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.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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.

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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.
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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.

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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?
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

"Infused with entrepreneurial spirit and the excitement of a worthy challenge."--Publishers Weekly

Read more . . .


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.

Read more . . .