Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I, Too, Am Thankful For This School

A couple of years ago, when my sons began studies at their new school, I was a bit worried about the fitting-in thing. Not worried for the boys, not in that regard--all three are natural-born socializers. Furthermore, they have a penchant for disregarding the status quo and starting their own trends, so I knew it would only be a matter of time until longer hair and Jimmy Hendrix t-shirts at afterschool events were commonplace. No, I was worried about myself. The well-dressed, manicured mommies at Morning Assembly made me feel terribly guilty as I crouched down behind Son Three, hoping no-one noticed my puffy, makeup-free eyes and raggedy jeans or the fact that I'd twisted up my hanging-plant hair with a broken pencil. Manicure? Ha!

Then there was the parking lot full of massive, BUSH/CHENEY-stickered SUV's around which I had to navigate my little sedan, sniffing self-righteously and passing judgment on perfectly nice people, the majority of whom I'd never spoken to beyond Good Morning. If I could fit three boys, three backpacks, and an armload of soccer balls into my decently (if not extraordinarily) fuel-efficient set of wheels, why couldn't they? Hadn't they heard about global warming? Harrumph.

But what do you know? People change. Or, rather, we evolve, and we open our minds. I certainly did--within a month or so, I'd found no small number of kindred spirits at my sons' school: the mother who confessed that she was brutally hungover and wished they'd hurry up and get to the prayer (non-denominational) and pledge of allegiance so she could race home and go back to sleep. The mother who rolled her eyes at my comment that oftentimes the third child is, shall we say, a lovely (if shocking) surprise and said, "Ha! No lie. But you know, he followed me into the laundry room and was so insistent that we do it right there...". The father who said he utterly hated football, and not just because the Bucs suck.

It's now late November 2006, and I've lost count of the number of Priuses and Honda hybrids sharing space with the SUV's. One of the high school dads drives his old daisy-bedecked VW minibus--I swear!--that bears such legends as Peace Is A Family Value and WMNF Community Radio (our local source for the wisdom of Amy Goodman).

And yes, there are even some male ponytails here and there, though not quite everywhere.

This morning, I walked Son Three into his Kindergarten classroom and checked out the terrific Thanksgiving art on the wall, since it would come down today. Son Three's creation was captioned thusly:
I am thankful for this school.

And next to it, his buddy's drawing said:
I am thankful for my Moms.

Who are marvelous women, by the way. And this in what I'd once assumed was an über-conservative parochial school in this very red state.

See--there is hope. I am thankful for that, as well.

Monday, September 25, 2006

This, Our Worst Presidency Since James Buchanan

Keith Olbermann. In the library. With a candlestick--a bright-burning candlestick. Crooks and Liars has the video and transcript up now. His takedown of the Bully-in-Chief is brilliant:

To hear him bleat and whine and bully at nearly every opportunity, one would think someone else had been President on September 11th, 2001 — or the nearly eight months that preceded it.

That hardly reflects the honesty nor manliness we expect of the Executive.

But if his own fitness to serve is of no true concern to him, perhaps we should simply sigh and keep our fingers crossed, until a grown-up takes the job three Januarys from now.

Except… for this:

After five years of skirting even the most inarguable of facts — that he was President on 9/11 and he must bear some responsibility for his, and our, unreadiness, Mr. Bush has now moved, unmistakably and without conscience or shame, towards re-writing history, and attempting to make the responsibility, entirely Mr. Clinton’s.

Of course he is not honest enough to do that directly.

As with all the other nefariousness and slime of this, our worst presidency since James Buchanan, he is having it done for him, by proxy.


But, Mr. Bush, if you are now trying to convince us by proxy that it’s all about the distractions of 1998 and 1999, then you will have to face a startling fact that your minions may have hidden from you.

The distractions of 1998 and 1999, Mr. Bush, were carefully manufactured, and lovingly executed, not by Bill Clinton… but by the same people who got you… elected President.

Thus instead of some commendable acknowledgment that you were even in office on 9/11 and the lost months before it… we have your sleazy and sloppy rewriting of history, designed by somebody who evidently redd the Orwell playbook too quickly.

