Sunday, May 21, 2006

Into the e-mails

Jim: When we're pressed for time and Dona's telling us to go for brief, what do but hit the e-mail bag? Because so many participate on the editions, we get many questions for those who help out but aren't technically part of The Third Estate Sunday Review. Ty and Dona pulled questions from the e-mails. Participants: The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Jess, Ty, Ava and Jim; Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man; C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review; Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills); Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix; Mike of Mikey Likes It!; Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz; and Wally of The Daily Jot. First question goes to Betty. "I get the idea from 'Leather Prada pumps and tears' that things are about to get darker. Am I right?"

Betty: Yes. The only thing I'm trying to structure right now is the real Thomas Friedman's vacation that's coming up and figuring out what point I want Betinna to be at when he starts his vacation in real life. Trina's already guessed one of the plot points and I think it's obvious to most people. But it will, hopefully, still be funny while being a little darker. There is no return after the fight and Betinna's about to start learning a few things about her past.

Jim: For Wally. "Is it hard being funny?"

Wally: Yeah, it can be. I'm like Betty in that I usually don't post until I've read it to C.I. I did this week due to C.I. being in DC and as soon as we talked, C.I. suggested I go in and drop one word to replace it with another. I did that and it made the thing work for me. But there are days when I'm tired and just thinking that as soon as I'm done with classes I'm going to have to search through the news for a topic and find some way to be funny are intimidating and I'll freeze up. If a friend's around, I'll usually talk to him or her and they'll give me the pep talk. By the way, I talked about this with Mike for an interview but just to be clear, after the Alito confirmation, I really did feel what's the point and it was thanks to Kat and C.I. and everyone here that I was able to do any posting again. And thanks to C.I. that I found a new direction for the site. I really didn't know the show Laugh-In and C.I. gave me some DVDs and we talked about that. By the way, I'm not saying I'm as funny as that show, I'm just saying I'm kind of modeling The Daily Jot after it.

Jim: Elaine, a woman wrote to ask that we highlight an entry you did this week and one Cedric did. She felt that "We hold the Iraqi government and the occupiers responsible for this brutal atrocity" and Cedric's "Dry Drunk Bully Boy" really spoke to her. She wrote she was very upset by the UNICEF report and didn't see a lot of people writing about it, let alone talking about how upset they were.

Elaine: Well thank you to her. And can we get that item in here via Democracy Now!?

"UNICEF: 25% of Iraqi Children Suffer Malnutrition" (Democracy Now!):
Meanwhile, a survey carried out by the Iraqi government and UNICEF has concluded a quarter of all Iraqi children suffer from malnutrition.

Elaine (con't): One thing I think this community has always been great about is not pretending. When someone's mad, they say so. Cedric's done a wonderful job exploring grief and I just don't feel the need to pretend that something doesn't upset me to my core when it does. The occupation, illegal occupation, has not made life better for Iraqis. That doesn't surprise me. I may even be at a point where I'm growing a little numb to it, sadly, due to the fact that what happens is not surprising. But with the false claims the administration likes to make, it did shock me that even with regards to children they've failed. I shouldn't be. They fail the children in this country. But the malnutrition rates are something the occupation could have addressed. Even children are meaningless to the administration. I believe, obviously, in processing what you're feeling. I don't shove something inside in my own life and bury it, I don't do it my site. I'm glad the woman responded to it. She shouldn't feel she's alone. I've talked about that story with many friends since it broke and it is distressing for everyone who hears it.

Jim: If you missed it, Mike got an interview with C.I. this week -- "Surprise interview" -- and we got a lot of e-mails on that. Here are the top three questions. 1) Why did Mike get it instead of us? 2) How did you decide what to ask? and 3) Any questions you wish you'd asked?

Mike: I got it because I begged and charmed and begged some more. Really, I was doing everyone in the community --

C.I.: You still haven't interviewed Kat.

Mike: For real?

Kat: Yeah.

