Sunday, May 29, 2005

A note to our readers

As always, we hope you'll find something to amuse or enrage you in this edition.

"Dear Third Estate Sunday Review" returns. Those are actual e-mails sent in. Some are obviously intended as jokes (check out Jorge's). Ones that are truly about serious problems we don't include. It's a humorous feature and has always been intended as such.

Also returning is the feature "Five Books, Five Minutes." That proved popular in the last edition. So popular that Olive e-mailed to request that we do "Five CDs, Five Minutes." (Which we did.) These are not attempts at doing the sort of indepth reviews that Kat of Kat's Korner does. (And Ava just asked, "Did we link to Kat's review of Tapestry in the 'Five CDs, Five Minutes?'" Apparently not. So we'll do so here.) This is an attempt to give you general impressions on five books (or five CDs). You don't have to follow our recommendation. One reader e-mailed that after we trashed a book last week, he went to the library, checked it out and ended up loving it. That's great. And hopefully, whether you agree with our statements or not, you'll be inspired to pick up a book.

If you haven't read the books, hopefully our remarks are enough to give a general idea, again whether you agree with them or not, of if they're books that interest you.

On the subject of books, we thank Folding Star of A Winding Road for being kind enough to allow us to reprint entries. Readers do want books featured. And thanks to Folding Star's generous nature, we're able to increase the space devoted to books.

Betty is our blog spotlight this week and if you mentioned her latest at Thomas Friedman is a Great Man, we're sure you'll enjoy it here. If you didn't miss it, it's still worth re-reading. We thank for Betty for allowing us to reprint it.

We thank Betty and Rebecca for their assistance and input with this edition.

We stand by our earlier statement that C.I. is at the very least an honorary Third Estate Sunday Reviewer because C.I.'s never failed to assist us on any edition.

That said, we thank Ava and C.I. for their TV reviews. That's past, present and future. This edition, they have two reviews and are covering three television shows. "TV: Desperate Houswives or Charmed, who's got the more encompassing view of women?" was very much a rough draft as they went through their notes and quickly created a review. We know it's a rough draft because we're aware that the review was completed in about twenty-five minutes. It doesn't read like one of our own rough drafts however. That takes a keen eye, talent and skill.
If we ever failed to appreciate how good they are, the e-mails that poured in suggesting that we just take a week off if we don't have a review from Ava and C.I. to run surely convinced us of their importance to readers. (If this paid anything, they'd be demanding raises!) And equally surprising to us was the number of e-mails that said basically, "I disagree with every word they word they write, but it's not a Sunday if I can't read them." So it appears that even some of the small portion who truly despise the reviews get enjoyment from them.

Along with thanking Ava and C.I. for both reviews in this edition, we'll offer a note of apology as well. They hit a wall on "TV: Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey Reporting for Two Hours of Self-Love." Half of it was written as early as Wednesday and then they set it aside because they knew the remaining points they wanted to make but weren't sure how they wanted to approach those points. They have doubts about the second half of the review, whether they took the right approach. The rest of us made the editorial decision that not only was it funny, it was exactly the right approach. Given more time, they think they could have figured another approach for the second half. Until they finished it, we were inclined to think that they were just postponing and slacking. After we started talking about how much we enjoyed it (we posted it as soon as it was finished) we heard their doubts and realized that we could have backed off a little (and should have) instead of adding pressure. So our apologies for that. (Ava asking if it's necessary to put all this in and the four of us -- Jim, Dona, Ty and Jess -- agree that it is.)

Lastly, don't miss our editorial. Either Bully lied or his actions placed the nation at risk.

We'll pull a C.I. and note the e-mail address which is

-- Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess and Ava

Editorial: Sunday Times says we attempted to goad Iraq into war in 2002, is Bush a liar or just willing to risk the safety of American citizens?

The Sunday Times has an article by Michael Smith entitled "RAF bombing raids tried to goad Saddam into war." It opens with the following:

THE RAF and US aircraft doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, new evidence has shown.
The attacks were intensified from May, six months before the United Nations resolution that Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, argued gave the coalition the legal basis for war. By the end of August the raids had become a full air offensive.
The details follow the leak to The Sunday Times of minutes of a key meeting in July 2002 at which Blair and his war cabinet discussed how to make "regime change" in Iraq legal.
Geoff Hoon, then defence secretary, told the meeting that "the US had already begun 'spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime".

We realize that our readers are far more intelligent than the mainstream press corp but indulge us as we address the above. The Bully Boy and his cohorts went around screaming that we didn't want a "mushroom cloud," that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons. To accept those lies today, in the face of The Sunday Times of London's story, you have to accept that the Bully Boy was perfectly okay with the United States being attacked with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. If that were true, then the only response would be to call for an immediate impeachment. The leader of the country is not supposed to actively court the destruction of our nation.

But to believe the lies we were told, that truly is the most obvious conclusion.

Of course, the fact of the matter is that we were lied to. Everything we were told leading up to the invasion and everything that's followed can be characterized as lies and more lies.

Lying a nation into war is a pretty serious offense.

Now there are some who feel that the recent defense of Newsweek has awakened our press corps. We'd love for that to be the case. However, it can also be argued that the press is just closing ranks, protecting their own and still willing to swallow every lie the administration feeds them and duly spit it back out in a report.

Look, this is a serious matter. We'd even be willing to hold our tongues regarding Judith Miller and other stenographers if The New York Times or any other institution wanted to do now what they should have been doing in the lead up to the invasion, investigating the administration's claims and telling the people the truth.

Scott Shane, Douglas Jehl or Monica Davey (or anyone else) could be front paged with stories about the difference between what we were told and actual reality and we'd be willing to hold our tongues about Miller and the others. (Miller's the most infamous, she was far from the only one. And to date, no television program has issued any mea culpa that we're aware of.)

Why could a group of smart asses like The Third Estate Sunday Review do that? Because the bigger picture demands that Americans start getting some truth with their journalism. It's past time for some truth. We spent thirty minutes discussing this (Ava, Jim, Jess, Ty, Dona, Rebecca, Betty and C.I.) and we all agree that the truth coming out now (strongly and on the front page -- not tucked safely inside the paper where it can be ignored) is a great deal more important than Miller's head on a platter at this moment in time.

What we're saying is that we could take The Times running truth-telling stories without requiring them to note "by the way Judith Miller reported this differently." (Or any newspaper or TV program doing the same without making a point to name their reporters who got it wrong.) And here's a thought, who knows the lies that were told better than Miller? Get her committed to exposing reality and team her up with someone more trust worthy and let it rip. We're willing to bet that the sympathy she's been unable to garner for her current court issues, despite repeated attempts to garner sympathy, would suddenly emerge.

We're not going to spin here and say that all is forgiven and forgotten regarding Miller (to focus on The New York Times). That's not the case. It never will be. But if The New York Times wants to get back into the news business, we're perfectly willing to table our criticism of Miller for several months. Because we feel, and we can only speak for us, that the truth on the invasion/occupation is far more important than any individual reporter.

The latest from London's Sunday Times is explosive (as was the Downing St. memo). The press seems to have awakened a bit after the attacks on Newsweek. Our guess is that the way the domestic press handles the very serious issues emerging from across the Atlantic will tell us whether recent press coverage was about truth telling or protecting one of their own.

Lastly, we'll give credit to BuzzFlash for making The Sunday Times article their main headline.
As always, the editorial is the last feature (other than our "note") that we work on. As soon as we finish everything else, we rush around online (BuzzFlash is always one of the stops) to come up with potential topics for our editorial. There was no debate this week. All eight of us agreed that the only topic was The Sunday Times revelations. Congratulations and thanks to BuzzFlash for catching the story and prominently running it at their website.

Dear Third Estate Sunday Review

Once more bravely into the e-mails to offer the strong, keen advice that so many readers have come to count on.

Dear Third Estate Sunday Review,
You got to help me. I have this real nasty probl'm. I can't stop pickin' my nose. I'll pick and pick and pick until it's goin' bleed. I'm not an old man but I'll be retirin' in 3 years. Can't say more than that, you understan'. But besides being painf'l, it's downright embarrassin'. It's gott'n to the point where I don't even care if people are aroun'. Like last week I was meetin' with this foreign'r ... uh, I'll call 'im, Cabbas. Yep, Cabbas. So there are people aroun' includin' Cabbas and I jus' start to diggin' like a wild oil catt'r in West Texas and nothin' can stop me from goin' to town even tho' I know every'ne's starin'. I can hear a few whisperin' and it makes me madd'r than a wet dog crawlin' out a crick with ticks all o'er him, ya hear me? Gets me thinkin' maybe we need to find some littl' nothin' to push aroun' and show 'em all how tough I am. But there I was just a-diggin' and I knew people were lookin' and I couldn't stop and next thin' I know blood's pourin' out my nose. I'm real worried 'bout my blood loss. I can get light headed just eatin' a pretzel.
Worried 'bout my health,
Jorge from D.C. area 9 months a year

Dear Jorge,
As we head into Memorial Day, we want to first commend you for caring about blood loss. But we'd suggest that you worry less about your own and more about the 1656 American soldier fatalities from the Bully Boy's misguided and illegal invasion and occupation. Or the 6300 plus wounded American soldiers in the same illegal war. Or the untold number of Iraqi citizens, estimated at 21,834, that have been killed. Weren't we supposed to be "liberating" them after every other "reason" fell apart?
So good first step there worrying about blood loss but we'd encourage to move beyond focusing on yourself.
Back to the main thrust of your e-mail, picking of the nose. We're pretty sure everyone picks their nose at one point or another. A cold, allegeries, pollution, any number of things can lead to nasal blockage. But you are right to worry about doing it in front of people. Who's going to shake your hand after that? No one. If you're planning a cook out for Memorial Day, trust us, no one's going to want you handling the food.
Ideally, you should go to a bathroom so that you can wash your hands after. And if you were doing that and started to bleed, well you've already got towels of some kind and toilet paper around that you can sop up the blood with. Biohazards are a real concern these days, Jorge.
But we want to bring up something you toss out as an aside. The need to lash out at someone to make yourself feel better bespeaks of very low self-image. It's damaging to others but if you're not prepared to take that step outside yourself yet, let's note that it's damaging to you as well.
We hope you'll right again because we think that's a core problem and much worse than the blood loss from your embarrassing habit of picking your nose in public.

