Thursday, January 1, 2009

Blog # 69: A Happy New Year to You All!

January 1, 2009: Traditionally we have posted our blog on Saturday mornings, after having spent most of the day Friday writing it. This week’s blog will be different. We are spending New Year’s Eve writing it, and we will post it first thing New Year’s morning. New Year’s Day is a day which inspires the hope in us one and all that things will be different in the coming year, that we will get over some of our bad habits and turn over that new leaf that we have been promising ourselves for the longest time. Easier said than done, of course. But a lofty, worthy goal nonetheless.
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We can’t leave 2008 without bidding a fond farewell to George W. Bush, everyone’s favorite president NOT! What did W. in? Well, I’m sure each and every one of us have our own pet theories, but to those aides around him Hurricane Katrina does the honor. "Katrina to me was the tipping point," said Matthew Dowd, Bush's pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign. "The president broke his bond with the public. Once that bond was broken, he no longer had the capacity to talk to the American public. State of the Union addresses? It didn't matter. Legislative initiatives? It didn't matter. P.R.? It didn't matter. Travel? It didn't matter."

Dan Bartlett, former White House communications director and later counselor to the president, said: "Politically, it was the final nail in the coffin."

Their comments are a part of an oral history of the Bush White House that Vanity Fair magazine has compiled for its February issue. Vanity Fair published comments by current and former government officials, foreign ministers, campaign strategists and numerous others on topics that included Iraq, the anthrax attacks, the economy and immigration.

Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that as a new president, Bush was like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice-presidential nominee whom critics said lacked knowledge about foreign affairs. Bush was surrounded by experienced advisers like Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell, who Wilkerson said played damage control for the president.

"It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin-like president — because, let's face it, that's what he was — was going to be protected by this national-security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire," Wilkerson said, adding that he considered Cheney probably the "most astute, bureaucratic entrepreneur" he'd ever met.

"He became vice president well before George Bush picked him," Wilkerson said of Cheney. "And he began to manipulate things from that point on, knowing that he was going to be able to convince this guy to pick him, knowing that he was then going to be able to wade into the vacuums that existed around George Bush — personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum."

On other topics, David Kuo, who served as deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, disputed the idea that the Bush White House was dominated by religious conservatives and catered to the needs of a religious right voting bloc.

"The reality in the White House is — if you look at the most senior staff — you're seeing people who aren't personally religious and have no particular affection for people who are religious right leaders," Kuo said.

"In the political affairs shop in particular, you saw a lot of people who just rolled their eyes at ... basically every religious right leader that was out there, because they just found them annoying and insufferable. These guys were pains in the butt who had to be accommodated."
The story is at: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/nation/6186132.html
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Israel isn’t the only entity out there mad enough to start a war. Would you believe breast-feeding mothers on Facebook? They are seriously pissed because Facebook has been taking down pictures of them nursing their babies from their pages, some of which were their profile pics. Proving without a doubt that a person’s Facebook page belongs to Facebook, and not to them. What follows is from the Times Online (London, not N.Y.)

“A mass online protest movement is gathering pace after Facebook banned some breastfeeding photos from the social network site.

“Angry mothers even picketed the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California, in a live "nurse-in" to complain about a ban on photos of mothers suckling their children that exposed too much of the mother's breast. Hundreds of women have had their pictures removed without warning and have been informed that they may be barred from using the site.

“More than 80,000 people have joined a Facebook petition group "Hey Facebook, Breast-feeding is not Obscene" with hundreds joining every hour. More than 11,000 women from around the world have also taken part in an online "nurse-in" protest on Saturday by posting more breastfeeding pictures. The protest's organisers reported that many have since had these photos removed from the site.

“Facebook has said that it has no problem with breastfeeding but photos that showed nipples or aureolae were indecent and had to be removed.

“Barry Schnitt, a Facebook spokesman, said the website takes no action over most breast-feeding photos because they follow the site's terms of use.

"We agree that breast-feeding is natural and beautiful and we're very glad to know that it is so important to some mothers to share this experience with others on Facebook.'' But, he added, some photos were removed to ensure the site remains safe and secure for all users, including children.

