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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Great quote

One of the indictments of civilizations is that happiness
and intelligence are so rarely found in the same person.
-William Feather, author, editor and publisher (1889-1981)

Friday, May 30, 2008

"Mortgages and Madness"

This is long, but really worth reading - quite eye opening. I never really understood the subprime mortgage debacle, and I had no idea that this kind of local chicanery was part of it. Of course the real crime is that state and federal regulators stood by and watched, and in some cases, prevented local regulation from intervening. To add insult to injury, our tax dollars were used to bail out Bear Stearns, which enthusiastically participated in this insanity.


May 24, 2008

Mortgages and Madness
by Michael Hirsh

Questionable lending practices turned a peaceful Cleveland neighborhood into a blighted slum.
[ . . . ]
In the surrounding neighborhoods are scores of boarded-up, abandoned homes—ramshackle hulks that have turned otherwise peaceful neighborhoods into slums. True, these old working-class shotgun houses—lovingly nicknamed because you could fire a shotgun at one end and the pellets would go straight through—were never going to make the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. But at least they once had local owners or tenants who fixed the walks, painted the trim and worried over the monthly mortgage payments, aided by a city revitalization program.

Now the houses sit empty in legal limbo, foreclosed on by lenders that don't want them, or traded on eBay by buyers from as far away as San Diego and Tulsa, Okla. Some homes have been boarded up for so many months that a local artist, Chuck Gliha, has begun painting ghostly blue portraits on the plywood in the windows to "freshen things up." Vandals regularly comb the neighborhood, sometimes setting fires. In many houses the aluminum siding is ripped away, the copper wiring yanked out, because with a building boom overseas, demand for nonferrous metal is huge.

This was once the sort of "product" that dazzled Wall Street, feeding the subprime-mortgage bubble. How did it all start? How did distressed properties like these become "collateral" for loans that were bundled into high-priced securities, then bought by huge banks and pension funds around the world? How did Slavic Village contribute to a global credit crunch? Now, hundreds of lenders, securitizers and brokers like Kellogg are being investigated by the FBI, IRS, state attorneys general and county authorities nationwide for their respective roles in this global confidence game, which authorities are just beginning to piece together.

According to county records obtained by NEWSWEEK, Kellogg was the broker of record for the purchase of 71 houses in Slavic Village from 2003 to 2006—during the height of the subprime investment boom. All of them went into foreclosure within a year or two. In each case, mortgages were issued for Kellogg's houses—by well-known nationwide lenders, such as Argent Mortgage and New Century—for multiple times the value of what the home had been purchased for, often only months before, the records show. Local Councilman Tony Brancatelli, who first passed on information about Kellogg to county prosecutors, says the prices were so inflated beyond the house's actual value that any income gained from rent or resale could not possibly pay off the huge mortgage, and the borrowers quickly defaulted. In one instance, a house purchased for $14,000 on Feb. 9, 2005, was sold three months later, on May 9, 2005, with Kellogg acting as broker, for $84,000; it went into foreclosure a year later, on May 31, 2006.

In transactions with what Mason's office describes as artificially inflated home prices—courtesy of a friendly appraiser—the brokers would get up to 8 percent of the total in fees (the maximum allowed by law), and they often split much of the loan proceeds with the seller and other parties, perhaps anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000. (Kellogg's appraiser on most deals, Bruce Hoover, was disciplined by the Ohio Department of Commerce on May 9 for failing to report, on another appraisal, that a home had been previously sold for much less; he did not respond to numerous phone calls asking for comment.) Some purchasers of record who are in foreclosure claim they were set up by Kellogg as "straw" buyers—neighborhood acquaintances who say he paid them a few thousand dollars to sign their names as the owner of record.

Some buyers say they didn't comprehend what they were signing at the time, but discovered they were left legally and financially accountable—their credit destroyed—as the lenders foreclosed. "He ruined my life," says Lakiesha Williams, a mother of two girls who was working as a nursing assistant when she says she was approached by Kellogg, who persuaded her to invest in 11 homes and take on tenants. But Williams found the properties were in worse condition than she thought and, when the tenants left, she couldn't keep up with the mortgage payments. "I'm broke. I've got nothing," she says.

While no hard numbers exist yet, officials say fraudulently inflated values and other schemes figured in a huge percentage of subprime loans that were turned into securities during the boom—possibly at least 50 percent nationwide, according to county and state officials as well as real-estate experts interviewed around the country. One piece of evidence: during the height of the bubble it became standard practice to solicit borrowers by giving them "no document" loans, known in the industry as "liars' loans," in which all the borrower must put down to qualify is "stated income" (write anything you want; no one will be checking). Stated income was once a little-used perk that banks granted to trusted wealthy borrowers who paid large down payments. But by 2006, 44.7 percent of all securitized subprime mortgages in the country were stated income or no-document loans, according to Patrick Madigan, an Iowa assistant attorney general. "There's only one reason for that high number, and that's fraud," says Madigan, who helped to negotiate a $325 million settlement in 2006 over alleged abuses by Ameriquest, the nation's largest subprime lender. (Ameriquest spokesman Chris Orlando said the company admitted no wrongdoing.)

Now the investigations are going all the way up the pipeline—to Wall Street. According to FBI spokesman Bill Carter, 19 "large institutions" are being investigated for corporate fraud, in addition to more than 1,200 individual cases of mortgage fraud. One area of inquiry, Carter says, are deceptive sales practices related not just to mortgage fraud in places like Cleveland but to how such mortgages were packaged into complex securities called "collaterized debt obligations." Among the targets are "major subprime lenders" and investment banks, Carter says. "We're going after people right at the top," says another FBI spokesman, Steve Kodak.

Earlier this year the city of Cleveland, suffering one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, filed a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas in Cuyahoga County against 21 major investment banks and lenders. The suit contends that major Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Bear Stearns were a "public nuisance" that depleted Cleveland's tax base and destroyed its urban-renewal programs. "Over the course of several years, financial institutions routinely made money available to unqualified borrowers who had no realistic means of keeping up with their loan payments," the suit says. "This phenomenon claimed entire streets, blocks, and neighborhoods."

An astonishing 80 percent to 85 percent of the Cleveland loans bought up by Wall Street from 2003 to 2007 went into foreclosure. Asked to assess the economic damage, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson told NEWSWEEK: "You give me a number." County Treasurer Jim Rokakis tries: "More people have left Cuyahoga than any other county in the U.S. with the exception of New Orleans. They had a hurricane; we had lenders." Lawyers for the investment banks dismiss the claims. Shawn Riley, a Cleveland lawyer with a firm representing two of them, says that public-nuisance laws "written to address leaf burning in the neighbors' backyard can't be applied to a sophisticated financial transaction."

