Sunday, February 06, 2005

Note to the readers

It's up, up and away!

Another Sunday, another Third Estate Sunday Review.

Much to our chagrin, we were scrambling to the end.

Our thanks to Folding Star of A Winding Road for allowing us to reprint a blog entry.

And our thanks to Folding Star also for the strong essay contributed on the Senate.

Next week, we're probably going to touch base with Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude again because we got a lot of e-mails about her interview and her blog entry she allowed us to reprint.

As usual, we owe more thanks than are possible to C.I. of The Common Ills. We begged for help early on with the Dylan Thomas post. Then later in the afternoon we began submitting our drafts for feedback and suggestions. That included the TV review of Medium which C.I. looked at and added feedback to even though "I've never seen this show." Our feature on suicide was also something C.I. added input on in the draft stage.

We had intended to an editorial on the culture we, as a country, are creating and were working through that and arguing over it. Ava was on the computer trying to find a figure to back up a point Ty had that Jess was disagreeing with when she checked the e-mail and found C.I. had e-mailed us Daniel Okrent's latest column. Reading it, we agreed with C.I.'s note, that it was a laugh riot.

And immediately, we decided this was our editorial. We were all writing and researching and C.I. agreed to help provided any paragraphs mentioning The Common Ills remained with the five of us and weren't passed onto C.I. Without C.I.'s help, we'd still be working on it as opposed to get ready to crash as soon as this posts.

We had talked of reprinting C.I.'s post on Simon Rosenberg since the race for DNC chair is about to be decided. However, Rosenberg dropped out. With our new editorial, we decided to highlight The Common Ills post on why Daniel Okrent should step down.

We think there are some strong things in this edition. You've responded most (judging by e-mails) to the TV coverage. We really hadn't intended to TV so often but you enjoy reading it so we'll keep pushing it until we hear otherwise. (Or until the well goes dry on our end.)

Dona feels that we can be proud of this edition but we almost blew it by putting off so much work until Saturday. We're going to try to be on top of things for this coming weekend. Don't be surprised if we're running behind schedule.

Editorial: Danny Okrent -- Ready for his own sitcom or menace to society?

We were half way through one editorial when Ava, researching on the computer, screamed, "Holy crap! Take a look!" We did. We'd just been e-mailed a column from today's New York Times.
[C.I. of The Common Ills had e-mailed it to us.]

The increasingly inept New York Times has an article that reads like a comic send-up. What are we talking about? Daniel Okrent, public editor of The New York Times.

You might or might not be familiar with the loveable Okrent. We thinks he's either a hilarious comic sending up journalists or else he's seriously misunderstood his job describption as readers' advoacte.

As The Common Ills has noted, Okrent writes about what he wants to write about. He's supposed to be dealing with the questions, concerns and complaints of readers regarding what's actually in the paper. Instead, his columns pop up on whatever topic he wants to write about.
Today's gem?

Judith Miller's appearence on Hardball.

Let's point out something here, the paper hasn't written about that appearence. But Okrent writes what he wants to write about and apparently short of Tommy Friedman soiling himself, Miller was the big news Danny-O wanted to address.

Let's note that the paper has had serious problems this month and last month. Serious problems in print. But Danny-O wants to jot down his thoughts on Judith Miller's TV appearence. This is a public editor? This is a readers' representative?

This has to be a joke.

The first laugh fest comes with this:

Let me make a few things clear before going forward. First, I don't believe Miller's appearance on Matthews's show has anything to do with the current contempt citation hanging over her, the one resulting from her refusal to reveal sources to a federal grand jury. I believe she is right to resist the subpoena; that her apparent willingness to go to jail to protect her sources is admirable; and that The Times is right to defend her unflinchingly.

Did he type that with a straight face? We like to picture him typing that line and then turning to the side like Norman Fell (Three's Company) to mug at the cameras.

Of course her appearance was about her contempt citation. She may not know how to check her facts, but Miller knows how to sway the public. And The New York Times is in the business of "managing" public opinion. They've tossed her on every program they could thinking they could build some sort of grass roots "Free Judy" movement akin to the support Martha Stewart had.
Only thing is, apparently, Martha Stewart comes off nicer. With her alternating scowl and pursed lipped smile, Miller always comes off like a prig and a snob.

Judy proves she's got what it takes to report for The Times with this groaner she unleashed on Chris Matthews (one we haven't seen anyone note):

Most of the people, the overwhelming majority of the people participating in this election, you know, the 7,000 candidates, the 111 lists, are committed to secular government in Iraq.

"Most of the people, the overwhelming majority of the people participating in this election" doesn't, in the eyes of Judy and her rag of a paper, include those voting. Poor Judy. She's hoovered up to the power elite for so long that even when she's trying to relate to the "common man" that watches basic cable, she can't quite bring herself to embrace him.

Danny-O doesn't comment on that. He probably didn't blink an eye when she uttered it. Probably made perfect sense to him and most people working for the paper. In their view, the people participating in an election are not the citizens/voters, it's the power elite that's attempting to win an office (from those unwashed masses apparently).

The Times will keep pushing Judy on any show that will have her. (No word yet on whether the rumor that she'll be a contestant on The Pyramid is true or not. We also hear she may or may not be in talks with Cheaters.)

Okrent hasn't found the time to address the lack of serious coverage of the protests in D.C. last month and he hasn't found the time to address the offense many took to the Bully Boy's statements about gay parents, but he's got plenty of time to reflect on the election now. (Maybe this is the evaluation he promised he'd do after the election?) Or at least on a Democratic primary debate:

On television, dogged questioning can appear to be oppositional, even harassing. When White House correspondent Elisabeth Bumiller served as a panelist in a televised debate during last winter's primary season, some readers were convinced that her aggressive questioning of John Kerry and a head-to-head scrap with Al Sharpton demonstrated hostility. The same questions and the same attitudes deployed in a private interview could have produced answers that, in the paper, would have seemed absolutely proper and appropriate. But television can transform and distort reality; thinking you know a reporter from what you see on TV can be like thinking you know an actor from the way he behaves on stage.

Was Bumillie (The Common Ills has dubbed her the Elite Fluff Patrol squadron leader) appropriate in the debate? "Some readers were convinced" she wasn't (and readers' representative or not, Danny-O doesn't weigh in on that.)

Guess USA Today is just another reader of the paper. (But then aren't we all, really, in the eyes of The New York Times?) Check this:

At one point, Kerry protested that the rapid-fire questioning didn't allow enough time to answer adequately.
"You're in New York," quipped Elisabeth Bumiller, a New York Times reporter on the panel.

Quipped? Is the panel supposed to be "quipping?" Don't they have a pretty serious responsibility? Should they be quipping? (Would they be quipping if the League of Women Voters still ran the debates? We think not.)

That's how it goes with shits and giggles via Bumiller.

Let's go to Wonkette because surely she's not just a reader (the paper's Sunday magazine featured her on the cover with two old geezers practically on top of her):

We wish the New York Time's Elisabeth Bumiller was running for president, just so that we could vote against her. She just turned in what may be the worst debate performance since Nixon sweated through his makeup. It's the journalism equivalent of the Dean Scream, and if there was any justice in the blogosphere, someone would Photoshop a picture to show her strangling a kitten. Or, at the very least, hounding a kitten to death with idiotic questions and arrogant assumptions.
. . .

• "Are you a liberal? Are you a liberal?"

• "Yes or no? Yes or no?
• "Let me ask a question about Iraq. I have an Iraq question."
This isn't being a tenacious reporter, this is just talking to hear the sound of your own voice. (Though it was, admittedly, hard to hear Bumiller over her Khrushchevian table-pounding.)

Let's go to "reader" Matt Taibbi in The New York Press:

You may remember that one: Bumiller was one of three journalists, along with Dan Rather and Andrew Kirtzman of WCBS, who moderated the last meaningful Democratic debate. At the time, there were only four candidates left: Kerry, Edwards, Sharpton and Kucinich. The debate was remarkable because of the obviousness with which the three panelists tried to steer the discussion away from Sharpton and Kucinich. Early in the debate, Bumiller cut Sharpton off in the middle of one of his answers, about Haiti. When she tried it again later on, Sharpton protested:

SHARPTON: If we're going to have a discussion just between two -- in your arrogance (ph), you can try that, but that's one of the reasons we're going to have delegates, so that you can't just limit the discussion. And I think that your attempt to do this is blatant, and I'm going to call you out on it, because I'm not going to sit here and be window dressing.
BUMILLER: Well, I'm not going to be addressed like this.

And Bumiller made it clear later on that the press was not going to be pushed around, when in an exchange with Kerry she angrily insisted on the right to make political labels an issue in the campaign:

BUMILLER: Can I just change the topic for a minute, just ask a plain political question?
The National Journal, a respected, nonideologic publication covering Congress, as you both know, has just rated you, Senator Kerry, number one, the most liberal senator in the Senate...
How can you hope to win with this kind of characterization, in this climate?
KERRY: Because it's a laughable characterization. It's absolutely the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life.
BUMILLER: Are you a liberal?
KERRY: Let me just...
BUMILLER: Are you a liberal?
KERRY: the characterization. I mean, look, labels are so silly in American politics...
BUMILLER: But, Senator Kerry, the question is...
KERRY: I know. You don't let us finish answering questions.
BUMILLER: You're in New York.

