Archive for October 20th, 2010
Most of us with a few gray hairs can remember Edwin Land’s invention. What an amazing development! We could take a picture and see it in a few minutes. It was very helpful if your memory was extremely short. Within about a minute or so of taking the picture, you could recall fond memories of what happened two minutes earlier. After you snapped a picture with the Polaroid Land Camera, the black box would spit out a piece of paper about the size of an index card. However, there was still no picture to be seen. When you removed the picture from the camera, you had to wait for a minute or so while the chemicals involved dried and the picture magically appeared. If a minute was too long to wait, and you were careful not to touch the surface of the picture to be, you could wave the picture back and forth to speed up the drying process. This was very different from having to send a roll of film to the secret Kodak plant and wait weeks for them to turn that roll magically into the pictures you had taken.
It was with Land’s 1947 invention that we entered the world of instant gratification. Little did we know at the time that the path we had started down would become a runaway train and create a great deal of dissonance on many levels. It wasn’t long after the instant photo machine hit the market that, in 1954, Ray Kroc took over the relatively small-scale McDonald’s Corporation. He applied assembly-line techniques and gave us the instant meal, which became known as fast food. The irony is that it is often not close to fast and sometimes not even close to food. We have since added quick stops, instant grits/oatmeal, instant tax returns, drive-up windows for everything, instant messaging, quick car washes, quick as a wink laundry, and even speed dating to the list of hurry-up features in our daily lives.
This instantaneous society has all but eliminated deferred gratification. Young people now often believe that their entry-level position should be boss. Jim Morrison of the Doors stated it best in the song “When the Music’s Over,” as he sang, “We want the world, and we want it now!”
You might now be asking how this all relates to the 2010 midterm elections. Various factors have contributed to the current state of our economy. Much of what has happened has done so internationally. Greece and France are examples of countries suffering as much or more than the United States is. Central and South American countries face monumental challenges to simply provide some basic needs for their people. Many countries in Africa struggle to feed many of their people.
In America, we did not arrive where we are today suddenly. For the last two decades, we have slid in this direction. Politicians from both parties and business leaders from all over the spectrum have made mistakes and poor decisions. Some nearsighted short-term policies created some horrible long-term results. The foundation of many of those decisions was based in greed and a desire for power.
As all this came to a head in 2008, we decided to elect a new president as well as some new senators and representatives. Changes were made, and some new paths were immediately taken. In keeping with the Polaroid mentality and our desire for instantaneous results, the voters expected our lives to change almost over night. We have spent two years trying to redirect our economy and our country. Because of our Polaroid society, we can’t understand why not everything is fixed yet. Challenges building for decades cannot be fixed in a year or two.
America has been through some bad times before, and we worked hard to overcome those tough stretches. In the past, as a country, we have pulled together and fought for the future, despite the cost. The good news is that the slide has ended, and the stock market is getting healthier. Manufacturing is starting to move forward, and domestic car sales are improving. We are making progress. We cannot afford to lose what we have gained. I am angry about the challenges passed on to us from past politicians, but casting an angry vote will not help. As you cast your vote, you need to make sure you base it on the truth, facts, and just one emotion — love for your country. As you enter the voting booth, make sure you vote for America’s future and that you don’t base your vote on that Polaroid mentality.
The progressive dilemma at this time of political crisis is not one of vision. We have identified the key fundamental values needed to construct an alternative to the abundantly discredited neoliberal world older. But on a tactical level we have failed to translate these values into a political program compelling to those most affected by the global financial crisis.
Barack Obama’s young presidency neatly encapsulates this failure. Obama’s broad electoral base represented a promising coalition for progressive change, but the gap between the Obama campaign and the Obama presidency has widened into what appears to be an oncoming rout for his party in the upcoming elections.
Obama’s first mistake was to acknowledge some responsibility for a downturn made possible by his predecessors’ policies. Then, even while he was tepidly laying blame at the feet of Wall Street, these firms received major bailouts and suffered no personnel changes or cuts to their sky-high bonuses. The shortcomings of subsequent financial reform legislation did nothing to alleviate these contradictions of word and deed. Obama identified the problems of deregulation but demurred on the opportunity to educate the public on the more fundamental pathologies of market fundamentalism, an unsurprising failure given his choice of chief economic lieutenants.
Nor have facts on the ground offered any relief. Despite good advice from reputable Keynesians like Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, the $787 billion stimulus was never enough investment to roll back unemployment. But even better technocratic initiatives would not compensate for Obama’s greater failure to contextualize his initiatives in a broader agenda of social transformation. Obama’s once vibrant grassroots base craved an alternative to the dog-eat-dog neoliberal order. But at this late hour, what vision will be compelling for the base?
The right, in contrast, has better understood the dynamics of politics in a time of crisis. Eschewing Obama’s quest for bloodless bipartisanship, counterrevolutionary types in the Republican Party have framed the political moment in absolutist ideological terms, distancing themselves from progressives and upending traditional conservative elites.
The left would do better to remember that the art of politics requires using the contradictions, spaces, and ambiguities of the current moment to shape structures and institutions and create a critical mass for change. What is needed for progressive change is smart and skilled leadership.
You can read the full column here.
Did you know that almost every conservative politician in the country has signed a pledge to encourage big multinational corporations to keep sending jobs out of the country?
Grover Norquist, head of the lobbying organization Americans for Tax Reform, is one of the leaders of the modern “conservative movement.” Norquist is well-known (among certain circles) for his statement that he wants to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
As part of the conservative movement’s long-term strategy to weaken and destabilize government, his organization gets conservative politicians to sign a Taxpayer Protection Pledge: “In the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, candidates and incumbents solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases.” Almost every conservative politician in the country has signed this pledge.
Of course, the point of this is to destroy government’s ability to govern. And, of course, with government, i.e. “We, the People,” out of the way, something else necessarily fills the vacuum. And that something else is the large monopolistic corporations and extremely wealthy few that fund organizations like Americans for Tax Reform and the rest of the “conservative movement.” (Quelle surprise.) This is why conservatives propose tax cuts as the solution to everything — it is really about defunding government by causing the government to run out of money. This is why you will never, ever hear a conservative talk about any actual “spending cuts” they propose, with specifics, and how their proposed cuts will add up to actually cutting the deficit. It isn’t about cutting the deficit, it is about getting rid of government’s ability to regulate what these corporations do.
A Pledge To Encourage Companies To Kill Jobs
With that in mind, I have been hearing a very interesting line of attack on The Pledge in this election. If there is one thing the public is really, really angry about it is companies that close factories and ship jobs out of the country. In fact, there is a tax break that encourages companies to do this. Democrats in Congress have been trying to close that tax break. Every single Republican has been voting against closing this loophole and for one and only one reason — closing this tax loophole for the big monopolistic corporations that ship our jobs out of the country would violate the Norquist Pledge.
Government Is We, the People Making The Decisions
Let’s hope that this line of attack enables people to understand that “government spending” is money that is spent on We, the People, and that “less government” means less decision making by We, the People and more decision-making by … guess who.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Personal branding is a hot topic these days. Perhaps it all began with the article “The Brand Called You,” by Tom Peters, published in Fast Company Magazine back in August 1997. And there have been numerous other articles on this topic, before and after this one. Peters wrote:
I agree with Peters. We ignore our brand at our own peril, whether we are in business, a non-profit, or working as a teacher or therapist. Our brand is how we are perceived by others. How we are perceived determines whether others believe that what we do meets their needs or wants, whether we can help them develop or find solutions, or whether others trust and respect us. In business — in a way we are all in business — it is important to pay attention to your brand.
We all have a brand, whether wanted or not, consciously constructed or not. Even Buddha has a brand, as well as the Dalai Lama, President Obama, and even those claiming to not have a brand — no brand is also a brand. When used with integrity, a brand can be a way to express who we are and what we stand for as a person, or whatever our particular product, service, or offering may be. A brand can express our values and what we stand for.
Like anything, a brand can be misused. The word itself conjures images of fraud, sham artists, and charlatans. In some sense, perhaps we are all frauds. There is always a gap between our values, intentions, actions, and how we are perceived. We cannot control how others perceive us. Our brand with one person or one set of people can be completely different with another. Many people in the west think of the Dalai Lama as a representation of wisdom and humility. The Chinese government has a different perception.
What is President Obama’s brand? It depends on whom you ask, when you ask, and how you ask. Perhaps the issue isn’t the brand but how people relate to the brand, or both? We humans are complicated.
You Don’t Exist — Now What?
It is likely that what we take for granted as a “self” does not exist. And since your brand is intertwined with other people’s perception, there is no one perception that defines you. It may be difficult to fathom that you don’t exist in the way you think you do, but this is good news! How freeing. Your effort to create a solid, clearly identifiable self and a solid unchanging brand may be a worthy effort, but is essentially impossible. Even if you do establish a clear brand, you will change, others will change — your brand will change.
So what do you do?
Be as clear as possible as to what your values are and create a brand that is as closely aligned with your values as possible.
Communicate your brand, your authentic offering, the best you can. Listen for feedback. Ask for feedback. Be open to listening beyond your own limited views, ideas, and perceptions. Be open to change your brand in response to your own changes and the changes around you.
Notice and be honest about gaps in your brand and in how others see you and your brand.
At the same time, understand that we live on multiple tracks. On one track, we need to pay attention to our brand. At the same time it is important to develop your life outside of the realm of brands — Practice the art of “being nobody.” This is a terrific practice. What it means is to let go of trying to be anyone special, of trying to control, of trying to hold onto anything solid, especially yourself. Let yourself just be yourself, brand-less, a happy, compassionate nobody. A paradox: The more you can let yourself be nobody, the more resilient and skillful you may be in developing your brand.
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If you live in California, you can change the course of history of marriage equality coast-to-coast.
Every election matters, but this one is monumental. In California, we have a chance to elect a new attorney general and governor who will support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality 100 percent. Who we put into these critical offices will shape the outcome of the battle for equal rights, including the federal trial against Prop. 8.
The attorney general and governor have the power to determine whether our taxpayer dollars will be spent defending Prop. 8 in court or whether the State of California will continue to stand on the side of equality and justice.
Where do the candidates stand? Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris have promised not to stand on the side of bigotry and hatred. Both have vowed not to defend Prop. 8 in court and to advocate for full equality. Because of their strong support for marriage equality and for a myriad of other rights critical to securing full equality for LGBT people, they have been endorsed by Equality California. If elected, we can count on them to be our champions.
