Blankenhorn whose only buy-in is that the author is a “liberal” against gay marriage. Except that, as Salon points out. He’s probably not really a liberal.

The vehicle Blankenhorn uses for espousing his opinions on marriage and family values is a think tank he calls the Institute for American Values, of which he is president. In accordance with its status as an untaxed entity, IAV must file a Form 990 financial report annually with the IRS. These filings are available to the public, and you can learn a lot from them. Here is what public records tell us about IAV:

During the 15 years preceding 2006, IAV received nearly $4.5 million in funding from a coterie of ultra-conservative Republican foundations, including the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Scaife Family Foundation, and the Randolph Foundation. These foundations supply funds for a network of right-wing Republican think tanks that promote a variety of causes such as the elimination of gay marriage, abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research; prayer in public schools; creationism and deregulatory free-market economics.

The thing about political leanings is it’s a lot like faith. You can’t prove someone isn’t a “Christian” if they claim they are, even if you point out all the unchristian things they do.

It makes perfect sense that the opinion editor of the LA Times took Blankenhorn at face-value when he sends in an op-ed saying “I’m a liberal.” But in a case like this, and read the op-ed yourself, it doesn’t make much of a point if it’s not backed by someone who has a solid-background in proven liberal beliefs. The argument doesn’t exist really if its not presented as coming from someone who normally agrees with liberal positions.

I think this is a case of “fool me once.” I’d like to think the LA Times isn’t going to get fooled again just by someone who claims to be an outlier. But I suspect they are more susceptible to this type of ruse because they want to think of themselves as “not liberal media.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

You're Getting How Much To Organize at UW??

I wish campus conservatives would realize that just because they are outnumbered that doesn't mean that liberals have a "stranglehold" on campus. It means your ideas are unpopular and only appeal to a minority of people. Being unpopular isn't the same thing as has having your ideas suppressed.

I have friends who work at the University of Washington, my alma mater, and I hope they will be on the look out for this dude. He's a field representative from the Leadership Institute—basically a training guide for conservatives by crazy, rich guy Morton Blackwell. They train people how to be assholes against democracy like Karl Rove.

(Strangely coincidental, the headquarters for the Leadership Institute, is located in my neck of the woods, Arlington, Virginia.)

But honestly what shocked me most about this article was how much money they have to thrown away on their field organizers.

He plans to accomplish that task by manning an information booth at university functions and contacting students via Facebook. For his 11-week stint in Seattle, he will be paid about $15,000. In 2006, the Leadership Institute reported revenues of just over $16 million.
Seriously?! $1,363 a week? There are field-organizers for Democrats and for causes like the environment or reproductive rights but they pay like shit.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Women Staffers Doesn't Make You Feminist

I’ve always thought that when the demographics of those in power become less male and less white, there has to be some subtle benefits to everyone from the resulting minor shifts in attitudes or priorities. Even if the shifting demographics include conservative women and non-white males, I just assumed there could still be some progressive changes when the dudes in charge aren’t all cut from the same background. Basically if you have more women in charge, won’t the sheer numbers make sure that women’s issues aren’t shorted?

Well, I’m starting to doubt that. Rachael Larimore on Slate’s XX Factor blog dug a little deeper the idea that John McCain pays his women staffers more than his male staffers.

He doesn’t, but he does have more women as senior staffers than Obama.

Only one of Obama's five best-paid Senate staffers is a woman. Of McCain's five best-paid Senate staffers, three are women.

Of Obama's top 20 salaried Senate staffers, seven are women. Of McCain's top 20 salaried Senate staffers, 13 are women.
Here’s the interesting part. Despite the fact that John McCain had a majority of women senior staffers, he still voted against pay equity for women. So either the three most senior women staffers couldn’t convince McCain to change his mind, didn’t try to change his mind, or also were against the pay equity bill.

At least when Elizabeth Dole voted against the bill she sounded sorry about it. John McCain tried to imply they didn’t need to ensure equal pay for equal work at all, women just need to get more education.

So yeah, John McCain hires more women but other than those three individual women it doesn’t help women-at-large.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why It’s Better To Fight Lies With Different Lies

I’m being a bit flip, but the point is that research continues to show me that if you can’t fight lies with “the truth” than its better start telling new lies. Or at least change the subject.

Shankar Vedantam’s Human Behavior column points to another fascinating study about what people think when they are told something isn’t true. Most of the time it doesn’t matter, the effect has already happened.

In experiments conducted by political scientist John Bullock at Yale University, volunteers were given various items of political misinformation from real life. One group of volunteers was shown a transcript of an ad created by NARAL Pro-Choice America that accused John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court at the time, of "supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber."

Bullock then showed volunteers a refutation of the ad by abortion-rights supporters. He also told the volunteers that the advocacy group had withdrawn the ad. Although 56 percent of Democrats had originally disapproved of Roberts before hearing the misinformation, 80 percent of Democrats disapproved of the Supreme Court nominee afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic disapproval of Roberts dropped only to 72 percent.
Basically if you already were primed to dislike John Roberts, the information had the most effect on you, even after you were told it wasn’t true. If you weren’t primed to dislike him, it had less effect. Vedantam doesn’t mention what about the people who weren’t primed either way, but I would bet it still had some effect, perhaps even a lot, but less than on those who already disliked him.

I can’t find the original study but I can speculate a few reasons why it would work that way. If I'm already in an anti-John Roberts frame of mind, I think hearing “John Roberts supported a convicted clinic bomber” has the effect of reminding me why I don't like him (His extreme positions about women’s rights), even when I find out later that this specific fact isn't true. I remain in a slightly elavated state of John Roberts-hating despite the fact the new cause of the hate is wrong. (Just to be clear, I'm using pretty broad terms to discuss what are really more subtle emotions and thoughts. But being in a "John Roberts-slightly-elevated state of increased dislike" just doesn't roll off the tongue.)

Another aspect of the study I would like to know more about is how the corrections were presented to the test subjects. The article says the subjects were shown an "ad by abortion-rights supporters." I’m not sure I would trust pro-life group to tell me the sky is blue. It's possible that in this particular study the source of the refutation is the problem, and hence why hearing it didn't change the democrats' feelings about Roberts. However if it was presented as coming from a more neutral source, say from factcheck.org or the Washington Post, they might have found it more trustworthy and had a bigger impact. However the Republicans might not have had the same reaction from the source.

Which leads to the second study Vedantam quotes.
Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation -- the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made them misinformation worse.