This question -- how can you hope to win if you're so liberal --was what sank Howard Dean, was what allowed the press to ignore Sharpton and Kucinich, was what ultimately made it impossible for opponents of the war to have a voice in this campaign. In most cases, this demonization of the word and witch-hunting of anyone who could be attached to it was a subtle thing whose effect was cumulative. But Bumiller brought it right out into the open, wore it like a badge of honor. And looked like a smug, barking cow doing it.

Here's "reader" Bob Somerby (The Daily Howler):

Then the New York Times' Elizabeth Bumiller asked a question. With a minute of time to split four ways, here is the question she asked:

BUMILLER: Really fast, on a Sunday morning, President Bush has said that freedom and fear have always been at war, and God is not neutral between them. He's made quite clear in his speeches that he feels God is on America’s side.

Really quick, is God on America’s side?Let's say it again, in case you're incredulous. Helping to moderate a presidential debate, Bumiller asked four hopefuls to say—"really quick" and "really fast"—whether God is on America’s side.
Where does one start in discussing such foolishness? Perhaps here: Bumiller's question barely stood out, given the tonnage of sheer inanity the debate’s moderators had already put on display. Bumiller was fatuous from beginning to end; her vacuous questions were only matched by her determined refusal to let anyone answer them. But the Gotham Times ace was hardly alone in her serial foolishness. For example, we were stunned to see local CBS anchor Andrew Kirtzman persist in asking (and re-asking) Senator Edwards if his constituents really knew how big his house is. Did you think that ABC's Billy Bush embarrassed himself Sunday night, asking weird questions on Oscar’s red carpet? If so, you should have seen this Gang of 3 as it conducted this nation’s great business.
Really quick, "is God on America's side?" For us, the sheer stupidity of Bumiller's question almost seems to answer itself. As we have often asked in the past: What have we ever done as a people to call down this plague of journalistic inanity? A Dirty Little Secret was revealed once again: The people who steward your discourse just aren't very sharp. Really fast, "is God on our side?" If Bumiller takes a look in the mirror she will get a hint of an answer. Our question: What did we ever do to call forth this plague under which we all suffer?
THE MORNING AFTER: Here are four of Bumiller’s last five questions, spread out over roughly two-thirds of the debate:
1. Are you a liberal? No, are you a liberal?
2. Should President Bush go to soldiers' funerals?
3. [To Kerry] What have you learned about likeability from Edwards?
4. Is God on our side?

Here are "readers" Helen Kennedy and Maggie Haberman (New York Daily News) weighing in on the panelists:

The Rev. Al Sharpton picked a fight with moderator Dan Rather, the candidates got testy, and aggressive panelists repeatedly interrupted everyone.

Some "readers" thought Bumiller wan't appropriate, Danny-O?

He's got to be a comedian. It's got to be his dead pan delivery that throws us.

Another comic curveball he gets off is this one:

I don't think any of my cavils pertain to columnists or critics, who make their livings peddling opinion. They are their own brand names. When David Brooks appears on one show and Maureen Dowd on another, their diverging viewpoints do not demonstrate contradictions at The Times; they demonstrate the views of David Brooks and Maureen Dowd. (I'll leave it to you to determine whether a public editor falls into this category.)

He's equating himself with David Brooks and Maureen Dowd -- as though he were an op-ed columnist! And catch the parenthetical. Does he speak for himself or the paper? He'll leave it to "you" ("readers") to decide. Again, Danny-O, read your job description! You're supposed to be independent. It's right there in your job description and you've even written that your columns are not interfered with by anyone at the paper.

Hell, it's even pointed out at the bottom of your column:

"The public editor serves as the readers' representative. His opinions and conclusions are his own. His column appears at least twice monthly in this section. "

Let's note this laugh-fest (his columns really should come with a laugh track):

There are many, many reasons why newspaper people would want to appear on television. There's vanity, of course, and the ensuing cheap thrill of having someone stare at you on the subway, trying to figure out who you are. There's the admirable desire to help promote the paper you work for, and the less admirable one to promote your own career. There's the-well, I can't actually think of any others.

Really? We can! To help explain a story. To get a story out. To highlight a story getting lost in the shuffle. But that would require informing and Danny-O isn't about informing. If he were, he'd have never written this insane op-ed passed off as some how serving his role as "reader's representative."

Danny-O does another shout out to Slate's Jack Shafer in today's column. That's becoming a bit of a problem as The Common Ills pointed out in December:

Long forgotten are his [Danny-O's] words from his December 7, 2003 column:

My only concern in this adventure is dispassionate evaluation; my only colleagues are readers who turn to The Times for their news, expect it to be fair, honest and complete, and are willing to trust another such reader -- me -- as their surrogate.

Anyone who's read the columns in one sitting (as I did last night) one after another will quickly grasp that the readers haven't been his "colleagues" -- they've been his target. However, repeated "shout outs" to Jack Schafer (of Slate) usually note a closeness. Today Okrent calls Schafer his "partner in whine." I don't read Slate but "whine" does describe Okrent's writings at least.
"What I wanted to write." That's all it's about and that's become increasingly clear. Readers are the topic of rage and ridicule from Okrent (again, Rob, we'll be dealing with that later today). He's unable to recognize or address readers' concerns because he's busy being chummy with Jack Schafer. That's sweet, Okrent, we're all glad you found someone to hold your hand at the playground.
Meanwhile you once again ignored the readers.

Here's a Common Ills community member commenting on the love-fest between Danny-O and Jack Schafer (hopefully it's unrequieted):

Melody: "I love how he drops Jack Schafer's name all the time. Jack's doing this. Jack said this. Jack, my buddy. Jack, my pal. I think Jack first became a regular in this column on Feb. 1st of this year. And he's mentioned Jack yet again today. [December 26, 2004] It's kind of like reading Suzy in Women's Wear Daily! Oh, but Danny's not supposed to be a gossip columnist is he?"
No, he's not. But comparisons to Bombeck and Suzy aren't surprising (though they are insulting, Bombeck was often funny) when he's strayed so far from the purpose that led to the creation of his position at the paper.
That's all Danny-O ever does.

This has to be a some sort of post-modern stand up, right? This can't really be the paper or Danny-O's idea of a readers' representative, can it? We knew the paper was sick but if this ain't no joke, it may be time somebody took the gray gal to the vet and had her put down.

Yes, we know she's been a loyal pet for inside sources and power players. And she could probably continue sniffing ass for years. But if this is for real and not a put on, if Danny-O's writings are really felt to be the sort of thing the paper feels a "readers' representative" should be writing about, then The New York Times has stopped being just a joke -- it's now an old joke.

C.I. of The Common Ills asked us to note that C.I. helped with researching this piece. And that C.I. participated on some paragraphs BUT NOT ANY THAT MENTIONED THE COMMON ILLS. We started this editorial late and desperately needed all help possible. The ground rules going in on this an hour ago (C.I.'s ground rules) were research wasn't a problem, reading over paragraphs and making suggestions weren't a problem unless The Common Ills was mentioned.
We followed C.I.'s ground rules and thank C.I. for all the help.

Ten young adults talking about suicide

Whether it's a gum commercial on TV or a survey from the news to the phrase "__ in ten people" is utilized constantly. This week, we're focusing on the issue of suicide. There are five of us. In the midst of a crazy week, we each decided to meet up and bring one friend so that we could reach that magical number of ten.

What follows are our findings. Are they scientific? Hell no. But neither are most of the polls you hear on TV and radio and read in the paper.

9 in 10 have thought about suicide.

4 in 10 have thought about it in the last six months. Usually around finals or when grades are due to go out.

3 in 10 have actually tried to kill themselves.

A: I had just broken up with my boyfriend and I was alone in the house listening to Mariah Carey sing "I'll Be There." I was crying and he was probably with the skank he'd been cheating on me with. I just sat there in the dark, crying, listening to that same track over and over on the CD player. I was thinking about how Monday would roll around and everyone would know we broke up and that he'd cheated on me and how pathetic I'd look. I'd called my best friend right after he broke up with me and her response: "You had to know he was cheating." So I was thinking that pretty much everybody would be thinking, "What an idiot." Excpet for the ones thinking, "What a spazz!" and feeling sorry for me. I just couldn't face Monday in school with everyone staring at me and bumping into my ex in the hall with skank. So I went to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and found a bottle of aspirin. I grabbed a Snapple and downed the whole bottle. I was gagging near the end and remember thinking, "Shit, I'm about to choke to death!" And then I was all like, "Oh yeah, well I'm trying to kill myself here." So I swallowed them all but ended up gagging at the end and puking all over the carpet. Everyone of them came up. Landed on the new carpet my parents had just put in my room. Which was all I could think about then. How I needed to clean that mess up before they saw it. So I grabbed some paper towels and mopped up the mess then a wash cloth and scrubbed at it. By the time I got done with that, I was mainly pissed off at myself. I tossed Mariah in the trash can and went on to sleep. Ironically, I woke up the next morning with the worst headache. And my stomach felt like there was a shredder inside it. That's my big I-once-tried-suicide story.

