KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Monday, October 31, 2005

The New American Commie Pinkos: Liberals

It started after 9/11.

The American flags went up everywhere. All business owners—even the many Turkish owners of gas stations on Long Island, where I live—instinctively flew American flags or included American flags in their business literature. Was it because every one of them was feeling superpatriotic? No. It was because they all sensed that they would be considered un-American, unworthy of having American customers.

Even the pediatrician who cared for my sons at the time wore an American flag pin on her lab coat. Was it because she is a superpatriot? No. It was because she is originally from India and was very afraid that she would be mistaken for an Iraqi and thus thought to be anti-American. When one of her sons was traveling home from college by train, she insisted that he, too, wear an American flag pin, so that he wouldn't be in danger of being beaten by some rabid white American.

And whenever liberals—defined these days as anyone who's not a neocon—speak out against American injustices such as Bush's lying us into the war in Iraq or the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers, they're called anti-American traitors. Apparently, it's not American anymore to have differing opinions. It's not American to speak up when you see something wrong going on. It's not American to even think something wrong's going on.

[Added at 2:40 p.m.:] My husband and I wonder whether the local firefighters would respond to the call should our home ever catch fire. We display a banner (like the one here) on the front of our home that reads "We the people say no to the Bush agenda." Last December, firefighters came down our street in their usual pre-Christmas mini parade, one of the firefighters dressed as Santa and others tossing candy to any children who came out to watch. The firefighters all looked cheerful until our anti-Bush banner came into their line of vision. They began gesturing angrily at our home and mumbling to one another. I couldn't hear what they said because I was indoors behind closed windows, but I'm sure they thought us traitors for publicly airing our view. [end of addition]

The right-wing thought police remind me very much of the McCarthyism of the 1940s and early 1950s, the witch hunt for Communists that ended the careers of so many talented people. Dare to think a little differently from the mainstream, and you're on trial for anti-Americanism. No, there aren't any real trials currently going on, but if we stick to our path of paranoia ...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The New McCarthyism, Take 7

I should engage in some self-disclosure here: From 1980 to 1982, I was a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise-Journal (Texas), now known as the Beaumont Enterprise. My surname at the time was Pijanowski; how it became O'Moore-Klopf is a story for another day. Back then, I held myself rigidly to the code of the righteous journalist: no supporting any political or social causes in my personal life, because I might be biased, or be thought biased, when it came time to write news stories. But that was eons ago (from when I was 21 to when I turned 23), I've been a copyeditor of books and not a journalist for almost 22 years now, and I've been through plenty of things that have altered my viewpoint on the definition of conflict of interest for journalists.

Veteran journalist, book author, and financial analyst Hal Plotkin didn't post today about about copy editor Tim Mahoney's suspension from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. But tonight I did find a post of his from just over a year ago that eloquently says so much of what I believe about this case. The best part?

What do Winston Churchill, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Upton Sinclair, Alan Cranston, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Al Gore have in common?

All of them were journalists before, and in some cases also after, they became political figures.

They are among the hundreds, perhaps thousands of other important leaders who made their living by reporting or commenting on public affairs—a group that includes everyone from Georges Clemenceau, a major force during France's Third Republic, to the former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 it was an ABC news reporter, John Scali, who helped avert nuclear catastrophe by serving as a secret go-between for the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union. For centuries, in democratic countries journalists have often been key participants in matters of state and community.

The people running today's biggest media empires are trying to put an end to all that, even if it means breaking the law.

You've probably heard their disingenuous, self-serving argument. It's one that most non-journalists, and many journalists as well, have accepted without too much thought. It goes something like this: the public won't trust media reports if the people who write them participate in politics in any way, including during their non-working hours. Journalists must be impartial observers and not be involved in the communities they cover. This, the standard reasoning goes, is the only way a media outlet can maintain a reputation for objectivity, or at least its fig-leaf step-cousin, "the perception of objectivity," for which most editors settle.

On the surface this seems like a sound argument. So plausible, in fact, that it has enabled one of the biggest thefts of the last century, the robbery of virtually an entire
profession's most basic and fundamental constitutional rights.

If journalists want to keep a roof over their head (or, as President Bush might say, "put food on their families") they can't make contributions to political campaigns. They can't run for office, even for their local school board. In many cases, they can't even contribute to groups such as Planned Parenthood without risking their jobs and income. The cherished American freedoms we were taught in school, the freedom of speech and the right to associate with whomever one chooses, no longer apply to journalists. Unless, of course, they happen to own their own media outlets.

One predictable consequence of forbidding journalists' political expression is that it makes it less likely they will ever realize their full potentials as citizens or turn to careers in public service. This is not just unfair to journalists; it also damages our society. Our culture is cheated and its options are narrowed when any group is excluded from political participation. As the historical record attests, that is particularly true of journalists, who are often more knowledgeable, well-informed, thoughtful and socially-conscious than the lawyers and corporate shills who dominate political life in America today.

