Friday, January 09, 2009

Goodbye to World Wide Webers

This is my last post on World Wide Webers. The blog has come full circle: Launched in November, 2004, based on a conversation between my daughter Karen and me about the distressing outcome of one presidential election, it concludes with Karen's eloquent comments about the much more hopeful outcome of another presidential election. Thus, our 635 posts neatly cover the years of Bush's second term, which of course provided much of the fodder for our observations. (Decades from now, researchers into the period may discover this blog, and we will become a footnote to a footnote in some history of America's worst presidential administration.)

I'm retiring World Wide Webers mainly because I think it's time for a new online vehicle, one whose format reflects more accurately the style and structure of the contents. Intended as a "family blog," World Wide Webers never quite attained that character, since the vast bulk of the contents was created by one person.

(I used to daydream about a wonderful blog enriched with posts about business and finance by Matt, posts about academia, music, history, and feminism by Laura and Karen, posts about health care and many other topics by Mary-Jo, posts about law and food by Janee, and posts about pop culture by Ingrid . . . but over time I've sadly realized that all of my family members actually have lives, which means that writing blog posts isn't at the top of their to-do lists. Go figure.)

Time passed, our family configuration evolved (making the photo on our masthead outdated), and I kept trying to figure out how to recast the blog to make it fit the changing circumstances. Finally I have decided to just make a clean break and start something new.

My new blog is called Saxifrage. (As you English majors may recognize, it's a reference to William Carlos Williams--when you visit the blog, you'll find a little more context that should help explain what it all means.) Saxifrage will be linked to a website focused on my work as a book writer and editor. My intention is to write about many of the same topics I've been dealing with on World Wide Webers--politics, culture, social issues, personal experiences--and to link these topics as much as possible to my work: authors I am collaborating with, trends I am tracking, causes I am trying to promote. I'll also try to include observations about book publishing and the literary life, which I hope will make the blog interesting to my colleagues, clients, students, and acquaintances in the industry.

If you've enjoyed World Wide Webers, I think you'll like Saxifrage too. (And if you've been enjoying Janee's writings about food and cooking here at World Wide Webers, you owe it to yourself to visit her new blog, Revel & Feast. It's a gorgeous site laden with mouth-watering photos of the brilliant dishes she teaches you how to cook. Nice to see Janee spreading her creative wings in a forum tailor-made for her.)

Thanks to everyone who has spent ten minutes or ten hours reading and perhaps enjoying, hating, or arguing with our observations here at World Wide Webers. Our readership never became huge but it included some very smart and interesting people, which is even more important. Here's hoping that, over the next four years, we'll have some better news to write about than we had during the last four.
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Monday, November 10, 2008

What the 2008 Election Means to Me

After four years of avoiding the news out of desperation, I haven't been able to stop reading it since Tuesday night's election results. I used to be a voracious news reader. It was the first thing I did in the morning, and the last thing I did at night. I looked forward to graduating from college, getting my own apartment, and having the paper delivered to my front door every day. I dreamed about lazy brunches over the weekend edition. But with President Bush's election and the right-wing's ascendancy, I had a hard time stomaching the news. It was just too awful to bare. I felt detached from the rest of the country who had supported Bush and had seemed to bully the media into cowardly news reports (no photos of the coffins returning from Iraq?). I felt even more frustrated that the horrific attack on our country, that happened in my backyard, was being used to wage a senseless preemptive war and was used a rallying cry for a patriotism that was exclusive. By 2004, it seemed clear to me that Bush's policies were failing in many ways, and I was optimistic that Kerry would win. But he didn't. And that's when I really abandoned the news.

But now I can't stop reading and listening. I can't get enough. I watch news clips online about children across the country watching Obama's acceptance speech and what it means for them; I read op-ed pieces about what a historic night Tuesday was; I settle in each night for Keith Olberman and (especially) Rachel Maddow; I don't mind watching the Daily Show (I know this isn't news, but still a place to learn about the scary things your government is doing) because the jokes don't underline how illogical our government is; I read articles in full, rather than just glance at the headlines.

The election of Obama gives me much hope for the future of America on so many levels. But, for me, personally, three things in particular make me excited. First, as someone who is multiethnic, I like that our president-elect has compared his family gatherings to meetings at the UN. For years I have fielded questions like, “What is your nationality?” and “Where are your parents from?” While I like talking about my family’s background, it's always struck me as odd that for a country that was built by immigrants, the idea of a multiethnic background hasn't been normalized. Why, I am a citizen of the United States, of course, and my parents were born in Brooklyn!

Another thing that I am happy about is that the country has seemed to, for now at least, rejected the anti-intellectualism of the Bush presidency. Nicholas Kristof wrote a great piece about this yesterday. We need a well-educated, hard-working, thoughtful leader who is interested in the world around him and can appreciate advice from a broad spectrum of experts and then use his intellect (not his faith or gut) to arrive at a decision. And, what is also great, is that while Obama and his wife both attended top-notch Ivy League schools, they did so in a way quite different from Bush. They worked hard, won scholarships, and graduated at the top of their classes.

And, finally, I am proud that American has elected its first Columbia College alum! I am sure that the Core Curriculum has prepared him well.
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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Huckabee Blows His Dogwhistle

So Mike Huckabee is still using the cockamamie story about the high school teacher who tells her students that they don't have to "earn" the desks in their classroom, because military vets already did it for them. You might recall I wrote about that weird, nonsensical story last year. Now it has resurfaced, thanks to Huckabee trotting it out again at last week's Republican convention.

One of my favorite journalists (and bloggers), James Fallows, has now done a follow-up story, linking to an account that he says "solves the mystery" of the Huckabee story. According to Fallows, "the story makes perfect sense once you assume that its real subject is eternal salvation through the grace and sacrifice of Jesus."

Well, I suppose, in a way, that does "make sense"--if you're willing to overlook the illogic of claiming that having American soldiers fighting overseas is somehow a necessary prerequisite to operating classrooms here at home; and even more egregious, if you're willing to equate soldiers (whose job is to kill as many of the enemy as possible) to the martyred Jesus, who not only did not kill his enemies but actually paused, in the very moment of being betrayed, to miraculously heal one of them (Luke 22:47-51).

I have no doubt that Fallows is right about the "dogwhistle" message that Huckabee is trying to send to his fundamentalist followers--a message that equates US soldiers, and John McCain in particular, to Jesus Christ. But as a Christian myself, I find it awfully depressing that both Huckabee and Fallows seem to share an assumption that might be summarized like this: "Hey, it's a Christian parable! It doesn't have to make any sense!"

Thanks to people like Mike Huckabee, millions of Americans naturally assume that "Christian" is a synonym for "stupid." Can't say I blame them.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Simon and Garfunkel Sang About It So You Know It's Good


Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. The Fantastic Four of the herb garden. Today, we pay homage to rosemary, which looks like prickly pine needles but tastes oh so good.

Here's an herb rub that you can slap on a piece of meat right before cooking so you can enjoy a low fuss dinner that doesn't involve a lot of planning. You can also use this rub as a seasoning to enliven a ho-hum recipe that needs a flash of brilliance. Rosemary, the superstar of this herb rub, is an excellent flavoring for beef and lamb, not mention chicken and turkey. Its woody fragrance pairs especially well with the succulence of a juicy steak or lamb chop.

Rosemary also has a reputation for improving memory. Shakespeare buffs might remember Ophelia's line from Hamlet: "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance." So toss aside the ginkgo biloba pills and instead bite into a big, fat steak seasoned with this rub. Even if your brain doesn't respond, your taste buds will.


4 tablespoons dried rosemary
3 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard

Gently crush the rosemary with a mortar and pestle. If you don't have a mortar and pestle, crush the rosemary against the side of a bowl using the back of a heavy spoon.

Thoroughly mix together the rosemary and the remaining herbs and spices.

Put the rosemary rub into a container with an air tight lid. Store in a cool, dark place up to one year.

Makes almost 2/3 cup of rub, enough for several uses.


1. MEAT: Massage a spoonful onto both sides of a steak or lamb chop before cooking. If you have time, let the meat rest in the fridge for an hour or two before cooking to allow the oils of the herbs to penetrate the meat.
2. GRAVY: Stir a big spoonful into your favorite homemade gravy recipe. Or, buy a can of plain gravy and spiff it up with this rub.
3. MEATBALL SANDWICH: Add 2 teaspoons to an 8 ounce can of plain tomato sauce. Heat over medium heat and serve with good quality frozen meatballs, prepared according to the package, on crusty buns.
4. QUICK FOCACCIA: Use your favorite prepared pizza dough (look for it in the dairy aisle or in the freezer section of the supermarket) to make a quick snack or appetizer. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray. Press out the dough into the desired shape until it is one inch thick. Score the top and brush generously with olive oil. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of Rosemary Rub and 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese across the surface. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.
5. EASY ROAST CHICKEN: Drizzle a whole chicken with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the chicken. Stuff the lemon halves into the chicken's cavity. Rub 1 tablespoon of rosemary rub into the skin. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, eighteen to twenty minutes per pound.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A New Way To Feed The World? Slow Food Nation Says Yes

Mary-Jo and I just got back from an extraordinary weekend in San Francisco attending the first Slow Food Nation conference. (The picture above shows the "Victory Garden" created on the grounds of the city's civic center as part of the conference.)

