The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, November 30, 2003  

In These All-Too-Shocking Times

A big thank you (or as the kids like to say, “a shout out”) to Elayne Riggs of Pen-Elayne on the Web for drawing attention to a recent article in In These Times, “Autism in a Needle?,” by Annette Fuentes.

Below are just a few relevant, and enraging, pull quotes from the Fuentes article.

But please, if you read nothing else today or tomorrow or the next day, read the linked article in full, distribute it to your friends and family, send it to every federal lawmaker who purports to represent you and your children and your grandchildren, now and to come, and then call each of those lawmakers to make sure s/he received it and read it completely, and then politely ask for his/her reaction and proposed response to this most outrageous of outrages.

Fuentes writes:

[T]himerosal . . . is composed of nearly 50 percent mercury, which is a known neurotoxin especially harmful to fetuses, infants and children. What’s more, it has been linked to a range of symptoms collectively known as Autism Spectrum Disorders. […]

Thimerosal was widely used since the ’40s in over-the-counter medicines until that use was banned in 1998. It’s still found in some vaccines for adults and infants. Its medical, political, economic and international implications represent a chilling chapter in the history of public health, in which regulatory agencies were negligent, if not guilty, in covering up health hazards, by failing to act quickly to protect millions of children. […]

Before 1980, autism was diagnosed in 1 in 10,000 children; in 2002, the National Institutes of Health raised that figure to 1 in 250 children. The Autism Society of America now estimates that autism disorders are growing by 10 percent or more annually. […]

In a sad twist, scientists increasingly believe that the mercury-laced vaccines meant to protect children from illness are at the root of this spike. In 1985, four of the shots recommended for infants in their first 18 months contained thimerosal. By 1991, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added three Hepatitis B shots (each containing 12.5 micrograms of thimerosal) and four Hib shots (each with 25 micrograms of mercury). As a result, the number of vaccines containing thimerosal jumped to 11, and the amount of mercury exposure mushroomed to 237.5 micrograms, an amount that exceeded all federal limits.

Neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the CDC, the nation’s chief regulatory agencies for pharmaceutical products and the watchdogs of public health, added up the micrograms. The regulatory spotlight was finally fixed on thimerosal in 1997 when Congress passed the FDA Modernization Act. Part of the act required the FDA to investigate all drugs that contained mercury and determine their effects on humans. Within a year, the FDA had called for the removal of all thimerosal-containing products from over-the-counter products. Thimerosal remained in more than 50 vaccines, however, until the Public Health Service (which includes the FDA, the CDC and the National Institutes of Health) and the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in July 1999 “urging” vaccine makers to reduce or eliminate thimerosal because of “theoretical potential for neurotoxicity.” […]

The CDC launched its own study of thimerosal safety in vaccines in fall 1999. . . . . The first report in February 2000 found a statistically significant risk for neurological developmental disorders at age 3 months as the amount of thimerosal that babies received increased. And . . . a risk of autism 2.48 times greater for infants getting higher amounts of thimerosal in vaccines, compared to infants who received thimerosal-free vaccines. […]

If the CDC and FDA seemed to acknowledge the risks of thimerosal four years ago and the need to get mercury out of medical products, today the official stance is to circle the wagons against mounting public and scientific criticism about its handling of the thimerosal issue.

The stakes are high for the pharmaceutical industry. Eli Lilly, inventor of thimerosal, was granted protection from lawsuits by parents of autistic children under a short-lived provision slipped into the Homeland Security Act in November 2002. […]

The Third World is the next frontier in the thimerosal debate. Eli Lilly has licensing agreements with drug companies in 40 countries that make thimerosal and market it under the trade name Merthiolate.

For U.S. pharmaceuticals . . . the global market for vaccines containing thimerosal is a goldmine.

Unbelievable, isn’t it (or is it?), that once such vast damage apparently has been done here at home that companies like Eli Lilly are hell-bent on wreaking similar, yet still profitable, havoc overseas? And that their allies in Congress and the Bush administration are all too eager to help them do so?

You know, I really don’t hate my country. I don’t. I love this country. Sometimes I just hate the people who are running it.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Saturday, November 29, 2003  

Joining “Better Bloggers & Such”

Please welcome the sites listed below to the Rittenhouse blogroll. Visit them early and often.

Alicublog, by Roy Edroso, and that’s even though I can’t seem to find a blogroll of any kind over there.

Arms & The Man, by Major Barbara, still leading the troops.

Democratic Veteran, by Jo Fish, who, I guess, used to lead the troops.

Jar of Pencils, by Marijka and Claire Ann, a tag team with few peers.

Just a Bump in the Beltway, by Melanie, who has been reading Rittenhouse, like, forever I think, and sending kind words and encouragement the entire time.

Nasty Riffraff, by Julie, in a welcome return engagement to the blogosphere.

San Diego Soliloques, by Jon, mercifully shorter, and far more interesting, than some of the blogging that comes out of that little town.

And Waremouse, by John, who really gets it when it comes to that which is known as Andrew Sullivan.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


And Not Planning To Go Anytime Soon

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve never been to Wal-Mart. I used to feel sort of vaguely ashamed of that, thinking it made me sound elitist or snobby. The truth is that having spent my adult life living in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, and many of those years without a car, there haven’t been many opportunities for me to do so.

More recently, what with Wal-Mart’s obsessive anti-union practices, charges of sexual discrimination, assertions of widespread forced and unpaid overtime, and the apparent hiring of janitors at two bucks an hour, I’m starting to feel proud of my failure to patronize the massive chain.

The latest news about the Bentonville behemoth is equally stupefying.

As reported by CNN, Wal-Mart customer Patricia VanLester was seriously injured yesterday in the Wal-Mart Super Center in Orange City, Fla., crushed by her fellow shoppers -- at shortly after 6:00 a.m., no less -- during a mass stampede of crazed customers making their way toward a display of $29.00 DVD players.

Wal-Mart, in a unique demonstration of corporate sensitivity, apologized to VanLester’s sister -- VanLester herself being, well, still in the hospital and kind of out of it -- and has “offered to put a DVD player on hold” for the injured woman.

“We are very disappointed this happened,” said Karen Burk, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, adding, “We want her to come back as a shopper.” [Emphasis added.]

Not as Wal-Mart’s guest, mind you, but “as a shopper.”

Yes indeed, it appears Wal-Mart wants VanLester to return to the store, the site of this no-doubt traumatic experience, to pay for the $29.00, “on hold” DVD player that almost killed her, and, I suppose, maybe buy a few thoughtful gifts for her neighbors, especially those who walked right on top of her floored and injured body in a mad rush to save a few bucks.

Merry Christmas, Miss VanLester, from the stingy bottom-line folks at Wal-Mart!

[Post script: Total sales at Wal-Mart Stores in October 2003: $19,066,000,000.00. Total sales in the company’s fiscal year to date: $182,312,000,000.00. Source: Wal-Mart Stores Inc.]

[Post-publication addendum: If you care to see yet another example of Andrew Sullivan missing the larger point entirely, head on over to his place -- no, not the place in Washington, nor the vacation home (tax shelter?) in Provincetown, Mass., nor the crash pad in Chicago (oh so handy for IML weekend), but the vanity site -- and look for today’s posting headed “Not the Onion.”]

[Post-publication addendum (December 5): Hmm . . . Did she do it on purpose or something? “Developing . . . ,” as the dope in the hat would put it.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Friday, November 28, 2003  

Or Something That Pays, Anyway

I’ve been blogging more than I expected in recent weeks, time I expected to be fully consumed by finding a new job, partly because I felt I owed something to the readers who generously hit the tip box, but also because, well, one never realizes quite how long a single day is until he’s not gainfully or otherwise fully employed. And, when you think about it, there are few things by which a person can actually be “fully consumed,” excepting, of course, Ann Coulter on her annual eating binge.

I’ll admit the posts of the last several weeks haven’t been my best or most thoughtful work. Among other things, I think I’ve been getting a little too snarky, but it’s been fun and it’s a better way to relieve boredom than watching television. (Oh, wait, I don’t get television: not signed up for cable, antenna connection long ago busted beyond repair, not really missing it much.)

Anyway, for those who have asked, and people really have, the job search is chugging along at about the same speed at which President George W. Bush reads Hop on Pop, a book Laura Bush -- She was a librarian once, remember? -- keeps reminding the president is really not about his father. (Oops, more snarkiness. Sorry.)

Actually it’s going slightly better than that. I found a sporadic and entirely unpredictable freelance writing opportunity that I was told with a straight face pays a grand total of five cents a word, which, when you consider that research is required for each piece, is, uh, just a tad below my going rate, even at a time like this. (It’s actually far below just about anyone’s going rate, with the possible exception of the furiously prolific Steven den Beste. [My contribution to the deservedly much-loved “shorter this, shorter that” genre that has emerged within the blogosphere: “Shorter Steven den Beste: ‘S.D.’”])