B: I wasn't really what anyone would call popular. And I was always sure people were talking about me. There were these three guys, jocks, who were always picking on me. A couple of times they put my head in the toilet in the men's room and flushed repeatedly. Or I'd be walking down the hall and one of them would come up behind me and knock my books off my hip and everybody would laugh. I wore really thick glasses then and still had braces and really, really bad zits and all of three got me a nickname for each one. I was called "Zit Boy" more often than I was called by my name, you know? But my skin was starting to clear up and there was this girl in physics who was starting to talk to me. Senior prom was coming up and she started coming over to my house. I started thinking she was interested in me. So we're going over this thing on properties of manner and stuff when I say, "Hey, you got a date to the prom?" She shakes her head and I say, "Want to go with me?" She just stares at me for what seemed like a hour and then says, "Zits, I just need help with the class. I get enough crap for talking to you, no way am I going to the prom with you." And she'd never called me "Zits" or "Zit Boy" or any other name so it just really hurt. I couldn't even look at her. Finally she goes, "I'm out of here" and leaves. And I remember just feeling like the biggest idiot in the world because I'd asked her out and thought maybe she might like me. I remember I had this big zit right next to my nose but other than that I wasn't covered with them like I was from 13 to 17. And that was a really big thing because I usually had 'em all over my face. I mean, one zit was nothing compared to what I'd gotten used to for four years. It was like a miracle or something. So there I'd been thinking that things were finally starting to change and that maybe this girl who would talk to me at school and who was coming over and studying in my bedroom might actually be interested in me and stuff. I just felt like nothing's changed, nothing's changing, nothing's ever going to change, this is my life and this is the way it is now and like forever. So I went down to the den, my dad's a big gun collector, and opened up his gun cabinet and looked around trying to decide handgun or rifle? I grabbed what I found out later was a Glock and it was loaded and I put it to my head and tried to squeeze the trigger but the thing was jammed. I'm standing there squeezing and squeezing and nothing. Then I hear the front door and know it's my mother coming home so I put it back and hightail it out of the den.

C: I'd gotten two rejection letters [college] in the same week and all my friends were talking about where they'd be going and my parents kept asking me if I'd heard anything yet and I kept saying not yet. I was thinking no one was going to accept me and wondering how I was going to tell my parents that. I was salutatorian at my high school. And I took that hard too because I thought I should have been valedictorian. So I busted this plastic razor and took out the blade and I was trying to slash my wrist but nothing was happening. I was poking and scratching but couldn't seem to break the skin. And I was bearing down hard. And so this went on for about thirty minutes before my kid brother really started banging on the door and making jokes about
"What are you doing in there all this time? I don't hear no shower!" I threw everything in the trash, washed my hands and went for a walk.

Biggest worries/fears that make you consider suicide these days?

C: Disappointing my parents. I can live with a B or a C. I'd be pissed off and angry at myself but that would be it. My parents would be mortified.

D: Finals.

E: True that! Finals. It always seems like you have the time to study and you're pulling through but then along comes finals and it's just so fucking crazy because you have to cram and cram and near the end you're not sure you're going to be able to pull it out and get that last burst of energy you need to see it through. My mind's wondering and I've got notes and books around me and I'm sitting there thinking about something really lame or not even that but like staring into space and thinking "Study!" but I just don't have the energy to and that's usually when thoughts about killing myself kick in. It's only during finals week. Any other time I can cope and handle anything but during finals week, right before that last final especially, I'm a raw nerve.

A: My love life.

F: Bills. I'm always juggling everything and always having to take out short term loans for school each sememster because money is just so damn tight. Right now, I've got about 400 dollars on VISA that's just text books. Oh, and like this semester, I had one prof who says to us, "I expect you to all visit a museum, go to a play and to a concert and bring back your ticket stub." I don't have that kind of money. I don't have a car so it costs to go somewhere. There's no free concert I can go if he wanted a stub. I mean I'm living Ramen noodles seven days a week and he's thinking that I have money to go buy tickets? A ticket to a campus play may seem like nothing to him, but I truly have to watch each penny. I even roll pennies. I sell plasma. I work two part-time jobs. I live on Ramen and microwave popcorn. If I'm lucky, I'm able to pay a bill off buy the second notice but sometimes I'm not that lucky. So when money has gone beyond tight and someone starts trying to add to my expenses, that's enough to send me off the edge. Or at work. One job, it's just me all night. Fine. But the other job, I'm a student worker. And everytime there's a birthday in the department, they're coming around for money. "We just need five dollars." Just five dollars? Oh well, hold on a moment and I'll pull that out of my ass. I don't have anyone helping me with bills, my parents can't, so I'm all alone basically and I don't see the need to fork over five dollars for some professor who isn't looking at it the way I am which is, "That just cost me about an hour of work." But if you say no, you get a reputation and the rumor is you don't get asked back. They say that they don't need you. The work's easy enough and I don't like looking for jobs so it's basically like I feel black mailed into giving five dollars every week.

G: The war. The mood of the country. I just feel everything's so fucked up and keep thinking it's only going to get worse. I can't believe what's going on and how so many people seem happy in their stupidity. This illegal war is so wrong and so destructive for everyone involved. And all that bullshit about what our country stands for goes right out the window because that's where we tossed it. It gets me really angry. And I'll see a story or a photo of some American or Iraqi that died and it just really turns my mood black. I just can't deal with the country's insanity.

H: Guilt. Guilt over something I've done or something I have that somebody else is doing without. Guilt over feeling like I didn't do enough to get Kerry elected and Bush out of office.
Guilt over telling the homeless person I didn't have a spare cigarette. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

I: Feeling like I'm not getting anywhere and probably falling behind. I hear all the time about how my brother's getting this grade or that honor at the college he's at and that doesn't help.

J: I think I'd say the war too. Because it's so huge and so many people are just acting like it's not going on. They're off somewhere obsessing over Michael Jackson's trial or Brad [Pitt] and Jennifer [Aniston] breaking up. And it's just depressing to the think that these might be our priorities. Is this the character of our country? If it is, things will never get better. I believe strongly in transforming society in a just and fair one with opportunities for all but I think about all the people stuffing themselves on crap news or crap TV like American Idol or whatever and not even picking up a paper. I remember being in a class in April of 2003 and we'd had a lot of casualties but this one idiot flipping through her People or whatever says before class starts, "Oh, we're not even near 200. People need to quit trying to make this into some sort of big deal." And now we're at over 1,440 and I have to wonder if she could pull herself away from the Sexiest Man Alive or whatever long enough to wonder if it's become a "some sort of big deal" yet.

If someone came to you and told you they were thinking about suicide would you be comfortable talking to them about it? 7 out of 10 said yes.

What would you tell them?

Three people felt they'd need to think on that or know what the reason behind the person considering suicide. Four shared what they'd tell the person.

B: I'd tell them about how I tried to kill myself and what I was thinking then about how nothing ever gets better. I mean, my braces are off, I have contacts, and my skin cleared up. I can get a date and no one makes fun of you for studying here. So a situation may be really bad but it's a situation and it can pass.

F: I'd make them list their problems that were so huge that they wanted to kill themselves and then I'd make them take a look at the tragedies other people have because a lot of time you just need some perspective and to move out of your own head long enough to realize you aren't the fucking center of the world. This one girl at work, my day job, wanted to kill herself because her hair dresser had screwed up her "beautiful hair." I was all, "It's only hair, it will grow out. The whole world's not staring at you and thinking, damn, her hair is fucked up." But sometimes there can be something minor that's huge to you because you're not getting perspective from people around you.

J: I'd tell them that there are enough losers in this country already trying to destroy our democracy, most of them are in the administration, and that we need people who care to stick around because we have to tell truths and change this nightmare.

G: Yeah, I'd agree with that. And I'd agree with ___ [F] and try to point out to them that they could get involved in a march or speak out and make a difference because it is easy to get focused on yourself. But if you start realizing what you can do with others and working towards something, you will find that some of the "big" problems you have aren't so big.

6 out of ten knew someone who had committed sucide.

Here's a statistic for you, from SAVE: Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, "For young people 15-24 years old, suicide is the third leading cause of death." You can also check out Sucide and Suicide Prevention for additional information. The CDC also has information.

Folding Star of A Winding Road on the Senate

If you've read A Winding Road, you know that Folding Star focuses largely on the Senate. (If you haven't, what are you waiting for! Click on the link!) Folding Star's comments are always to the point and speak of the puzzlement, anger and delight we feel as we watch the happenings go down (sometimes up -- Senator Barbara Boxer has surely pulled her party up since the first of January).