This is something that has bothered—no, make that deeply, deeply offended me—during all my years working for different media outlets, large and small. Most of my bosses have been perfectly reasonable people. But few of them ever thought twice when it came to forcing me to give up my constitutionally protected First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and association.

Think about this. We are talking about a profession whose practitioners are trained and paid to think, investigate, compare and contrast, talk, interview, write, analyze and report. When you look at the people currently running our government, do you see a surplus of those skills?

Journalists have lost their freedoms in the same way that poor frog adjusted to gradually heating water until it finally boiled to death. Over the last few decades corporate forces have slowly but steadily taken away basic constitutional rights from nearly every working journalist in the United States.

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The New McCarthyism, Take 6

I e-mailed the Society of Professional Journalists about about copy editor Tim Mahoney's suspension from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The chairperson and one cochair of the SPJ's Ethics Committee responded.

From Gary Hill, Director of Investigations for KSTP-TV and SPJ Ethics Committee Chairperson:

I should first say that I don't have any independent information beyond that which you provided me, so I'm basing my opinions solely on that. Mr. Mahoney's situation touches on a large number of issues. Not only ethics are involved, but also employment law, union relations, free-lance agreements, and more. I don't have enough information or expertise to speak authoritatively on all of this, but let me offer up a few general opinions.

The SPJ Code of Ethics has a section that says "Act Independently." Under that heading you will find the following language:

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.

Journalists should:

  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
  • Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

When journalists participate in activities like anti-war demonstrations and political fundraisers they create real or perceived conflicts of interest for their employers. In recent years more news organizations have tried to come to grips with this by either banning these type of activities outright or asking their employees to seek permission in advance. The advance permission route allows an editor to have a discussion with the employee about the activity and the potential consequences. "If you participate in an anti-war march we won't be able to assign you to that topic." "If you volunteer for charity X we'll have to disclose that the next time you happen to write or edit on a story on charity X."

There are all sorts of unanswered questions in the case of Mr. Mahoney. Had this type of activity been previously banned by the newspaper? How was that ban communicated to the journalists? Is there a different standard for free-lance writers/editors who may need to work many different organizations some of which may become the topic of news stories? Does a union contract have any language addressing this? As you can see these questions lead us into the areas of employment law I referred to earlier.

In summary I would say that it is ethical for newsrooms to try to limit real or perceived conflicts of interest in their reporting or editing staff. Ethical journalists will try to steer clear of these potential conflicts even if means not exercising some of their rights as citizens. It is a necessary sacrifice to assure the public it is receiving truthful reporting.

From Fred Brown of the Denver Post, SPJ Ethics Committee Chairperson:

Gary Hill's response covered the issues here fairly and thoroughly. As a former political reporter and editor, I felt I had to adhere to even more stringent standards—i.e., no contributions to campaigns of any sort, including ballot issues; no circulating or even signing petitions; no yard signs or bumper stickers, etc.

I seriously considered resigning from the Newspaper Guild in 1972 because it endorsed George McGovern for president—although I voted for the guy. (Those journalists who carry their purity to the extreme of declining to vote are, I think, going too far.)

At the time, the Denver Post had no written policy specifically addressing all of the many ways political beliefs might be expressed. Its current code of ethics, which you can find online, is pretty strict on this subject. The point is, an employer in the business of trying to provide impartial, unbiased information has a right—some would say a duty—to impose certain rules on the people processing that information.

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The New McCarthyism, Take 5

From fellow freelancer Christine Hunt, about copy editor Tim Mahoney's suspension from the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

I think the issue is far more complex than "Yes, it's my time," "No, it's not;" there is possibly more at stake than whether I am simply reflecting my personal or my professional identity.

The same St. Paul Pioneer Press has also reported the debacle of the Minnesota Vikings football players and their "party sex-boat scandal." Those football players, too, insisted they were "on their own time." This comparison reflects only the "on my own time" dilemma and I in no way intend any implication that a strong social stand equates to any degree whatsoever with immorality or perversion. It does, however bring to light the question: Where does one draw the line between personal freedom of expression and personal accountability, in this instance accountability to the entity through which I obtain shelter and sustenance?

If the Pioneer Press had previously indicated a policy for their employees to not be involved in certain activities and an employee proceeds to do so anyway—especially at a time when his employer was calling him to work (as per the article)—then perhaps the company has a right to take a stand of their own. If the Pioneer Press had no such policy, they at least listened to his reasoning and thoughtfully deliberated before giving him what amounts to a "Don't do it again." They could have just terminated his employment and found someone else without a word of explanation to him.

[I seriously doubt social bias played much of a role in this case—except that his anti-war stand possibly kept him from getting fired immediately. One Twin Cities slang name for this liberal newspaper is The Pioneer Proletariat. Had he attended a pro-war rally, past experience with this paper tells me he wouldn't even have gotten a hearing.]

To achieve a balance between "on my own time" and my personal accountability is another art form that requires significant thought and, perhaps, communication beforehand with those affected by my decisions. Is the stand I take more important than feeding my family? One day the answer may be "Yes."

