Tag Archives: NY Times

Enough Already!

You can sense a sort of fatigue beginning to set in with respect to the oil spill in the Gulf.  Like the war in Afghanistan, we’re tired of hearing about it, even though we may feel vaguely ashamed for feeling that way.  As a nation, we have many admirable qualities, but a long attention span is not one of them.  We’d like our wars and natural disasters to be resolved in the time it takes to Twitter about them. 

The Gulf oil spill has actually had a longer shelf-life than I would have expected.  I think that’s because it’s closer to home than Afghanistan.  Let’s face it…unless you have a friend or family member in the military, either serving in the war or with the potential to have to do so, Afghanistan is out-of-sight, out-of-mind.  When the…I refuse to call it a war…invasion of Iraq was at its height, I remember one day I was standing in the grocery store and it just hit me how we were all going about our business as usual.  There is no rationing, no “war effort”.  World War II, this ain’t. 

The Gulf oil spill, however, is like a sound wave.  Very loud at the source, and gradually lessening in volume as it spreads.  For the people who live on the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, or  Florida, it’s still screaming like an air raid siren.  But it’s still resonating in the rest of the country.  I’d be interested to know the percentage of the U.S. population that has visited Florida at least once in their lives.  The damage to the seafood industry is a huge factor, but not as much as damage to the beaches.  I can guarantee you that most people in Nebraska don’t ask themselves where that shrimp came from.  As they say, perception is everything. 

But disaster fatigue is not really what this post is about.  I’ve got some of it.  I’m like Tony Hayward…I’d like my life back.  Which brings me to my first Enough Already! comment, which are in no particular order of importance.  Enough about that statement from Hayward.  Of course he’d like his life back, and so would you.  That doesn’t make him Satan.  On the news last night, they showed a party in Louisiana, on Grand Isle I think, where people were laughing and drinking and dancing to Cajun music, in other words, partying as only people from Louisiana can do.  They interviewed one woman who said, “Sure, we’re in a mess, but sometimes…you just gotta have a break”.    On that note, enough about Hayward attending and possibly participating in a regatta this weekend.  Would we have more respect for him if he just went ahead and committed public harakiri? 

Enough already! about the Swedish chairman of the board of BP saying they care about the “small people”.  When I heard him say it, I groaned out loud, because I knew what was coming.  The endless outrage, the snarky cartoons.  Hello, he’s Swedish.  It isn’t a big stretch to imagine that what he meant was “the average person”.  Even if you can speak another language well, idioms and slang are hard to master. 

Finally, a big, giant, capitalized Enough Already! with comparisons to Hurricane Katrina.  Katrina was a natural disaster; the Gulf oil spill is a manmade one.  The only possible response to Katrina was government intervention.  After all, you can’t ask God for $2o million in escrow. 

Having said that, the President is failing no less than the last one did.  The failures occurred both before and after the disaster.  FEMA in the last case, the MMS in this one.  And not throwing everything you have at it, in both.  The mistake in this case is compounded by allowing BP to manage the response.  They should have been confined to paying for it.  From what I read, “Unified Command” is anything but.  Last week, Paul Flemming, my favorite Florida political writer, wrote “Give us Craig Fugate”.  Fugate is the current head of FEMA and the former director of Emergency Management for the state of Florida, who has a proven record. 

As for the President’s response, as usual, Frank Rich of the New York Times illuminates the broader picture in today’s op-ed.   The President’s response must be bolder, since as Rich says, the Tea Party is at the barricades.  On the other hand, Joe Barton made it clear that if they were in charge, the less-government crowd would hand over everything to the likes of BP.  The best quote:  after Barton’s apology to BP, “the G.O.P. establishment had to shut him down because he was revealing the party’s true loyalties, not because it disagreed with him”.

I’m hoping that Barton’s apology dealt a fatal blow to the no-government crowd, but it won’t work unless government actually Does Something.  Enough waiting, already!