Meg Whitman and Steve Cooley have both promised to defend discrimination. Rather than supporting the rights of all Californians to be treated equally under the law, they would seek to set aside the sweeping federal district court ruling declaring that laws banning marriage equality violated the United States Constitution — a powerful ruling that has national implications in the fight for equality. Whitman and Cooley are willing to put the U.S. Constitution aside to pander to right wing interests.
Equality California has been working with PowerPAC to release an online short helping pro-equality voters understand the magnitude of the attorney general’s race in this election and the importance of their vote. Please check out this short, then share it with everyone you know who supports equality. Make sure they know how important it is that they vote. If every equality-minded voter makes it to the polls, we will witness an historic victory on November 2.
Whatever happens in the federal case against Prop. 8, we know it will have a national impact. California’s voters will once again play a major role in securing marriage equality across the nation. Where will you be on November 2?
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There is money flowing and flowing and flowing into our national dialogue. Our airwaves are crammed with negative ads financed by the big guys. Wealthy corporations and fat cats are swelling the coffers of the Rovian right. So it’s all over for democracy right? The Democrats don’t stand a chance against this outpouring of treasure. The midterms are going to be a smackdown of the people’s party… those poor, dear Democrats silly enough to believe in governance. It’s curtains for the environmentalists and woe unto the education reformers. A woman’s right to choose? Sorry, yanked. Green jobs? Um no, not this year. The separation of church and state — merely a quaint historical notion.
No, say the pundits, this one is for the grand old parties, tea and otherwise, that would-be plutocrats are feting.
Or maybe not. A funny thing is happening at early polling sites all over the country — folks are voting. America has apparently not gotten the memo that our democracy is for sale. The saps are just proceeding right on with it as though the millions spent to dismay them have somehow failed to do so. It seems they plan to have their vote counted, and last I looked it is votes that we count here… not coins.
I hope at least for Meg Whitman’s sake that money can buy you love, because an election? Turns out, not so much. Bless her heart, she spent $120 million of her personal fortune on her race for governor of California and could not even win the endorsement of her hometown paper.
This is very good news for our country as a whole. We are exercising our right to self-determination. Bully for us. I voted today at 1:30 p.m., Central Standard Time, so there, Koch brothers — you can take your gold and shove it, or what the hell, give some more to Christine O’Donnell… the girl’s got rent to pay.
If you have time to read this, you have time to vote. If you are angry about all the anger out there, good, go ahead and be angry — there is a lot of anger to be angry about. But you must vote. If you need a ride, ask for one, but get to the polls. If you lost your cat, put up posters of her on your way to the booth and vote. If your cause has not yet been taken up by the country, remember that it never will be if you do not vote. If you think that the outcome of this election is a foregone conclusion, then you need to think again, because every election is ours to win or lose, which is why we vote.
They have endless streams of cash, but they do not have you. You are a resource that cannot be monopolized. If they win you lose. It is that simple. You are all you’ve got, and that is all you need.
Sometimes it’s hard to be a Democrat
Giving all your love to just one party
- apologies to Tammy Wynette
Although an Alaskan reporter’s handcuffing by security people for Republican and Tea Party Senatorial candidate Joe Miller was truly disturbing and worrying for the future of the nation, equally disturbing was the debate between Kentucky candidates for the U.S. Senate.
Jack Conway, Democratic candidate, referring to Republican and Tea Partier Rand Paul, asked: “When it is ever a good idea to tie up a woman and ask her to kneel before a false idol — your god, that you call aqua Buddha?”
Moderator: “Do you think that he is a good Christian?”
Let’s count the ways that this is sickening:
1. When was the last time — other than a network showing of Charlton Heston as Moses in Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments — that the phrase “false idol” was broadcast around the country?
2. How did a political candidate become confident in deciding which religious symbols should be rejected as false? Are Buddha statues false idols? (Notice a First Amendment problem here?)
3. How did a discussion of whether a candidate is a “good Christian” become part and parcel of a discussion of who should enter a national political body in the year 2010?
4. How can the accuracy the event being discussed — reputed to have occurred decades ago (no video) — be ascertained?
5. Can a college student be held responsible for any goofy thing he says or does — short of intentionally and seriously injuring another person or committing some other major felony?
And all of this emanated from a Democrat. As I have publicly announced — I be a Democrat!
And I’m ashamed.
Online marketplace eBay has reported better-than-expected profits, with earnings boosted by growth in its payment service PayPal.
The firm posted a net profit of 432m (273m) in the third quarter, up 22% on the same period last year.
Revenues rose 1% to 2.25bn, with most of the growth coming from PayPal.
PayPal ended the quarter with 90 million active accounts worldwide, adding one million new accounts over each of the last three months.
EBay is in the middle of a three-year turnaround plan which is focused on revamping the eBay.com website.
It forecast stronger revenues of between 2.39bn and 2.49bn in the fourth quarter.
Shares in the company rose 6% in after-hours trading on the Nasdaq.
By Caitlin Monaghan
There are few things that film buffs and fashion fiends wouldn’t do for the chance to converse with legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head, who dressed the silent film stars of the 1920s, defined the dress of the Hitchcock blondes, turned Audrey Hepburn into a princess and put Princess Grace in gold lam.
And for a few more days, they may have their chance.
Though Head passed away in 1981, fans can enjoy actress Susan Claassen’s one woman show and portrayal of the iconic costumer in A Conversation with Edith Head, which is wrapping up its Los Angeles-area run on October 24.
Students of costume design, who grew up hearing fairy tale-like stories about the icon, will freak when Classen, bearing an eerie, spot on likeness of Ms. Head, discusses career highlights, dishes about Hollywood relationships and even divulges a bit of Head’s private side — a side rarely revealed. Claassen co-wrote the play with Paddy Calistro, the author who personally knew Head and helped pen her autobiography, Edith Head’s Hollywood (published 1983) as well as the reissued 25th Anniversary Edition (published 2008).
SEEING DOUBLE: Actress Susan Claassen, known as Edith Head’s doppelganger, has been playing the costuming icon in her one-woman show since 2002. The play’s Hollywood run ends this weekend at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood.
Two dress forms wearing classic Head designs flank the set — Bette Davis’ brown silk, sable trimmed dress from All About Eve (1950) and Elizabeth Taylor’s teen sensation white tulle, floral bud adorned strapless gown from A Place in the Sun (1951). And the host graciously interacts with the guests in her parlour. Head’s favorite sketches and autographed headshots sprinkle the back wall. In true Edith style, Claassen is not shy to critique the audience’s outfits, but her impromptu conversations reveal interesting characters in the room, like choreographer and actress Miram Nelson (once married to Gene Nelson), who conversed with Claassen’s alter ego about the three times the designer and she worked together during their mutual film careers, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Film facts, photos and props swirl around the theater during the two-hour play (not including the meet and great and photo ops afterward).
GOLDEN GIRL: Edith Head won eight Oscars during her 50-plus years as a costume designer, wins include The Heiress (1949), Samson and Delilah (1950), All About Eve (1950), A Place in the Sun (1951), Roman Holiday (1953), Sabrina (1954), The Facts of Life (1960) and The Sting (1973).
In true Hollywood fashion, Head was terribly competitive (especially during the Academy Award season), and she did not mind bending the truth for her benefit. Though her career is glittered with marvelous achievements, pesky controversies litter her hefty dossier. During her acceptance speech for Sabrina (1954), Head did not honor Hubert de Givenchy, the designer of Audrey Hepburn’s most famous pieces in the film, including the little black dress with the bowed boat neck that Head had mass publicized as her own namesake design for years. And the costume illustrator who apparently designed the menswear for The Sting (1973) sued Head after she accepted and was lauded for winning the first Oscar in Costume Design for a film without a female lead. “Accentuate the positive and camouflage the rest,” was a famous Edithism. Perhaps she interpreted that statement too literally when it came to matters of paying credit where credit is due on her film projects.
BORROWED DESIGN: Edith Head never credited Hubert de Givenchy, who designed Audrey Hepburn’s post-Paris gowns in Sabrina (1954), even though she took home the Oscar and publicized his little black dress with the bowed boat neckline as her own.
Despite gossip and controversy, Head’s 50-plus years in film included magical moments. When an assistant’s mistaken measurements turned Head’s rich brown gown design for Bette Davis into a sack of potatoes, Head was mortified. But Bette Davis simply shrugged the square neckline off her shoulders, thus lifting the waistline into new dimensions, and said, “See, doesn’t this look much better.” It did. Davis delivered her famous All About Eve (1950) line as Margo Channing in that dress, “Buckle your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
Head worked with some of her favorite leading ladies outside the studio as well. Close friends Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck often consulted Head to style and design outfits for various engagements, premieres and events. Head was the costume designer for Alfred Hitchcock’s big-budgeted To Catch a Thief (1956), but she felt snubbed when she was not asked to design the future Princess Grace’s wedding dress during her nuptials to Prince Rainier. Head instead designed Kelly’s grey silk “going away” suit.
Eventually, Edith Head’s brand grew from Hollywood back lots to American households. She wrote two books, The Dress Doctor, which sold 8.5 million copies, and How to Dress for Success. She was brutally frank with frumpy American housewives during her guest spots on Art Linkletter’s House Party, a radio and television show that featured the first makeover segments of the 1950s and 60s. She and her team even designed “Edith Head Collection” sewing patterns that were sold through the 1950s and 1970s, a testament to Head’s mastering of self promotion.
Which she’ll gladly tell you about in person at the theatre.
Susan Claassen stars in A Conversation with Edith Head, El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, through Sunday, October 24. For tickets call 818-508-4200 or 800-811-4111 or order online at www.elportaltheatre.com. $35.
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Nearly thirty years ago, in a column in the New York Times Magazine, conservative firebrand William F. Buckley waxed nostalgic about his college days at Yale. He imagined a young Yalie today, at the now-coed, gender integrated, university, longing for “the fraternity that wouldn’t end:”
Not bad for a guy whose first book title included only God and man.
Defensive and wistful, Buckley experiences increasing gender equality as an invasion into those pure homosocial refuges, coupled with constant policing by angry Mommies. It’s as if Buckley was Spanky, on the Little Rascals, putting up the sign “He-Man Woman Haters Club. No Gurls Allowed.”
I was reminded of this little dream of homosocial purity as I received yet another link this past week to the now-viral video of a pledge party at Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity marching around and shouting “No Means Yes! Yes Means Anal!” and other slogans.
(For the historically minded, DKE was mentioned in the Times in November, 1967, in a scandal over branding their pledges with red-hot coat hangers. The newspaper called the practice “sadistic and obscene.” The chapter president, one George W. Bush, defended it as akin to a cigarette burn. That was the first time Bush was mentioned in that newspaper.)