Note: Christine Hunt is a writer and graphic designer; her business's name is Right Line Editing and Design.

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The New McCarthyism, Take 4

From fellow freelancer Bob Bohle, about copy editor Tim Mahoney's suspension from the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Most newsworkers try to avoid situations that even hint at a bias. It is one of the unfortunate things about being a journalist: one often can't (shouldn't?) join organizations that one may have to cover objectively or edit objectively because of the potential for bias in coverage.

I worked with an editor who would stand up and leave a social dinner party if someone started talking about something he might have to cover. That may be overkill, but many journalists feel very strongly about this. Some papers even have written policies covering such activities.

From the ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists:
  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
Without credibility, newspapers have nothing.

I am, however, a little surprised at the harshness of the reaction, especially for a relatively "invisible" part-time copy editor (compared to a reporter, who is probably more widely known).

Note: Bob Bohle is a journalism professor, freelance writer, and blogger.

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The New McCarthyism, Take 3

From fellow freelancer Michael Brady, about copy editor Tim Mahoney's suspension from the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

I think it's deplorable, mainly because what happened here is political speech and public protest, First Amendment rights. The newspaper's reasoning seems to be the derivative unintended consequences of the great controversy about biased and slanted reporting, reporters in the pay of—or at least in the thrall of—vested interests, whether corporate or goverenmental. Judith Miller is getting heat from her initial credulous reporting of WMD, before she was embedded in Iraq and began to shift her reporting.

This situation mirrors what happened to Mike Wallace at CBS. He is not allowed to work on stories dealing with guns, gun control, the Second Amendment, etc., because when he spoke at a birthday party for Art Buchwald, he included some news footage showing Charlton Heston saying the only way the government would get his gun would be from his "cold, dead hands." CBS deemed that this constituted an affirmative advocacy by Wallace of one side of an issue, and thus he could not be perceived to be unbiased in future reports on that topic.

One does not have two or more identities. Personal is work, and work is personal, and recreation is work is personal is religious is political is sexual is ethnic is financial identity.

Can an employer require employees not to smoke at home, because even to be smoking off-site constitutes a higher risk for their insurance and thus costs all the employees? This happened recently, but I forget where the company is.

To what extent can a company regulate private behavior? Would there have been an action taken by the newspaper's management if the reporter had been seen kissing another man? or coming out of an Atlantic City casino with a woman not his wife? or driving a motorcycle without a helmet? or tearing the tag off his mattress?

If the logic of the newspaper's actions is legitimate, should campaign reporters—and especially panelists and questioners of candidates at debates—identify their own political affiliations, reveal their own financial statements, and submit previous documents they have written or otherwise published, so that viewers and readers can judge for themselves whether there is any inherent bias or conflict between them and the subjects they cover?

Note: Michael Brady is a graphic designer and artist in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

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The New McCarthyism, Take 2

A fellow freelancer, J. P. Parland, wrote this about copy editor Tim Mahoney's suspension from the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

It is fascinating that this newspaper holds their part-time editors up to higher ethical standards than Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Scalia hold themselves.

That noted, I think I can understand what the newspaper is doing. They're trying to rid hidden biases. I've certainly heard of top editors who don't vote, to keep their neutrality. Some papers don't allow their business reporters to invest in the stock market. And many reporters biases are pretty well hidden until they become columnists. Then again, New York Times columnist John Tierney was pretty open about his political leanings when he was a reporter and he got rewarded for it.

Still, the editor in this case would have believed the same thing if he hadn't gone on the march, the paper would have been none the wiser, and the editor would have been assigned other stories that had a political component. I doubt the paper is removing reporters and editors who have family fighting the Iraq war. And newspapers would be loath to dictate what churches reporters can and can't belong to (would someone be removed from an abortion story if it was known she belonged to a church that opposed abortion?). And politics are infused in much writing, even the stuff in the arts pages and sports.

There isn't licensing of journalists, and I think this is why the issue is hard to get a handle on. The news business is a kind of public utility. Journalists serve the public, but through a private, largely nonregulated enterprise. And because the news business is supposed to be critical and free of bias, regulation is generally a bad idea.

The unseen issue is the recurring chant "liberal media" that is heard all over the nation. Even though there are few facts to back up this notion, and there is daily, even hourly proof that the media isn't liberal, the myth has been accepted as fact. It might help that the giants of the conservative press on a daily, even hourly basis, keep the chant going, even as they are heard and read from coast to coast and border to border. I think it is the "liberal media" charge that the paper is concerned with.

If this thing goes to court, I think it will hinge on whether or not the editor was told or signed a pledge expressing that he wouldn't engage in political demonstrations. My guess is he didn't, and that the paper was singling him out to make a point. Maybe it will come out that the paper's management is pro-war and they're stifling an opposition point of view.

Note: J.P. is co-exutive of the Editorial Freelancers Association. Two of his sites are The World of BMX and Mountain Bike Madness, and he is a contributing editor at Asphalt Magazine.