In blog entries explaining what just happened, there's not a great deal of time to address what the Senate means and should mean. So we asked Folding Star to write up some thoughts on the Senate. We were expecting some quick jottings but we got this wonderful essay instead.

"I First Became Fascinated by the Senate . . ."

I first became fascinated by the Senate at an
absurdly young age. I was in the 9th grade at the
time, and I honestly can't tell you how the
fascination began. I suppose it might have been
stumbling across some Senate coverage on CSPAN that
first piqued my interest, or maybe something I saw in
a movie. I remember checking out books on the role of
the Senate and its history, and for a time I had the
crazy notion that I wanted to grow up to be a United
States Senator. Never mind that I hated with a passion
any occasion when I had to speak in front of a class
of 30 other kids I'd known to some degree or another
for years. Somehow, public speaking wouldn't phase me
in my quest for a Senate career!

I also recall informing my mother one afternoon that
I'd decided to run for the Senate when I was older.
Never one to discourage her children's dreams, she was
positive about my desire, but she did tactfully point
out that you need a lot of money to be in politics.

And there we have it. The gap between what fascinates
me about the Senate, really about our whole political
system, and what keeps it from being all that is
should be.

What the Senate should be is a body of women and men
who are wholly equal in power and status, along with
the House of Representatives, to the Presidency.
Congress as a whole declares wars, not any President.
The framers of the Constitution would never have given
that power to any single individual. The Senate,
meanwhile, acts as a check upon the Presidency in that
they alone can approve or reject any treaty; they
alone can approve or reject the Judicial nominations
of a President, the Cabinet nominations of a
President. Advice and Consent.

The Senate, ideally, should be a place of great
debate. It should never be a rubber stamp for any
administration, not even the most liberal. For
instance, FDR attempted to get around a more
conservative Supreme Court by 'packing' it, upping the
number of Justices from 9 to 12 so that he could
appoint 3 more Justices. The plan didn't get past the
Senate. While such a move would have (in the short run)
aided liberal causes, it would have set a dangerous

I see the Senate, ideally, as an institution in which
debate thrives, and in which they take their
constitutional role with the utmost seriousness. A
body made up on intelligent men and women, of
thinkers. Of people who would see the inherent danger
in making the Senate nothing more than a rubber stamp
for an Executive branch ever growing in power, who
would never abdicate their right to declare war or
debate crucial nominations for as long as necessary on
the Senate floor, without being hit with charges of
partisan politics.

The Jeffersons and Madisons of our times should be
serving in the Senate today. People who know their
history and who truly care about change and progress
should find the perfect place for themselves in the
Senate. The Senate, as it should be, would have, in the
20th Century, boasted such names as Gore Vidal and
Howard Zinn, should they have decided to run (Gore
Vidal did run in the Democratic primaries for the
Senate from California in 1982 and in the general
election for the House from New York in 1960).

The reality, of course, is quite different. Because of
the way our electoral system in structured, the
members of the US Senate tend to be bought and paid
for by various interests long before they can reach
the Senate. It's in essence a club for millionaires,
or those who've sold their vote to people or
corporations with access to millions for their

That's not to say that progressives don't find their
way there. But most of the time, they're compromised
in some way. It's a fact of the system.

What the Senate means to me, then, is more based on an
ideal than on the reality, though I truly believe that
we CAN change the reality to bring it closer to the
ideal. In our history, we already have. Until 1913,
each and every Senator was chosen not by the people of
his (and it was of course only 'his' back then) state,
but rather by the state Legislatures. In other words,
it was your typical political machine,
you-scratch-my-back type of set up.

One of the key fights of the early progressive
movement, though, was for direct election of United
States Senators. And it was a fight that was won. Less
than a hundred years ago, we managed to bring the
Senate that much closer to the ideal with a bit of
electoral reform.

So reform is possible, and I hold out hope that by
making electoral changes, we can open the Senate up to
the sort of people who should be serving in it: People
who want to debate issues, not rush them through
committee without a floor debate because they affect a
big contributor. People who actually give a thought to
what Government is all about and who truly believe in
the words 'Of the people, by the people, and for the
people.' People who don't have to be millionaires or
in bed with corporate interests to get there to begin
with. Women and men of every race and religion that
make up America today.

The reform that needs to happen is actually quite
simple- we have to take the money out of politics.
Give all candidates equal time on the public airwaves.
Equal public financing of campaigns and the
elimination of any private money involved in them. No
campaign, from the Presidency on down, should be a
multi-million dollar business.

Once you remove the money from politics, it levels the
playing field completely. The average activist who
cares about the future of his or her country can run a
real campaign of ideas against that 5 term Senator.

In short, the Senate should be about ideas, debate,
and public discourse about the state of our country
and where it's going tomorrow and next year, and in
ten years. That's what the Senate means to me, that's
what it should be and what I hope it one day will be.

Now that I've dwelt on the idealism of what the Senate
means to me, let me talk about what my hopes are for
the Democrats serving in the Senate today.

In spite of my idealism, I am also a realist by
necessity. You cannot look at the political scene
today as someone who is a progressive liberal and not
be a realist. We've got far right Republicans in
control of the Congress and the White House for at
least the next two years, after having been in control
for the last two. We've got a Supreme Court that is
one Justice away from joining the far right
domination. (One moderate or liberal Justice, that is.
If we were to lose Rehnquist, Scalia, or Thomas, the
balance would remain the same. Bush would merely be
replacing one far right Justice with another.)

And, on top of that bleak picture of the three
branches, we've got a Democratic party that is torn
between embracing its true progressive values and
moving to the right in a misguided, self destructive
attempt to woo Republican voters!

In the period after the last election, in which the
Democrats lost a net total of four seats, when it
became evident that Senator Harry Reid of Nevada was
going to be Senate Minority Leader, I didn't feel very
positive about the 109th Congress.

My best hope at that time was that the Democrats would
at least manage to hang together enough to filibuster
the worst of the far right judicial nominees that Bush
would try to appoint, especially in the instance of a
vacancy on the Supreme Court, and to fight off the
worst of the second term agenda Bush was promoting.
With so many voices in the party, including former
President Clinton, advocating what amounted to a shift
to the right, and with the Republican-Lite Harry Reid
leading the Dems in the Senate, my hopes even for this
were faint.

However, in the month since this Congress came into
session, I've seen reason to begin thinking a bit more
positively. Beginning with Barbara Boxer's amazing
stand, along with Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones
of Ohio, challenging the electoral vote of Jones'
state on the grounds of overwhelming evidence of fraud
and voter disenfranchisement, I've seen the term
'opposition party' begin to take on more meaning than
it seemed to have these past four years.

In the weeks since, this feeling that some Democrats
are starting to understand what Opposition truly means
has grown. 12 Democrats and Senator Jeffords of
Vermont stood against the Rice nomination and 35 Dems
and Senator Jeffords voted against the confirmation of
Alberto Gonzales, saying no to the idea of rewarding
torture with promotion to higher office. What's more,
they stood up to charges of petty partisan politics
and insisted on debating these nominations on the
Senate floor, which is no more than their
constitutional obligation.

Most of all, I look at someone like Senator Barbara
Boxer who is not afraid to do what's right, even if
she's standing alone in the Senate, and I begin to
hope that what we'll see in the 109th Congress is a
growing sense of change, of opposition to all that
Bush stands for. I begin to hope that the Democrats in
the Senate will follow Boxer's example on more than
just these confirmation votes, will begin to act like
true Democrats again. That, in spite of those voices
pushing for a move to the right, they'll begin to
realize the they're there to represent the left.

In a party that should be lead in the Senate by
Barbara Boxer or Ted Kennedy, I begin to hope that the
Democrats will actually fight harder than ever before
to shut down not just the worst of Bush's agenda, but
all of it. That maybe they, like Kennedy, will begin
to call for an end to our occupation of Iraq and a
return home of our troops.

Those are my hopes for this Congress, for these
Democrats- that they will continue to fight for us,
that they will continue to recognize that the Senate
should be debating important issues, even if the Right
wants to have a name calling fit over it and act as a
rubber stamp for their boy wonder. Most of all that
the courage of those few like Barbara Boxer will
continue to inspire their colleagues on to acting more
and more like real Democrats again.

What do I think are the chances of all this happening?
Well, we face an uphill battle. Harry Reid is no
Democrat. At best, I'd call him a moderate Republican
who for whatever reason decided to run as a Democrat.
And he's in charge of setting the agenda for the
party. So we will face very real battles with Reid. He
didn't join the 13 who voted against Rice, and I think
we saw the effect that had- most sided with the party
'leader' and voted to Confirm, no matter how
disgraceful a choice that was. With Gonzales, Reid
joined those voting no, and all but six Democrats (and
three who did not vote) went with him.

Reid will be an obstacle to the progressives in the
Senate in many ways. But, he has pledged to stand firm
against Bush's worst Judicial nominees and his attack
on Social Security. So, in some crucial cases, Reid
will be the leader he won't be on many other issues.

