Thursday, October 29, 2009

Awww Hell.

Time for a sweeping change at the voting booth.

Pelosi Caves and Expects a Pat On the Head

The Attic As A Metaphor

I'd like to think I'm a writer. I write every day. I've written news stories, shows, short stories. I've happily pounded out magazine articles. I've struggled with three novels and felt the incredible rush of emotion as I wrote those short, huge words, "The End", and meant it. But I never write as well as I'd like to. There's a touch of poetry necessary to truly write the way I'd like to and I fear I lack it.

Jenna Hammerich has it in abundance. I found her work through my work. Scrolling through a public radio website that allows freelancers to post their work, I stumbled on a piece she'd written about growing up as the child of flower children. It was perfect; hilarious, poignant and thought provoking. I not only used it in my show, I wrote her a fan letter.

She was very sweet, happy for the encouragement and immersed in her writing. She hasn't had time to put together any other shorter stories that I could use, despite my pleas. But she asked me to listen to a half hour piece she put together on the women who painted the poisonous radium dials on clocks in a small Illinois town. I did. I was floored.

Jenna has a talent for not only revealing herself, but revealing the story she's telling in a way that unfolds naturally, fully and inevitably. There is no artifice, no sign where she's placed the wires, where she's pulling the strings.

I was so in love with her work that I went looking for more. And I found it. She's written a moving tribute to Michael Jackson for Salon.

But this may be the one I like best of all so far - she wanders off to the attic of her childhood and takes us with her. She made me remember the attic in the house where my children grew up. It had a narrow, low-ceilinged stairway but opened into a high, dark space with a sunny, finished room in the front of the house. That room, with it's ancient sheet of 1930s linoleum, a small table with child-sized chairs and two shelves with doors where a child and several friends could climb in and hide, was the most magical place in a well-loved house, not only for my children but for me. I remember a few times when they were off somewhere else and I would climb those stairs and sit alone in the sunlight high above our tree-lined street, observing the world from a new and far more objective perspective.

I didn't grow up in a house with an attic. But I wandered many times into the cavernous, bat and squirrel-infested attic above my grandmother's bedrooms. There she kept boxes she never opened, the obscenely grinning teeth of piano keys without their case, steamer trunks pushed off into darkened corners that I never dared open.

That attic held a thrillingly spooky fascination for me, a feeling that our own home's unfinished attic area probably inspired in my children. It was an opportunity to test our courage with little real danger.

Ready to explore? Here's Jenna's essay about attics. Prepare to be delighted.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Infrastructure Isn't Sexy?

I remember Rachel Maddow once getting very excited because infrastructure was being discussed on the presidential campaign trail.

"It's not sexy," she said. "But it ought to be."

You bet, Rachel.

Our roads, our bridges, our water systems were all built during a big can-do chapter in our history, either as WPA projects during the thirties or to pave the way for the brave new world in which every garage would hold a car.

Now we have two car garages - and often more cars parked in the driveway. Our water infrastructure serves a booming population. Our water treatment systems are taxed to the limit. And it's all getting old. Concrete has a limited lifespan and we've been putting off repairs for years.

The History Channel did a special on the problem. And I did a story this morning that brings it into focus.

New York City gets much of its water from upstate. A massive, incredibly engineered system of aqueducts six hundred feet below the ground takes water from upstate reservoirs into the city's pipes. And in one small neighborhood where there was always an issue with existing groundwater, that aqueduct is leaking up to 36 million gallons of water a day. A day.

Neighbors say water gushes out of cracks in their basements. Their yards are spongy. Sinkholes open up and they can't walk their own property. The city is doing studies and has meanwhile offered sump pumps, bottled water (that high water table means wells and septics aren't isolated from each other), UV water treatment systems and funds for improved stormwater systems.

What the neighbors want, bottom line, is to be moved. They're exhausted. They say they're up all night monitoring multiple sumps pumps, worrying that the power will go out. Their homes are worthless. No one's going to buy them. They want to be moved to higher ground and the city says it's willing to consider doing just that if studies prove that the leaking aqueduct is the source of their problems. Congressman Maurice Hinchey says the city just ought to do it now - that there's no doubt that the city's water tunnel is a major contributor to the problems of 35 families unfortunate enough to own homes over a high water table and a leaking aqueduct.

What it made me wonder about was our infrastructure in general. The History Channel special featured a guy who said that America's been like the grandkids who inherited a mansion - from the outside, it's a great house. But go inside and you see it's falling apart from lack of maintenance.