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The New McCarthyism

To the Editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Has the Bush era's new McCarthyism affected the judgment of the management of the Pioneer Press? Are your staff members no longer allowed to have private lives?

As a copyeditor and as a human being, I protest the Press's infringement on the rights of its part-time copy editor Tim Mahoney. According to an October 26 article in City Pages (see "No Peace at the Pioneer Press: Casualty of War"), Mahoney attended and participated in a peace rally in Washington, D.C. in September on his own time, yet he was suspended without pay for three days by the Press, is no longer allowed to edit any stories about the invasion and occupation of Iraq (the subject of the peace rally), and was led to believe, by senior editor Mike Bulger, that he would be fired if he were to participate in any similar political activities.

It appears that Mahoney did not participate in the rally as an official representative of the Press; he was following his own conscience. Why, then, does the Press believe it has the right to control Mahoney's personal life?

According to the City Pages article, the Mahoney case isn't the first instance of Press Big Brotherism: "Last October, reporters Charles Laszewski and Rick Linsk were each suspended for three days for attending the 'Vote for Change' concert featuring Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M., which raised money for John Kerry's presidential campaign."

Shame on you for showing your pro-Bush bias. You are supposed to be reporting the news, not trying to control it.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf
KOK Edit
Member of the Editorial Freelancers Association

I would understand if the paper had a policy against its editorial-side staff taking public stands on issues such as the Iraq war when they are on the job and thus representing the paper, but Mahoney was acting on his own time and not as a Press employee. E-mail the Press's editor. Don't keep silent about this—or any—infringement of First Amendment rights.

Updated 2:45 a.m., November 3, 2005: You can read letters to the editor of City Pages, the periodical that pubished the "No Peace ..." story, here.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Keeping the Vigil

2,000 American soldiers and at least 26,690 Iraqi civilians have died in an illegal war. How many more must die before we stop the madness?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Legacy of Rosa Parks

We forget sometimes that each of us, as individuals, can begin to change the world with just one small, quiet action. We mistakenly think that it always takes groups of thousands, working for years, to start rooting out injustice. Rosa Parks showed us otherwise.

She died yesterday evening, at age 92, but her spirit will live on in people everywhere who decide they've had enough and refuse to play the game of racism, of discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity, of poverty, of sexism, ageism, of discrimination because of a person's looks, of imperialism.

Rosa Parks lives on in the person who asks someone to stop telling a racist joke.

Rose Parks lives on in the person who writes a letter to legislators in support of legalizing marriage between two same-sex people.

Rosa Parks lives on in the person who proposes to city or county or state legislators that they open a food bank.

Rosa Parks lives on in the person who raises daughters to like their bodies.

Rosa Parks lives on in the person who protests against America's illegal war in Iraq.

Rosa Parks lives on in you.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Plamegate Sinking the Bush Ship?

The Bush administration is a listing ship, full of holes created by Bush and Cheney themselves and their minions, including Karl Rove and Donald Rumsfeld. Plamegate may very well sink it. I fervently hope so, as do many who have long seen the evil in it.

The Bush–Cheney desire to justify an illegal war in Iraq led to a multitude of lies. When Joseph Wilson found no uranium stores in Niger, and then went public with his findings, he blew apart the Bush–Cheney contention that Saddam Hussein was gathering supplies to build weapons of mass destruction. And he brought down the administration's wrath. Bush–Cheney minions outded Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife, as a CIA operative, which endangered her life and is a federal crime. We all believe they did so at the behest of Cheney or Bush or both.

From the news coming out of the grand jury investigations into the leaking of Plame's identity to the press, indictments look likely this week. At a minimum, Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, may be indicted. But I believe that a new grand jury should then be impaneled to continue the investigation higher up the war-hawk food chain. If done properly, it would implicate Cheney and Bush and Rumsfeld (additional reading here).

If that were to happen, my faith in democracy would be restored. And we could begin to rid our leadership of the cancer that has afflicted it since the Bush machine stole office.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Leading by Despoilment and Desecration

We are the shining city on the hill, the leaders of the free world who would show the ignorant how they should live: We rape the land and profane the dead bodies of our enemies so that we can maintain the American way of life. Why do the unenlighted object to our methods? Have they not yet realized the sacredness of consumerism?

Our revered senators know what is best for us. They have voted to allow the oil barons to destroy the 1.5 million–acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska in search of the billions of barrels of oil that they believe are there. The drilling provision is now to be tucked into budget legislation so that it can't be filibustered, under Senate rules. And when the proposed $2.6 trillion budget, loaded with pork and chopping needed funds from social programs, is approved within the next couple of weeks, the drilling provision will become law. Whatever the amount of recoverable oil in Alaska, the presence of humans and pipelines will disturb the habitats of caribou, polar bears, and migratory birds. But why worry about the ecosystem? We must feed our oil habit.

