Monday, April 30, 2007

Almost True Confessions

I've done some dreadful things in my life. I've removed "do not remove" tags from mattresses. I've rolled through stop signs while turning right. I've used profanity, mostly on the golf course. I have been envious when an unemployed sign painter wins a $300 million lottery. I have visited Hooters and consumed chicken wings in vast amounts.
Pride, envy, sloth, gluttony, greed, lust, anger, I've dabbled in them all.
Now, thanks to the Internet, there is a place for me to unburden myself.
Sites like,, and, offer an opportunity to those who believe that confession is good for the soul to reveal their deepest secrets.
The postings sometimes make you laugh. And sometimes cry.
"I ordered a pizza for my wife and I but she was running late and I ate the whole thing and she had to heat up yesterday's leftovers," reads one.
"I'm going to break up with him because he doesn't spoil me enough. I'm spoiled. And I think I deserve it," reads another.
"I was flirting with a guy I met on line," confesses a poster. "We have been talking to each other for a few weeks. I lied about the real me - how old I am, where I live, etc. and pretty much expected the same from him. We got to the point of swapping photos and I told him to send me his and I would send him mine. I received it today. It was my brother. My 13-year-old brother! (I am 17). I have not yet figured out just what to do - I haven't told him or anyone yet."
"Everyone talks about the beauty of childbirth," says one woman. "My son was born seven days ago. He was the ugliest, blood covered, prune wrinkled, limp pile of purple flesh I have ever seen. I was mortified. Once they got him all cleaned up and swaddled - he looked much more like the images I had seen of newborns, pink and cuddly. I confess that I am embarrassed with my initial reaction, but with God as my witness, he was one ugly little cuss."
"I've tried to convince myself that I am in love with someone who is addicted to crack cocaine, but the truth is - I'm afraid to leave him for fear that he will hurt me more than he already has..." says one writer.
Another says: "A friend of mine was shot and killed last weekend, by a black guy. I've always been a bit racist, despite the fact that I knew a few very nice, caring, Chrisitan black people. But now that this has happened, I feel like I've just lost all respect for them."
"I am sorry God for not keeping that baby," a confession on reads. "I had an abortion and had kept that secret for over 18 years. I am so ashamed. Please forgive me."
"I loved him so much, but he wouldn't talk to me," says another post. "So I said I had cancer and that I was dying. I would cry to him about fears of the future and dying and what I wish I could have done with my life. Eventually I had to tell the truth, because his mom wanted to call mine about a weekend with them. I hurt him. He has to see a counsellor now because Ive caused him so much pain. I want to cut my wrists, take pills, jump off something-because I know that I deserve this hurt, but it's killing me that he has to deal with it...I played him, abused him, took advantage of what a good person he was. Hours of late night phone calls comforting me. Hours of driving to get me. And I hurt him. And now, I wish I really did have cancer, because, to lie when Im so blessed, while everyone around me suffers, is the worst thing I could do. And I dont believe I deserve anything better."
Funny or tragic, the trouble with all of this is that it's a one-way conversation. Confessing your sins to a computer screen may provide some short-term help but it's not the same as talking to a priest, a therapist, or even a friend.
There's nobody there to say "you're normal," or "it's not as bad as you think," or "you're one sick puppy."
Then there's validity of the posts. In the case of the woman confessing to an abortion, the site is run by a pro-life church in Florida.
And then there was this one:
"I worked with a man we'll call Bill. I had a huge crush on him, and would tease him by wearing thong panties and flash him throughout the day. He was married and even has a daughter and I didn't care. Anyway, one thing led to another, and we had intimate relations. I don't really think we had sex, it was only oral. I have to apologize to his wife and daughter. Hillary, Chelsea, I am sorry. Monica."