Slavic Village seemed, at first glance, an unlikely spot for investors in mortgage securities to place their bets. The childhood home of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, it was for decades a chronically depressed steel-mill town noted for its kielbasa shops. But like other rust-belt cities, Cleveland was trying to rehabilitate itself, pouring money into revitalization programs.

Yet insidious forces were at work in the neighborhood. After the mortgage-refinancing boom of 2003–04, demand for fresh subprime "product" grew so intense that lending standards nationwide disintegrated. To meet Wall Street's demand for a steady supply, lenders kept reaching lower and lower down the scale of quality in both property and borrowers, until the street hustlers jumped in to offer up their "product." Not surprisingly, the once shunned inner city became a prime lending spot across America. That, in turn, led to the phenomenon of reverse redlining. More than a decade ago, the big story was the redlining of low-income, often African-American, neighborhoods by banks that refused to lend there. Now the opposite happened.

Wall Street's insatiable demand inspired the local shop owner and plumber to go into the mortgage business—what Brancatelli calls "station-wagon brokers."

"There are a lot of former drug dealers who have gotten into the business," adds Ed Kraus of the Ohio Attorney General's office. Many brokers simply invented biographies and jobs for their indigent borrowers, officials say. In one case, says Brancatelli, Kellogg saw a lawn mower in a truck belonging to Williams's husband and declared him a "landscaper" for the mortgage records.

Rokakis compares the small brokers and borrowers to drug users whose weaknesses were exploited. "The police don't really want the small-time drug dealer or user," he says. "The guy they really want is the drug lord in Colombia. In this case the drug lord was Wall Street."

And who was the middleman? Farther along the pipeline from local brokers like Kellogg was the man who started Argent Mortgage—Roland Arnall of Beverly Hills, Calif. A Holocaust survivor and cofounder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the billionaire entrepreneur was known as an L.A. bon vivant, a cultivator of the rich and famous.

While Arnall—who died of cancer in March—seemed to inhabit a different social universe entirely from Mark Kellogg's, the two were effectively in business together. Argent handled more bad loans—27 percent of foreclosures—than any other company in Cleveland during the boom (including several loans to Kellogg). The first company that Arnall founded, Long Beach Mortgage, was bought by Washington Mutual, which is now being investigated by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for conspiring to inflate real-estate values. (Washington Mutual did not return a call asking for comment.) Long Beach is the company listed in Cuyahoga County records as the issuer of most of Kellogg's loans from 2004 to 2005, when the hunger for new product reached its crazed heights.

National and state regulators, meanwhile, paid almost no attention despite pleas for help from the local officials. It was way back in 2000 that Rokakis led a local delegation to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, asking for help. After much pleading, the Fed scheduled a daylong conference in March 2001 titled "Predatory Lending in Housing." "We asked them to step up and take action," the county treasurer recalls in his office in downtown Cleveland. "But here's what I learned about the Fed. They do wonderful lunches. But the Federal Reserve Bank is not there to protect us. It's there to protect the banks."

So cities like Cleveland sought to take action themselves. In 2001 Mayor Jackson prodded the city council to pass an antipredatory lending act that would have "slowed the Mark Kelloggs down," says Rokakis. But within a year the state, heavily lobbied by Ohio banks like National City, stepped in to void the local law, saying authority lay with the governor and legislature in Columbus. Then the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued a pre-emption order saying the states did not have the authority to enforce laws against national banks. (OCC spokesman Robert Garsson counters that states are the ones that oversee "nonbanks" like Argent.) When the Feds and state officials tied the hands of the locals, Rokakis says, "it was clear this was the Wild West, and there's no sheriff in town. If you're a lender, there's nobody who can stop you. The only difference is that in the old days, people robbed the banks. Now the banks were robbing the people."

Whether any Wall Street bigs ever face prosecution, the localities are still suffering from the fallout. Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, now has about 22,000 vacant foreclosed properties—more than 5 percent of its 395,000 houses.

Foreclosures in Slavic Village have ballooned from 114 in 2001 to 840 last year, and the rate is now at two a day, Brancatelli says. As thousands of distressed houses have been stripped and gutted, local youth gangs have begun using the hulks as hideouts. Father Mike Surufka, the Franciscan rector of St. Stanislaus Church, frets that his parishioners are moving out as a result. "For me the real sin is that people made huge amounts of money precisely by destroying neighborhoods," says Father Mike. Ultimately, many in Cleveland believe the only way to rebuild those neighborhoods is to return mortgage finance to where it started—to local lenders, local borrowers and local government. At least that way, everyone can keep an eye on one another.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Companies as "advocates" for employees

I felt sickened when I heard this story reported on NPR this morning. After all that has happened over the years, and especially recently (with companies like Enron), it's amazing to me that anyone could say with a straight face that a corporation is the "best advocate" for their employees. Har dee har har. If that wasn't so absurd, it would be funny. Corporations make money, period. If employees' interests are ever served, it's only a happy coincidence. When push comes to shove, the employees will go under the bus, figuratively or sometimes even literally. Not that I think unions are always better - they have their own problems, but employees, especially low status employees, are delusional if they think corporations will protect them.

And that doesn't even address the rather odd conclusion that 60% of the flight attendants "rejected" union representation - they didn't vote at all. There are a lot of reasons that people don't vote, and some of them are pretty nefarious . . .


Wed, May 28, 2008
Delta flight attendants turn down union
by Terry Maxon

Flights attendants at Delta Air Lines have decided not to have the Association of Flight Attendants/Communication Workers of America represent them. Delta said Wednesday that more than 60 percent of eligible flight attendants "rejected representation" by the AFA. Apparently, they did it by not voting at all.

Said Delta CEO Richard Anderson: "We are pleased that Delta's flight attendants clearly believe that our unique culture and direct relationship are worth preserving. Delta continues to be the best advocate for its people, and our employees recognize the benefits of working together to enhance their careers and drive successful results for themselves and our company."



And more business news that you can use (to get ill) - Sharon Stone made some remarks critical of China (suggesting the recent earthquake was their punishment for actions in Tibet) at the Cannes Film Festival last week, and now she and the company she's a spokesmodel for, Christian Dior, are scrambling to apologize to the Chinese. Kind of sickening to watch otherwise reasonable concern for human rights to be completely bulldozed by business interests. Shame on all of them.