Elsewhere in the world, we are apparently busy burning the bodies of Taliban fighters, trying to incite hatred:

Australia’s SBS television network broadcast video that purportedly showed U.S. soldiers burning the bodies of the suspected Taliban fighters in the hills outside the southern village of Gonbaz, near the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

The network said the video was taken by a freelance journalist, Stephen Dupont, who told the Associated Press he was embedded with the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade earlier this month. Dupont said the burnings happened Oct. 1. ...

In the video, which was seen by the AP, two soldiers who spoke with American accents later broadcast taunting messages that the SBS said targeted the village, which was believed to be harboring Taliban soldiers.

“Taliban, you are all cowardly dogs. You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to come down and retrieve their bodies,” said one message read in the local dialect by a soldier, according to a transcript.

Dupont said the soldiers responsible for the loudspeaker broadcasts were part of a U.S. Army psychological operations unit. ...

“This is against Islam. Afghans will be shocked by this news. It is so humiliating,” said Faiz Mohammed, a Muslim leader. “There are very, very dangerous consequences from this. People will be very angry.”

What did our illustrious president learn at Yale when he was earning his degree in history? It must have been that in war, enemies eventually submit to and refrain from attacking those who are harsh and abusive, who lie and torture. But U.S. Army officials investigating the reported burning and taunting say that if the event did occur, it "would be in violation of U.S. Army procedures and an apparent violation of military law." One official said, "This doesn't look good."

It doesn't, eh? When your mission from God is to democratize the world, what's wrong with making up reasons to start a war with a country that didn't choreograph a terrorist attack on your financial center, so that you can pillage and plunder your way to more oil and lucrative contracts for your oil-company cronies—er, um ... colleagues? After all, we're protecting the American way of life.

The New Taboo

Religious extremists of all kinds are making many truly spiritual people fearful of living their religions' principles anywhere but at home, in private. This was illustrated recently in a discussion on an e-mail list to which I subscribe. No, it wasn't a list for discussing religion; surprisingly, it was a list for copyeditors.

One list member told of a family member's experience with an overtly religious Christian. Her relative experienced a business problem. In response, the Christian customer took the hands of the businessman and his wife, prayed aloud that God would resolve the problem, and asked blessings on the businessman and his family and community. The businessman, not religious himself, felt that the customer was sincerely trying to be helpful, so he went along with the prayer session and said nothing. The list member, however, asked the list whether the customer's actions could be considered obnoxious.

List member Fox Cole eloquently responded:

He was being as sincere and secure in his own faith as he knows how to be. That is respectable.

In my opinion, it doesn't matter what belief one follows, but it does matter to believe in one. Many of us have heard "live and let live," "to each his own," "do unto others," etc., but do we practice them? I don't hold mainstream religious beliefs, but I would be grateful for this man's clear sincerity and faith. He is spiritual in his own way, and connected to his faith to express it wholly and without shame or embarrassment.

Of course, the very nature of belief means that religious conflict will be among us for as long as we are [hu]mankind. To believe is to hold in our own heart the acceptance of what is true to us. What that means is, if ours is truth, then no other belief can be. It is a multifaceted paradox: belief requires our commitment to truth; all spiritual beliefs are truth.

Together, unimaginably, they create a wonderful but incomprehensible whole.

However, because of that paradox and the nature of belief, we have throughout all history railed against each other and loudly declared our own faith to be the One, the chosen, the only true religion ... ad infinitum. Because of this, combined with the social overcorrections of "political correctness," any expression of religion at all is now becoming sadly taboo in much of Western society. We should be celebrating our religions, and respecting our differences. (Should be, even though we cannot.)

Had I been that customer and felt compelled to pray aloud with the businessman and his wife, I wouldn't have done so without first asking whether that would be okay with them. But more likely, I'd have prayed silently, never letting them know what I was doing. Why? As I responded to the list:

I am a practicing Christian, of the Presbyterian stripe, but I do not feel that my beliefs are the only truth, and so I do not proselytize. It saddens me when people point fingers at one another, saying, in effect, "Bad, bad religion" or "Bad, bad atheist" or "Bad, bad agnostic." And it saddens me that the extremism of some Christians tars me and those like me. That defamation by association made me hesitate to even write this post.

Why can't we all just respect one another's differences? We are each worthy of respect and honor.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Parents, Privacy Groups Protesting Pentagon Database

It's about time!

As noted
here and here, the Pentagon has been using the services of a PR firm to gather info about young people eligible for military service. Today, in an article buried in its Technology section, the Washington Post reports that parents' groups, privacy advocacy groups, and community groups are have begun work to try to get the database outlawed [links and emphasis added]:

A national coalition of parents groups, privacy advocates and community organizations is launching a campaign today to dismantle a database of high school and college students built by the Pentagon to help target potential military recruits.

In a letter being sent today to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, more than 100 groups charge that the database violates federal privacy laws and is collecting demographic and other personal information on young Americans that could be misused by the government and the marketing firms handling the program.

"We are not in opposition to those who choose to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces," said a draft of the letter asking that the program be shut down. But "the creation of the ... database is in conflict with the Privacy Act, which was passed by Congress to reduce the government's collection of personal information on Americans."