The immediate and universal outcry focused, rightly, on the first half of the chant — the explicit support and encouragement of sexual assault. Legal questions were raised: is this hate speech? Does it promote a hostile environment in which actual sexual assaults (Yale reported 92 last year) are ignored, downplayed or explained away?
At first, the fraternity issued a cover-your-ass smirking apology for offending people’s feelings (read: you feminists can’t take a joke). Their next apology, a day or so later, was far more abject, and showed they’d put some serious thought into how their actions might have been experienced by others. It seemed sincere enough.
But it lacked historical perspective. In 2006, fraternity guys marched in a sort of picket line outside the Women’s Center on campus — chanting those same phrases. In 2008, members of another fraternity celebrated their love of “Yale sluts” by screaming about it outside that same Women’s Center on campus.
What does it mean to chant “No Means Yes,” outside the campus Women’s Center, the place that offers services to women who have been assaulted or abused? What does it mean to target the one place where women might actually feel safe enough to find their own voice, to feel strong enough to succeed in a world still marred by gender inequality? It’s a reminder that men still rule, that bro’s will always come before “ho’s”. Even the Women’s Center can’t protect you.
That is, it’s a way to make the safe unsafe.
We could leave it there, and let the campus judiciary and the blogosphere continue to debate about free speech and hostile environments and hate speech. But I think it would miss another, equally important element — the second half of the chant, “Yes Means Anal.”
This chant assumes that anal sex is not pleasurable for women; that if she says yes to intercourse, you have to go further to an activity that you experience as degrading to her, dominating to her, not pleasurable to her. This second chant is a necessary corollary to the first.
Thanks to feminism, women have claimed the ability to say both “no” and “yes.” Not only have women come to believe that “no means no,” that they have a right to not be assaulted and raped, but they also have a right to say “yes,” to their own desires, their own sexual agency. Feminism enabled women to find their own sexual voice.
Sometimes, as in the case of the now-famous Karen Owen at Duke, they can be as explicitly raunchy as men, and evaluate men’s bodies in exactly the way that men evaluate women’s bodies. (I agree with Ariel Levy that imitating men’s drinking and sexual predation is a rather impoverished view of liberation.)
This is confusing to many men, who see sex not as mutual pleasuring, but about the “girl hunt,” a chase, a conquest. She says no, he breaks down her resistance. Sex is a zero-sum game. He wins, if she puts out; she loses.
That women can like sex, and especially like good sex, and are capable of evaluating their partners changes the landscape. If women say “yes,” where’s the conquest, where’s the chase, where’s the pleasure? And where’s the feeling that your victory is her defeat? What if she is doing the scoring, not you?
Thus the “Yes Means Anal” part of the chant. Sex has become unsafe for men — women are agentic, go for it, and evaluate our performances. So if “No Means Yes” attempts to make what is safe for women unsafe, then “Yes Means Anal” makes what is experienced as unsafe for men again safe — back in that comfort zone of conquest and victory. Back to something that is assumed could not possibly be pleasurable for her. It makes the unsafe safe — for men.
In this way, we can see the men of DKE at Yale not as a bunch of angry predators, asserting their dominance, but as a more pathetic bunch of guys who see themselves as powerless losers, trying to re-establish a sexual landscape which they feel has been thrown terribly off its axis. This is especially ironic, of course, because these straight, white, upper class Yalie DKEs are among the most privileged 20-year-olds on the planet. And yet now they feel one-down, defensive, reduced to impotent screaming about the entitlement — and all because of women’s equality.
Man up, guys. Women can say no — and they can say yes. And in 2010, real men can learn to hear both.
Michael Kimmel is a professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University and the author of Guyland and Manhood in America.
Turns out that it’s all Glen Bishop’s fault. Oh, and the negative ions. It’s the terrific if perplexing Season 4 finale of Mad Men, and as always there be spoilers ahead.
No, I didn’t see it coming beforehand. But as it unfolded in the season finale, very tellingly entitled “Tomorrowland,” Don Draper’s sudden proposal to his lovely and oh so young secretary Megan, whose last name we’d never heard before and about whom we know next to nothing, made perfect sense. From his point of view. And while I’ve been critical of some of the plotting in Season 4, this move felt like a key turning in a lock.
Sonny & Cher perform their smash hit of 1965, “I Got You Babe.”
While the move is logical, is it also dopey? Oh, yes. But will it work? It just might. And if it doesn’t, Don has a second ex-wife, assuming they make it to the altar.
Is the greatest of season finales? No, it’s clearly not as good as the Season 3 finale, and perhaps not as good as the others. Yet there’s much we don’t know, as there usually is when we’re midway through a novel, and this is ultimately a novel for television. I have many thoughts about this, but first let’s run through the episode, during which some of what I think will be apparent, then get into more of it all.
It’s October 1965, and we’ve come not quite a year in Mad Men’s fourth season. A year in which, incidentally, the outside world of historical events hasn’t intruded much, in sharp contrast with previous seasons.
Don is getting ready to go to California with the kids. He has “a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.” Which Dr. Faye tells him isn’t just anxiety about work or the trip, but a deeper, more existential anxiety about his unresolved past. You know, the fact that he isn’t really Don Draper at all. That sounds fun. Think Don feels a bit too much like her patient rather than her boyfriend? And what, in the end, does she want Don to do? Turn himself in to the Army as a deserter? Even if that’s not a crazy idea, and it may well be, it’s hardly something he’s going to want to do.
At Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Joan meets with Lane and gets a promotion. She is now “director of agency operations.” That’s a promotion? I thought she already ran the place. But the new title comes with no new money or celebration, and, thanks to agency cutbacks, Joan already has one new job; she gets to deliver the mail. “Well, it’s almost an honor,” she says, thinking of how much of an honor it is to be the pregnant lady pushing the mail cart. Yes, she has a baby bump.
Don takes that meeting with the board of the American Cancer Society prompted by his opportunistic New York Times anti-tobacco ad. They’re all concerned that the tobacco companies are now aggressively targeting teenagers. Instead of the usual Draperisms about using nostalgia and sentimentality to evoke a positive response, Don wants to use such sentimentality to evoke their unconscious fear of death. The board has some real corporate heavyweights on it, and there’s business to won there beyond the high-profile but not especially lucrative anti-smoking campaign. (This is a point I didn’t make clear enough last week. The really big money in advertising comes as a commission on the buy. If the airtime is free, there’s no buy and 15% of zero equals zero.)
At SCDP, the remaining partners — yes, it’s bye bye Bertie — talk about the business to be won through their newfound philanthropy and ask Ken Cosgrove to use his future father-in-law to line up Dow Chemical as a client. But Ken says he’s not like Pete Campbell. He won’t jeopardize his non-work life with his soon-to-be wife in this way.
Could Megan really be as nice as Amy Adams in Enchanted?
Naturally, as they discuss getting this big new client to replace the controversial cigarette company they lost, they see none of the irony. Dow Chemical looks like a far less controversial client than Lucky Strike now, but, oh Nellie! Just you wait. Napalm, Agent Orange, and that’s just in the next few years of the Vietnam War. Then there’s a not so little apocalypse in India further down the line. But I digress.
In ever optimistic Ossining, Glen Bishop kicks off the central action of the season finale by asking to say goodbye to Sally before she and the rest of the family move away forever. Glen has waited till he knows Betty is out of the house, and Carla rather reluctantly allows him to go up to Sally’s room. What could go wrong?
Betty coming home, for one thing. Following a sweet and perfectly appropriate and chaste farewell scene between Glen and Sally, Betty discovers her one-time ardent admirer in the house and flips out. Flips out as though Glen’s her hated and loved ex, not Don.
Telling her, quite tellingly, that just because she’s sad doesn’t mean everyone else has to be hardly eases the situation for Glen, but it may be the best line of the episode. It ought to be, since it sets the major events of the season finale into motion. It further humiliates Betty, who fires Carla on the spot in what is easily the most disturbing scene of the episode.
Carla was just being a good stand-in mom for Sally, as she has been throughout her life. Would Betty have been as infuriated/frightened/threatened as she was had Glen and Sally been in the living room? Perhaps. But who knows? I’ll get to the oddity of Betty in Season 4 in a few moments.
Don learns of the precipitous firing of his children’s lifelong nanny while meeting with his accountant about selling the house in Ossining and the place in California where Anna Draper was living. Betty calls to say that Don is going to have find someone else to watch the kids while he takes meetings in California.
What to do, what to do?
Meanwhile, Peggy gets a lead on potential new business from her friend Joyce. A model she’s taken a fancy to was fired from a Topaz pantyhose shoot, as was the ad agency who hired her. Maybe Peggy can drum up a little new business for SCDP, the first since the departure of Lucky Strike.
Don has placed his lovely young secretary, and occasional playmate, Megan in charge of the California babysitter search, but it’s not going well. Who could have foreseen that?
Recalling how good she was in comforting Sally, Don tells Megan he’ll double her salary if she comes to California with him and the kids, which of course she will.
Julie Andrews, who played not one but two very fetching nannies during this period, performs a medley of her hits in 1965.
The key is in the lock.
As Don, Megan, and the kids head off to California — and to the happiest place on Earth, Disneyland, home of Tomorrowland — Ken reports to Peggy that the CEO of Topaz was impressed by their intel that the company had parted ways with its agency and is letting SCDP take a shot at their business going forward.
Out in the Golden State, where Don frequently feels so free, he returns to the hotel after a round of meetings and finds that Megan has Sally and Bobby singing lullabies. In French.
Sally plainly adores Megan, Bobby thinks she’s cool, and Don? Well, Don, who makes it his business to see every movie, places Megan in an overwhelmingly popular movie scenario very much of the moment.
“You’re like Maria von Trapp!,” he tells her in admiration, and more.
In other words, Megan is like the bright and beautiful young woman brought in to bring order and happiness to an unruly crew of kids whose somewhat forbidding and distant father, Captain von Trapp, in The Sound of Music version, is usually tending to his worldly concerns.
Don knows he can’t sing as well as the captain (who I believe was actually dubbed) — not unless Jon Hamm has been hiding his musical comedy chops under a bushel — but he can surely envision the parallel even though he’s not a wealthy retired Austrian naval officer about to surreptitiously emigrate to Switzerland rather than serve the Third Reich as a U-boat commander.
Edelweiss, from The Sound of Music.
Don, as we’ve seen many times in his work, thinks cinematically. Why shouldn’t he, on a trip to California, which in 40 years will have an Austrian movie star governor, be inspired by a movie set in Austria? A movie that is the most popular one of the 1960s, no less. But we don’t meet the young Arnold Schwarzenegger in this episode, as that would be a bit too out there, even for this somewhat out there episode.
