Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Iraqi Journalist Channels American Frustration, Throws Shoes

Who would've thought that an Iraqi journalist could do more to raise American spirits than a tax cut? When Muntadhar al-Zeidi threw his shoes at President Bush two days ago, he did what many Americans have been wanting to do for years.
DISCLAIMER ONE: I cannot condone the use of physical aggression to express emotions.
Still, I can't help feeling a sense of--what is the word?

I need a multisyllabic high-falutin' word for "smiley face," a word that's the opposite of schadenfreude, a watered-down, dignified equivalent version of "glee." "Vicarious satisfaction" is two words.

"Catharsis" will have to do.
DISCLAIMER TWO: I'm glad there were no injuries worse than the press secretary's black eye.
I must say, President Bush showed a remarkable athletic grace in his shoe-dodging dip to the side.

If only he had been deft enough to sidestep the influence of Dick Cheney's corporate largesse, Wall Street's call for weakened oversight, agribusiness' demands for salmon's water, Big Pharma's demand for loosened regulation, and on and on and on.

At least now we know that Mr. Bush dodges well in public.

Wait--didn't we know that already?
DISCLAIMER THREE: I hope my conservative friends, relatives, acquaintances, and potential employers won't read this post.
It's painful to think that a man who showed such courage will spend the next two-plus years being beaten up in an Iraqi jail for "insulting" a visiting head of state.

I barely have the guts to face disapproval from the "a pie in the face isn't funny" crowd.
DISCLAIMER FOUR; I know that throwing a shoe in Iraq is an order of magnitude worse than throwing a shoe in, say, Iowa.
I wish that President Bush would speak up in support of Muntadhar al-Zeidi to display the single greatest American value: freedom of speech.

Not to mention the message that America so urgently wants to send to the Middle East: All we want is

Saturday, December 13, 2008

That Show-Me State of Mind

When I was a kid I wondered why Missouri would call itself "The Show-Me State." Why pick a phrase that obviously ended with "...because I'm too dumb to figure it out for myself?"

I didn't ask anybody about the "show me state," figuring that I'd find out someday. Finally I heard: "Show me" means "We're sturdy folk, not easily swayed. If you want me to believe something, you'll have to show me why."

This strikes me as not a whole lot better. It's like saying "We're so proud of our rut that we put up curtains."

I once went to Missouri to work on an article. It was Jefferson City, the Lower 48's answer to Wasilla, Alaska. As the little propeller plane from Kansas City pulled up to the terminal, there was a crowd of adults and children, one deep, lined up with their noses to the window.

It turned out that they weren't excited about the relatives arriving; they were excited about the plane. There are airstrips in the Peruvian jungle where the locals are more blasé.

The finest hotel in town had only four guests, and yet they still put me in a room with a broken toilet. I phoned the desk, but I was too tired to change rooms. Besides, I just had to take the lid off the tank and pull up on the chain.

I'd forgotten my alarm clock, so I asked for a wake-up call. They forgot.1 I was late to my interviews, which were moderated by an overhyped overarticulate woman who couldn't do too much to help. I couldn't get her to back off. It was awful.

And when I got back to the hotel, exhausted, the toilet was still broken.

That did it. I phoned the desk and suggested, with some emphasis, that the toilet should have been fixed during the day.

The desk lady was shocked. "But I thought you liked the room!"

The manager came. A plumber came. The thing was fixed. And for the next two dreary miserable days, everywhere I went in the hotel I felt eyes boring into the back of my head.

The whole trip was like standing outside in the rain.

Then I found out that Amex Travel had soaked my employer by putting me on a one-way first-class ticket out of town.

Now I've got nothing against Missouri on account of one lousy visit.2 I should've brought my alarm clock. Besides, as in all trips, it is the mind of the traveler that makes the experience.

Even so, I have no wish to go back. All I know about Missouri is what they showed me.

1It seems Missourians don't ask for such services. It would be putting people to too much trouble.
2The article was lousy too, but that wasn't Missouri's fault. I did not cover myself in glory.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Santa, Where Art Thou?

It's that time of year again. The tree hollers for lights; the cards shriek that they're late; the hubby complains I don't make enough money.1 Yes, it's Christmas.

The presents for the distant relatives are picked and packed--blushably cheap this year, but bearing enough thought to require an 18-wheeler. If time really were money, it'd be an armored 18-wheeler.

I love picking out presents. I want to give gifts to everyone in eyeshot. It reminds me of the connection I have to the other person, and the choice of gift shows the extent to which I understand her/him.

Problem is, I can't do it because gift-giving suggests that other people should reciprocate.

For instance: There are more distant family who live closer by, but their lives are too complicated already, and for that reason I can't give them anything but bread-and-butter gifts.

Then there are [those who]2 shoot superiority at you when gift-giving comes up, the way a skunk zaps a passing dog.

Even the neighbors blanch if you hand them a plate of Christmas cookies. They're watching their weight. So many temptations this season!

I have no intention of "guilting" people into giving me something. Still, as much as I like giving presents, I like to get them too.

Here's where Christmas brings out the pout. When you're a grownup, everyone assumes you're--well, a grownup. And we insist that No, You Don't Need to Get Anything for Me.