The military, which is struggling to meet recruiting goals, argues that the effort is grounded in law and is essential to maintaining strong, all-volunteer armed forces.

The Pentagon is on track to spend $342.9 million on the controversial Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies program.

The effort seeks to help recruiters discover and reach more potential enlistees and to develop advertising aimed at those who typically influence young people, including parents, coaches and teachers.

The money is being spent through a single contract with Mullen Advertising Inc. of Wenham, Mass., that began in 2002 and can be renewed annually until January 2007. So far, the Pentagon has spent $206.3 million, according to a military spokeswoman.

Under a subcontract with Mullen, BeNow Inc., a Wakefield, Mass., firm that specializes in gathering and analyzing personal information for target marketing, is compiling and maintaining the database. BeNow has since been acquired by Equifax Inc., one of the nation's top credit bureaus and data brokers.

The Pentagon program was little known until June, when the military issued a privacy notice that it was buying lists of all high school and college students to create a database that included birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.

David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said at the time that the privacy notice should have been issued sooner and that parents could request that their children not be solicited by recruiters.

Thus far, the Pentagon has not made opt-out forms available on its Web sites, though it promises to do so by early next year. A member of one group opposed to the database, Leave My Child Alone, created its own opt-out letter and said 34,000 copies of it have been downloaded from the organization's Web site.

According to Pentagon documents, the information on roughly 12 million individuals is compiled from a variety of sources, including motor vehicle records, commercial vendors of personal information on students, and those who take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, which is given in many high schools.

The program also includes information from Selective Service registrations. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, the Pentagon also is entitled to entire public high school student lists, which it says are kept separately.

One of the goals of the opposition coalition, organizers said, is to make high school and college students aware of how much private data they routinely give away.

"When young people are asked to provide personal information in hopes of receiving a scholarship or an academic honor, they may be giving up their right to privacy with nothing being given to them in return," said Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, one of the groups spearheading the effort.

Other coalition members range from national groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Republican Liberty Caucus to community organizations such as the Fairfax County Privacy Council and the Sisters of Saint Francis in Sylvania, Ohio.

Larry Ponemon is a privacy expert who heads the Ponemon Institute, which studies the ethical handling of personal data. He said a variety of online services that help students apply for colleges, loans, scholarships or other academic services are collecting large stores of private information that are frequently being bought and sold.

"What the student doesn't really understand is that a lot of this rich data is going to be used by companies for the rest of their lives," Ponemon said.

Pentagon contract documents show that Mullen is purchasing high school and college "master files" from data broker American Student List LLC for $443,000, as part of a $2.5 million subcontract to create and maintain the consolidated database, as well as a list of those who opted out.

Other costs in the one-year subcontract include five employees to purchase and manage the data and provide reports and recruiting leads to the services, at a cost to the Pentagon of roughly $194,000 per employee, and $16,500 for "toll-free" calls.

"The costs associated with toll-free calls include a $25 per week file transfer fee as well as an 88-cents-per-minute toll charge with an average call lasting about three minutes," according to a Pentagon spokeswoman.

A Pentagon briefing paper on the program said that in 2005, Mullen would have access to a database from American Student List of up to 20 million young working adults ages 18 to 37 and will be looking into purchasing "medical" lists.

The spokeswoman said the services have not used either list to date.

What can you do?
  • Start a conscientious objector file for your child, if you haven't already.

  • Download an opt-out letter from Leave My Child Alone for your child, complete it, and mail it to the Pentagon. If you're 18 or older, do this for yourself.

  • Write a letter to Equifax, one of the giant credit bureaus that issues credit-rating reports on U.S. adults, decrying its lack of ethics in building the Pentagon's database.

  • Write letters to your U.S. senators and representatives.

  • Inform everyone in your child's school about the database. Going through both the principal and the local chapter of the PTA or PTO is a great idea. But don't stop there; go to your district's school board and ask it to get the word out to all families.

  • Every time you must give out medical information about your child or yourself, include a signed note stating that the information is not to be given to anyone else without your written consent.

  • Join the Privacy Coalition; e-mail the group for information.

  • Write letters to the editors of your local and national newspapers and television stations, asking why they have provided little or no coverage of the existence of this database.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Cast Off!

I am delighted to write that I got home from the orthopedist's office (backstory here and here) about an hour ago ... and no longer have my cast on!

The doctor also removed the pins from my wrist, and he said that I have been so conscientious about doing my finger and hand exercises that I won't need physical therapy. He said to take it easy for one more week, and then I can go back to my usual activities, including driving. You can't imagine how much I've missed being able to drive myself anywhere I want, anytime I want.

I'm free-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Voice Bush Really Heard

Remember the stories about how God told George Bush to invade Iraq? Well, know we know whose voice Bush was really hearing. That explains a lot.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Idiotic Advice for Preventing SIDS: Use Pacifiers

Has American medical science come so far that pediatricians have become stupid?