Dear Third Estate Sunday Review,
I think elections are rigged. I've tried to be a sunny optimist but I've seen yet another election stolen. I hope you'll give attention to this, serious and prolonged attention, because it makes me so mad I start crying. There is no way that tacky, yodeling cowgirl deserved to win American Idol. Each year they promise us a fair election and each year they lie. It's time for real election reform and I hope you will lead on this issue and call for an immediate Congressional issue into the continuing scandal that is American Idol.
Open, fair and free elections on American Idol,
Serious Sue in Baton Rouge

Dear Serious Sue,
While we support election reform in real life, as opposed to in "reality-based" TV shows, we think you've inhaled a little too much swamp gas. Thanks for writing.

Dear Third Estate Sunday Review,
I work in an office and everytime we have an office party no one can bring anything with chocolate in it. Not a pie. Not a cake. Not a cookie. Why you ask me? Because there's one person who claims they are allergic. But here's the deal he's always eating candy bars like Snickers. So what's up with that?
Chocolate lover,
Cory in Chicago

Dear Cory,
We think you work with a liar. We say bring something with chocolate. He doesn't have to eat it if he doesn't want to. If he says anything, we suggest you jump up and down and scream, "Snickers liar! Snicker liar! Snickers liar!" over and over. We're pretty sure that, one way or the other, that will take care of your problem.

Dear Third Estate Sunday Review,
I have a real problem. I'm in love with my boss. He's quite the man and when I look at him, I just find myself grinning like an idiot. Here's the problem, he's married and if we got together we'd be an interracial couple. I think he likes me too because four years ago, I had a really big screw up on the job, we're talking a BIG DOOZIE. But he didn't fire me and actually promoted me to a better position that allows me to travel. I love traveling because it allows me to strong arm foreigners and not just my own country men. But I miss him so much when I'm traveling. I find myself fondingly remembering the way his big, floppy ears stick out from his head, or the way his laugh is a dog panting a hot day, or the way he drops his constanants to show just how manly he is, or the way he struts around like a bantum rooster . . . I'm getting a little moist down south just writing this, if you know what I mean. I know he loves me more than the airhead he's married to. That hick from the sticks has really packed on the pounds in the last years to the point that she's looking like an aging T.G.I. Friday's waitress who can't stop nibbling on the fried mozzarella. She's so tacky and so the past. No one could have pictured what a weight around his neck she'd become. But I really think I'm the future. How do I break the ice and bring up the issue that both my boss and I are skating around? I've thought of composing a sonata for him but he's not really interested in listening to anything that lasts longer than thirty seconds. So I thought maybe something silly and care free, real Sex in the City-like, such as passing him a pair of my panties in the middle of a meeting. What do you think?
Dirty Wild Rice
no location given

Dear Dirty Wild Rice,
Would these be a clean pair of panties or a pair slipped off your own body? We think that's the bigger question since you've spoken of getting moist down south when you think of your boss.
If they're moist when you oh-so-discreetly pass them to him, there might be a misunderstanding as to the cause of the moisture. We'd recommend you go for it. Not because we think you're right in your assumptions but because we're hopeful that we can predict the immediate outcome which we see as very fitting for you, Dirty Wild Rice. Get busy already.

Dear Third Estate Sunday Review,
I'm having an affair. In the eight years we've been married, my wife has really let herself go to the dogs. She's packed on probably forty pounds, maybe fifty. She used to take a lot of pride in her appearance but now she'll go around in anything even if it's covered with stains from baby food or baby vomit. All she's wanted to talk about for the last 14 months is the baby. That's seven months after she learned that she was pregant and seven months after he was born. He's like a pet rock, he's got not personality at all. There's not five minutes worth of conversation a day on him let alone hour after hour.
Sick of It in Ithaca

Dear Sick of It in Ithica,
You sound like a real prize & a prince to us. How lucky your wife must be to be married to such an upstanding guy. You don't mention who you're cheating on her with which leads us to believe you're not that serious about your mistress. Or maybe she just doesn't satisfy you? If so, might we suggest you hook up with Wild Rice? She's interested in married men and we'd say you too deserve each other.

Dear Third Estate Sunday Review,
I enjoy reading your smart ass rantings but I think when people are coming to you seriously asking for advice you could take down it a notch or two and realize that what you mock might be something really important to you.
Jim C. in Oklahoma City

Dear Jim C.,
We applaud your desire to set yourself up as the Miss Manners of the Internet. If you could step away from the Wall of the Walking Wounded for a minute, do you really think all the e-mails readers compose are serious? If so, we're wondering if you laugh very often? Our advice to you, stop being such a tight ass. It's much more fun to be a smart ass.

Dear Third Estate Sunday Review,
Do you make up these e-mails? If you print mine, I'll know people are really writing these.
Yours truly,
Elizabeth in Dayton

Dear Elizabeth,
If seeing is believing, we hope you're now persuaded.

Dear Third Estate Sunday Review,
I think it's liberals like you that destroy our country. Reading your stuff I see you're obsessed with "justice" but can't expand your limited thinking to realize that we are in Iraq because we were attacked. Appeasers like yourself bring down our country and I'd ship you over to Gitmo myself if it was up to me.
A real patriot,
Todd in New Haven

Dear Todd,
You really make us laugh and we suggest you seriously pursue a career in stand up comedy. We were on the verge of laughing from your opening statement but when we got your hilarious send up of the fright wing (we're in Iraq because we were attacked!) we lost it. Your tongue in cheek parody of the idiots who think Iraq was involved with the 9-11 attacks is priceless. Very droll.

Dear Third Estate Sunday Review,
Why does the mainstream media suck so much?
Bobby in Portland, Rhode Island

Dear Bobby,
While we appreciate your question, it's far too intelligent for us to address in "Dear Third Estate Sunday Review" which is a light heard, smart ass response to e-mails we receive. We'd recommend you follow Bob Somerby's The Daily Howler to really grasp how much the mainstream media sucks. And if you want to offer amusing theories, we'll be happy to banter back and forth with you. But your question, a good one, is far too serious for this section of our edition. Fight the good fight, Bobby, and thanks for writing.

Dear Third Estate Sunday Review,
My favorite color is brown. What's your favorite color?
Mena in St. Paul

Dear Mena,
Our favorite color is truth -- in any and all shades.

Books: Five Books, Five Minutes

We hadn't planned to do another "Five Books, Five Minutes" so soon. But as Ty says, "Better to keep them off balance and guessing when this feature will appear." But Betty told Ty she was reading Sara Paretsky's Blacklist and he picked up the book Monday. Dona saw it and noted that she read it (it's out in paperback -- obviously, if Dona's read it) and C.I. had read it as well.
So it just seemed karma was calling us.

Participating are The Third Estate Sunday Review crew proper -- Ava, Dona, Ty, Jess and Jim -- as well as Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude and C.I. of The Common Ills.

Jim picked out War and the American Presidency, or as Jess likes to think of it, the reason he can no longer be made fun of for picking a bad book last time. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote War and the American Presidency.

We're split down the middle on this book. Jim, C.I., Betty, Ty enjoyed it while Jess, Dona, Ava and Rebecca loathed it.

Jim: This is a strong book that uses history as a backdrop to explore where we are now.

Jess: No, it's a slight history book that alludes to the current occupation from time to time to justify the book being published.

Betty: I think it's a book that makes you think about things. You find yourself thinking about more than what's on the page and that's because he's talking about our founding and our ethics then compared to now.

Rebecca: If you have to justify the book based on how it made you think about what's not on the page, I'd say that's an indication that the book is slight, like Jess said, to the point of almost not there.

Dona yawns and says she doesn't even feel the book is worth discussing.

So use the above to determine if you think you'd be interested in it or not. Here's an excerpt from page 99:

Since FDR's day, a fundamental transformation in the political environment has futher undermined the shaky structure of American politics. Two electronic devices -- television and computerized polling -- have had a devastating impact on the party system. The old system had three tiers: the politician at one end; the voter at the other; the party in between. The party's function was to negotiate between the politician and the voter, interpreting each to the other and providing the links that held the political process together.
The electronic revolution has substantially abolished this mediatorial role. Television presents politicians directly to voters, who judge candidates far more on what the box shows them than on what the party organization tells them. Computerized polls present voters directly to politicians, who judge the electorate far more on what the polls show them than on what the party organization tells them. The political party is left to wither on the vine.

Jim's having a heart attack over the excerpt that Jess selected to encapsulate the book.

Jim: That makes it sound like Schlesinger is playing gatekeeper.

C.I.: I think he is. I still enjoyed the book for other reasons.

Next up, we have Sara Paretsky's Blacklist. This was loved by all. This is a V.I. Warshawski mystery novel. V.I. Warshawski is a private detective and in this book she's struggling with a number of issues besides her case. Among the issues inflating the complications are the USA Patriot Act. So you know we were loving that.