In a paper approaching publication, Nyhan, a PhD student at Duke University, and Reifler, at Georgia State University, suggest that Republicans might be especially prone to the backfire effect because conservatives may have more rigid views than liberals: Upon hearing a refutation, conservatives might "argue back" against the refutation in their minds, thereby strengthening their belief in the misinformation. Nyhan and Reifler did not see the same "backfire effect" when liberals were given misinformation and a refutation about the Bush administration's stance on stem cell research.
Again, I’m wondering if the source of the refutation matters? Republicans are more likely to distrust the so-called mainstream media outlets, your Washington Post, New York Times, NBC, CBS, ABC, 60 Minutes, Newsweek, Time, etc, etc, etc. But I’m wondering if they heard that The National Journal refuted Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction would that change the results? Possibly not:
A similar "backfire effect" also influenced conservatives told about Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue. One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67 percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed that tax cuts increase revenue.
This is why whenever I read about people hearing that Sarah Palin is telling lies I know it won't faze Republican voters. They think it’s the media who are the liars.

But the other part of charge-countercharge that these studies can’t duplicate is that even when we hear a refutation, we can often find a contradictory opinion. Especially if it supports a belief we already want to believe. Don’t like factcheck.org, don’t worry. Someone on Newsmax already explained why “the media” is just spinning lies.

I would rather live in a world where untruths can be countered by facts. But that doesn’t seem to be the world we live in. So rather than fighting fire with sand its probably better to fight with fire. Cause it doesn’t matter how much sand you put on some lies, it never puts them out.

Cross-posted at Feminist Underground

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Value of Virginity

Apparently is determined by the highest bidder. *face plant*

What gets me about this story is the quotes from the woman who appearently has been taught all the feminist phrases but not why they should mean something to her.

"We live in a capitalist society ... why shouldn't I be allowed to capitalise on my virginity?" Ms Dylan was quoted as saying in the New York Daily News.

"I understand some people will condemn me ... but I think this is empowering. I'm using what I have to better myself.
I thinks she's going to find its the opposite of empowering. Talk to any sex worker, or even a stripper, and you will find that men feel even more willing to treat women they pay like they are subhuman.

The thing is, I'm not necessarily against the idea of decriminalizing prostitution -- but I've yet to see a version that doesn't end up hurting the women. Amsterdam is not actually a safe place for women or tourists. (Neither is Mexico which may have one of the worst track records of safety even though it is legalized in some parts.) Meanwhile Sweden has perhaps the best system for the women, but even there interviews with women make it clear this is not work that can be done by human beings with healthy psychologies. Its damaging.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Woman-Getting-Abortion Blog

I'm surprised that I hadn't seen a blog like this before but one anonymous woman has started a blog titled What to Expect When You're Aborting. Its pretty much her first-person experience. Some people are a tad skeptical it's real, but I've communicated with the author and, more than that, I find her writing to be incredibly riveting and personal. It just feels like a real person.

In the meantime Joan Lamunyon Sanford has an column on why just because Bristol Palin has a loving family that will support her choice doesn't mean that every pregnant 17-year-old can expect the same. Which is why teenagers, like adult women, need to have choices because not everyone's life is full of peaches'n'cream families with the financial means or desire to help.

Cross-posted at The Feminist Underground

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Baby Kittie Pictures

Al and Lena had one previous owner (they are slightly-used cats, but they only had light wear and tear.) Keeper of the Cats finally got a hold of some of their "baby" pictures.

For me it kind of strange to see miniature versions of the cats I know and love.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More On That Pew Media Survey And Media's Failures

Following on this post about the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released its biannually media consumption survey, I've posted the answers to their questions gauging whether you had a high knowledge score of political information in the comments. A word about such a gauge. The truth is that such gauges are imperfect measures. Pew likes to use these three particular questions because they can be used consistently across time periods, so you can compare the ratios across the years and track the differences. And they are useful questions but also somewhat limited in what they are really measuring.

The point I want to raise is that it would be wrong to read that 18% percent of correctly answered questions as meaning that 72% of U.S. population is too stupid to vote.

People retain knowledge that is useful to them or that they find interesting. Part of the reason why Pew conducts a media consumption survey is really to gauge the media (not only the citizens). One of the many, many flaws in the U.S. news media system is that news is more often presented as a series of news trivia. This happened, then this happened, then this happened.

Jay Rosen over at Press Think has actually been pondering the breakaway success entirely different model of news of This American Life call "The Giant Pool of Money." It explained the subprime housing market scandal.

If you don’t know “The Giant Pool of Money” you really should (here: download the podcast) because it’s probably the best work of explanatory journalism I have ever heard. I listened to it on a long car trip when everyone else was sleeping. Going in to the program, I didn’t understand the mortgage mess one bit: subprime loans were ruining Wall Street firms? And I care because they are old, respected firms?

That’s what I knew. Coming out of the program, I understood the complete scam: what happened, why it happened, and why I should care. I had a good sense of the motivations and situations of players all down the line. Civic mastery was mine over a complex story, dense with technical terms, unfolding on many fronts and different levels, with no heroes. And the villains were mostly abstractions! Typical of the program’s virtues is the title. It’s called The Giant Pool of Money because that is where the producers want your understanding to start. They insist.
One of the points that Rosen notices is that sometimes stories are so complex that without understanding why this applies to him, he tuned out the new information. Here is he is talking about subprime mortgages but you can see it applying to almost any story with complexity, Georgia, Iraq, Wall Street, candidates' health insurance plans, etc.
Wrong! For there are some stories—and the mortgage crisis is a great example—where until I grasp the whole I am unable to make sense of any part. Not only am I not a customer for news reports prior to that moment, but the very frequency of the updates alienates me from the providers of those updates because the news stream is adding daily to my feeling of being ill-informed, overwhelmed, out of the loop. I respond with indifference, even though I’ve picked up a blinking red light from the news system’s repeated placement of "subprime" items in front of me.
I think Rosen is on to something here and a commenter who emailed him explains why This American Life is even more unique than 99% of media productions -- that they have earned their audience's faith.
Let me add one point. This American Life could execute that episode only because week after week, they keep listeners engaged with excellent storytelling. You know that reaction everyone had to "subprime mortgage" stories, where they'd flip the channel or turn the radio dial whenever they came on? Well the listeners of This American Life didn't do that when they found out that week's episode would delve into the topic. The reaction wasn't, "Oh no, another one of these stories," as it would've been if they encountered the story elsewhere. It was "thank God, This American Life is going to explain this to me."
It would be impossible to turn every news outlet into This American Life, but I do think that surveys like Pew show that media consumption is not always synonymous with knowledge. But the reaction to such a survey shouldn't be "well people are just dumbasses." More often I think the issue is that its the media that is dumb.