"Photos containing a fully exposed breast - as defined by showing the nipple or areola - do violate those terms on obscene, pornographic or sexually explicit material and may be removed," he said in a statement. "The photos we act upon are almost exclusively brought to our attention by other users who complain."

“Patricia Madden, from San Jose, had a photograph of her breastfeeding her daughters Zoe and Isobel removed from the site. The birth doula, who encourages new mothers to breast-feed, was photographed by her husband while feeding in the bathtub.

"It's amazing to me that we're living in a world where people are upset by this,'' she said. "You can't see my nipples. It's completely legal to breast-feed in public. Breast-feeding is completely natural and healthy. They took off the photo, without my permission," she told the San Jose Mercury News.

“The live protest in Palo Alto, under the banner of the Mothers International Lactation Campaign, attracted a handful of mothers and supporters who picketed peacefully, armed with suckling children and placards.

“It is legal to breastfeed in public in most states in America and in many countries around the world including Britain but Facebook's terms of service give it the right to remove content that it deems it to be inappropriate. Campaigners say that breastfeeding is natural and healthy and should be not bracketed with pornography. Facebook's stance demeans and stigmatises women, they say.

“Heather Farley, 23, of Provo, Utah, said she was surprised when Facebook took down two photos of her nursing her 6-month-old daughter, one of which was her profile picture. She became one of the protest's organisers. She said: "Where I live, I can breast-feed in public or private, and there are laws that say it's not obscene or lewd or indecent. If I can do it in public, why can't I do it on Facebook?"
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To leave the Times Online story, I think most people are not offended by the human breast, and rather get a kind of thrill from seeing it. After all, it is for many of us our first source of nourishment, and it is one of nature’s more beautiful body parts, as glorified in art from time immemorial. However, to determine that a body part like a nipple or areola is pornographic borders on the absurd. In truth we are a multi-cultured society, and one obsessed by playing it safe, and so whatever offends one group is usually banned by all so as not to offend the one. And the more cultures you combine, the more things which will end up being banned. And sometimes it goes to absurd lengths, as it has here. I’d be willing to bet that those who run Facebook are mostly men, young arrogant men, men deathly afraid that something might come along and puncture their magic balloon. I hate to disillusion the assperson that spoke for Facebook, but when he said that: “Photos containing a fully exposed breast – as defined by showing the nipple or areola – do violate those terms on obscene, pornographic or sexually explicit material and may be removed," is full of it. It is his mind that is obscene, not the bared breasts of nursing mothers. It shows you what can happen if generation after generation is bottle fed, rather than breastfed. They lose all perspective and appreciation of the finer things. What an irony it will be if it turns out that Facebook’s banning of pictures of mothers breast-feeding their babies was the straw that brought down the Facebook house of cards.

The Times article is here:
http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/article5417278.ece

The pictures that Facebook banned can be seen here:
http://www.tera.ca/photos6.html

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Historians might well term 2008 as the year of YouTube. Even the Israeli army in its attempt to justify its Gaza air strikes, has taken out a channel on YouTube. Although many will not fault Israel for the current slaughter, some of us feel that Israel’s desire to punish Hamas by killing ten to twenty Palestinians for every Israeli killed might be seen as overkill. And this is especially true since in Gaza there have been 400 deaths as retribution for no Israeli deaths from rockets. For the sake of peace and sanity, we would hope that cooler heads might prevail in Israel, though the chance of that happening with all the candidates trying to outdo superhawk Benjamin Netanyahu is fat to the point of obesity.
This week has uncovered some memorable videos. We would like to bring you some of the best we have found, and we refer you to the Daily Beast’s two video pages for more gems. First off, we would refer you to the Beast’s page of election comedy. Particularly we recommend the video of John McCain’s talk at the Alfred E. Smith dinner in New York. McCain is a natural comedian when properly inspired, and if he had managed to project this image in his campaign he might well have won the election, or at least done a lot better than he ended up doing. Perhaps Republicans in the future will take note of Obama’s success and conduct themselves as human beings you would admire and like to know, rather than relying on slander and guilt by association, and other scare tactics too numerous to mention here. You will find this video at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/big-fat-story/2008-12-28/the-best-political-comedy-of-2008/
Also on the page you will find Chris Rock making fun of Bill Clinton’s avoidance of Obama’s name early in the campaign. He made it originally on the David Letterman show, and went on to follow up on Larry King among others. Saturday Night Live is represented, of course, as it became relevant pmvr again in this year’s elections. “You betcha!” However the gem of this page we present below. It is then newly elected Senator Barack Obama of Illinois roasting the congressman from Illinois, the man who would later be his pick for his chief of staff, Ron Emanuel. It is funny bordering on brilliant, and we think watching it will make a great way to enter the New Year. Happy clicking.