Job-hunting is frustrating, demoralizing, and tedious, so you find the humor in it where you can, and a small bit in New York magazine this week made me smile. Asked what she would say if the New York Times asked her to sign on as editor of the book review section, Judith Regan, noted publisher, responded, “I actually had a conversation with Arthur Sulzberger. I said, ‘You should let me take over. It’s the most boring publication in America.’ He laughed and said, ‘Send me an e-mail.’ I said, ‘Send me a check.’” (To the same question dirty-book writer Jackie Collins answered, “You bet! I’d give major space to commercial fiction as well as literary masterpieces. If books were food, you wouldn't want to have steak every day -- some days you’d fancy a hamburger.” Yeah, Jackie, and on others just the pickles or the catsup.)

I smiled at Regan’s remark because I once found myself in a similar position. Several years ago, a company looking to expand its operation in a certain way invited me in for an interview, a meeting during which I learned the position itself, to say nothing of the new department, had not yet been created because, I was told, “We don’t really know what we want to do with it. And that’s where you come in. We’d like you to tell us what we should do.”

So I set about doing just that. Well, three “interviews” later, each with its own set of carefully drafted PowerPoint presentations, idiot boy (that would be me), who first thought he was writing his own ticket to a dream job, finally realized he was actually working as an unpaid consultant and walked away from the whole thing. I should have sent them a bill. (The company still hasn’t established the new department that was under discussion.)

But I digress.

On the positive side, I have a couple of meetings set up for Thursday, and a blogger’s wife assigned me a short-term editing project. So perhaps things are picking up, though with Christmas approaching, everything soon could go out of whack.

In the meantime, what keeps me holding on? Well, with the Washington Post hiring Tina Brown, Philadelphia magazine taking on Camille Paglia, and David Limbaugh hitting the bestsellers list, things undoubtedly will get better soon.

Hey, a snarky send-off!

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A Woman Without a Past?

Is Tina Brown expecting everyone to have forgotten her past? Her star-gazing days at Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, and Talk?

After reading her latest column in the Washington Post, “Kicking the Stuffing Out of Celebrities,” published on Thanksgiving Day, one might be tempted to reach that conclusion.

Focusing mainly on the recent arrest of singer Michael Jackson, Brown discusses the unique problems faced by the rich and famous, those caused by the trappings of high celebrity. In doing so, Brown mocks something called “the bio-porn industry,” leaving the reader to recall on his own Brown’s prominent role in creating that very same business as we know it today.

Brown also offers this gag line:

One thing to give thanks for this morning is not being Michael or Kobe or Phil or Paris or Martha or any of the other spectacles of the great American circus. There should be a celebrity branch of the Animal Rights League. Media exposure is so pitiless and relentless that fallen stars might as well go to the Baghdad zoo.

Yes, `tis a pity for Tina Brown that the public seems incapable of getting enough celebrity news and gossip that a giant media-industrial complex has emerged to try to satisfy that hunger -- and profit from it.

And Brown, who earned her place in publishing history by mastering, for a while anyway, the art of “the buzz,” now demonstrates an amazing flair for subtlety, though perhaps unintentionally. “Henry Kissinger,” Brown writes, “once commented that the best thing about being famous is that when you’re boring, people think it’s their fault.”

Nice try, Tina, but when it comes to your columns, readers know exactly who the boring one is.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, November 26, 2003  

And Pummeling!
This Week: Kathleen Parker

Whoa! It’s nice to see a blogger on a tear and there’s no doubt whatsoever that Bruce Garrett of The Story So Far is tearing it up, ripping new ones right and left, but mostly right.

A recent Garrett victim: Andrew Sullivan. Still bleeding, last anyone checked. (And, sorry, no, we don’t know when that was. Immediate family only, dontcha know?)

Garrett’s latest victim: Kathleen Parker, for the most recent installment in her never-ending series, I-Want-To-Be-Miss-America-So-Can’t-We-All-Just-Make-The-World-A-Better-Place-Sort-Of-The-Way-I-Want-It-To-Look, “Gay Marriage: A Trip to the Moon on Gossamer Wings?” [Ed.: Registration required to access the Orlando Sentinel link.]

JM&J, does Garrett let Parker have it in “Why, I’m Just A Big Old Fag Hag Who Loves My Gay Friends All To Pieces . . . Unnatural Mistakes Of Nature Though They Are . . .”. And with her own words, no less. Some of Garrett’s post is in French. But don’t worry, you can still follow it. As for Parker, gee whiz, I just don’t know about that.

[Note: Edited post-publication for clarity.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Even at The Rittenhouse Review

I asked readers earlier today to participate in a thoroughly unscientific survey aimed at determining whether readers could identify which of the books promoted in the sidebar at right were most likely to send traffic to by virtue of either their cover designs and or their contents.

Thanks to everyone who participated. A smart group of people, you are. As a group, Rittenhouse readers were remarkably accurate in their assessment of the featured books based on covers or contents -- at least as I see the covers and contents, and that’s another, similarly unscientific, study entirely. (By the way, some of you, including, I feel compelled to note, K.H., are pretty funny, too.)

The three books on the sidebar at right that the latest statistics reveal have generated the most traffic to Amazon in the fourth quarter to date are: So80s, by Patrick McMullan; In Her Shoes, by Jennifer Weiner; and Gossip Girl: Because I’m Worth It, by Cecily von Ziegesar.

What to make of this? The cover of So80s shows an intriguing photograph of, well, I don’t know who she is, but her bust clearly is the center of attention in the shot. The cover of In Her Shoes features an illustration of “girl-on-girl” -- Rick Santorum really hates it when I say that -- under-the-table footsy. And the cover of Gossip Girl shows the headless, but not breast-less, photo of an attractive young woman.

See a pattern here?

The almost inescapable conclusion is that even at Rittenhouse, this hotbed of grim and humorless left-wing intellectualism, sex sells. Sex sells books. Or at least it gets people to look at books. Or look more closely at the covers of books. Who says liberals are no fun?

[Maybe this should have been a contest instead of a survey. Reader C.V. got two out of three on this question, C.V.’s only slip being the substitution of A Royal Duty, by Paul Burrell, for In Her Shoes. K.M. also got two out of three, missing In Her Shoes with the offering of Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. And the aforementioned K.H., while picking In Her Shoes and Gossip Girl, missed only So80s by suggesting The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisenberger. But there was an intriguing -- and disturbing -- theory underlying the choices: “chop[ping] a piece off the female body” seems to work, K.H. noted. Nice parting gifts would have been appropriate for all three readers, don’t you think? (Note to self: Find distributor of inexpensive but tasteful parting gifts. Maybe call Don Pardo?)]

As for books that generate traffic due to their content, a little guesswork is required. Certainly, So80s, In Her Shoes, and Gossip Girl offer much more than their covers -- there are pages inside them after all, and besides, every time I take one of Jennifer Weiner’s novels out of the library another patron immediately submits a request pulling it out of my hands -- so no slight or insult is intended here.

The statistics show that the next batch of high-traffic generators are: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson; Had Enough?, by James Carville; and Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.

The covers of these three books feature, respectively, the esteemed gentlemen Messrs. Franklin, Carville, and Franken. (Sorry, Walter.) With that in mind, one must ask, is it the contents or the covers that’s generating the traffic? Franklin, you probably know, was considered something of a ladies’ man in his day. Perhaps his allure extends even to our own times and we don’t even know it. (Walter?) I’m not sure the same can be said about Carville and Franken, but I could be wrong about that, and so I wonder whether Carville and Franken aren’t entitled to feel a little bit better about themselves right now, at least in the shallow, superficial way we think about people at Rittenhouse. Face it, guys, you’re hot.

Similarly, Madam Secretary, the memoirs of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Living History, by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the covers of which are graced by terrific photographs of the authors, pulled well during their since-discontinued tenures on the sidebar. Babes both, I suppose. (And really, really smart, too, let’s not forget that. Just like the guys, who I forgot to say are smart.)

So how to determine, or guess really, which books are sending readers to Amazon by virtue solely, or at least for the most part, by their contents and not their covers? Looking down the list again, we find, in descending order: The Great Unraveling, by Paul Krugman; What Liberal Media?, by Eric Alterman; The Soul of Capitalism, by William Greider; The Lies of George W. Bush, by David Corn; and Big Lies, by Joe Conason.

With this group of books there again is clearly something at work, and I think the readers who participated in the survey, who, again, collectively, were pretty much dead on about this list, know it.

Although all five books were written by men, and a group of rather attractive men at that -- especially Alterman, who’s kind of hot, I think, though not in a psychotic John Derbyshire kind of way, but in a more normal kind of hot way -- none of these authors has his face featured on the cover of his book. In fact, there are no faces -- or bodies, or chopped-off parts of bodies -- on the covers of any of these books, with the possible exception of Corn’s The Lies of George W. Bush, which incorporates a typically creepy shot of the beady little eyes of the sitting president.

For the most part, the covers of these books aren’t going to win any design awards. So it’s safe to say that sex, or sex appeal, isn’t what’s drawing readers’ attention to this fine collection of contemporary commentary. What is, then?

I suspect, and I’m going into all-serious-and-stuff mode here, it’s a pervasive sense of frustration, anger, and even despair, mixed with an uneasy combination of hopelessness and optimism; a deep-seated concern about the state of the nation and the economy; apprehension over the current fundamentally misguided direction of the Bush administration’s domestic and foreign policies; a profound distrust of the media; and a strong sense that justice and honesty still mean something, somewhere, to someone.