Washington's been putting stimulus money into infrastructure and that's right on target. It's also a great opportunity to look at that infrastructure and see if it meets our future needs, or if we should be building the next generation's transportation and energy systems. Do we need a gazillion highways, or do we need high speed rail? Do we continue to act as if we can fuel this nation with fossil fuels forever or do we accept that we've already gone beyond the safe limits and should create clean, green systems that our children's grandchildren could use?

It's a turning point in history - the fact that so many wake up calls are coming at once makes it inescapable. We've passed peak oil. We've passed the safe carbon threshold. We're overpopulated.

It's time for the creative thinkers to stand up and speak. And it's time for the rest of us to listen.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Do Something

Do you feel overwhelmed by the events of the past few years? Has the recession left you sprawled on the floor, gasping for air? (do you prefer Economic Slump? Depression? Financial S***storm?

Have you lost your home, your job, your health insurance, your retirement savings?
If you haven't, I'm betting you know someone who has.

So what are you doing about it?

I think many of us are just beaten down. We're giving up. We roused ourselves to oust an administration that we knew didn't give a damn about us, hoping that the new president would bring a sea change to Washington. We were hoping for a tsunami. It hasn't happened. In fact, despite the increasing problems and the rising deficit incurred as we throw money at problems, the tide actually went out. We went back into our homes, shut the doors and turned off the news. It was all just too depressing.

But look: the Obama machine roused hundreds of thousands of people to call their Washington representatives to push for health care reform. That reform, declared a dead issue just a couple of months ago, is refusing to give up. And if we can keep it alive, we can push to keep real health care reform alive. We can demand a public option, a national Medicare for all.

We can change this country if we are willing to open our doors, step outside and start making noise. We Are The Tidal Wave.

I'm coming to like Michael Moore a lot. He doesn't just turn a video camera and kleig lights on our nastiest secrets, he really believes that an outspoken electorate could turn this ship around.

Yes, we're a divided country. Yes, it's an uphill battle against legislators who are
more interested in their own careers and importance than serving the people who pay them.

But we are their bosses. We hired them and we pay them. And if you don't like how things are going, you have a seat on the board of this country. You have a vote. And if you seek out people who are willing to make noise with you, you can roar.

Conservatives know this. My issue with them is when they lie to win more people to their point of view.

Don't lie. Speak the truth. The pro-business policies that have ruled this country for decades are destroying us. Business is essential, but not at the price of the people who support it. Policies must be based on what is good for the PEOPLE...WE The PEOPLE.

Moore has a fifteen point action plan. It makes sense. What will you do?


Monday, October 19, 2009

It's Enough to Make You Say "Ralph"

Thanks to Freesia Lane for this one (Freesia Lane)but the more it gets posted the better.

Not only did Ralph Lauren's company hyper-photoshop this model into something that would seem to require a caption saying, "I, Jack, the Pumpkin King" (come on - you saw A Nightmare Before Christmas), but they fired her. She couldn't fulfill the terms of her contract, said they.

She was too fat for their clothes at her usual size 4, says she.

What does Ralph say?

If you post this picture, he wants to sue for copyright infringement.

What an all-American guy he truly is.

I host a women's issues show. I've spoken to Jean Kilbourne, who's been fighting this kind of nightmare for twenty years. I've seen my daughter and her friends envying that size zero stick in her skinny jeans. I've taught high school girls who proudly compare how little they eat each day.

They want to be models. Just like Ralph Lauren's ideal, physically impossible stick woman.

Ralph, you are the problem. You, Calvin Klein, and the other designers and ad people who want human hangers on which to drape your clothes. I wish we could just ignore you, but you're having an impact - a bad one.

You CAN be too thin. And women are growing very, very tired of being told they should hate how they look. Remember, those same messages are bundled with the
'Be confident. Confidence IS beauty!' message. How, precisely, do you combine loathing for your own body with confidence?

Real women have curves. Real women look like women, not pre-pubescent boys. Real women are gorgeous and no, real women don't have to be fat. Who convinced us that only the waif was beautiful?

Catherine Deneuve
Sophia Loren
Marilyn Monroe
Jennifer Lopez
Beyonce Knowles

Have I made my point? Let Ralph know what you think.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The United States of Paranoia

I was being a couch potato. Minding my own business. Flipping from channel to channel without any goal or much thought. I landed on the Christian channel and how I wish I could tell you exactly who I was watching because I'm having trouble believing what I heard.

There was the requisite pompadoured silver haired man at a news desk with his co-anchor, the equally plastic-haired and sincere "Rexana". Ring a bell with any of you? The name stuck with me.