Thus instead of some explanation for the inertia of your first eight months in office, we are told that you have kept us "safe" ever since — a statement that might range anywhere from Zero, to One Hundred Percent, true.

We have nothing but your word, and your word has long since ceased to mean anything.

And, of course, the one time you have ever given us specifics about what you have kept us safe from, Mr. Bush — you got the name of the supposedly targeted Tower in Los Angeles… wrong.

Thus was it left for the previous President to say what so many of us have felt; what so many of us have given you a pass for in the months and even the years after the attack:

You did not try.

You ignored the evidence gathered by your predecessor.

You ignored the evidence gathered by your own people.

Then, you blamed your predecessor.

That would be the textbook definition… Sir, of cowardice.

Honestly, I could quote the whole thing--every single breathtaking sentence. Go and read it, or, if you're still up, watch the midnight rerun on MSNBC.

So They All Trolled Over, and One Fell Out

While reading our favorite blogs and news sites, we've all bumped into commenters like this, from Heard on The Hill columnist Mary Ann Akers via Raw Story:

Liberal bloggers in New Hampshire busted an aide to Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) who was posing as a liberal blogger on such blogs as Blue Granite, NH-02 Progressive and others. Bass’ office admitted culpability to HOH and said the staffer would be “appropriately disciplined.”

The unnamed aide to Bass — who, like many others in his party, faces a tough re-election fight — was routinely trolling liberal New Hampshire political blogs calling himself “IndyNH” and more commonly IndieNH, pretending to be a progressive.

Finally, after noticing that lots of things he said just didn’t add up, a couple of the bloggers traced IndieNH’s IP address to the House of Representatives.


The poseur had raised suspicions among liberal bloggers after he pooh-poohed a recent poll showing Bass tied with Hodes and suggested that Democrats should not waste any more time or money on the Hodes race and instead should invest their resources in other races.

“I am going to look at the competitive race list to figure out where to send another donation and maybe help out in other ways,” IndieNH posted. “Maybe CT or NY for me — they are at least close by. Anyone interested in pooling NH efforts for some of those races? Maybe we could even go help out for a few days in buses or something in November?”

After Clawson posted a notice on her site informing IndieNH that he (or she — Clawson wasn’t sure) had been rooted out as a GOP aide in Bass’ office, the postings ceased.

The aide’s job could cease, too. John Billings, a spokesman for Bass, acknowledged that “we have questioned the staff and found that a staffer in this office did indeed post to some blogs under the pseudonym ‘IndieNH.’

Mostly, trolls are an annoyance, a mere irritant; they are bored people possessed of too much free time and too little education as opposed to undercover operatives with nefarious intentions. But sometimes nefarious is exactly what their intentions are, and disinformation spread via blogs and comment threads can fly around the world and back in a few short hours, confusing or outright duping a significant number of readers. The thing is, I can almost always indentify a poseur by his ghastly spelling and grammar. With very few exceptions, real progressives tend to be inordinately well-spoken, erudite souls; wingnuts, on the other hand, harbor a profound disdain for book learnin', and it shows. If in doubt, it's fun to call a suspected troll to the mat on his sub-Kindergarten spelling or boneheaded abuse of the English language. Invariably, he'll say something to the effect of "lefties shuld worry more about there week argumints than good speling and grammer". Busted.

(I know, I'm going straight to Hell along with all the other elitist pedants.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Stomach This

The strain of spinach-borne E. coli that's currently sickening and killing Americans likely came from the digestive tracts of cattle in nearby industrial farms. The infected manure contaminated the groundwater, and, in turn, neighboring spinach fields.

In her starkly informative NYT opinion piece, Nina Planck, author of Real Food: What to Eat and Why, writes:

First, some basic facts about this usually harmless bacterium: E. coli is abundant in the digestive systems of healthy cattle and humans, and if your potato salad happened to be carrying the average E. coli, the acid in your gut is usually enough to kill it.

But the villain in this outbreak, E. coli O157:H7, is far scarier, at least for humans. Your stomach juices are not strong enough to kill this acid-loving bacterium, which is why it’s more likely than other members of the E. coli family to produce abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever and, in rare cases, fatal kidney failure.