And that tells me all I need to know, and pretty much what I expected I would learn, about Rittenhouse readers.


By the way, while I’m here and all, I really have to put in a plug (a meaningful and heartfelt plug, not the Rosie “Everything Ever Performed on Broadway Is and Was Great, Especially My New Show” O’Donnell kind of lying plug) for The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon, a recent gift from Dwight Meredith, formerly of P.L.A., now writing for Wampum.

I picked up Moon’s book the other night at bedtime, swearing I would read only the first chapter and then go to sleep. I had to force myself to turn off the lights after completing chapter four. It’s that good. (Thanks, Dwight.)

And also a plug for The Devil Wears Prada, another book on the sidebar that draws significant reader interest to Amazon. Weisenberger could have used a better editor when it came to rendering dialogue and conveying emotions, but her tale of an editorial assistant’s year in hell will amuse not only those who have worked in magazine publishing and/or are familiar with the legendary fickleness and cruelty of Vogue’s Anna Wintour, but anyone who can still remember the absurd assignments performed on his first job out in the real world.

For me, it was arranging the limousines. Down to the minute. I did that because I had to do that, in the age before cell phones no less, and despite that hindrance almost perfectly and with a sense of pride that, when you think about everything involved -- and you can’t imagine the half of it -- is not unjustified. No matter what else I was doing, and there was a lot of it, I knew without writing it down where all of the cars were or were supposed to be at every moment, whether parked or moving. (And it wasn’t like I was working for a dispatching company or anything. This was for “the firm.”) I can still picture the buildings and intersections to which I directed the drivers and about which I was forced to berate them for not reaching on time or approaching near enough, or for waiting at the uncovered entrance in inclement weather (“Mrs. Smith is waiting on the other side of the building. You know, where she won’t have to stand in the rain.”), or for idling too close to the cops’ favorite “no standing” zones, those that were most likely to get them a ticket that would have caused delays, or forgetting someone’s second wife or mistress (“Harry, Miss Brown needs to be taken back to the Ritz-Carlton. . . . No, now. Get her out of the bar. I don’t care if you have to pick her up and carry her. . . . I don’t care that it’s ‘two-for-one’ and she just started her first. She’s got to get moving. . . . We’ll reimburse her. . . . Look, Mrs. Jones is having dinner there tonight. Get Missy the hell out of that place!”), any of which “disasters” would have had our necks. And I can still remember the location of every damned pay phone a driver might need to use and the closest place he could get quarters if he needed them and asked really, really nicely because I checked around and pleaded and left my card with shopkeepers, and scoped it all out ahead of time and on my own time, and periodically reappraised the lay of the land for the necessary updates and revisions.

But I’ll shut up. It’s Weisenberger’s book, not mine, and it’s a great read.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Times News Flash: Not All Gays, Lesbians Will Marry

Here’s a shocker for you, right off page A1 of today’s New York Times: After (and, sadly, still preceding) all the fuss and bother and squimishness, it seems some gays and lesbians might choose not get married at all, after all.

In “Gays Respond: ‘I Do,’ ‘I Might’ and ‘I Won’t,’Pam Belluck writes:

In the aftermath of last week’s court ruling, which could mean that same-sex marriages can take place as early as May, gay couples in Massachusetts and elsewhere are considering whether or not to wed.

The response is hardly monolithic. In interviews with about 20 couples and people who study gay culture, those most interested in marriage had children or pressing concerns about health or mortality.[…]

Of those who rejected marriage, some felt it would be superfluous, and the offer of marriage even a little insulting, considering the length of time they had been together. Others felt that even though their relationships had lasted years, they might not be ready for such a step, or they were soured on the idea by previous, heterosexual marriages.

I can just hear it now: “Damn homos. Give `em what they say they want and they won’t even take it. There’s a larger and more sinister agenda at work here, people! I don’t know what it is, exactly, but I’m sure it has something to do with the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and the Procter & Gamble moon-and-stars thingamajig.” Don’t even start with that, because, well, we know it’s coming anyway.

But why has the Times allocated 1,400 words of prime front-page real estate (yes, I know, including a jump) to informing its readers of the painfully obvious? That gays and lesbians, in the potential face of a sea change in civil law, might ultimately choose to do any number of things in the organization of their private lives, including marry, cohabitate, or remain single for their entire lives.

Sound familiar?

It should. The vast majority of Americans have been making the same choices -- freely -- for centuries.

But when it comes to the gays, this is news. To whom?

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Testing (Unscientifically) the Appeal of Books & Book Covers

This is a two-part survey, and your participation, while entirely voluntary and wholly unremunerated, is greatly appreciated.

First, take a quick look at the miniature reproductions of the three dozen or so books offered for sale at and pre-selected by Rittenhouse (which, by the way, gets a small percentage of the pretax, pre-shipping total on all of your Amazon purchases if you start your shopping trip here) shown in the sidebar at right.

For now, look just at the covers, mind you, and put aside as best you can what you know or have heard about the books themselves and/or their authors (if anything).

And then choose which three books, which covers actually, you would expect to have generated the most traffic from Rittenhouse to Amazon over the past seven weeks.

Second, disregarding the cover designs to the greatest extent possible, and basing your determination on what you know or have heard about the books and/or their authors (if anything), the general range and tenor of coverage of contemporary issues at Rittenhouse, and what you might think would be of greatest interest to the typical Rittenhouse reader (assuming there is such a thing), choose the three books you would expect to have driven the most traffic from here to Amazon during the past seven weeks.

If you have a moment -- and it’s the day before Thanksgiving, tell me anything is happening at the office today -- send your selections, which will be tabulated but held in confidence, to The Rittenhouse Review.

This could be interesting. Or not, but let’s try it anyway.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Tuesday, November 25, 2003  

Aw, Darn It. Nobody.

A headline in the style pages of today’s New York Times reads: “Final Splash For Publicist.”

If, like me, you thought the article had something to do with Lizzy Grubman, an SUV, and Georgica Pond, or something to do with Peggy Siegel and the irate chairwoman of a benefit at the Central Park Reservoir gone horribly wrong, you would have been incorrect -- unfortunately -- with both of these otherwise pretty good guesses.

The article, by Guy Trebay, actually is about legendary publicist Eleanor Lambert, who died last month at the extended age of 100.

Pull quote:

As a child, Ms. Lambert had once been thrown across a room by a bolt of lightning. That propulsion kept her moving toward spheres far removed from the genteel poverty of her Midwestern girlhood. Over the years, she entertained Greta Garbo and the Duke of Windsor at a vast Fifth Avenue apartment overlooking Central Park, presiding from a Louis XV daybed.

Only in the Times, kids.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell: Still alive . . . and kicking, too.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, November 24, 2003  

Mildred’s Coolness and Weightness

Overheard, in the sense that the first comment was directed at me and indirectly at my dog, Mildred, the world’s greatest English bulldog, last night:

Twentysomething Guy: “Dude, that is, like, totally, like, the coolest dog I have ever seen, like, in my life. Seriously, dude. Like, ever.

Me: Hey, thanks.

Sure beats the more commonly expressed sentiment from the proverbial -- and actual -- person on the street, which goes sort of like this: “Man, your dog is really fat.”

My response to this particular observation -- which we get a lot -- varies greatly. Sometimes I’m polite. Sometimes I’m not.

One time, a time when I wasn’t polite, I thought I was going to get my head bashed in. But let me say, again, and this time just for the record, the guy’s girlfriend was no Kate Moss. And while I hate to stoop that low, he had it coming, and I guess she, in her silence, kind of did too.

[Post-publication addendum ( November 26): As I understand it, Mildred was bred at a time, or just after a time, when the larger English bulldogs were winning most of the prizes at the major dog shows. The result: breeders sought to produce larger bulldogs to satisfy the demand of the show crowd. (Mildred, by the way, is ineligible for American Kennel Club shows because she is not “intact.” See spaying, infra.) Now, Mildred is, I admit, a little overweight, but she’s also just plain big. She is taller and longer than any female bulldog I’ve ever seen, and taller and longer than most male bulldogs I’ve encountered as well. She weighs more, and may even be larger than, her most famous peer, Uga VI, the University of Georgia mascot, though I’m certain her head is significantly smaller than his, which is normally the case with the girls. More recently, however, I was told that Mildred’s large stature and persistently ample weight may have resulted from my having had her spayed too early, though I was only following the veterinarian’s orders. I suppose that’s a subject for some future research, or maybe just a quick Google search, but it’s late (actually, it’s early: nearly 3:00 a.m.), and I just don’t feel like doing that right now. And so the mystery continues.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


A Memory, Even if Hazy

With few Americans realizing it, and even fewer talking heads, let alone executives from the major media outlets, remarking upon it, President George W. Bush and his handlers have exerted and achieved a breathtaking control over certain images resulting from the war on Iraq, a degree of manipulation to which Michael Deaver, former image-inverter of former President Ronald W. Reagan, could only hope to aspire.