My Dad finally pointed this out the Christmas I gave him two replacement toothpicks for his Swiss Army knife.3

"Toothpicks?" he said. "You got me two toothpicks for Christmas?"

"I thought you didn't want us to buy you anything!"

He says, "Why is that the only thing I say that anyone listens to?"

They'd given me some money for Christmas, and the next day I went out and spent it all buying three presents for him.

So I say this: There are no grownups at Christmastime. We adults, who genuinely don't want to put other people to any trouble, still miss Santa Claus.

1This isn't true, but I like the way it sounds.
2Edited for the sake of Peace on Earth.
3He'd been complaining about that missing toothpick for months.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Tyranny of Agrobusiness

Open letter to Congress:

I'm writing to urge you to help readjust agricultural subsidies to serve the interests of the nation's health rather than the interests of big-business farming.

The U.S. economy staggers over health-care costs that can be mitigated if it were less expensive to buy healthy produce than sweetener-laden processed food.

As powerful as agricultural business interests are, we all would be better served if the subsidy programs favored vegetables over sugar cane, fruit over corn syrup, and wheat over ethanol.

What's more, since ethanol requires more energy to produce than it produces when it burns, an acre wasted on corn for fuel is an acre that could instead help the U.S. regain its international good will in the form of exportable wheat.

Let's not allow misdirected farm subsidies harm Americans and the world.

Friday, December 5, 2008

CBS Means "Couldn't Be Stupider"

Now that episodes of television shows from The Colbert Report (funny) to Private Practice (laughable) are available on line, I'd sure like to be able to tune in and understand the dialogue.

Closed captioning isn't available on the smaller channels' web sites, but among the major networks, CBS is the only one that doesn't provide it. Granted, CBS isn't where you go for, say, witty dialogue, but the Americans with Disabilities Act still requires it to accommodate the hard of hearing.

The network isn't exactly rushing to live up to its responsibility with respect to the ADA. I recently emailed CBS thus:

I would like to see you provide closed captioning for your web broadcasts.1 NBC does it--there's a CC button in the controls ribbon of its rebroadcast shows. The programs are already captioned. C'mon--you don't want to wait till Uncle Sam enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act. You'll be doing it eventually, so why not sic a geek on it now?

Could you please forward this comment on to the appropriate person? Thank you.

CBS replied:
CBS is currently not capable of providing captions online, as is the case with the majority of broadcasters. Our CBS Interactive division developers are working on a solution to make the CBS video player caption ready. The launch date is still to be determined.

We are also working with industry peers as we try to come up with a voluntary industry wide solution. We expect the establishment of a formal industry standards working group to occur soon.

Thanks for watching CBS!

CBS Captioning

They'd have been better off saying "Stay tuned--we're working on it!" than rolling out a bucket o' BS like that. So I replied:
Dear CBS Accessible Media:

I have put some thought into your reply to my email, and frankly, I cannot see it as anything but disingenuous. If you're trying to come up with a boilerplate response for such inquiries, you're going to have to do much better, starting by substituting facts for cowpies. Specifically:

* CBS is perfectly capable of providing captions on line. Any idiot with a videocamera and a computer can put captions on line. I can provide you with several sets of online instructions.

* Your two biggest broadcast competitors, NBC and ABC, have captions on line. "The majority of broadcasters" may include public television in Kokomo, but CBS can't pretend it suffers from a similar lack of resources, let alone technical talent.

* Again, since NBC and ABC provide captions on line, you cannot say that "broadcasters are coming up with a standard." That's a lie--or, to put it more generously, evidence suggests it is a lie. If broadcasters can provide captions, you don't collectively need a standard. If you do need a standard, you can develop one concurrently.

* To say "We expect the establishment of a formal industry standards working group to occur soon" is to say "We think you're an idiot." I'm sure I need not elaborate.

In short, your answer is not credible. Responses like yours are what make legal enforcement of the ADA necessary, and what makes FCC enforcement of broadcast standards necessary.

I will be posting your reply and my response to it on my blog and, frankly, wherever else I can.2

Shame on you.3

Hey, what else can ya do? Take it up with the Feds with the Bushies still in charge?

1If the note sounds a little snotty, it's because after searching all over the CBS web site for an email address for comments, I finally wound up sending it to Face the Nation. Very frustrating.
2This statement doubtless has the dork lawyers of CBS shivering in terror.
3...especially the ones who are still scared of Mom.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's the Financial Follies!

The biggest fundraiser for the New York Financial Writers Association is a dinner called the Financial Follies, which features a stage show with NYFWA members.

We got lots of help: three directors, a costume lady, three dressers, two makeup ladies, and a four-piece band--and five of the cast were ringers!

I love that photo at the bottom. It looks like a scene from Hairspray. If I had any pride, I'd bury it.

Top row left to right: Norell, Sheila, Bob, Jonah, Patrick, Jill, Len. Middle row: Conway, Moi, Colin, Michael, Laura, Karla. Front: Carolyn and Irene. Jill was Music Director; Laura was Director in Charge of Everything. Photo by Carolyn.

Parody-proof shot of Moi. Photo by Carolyn.

Wot, you were expecting commentary on the state of the world?