Sunday, July 01, 2007



Dipping into the e-mail bag and replying to questions are: 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, to the economist who wrote us: Are you trying to be funny?

While we appreciate the contact information you provided (including cell phone number), we're really busy. We'll assume you are as well. But if we had a question about something you wrote, or your general theories, we'd ask you about it specifically. We certainly wouldn't send you a generic question about your writing if, like us, you had published multiple features each week since January 2005.

Second, to the NYU professor who wrote, we enjoyed your e-mail (very thoughtful and we applaud the work you are doing) but we're not sure we were you intended recipient. If we were, we think you may be on a fishing expedition as to Ava and C.I.'s identities. If we're wrong, our apologies. Ava, wisely, didn't use her real name her. (Dona points out that "Dona" is hardly a common name, so she's the most screwed over if she attempts to get a job in journalism. Jess has given up on journalism as has Ty so that comment is obviously aimed at Jim.) There was already a community member with Ava's first name, so she used "Ava."

How e-mails to us work are, Ty reads the bulk of them. Dona reads about a third. Jim is supposed to help out and when he's reminded repeatedly or when Dona gives him a dirty look, he will dip into the mail bag. Unless Ty has the week off, Ava and Jess do not go to our inbox. Ava and Jess are helping out at The Common Ills. (And Ava adds, "Ripping into professional journalists who whine like 4-year-olds is far too much fun for me to give up helping out with the public account at The Common Ills. I especially enjoy the e-mails from big babies.") Each week, week after week, we've put out an edition. Some have been hit or miss, some have been worse than that, some have been ones we're proud of.

Jim long ago noted that e-mails come second. The focus is on what goes up here. Did the site take Christmas off? No, it did not. We've posted features every week. (Dona notes, "Thank you to Ava and C.I. for steering the Christmas edition in 2006 while the rest of the core six took the week off.") Right now, Ava and C.I. are in a panic about the TV commentary that they haven't started, haven't even thought of and it's four in the morning as this feature is being completed. Last Sunday's edition went up with the understanding that Ava, C.I. and Wally would correct typos in three features and Jim and Dona would grab the rest. Ava, C.I. and Wally did their corrections. That's all that got corrected.

You've got Jess focused on his LSATs. You've got all of us focused on something. Robyn e-mailed to ask if we'd even do an edition the week Ava, Jim, Jess, Ty and Dona graduated from college? We have not missed a week and do not plan to. (And Robyn, to answer your question more fully, Jim will be replying on Monday. For now, we'll just note that you are correct.)

The core six is Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and C.I. Betty, Rebecca, Cedric, Elaine, Wally, Mike and Dallas help out as well. They can all take time off anytime they want but if an edition doesn't go up, it reflects on the core six. (The same if a lame edition goes up and, yes, we've had those as well.)

Longterm readers get replies from Ty, Dona and Jim. We do not, however, have time to reply to every e-mail and we certainly do not have time, in the case of the economist, to spare calling him and asking, "What are you writing in regards to?" We would assume a professional economist and writer would be wise enough to note that on his own without a reminder from us. Maybe he feels he's a name? If so, he's not even in the top 100 most famous names of people who have e-mailed this site. And not all of them got personal replies. (If it's a friend of Ava and/or C.I.'s and that's known, Ty does attempt to reply.)

When Ty saw the economist's name in the inbox, he clicked on the e-mail wondering, "What is he writing about?" After reading the e-mail, he was still wondering. He shared it with the rest of us and we can't figure it out either. It could be a question about our mission statement, a specific feature, Ava and C.I.'s TV commentaries (as most e-mails are), or who knows what. But we don't have the time to track down you or your question. Were we to write you, we would note specifically what our question -- even the exact same question you asked -- applied to.

Since we're starting with these basics, let's note again, Ava and C.I. are not interested in doing interviews. They are not interested in being quoted in your magazine or newspaper. That has been stated over and over and yet the requests continue to come in. They don't even get a reply anymore because this has been REPEATEDLY noted here. They have a weekly forum here and anything they wish to say, they can do so here. They are not interested in publicizing themselves or their writing. (And Ava adds, "The last thing I'd ever want to be known publicly as is a TV critic. Please, I'm an adult woman.")

