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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Airing Out a Pet Peeve with Oprah

I have little more than a pet peeve to post about, but before a whole week goes by I figured I’d post something. I was a captive audience of Oprah early this week, and from what I could tell by reading the closed-captioning while pedaling on an exercise bike, it was another show on how little girls are given impossible body images to try to duplicate.

It’s a great show to do, and a great message to send out. My problem is that in all the years I’ve seen her show, I’ve never once seen her do anything in the same regard for people with disabilities. This is a woman who has done shows on just about every topic imaginable . . . at least twice. She prides herself on exposing societal ills, championing people without a voice, and so on.

No, I haven’t seen every Oprah show, but I’ve seen more than any guy’s fair share. I’ve watched her tackle racism, adultery, every unheard of disorder you can think of, and . . . well, the list goes on. I have even watched her praise and gush over people with disabilities. Yet, never once have I seen her address real issues of the disability community.

People with disabilities face the same sort of images that are impossible to attain. Media defines the successful person as perfect people running on the beach or letting their hair fly around with the top down in their convertible. Sure some people with disabilities will enjoy such things, just like some little girls will be models.

Unemployment rates among the disabled community are well over 50 percent. The number soars even higher when people who merely milked a minor injury to collect disability checks before returning to work are taken out of the equation. Social isolation runs rampant in the community. Open prejudice against people with disabilities is practically seen as acceptable among most of the population because they are so ignorant they don’t even get what constitutes prejudice toward disabled individuals. It’s another list that goes on and on.

Before her fans think I’m ripping Winfrey, I’m not. It just strikes me now and then how the media ignores people with disabilities. Google the news this morning on “people with disabilities” + “unemployment rates” and you’ll find one – one! – story, which is about elderly people in Europe. Doing the same with “African American” + “unemployment rates” brings up six relevant stories, one of which asked how people will survive when unemployment among blacks hits double digits. A search of just “unemployment rates” brought up over 1,300 stories – the first 3 of which celebrated declining rates.

How many stories would there be if any other minority faced unemployment rates of more than 50 percent?

One more thing: searching “Oprah” provides more than 5,000 results. She’s the one media personality who seems to actually care enough about such issues to bring them to light. Maybe she has on a show or two, but like the rest of the media she hasn’t made it much of a priority. She’s lead the way in so many other ways, I just wish she’d lead the way again.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Oklahoma City Remembered

I mostly remember seeing a little boy, a streak of blood down his dark cheek, being carried to safety by a fireman who I once wrote “could play Santa Claus for the local grade school” in a poem for a creative writing class.

It was 11 years ago today that Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. That’s 11 years. Not any special anniversary like 10 or 15. In fact, when I recently read about the upcoming anniversary, I had assumed it was being mentioned because it was the 10th. When I learned otherwise, I almost didn’t write this post. There probably wouldn’t be much attention paid to the bombing, I thought.

Then I realized that’s exactly why it was worth writing about. It was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil at the time. It’s still the worst domestic terrorist attack. For many it was the first time our eyes were open to the fact that our very lives were in play for people willing to kill to make a political point. For most, the worst part was learning that 19 children in a daycare center in the building were among the168 killed.

My mom’s best friend had just recently had a son, and I was just starting to realize how amazing kids can be. The way they look at you when they’re just starting to grasp the world is inexplicably amazing. Their innocence shows us the way things are supposed to be — unspoiled, unconcerned with race, unafraid of people with disabilities, interested a world they’re just meeting, concerned with little more than how far away mom and dad are, and maybe where their next hug will come from.

I remember finding it impossible to live with having dropped your kid off one morning only to have him or her taken away in one of the cruelest possible ways. For nothing more than some demented person needing to be heard, 19 kids never had their first day of school, first little league game, first dance recital, and the lifetime of “firsts” they all deserved.

It’s still something I can’t imagine, and I don’t have kids. As today passes with little note of those 19 children, we should all find it impossible to forget.

Monday, April 17, 2006

My FBI — Book Review

Louis J. Freeh ran the Federal Bureau of Investigation during the most tumultuous times in recent history. He oversaw the tail end of the FBI’s deepest infiltration of the mafia, the investigation of President Bill Clinton, and their efforts in the war on terror leading up to the events of 9/11. Unfortunately, in his book, My FBI, Freeh is more interested in defending himself, most of his colleagues, and the Bureau, than in giving his readers a look at what is still clearly one of the most interesting and important jobs in the country.