But here's what he told me, with great assurance and lots of bible references to back it up.

The flu vaccine is just part of a plot to create a new world order. The H1N1 virus is a manufactured emergency which gives "them" the opportunity to implant microchips in all of us.

Who are "they"? Oh, he told me. The Illuminati. The Bilderbergs. President Obama.
It's all right there in the bible. He had some name for Rome that I can't recall now but I believe he was referring to the Vatican and made it sound like the Church was pretty much calling the shots when it came to the creation of the European Union.
So I guess the pope's part of this conspiracy as well.

There were references to the rapture, about how all the good Christians would be taken into heaven, but I got the impression they were worried that the microchips might be an obstacle to that happy conclusion.

I'm floored. I know there are conspiracy theories. Hell, sometimes I think some of them have some validity. What are the Bilderbergs discussing at those meetings, anyway? Their favorite golf courses?

But this is going way over the edge, even for me. The fundamentalist Christians don't want you to get a flu vaccination because the government is going to implant you with a microchip?

Like all paranoia, there's just enough to it to make you wonder for a minute. And then you have to make a choice. Are you willing to risk your life, your children's lives, on the chance that it's just a big conspiracy to get control of you?

Let's face it. If you've been sucked into Google World, they already have plenty of information on you. I vote for living and then if there is a conspiracy and I don't like the look of it, I'll be glad to join the resistance.


Here's where some of it comes from, no doubt. Like most paranoia, it has a basis in fact.
Microchips and flu vaccine

Care to step farther off the edge? How about a bracelet that's designed to do the same thing?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Schumer and the Public Option - Did I Say It Was Dead?

We don't pay much attention to what politicians say anymore, which leaves them free to flip and flop at will. Senator Charles Schumer, the senior Democrat from New York, has assumed the mantle of the Champion of the Public Option. I get action alerts from progressive groups asking me to write to him, encouraging him to continue his "strong" support for the public option in health care reform.

I'd like to point out one fact - he bailed on the public option back in early September. I am glad he's apparently trying again, but it galls me that no one's pointed out that he'd already left the building.

Here's what the Daily Kos got..

Chuck Schumer explains exactly how Harry Reid can get the public option passed through the Senate:

"SCHUMER: I am very optimistic that we're going to get a strong public option. The House is standing firm on public option. And I think all of those, when they saw the vote in the finance committee who thought, "Oh, it's over," hadn't really read the situation correctly.

STEWART: Well, how do you get it done? How does it end up in the final bill?

SCHUMER: Well, first, Leader Reid has the option of putting it in the final bill. If he puts it in the final bill, in the combined bill, then you would need 60 votes to remove it. And there clearly are not 60 votes against the public option. If -- and so, we're urging him to do that and he's seriously considering it.

Once it passes the Senate, if that were to happen, it's in the House bill, it's in the Senate bill, and it would have to be in the final product. So, it's very important to see if the public option is in the bill that Leader Reid puts together. He hasn't yet made up his mind, but many of us who believe in the public option are urging him to do so. And so far, we're getting -- we're getting heard.

Note that Schumer says Reid still hasn't decided what path he will take on the public option. That's not a very big deal if Reid has already made up his mind and just hasn't told anyone so that he can play his cards close to his chest. But if he really still hasn't decided whether or not to include the public option in the Senate bill, what in the world is holding him back? The public option is one of the single most popular elements of health care reform. It's a good idea, it's good politics, and it's time to get the job done."

And here's Jon Stewart, the only sane man on television, wondering what the hell the Democrats are doing.

Let me add a note here because this is really nagging at me. Schumer declared the public option dead weeks ago. With great authority. I saw it. It was a little press conference at a housing complex near the Hudson River and no one but the local yokels were there (which explains my presence).

I asked about health care reform. He very clearly, distinctly and absolutely declared the public option dead. Feel free to listen. Wait for it - it's toward the end.

Schumer declares Public Option DOA.

I feel better now. It's good to know who is who.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bill Moyers Is My Hero

Moyers is out there digging up the dirt to see what's underneath, accompanied on television, mostly, by Jon Stewart. If you haven't seen Stewart's feature on Timothy Geithner's real estate issues, it's worth a watch. But this post is about corruption at the top. And the press, with just a few exceptions, is ignoring it.

What a pitiful state of affairs. Go sit in the corner, Anderson. Sit on the dunce seat, Wolf. Fox, never mind. Rachel, you go, girl. But don't just focus on marketing firms - start making noise at the top.

America, World, watch and weep. This is what we are right now. It's all about money.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

On the Road to a Depression

There have been articles lately warning that without meaningful bank reform, a Depression is coming...and it will be within the next three or four years.

