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...a sweatshop of moxie

Monday, June 30, 2008

Blogger Banning Anti-Obama Sites

Blogger.com/Google is shutting down anti-Obama sites. (Via JSU)

Whilst that doesn't describe my blog (I think beloved Sundries reader, Jose Aguirre, described it best when he said it's a Seinfeldian blog -- it's about nothing), I have stuck to my pledge to speak mostly about politics in 2008. Then, it'll be back to business as usual.

But Blogger.com just may define my blog otherwise:

It looks like Google has officially joined the Barack Obama campaign and decided that its contribution would be to shut down any blog on the Google owned Blogspot.com blogging system that has an anti-Obama message. Yes, it sure seems that Google has begun to go through its many thousands of blogs to lock out the owners of anti-Obama blogs so that the noObama message is effectively squelched. Thus far, Google has terminated the access by blog owners to 7 such sites and the list may be growing. Boy, it must be nice for Barack Obama to have an ally powerful enough to silence his opponents like that!

Remember all that palavah about George Bush being the second coming of Hitler? Of reinstituting the draft? Of declaring himself dictator, since 2 terms would never be enough for him and his evil Patriot Act cadre?

None of that came true.

Instead of looking to politicians you dislike for nefarious motives, you should've kept your eye on the guys who refuse to celebrate Memorial Day, and who allow China to censor anything they don't want their people to read.

But somehow I doubt that will happen since vigilance is the first casualty of agreement.

And I respectfully disagree.

IN THE COMMENTS: JSU updates with news that the sites have been reinstated.

Madcynic points out those who have a beef with a blog, can shut it down by a concerted "spam blog" attack.

Digg is also prey to "digging down" attacks if you happen to disagree with their readers (it's long been a leftist stronghold; "freedom of speech" being a complete joke on Digg), so this seems to be their reaction on Blogger.

Let's hope that's all that was.

And please alert me if anti-McCain sites are undergoing the same treatment by Republican supporters.

Because if spamming alerts is what happened earlier, ask yourself why it's happening only to one candidate. That's the real problem in a nutshell.

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See, This Is Why I Don't Have Bumperstickers

Bumper stickers are something "white people like", according to the arch website devoted to spilling whitey-likeys.

I veer from being vastly amused by most bumper stickers, and being horrified by them; the latter invariably revolving around "how can they do that to their car's paintwork??".

But perhaps one of the great unspokens about putting on bumper stickers on one's car, is that someone might just take offense at what your sticker thingie is saying -- especially if that something is political.

I swear to you there is nothing more corrosive in this world than politics. It scars everything it touches. Yes, religion and sex are close, but politics seems to encompass both these, and then some.

Politics is nothing more than the practical expression of the way people see the world.

Some don't care. But gang way for those who really do: if you disagree with their world view, you've made an enemy for life.

If you think this is exaggeration, I'll remind you of this post on Democratic Underground.

"I did not stop to help a * supporter today"

Let her words speak for themselves:

I had no idea how deeply my hate for that man ran. My lack of an interaction, with a * supporter is still haunting me a couple of hours later.

I was on my home and was on the ramp getting off the highway. I saw a mini-van on the side of the road. There was a lady standing next to the van and in her arms she held her child. I can only assume her mini-van had broken down. I don't know, perhaps with so many gad stations being out of gas, she had also run out. I slowed down and started to pull over to offer her a ride. At the very last second I noticed a "W" sticker on the back of her vehicle and I sped up and drove off.

I feel really bad as a human being. That child is not responsible for their parent's belief system. They are innocent and do not deserve to be out in the heat. (It is warm but not so bad that they would even break a sweat) I try not to punish people for what they believe.

On the other hand, so many hateful thoughts went through my head. I wondered how a person could see what was going on in NO and still have one of those awful stickers on their car. How could they support an awful excuse for a human being that has let our country down and is letting Americans die after they have made it through the storm? How can someone be so blind and so stupid?

A human being just admitted that politics took precedence over helping a mother and her baby in distress on the highway...

...because the mother voted for the wrong guy. Think about it. That's messed up.

This is where our country is at today, for some.

But there are those for whom unfortunately actions speak louder than any bumpersticker.

Over the weekend, an AP reporter broke startling news which will probably hit the wires in the morning where you are.

Fla. vandals tag 60 cars with anti-Obama messages

Though I risk being sued by the AP for quoting from their article...here is an excerpt:

"ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Police on Sunday were investigating vandals' spray-painting of dozens of city vehicles here, some with disparaging messages about the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Authorities think the vandalism to about 60 vehicles, estimated at $10,000 in damage, was done Saturday afternoon, police spokeswoman Sgt. Barbara Jones said.