And Reid doesn't stand alone. Let's not forget that he
was elected by the other Democrats in the Senate who
knew just how conservative he was. There are far too
many Senators who belong to the Center-Right and want
to see the entire party follow their lead. They'll be
feeling threatened by the stands that Barbara Boxer
and others are making.

We also can't forget that we're the minority party by
a greater number now. With Senator Jeffords caucusing
with the Dems, the balance stands at 55-45. The
Democrats not only have to all hold together, they
also have to win over at least 6 Republicans for a
majority vote. It's an uphill battle, there's no
question about it.

But watching Senator Boxer make her stand on the issue
of the Ohio vote, I felt for the first time in a long
time that there was at least one truly courageous
person in the Senate with progressive values, and I
think it's a start we can build upon.

The important thing, as always, is to remember that
these people are our voice and we need to constantly
remind them of it. When someone takes an amazing
stand, write them or call their office so that they
know you approve. If they do something completely
heinous, like the six who voted to confirm Gonzales-
the two Nelsons, Lieberman, Landrieu, Salazar and
Pryor, just for the record- let them know how much you
disagree with them. Let them know BEFORE a vote how
you feel, and again afterwards. Let them know, above
all, that we're watching, we're paying attention, and
we're going to hold them accountable come election
day. Nothing speaks louder to a politician than that.

And nothing short of we, the people, taking control
and demanding change, demanding electoral reform,
demanding that Democrats represent progressive values
again, will help make the Senate what it could be,
make our entire political system what it needs to be:
Of the people, by the people, for the people.

Blog Entry Spotlight: A Winding Road on Senator Barbara Boxer's Bravery

Picking one entry to highlight from a blog isn't an easy task. We picked this January 6th post from A Winding Road because Folding Star summed up all that we felt which includes a hearty thank you to Senator Barbara Boxer.

Thank you Senator Boxer

This post is coming later in the day than is usual for me, and I do apologize for that.

Today was a day of ups and downs. First, the incredible news that Senator Barbara Boxer had demonstrated the courage so often lacking these days among many of her colleagues and had signed the objection to the certification of Ohio's electoral votes.

I'm sure many of you felt the same all too rare sense of pride I felt over this news. We all owe Senator Boxer a huge debt of gratitude for her resolution and courage in coming forward on this matter, for doing the right thing. And we all owe the same debt of gratitude to Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones and all of the other members of the House who worked with her on making this happen.

It's also further proof that the progressive movement that we've all felt growing over the past few years is still very much alive and in force. Our voices, our calls, our letters, our signatures on the petitions were a large part of what convinced Senator Boxer to sign on.

Let me be clear that I was under no illusions as to what would happen next. Republicans are in the majority of both houses. I had no real hope that the objection would be carried further, though it clearly should have been.

I, political junkie that I can be, watched all of this unfold on CSPAN and CSPAN 2 this afternoon. In the Senate, I watched as Democrat and Democrat came forward and praised Senator Boxer for giving them the chance to discuss this, watched as most of them gave stirring speeches about the need for electoral reform, several of them laying out in detail the problems that had occurred in Ohio.

I also watched, though, with a sinking sense of disgust as one after another, in the midst of their praise for Boxer and their listings of the faults of Ohio election and the calls for reform, as they expressed the feeling that they had no question as to the validity of the Ohio electoral vote.

My anger and depression grew as the roll call vote was called. One by one, all of the Democrats who cast their votes, with the exception of Senator Boxer, voted against the Objection. This in spite of the evidence that many of them had cited in their own stirring speeches calling for reform. At one point, it was called out that Senator Levin had also voted Yea. Several minutes later, however, the clerk called out the words "Senator Levin, Nay."

I do not know why the Senator from Michigan changed his vote, or if the first reporting of his affirmative vote was somehow a mistake.

In the literal sense, Senator Boxer truly stood alone in the Senate this day, and she will forever have my admiration and respect for her courage and resolution in doing so. But in a much larger sense, the Senator stood not by herself, but with thousands of us by her side.

Her loudly and firmly called out Yea vote was cheered from the same gallery that had minutes before interrupted a statement from the Republican Senator from Ohio, George Voinovich. To his declaration that the people of Ohio and of the Country had chosen President Bush, a female voice from the gallery shouted out "We did not!"

Whoever she was, we were all there with her in spirit, calling out the same thing.

One of my own Senators gave a speech today echoing his Democratic colleagues' calls for reform, before casting a No vote.

I did not expect this Objection to be carried forward. I did, however, expect that other members of the Senate besides Senator Boxer would have the courage to vote in favor of the objection, especially in light of the overwhelming evidence of fraud many of them spoke of.

Where was the Democratic party today? Has it so completely been taken over by Neoliberals? Have all the true liberals in the party been pushed into silence except Senator Boxer?

One by one, Senators I expected to vote Yea disappointed me.

Things went a bit better in the House, and certainly the speeches there, as I flipped back and forth between the two bodies, were far more stirring and passionate than in the Senate. Also, more had the courage to step forward there, in terms not of just speeches, but also in terms of votes. 31 House Democrats voted in favor of the Objection.

In spite of my disappointment, though, we can say that the crucial subject of electoral reform has been brought to the forefront of the political discussion today, and the problems of the Ohio vote were aired in a way that they largely have not been to date.

Now it is up to us to keep the pressure upon our elected officials, no matter what their votes were today, to make sure that today's talk of reform was not just lip service.

We need real change, and we need it NOW. We need certifiable paper trails for all electronic voting machines, we need laws preventing State Officials who are in charge of elections from having any affiliation with either of the Campaigns involved in the election, and we need a uniform standard for voting and counting the votes nation wide.

While we're at it, we also need to throw out the Electoral College, an antiquated relic of a time when only white men of means were eligible to vote in this country, and institute a system of voting where it's truly Democratic- one person, one vote. We have popular elections for every official in this country except the top two, and it's well past time to change that.

My depression started to fade as I considered what happened today and compared it to what happened after the 2000 election, when no Senator would come forward and do what Senator Boxer did today.

I'm sure you heard her own comments on that today in her press conference. She expressed her regret that she hadn't come forward in 2000. She was asked by then Vice President Gore not to do so, and she respected his wishes. However, she very rightly pointed out today that it wasn't about Vice President Gore, any more than today was about Senator Kerry. It was about the voters.

This year, thanks to Senator Boxer and the members of the House who worked so hard on this, we moved a step closer to saying that what's happened in the last two elections is wrong, is as far from what America stands for as it's possible to get.

Now we move forward. We fight for Electoral reform, we fight to hold Bush accountable for his crimes, both in stealing elections and in lying us into an illegal war, in approving torture of prisoners in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, and in outing Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent who's husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, spoke out against Bush's lies.

It's not too soon to begin calling for Bush's impeachment on these grounds.

The next four years will mean speaking out and standing up, continuing what we've started in the past few years. Senator Boxer, the woman who should without question be Senate Minority Leader instead Harry Reid, showed us today what that looks like, and her courage, far more than the cowardice of her 44 Democratic colleagues, is what I'm taking away from today.

Meanwhile, in another signal that things are changing for the better, Senator Arlen Spectre, new Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, showed independence from the far right and the White House in the opening of the Confirmation hearings on Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales.

Spectre allowed far more questioning and criticism of both the White House and the Patriot Act than his predecessor, the odious Senator Orrin Hatch, would ever have stood for. He's even allowing for crucial testimony against Gonzales from law professors and a Human Rights Activist.

Senator Spectre is far from perfect, but having him in the position promises to be a benefit to some degree, especially on matters of Judicial Nominees.

An article on the subject of Spectre's somewhat promising beginning can be found at

We have many more battles to fight now and in the years ahead, including the battle against the Patriot Act, parts of which come up for review this year. Let's go forward with the spirit of Senator Boxer and Congresswoman Tubbs Jones alive in us. Let's speak truth to power, as the woman in the gallery did today, and loudly make our own feelings heard.

Blog Flashback: The Common Ills says "Daniel Okrent, Step Down."

In the editorial we publish with this edition of The Third Estate Sunday Review, we note Daniel Orkent -- comic gem or malicious writer? If anyone's unclear on why Okrent is so reviled, it's not just because he refuses to do his job. It also has to do with a malicious thing he did to a reader of The New York Times.

We got C.I.'s permission to rerun this entry from December 26, 2004 about the "outing of George." C.I. notes that "George" is not the real name of the reader. Though the reader had been named elsewhere, C.I. did not have permission to name the reader or quote the reader.
C.I. attempted to contact "George" but wasn't able to reach him. C.I. did hear from "George" a week or so after the entry originally posted and notes that "George" is a very nice person who's been hurt very badly by The New York Times.

C.I. also notes that Common Ills community member Rob was requesting this story almost from the start of The Common Ills. C.I.: "Which is why we're a community at The Common Ills. In the morning, when I'm dealing with the Times, if no one's e-mailed in on the paper yet, I'll just pick what I think we'll find interesting. Sometimes I'm right, sometimes I'm wrong. But this is not a site that 'readers' visit to read. Members are very active and they determine the direction as much, if not more than, I do. The best pieces I've written have come as a result of their input and requests. And when we're dealing with their own comments, we're always more interesting and on stronger ground than when it's just me jawing off at the mouth."