One data point I noticed is that the media audience with the highest score for those three questions was The New Yorker/Atlantic Monthly. And still Pew found that only half its audience (48%) could correctly answer all three. Shouldn't that be more like 90% since the magazines tend to correlate with people who are very interested in currently events? That seems to me to be a huge disconnect.

One other point, last year Pew released a survey that gauged political knowledge much more deeply. They asked 26 questions, some of which were probably more timely back in April 2007, but even taking an "educated guess" if you are highly politically aware you can answer all of them correctly. You can take the test yourself and then compare how you did to everyone else in your age group, gender, education.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Colbert Report Viewers Are Slightly More Politically Knowledgeable Than Daily Show's

There are so many headlines I could have given this post, but from past experience if you put “The Daily Show” into a your blog you will get hits. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released its biannually media consumption survey. There’s a lot of interesting nuggets of data in it. (I promise I will get to the part about The Daily Show in a minute).

First off, ask yourself, without using google, can you:

  1. Can you tell me the name of the current U.S. Secretary of State?

  2. Say who is the current prime minister of Great Britain?
    a. Gordon Brown
    b. Rupert Murdoch
    c. Robert Gates
    d. John Howard

  3. Happen to know which political party has a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives?
If you can answer all three correctly, then you are identified by Pew as having a high knowledge score of political information. Frankly on number two I’m surprised they didn’t throw in Tony Blair as a choice.

So want to know how well the public answered those questions? Only 18% could correctly answer all three. That was the national average. Pew then breaks it down by viewers of certain shows.

You can see the full chart here but (to justify using the title on this post):
The Colbert Report and The Daily Show are notable for having relatively well-informed audiences that are younger than the national average: 34% of regular Colbert viewers answered the three political knowledge questions correctly, as did 30% of regular Daily Show viewers. Less than a quarter of either audience is older than 50 (22% Colbert, 23% Daily Show), compared with 41% of the general public.
I’ve often thought The Colbert Report is a tad more cerebral than The Daily Show. (Oh and the other late-night comics Leno/Letterman, only 20% of their audience could answer all three correctly.)

But in any case there’s a lot of other interesting data. I’m very surprised about the breakdown of audiences by gender. (Plus I’m always curious if Nielsen gets the same ratios of male verses female viewership).

There is exactly even split between men and women in reading daily newspapers, watching CNN, news magazines (like Time and Newsweek) and even the Sunday News Talk shows. Surprisingly slightly more women than men watch Fox News. (Also MSNBC, and CNBC???)

But there are a number of shows and types of shows that are majority male. Rush Limbaugh, the ratio wasn’t even close, 72% of his audience is male. Ladies favor Colbert over Stewart by four percentage points. The Daily Show audience is 66% male and The Colbert Report is 62%.

I don’t have an answer why The Daily Show skews so heavily male but perhaps their lack of female correspondents could be an answer. Also Jon can sometimes get a little frat-boyish when talking about women politicians like Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. I have also heard, through a grapevine that his writing room is way more machismo than Colbert’s. It’s not quite Saturday Night Live, but that’s kind of flavor (meaning if you’re not a white dude who fits in, you don’t fit in.) Stephen Colbert seems to run a slightly different type of room and has more women writers.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Truth, Honesty, And Online Personals (And Fuck You Dan Savage)

I read this Savage Love last week and I meant to write about it but I just didn’t. But upon realizing no one else seems to have commented I feel the need to point out, yet again, Dan Savage’s hates fat people.

So FATSO writes to Dan:

I put a profile on an online dating site some time ago when my job moved me to Florida and I didn't know anybody down here, but I soon forgot about it. Recently, a girl contacted me via that old personal ad, we exchanged pictures, and she told me she was overweight. In the pictures she didn't look that big and I chalked her comments up to female insecurity. Less than an hour ago we met for the first time and she was huge. I told her as politely as possible that I felt her pictures were misleading, that she was bigger than I expected, and that I didn't think it would work. I felt (and still feel) like total shit.

Dan, help me. Am I a bad person for this? I want to go slam my head in a car door!
Yes, FATSO, you are a total shit. Now why is that? Is it because you didn’t want to date this person. No. It’s because you acted like an ASSHOLE.

And Dan, naturally, sides with him! Because to Dan, fat people don’t deserve to exist. If you are fat, you deserve whatever treatment you get.
So long as you were polite and direct—and I'm taking your word for that, FATSO—you're not a bad person even if her feelings were hurt. There are men out there who are open to big women or into big women—the bigger the better—and she can avoid hurt feelings in the future by e-mailing accurate photos and attracting the attention of men who actually find her attractive.
So every time I meet up with someone who is uglier than their photo would have me believe, I get to tell him IN THE MOST DESVESTATINGLY RUDE WAY POSSIBLE, that they “lied” to me by showing me attractive pictures of themselves and that I don’t date ugly people. In fact I shouldn’t even bother with the meeting. I should just walk to the table and say “sorry you are uglier than advertised.” Gee wasn't there an episode of The Office where Michael pretty much did just that?

Look let’s get something straight. FATSO’s date actually said she was overweight. And FATSO doesn’t say the pictures are out of date, just that they made her look more attractive to him than the real person did. Maybe they were just headshots...that is not “misleading” him. You shouldn’t be putting up unattractive pictures on your online personal ad. A photo should make you look presentable. There is no rule of online dating that says you have to put up an unflattering picture so as not to “mislead” people as to how attractive you really are. You would think he now knows why women get so many insecurities about their weight! Especially when guys feel its totally acceptable to tell women they are too fat. Thanks ugly guy! You suck too!

And even if your picture leads someone to meet up with you, it does not give them carte blanche to be an asshole. There is no “polite” and “kind” way to tell someone they are too ugly for you. Meeting someone on a blind date isn’t permission to cruel. It’s not like FATSO’s date cheated him out of anything. But he totally hurt her for no good reason.

Washington Post Takes Another Bite At the Feminist Bookstore

I was settling down to read my Sunday dose of aggravation, also known as the Washington Post’s Outlook section. I was actually quite pleased with the selection of essays this week. There is a very poignant and frankly heart-rendering story of former Guantanamo prisoner number #261, Jumah al Dossari, who details in an understated manner, his 5 ½ years of detention and torture. It’s a Russian novel in 1,600 words. Everyone should know Jumah al Dossari’s story. Just like we should know Maher Arar’s. Or Dilawar who was 22 years old and killed by the U.S. by torture. We should know these names the same way we remember Emmett Till, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, all killed for being the wrong people in the wrong place.