The vehicles were parked across from City Hall and investigators said culprits tagged messages including "Obama smokes crack" and a racial epithet."

I'm sure I don't need to tell you what that racial epithet was.

I know what you're thinking: this has obviously got to be a McCain or a Republican's doing, right?

I'm sure that's how media will spin it tomorrow. Just another angry Republican whitey, bitterly clinging to his guns, chewing tobacco and spewing n-words.

Lost in the report will be this small paragraph:

"They even left business cards on the vehicles that disparage both the Illinois senator and his rival, Republican John McCain. The cards voice support for Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama's former opponent."

But don't worry. The media and their surrogates may spin this, in case someone like me points this fact out.

It probably wasn't a Hillary supporter at all, they'll say. It's stolen from the Lee Atwater playbook of dirty political tricks.

'Cause a Democrat couldn't possibly be a racist, right? Not the My Middle-Name is Hussein-ers!


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So said President Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain, when asked about his country's well-earned Euro 2008 victory.

"Estoy muy feliz. He disfrutado y es un privilegio ser el primer presidente de la democracia que tiene la suerte de ver esto. Han merecido ganar. Esto sólo es el principio. Lo mejor está aún por venir.¡Podíamos!"

(Trans) "I am very happy. I've enjoyed it. It's a privilege to be the first president of a democracy to have witnessed such an event. They deserved to win. This is only the beginning: the best is yet to come. YES WE CAN!"

...okay, Podiamos is more like "yes we could", in the past tense, but the mantra is still the same, and universal amongst his kind, apparently.

More to my liking was the genuine emotion and elegance exhibited by the royal pair, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia.

Unlike their son and daughter-in-law, who whooped it up in near-hooligan fashion during the Spain-Russia match, Crown Prince Felipe and Crown Princess Letizia even using her Blackberry to text their friends during the match...

...the monarch and his wife showed why they have been a class act on the Spanish Throne for 33 years.

The King's words say it all.

"Ha sido muy emocionante. Hemos sufrido pero ha merecido la pena. Es lo más bonito de los últimos años. Ya era hora"

(Trans) "It was all very emotional. We went through a lot but it was all worth it. It's the most beautiful thing that's happened in recent years."

Then he and the Queen patted El Niño, goal winner Fernando Torres, and said, "It was high time."

P.S.: Okay, so my mother cried after the match. For whatever reason, she wanted this title more than other years -- possibly because she can't remember a decade when Germany went title-less (since the 1960s, actually).

But honestly, Spain were impeccable in the tournament.

Even my former whipping-boy, Iker Casillas, was unrecognisably good. Brazilian-born Marcos Senna was the finest player on the pitch today, whereas Schweinthingie was abysmal, Ballack a rude joke, and manager Loew an idealess hack.

So yes. Despite my unequivocal support of Germany this entire tournament, I echo the King.

After 44 years of Spanish Armada drought, ya era hora. Congrats, Spain!

MORE: Heh. Actually, I hadn't seen this bit. Not only can you see and hear the King saying what he did above, but the Queen's reaction after the match is priceless.

She goes up to the King, and yanks him over to kiss him. Meanwhile, he's busy being slap-happy with the entire VIP section.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sworn Virgins

There's nothing like a quirky little story to enliven one's breakfast, don't you find?

I was reading the New York Times on the Kindle at my local bistro just now (choc-a-bloc as it is in the mornings with rushing execs of both sexes, eager to get a steamy croissant from South Florida's tastiest French bakery), when I chance upon this amazing tale.

Albania, the homeland to such disparate luminaries as Mother Teresa and Enver Hoxha, has an age-old custom in the more rural Northern areas:

Women swear off their womanhood and become men, a custom known as being "Sworn Virgins".

Now, I know what you're thinking. I thought the same thing too.

But this is apparently much more complicated than anything found on the steps of San Francisco City Hall.

Pashe Keqi recalled the day nearly 60 years ago when she decided to become a man. She chopped off her long black curls, traded in her dress for her father’s baggy trousers, armed herself with a hunting rifle and vowed to forsake marriage, children and sex.

Pashe Keqi, 78, took an oath of virginity when she was 20 to become the family patriarch after her father’s death in a blood feud.

For centuries, in the closed-off and conservative society of rural northern Albania, swapping genders was considered a practical solution for a family with a shortage of men.

Women posing as men is obviously nothing new in this world.

When Hatshepsut proclaimed herself pharaoh, confounding her contemporaries by insisting "on being portrayed as male, with bulging muscles and the traditional pharaonic false beard" (something which made her very very hated), she was echoing this arch Albanian custom.

When Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was proclaimed sovereign, she was officially hailed as "King of Holland" not Queen, and her doughty subjects didn't bat an eyelash.

Same goes for these strapping ladies below.