Weighing In on Breast Cancer

Or at least on the raging debate that has occurred this week.  Warning notice:  I’m about to express some opinions.  Some of those opinions will be supported by “facts” (I place quotes around “facts”, because facts can never be separated from our perception of them–that must be the philosophy student in me rearing its ugly head), but I will not be posting any links for you to check where I got my “facts”.  If you don’t believe me, look it up yourself.  As I am fond of saying, this is a blog, not a term paper.  You won’t find any op. cits. here.  Additional warning:  You can dispute the “facts” all you want unless it concerns my personal body, which you don’t have enough information about to dispute. 

That doesn’t mean you won’t get some links.  To begin with, Thursday’s op-ed column in the NY Times by Gail Collins, always one of my favorites, who pretty much pokes fun at the hysteria the “new” recommendations concerning mammograms has engendered.  “New”, as in, returning to previous recommendations, with now even more evidence to support them.  But the hysteria involves “rationing” and “death panels”.  God, you people (and you know who you are) make me tired.  I suggested to my most rabidly conservative friend that he read her column, and he did, and sent me a message afterwards that I would describe as a diatribe, if I weren’t trying to be kinder and gentler.  In his defense, his mother and many other people he knows have had breast cancer, so it is a very emotional issue for him.  Yeah, well, me too.  In her column, Gail mentions that she had breast cancer herself.  I think she should be cut a little slack for that.  But never underestimate the power of fear, and men fear for their wives, their mothers, their daughters, their sisters, and their friends, and fear is never subject to logic.  It would be foolish to think that only women are affected by breast cancer, and I’m not talking about the fact that men get breast cancer too, which they do.  I’m talking about it affecting the men who love the women who get it.  And if you are the person who has cancer, you feel very much that the situation is out of your control.  As the friend or family member of a person with cancer, you are that much more out of control.  It’s like helpless, then helpless once removed.  That’s why you find people with cancer comforting those around them;  it’s actually worse for you. 

Now we move to the “facts”.  Most breast cancers are extremely slow growing.  It takes years for a tumor to be large enough to be visible on a mammogram.  So two years is not an unreasonable interval. 

Most women develop breast cancer after age 50. 

The value of self-exams has been questioned for forever.  I understand in theory that if you know your own body, you’re better able to detect changes.  Nothing wrong with that.  The problem is that most women don’t know what they’re looking for.  Many women have “lumpy” breasts (sorry to get so technical).  It’s called fibrocystic disease, which is benign (although I’ve recently learned that a history of it is now considered a risk factor for breast cancer), so even if you were to detect a new lump, your response might be “whatever”. 

Mammograms are far better than self-exams, except they aren’t very good.  Collins notes that having just had a clear mammogram, she then found a lump on her own.  In this case, self-exam worked.  The most sensible thing I heard all week was a quote by someone from the Susan B. Komen Foundation who said that this was at least a good debate, since it sheds light on the fact that mammograms are a poor test.  CT scans are much better, but they cost ten times what a mammogram does.  Now there is the debate we should be having:  about why we aren’t doing the best testing available.  Mammograms are crude, and reading them is subject to varying levels of competence by the radiologist.  Of course, so are CT scans. 

Now we get to the part about cutting me some slack too.  In my own case, the tumor was detected by CT scan–a scan I had for an entirely different reason.  Afterwards, I had a mammogram and an ultrasound, but it’s important to note that the mammogram I had was “diagnostic” as opposed to “screening”.  Screening mammograms, which are of the type women have every year, are very general, and I think of them as tests that something has to jump off the screen for the radiologist to recognize.  Between the screening mammogram and the breast exam by a doctor, you hope you will pick up something, operative word here being hope.  Not guaranteed.  Diagnostic mammograms are a lot more detailed (and a lot less fun).  After the CT scan I had, I had that diagnostic mammogram and that’s what I have every year now.  And the results of that first diagnostic were, yeah, there’s something there…not sure what it is….

I will never know for sure whether a screening mammogram would have picked up the tumor first, before I had the CT.  But I seriously doubt it.  My personal advice is, if you can afford it, have a CT scan.  (You have to do that anyway if you have breast implants, I recently learned!)

Finally, for a bit more factual information.  This op-ed article appeared in today’s NY Times and it’s entitled Addicted to Mammograms.  The author explains rather well the history of breast cancer treatment and recommendations, and really, it would apply to most cancers. 