Some commentators from outside the “mainstream” media, and perhaps even a few of the liberal columnists whose essays are carried by a tiny minority of American newspapers, have noticed this, as has many a blogger. As they have observed, the most egregious offense of the Bush administration in its treatment of the war is its strangely effective blackout of media coverage of the dead returning from Iraq, men and women normally accorded a somber but wholly respectful welcome back to American soil, with thoughtful, or at least serious, coverage by the major broadcast and cable networks of the flag-covered caskets and the relatives greeting them.

Had you forgotten about those clips from conflicts past? I haven’t. And I’ll bet there are hundreds of relatives and friends of the dead from the war on Iraq who haven’t either. They have their memories, too, but they forever, it seems, will be, in the public sense at least, memories of other people’s deaths and losses, since, due to the cruel callousness of the Bush administration, they won’t have their own public mourning, bittersweet as mourning always is.

Say what you will about President Reagan, and I’ve said plenty (even though I was a conservative, or at least a “foreign policy hawk,” back in those days), even President Reagan was better than this.

Allow me a memory, one that may be a little fuzzy, but bear with me, as the point remains valid even if I mess up a few details.

It was 1983 and more than 200 Americans were killed in a terrorist attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut. The dead were taken home to Dover Air Force Base (or was it Camp Lejeuene?), where the families of the dead traveled to accept the bodies, mourn alone and with each other, and to hear from President Reagan.

After his prepared remarks, President Reagan and his wife, then First Lady Nancy Reagan, expressed their personal condolences to families of the dead soldiers, walking slowly through the assembled crowd.

I recall vividly a middle-aged woman holding an 8- by 10-inch framed photograph of a uniformed, but still shockingly young, man. Her son, I assumed. As the Reagans approached and extended their hands, the woman stood firm. As she spoke with President and Mrs. Reagan she pointed several times to the photograph, saying, we don’t know what, because the microphones, of which there were legion, couldn’t capture the dialogue. The woman, the presumed mother, was distraught, but she wasn’t angry. She didn’t appear bitter or hostile or accusatory. She was just sad. She was in mourning.

In my memory of the scenes of this meeting, which was played several times on several media outlets, I surmised she was saying, “This was my son. My son. This was my son. And he’s gone.” Both President and Mrs. Reagan were visibly moved by this particular encounter. Mrs. Reagan was, in my memory anyway, shaking and on the verge of a deluge of tears. President Reagan, not widely known for his emotional side, was almost quaking in his shoes. One could see it, also, in his throat, which plainly was choking up. And in his face. He seemed surprised by the outflow of emotion. He stammered, hemmed, and hawed, clearly unable to think of anything to say. I mean that not as an insult. Had I faced such raw emotion, I don’t know what I would have thought to say. It was for me a very emotional picture.

I have no children. You know that. Nor, obviously, have I lost a child, or even a niece or nephew, least of all under horrific circumstances, nor such circumstances that all too many are ready to characterize as “just part of their job.” All I can imagine is the pain, the loss, and the suffering of such parents, spouses, family, and friends -- those who have lost someone dear in armed conflict.

But I know a thing or two about death. Death, generally. That I’ve seen.

And it’s surprising how little it can take to make a bereaved person feel just a little better about that pain, loss, and suffering, especially when the life that preceded it was noble, brave, and generous -- and oh so young.

I hope someone, somewhere in the Bush administration is thinking, even in the repressed corners of his or her politically modulated mind, that this would make a difference, this being just 20 minutes with the President and the First Lady. Not a private meeting, not a meeting at all, nothing too personal, even. Just a simple, brief, little ceremony that says, “Your sons and daughters, your spouses, your parents . . . mattered. To us, as a nation. And to me, personally, as commander in chief. I salute their sacrifice, as do your fellow Americans, but I know also that this a burden I will bear for the rest of my life. More important, I am awed by your strength and your determination, and your character and accomplishments as parents, husbands, and wives. You are, individually and collectively, a national treasure, and an inspiration.”

Is that really too much to ask?

[Post-publication addendum (November 25): In case you missed it: Cher recently proved she’s twice the man and 10 times the leader President Bush could ever hope to be.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Saturday, November 22, 2003  

She Keeps on Spewing and Spewing and Spewing

Apparently Camille Paglia really is back. Not in the sense that Tina Brown is back. Sure, they’re both contemptible, predictable, and insufferable, but while Brown, for reasons unknown, has parlayed her decidedly uneven past into a regular -- for now, we can only hope -- perch at the Washington Post, Paglia, as befits the schizoid personality disorder she happily has adopted for public consumption, suddenly is being published here, there, and, seemingly, anywhere, and about anything.

I’ll give her this: Paglia’s on a roll. A very little tiny roll, but a roll, nonetheless. Unfortunately, you know how these things go. She gets a gig here, a notice there, a spot somewhere else, and before you know it, she’s being taken seriously again. It’s a chapter pulled from the Gloria Allred book on self-promotion, only it takes a helluva lot more chutzpah -- and effort -- when you’re Camille Paglia, if only because Paglia’s an academic and a writer, tough professions both, and not a rich California trial lawyer with more money -- and jewelry -- than God.

Not only did the web site invite Paglia back for more (abuse), her latest appearance there taking the form of a widely mocked and belittled interview, but now Philadelphia magazine has hired Paglia to write intermittent (as best I can gather) features in its pages going forward. Good for them! Hell, at least she won’t be writing restaurant reviews, which is what, like, half the staff there does, I think.

Paglia’s first piece for Philadelphia is in the December issue. [Ed.: See “Vera Wang’s Fumble,” p. 187, not published on line. That’s just their thing there.] It’s a 600-word sidebar about the new uniforms designed for the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders by vastly overrated New York fashion designer Vera Wang. (On this, at least, Paglia and I agree.)

Though Paglia spews, spews, and spews, and makes reference to Nancy Sinatra, Raquel Welch, the Ziegfeld Follies, the Radio City Rockettes, and Las Vegas show girls, she avoids, remarkably, I think, or had edited out of her text, any mention of ancient Greek dancers on the island of Naxos, Romanian Renaissance troubadours, and “my 1960s generation” -- though I’ll bet you dinner at the next restaurant Philadelphia favorably reviews that has spent at least 25 percent more than its peer-group average on advertising in the magazine’s pages over the past six months that Paglia’s `60s cliché, the most tired of an arsenal of many, was in her final manuscript -- it all comes down to this: Paglia doesn’t like the cheerleaders’ outfits.

Paglia writes, in barely relevant part:

[I]t sure doesn’t look like Wang is a fan of this beefcake, blood-and-guts, proletarian sport, or did much looking around into the visual history of the flirtatious, effervescent cheerleader as an American archetype.

Proletarian. I mean, you just know Paglia pops a boner when she writes that word, don’t you? (And, I promise, I’m not going to say one word about her friend and star-struck fan, Andrew Sullivan, here.)

And then there’s this:

Since when do Philly girls lack pizzazz and va-va-voom? And Wang’s prim and nip-and-tuck outfits don’t “read” well on TV, where her retro, streamlined detail comes across as timid, fussy[,] and uptight, a fantasy of gentility that would tickle taste at an upscale aerobics studio for Ladies Who Lunch.

Now, all in all, that’s a pretty good pair of sentences. Even I’ll say that.

Unfortunately, Paglia, before writing them or submitting them to her editor at Philadelphia, had neither the opportunity to read the accompanying (and misguidedly punctuated) feature story, “Let Them Eat. Hoagies,” by Amy Donohue, about Christina Lurie, wife of Eagles owner Jeff Lurie. [Ed.: Also not on line. That’s just their thing there. See p. 185.]

Nor, I suppose, did Paglia read anything else published almost anywhere else in Philadelphia in the past six months wherein experienced and reputable sportswriters, and the man and woman on the street writing letters to editors, and even savvy cultural observers, took notice of the strange and sudden de-proletarianization of Eagles football (and that’s just gotta’ be deflating somewhere), a trend that, as we learn from Donohue’s article, among many others, is not an accident but a deliberate corporate strategy, and a poorly conceived one in my opinion, but also a strategy in which Wang played an important, if oblivious or unwitting, part, one over which Paglia is now fighting.

Paglia likes to present herself as “with it,” “in the scene,” and “getting it,” when it comes to Philadelphia culture generally, and sports and Philadelphia specifically, but it’s plain as day that in her piece in Philadelphia she proved exactly the opposite. And that’s something, the kind of thing, longtime critics of Paglia just plain take for granted.

[Post-publication addendum (November 26): I don’t know him, but I like this guy, Massachusetts writer Michael McInnis. He’s fairly new to the blogosphere, writing since June at Grouchland, and more recently throwing around all the right compliments, at least as far as I’m concerned. Don’t worry about the “grouchy” part, McInnis. I’ve been called “surly,” “churlish,” “vain,” “pompous,” “self-referential,” “the Paul Lynde of blogging” (a term that typically includes a sneering allusion to, or outright and ignorant mockery of, my sexual orientation), and, perhaps most ridiculous of all, “a link whore from way back.” (And that’s just a small sampling of the stuff I consider printable.) Your grouchiness will serve you well, McInnis. Wear it as a badge of honor. It’s all part of the fun, anyway, particularly when there are so very many bloggers who still don’t get it, who don’t appreciate the great human comedy that marks this collective endeavor of thousands of great and feeble minds worldwide.]