As the Crow Flaps

It's been quite a week for singer/environmental activist Cheryl Crow.
First, she and her eco-buddy Laurie David got into a head-on collision with Republican Party political overlord Karl Rove at a White House correspondents dinner Saturday night that went something like this:
Crow and David, upon meeting Rove, urge him to take "a fresh look" at global warming.
"I honestly thought that I was going to change his mind, like, right there and then," David tells the Associated Press, revealing the depth of her political sophistication.
Both celebrities were guests of news organizations: Crow invited by Bloomberg News and David by CNN.
At one point, according to the celebrities, Crow touches Rove's arm and "Karl swung around and spat, 'Don't touch me.' "
"You can't speak to us like that, you work for us," Crow claims to have responded.
"I don't work for you, I work for the American people,' says Rove.
"We are the American people," says Crow."
"She came over to insult me," Rove says, "and she succeeded."
OK, these little misunderstandings sometimes occur, especially when influential and powerful egos get together over drinks. All is not lost, however. Crowe gets some publicity even while her cause gets lost in the hubbub.
Undaunted by her failed attempt to turn Rove into a tree hugger, Crow recently offered a couple of save-the-planet suggestions on her website that sounded like they came straight from Saturday Night Live.
"I propose a limitation be put on how many sqares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting," she wrote. "Now, I don't want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required."
And then, in game of can-you-top-this, she said she advocates "not using paper napkins, which happen to be made from virgin wood and represent the height of wastefullness".
Crow said she has designed what she calls her "dining sleeve" - a detachable contrivance which offers the user "the convenience of wiping his mouth on his sleeve rather than throwing out yet another barely used paper product". Crow's hairbrained ideas on environmental activism brought her face-to-face with the biggest media frenzy she has faced since she split from Lance Armstrong.
The press had a field day. Tabloids made it front page news. I actually saw several commentators on cable TV soberly discuss her toilet paper propsal as if it was a pending congressional initiative.
Crow later said she was only joking.
Maybe. Maybe not. But it says something about celebrity/activists that we believed she just might be serious.
There are plenty of celebs out there who are using their visibilty to do good deeds. Bono, Angelina Jolie, Oprah, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, have all plunged headlong into righting some of the world's wrongs. They follow in the footsteps of Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye and Elizabeth Taylor, among others.
But many go overboard. Others support liberal causes, or misery chic as some call it, which makes them suspect in the minds of many. America still suffers a hangover from a double shot of Jane Fonda.
Others -- Madonna comes to mind --- talk more than they know.
Cheryl Crow is a fine performer who unfortunately has confused activism with stand up comedy. Does she seriously think that making outlandish statements will actually promote serious discussion of global warming and environmental change? Does she think she can convert Karl Rove at a cocktail party?
For whatever good intentions she may have, Crow now teeters on the edge of joining the mostly ignored. And that would be a shame on such an important issue.

Progress and Other Abnormalties

Random thoughts.

Progess is good. Without it, we wouldn't have boom boxes, car alarms aand automated telephone answering services.
But I've got to draw the line with the latest hairbrained scheme cooked up by the folks over at Disney,
When Disney debuts its latest Winnie the Pooh series "My Friends Tigger & Pooh," on TV next month, the character Christopher Robin will be largely replaced by a girl named Darby.
Never mind that Darby sounds like a name for a leprechan. Christopher Robin was the centerpiece of A.A. Milne's charming stories around which all the characters---Pooh, Tigger, Eyeore, Rabbit, Kanga---revolved. Indeed, Chrisopher, who Milne patterned after his own son, was the only human inhabitant of the 100-acre wood where their adventures took place.
And now, some 75 years after Christopher and his friends first appeared in print, some chick suddenly barges in? Do I smell the unmistakable arorma of political correctness wafting over this whole affair?
What's next? Robin Curuso?
British author Hugh Fraser put it this way: "For a girl to intrude breaks the spell of the story. They aren't her toys."