Betty: I found it scary. I started it Sunday afternoon while the sun was out and was chugging along happy with the book and thinking it was really involving. I got in a couple of hours reading because my father had taken the kids to the park. After they got back and we had dinner and they were playing nice, probably because they were tired from the park, I picked it back up. It was dark outside by then, and maybe that was part of it, but my oldest came over to ask me something and I almost jumped out of the chair. It was scary and hard to put down. I really enjoyed it.

From page 309, here's an excerpt:

I left the church feeling tense and jumpy. My conversation with Benji had confirmed my assumption that he'd seen Marc's killer. And he'd managed to explain why he was afraid to report what he'd seen. I couldn't exactly blame him; the law had shot Catherine Bayard in their eagerness to kill him. Why should he trust that I could keep them from executing him if he came forward to testify?
If I could figure out a way to get the Justice Department off his back, maybe Benji would give me the information in exchange, but I didn't have clever ideas about much of anything right now.
My day didn't unfold in a way that made me any happier. Back in my apartment, I found a message from Bryant Vishnikov. He'd phoned only a few minutes after I left. Hoping that meant he had hot information, I dropped my coat and purse on the floor and returned his call at once. He interrupted an autopsy to talk to me.

Ty picked John Markoff's What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry.

Ty: I loved this book.

C.I.: I know nothing about the workings of what I read, but it was an involving book. I can't vouch for its technical accuracy, but it was involving.

Dona: I kept thinking I was watching a VH1 Where Are They Now? special. It split apart too often to play "check in." I like a more linear story than what was offered.

Excerpt from page 105:

Since Earnest liked talking to people face-to-face, he decided to create a program that put a human name on each computer user, and he added a bit of information that would make it possible to determine if a particular user was sitting in front of his terminal. He called his command "finger." A little while later, he added the capability to creat a "Plan" file, which would make it possible for people to explain their absences or give instructions about being reached at odd hours. The program was an instant hit and quickly propagated from Digital Equipment Corporation computers to Unix machines throughout the growing ARPAnet world.
Even more popular was a program called NS (for news service), which was written by a young SAIL system programmer named Martin Frost. NS was the first computer-network news service, made possible by loading newswires from the Associated Press and The New York Times into the SAIL computer. Using NS, it was possible to watch the wires directly or to find stories based on a keyword search and even to create filters that would save copies of stories on particular subjects. Indeed, the case can be made that NS was the world's first search engine, arriving decades ahead of Web-based services like Alta Vista and Google. Word of the wonderful online newspaper soon spread, and before long an elite undergound emerged to take advantage of NS from all over the country.

Dona didn't like the book and bailed after forty or so pages. Ty was luke warm on it. The rest of us (Jim, Jess, Ava, C.I., Betty and Rebecca) endorse it. ("As a good read, I don't know anything about the subject so I can't vouch for it being technically correct," C.I. insists.)

Next up we have C.I.'s pick, Elizabeth Drew's Fear and Loathing In George W. Bush's Washington. This brief book is a collection of writings that Drew did for The New York Review of Books. (Russell Baker writes the introduction to the book.) At sixty-eight pages, this book packs a lot of information. We all enjoyed it and, quite honestly, were surprised it would have as much information and as many observations in it as it did.

Here's an excerpt from pages 25 and 26:

[Richard] Perle's career has been an astonishing one. Though he has held only one government position -- that of an assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration -- he has had tremendous influence over the administration's Iraq policy. He openly advocated the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime shortly after he left the Pentagon in 1987. In the 1970s, while working on [Scoop] Jackson's Senate staff, he opposed detente, helped to stop ratification of the SALT II arms control agreement, and aided Jackson in getting through Congress the Jackson-Vanik law, which cut off trade with the Soviet Union if it continued to bar the emigration of Jews. During the Reagan administration, when he was assistant secretary of defense for policy, Perle became famous for opposing arms control agreements and acquired the nickname "The Prince of Darkness." Working with a small group of journalists who circulate his views, he's been known to savage someone he opposed on big issues. He makes his influence felt through frequent television appearances, through his network of allies in the bureaucracy, and through his strategy out an extreme position and trying to make the ground shift in his direction -- which it often has. He is a strong advocate of the views of right-wing Israeli leaders, and serves on the board of the company that owns the pro-Likud Jerusalem Post. When he's not working with his clients, who include defense contractors, he is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. From this position Perle invites people to an annual conference in Beaver Creek, Colorado, cosponsored by AEI and former president Gerald Ford, and he has several times invited Ahmed Chalabi as his guest there. At the conferences, Chalabi was able to meet Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz.

Again, this is a book we all enjoyed.

Our fifth and final book was another one that we can all recommend, Thai Jones' A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family's Century of Conscience. This was Jess' pick because his parents had sent him the book and he meant to read it all semester but never found time.

Dona: I couldn't put this book down.

Jim: But it's not linear.

Dona: It's covering various generations and when it shifts time periods, there's still a naturalness about it. John Markoff's book had jerky transitions that never really flowed.

Ava picked this of her favorite of the five books.

From page 250, here's an excerpt:

Annie stood behind a velvet-draped dais table at the University of Illinois in Chicago on the evening of January 30 and watched as the huge room filled to capacity and beyond. At her back hung a painted mural, reading: "Los Tiempos Dificiles Son Tiempos De Lucha," -- hard times are fighting times. So many people had come that the opening session of the Hard Times Conference was delayed to allow the overflow crowd to head to cafeterias where the proceedings were broadcast on closed-circuit TVs. Ten times as many people showed up for this than had participated in the previous mass event Jeff had organized, the Days of Rage.
"We have to develop a program for the working class as a whole in this period to fight the depression," Jennifer Dohrn, Bernadine's younger sister, told an audience that included attorney William Kunstler, who had defended members of the Chicago Eight, and Iberia Hampton, whose son Fred had been murdered by police in this same city during 1969, as well as representatives from the United Black Workers, Welfare Mothers for Justice, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, the Republic of New Afrika, the American Indian Movement, and the Gray Panthers. Annie had emptied her Rolodex and called in her favors. She brought Chavy with her, of course, as well as SNCC leader Ella Baker and Thelma Hamilton, an activist for community control in New York City public schools. Jeff and Eleanor flew to Chicago too. They could not attend the sessions in person, but the conference was broadcast live on Pacifica radio. They checked into a motel room and Jeff waited anxiously for reports, a director watching his play from the wings.
So, for our "Five Books, Five Minutes" we'd recommend three titles strongly. If, for instance, our comments on War and the American Presidency made you think you might be interested, pick that up.

Corbin in Mississippi e-mailed to tell us that he picked up Ed Broth's Stories From a Moron: Real Stories Rejected by Real Magazines and enjoyed in spite of our evaluation. We think that's great. Both that he utilized his library and that he found a book he enjoyed. The links provided for each book will take you to summaries and other reviews at Powell's Books. However, Elizabeth Drew's Fear and Loathing in George W. Bush's Washington is put out by The New York Review of Books. When dealing with a smaller press like that, or Seven Stories Press, we prefer to link to them. You will find a summary of Drew's book via the link.

TV: Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey Reporting for Two Hours of Self-Love

Haven't the troops suffered enough? Sent into an illegal war by the Bully Boy, often victims of a back-door draft, reserves stationed full time in Iraq paid less because they are "part-time reserves" (aka "weekend warriors" -- that's been some long weekend), the wounded largely ignored when they return home, military familes losing benefits, the coffins hidden away while Bully Boy says they died for "liberty" . . . When will it end?

Not last Monday night when ABC decided to promote the upcoming release of Warner Bros.' Dukes of Hazzard by turning over two hours of prime time television to the dubious talents of Jessica Simpson and, famous for being married to her, Nick Lachey. The "event" was titled Nick & Jessica's Tour of Duty so right away you knew it was going to be horrible and lacking in any sensitivity or perspective. In case you're missing it, let's underscore it. Nick & Jessica's Tour of Duty. Two overly pampered airheads wanted to compare their miniscule contribution as a "tour of duty." Let's be really clear here, Bob Hope did multiple salutes to the military. He did countless version of The Bob Hope Vietnam Christmas Show (1965, 1966, 1971), he did Bob Hope's Overseas Christmas Tours: Around the World with the Troops -- 1941-1972. But he lacked either the vanity or the stupidy (or both) to pass his own efforts off as a "Tour of Duty."

Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey apparently lack shame, as well as talent.

After the sense of perspetive/sacrifice died, the second casuality of the night was John Mellencamp's "R.O.C.K. in the USA." Previously a driving rock and roll salute to the pleasures of roots rock became, as sung by Simpson and Lachey, about as "gritty" as the Care Bears.

While name checking various sixties roots rock heroes, Nick Lachey, looking like a deer frozen in the headlights, stumbled past names such as Mitch Ryder until landing on "and don't forget James Brown" with a goofy smile plastered on his face suggesting that a light bulb had finally lit up.

Simpson's been dubbed the dumb one of this pair but we'd have to call it an even draw.

As the "special" continued, the entertainment casualities continued to pile up, far too many to mention. (Maybe Nightline can do a special on that?) But among the more noteable fatalities would have to be Simpson's laughable attempt to cover Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walking." While stamping across the stage and sticking out her nothing to brag about ass,
Simpson managed to chirp each word correctly even while never demonstrating that she had the first inkling as to what the song was actually about. It was as though you were watching a five-year-old scuffle around in Mommy's high heels.

Which is puzzling when you consider another fatality -- "God Bless America." Who knew it was an ode to orgasms?

Watching little Jessie wet her lips and tousle her mane (as a person she makes a great little pony), we were left to wonder what that or heaving bossoms had to do with either God or a country. Simpson apparently learnt the song at Our Lady of Lap Dance.