But just as I’m about to figuratively pat the Outlook editor John Pomfret on the back for a good line up this week I find this column by Leonard Sax called “'Twilight' Sinks Its Teeth Into Feminism.” Oh great, here we go again. Yet another Sunday Outlook author who is selected to tell us feminism doesn’t work -- this time its because women’s genetic code tells us we love baking cookies.

Leonard Sax is interested in discussing the Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, which despite being incredibly popular, I know nothing about it. So I can’t evaluate his summarization of the series and it passive female heroine. But I don’t need to be an expert on teen fiction to get to the burning straw woman of Sax’s argument. Which is “hey you feminists, despite all your indoctrination, girls still want to read about passive victims and boys still want to watch porn and play video games. So take that!”

Here’s the key passages:

Yet on some level, it seems that children may know human nature better than grown-ups do.
We really should just make children tenured faculty until they grow up and their education ruins their unspoiled nature.
Consider: The fascination that romance holds for many girls is not a mere social construct; it derives from something deeper.
Boys however do not ever care about romance. That’s why they never understand why all those video games and Star Wars have “rescue the princess” as plot points. Or why Harry Potter had a girlfriend. And feminists truly believe that little girls shouldn’t even know what a romantic fairytale is until they’ve gone through an intensive Womyn’s Studies program in college.
In my research on youth and gender issues, I have found that despite all the indoctrination they've received to the contrary, most of the hundreds of teenage girls I have interviewed in the United States, Australia and New Zealand nevertheless believe that human nature is gendered to the core.
Because, as we’ve shown, if kids believe something, then it is demonstrable fact. Also did you know that candy makes a good lunch?
They are hungry for books that reflect that sensibility. Three decades of adults pretending that gender doesn't matter haven't created a generation of feminists who don't need men;
Feminists, when we say “we want equality” what we really mean is “you are no different from men, in fact you don’t even need men. In fact, we actually hate men.”
they have instead created a horde of girls who adore the traditional male and female roles and relationships in the "Twilight" saga.
Because no other vampire series has ever been popular, ever. And no other book is also popular amongst teens.
Likewise, ignoring gender differences hasn't created a generation of boys who muse about their feelings while they work on their scrapbooks.
Damn it! That means the feminist movement has failed! I mean if little boys aren’t playing with dolls then what else could feminists ever possibly want to achieve?
Instead, a growing number of boys in this country spend much of their free time absorbed in the masculine mayhem of video games such as Grand Theft Auto and Halo or surfing the Internet for pornography.
Yeah, I wondered why at the NOW national conference the panel on "How to Separate Men From Their Video Games and Porn" was so poorly attended. I guess every video game out there (and porno) is just more proof that our national goal of emasculation isn’t working. Why! Why must we always fight these losing battles against HUMAN NATURE instead of trying to achieve tangible successes like getting equal pay for equal work and getting access to contraception? I’m sure glad we never tried to go after sexual harassment in the workplace either, because god knows it’s just in men’s nature to be assholes and you can’t change that either.
For more than three decades, political correctness has required that educators and parents pretend that gender doesn't really matter. The results of that policy are upon us: a growing cohort of young men who spend many hours each week playing video games and looking at pornography online, while their sisters and friends dream of gentle werewolves who are content to cuddle with them and dazzling vampires who will protect them from danger. In other words, ignoring gender differences is contributing to a growing gender divide.
So starting back in 1978, little girls who were told “you can’t be anything you want to be,” really should have been told “but really all you want is to be the princess rescued by the cuddly teddy bear.” I can see now why that section I was taught in primary school called “WHY IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU ARE A BOY OR A GIRL” was invented. To beat out of me any inherent genetic ideas I had about loving teddy bears and unicorns, and Princess Leia in an iron bikini. Little girls who want to be the hero of their own fiction? Sorry, it’s just in your HUMAN NATURE to have limited fantasies. Oh and stop bothering the boys for a turn on the Nintendo Wii, you know video games are only for boys.

--crossposted at Feminist Underground

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Cats 'n' Laptops

Yes that is Al lounging near (on) my new Dell XPS m1330. In the background you can see the product (red) screen. This post is the first one composed on my new laptop and while lounging at the delightful Baked & Wired cafe. The DC cupcakery with the best damn strawberry cupcakes ever!

Here is alternative shot of both Al & my laptop. I think it might make a good NewsCat logo.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It's Official: There Is No Post-Abortion Syndrome

I've been waiting for the results of this study for a while, but the American Psychological Association has just released its results which demonstrate "abortion does not in and of itself pose a threat to women's mental health."

Specifically: "The most methodologically sound research indicates that among women who have a single, legal, first-trimester abortion of an unplanned pregnancy for nontherapeutic reasons, the relative risks of mental health problems are no greater than the risks among women who deliver an unplanned pregnancy." .... And: The prevalence of mental health problems observed among those women "was consistent with normative rates of comparable mental health problems in the general population of women in the United States."
Of course I don't think just because there's a pretty conclusive study (supported by research and data) is going to dissuade people from believing whatever their gut tells them must be true.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Two In a Row

It really is "Two in a row" day for this Friday's entry. First off, clearly I haven't written anything since last Friday Cat Blogging. Hey my new laptop is shipping. Soon instead of watching TV, I will be blogging.

Secondly, you may have seen these kitties before. Its a return appearence for both Rex and Oscar, previously featured Portland cats (now currently back in Olympia, Wa with their giant family of cats and humans).

But since it's Two In A Row Friday, I thought I would feature a bonus Friday Cat Blogging picture. Little Rex and Oscar as kittens. Enjoy!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Al Loves Macs

It's been a while since I posted a Friday Cat Blogging picture. That's Keeper of the Cats behind Al. Now I guess I could have submitted this to Cats Love Macs, but really, I think Al will likely love my Dell XPS M1330 (Product red) just as much. *sigh* Still another two weeks to go.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Oh...That Explains Why Bush Disappears In August

He's got to put on his cap and cowl.

The stupid, it burns!

(Bonus: so this is what passes for pop culture analysis in the Wall Street Journal? I know high school bloggers who come up with more sophisticated analysis than "Our president is a superhero! He's like a *Dark Knight*.)

Hat tip Sadly, No!

All Birth Control Is Now An “Abortion?”

I’ll admit that in the beginning even I was a bit skeptical about the idea that the anti-abortion was going to have any chance of success in taking away woman’s birth control. Sure they’d make some noise and make a lot of people nervous, but it wouldn’t really *happen.*

But the evidence is starting to pile up that they might have some success in, if not completely outlawing contraception, they can make it a lot more difficult to get.

The New York Times has a story about a leaked proposal that Health and Human Services (HHS) was circulating that would redefine all hormonal contraception as an “abortion.” Cristina Page writes about it here and here.