Sound alarmist? I was still a bit on the fence but twenty minutes with Bill Moyers and his guests convinced me.

Watch progressive Representative from Ohio, Marcy Kaptur and Simon Johnson, former Chief Economist at the International Monetary Fund. He's one of the founders of the website

Bill Moyers Interview

The "It's Not George" Prize

It's being greeted with derision or elation, depending on who and where you are - President Barack Obama's new Nobel Peace Prize may well be one of the most controversial choices ever.

Critics point out that he hasn't done much yet. They're right. It's early in the game and it's mostly rhetoric.

Some of us have been greatly disappointed so far; the promises of change are bogged down with heavy reality. Guantanamo is still open. We're still in Iraq. We're getting further mired in Afghanistan. The recession may be easing for those at the top, but reforms to prevent it all from happening again are stillborn. It all feels like business as usual with a more rational hand at the helm

But Europe hasn't given up on us yet and this prize is said to be a downpayment; encouragement for the new president to stick to his plan, to continue efforts to create a dialogue with the rest of the world rather than to pursue an American Empire of Democracy.

I understand the motivation, but I'm not sure the Nobel committee has done us any favors. It's a symbol of approval from the rest of the world, but it will be used as a weapon by his opponents here, another example of Obama Worship that they say has no basis in reality.

It kind of feels like the Little League game where everybody gets a trophy, no matter how they played. And much as I'm in favor of cooperation over competition, giving a prize to the kid we like best seems wrong.

The Toronto Star

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Health Care Reform - The Core Issue

You may like or dislike Keith Olbermann. I go back and forth myself. But his thoughtful, passionate and reasoned discussion of why health care reform is so important, yet why we're so deeply divided about it, was brilliant and you should watch. I have my own story to add.

Keith talks about his recent experiences with his dad in the hospital. I've been there with both my parents.

My mother lingered six weeks in the hospital, dying of cancer that had spread to her stomach, in horrific pain that even liberal and constant morphine drips couldn't mask, starving to death. She developed bed sores. She was, most of the time, unconscious or barely conscious. On the two occasions during that entire six weeks that she was aware, she was afraid. Not of dying, though perhaps she was afraid of that as well. But what she was afraid of was the bills.

"Can we afford this?" she whispered through lips we kept moistened with salve. She couldn't drink. Everything made her throw up.

"Of course we can," my father assured her. They could. They had Medicare. They had supplemental insurance. They were lucky. The bills were high, but they weren't impossible thanks to years of paying for that extra protection.

But she wasn't sure. And he couldn't convince her.

So my mother died worried that she was creating a financial burden for my father and for me.

And her fear lingered with me, along with the memories of the bedsores she developed despite the nurses' best efforts, along with the memory of her grimaces when the pain stabbed her, along with the anger that a kind, generous woman should not only suffer, but worry that her suffering was just too damned expensive.

Watch Keith. Then can't we all talk about this and come up with a solution that fixes a broken system?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Gross Out Diet

The City That Never Sleeps is sick of its residents getting fat. New York City has begun a new ad campaign to give its residents some truly stomach-turning associations as they put a glass of sugary soda to thier lips.

The posters are showing up in the subways and show globby, blood vessel-streaked fat being poured into a glass. Initial reaction is reportedly, "EW!"

We are becoming a fat people, despite our preoccupation with thinness. We're sedentary, we eat fast food and the food we cook, very often, isn't healthy. I'm not casting stones here; I need to lose 15 pounds and it's the most stubborn 15 pounds in history. Not because it refuses to go, but because I cannot seem to stick with the strict regimen required to lose it. I love my peanut butter, I love my cookies. I don't like salads when it's cold outside. But I see things about our nation's march to obesity that frighten me and it's not about fat.

Our young people are either pudgy or frighteningly thin. There seems to be no middle ground. And you can bet that the little waifs are hungry. Very hungry.

We are an addictive nation. We're addicted to food, we're addicted to starving ourselves, we're addicted to our cell phones, our mp3 players.

We are so addicted to television that we will sit through a full ten minutes of commercials after eight minutes of program content. We're addicted to email, to computers, to video games and online gaming.

We are addicted to sex, to partying, to alcohol, to drugs. We are so addicted to cigarettes that we will buy ecigarettes rather than put them down for good. We're addicted to attention, to success, to money, to things, to religion. We're addicted to the search for eternal youth, to exercise, to gossip.

Looked at from a distance, it appears that we are a people desperately looking for something to fill our time. We want something that makes us feel busy. Something that makes us feel our lives have a purpose.