Sharon Stone had suggested the Sichaun earthquake was the result of bad karma. She implied the Chinese were being punished over Tibet. The remark provoked outrage in China.

And Christian Dior is bearing the brunt. The company uses the Hollywood actress as the face of its Capture Totale skincare line. Its Chinese headquarters has been indundated with complaints. The company has now dropped Stone from its Chinese ads and has apologised profusely. And so has she.

Geoff Dyer of the Financial Times in Beijing says Dior is clearly worried: "Like a lot of luxury groups Christian Dior have invested heavily in China. They now have over 60 stores here. So it is very important for them not to alienate lots of Chinese customers."

Here's a more detailed account:



Scott McClellan's tell all book

Fascinating stuff, but last night and this morning I was surprised that it is still virtually the only topic of discussion on the cable news shows. That makes at least 72 hours that the media has dwelt on nothing but, and that seems like more than enough already. Sadly, the impact of his revelations on the current presidential race are likely to be nil, which is a shame, because there are valuable lessons to be learned.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

4th paper accepted for publication

This is the message we got today. Doesn't this paper sound fascinating? <sarcasm>

Anesthesia & Analgesia is happy to accept your manuscript
"Operating room nursing directors' influence on anesthesia
group operating room productivity" for publication.

We're editing the 5th paper now: "Validity of a Simple Economic Model for First Case of the Day Starts." I have a meeting this afternoon with some colleagues to iron out issues on the 6th paper!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Some things should be left to professionals

Gads, I'm so embarrassed. Tonight I decided to touch up my roots, but I've never done that before. I knew I was being reckless! It probably would have been O.K., but I wasn't counting on a mad search for Caleb's social studies book, which distracted me just long enough to create a bright blond stripe down the middle of my head. Unreal! I added a little more color to the rest of my hair, which helped, and I found that if I part my hair on the side, it covers up the worst of it. I think my Can Do spirit is admirable, but I should really remember that some things should be left to professionals.


Here's a photo from a few days later - not too shocking looking (and this is under fluorescent lights, which make it look brassy). Luckily, it's moving into summer when my hair lightens anyway, so hopefully it will appear more natural than it seems now.

Monday, May 26, 2008


What a shame to hear that Sydney Pollack has passed away at the relatively young age of 73. He would have made many more great films if he'd had the time, I'm sure. I'm completely obsessed with his last dramatic film as a director, The Intrepreter (2005), which was poorly received, but which I've watched many times (he appeared more recently - in 2007 - as an actor, in Michael Clayton, another excellent film). Just a terrific guy, a huge loss to Hollywood and to the movies.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Movie marathon

I had the opportunity to go into New York City this weekend, and saw two terrific movies there.

The first was A Jihad for Love, which is the Muslim version of the Jewish film Trembling Before G-d. But interviewing Muslim gays is a bit more harrowing than orthodox Jewish gays. The latter have faced terrible isolation, but the Muslims have faced death. Orthodox Jewish attitude toward homosexuality is rejecting, but the Muslim faith is much harsher. It was sad to watch, but several of the characters have made their peace with their nature and their faith, and that's ultimately uplifting. I tried to paste the movie poster into this post, but wasn't able to (this picture is a scene from the film), but you can see the poster here: http://www.ajihadforlove.com/poster.html

The other film I saw was the Errol Morris documentary, Standard Operating Procedure. The Feel Good movie of year it is not, but it's very powerful, almost too much. I really felt like they could have, maybe even should have, edited about 10 minutes out of the second half. Not the end, which was great, but there was a point when I felt like I was ready to move on to the denouement and not see any more of the abuse. Morris has a sort of trippy style, but it really works for this subject matter. It's a very well made movie. I left the theater feeling sorry for the soldiers, who were definitely scapegoated, but I was also angry at them for their lack of remorse. I didn't hear a single person in the film say "I'm ashamed of what I did" or "What I did was morally wrong." It was gross.

As a side note, I wanted to get a quick bite between films and even though there is a sushi place on every block, I had a craving for Mexican, which is much harder to find. I ended up getting tacos in a Chinese restaurant - I swear. They were about as good as you'd expect Mexican food in a Chinese restaurant to be, but now I can say I've had that particular experience. New York is so weird.

I also watched the Australian movie, Jindabyne, on video, based on a Raymond Carver short story (which I MUST read), So Much Water, So Close to Home. It was good, with a terrific cast (including Gabriel Byne and the incomparable Laura Linney), but not as good as director Ray Lawrence's 2001 film, Lantana, which I totally adored.


Chinese tacos

As a side note, I wanted to get a quick bite between films and even though there is a sushi place on every block, I had a craving for Mexican, which is much harder to find. I ended up getting tacos in a Chinese restaurant - I swear. They were about as good as you'd expect Mexican food in a Chinese restaurant to be, but now I can say I've had that particular experience. This shows two facing pages inside the menu, with typical Chinese dishes on the left and the Mexican dishes on the right. New York is so weird.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Naughty tshirts for babies

This one on the left is my favorite (just to tweak my husband), but there's plenty more at the website - the one on the right gives you an idea what you're in for.

If you can tolerate a truly sick sense of humor, go to the site and read some of the shirts for adults.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Grey's Anatomy season 4 finale

I didn't like this season's finale nearly as much as the season one and season two endings (especially season 2, which was amazing). I got a little bored, I swear, with the story lines. I thought it was SO contrived.

Mark standing back and watching Erica and Callie kiss, I mean, please, like he's this benevolent matchmaker - UGH!!! Once I thought about it, I realized that it probably wouldn't strike me as weird if it were a man helping a woman see that she really wanted a different man. I just wondered what the writers were thinking when they were developing this story. Of course I don't object to Callie and Erica getting together, but having the local Lothario (aka "manwhore") be the one that helps them get together just seems weird as hell to me. I just wasn't rooting for Erica and Callie the way I wanted to b/c I was distracted by all this threesome-fantasy-hot sex side story that was going on.

Mer and Der running all over looking for each other at the end was sort of cute, but then he leaves, saying "I have to talk to Rose," though clearly Rose knows he's not really available - it just so felt so fake, like you could hear the writers: "we have to create a cliffhanger!" And when did Mer have time to buy and arrange all those candles? Willing suspension of disbelief is required, I suppose.