Freeh seemed incredibly concerned with responding to Clinton’s assertions about him. While understandable — Freeh makes it clear that keeping his job out of politics was no easy task — it got in the way of more compelling reading for me. I’m guessing the he chose to go out of his way to laud most of the people he mentions having worked with for many of the same reasons. However, the result of slowing down the reading was the same.

Readers do get a glimpse behind the scenes of some of the more historic moments of the last decade or so. The Oklahoma City bombing, Donnie Brasco case, bombing of Khobar Towers, and efforts to bring down the Sicilian mob, are just a few of stories Freeh discusses. Yet it seems clear that Freeh’s self-described reserved nature wouldn’t allow him to offer details that might have truly engrossed readers. Instead, while we’re offered some inside information, readers are left wondering what we didn’t get to read.

Some of the more intriguing pages display Freeh’s balancing act between reporting to and investigating the president. But, again, the loyal FBI director seems only to crack the door enough to give readers a glimpse inside.

Freeh, however, does not hold back in his praise of the FBI. He offers a picture of agents taking on terrorists with outdated equipment, yet still managing to stay on top of things if only Washington had listened more. Admitting hindsight is 20/20, he suggests Osama bin Laden was on their radar for years before September 11, 2001. In fact, the suggestion was clear that bin Laden was within their grasp, and escaped only because political support was lacking. Taking his slanted view into account, it was almost sad reading about the political games that handcuffed (no pun intended) anti-terrorist efforts.

Freeh’s political slant not withstanding, his sermon on doing things by the book at the end just didn’t sit well with me. At a time when Saddam Hussein is allowed to continue spewing his propaganda while he stands trial — as opposed to having been shot on site upon being caught — Freeh took his straight-laced opinions just a bit too far for me.

I’m not making any judgments on Freeh as a person for his political, or nonpolitical, slant, nor his unwillingness to reveal more. I didn’t read Clinton’s book yet, and don’t make any special effort to keep up with political banter. But as a casual reader, I do think it detracted from the book.

Despite that, My FBI is worth reading if, like me, you’re looking to begin understanding the real stories behind the events that fill the evening news every night.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Flight 93 Cheapens 9/11

A little over a week ago I said that I feared that the release of 911 tapes from the World Trade Center in the moments following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, would lead to the inevitable sensationalizing of these events. I needn’t have worried. Hollywood was already on the case.

Flight 93 offers a depiction of what it was like on the fourth plane hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists on that day. Passengers had learned of the tragic events going on in our country, recognized that they were meant to be part of yet another suicide attack by their hijackers, and attempted to take control of the plane. While saving countless lives with their bravery, the passengers all lost their lives as they brought the plane crashing down in a field western Pennsylvania.

Phone calls to loved ones from passengers explaining what they were about to do no doubt informs the film, as does the flight recorder. Yet, there’s simply no way that Stone hasn’t taken a literary license with much of the film. We just don’t have enough facts to create a feature-length film on the events of that flight. It can also very safely be assumed that Stone has taken every measure to heighten the emotions and drama of a story with an ending everyone knows.

I’ve never been shy about my desire to make money through this site. I think of myself as a writer, and while I love writing, I doubt I would pursue it if there was no hope of financial reward. I have no problem with others doing the same. Hollywood is in the business of making films. This film will no doubt make millions. Even those of us who question whether or not producer’s crossed a line by making it will likely see it sooner or later.

The film's producers will no doubt argue that this is part of history, a story that must be told. They knows they’ll be criticized for making this film, and that the criticism will generate interest, and interest will mean more ticket sales, all of which puts more money in their pockets.

Instinctively most will view the making of this film as wrong. I share that opinion, but it took a while to come up with a satisfactory reason as to why. After all, war movies are a staple of our culture, and “not enough time having gone by” didn’t satisfy me either.

Then I think I figured out why this just won’t sit well with many. There are ways to tell this story without sensationalizing it. From what commercials have already revealed, the film depicts the final moments of being on that plane, and that’s where any thought of “telling the story” goes out the window.