Having taken care of general business, let's get to readers' e-mails.

Bren wants to know if there's any "undue influence going on"? She notes that C.I. pays for Mike's college and that Jess, Ava, Ty, Dona and Jim all live with C.I. She feels that situation is "ripe for disaster."

Mike: C.I. doesn't try to control what I write. I'm often surprised C.I. even reads it, especially when on the road speaking out. I have, in the past, tempered my remarks about Katrina vanden Heuvel for C.I. But I think that's pretty much over. That had nothing to do with my tuition but because I know how it bothered C.I. I would have done the same on anybody else if any one else participating had a problem. In terms of the funds themselves, C.I. had a health scare in 2005 so when my tuition came up, C.I. brought it up, it was set up. It's not done piecemeal. If C.I. and I had a huge argument tomorrow, the money would still be there. It would be rude, and my parents raised me to be well mannered, to spit on that but I really don't think C.I. cares what I write. In instances where I've been concerned, I've called and C.I.'s listened and always said, "Write about it." I've called out two close friends of C.I.'s at my site. It's not been a problem.

Cedric: Can I jump in? I don't get tuition from C.I., just to state that upfront, and I don't live out in California so that doesn't apply to me either. But Mike talked about censoring himself with regards to wanting to avoid hurting C.I.'s feelings. I believe I was the first to call out Katrina vanden Heuvel for the shameful line drawing between herself and the truly great Harry Belafonte. I did call C.I. before that. C.I. listened and said I should write about it. Not only did I do that, but C.I. linked to my piece when it went up and has noted it several times since. Another example, this is a while back, was when a man was on with Jay Leno. He was making racist remarks. The man is White. It really pissed me off. I chose not to write about it and the main reason was because the man is involved with a good friend of C.I.'s. A couple of days afterwards, I mentioned that to C.I. on the phone and was told I should have written about it. I said no because it wasn't meant to be racist. The man thought he was being funny. I also knew it would -- and it did -- pass without anyone commenting on it. So I didn't want to be the one to draw attention to it and the reason for that was because of C.I.'s friend. An hour after we got off the phone, my phone rings and it's the man explaining C.I. called and explained there was a problem with the remarks. We discussed it and I explained my view, as an African-American male, and how those remarks were offensive. That moment really got the point across to me that if I'm bothered by anything, I should write about it. Otherwise, I may get a call from the person.

Ty: I'll grab the living aspect and the reason is, we all live here and I've got something additional. Along with Dona, Jim, Ava, Jess and I living with C.I., I also have an incredible job with a friend of C.I.'s. I was the first to move out, and I'll get back to that in a second, and that was in June of 2006. C.I. sat up an internship for me with a friend because I was soured on journalism. I've talked about the whys of that here before. But that internship turned into much more and it's really now a career stepping stone, if not a career. I don't think we've ever disagreed, C.I. and me, on anything except when C.I. says, "You need to go visit your family." I do but I do that when C.I.'s speaking in that area. Trust me, my family would be happy to see me at other times but also demanding, "How could you waste money on this?" So that's really the only disagreements we ever have, when C.I.'s trying to get me a plane ticket or to use frequent flier miles. Now Jim argues with everyone, ask Dona, and that includes C.I. It's never been a problem. But I'll let Jim speak on that. In terms of Ava, it needs to be noted, she has family in the area. She could stay with them. She also has more than enough money to have her own place -- or places -- and chooses to live here. Jim?

Jim: Actually, Kat wants to speak.

Kat: Yeah. First, a joke I forgot to do at my site last week. I've been teasing C.I., "I'm in your bedroom more than you are!" Because C.I.'s on the road so much and when I blog most nights, I'm at C.I.'s and I'll head straight to the bedroom and that computer when it's time to blog. But, I do CD reviews at The Common Ills and I used to worry about giving someone C.I. knew a critical review. It's not a problem. I also used to avoid C.I.'s offer of a CD when I was planning to review something. I'd go buy it myself at Tower because if I'm offering my opinion, it should be as someone who paid for it. It's easy to go, "Well it's okay," when you didn't spend your own money. But to clarify, the last CD I reviewed and the next three that I'll be reviewing were all passed on by C.I. With Tower now dead, it's much easier to go through C.I.'s CDs. So if Bren's looking for conflicts of interest, she can see if she notices any changes at the end of the year in my reviews.