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I have a friend who is dying of breast cancer that metastasized to bone.  In distress, I once asked our (mutual) radiation oncologist, if you know where breast cancer is likely to metastasize, why don’t you test for it?  To make a long answer short, the answer was, “It wouldn’t do any good.”  Our methods of detection are primitive, and methods of treatment are worse.   

But I have to tell you, it positively insults me to the core to have politicians trying to tell me that the government wants to kill me.  It’s almost too ignorant to dignify with a comment.  If you care so much, give some money to the NIH for cancer research.  Oh wait, that’s a government agency (Government bad, Tarzan good.)  Okay then, give it to the American Cancer Society.  But your grandstanding is definitely not working for me.

How Much Do You Weigh?

Now that we’ve addressed the all-important question of what sex you are, we turn our attention to your weight.  The occasion for this is a column in the New York Times by Clark Hoyt, the public editor.  The public editor is basically an ombudsman for readers.  Yesterday’s column is entitled The Insult Was Extra Large

First, however, let us begin with a comment made to me not long ago by friend and fellow blogger Nick Hardy.  And by the way, Nick, I’ve mentioned you so often lately that I expect a raise and a reserved parking space.  What he said was, “White women are obsessed with weight”.  I was like, “We are, I mean I am, I mean we are (splutter, splutter) not!!!  Maybe.”

And now a personal story.  In January of 2005, I weighed 138 pounds.  I know this because that month, my sister and I and a friend undertook a year-long campaign to lose weight in such a way as not to kill ourselves, but to sort of methodically plod (waddle?) toward the goal.  Therefore, by January of 2006 I had lost…five pounds!  Those who have met me today would have a hard time picturing me at 138, or even my hard-earned, svelte 133.  But I can prove it by this photo, taken in August 2004.  Kindly refrain from suggesting that the beverage Fakename is holding in some way contributed to her size.


So then, in 2006, I lost 20 more pounds due to back-to-back illnesses (from which I am fully recovered, thanks).  And I never gained the weight back.  Which is just pefectly fine with me!  I couldn’t be happier!  Apparently my eating habits changed while I was ill, so now I’m able to maintain at 113 without it being a big struggle.  There are no recent photos of me to prove the difference, but there are witnesses who can attest to the truth of my statement. 

And now we return to the public editor.  Recently, a writer for the Times covered the opening of a J.C. Penney store in Midtown Manhattan.  Oh, the horror!  Here’s a quote: 

“Why would this dowdy Middle American entity waddle into Midtown in its big old shorts and flip-flops” without even a makeover of its logo, asked the columnist, Cintra Wilson, a virtual sneer seeming to drip from her keyboard. She said Penney’s “has always trafficked in knockoffs that aren’t quite up to Canal Street’s illegal standards”; “a good 96 percent” of the clothing is polyester; the racks are full of sizes 10, 12 and 16, but not Wilson’s 2; the petites department has plenty of clothing “for women nearly as wide as they are tall”; and the store “has the most obese mannequins I have ever seen. They probably need special insulin-based epoxy injections just to make their limbs stay on.”  Which led some readers to ask the question, Is the New York Times arrogant?  Would this not be a question akin to whether or not the proverbial bear defecates in the proverbial woods?  Of course it is.  That’s why we like it.  But this article was probably taking a good thing too far. 

According to J.C. Penney’s vice president for communications, the average woman wears a size 12 and weighs 150.  And I can tell you that if they’re white, not a damn one of them is happy about it. 

So last week, I had a meeting with a man who kindly inquired after my health, then threw in, gratis, that he thought I needed to gain some weight.  What!!???!!!  I wonder if the two words “sexual” and “harassment”, when used side by side in a sentence, ring any bells for him?  The reason comments such as this make me uncomfortable is that it means you are paying entirely too much attention to my body to suit me, based on the type of relationship we have.  If I want you to comment on my body, you’ll know it.  Or maybe not.  That’s the thing about sexual harassment by men.  Those who do it have often deluded themselves into believing they were given a “signal” that it was welcomed.  Sexual harassment by women is a whole ‘nother animal.   