Which isn't to suggest that Nick Lachey wasn't racheting up his own entertainment body count.
We'd suggest that you have to be truly ignorant of all music genres to attempt a rap in the midst of a country song. Determined to get some "kills" of his own, Lachey proceeded to do just that.
While wearing, it should be noted, what appeared to be more mascara than Kip Winger and Peter Frampton combined. Boy George would have told Nick the make up was "over done."

Equally jaw dropping was the realization that Lachey thought he was cribbing Elvis Presley's pelvis thrusts. If that's Nick's idea of a pelvic thrust, don't expect children in their near future.

Throughout he repeatedly name checked Simpson, never forgetting to mention that she was his wife. Not even the narrator of "Wedding Bell Blues" was so obsessed with marriage! But then it's apparently his only claim to fame so pushing it was in his best interest and reminded the the troops why he was on stage in the first place.

Interwoven between stage patter (really bad stage patter) and the occassional song, Lachey and Jessica would try to do things. One time Jessica Simpson attempted to practice shooting. She had to stop because the kick from the rifle was too much. Tour of Duty? Then Lachey wanted to look the doofus (or maybe he can't help that) and put on the special padding used to train attack dogs. Considering that Abu Ghraib is far from a distant memory, that might not have been such a wise choice.

However, it was hilarious to watch him walk around like a toddler. Another man, in the same suit, was able to move just fine. Tour of Duty?

The whole thing was beyond insulting. They trotted out Willie Nelson for a song but showed nothing to indicate that they were fans of his talent. Apparently, he was only on the special because, like Simpson, he's in the upcoming Dukes of Hazzard movie. Nelson, like Brian McKnight, can basically be said to have kept his head down and moved on quickly.

In one of the more manipulative moments, they surprised a soldier with the appearence of her husband. It would have been less manipulative if the camera hadn't kept cutting back to show the delighted looks of self-satisfaction on Lachey and Simpson's face. An actual moment was going on but God forbid, apparently, that we don't stop hyping Simpson and Lachey, even when they shouldn't be the focus.

Intercut between segments were "messages." Now you might think people watching would have enjoyed seeing their loved ones? You might think that some friends and families gathered around the TV would expect that these moments would allow those serving to send a message to them? You might think that but the "creative geniuses" in front of the cameras and behind them thought differently.

Instead you got the likes of Jennifer Garner and Ashton Kutcher uttering banal greetings into a camera. We find it really hard to believe that most troops were saying, "Did Ashton Kutcher just congratulate us! Man, that is awesome!" We also doubt that anyone watching from their living rooms was overly impressed with the generic comments from the likes of Garner and Kutcher.

The "creative geniuses" behind the camera included Alan Carter (director), Paul Flattery and Stephen Pouliot. Though some of you may not know the names, you need to learn them so that in the future when they flash on screen you'll know to either flip the channel or get the hell out of the living room. This trinity last teamed up for Nick & Jessica's Family Christmas. When you see those names, run, run for shelter and don't look back.

It takes tremendous vanity or stupidity to dub an "entertainment special" a "Tour of Duty." We're guessing it took equal parts stupidity and vanity on the part of of the couple front and center. Both continue to push themselves as "stars" when the reality is that Krista and Ryan qualify for that honor far more than Simpson and Lachey. Having achieved little but magazine covers fretting over the state of their business merger, er, marriage, we're guessing that the star system has so imploded that soon Kathie Lee Gifford will be spoken of with the sort of awe usually reserved for Meryl Streep.

Coming out of a third rate boy band that never really made it even when boy bands were all the rage, coming off a failed solo album and really bad TV guest spots, someone's decided that this basic cable reject (MTV's Newlyweds -- already cancelled) is a star. A reader once wrote that we were too mean about Lachey because he's trying to grow up, as he closes in on thirty-two, we think he should have had to stop "trying" a long time ago. He is the John Davidson of this decade with all that entails.

Jessica Simpson, we can't figure out. There have been plenty of big boobed starlets over the years. But they usually didn't suffer from short legs, knobby knees, eyes set too close together and a nonexistant ass. Or at least not all four. If you're wondering why we're appraising her physical appearance, it's because what else is there? She's not a singer in the sense that she moves people with her voice and she's not racked up a lot of hit singles unless you use the term "hit single" very, very loosely. She wants to be an actress and, with her voice, pursuing other avenues is strongly advised.

One person told us she was Ann-Margaret. That's simply not true. Margaret had (and has) talent. She also had an endearing personality that wasn't village idiot of the entertainment world. Another person told us she was the new Raquel Welch. While it took time for Welch to warm up and demonstrate that there was a brain and soul inside, there's no arguing that, from the start, she was beautiful. Unless the camera catches her at exactly the most flattering angle (3/4 face, shot from above), Simpson doesn't even qualify for pretty.

We feel she's a newly discovered species, the non-star star famous because a magazine cover tells you that she is. The ultimate sign of how non-reality based our nation has gotten. A possible argument for some new creationist "theory" of non-intelligent design.

Maybe the talk about the disappointment of Dukes of Hazzard is premature? But we're told she's laughable (not in the good way and supposedly her nose didn't film well), that females complained about the hairdos on Sean Williams Scott and Johnny Knoxville (they do look like dorks). People are saying the film will be lucky to do as well at the box office as the film version of Beverly Hillbillies.

We're sort of hoping the talk is wrong. Someone willing to do a "special" for the troops that highlights themselves and equates their "service" to a "Tour of Duty" knows no bounds. If Dukes of Hazzard flops, we're frightened to imagine what Simpson has planned next. She's like Pia Zadora with more desperation and stamina. The only thing worse than picturing what new harm she can inflict upon the nation is realizing that there's a good chance Nick Lachey will be at her side to assist.

Music: Five CDs, Five Minutes

Olive in Longview, TX e-mailed us to say how much she enjoyed last week's debut of the "Five Books, Five Minutes" feature. She wondered if we might be able to do the same with CDs? Olive, thanks for the praise and we're always happy here at The Third Estate Sunday Review to steal from anyone, even ourselves. So here's the feature you requested.

Participating are The Third Estate Sunday Review crew proper -- Ava, Dona, Ty, Jess and Jim -- as well as Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude and C.I. of The Common Ills.

As always, we're strong supporters of public libraries and campus ones. Selecting CDs for this feature were Jim, Ty, Betty, Jess and Rebecca.

Jim's pick was Sugar Ray's 14:59. We give a whole hearted thumbs down.

Jim: I picked it up expecting it to be bad, but I had no idea of how bad.

Dona: Ava and I were listening to it with him and just climbing the walls waiting for it to finally end.

Jess: Their problem is they never knew what they were. "Fly" broke out and it was like nothing they usually did. They were a really bad hardcore posing band. Then they got their "hit" and tried to mix the two. "Every Morning" and "Someday" they can pull off because the songs are laid back and their pedestrian treatment is less annoying. But when they try to "rock out" on songs like "Personal Space Invader" they really embarrass themselves.

Rebecca: Let's be honest, Mark McGrath, their lead singer, became a pin up or no one would have cared about them for more than five minutes. If he wants to take off shirt, I'm there watching eagerly but as music Sugar Ray doesn't cut it.

Ty picked up Aretha Franklin's Who Zoomin' Who? which we recommend for Aretha Franklin's vocals.

Ty: If anyone is getting nostaligic over the eighties, they need to listen to the music. This is so damn heavy in synthesizers, it sinks in them. It's like that cheesy Miami Vice theme. The reason Clarence Clmons saxophone playing (on "Freeway of Love") stands out so much is because it's one of the few moments when an actually talented musician is playing actual music.

Ava: Musically, the whole album has a Starship "Nothing's Going to Stop Us Now" feel. It's very sterile musically, I did like Aretha's vocals, but musically it was disappointing.

C.I.: Seven of the nine tracks were produced by Narada Michael Walden who also produced "Nothing's Going to Stop Us Now" which might account for the similarity Ava's talking about.
I think a lot of the songs are strong and Aretha's vocals are great but the production is a portrait of eighties excess.

Betty: The only time the production cools down enough to let Aretha breathe and actually nail a song is "Sweet Bitter Love." I didn't have to check this out because I have it in my collection. I ignore the production and focus on Aretha's vocals. I think she does a great job on "Another Night," "Until You Say You Love Me," "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves" with Eurythmics and "Ain't Nobody Ever Loved You." But the high point of the CD is "Sweet Bitter Love.'

Jess: Carlos Santana is wasted on "Push." He's laying down some amazing guitar licks but he's got to compete with all this synthesized crap and it's too much. He gets drowned out. I'd agree with everyone that Aretha's vocals are strong and the songs are solid but the production really defeats this album.

Betty picked up Ani DiFranco's Evolve. The panel of eight recommends this album.

Betty: I'd heard about Ani DiFranco from you guys but I didn't know her music. This was the only album my library had when I took the kids in to pick out some books mid-week. I think we're going to speak about what's carried at the end, right?

Dona: Right.

Betty: So I'll just say that as an introduction to Ani DiFranco, I really enjoyed this album. I think she's amazing guitarist and I had no idea she played guitar until I was listening and looking at the credits. She has a really experimental style when it comes to music that, maybe this is just me, reminded me of when Earth, Wind & Fire were really into making music. To get that deep into the music and really explore like that you have to really love music and I was really impressed with her guitar playing. Her voice was not what I was expecting at all. I guess I thought she'd have a raspy kind of Bob Dylan like voice. She has a really sweet voice and I don't mean that as an insult. I really liked her voice and thought if she ever did a jazz album, she has the chops to pull it off. I enjoyed the lyrics and jotted down two samples that stood out.
From "Serpentine:"

cuz all the wrong people have the power
of suggestion
and the freedom of the press is meaningless
if nobody asks a question
i mean, causation by definition
is such a complex compilation of factors
that to even try to say why is to oversimplify
but that's a far cry, isn't it dear?