And Mer is now completely healed just by talking about her mom's suicide attempt - yeah, right, that's how it works. Even the idea that what Ellis meant (back when Meredith was 5 years old, sitting in a pool of her mom's blood) when she said "Be extraordinary" was "have extraordinary love in your life." Holy cow, it's absurd. When Ellis scolds Meredith in Seasaon 2, saying "you're just ordinary" - it's totally clear that her mother is disappointed that Mer is dabbling in this love affair instead of devoting herself to surgery. But now the writers want to rewrite history and say that what Meredith's cold mother has wanted for her all along is a deep and satifying love. That's why people slit their wrists in front of their own children. The show may have good medical consultants, but they need to get a decent psychology consultant!

And Adele was just waiting for her husband to *demand* to come back - ridiculous. Her objection to her marriage was not her husband's old affair, it was his putting his job above her all the time. He made it clear that he wanted to stay married, but he also made it clear that he wasn't really going to change and she said "forget it!" Now, he still hasn't really changed, he's just faking it, with George's help, but we're supposed to think that NOW she's convinced. One roll in the sack and a couple text messages and she's there. It's insulting to women.

And George is supposedly some amazing doctor, 14 letters of recommendation - it's ridiculous! When the series started he was clearly a bumbling wannabe, what did they call him? More and more evidence that the writers just rewrite history at their convenience. I'm sorry, but I've been watching this show for 4 years, I'm pretty clear about the characters, you can't just tell me that I don't know what I know about them.

On top of all these complaints, I think Lexie is the most boring character ever created for TV. They dabbled in some conflict between her and Meredith, but they never did anything authentic with it. I have half siblings and I can tell you that it's a freaking minefield, especially when parents seem more devoted to one over the other. From the beginning, the writers treated the whole storyline like Meredith was just being petty or immature. They never used the very real tension in that situation to any dramatic effect.

As for the Ava/Rebecca character - she was totally wasted IMO - she had real potential, but "underlying borderline personality disorder" - where did they come up with that? More evidence that they need a good psychologist (not some L.A. hack) to work with the writers.

The only scene I liked at all was Alex crying - it was totally believable (that Justin Chambers is a terrific actor, very under-rated). Everything else felt very TV to me.

It's still a good show, and I still want to know what's going to happen next, so they've still got my interest. But it felt more staged this time, and I didn't feel as invested in the people. But my friend Anne thought it was the best episode ever, so clearly my impressions are not shared by all!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hillary is a "white bitch"

I missed this entirely, until I saw it discussed on my favorite blog. Even though I've been ranting about her myself, this is really beyond the pale:


GOP Consultant On CNN: Sometimes It's "Accurate" To Call A Woman A "Bitch"

Hmmm. This isn't very nice.

On CNN a few moments ago, analyst Jeffery Toobin argued that Hillary was right when she said in an interview that coverage of the race has been "sexist," buttressing his case by pointing to a recent newspaper column suggesting that Hillary is a "white bitch." Toobin, unsurprisingly, took issue with this, saying that it was "appalling" that this was considered acceptable.

GOP consultant Alex Castellanos disagreed by noting that Hillary really is a bitch.


"Pandering to the popular vote is poison"

I didn't come up with that alliteration, obviously, it's from Jonathan Alter at Newsweek, pointing out exactly what I've been thinking, which is that Hillary is willing to say anything to keep her campaign viable (those are my words, not his). In this case, what she's saying is that she's won the "popular vote" which she is bases on including the Michigan and Florida results. But those states don't count because they violated party rules by moving their primaries up on the calendar (knowing full well what the penalty would be), and, much more importantly, no one campaigned there. Obama wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan.

I have to say, the spectacle is getting rather nauseating. It would be different if I thought that she really believed the things she's saying, but I seriously doubt it. She's just playing the same games that the Republicans have played so well over the years - cherry picking the reality and using rhetoric that resonates with people who don't look beyond the sound bites. Personally, I think Democrats deserve better. I've gone from feeling genuinely sorry for her to resenting her. She is embarrassing herself and her party.

Here's a link to Alter's piece:



Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Burning bibles in Israel

I didn't hear about this until I received an email from our synagogue, with the URJ statement condemning it. I don't care what the bible says - why couldn't they just throw the stuff away? See the last line of the story.


Orthodox Jewish youths burn New Testaments in Or Yehuda
The Associated Press

Orthodox Jews set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testament in the latest act of violence against Christian missionaries in the Holy Land. Or Yehuda Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon said missionaries recently entered a neighborhood in the predominantly religious town of 34,000 in central Israel, distributing hundreds of New Testaments and missionary material.

After receiving complaints, Aharon said, he got into a loudspeaker car last Thursday and drove through the neighborhood, urging people to turn over the material to Jewish religious students who went door to door to collect it." The books were dumped into a pile and set afire in a lot near a synagogue," he said.

The newspaper Ma'ariv reported Tuesday that hundreds of yeshiva students took part in the book-burning. But Aharon told The Associated Press that only a few students were present, and that he was not there when the books were torched. "Not all of the New Testaments that were collected were burned, but hundreds were," he said. He said he regretted the burning of the books, but called it a commandment to burn materials that urge Jews to convert. "I certainly don't denounce the burning of the booklets, he said. I denounce those who distributed the booklets."

Calev Myers, an attorney who represents Messianic Jews, or Jews who accept Jesus as their savior, demanded in an interview with Army Radio that all those involved be put on trial. He estimated there were 10,000 Messianic Jews, who are also known as Jews for Jesus, in Israel.

Police had no immediate comment.

Israeli authorities and Orthodox Jews frown on missionary activity aimed at Jews, though in most cases it is not illegal. Still, the concept of a Jew burning books is abhorrent to many in Israel because of the association with Nazis torching piles of Jewish books during the Holocaust of World War II.

ADDENDUM 5/22/08

This is what our rabbi said in his weekly email:

For a Jew to burn the holy texts of any other tradition is an abomination. For an Orthodox Jewish politician to condone such demeaning activity in this day and age is beyond reprehensible. For peace to come to Israel and to the world we must come to know and to respect each other.


Casualty notification

I read this excerpt in the magazine The Week (online access limited to print subscribers). The line that gets me every time is "And they know. They always know."

Death comes knocking

Every door is different. Some are ornately hand-carved hardwood, some are hollow tin. Some are protected by elaborate security systems, some by flapping screens. The doors are all that stand between a family and the message.