Although Obama’s level of humor never quite rises again to his opening remarks on the loss of part of Emanuel’s middle finger which Obama pointed out makes Emanuel practically mute, (and which also seems to have completely cracked up Emanuel) it showed a real fondness for his pick at an early stage in the race, at a time when probably only Senator Obama really thought he had a chance in hell to be president.
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Before we noted that this is the year of YouTube, the year of non-professionals shooting video on their cellphones or movie cameras and uploading it to YouTube. Some of these use copyrighted music by performers who don’t want their music used by an amateur, and certainly not unless they pay the piper. Many a near priceless video has been taken down by the artist. But one, a video which is truly worthy of the label heartwarming, is the story of Christian the Lion. Set to the singing of Whitney Houston, it is said to be the most downloaded YouTube video of all time. We wouldn’t know about that, but it tells a really classic story of love between species, does this tale in which a couple who adopted a lion cub, and who would exercise it in the church’s extensive grounds, and who later have to return the animal to Africa and to the wild because it got too big for their apartment. The remarkable story of their reunion with their beast is below.


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And finally here is a compelling video which we found in Dwight Silverman’s excellent Tech Blog in the Houston Chronicle. It shows to what heights imagination can reach when combined by technical skills. This remarkable video shows us would would happen to earth if a rather large asteroid crashed into it. To music by the incomparable Pink Floyd, the accuracy of the video we cannot attest to, but it’s images are chilling indeed, and it does serve to make us conscious of those myriad chunks of airborne rocks floating around up there in space, and it suggests we be ever vigilant and determine ways to deflect the path of one these lest it attempt to mimic the one in this video.


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The holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas time, are travel times. And this week we were drawn to a story in the New York Times the other day, called Do Strangers Really Hate My Kids. It can be found at: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/30/do-strangers-really-hate-my-kids/?hp

It was in a column called Motherlode, by Lisa Belkin and it is a follow up to a story that was posted by a mother named Stephanie who was traveling to Atlanta with two children. From her email: “We took off late, and I followed the great advice to use the delay and tire them out in the boarding area. I also took the advice not to board early and waited until the very last minute. We had three seats, because I didn’t cancel my husband’s ticket, and the hard part was dragging the extra car seat through the airport (I took the baby in the stroller/car seat combo), but having two car seats for two children was a godsend. I nursed the baby going up and going down. My older girl can’t really sit through a whole movie, and I couldn’t get a portable DVD player at the last minute anyway, but I filled a backpack with goodies and she had fun opening a new one every once in awhile. They both slept a lot. I even got a nap. And all around me were people who were willing to help. I was a little nervous because of some of the very angry comments people left about how I had no business taking the trip in the first place, but none of those seemed to be on my flight!”

“Let’s talk for a moment about those angry comments. Blogs are a universe apart, and I know well that people will write things here, anonymously, that they would never say to someone’s face. But, as the person who read every single one of the 500-plus comments and approved them for publication, I was struck by the depth of some of the anger.

“To keep things in perspective, I’d estimate 90 percent of you who left comments (no, I haven’t done a mathematical breakdown. I can’t bring myself to go back and read 500 plus comments again, but if anyone out there would like to, please let me know what you find … ) were supportive and practical and wise. I particularly liked the idea of bringing a bag of chocolate kisses to hand out as an advance “apology” to other passengers.

“Of the remaining 10 percent or so, I’d say half were spurred to nastiness by the idea of a baby being changed on an airplane seat (which, for the record, I have done when it was the only option), and they might well have kept their thoughts to themselves if not for that particular suggestion.