Where does this particularly virulent strain come from? It’s not found in the intestinal tracts of cattle raised on their natural diet of grass, hay and other fibrous forage. No, O157 thrives in a new — that is, recent in the history of animal diets — biological niche: the unnaturally acidic stomachs of beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, the typical ration on most industrial farms. It’s the infected manure from these grain-fed cattle that contaminates the groundwater and spreads the bacteria to produce, like spinach, growing on neighboring farms.

In 2003, The Journal of Dairy Science noted that up to 80 percent of dairy cattle carry O157. (Fortunately, food safety measures prevent contaminated fecal matter from getting into most of our food most of the time.) Happily, the journal also provided a remedy based on a simple experiment. When cows were switched from a grain diet to hay for only five days, O157 declined 1,000-fold.

This is good news. In a week, we could choke O157 from its favorite home — even if beef cattle were switched to a forage diet just seven days before slaughter, it would greatly reduce cross-contamination by manure of, say, hamburger in meat-packing plants. Such a measure might have prevented the E. coli outbreak that plagued the Jack in the Box fast food chain in 1993.

Unfortunately, it would take more than a week to reduce the contamination of ground water, flood water and rivers — all irrigation sources on spinach farms — by the E-coli-infected manure from cattle farms.

The United States Department of Agriculture does recognize the threat from these huge lagoons of waste, and so pays 75 percent of the cost for a confinement cattle farmer to make manure pits watertight, either by lining them with concrete or building them above ground. But taxpayers are financing a policy that only treats the symptom, not the disease, and at great expense. There remains only one long-term remedy, and it’s still the simplest one: stop feeding grain to cattle.

I also recommend checking out The Meatrix. It's an odd but effective mix of entertaining, horrifying, and educational.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Argument Wears Thin

There is nothing new about the suggestion that actresses and fashion models are virtual skeletons. Compared to other young women their age, women to whom the movies they make and the clothes and products they promote are usually targeted, these fragile, photogenic freaks of nature have always been at least a good two or three sizes smaller and several inches taller.

Speaking as someone who has loved fashion since girlhood, devouring all the best glossies and eventually doing a little modeling herself before coming to her senses and realizing that--according to prevailing standards at least--twenty-one was too old, and a fighting weight as low as 115 lbs. was still too heavy for my height (five-seven and a half...always remember to mention that important half), I must tell you that eating disorders among the professionally pretty are not just rampant, they are pretty much compulsory if one wants to compete for the lucrative work. Girls who suffer with anorexia, the most lethal of the various syndromes known as eating disorders, are usually so shockingly and heartbreakingly thin, their illness is obvious to anyone with decent vision. But disordered eating can take many (somewhat) less dire forms, and oftentimes its effects not only stop short just this side of Time to Hospitalize but also do not become evident until years later. Sub-normal body fat levels can cause amenorrhea, which in turn causes sub-normal estrogen levels, and this leads to weak, brittle bones. Constant deydration caused by the abuse of diuretics and laxatives can lead to kidney damage and heart problems, to say nothing of dull eyes and skin. Throwing up one's dinner on a regular basis will not only damage the esophagus, but rot dental enamel and wreck electrolyte levels, which can, in turn, lead to cardiac irregularities, and oh yes, death.

Most of the girls (if not all of them) were, and are, well aware of these risks, but the professional rewards of being extremely slender are terribly hard to resist. And as if that weren't enough, there are social benefits too, in the sense that a tall, beautiful, and very thin young woman--one who might be foreign and thus not speak English very well or have the support of friends and family--quickly finds herself the center of attention. In our legendarily image-obsessed culture--hell, in most cultures--everyone loves a pretty girl. Furthermore, adults generally have an instinctual urge to protect and help children (or those our eyes are telling us look like children, what with their lack of womanly characteristics like rounded bottoms or breasts consisting of actual fat tissue as opposed to silicone) and the frail. Being surrounded with people wanting to do everything for you is nothing if not intoxicating.