The next day, while Megan looks after little Gene, Don takes Sally and Bobby to Anna’s house. The kids meet Daddy’s “friend’s” niece, Stephanie — taking a break from UC Berkeley — and soak up the beach ambience. And all those negative ions that the beach produces. Sally notices the “Dick + Anna ’64″ inscription Don left on the wall after he’d finished painting on his last visit, his way of saying goodbye to Anna without going against her sister’s insistence that she not be told of her terminal condition.
Who’s “Dick,” Sally wonders? It’s me, Don explains, “That’s my nickname sometimes.”
Stephanie has a present for Don. It’s Anna’s engagement ring from Don Draper. She wants him to use it well. Not surprisingly, Don interprets this as his late soulmate encouraging him to re-marry.
As Don and the kids plan their trip the next day to Disneyland — Bobby doesn’t want to ride on some old elephant, he wants to fly a new jet — Megan stops in on her way out to a club with an old college friend. She looks smashing, in another of genius costume designer Janey Bryant’s period outfits.
Meanwhile, back in the past, excuse me, the East, Don’s former wife has a very uncomfortable conversation with Henry. Carla has called him, so he knows how precipitous Betty’s move in firing her was. After more than 10 years of outstanding work, Betty hasn’t even given her a reference, and Carla’s severance pay was less than a week’s. Henry, a decent guy, is realizing he has a major problem on his hands.
Before there was Peggy Olson, there was Zoey Bartlett. Elisabeth Moss recently joined an LA reunion of former castmates on another show she was on called The West Wing.
“I wanted a fresh start,” Betty rationalizes. “There is no fresh start,” Henry snaps. “Lives carry on.” Betty complains that he’s not on her side, to which Henry retorts that she never thinks that anyone is.
While Betty, little girl lost in a grown-up woman’s body, lies by herself on Sally’s bare mattress, out in Tomorrowland, Don hears Megan return and knocks on her door. He kisses her as she asks if they should be doing this. But of course, they do, and Don, playing the vulnerable role, tells her after that he needs to know that it means something. It does.
But you don’t know anything about me, he tells her. “You have a good heart,” she answers, “and I know that you’re always trying to be better.” Which is true enough, as far as it goes.
The next day at a futuristic restaurant, Bobby and Sally are squabbling, with Sally knocking over a milkshake after her brother mocks her old lisp. The kids freeze, expecting an eruption, Don bristling with anger himself. But it’s not Betty there to go thermonuclear, it’s Megan. “It’s just a milkshake,” she says calmly as she enlists Don in helping her mop up the mess, easily defusing a mishap that in this family’s past would have marred a special day.
Having returned to New York, Megan awakes in Don’s bed. He feels like himself when he’s with her, Don tells Megan. More likely and to the point, he feels like the man he wants to be, with a woman who lets him be that. And he asks her to marry him, to which Megan happily assents as Don places Anna’s ring on her finger.
While all this has been going on, Peggy has been delivering a very nice pitch to the Topaz pantyhose execs. And Ken Cosgrove, who is one of the few guys at the agency who respects her and works well with her, has succeeded in signing Topaz. It’s only a $250,000 account, but it’s a very good start on the comeback trail for a reeling SCDP.
Now in the office, Don calls Roger, Pete, Lane, and Joan into his office for his big announcement. He is marrying Miss Calvet! Roger is like, who? It’s Megan’s last name, which we’ve all now heard for the first time. “Megan, out there?,” Roger asks, pointing out the door.
“She makes me very happy,” Don says. I believe that’s what Roger said about Jane, as Don scoffed at the time.
“The best or nothing, that is what drives us,” says Jon Hamm, pitching for Mercedes. Notice Ali bouncing around the ring after beating Sonny Liston.
Don and Roger certainly have a lot in common, all of a sudden. Says Roger: “See, Don, this is the way to behave.” They and their two willowy young wives can double date. At the drive-in!
Megan enters the room, to the applause of all, and Roger’s swiftly withdrawn joking suggestion that she get them some ice.
Not knowing of the excitement, and excited for their little coup, Peggy and Ken head to Don’s office with their very good news, which is clearly upstaged.
Later, Peggy gets more of a wet blanket from Don when he tells her that Megan reminds him of her because they have “the same spark,” whatever that means. Megan, he tells her, admires Peggy “as much as I do.”
Ouch! So much for those special feelings from his night of semi-soul baring with her in “The Suitcase.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Faye has called Don again. Megan instructs, er, advises Don that more delay in telling her about their engagement won’t make things go down easier.
Peggy goes off to Joan’s office, where the new director of operations (sans raise) wonders “whatever could” Peggy be interested in discussing.
Understandably disgruntled about this turn of events, in which her business coup gets decidedly short shrift compared to the news that Don is impulsively marrying his much younger secretary, Peggy expresses her dismay about the situation and gets Joan’s sardonic support, including the observation that Don is likely to make his new young wife a copywriter, too.
Peggy’s gone the lone heroine route in her careerist path, and done well, but has just bumped her head against a glass ceiling. The reality is that women didn’t really start getting ahead until they organized. Joan and Peggy could make a very formidable combination in that department.
John Slattery for Lincoln. “It’s not just luxury, it’s smarter than that.” Jaguar should get in touch with Christina Hendricks.
While these two compare notes, Don finally gets around to telling his girlfriend that he’s getting married — which she had predicted — but not to her. Dr. Faye is understandably outraged by this twist.
Then another call takes place. It’s Joan, calling her beloved husband Dr. Blockhead in Vietnam. They gossip playfully, with Joan recounting Don “smiling like a fool, like he was the first man who married his secretary.”
Captain Harris wants to know when she’s going to tell the others what we already know. She’s pregnant, and he’s buying that he is the father. If he makes it through his tour of duty, she’s going to have to pull some fancy footwork for his cuckolding not to be perfectly obvious.
Don still has someone else to tell about the new state of his love affairs. That would be his ex-wife. He hasn’t gotten around to that, either.
Betty, finding the going tougher than expected with Henry Francis, is lying in wait for him as he visits their former family abode in Ossining to meet with his realtor. After adjusting her make-up, and looking like she’s going through some pre-performance anxiety, she acts surprised in a pleased sort of way to have run into him there.
After a brief trip down memory lane, which includes Don finding a long-stashed bottle of booze, Betty, looking meaningfully at her ex, allows as how things aren’t all that great in her new abode. Probably sensing that Betty thinks she has an ultimate trump card with him and eager to short-circuit the situation, Don tells her that he’s engaged.
“Bethany Van Nuys,” she guesses, referring to the girlfriend who looks like a younger version of her whom she had met some months ago when her reaction had nearly ruined her and Henry’s dinner meeting with future New York Mayor John Lindsay’s top advisor.
It’s intriguing how Betty’s thought went to someone like her. But no. Her next guess was, however, dead on. Don’s secretary, who went to California. And looks a lot more like Sally’s beloved schoolteacher, Suzanne. Who undoubtedly had Sally raving about her back home.
Discretely gulping down her disappointment, Betty gamely offers Don her congratulations, slipping off her key to the house for the last time and handing it over to Don.
Later that night, Don and Megan lie in bed together in his Greenwich Village man cave apartment, which I suspect we won’t see again. Megan is sleeping contentedly, her head on Don’s chest. But he’s wide awake, staring out his window. Sonny and Cher’s smash 1965 hit “I Got You Babe” plays as the season comes to a close.
The essential milieu of Mad Men is not especially admirable.
Indeed you do, Don. But is that regret, fear, second thoughts, planning for the future, or just thoughtfully assessing before moving forward that has you staring out that window? Or is Don Draper’s studied enigmatic pose so deeply ingrained that this is what he looks like before he falls off to sleep?
Don Draper is a natural Californian. He’s beginning to get it. He keeps imagineering new vistas with old dreams. When he’s in California, he acts as though he is invigorated by all the negative ions at the beach. But it may just be his oft-expressed sense that California is the future.
Roger Sterling, on the other hand, is a natural New Yorker. Older, deeply entitled, heavy on the attitude, hanging on to power through cleverness and longevity.
Each represents a different archetype.
The defining delusion of California is one of endless reinvention, that you can be whatever you want without consequences.
The defining delusion of New York is that it can run the world without running it into the ground, as it nearly just did.
Mad Men begins in 1960 with New York City at its peak, of power and style and functionality, beginning its slow decline as new power centers emerge. But even though the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair had its Tent of Tomorrow, Tomorrowland is in Disneyland. With all its bright and shiny corporate futurism mixing with the emerging pop culture, suffused with the sense that anything is achievable through technology.
California, as I may have written on occasion in the past, for myself and others, is the place where the future begins. Though that’s certainly not the latest storyline. Even so, former and likely future Governor Jerry Brown, the old effervescence rising anew, likes to say now that “the breakdown is going to become the breakthrough.” In fact, it’s one of his catchphrases.
California, in the Mad Men universe, is very much in the ascendancy in the period, peaking probably 20 years later. The state, under Jerry Brown’s father’s governorship, has already surpassed New York as the nation’s largest in population and economic vitality. Increasingly, the culture is coming from California as well. And let’s not forget the central irony that Mad Men is a show set in New York that is produced in California.
This is definitely no longer the programming most frequently seen in the Don Draper household
Don has shown some signs of growth this season, but much of it is an illusion. I don’t think people really change. I think they, we, can become better versions of what we are, more efficient, more impactful, hopefully less destructive.
But Don doesn’t really want to grow as psychologists would think of it, he wants to become what he wants to be, which is a very different matter. California spurs that sense of himself.
With her insistence on confronting the past, Dr. Faye showed that she didn’t really understand Don, her degree in mindbending notwithstanding. Don doesn’t want to confront the past; he wants to embrace the future.
And Megan symbolizes the future. She’s not a New Yorker, either. She’s French Canadian, a seemingly amiable and flexible sort who can fit in wherever she likes. She’ll do great in California, when she finally moves there.
So Don’s rejection of Dr. Faye was nearly inevitable, even before recalling that she is terrible with kids, and specifically, terrible with Sally — who is probably the most important person in Don’s life whose name isn’t Don. Or Dick.
Megan, on the other hand, is great with kids. Add to that her youth, beauty, brightness, and seeming acquiescence, and it’s a very potent mix for a still young man who feels he’s losing a step in a fast-accelerating culture.
Of course, we, not to mention Don, really know very little about Megan, who at times comes off like Amy Adams in Enchanted. Is she really that awfully wonderful? Well, let’s say that it’s not impossible, but …
From my standpoint, the choice between Dr. Faye and Megan is no choice at all. Dr. Faye is clearly the best choice. She’s very smart, highly educated, courageous in making her way as a top professional in what is still very much a man’s world, smashing looking, very challenging yet nice. And we know a lot about her. What’s not to like?