Mike: My bad. I'll do that this week. But I was going through the community and just doing a once a week interview. C.I. was next up and had agreed only because it was something everyone was doing. Then Cedric moved his site and C.I. suggested I grab Cedric for that week. I think that was the back out. But, for whatever reason, Sunday C.I. said, "If you want to do it still, let's do it Thursday." I had a ton of questions written down ahead of time. During the interview I thought of a few more. I also asked everyone for one question at least and everyone helped there. There were some really strong questions. Elaine and Rebecca's were interesting and brought a different thing, I thought. I also knew C.I. was tired, and sounded tired, so I was trying to get some heavy questions in and some lighter ones too. I have a verbal promise of a follow up interview at some point and hopefully will be able to address other things then but I'm really pleased with the interview. I left out two sentences that I need to put in. Ma pointed that out to me when she said, "Mike, there seems to be something missing in this answer. Is this exactly what was said?" So I had to grab the tape and listen. I'll try to fix that when we take a break tonight.

Jim: Next question is for Kat and it's about both something that appeared here ("Shame of the Week (Musical)") and an entry Kat did this week (""Helen Reddy, Burger King, Music"). Monty thinks that you and we have been too harsh on Helen Reddy and brings up the issue of parody.

Kat: Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" is being used in a Burger King commerical with different lyrics but the same music. I've heard the nonsense of 'parody' before. I'm don't think parody covers what was done since it is being used to sell a product. That's believing that Helen Reddy's not getting any financial compensation for the ad, Reddy co-wrote the song. The argument is that Reddy is an innocent bystander and that Burger King's using the music without her permission and justifying it on the ground of "parody." If you buy that argument, the next question is why doesn't she sue? The Beatles, prior to Michael Jackson purchasing their catalogue, were very protective of their work. If parody is grounds for use then what's to stop a medication for urinary tract diseases from using the music to "Here Comes The Sun" and imposing a jingle of "Here Comes The Urine" over it while arguing it's parody? I don't think parody covers this. They are mocking the reasons for the song and if Helen Reddy didn't profit from its use and agree to it, she needs to stop hawking her lousy book with the tale of an ex-lover whose nose came off on the pillow due to cocaine use long enough to file a lawsuit. If she was used, I'll note it at my site. But if she didn't give her consent, she should sue. I realize that not everyone has the violent reaction that John Fogerty did when he heard "Revolution" in a Nike commercial but for, many of us, songs that had meaning aren't to be turned into commercials. That was once Reddy's stance on this song. I don't feel I have anything to explain. If the reader wants an explanation, Helen Reddy's the one he needs to seek out.

Jim: Ty replied to this already but Dona thought it was interesting question. A reader wondered if Ty, Betty and Cedric worked out ahead of time, in roundtables, who would cover what?

Ty: We are the three African-American or Black participants. The e-mailer felt like one week Betty might hit the issue hard in a roundtable and then at another time it might be Cedric or me. We don't work that out ahead of time. When someone's speaking strongly on any issue, this is true of every roundtable and everyone who participates on any topic, the rest of us try to stay out of the way unless we disagree. So, like last week, Betty was the first to really hit on the topic of racism. When she did that, for me, it was listen to her and add anything she hasn't covered. Cedric?

Cedric: Yes, I'd agree with that. And Betty hit it hard. I wasn't even planning to discuss the first book but she was hitting on the topic so hard that I wanted to jump in. Mainly so that if someone took offense they couldn't scapegoat Betty and say, "Oh, that's just her."

Ty: These days, for books or roundtables, we usually note our main point ahead of time and let Dona know so she can make sure during the roundtable that everyone's had a chance to speak and that each person's main point got noted. That's the only planning.

Jim: Betty, anything to add?

Betty: Just that readers who want to gripe about race being raised as an issue live in some world that I've never visited because race is still very much an issue.

Jim: Rebecca, you'd already answered this at your site Saturday, so let me know if you want to pass on it, but Wesley wondered if "rebecca winters has a warning" resulted from a busy day or if you're planning on dong brief entries in the future?