You know, in those “sensitivity” training sessions they tell men they are treading on dangerous ground even to comment on a woman’s clothing.  That’s too purist and PC for me.  In the above cited incident, I responded with the time-honored Southern phrase, “Shut your mouth!”  Translated:  “Perish the thought!”  I said I was perfectly happy.  Not knowing he had been gifted with a way out, he persisted.  “Still”, he said, “You could use a few more pounds.”  Well thank God I know that now.  In order to be more attractive to you, let me rush out and have two Big Macs and a super-size chocolate shake for lunch. 

As long as we are talking about thinness, let me say that I’ve always been attracted to thin men.  I want to be able to feel your hip bones.  Which is as far as Fakename will drive along the road to pornography. 

However highly annoyed I was by the “you need to gain weight” comments, I could not escape the nagging questions.  Am I too thin?  Do I look sickly?  Frail?  Would you add a giant serving of French Fries to that Big Mac order?  But we are, I mean, I am, I mean we are, Not.  Obsessed.  Maybe.

Closing Guantanamo

Normally I don’t do this, but I’m about to copy today’s Gail Collins column from the NY Times here.  I’ve done this before–once I copied a post from Andy Borowitz, and another time from Dave Barry of the Miami Herald, where I more or less begged them not to prosecute me for giving them more publicity.  Today Collins ‘ op-ed concerns the closing of the Guantanamo prison.  I was about to post my own thoughts on it, but some days, people just say it better than you ever could.  Okay.  Gail Collins always says it better than I ever could. 

I just remembered that I was going to let Gail Collins speak for me.  Yeah.  What she said. 

When Did Cowboys Get Wimpy?


Published: May 22, 2009

Out of all the problems we have run into in dealing with the giant hairball that is known as the Bush War on Terror, one of the weirdest is the reaction to President Obama’s plan to close down Guantánamo.


In the rank of threats to public safety, putting the Guantánamo inmates in maximum-security prisons in the United States has got to come in way behind, say, making it easy for customers to purchase firearms at gun shows.

But to hear the howls coming from Congress, you’d think the Obama administration was planning to house the prisoners in suburban preschools. “Terrorists. Coming soon to a neighborhood near you,” warned a Republican Web video, which mixed pictures of accused terrorists with road signs in states where the G.O.P. predicted they might be sent. In another production, the occasionally loyal opposition resurrected the infamous “Daisy” countdown ad to show a little girl picking petals off a flower while the president prepares to close Gitmo.

“To bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come,” snarled Dick Cheney in his “no middle ground” speech. Although really, for the sake of the national mental health, it might be better if we all just ignore the former vice president until he agrees to undergo therapy. Forget I ever mentioned it.

Instead, consider the case of Hardin, Mont., a community of 3,400 people just down the road from the place where Custer made his Last Stand.

Lately, things have not been going any better for Hardin than they did for the general. Unemployment is rife. “You go look at our downtown, there’s many closed businesses … you’ll see drunks laying in the street. It’s not a pretty sight,” the head of the town’s economic development authority told National Public Radio. The town built a $27 million, 464-bed prison under the theory that other parts of the state would pay to have Hardin look after their problem residents. But it’s been empty since it was declared open for business nearly two years ago, and the construction loans are in default.

So, with the town council’s enthusiastic support, Hardin volunteered to take the Guantánamo prisoners.

It’s unlikely that the White House would have accepted the offer, but it was certainly an example of pluck and you’d think everyone would give Hardin three cheers. Instead, Montana’s Democratic senators went ballistic.

“We’re not going to bring Al Qaeda to Big Sky Country — no way, not on my watch,” said Max Baucus.

“If these prisoners need a new place, it’s not going to be anywhere near The Last Best Place,” said Jon Tester.

This shows us two things:

1) Montana has given itself many nicknames.

2) Montanans are more easily frightened than Manhattanites.

Think about it. New Yorkers live in the top terror target in the nation. This week four new would-be terrorists were arrested for plotting to blow up synagogues in the Bronx. On the same day, President Obama announced that the first Guantánamo prisoner to be tried in the United States would be coming to court in Lower Manhattan.