A protest movement at Bringham Young University? It's as rare as a 50-year flood but those are the kind of hackles that Dick Cheney can raise these days.
Students and faculty at the conservative Mormon campus want the administration to withdraw an invitation for the Vice President to speak at commencement this month.
Citing his involvement in faulty intelligence before the Iraq war and his role in the CIA leak scandal, critics at the school question whether Cheney sets a good example for graduates.
But just in case you thought BYU was becoming a hotbed of radicalism, the university limited student protest to sitting on the sidewalk and carrying signs.
Then, according to one blogger, "As soon as 1:00 hit and the time for free speech expired, after an impromptu performance of the Star Spangled Banner by the BYU Democrats, men from BYU dressed in suits and sunglasses with Secret Service-style earpieces roughly rounded up all of the signage and banners. "You'll be able to use it all again. We're just going to keep it for you. So you don't carry it around campus, we'll take it to a safe place until the next designated protest."

Don Imus is an idiot. Not only did he allow his radio talk show to become a launching pad for racist, sexist stereotyping, he deeply hurt a bunch of seemingly nice kids from Rutgers who had overcome incredible odds to make the NCAA women's basketball championship.
To Imus, they were just "nappy-headed hos."
And thanks to him, their moment in the sun has forever been clouded.
Despite his characterization that he's a nice guy who did a bad thing, Imus is guy who once called basketball player Patrick Ewing a "knuckle-dragging moron," called the New York Knicks "chest-thumping pimps" and, after being asked what he had in common with Nat Turner, Malcolm X, Minister Louis Farrakhan, Latrell Sprewell and Al Sharpton, said "We all have 12-inch penises."
Nice guy, indeed.
To be fair, Iman is mouthing phraes that have been the hallmark of rap music since its inception. There has been outrage, to be sure, but not enough to clean up what is an unsavory art form, one that has morphed into an even worse life style.
And Iman's most severe critics don't posses spotless records. Al Sharpton once referred to "the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights," a disparaging reference to a Brooklyn neighborhood's Orthodox Jewish population. Jesse Jackson once called New York City "Himietown."
Maybe everybody involved needs to go off the air for two weeks. Or longer.
Iman can say whatever he wants but I have a feeling that his advertisers will continue to distance themselves from him and that his show will shortly be history.
Maybe that's not a bad thing. This country is a melting pot and its future depends on our ability to get along. One less voice that divides us won't be missed.
Iman once said, "My goal is to goad people into saying something that ruins their life."
Little did he know he was writing his own epitath.

Ring Around the Rosie

It has happened again.
Some months back, when actor/producer Mel Gibson made headlines by enagaging in an anti-Semitic tirade, then blamed alcohol for his remarks, I wrote that while Gibson may suffer from the disease of alcoholism, he suffers from the disease of prejudice as well.
Little did I know at the time that actor Michael Richards would come along shortly thereafter and spew anti-black venom at a comedy club that sounded like it was scripted by the White Citizens Council. I wrote that Richards had done the impossible: He made Mel Gibson look like Mahatma Gandhi. Sometime later, I criticized conservative columnist Ann Coulter for being shrill, bombastic, absolutely devoid of any sense of decency.
Then along comes Rosie O'Donnell.
Rosie, from her catbird seat on the daily televised gabfest called The View, has managed to make Coulter look like a learned pundit whose insight and analytical skills bring crystal clarity to complex issues.
Let me say this about Rosie O'Donnell. She's gifted comedian and has devoted much of her time to the care, feeding and education of children.
She is also the sworn enemy of Bill O'Reilly and Donald Trump for which she should receive our undying gratitude.
But somewhere along the line, Rosie has bought into some of the most outlandish conspiracy theories this side of the grassy knoll.
It's not unusual for a somehwat dark world view to emerge among the Hollywood liberal chic who see a lot of right wing secret agents lurking in the shadows, especially during a Republican administration.
Rosie, however, has elevated goofiness to a new level and doesn't care who knows it. Here are a couple of hightlights.
O'Donnell says she believes the Iranian seizure of British Royal Navy personnel was a hoax, intended to provoke a war with Iran. To underscore her beliefs, she writes on her blog in a strange mixture of haiku and text message shorthand:

"the british did it on purpose into iranian waters as US MILITARY BUILD UP ON THE IRANIAN BORDER
we will be in iran before summer as planned
come on people u have 2 c i know u can"

Never mind that almost all evidence points to the fact that the British were in Iraqi waters and that the Iranians were the provacateurs here.
But if that conspiracy isn't deep and dark enough, get a load of this one:
Rosie said she believes 7 World Trade Center had been imploded, in line with 9/11 conspiracy theories. "It is impossible for a building to fall the way it fell without explosives being involved." She commented that she had no idea who might be behind such a deed, but argued in a blog entry that the building was blown up to destroy evidence of the corporate financial scandals at Enron and WorldCom.
We needed further evidence that Enron and WorldCom. were scams?
This particular theory moved the decidedly nonpolitical Popular Mechanics magazine to launch into an explanation of the events surrounding the destruction of 9/11 in a gentle attempt to question Rosie's engineering credentials.
By buying into 9/11 conspiracy junk, Rosie puts herself on the same wave length with those who believe the attacks were planned and carried out (1) the U.S. Government, (2) military mad hatters (3) the international Jewish conspiracy, (4) UFOs or (5) all of the above.
Along the way, O'Donnell has ripped the judges on American Idol for racism at the same time she was criticized for mocking the Chinese language while finding time to come to the defense of terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, suggesting the government elicited a false confession from the 9/11 mastermind by "using torture, robbing him of his humanity and treating him like an animal."
It must be exhausting to be Rosie. Every way you turn, there's another conspiracy to reveal.
She, of course, has every right to speak her piece. And if ABC television wants to pass off street corner oratory as entertainment, so be it.
Maybe these people will all go away if I stop writing about them.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Guess Who's Coming to Edit?

The print journalism profession is engaged in so much soul searching these days it could pass as a parole hearing.

What does the future hold? Is there a future? Should we move everything lock, stock and printing press to a web site? But how do you make a web site pay, when news is available almost anywhere free of charge? What about blogs? Are they reliable sources for information? And what about citizen journalism? Do you want your newspaper written by the guy next door?

It is this kind of hand wringing that makes some editors attempt what can be charitably described as gimmick-based journalism in attempt to appear cutting edge.

Example A is the latest very public soap opera to be staged down at the Los Angeles Times.

As we join this episode, the Times has decided to turn its Sunday opinion and editorial section over to a "guest editor."

But the first "guest" down the chute is Brian Grazer, a Hollywood producer who, it turns out, is represented by a publicist who is the opinion editor's girlfriend. Questions are immediately raised as to whether Grazer received favorable consideration in landing the assignment.

The debate over the Times sometimes cozy relationship with Hollywood is re-ignited.

Accusations are made. Angry words are exchanged. Feelings are hurt.

The entire Sunday section is scrapped, opinion editor Andres Martinez quits and the "guest editor" program is relegated to the trash heap. In the middle of it all, the mud slinging and finger pointing by editors, columnists, pundits and academics reaches a threshold unmatched since the last presidential campaign.

Other "guest editors" whose work we will never see included Donald Rumsfeld and Magic Johnson. Honest.

And the Times, already staggered by a number of body blows delviered by its greedy corporate owners in Chicago, gets a black eye.

Indeed, the elevated volume of outrage coming from the Times newsroom is in direct proportion to the distain felt for their Tribune overlords, one of which is the publisher who signed off on this "guest editor" nonsense.

Worse yet, instead of becoming the source, the Times becomes the story.

There is no question that citizen voices play an important part in any news publication. There is good reading in the letters column. There is intriguing debate in op-ed pieces.

But I would no more let Donald Rumsfeld run my opinion pages than he would let me run the Department of Defense. Each job requires a professional.