Jim: I'll pick up in terms of music. When we first moved out here, I would call the house any time I was thinking of getting a CD. I'd say, "Jess" or "Ty, check to see if C.I.'s already got that." And I am the worst about opening packages that come here. C.I. doesn't mind and has told us all to feel free and if there's something in it we want, help ourselves. But I've noticed I'm really the one who keeps doing it. I'll also take this opportunity to say thank you to C.I., publicly, from all of us.

Dona: The only thing I really have to add, other than thank you, is an experience. My younger brother had a rough patch and dropped out of college his first semester. He came out here. C.I. was fine with it and swore to me that was the case. But C.I. did point out it needed to be addressed with my parents in some way. C.I. was speaking near my home town in two weeks so we took my brother back then and explained what had been going on. But the issue there was that if my parents didn't find out soon what was going on they might not be thrilled about me living with C.I. And that's really the only worry or concern regarding the living situation that has come up. C.I. does have staff in the house so it's not like we can say thank you by cleaning it top to bottom, we do clean up our own messes. And the staff is off at five and we follow the rule, the only one I can think of in fact, that if we want something prepared, we request it by three so no one's put out or has their evening ruined. Ava, who Ty pointed out has money, did say thank you by getting the outside of the house repainted. But, yeah, we've got room and board and entertainment. But, to be honest with you, when we're working here we're not giving any deference. We probably should but I can tell you that Jim will be all over Ava and C.I. shortly about their TV commentary and what's needed and blah blah blah and I'll have to say, as I've done every week since February 2005, "Jim, back off. You're putting too much pressure on them."

Ava: I wasn't planning on speaking but I know this whole conversation makes C.I. uncomfortable, I don't even need to look over to know that. Sunny, Elaine's assistant, she runs the office, filled in for Elaine when Elaine was on vacation last year and noted that she'd stayed at C.I.'s. Sunny was trying, if I remember right, one summer to get out here and her reservations got screwed over and the trip was going to be called off. C.I. told her, "I'm going to be out of town. My house will be empty." Sunny wasn't sure but C.I. said, "You'll be doing me a favor." So, I mean, and not to minimize what moochers we -- Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess and myself can be -- that is one aspect. Jess, Wally and I were on the road last week with C.I. speaking about the illegal war and you had Dona, Ty and Jim here. There was no need to ask someone to house sit in the evenings. And this is really the important thing, if it was just sitting here empty, as it would be most weeks, C.I. would probably sell it and get something much smaller. I was sick of New York the whole time we were there. I have family there and have family out here. I grew up out here and I was planning on coming back. I'd griped about this to C.I. over and over. About the cold, about everyone assuming I was "Mexican," etc. And for anyone who is just reading for the first time. There is nothing wrong with being a Mexican-American or Mexican but every Latino or Latina is not "Mexican." Out here that assumption isn't made the way it was in New York and that was probably my biggest shock because I really did assume New York was a lot more street smart than it turned out to be. I'll never forget a professor, my first year, stopping the class and asking me to explain to the class about Cinco de Mayo. A professor, sorry to get off track. But I had already been complaining. C.I. had listened, over and over, and said I should just move back out here. Jess and I were already a couple at this point and that raised other issues. Then, when Ty told us all about his internship, I called C.I. and asked, "Can I move in too?" I could live with family or, as Ty pointed out, on my own. I love my family but moving back in didn't seem the thing that a college woman does. I'm also not into decorating so the idea of a place of my own wasn't high on my list. But anyway, C.I. said sure and said if Jess wanted to come that was fine to. We -- Jess, Ty and myself -- honestly didn't expect that Jim and Dona would move out as well. When they reached their decision, about mid-way through last summer, only C.I. may have been more pleased than I was. So the point being, it's a big place and I really believe C.I., for concerns of being wasteful, would have considered selling it were it not for the fact that house guests moved in.