[Post-publication addendum (December 1): Hey! Someone else gets it too! In her latest column in Philadelphia Weekly, “Pressler’s Miscellany,” Jessica Pressler writes, under the sub-heading, “Here’s What’s Crap”: “Just when you think you can forget about University of the Arts professor Camille Paglia, she comes back to haunt you, jangling her academic histrionics like the ghost of zeitgeist past. There she is in Philadelphia magazine, jawing pointlessly about Eagles cheerleading uniforms. And there she is again in the New York Observer: ‘Britney has adopted Madonna as a surrogate mother. But Madonna is actually the archetypal witch queen of the Snow White fairy tale and what Madonna is giving Britney is a poison apple that is putting Britney to sleep and making her go into hibernation and trapping her in the regalia of Madonna past.’ Please, someone, make her stop.” (Emphasis added, though probably not really necessary.)]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Not Just in Philadelphia, But in Pennsylvania, Too

In case you didn’t notice, and for that you cannot be blamed, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce last month adopted a new slogan, catch phrase, or tag line, what have you, to promote business and development in “Greater Philadelphia,” which, keeping in line with the city -- and region’s -- perpetual state of misguidance, apparently is a place and not an aspiration.

It goes like this, if you can believe it: “Select Greater Philadelphia: The Place to Prosper.”

According to the Philadelphia Business Journal, that smart, sprite, snappy, rolls-right-off-your-tongue slogan will be the center of “a $16[-]million, four-year branding effort designed to bring businesses to the region.”

I’m speechless. This is garbage. Trash. Junk. Nonsense.

And I’m dubious. Forgive me for predicting that “Select Greater Philadelphia: The Place to Prosper” isn’t prose-worthy or even slogan-worthy enough, to say nothing of sufficiently “sponge-worthy,” to knock anyone over, let alone draw anyone’s attention, nor, worse, bring any business to “Greater Philadelphia,” neither the city nor the region, the place, that is, nor, heaven forbid, the aspiration.

But nobody asked me.

Now, though, they, or at least their kindred sprits (or colleagues) in the field, are sort of asking. Or at least their proxy, the governor, is.

As recently announced, Pennsylvania, the commonwealth thereof, not the state, because there’s no such thing, under the direction and guidance of Gov. Edward Rendell (D), is hunting about for a new slogan, a message to welcome visitors through the 36 billboards that greet travelers entering the Keystone Commonwealth State.

In and of itself that last statement is mystifying: Though occupying an area of 46 thousand square miles and bordering such abundantly populated states as New York, Ohio, New Jersey, and Maryland, Pennsylvania has placed just 36 just billboards welcoming visitors here?

[I think R.J. Reynolds has more billboards than that just in West Philly. Boards that read, at least subliminally, something like, “Salem: Feel the Excitement, You Stupid Still-Smoking Negro.” Why are there no similar billboards in Philadelphia’s “gayborhood”? Saying something like, “Benson & Hedges: Live (And Then Die) the Classy Image, You Gullible Faggot”?]

And people elsewhere call Pennsylvanians insular and parochial? How dare they?

Well, we do need a new slogan, if only because nobody can recall what the current one is. As Philadelphia Daily News columnist John Baer reported this week (“Name-That-Slogan Contest Has a Good Ring, Ed”), there is justifiable confusion, and Pennsylvania’s history in this area is a little, well, checkered:

Gov. Milton Shapp’s “Pennsylvania, Naturally” turned out to be Vermont’s slogan. Gov. Dick Thornburgh’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania” is grammatically incorrect and scared people away (they thought it was a reference to then-Rep. Stephen Friend. [Ed.: Inside, er, joke. Google it.] Gov. Bob Casey’s “America Starts Here” never started anything. And Gov. Tom Ridge’s “Memories Last a Lifetime” already belonged to Wildwood [N.J.], which for too many means bad memories. [Ed.: Amen to that, brother.]

But as Baer notes, Pennsylvania’s not the only state (or commonwealth) with, at the very least, an image problem. He writes:

Other, funnier states have joke slogans.

Alabama: Yes, we have electricity. Arkansas: Literacy ain’t everything. Mississippi: Come, feel better about your state. And the ever-popular Nevada: Whores & poker!

Baer’s suggestions in light of that:

One wants to offer, Pennsylvania: It’s Alabama-plus, or Potholes Last a Lifetime, or Cooking with Coal, or Bring Your Own Doctor, or, as suggested on the Web site Political State Report, “Pennsylvania: ‘Deliverance’ with Scrapple.”

Anyway, as Baer and others have suggested, if you have an idea of your own -- and if I’m going to rant about this, I’d better come up with one myself -- head to VisitPA to complete your entry form. (Ugh, yet another misuse of a two-digit postal abbreviation in a setting in which it clearly doesn’t belong.)

You could win a week’s vacation in Pennsylvania valued at $5,000! (No wisecracks, please? There really is a lot to see and do here.)

There’s actually a second contest for “grade school kids.” I’m not exactly sure what that phrase means in this context, since a 4th-grader’s slogan is likely, as demonstrated above with respect to greater Philadelphia and prospering and whatever, to be at least as good as that created by months of effort from a room full of “marketing experts.” According to Baer, “The winning grade school class entry goes on specialty license plates with proceeds of plate sales paying for school computers.” What? No vacation? No percentage of sales?

You have until December 17. Hop on it! Or, as long-time Philadelphians would say, “Ho-ohp awnnit!”

[Post-publication addendum (December 3): David Raitt of The Raitt Stuff notes that civic promotion is being handled, probably not surprisingly, even more strangely in Pittsburgh, which has not a slogan but both “a core theme” and “a brand promise.” I always thought western Pennsylvania’s metropolis should adopt something along the lines of “Pittsburgh: It’s Not as Bad as You Think.” And it really isn’t.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Friday, November 21, 2003  

I Hope Nobody’s Listening

In case you didn’t notice, the Washington Post’s newest columnist, Tina Brown, just gets worse each week, and to be honest, I’m really not sure it’s her fault. Is anyone editing this stuff? Does she have a supervisor? Or is she “too talented” or “too much talent” for such oversight?

I should think not.

Brown’s latest column, “The Slough of Uncertainty,” is an incredible display, sort of like watching a semi-accomplished finger-painter trying to make the transition to oil on canvas.

Yes, it’s that bad.

Ostensibly covering, at least to start, a broker’s “conference for media big shots” in New York -- Does Brown not realize such gatherings are completely contrived and that no one, no one of importance anyway, actually listens to the presentations? -- Brown offers Post readers these valuable bon mots from Howard Stringer, chief executive officer of Sony USA: “Every day is Halloween. Between the combination of more information than you can possibly cope with and global markets stealing your employees[,] and price erosion happening faster than you can develop new products, you can’t tell a mask from a reality.”

Now, if Brown has even the slightest clue was Stringer was trying to say here, she doesn’t reveal that to her readers. And why not? She can’t. It’s a completely meaningless statement.

More junk from Brown:

In the TV world, executives are in denial about eyeballs swiveling to cable, Internet[,] and video games. They’re blaming Nielsen, the Delphic oracle of the ratings, for mislaying a chunk of young Hispanic men in the abysmal ratings for the fall season.

Movie executives and producers are in a funk about working in a medium that's a blip on the radar screens of the multinational corporations that own the studios. “The decision-making process is so diffused among layers, power in Hollywood these days is a hologram,” says Brian Grazer, producer of hits such as “A Beautiful Mind” as well as co-chairman of Imagine Entertainment, whose corporate partner, Universal, has had three overlords in three years and now has to learn a new cast of characters at General Electric’s NBC.

I’m sorry, what?

But wait, Brown, the Queen of Buzz, the Faith Popcorn of God knows what, spots something new:

The corporate executives who preside over these [media] empires are questioning all the rules they’ve lived by. Bigness, for instance. For CEOs, bigness turns out to mean that they have to spend their days managing downward -- communicating with increasingly remote and baffled employees, trying to explain why certain decisions haven’t been made.

What insight! Watch out, guys: If you get too bogged down in the little stuff you might not make the next issue of the Vanity Fair (a book that still bears Brown’s scars, sometimes all too proudly) “Power 100” or “Power 250” or “Power 500,” or whatever the hell they call that dopey issue with all the rehashed and mirror-image Annie Leibovitz photos. (I swear they rerun them. I’m going to sit down and research this contention some day.)

Of course, guys, if you were to stop listening to Brown and her ilk and give a second thought to, say, long-term shareholder (i.e., equity) value, you might gain a little more respect from the people who really count. But never mind, the photos are nicely framable, right? Or are they delivered to you already framed? (Because that would be a totally Tina Brown/Graydon Carter touch.)