Rebecca: I do discuss that post in "the ruth & elijah report" but, briefly, I've been baby sitting a small child. I was tired and intended to post again later but ended up falling asleep. As for brief entries, I was talking to Cedric and we both think we may try them more often in the future. I think, and Dona and Cedric agree, that sometimes we all feel like we have to do an indepth entry and that blogging might be more fun if we varied it up a little more. Just something being considered to avoid burn out.

Jim: Jess, a question directed to you was if "you" knew "you" "ripped off" the musical Funny Girl in "Head on Home (a musical in four scenes)."

Jess: How?

Rebecca: Five Stocky Men sing " What are you/Blind?" in their first appearance and Barbra Streisand sings that in "I'm the Greatest Star" from Funny Girl. I actually put those four words in and did so with a nod to Funny Girl which I love.

Jess: I wasn't aware of that but it wasn't an attempt to rip off by anyone involved. We need a rhyme and Rebecca came up with one. It's two lines, four words, that happen once and only once. My grandfather's answer to everything is, "What are you? Blind?" and I believe it's just a saying. I don't know that the line was invented for Funny Girl. But thanks for reading it. C.I., Rebecca, Kat and I started that idea, but we all wrote it. There are songs that the four of us wrote which didn't make the cut because there wasn't time to do a more fully developed musical.
We did work bits and pieces of what we could into those four scenes. I think the most fun we had was with the character of Senator which Kat was the one to realize we needed for an antagonist. Rebecca was the one who came up with the idea of modeling the character after Hillary Clinton. I came up with "Now tell me/ Will you vote for me?/ You know I'm going to run?" I knew it needed an opening but I could think of what. C.I. came up with "constituents" that leads into it and that became a regular part of most of the Senator's songs. I'm really pleased with how that turned out.

Jim: Common Ills community member Brenda writes in to tell Dona that she used to think that I, Jim, did all the work behind the scenes, but now she realizes it's Dona who keeps things moving and running and I'm just the pretty face.

Dona: Brenda is exactly right. I do everything. Jim is just the pretty face. Seriously, when we were doing the news feature or the roundtables, e-mails always came in saying someone didn't speak or didn't do this. And one time I completely forgot Elaine hadn't spoken when I shut down a discussion. Those are things I try to catch and that's pretty much what I do behind the scenes.

Jim: Dona meant to add "And he's not just a pretty face, he's got a cute ass." Cedric, regular reader Martin wonders about you. He feels like you're off "on your own thing, doing your own thing." [Mock serious voice] Is that true?

Cedric: Interesting. Martin's probably right. I do, at my site, write about stuff that interests me and it may be less political at times. That's just because that's what I've got to offer that day and C.I. told me, repeatedly, not to try to do what anyone else is doing and to do what I wanted. I think all of the sites have their own perspective and unique voice but C.I. really did encourage me. It might mean I have some harsh words for someone C.I. thinks highly of, for instance, but there's never been, "How dare you!" And, if I've checked ahead of time, it's always been, "Cedric, just write what you feel and be true to yourself." So that's what I've done. Or tried to. And the community has been very encouraging about that as has everyone here. For me, the moment when I really got that it was okay was in a news roundup when I was supposed to do a straight report and C.I. tosses to me and I'm coming back with humor. I wasn't sure how that would go over but the second C.I. started playing along, I knew it was okay to just be me and the me at that moment, if I was feeling silly or sad or whatever.

Jim: I remember that news roundup. Dona and I were both asking each other "What?" because we thought you were being serious. If Cedric was a pitcher, his speciality would be the curve ball and we're all glad for that, if I can editorialize for a second. Dona was talking to community member Shirley on the phone and she wanted to leap ahead of everyone with a question for Ava. Shirley's entitled to that. She's a regular reader here and a longterm community member. Her question was about how Ava, when this site started, felt "a little bit to the side of everyone." The rest of us were pretty tightly knit and Ava really only knew Dona. Has that changed?