Plus, she’s a great conversationalist. What’s Don going to talk about with Megan? Sure, she’s smart, but he knows far more than she. They’re not equals or anything close to it.
But if Don doesn’t want to be challenged, or at least not as challenged as he is by Dr. Faye, there we are. And Megan has great rapport with Don’s kids, especially troubled Sally.
I think that Sally is probably the most important character on the show in the end, second perhaps only to Don. Which made the wave of speculation that swept across the Internet prior to the season finale that she would commit suicide very curious.
Many think that Peggy is our window into the show. But it’s really Sally. She is the only major character — and she is a very major character now — who is a modern figure. She’s a baby boomer. (In my lifespan, she would be a big sister.) All the others, even Peggy, are figures from the past. Now Peggy can be a figure of the present, too — she’s actually a little younger than Jerry Brown — but the Peggy we see has a lot of living ahead of her to become a contemporary figure.
Sally’s travails, frequently at the hands of her increasingly difficult mother Betty, have been painful to watch. Just as it’s been painful seeing Betty this season.
Last season, given her situation with a cheating, frequently inattentive husband who showed after their Rome trip that he simply didn’t get her, I found her quite sympathetic. This season, it’s been hard not to dislike her.
I don’t know why she’s become so difficult, and the show hasn’t really, well, shown us. She’s married now to one of the most prominent men in New York, a senior advisor to a governor of New York who is not just a governor, but a governor named Rockefeller.
Betty should be what she wants to be — what she dramatically demonstrated in Rome with Conrad Hilton that she could be — a glittering part of a glittering power circle. Yet for all we see of her, she’s still stuck as a dissatisfied housewife in the suburbs.
This is where the show being so insular this season has suffered. That, and it being divorced from big historical events, unlike in its first three seasons.
This was a fine finale, especially with Don’s big surprise move, but it can’t compare to Season 3′s finale, which I just watched again.
The best three episodes in Season 3 were the final three. They built upon one another, culminating in as satisfying a season finale as I can recall watching for any show.
This season, the best episode, “The Suitcase,” came in the middle. And much that came after seemed to invalidate, or at least seriously ignore, what many thought that episode meant. Especially for Peggy.
Season 3 was more cohesive than Season 4. But Mad Men is a novel for television, in which meaning emerges over time. We won’t be able to fully assess this season finale — or Season 4 as a whole — until the story is complete.
You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes … www.newwestnotes.com.
One aspect of coming to terms with your own homosexuality is learning about gay culture and history. Unlike your national heritage or family history, school or your parents probably won’t have taught you about Oscar Wilde, Colette, Divine, Stonewall, Harvey Milk, and the ongoing fight against AIDS. Getting acquainted with the past struggles of gays, lesbians and transgendered people, but also some of their incredible successes, is part of what helps you brush off the sadness and shame most of us still unfortunately grow up feeling.
I recently got a chance to meet someone who reminded me of this again, in Rudolph Brazda, the last known survivor of the Pink Triangles. Last June, author Jean-Luc Schwab sent our office a press release. He had written a book with Rudolph Brazda, who in 1942 had been sent to a concentration camp in nazi Germany because he was a homosexual. The term “last known” means that there could be more, but very few have decided to speak up. Brazda was approached by Jean-Luc Schwab, and together, they wrote a memoir: Itinraire d’un triangle rose.
The release announced a press conference, for which they were traveling to Paris since Brazda lives in Germany. He is 97 years-old, and such a trip was a tremendous effort for him. My editing director Christophe Martet and I went with a camera, hoping to get a chance to talk to him. We turned out to be the only journalists who had bothered showing up at all. Brazda was kind enough to tell his story to us on video, helped by Schwab, who translated. As I was holding the camera, I realized I was facing someone who had gone to jail twice, and was then sent to a concentration camp, simply for being gay, while I enjoy the freedom to be who I am out in the open. Furthermore, Brazda’s story is one of survival, and when he was finally freed from the camp, he made a life for himself, found love and work and lived “like everyone else.” It really did get better for Rudolph Brazda, and even though the interview was a difficult moment for him, it ended with an incredible smile.
Though these kind of stories are still complicated to deal with in France, a country in which the first official plaque recognizing the homosexual deportation was unveiled only a month ago, it is heartwarming to read some of the reactions that were gathered when American LGBT websites like Towleroad, Joe My God and Queerty posted our video. The emotion you can read in the comments are proof that stories of the past still help us all tremendously. And the wave of gay teen suicide sadly reminds us that there is still plenty of sadness and shame to be brushed off.
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Running Wilde the freshman would-be comedy starring Arrested Development’s Will Arnett and Felicity’s Keri Russell, is on the verge of cancellation. Rightfully so, it seems. The comedy has been criticized for being light on laughs, and wasting the immense talent of its stars. With Wilde likely fading into ratings-shy Lone Star territory, I think it’s time for Arnett especially to rethink his career. The guy is funny in anything he’s been in no matter the material — it’s time the material catches up with him. (Yes, I enjoyed him The Brothers Solomon.) That’s why I’m making a few legitimate suggestions to Arnett (perhaps one or two aren’t so legit) in selecting his new job. Of course I say this wishing, hoping, and praying an Arrested Development movie comes first. Taste the happy.
Go to The Office: Steve Carell is leaving a huge opening for another comedic star to take the reigns of Dunder Mifflin. Even if a current cast member gets promoted to Michael Scott’s position, I still say Arnett could shine as the Dwight Shrute foil to, well, Dwight Shrute should he succeed Michael.
Join Parks & Recreation: The series really came into its own last year, and Arnett’s aloofness could truly take it to a new level. Arnett would fit in perfectly with wife Amy Poehler and her department of incompetence.
Wait out Alec Baldwin’s ultimate 30 Rock departure: Look, I’m not saying Baldwin is going to leave the show just yet, but it wouldn’t shock me if the political activist (seen here in the pages of the Huffington Post) would eventually leave at the end of his contract. If it’s not politics, it’ll be movie roles serving as an incentive for Baldwin to leave Rockefeller Plaza. A TGS run by self-doubting homosexual boy-man Devon Banks would soften the blow of Baldwin’s departure.
Guest star on Modern Family: The hit comedy has already featured memorable appearances by Nathan Lane, Shelly Long, and 30 Rock irregular Elizabeth Banks, and an appearance here could serve as a launching pad for a family-oriented series of his own. Arnett as the head of the household? Not been there, not done that.
Create a series about a talk show host whose inmates run the asylum. It could be the next 30 Rock only — well, stranger. Channel your inner Dave Letterman or Craig Ferguson, and get your Arrested Development writers to whip up a killer concept and cast.
Develop and star in a sequel to Seabiscuit. In Seabiscuit 2, Arnett would appear as a tough cop who finds it hard to get used to his new partner, a horse. Think Turner & Hooch but more tragic.
Do a sitcom with Sean Hayes. “nuff said.
Go for the “Gob.” Why not take Gob Bluth, move him to Las Vegas, and try to keep up with real magicians. I know an Arrested spin-off is a few years too late, but as Gob himself would say ‘cmon!’
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When I first set eyes on Joe Sibilia (@joe_sibilia), the enigmatic entrepreneur behind the Springfield, Massachusetts-based urban renaissance experiment, Gasoline Alley, I thought… wrestler. He’s a big guy. Perhaps it was his uncanny resemblance to Jesse Ventura.
Stepping outside to tour the grounds, Joe pulls his shirt off. In a rough neighborhood, his tough look could almost be an evolutionary adaptation to the hostile environment in which he’s chosen to incubate Gasoline Alley. Turning hardened inner-city youth into entrepreneurs and converting a polluted, cement-covered wasteland into a model of urban renewal, Joe is betting on an extreme makeover in one of Massachusetts’ most notorious Brownfield sites.
He points across the street at bulk fuel-storage facilities that have corroded to the point where oil and other hazardous material mixes with rainwater to form toxic run-off that “irrigates” what green has survived the heavy hand of industry.
Taking no more than five steps up the sidewalk, Joe stops again, peers at the street corner, and recounts a gang-triggered murder that took place there a year prior — just steps away from his office. Yet, despite the steep environmental, social and financial challenges to urban revitalization in this community just 90 miles west of Boston, I witnessed a rebirth-in-motion of the most incredible kind.
With a deeply-held belief that job creation is the most effective means of economic and community development, Joe set up Gasoline Alley Foundation to teach inner-city youth to be successful entrepreneurs who own the responsibility for revitalizing the communities where they live. However, the mission statement is but a billboard to the brazen beat of change that is taking place in Gasoline Alley today.
Joe walked me up the block where I met one of his kids, Marquis, working with others to erect an “amphitheater” in a dug-out slope adjacent to the main building. As we stepped down the make-shift stairs and hopped over reclaimed planks of wood, I was struck that these kids have probably never been in an amphitheater — or perhaps any kind of theater for that matter — yet, there they were, shaping Joe’s vision out of rubble.
As chief taskmaster, constructioneer-at-large, and ombudsman to social-services organizations who have assigned these kids to Gasoline Alley, Joe issued commands like a drill sergeant with just the right mix of compassion and spunk. The kids respect him. And he respects them.
Rounding the amphitheater, we popped over to the ReStore, a mall of sorts where locals can purchase the oddest collection of reclaimed materials from demolished homes, buildings and wrecking sites in the area. Inside this Home Depot-like mash-up between a thrift shop and a bazaar, everything has a purpose. Aaron, another one of Joe’s kids, puts its best: “Ya know the saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure? Over here there is no trash. It’s all just treasure.”
From the ReStore, we swung by the “Man Fort” — named by the ladies who work in The Gasoline Alley Salon — a ’70s looking (and I mean that in the coolest possible way) lounge where Joe incubates social entrepreneurs. Having built and sold 19 companies, including Marty’s Juice Pepsi and Bank of Western Massachusetts to Chittenden Bank of Vermont, he knows a thing or two about start-ups. While I have not had an opportunity to experience Joe’s mentorship (and trust me, I am determined to get there), I suspect his version of social-entrepreneur boot camp would dish out grit in ways that would be foreign to better-known incubators.
From the Man Fort, Joe takes me over to meet the kids at Metal Wood Common Good. Put simply, this Gasoline Alley “shop” turns trash into functional art and furniture. Need I say more? And then there is the nursery and terraced gardens; the auto-retrofitting garage; the salon; Social(k) — a unique service that provides companies employee retirement plans that are screened for environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues — and more… all packed inside a two-block stretch of rescued wasteland. The full mind-blowing plan is worth a read.