Jim: In terms of Bren's question about disagreeing?

Ava: Elaine?

Elaine: Ava and C.I. are so close that I hated Ava before I met her. Rebecca, C.I. and I went to college together. We're all friends. But Rebecca would always complain over the years how C.I. and I were always on the same page. That's been true forever. And I never got, or pretended not to, how that could cause a problem for Rebecca. Then along comes Ava. Ava this, Ava that. I had a Rebecca moment or two. Then I met Ava over the phone and understood why. The two of them, Ava and C.I., are so much alike it's scary. They have similar backgrounds, similar interests, they can finish each other sentences.

Rebecca: I fear they are melding into one person.

Elaine: (Laughing) Exactly. But, from the outside, to wrap up this point, I think Ava's correct. I know C.I.'s brought up the issue of so much space going to waste. I also know C.I. loves that home. So, yes, it buys time on making any decision. I should also add, because I know the issue of staff will have made C.I. uncomfortable, I have someone who comes in and cleans my home three times a week. C.I. has some live in staff and if they do anything after 5:00 pm, that's their choice and they are paid for it. If there's a formal dinner, for instance, it's noted ahead of time and if they want to work it, that's fine and it's extra money, if they don't, that's fine and C.I. brings in other people to work it.

Ava: And, not working, they are more than welcome to take part as a guest in any of the non-stop parties that seem to take place each evening.

Elaine: Correct. It's like the party in Shampoo at C.I.'s place nightly. The good party, not the Republican dinner that preceeds it in the film.

Monica e-mailed to note that a debate took place Thursday and she hopes we will address it.

Betty: We can address it in the mailbag. I wasn't thrilled with. I wasn't thrilled with it before hand or after. Before it started, I asked C.I. if it was going to be noted at The Common Ills and shared my opinion that I'd prefer it not be.

Cedric: And I get C.I. on the phone a day later about the same topic and am told, "Betty just said the same thing."

Ty: At which point, Keesha's e-mailing me, Keesha a longterm community member, asking me to talk to C.I. about not noting it. This was all before last week. The feeling among African-American members such as myself was it doesn't need to be noted. And last week only confirmed that.

Betty: Thank you to Amy Goodman for inviting African-Americans on Democracy Now! I mean that. But if I had any doubts about being less than enthused about it before, Cornell West and Tavis Smiley confirmed my worst fears.

Cedric: Betty and I are the most up front about our religion of people who do sites in the community. We'll mention being at church or something. Trina's Catholic and she'll mention church as well from time to time. But Betty calls me that night and asks if I caught Goodman's interviews? We were laughing on the phone about that, not at Goodman, but at West and Smiley. Cornell West, you're a distinguished college professor, do you think you can lay off the "my brother" talk? Seriously. And if we were laughing at it, and we're in church every Sunday morning and every Wednesday night, you better believe others were laughing at it as well.

Ty: And that pass he gave Obama was offensive. I'm going to quote it as I remember it and Dallas can fix the quote, thank you Dallas, for when this goes up.

CORNEL WEST: When you look at what, in fact, Obama, Edwards, Clinton -- let's say the top three, as it were -- there's no doubt that Edwards has an impressive concern about poverty and so forth. And Brother Obama -- and you know I am a critical supporter of my dear Brother Obama -- I think that his campaign is kicking in, but it’s still got to be more intensified when it comes to focusing on issues that concern progressives.

[. . .]

AMY GOODMAN: When you say, Professor West, a critical supporter of Obama, what do you mean? Where do you think he hasn't come out strong enough?
CORNEL WEST: Well, I’m in his camp, but I'm just -- I put pressure -- I think that he's got to be more bold. I think that he's got to be more courageous, in terms of highlighting issues of the poor, issues of working people, the legacies of white supremacy that are still very, very real. And I know he’s got to be a politician about this, on the one hand, because he's got a larger constituency, but you know and I know we're looking for statesmen. And I think my dear Brother Obama has a potential to be a great statesman, but he's in process. And we're putting -- we're pushing and hoping that he enacts this kind of statesmanship, which has to do so much with bold unflinching honesty and candor regarding the levels of injustice in our society.