Now the reason why HHS would take this route is that by redefining contraception as “abortion” it gets around the Weldon and Church amendments, two laws that prohibit any agency receiving federal money from being required to offer abortion services. So if birth control becomes the same as abortion, there are a lot of ways this will have an effect on women’s ability to get contraception.

One of the main effects is that in 27 states there are laws requiring any employer that cover s prescription drugs to also cover contraception (because it’s not an “elective,” its not a cosmetic. It’s a regular part of health care for women and hence, if you cover diabetes medication employers should also be forced to cover birth control.) HHS’s proposed redefinition would then wipe out the state laws.

It would also immediate overcome any state rules about requiring pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception, or requiring hospitals to offer it to rape victims.

Now here’s the thing about the so-called “right” for pharmacists to refuse to dispense medication, Susan Paynter in the Seattle PI has a lot of good examples of what happens when you allow pharmacists to suddenly make snap judgments about their customers.

And, at a pharmacy in Seattle, a woman's prescription for a cervix-dilating medication was refused by a pharmacist who suspected she was on her way to have an abortion. Not that it ought to matter, but the woman's physician prescribed the drug because she was about to have surgery for uterine fibroids.

And, in Yakima, a pharmacist refused to dispense syringes to a diabetic, assuming he was an IV drug user. And there are more infuriating scenarios, says Nancy Sapiro of the Northwest Women's Law Center.
I don’t understand why moralists who think that requiring pharmacists to dispense birth control – even if they don’t like their customers – is any different than refusing to sell condoms (or disposable syringes) to “certain people” because, well you just don’t like them. Pharmacists are regulated by their own boards (and many state and federal laws) that say you don’t get to pass judgment on your customers.

Meaning you are not allowed to discriminate against people because of their gender, skin color or religion. What if some atheist pharmacist refused to dispense heart medication to the local pastor because he/she didn’t like their sermons and wanted him to get sick and die. Isn't that part of the atheist's religious freedom? Can’t the local pastor just go SOMEWHERE ELSE to get his necessary medication? Wouldn’t that be infringing on the atheist pharmacist right to not sell to only people whose lives he approves of? Oh wait that's a ridiculous example you say? But is it?

Deborah Kotz has more.

FYI -- I'm thrilled habladora has asked me to contribute to Feminist Underground.

--cross-posted at Feminist Underground.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain

I was going to write about the deeply depressing ancedotes that the Washington Post has been finding about people who tell lies about Barack Obama.

And I was wondering why isn't there any similar group that tries to smear John McCain in a similar way.

Then I found out there was.

I don't actually agree with such campaigns. I know where anger it is born from, its the same place that people wanted to say John Kerry didn't deserve his Purple Hearts. It's the idea that someone's entire reputation is built on a (believed) foundation of lies, and only YOU know the truth. And if this was John McCain's first run for Senate I would say maybe its something to examine. But the man is 72 years old. Whatever his qualifications for president are, they aren't hinged on what he did for the Navy. Anymore than John Kerry's qualifications for president started and stopped with the idea that he saved Jim Rassmann's life.

I had a professor in U.S. History one time bring in a guest lecturer who for an hour tried to make the case that Newt Gingrich cheated his way to his ph.d. And the lecturer even had a pretty good theory. But in the end I said "So what? He'd not be the first person who didn't deserve his Ph.D." It's not like if you prove he didn't deserve his doctoral degree, you could change history and Gingrich doesn't become Speaker of the House.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Al & Lena Cuddling

I realized it's been a while since I posted a joint picture of both Al and Lena together. Unfortunately the Glowing Cat Eye of Evil somewhat ruins the effect of what was a very sweet moment of watching the two of them together.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mike Erickson: Hypocrite For Congress

So imagine you are a Republican candidate for Congress in Oregon, and you decide to run on a strict “morals” platform -- you know the deal, anti-abortion, abstinence-only education, anti-gay marriage. Then an ex-girlfriend turns up and says, you know what, that dude saying he’s against abortion and is god’s gift to babies, well when he and I dated and I got pregnant, he specifically told me he didn’t want to be a parent, so he gave me $300 and drove me to the abortion clinic, but then wouldn’t even go inside to comfort me.

What do you do if the woman can provide medical records and witnesses to back up her account? Do you deny what she said? Claim that you used to be pro-choice but after having an ex-girlfriend go through an abortion you changed your mind?

Or do you baldly lie about the situation, and say things like “I knew her pretty well but not like -- it wasn't my girlfriend -- but it was somebody that I had a relationship with” and “She asked for some money to go have a doctor's appointment -- not knowing what that was -- and whatever happened, happened, I guess. I didn't even know she had an abortion.”

It’s weird watching someone lie as badly as Mike Erickson is attempting to do.

Hat tip to apieceofwork on Feministing’s new community-based blog

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Richard Cohen: McCain is Better Because He Was Tortured

I guess because I spend a lot of time reading op-eds I always look for the clincher. What is the ultimate point, the real “take-away” from the column the writer wants you to know.

Richard Cohen’s point is that no matter that John McCain has reversed himself on too many issues to count, because he was once tortured it proves he’s got some backbone. (Likewise since Obama hasn’t been tortured, well we just don’t know about the guy...)

But here is the difference between McCain and Obama -- and Obama had better pay attention. McCain is a known commodity. It's not just that he's been around a long time and staked out positions antithetical to those of his Republican base. It's also -- and more important -- that we know his bottom line. As his North Vietnamese captors found out, there is only so far he will go, and then his pride or his sense of honor takes over. This -- not just his candor and nonstop verbosity on the Straight Talk Express -- is what commends him to so many journalists.
I guess Cohen never read the McCain “the man who once was tortured” also voted to allow the CIA to engage in torture. Then he backed the White House when the White House was pushing the line that waterboarding-wasn’t-torture. He might have said it was “unfortunate” but the fact remains by standing with the White House, he showed where his line in the sand is. Getting elected.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Washington Post Once Again Tries to Divide Women

I really wish I could understand the minds of the editorial page editors of the Washington Post when they picked up this column by Charlotte Allen. But really Charlotte Allen is just a prop for the Washington Post to once again try to start a fight between women. After all, why not elevate a writer who doesn't know what she's talking about as a way to lambast "feminists." So what exact was their thinking?

Friday, June 20, 2008

NCMR Photos & Minneapolis

I've been promising for a while to post some photos I took during my trip to Minneapolis for the National Conference for Media Reform. The only conference-specific photo I had is one of the infamous polar bear suit. He was a symbol of the conference, but I'm not quite sure why.

However I did managed to snap some picture of a photographer taking a cover shot for a magazine to be released during the Republican convention. I'm not quite sure what the set up they were going for, but here's how it looked.