Ava: I did feel like everyone knew each other and like they were a tight group. I don't know if I could have gotten through the first edition if C.I. hadn't been physically here with us. Everyone was, rightly, carving out their space and I was feeling like they're all on Manhattan island and I'm off in Jersey. Early on, I really did have to fight to get any sentence in as is. It would always get reworded, unless C.I. ran interference -- which happened often. My mistake was in assuming that everyone was paying attention then. I'm serious here, by the way. Everyone was concerned that when the edition was complete, they could point to something and say, "I did that." I was just as guilty of that. But what happened over time, and fairly quickly, was that we all started listening. We'd had the moment of "That's mine!" pride and now we may listen too much and write too little if the only concern is the final product -- I don't think that's the only concern or that it should be -- and it was being able to say, for instance, "Jim, I don't like that." And Jim would listen. It might or might not get pulled from a piece, but he'd listen. And that brings us to the question for Jim which Dona slid to me.

Jim: I didn't realize I had a question coming to me.

Ava: You do. Lorenzo noted mulitple pieces including, the most recent one, Mike's "Surprise interview," and wondered what you really think when you read me or C.I. or anyone noting a disagreement with you?

Jim: I'm not bothered by it at all. I think it's honest. We have all had serious disagreements and I think we have enough respect for one another that we can do it openly here. Or, if it's Ava, a few days later when she's in a place where she can talk. Ava really will avoid it at the moment.

Ava: Because there's not much point in us getting into what will be a lengthy discussion when everyone's trying to focus on the latest edition, finish it and get some sleep.

Jim: I know. But even then, Ava won't pussy foot around. She'll let me know a day or two later that she's upset and we'll talk about it. Often I'll end up apologizing because, this shocks me too, I can be wrong. It's okay to disagree and the feedback I get on that is usually positive. People are glad it's not "Oh we never argue! We all get along every second of every day!" If you've got friends, you've got disagreement. If you want consensus, sign up for cloning. C.I., want to add to that?

C.I.: Is that my question? I think you covered it already. There are e-mails that come into The Common Ills expressing what Jim just stated. It does reach people who are afraid that if they aren't agreeing with everything a friend says then maybe they aren't friends. Personally, I would've preferred, I believe Ava agrees with me, that when Ava and I didn't want to write a feature it hadn't been discussed here and at other places. I didn't stop that and it's not my place to stop it but I felt as though the talk would be one more thing that would pull attention to an upcoming commentary and distract from "Darfur."

Rebecca: But by the same token, it also resulted in a lot more attention for that edition, the advance talk.

Jim: I'd agree with that. I'll say for the record that Ava and C.I. were correct that the feature should have been done, if done, for another edition. It did overwhelm the rest of the edition.
Here's the question for C.I. It's from a guy named Bundy. Is he a member of the community?

C.I.: No. I'm not familiar with that name.

Jim: Well he's a reader and one who enjoys The Common Ills. He wonders why you've never "missed a day."

C.I.: Well, I started in November of 2004 before Thanksgiving, a week or two, and I posted an entry on Thanksgiving, maybe more than one. The response from a few was that it meant something to them. As Christmas 2004 approached, others weighed in on the fact that they didn't celebrate that holiday or that they would be alone on that holiday. I had thought I'd take many days off including holidays. But it was explained in various e-mails at that point how many sites closed down on the holidays. For those who needed it, I felt the site needed to be there. The original plan was that I'd take some days off in January of 2005 but then there were some e-mails that came in about how much they depended upon the site. At any given moment, there are members dealing with much more in their own lives than most could handle. If being able to log in on a bad day and get some comfort from something I've written, usually badly written, helps anyone, then that's something I need to take seriously and I try to do so.

Jim: Any regrets on that?

C.I.: I'd love to really sleep in. Not oversleep, as I've done some mornings, and then rush to do an entry. But just to sleep in, knowing ahead of time that I'm getting up very late, and then rise long after the sun's up. Usually, I'm posting first thing in the morning, then working out and by the time I'm showered and dressed, I've been up several hours. But you know, whine on. Some people have serious problems, this isn't one of them.

Jim: And that ends what we hope was a quick entry in Dona's eyes.
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