After spending four days joining an estimated 50,000 participants in sampling many of the activities offered--including food tastings and sales, panel discussions, film screenings, educational exhibits, and (of course) some amazing dinners--I came away feeling as though I'd witnessed one stage in the emergence of a new social, political, and economic movement.

As you may know, Slow Food is an international organization founded by the Italian cultural critic Carlo Petrini. Its original intention was, as the name implies, to combat the spread of American-style fast food and to defend more traditional forms of agriculture and food preparation. It has spread to the United States (as well as around the world) and has now become--as I witnessed this past weekend--a popular movement that strives to address and link an array of economic, cultural, and political issues related to the production, sale, and use of food.

Thus, the people and organizations loosely affiliated with Slow Food come from many varied backgrounds and bring a wide range of interests and values to the table. Some are food lovers for whom the pleasure of fresh, local, well-prepared farm products is the chief motivating factor. Others are economists focused on issues like global hunger and the exploitation of farm workers. And still others are scientists and activists concerned with nutrition, food safety, pollution, and global climate change. In a vague way, most of the people I met and heard from this weekend could probably be described as "leftist" or "progressive," but it's not at all obvious that their disparate interests add up to a single coherent "food agenda."

Nonetheless, it seems clear that something big is happening here, represented not just by the thousands of people who attended Slow Food Nation in San Francisco but also by millions of other people around the country who are engaged in activities like shopping at organic food stores, at local farmers' markets, or through community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs); asking their kids' schools to get junk food out of the cafeterias; planting community gardens; writing their representatives to call for changes in farm subsidies, better regulation of meat production, and clearer food labeling standards; and ordering fair trade coffee when they get their morning caffeine fix.

The overall tone of the weekend was best captured, I think, by the standing-room-only panel I attended on Saturday at the Herbst Theater. The avid audience listened enthralled--and frequently broke in with applause--as a who's who of food celebrities discussed the meaning and significance of the conference.

Essayist, poet, short-story writer, and farmer Wendell Berry, who has been writing about the need to reform the U.S. agricultural system since the 1970s, spoke about how industrial farming damages communities, destroys ecosystems, and squanders resources.

Restaurateur Alice Waters (who launched the Slow Food movement in the U.S.) shared her dream that the next U.S. president will plant a garden and harvest vegetables to be served at state dinners at the White House.

The movement's Italian founder Carlo Petrini explained (through a translator) that Slow Food is not merely about the pleasures of good eating--though these are important--but also about community, family, and the creation of a truly humane and sustainable way of life.

Activist Vandana Shiva gave a fiery talk about how corporations like Monsanto and ADM are driving a new enclosure movement that is driving millions of farmers in developing nations off the land and impoverishing entire societies.

And journalists Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) talked about the political prospects for reforming the U.S. food production system so as to better protect workers' rights while producing abundant, nutritious, safe, and healthful food for all.

Where is the Slow Food movement heading? Is its dream of a reformed food supply system attainable? That remains to be seen. It's obvious that food-related issues--hunger, childhood obesity, rising food prices, water shortages, soil depletion, and many others--are on the radar screens of plenty of individuals and organizations. But nothing that adds up to a global "food issue" is on the agenda at a national political level--for example, in the platform of the Obama or McCain campaign.

Still, events like the Slow Food Nation conference may play an important catalytic role by bringing together thousands of people and getting them to draw lines connecting seemingly unrelated economic, political, and social issues. Someday, food activists may look back on Labor Day weekend of 2008 as the coming-out party for their movement--one that may end up having a vast impact on the national and world economy.

Cross-posted on The Triple Bottom Line blog.

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bacon Makes Life Worth Living


Bacon is trendy and better than ever! Woo-hoo! Pork lovers everywhere can get a bacon fix just about anywhere you turn these days. In the past year, I have seen maple frosted donuts topped with bacon bits, bacon infused dark chocolate, bacon potato chips and bacon candy, which seems to be crispy bacon strips glazed with a hardened sugary syrup. Yes, I said bacon candy. I know, that one seems weird even to a die-hard bacon fanatic like myself. It is oddly intriguing though...

Don't worry. I'm not about to spring some weird recipe like bacon ice cream on you. This recipe doesn't even feature bacon as the main ingredient. Rather, the bacon enhances the earthy flavors of this delicious, soul warming black bean soup.


1 large onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces bacon, chopped (do not use maple flavored bacon)
2 15 ounce cans black beans, drained
1 10 ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies
32 ounces low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 dried, smoked chilies, stems removed

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat.

Add bacon and fry for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the onion and fry for 5 more minutes.

Add the garlic and fry for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning the garlic.

Add the beans, the tomatoes (including the juice) and the broth. Mix well.

Add the spices and the chilies.

Raise the heat to medium high and bring to a low boil.

Once the low boil is reached, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes with the lid on.

Remove the chilies unless you want a really spicy flavor.

Take the soup off the heat and puree with a hand blender or in a regular blender. If using a regular blender, puree in small batches of about 2 cups each and then remix the soup in the pot after you're finished pureeing.

Serve this soup steaming hot, with slices of crusty bread.

Serves 4.

Cooking Tips:

1. If you can't find canned tomatoes with green chilies, use regular canned tomatoes and half of a 4 ounce can of green chilies. Canned chilis can be found in the Mexican aisle of the supermarket, usually near the taco mixes. Make sure that the regular canned tomatoes are not the Italian flavored kind with basil.
2. If you don't have smoked chilies, try substituting cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes. Start with 1/4 of a teaspoon and then give the soup a taste test about 5 minutes later. You need to wait a little while to allow the flavor to develop. If you want more spice, you can add more, 1/4 of a teaspoon at a time, until the desired spiciness is achieved. If you make a mistake and the soup is now too spicy, add an extra cup of broth to dilute the heat.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Popeye Goes to Italy


Today I will share with you a simple pasta dish that uses traditional Italian flavors, like tomatoes and spinach, but with a little twist that might be new to you. I imagine that Popeye would order this pasta dish if he went to Italy with Olive Oyl and Swee'Pea on a family vacation. I picture him strolling around a Roman piazza, puffing away on his corncob pipe and scoping out the nearest supply of spinach to bulk up his strength in case Bluto shows up.

Fortunately, we don't need to travel to Italy to get real Italian flavor in our American kitchens. I have never been to Italy but I really enjoy that country's tradition of combining dark, leafy greens with pasta. You've probably eaten sauteed spinach but have you ever tried cooking arugula? It's delicious and pairs extremely well with garlic. Cooking arugula intensifies its peppery bite, which is beautifully tempered by the sweetness of tomatoes. Although I can't promise that eating this dish will result in superhuman strength like Popeye, I can promise that it tastes great.


1 pound penne

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly slice
1 28 ounce can Italian style diced tomatoes
3 cups chopped spinach
1 cup chopped arugula
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano or your favorite Italian cheese

Cook the penne according to package directions.

The sauce takes about the same amount to prepare as the penne takes to cook so begin the sauce while you wait for the pasta water to boil.

Heat the olive oil to medium in a large saute pan with high sides.

Add the garlic and saute until the garlic begins to turns golden brown on the edges, about three minutes. Stir the garlic frequently to avoid burning. (Tip: If the garlic begins to burn, lower the heat and add a tablespoon of the tomato juice from the canned tomatoes to stop the burning. Slowly bring the pan back up to medium heat once the burning stops.)

Add the spinach, arugula and salt. Cook the greens until just wilted, about 2 minutes.

Add the entire can of tomatoes, including the juice.

Stir in the oregano.

Let the sauce simmer gently until the pasta is done cooking.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain thoroughly but do not rinse. Pour into a large serving bowl and ladle the sauce over the pasta.

Sprinkle the cheese on top or pass the cheese at the table.

Serves 4 very generously.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Journalism As Social Business?

What a month--nothing but travel and work, work, work. Now I am in Laguna Beach, California, working with a team of four authors on their business book. (Never worked with four authors on a single project before--quite a job to reconcile all their different viewpoints and styles. I've more or less decided that the solution is to let them fight everything out among themselves and then pick up the pieces.)

Anyway, this is a moment of lull while the group of us eat leftover Chinese food and read my draft of chapter 2, so I thought I would catch up on a little of my long-overdue blogging. Here's an item I've been meaning to write about for the longest time. After discussing how much trouble newspapers have been having making a profit in recent years, Ezra Klein writes:
. . . the news, like other things in life, should not be seen as a straight commodity. It is not there to turn a profit. It is there to keep our democracy healthy and our public informed. If that means it can't be appropriately subsidized through advertising, and needs public subsidies in a blind trust, or some sort of philanthropic revenue scheme, then so be it. Other countries do this, and do it well. But either the way, the bottom line should be that if it turns out that responsible news reporting isn't profitable, then we should sacrifice the profitability, not the responsible news reporting.
I think this is about right. In fact, I've saved this passage to quote because it ties in with a pet idea of mine, which is that executives in the newspaper business ought to be looking at Muhammad Yunus's social business as a financial model.