Brown goes on: discursively, incomprehensibly, and irrelevantly, with a thoughtful nod to weblogs, the conventional wisdom about Howard Dean and the internet, something about the “hunger . . . for focus, for tangibles to vent against,” a stray comment about Malaysia and anti-Semitism (So last month, Tina!), a bizarre comparison between the Bush administration and “the baffled leaders of the music industry,” and this tasty send-off quote of her own: “The White House, too, is learning that power is a hologram.”

I don’t know. Don’t ask me. I read the article three times and I still don’t get it.

What a disaster. Someone must be held accountable. Not Tina, of course, since she never is, but someone. (Care to pick that one up, Bob? Gee whiz, talk about yesterday’s news. And yesterday’s newsmakers.)

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Face Facts

Whoa, flashback! A neighbor of Andrew Northrup of the Poor Man owns a Jeep Wrangler and the neighbor is angry because his Wrangler recently was -- get this -- “vandalized”! (Click through the link, if only to see the flyer.)

Now, as best I can recall, Northrup lives in Washington, D.C.,* a city I called home for 11 years, during five of which I also owned a Jeep Wrangler.

And now he, the neighbor, not Northrup, is distributing flyers. Threatening flyers.

“Vandalized” and you’re passing around flyers?


Please, that was the least of my problems.

Until I obtained, first, almost-uncuttable cables, and second, a hood lock, and third, an off-street, gated, and locked parking space monitored 24/7 by cameras and security guards, the battery from my Wrangler was stolen four times. Four times, that is, preceding all of the aforementioned precautions, before this idiot (that would be me) started lugging the battery back into his apartment each and every time he parked the Jeep on the street.

What else?

Well, the driver’s side of the Jeep was “keyed” no more than two weeks after I bought the damned thing.

The stereo was stolen, even though the face plate was securely stowed in my living room.

The ignition system was destroyed twice, presumably as a result of attempts to steal the vehicle.

The “windows” (which are made of plastic) were slashed three times, and the “roof” (which is made of nylon) was cut open twice.

The gas cap was stolen twice and gasoline pulled from the tank at least once before I got a lock for that.

The license plates were pried off twice, both the temporary tags and the first set of “permanent” tags.

And a used condom was found in the back seat one morning after I just said the hell with it and stopped locking the Jeep at night.

Look, the Wrangler is a really great vehicle. Tons of fun. I loved it. But if you live in a large city and you park your Wrangler on the street, or anywhere near the street, any street, well, you’re just asking for it. Trust me, I know.

And owning a gun, as Northrup’s neighbor brags he does, won’t help you one bit, no matter what the perpetually clueless say.

*[Post-publication addendum (November 24): I made a mistake. Northrup writes to tell me he is not based in Washington, D.C. He writes from Austin, Texas. That might explain the whole gun thing. Or not.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


I Don’t Know, But He Sure Was a Good Blogger Anyway

Another blogger down.

Aw, damn.

That’s all.

Just damn.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


A Shame We Can’t See His Photo

You know, I wish that when I was 20 or whatever he is that I were half as smart and aware as the Mighty Reason Man. Just imagine what you would be reading here right now if that had been the case.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Thursday, November 20, 2003  

You’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better
And You Might Even Meet Your Deadline

Hold on. If we, as Roger Ailes -- no, not the disgusting and contemptible one -- suggests, and I think we should, adopt the term “shalitting” for the all-too-pervasive practice of journalists blatantly cribbing from the past work of their colleagues near and far, does that mean that every now and then a writer will get up from his seat and, while heading toward the Lexis-Nexis terminal, announce to his co-workers, “Excuse me, I’m going to take a shalit”?

God, I hope not.

(Yes, I know her name isn’t pronounced that way. Ease up.)

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Sunday Morning TV Time

World O’ Crap is easily the best of the latest batch of blogs to appear on the scene. Its founder, editor, publisher, and proprietor is a woman who, to the best of my knowledge, has remained anonymous, almost as anonymous as the founder, editor, publisher, and proprietor of TBogg, where I first learned about WOC.

I don’t know who she is, but the WOC blogger is both brilliant and hilarious, just like “Tom” of TBogg.

Now, tell me, what would you give to watch a Sunday morning “week in review” program co-hosted by the two founders, editors, publishers, and proprietors of WOC and TBogg?

You know your alternatives, but even if those dismal selections weren’t available, and in a just world they wouldn’t be, wouldn’t you pay something? I know I would. Hell, I might even sign up for cable again.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


(Requisite Allusion Disclosure: The New Yorker)

An old friend writes:

Hey, Jim, I notice in one of your new posts that you say you almost majored in chemistry. That’s a new one on me, and I remember you from way back when. [Ed.: Not college, exactly, but almost that far back.] Chemistry? Really? I remember psychology, biology, and the whole “psychiatrist or ophthalmologist” thing, and even the fling into art history, but chemistry? What else haven’t you told me?

Oh, my friend, there are many things I haven’t told you, but for current purposes I’ll assume you’re referring only to my undergraduate days, or at least that pick-a-damned-major-would-you part of my life.

Well, there were many, actually. In the hard sciences: biology, chemistry, and math, but not physics. In the humanities: German, Italian, classical studies, and art history, but not English. In the social sciences: psychology, history, and political science, but not sociology and not geography, and that despite the suspicious preponderance of jocks in the program that made majoring in the latter subject altogether too appealing.

Any wonder there are piles of books, magazines, and journals on all kinds of subjects strewn around my apartment?

[Post-publication addendum: I used to have, tucked in my mental back pocket, a very humorous, and pretty derogatory, quip about majoring in geography that was certain to get a laugh at parties and such (something to do with state capitals), but then my friend Joe, who studied geography as an undergraduate and a graduate student, was killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and now, even though Joe himself got a kick out of it, the joke seems kind of unfunny and downright disrespectful, and so I don’t tell it anymore.]

[Post-publication addendum: Way, way, way down deep, inside reference/joke: Someone else: “Do you take the New Yorker?” Me: “No, but they keep sending it to me.”]

[Post publication addendum: Oh, wait, here’s another one, even though I didn’t deliver the punch line, the “someone else” in the preceding addendum did. Man No. 1: “I can’t get this ring off my finger. It’s stuck. I’ve tried everything. What else can I try?” Man No. 2: “Butter. Eat less of it.”]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Whose Daughter Is She Anyway?

Many long have thought, with considerable justification, that “The Corner,” the weblog of National Review, was occupied by nothing more than a socially misfit group of juvenile dunces -- lots of seventh-grade-era jokes about girls, and fags, and hippies, and stuff -- and I wholeheartedly agreed.

I try to avoid the site, but lately I’ve found myself going back there, what with my school-boy crush on John Derbyshire and all that, and the blog’s remarkable resemblance to a just-gotta-look-at-it, eight-car pile-up on I-95, southbound, somewhere near Chester, Pa.

Just today I swore off it, but Ezra Klein of Pandagon pulled me back for just another look out my rearview mirror, whereupon I found, well, more of the same, except that the supervisors of the kids in the corner -- including the strangely revered cafeteria lady, Kathryn Jean Lopez Lopez, the same woman who, for some reason, has a 1,500-word bit of incomprehensible and pointless drool in the latest issue of the National Catholic Register (Whose daughter is she?) -- are cheering them on with a fervor otherwise reserved for encouraging bulk purchases of Richard Lowry’s latest scribblings.

What a mess.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


And Sullivan Gets Burned

This is great stuff. The “stuff” that regular readers of blogs have come to expect from the blogosphere, and exactly the type of not-at-all timid “stuff” that you never will read in the “mainstream media.”

It comes from Baltimore blogger Bruce Garrett of The Story So Far, a kind and generous friend of mine, and it’s about Andrew Sullivan, the Log Cabin Republican who swears he’s not a Republican, but who is a certifiable right winger nonetheless, and one about whom I would say lives in the loggiest of such cabins except that he owns not one, but two, decidedly non-log-cabin-type properties, the upkeep -- and enhancement -- of which has been funded by his deluded readers.

Garrett writes, in “South Carolina[,] Andrew. You Saw It There. And You Still Embraced Him. Remember That Moment?”:

You’re Bush’s lawn jockey[,] Andrew. If you can’t walk away from his gallery of useful idiots now, you never will. Never. Come next election day you’ll be stumping for a man determined to eliminate every possibility of any small shred of legal recognition for same sex couples, and busily vilifying the one who said he would at least support some form of civil unions, if not marriage outright. Go find Fred Phelps and give him a kiss[,] Andrew, because his fixation and hatred of homosexuals mirrors exactly yours of [D]emocrats and liberals, right down to the grim determination to hold onto it, even when it’s cutting your own throat.

All your words, all your fine noble words about same[-]sex marriage, and the rights and dignity of gay and lesbian people, and even if you really meant every word of it, that still wouldn’t make a whit of difference, since you can’t bring yourself to act like you meant any of it. You hate [D]emocrats too much, and value the sacred and righteous love between same[-]sex lovers not enough, to make a difference in the fight to secure that love.

Ouch. Even if you’re into pain, that’s just gotta’ hurt.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


The Making of a Great Cigarette

The tobacco industry, not without at least some justification, long has resisted efforts aimed at getting cigarette producers to reveal their products’ ingredients. Cigarettes are, in fact, one of just a small handful of ingestible (for lack of a better word) products the packaging of which doesn’t reveal their ingredients. It takes a little poking around to find even the most basic information. (Gee whiz anyway, the warning label on my lighter is more verbose than that on a pack of my cigarettes.)