The kicker for me is that this forgotten place in hood of Western Massachusetts is the home of CSRwire, a highly successful business Joe started to help corporations that get the bottom line benefits of being responsible distribute news about their bold commitments to solve the world’s most urgent issues. In fact, it was CSRwire that brought me to Springfield to meet Joe.
On my drive to the meeting that morning, I expected what you would expect… a splashy office filled with “suits.” Not even close. By basing CSRwire inside Gasoline Alley, Joe infuses purpose into his business. He immerses his team in a living and breathing vessel of his conviction that corporate social responsibility can be harnessed for competitive advantage. The authenticity that is elusive to so many is the cornerstone of Gasoline Alley.
Like all champions, you are only as good as your last match. What Joe has accomplished with Gasoline Alley is impressive, yet the potential is far greater. Wrestlers like challengers. So, I’ll challenge Joe to a few takedowns:
1. In America, Brands Rule. Take the Gasoline Alley brand national to serve and promote revitalization ecosystems across America.
2. The Venue is the Forum. A breakout opportunity exists for Gasoline Alley to define a niche for itself that is unique from, but in the vein of, world-class forums of legendary do-gooders — think audacious versions of Pop!Tech, Ted, The Feast or SoCap.
3. Feed the Beast, Web 2.0 Style. A few well-placed investments in strategically aligned social media ventures would provide Gasoline Alley worldwide assets, leverage and scalable opportunities on the Internet.
Wrestling is “a sport or contest in which two unarmed individuals struggle hand-to-hand with each attempting to subdue or unbalance the other.” Social entrepreneurs wrestle every day, trying to unbalance the status quo, but Joe Sibilia takes the sport to an entirely new level.
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A US man has pleaded guilty to supporting a Somali Islamist militant group and encouraging attacks on the writers of cartoon show South Park.
Prosecutors said Zachary Adam Chesser, 20, was outraged by the cartoon's perceived mockery of the prophet Muhammad.
Chesser sought twice to travel to Somalia to join al-Shabab, which the US designates as a terrorist group.
The American Muslim convert faces up to 30 years in prison.
Chesser of Fairfax County in the state of Virginia also posted to an Islamist militant website the personal contact information of people who had joined an “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” Facebook group.
“Zachary Chesser seriously endangered the lives of innocent people who will remain at risk for many years to come,” US Attorney Neil MacBride said in a statement.
“His solicitation of extremists to murder US citizens also caused people throughout the country to fear speaking out – even in jest – lest they also be labelled as enemies who deserved to be killed.”
US investigators said Chesser was a follower of radical US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to be in Yemen with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Prosecutors said Chesser posted messages online from Mr al-Awlaki in which he called for violent attacks, and posted links to internet forums giving advice on how to plan them.
In addition, Chesser pleaded guilty to urging people to plant suspicious packages in public places in order to “densensitise” police so a real bomb would escape notice.
Al-Shabab wants to impose a strict version of Sharia law in Somalia, where they control most of the south and centre of the country. The fragile UN-backed government only controls parts of the capital, Mogadishu.
The US Justice Department said that in April Chesser sought to goad Islamist militants to attack the writers of the popular US cartoon South Park in retaliation for the show's depiction of Muhammad wearing a bear suit.
Prosecutors said he urged online readers to “pay them a visit”.
Chesser pleaded guilty to two counts of communicating threats and soliciting crimes of violence, as well as to supporting an al-Qaeda linked terrorist group.
We polled political observers across the country, scouring our nation for that one thing that public opinion seems to be sure was lost: a good man politician.
Perhaps we should just elect women and be done with it. After all, when was the last time a woman ruined her political career over hookers? Or erected and protected a trillion-dollar Ponzi scheme based on toxic mortgages that took down most of the economy with it? Or committing troops based on non-existent WMDs or ran off to South America for a lover while her staff continued to cover for her? Or ranting against the evils of homosexuality while having sex with girls? But we’re not talking about women; our magazine, The Good Men Project, is about men, so we are stuck with the fellas and an inquiry into their potential goodness.
Here’s the thing. The country has been blinded by the rhetoric from both sides, pounding away at our humanity. We found good guy politicians, and not just one. From state senators to U.S. senators; from mayors to governors; Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; from the Deep South to the Midwest and from coast to coast, all is not lost. Our list is far from perfect. But from Democratic Mayor of Newark Cory Booker to Republican Governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels, and from Al Franken to Richard Lugar, we found guys honestly trying to get it right.
(To see the full list, click here.)
Let’s not sugarcoat it: America is in a heap of trouble. From a stalled economy, to global warming, to continued involvement in two separate wars, to exploding prison populations, a failed education system, and 20 million kids growing up without a father at home, our political system is paralyzed. Our differences as a people have always been our greatest strength but at the moment they are our greatest weakness.
I contend that if we want to change anything, and begin to deal with our problems, “goodness” — defined as honesty and willingness to work cooperatively — should be how we as Americans choose our candidates. Rather than a revolving door of yet more partisan politicians being voted in (Tea Party on right and labor-backed liberals on left) we need to focus on politicians who put the venom aside.
Yes, we have been here before, but it seems to me this historic moment is a particularly deep hole of political despair, the kind that in other countries gave rise to real evil. (Think Hitler.) In the end, whenever one group of people starts blaming another as the problem, as our two-party system has, trouble is right behind. And we are all responsible.
This is a democracy, so we can’t walk away from the responsibility for voting in good, bad and ugly. We could go to a benevolent dictator but I would suggest focusing on who is truly good first. It’s up to us to get out of the intractable political situation that is America in 2010. At current course and speed this ship is headed for an iceberg that will take us down.
Our bipartisan list of 10 good men politicians is an attempt to move the debate in that direction, toward politicians who set aside personal interest and name calling for the common good. Don’t believe the attack ads. Don’t listen to the groundswell that says that every politician is, by definition, evil. There are good men, and women, in our political system; no doubt we need more of them, as the stakes couldn’t be any higher. But if all we do is continue to broaden the cavern between blue and red states, we are sure to fail as a republic. We will never be able to solve the complex and serious problems that face our nation.
Just for the record, I am a bleeding-heart-liberal-Massachusetts-Democrat, raised with a houseful of lesbians and arrested at age eight for protesting the Vietnam War with my dad. But I’m voting Republican for governor. Charlie Baker is the best man for the job.
Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist and founder of www.goodmenproject.org
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John Kay in the Financial Times Wednesday makes an excellent observation: “Manufacturing fetishism is back.” Kay then unrolls a graceful little essay that takes apart the notion that you can’t have a growing, prosperous economy without making things — a theme that tends to arise at times like this when folks are shaken up by recession and crisis. Kay patiently works his way through a kind of Econ 101 disquisition, which mostly involves the links between productivity and the division of labor, then dips into a short and trenchant lesson in economic history. In most of mankind’s history, you couldn’t shuffle papers for a living in large numbers — or teach, or write, or dream up software or deals — because productivity was abysmal and the division of labor mostly involved killing animals or growing food. But, as Kay writes, “Attitudes formed in those more primitive times remain deeply embedded.” In other words, we feel guilty, and we, in his term, “fetishize” labor.
“Today manual labor is cheap because the world has no shortage of hands,” writes Kay. “The iconic manufactured goods of modern life are the iPod and the cruise missile, the Viagra tablet, and the Coca-Cola can. For each the resource content is a negligible part of the value of the product and so is the manufacturing cost. They are, in reality, packaged services.”
This seems right. I would add a few thoughts. First, this dream of a return to manufacturing is an integral part of the larger complex of arguments that come and go with economic cycles: competitiveness, decline, we-don’t-make-stuff-anymore. Second, while we provide lip service to the desire to return to the days when children could follow their daddies into the local steel mill, most parents would rather their children become accountants or M.B.A.s. In other words, manufacturing is for other folks, not us, given a choice. Third, based on the political chatter that’s flying around, manufacturing packed up and left the U.S. in the administration of Barack Obama. Hardly. We’ve been shedding our manufacturing base probably since the ’60s, certainly since the ’70s, and some of those decades were pretty prosperous. Fourth, as a considerable amount of reporting by our own Matt Miller suggests here, here and here, a tremendous amount of basic industry has left to nations that can do it more cheaply. But there is still a decent amount of new company formation and old company retrofitting going on around cities like Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles. The problem is there are fewer jobs, because these companies tend to be extremely high tech and efficient. And the days when someone could drop out of school and take a job at the local chair-making plant are gone — unless you want to move to China.
The major danger to a post-industrial society that depends more on brains than brawn is if it suddenly gets really stupid (that doesn’t just apply to our financial woes). The major way for this to occur, of course, is to allow the educational system to decay and collapse. OK, that’s a big issue right now, and it’s a little unclear where we’re going. But for all our anguish over primary and secondary education, we still have a large and impressive, if frighteningly expensive, higher-education system. Another way to true post-industrial decline, which is currently in vogue in certain circles, is to resort to the old isolationist notion of autarchy. There’s a lively American tradition here: Let’s go it alone. Screw the foreigners. Since globalization provides all those willing hands to make things so cheaply, let’s pretend They don’t exist. Let’s buy American. Let’s restrict immigration (thus cutting off a source of both cheaper labor and brains, not to say youthful souls to support us in our old age). Let’s raise trade barriers and subsidize basic industry. This, in essence, is the nostalgic, let’s-return-to-the-’60s impulse. Let’s make like a larger, more complex version of, say, Myanmar or North Korea or Albania before the Albanians got smart.
Indeed, even those who wouldn’t get caught dead spouting isolationist sentiments are really suggesting such a step when they argue that the government can somehow revive the manufacturing base that existed 50 years ago.
Markets need not be totally free, but the autarchic impulse would be fatal, if only because it will restrict Kay’s division of labor, making us steadily poorer, not to say less safe. Part of the problem, of course, is that competing with brains rather than brawn (and natural resources) is tough: It’s like being a startup company in a particularly fluid, fast-changing industry. The rewards can be great, but there is no safety net and competition is unrelenting. Over time, wealth may increase, but your pre-eminence may flag. You will sense decline. You will tire of struggle. You will recall those glory days of a robust working class and of cities full of smokestacks. You will believe the way to get those good, secure, union jobs back is to reduce the ranks of the symbolic analysts, the abstract thinkers, the paper pushers, the M.B.A.s because, after all, it’s a zero-sum game. Us and them. Of course it’s not, just as international trade is not.
But when you feel that manufacturing fetishism coming over you, consider one historical reality: In the days of industrial ascendancy, roughly from the post-Civil War to post-World War II, most of America peered yearning backwards at what they saw as the true spring of authenticity: the family farm. Who wants to get up and milk the damn cow? – Robert Teitelman
Robert Teitelman is editor in chief of The Deal.
