Friday, November 24, 2006

Big Dog Blogging

Earlier today, The Minstrel Boy and I were discussing our dogs--big ol' dogs, most of them--and I mentioned that we ought to start a Big Dog Blogging tradition.

Not because we have anything against cats, you understand. We both love all versions of Feed Us Domesticus: the feline, the canine, and the equine alike. This summer, I posted about Maisy, the lovely little unwed teenage mother kitty who decided our house (my closet, specifically) was the spot to be when she brought her babies into the world.

But big dogs? They aren't exactly the stars of the Blogosphere, certainly not the way cats are. Well, Parity for Pooches, I say. Here is one of our gang, who arrived at the nursery property via his knocked-up Mama (yes, '05 was that sort of year). His name is Carmine, and he and his siblings Vito, Daxter, and Shnookums were born on Valentine's Day. Carmine and Vito are (mostly) a mix of Shepherd and Lab, and they're gigantic. At eighteen months, their respective weights are into the triple digits, as is that of black lab/pitbull Dax. Their lone sister, Shnookie, is (a bit) more compact.

Carmine says: Lead, follow, or get outta my way.

Be nice or he will come and lean on you.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Dying to Be Thin, Chapter XXVIXI

This is why I sometimes write about eating disorders and their relationship to the images of extreme female thinness that our print and electronic media fire at young people all day long.

SAO PAULO, Brazil - A 21-year-old anorexic model who weighed only 88 pounds has died of generalized infection, a hospital said. Ana Carolina Reston, who had worked in China, Turkey, Mexico and Japan for several modeling agencies, died Tuesday, according to Sao Paulo's Servidor Publico Hospital.

The hospital said the infection that killed the 5-foot-8-inch model was caused by anorexia nervosa, a disorder characterized by an abnormal fear of becoming obese, an aversion to food and severe weight loss.


The world of high fashion and modeling has long been targeted by critics who say it encourages women and girls to emulate rail-thin models.

In September, a Spanish fashion show responded to such criticism by banning models with a body mass index of less than 18. Body mass index is a calculation doctors normally apply to study obesity, and anyone with an index below 18.5 is considered underweight.

Reston would have had a body mass index of 13.4 at the time of her death, according to a calculator on the Web site of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Squealing Swan Songs

I love Marty Kaplan's wry commentary on the newest publishing trend: self-indulgent criminals' confessions packaged as fiction.

But OJ's ruse puts a whole new ploy in play. Imagine Rumsfeld writing "If I Committed War Crimes, Here's How It Happened." Plenty of juice, but no risk of international prosecutions. Rove could get a ton of dough for "If Bush Had Been Impeached, Here's What For." George Allen would have a monster hit on his hands if he wrote, "If I Were An Asshat, Here I Am."


Friday, November 10, 2006

It's All in the Family

Speaker Pelosi and newly-elected Dems take note: American families need, and deserve, your help. In her NYT editorial, Judith Warner writes about the sad and fractured condition of the much-lauded Family here in the land of opportunity.

WHILE the excitement over Nancy Pelosi, most likely to be our first female speaker of the House, is still fresh, and while those of us who care about these things are still bubbling over the election of the highest number of women to Congress in history, I’d like to issue a challenge: Ladies, step up to the plate on behalf of the rest of America’s women — and their families.

This shouldn’t be a radical idea. Ms. Pelosi has, after all, spent months now reminding us that she is not merely a capable leader, not just a whiz-bang political fund-raiser, but, first and foremost, “a mother and a grandmother.”

That’s lovely for her; but if Ms. Pelosi’s experience of motherhood is to have any meaning for the rest of us, or any relevance to her life as a politician, we’ve got to see some follow-through. Because if, as Ms. Pelosi has repeatedly said, she’ll be taking up the speaker’s gavel “on behalf of America’s children,” there’s a lot of work to do. For children can’t thrive if their families are stressed and, at every point on the socioeconomic spectrum now, it seems that American families are cracking at the seams.

The Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law released a study last month noting that “workplace inflexibility, the lack of family supports and workplace bias” are forcing American mothers out of the work force — whether they can really afford to “opt out” or not.

This comes on the heels of news articles showing how working-class moms are putting their youngsters in all-night child care, and how couples are increasingly enduring split-shift work schedules — putting their health and marriages at risk — to avoid the costs and anxieties of day care. All this paints a picture of family life in America that is very grim for all but the very privileged.

A picture of family life in America that is very grim for all but the very privileged. Finally, someone in the mainstream media has the nerve to say what many of us have been lamenting for years: we have lost sight of, and hope for, the notion that a normal, not-rich, American middle-class family can actually have time together, can actually enjoy their lives--and enjoy each other--on a daily basis as opposed to working nonstop all week, every week, and squeezing in bits and pieces of togetherness at holidays for the sake of the photo album. And we've abandoned the notion that getting sick or injured doesn't have to mean going bankrupt, along with the notion that being paid enough to support a family without both parents having to work 60-hour weeks is something realistic and healthy.

Worst of all, we've set aside the notion that there is something more to life than the Almighty Dollar, and we've had to do this. Not because we have coldly chosen the Almighty Dollar over the pleading eyes of kids who want an impromptu soccer game with Dad or a bedtime story from Mama, but rather, because the cost of living (rent or mortgage, food, health insurance, car payments, and clothing spring immediately to mind) in most metropolitan areas is so high, it simply isn't possible to support even a small family--hell, an individual, in many cases--on a single income any more. Forget six-week vacations every summer, something the middle-class French family takes for granted. American families consider themselves lucky if the repo man isn't darkening the door.