Daniel Okrent, Step Down

Daniel Okrent is the public editor of the New York Times (see previous entry, and the Times has refused to do the obvious, ask him to leave. At this point in time, the only hope is that Okrent's own heart and head will tell him it is time to step down.

And it is past time for Okrent to take such an action.

For those new to Okrent, we're dealing primarily with an October 10, 2004 column. In it, Okrent elected to take a private citizen to task for an e-mail they sent to a reporter (Adam Nagourney) at the paper. We're going to call the person "George" because he is a private citizen or was until Okrent elected to use the power of his column and the New York Times to turn George into a public figure.

Here's Okrent:

But before I turn over the podium, I do want you to know just how debased the level of discourse has become. When a reporter receives an e-mail message that says, ''____*" a limit has been passed.That's what a coward named _____ ["George"], from _____, wrote to national political correspondent Adam Nagourney several days ago because Nagourney wrote something Schwenk considered (if such a person is capable of consideration) pro-Bush. Some women reporters regularly receive sexual insults and threats. As nasty as critics on the right can get (plenty nasty), the left seems to be winning the vileness derby this year. Maybe the bloggers who encourage their readers to send this sort of thing to The Times might want to ask them instead to say it in public. I don't think they'd dare.

With that column, Okrent started down a road that went beyond the ridiculous (his previous columns) to the shameful. I want you to pay attention to Okrent's remarks above. How he quickly associates "George"'s remarks with "threats" and "sexual insults." What Okrent elected to quote was not a threat. [*We're not printing the line because we do not have George's permission. The Times shouldn't have printed it for the same reason and we'll address that shortly.] A threat is, "I will harm you" in any variety of words. When someone, as George did, uses the word "hope" in a statement (no matter how "vile" it may appear to Okrent) it's not a threat.

But Okrent quickly moves on to threats and sexual insults to attempt to build a case against George through inference. Let's be really clear here, what Okrent quoted wasn't a threat, it wasn't a sexual insult. It was a stated hope. To call it anything else is a flat out lie. Let's repeat that because the press has a problem using the "lie" word: To call it anything other than a stated hope is a flat out lie.

In a "letter" from Okrent that ran in his own column, Okrent admitted he was wrong to use the word "coward." That's the least of the wrongs that Okrent committed. He's been far more vocal about this in other sources. Such as in Business Week:

. . . even Okrent had doubts about his own course of action. "But I thought about it, and I decided that someone who goes out at night and paints a swastika on the door of a synagogue doesn't want it written about either," says Okrent. "There have to be consequences. (What the blogger wrote) was vile. No one should ever wish that on another person."

[Business Week's link for this story does not load properly; however, you can view the story on Yahoo at]

I'll agree with Okrent on one thing, there do have to be consequences. But not for George who didn't threaten anyone. (Had he done so, of course, the Times could have turned the e-mail over to the police if they were seriously bothered by it.) There do have to be consequences for Okrent's actions.

Let's toss around a word here: hypocrite.

Is Okrent a hypocrite?

In a December 7, 2003 column, Okrent elected to self-describe (as he so often does -- he is his own favorite subject):

By upbringing and habit, I'm a registered Democrat, but notably to the right of my fellow Democrats on Manhattan's Upper West Side. When you turn to the paper's designated opinion pages tomorrow, draw a line from The Times's editorials on the left side to William Safire's column over on the right: you could place me just about at the halfway point. But on some issues I veer from the noncommittal middle. I'm an absolutist on free trade and free speech, and a supporter of gay rights and abortion rights who thinks that the late Cardinal John O'Connor was a great man. I believe it's unbecoming for the well off to whine about high taxes, and inconsistent for those who advocate human rights to oppose all American military action. I'd rather spend my weekends exterminating rats in the tunnels below Penn Station than read a book by either Bill O'Reilly or Michael Moore. I go to a lot of concerts. I hardly ever go to the movies. I've hated the Yankees since I was 6.

An absolutist on free speech? Really now? I guess that absolutist stance sails out the window when you disagree with the speech? It's either that (which means he's not an absolutist on free speech) or Okrent is indeed a hypocrite.

Despite Okrent's conjuring up of sexual threats and swastikas, the reality is that George offered a hope. Not a pleasant hope for what might happen to Adam Nagourney's children, but a hope none the less. Not all that different from someone saying, in a passionate exchange, "I hope you die first so that I can come to the funeral and dance on your grave." Is that a threat?

No, not by any legal understanding can that be construed as a threat.

Okrent can fog up the issue all he wants to make himself look better. That's his choice. But it makes him more vulnerable should legal action be taken because his comments reveal a malice towards George. As a professional writer he should understand the concept of malice and he long ago should have tempered his remarks.

Let's go legal for a moment. "United States law states that letters are the physical property of the recipient; the writer owns only the context, not the paper on which his/her words are written" (Bair, Deirdre. Anais Nin. Penguin Books: New York, NY. 1995. P. 604, footnote 16.)

What does that mean? I'm not a lawyer, but I think it means Adam Nagourney owns the digital copy (and any print-out he made) of the e-mail George wrote. He does not own the words. George retains the rights to the words he wrote. (The rights to the words Okrent quoted not only without George's permission but also over George's objections.)

Why does that matter?

Here's Okrent explaining to Times' readers his "policy":

My policy: I consider all messages sent to me, or forwarded to me by Times staff members, to be public unless the writer has stipulated otherwise. Every message sent to my office gets an instant response asking if the writer wishes his or her name to be withheld.No signed comments are published without confirmation of authorship, either by telephone or e-mail.

Okrent can implement whatever policy he wants; however, that doesn't make it legal. He can implement a policy that he's going to track me down and kill me. That could be his "policy," but it still wouldn't be legal.

According to Okrent's stated policy, "unless the writer has stipulated otherwise," the message is public. He notes that "every message sent to my office gets an instant response asking if the writer wishes his or her name to be withheld."

What Okrent doesn't tell you is that George spoke with both Nagourney and Okrent's assistant (Arthur Bovino). In his public letter to Daniel Okrent (posted online), George states that he asked both Nagourney and Bovino not to publish his name or the city he lived in.

Okrent leaves that out. I wonder if a good lawyer would?

I wonder if a good lawyer would note that not only is Okrent's "policy" not the law of the land but that, in this instance, he didn't even follow it. He leaves readers with the impression (from the "policy" discussion) that no one would ever be named without that being there desire. He fails to alert them that, in George's case, he threw his policy out the window.

Make no mistake, Okrent's "policy" isn't the law. George is, or rather was, a private citizen. Courts have been full of private citizens suing the press and often they win. Does anyone at the Times ever worry about that?

In the case of Arrington v. The New York Times Company, the Times emerged victorious. That was many years ago in a much more press friendly environment. (It was also over the unauthorized use of a photograph taken in public and then used to highlight a story that the photograph's subject did not agree with and did not feel represented him.)

Fair use applies to published words. George's words weren't published prior to Okrent publishing them. There was no fair use clause that allowed Okrent to print George's private e-mail.

Has the Times legal department looked into the matter? Do they feel that violating the privacy and express wishes of a private citizen, tossing out federal law regarding the ownership of the contents of a letter and holding a private citizen up to public ridicule has placed the paper on strong legal grounds? Or maybe they think that since Okrent acts independently of the paper, the paper's not responsible? (He's written that he's an "independent contractor." Maybe the Times, should George sue, could offer up the Iraqi prison defense?)

The latter would be a legal argument that might prompt many chuckles from the bench. The Times hired Okrent. They gave him this platform. They continue to grant him this platform even after his actions with regards to George. With that in mind, attempting to label Okrent as an independent agent that the paper has no responsibility for might be an amusing legal argument to hear.

[A lawyer would will rightly recognize that's there's no approbation issue at stake here. However, tort law also recognizes privacy invasion based upon intrustion, private facts and false light. All three seem to have some bearing on the "outing" of George.]

Those are legal issues that this non-lawyer wonders about. What of ethical ones? Was it ethical for George to be "outed" over his objections? Okrent might argue it was. But if he has a policy in place and he doesn't use that policy, even his ethics can be called into question. (Yes, Okrent, I'm calling your ethics into question.)

But let's deal with another ethical issue -- Okrent is the readers' representative. Is it ethical for someone holding such a title to betray readers? That's how people writing this site feel: betrayed.

In Dallas: "I now put at the top of any e-mail I send to anyone at the Times 'THIS IS A PERSONAL E-MAIL. IT IS NOT TO BE PASSED ON TO DANIEL OKRENT OR PUBLISHED OR QUOTED IN THE PAPER.'"

J: "How can I trust Okrot to represent me after he trashes ___ ____ in print? ____ ____ is a reader, just like me. I don't trust him, he's betrayed the position he holds. He should step down immediately if the Times doesn't have the guts to fire him. And how does the Times justify taking my money as a reader while allowing their public editor to attack a reader?"