Knowing that friends and family read this blog and not wanting to horrify them, I won't delve too deeply into my personal history with the thin-at-all-costs mindset. Instead, I'll simply state that it has been both my experience and my observation that disordered eating among young women, especially those who seek work in fashion or film, can mean anything and everything. Substituting lettuce and cigarettes for meals, for example. Living on one or two types of food, like instant oatmeal and grapefruit juice, and eschewing everything else, every day. Going to a "doctor" for one's weight problem and getting amphetamines that not only cause that pesky hunger to evaporate but also help one stay awake for late-night studying. Drinking huge mugs of vile-tasting laxative tea the day before a swimsuit shoot so one's stomach will be nice and flat. And so on.

None of it is new; quite the opposite. There were stick-thin girls in the 1970's, and there are stick-thin girls today. And few, if any, were, or are, naturally thin--not if you define natural as thinness that occurs without engaging in unnatural behavior or taking in unnaturally scant amounts of nutrition. So I'm a bit curious as to what has caused this year's runway uproar.

Last week the organizers of Madrid fashion week, usually an overlooked event in comparison with the major shows in New York, London (this week), Milan and Paris, said they were banning models with a height-to-weight ratio below what the World Health Organization considered normal. In effect, models who weigh less than 125 pounds are prohibited from working the runways. Organizers of the event said they wanted to project “an image of beauty and health.”

Complaints about the idolization of role models who suggest unhealthy lifestyles are culturally endemic. Celebrities like Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Mischa Barton have all been subjects of tabloid headlines asking, “Are they too thin?” In all likelihood, the answer is yes, but that does not stop magazines from displaying their pictures or, likewise, designers from casting thin models in their shows.

And then, according to the website Euronews:

Under pressure from campaigners, certain local authorities in Spain have taken action. In Andalusia, shops are not allowed to display clothes of continental size 36, size 8 in the UK, or smaller. Antonio Pernas, a designer at the Madrid fashion week says: "We have reached an agreement and I think it's the right thing. The models should not have a negative influence with the young."

At which point London was quick to consider following suit:

Britain's premier fashion event has found itself under siege after health experts and Culture Minister Tessa Jowell suggested it should consider following Madrid which last week announced it would ban too-tiny women from its shows.

Madrid's plan, that has already seen some models rejected for its shows -- aims to ban models with a body mass index (BMI) -- a ratio of height to weight -- of less than 18.

In an effort to diffuse the weight row, organisers the British Fashion Council cancelled a photocall on Sunday, where some of Britain's top models were due to showcase London Fashion Week's shows spanning cult 1960s label Biba to a one-off appearance by Giorgio Armani's younger line Emporio Armani.

Yet, the debate continues to simmer among fashionistas and designers at the five-day event. While most agree eating disorders sparked by the industry need to be addressed, they say the Spanish solution is not the way to do it.

This is a topic that's never far from my mind, for the reasons above, and because I dearly wish our culture would widen its definition of what is beautiful and what will sell. The first blog post I ever wrote, for Melissa's fabulous Shakespeare's Sister, concerned my struggle since youth with body image issues; first there was the weight thing, and now there is that as well as the aging thing (I'll be 46 in a few weeks). As a feminist mother, I am often secretly relieved that I had three boys instead of three girls; as much as I lecture my kids now about healthy habits and staying true to one's convictions as opposed to following the crowd, were there scrawny, lettuce-nibbling females at my dining table instead of wild little pizza-scarfing warriors, I imagine I'd be nothing less than The Wicked Witch of the Eats, doling out protein bars and omega-3 fatty acid supplements along with my sermons.