Currently, we’re in the throes of a hugely cynical election cycle–one where many candidates are exploiting economic anxiety while offering few specific solutions outside of “shrinking government.” Well, here’s something specific: medical costs will continue to rise and more people will find themselves in debt because of it. More reform, not less, is needed to protect the family economy.
A recently published report by Demos and the Access Project finds that more than half of low to middle income families in 2008 reported carrying medical debt on their credit cards. For many, charging on plastic merely delayed the pain, providing only short-term relief.
It is a sad state of affairs that in the midst of an economic downturn millions of families face economic ruin as a result of inadequate health coverage. For them, illness spells financial disaster.
The report, Sick and the in the Red, finds that families with medical debt carried higher overall credit card balances. Not surprisingly, since many low and moderate income Americans have monthly expenses that exceed their income, families with medical debt were nearly twice as likely to use savings to reduce their credit card debt than those without medical bills.
Our research also found that families with medical debt carried an average of $2,194 in medical debt on their cards. Co-payments for office visits and deductibles were commonly reported medical expenses contributing to credit card debt. We also found that more than half of families cited prescription drug costs (51%) and two in five (42%) cited dental expenses as the contributing factors for the medical debt on their credit cards. These families exchange health-related pain and discomfort for financial pain that results from late fees, penalties and escalating interest rates when bills are charged to credit cards.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama includes provisions that will address the affordability of health insurance and health care–of the most well-known: prohibiting the practice of denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, prohibiting annual benefits limits for essential services and extending dependent’s coverage in all plans up to 26 years of age. For those who will benefit, the newly enacted law cannot be implemented quickly enough.
Election-year bickering will do nothing to provide relief to those now struggling to pay their medical bills. Only swift implementation of the health reform law will ensure that millions of Americans are not buried under medical debt.
This post was co-written by Mark Rukavina of The Access Project
Political theater was at its finest on October 18, when a slew of third party candidates joined Democratic nominee, Andrew Cuomo and Republican nominee, Carl Paladino for what might be New York State’s only gubernatorial debate this campaign season. Former Manhattan madam, Kristen Davis, contributed to the farce as the gubernatorial candidate for the newly created anti-prohibition party.
Ms. Davis believes that prostitution should be legalized so that New York State can increase revenue by taxing the commercial sex industry and, also, for the overall “benefit of society.” Davis’ candidacy may be just another publicity stunt in our reality show driven culture, but her inclusion in Monday’s debate gave her pro-legalization stance on prostitution a legitimate platform. Ms. Davis’ quaint vision of legalized prostitution fails to recognize the connection between legal sex markets and human trafficking.
Coerced prostitution is one of the primary forms of exploitation that trafficked women and girls are subjected to in the developed world. Legalized prostitution allows traffickers to hide victims in plain sight as consenting sex workers. Legal or decriminalized pandering makes a portion of a sex trafficking victims venture legitimate. In recent decades, several countries have changed their policies and laws on prostitution. Because there is a positive correlation between commercial sex work, human trafficking and organized crime.
In 2000, the Netherlands, historically one of the most hospitable countries for commercial sex, formalized its prostitution policy by lifting its ban on brothels. At the time, advocates felt that regulating brothels would provide better protection to vulnerable women, particularly migrant trafficking victims. Unfortunately, regulating brothels was not enough to stymie the impact of global human trafficking on prostitution in the Netherlands. Instead, licensed brothels became a magnet for human trafficking. Having found that regulation had not curbed trafficking the city of Amsterdam decided to purchase former brothels, and in some instances loan them out to up and coming designers and photographers. In 2008, Job Cohen, Mayor of Amsterdam, told The New York Times, “We’ve realized this is no longer about small-scale entrepreneurs, but that big crime organizations are involved here in trafficking women, drugs, killings and other criminal activities.” Amsterdam has a reputation as an open-minded city. Its traditions may be too avant-garde for some, but Amsterdam’s regulated sex industry was attracting a criminal element that was beyond the scope of the atmosphere of tolerance that it is famous for.
Amsterdam’s experience has shown that regulation of prostitution is not an effective means of cessation against global human trafficking. In contrast, Sweden’s method of decriminalizing prostitution while criminalizing the purchase of sex and pimping has lead to a decrease in the number of human trafficking cases. The criminalization of the purchase of sexual services was made into law in 1999. In the decade since the law was enacted, reports indicate that Sweden appears to be the only country in the European Union where sex trafficking and prostitution have not increased. By criminalizing the purchase of sex, and decriminalizing prostitution authorities show that the law is on the side of the victim who is exploited in the process. In Sweden, prostitution is considered to be a form of violence against women. Under the Swedish law, jail terms are permitted. Although, to date most purchasers have been punished with fines. The primary deterrent of the law is being publicly labeled as a john.
When johns fear the loss of their privacy, prostitution becomes less profitable for traffickers. Sweden’s model shows that criminalizing everything about prostitution except for the prostitutes themselves, works. Variations on Sweden’s prostitution decriminalization model have been adopted into law in Iceland and Norway. In spite of this trend, a recent court ruling in Canada may legalize brothels and pimping. Prostitution is legal under Canadian law. However, in September an Ontario justice ruled that Canada’s laws against pimping, brothels and communicating for the purposes of prostitution violated women’s rights to “freedom of expression and security of the person.” Canada’s federal government has filed an appeal against this ruling.
The fight against global sex trafficking is counterproductive if countries label prostitution as degrading work, while attempting to normalize and regulate the process. Many traditional red light districts were set up in order to discourage deviants from raping upstanding women in other parts of town. The bottom line is, if so- called sex work is not appropriate for ones own daughter or sister; it is not appropriate for anyone. Whether or not anyone would willingly choose to prostitute themselves is a separate debate. To the extent that legitimized prostitution increases the demand for human trafficking, a contemporary form of slavery, it must be condemned.
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My new office has four high-and-wide bookcases, which is to say that these chipboard extravaganzas take up half my available wall space. They’re stuffed with a thousand science tomes, technical reports, and a potpourri of notebooks. They’re also the first things seen by anyone who inadvertently sashays into my quarters.
I assume visitors will be impressed by this pulpwood paean to erudition, and will treat me accordingly. But frankly, I’m not sure I’m impressed.
Yes, there’s a lot of information in this stack of literae scriptae, but most of it will never be looked at again, and the rest is largely cryptic: books with tidbits of knowledge I might someday need, but won’t know are there. More likely than not, I’ll just do a Google search.
So I’m thinking, maybe I should just scan it all, write it to a hard disk, and then toss the texts. At the least, I’d do the boss a favor by sparing him the expense of endlessly heating and cooling all that cellulose. And by turning this mini-library into a virtual Kindle, maybe I’d have real access to its contents.
Mind you, I’m reluctant, even in principle. Books are a special case. Unlike that short report I just sent to the printer, they have both cachet and cost. Throwing out a book is like throwing out perfectly good food.
That’s an issue of personal inhibition. But what’s really tripping me up are the practical constraints. Few of these publications are yet available electronically. Of course, I could scan them myself, but at a minute a page, I’d be busy with this project for more than a year, every working minute of every working day. That might prove tedious, not to mention as boring as pine.
Even if I could hire some highly-trained weasels to do the scanning, I wouldn’t have the disk space to hold all those image files. I figure it would take 10 or 20 terabytes, or if you prefer, a boxful of thumb drives.
But that number, while beyond what our IT department is willing to give me, isn’t actually that far beyond. An order of magnitude or so. And since the price of digital storage drops by half every five hundred days, in a few years it would be economically possible to encode all this pulp as bits and bytes. Maybe I should put an appeal for weasels on craigslist.
Still, the really mind-blowing alternative to books-as-wallpaper is something a bit farther down the pike: practical storage at the atomic level. A month ago, IBM researchers demonstrated techniques for interacting with single iron atoms using a scanning tunneling microscope. If they can exploit this type of technology for computer memory, then DRAM chips would shrink in size by a factor of a million. The next step would be to develop 3-D memory — data cubes rather than data chips. That would garner a further scale reduction.
Consider this: if you could store merely one bit per iron atom, then a chunk of memory the size of a sand grain could hold five million terabytes, even assuming that 90% of the atoms in that grain are part of the read/write infrastructure, rather than actual memory bits. That’s 100 thousand times the book collection of the Library of Congress. It’s also (more than) equal to all the words ever uttered by humans, in case having space for a complete archive of our species’ chit-chat is something you’ve always wanted.
There are some people who think we’ll soon have the capability to take such a “data-grain” – perhaps embedded in the scalp — and interface it to our consciousness. If so, then you can really impress folks at the water cooler by spiking your conversation with facts and bon mots drawn from the entire human experience. Google on legs.
I’m not quite so optimistic that such an interface to our brains is near to hand, but the more realistic possibility of squeezing all the wood pulp crowding my office into the smallest of hand-held devices has given me a new perspective.
In particular, we may be the last generation to festoon our offices with paper, sewn and glued up into one-pound data packets called books.
Sell chipboard short.
The Patapsco River, which flows through Baltimore into the Chesapeake Bay, holds a special place in our nation’s history. It was at the mouth of the Patapsco at Fort McHenry where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write The Star Spangled Banner nearly 200 years ago. The Patapsco River was a place of pride then, and it is again — for different reasons — today.
Now, the river is the site of a major restoration effort that is creating jobs, improving clean water, revitalizing fish and wildlife habitat, boosting recreation, and reconnecting people to our natural heritage. In fact, the Patapsco is on the leading edge of a major river restoration trend. This coming year will be the ‘Year of the River’ as several big dams are torn down from Maine to Washington State.
Backhoes and excavators will soon be hard at work on the Patapsco, dismantling the 209-foot-long concrete Simkins Dam. The dam removal is part of a broad effort to bring the river back to life. Removal of the outdated Union Dam upstream was completed last month. Studies are underway for the future removal of the hazardous Bloede Dam downstream, where several swimmers have died in recent years. The dam removals will help boost Maryland’s economy by supporting jobs in the construction, engineering, and scientific and technical consulting sectors.
American Rivers is proud to have played a lead role in what will be the largest dam removal to date in Maryland. This project and others have made the state a leader in river restoration and clean water protection. And thanks to the partnership of American Rivers, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Friends of the Patapsco Valley State Park, the effort on the Patapsco will reverberate downstream — improving the health of the ailing Chesapeake Bay with renewed transport of sediment and habitat for fish and wildlife. Hopefully the dam removal on the Patapsco will be a catalyst, spurring other restoration and protection efforts on the river and in Baltimore Harbor.