Ty (Con't): He's got to be more progressive, more courageous, address issues of poverty, etc. He's not doing any of that. Exactly why are you a supporter of Obama? That's insane. I'm African-American and I will not be voting for the neoliberal Obama, or as I like to think of him "OBomb Iran," in the primary. I'm hoping that in the general election, he won't be it and I won't have to deliberate on Mr. Phoney anymore.

Cedric: Well, we should note, none of us who are African-American, Betty prefers Black, should have any more stake in Obama than a White person since Obama is not African-American, he's bi-racial. And he dances very well for the White folk. He just doesn't do a damn thing for African-Americans. Cornel West plummeted in my opinion when he made a fool out of himself with those remarks. Poverty is at least one big issue for West and Obama's not done a thing there, except issue a conservative screed against African-American fathers, and West admits that John Edwards is the most impressive on that topic. So this nonsense about being a "critical supporter" of Obama . . . I'm not a "critical supporter" of Cornel West. In fact, I'm not interested in another word from the mouth of my non-brother Cornel because he's made himself sound like an idiot. When you're one of the leading African-American intellectuals, you have an obligation to sound informed, my non-brother.

Betty: And Cedric and I were just laughing on the phone about West and Tavis. I like Tavis Smiley. He's a good looking man, he's often informed. But that day it was like a really bad version of The Gospel Hour. And Tavis Smiley came off foolish as well. "We're not to dwell" on Iraq, but he's sure someone will ask a question about it. Maybe he's been hob knobbing with Wal-Mart too much, but talk to Black people, the illegal war has never gone "off the table." That's why less Black people are enlisting currently. We were opposed to this war, as a people, from the beginning. For him to say that it's not going to be "dwelled" on is just sporting ignorance. I know no one wants to go into the whole Media Matters issues, because they are multi-part, but if we can insert the question by Amy Goodman and some of Tavis' response:

AMY GOODMAN: Tavis, I was wondering your response to this letter from David Brock of Media Matters to PBS for after your discussion, the forum that you’re having with the presidential candidates, having Frank Luntz. The headline of the Media Matters objection is “PBS Using Discredited GOP Pollster to Provide Analysis of Democratic Forum? Selection of Frank Luntz Raises Serious Questions Heading into [the] Presidential Forum.”
TAVIS SMILEY: I thank you for the question, because it allows me to set the record straight. First of all, with all due respect to Mr. Brock, I think one has to consider the source. It always amazes me that people, through their own choices, lose their own integrity, lose their own credibility, and for some reason find a way to then, from time to time, start attacking others who protect and regard their integrity and their credibility, like I do, about things that they’re quite frankly wrong about. Mr. Brock first reported that Frank Luntz was going to be on and participating in the debate. He’s not. You will not see or hear from -- his name will not be raised Thursday night, tonight, in the debate, Frank Luntz.
What Mr. Luntz has been asked to do, what he quite frankly offered to do, was to set up a people-metering room where some thirty African Americans -- they’re all black, they’re all Democrats, they’re all voters -- are going to be asked what they think of the debate, the forum, as it unfolds. So, you know, Amy, how this people metering works, so we’ll be able to read the data as to what they thought about every person on the stage answering these questions, as they were answering the questions. [. . .]
And the role he’s playing is helping us to understand what the top line is for what these African American Democrats had to say.

Betty (Con't): Consider the source? He means David Brock. How right-on Godly you sounded then Tavis. I was being sarcastic, if anyone's confused. But, Tavis, let's consider the source. Frank Luntz is a White man. In this supposed forum for Black America are you trying to tell me that there's not one African-American pollster who could have used a job? Get real. Who's holding Black people back? In this instance Tavis Smiley who thinks a White man can better poll Black people. Get real. That is disgusting. And if you really want to know what Black people think, don't put an aged White male in charge of the questions.

Ty: Hear 'ya and support 'ya 100%. I'll also add that Bore-Ass Obama seemed lost, no surprise, on the topic of race. Who energized the crowd? Hillary Clinton and I do not like Hillary Clinton but, watching, even I was nodding along with her. It reminded me of the point C.I. made here last year about how she could take over the discussion, just energize the crowd.