Vocally, she reminded me of a young Annie Ross. The other lyrics I jotted down were from "Welcome To:"

welcome to
no amount of stoned makes you feel ok
welcome to
this year's alone -- brought to you by christmas day
welcome to
the darkness into which praying people pray

The band on the album was great but I was honestly thinking she was going to be someone trying to be Dylan and she really wasn't that. Dylan's a talented writer but Ani's really a talented musician and the whole thing was this experiment that I could really get into. I felt like I was hearing an artist stretch and explore.

Jess picked up Dave Matthews Band's Before These Crowded Streets. Dona didn't care for it but the remaining seven all endorse this album.

Jess: I have all of Dave Matthews Band. I love them, I love Phish. And I'll hold my comments on selections available to the end. The hit on this album was "Don't Drink the Water" and I think that's a strong example of the band. But my favorite song on this has always been either "Rapunzal" with the way the music punches and explodes or "Stay (Wasting Time)" which just has a really haunting melody.

Ty: (Laughing) A road trip with Jess always means you'll hear the Matthews Band.

Dona: And the Mamas and the Papas!

Ty: And the Mamas and the Papas. And any other hippie acts like Phish. "The Dreaming Time" is probably my favorite song. I feel about this album kind of the way Betty does about Ani's album. You're listening to real musicians who are into the music. They get off on the jam and they're going to explore and take chances. For me, "Halloween" doesn't pull it off the experiment but the other songs on the album do and it's just nice not to hear some Disney Kid, nod to Kat, vocalizing over pre-recorded tracks and singing simplistic lyrics like "you played with my heart" or "dirty pop." This is real music.

Betty: Again, like with Ani, I was reminded of Earth, Wind & Fire when they're really going experimental and just burying into the music. Dave Matthews Band, sorry, was another band I knew of but had never heard until we were all listening. My oldest loved hearing this and we'll be picking up tomorrow because of a good report card.

Rebecca picked Cass Elliot's Dream a Little Dream: The Cass Elliot Collection. We all recommend this collection.

Rebecca: First of all, I love the cover photograph. It's trippy, it's cool, it sets the tone for what's inside.

Jess: I'd agree with that. Some of the covers of Cass Elliot make her look like she's a second rate Vegas lounge singer.

Rebecca: I loved "Don't Call Me Mama Anymore."

C.I.: For anyone new to Cass Elliot, she was one of the members of the Mamas and the Papas.

Jess: Along with Michelle & John Phillips and Denny Dougherty.

Rebecca: I didn't like the sentiment of "Disney Girls" which seemed like a retreat from what the Mamas and the Papas stood for but even on that song, her vocals knocked me out. My favorite songs were "The Good Times Are Coming" -- a message we can all take heart in on the left, her cover of Paul McCartney's "My Love," and "I'm Coming to the Best Part of My Life."

C.I.: The problem I have with the CD is that it's yet another Cass collection. I think it's the best of what's been released, collection wise, but I'm really bothered by the fact that the song she did in the H.R. Pufnstuf movie never makes an album. I believe the name of the song was "Different." A collection, especially when there are already collections out there, should unearth the tracks that aren't already available. There was a double disc Mamas and Papas set (Creeque Alley: The History of The Mamas and The Papas) that included solo tracks from all the members. Now there's a boxed set out of England (Complete Anthology) that does the same. On those and on all the Cass Elliot collections, you never get that song. If someone wants a Cass collection, this is where to start. But before the next Cass collection comes out, someone better realize that repackaging the same tracks over and over really doesn't move the sales. "Different" is a rarity. In case anyone doesn't know the lyrics, here's how it starts:

When I was taller and people were smaller
I realized that I was different
I had a power
That set me apart
I learned to take it
To use it to make it
It's not so bad to be different
To do your own thing
And do it with heart.

And I'm sorry, I have no idea who wrote the song. But I think it's the Cass Elliot image in that song. And Dream a Little Dream: The Cass Elliot Collection is one of three collections of Cass Elliot's solo work currently available. It's the best of the lot, no question. But it's really past time that they quit including the tracks that are available. And we've probably gone beyond five minutes with my long winded comments, sorry.

Jess: As a Cass fan, I'd agree with that. I actually have Mama's Big Ones and Dedicated to the One I Love which is an import. The first one has twelve songs, the second has eighteen. And the second one does include her cover of Laura Nyro's "He's a Runner" which the other collections don't. But I agree completely. Put out a CD heavy on Cass' noncollected tracks.
Her catalogue is mainly out of print and I think Cass fans would pick up an album of rarities. She had a great voice even when the material was less than great.

Ava: Okay, now we're going to address the issue that bothered us the most. This is a problem that we all noted and what Jess and Betty were referring to earlier. The selection is really poor.
If you're into collections and best ofs, you'll be happy. Betty thought she'd pick up Carole King's Tapestry because she really enjoyed Kat's review of it and had never heard the album.

Betty: Right, Kat's review made me want to listen to the album. I go into my library and it's not there. They have a Carole King greatest hits CD of some sort and a live one from the nineties which may be the concert Jess saw?

Jess: Yeah.

Betty: But the album itself they don't have.

Dona: And we should note that most of the libraries visited (in various parts of the country) either had given away their vinyl or had it housed in one area and didn't allow it to be circulated.

Ava: You often had to listen to it in the library.

Betty: And I go to the computer because I was at a branch and not the main library in my city. I thought I'd be able to request it from one of the other branches or the main library downtown.
But no one had Tapestry except the main library and it was on vinyl and noncirculating.

Ava: Music formats change constantly. At one point vinyl was the thing, 8-track tapes at another point, cassette tapes and currently CDs until they're replace with MP3s or something else. Each time the format changes, libraries are left to rebuild their collections around the new format.

Jess: And what you get are a lot of best ofs because those are "safe" choices.

Jim: For instance, there was no Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at the library I went to or Abbey Road. But there was the Beatles' Number Ones. And Pepper and Abbey are classic albums within the rock genres.

Ty: When I was a kid, if someone talked to me about Sly and the Family Stone, I could go to the library and check it out. Today, a kid's more likely to find that the only thing they can check it out is a greatest hit collection. So they'll miss out on Stand! and other really important milestones.

Rebecca: Yeah, hits are great but if it's just collections, people are missing out on the overview and the experiments. As most people know, Otis [Redding] is one of my favorites and I was surprised to find only of a best of. A best of will never help you understand how important an album like Otis Blue is.

Ava: The funding for libraries is being cut like crazy. That's public and college libraries. C.I. noted that The New York Times did a story on how one of the libraries at the University of Texas in Austin was getting rid of its books. We live in a digital age and with cuts in funding, we'll probably see more and more focus on the monies being allocated for internet and other such services.

Jim: So as supporters of libraries, what we're suggesting anyone do who can is buy a CD you like and donate to it your library. That will help for now until the format changes. In addition, there are people my like younger brother who buy CDs, listen for a month or two and then sell them off. We're usually talking about three bucks tops for reselling your used CD. If it's not scratched up, you might consider donating it to your library. They can either keep it or sell it to raise money that can go back into the library system.

Ava: Again, we support public libraries and encourage people to utilize them as well as college libraries. Their budgets continue to be cut. If there's an album that is your favorite and you can afford to give a copy to your local library, what better way to both show your support for your local library and to share an album that you think is amazing than to donate it.

TV: Desperate Houswives or Charmed, who's got the more encompassing view of women?

Bored and boring housewives versus three witches? Which show is more realistic?

For those who aren't aware Desperate Housewives mhas generated a lot of favorable jaw flapping. It's been discussed (in water cooler terms) everywhere.

Having never seen the show, we haven't wasted anyone's time (or common sense) in praise of the show. But when we decided to do two reviews to make up for no review last edition (we appreciate all the e-mails that came in saying how much you missed the TV review), we
wanted to get them out of the way early and since people had been e-mailing about Desperate Housewives, we figured we could grab that and Charmed -- both of which were airing their season enders last Sunday.

Desperate Housewives wants so hard to be trendy. (Maybe as much as the jaw boning trendies want it to be trendy.) But it's nothing but a Republican idea of trendy which a friend summarized best on Saturday afternoon when she stated it thusly: Jump on the latest trend, committ whole heartedly to it and when it passes act like you were never into it.

No surprise, the creator is a Republican. First off, let's dispense with the jaw boners idea that he had anything to do with the success of The Golden Girls. For the record that sitcom ran from 1985 until 1992. Marc Cherry was a writer starting in 1990 when the show was running on fumes. (And those who remember the final year know how obvious and unfunny it became.) He was one of at least eleven writers while the show was on it's last legs. He didn't create the show (Susan Harris did) and he didn't enliven it. One could argue that, as with Social Security, all that happened was a Republican came along to try and destroy it.

He'd save his real damage for Golden Palace, the hideous spin-off of The Golden Girls that was a minor blip on TV screens. As one of two writers (and a producer) give him full credit for that disaster which lasted twenty-three episodes but don't allow him to leech off the work of others and claim he's somehow responsible for the success of The Golden Girls. (Susan Harris wisely avoided the TV Titanic that was Golden Palace.)

From there he went on to write and produce other single season shows such as the Friends rip-off entitled The Crew. So let's stop acting like he's got this amazing talent. His only real talent appears to be grasping that the time was ripe for a Peyton Place rip-off.