The photographer was trying out some poses. Here was on of him taking a photo of another guy taking a photo (while I'm behind him taking a photo.)

Finally I can't resist posting "Big Dog, Little Dog." There is a park next to the convention center and they were having a Bar-B-Que/Blues fest which attracted crowds. I got this one of a chihuahua owner trying to introduce his dog to a sweet-faced Great Dane.

Friday Cat Blogging: Olive Oil And Fur

It's been a while since I've posted a Friday Cat Blogging post, and this week's picture isn't much to look at. The reason is that Al managed to sit on a little dish of olive oil this morning. Here's a closeup of the effected area.
I'm not sure Al even yet knows he's due for a shampoo although I've heard that olive oil is good for making hair really shiney.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Barack Obama's skin is the color of AMERICAN SOIL

Maybe you've heard of a new website that has sprung up to combat the really horrible lies about Barack Obama? But sadly the best way to fight smears isn't to correct them (which involves repeating them) but actually to simply make up a whole bunch of new "facts" to push the smears out of your brain.

Some of you have read Christopher Beam's brilliant Slate piece to that effect. But my friend John Pinsonneault decided it needed to be much more patriotic. He encourages everyone to send this around and continue bumping up the bald eagle quotient. I'm sure Stephen Colbert would agree.


There are many things RED-BLOODED AMERICANS do not know about BARACK OBAMA. It is every American's SACRED duty to read this message and pass it along to all of their FELLOW PATRIOTS and CHURCH GOERS.


Barack Obama says the PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE every time he THINKS ABOUT an American flag WHICH IS ALWAYS. He also ends every sentence by saying, "WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL." Click here for video of Obama quietly mouthing the PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE while READING THE CONSTITUTION.

A JERRY BRUCKHEIMER FILM exists of Michelle Obama saying the PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE at a conference on PATRIOTISM.

Every DAY, Barack and Michelle take the daughters OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION HUNTING FOR TERRORISTS.

Barack Obama is a PATRIOTIC AMERICAN. He has one HAND over his TWENTY PURPLE HEARTS at all times. He occasionally switches when one NUCLEAR arm gets tired, which is almost never because he is AS STRONG AS AMERICAN STEEL.

Barack Obama has the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE tattooed on his SIX-PACK ABS. It's upside-down, so he can read it while DOING KEG-STANDS.

There's only one COUNTRY MUSIC artist on Barack Obama's iPod: FRANCIS SCOTT KEY.

Barack Obama is a DEVOUT CHRISTIAN. His favorite book is the BIBLE, which he has PLAYING ON A BOOM BOX NEXT TO HIM AT ALL TIMES. His name means HE WHO LOVES JESUS in the ancient language of THE FREEMASONS. He is PROUD that Jesus was a FOUNDING FATHER.

Barack Obama goes to WALL MART every morning. He goes to WALL MART every afternoon. He goes to WALL MART every evening. He is IN WALL MART RIGHT NOW.





Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Friend's Blogs

Occassionally I try to turn the attention of my dozens of readers to friends' blogs and other worthwhile causes.

Today I wanted to point everyone to my friend Dave William's blog Autumn Rain. Dave is the author of the fabulous sci-fi novel Mirrored Heavens, a novel about space-based terrorism. Check it out ya'll.

Monday, June 16, 2008

American Is What We Say It Is, Damn it!

Dan Froomkin's column has just some gems of Bush speak. He's been in Europe the whole week and therefore subjected to journalists questions. And not softball ones either.

Reading Bush always angries up the blood, but this week's column is chokful of Bush's-Theories-of-Americanism.

My (least) favorite snippet. Judge American not by what we do, but what we do.

"My only point to you is, is that yes, I mean, we certainly wish Abu Ghraib hadn't happened, but that should not reflect America. This was the actions of some soldiers. That doesn't show the heart and soul of America. What shows the heart and soul of America is the sacrifice of our troops willing to defend our country and liberate 50 million people, or the generosity of America when it comes to providing money for HIV/AIDS in Africa, or the fact that America feeds more of the hungry in the world than any other country. That's the true America."
America: Our good outweighs those torture pictures, really!

I think if I had the time I could demostrate that every single one of those statments is actually demostrably false in a way. "Liberate 50 million people." From their homes and sense of security maybe. Money for HIV/AIDS, as long as you don't include anything about family planning.

But Bush still won't own up to the fact that Abu Ghraib was actually "gov't" policy. The only part that wasn't was the picture taking.

The Not-For-Women Drugstores

The Washington Post has an article about a new type of pharmacies that refuse to stock any kind of contraception, from condoms, to birth control to emergency contraception. The Post doesn't have any kind of numbers as to how many pharmacies of this type they found, there's clearly one in Chantilly, VA, Gray, LA, and Grand Rapids, Mich, mentioned in the article.

It's all about the wah-wah, poor pharmacists who might have to provide health services to women they disapprove of. (Which have we not been warning people that the disapproval doesn't not stop at abortion...it's your birth control they are after). It's not a religious freedom issue. No one is telling them they have to stock alcohol and skin mags. But to become a pharmacists you undergo more training than to become a sales clerk. You don't get to decide who you want to treat. Individuals (and their religious leaders) do not get to decide what professional standards they should follow. That's why they are licensed.

I'm really concerned about creating this exemption for religious doctors (and medical personnel) who decide they don't want to provide full care for women. Not to mention that the STORES ARE NOT LABELED! The pharmacist the Post interviews clearly say they don't refer anyone to the normal "for everyone" drugstores. So anyone in Chantilly want to track down this place and survey how they handle requests for birth control, verses requests for condoms?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

NCMR Day 2: Greenwald and Fox News

I'll have a fuller update later, but remember how I mentioned that Fox News was around filming for what will likely be a less-than-admirable segment on the conference (on monday, here's a teaser from Bill O'Reilly). Filmmaker Robert Greenwald called them out to the audience!

The panels I attended are swimming in my head. The one I actually want to go back and watch the video of is the FCC panel because I thought it had some of the most concrete information about the upcoming fights in Congress over spectrum. Watch HR 2802 and hope it passes.

The constant praise of "family owned newspapers" like the Seattle Times is grating to me. In 2000 Frank Blethen overode his own editorial board to endorse George W. Bush for president. Why? Because the abolishment of the estate tax is VERY IMPORTANT to the Blethen family. In 2001 I recall a five-day front page series on the Estate Tax which was all about how bad it was for small business owners (like millionaire publishers). The Seattle Times also behaved very differently during the 2001 newspaper strike than did the "corporately owned" Seattle Post-Intelligencer. (I promise to find links to these assertions later...)