For years now, there have been murmurings — and more — from various corners of Congress in favor of change. Representative Lynn Woolsey’s Balancing Act bill, which calls for a wide array of measures to reduce the stresses on working families, has been languishing for years. Senators Christopher Dodd and Ted Kennedy have gestured toward legislation on paid family leave and guaranteed sick leave. There was even a much-overlooked bill introduced in the Senate by Hillary Clinton this summer (and in the House by Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut) to provide low-income parents with subsidies to stay at home and care for their infants themselves.

It’s time to light a fire under these kinds of initiatives. Ms. Pelosi’s current promises — to raise the minimum wage, cut the interest rates on student loans and make some college tuition tax deductible — are a laudable start, but American families, whose needs have been increasingly neglected since the early 1980s, need so much more: quality after-school programs; national standards for child care; voucher programs and tax subsidies to help pay for that care; universal, voluntary public preschool; paid family leave; and incentives for businesses to make part-time and flex-time work financially viable.

In short, we need to make the kind of glorious life that’s enjoyed by upper-middle-class mothers and grandmothers like Ms. Pelosi and her colleagues possible for everyone else.

This isn’t a radical leftist agenda. In fact, there’s no better antidote to the selfish individualism and empty materialism that Americans of all political stripes say is corrupting our country than policies that allow families to spend more, and better, time together.

In recent years, pro-family Democrats were out in the legislative wilderness. Now, there’s simply no excuse for inaction. It’s time to shoot for the moon. Risk a presidential veto. And let the proponents of “family values” show their true colors.

Speaker Pelosi, speak for us. Guide the next two years' legislation A La Famiglia.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Brava Nancy!

Congratulations to Nancy Pelosi, Italian-American mother, grandmother, and accomplished congressperson; and now, America's first woman Speaker of the House.

We will break open the good Brunello in your honor.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Watch it and Vote

I just watched this for the fourth time. It's a stunningly well-edited film short (about 4.5 minutes) that evokes a sense of seeing one's life flash before one's eyes when facing potential doom.

Only the images are of us, and it is America herself--the idea of her, the principles and soul of her--who confronts the abyss.

Or else Freedom.

Which is the film's title. It's gut-wrenching, then exhilarating. What's more, the images materialize in response to the song's lyrics, similar to the way pictures play in your mind when you listen to a favorite piece of music. Brilliant.

Watch it, share it (here's a permanent link), and of course, keep it in mind when you vote on Tuesday.

(A grand hat-tip to Shakespeare's Sister.)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

When Progressives Police Their Own

Wingnuts are fond of throwing out the old equivalency argument: "Oh, both sides have their problem children...both sides have been mudslinging this election season...there is voting fraud on both sides."

As to that last one, I'm sure there are discrepancies, fraud, and outright criminal acts perpetrated by the Right and Left alike. The difference is, progressives not only care about fair, transparent, verifiable elections, they also police their own.

Four people have been indicted on charges of voter fraud in Kansas City, officials said Wednesday.

Investigators said questionable registration forms for new voters were collected by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a group that works to improve minority and low-income communities.

The four indicted -- Kwaim A. Stenson, Dale D. Franklin, Stephanie L. Davis and Brian Gardner -- were employed by ACORN as registration recruiters. They were each charged with two counts.

Federal indictments allege the four turned in false voter registration applications. Prosecutors said the indictments are part of a national investigation.

ACORN and Project Vote recruit and assign workers to low-income and minority neighborhoods to register people to vote.

The Kansas City Election Board told KMBC they found suspicious forms, such as seven applications from one person and an application for a dead man.


ACORN officials in Kansas City said they turned in the four people who were indicted.

"We're very happy that they were indicted," said Claudie Harris with ACORN.

Harris said ACORN workers are paid by the hour and not by the number of voter registration cards they turn in. "When you fraudulently defraud this, that gives us a bad name and what we're trying to do a bad name," Harris said.

ACORN officials said the four indicted have been fired.

Bravo ACORN. May election workers and officials on both sides follow your example.

On Democracy's Greatest and Least-challenged Threat

"The bottom line of this whole problem is that if we don't have the ability to authenticate our own elections as citizens, we don't live in a democracy."
--Bev Harris

If you or a friendly neighbor get HBO, be sure to watch Hacking Democracy tonight (Thursday, November 2nd) at 9pm EST.

Electronic voting machines count about 87% of the votes cast in America today. But are they reliable? Are they safe from tampering? From a current congressional hearing to persistent media reports that suggest misuse of data and even outright fraud, concerns over the integrity of electronic voting are growing by the day. And if the voting process is not secure, neither is America's democracy. The timely, cautionary documentary HACKING DEMOCRACY exposes gaping holes in the security of America's electronic voting system.

In the 2000 presidential election, an electronic voting machine recorded minus 16,022 votes for Al Gore in Volusia County, Fla. While fraud was never proven, the faulty tally alerted computer scientists, politicians and everyday citizens to the very real possibility of computer hacking during elections.

In 2002, Seattle grandmother and writer Bev Harris asked officials in her county why they had acquired electronic touch screen systems for their elections. Unsatisfied with their explanation, she set out to learn about electronic voting machines on her own. In the course of her research, which unearthed hundreds of reported incidents of mishandled voting information, Harris stumbled across an "online library" of the Diebold Corporation, discovering a treasure trove of information about the inner-workings of the company's voting system.

Harris brought this proprietary "secret" information to computer security expert Dr. Avi Rubin of Johns Hopkins University, who determined that the software lacked the necessary security features to prevent tampering. Her subsequent investigation took her from the trash cans of Texas to the secretary of state of California and finally to Florida, where a "mini-election" to test the vulnerability of the memory cards used in electronic voting produced alarming results.

Litbrit recommends mixing up a stiff batch of mojitos before settling in to view this important and terrifying documentary.