Hearing people speak of how "daring" this show is or that "even with infidelity it's popular in 'red' states," shocks us. It's a preachy, small minded, moralistic show. The actresses do the best they can, some fair better than others, but it's for the small minded set that loves the scandal in a small town shock (only now we dub it "suburbia" instead of "small town").

The show lacks a Mia Farrow or Ryan O'Neal to keep you riveted. It doesn't even have a Barbara Parkins which is surprising because Nicolette Sherridan used to be so much fun on Knots Landing. Here your jaw may not drop the way it did when she showed up on Will & Grace (looking like a truck had run over her face) but you won't see anything approaching the playfulness she utilized as Paige on Knots Landing. She seems to think she's graduated to Donna Mills territory. She hasn't. (Her character's more like Laura in the pre-Donna Mills Knots Landing -- someone who's supposed to shock you but instead just leaves you bored.)

Terri Hatcher is back on TV. We'll applaud that. Hatcher's probably never going to be a great dramatist or comedian but she has a likeability that shouldn't be overlooked. As an actress, she works best in the Grand Marshall role. Don't give her any heavy lifting, let her just be the centerpiece and warm America's heart. Even the bad writing of the season ender allowed Hatcher to do that.

Marcia Cross would love to put forth the icy glamor of Grace Kelly (or even Kim Novak), instead she continues to come off like Patty Hearst. Which leaves us with Eva Longoria who may be the only strong actress of the cast. (Alfre Woodard joined the cast in the episode we watched. Woodard is a strong actress. So why was she utilized about as well as Diahann Carroll on Dynasty?)

This is a soap opera and Longoria's talents may only be suited for that genre but there's no denying that she's the only reason to give a damn about this dumb show. Eyes darting here and there, registering a small, semi-hidden smile, she never lets the audience down as she remains fully committed to her character.

Sparks were apparently supposed to fly when Hatcher refused to let Sheridan into her home (more on that in a bit). They didn't fly unless your idea of sparks is hearing Sheridan hiss "bitch!" The scene wouldn't have worked as part of a subplot on Dynasty. And despite the large number of camp lovers watching this show, it's not Dynasty. The women are akin to the women of Dallas. They're little things to be petted on the head. (Longoria has the Sue Ellen role, how long before her character Gabrielle is "cut down to size" the way Sue Ellen so often was? We're sure it's in the works.)

A show with many female leads might be expected to actually have them be movers and shakers. Other than sexually (and even then . . .), they're not. They're reactors. The season finale played like one long reaction shot. (Overly long.)

Let's talk about what led up to the "amusing" exchange between Sheridan and Hatcher.
A young male, apparently unhinged, shows up and holds Hatcher prisoner of her own home.
(Oh how many Republican males got off on that!) This would have been insulting on Dallas (where women truly did nothing) but after Melrose Place, it's downright irritating. Amanda wouldn't have put up with that crap, she would have shoved a knife in his face, threatened to kill him and hiss that she'd plead insanity as her self-defense. (In fact, Amanda did just that on one episode of Melrose Place.) We certainly can't picture earthy Jo just sitting around her home as she was terrorized. Not even the on-the-wagon-and-off-again Allison would have been that lame.

But here we are, post-Melorse, with time suspended as Hatcher plays the victim. (To steal from Addams Family Values: "all your life.") What a rare china doll Hatcher's Susan is.

A lot of talk is wasted on the "irony" of the show. Apparently the term didn't, in fact, die post-Sept. 11th; only the meaning did. This isn't irony, this is a throwback.

Why is it popular? Here's a secret the reviewers never seem to note. Women have been vanishing as TV viewers since the eighties. Network executives don't want to cater to them, which is why you get so much male bonding crap each fall. But even a bad show with women can do well. It's weird because when you think of all the rip-offs a Miaimi Vice or some other male dominated show will inspire, note that there's never a cry of "Murder She Wrote is a surprise hit this year, so I want five versions of it pronto with female leads!" Or Murphy Brown. Or Designing Women. Or The Nanny. Go down the list. A male dominated show that's a hit is aped repeatedly as everyone try to cash in on the cycle. Female dominated shows that are hits exist in a vacuum.

In fact, the actual reality is that a female show is far more likely (as with Designing Women and Cagney & Lacey) to have to depend on a write-in campaign from viewers to keep it on the air when similar rated shows with male leads rarely see the same struggle. If Joey, which destroyed Thursday nights for NBC, were Phoebe and having the same ratings problems, it would probably mean bye-bye Lisa Kudrow. Instead Joey's returning this fall. Look at NBC's fall line up. While boasting male stars like Benjamin Bratt, Dennis Hopper and Jason Lee, the best they can offer for women is Martha Stewart and Amy Grant. These are female stars?

So let's be really clear, the TV backlash that Susan Faludi addressed in Backlash hasn't gone away. Desperate Housewives easily fits into the Backlash category. The women exist in John Updike-land where jobs, when had, are hobbies. They await something to be done to them unless they're actual actors in their own stories but the only acting they're allowed is sexually acting out. This is a miserable show. It's badly acted, it's badly written and it actually looks ugly. The lighting and camera work features none of the glamor of Melrose Place or Dynasty.
(It's as though it's shot on videotape -- which it may well be. And Sheridan -- what happened to her? -- really needs a lot of care to be taken when she's being filmed.)

Besides allowing Hatcher to play woman-in-peril (physically, she looked to us like she could have smashed the young psycho to bits), the season ender also informed us of the "big secret" everyone's been wondering all year long. Why did Mary Alice die?

Well, apparently she took in a child from a drug addict and when the drug addict cleaned up her act and wanted her son back, she killed the woman. That's the deep dark secret. Watching, you're meant to side with Mary Alice. Apparently, it's a class thing. (Losing Isaiah explored the same topic in a much more complex manner.)

What about the men? Other than young Jesse Metcalfe, there's not a looker in the bunch. When Doug Savant is being brought back to TV (Matt from Melrose Place) you know you're in trouble. A great deal of time was wasted by this supposed female dominated show with shots of Jamie Denton and who we think was Steven Culp in the desert. And of course, young psycho.
Again, not a looker in the bunch other than Metcalfe. These are your typical TV males.

The show was a hit this year. We'd argue that the soap format is always popular. (Even Titans did better than Ed on NBC in the ratings though Ed was allowed to live on and whine on for additional seasons.) For those not interested in the body-wash of the WB and Fox (body-wash because the cast is so young it's hard to qualify them as "soap operas"), Desperate Housewives gave them something to watch on what's been a dead TV night for years. Then the chatter started on how great this show was. It's not. It's like watching a young kid play Barbies. That's all the actresses are.

So what was Charmed like? Neither of us have watched the show very often since they killed off Shannen Doherty's character so we were a bit surprised to find that Charmed actually seemed to have found its footing again. Rose McGowan is the third sister Paige (as everyone knows and has been since 2001).

The biggest complaint about the show that we heard before watching the season ender was that with Doherty gone, every episode had turned into Spotlight: Alyssa. Apparently, she's ridden a horse nude, played a genie and assorted other roles. This episode was one that featured all three actresses equally so we can't speak to the need to push Alyssa Milano (who plays Phoebe).
Milano's not a bad actress, but we do understand the criticism since the show is called Charmed and not The Amazing Alyssa!

Holly Marie Combs continues to provide the emotional bedrock that she's been doing from the start. As Piper, she's the one that has a little more on the ball than the others. In the original cast, Combs did that while Doherty acted as leader and went off on angry snits (not a criticism, we loved seeing Pru lose her cool) and Milano's Phoebe was left to be the flake. With Doherty gone, Milano's apparently taken on some Pru qualities and Rose McGowan's Paige is left to be the flake.

In last Sunday's episode, they worked like a strong ensemble. This is a crime fighting show (albeit a supernatural one) so they're often in jeopardy but they're not victims whimpering helplessly. "What are we going to do?" is the regular question when faced with assorted demons and other supernatural creepies. And then, they do it.

"The power of three" is oft repeated on the show. But it underscores that the Halliwell sisters are about empowerment and working together. They explode at each other from time to time and they aren't paragons of virtue; yet, when the chips are down, they're there for each other. So where's the cover on that?

Charmed may be the longest running hour-long drama with multiple female leads. Not that there's a great deal of competition for that distinction; however, they have surpassed Charlie's Angel's five seasons. The show debuted in the spring of 1998 and is coming back for fall 2005. With the same cast.

At the end, under attack from Homeland Securtiy (we're not making that up and Charmed is a lot more on the ball than most give it credit for), Combs, Milano and McGowan disappared into other actresses playing Piper, Phoebe and Paige (to walk away from the house and escape Homeland Security). We took it as your typical season ender where the next year begins with the leads on the run or hidden away in another area (how many times did Buffy the Vampire Slayer pull that trick?). But when talking to people during the week who would ask what we'd be writing about, we kept hearing, "Charmed was cancelled, right?" or "They're bringing back the show but with those younger women playing the parts of Piper, Phoebe and Paige."

No and no. The show is on the fall season, the WB site displays the three actresses. But considering that Buffy and Dawson's Creek long ago left the WB, it's understandable that some would wonder about the show's status.

If there's a problem with the show (other than the Spotlight: Alyssa which, again, happened on episodes we never saw), it's the male cast.

Only the good die young on this show when it comes to the males. The bad and boring live on and on. Which explains why Brian Krause continues to play Leo but Julian McMahon's Cole was long ago killed off as was T.W. King's Andy.

But year in and year out, Krause remains -- looking exactly like the chubby, middle-aged male TV producers are so fond of casting. Leo's a drip and he goes soggy long before his eyes moisten on cue in nearly every scene.