We don't get up every day knowing we're working for our survival. And we've increasingly created more leisure time without knowing how to fill it.

I do believe there's a constructive answer to that question. What about creativity? What about reaching out to others? I'm a firm believer that music, writing, the visual arts are pursuits that not only keep you busy, but keep you sane. If the arts intimidate you, what about getting involved in a cause you believe in? Spend your computer time promoting a cause, helping others.

When you're done, you'll have something to show for it...something you'll feel good about.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gun Sales Slowing But Ammo Sales Still Up: Are You Paying Attention?

There's one small business that's doing exceptionally well across the country - gun stores. When Barack Obama won the presidency, the gun industry took off into unprecedented sales territory. Now stores in most parts of the country report that demand for weapons is slowing, though ammo is still flying off the shelves and ammunitions manufacturers say they "will never catch up".

If people with guns frighten you, you will probably conclude that the guns were sold to hardline ultra-Conservatives who are convinced there's a revolution brewing. They don't want government militias forcing their compliance with policies they believe are wrong. Check out the comments on news articles about gun sales and you'll see some of this attitude; comments from writers who say they want to defend themselves and their families against totalitarian government policies. They see mandated flu shots and talk of health care reform as one of the signs of the coming Apocalypse. I am not laughing.

The idea behind preserving our right to bear arms was to allow us to protect ourselves and our communities when government oversteps the authority we gave it. Though it seems unthinkable to many of us now that we might want to violently resist our own government, remember this was drafted when we'd just overthrown a government. We'd just lived through a revolution.

If gun sales are slowing, does that mean they're becoming less afraid of our new president? That, to me, proves this probably isn't the reasoning of most people who rushed to buy guns after the election.

Other analysts say the run on guns in 2009 was because of fears that a Democratic administration would try to legislate tougher gun control. This one fits the puzzle; as it's becoming obvious that the new administration considers tougher gun laws an issue that's not even on the radar right now, worries are easing and gun sales are slowing.

Then there's the question of whether the gun sales tie in to the recession. With people losing their homes, rising numbers of formerly middle class workers standing on line at food pantries and minimum wage employers finding themselves flooded with applicants, it could follow that those who have could be fearful of the rising numbers of have nots. If things get bad enough, it's not impossible to imagine people breaking into businesses and homes to find food and shelter. If you've got a little, you might be frightened someone could take it away from you.

I believe the truth about the guns sales is all of the above. And we need to be aware it's happening.

KB refers to this planet as Fear University. This situation is a perfect example. You need a gun to protect yourself if you're convinced your safety is at risk.

I have come to believe that it is unlikely that each of us can change the entire world. But we can change our world. What if you made a point to talk to your neighbors, telling them that if they're ever in big trouble, they're welcome to come take shelter with you, to share what you have? What if they were inspired to do the same? What if it moved up your street and through out your town, your city? What if we all knew we had each other's backs?

Is that such a stretch?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Olana - The House I Should Have Had

All houses should be as cool as Olana. If you're not familiar with it, it's a Persian-inspired mansion above the Hudson River facing the Catskill Mountains.

Frederick Church built it after he and his wife did a world tour and came home to the property he'd bought years earlier. Their original plan had been to build a French-style chateau on the hilltop. Happily, they abandoned that idea after visiting the Middle East.

I took the downstairs tour with my daughter and we both agreed we could happily live there. It's been beautifully preserved by a devoted group of people who have restored the intricate stencils, maintained the furnishings and basically done the impossible: maintain a gorgeous white elephant.

Stand on the grounds, look out the windows. There is no possible way you could live in such a place and not be an artist. It would seem like heresy to sit inside and stare at a computer screen or bury your nose in a book. The views don't even look real; the windows frame vistas of the river and, we're assured, the mountains. You have to take that on faith on a day with low clouds; the Catskills manage to completely disappear behind a curtain of fluffy gray.

Despite its grandeur, there's something comfortable about the interior. The huge amber window above the staircase looks like an amazing etched stained glass. Instead, the truth is that there are intricate paper cutouts preserved between two sheets of amber glass, creating a beautiful but inexpensively creative Moroccan ambiance.

So could you, we wonder, manage to escape the tour and live there? Could you wander through the halls, escaping detection, and set up camp in a different room each night? Probably not. But fun to imagine.

Our conclusion is that if the world should be ending, people who are congenial and cooperative, people who appreciate real beauty should gather in such amazing places to ride out the end together in a place that shows the best of what this world is.

I'd go to Olana.