Even though it appears the guys involved in the Bronx case were deeply, deeply inept, this is still not the kind of news package you want to hear. But nobody had a fit over it. “Bottom line is we have had terrorists housed in New York before,” said Senator Charles Schumer.

New Yorkers aren’t the only ones who have learned to calmly resist both international terrorism and national hysteria. The small town of Florence, Colo., has a 490-bed high-security facility known as Supermax, which houses 33 terrorists, including Ramzi Yousef, who led the first World Trade Center bombing; the failed shoe-bomber Richard Reid; and Zacarias Moussaoui, convicted of conspiring in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The local residents seem fine with it, possibly because they know the prisoners spend 23 hours a day in their cells, which are made of poured concrete and furnished with concrete tables and bunks.

Nobody escapes from maximum-security prisons. But even if they did, who would you rather have on the lam in your neighborhood — a native of Afghanistan whose history suggests an affinity for jihad? Or a resident of your own state whose history suggests an affinity for breaking into people’s houses, tying them up and torturing them?

The nation, as we all know, is divided into crowded states and empty states, and I was always under the impression that folks in the empty places were particularly brave and self-reliant. Those of us who live in the crowded parts have many good qualities, but we are not necessarily all of pioneer stock, given the critical importance we assign to restaurants that deliver at 2 in the morning.

Who knew we were tougher than Montanans?

The Torture Memos

In today’s New York Times op-eds, both Frank Rich and Nicholas Kristoff address the torture issue.  Here’s a link to Frank Rich:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/opinion/26rich.html?ref=opinion

In addition, Tobin Harshaw addresses it in his blog on the NYT, The Opinionator.  http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/25/weekend-opinionator-a-tortuous-week/  The Opinionator samples opinions from other sources on the Web, so that you get a variety of opinions from both the left and right.  In the case of this particular topic, I don’t think “left” and “right” are the applicable terms.  Neither are “liberal” and “conservative”.  What you have are “anti-torture” and “pro-torture” factions. 

I am pretty much in shock about the whole thing.  I thought I was shocked by the revelations in Frank Rich’s piece concerning the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah (83 times in August 2002) and the memo authorizing it by Jay Bybee (then an assistant attorney general, now a federal judge), but some of the opinions sampled by Harshaw made me feel I was in the Twilight Zone.  As Jon Stewart said in the clip eehard posted this week http://eehard.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/we-dont-torture/, how many times do you think it takes for a water-boarding victim to say, “Hell, they aren’t really going to drown me”.

The pro-torture people always present their case in some sort of variation of this theme:  If you knew for a fact that you could save 100 American lives by engaging in one of these practices, would you do it?  Never mind, let’s say a million American lives.  That reminds me of the classic joke:  A man at a party asks a woman if she’ll sleep with him for a million dollars.  “You bet”, she says eagerly, “Just name the time and place.”  The man then says, “Well, in that case, would you sleep with me for ten dollars?”  The woman (offended) says, “Are you crazy?  What do you take me for?”  The man replies, “We’ve already established that.  Now we’re just negotiating the price.”

In Harshaw’s piece is a quote by Gerald Warner of the London Telegraph: 

“President Pantywaist Obama should have thought twice before sitting down to play poker with Dick Cheney. The former vice president believes documents have been selectively published and that releasing more will prove how effective the interrogation techniques were. Under Dubya’s administration, there was no further atrocity on American soil after 9/11.”

Harshaw drily notes that “President Pantywaist” may pass for civilized discussion in Britain.  But inherent in this quote is the assumption that torture is okay if it “works”.  Which is highly debatable.  That’s the part of the whole discussion that puts me into the Twilight Zone. 

The pro-torture crowd and the torture apologists want to make a big distinction between psychological and physical torture (waterboarding is both).  The idea is that fear, in and of itself, cannot cause physical pain or death.  I beg to differ.  It’s obvious to anybody with a brain that heart attacks and strokes occur every day in response to stress, and that can include fear or relatively minor physical activity like shoveling snow.  How about locking someone who’s afraid of bugs in a box with an insect.  Can you imagine fighting like hell to get away from it?  Perhaps they did physicals first, to make sure the victims were not at risk for heart attack or stroke.  That makes me feel ever so much better.  It reminds me of the bizarre practice of testing people on Death Row to make sure they are well enough to be put to death. 