These Hohenzollern princesses were Viktoria-Luise, the Kaiser's only daughter, and her sister-in-law, Crown Princess Cecilie, both of whom were Colonels-in-Chief of their respective regiments (as were almost all royal ladies at the time, continued today).

These mutative gender assumptions may strike some as contradictory, even bizarre, but they're all too common in history. These arise from need to replace the traditional protective characteristic of the male in society, and have occured in almost all cultures.

This is what the post-structuralist writer Judith Butler calls "performative" binary gender roles in her seminal book on the topic, Gender Trouble.

But even Butler didn't think that gender could be assumed willy-nilly; yet the Albanian custom of sworn virgins is just that.

Like Vestal Virgins of old, a woman enters a pact not just with her immediate family, but with society itself: in the Roman case it was to preserve their purity on pain of death, in exchange for maintaning the holy fires of Vesta.

In the Albanian case, it is by borne by need to protect kinswomen who would otherwise be at the mercy of men, with their base desires and all sorts of naughtiness of that ilk, in exchange for being given all the rights and respect of men by real men in their villages.

The sworn virgin was born of social necessity in an agrarian region plagued by war and death. If the family patriarch died with no male heirs, unmarried women in the family could find themselves alone and powerless. By taking an oath of virginity, women could take on the role of men as head of the family, carry a weapon, own property and move freely.

They dressed like men and spent their lives in the company of other men, even though most kept their female given names. They were not ridiculed, but accepted in public life, even adulated. For some the choice was a way for a woman to assert her autonomy or to avoid an arranged marriage.

Of course, in a society where women still look like this...

...this usurping of gender roles might not seem that much of a stretch on the imagination.

But irrespective of their looks, in the case of the Vestal Virgin and the Sworn Virgin of Albania, there is a price these women pay for their earthly honours.

Not surprisingly in both cases it is their overt sexuality, perhaps the single-most alluring yet threatening part of being a woman.

To become a man in these rural villages of Albania is as simple as swearing off one's sexuality, but more curious is the ease which others readily accept this casting off of gender.

Instead of giggles, side-glances, or even condemnation one might intuitively expect in such a Muslim land, the Sworn Virgin is immediately treated as a man by all who know her -- itself a commentary on the importance of maleness in their culture.

That was the case with the waspish Pashe Keqi.

Ms. Keqi lorded over her large family in her modest house in Tirana, where her nieces served her brandy while she barked out orders. She said living as a man had allowed her freedom denied other women. She worked construction jobs and prayed at the mosque with men. Even today, her nephews and nieces said, they would not dare marry without their “uncle’s” permission.

When she stepped outside the village, she enjoyed being taken for a man. “I was totally free as a man because no one knew I was a woman,” Ms. Keqi said. “I could go wherever I wanted to and no one would dare swear at me because I could beat them up. I was only with men. I don’t know how to do women’s talk. I am never scared.”

What is less fascinating to me, than the assumptions of what it is to be woman (everything to do with housework, childcare and lack of bravado), is the natural deference accorded to her even today.

As she later says, Sworn Virgins are no longer necessary in Albanian society.

It has progressed from both its tribal blood fueds, and Communist repression into the modern age of MTV and "discos", but still the younger generation treats her as a man, with a man's rights over the family's well-being.

Sure, she dresses as a man, she has short hair, and wears a fez-like hat, the qeleshe, to denote her male status, but curiously, save for the fez which I left at the cleaners, that would describe my workout shorts seated-self at the computer at this moment.

Yet I am all-woman, and have long since abandoned any pretense at virginity (shh, don't tell my parents).

Being male holds no allure for me at all. It is not necessary for me to renounce or sublimate my sexuality to be respected. The only social convenant which governs me is that of ladylike behaviour, which however is completely voluntary on my part. Should I break it, though, I won't lose any rights or privileges since those are tied to my humanity, not my sexual expression.

It is this awakening which modernity offers women which accounts for the odd reaction such Sworn Virgins have towards their younger counterparts.

Instead of happiness that it is no longer necessary to cast off their feminity to be respected or for their families to be protected, these she-males lament the olden days.

Ex-Communist officer, Diana Rapiki, who still wears a military beret wherever she goes, says "women do not know their place."

The intriguing bit is not that they are saying this as women who believe they are men in all but name, since many women believe that too without so much as donning a fez, but that they see this modern liberation as a negative.

For a Western woman today, it is enough to have the flexibility of a man, without needing a dramatic renunciation of their gender, least of all their sex lives as women.

And yet curiously once again, their society accepts that new role, perhaps if not with ease, at least with resignation.

But accept it they did the Sworn Virgin, and the Modern Woman, both.

That may be the real shock and moral lesson of this story: no matter how restricted throughout history, women have always gotten away with more than many feminists would have one believe.