There are war veterans who can tell us the horrors of war. Similarly, films that depict other “real” forms of suffering have some grounding in captured experience — cancer victims sharing their stories, for example, or Holocaust survivors, POWs, and HIV patients, just to name a few. The list could go on and on.

We’ve seen enough of war via news (and other) coverage that others can at least try to extrapolate what it’s like in fictional tales. But Stone is, by necessity, mix reality with way too much story telling.

No one survived Flight 93. No one knows the terror or courage of the final moments of those passengers’ lives. Even if producers felt the need to tell this story, dramatizing these historic events is just wrong.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Blogging or Voyeurism?

It was an article to be read on a leisurely Sunday, and tossed aside while lounging on the couch. But, somehow, Kristen A. Graham’s article on blogging in the Inquirer has me wondering if blogging is just a modern version of voyeurism.

Blogger Rachel Mosteller has learned much more than she ever expected from her online journal, "The Sarcastic Journalist."

As in: Don't blog about how much you hate your coworkers. It could get you canned. Also, watch what you write about your relatives. They may get huffy about having their lives revealed online.

Mosteller, 26, who now lives outside Houston, was fired from her job as a reporter in North Carolina in 2004 for her deliciously snarky, anonymous dispatches about colleagues she dubbed "Book Hoarder" and "Fumbly Boss."

"And I've learned the hard way not to write about my family," she said.

In the no-holds-barred world of blogging, salacious secrets - your sister's sex life, your coworker's clandestine desire to ditch her job - that in a more refined era might otherwise be kept locked in a diary, are broadcast for the world to read. The result is "too much information," otherwise known as TMI, and it can change what others think of you.

. . . Rebecca Blood, author of The Weblog Handbook and, said "people forget they are publishing when they are blogging. It feels personal, it feels like a conversation - but it's not."

In today's TMI age, it's a given that that new boyfriend or girlfriend, that recruiter for the job you desperately want, is going to Google you, she said. Then they'll find out that you've written about how you keep multiple sex partners and play endless rounds of Minesweep on company time.

"Whoever you don't want to read your blog - your mom, your boss - will probably find it. Keep that in mind," she advised.

The article goes on to describe a few more overly personal blogs. Putting aside the annoying habit of those deemed experts in their corner of the world to speak for all of us — mom’s not reading your blog, TMI (referred to throughout the column) does not qualify as some chic new phrase, and only the geeks are Googling that new boyfriend — these people sound like idiots.

Bloggers forget they are publishing? Wrong. It’s the reason bloggers like this get so personal. It’s titillating to put other people’s personal idiosyncrasies (or their own) online; they get off on it.

The story reports, “About 70,000 new blogs pop up every day, according to Technorati.” Fine. How many have one or two posts, and never see another sign of life? How many decided to dip their toe in the ocean, say something they don’t have the nerve to say without hiding behind a blog, and disappeared?

I guess this bothers me because as a writer I see blogging as a chance to do what I love to do, and maybe, possibly, capture an audience. If I were ever lucky enough to have it be a stepping stone to a career as a writer, that would be all I could hope for from blogging.

To see a story offering this side of blogging as the crux of the medium is sad. The fact that a reporter was dumb enough to post things that could lead to her dismissal makes me wonder about what I see as the potential power of blogs, and fear that they are being reduced to a teeny-bopper fad.

I don’t mean to try to position myself as some expert or stuffed-shirt judging other bloggers. Read my other posts, and I think you’ll see the casual part of my moniker fits quite well. But if this story offered a true picture of blogs, we’ll all be little more than something to read on a leisurely Sunday.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Turned Off from Politics, Again

I’ll admit it. I don’t read the front page enough. I only catch CNN while on the bike at the gym. And 1776 has been on my book shelf (unread) for far too long.

I’d like to know more about our world, and truly understand our government. I’m not even talking about grasping the intricacies of Iraq, or whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction, or who controls our ports. I’d like to get to that point, but for now I can accept that it takes more informed people to offer worthwhile opinions on such things.

But every now and then I’m reminded of why I haven’t taken more interest in worldly events on a daily basis. These reminders tend to come in the form of the easily defined wrongs taking place in government that everyone basically ignores.