I think the first question we should always ask ourselves is, would we do this ourselves?  If you can’t answer “yes” to that question, then you shouldn’t be willing to let someone else do it on your behalf, supposedly for your own good.  Do you feel safer because Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in a single month?  I have no doubt that some of the actions undertaken by our government have improved (though not guaranteed) our safety, but that isn’t one of them. 

In closing, the whole issue reminds me of the famous Milgram Experiment from 1961.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment  In this experiment, participants were instructed to teach word pairs to a “learner”.  If the “learner” answered incorrectly, the “teacher” administered an electric shock, beginning with 15 volts and increasing with each wrong answer, ending at 450 volts.  In reality, no shock was being delivered.  But at some point, the “learner” (who was in on the deal) would start screaming and pounding on the wall.  And yet, 65% of the “teachers” continued up to the full 450 volts.  Again, from Harshaw’s piece, 49% of Americans believe that torture against terrorists is justified (15% say often, 24% say sometimes), and those percentages are higher among those who claim to be politically independent.  Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

Let’s All Get Mad

Only yesterday I was saying that I can’t bear to hear the letters “AIG” one more time.  I’m now boycotting network newscasts until they stop talking about it, which shouldn’t take long.  Soon there will be another Octomom or killer chimpanzee or Bernard Madoff to take our minds off AIG.  But really, my mind has been off AIG for at least a week. 

Everyone who knows me well knows that this is my morning routine:  1)  Do the NY Times crossword puzzle online.  2)  Read the NY Times op-ed columnists of the day.  So today, Gail Collins, whom I suspect is a long-lost twin , said everything I was thinking except better.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/21/opinion/21collins.html?_r=1&ref=opinion  The best part of her column was talking about “outrage creds”.  Which is my point exactly.  There are people in Congress who must be getting daily injections of mad-sustaining drugs in order to maintain this level of silly, phony anger. 

Charles Blow of the Times had a different take on the issue, which was equally pointed and registered with me just as much.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/21/opinion/21blow.html?ref=opinion   So really, am I mad?  Sure.  Except I quit about a week ago. 

And why?  Because it doesn’t make a hoot’s worth of difference to my life.  I raged about the unfairness of it all for about a day.  But to KEEP being mad about it for weeks would require me to get some of those injections Congress is apparently getting.  I’m done.  It’s a blip.  Get over it.

No Thanks, I’ll Just Starve

In a recent conversation, a friend and I were discussing things we won’t eat…or we would have been, if I could have thought of anything I won’t eat.  Now granted, we were talking about normal everyday foods.  We weren’t talking about the kinds of  things they feed you on Survivor, like live Madagascar hissing roaches.  I will say that I have eaten chocolate-covered ants (they taste like chocolate).  Normally I’ll try anything once, but as I recall, I once passed on fried grasshoppers.  

Now, thanks to today’s New York Times, I’ve just discovered something else I’ll never try.  Now, all these years I’ve thought they were kidding about this particular food item.  Silly me.  Behold the following picture from the NYT:


What you’re seeing here is a judge, in the yellow jacket, gazing at a tray of the signature item at the International Comstock Mountain Oyster Fry in Virginia City, Nevada.  Mountain oysters are the testicles of castrated calves and lambs.  All I can say is, I read this article at about 6:30 this morning, and it’s a good thing I don’t eat breakfast.  For more than you ever wanted to know, here’s the full article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/18/us/18oyster.html?_r=2&hp

It must have been weird food day for the Times, because another article talked about the growing popularity of Whoopie Pies.  Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think “whoopie”, the next word that comes to mind is “cushion”.  It certainly isn’t “pie”.  I don’t think I’m in any danger of trying them either, because from now on, they will always be linked in my mind to Mountain oysters. 

I think I’ll go have something normal for dinner, like an eel.