For Maj. Steve Beck, it starts with a knock or a ring of the doorbell—a simple act, really, with the power to shatter a soul.

Five years ago, the then 40-year-old Marine officer was catapulted into a duty he never trained for, an assignment that starts with a long walk to a stranger’s porch and an outstretched hand sheathed in a soft white glove.

While every door is different, the scenes inside are almost always the same. “The curtains pull away. They come to the door. And they know. They always know,” Beck says. “You can almost see the blood run out of their body and their heart hit the floor. It’s not the blood as much as their soul. Something sinks. I’ve never seen that except when someone dies. And I’ve seen a lot of death.

“They’re falling—either literally or figuratively—and you have to catch them. In this business, I can’t save his life. All I can do is catch the family while they’re falling.”

On a blue-sky Labor Day weekend in a new, upscale residential neighborhood, a middle-aged man mowed his yard as a silver SUV ambled down the street past manicured lawns and half-finished homes. In a place filled with soccer moms and SUVs, the Suburban with government plates didn’t stick out. The two men inside did.

Minutes before, Maj. Beck and Navy chaplain Jim Chapman had parked briefly outside the neighborhood and closed their eyes in prayer. Chapman asked for “words that will bring the family peace.” At the time, Beck didn’t know what those words would be. He never does.

When Beck’s phone rings with news of a Marine’s death, he always feels the pressure of the clock. Once the call is received, the goal for notification is four hours. Troops in the battle zone often have access to e-mail and satellite telephones now, so when a service member dies, the area is placed under “River City,” or R.C. When an area goes R.C., all communication back home is shut off to keep rumors from reaching the family before the notification officers arrive. Still, Beck knew that bad news runs like water downhill, creating its own path. “As soon as we receive the call,” he says, “we are racing the electron.”

When the knock came on this occasion, Katherine Cathey was napping in a bedroom in the home of her mother and stepfather. Her stepfather saw the Marines first. “We’re here for Katherine,” Beck said quietly. “Oh, no,” Vic Leonard said.

At first Katherine’s mother, Vicki Leonard, thought it was a salesman. Then she saw her husband walking backward and the two men in uniform. “Oh, no,” she said, and then, “She’s pregnant!”

Vic asked his wife to wake Katherine. Vicki shook her head. She couldn’t speak.

Katherine could hear her mother crying—no, wailing—when her stepfather opened the bedroom door.

“What’s going on?” Katherine asked.

“It’s not good. Come with me,” he said.

Katherine’s screams began as soon as she saw the uniforms.

Two Marines are required for each death notification, not just for emotional support, but for each other’s protection. At the beginning of the war in Iraq, one of the Marines from Beck’s unit was slapped by a furious mother. In 2004, a distraught father in Florida set fire to a van that carried the Marines sent to notify him.

The reaction was different on this day. Katherine ran to the back of the living room and collapsed on the floor, holding her pregnant stomach. Finally, she stood, but she still couldn’t speak. As the chaplain and the major remained on their feet, she glared at them. It was a stare the major had seen before. “Maybe that’s what hurts me the most,” Beck says. “That because I’m standing in front of them, they’re feeling as bad as they’re ever going to feel.”

From the book Final Salute by Jim Sheeler. ©2008 by Jim Sheeler.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

She's not that naive

To add to the surreal spectacle of Pat Robertson fawning over Hillary Clinton, we now have Clinton herself citing, are you ready - none other than Karl Rove's analysis of her ability to win. It's impossible that she doesn't realize that these right wing icons are trying to keep her campaign going because it hurts the Democratic party. You'd think the mere fact that Karl Rove is weighing in on the subject, let alone supporting her, would be reason enough to GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE RACE. We love you, Hill, and it's hard, we know, but it's time to get your head right and LET IT GO.



The return of Karen Allen

I was really excited to see the Karen Allen is back in the new Raiders movie - I thought she was one of the best things about the first one, and her absence was a big part of what was wrong with the sequels (the female characters became more and more peripheral in each subsequent film). I went to imdb to see what she's been up to, and she's worked steadily for all these years, though often on TV, and she has many other accomplishments as well:


Apart from acting, Karen Allen is also an accomplished singer, songwriter and musician (she played in a band with
Kathleen Turner, and recorded a duet with Jeff Bridges for the Starman (1984) soundtrack album). She also writes plays, screenplays and poetry, owns her own Astranga Yoga enterprise and runs a knitting business at her Berkshire Mountains farm.
Here's a nice (and recent) piece from the LA Times; her comments at the end [in response to the question about why she doesn't appear in more films] are especially great:
"I was in that kind of real weird transitional period there," she said, asked about removing herself to this country idyll permanently. "I was in my late 40s, early 50s, and it's a strange little place that you can fall into."
These days all somebody has to do is Google you and they know how old you are. I would show up for roles that were written for somebody in their early 50s, and people would say, 'You can't do that, you look too young,' but if I showed up for a role for somebody in their early 40s then the people would say, 'Well, but she's 50.'"
I'm from a generation of fantastic actresses. It's a big pool of really wonderful actresses, and so many of them we never even get to see on the screen anymore."


Monday, May 19, 2008

If the weather wasn't so lousy . . .

. . . I'd move to Oregon - this display of political energy is totally inspiring:

Obama Draws Huge Crowd in Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. — Senator Barack Obama drew the largest crowd of his campaign so far on Sunday, addressing an estimated 75,000 people who had gathered here on the banks of the Willamette River.
[ . . . ]
The crowd, his Oregon campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro said, broke the record of Philadelphia where some 45,000 had attended one of his rallies.


Another demographic trend

From my favorite blog:


I don't know if McCain really is too old for the job. But it probably does pay to listen to those who are themselves in their golden years. There have been a number of articles and polls pointing out that older voters are the most skeptical of McCain's age . . .


Sunday, May 18, 2008

"No End in Sight"

Since I had so much fun watching Redacted (that's sarcasm), I thought I would give this Oscar-nominated documentary a whirl. Full disclosure: I didn't watch the whole thing. I thought it was interesting and well-made (and the narration by Campbell Scott was terrific), but I think the 5-hour documentary that was shown recently on PBS's Frontline series, Bush's War, which covers much of the same territory, was better:



Saturday, May 17, 2008

Married to McDreamy

Tonight the three of us (me, Larry and Matt) went to see Iron Man (which was quite enjoyable). In the lobby they had this hilarious cardboard ad for Made of Honor with the face of the woman cutout. Too perfect - I made Larry take my photo.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Happy isn't the word

What a week! I just can't believe this. The court says gays are people too! What a radical concept. We finally won one! Finally! After all these years of watching Bush drive the country into the ground with his stupid rhetoric and absurd priorities. After having "values" crammed down our throats in 2004 - that is still so galling. I know it's just Massachusetts and California - the most liberal states in the U.S. - but I feel like the tide is turning. I read several years ago that widespread acceptance of gay rights is inevitable because of demographic trends (i.e., young people just don't care). It feels like that tipping point has been reached, and sooner than expected. Hip hip hooray. Hurrah.