The Patapsco is a model for how we can restore rivers and reconnect communities to rivers across the region, and the nation. In fact, the Obama Administration should take special note of this success as it puts the final touches on its America’s Great Outdoors initiative — the administration’s strategy for 21st century conservation, to be unveiled next month.
Tearing down old, unsafe dams opens up all kinds of new opportunities. Healthy rivers give so much to our communities in terms of economic, health, recreation, fish and wildlife, and quality of life benefits. Healthy rivers are a wonderful source of civic pride. The Patapsco is still a place of resilience and inspiration. I hope the rebirth we witness as these dams come down spurs others to restore rivers in their own backyards.
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It starts out with one harmless white lie, then another, and another.
The challenge of starting a service-oriented business or any small company is that you have no corporate work history, no client referrals, no resume with your company name on it. Often times you feel like a small fish in a very large ocean and no one even knows you’re there. This gets reinforced by creditors yapping about a lack of financial history and vendors demanding large six-month deposits just to do business with them. By the time you get in front of a client, there’s an instinct that says “Act bigger than you are.”
Many of the businesses I’ve helped set up run into this trap. They believe they have to spend a lot of money on furniture and expensive office space with fancy monitors and cool art in the reception area (even if they don’t have a receptionist). And only a few like to admit they work out of their garage, let alone their bedroom. I myself spent money I didn’t really have on letterhead I could have just as easily printed out and business cards with a cool smooth finish just to appear established.
Customers are precious and often scarce at the beginning. You would do almost anything to keep the clients you have and try almost anything to get new ones. It starts with things like under-bidding a job to get your foot in the door. Which may lead to agreeing to unrealistic time lines. Next comes committing staff that doesn’t exist or promising materials you don’t yet have. I’m not saying that these are outright fabrications. Rather, you have convinced yourself that this is the only way to get and keep the job. And so you stretch the truth, and with it you over-extend your bandwidth, put a strain on your employee relationships, and risk your reputation.
Entrepreneurs are a confident breed. We think we can accomplish anything and overcome any obstacle thrown our way. And we often can. But long term, running at 110 percent all the time takes its toll. What if at least some of it could be avoided?
A friend of mine started her own company right around the same time I did. From the start, she ran things differently. She called it “Brutal Honesty.” Confident and secure in her own skin, she would tell her clients that yes, her offerings were more expensive, but she offered the best service and no one would take care of them like she would. With sales partners, she would define the relationship with no uncertain terms that were clear on how she intended to do business.
At the time, I was just starting to work for two of the largest companies I would have as clients. The dot-com bubble had burst and many companies were redefining how they were going to spend money on Internet development. All we had worked for — the clients we had developed — had all but disappeared and it looked like this would be my last shot at success. I decided then to be honest. I would be honest to myself about how much I could do, honest to my clients about what we could accomplish, honest about the work, our capabilities, and how much it would cost. In short, I began to manage expectations.
The change was incredible. The work was still hard, and there were still many late nights, but I no longer worried about what I would say when clients called with questions or concerns. I opened up the lines of communication. Difficult discussions about monetary issues like budgets, overtime pay and rush fees were candid and, in turn, became easier. They strengthened relationships. Though no project ever runs completely smooth, the unexpected became a challenge to overcome rather than something that could put the whole thing at risk. And from that, more opportunities began to present themselves.
Startups confront challenges every day. Little decisions can have dramatic effects on how your business runs. People look to you for solutions and, even though it may seem easier to just tell people what you think they want to hear, don’t. A little honesty can go a long way.
As I have been saying for a while, you can make a case based on whatever data you want to choose right now that either the Republicans will crush us this election, or that there is more reason for optimism by us Democrats. The numbers any given day are all over the place. However, the polls coming out over the last 48 hours or so are giving Democratic optimists more numbers to buttress their case.
There are public polls out all over the country. In House and Governor races they are, not surprisingly, a bit all over the place. Those races tend to feel closer to home to voters, and local issues and dynamics matter more. So do really good (or bad) individual ads and mail pieces. There are also fewer public polls in House races, and a lot fewer reliable polls. So while the numbers in House and Gov races do of course generally follow the national trends- in case you hadn’t noticed, a lot more Democratic seats are in jeopardy than Republicans- big national trends are harder to spot and slower to develop. The numbers in these races seem to be moving the right way in a lot of places- Brown is back up in CA, Sink is back up in FL, Patrick Murphy has pulled ahead in PA, Kagen in WI is back into a dead heat- but they remain all over the map, and it’s harder to spot an overall trend.
The place where national patterns tend to be easiest to see in off year elections is Senate races: big national races where lots of national interest groups play heavily, and where there are always new polls coming out to look at. It is also important to note that in Senate races for the last several cycles, the party with the most momentum going into the final two weeks won the overwhelming majority of the closely contested Senate races. National patterns really stand out in the Senate races. That is why I am encouraged by what I am seeing in the last few days of polling. Democratic candidates in a bunch of different races around the country seem to be gaining ground, in most cases even though they are being dramatically outspent. Check out this pattern:
WI. Russ Feingold has been down for a while, 8-10 down, and the two latest polls I’ve seen show him in a dead heat.
AK. The little known and way underfunded Democratic nominee, Scott McAdams, has been stuck in 3rd place behind his two better known and funded Republican rivals, but he has climbed 7.5 points in the latest polling.
PA. Joe Sestak is in a statistical dead heat in two polls out the last 24 hours. In one of those polls he is ahead by 1 point, the other by 3. He had been trailing Toomey by 6 points or more in most polling done over the last several weeks.
KY. Rand Paul had built a lead of 6-10 points in most of the polling coming out recently, but Conway has come back to a statistical dead heat.
MO. Robin Carnahan had slipped to 8-10 down in most recent polls. 2 new polls out the last couple days show her at 5 and 6 points down.
NC. Badly outspent, Elaine Marshall has had to wait until the end to run TV ads, and had been trailing in the teens. With her up on TV, even though still being badly outspent, she is back within 8.
CT. Richard Blumenthal has been taking scores of millions of dollars worth of body slam style attack ads from the queen of body slamming herself, Linda McMahon, and McMahon had pulled even in their race, but recent polling shows Blumenthal re-establishing a small but statistically significant 5-6 point lead.
I can’t put this in the same category, because the public polls are contradictory, but after trailing by double digits most of the race, Lee Fisher has pulled within 6 or 9 in his race with Bush’s former trade and budget czar. There’s another (less reliable in my view because they oversample Republicans) that shows the race going in the opposite direction, so in this race the surge is more uncertain, but given that Gov. Strickland and other statewide Democrats seem to be moving up I think it is likely that Lee is moving positively as well.
The only two competitive Senate races that seem to be moving in the wrong direction are CA and WA, where both Boxer and Murray had seemed to establish small but solid leads and are now back in a dead heat. Since Republican conservatives don’t like strong progressive women, their secretive PACs and 501(c)s are spending like maniacs in those two races, so that is clearly part of the problem, but I’m not sure what else is going on out west that is so different from the rest of the country. Outside of these two races, the overall trend in Senate races, though, is definitely and clearly toward our side.
The other new polling I am seeing which heartens me is a new poll of Hispanic voters which shows dramatically higher interest in voting now than just a few days ago. Combined with some recent polling on blacks’ increasing interest in voting, and it looks like at least part of the Democratic base is beginning to be energized to participate in this election. A recent poll by Stan Greenberg of what he calls the Rising American Electorate (which he defines as African-Americans, Hispanics, unmarried women, and youth) shows a steadily rising interest in voting, although there is still a ton of work needed to be done to get them out to vote.
This election is still very much up in the air. Some trends in the right direction over a few days of polls do not disguise the challenge we have in winning one tough contested race after another, especially given the way we are being outspent by big business special interests. But there is reason to think we are moving in the right direction, so all you activists and fundraisers and doorknockers and phone callers out there: keep fighting.
Cross-posted at OpenLeft.com, where you can read all of my writing on electoral and polling analysis.
Washington must write Hollywood a thank you note for bringing back the bad old days of the Plame affair in the new movie Fair Game. Finally, art has brought more truth to life in telling this hauntingly familiar tale of our times.
In a compelling portrait of the spy who lost her job, Naomi Watts plays Plame, opposite leading man Sean Penn, who nails the role of her intense husband, Joseph Wilson. In real life, Wilson is a former ambassador who became the gadfly of Washington when he challenged the truth of sixteen words in George W. Bush’s State of the Union address. A gadfly in a good way. The televised clips of the president and his national security advisor Condoleezza Rice (oh yes, the smoking gun and the mushroom cloud) are just as evocative of memories as the Madeleine in Proust.
Remember? Wilson’s op-ed in The New York Times seven years ago caused the wrath of the Bush White House to rain hard on his head. What Wilson knew from his government trip to Niger threatened to undermine part of the rationale for the march to war in Iraq. Once Wilson went into the public square, declaring he saw no evidence of uranium (or WMD material) in Niger, an African country he knew well, the long knives were out for his contradicting the carefully crafted words.
The way administration officials retaliated against Wilson was ruthlessly personal, they went after his wife and gave her name to at least one journalist. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, later took the fall in court. Once Plame’s name appeared in black and white, her C.I.A. career was over in ten minutes. Noah Emmerich turns in a strong performance as her relentless boss. This is the most personally heartbreaking scene, because Plame loses everything and everyone she worked with in an only-in-Washington scenario. And she has her outspoken husband to thank — or blame — or what? It’s a surreal dilemma, but she does not come across as a victim, for all the pain.
This movie does a public service in itself because Bush’s wartime Washington was a lonely place to be a patriotic dissenter. Both Plame and Wilson were suddenly outside of the establishment mix. Their “loyalty” to the country they served was questioned and their careers were in flames and ashes. The toll this took on their marriage is presented in the movie in a straightforward manner, resisting easy formulas. Wilson remained out in front as a public critic of the Bush war policy, and, for a long time, Plame chose a more private way to deal with loss. Eventually, they each wrote a book about the experience, the stories on which the screenplay is based. Plame’s testimony before Congress is a chance to speak her piece at last.
Hollywood likes a happy ending. Today, we know Plame and Wilson have gone on to another life in Santa Fe with their ten-year-old twins. Libby’s sentence was commuted by Bush, though Cheney pressed for a more honorable pardon until the end of an eight-year winter in American history. Plame now advocates for nuclear non-proliferation.
The entertainment company Participant Media, a relative newcomer to making movies, brought this important social injustice story to the screen with great talent, finesse and insight. It has the makings of a modern tragedy, but the characters escape that fate. Thank you so much!
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