And despite what you may think of journalists, there are skills involved.

Allison Silver, a former editor of the Times Opinion section, put it this way:

"No matter how clever and talented the invited guest is, the decision to go outside journalism suggests indifference to editing as a critical profession. It goes without saying that you wouldn't turn your Sunset Strip restaurant over to your mom for the night no matter how good a cook she is, or take the Jet Propulsion Lab away from Caltech and give it to CalArts to run, just to shake things up. But the newspaper was suggesting that any one of a number of smart amateurs could pull together a Sunday analysis section, given a little guidance. Professional experience and journalistic skill were deemed of secondary value."

The Times is not alone in this quagmire. Vanity Fair magazine is turning an issue over to Bono, the rock musician/activist, to edit.

Is this a trend? If it is, objectivity could be the victim. And the newspaper profession can ill afford that kind of problem at this time and place.

Card Tricks

Everyone has a special credit card memory. Mine involved coming into possession of a Discover card some time back.

I think some telemarketer misunderstood me saying "go away" for "OK" and it arrived unsolicited in the mail. I never used it, didn't want it, yet I was hit with a service charge for simply having it in my possession. If I didn't pay the charge, my credit rating suffered.

Getting rid of that card was harder than ordering prime rib at a PETA convention. It took months, but I eventually got it out of my life. My experience was exasperating. Others get caught in a squeeze that is life altering.

At a recent congressional hearing on credit card reform, Wesley Wannemacher, a Lima, Ohio resident, gave testimony that sheds light on shady practices.

Wannemacher described how he had maxed out his $3,000 Chase Bank card to pay for his wedding, then found himself falling further behind in payments. Despite pleas to Chase to work with him, the bank continued to pile on late fees and penalty fees, according to published reports.

Eventually, Wannemacher ended up owing $7,500 in interest fees, late payment fees, and overlimit fees on an original debt of $3,200. Even after making payments totaling $6,300, he still owed $4,400 in fees.
You might get a better deal down on the corner from Fat Tony the Loan Shark.

The credit card industry seems to get more predatory in its practices with each passing day.

They begin by targeting young people. You don't need to be a sleuth to figure it out. My two daughters, now both grown, continue to get dozens of credit card offers a year in the mail, a practice that started when they were in college, had no extensive work experience and no steady income.

In fact, a 2005 report done by Nellie Mae, the student lender, found that: 76% of undergraduates had a credit card but only 21% of college students with credit cards paid them off each month. Talk about hooking them young.

Then it gets worse.

A recent GAO report said that while credit was available to a wider range of consumers than ever before, fees for late payments and overlimit charges had doubled from 1995 to 2005, and that cardholders experienced rate increases to as much as 30 percent interest for missing a payment.

Worse, it is not uncommon for companies to charge interest and fees on money that has already been repaid.

Of course, the fee schedule is all spelled out for us.

My Capital One bill clearly states: "If the code P (Quarterly Prime), L (Quarterly LIPOR), C (Quarterly CD) or S (Banlcard Prime) appears on the front of this statement next to the periodic rates(s), the periodic rates and corrresponding annual percentage rates may vary quarterly and may increase or decrease based on the stated indices as found in the Wall Street Journal plus the margin previously disclosed to you..."

What's in your wallet? Jibberish, that's what.

The government has already taken some action regarding the credit card industry.

They passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act which actually makes some consumers more vulnerable to credit card companies looking to make money off late fees and less capable of seeking protection in bankruptcy court.

Now it's time to realize that it's the consumer, not the industry, who needs help.

Those recent congressional hearings brought promises from credit card issuers that they would ease penalties and simplify disclosures that few card holders read.

In other words, the fox promised not to go near the hen house again. But at least it was a start.
Congress now needs to assure that those promises are kept. And we, in turn, need to make sure Congress does its job.

After all, there are more than 640 million credit cards in circulation.
That's a lot of votes.