For other takes on the day's panels Local MN Blog has a pretty good rundown.

Friday, June 06, 2008

National Conference for Media Reform: Day 1

So I’m writing this from my hotel lobby in Minneapolis where I’m in town for Free Press’s annual conference for Media Reform. This is my first time at the conference (and actually my first non-DC conference) and I’m amazed at the size!

The first panel I attended, Media and Elections: Covering 2008, was in a room large enough to have an entire conference in. One thing that I noticed right off the bat, everyone from participants to panelists are constantly referring to “the media” as if it’s a singular entity that has a brain. As in “the media does this.” During the panel Dave Sirota started to say that we talk about the media in a paternalistic way, which for a moment I thought he was about to talk about the fact that “the media” is not one big clockwork, but closer to saying “the blogosphere” than people might think. I wish Jay Rosen was at the conference so he could explain this in person.

It just concerns me because how can you reform something if you misunderstand the flaws?

At another panel I attended Eric Deggans said “making allegations without backing them up is not good (media) criticism” a point I would love to stress. Complain all you want but gather real facts to back up complaints. I found it interesting that last week Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study of the media that demonstrated that, collectively, they did not treat Hillary Clinton harsher than either McCain or Obama (although coverage between media outlets might differ) but there still persists the sense that “the media” treated Hillary Clinton *worse* than Obama.

Other notes: I saw Fox News filming at the Media Critics panel. Meant to stop and ask them if they were a Fox local or Fox national. Bitch Ph.D apparently figured out they are here to show the conference as full of crazy conspiracy nuts.

Had a wonderful time at the Media Consortium’s mixer (excellent beer and I’m not even a beer drinker). Photos will have to wait until I get home, I left my camera cord at home. (Drat!)

Monday, May 19, 2008

I Spent the Weekend Urging Women Not to Write Like This

So right after I spent a weekend teaching women that the most effective op-eds rarely need the phrase “I think” in them and should have point, suddenly in the Washington Post’s Outlook section is the silliest, most pointless ode to Sex in the City. (Sunday’s Post was an ode to overly-long, overly-pointless odes to movies. There was also this “what does Indiana Jones mean” article, but at least it was in the style section).

I cannot for the life of me figure out what is the point to Ashley Sayeau’s article. It’s basically about how she relates to Sex in the City because once she wrote an academic paper about it. Which, fine, I know some things about writing academic papers about TV shows, but to be relevant to other readers it might have been useful not to use the phrase “I thought” or “I think” or “I believe” close to 30 times! It ends up being not about her research but just that she’s an academic who is a fan who squeals with delight seeing the movie premier. Great.

She’s not even a local writer. She’s a freelancer in London. Why does she get front page of the Sunday Outlook section to write what amounts to an overlong, fan-specific, blog post?

Combine this with the infamous Charlotte Allen “Women are dumb” op-ed you have to wonder what John Pomfret, Sunday Outlook editor wants his section to say to women. I don’t believe he’s not getting great, substantial Outlook submissions. I think he’s making his section reflect certain type of believe that women are shallow and dumb.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What’s Great About My Job

I know I haven’t posted in three weeks. (Has it really been that long? God I’m bad at this). Part of the reason is that work got busy. But I’m not complaining, in fact I actually wanted to rave about my job.

Twice a year my organization puts on these media trainings for women. We teach them how to get their message out in the media, but more specifically, how to write an op-ed, how to speak to the media, and how to present yourself on television and radio. And it’s a pretty intense two-day training. We’re helping people perfect the op-eds they write during the training, and putting them on camera and showing them how to speak. I really do think that without all these organizations specifically trying to get women’s voices into the pundit class, we wouldn’t even have the (bad enough) representation we do have. I’m not just talking about talking heads on TV. I look at the op-ed pages every day in the LA Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Women are barely 25% of the daily op-ed pages. And all-male opinion page isn’t rare but an all women page is practically a once-a-year affair. (And only if the news is about prostitution.)

And the thing we don’t really talk about all that much is we put on the training pretty much for free. We even help cover the cost of airfare and housing in DC because we want to train women outside the beltway to be able to become advocates for the causes going on in their states.

I met just an awesome collection of women this weekend. It was a total range of ages -- we had women from high school to the “when I was in high school women weren’t allowed to wear pants” ages. And there was a really diverse mix of jobs, interests and projects.

I was just so proud of not only how well it all came together but how happy every one was. These women will go back to their communities and hopefully in some small way we’ve given them tools to accomplish their goals.

It’s funny because as got home and jumped on my computer to catch up on my email I got a notice from Mediabistro. They are offering a $500 online course on how to write an op-ed. And I don’t want to entirely dump on Mediabristro because, whatever, its just a class. But people shouldn’t think that op-ed writing is only for “professionals” (who take expensive classes).

The opinion pages are not supposed to be a gated community. It’s not enough that there’s also a “Letters” page that just happens to be open to the public if they want to submit a point in 300 words or less. And most editors would tell you they want to get guest column submissions. I’ve talked to women, truly opinionated women, who think that op-ed columns are something that only someone like a Maureen Dowd can write. (Which by the way...can we vote her off pundit island and replace her with woman who isn’t all wit and no intellect.) Half the time if someone writes and op-ed the only thing that keeps it from getting it published is they didn’t have a friend tell them at 1,000 words it’s way too long (or at 350 words it’s way too short).

But I think some people think that only “professionals” get to be opinion-leaders in their newspapers. And that’s just not true. People who have something to advocate for should write, not just for their blogs, but yes for the “mainstream media.” It’s not as closed off as everyone thinks.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Future Imagined by Conservatives

Washington Post Magazine has an imaginative article written by Marc Fisher about what life would be like in Washington, DC in 2025. Why 17 years and not a nice round 20? I guess because 2025 just sounded cooler than 2028.

Now I normally like this kind of imagine-how-we’ll-all-be-driving-flying-cars-and-have-robot-servants kind of thinking, but as I started reading between the lines I noticed there were an awful lot of straight up conservative ideology being passed off as “the inevitable future.”

Let’s start with Marc Fisher’s causal assumption in both future scenarios he envisions, which follow two families (both nuclear), one which is supposed to be have and the other a have-not, that the U.S. is besieged by waves of terrorist attacks. It’s the world of 24-OMG-terrorists. I suppose fear is important element to keep alive if you want people to give up all of their rights and liberties.

In scenario one Heath Shuler is president so we can see how all the democratic ideals to keep sprawl down will fail in every way possible.

Shuler's lure was the great open spaces that were now finally fully linked to AmeriWeb, the wireless information network that extended into every community in the land, the result of the most massive public works project since the construction of the interstate highway system.