The idea behind social business, as you may know, is that a company could be run so as to be self-supporting, generating enough income to cover costs and support expansion (if any), but not throwing off profits. Being set up in this fashion reduces the financial pressure on social business managers and allows them to focus on their primary mission, which is to provide some product or service that benefits society. (In the case of newspapers, that service would, of course, be providing honest information about local, national, and world events that helps readers be better and more powerful citizens.)

If implemented properly, this business model also frees managers from the different pressures they'd be under if they were running a traditional NGO or charity--especially the pressure of raising funds through donations, foundations grants, and the like.

In our book Creating a World Without Poverty, Yunus assumes that the primary purpose of social business would be help the poor--the purpose, of course, for which his Grameen Bank (itself a kind of social business) was founded. But it seems clear to me that honest journalism also offers a social benefit that deserves and needs to get out from under the burden of profit-making. I'd love to see someone with the power to implement this idea starting to think about it.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Vegetarian Envy


I am not a vegetarian but I hold them in the highest regard. I wish I possessed the willpower and unerring commitment to better health, saving the planet and/or animal rights exhibited by most vegetarians. With only a few exceptions (and I shall not name names), my vegetarian pals are svelte, disciplined not only at the table but in life as well, and concerned with the well-being of the planet and her inhabitants. These are good people and sometimes I wonder if their goodness is a consequence of their vegetarianism or the reason why they became vegetarians in the first place. I, on the other hand, become a salivating, quivery lump whenever I smell bacon. And even though I love animals (not including birds or squirrels), I have no moral qualms about roasting them and slathering them in gravy. Every once in a while, usually after sharing a meal with one particular vegetarian friend (who invariably orders a salad with fat free dressing on the side... oh, the restraint!), I feel inspired to be a better person by cooking a meal composed solely of what grows in the soil. Should you someday also be so inspired, I invite you to prepare this delicious Asian influenced noodle bowl. This is a fun, slurpy dish with big flavors and lots of vitamins. Your taste buds and animals everywhere will thank you.


16 ounces udon noodles or your favorite Asian noodle
5 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 whole star anise
1 tablespoon grated or crushed ginger
2 teaspoons crushed garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1 carrot, julienned (cut into 2 inch long matchstick sized pieces)
6 ounces of baby corn, each piece cut in half lengthwise
4 scallions, cut into one inch pieces
3 cups of chopped bok choy (do not pack down the bok choy when measuring)

In a large soup pot, bring broth to a low boil over high heat. Add star anise, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. Add the carrots. Cover, lower heat to medium and continue on a low boil until the noodles are ready.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, cook the noodles according to the package directions, except undercook by 1-2 minutes. Drain thoroughly. If the noodles require less than 3 minutes to cook, do not cook them.

Add the baby corn to the broth. Add the noodles. If the noodles are uncooked, then boil for as long as directed by the package directions. (Tip: You might need to add an extra half-cup or so of broth if you use uncooked noodles and they soak up some of liquid.) Add the bok choy and scallions when the noodles are ready. Lower heat to low and simmer uncovered for a minute or two until the bok choy is wilted.

Ladle noodles, vegetables and a generous portion of broth into deep bowls. Serve steaming hot. Whomever gets the piece of star anise in their bowl has to stand up and sing a song for the amusement of everyone else.

At the table, try setting out various garnishes so that your guests can customize their noodles. Here are some tasty options:

soy sauce
sesame oil
chopped cilantro
finely chopped or grated lemongrass
chili garlic sauce
lime wedges
thinly sliced daikon radishes
toasted sesame seeds
bean sprouts
cubed, firm tofu (bring to room temperature before serving)

Serves 4.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hold the Mayo


Those of you who know me are aware of my intense aversion to mayonnaise. Simply stated, I hate mayonnaise. And I am mystified by the millions of Europeans who think that mayonnaise is the best condiment for french fries. But hey, if they like it then that's all that matters.

So when I encountered a recipe for Chicken Salad a la Veronique some years ago, I was delighted to see that it incorporated two of my favorite ingredients--grapes and tarragon. Then I shuddered at the instruction calling for a cup of mayonnaise. So I invented my own version of La Veronique, which uses a light vinaigrette.

This is a perfect summertime meal that is healthy and full of bright, fresh flavors. Also, this is a useful luncheon recipe because you can make it ahead of time, even the day before, which will give you a lot more time to do other things, like drink a few cocktails by yourself before your guests arrive.

Chicken Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
5 bay leaves
8 black peppercorns
1/2 medium red onion, cut into quarter inch dice or 1/2 cup diced shallots
20 red or green seedless grapes, cut in half
1/2 cup seedless cucumber, cut into quarter inch dice
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried tarragon or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 small head red leaf lettuce, or your favorite lettuce, torn into bite size pieces
6 pita breads, cut into wedges

In a large bowl combine the onion, grapes and cucumber. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt, tarragon, mustard and garlic. Cover and chill until ready to use.

Place the bay leaves and peppercorns in a large saute pan with high sides. Lay the chicken on top in one layer. Add enough water to barely cover the chicken. Cover and simmer over medium heat until chicken is no longer pink inside, about 20 to 25 minutes. (Tip: use uniformly sized breasts so that they cook at the same rate, no thicker than 2 inches.) Once cooked, remove chicken and place on cutting board. Shred the chicken into bite sized pieces using two large forks. Add the chicken while still warm to the onion mixture. Remove garlic from the vinaigrette and pour the vinaigrette over the chicken. Mix well but gently. Cover and chill for two hours before serving.

To serve, spread the lettuce on a large platter. Mound the chicken salad on top of the lettuce and surround with the pita triangles.

Serves 6.

Cheaters cooking tip: If you're really pressed for time or just feeling lazy, buy a plain rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. Remove the skin and shred the meat. Nuke it in the microwave for a minute or two before you add the vinaigrette. Warm meat soaks up the flavors better.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

How to Cook When You Don't Know How to Cook


What's that you say? You can't cook? Can't boil water?

Nonsense! That's crazy talk.

Anyone can cook. Everyone should cook. If you can read then you can cook. You just need to know what the words in the recipe mean. After that, it's all cake (and you can eat it too, literally).

If the thought of firing up your stove's pilot light or wielding a paring knife freaks you out, fear not, my culinarily challenged Friend. There are places you can go to get the info you need to be a superstar in the kitchen. Check out the Resources page on the Epicurious website. Or take a cyberstroll through the Guides on The Food Network website. These sites will teach you the basics about food terminology, cooking techniques and almost anything else you need to know about preparing a tasty meal.

If you want to kick it old-school with an actual book, browse through a couple of my favorites. I especially like The New York Times Cookbook (1961 edition) because there's a handy guide in the back that tells you how to use herbs and spices to flavor your food. Also, feast your eyes upon The Gourmet Cookbook (Ruth "Food Goddess" Reichl, editor), which is full of amazing recipes and fantastic how-to sections.

So, are you feeling ready to take the plunge? Ready to whip up a four course meal for you and yours? No?

That's okay. We can take baby steps. Salad is a great place to start with that first, tiny baby step. You can't burn it or undercook it. And the possibilities are endless, which allows you to be creative without accidentally setting your kitchen on fire or giving your guests food poisoning. Usually.

This is my favorite salad. I hope it becomes one of your favorites too.

Fruity Arugula Salad


6 cups arugula (do not pack down the arugula when measuring)

1 thinly sliced small, unpeeled Fuji apple (if you can't get a Fuji, try a Gala apple or your favorite)
2/3 cup red seedless grapes or pitted cherries, cut into halves (you can use thawed frozen pitted cherries, drained very well)

1 large shallot, minced

handful of basil, chiffonade (this means cut into thin strips)

Dress with:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons good quality white balsamic vinegar

pinch of sea salt

smaller pinch of sugar

Plain goat cheese would be a good addition to the salad, particularly if you want to eat the salad as a light meal by itself. Or, try an herbed goat cheese if you're feeling fancy. Slice the cheese and put it on top after you dress the salad, so that it stays white and pretty.

Serves 2 as a light meal, 4 as a side or starter.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Everybody Likes Pasta


There are a few universal truths in which I whole-heartedly believe: all babies are precious, what goes up must come down, and everybody likes pasta. So, because I already have all the babies I want and because I can't control gravity (although that would be an awesome superpower to have), I present to you:

Bucatini Rigati with Artichokes and Prosciutto

1 pound bucatini rigati (ridged, hollow spaghetti)

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup chicken broth (reduced sodium) (I like Better Than Bouillon- find it in the soup aisle)

3-4 large garlic cloves, chopped

4 tablespoons chopped Italian flat leaf parsley

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 14 ounce can artichoke hearts packed in water, drained & sliced (NOT the marinated kind) (feel free to use thawed and drained frozen artichoke hearts)

4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

8 ounces prosciutto, chopped (if you don't have prosciutto, try Virginia ham or pancetta)

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Put a large pot of water on high heat and bring to a boil. Feel free to season the water with a big pinch of salt.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Bucatini rigati usually takes about 6 minutes to cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, melt butter and oil in small saucepan over medium low heat. Stir until well combined.