The local section of Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer reported that PA State Representative Mark Cohen has bought $28,200 worth of books . . . all on the taxpayers.

Over the last two years, the state has reimbursed the veteran legislator $28,200 on bookstore spending sprees, a review of expense records shows. He spent $1,118 in September alone, making nine trips to bookstores. . . .

Cohen's book bill for 2004 and 2005 is more than what the Philadelphia School District spent to stock library shelves at the two high schools and two middle schools in his legislative district. The four schools, which have a combined enrollment of 5,000 students, spent $21,600 on books and periodicals in that two-year period, officials said.

Many of Cohen's fellow House members don't ask the state to pay for books they read, and for those who do, it's typically just a few a year, records show.

Cohen defended making taxpayers foot the bill, saying that the books - nearly all of them works of nonfiction - make him a better legislator.

"I try very hard to be informed on current events. I'm holding myself to standards of excellence," said Cohen. "I'm interested in knowing whatever I can about national issues. National issues affect Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania is part of the nation."

As much as I’d love to have Cohen shop from home at Royal Steele Books, it’s mind boggling to me that we’ve reached the point where no one really gives a damn about stuff like this any more. Cohen, quoted later in the same story, offers no apologies.

“This is all reality-based. I'm a very reality-based legislator," he said. "I want to understand, at the best of my ability, the general trends that are impacting on our jobs as state legislators."

Does this sound like a guy who was caught ripping off taxpayers? It’s just a pompass, out-of-touch politician rubbing salt in the wound.

This is just dead wrong, and it’s sluffed off like it’s nothing. Earlier in the week a Google blog search of "mark cohen"+books revealed about 3 posts referring to Cohen on this issue. I couldn’t find much more on it at either.

Why isn’t anyone calling for this man’s job? Better yet, why isn’t there some sort of mechanism in our government that would already have him searching Career Builder? At the very least, why isn’t Cohen, now that he’s been caught, writing a check to repay what he’s stolen?

No doubt the answer lies somewhere in there being too much bureaucracy. I’m guessing that, technically, he hasn’t done anything wrong, and somehow whatever idiotic law or rule which makes this the case can’t (or won’t) be changed.

So, guy’s like me give up. Because, we figure, if we can’t boot local crooks from office — without waiting for the next election — there’s nothing we could do about Iraq even if we made the effort to be informed.

Saturday, April 1, 2006

The 9/11 tapes released

New York City has released tapes of 911 calls from victims in the World Trade Center during the early stages of the September 11, 2001, attacks on our country. According to

The words of the operators -- but not the callers -- were released after The New York Times and a group of victims' relatives sued to get them. An appeals court ruled last year that families should have the option to release the tapes made by 28 callers who could be identified.

The Times and family members hoped the audiotaped calls would reveal details of what happened inside the towers and whether 911 operators misdirected the victims. The September 11 commission had concluded in 2004 that many operators didn't know enough about the attacks to give the best information to those trapped.

I was fortunate enough not to lose anyone on that disastrous day, and could never begin to understand the anger of those who did. Yet, something smacks of the distasteful here. The suggestion that we can learn anything from these tapes seems like an excuse for the inevitable sensationalizing of that I fear is coming. Even if the United States is ever attacked again, it’s ridiculous to think 911 operators can somehow be trained to handle such calls or that civilians can truly be prepared by picking apart what happened in those first moments on September 11.

Ironically, the tapes were released during the same week two books were released about the Terri Schiavo case. Schiavo died a year ago yesterday have a bitter dispute between her parents and her husband over whether or not her feeding tube should be removed. I use the term “ironically” as a year ago both sides swore they were looking to honor their loved one. Now, it would seem they are looking to profit from the tragedy. Her parents, brother, and sister, have published A Life That Matters : The Legacy of Terri Schiavo -- A Lesson for Us All, while Michael Schiavo has published Terri : The Truth.

I could be wrong that this is where the release of the 9/11 tapes has us headed. But the burst of patriotism that we all swore would never fade is already a memory. American flags no longer fly from every other car antenna. Networks have returned to running commercials during the traditional playing of the national anthem before sporting events. I just can’t help but fear seeing the commercials for the future movie-of-the-week with the 911 tapes from September 11 being played.