Still. I really don't think government belongs on our runways any more than in our bedrooms, and I can't imagine that magazines, television, and cinema--all of which have a vast audience, unlike fashion shows, which are attended by a relatively small percentage of the population--would stand for one moment of being told what sort of body types they can and cannot depict. What's more, in all the years I've followed fashion, letters to the editor complaining about overly-thin models would seem to have fallen on deaf ears. It's like this: the editor or the advertising agency wants a certain look, and if a girl fits that image in his or her head, she will get the job, regardless of her lettuce-and-cigarettes lunch, regardless of any bad habits (and yes, I'm talking about drugs), regardless of her cell phone throwing, her chronic tardiness, or her penchant for throwing operatic tantrums. When the big Kate Moss cocaine scandal broke last year and large companies whose products Moss helped sell were tearing up her contracts left and right, pop culture pundits and fashion editors alike wondered if she'd ever work again. But this month, you can open any telephone-book-thick Fall Fashion Issue, and Moss is practically on every other advertising page, selling luxury handbags, pricey jewelry, and plenty of haute couture as though nothing had happened. She fit the images that sprung up in the minds of the image-makers, and thus she became the images on the page once more. Not only do the ad agencies, the designers, the editors, and the companies who make the products not care about the general message this sends to impressionable young people--if you're really thin and photogenic, you'll get all sorts of modeling work, attention, money, and fame, and it doesn't even matter if you take dangerous drugs--they don't really care about Ms. Moss herself, or any of the other pretty young things they'll employ as long as they're workable.

They just want that picture.

So perhaps, if we're serious about empowering young women, discouraging unhealthy behavior and eating disorders, and effecting change in the way women are depicted in in advertising, fashion media, television, and movies, we consumers must be the ones to spearhead the sea change. Bearing in mind that advertising = revenue for most media, I wouldn't bother writing to magazines and TV stations to complain about their use of pre-pubesecent wraiths to sell party dresses and cellulite cream. Instead, I'd suggest contacting the companies that advertise therein, telling them you won't buy their products until the media in which they advertise cease and desist with the emaciated mannequins. Conversely, when you come across an ad (or a movie or TV show or magazine feature) with images offering positive role models for young women, send an e-mail of thanks and support.

You never know: by the time my lads have a few daughters, it might be safe to let them read Vogue or even attend the odd runway show with their fashion-obsessed Grand-mère.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

It Rhymes With Dire

Watch as a mainstream media journalist--Matt Lauer of NBC's Today show--finally corners George W. Bush on the issue of torture and keeps on pushing for answers. Pay attention to the president's posture, his movements, his snippiness-turning-to-aggression (getting in Matt's face, with his wagging finger mere centimeters away from him), and most of all, his eyes. Andrew Sullivan notes:

Three cheers for Matt Lauer. He's the first mainstream journalist I know of to directly confront the president over what exactly he has authorized in terms of detainee treatment and torture. Watch the president's body-language. Watch his early aggression. And repeat after me the obvious: We Torture.

Boxers aflame. Trunks up in smoke. Slacks combusting. Trousers blazing...

(Hat tip to Jonathan)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Keith Olbermann: We Have Not Forgotten, Mr. President.

This is Keith's finest commentary yet; I cannot recommend it highly enough. And look! Other journalists (Matt Lauer comes immediately to mind) are finally beginning to push for the truth just a tiny bit harder. Who knows--we may yet rebuild the First Amendment's fractured spine and along with it, our nation's brave and legendarily outspoken soul.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Breaking: Senate Panel Says No Link Between Saddam and al-Zarqawi

Well, it isn't as though this is surprising news, but it's nice to know our Congressmen are putting their weight behind that which non-neocons have maintained all along (bolds mine):

WASHINGTON (AP) -- There's no evidence Saddam Hussein had a relationship with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Al-Qaida associates, according to a Senate report on prewar intelligence on Iraq. Democrats said the report undercuts President Bush's justification for going to war.

The declassified document being released Friday by the Senate Intelligence Committee also explores the role that inaccurate information supplied by the anti-Saddam exile group the Iraqi National Congress had in the march to war.

It discloses for the first time an October 2005 CIA assessment that prior to the war Saddam's government ''did not have a relationship, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates.''

Bush and other administration officials have said that the presence of Zarqawi in Iraq before the war was evidence of a connection between Saddam's government and al-Qaida. Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike in June this year.

The long-awaited report, said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., a member of the committee, is ''a devastating indictment of the Bush-Cheney administration's unrelenting, misleading and deceptive attempts'' to link Saddam to al-Qaida.