Add flour, stirring until smooth. Cook for two minutes until thickened slightly.

Add chicken broth, stirring until fully incorporated.

Add garlic, parsley, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring once or twice. Do not allow to boil.

Blend in cheese, stirring until smooth.

Fold in artichoke hearts. Cook for 3 more minutes. Stir a few times. Again, do not allow to boil.

Add prosciutto and stir carefully to avoid clumping up the prosciutto. If it does clump, no worries. Separate the clumps with a fork or just leave them. It will still taste good.

Lower heat and continue to cook until prosciutto is warmed through, about 5 minutes. If the pasta isn't done yet, reduce heat to the lowest setting and cover the pot to keep the sauce warm. Stir every once in a while to prevent the proscuitto from sticking to the bottom.

Drain pasta thoroughly (do not rinse) and transfer to serving dish. Pour over sauce. Toss gently to spread sauce throughout the pasta. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 generously.

COOKING TIPS: You probably looked at the ingredients list and thought, "Holy crap! That's a lot of stuff." It's not--I promise that this is a manageable recipe if you follow a few suggestions:

1. Put out your colander for draining the pasta and your bowl for serving before you begin cooking.

2. Measure and chop all of your ingredients before you begin cooking.

3. Start preparing the sauce as soon as you put the water on to boil.

4. If you forget to add an ingredient at the proper time, so what? Add it when you remember. If you forgot the garlic, I suggest adding a few extra minutes of cooking time to allow the garlic to cook through completely.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Worth A Thousand Words

This week I had a meeting with a client of mine who is a high-powered business consultant. His company gets paid handsomely for advising Fortune 500 corporations on their business strategies.

My client shared with me the slide deck they are using for presentations to teach executives about the business climate they now must deal with. This image is from one of the slides. The flat dotted line near the bottom represents the income of the typical working-class and middle-class family, while the other lines represent several of their basic expenses. Quite eloquent, isn't it?

Of course, home prices (the red line) have leveled off or even fallen in the last year or so. But then, over the same period, food prices (not shown on this graph) have really been taking off. So the overall picture is certainly not getting any better. If you've been feeling a little squeezed lately, now you know why.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Political rantings, cultural musings... and now FOOD!

Friends, greetings from Janee's Kitchen!

All this talk of politics and socio-cultural issues makes me hungry. So let me share my recipes with you and your beloveds. Any, every and all are welcome to take a seat at my kitchen table. Let us cook together, break bread together and live peacefully together. My food can be enjoyed by everyone- Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, Libertarians, the apathetic, Martians, children, illegal aliens, career women and stay at home dads...

If you like to eat well and be happy then I invite you to try my recipes. I will post my original recipes as often as the muse inspires my culinary creativity. Your comments and suggestions are especially welcome.

Let's get the party started!

Chicken in Sweet Onion Marinade

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4 equally sized breasts)
1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, if you can get it, but feel free to substitute a Spanish onion)
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white cooking wine or water
8 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fennel seed
4 garlic cloves

Combine all ingredients except chicken in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Puree, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed until the mixture is smooth.

Place chicken in a single layer in a shallow dish. Pour over marinade and turn to coat each piece of chicken. Cover and marinate for eight hours or overnight.

Heat grill or grill pan over medium heat.

Remove chicken from marinade and shake gently to remove excess marinade. Place on grill and cook for ten minutes on one side. Turn chicken once and grill on the other side for eight to ten minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in the center.

Serves 4.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

When Shopping in Astoria, Leave Your Supermarket Rewards Card at Home

I've also just returned to a city I last lived in about five years ago, so I thought I'd follow Karen's post with one of my own. In the past five years the New York brand of consumerism that revolves around real estate has changed Astoria quite a bit. My bike ride today happened to take me in the direction of my old apartment so I rode down my old street. Back then, one side of the street was occupied by a row of newly-built three-story apartment buildings while the other was a storage facility for rental cars. Now, both sides are lined with small apartment buildings up and down the entire block. New construction is everywhere, some of it blending into the neighborhood as these small buildings do, but some of it consisting of tall, modern, ugly "luxury" apartment buildings that are changing the character of the neighborhood for the worse, in my opinion.

Fortunately, the negative changes don't seem to extend to the food shopping opportunities here (yet). Yes, there are health food stores that were not here back then, but those seem relatively benign when compared to the way chains like Starbucks have taken over Manhattan. From my apartment I walk about five blocks east to do my food shopping, stopping in an Italian salumeria for fresh pasta, ham, and speck (smoked prosciutto), La Casa del Pan for empanadas, chicharrones, and chorizo, and a Greek butcher for lamb chops. There are two produce stores side-by-side where sometimes the fruit is ripe enough to smell as I walk by. The last stop is Yaya's bakery for fresh bread. There's a supermarket just down the street with an amazing array of products that cater to what is apparently a predominantly Latin American, Greek, and Middle Eastern clientele, but I find that I rarely have to go there and deal with the cramped aisles and long lines-- nearly everything I need I can find in smaller, locally-owned shops. There isn't even a Starbucks in my immediate neighborhood!

So far, I feel ambivalent about being back here. I'm glad to be able to shop as I did in Paris-- in small specialty stores that don't cost an arm and a leg as do most such places in Manhattan-- and that many of the things that give a place a "neighborhood" feel are still here. But, I'm also part of what I consider to be a problem in New York: white-collar newcomers invading a neighborhood resulting in new construction, an increase in the cost of housing, an influx of chain restaurants and stores, and the loss of the character of that individual place as the store and restaurant owners and residents who gave it that character are pushed even farther away from Manhattan. The best I can do so far is live in a pre-war building, thus avoiding the new "luxury" buildings with inflated rental prices, shop at the old stores...and hope other newcomers are doing the same.
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When Shopping In St. Petersburg, Leave Your Levi's At Home

St. Petersburg--I just got back from the mall, and the way it appears would have been unimaginable five years ago when I was last in St. Petersburg. Back then, my cohort of American college students traded information about Western-style stores. In the Soviet-style stores, all of the products were behind the counter, and you had to ask the salesperson for each item you wanted. It was worth going to the out-of-the-way Western-style stores, in order to avoid displaying our foreign accents when ordering, and to be able to read the labels of products before purchasing. Not only are most stores "Western-style" now, with an abundance of products in every one, but also there are now multiple malls in St. Petersburg.

By "mall," I don't mean Gostiinii Dvor or Passazh, which are mainstays of St. Petersburg and stand opposite each other on Nevsky Prospect. While even these have undergone changes since I was last here, brimming with nice products (the Wii!), there is still something that makes them distinct from American shopping centers. You go to Gostiinii Dvor to buy the things you need, not because shopping is entertainment. And Pasazh is too fancy to be like anything we have in America. While the stores are comparable to American stores, the whole atmosphere of the center is "grand European." I felt underdressed being there last week.

The mall I went to today is a completely different breed of shopping experience. The name alone shows its distinction: Grand Canyon. It is huge, with lots of glass, those faux-marble floors typical of malls, benches throughout so you can rest as you make your way through the three levels of American (Converse, Quicksilver), French (Sephora, Yves Rocher), British (Next, the Body Shop), and German (Gerry Weber) stores. The mall has a "Cinema Park" that looks like the entrance to a Disney ride--cavernous, mood lighting, futuristic. There was an arcade with a small go-cart ride for toddlers. Rounding out the mall was "Restaurant Street"--Chinese food, KFC, MacDonald's, Russian blinis, pizza, shwarma.

When I was here five years ago, I could find everything I needed and even some luxuries, like the hair conditioner I used back in the US. But I rarely saw things that I wanted. Today, everywhere I turned I had to fight temptation: I don't need those nice shoes, the big handbag, the fluffy slippers, new eye shadow, or gelato.

And it's like that everywhere in St. Petersburg: multiple coffee shops on every block, sushi on every corner (even in out-of-the-way neighborhoods), stores with beautiful dresses, home furnishings, large sports stores, perfume.

Another big difference between five years ago and now is the cost of living. When I was last here, I could easily afford lunch at a small Indian restaurant off Nevsky. But I went there the other day and paid $25 for a very small meal! Even the Russian equivalent to a fast food restaurant (though there are, of course, the American versions as well, including a Carl, Jr's, which hasn't even made it to NY . . . ) has become expensive. I had a full meal the other day at Teremok, which specializes in blini, and ended up paying almost $10. Five years ago I would have paid $2 or 3.

Even the umbrella I bought at a kiosk was $10, the least expensive I could find. It has already broken, and with another day of rain ahead of me, I wonder if I should go back to the mall in order to indulge the American, I mean, Russian, consumer in me and buy some proper rain gear.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Clearly Horrible Controversy

So now I know what it feels like to be denounced on national television by the ranking Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee . . .

Perhaps a word of explanation is in order.