C.I.: Right, and I'm not endorsing her or anyone, but Hillary is grossly understimated as a public speaker. She doesn't have to learn her way. I was blown away by a 1992 speech she gave to the ABA. I wasn't for Bill Clinton in the primary, I don't think I knew much about Hillary, if anything, at that point. But that speech was incredible and she can move a room. Some critics have been going on about how she's flat or she's this or that. They're missing the point. Before a crowd, Hillary can cut to heart of the matter and win them over. I've always felt she was a better public speaker than her husband. And her height may work in her factor there. I'm serious about that. When she comes to life on stage, especially standing with others who are taller, and she just grabs your attention, I think she comes off more as "one of us." Her size makes her "the little guy" in a way that her famous name never could. Again, that's not an endorsement of her, I'm not endorsing anyone. That is noting that she is a highly gifted speaker who can move a crowd of people. And that's what Ty's referring to. She needs to address Iraq seriously and do so quickly but the point I made before, I believe, was about while each of the candidates tried to out macho each other and tough it up, all Hillary has to do is seize on a topic like education and she'll blow everyone off the stage. She has that power and anyone paying attention in the nineties should be aware of it.

Ceasar2003 wishes we would do more on music and books. He wonders if anything's planned?

Dona: We have things planned each week, we rarely get to them. When C.I.'s not on the road, we're more focused. That's because we're all here and will discuss things throughout the week. So when the weekend rolls around we have a strong idea of what we'll be writing about. In terms of books, I think everyone's really busy. C.I. and I make the time but that's because we're addicted readers. Elaine's doing heavy reading right now in her field so a book discussion would leave her out and Mike's taking summer courses which are intensified due to the shorter schedule. He'd be left out as well. Jim will tell you he's in lazy mode. Jess, who I do not believe has spoken during this feature, nor has Wally and Rebecca's been very brief, has a full plate currently. A book on Iraq that interested us all would certainly be the focus for a book discussion. Other than that, I wouldn't expect anything anytime soon. In terms of music, we could do a playlist this edition but we're already so far behind that I would kill any other proposal because we love music and end up talking amongst ourselves. That's a real time eater and we don't have enough features completed yet. In fact, I'm about to start screaming my mantra of "Short pieces! Short pieces!" any second.

Clara wanted to know if anything had stood out so far this summer and we'll limit this to Jess, Rebecca and Wally since they haven't spoken much, or at all in two cases.

Jess: I'm thinking of something from last week but thinking it could work as a "Short Piece" so I'm going to just say that it's been a fun and exciting summer personally. Rebecca?

Rebecca: Well, on the personal, I've wanted a child forever and I have one finally. That's a really big deal with me and the biggest difference this summer from any other. On another personal level, the Iraq war continues and supposedly Harry Reid's going to address it after the July 4th break. I won't hold my breath. I didn't expect miracles from this Congress but, at this point, I'm really not expecting anything. Bully Boy should be impeached and the war should be ended. I'm glad my child's too young for me to have explain what's going on.

Wally: Well said. Well I got to spend time with my buddy Mike earlier this summer and that's always fun. And last week, I got to go to a few states and speak with people my age and younger about the war which is always exciting and encouraging. I know the incident Jess is talking about and agree it's a short piece. I'm wondering how we do it though. But it was a lot of fun being out on the road. I was really pissed that C.I. had to do an entry Wednesday night. I don't even remember why that was, why the entry needed to be done. But that was the only downside. Ava, Jess and I would get to cut loose and we'd hope C.I. would be coming along but last week was crazy. I do know that C.I. and Mike did some strong work covering the deaths of the 3 British soldiers and considering how little noted those were deaths were and how much community members in the UK appreciated them, I took part in the roundtable for Polly's Brew, I think that's worth noting.

Mike: Right and Polly e-mailed me when C.I.'s entry Saturday morning had gone up saying, "You're right. Your media isn't even interested in the death of American soldiers. It's no surprise they don't care about our soldiers."
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