Friday, 16 May 2008
California court legalises gay marriage

The California Supreme Court has overturned a ban on same-sex marriages in a landmark decision that will allow homosexual couples to marry in the most populous US state.

The court found that California laws limiting marriage to heterosexual couples are at odds with rights guaranteed by the state's constitution.


Craziest week ever

This has been the craziest week. A 6 a.m. meeting to start the day on Tuesday, followed by two other long work meetings and topping off the day with a 3+ hour synagogue board meeting at night. Then the make-up class for the foster parent training on Wednesday morning (the only time I could go!) and a long overdue appt with the physical therapist (regarding my shoulder - not rotator cuff, thank goodness) that afternoon. Then another morning meeting (this one at 8 a.m.) on Thursday and Alana's kindergarten orientation session at the elementary school at night. Then tonight is the Sisterhood Shabbat service at Temple, which I very reluctantly have been the coordinator for (plus a potluck prior and enhanced oneg after, both requiring extra shopping, cooking and baking). And I had to finalize the orders for our Pampered Chef fundraiser, which ended Thursday and which I also (quite unintentionally!) became the point person for. Plus this week I needed to get out the monthly mailing for the Sisterhood (late, so I had to get 1 cent stamps since postage went up on Monday), as well as organize another Sisterhood special mailing for a wedding shower that we're hosting. Plus our June bulletin information was due. Plus troubleshoot all the usual stuff - the anxious phone calls and emails and questions that I don't really know the answer to (e.g., what should we do about the developmentally delayed diabetic woman coming to the potluck?) This president thing has turned into a behemoth. It's not that I don't like it, but the time requirement has expanded and expanded. I've been thinking a lot about how to delegate more - I really shouldn't be the Go To Girl on every detail - I'm the CO-president, and there's a vice president and 4 other officers as well. But my "management style," if you can call it that, tends to be Get It Done and others benefit from that tendency. Hmmm. Mostly I just can't wait to SLEEP IN tomorrow!!!!!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I am so happy

Hillary wins big in West Virgina, John Edwards endorses Obama. It's still craziness - what Jon Stewart calls "the Long Flat Seemingly Endless Bataan Death March to the White House." But here's the really good news:

May 15, 2008
NY Times
Republican Election Losses Stir Fall Fears

After three losses in special Congressional races, some senior Republicans urged their party's candidates to distance themselves from President Bush.



"Fast Barry" and other media idiocy

As always, Digby nails it:


I've watched a lot of campaigns unfold in the media and I thought 2000 was a low point for sheer trivia and misdirection. But this one is shaping up to be even worse. There are real problems in this country and around the world and yet we have spent the last four months reading and listening to an ever expanding list of celebrity blowhards pontificate for hours about braindead pop psychology and calling it political analysis. And in a new twist, the media have now openly declared themselves to be kingmakers and final arbiters of our election process. It's mind boggling.

If you ever want to know which way the wind is blowing among the gasbag pundits and village scribes, look no further than the poison pen of Maureen Dowd:

Raspberry for Barry

In grim times, a bitter Hillary clings to bitter voters who in grim times supposedly cling to guns, religion and antipathy to people who aren’t like them.Mining that antipathy, the New York senator has been working hard to get the hard-working white voters of hardscrabble Appalachia so she can show that a black man can’t yet be elected president.

Obama breezed through West Virginia, the state he couldn’t charm even wearing a flag pin and promising to invest in “clean coal.” Fast Barry shot some pool Monday afternoon at Schultzie’s Billiards in South Charleston, including prophetically sinking an eight-ball in the pocket, and then fled from Hillary territory to pursue white, blue-collar workers in battleground states and convince them not to vote for John McBush.

Obama is acting the diffident debutante, pretending not to care that he was given a raspberry by a state he will need in the fall.

"Bitter Hillary," "Fast Barry," "diffident debutante" --- this is what the Village dinner parties are tittering about these days. The old hag, the new fag, the same old shit.

And there is nothing much more substantial going on anywhere else. The endless obsession with process, the horse race, the "math," what they're eating, what they're wearing, what they're playing, runs on and on as if it tells us something truly important about what the citizens want and whether these candidates are giving it to them. Meanwhile we have a war, an energy crisis, global warming, economic dislocation, crumbling infrastructure, fifty million uninsured and huge debt both personal and public among many other things that government must tackle in the next four years due mostly to the massive failure of conservative governance.

Apparently, the press feels that whether they wear lapel pins or misremember some event from a decade ago are the best means of finding out what the candidates do about those things. Or maybe they just don't give a damn and are entertaining themselves with high school story lines.

These amusing Dowdian character portraits have infected our politics like a toxic chemical spill, turning candidates into fun house mirror versions of normal human beings and treating the voters like spectators in a game for which the media decides the rules and determines the outcome.

Dowd always says she's speaking truth to power. Not so. She speaks truthiness to power and doesn't even know the difference. In her world there isn't any. And since her world is journalism it's a problem for any democracy that relies on a free press to inform the public. No wonder people so often end up throwing up their hands and refusing to participate. Let's hope all these new voters don't read papers or watch TV or they'll quickly become disgusted and apathetic too.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

West Virginia primary

You know that kind of satire that makes you laugh and cringe at the same time? Well, The Daily Show tonight was exactly that. Watch the first video clip - "Indecision 2008" - at the website to hear West Virginia voters talk about Obama being Muslim and being put off by "the whole Hussein thing." Holy cannoli!



Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hillary's $20 million campaign debt

I heard this on the radio this morning:


May 13, 2008
Clinton may need Obama's donors to pay her $20M debt

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Should she lose or abandon her quest for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton will have to deal with her campaign's more than $20 million debt — a step that could test her relationship with Barack Obama and raise new issues in campaign finance law.

Clinton owed $10 million at the end of March, has made loans to her campaign totaling of $11.4 million thus far and will more than likely end the primary season significantly in the red.