On Friday morning, I tuned in to MSNBC to check out the opening moments of Scott McClellan's testimony before the aforementioned committee. As you may know, Scott (whose recent book I edited) had been invited by chairman John Conyers to tell the committee what he knows about the Valerie Plame leak--the incident that led to Scott's most serious personal embarrassment and played a major role in his disillusionment with and estrangement from the Bush administration.

After Conyers himself, the first person to speak was Representative Lamar Smith of Texas. Smith's remarks set the pattern for the day. The Republicans, led by Smith, treated Scott like an ax murderer who had unwisely chosen to testify in court in his own behalf, while the Democrats lauded Scott as a patriotic truth-teller and a courageous public servant. Other than that, the event was completely non-partisan.

Smith began the hearing like this:

REP. LAMAR SMITH, R-TEXAS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome, everyone, to the Judiciary Committee's first Book of the Month Club meeting.


Today, it's Scott McClellan's "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception." I propose that next time we consider Ann Coulter's book, "How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)." It's hard to take Mr. McClellan, or this hearing, too seriously. Despite what Mr. McClellan says regarding Iraq, three different studies--the Senate Intelligence Committee report of 2004, the Robb- Silberman report of 2005 and Britain's Butler report--conclude that intelligence reports were not altered in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

And, despite this book's innuendo, a three-year independent criminal investigation found that no White House officials leaked Valerie Plame's name to the media in violation of the law. Also, it should be of no surprise that there was spin in the White House Press Office. What White House has not had a communications operation that advocates for its policies?

Any recent administration that did not try to promote its priorities should be cited for dereliction of duty. Many have asked why Mr. McClellan did not object to what he saw while he was at the White House. The reason is clear: There was nothing to object to.
So far, this was ho-hum--pretty much the same talking points that the White House and its supporters have been launching against Scott ever since his book was published three weeks ago. But then Smith veered to another angle. As you can imagine, my attention was caught by the following salvo aimed at discrediting the book:

How much influence did a biased editor have on the finished product? What edits were made to the original manuscript to make it more critical of the administration? We do know that Mr. Osnos [Peter Osnos, founder of Scott's publishing house] and Public Affairs have published six books by George Soros. Mr. Soros was the largest donor to Democratic 527 groups during the 2004 presidential election, giving over $23 million.

And we know that Mr. Osnos himself has been highly and publicly critical of the Bush administration. Also, Mr. McClellan's project editor for the book, Karl Weber, has written venomous statements about the president; for example, calling him a, quote, "clearly horrible person."
A few moments later, when the questioning proper was under way, Smith returned to this theme:

SMITH: Is it true that Karl Weber was the project editor?

MCCLELLAN: Yes, he worked with me.

SMITH: OK. Were you aware before you worked with him that he had called President Bush a clearly horrible person and said, quote, "He's consciously manipulative and deceitful"?

MCCLELLAN: No, I was not.

SMITH: OK. So in other words, someone who called the president a clearly horrible person helped you draft and edit the book, is that right?

MCCLELLAN: Actually, this is my book. I wrote this book. And he provided great help as an editor.

SMITH: Yes. Did he edit the book?

MCCLELLAN: He was an editor on the book, yes.

SMITH: OK. You write that you witnessed Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby meet in Mr. Rove's office behind closed doors . . .
And as Smith moved on toward what he hoped would be more fertile lines of attack, my five minutes in the national spotlight came to an end, at least for the moment.

Well, this was exciting! In a few minutes, my phone was ringing. Public Affairs was on the line. They were understandably nervous. Would this factoid about McClellan's editor open up a new front for the right-wing blogosphere to use in attacking Scott's book? Would Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly devote the next week to investigating this notorious anti-Bush hatemonger Karl Weber in hopes of further discrediting the Soros-linked publishing house?

Peter Osnos wasn't eager to spend a few days fending off attacks like this. "Karl, you've got to clarify this quote about Bush. Did you call him a clearly horrible person the way Smith said?"

"Well, I might have. I'm certainly not a fan of Bush. But the specific phrase doesn't ring a bell."

"Track it down! We need the facts."

So I opened up the archives of World Wide Webers and began scanning our 617 posts, looking for some time when I might have described our president as "clearly horrible."

Well, it took a while. MSNBC moved on to other stories when the committee hearings adjourned briefly for a vote on the House floor. But after about half an hour, I had worked my way back to January, 2005, and there I uncovered the tell-tale phrase. I sent an email to Public Affairs:

I checked all the contents of my blog World Wide Webers, and I discovered that the words ascribed to me by the House Judiciary Committee member, describing President Bush as a "clearly horrible person," were actually written not by me but by my daughter Laura. (As the name of the blog implies, it is a family blog, although I write most of the contents.)

There are certainly plenty of things I have written that are critical of Pres Bush, but I never used the particular words quoted.
Cries of relief and triumph broke out in the halls of Public Affairs. (Actually I shouldn't use the word "halls." Public Affairs is a modest outfit even by the standards of publishing houses. "Cubicles" would be more accurate.) Their crack publicity team promptly began sending word to media outlets and blogs that had followed up on Smith's attack, pointing out the facts and even providing a link to the original blog post that had been misattributed to me.

Now I must interrupt this narrative for a couple of important asides.

First, although it is true that I didn't actually write the post that called Bush "clearly horrible," I have no desire to distance myself from my daughter or (in the unfortunate phrase now commonly used in such circumstances) throw her under the bus. I personally wouldn't call Bush "clearly horrible," but it is certainly true that I have no use for the man. If Representative Smith's evidently incompetent staffers had studied our blog a little more carefully, I'm sure they could have found some words I actually wrote that could have been wrenched from context and used against me.

Second, and more important: So what? As Scott himself said, it was his book, not his editor's. Every word reflected Scott's ideas, and his ideas alone--and I can vouch for that, because we spent two full days going over the final page proofs line by line, with Scott agonizing over every word choice to make sure it accurately captured his perspective.

It's fun to imagine that I somehow brainwashed Scott and filled his mind, and his book, with my own sinister views. But the Chicago Manual of Style doesn't offer any tips on how to do that, so I stuck to the normal work of an editor, tedious and humdrum as that is.

In any case, the slipshod work of Representative Smith's staff was a boon to Public Affairs and me. It was probably a stretch to imagine hordes of right-wing bloggers going nuts over anti-Bush sentiments written by Scott McClellan's editor. But it was a stretch and a half to imagine them going nuts over the same sentiments written by Scott's editor's daughter.

Scott himself was alerted to the mistake via email during a break in the hearings, and he actually inserted a correction into the public record. This effectively drained any life the story might have had except as fodder for ridicule. In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank recounted the incident this way:
"Mr. McClellan's project editor for the book, Karl Weber, has written venomous statements about the president; for example, calling him a, quote, 'clearly horrible person,' " Smith announced.

"Were you aware before you worked with him that he had called President Bush a clearly horrible person and said, quote, 'He's consciously manipulative and deceitful'?"

"No, I was not," McClellan said. Maybe that's because Weber had said no such thing. After a break, McClellan returned and reported to the committee that the line was written "by his daughter, and his daughter's name is on that post that is on the family blog site." The audience laughed. Smith did not.

The strain of the attacks from his former friends and colleagues showed in the puffy bags under his eyes, but McClellan dispatched with ease the ad hominem attacks. He had, after all, received much worse in the White House briefing room from reporters, with whom he smiled and chatted during breaks in the hearing.
In the end, only a few newspapers and blogs even mentioned the exchange in their accounts of the hearings. And much to my disappointment, traffic on World Wide Webers enjoyed only a small uptick--not the huge spike I'd been counting on as a result of my newfound notoreity.

Too bad. I guess the old right-wing slurs don't pack the same punch they used to.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Clinton and Obama, Sexism and Racism

The topic is unavoidable, since so much ink and hard feelings are being spilled all over the blogosphere, in the mainstream media, and over family dinner tables. I think it's important that we try our best to get this one right, since the understandings we reach now could have a real impact on the outcome of this year's elections. Here are my thoughts, for what they're worth.

I think a big part of the problem we Democrats are having with one another arises from the fact that we have been conflating several very different questions and talking around all of them without fully realizing that we're doing so. Some of these questions, I think, are pretty easy to answer; others not so easy. Distinguishing them from one another may be a helpful first step. Here are the questions, as I see them.

1. Is there a lot of sexism in American society today?

Obviously yes. I won't bother with the proof--if any of my readers want to argue this one with me, we can do that at some future date. But I think the majority of Democrats, no matter which candidate(s) they supported this year, would agree on this one. (I'm sure there are some who would disagree. But I think we have to stipulate that any large group of people will include some who are ignorant or foolish. Let's not got sidetracked by focusing on them but instead stick with the mainstream for the purposes of this particular discussion.)

2. Was Hillary Clinton treated in a sexist fashion during the Democratic primary campaign?

Again, this is an obvious yes (despite the fact that many in the media are in denial). I think the main culprits were the news media, as well as some Republicans, conservative pundits, and others with an anti-Clinton axe to grind--abetted, unfortunately, by the same media. Like many other observers, I've been appalled by this for months (and wrote about it here, here, here, here, here . . . well, that's plenty of examples). Those who have been complaining about this--including both Clinton supporters and others--are completely right, and it's important that we work to make overt sexism as taboo in our society as overt racism (usually) is. (After that, we can tackle covert examples of both, which are plentiful.)