“But the other five percent? No wonder Stephanie was nervous about finding you seated near her on a plane.

“Do us all a favor, stay home,” wrote someone who chose to call himself “I.Hate.Kidz” for the purposes of leaving his comment.

Matt suggested, “Maybe you should have thought about juggling two children before you stacked them basically nine months apart.”

And to the reasonable suggestion that Stephanie bring along some electronic entertainment for a long flight, John declared, “Anybody who has to narcotize their off spring with a DVD player is an unfit parent.”

I was sent an e-mail this weekend from a reader, a mother of three children under the age of 6, who was deeply shaken by what she read here last week. She directed me to a blog she keeps, a way of staying in touch with family and friends, where she explored why the comments upset her so much. Are there really so many people who see parents as simply out to make the world a noisy, unsanitary place, she wondered. Do strangers really look at her that way when she goes out into the world with her children, doing the best she can?

Here is some of what she said:

“I was left feeling really, really sad. Dismayed. Sad. The post was made on December 23rd, a day when I would hope that many would be full of holiday spirit, whether it be thanks to Hanukkah or Christmas or just the end of the year. I would hope there would have been more gentle words in those comments. They were just so edged with tension and resentment and dislike for children and mothers, and it has sat with me and made me just feel heavy for days now.

“I know there are rude parents. I have encountered some doozies myself. I know kids can be painful to travel with or be around or see out in public. I know my kids have kicked airplane seats (despite my best efforts) or had diarrhea or cried during an airplane holding pattern (that made me want to cry as well). I know that children are not always pleasant and that parents are not always perfect or even anywhere close. But this attitude, this perception of children as a public nuisance that truly shouldn’t be seen NOR heard? It just hurts my heart. How have we come to this?

“I take my children out in public. We eat at restaurants, we fly on airplanes (and pay through the nose for it, thanks), we stay at hotels, we go into stores. I have breastfed in public. A lot. Not because I think it is fun or because I am making a statement, but because I have been desperate or at wit’s end (often sleep deprived to boot) or just incapable of figuring out another way to manage the outing. I don’t want to foist my children on the general public — lord knows I try to avoid confrontation at all. But sometimes it is unavoidable, and I do believe my children have to actually go out into the world sometimes in order to know how to behave in it.

“My children are not gremlins. They are not animals. They aren’t malicious or out to ruin anyone’s day. But they are people too — short people, often loud people, sometimes unreasonable people. That separates them from adults how, exactly? After all, I have been on plenty of airplanes on which adults acted disruptively. On one flight, a drunk woman lit a cigarette in her seat and then proceeded to stand while we landed because she refused to sit down. Another woman, also drunk, threw up all over her row and her rowmates several times during a flight.

“I have been in stores and restaurants in which adults threw tantrums, raised their voices or acted inappropriately. Some of the worst behavior I have seen at Disney World has been from adults, not (oversugared, overstimulated, sleep deprived) children.

“The mean-spirited blog comments really brought me down. I don’t know why it affected me so much. Maybe because it was so apparent how judgmental a lot of people are, how intolerant our society is, how *mean* we can all be sometimes. Isn’t the world tough enough without despising little children and their desperate parents? Why can’t we all give each other a little bit of a leash? When you see a parent out in the world with small children, you have no idea what is going on in that parent’s life. None. How about a little grace?”

One last thing. To the commenters who wondered why Stephanie didn’t just stay home or why her parents didn’t come out to see her instead, she explains: “In the end it was all worth it. My father has been very ill and he’s not allowed to travel, which is why I was so determined to have this Christmas with all of us together. Happy New Year.”
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What a shame that there are intolerant and nasty and selfish people out there, unconscious of the environment they travel in, but going through life this way is no way to live and let live. People need to relax, and try to conjure up a little empathy for their fellow human beings. We only travel this path one time, why not make our own journey, as well as those of our fellow travelers, as pleasant as possible. Wouldn’t that make one helluva New Year’s resolution? Cheers, and a happy you know what! See you Saturday Week.

The Real Little Eddy