Among her options is transferring that debt to her Senate campaign committee and paying it off with contributions to her 2012 re-election effort.

But, for the short term, many Democrats believe the answer lies with Obama and his vast network of contributors.

"That is a normal thing when a candidate finishes a race and loses, the winning candidate would try to help if there's some debt that's been incurred," said Tad Devine, a Democratic consultant who has worked in several presidential campaigns but is unaligned this year.

By law, Obama cannot write a massive check from his flush campaign account to hers. But Obama donors, large and small, might be willing to donate to Clinton in the name of party unity.
Clinton campaign officials say they have not contemplated what she will do with the debt. Asked whether she would welcome financial help from Obama, her spokesman, Howard Wolfson, told Fox News Sunday that "any talk of that is premature."

Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, offered a similar response. "She hasn't asked, and we haven't offered. And I think that discussion is way premature," he said on the same program.

ADDENDUM 5/14/08

I heard on NPR this morning that the $20 mil is a figure from MARCH - before the Indiana and North Carolina primaries. It's probably actually MUCH larger!


Monday, May 12, 2008

A good week for Obama

Wow, I was surprised to hear this, but I thought it was good news:


. . . according to a South Carolina newspaper, James Carville said the following: "I'm for Senator Clinton, but I think the great likelihood is that Obama will be the nominee. As soon as I determine when that is, I'll send him a check."

Also saw a terrific new Obama ad, but didn't realize it was sponsored by MoveOn.org:


In it, John Weiler, a Southern California police detective, say, "I'm a veteran, I served under President Ronald Reagan and under the first President Bush. I've been a Republican since before I could actually vote. We need somebody in the White House that is strong. We need somebody who's gonna represent the left and the right, the Democrat and the Republican, everybody. I'm a lifelong Republican and I'm voting for Barack Obama.

Top entertainment figures, including Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, selected the ad in a contest run by the liberal group MoveOn.org for the best 30-second pro-Obama television spot.

MoveOn is spending $200,000 to air the ad for one week in Cincinnati, Denver and Milwaukee, all cities in states considered general election battlegrounds. The ad will also air nationally on cable networks [obviously that's where I saw it].

Watch the ad:



Sunday, May 11, 2008

Movie weekend

Rushed out to see The Visitor during it's opening weekend. Glad to have supported it, but it was just o.k. It's made by the same guy who made The Station Agent. If you liked that movie, you'll like this one. It's good, but very subtle - not a lot happens and the end is a little flat. And it's another in a long line of bad movie titles - the "visiting" that the main character does is hardly the major theme of the movie (plus it sounds like a B horror flick). The movie wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't amazing.

Since that wasn't as upbeat as we expected, we stopped at the video store on the way home, planning to get a comedy. But, as usual, we couldn't agree on anything, so we rented Brian DePalma's faux documentary about the real life rape and murder of a 14 year old Iraqi girl in 2006, Redacted, the Feel Good movie of the year. Clever and affecting, but not really a great movie. I thought it could have been a lot better, especially by spending a little more time on the characters after the crime (the last act of the film feels very rushed). And especially by connecting to the title more - showing more about how the crime was covered up. In the Valley of Elah covers much of the same territory and does it much better, IMO.

My Mother's Day treat for myself was to watch The Jane Austen Book Club on video. I thought it was adorable. Not sure why it wasn't a bigger hit. I know people fussed about the casting and such, but I read the book so long ago, I don't remember every detail, so I had no complaints. It's not a traditional romantic comedy, so maybe that's part of the problem. The performaces were terrific and it was especially great to see people like Lynn Redgrave and Nancy Travis in small parts. I thought it was quite fun and totally worth 110 minutes of my life.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Author # 8311818

This is just funny. I was looking for something else and found my author profile on a website called BioInfoBank Library.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Stick a fork in her . . .

. . . she's done. It looks like it's only a matter of time before Hillary exits the race. I know she's talking a good game, and she's no doubt holding out the hope that if she hangs around in the wings, the diva will sprain his ankle and she can step in for the big performance. But that scenario is pretty unlikely.

My concern now is the battle between McCain and Obama. They have promised to keep it civil, but you know it won't be. These two guys REALLY have policy differences - it would be nice if the election could be a referendum on how to approach the nation's problems instead of focusing on who's more patriotic and who's religious affiliates are more nutty. Heaven forbid that we discuss issues and philosophies, rather than just personalities.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Digby weighs in

I just love her.


So I hear that Village High Commissioner Tim Russert declared that we have a Democratic nominee. The real leadership of our nation --- the punditocricy -- have handed down their decision. Hallelujah!
[ . . . ]
Look, I have the same analysis of the outcome of the elections in Indiana and North Carolina that most people have this morning. Clinton's best argument --- which was essentially that the voters were taking a second look at Obama and showing some buyers remorse --- didn't pan out last night. And there's nothing wrong with political junkies sitting around the virtual pot-bellied stove and saying the race is "over" or exhorting her to drop out. We're citizens and, in some cases, political players. There is, however, something unbelievably distasteful about a handful of powerful, millionaire, celebrity pundits "declaring" such a thing and having the paper of record breathlessly report it as if it was decisive and meaningful.

Who the fuck anointed Tim Russert as the final arbiter of anything? His job is to analyze the political landscape not declare the decision as if he were some kind of Roman Emperor giving a thumbs up or thumbs down. It's bad enough that these gasbags put those thumbs on the scale as hard as they do, but actually taking the initiative to say when the race is over is even worse.

It may be that last night really was the tie breaker that showed that Obama's campaign could withstand some harsh press and rebound from setbacks. It's not a bad thing for Democratic voters to test that out and give him some practice. If he's the nominee and then the president, he's going to have to get used to it. But if it is the end, as I think many of us suspect, it's for Senator Clinton to be the one to declare it, not Tim Russert or any other fatuous overpaid Village gasbag who is no more insightful or informed than any of you.

The idea floating around, even in the blogosphere, that once Tim Russert "says it" then it's true is so galling that I can hardly keep from projectile vomiting. Giving him that power will come back to bite us hard down the road.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

They were wrong again

I was listening in a rather worried way on Monday night and Tuesday morning to the usual pundits like Tim Russert and Joe Scarborough, who were insisting that Obama wasn't playing tough enough with Hillary and that he needed to kick her to the curb and quit taking the high road. I think the results from Indiana clearly indicate that they are wrong and his instincts are perfect (he lost by a razor thin margin when a blowout was expected). Apparently voters responded just fine to his approach and hopefully he will enjoy continued success with it!