So what am I smoking? Benson & Hedges 100’s, the “full flavor” variety. Yeah, I know, I apparently fell for it, hook, line, and, uh, stinker. (Just kidding. I’ve tried dozens of brands and I keep coming back. It really is the taste. I swear. Hell, I take a lot of abuse for choosing this brand. “Old-lady cigarette,” my friends call it. Yeah, guys, your Marlboro Lights are so butch.)

What’s inside? Well, according to Philip Morris, there’s tobacco, of course, and all this:

Sugars (Sucrose and/or Invert Sugar and/or High Fructose Corn Syrup)
Propylene Glycol
Cocoa and Cocoa Products
Licorice Extract
Diammonium Phosphate
Ammonium Hydroxide
Carob Bean and Extract
Natural and Artificial Flavors

Okay, so the cocoa, the licorice, and the carob bean I can deal with, but it’s been 20 years since I took a chemistry class and a couple of these items kind of worry me. (I almost majored in chemistry, believe it or not. Bet I’d have a job right now.)

Specifically, the propylene glycol (I remember enough chemistry, I think, to consider anything with “-lene” in its name a little scary), the diammonium phosphate, and the ammonium hydroxide. (Why does fertilizer come to mind with those last two?)

Any chemists out there want to help me out with this?

[Reader B.R. writes: “Propylene glycol is part of that greenish stuff you put in your car’s radiator. That’s right: anti-freeze. (See this site for more information.)” [Ed.: Wait, something goes in my car’s radiator? You mean, like, regularly? You mean, something that’s supposed to be refilled now and again? Huh. Good thing I don’t own a car anymore. Um, and to whoever bought my last car when I sold it, gee whiz, sorry about that. (Actually, I had it professionally serviced every three months. I assume they took care of that kind of thing.)] “Ammonium hydroxide: very bad stuff, especially when burned (this applies to many “non-toxic” substances). See this site for details. There are roughly 400 agents used in the processing of tobacco. Lots of them are KCCA (Known Cancer-Causing Agents). Then you burn `em.” [Ed.: Yeah, I know, but there’s also arsenic in oranges. And when did you ever see an ingredients label on an orange? (Of course, when did you last burn an orange?) So there. Sort of. Scare the bejeebus out of me, why dontcha? Not like I didn’t have it coming.]]

[Reader Jim McLaughlin, proprietor of A Skeptical Blog, writes: “Read your smoking post and thought I would help out. Let’s start with propylene glycol. This is from The Straight Dope: ‘Propylene glycol alginate is used as a thickener and stabilizer in such products as ice cream and candy as well as salad dressing. Originally derived from brown algae and since mixed with a few other goodies, the chemical has been used for almost a century in one form or another. It’s on the government’s GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list, but that just means it’s been around for a long time and hasn’t killed enough people to be conspicuous. As with many additives, little long-term testing has been done. PGA does not accumulate in the body, which is mildly reassuring, but there is some evidence that it inhibits the absorption of whatever nutrients happen to be in the food product it's mixed in with. On the positive side, it also inhibits the absorption of strontium, one of the more toxic components of nuclear fallout…something to keep in mind if you ever do menu planning the day after the Big One drops.’ Amusing no?” [Ed.: Mildly. But are we talking about the same propylene glycol? See addendum above.] “Here is the update on diammonium phosphate from the European Fertilizer Manufacturers Association:
‘Guidance For The Compilation of Safety Data Sheets For Fertilizer Materials
Diammonium Phosphate
1.1 identification of the Product
Designation: EC Fertilizer, NP Fertilizer x : y
Trade name: N/A
Commonly used synonyms: Diammonium Phosphate, DAP Phosphoric Acid, Ammonium Salt 1.2
CAS Number: 7783-28-0
EINECS Number: 231-987-8
EINECS Name: Diammonium hydrogen ortho phosphate
Molecular formula: (NH4)2 HPO4’
Looks like you hit the nail on the head with the fertilizer comment. Last but not least, ammonium hydroxide. Now I have to admit, this one puzzled the hell out of me. I understand that the two mentioned above act as preservatives for the tobacco, but I have no idea why they would put ammonium hydroxide in a cigarette. For a clue just go and read this page: ‘Most common use is: Ammonium Hydroxide -- chemical formula NH4OH, ammonium hydroxide is a corrosive chemical with a strong ammonia odor. Ammonium hydroxide fumes are irritating to lungs, skin and eyes. Ammonium hydroxide is used in SC1 cleaning solutions and is commonly sold as a 30% solution with a density of 0.90Kg/L.’ Ugh. I guess I should thank you for this. It reminds me why I am in the process of quitting (one month, a lifetime to go). Enjoy your next smoke.” [Ed.: Thanks, Jim, I just did. Sort of, but not as much as usual.]]

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Wednesday, November 19, 2003  

Welcome to the Real World

As an ardent opponent of “rent control” and “rent stabilization” in any form and in any place, it truly pleases me to read articles like this one. (At least the parts about “rent control” and “rent stabilization.”)

It’s about time New Yorkers, particularly those who think it’s their divine right to live in Manhattan, faced the real world.

[Post-publication addendum (November 20): Predictably, this post has generated more than the usual amount of e-mail from readers. I say predictably because the same thing happened the last time I dared to raise this incredibly touchy (especially among Manhattanites) subject. Look, almost every reputable study of rent control has demonstrated, to my satisfaction at least, that the ultimate and primary beneficiaries of a lifting of, or the absence of, rent controls are tenants. Furthermore, no one has “a right” to live anywhere, or anywhere he pleases or wishes to, nor does any municipality have the obligation, moral or otherwise, to promote, let alone ensure, the socio-economic diversity of its residents, however laudable such an aspiration might be. (I’ll hedge a bit here and add that if a city insists that certain of its employees live within city boundaries, mandates that are themselves questionable, matters become more complicated.) You know, I would really, really like to live in Villanova (Pa.), Weston (Mass.), Bedford Hills (N.Y.), or Atherton (Calif.), but, frankly, they’re all a little out of my reach at the moment, but neither do I expect anyone in Villanova, Weston, Bedford Hills, or Atherton to do anything about that.]

[Full disclosure: When I lived in Manhattan I lived in apartments not covered by rent control. The first apartment rented for $2,550 a month, the second for $2,900 a month.]

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Probably Way Too Personal

I’m going to reveal a little secret here at Rittenhouse today.

I think John Derbyshire is kind of hot.

I really do.

You know, in his own psychotic, deranged sort of way.

And I actually think he might think the same of me, except for the psychotic and deranged part, which clearly doesn’t apply here.

I know one thing for sure, Derbyshire and his friends at “The Corner” think about, and talk about, and write about “man-on-man” sex a helluva lot more than I do.

And that’s just friggin’ weird.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2003  

Some Good, Some Not So Good

I realize, more than most of my critics, and even my regular readers, probably would admit, that I’m nobody; nonetheless, I get some pretty interesting e-mail, most of it from the proverbial man/woman on the street, but some of it from celebrities or notables (okay, like a really, really small fraction), most of whom have, explicitly or otherwise, asked that I not reveal their names, and some of it nasty and not worth the time of day, but some of it flattering and heart-warming, and, given the source, so exciting, to me at least, that I can’t help myself from at least hinting as to its original origin, even if, as I sort of suspect, doing so might get me in trouble.

Damn, blogging really truly is worth the effort.

[Post-publication update: Gee whiz, who wrote the first paragraph of this piece, anyway? All 122 words of it, all incorporated into a single sentence, a single paragraph? Joan Didion?]

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Or One of Them, Anyway

Falling under the broader heading of “Give Credit Where Credit Is Due,” I notice that Andrew Sullivan, who recently posted a “personal” ad at, is willing, for a moment anyway, to allow that “ad,” exposed by Gawker, to remain on the web, at least for a while.

Good for you, Sully.

How brave. How strong. How valiant. How noble.

This is all particularly interesting in that your friend, the sad, derisory, and altogether pathetic Norah Vincent hadn’t half the guts to do the same with her Onion-based personal ad, the one that portrayed (photo-“enhancement” included) the occasional right-winger’s favorite lesbian as a bearded man looking for hot chicks.

Why anyone, anywhere, takes either of you seriously is completely beyond me.

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You Go, or It Goes to, Mike

The quote of the week, so far at least, goes -- It’s only what, Tuesday, I think? -- without question, to Michelangelo Signorile, for this gem:

By Friday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan was sweating it out, dancing around the issue like a Rockette on acid . . .

Just try, um, topping that.

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Ranting While Trying to Get Some Work Done

Okay, now that I’ve emerged from my initial late-morning stupor (see below), I’m trying to get some work done.

And, as it happens, the building management, the management that regularly and repeatedly describes my apartment building as providing “luxury living in the heart of Philadelphia,” has decided to launch that once-every-three-years ritual known around here as “vacuuming the hallway carpeting,” not to be confused with the once-every-ten-years ritual that encompasses actually shampooing said hallway carpeting, and it’s driving me nuts.