3. Did Clinton lose the nomination because of sexism?

Here we get to a hard question--one that I think is really impossible to answer, because there are so many imponderables. Obviously in a race this close, you can point to almost any single factor and decide that it was the crucial one. Sexism was certainly an obstacle that Clinton had to battle against. But one can also point to several other factors that arguably were at least as important in costing her the nomination: Obama's superior electoral game plan, especially in managing the caucuses; his ability to raise more funds than Clinton, especially from small donors; various gaffes and mis-steps committed by Bill Clinton; Obama's personal charisma and oratorical skill (which Clinton almost managed to match, though not till late in the process); and, perhaps most crucial, Clinton's vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq, which created the initial opening for a challenge to her supposedly "inevitable" nomination.

If there had been no sexism in the media, it's possible that Clinton would have overcome all those things. On the other hand, at least some portion of Clinton's support derived from her appeal to women as a ground-breaking female candidate--just as some portion of Obama's support derived from his appeal to his fellow African-Americans. So if Clinton had been a man--or if we lived in a completely gender-blind society--the opposition to her candidacy would have been weaker, but so, I think, would some of its appeal. How would those things have balanced out? It's hard to say.

I don't think it's reasonable to assume that Clinton "obviously" would have won if sexism hadn't been a factor. Those Cwho contend that sexism is the only logical explanation for Obama's victory--that Clinton is (was) the overwhelmingly qualified, unquestionably most attractive candidate in the Democratic field--are going a bit far. Her resume is good, and her policy stances (with the big exception of Iraq) are mostly very strong. But her governmental experience--one and a half terms in the US Senate--is actually on the modest side, and her years as First Lady aren't really as strong a credential as she sometimes has claimed. (And after all her biggest policy initiative in the Clinton White House--health care--was a failure.)

I think her credentials, on paper, are comparable to those of John Edwards, who I also found a very attractive candidate but who I would never claim to have been overwhemingly qualified. There were perfectly sound arguments to be made for several other Democratic candidates, including not only Edwards and Obama but also Richardson and Dodd, and I don't think we can assume that sexism is the only possible reason that someone might have favored someone other than Clinton.

4. Did Obama or his campaign contribute to the sexist assault on Hillary?

Here is the toughest question of all. As a man, I wouldn't presume to tell any woman how she should feel about it. If you as a woman feel that Obama has treated you with disrespect, then I have to take you at your word (and try to learn from your reaction, since as a man I constantly have to work on outgrowing my own latent sexism).

But I have to say that, while I observed lots of sexism directed at Hillary during the primary campaign, I really didn't see any coming from Obama or even from his surrogates. And the examples of offensive behavior I've seen raised by enraged Hillary supporters seem puzzling and, in some cases, based on factual errors.

"You're likeable enough." This remark by Obama during debate in January infuriated many people. (And as this New York Times article suggests, it helped to galvanize the support of some women for Clinton--an example of how sexism was a double-edged sword in this campaign, working against Clinton, of course, but also in her favor to some extent.)

It was certainly a silly and awkward comment by Obama. But why "sexist"? It didn't refer to any physical, psychological, or emotional characteristic supposedly linked to women. If anything, it was just the kind of ill-conceived off-the-cuff comment people make during a grueling series of public events. (I think Clinton's later remark that many people took as implying that "hard-working Americans" are equivalent to "white Americans" was another example--not a "dog whistle" designed to appeal to racists.)

"Sweetie." Obama used this word when asking a female reporter to wait a moment before asking her question (he was speaking with someone else at the time). I wouldn't use this word (and I'm sure Obama won't any more, either), but I think the furor over it just reflects a cultural gap between different styles of talking. I've certainly been called "Sweetie," "Honey," "Darling," etc. by some women (and I understand there's a difference between a woman saying something to a man and vice-versa). I see why many people would consider this language tacky and over-forward. But I also know that 99 percent of the people who talk this way are not trying to be arrogant or condescending, just friendly.

In any case, if "likeable enough" and "sweetie" are examples of the worst things Obama has said to or about women during this campaign--and these are certainly the examples I've seen most frequently cited--does he really qualify as a hard-core sexist? Is this the kind of person we want to declare an "enemy of women"? I think that's a pretty harsh standard. Especially considering that Obama's stands on issues of importance to women are generally conceded to be excellent ones and that he earned (for example) 100 percent ratings from NARAL for his pro-choice votes every year in the Senate.

And what about things supposedly said by Obama supporters?

"Iron my shirt!" This was the offensive "joke" screamed at Clinton during a rally in New Hampshire. I've heard this remark attributed to "Obama supporters," and it certainly got a lot of publicity during the months that followed. But the stunt was actually the work of two employees of a Boston radio station known for its "shock jock" antics. (They'd done similar stunts at other feminist events.) No one connected with Obama had anything to do with it.

In a similar way, one of the online commenters on the recent Nick Kristof column suggesting that Obama give a speech about gender writes:

Father Pfleger's rant against Clinton was as shocking a display of woman-hatred as you could see within an institution (a church of all places). Pfleger was Obama's spiritual guide for nearly 20 years!
This commenter is evidently confusing Father Pfleger with Rev. Wright. Obama knows Pfleger only slightly (he was never "Obama's spiritual guide"), the priest was merely a guest preacher at Trinity Church, and Obama broke all ties to the church right after Pfleger's appearance. Yet this commenter feels that Father Pfleger speaks for Barack Obama. I don't see why.

There were sexist remarks made by anonymous Obama supporters in various venues, such as blog comment threads. But I wouldn't consider it fair to hold Obama responsible for these, just as I wouldn't hold Clinton responsible for the racially-charged remarks about Obama that some of her supporters made. I haven't seen any sexist language attributed to official Obama spokespeople, staffers, or surrogates.

I recognize and respect the anger many people, especially women, feel about the sexism with which Hillary Clinton has been treated. But it seems that at least some of the linkage people are seeing between sexism and the Obama campaign is based on assumptions that aren't true.

I would point out that Obama did in fact devote time in practically every debate and in many speeches to praising Clinton extravagantly, and repeatedly said she was well qualified to be a fine president (something Clinton pointedly did not say about Obama--remember
the "commander-in-chief threshold" argument?) All in all, it's very hard for me to see any pattern of disrespect shown by Obama toward Hillary during the campaign.

5. Should Obama have denounced the sexism?

"Well," some Clinton supporters might say, "Obama may not have said anything that was overtly sexist himself. And he can't be held personally responsible for the sexist things Chris Matthews, Tucker Carlson, Keith Olbermann, and others in the media said. But he should have spoken out against the sexism and refused to accept support based on sexism."

I certainly wouldn't have minded seeing Obama go out of his way to make a speech denouncing sexism--and I suspect the vast majority of his supporters would feel the same. But let's get real. Obama and Clinton were competing for the nomination. They were battling one another, criticizing one another, attacking one another. Is it realistic to expect one of the candidates to leap to the defense of the other in the middle of the campaign?

Did Clinton leap to the defense of Obama against the various slurs he suffered--the "madrassa" insinuations, the scurrilous emails, the "elitist" and "Muslim" attacks, the month-long pile-on regarding Reverend Wright? No--if anything, she encouraged some of them. And that's normal political behavior.

Notice, I am not accusing Clinton of being "racist" for abetting some of the unfair attacks against her opponent. It wasn't her job, in the heat of a campaign, to defend her opponent. And I would suggest it wasn't Obama's job to defend her, either.

And what if he had? What if Obama had given a speech decrying sexism and talking about the problems of gender bias in America in the midst of the primary campaign? Would this have delighted all of Clinton's supporters, and all the women (and men) who oppose sexism? Or would a sizeable fraction of them have said, "How dare he presume to lecture us on sexism! What makes him assume that a man has to step up to defend Hillary Clinton--as if she can't defend herself?! How arrogant and condescending!" etc.? I think many would.

If you think this is pure fantasy on my part, look again at the comments Kristof received after suggesting Obama make just such a speech. Many of the women say it would be a terrible idea for just these reasons.

For all these reasons, I think it's somewhat unrealistic and unfair to criticize Obama for not speaking out against the sexism directed at Hillary.

6. Which is worse in our society--racism or sexism?

As for this question--which has been injected into the conversation by people such as Gloria Steinem--I think it's basically meaningless and pointless. Obviously the answer depends on exactly how you define the terms, which sectors of society you choose to focus on, what forms of deprivation, oppression, or abuse you choose to consider most egregious, whether you choose to emphasize "breadth" or "depth" of impact, etc. etc.

It's hard to see what useful purpose any such parsing could serve. Are we supposed to be choosing which form of prejudice we will fight and which one we will accept? Clearly both are unacceptable and both must be fought. Are we supposed to decide whether to vote for Clinton or Obama based on which oppressed group "deserves" it more? That would be a silly basis on which to choose a president.