But Leo's not the one of the Charmed ones and not a bad actor, just not an actor, so let's move on.

As usual (especially for the season finale), the Halliwell sisters are facing down their potential destruction as they go up against an enemy that appears unbeatable. For those who tuned out completely after Pru was killed off, Piper now has two children. Piper has to face reality of what will happen to them since, to yet again save the world, she's about to risk her own life. The three sisters take them to Piper and Phoebe's father (Paige is a half-sister -- don't ask). The scene where they explain they're leaving the boys with him was strong TV. The scene that followed, where Piper is telling the boys goodbye was excellent TV.

This was Holly Marie Combs' big moment and she has the talent to pull those off. But equally impressive was the way Milano and McGowan played the scene. They could have allowed melodramatics to kill it. Instead they went for the quiet heart of scene and underscored that.

A lot of complaints came in from friends about how the focus on Milano had destroyed their enjoyment of the show (in the various Phoebe dominated shows -- which by the way apparently included a Phoebe Is a Mermaid! episode). And there was a great deal of hostility expressed about Milano for this. If this scene were any clue, take it up with the writers. Milano didn't attempt to dominate it and her performance was all the more moving because of it.

Now we can picture some of the e-mails coming in, "You're acting like Charmed, or this scene, was the equivalent of Shakespeare!" We're not saying that. Charmed is a TV show and has its share of junk. But for a TV show, it also has its share of effective moments. Furthermore, we'd argue that it's past time that Combs or Milano got an Emmy nomination. (McGowan's good and has found her way in the role but she's often the comic foil and that's not usually noted in the lead categories for drama.)

The show's eighth season begins this fall. Over eight seasons, Combs and Milano have played comedy, drama and fantasy. They've done a job worth noting. Do we think they'll be Emmy nomiated? No, we're sure there's some HBO actress playing a one note character that will take the nomanation that could have gone to a show that airs on the WB. However, you don't last eight seasons as a lead in a drama on just a smile.

Which brings up an important point. The people talking up Desperate Housewives? They're steering you to a fad. That's all the show is. The backlash on this, from straight men, has already begun. The goose will provide far less golden eggs for ABC in the future. A number of people we spoke to, finding out how much we detested the show, offered the opinion that it was past time the truth was spoken about this piece of crap.

Others may see the role of TV critic different than we do. We think it's supposed to tell you what we think is worth watching and what we think isn't. A lot of the ink wasted on Desperate Housewives (especially by The New York Times) hasn't been about informing you of a solid show, it's been about chasing down a fad.

There are reviewers that do that in other fields. For instance, there were surely some who praised Barry Manilow in the seventies as music's savior. But a critic is supposed to cut through the hype and, honestly, we're seeing a great deal of what should be critics posing as "trend spotters." With a TV show, a viewer will invest a great deal of time. They may bond with a show and stay with it until the end. This isn't fashion -- e.g. "What's the hot new look this spring!" Yet a lot of the print wasted on this show has been that kind of "critiquing." "Everybody's talking about it!" they breathlessly pant.

We don't feel that a review is based on the water cooler talk of a show, we review the actual show and we're saddened by the fact that so many these days have moved away from that.

Desperate Housewives had it's moment of attention. This was it's time to be The Sopranos (for those with shorter memories), it's all down hill now (short of a radical revamp of the show). And maybe the trend reviewers feel good about turning people onto a show, the same types who probably checked in for the last episode of Seinfeld only.

This shift in review tone didn't take place this year. It's been going on for some time. It's the reason that "buzz" shows like Dawson's Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer got a lot of publicity while Charmed has been largely ignored. Dawson's Creek ran dry as soon as Kevin Williamson checked out on the show. Buffy's last solid season was while it was still on the WB. (Despite the Times' simpering editorial -- yeah, editorial! -- on the end of the show in season seven.)

While "trendies" oohed and awed over the over-rated Katie Holmes' back and forth between Pacey and Dawson or tried to insist that Buffy was just "darker" on UPN and not that it flat out sucked (it sucked), Charmed existed largely under the radar. Angel, to focus on the WB, never achieved any impact ratings wise (other than when it had a Buffy cross-over which reminded us of those Bionic Woman and Six Million Dollar Man crossovers -- unsatisfying) and critics treated it like it was art. We'd argue that partly derived from the fact that a lot of male reviewers needed to play catch up because they couldn't praise Buffy (due to title and female lead) so they showered Angel with praise it never earned. (Hint, when a show has to constantly ditch it's cast, it's usually a sign that something's not working.) Congratulations to the trendies, Joss Whedon can pretend that he made art with Angel and continue down the same crap road (as he has).

So while trendies were bending over backwards to justify the usual lesbian-dies (homophobia) of Buffy or the usual cowing of the female lead (Buffy works at a McDonald's type place and is depressed -- and depressing to watch) or whatever else they thought was good water cooler talk, they neglected to focus some of that excessive attention on Charmed.

It's not great writing. It is strong acting and the three leads rise above the writing each episode.

Season after season, it has presented female leads as actors in their own lives, not reactors, not passive victims. Four sisters (counting Pru who never shared space with Paige) have fought demons and each other yet always managed to pull it together despite everything else that was going on in their lives. Their paid careers, such as they are, can be described as hobbies. But that's due to the fact that unlike the Desperate Housewives, they actually have a purpose -- saving the world.

Saving the world. Let's repeat that because while a show like Desperate Housewives portrays women as narcissistic, self-serving and self-focused, Charmed has repeatedly addressed the issue of sacrifice for the larger good.

Watch for the trendies to move on to addressing the water cooler talk on other shows next fall. Ten years from now, someone will stumble across an old newspaper or magazine and wonder, "What the hell was Desperate Housewives?" And maybe you'll look back and wonder why supposed critics focus on the "ziegiest" moment of Desperate Housewives as opposed to the actual quality of the show (more to the point, the lack of quality)?

The show doesn't even qualify as a guilty pleasure. There's no wondering how short Heather Locklear's skirt will be this episode, or wheter Joan Collins and Linda Evans will physically battle it out before the season winds down, or what hell Donna Mills has in store for Joan Van Ark? The only excitement about the show comes from the trendies who try to treat this crap that Peyton Place did so much better as "ironic."

Irony is something that is the opposite of the literal meaning. (We paid attention during Reality Bites, if not during English Comp.) There's nothing ironic about Desperate Housewives. Even the title is dead on accurate. Let's hope these trendies are getting goody bags from ABC because if there's no payola going on, then they're just bad critics.

Blog Spotlight: Betty's Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man: "Thomas Friedman Wants a Little More Night Music"

We love Betty's writing. We love Betty. Thomas Friedman is a Great Man is a hilarious site. When attempting to decide whom to spotlight this week, we were all agreed except Betty. ("We" would be Ty, Jess, Ava, Dona, Jim, Rebecca and C.I.) First of all we enjoyed this entry tremednously. Second of all, Betty's site is fictional and she needs to get the word out on something so this seemed the perfect opportunity.

Thomas Friedman's column schedule changed. It now appears on Wednesdays and Fridays. Betty's got children to raise, she's a single working mother and she was really beating herself up that she couldn't get her posts up on the day that the columns appeared.

We think that's silly to worry about. And if she posts once a week or twice, we're happy to have the joy of reading her entries.

So now that we've gotten the word out (C.I. has as well), we'll move on to the spotlight:

Thomas Friedman wants a little more night music

I read my husband Thomas Friedman's column and could only think: "That's what happens when I make the mistake of thinking I can listen to my music. I'm rocking out while hand washing Thomas Friedman's boxers -- not just the silk ones but the cotten-poly blends as well -- and he's ripping off Lenny Kravitz."

Ever since we spent 8 days on the road to hell and heartland, Thomas Friedman has taken to referring to himself as a refugee of the road.

Honestly, you'd think Thomas Friedman just got off the chitlin circuit opening for the Ike & Tina Turner Review the way he keeps moaning about "life on the road." In his column, I noticed that eight days became six weeks. I asked him about that and Thomas Friedman replied "poetic license. Didn't you learn anything from Laura Bush posing as a Desperate Housewife!"

I had tried for days to use something similar with his shorts but Thomas Friedman insisted that he cannot feel sexy in drawers that smell like the heartland.

I suggested that maybe he could use them during playtime to pretend to be Kevin Costner and we could play Field of Dreams instead of Iraqi invasion but Thomas Friedman shot that idea down.

"Okay," I said still trying, "What about Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It?"

Though this did lead to a twenty minute discussion of whether or not he should get highlights, it was otherwise a waste of time.

"What about," I was grasping at straws here, "Reese Witherspoon's boyfriend in Sweet Home Alabama?"

"Why not Witherspoon!" Thomas Friedman howled. "I am America's sweetheart! More so than that Judy Miller!"

Now who can argue with logic like that?

"Okay, you be Reese," I told Thomas Friedman who looked happy for about ten seconds before he started bawling.

"But, but," Thomas Friedman sputtered while blowing his nose on a kitchen towel, "she's got fat arms!"

To get him to stop snotting all over the kitchen towels I just washed, dried and folded, I gave up.

"You know what? I'll wash your shorts by hand."

Blowing his nose in a fresh kitchen towel, Thomas Friedman nodded.

So I got to work on washing his shorts by hand in the kitchen sink while Thomas Friedman tried to settle down. He's been so emotional since I started him on those vitamins.

As I was scrubbing one particularly nasty stain, I heard him chuckle."Betinna," he giggled. "What's the matter with Kansas?"

"I don't know. What?"

"It's flat and it smells!" he chortled gasping for breath. "And so are the people!"