God, I hate the sound of a vacuum cleaner.

It’s a loathing that dates back to childhood. You see, if I heard my mother vacuuming I knew something was up. Maybe company was coming, the cleaning lady had quit, or my father had made some not-too-subtle crack about the general appearance of the house. (Hey, you try keeping a 20-room house, occupied -- and regularly battered and badgered about -- by 10 kids, their friends, and any number of invited short-term guests and other assorted hangers-on, consistently clean.)

Regardless, it was a safe bet Mom wasn’t in a good mood.

Tread lightly was the general but unspoken message.

I feel the exact same way right now.

I’m almost afraid to go downstairs and check the mail.

Oh, wait, they’ve stopped. Must have been just a particularly egregious little spill. Figures. I didn’t think we were due for vacuuming around here for at least another year.

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Which Court is That Anyway?

I got up pretty late this morning, indulging in that timeworn and simultaneously permissible but dangerous luxury of the unemployed, and so I was still a little groggy when I clicked on a link to CNN’s story about the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision on gay marriage.

And so, being in a sleepy haze, one accentuated by the complete lack of Coca-Cola in the house, the photograph accompanying the article kind of freaked me out.

Left to right: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Oh, wait, no. Sorry, wrong court.

But if you look at the photo, it’s not that much of a stretch really.

[Post-publication addendum: Well, for crying out loud, CNN took the photo down, the photo that I, in my respect for copyright laws, declined to copy and republish, making this whole post entirely worthless. Trust me, it was funny.]

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Monday, November 17, 2003  

On the Case of Ashleigh Moore

Pay no attention to the man in front of the computer. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. At least lately, when it comes to Ashleigh Moore.

A big, boneheaded blogging error was committed here at Rittenhouse yesterday. By me. And, boy, do I feel stupid.

The disappearance and death of Moore, 12, of Savannah, Ga., got under my skin when it was first brought to my attention, and, as you can probably tell, it stayed there. Although the crime occurred hundreds of miles from me, I tried to keep up with developments in the case as reported in the local media by periodically checking the relevant web sites.

Over the weekend something happened that sparked my interest in the case again, and I checked in with the Savannah Morning News to look for the latest news. Well, foolishly and Ann Coulter-like, I relied on what is clearly a faulty search engine and came to the conclusion that the SMN hadn’t reported anything about Moore since July.

Letting righteous indignation get in the way, I posted two items about this, going so far as to suggest that Rittenhouse contact the paper’s editors.

Bad idea.

In fact, the latest article in the paper was last month and can be found here.

My apologies to the paper and its editors, to my readers, and to Atrios for bringing him into this folly.

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Sunday, November 16, 2003  

A Compulsive Notion, a Devotion, a Potion, and
Something From the Ocean

As soon as she passed the boxes to me I knew what would happen, I just didn’t know when.

Well, “it” began about an hour ago and just ended.

And “it” wasn’t pretty.

You see, last Friday one of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s best writers took me out to lunch. Nice, huh? Better, she brought me gifts: the official program of the 2003 Miss America Pageant and two boxes of saltwater taffy.

The second I saw the taffy I knew exactly what I would do with it: I’d put it somewhere in my kitchen cabinets, in a place not obvious enough for me to tap into the boxes immediately, nor a spot so obscure that I would forget about them.

But I knew that once I returned to the boxes, no matter when, and it could have been the very next day or some date a year or more into the future, I would eat my way through their entire contents in one sitting.

And I did.

Just now.

Look, I’m not a compulsive eater. Nor do I have a weight problem. Hardly. I recently dropped weight yet again, and I’m now down to 128 pounds. We’re talking college-age weight here, people. Freshman-year stuff. Beginning of freshman-year stuff. A 27-inch waist kind of thing. (God, I’m such a little shrimp.)

But when it comes to candy, well, forget about it. I cannot be held responsible.

And I refuse to be ashamed.

Thanks, you. I loved it.

[Post-publication addendum: I’m willing to bet no more than half a dozen Rittenhouse readers caught the undeclared, unrevealed, and otherwise obscure reference, or allusion, in the sub-heading to this post (“A Compulsive Notion, a Devotion, a Potion, and Something From the Ocean”). If you’re one of that select company, drop me an e-mail. I’d be pleased to hear from you.]

[Post-publication addendum (November 20): The answer: “Once Was a Time I Thought”:

Once was a time I thought that love could be sold or bought
And everything fell in place for me.
The fashion of passion I rationed with caution
Because of the notion the potion of passion
Had never been passed to me.

Okay, artistic liberties on my part. Forgive me. At least someone got it.]

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Generosity Unbound

Over on the sidebar at right readers will find a link to, more specific links to three dozen or so recently published books recommended by Rittenhouse, and, as added more recently, a link to the Rittenhouse “Wish List” at Amazon.

I don’t yet know who to thank, but within the last few days a Rittenhouse reader ordered and arranged to send to me Puritan Boston & Quaker Philadelphia, by E. Digby Baltzell, easily the item on the wish list I most desired, and a book I mentioned in passing here last week.

I hope I can thank personally the generous reader who sent this gift, not only because this is just really a darn nice thing to do and all that, but because this particular book is essential to one of my current research projects, as are most on the wish list, but also one I hope will eventually help lead to a book of my own, or more likely, or at least, a magazine article, about a certain period of Philadelphia history.

So thanks. Many thanks. Whoever you are, know and feel good that you haven’t lined my pockets, you’ve contributed to and supported the kind of work that gets an unjustifiably unemployed (They said it, I didn’t!) and all-around pretty-damned-unhappy-lately writer out of bed in the morning.

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It’s Just That There Are Fewer Rules Here

As a result of a message I received earlier today that I’ve decided, for now at least, not to publish, I’m putting this out there as a general policy statement of The Rittenhouse Review:

If you’re a public official or a public person of one sort or another, a regularly published member of the punditocracy, for example, with, say, a nationally syndicated column, and you don’t like something I’ve written about you here, feel free to send me an e-mail detailing or outlining your complaint, dissatisfaction, or disagreement.

Whatever you do, don’t ask your spouse or significant other to send me such a missive, and to the best of your ability, prevent him or her from doing so on his or her own.

No matter the tone -- hostile, nasty, plaintive, even pleading -- such third-party messages carry little weight around here, reflect poorly on the subject under discussion, and are, just in general, all-too-Vincent/McNulty-esque to enable the relevant party to maintain any credibility whatsoever, and you know you can do better than that, don’t you?

That’s all. For now anyway.

[Post-publication addendum: Oh, and by the way, apropos of absolutely nothing at all, and this really has no relevance to the above post, but I really have to ask, is Mona Charen the lamest, the stupidest, the most idiotic columnist on the scene today? I’m serious. Is she? Fittingly, Charen got her start, one I remember all too well, at National Review, back when it was the (hardee-har-har) “intellectual flagship” of the American conservative movement, before, that is, the magazine was dumbed downed still more by the numbskulls who these days regularly contribute to “The Corner.” What’s up with Bill Buckley lately anyway? Is he in a vegetative state about which no one has informed us? Anyone put a spoon under his nose recently? (Oh, please! Sit down, Leon. I thought that was all over.)]

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Here, There, and Everywhere

Unbelievable. Death, death, and more death this weekend.

Most outrageous, 20 people were killed and more than 300 injured in nearly simultaneous terrorist attacks aimed at Turkish Jews in Instanbul. (Think about that when you head to church on Sunday, how freely and peacefully you practice your religion, or how freely and peacefully you choose not to do so, you Godless atheist you.)

And 17 dead in a helicopter accident in Iraq, and 13 more dead visiting the Queen Mary.

Gee whiz. Time to go hug the dog and all that.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Starting Life on the Right Foot

I’m pleased to report that Charlotte is starting life on a good, if tiny, foot. Or should I say, on good, if tiny, feet? Regardless, I’ll say one thing: This little girl has impeccable timing. She appeared on earth earlier today, at something like three in the morning, the very same day on which her maternal grandmother, i.e., her mother’s mother, i.e., my sister’s mother, i.e., my mother, was scheduled to arrive in town.

Good for you, Charlotte, because I don’t know what would have happened if you had decided to be late. I can just picture Grandma (and two of your great -- and I mean that -- aunts) spending day after day way down South -- “It’s really, uh, different here.” -- waiting for your arrival, only to have her return, empty-handed, so to speak, to horse country, thinking of something to tell the girls from the knitting, spinning, sewing, weaving, and needle-pointing guilds, those non-union, and probably largely Republican, collectives whose members have spent something like six months living on every little nugget about your formation and impending arrival.

Let me tell you, Charlotte, Grandma and her friends, along with your parents, your other grandparents, your uncles, aunts, cousins, and other relatives, collectively sighed a collective sigh of relief today.

So, welcome to the world, precious one. There was so much we wanted to get done before you got here -- I don’t know, stuff dealing with innocent little kids and poverty, hunger, abuse, disease, and so forth, the kind of thing that, thank God, will never affect you directly. Please know, always, that we, most of us anyway, did our best.

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