The only possible result of engaging the question of "which is worse" would be to drive a wedge between advocates of women's rights and advocates of racial justice. And who do you think would benefit from that?

If you believe, as I do, that sexism is a terrible problem and that too many people have their heads in the sand about it, then speak out. But let's not pit sexism against racism as if there's a zero-sum contest going on, with only so much freedom, equality, and dignity to be parceled out. And if you are tempted to think of Barack Obama as "part of the problem" for women in our society, and therefore to treat him in ways that will improve John McCain's chances of winning the White House, I would respectfully ask you to reconsider.

We win when we support one another.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Canvased, Unriffled, Tarahumara . . .

When doing a Google search the other day, I encountered this, which I find bizarrely fascinating. Anyone care to venture a theory as to what it is?
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A Country Full Of Scott McClellans

Just a couple of additional points about Scott McClellan and his book What Happened. (The picture shows me and Scott with Jon Stewart after the taping of last night's Daily Show.)

1. Isn't it funny how the Bush administration's response to the book has proven one of Scott's main points? Scott criticizes the Bushes for responding to any challenge or criticism not with a reasoned, honest, fair consideration of the arguments raised but rather with an orchestrated barrage of pre-arranged talking points designed to destroy the critic's credibility and batter him or her into silence. And no sooner does Scott publish his book making this point than the administration responds with an orchestrated barrage of pre-arranged talking points designed to destroy Scott's credibility and batter him into silence.

2. There's been a fair amount of vitriol directed at Scott from the left, excoriating him for raising his criticisms "too late," for being a gullible fool for swallowing the administration's lines for so long, for willingly supporting and abetting the administration's agenda during the crucial months of the run-up to war, etc. These criticisms are easy to make, and some of the motivations behind them are understandable. In particular, it's really galling for those of us who were "right" about Bush and the war to still be treated with condescension and scorn by those who were so disastrously wrong. It's tempting to vent some of that frustration on a target like Scott.

But Scott is not alone. Scott is part of that vast group of people who make up the fifty percent drop in Bush's approval rating between October 2001 and today. He represents tens of millions of Americans who, like him, were inclined to give the president and his advisors "the benefit of the doubt" in the wake of 9/11 but who now realize they didn't deserve it. Many of those people have become seriously disillusioned with the Republican Party and are openly shopping for a new person and party to transfer their allegiance to. Obama has a real chance of winning support from many of them (including Scott).

Verbally abusing people like these doesn't help our cause. If you are so angry at Scott himself that you don't even want his vote in November, fine--but let's not go out of our way to alienate the many other well-intentioned people who have made the same journey as Scott and who are now wondering whether they can ever feel at home in the Democratic party.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Joe Klein: Pointing Out McCain's Ignorance Is Just So Unsporting

Okay, so John McCain has no idea how many troops we have in Iraq. He says we have reduced our presence to "pre-surge levels" when in fact we have more than 20,000 soldiers in Iraq today than we did before the surge. And even when the current draw-down is completed in July, we will still have 10,000 additional soldiers in Iraq. So, despite what the McCain campaign is saying, this is not "nitpicking" over "verb tenses"; it's about the military realities and what they mean.

Ridiculously--but unsurprisingly--some in the mainstream media are leaping to McCain's defense. Joe Klein in Time magazine:
It is simply ridiculous for journalists--and political operatives--to expect perfect speech from candidates at all times. So I'm not going to jump on John McCain for his gaffery du jour. We are drawing down in Iraq, but not to a lower level than existed before the surge. So the old fellah was a month--and a brigade--or so off. Big deal.
There are plenty of times when the media latches onto petty slips of the tongue and declares them serious gaffes. But this latest goof by McCain is not an example. We're not talking about McCain forgetting someone's name or mistaking what town he was in during a campaign swing. We're talking about a fundamental error regarding the central theme of McCain's campaign. Remember, McCain's "expertise" on Iraq is supposed to be the main rationale for his candidacy:
Accusing Sen. Barack Obama of having "a profound misunderstanding" for the situation on the ground in Iraq, Sen. John McCain repeated his call Wednesday for his Democratic rival to join him for a trip to the war zone.

"To say that we failed in Iraq and we are not succeeding does not comport with the facts on the ground so we have got to show him the facts [on] the ground," McCain told a group for more than 700 supporters at a town hall meeting in the Silver State. . . .

The GOPer has taken on a more patronizing tone when discussing Obama of late--asking him to "listen and learn" five times during remarks today, just days after he rhetorically patted him on the head at a California rally, stating that, "for [a] young man with very little experience, he's done very well."
It's difficult to imagine a more pathetic display than this--for McCain to condescendingly sneer at Obama's ignorance of "the facts on the ground" in Iraq while unwittingly displaying his own ignorance.

Joe Klein may consider this "petty politics" on a par with Obama erroneously saying Auschwitz rather than Buchenwald in a reference to his uncle's WWII service. And I suppose it is, if--like so much of the MSM--you're personally invested in the myth of the wisdom and loveability of John McCain ("the old fellah," as Klein fondly calls him). It's going to be a long, frustrating march from here to November.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Five Facts and One Question

First, the facts:

Book advance paid to Ari Fleischer: $500,000.

Book advance paid to Karen Hughes: $1,000,000.

Book advance paid to Karl Rove: $1,500,000.

Book advance paid to George Tenet: $4,000,000.

Book advance paid to Scott McClellan: $75,000.

Now the question: Which of these books has critics on the right frothing at the mouth about an author "cashing in" on his White House service? Three guesses . . .

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Knee-Capping Scott McClellan

Watching the flood of coverage of Scott McClellan's book has been fascinating. It's amazing to see how many thousands of columnists, reporters, pundits, politicos, bloggers, and commenters have been willing to opine authoritatively about the contents of the book, Scott's motivations, how he wrote the book, etc. etc. without having read the book itself. (It is still not on sale, and just a few advance copies have been circulating among members of the media and some insiders.)

One day I may write something extensive about this experience and the truths it illustrates about how opinions get shaped and spread in today's idea marketplace. For now, I just want to offer brief responses to some of the most common fallacious criticisms Scott has been receiving from diverse sources in the mainstream media and the blogosphere.

1. Criticism #1: "This is not the Scott McClellan we know and love. Why didn't he express his doubts to us, his friends in the White House?"

This is the party line being parroted by everyone in and around the administration, from Ari Fleischer and Dana Perino to Dan Bartlett and Karl Rove. It might make sense if you believe that the Bush administration is made up of people who are genuinely interested in sincere self-criticism and self-examination. What do you suppose would have actually happened if Scott had ventured to talk about his misgivings about the Iraq war and the way it was being sold. I can just hear Rove's reaction now: "Gee, Scott, I never thought of that before! Forthrightness and honesty, eh? What a great idea! Let's go for it!" And Dick Cheney: "I guess you're right, Scott--this war really isn't necessary. Call off the invasion!"

2. Criticism #2: "Why didn't McClellan go public with his accusations earlier, when it might have made a difference?"

Here the idea is that, if Scott had resigned in protest (in 2003, say), and disclosed his incipient doubts about the administration, it would have shifted public opinion against the Bush team and changed history for the better. Sounds nice--except that testimony from disgruntled former insiders like Richard Clarke, John Dilulio, Paul O'Neill, and the retired generals who criticized the Iraq policy didn't have any such effect. Why on earth would McClellan's testimony have tipped the balance?

3. Criticism #3: "Isn't McClellan just taking the easy route to riches by trashing an unpopular president?"

I already debunked the notion that Scott could expect to get rich from his book. (I'm happy to see Jonathan Alter on MSNBC this evening emphasizing the point that Public Affairs, in particular, is well known for its modest advance payments.) But now I see blogger Ezra Klein (whose work I generally like a lot) implying that Scott is somehow being cowardly in criticizing Bush now, when most of the public has already turned against him:
George W. Bush is now the most unpopular president since the advent of modern polling. His disapproval rating passed 70 percent last week, higher than any leader before him. It has been 40 months since a majority of the country supported his presidency. And now, now Scott McClellan tells of us of his dedication to the truth, and his disgust with the propaganda used to sell the war. . . This doesn't come close to clearing his name.
Okay, but this ignores the reality of Scott's social, professional, and political milieu. For someone like Scott McClellan--a lifelong Republican, a Texas loyalist and friend of Bush, a man whose career and livelihood were derived from Bush and who spent seven years of his life at the very center of the Bush circle, surrounded by people who admired Bush and regarded dissent or disagreement as suspect, if not downright evil--for someone like this to write a book like What Happened is absolutely not an act of cowardice.

Ezra may not think the book "clears Scott's name." That's fine. Scott might even agree. (He devotes a fair amount of time in the book to describing his own mistakes and his complicity in the misdeeds of the administration.) But Scott doesn't deserve to be excoriated for writing the book. (Ezra: "Just the tinny bleatings of a man who abetted a lying, disastrous presidency because it seemed like a good gig, but doesn't want his name maligned by the historians.")