Erika: "He has done nothing but ridicule the readers since taking on the post and he crossed the final line when he made a reader's name and location public over that reader's objections. He's made himself unfit for the position he occupies. It's time for him to bow out."

Rob: "Say I have a serious problem but don't use the language Okrent likes. If I contact him about my problem does that give him the right to name me and ridicule me in the pages of the Times? Even if I beg him not to? I don't know. That's why this subscriber doesn't have a public editor that he can even present a problem to."

Okrent hasn't been totally useless. Reading all the columns in a row yesterday, I discovered a few things. First of all, that two Excedrin Tension Heache pills combined with one asprin can almost bring relief to headaches brought on by Okrent's writing and self-promotion.

There was also this discovery: ". . . Janet Elder (one of the editors who supervise The Times's polling operation) . . ." That was interesting to read. Nagourney and Elder summarized a poll. The poll had some problems with questions (as I read it) and the summary was selective (at best). Assuming Elder was a reporter new to the paper, I'd not called her actions into question as much as I would have had I know she was "one of the editors who supervise The Times's polling operation." There's no excuse now for what the paper printed with regard to their Times/CBS News poll.

[For discussions on this see:,,,,, and in that order.
I also want to note that Kara pointed out that I used two figures: one (855) is the number printed in the paper, the other (885) is the number printed on the front of the polling report that was available online. I have no idea which one is correct. And honestly didn't even note it until Kara pointed it out to me.)

What else did I learn?

Okrent loves to talk about himself. In his February 15, 2004 column he "interviewed" himself.
For a full column. Apparently, making his history, thoughts and feelings the subject of a full column months earlier (December 7, 2003) wasn't enough about him. Apparently, he felt we need more information. From those two columns and other pronouncements, one wonders if Okrent believes the space is a column about him? That it's paramount to our enjoyment of the Times that we know various facts about him, his interests, his vacation, his career. And in the process of wading through all this junk what's missed is why the position was created, what's missed is Okrent doing the job he's supposed to be doing.

Keesha: "Reading his columns, I have to remind myself that this is supposed to be a public editor's space. Instead it comes off like someone auditioning to be the next Erma Bombeck."

Perhaps that's just Okrent writing about "what I wanted to write" about. [A quote from Okrent's column today. See previous entry.]

It's not doing the job he's been hired to do.

Melody: "I love how he drops Jack Schafer's name all the time. Jack's doing this. Jack said this. Jack, my buddy. Jack, my pal. I think Jack first became a regular in this column on Feb. 1st of this year. And he's mentioned Jack yet again today. [December 26, 2004] It's kind of like reading Suzy in Women's Wear Daily! Oh, but Danny's not supposed to be a gossip columnist is he?"

No, he's not. But comparisons to Bombeck and Suzy aren't surprising (though they are insulting, Bombeck was often funny) when he's strayed so far from the purpose that led to the creation of his position at the paper.

[I've never read "Suzy" but I understand from readers of WWD that the writers of that column are breezing and entertaining. Okrent fails on that level as well.]

Rob: "I want you to address his May 9, 2004 column where he attacks the Tonys. Okrentgot praise for addressing the Times handling of pre-Iraq war coverage. But what I hear isthat he only did that because he broke his own guidelines with this piece."

I don't know why Okrent decided to address the pre-war coverage. (But I bet if you asked, he'd be willing to turn it into a two part column! It would be, after all, about himself.)

Here's what he wrote in his column on May 30, 2004:

F[rom] the moment this office opened for business last December, I felt I could not write about what had been published in the paper before my arrival. Once I stepped into the past, I reasoned, I might never find my way back to the present.Early this month, though, convinced that my territory includes what doesn't appear in the paper as well as what does, I began to look into a question arising from the past that weighs heavily on the present: Why had The Times failed to revisit its own coverage of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction?

Rob's reasoning is based (besides what's been passed along to him in e-mails) on a stated Okrent "policy" that he alludes to above "From the moment this office opened for business last December, I felt I could not write about what had been published in the paper before my arrival. . . . Early this month, though . . ."

And it's true that early that month, Okrent addressed the Tonys:

U[nless] I acquire some unexpected clout around here in the next 48 hours, Times readers will wake up on Tuesday morning to read a prominent story announcing the nominees for an artistically meaningless, blatantly commercial, shamefully exclusionary and culturally corrosive award competition.Let me put it another way: unless Times editors have overcome several decades of their own inertia, readers on Tuesday will find a prominent story serving the pecuniary interests of three privately controlled companies whose principals have earned the right to convene in what Damon Runyon once called ''the laughing room.''

What's Okrent doing? He's writing about something that the paper has yet to cover since the creation of his job. He's writing about how the paper has covered the Tonys in the past (before he was public editor). He's violating his own stated "policy." (Granted, that's not unusal for him.) If you read the column (and you might, insomnia can lead people to try many desperate measures) look around for any signs that readers have asked him to address the impending Tony coverage.

I see no sign of him indicating that any reader had written in: "Dear Dano, love you, love your words, love your cute sweater in the online photo. You know the Tony coverage is about to start. Pretty please could you use your way awesome power to stop it!"

There's no sign of that. Okrent wants to whine about the Tonys ("a racket" -- his words) and, by his logic, that's all that matters. Sure he could use the space to deal with issuesthat readers are raising but it's another case where that's not "what I wanted to write"about.

You get a lot of op-ed writing in this public editor's space. And you get to hear about his vacation. And his regrets about his professional life. (Maybe he shouldn't have been so harsh when he was working at magazines, he wonders.) Once he even turned the column over to two readers who held opposing views about the Times. Well, not exactly readers. Todd Gitlin and Bob Kohn, both professional writers as opposed to the average reader forking over hard earned money for the paper. Still Okrent did note in that column "Next week, comments from readers."

See, every now and then, Okrent can devote time to what his job entails. It's apparently not as interesting as telling us about his vacation or telling us what he thinks of the Tonys, or giving"shout outs" to his buddy Jack, or (and I suspect he enjoys this most of all) sharing his life stories with us.

However, it should be noted that in that promised "Next week, comments from readers" column, he gave himself the last word. That's when he explains why he outed George and his "policy." Even when letting readers speak, Okrent needs the last word.

In the previous entry, I suggested you read an entry of Bob Somerby's The Daily Howler( In that piece, Somerby addressed Okrent's vacation report:

It must have been great! The obits, then the sports page, and then the Fringe Festival! At any rate, Okrent passed August in this manner, vacantly gazing into salt air. He lounged in his deck chair, just as he vowed he would do in his pre-vacance column. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/26/04, for our report on that last hapless piece.)
But how thorough a lightweight is the Times' public ed? Try to believe -- just try to believe --the way he followed political news during his well-earned vacation. In yesterday's column, he asks-and-answers this obvious question. Permit yourself to be amazed by this first part of his statement:
OKRENT: Q. What about the political coverage?A. Sure, I read it. In fact, the day I hit my deck chair, I decided to spend August getting all my news only from The Times. I wanted to see whether total reliance on the paper would enable me to emerge into September with a view of the campaigns that accorded with reality.
What a trooper! Like Thoreau ("I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life"), Okrent decided that, on his retreat, he would learn what the Times had to teach -- nothing else. He wished to see if the Times, by itself, could keep him abreast of the news in the country. Of course, exhausted bus-boys at Wellfleet crab shacks could spot the flaw in Okrent’s logic. Duh! If he only gets his news from the Times, how can he know if he's getting "a view of the campaigns that accord[s] with reality?" If he has no other source of news, how can he know if something is missing?

Somerby rightly took him to task on that. At some point the Times may take Okrent totask over the outing of George but maybe he could do everyone a favor and step downright now?

What he did to George was disgusting and there's no "bounce" back from that. It's over.He's lost the trust of too many readers by betraying one of their own. (And, again, the waythis non-lawyer reads the law, he's possibly put himself and the Times in a very questionable position.) It also leads to people mocking the Times and their defense ofJudith Miller to withhold from the court what someone told her and who the someonewas.

As Kara noted, "She should just pass the information about the person on to Okrah! He'll publish the name and the location! Especially if the person was a Times' reader!"

And what of when the paper's editorial board calls for someone to step down from a positionof authority? How seriously do we take such an editorial when Okrent's been allowed toabuse the power of his position and has not been taken to task for it? How can the editorial board ever ask for accountability elsewhere when there's no accountability for Okrent's actions?

The smartest thing that could happen would be for Okrent to write an apology (and not just for using the word "coward" -- however, having also compared someone's stated wish to the action of painting a swastika on a church, he might want to apologize for his wordchoices again) and end the apology with these words:

Due to the fact that my treatment of George has called into question my abilities to act as the readers' advocate, I have decided to step down immediately and not remain in this position until May of 2005 when my term would normally expire. My deepest regrets for the harm and pain I caused to George and his family and for the trust some readers feel I have betrayed.