Yesterday, the
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced its latest advice for preventing sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): Plug your baby's mouth with a pacifier! Have these people no knowledge of nature's perfect, simple plan—breast-feeding? Have they, as Americans, so completely bought into the mind–body split of our culture that they can think only of artificial means for infant care? Or have they given up hope of convincing American women to breast-feed, assuming that bottle-feeding is the norm? I'm sure European pediatricians are thinking that the latest AAP advice is ridiculous.

Here's the statement from the AAP web site:

Despite major decreases in the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) over the past decade, SIDS is still responsible for more infant deaths beyond the newborn period in the United States than any other cause of death during infancy. In an updated policy statement on “The Changing Concept of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Diagnostic Coding Shifts, Controversies Regarding the Sleeping Environment, and New Variables to Consider in Reducing Risk,” the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) addresses several issues that have become relevant since they last published a statement in 2000.

The AAP no longer recognizes side sleeping as a reasonable alternative to fully supine (lying on back) sleeping. Studies have found that the side sleep position is unstable and increases the chances of the infant rolling onto his or her stomach. Every caregiver should use the back sleep position during every sleep period.

Bed sharing is not recommended during sleep. Infants may be brought into bed for nursing or comforting, but should be returned to their own crib or bassinet when the parent is ready to return to sleep. However, there is growing evidence that room sharing (infant sleeping in a crib in parent’s bedroom) is associated with a reduced risk of SIDS. The AAP recommends a separate but proximate sleeping environment.

Research now indicates an association between pacifier use and a reduced risk of SIDS, which is why the revised statement recommends the use of pacifiers at nap time and bedtime throughout the first year of life. The evidence that pacifier use inhibits breastfeeding or causes later dental complications is not compelling enough to discredit the recommendation. However, it is recommended that pacifier introduction for breastfed infants be delayed until one month of age to ensure that breastfeeding is firmly established. In addition, if the infant refuses the pacifier, it should not be forced. There is a slight increased risk of ear infections associated with pacifier use, but the incidence of ear infection is generally lower in the first year of life, especially the first six months, when the risk of SIDS is the highest.

The following have been consistently identified as risk factors for SIDS: prone (lying on stomach) sleep position, sleeping on a soft surface, maternal smoking during pregnancy, overheating, late or no prenatal care, young maternal age, preterm birth and/or low birth weight and male gender. Consistently higher rates of SIDS are found in black and American Indian/Alaska Native children—two to three times the national average.

The policy recommendations include:

  • Back to sleep: Infants should be placed for sleep in a supine (wholly on back position) for every sleep.
  • Use a firm sleep surface: A firm crib mattress, covered by a sheet, is the recommended sleeping surface.
  • Keep soft objects and loose bedding out of the crib: Pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, stuffed toys and other soft objects should be kept out of an infant’s sleeping environment.
  • Do not smoke during pregnancy: Also avoiding an infant’s exposure to secondhand smoke is advisable for numerous reasons in addition to SIDS risk.
  • A separate but proximate sleeping environment is recommended such as a separate crib in the parent’s bedroom. Bed sharing during sleep is not recommended.
  • Consider offering a pacifier at nap time and bedtime: The pacifier should be used when placing infant down for sleep and not be reinserted once the infant falls asleep.
  • Avoid overheating: The infant should be lightly clothed for sleep, and the bedroom temperature should be kept comfortable for a lightly clothed adult.
  • Avoid commercial devices marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS: Although various devices have been developed to maintain sleep position or reduce the risk of rebreathing, none have been tested sufficiently to show efficacy or safety.
  • Do not use home monitors as a strategy to reduce the risk of SIDS: There is no evidence that use of such home monitors decreases the risk of SIDS.
  • Avoid development of positional plagiocephaly (flat back of head): Encourage “tummy time.” Avoid having the infant spend excessive time in car-seat carriers and “bouncers.” Place the infant to sleep with the head to one side for a week and then changing to the other.
  • Assure that others caring for the infant (child care provider, relative, friend, babysitter) are aware of these recommendations.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In a related review article, “Do Pacifiers Reduce the Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? A Meta-Analysis,” found that several studies show a significant reduced risk of SIDS with pacifier use, particularly when used during sleep.

Nature has a much simpler plan: For centuries, mothers have slept with their babies right next to their bodies, letting their babies breast-feed whenever they wanted during the night. It's easy to do, it's the way nature set things up, and it results in much better sleep for mother and baby. I know; I've done it with the last two of my three children. But don't take just my word for it. There's a whole body of research out there to back me up.

Why does the AAP think pacifiers will prevent SIDS? According to the article referenced at the end of the official AAP statement, pacifiers may keep babies from sleeping too deeply and thus not awaking when their immature nervous systems don't keep them breathing properly.

But if babies sleep next to their mothers, their sleep cycles become regulated by their mothers' cycles, simply because they're next to each other. Babies can find their mothers' breasts and latch on in their sleep. I know I've been asleep many times only to wake up and find my child nursing. If I had had to get up out of bed several times a night to breast-feed, I'd have been severely sleep deprived, and my child would have slept poorly knowing he was all alone. I've always thought it bizarre that many Americans put their babies to sleep in another room, all alone. Why leave a defenseless, physically immature creature alone to fend for itself physically and emotionally? That strikes me as very selfish. If you have a baby, you've got to know that your time is not going to be your own for years. You can't have it both ways.