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

His days are numbered

My husband has always been enamored of McCain - he's the typical McCain Democrat, loves that macho image and "straight talk." So imagine my delight when my husband says tonight, "He's an idiot." I forgot exactly which statement of McCain's had produced this disgust, but if my husband has lost the rose-colored glasses, things are bad for McCain.


I'm off to see the wizards

I'm going to the Law-Medicine dinner tonight (hosted by the CNY Women's Bar Association) with a panel discussion "Tales from Women in Politics" with 4 local women politicians, including the newly-elected (Republican) County Executive, Joanie Mahoney. I can't wait. It's so rare that I do anything really grown up, and even more rare that I do anything expressly political (other than yell at the television!)

The last Super Tuesday

My friend Mary made her prediction for Indiana (see below). I've long ago resigned myself to having no damn idea what will happen!

I think Barack will win NC by more than the 6 points he's ahead in the polls, and I think Clinton will win Indiana at about the same margin as Pennsylvania (9-ish%).

I have enjoyed getting phone calls though (I'm a NC voter, remember) - I heard first from friends of Hilary, then from Hilary, then from Bill (gave me goosebumps, even though it was a recording, and even though I've been mad at him a few times over the last few months!), and today from Chelsea, asking me to vote for her mom.

Interestingly enough, I did not receive one phone call or mailing asking me to vote for Barack in NC, even after I made a donation to his campaign (I broke down after I decided he wasn't going to pull a John Edwards and drop out anytime soon!). Maybe he didn't bother spending money asking me to vote for him because he knew from my donation that I would?

If Hilary wins the nomination, I'll vote for her (I would NEVER vote for McCain or Romney or any of those other damn Republican thugs!), but we'll see how it goes. I'm ready for someone to start bashing McCain!


Monday, May 05, 2008

"Panderer's Box"

I just don't know what to think. As I've mentioned before, I don't want to lose yet another election by running the wonky candidate who can't connect. Until recently, I thought that person was Hillary Clinton. But she's done an amazing job of rebranding herself as a populist (despite her recently released tax returns that show her and Bill to be multimillionaires).

But I feel very torn by her repositioning herself. What does it say that a Democratic candidate is appealing to traditionally Republican voters in places like Indiana? Is that a brilliant strategy or just surreal?

Why is Obama *accused* of only getting the support of the Democratic base, like urban and college town voters? Since when is running as a Democrat somehow a weakness? (And that doesn't even address how a man raised by a single mother largely in Chicago could somehow be branded as elitist, while a woman raised in a tony suburb and who currently lives in a tony suburb is somehow a Woman of the People - it boggles the mind.)

I don't dislike Hillary, but I find her approach to be odd. Why is she trying to win by being more Republican than the Republican candidate? I find it somewhat insulting.

The Daily Show nails it, as usual - watch the video "Panderer's Box"



Sunday, May 04, 2008

"Made of Honor"

My friend Terri said on her blog that this movie was quite decent:


I was glad to hear that she liked it. I really want to see it, but of course the reviewer in the local paper fussed about it and said the second half (when they go to Scotland) doesn't work. But still, Patrick Dempsey! (Who, by the by, has the greatest publicist in the world - e.g., he's on the cover of the new TV Guide as the "sexiest man on TV" - not that I disagree, but that's some damn fine branding for a guy over 40!)



On the other hand, Matt and I went to see Leatherheads last night, and it was a bit disappointing. It started out strong, but then it seemed to lose it's way. There were a lot of scenes in the middle that didn't connect that well with the movie's set up, almost like they had made two movies and spliced them together. Not a waste of time, though - terrific evocation of the period (1925), and all the performances were good. Though Renee Zellweger should lay off the botox, seriously. Her character claims to be 31 in the movie (maybe it was a joke, it was hard to tell), but in reality, she was 38 when the movie was made and just turned 39. Hardly over the hill, and I think she'd look a lot better if she would age a little more gracefully.


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Why women MUST vote

My friend Terri sent me this terrific essay, but without an author's name, so I went looking and believe I found the source:


Vote is a verb, it does not exist without action. It is a hard won right, not a candidate or party.

Remember How Women Got The Vote?
June 23, 2004

The women were innocent and defenseless. And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'

They beat Lucy Burn, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote.

For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms. When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because--why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?

Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's new movie 'Iron Jawed Angels.' It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.

All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes it was inconvenient.

My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women's history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was--with herself. 'One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,' she said. 'What would those women think of the way I use--or don't use--my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.' The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her 'all over again.'

HBO released the movie on video and DVD. I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn't our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.

It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy.The doctor admonished the men: "Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity."

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Hillary - darling of the right

Last night I was talking with a very politically conservative friend and he said (among other things), "Democrats do realize that Republicans want Hillary Clinton to win the nomination, don't they?"

I had heard this of course, but not from someone in the other camp!

So this morning I was subjected to the perfectly surreal spectacle of Pat Robertson and Joe Scarborough gushing over Hillary Clinton's interview with Bill O'Reilly. She's so strong, so knowledgeable. Pat even said if she could "get to the right" of McCain on immigration, she could win (I swear, he really said that). I've previously heard Joe Scarborough say he's in love with Hillary Clinton.

Joe Scarborough went to great lengths to point out that Obama is a total novice, lacks Hillary's many years of experience and is completely incapable of discussing policy issues with the kind of depth and confidence that Hillary can (evidence: her exchange with O'Reilly, that policy genius).

This would already be completely bizarre and thoroughly suspicious, even if I didn't have my friend's words ringing in my ears.

Both Joe and Pat supported George Bush, whose resume was at least as sparse as Obama's, but are now condeming Obama for lacking qualities that mattered not at all to them when an inexperienced Republican was running (TWICE) against a much more seasoned and knowledgeable Democrat. These guys clearly have no sense of irony (not to mention decency).


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Locks of love

I stopped cutting my hair (except for the occasional trim) over three years ago. It's getting really long, maybe longer than it's ever been. I've been thinking a lot about cutting it for Locks of Love, so I went to their website to see what the rules are. Turns out, you need a minimum of 10 inches of hair, which doesn't seem like all that much, except mine is only about 7 inches. Ouch. It took me 3 years to get 7 inches, so I'm facing another 2 years before I can do any donating. =( Of course, there are other groups that accept hair, so I'm going to look into that.