"Now Thomas Friedman," I said as gently as possible, "we didn't go to Kansas."

"So what!" Thomas Friedman exploded. "The joke is funnier this way. Remember Laura Bush slaying them with her jokes about being a Desperate Housewife!"

"Thomas Friedman," I said as calmly as possible, "if you put that in your column, you are going to offend a lot of people in Kansas."

"So what!"

"So people in Kansas buy books too."

"Gosh golly darn it!" Thomas Friedman hollered kicking the kitchen table. "You always spoil my fun! I hate you!"

"But you love Judy Garland and The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy is from Kansas."

"So," he whined pouting. "I love 'The Trolley Song' too. Does that mean I can't write about mass transportation?"

Sniffle, sniffle, sniffle went his nose. Stomp, stomp, stomp went his feet. Zing, zing, zing went my mood as he headed out of the room.

I plugged in the casette player in the kitchen. Thomas Friedman swears it is the very latest in home stereo equipment. Fishing the Lenny Kravitz tape out of from a drawer, I was set to finish washing those shorts and forget all about Thomas Friedman.

That may be a little harsh. He did buy me the Lenny Kravitz tape at Goodwill.

I should probably stop here to explain.

Goodwill is a store Thomas Friedman takes me to for most of my shoes and pantyhose (for dresses, he just buys me sheets which he says make me look exotic). Thomas Friedman says Goodwill is a very exclusive store and that is why he never worries that we will bump into anyone we know there.

One time, I swore I saw Judy Miller. Thomas Friedman did not agree.

I said, "Thomas Friedman, that is either Judy Miller or someone has stolen your Judy Miller wig!"

But Thomas Friedman told me there was no way it was Judy Miller because the only thing she needs is some integrity and you can't purchase that second-hand.

So there I am washing Thomas Friedman's dirty drawers and singing along with Lenny Kravitz:

Does anybody know how many lives we've lost?
Can anybody ever pay the cost?
What will it take for us to join peace my friends?
Does anybody out there even care?

I love the song, it's called "Does Anybody Out There Even Care?" I love singing along with that.

But then this morning, I'm out of excuses and Thomas Friedman keeps pestering me to finish reading his column.

Read this:

Is there any constituency that should be clamoring for a sane energy policy more than U.S. industry? Is there any group that should be mobilizing voters to lobby Congress to pass the Caribbean Free Trade Agreement and complete the Doha round more than U.S. multinationals? Should anyone be more concerned about the fiscally reckless deficits we are leaving our children than Wall Street?

That's my husband Thomas Friedman attempting to "borrow" from Lenny Kravitz.

I pointed that out too and boy, did Thomas Friedman get mad. He started insisting that the world could use "a little more night music!" and that the paper could have more than one in-house poet.

He was so upset, I slipped two vitamins into his prune juice and patted his tummy until he felt better. Tomorrow's another column and Thomas Friedman is still blocked. He says that is a sign of a great artist. When Thomas Friedman starts talking about "great artist," that usually means I'm going to end up having to write his column for him at the last minute.

Books: Folding Star of a Winding Road

With Folding Star's permission, we reprinting some of entries from A Winding Road to ensure that we highlight books. Reading is fundamental.

"Lost Within the Pages: Saturday Book Chat IV"

Well, here we are again. After two weeks of focusing on fiction, I should probably begin this week by highlighting something that falls under the category of non-fiction.

I find in my personal reading that I'm going through a heavy fiction phase at the moment. I fluctuate. Sometimes I'll rotate back and forth, reading fiction, following it with non-fiction, and then fiction again, etc, very orderly and fair. But I never plan out in advance what I'll be reading next. Or, if I do, the plans vanish like a puff of smoke as soon as the moment comes to start the next book.
That's a great moment, isn't it? You've just finished one book, and whether you've loved it, hated it, or found it to be just a decent book, you've suddenly got the choice to make- what to read next?

It's like kid in a candy store time. Especially if you're like me, and a frequent visitor to bookstores and libraries. I'm surrounded with books waiting to be read. Whenever I finish one, the choices at hand are many.

Choosing is so much fun, and so based on my mood at that moment that I can't ever plan in advance, though I sometimes forget that and try. This summer, for instance, I decided I'd focus on reading criticism. Literary criticism, film criticism, etc. I'd turn to the works of Susan Sontag and Pauline Kael.
Well, I made a good start, but my mood shifted by the time I finished one book, and I was off in a whole other direction.

That's how I am with books. So, I'll go through periods where I find myself reading either fiction or non-fiction almost exclusively for a period, though what I'm reading can vary widely even among those genres.

All of which is a long winded way of saying that I'm on a fiction jag right now! Well, sort of. I just finished reading this morning a book of essays by V.S. Naipaul, Literary Occasions. The collection was mostly compiled of things written in the 1960's and 70's, and it largely dealt with Naipaul's life growing up in Trinidad. His life there figured so heavily into him becoming a writer and into what he wrote about that to discuss anything to do with writing, he naturally seems to find himself discussing that time.

I consider essays to be literature and not necessarily non-fiction, even if they're dealing with 'real life' topics, so I count this as part of my fiction jag.
I'm about to begin reading a collection of short stories by a British author, Rachel Seiffert, entitled Field Study. I've not yet read anything by Seiffert (though I see that her first book, The Dark Room, was nominated for and won some awards) and I love taking that leap with an unfamiliar author, never quite knowing what to expect until you're already involved.

But I do want to highlight non-fiction during these chats as well, especially when it's of a political nature. 2004 was, obviously, a very political year and I read several incredible books. The one that leaps instantly to mind right now is James Wolcott's Attack Poodles.

Attack Poodles takes on the idiotic media pundits of the right wing. If you hear anyone spouting that old myth of the liberal media, think about making them a gift of this book. Wolcott lays it all out here, showing how ridiculous and biased these people are, simply by using their own words and actions as proof.
As we head into a second four year term with the Bushies, we all need to be on the lookout for these bullies who rush in yapping to set the tone and the storyline so that it's as beneficial to Bush & co as possible.

Best of all, the book not only exposes these poodles, it also makes them into the laughing stocks they deserve to be. Wolcott is incredibly funny as he goes about his work of separating the poodles from the other lap dogs.

And that's really important, because nothing deflates these pompous pundits' balloons faster than being exposed as the jokes they are. They thrive on being given any ounce of credibility, and trust me, when you give them an ounce, they'll take ten pounds as their due, people.

Wolcott has the right idea. Show them up as biased hacks, and then laugh at them. Loudly and longly. Strip them of any journalistic credibility. Being taken seriously by someone is for them like clapping for Tinker Bell. When nobody claps, Tinker Bell dies, right? When everybody laughs at the fool, O'Reilly gets a one way ticket back to Hard Copy, or wherever it was he slithered out from under before that.

So, I suggest you read Attack Poodles if you haven't yet. It's highly entertaining in and of itself and it will arm you for debate with anyone who spouts off about the 'liberal media'.

Well, I found myself thinking today, when I was wondering what I'd write about for my book chat this week, about the books that I loved when I was a child.

Do you remember the first book you loved as a child? I wish that I could. I don't really have a recollection of the first time that a book spoke to me. I do remember many books that I loved throughout my childhood, many of which I would read over and over again.

Like the books of Beverly Cleary, for instance. I do remember the first time I picked up one of those. It was in the second grade at school. My class read Ramona the Pest together. I still remember the excitement of each of us being assigned our own copy of the book, with a black number in felt pen on the top of the pages, and how much I enjoyed the story as it progressed. Even more, I remember feeling thrilled when we'd finished the book and I discovered that our school library had other Ramona books. I read them all over the next three years or so, again and again.It was another book by Cleary that really spoke to me, though, one which did not involve Ramona or the Quimby family. The book was Dear Mr. Henshaw and the main character was a young boy, Leigh Botts, who wanted to be a writer. The book took the form of Leigh's letters to Mr. Henshaw, a children's author that he first wrote as a class assignment, and later as the journal that Mr. Henshaw suggests that Leigh keep.

For a child who also wanted to be a writer, the book seemed in a way to be about me, though the character wasn't very much like me. Re-reading it as an adult, what strikes me is the home life that Leigh has. I certainly recognized it as a child while reading the book, but it was so outside my own experiences that it was more a curiosity than anything else. Now, I marvel at Cleary's ability to write such a realistic picture of a young boy dealing with the divorce of his parents and life without the steady presence of his father, who's a long distance truck driver.

It's an amazing book, one which I think every child should read, but also one which I can pick up to this day and read every so often. The first time I did so, I felt at first like I would just be trying to recapture some feeling from my childhood. But as it turned out, it was a different book to me at that very different time in my life, and I found a whole new meaning in it.

There were many books I read as a kid that I could probably still, to this day, spend hours talking about. I thought at the time that the sense of magic would continue always. When everything was so new, the magic was easy to find in each book you opened. As I've said before here, the magic becomes rarer as you get older. Those special books become a bit more rare, though they're still out there.

Maybe that's why so many of us cherish childhood favorites our entire lives. They're special in a way that is hard to match as you grow older and you can revisit them far more easily than you can anything else from that time. You can't go back and play with your old toys, for instance. The toys haven't changed, but you have, and the only stories they ever told were the ones you made for them. But you can pick up that old book again and see what you find this time around.

What was your favorite book as a kid? It would be interesting to get feedback on that, maybe compile a list of people's favorite books from childhood, as The Common Ills did recently with current favorites.

Let me know at You can also write if there's something you think I should read, or something you've read that you just want to chat about, or for any old reason at all, for that matter.

I hope you're all enjoying your Saturday and that you get a chance sometime today to relax with a good book.

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