Bottle-feed if you must—there are physical reasons in mothers (rarely) and in infants (physical and developmental disabililties) why breast-feeding won't always work—but if you can breast-feed, why not make life easier for you and your baby, and why not set your baby off on the path to a healthy life?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

With One Arm Tied Behind My Back

Update time:

I get my cast off (backstory here and here) on October 13—thank goodness, because my arm's feeling more than a bit claustrophobic in the thing.

The cast, by the way, is a lovely deep shade of purple. (Here's a shot of someone else's purple cast, so that you can see what I mean. Mine's only half as long, though, and doesn't cover my thumb or finger knuckles.) The old plaster-of-Paris casts that I remember seeing on classmates as a child apparently aren't used anymore, because they're not too waterproof. Casts today come in all sorts of colors (though white is still available; apparently lots of folks prefer other colors), and they're made by wrapping a long strip of dry fiberglass that is activated by the cast-maker's getting it wet. It dries harder than a rock, though I still must double-wrap it (as directed by my orthopedist: first in Saran Wrap and then inside a garbage bag, the open end of which is then taped to my arm) every time I shower. To keep the cast from irritating the skin, the cast-maker first puts some comfy stretchy cloth over the affected area before applying the cast.

I can now type a bit with my right hand, which is great, because I've been editing onscreen with only my left hand. I can now also write with a pen with my right hand, and my writing looks almost normal, but the part of the cast that covers the lower portion of my palm, along with the anchoring piece that lies between my thumb and index finger, hampers me a bit. I can't type or write for too long, however, because it makes my arm ache.

I've been doing all my finger exercises and have excellent digit mobility, but I'm betting the doc will prescribe some physical therapy to help me regain strength in my forearm. I can tell just by looking that I've lost muscle mass in that forearm. I know, though, that the arm's biceps have been strengthened by having to cart the cast around.

I still can't lift anything heavier than a pound (the doc's instructions); I've regretted it the few times I've tried. Can't rotate my wrist, either, because of the cast and the pins that are still in place but will be removed next week. Makes it hard to get enough torque to open those damn childproof caps on medication bottles. And I haven't driven since before I broke my arm, because I know that I'd unconsciously try to use it and end up doing it damage.

I've been freelancing all along, just taking longer with mostly one hand. I won't ever take my hands for granted again.


Either Senator Patricia Miller of the Indiana legislature came to her senses or someone told her she was about to commit political suicide. Whatever the reason, the bill she'd sponsored to prevent gay, lesbian, and single people from getting medical assistance to conceive has been withdrawn. Don't think for a minute, though, that Miller has dropped her prejudices.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The New Eugenics?

The United States keeps taking frightening steps backward in human rights. The latest? A Republican senator in the Indiana legislature wants to prevent gay, lesbian, and single people from getting medical assistance to conceive. Here's the story from 365gay.com:

(Indianapolis, Indiana) Legislation has been introduced in the Indiana legislature that would prohibit gays, lesbians and single people in Indiana from using medical science to assist them in having a child.

The bill has the support of Senator Patricia Miller, the chair of the Health Finance Commission where the legislation is currently being considered.

Miller says that assisted pregnancy is totally unregulated. The bill would bar any doctor from assisting in a pregnancy through intrauterine insemination, donation of an egg, donation of an embryo, in vitro fertilization and transfer of an embryo, and sperm injection without making a number of "determinations" about the "suitability" of the candidate.

Women seeking treatment would have to provide a certificate of satisfactory completion of an assessment required under the bill.

Among the determining factors is a requirement that the women be married to a person of the opposite sex. The assessment would contain a description of the family lifestyle and automatically exclude lesbians. Women would also have to provide proof that they have participated in faith-based or church activities.

A judge could not establish parentage of a child born through assisted reproduction without the assessment certificate and a separate certificate from the physician involved.

Courts would be prohibited from granting a petition to establish parentage if the parents have been convicted of crimes such as murder, reckless homicide neglect of a dependent [or] felony battery, or have a drug conviction.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana president Betty Cockrum calls it chilling and government intrusion on a person's private life.

The Health Finance Commission will vote October 20th on whether to recommend the legislation to the full General Assembly.

So Senator Miller believes that we humans have the right to control which of us reproduces? A woman who is married to a man, purports to be heterosexual, and participates in religious activities shouldn't necessarily be a parent. My mother did all of those things, yet she was abusive, inflicting emotional and physical pain on my brother and sister and me. If she'd have lived in Indiana and Miller's bill had been law, she'd have been deemed a fit parent under the law.

If you live in Indiana, write or call Senator Patricia Miller (district 32) now to condemn this terrifying bill:

200 W. Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204

(317) 232-9400

(800) 382-9467

You can also use the e-mail form here to contact her.

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