[Note: corrections needed caught by Shirley. Thanks as always, Shirley. Note II: Also added missing link on NY Times/CBS News Poll. Thanks again, Shirley.]

TV: Sometimes a Medium fits best

In case you didn't notice, we're now in the mid-season. Fall shows have come (though few have gone) and collectively America yawns (LAX) and groans (Joey). And we start to feel that no one in the TV business knows what they're doing.

Then along comes Medium on Monday nights. Medium's not perfect and hopefully will get better as the season continues. However, it has the best thing this season has offered us: Patricia Arquette.

If you saw Flirting With Disaster, Ed Wood and True Romance, you saw her best films. That's not great news since the last one came out in 1996 (Flirting With Disaster). But even in her bad films (Stigmata) she hasn't been hideous with one exception (Little Nicky). That's partly due to the fact that she hasn't been cast as the generic love interest (except in Little Nicky). Even a stale confection like Holy Matrimony allowed her character to have a brain. And that's important because Arquette comes off too smart to play airheads. (In True Romance, her character had more going on upstairs than Christian Slater's character did.)

So now she's bringing that impression to TV screens, thankfully. Arquette's never been a big star but she's also never been annoying. In a celebrity obsessed culture, we've fortunately been spared The Patty Arquette Dating Show (Arquette was most recently married to Nicholas Cage, neither marketed the relationship in the manner of Ben Affleck or Jennifer Lopez). We've also been spared Tips for Beauty by Patty Arquette.

That, along with the fact that she always appears to have some common sense, probably accounts for her likeability. (In a poll in five classes this week, we asked people for their opinion of Patricia Arquette. 12% said they really loved/admired her. 10% were unaware who she was.
The remaineder said they liked her and "hate her" was one of the choices -- though no one picked it.) She comes off as a real person, not a bimbo, not a Natalie Wood waiting by the sidelines.

And Medium's strongest element is Patricia Arquette. The common sense shines through but something else does as well, something that rarely peaks through on TV: reality.

If she's going to out to eat or if she's appearing in court, she's put together, she looks like she's spent some time on personal grooming. But when she's at home with her kids, she looks like any other mother (any other photogenic mother, possibly). The hair may be messed up, the shirt frumpled, the sweater sagging on one side. It looks real. It looks lived in. Like she's been dealing with small children -- not sitting her trailer checking stock tips while lying on a slant board to avoid any wrinkles.

In Medium, she's playing Alison Dubois who, we learn in the first episode, is a psychic. That type of background can lead easily into Dionne Warwick & the Psychic Network jokes if it goes even slightly off balance. Thus far, it's walked the tight rope without stumbling and that's due to Arquette who comes off so real that even people who might scoff at the premise get caught up in the show.

In a world of Law & Orders, it's easy to forget what a character driven show looks like -- this is what it looks like. Without the grounding that Arquette and the back stories provide, no one would be watching. If she coasted into the room looking as stylish as Sela Ward all too often did in Once and Again, audiences would probably grab the remotes. But she looks like she's a mother and you end up caring about the kids. (Thank God they haven't yet decided to be precocious. That would kill the show immediately.)

The main stories could be stronger and tighter. And the back stories could be a little less soap opera-ish. (Did we really need, this early on, a sub-plot where Alison's husband Joe might have cancer?) But Arquette hooks you.

The show works best on a slow simmer. Last Monday, Arquette sat on the witness stand being asked why the district attorney employees her (she's not a paralegal and her employment depends on her keeping the psychic powers secret -- per the district attorney). Arquette danced around the defense attorney for a bit and then, when he pressed, leaned in and calmly began ticking off his many "crimes" -- including an affair, getting a friend to take his boards, etc.
As Arquette fixed her gaze firmly on him and ticked off the list, it was near impossible to look away. In the moments after when the camera went back and forth between the actor playing the defense attorney and Arquette, the show was a slow simmer.

This isn't milking. Milking is what they do on Everybody Loves Raymond: Make a lame joke seem funny by standing there and waiting. (That show is nothing but reaction shots, no forward movement at all.) Simmering is drawing you in, hooking you to make you see what happens next. Arquette can pull it off because of the common sense/smart quality that's inherent in her portrayals.

On the subject of Everybody Is Supposed to Love Raymond, it should be noted that Arquette manages to play a mother in a way that doesn't come off as screeching holler monkey. (Yes, Patricia Heaton, that snap was in your direction.) That may be what audiences are responding too as well. The number of actresses playing mothers who aren't cartoons (or caricatures) is largely limited to Amy Brenning's Amy of Judging Amy. All too often, the mother is either there to stroke the ego of the male (star) or else to screech like a banshee. Courtney Thorne-Smith is in the first camp (and deserves an Emmy if only for making Jim Belushi seem likeable) and Heaton is in the latter camp.

Roseanne could do a show on PMS and not have you thinking, "Women are irrational!" Everybody's Bored With Raymond did a PMS story that might have left you wishing Romano would just shoot Heaton and put her (and us) out of her (our) misery. (Menapause to be the only thing thus far preventing Deborah from transforming completely into Ray's mother Marie.)
Women are sick of it. Possibly more sick of those revenge fantasies than they are of the fat-man-thin-wife sitcom rule that seems to have taken hold.

Through acting and appearence, Arquette convinces you that being a mother is work and a struggle but she hasn't made it look repulsive. (Do most of the writers turning out TV scripts hate their mothers? Or does it just seem that way?)

We have concerns about the show in the long run. It's produced by Kelsey Grammar and Glen Gordon Caron. Roz became a caricature in the final years of Fraiser and Daphene wasn't much better. [Grammar was the driving force behind Fraiser, not just the leading actor.] Glen Gordon Caron will always be infamous to us as the man who destroyed Moonlighting. (Should Arquette be slapped and called a bitch as foreplay, we're bailing right then.) Caron can write strong women, he just tends to grow disdainful of them. (Maybe he's teased too often in the locker room for his grasp of them?) Once the disdain sets in, it's only a matter of time before he becomes downright hostile to them. Whether the "cow-ing" of Maddie Hayes was a result of friction between Caron and Cybill Shephard or not, when Maddie turned from a sensible woman into a resentful sidekick, Moonlighting died.

If NBC's smart, at the first sign of conflict between Arquette and Caron, they'll work to push Caron off the show. Patricia Arquette acheives something in Medium that's all too rarely seen:
she comes off like a woman you'd want to be and, with work, stand a chance of being. Roseanne thankfully slayed the domestic goddess stereotype but in her wake we've been left with far too many "women on the edge" who use bluntness (and loud volume) as a weapon. It's enough to make you recoil from the TV.

Arquette's portrayal is the strongest asset Medium has. Hopefully, the main stories and subplots will get stronger, but she's already made the show involving. Caron and Grammar would be wise not to tamper with her character or try to push Arquette into scenes that do not suit her. Alison Dubois may lack the quirks of Columbo, but she's just as involving and let's hope the powers-that-be grasp that.

Books: The poetry of Dylan Thomas

When six people e-mail asking why we've overlooked Dylan Thomas, it's time to note him. The Anne Sexton poetry cutting resulted in 48 positive e-mails and 7 negative ones. Most of the e-mails, even the negative ones, noted how necessary it was to spotlight poetry.
We agree and since Dylan Thomas was requested ("he's anti-war!" three of you wrote), we make his work the focus of this poetry cutting.

The grievers
Among the street burned to tireless death
A child of a few hours
With its kneading mouth
Charred on the black breast of the grave
The mother dug, and its arm full of fires.
("Ceremony After a Fire Raid.")

When the morning was waking over the war
He put on his clothes and stepped out and he died,
The locks yawned loose and a blast blew them wide,
He dropped where he loved on the burst pavement stone
And the funeral grains of the slaughtered floor.
("Among Those Killed in the Dawn Raid Was a Man Aged a Hundred")

After such fighting as the weakest know,
There's more than dying;
Lose the great pains or stuff the wound,
He'll ache too long
Through no regret of leaving woman waiting
For her soldier stained with split words
That spill such acrid blood.
("Out of the sighs")

The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death.
. . .
The five kings count the dead but do not soften
The crusted wound nor stroke the brow;
A hand rules pity as a hand rules heaven;
Hands have no tears to flow.
("The hand that signed the paper.")

I make a weapon of an ass's skeleton
And walk the warring sands by the dead town,
Cudgel great air, wreck east, and topple sundown,
Storm her sped heart, hang with beheaded veins
Its wringing shell, and let her eyelids fasten.
Destruction, picked by birds, brays through the jaw-bone,
And, for that murder's sake, dark with contagion
Like an approaching wave I sprawl to ruin.
("I make this in a warring absence")

Too proud to die; broken and blind he died
The darkest way, and did not turn away,
A cold kind man brave in his narrow pride.

I, born of flesh and ghost, was neither
A ghost nor a man, but mortal ghost.
And I was struck down by death's feather.
I was a mortal to the last
Long breath that carried to my father
The message of his dying christ.
("Before I knocked.")

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
("And death shall have no dominion.")

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