Judging by some of the anger against Scott being vented by critics on the left, you'd think his book was intended to somehow justify or excuse the sins of the Bush team. Of course it doesn't--as the defensive reaction of the Bushies themselves makes clear.

There's plenty of room for fair criticism of Scott and his book. But let's not get distracted by arguments that are illogical, irrelevant, or unrealistic.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Write A Book, Get Rich--In Your Dreams

Well, the floodgates on Scott McClellan's book What Happened really have opened. Six days before the official publication, Google is already linking to no fewer than 364 news stories about it--testimony, I guess, to the remarkable power of The Politico to set the agenda for the rest of the media.

As everyone connected with the book expected, the reactions are all over the map, and some are harsh. As is true of any author, Scott and his book are fair game, of course (though it would be nice for people to actually read what he wrote before they start attacking him). But one idea that seems to surface any time someone writes a book really deserves to be debunked. This is the notion that book authorship is a road to wealth, which leads to accusations of people "cashing in" or "getting rich" off their tell-all memoirs.

Of course it's true that a handful of book authors make millions (as for example Obama and Hillary Clinton have done). But just a handful. The vast majority of authors, even of relatively successful books, earn royalties that total in the four or five digits--after spending hundreds or even thousands of hours in writing. Figure it out on an hourly basis, and you find that the typical book author earns less than the minimum wage. It's sad but true.

I'm not asserting that this will be Scott's fate--it's much too soon to tell how well the book will fare in the marketplace--but I would point out that his publisher, Public Affairs, is well known in the industry for the relatively modest advances they pay. Authors who sign with them do so because they value the high-quality editorial and marketing guidance they receive, not because of the lucre they expect to reap.

Go ahead and criticize Scott's book; impugn his motives if you like. But don't accuse him of getting rich off the misdeeds of the Bush administration. That's not really how book publishing works.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Floodgates Open

Scott McClellan's memoirs (which I wrote about here) won't be officially published till next week, but The Politico website got ahold of a copy and is spilling some of the choicer beans.

For what it's worth, I think "scathing," "explosive," and "brutal" is a bit of an over-statement, but this write-up will generate buzz and should sell books. It'll be interesting to watch how this story gets played in the days to come. I'm afraid Scott will be subject to some mean counter-attacks from his erstwhile friends in Republican circles.

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Geez, GOP, Is This The Best You Got?

The urban legends monitors at have already put together an impressive (and appalling) collection of slanderous emails about Barack Obama being circulated by the rightwing lie machine. Here is the latest, a collection of supposedly horrifying, outrageous quotes from Obama's books.

As Snopes documents, all of the quotes are either misleadingly distorted, rewritten, or badly wrenched out of context. But what I find most surprising is how non-shocking most of them are.

I ceased to advertise my mother's race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites. In comparison to some of the goofy stunts I pulled when I was 13 years old in an effort to discover my identity, this strikes me as awfully benign.

It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa, that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, Dubois and Mandela. Okay, I know some conservatives will be perturbed to see Malcolm X referred to here. But since when are Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela bogeymen? (And how many people even know who Dubois was?)

I find it hard to believe that voters are supposed to get whipped up into a frenzy of anti-Obama hatred by this stuff, and I'm surprised that someone scouring Obama's writings and speeches in search of statements that could be twisted into appearing anti-American couldn't come up with anything much, much worse.

It reinforces, for me, the impression I share with a lot of observers that the hand the Republicans are holding this year is their weakest in many, many years. By October, they are going to have to scrape the bottom of the barrel--and then dig a little deeper--in search of ammunition to use against the Democrats.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

The Scorn Of Some People Is A Badge Of Honor

Not having looked at James Fallows's blog in a while, I missed his commentary on the passing of Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter's White House chief of staff. Fallows was a speech writer in the same administration. In Fallows's post, he quotes from a review he wrote years ago about one of Jordan's books, No Such Thing as a Bad Day:
An unstated operating assumption of the permanent D.C. establishment is that outsiders like Jordan are essentially brought into town on sufferance, for tryouts. They can adapt, "make it," and survive when their time with the administration has ended--or they can be drummed out of town and dismissed as losers. In D.C. terms, Jordan was in the latter category; he worked for a losing administration, and he didn't cut it in society. Yet this book suggests that he has become a more substantial person than most who dismissed him--and even before he went through this transformation, he was a more complicated person than the "Hannibal Jerkin" caricatured in the press. This has made me think of the damage done to other people hooted out of town. (Gary Hart?) If you're thinking of a midsummer gift for a favorite columnist or Style section writer, consider this book.
The sad thing is that you can say pretty much the same thing about Jimmy Carter himself--a president who, whatever his flaws, has done a lot of good for America and the world, yet will always be treated with thinly-veiled contempt by the same Washington insiders who idolized Reagan, regarded Cheney and Rumsfeld as "adults" who would bring wisdom and integrity back to the White House, and will be delighted to foist McCain on us if they can get away with it.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Us Versus Them, You Versus Me

In this article in The New York Review of Books (subscription required), David Cole points out a curious fact about public reaction in the U.S. to the "war on terror":
One of the striking features of the American politics of security since September 11 is that invasions of privacy have prompted more public resistance than intrusions on liberty. The Patriot Act provisions that aroused the most public concern were search provisions--such as those authorizing roving wiretaps, "sneak-and-peek" searches, national security letters, and demands for records from third parties, including libraries--demands that librarians and other employees are not allowed to reveal to others. Other Patriot Act provisions were far more egregious, but received little attention, including one that permitted preventive detention of foreign nationals without charges, and another that authorized the Treasury Department to freeze an organization's assets and effectively shut it down on the basis of secret evidence without finding any violation of law.
This anomaly goes beyond the Patriot Act. Revelations from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and word about "secret renditions" of terror suspects to countries where they will almost certainly be tortured produce initial outrage that soon peters out; but when public officials float privacy-challenging ideas like a national ID card, websites by the thousand light up with denunciations of Big Brotherism and creeping totalitarianism. WTF?

As Cole goes on to say, the most likely explanation for this weird discrepancy is that most Americans assume that the wholesale, often violent deprivations of human rights now being committed by the government against terror suspects will never affect them or their families or their friends, but only anonymous dark-skinned "others"--whereas having the whereabouts of their car or their library card traced by the feds could cause them some personal inconvenience.

In short, the attitude most of us fall into all too easily is one of "To hell with them--I'm just worried about me and mine."

It's a distressing side-effect of the readiness of Americans to let themselves be divided into mutually antagonistic groups along ethnic, social, politicial, religious, geographic, class, gender, and racial lines. It's a problem that causes huge damage to our country not only when it comes to the "war on terror" and other issues of crime and security, but also in relation to health care, taxes, education, labor rights, immigration, and practically every other issue you can name. Rather than pulling together to support, defend, and uplift one another, we allow ourselves to be sliced into demographic tribes who then battle for access to money, power, and even human rights--while those in control laugh and count their profits.

One of the most important resolutions all of us should make is to absolutely withhold our votes and support from any politician who plays up our social divisions as a means of enhancing his own power. This syndrome is so pernicious and so far-reaching in its effects that catering to it should be considered the equivalent, in political terms, of the "sin against the Holy Ghost"--the nearest thing we have to an unforgiveable offense.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Enough About Me--How Do Like My Blog?

Okay, so blogger Emily Gould, profiled in tomorrow morning's Times Magazine, seems to be self-centered, even narcissistic (at least based on what she writes about online). Evidently the emerging consensus is that this reveals something about the nature of blogging. On Megan McArdle's blog, guest blogger Peter Suderman defends Gould, saying:

Bloggers write about their lives, their interests, their cities, their friends. On many blogs, the author's life becomes part of the story--you read these bloggers as much for who they are as for what they have to say. This is what accounts for the sense one sometimes gets that one "knows" the blogger. Blogs serve as running commentary on the world at large (or some part of it), yes, but also as extensions of the lives of their authors. To become a regular reader is to share and take part in that life, and that's a large part of the blogosphere's appeal. It's also a function of both the frantic pace and pressure of the professional blogosphere: The easiest content to produce is that which is inspired by what's nearest to you.
All true enough. But here is a point no one else seems to be raising: Since when is writing about oneself restricted to the blogosphere? Any regular reader of a writer like Calvin Trillin gets to know a heck of a lot about him--his life, his family, his personal quirks, even the foods he likes (spaghetti carbonara). And Trillin writes in the tradition of many journalists, columnists, and New Yorker writers, about whom something similar could be said.

For that matter, the sainted Orwell's journalism is full of stories about his personal life (his horrid experiences at boarding school, his adventures as a sous-chef in a Paris restaurant). And going back still further in time, what did Thoreau and Montaigne write about other than themselves--their foibles and eccentricities--using these as levers with which to pry open the secrets of life?

As far as I can see, the only thing truly new about the autobiographical writing in the blogosphere is that it's unfiltered by an editor or publisher. Are bloggers people who are unduly fascinated with ourselves? Sure we are--and so are most human beings, truth be told.

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What do GE, Pepsi, and Toyota know that Exxon, Wal-Mart, and Hershey don't?  It's sustainability . . . the business secret of the twenty-first century.

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