The Second Age of Discovery, as Shuler called it, was designed to spread out the nation's population from the traffic-choked suburbs and therefore ease the road, rail and air gridlock that was strangling the economy.
Because Democrats are concerned about global warming, gridlock and making sure people have internet access.
What could be changed was the idea that the only way to keep housing affordable was for workers to live far from their jobs. The new acceptance of a more diffused population didn't do much to preserve open spaces, but Shuler and other politicians sold the idea by dangling before employers and workers alike the carrot of jobs and homes in close proximity. The idea was to engineer a significant drop in driving, which, coupled with striking increases in energy efficiency, would yield sharp declines in consumption of fossil fuels.
But what fools they were!
Alas, as the Ververs would learn, reality did not live up to political rhetoric. Finding a job near home turned out to be harder than the president's pronouncements made it out to be.
Journalism falls apart – left to a “ragtag crew of volunteers working out of their cars and bedrooms” ... shouting “Wolverines!” no doubt. Meanwhile Victor Verver’s job is monitoring blogs for government contractors in case “any opinion wildfire might be threatening the policymakers in his assigned sector.” Would that be Oceania or Eurasia?

However in the future (both scenarios) we don’t have to worry about those pesky Spanish-speaking brown people. Any brown people with a $1 million dollars – which really shouldn’t be all that much in 2025 – are allowed in and all the brown people from Central America leave.
Besides, Prince William's schools were imploding, losing an entire school's worth of Hispanic students each year as recent immigrants steadily left the county, an exodus fueled by both pressure -- tough enforcement programs aimed at illegal immigrants -- and the lure of the good money back home in Central America, where the service, hospitality and health industries were hungry for workers around the huge retirement colonies filled with septuagenarian boomers from El Norte.
Yes, somehow in the future FTAA has fixed the economies of poorer countries...I mean why else are people still sneaking in America. Didn’t NAFTA totally fix Mexico’s economy so no one wanted to immigrate anymore? But just in case it didn’t, we really totally cracked down on illegals this time!

Anyway there’s definitely one odd contradiction in this future. Somehow we fight a Total War for Energy Independence (because after all, how did our oil get under their land) but yes a mere four years later the “middle east” is now more welcoming and secular.
(To the great surprise of many, while energy prices soared steadily for almost two decades after the 9/11 attacks, in the past few years the cost of fossil fuels had stabilized. Depending on your political ideology, this was the result of either the Total War for Energy Independence that President Jeb Bush launched in 2021, or of Iran's velvet revolution and the new openness toward the West that the secular-friendly Young Islam movement was exporting across the Middle East.)
You can’t read it in the online version, but the magazine has several cutaway quotes that explain the thinking of the article’s consulted experts. So this passage:
Victor had suggested that she might be able to teach at one of the new, private Asian Academies that wealthy Indian, Pakistani, Chinese and Korean Americans had opened to train the children of new immigrants for jobs in the tech, health and communications sectors.
Is highlighted with a cutaway quote:
Our panelists are almost unanimous in declaring that the District’s public school system will have to be dissolved, sold off or otherwise disposed of. Not one of our panelists sees much hope for success in the reform efforts of the early 21st century. Gary Marx, president of the Center for Public Outreach in Vienna, foresees a decision to shut down industrial-age schools and reinvent education with a heavy emphasis on expanding the ranks of creative workers and diminishing differences across national borders.
Really, the roughly 223-year-old experiment in public schools is going to collapse in a mere 17 years?

It this part that made me wonder who all these “panelists” were and if they were shared in an libertarian/conservative ideology of privatization in everything? Because the ideas are certainly interspaced throughout the article. Businesses provide everything from housing to busing to workers who can’t afford to work for them otherwise. And this isn’t presented as a dystopian future...merely the byproduct of, well sprawl.

And that’s just scenario one (which I’ll spare you all the boring isolation-of-the-electronic-age bullshit. How people can’t even make real friends now that the internet exists).

In Scenario Two there’s still that Total War for Energy Independence and terrorism, a “beloved top general” was just assassinated (in battle? Cause wouldn’t that just be a causality of war then?) Oh yeah and there just happens to be a GIANT NUCLEAR HOLE IN MANHATTAN. Yet somehow the family of have-nots (this time called the Pinerios) lives are shaped more by air-conditioning than terrorism. DC has been turned into a Baghdad with a Green Zone. The poor Pinerios can’t afford the security clearance implants so commuting takes hours to cross checkpoints.

Once again, public schools barely exist. (Funny how that’s true in both scenarios).
Petra, being 15, was loath to leave her hard-won place at the District's Wilson High School, which was operated by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees government workers union. She didn't want to give up her post as president of the school's Anti-PED Campaign, which agitated for a return to the days before officially sanctioned performance-enhancing drugs had changed the face of scholastic athletics. But over time, Paula convinced her daughter that a new school would have a far superior academic program and more kids like herself. It's not that Petra had anything against the Chinese and Iranian immigrants who dominated Wilson's population; she just sometimes felt excluded from their social circles.
I take it to mean little Petra Pinerio is white. Damn those immigrants’ kids.

Still there are parts to scenario two that remind me a hell of a lot of the dystopian novel Jennifer Government who’s daughter bemoaned the fact she went the McDonald's schools cause they were so darned cheap. Everyone knew the Pepsi schools were the best.
In Konterra, Petra wouldn't be a minority -- no one is. Fed High, like all of Prince George's County, had no dominant racial or ethnic group. And with the entire county school system now operated by Google PeopleShaping, Fed High was free of all No Child Left Behind regulations, free to offer a full range of courses in subjects that the city's schools hadn't taught in decades, such as music and drama.
And once again we find that any fears about civil liberties were proven to be totally wrong.
Then there were the national ID cards that, once the controversy died down, really had helped to control the borders, redefine labor markets and reduce health costs.
Real ID cards also fixed the national debt, put a chicken in every pot and helped me find my car keys!

Anyway somehow despite all the superbrillant Chinese immigrants there still isn’t enough, ahem, “homegrown” workers to fill the need for workers. (Why, oh, why did we keep out all those talented brown people?)

But in the future women now get college grants if they pledge to give birth.
By enrolling in a Google-sponsored school, Petra would automatically qualify for one of the new Brin college grants for young women who pledged their intent to bear children -- a policy aimed at relieving the persistent shortage of well-educated, homegrown workers.
Plus DC residents will desperately cross the Maryland border for the ”fried food speakeasies.” People will just do anything for their oil fix, man!

So, in short, the future is racist, fearful, undersurveillance, privatized, and people eat Soylent Green.