Or, as we daresay: It's good to be the Queen.


Women Can Be Misogynistic Too
Shocker: Sworn Virgins Dying Out
Nuns By Another Name

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Divided Loyalties

For such a mutt as I am, unusual for an European, I usually wince whenever there's a soccer semi-final somewhere in this world. Invariably, two countries or clubs I am closely tied to by blood or emotion are represented.

Oh, who to choose! Cringe, cringe, I go. Not today, boy. It's Germany all the way!

But maybe this Turkish Taxi Driver can relate.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

I Wouldn't Let My Husband

Go out like this.

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Pumpin' Gas

What's your first preset station on your car radio? Mine, as Sundries readers might recall, is KISS Country 99.9 FM.

And amongst all the other reasons why, is that country and western music is always singing about, talking about, and looking out for...the little guy.

Everything that relates to him and her, is important to the C&W community. That speaks to me, boy.

So there I was, radio blasting The Lost Trailers' "Holler Back", windows rolled down, wind blowing my hair all over, cruising on I-95 the other day, but what do I hear?

Great tips on filling up at the station.

Prices are out-of-this world where I am. That's true of all Americans, but it's nice to have a moan about oneself, sometimes.

For Premium today, I paid $4.29 at UGas, an out-of-the-way, go'mint cheese type chain, foregoing my usual Mobil/Chevron stations because they're at $4.70 for Premium in Miami Beach.

And I am NOT going to pay almost 5 dollars per gallon in the US of A. What am I, back in England??

So without further ado, until the eco-nuts get it through their head we have to drill in ANWR now, I present you KISS Country's 4 very useful tips on pumping your gas.


1. Only buy or fill up your car or truck in the early morning when the ground temperature is still cold. Remember that all service stations have their storage tanks buried below ground. The colder the ground the more dense the gasoline, when it gets warmer gasoline expands, so buying in the afternoon or in the evening....your gallon is not exactly a gallon. In the petroleum business, the specific gravity and the temperature of the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, ethanol and other petroleum products plays an important role. A one degree rise in temperature is a big deal for this business. But the service stations do not have temperature compensation at the pumps.

2. When you're filling up do not squeeze the trigger of the nozzle to a fast mode. If you look you will see that the trigger has three (3) stages: low, middle, and high. You should be pumping on low speed, thereby minimizing the vapors that are created while you are pumping. All hoses at the pump have a vapor return. If you are pumping on the fast rate, some other liquid that goes to your tank becomes vapor. Those vapors are being sucked up and back into the underground storage tank so you're getting less worth for your money.

3. One of the most important tips is to fill up when your gas tank is HALF FULL or HALF EMPTY. The reason for this is, the more gas you have in your tank the less air occupying its empty space. Gasoline evaporates faster than you can imagine. Gasoline storage tanks have an internal floating roof. This roof serves as zero clearance between the gas and the atmosphere, so it minimizes the evaporation. Unlike service stations, here where I work, every truck that we load is temperature compensated so that every gallon is actually the exact amount.

4. Lastly, if there is a gasoline truck pumping into the storage tanks when you stop to buy gas, DO NOT fill up--most likely the gasoline is being stirred up as the gas is being delivered, and you might pick up some of the dirt that normally settles on the bottom. Hope this will help you get the most value for your money.

...can you imagine how much the Clampett's old clunker might cost to fill up today?

Thank God for Jed's Texas tea.

ADDED: The Red Cross are taking a twisted leaf from "No Blood For Oil" and offering gas coupons in exchange for donations.

Believe me, I did think about it for a moment.

Then I learnt it's a $5 to $8 coupon. Dude, give me a break. That barely refunds me getting there.

Then I remembered the last time I tried to be a nice lady, I got turned away. Seems they don't take folks who have been to the Brazilian Amazon recently. Sheesh.


Friday, June 20, 2008

The Bush And Obama Styles

In 2004, when John Kerry and George W. Bush were both running for the Presidency, the inevitable question in US presidential politics was raised:

Which guy would you rather have a beer with?

Zogby polls came to the rescue:

"57% of undecided voters would rather have a beer with Bush than Kerry. (In Bush's case, it would be a nonalcoholic beer.)

While both were raised with silver spoons in their mouths and both went to Yale, Bush comes off as less pretentious and more down to earth. Kerry sounds like he is lecturing people rather than holding a conversation with them."

Now in 2008 we have a new Presidential cycle, but a stranger phenomenon at play:

Though a lot of young people like the Democratic nominee's style, thinking it younger, fresher, just more AUTHENTIC, a lot of Americans view Barack Obama as (gasp) an elitist. Yes!

But how could a black guy raised by a single-mum on foodstamps, and who tramped the mean-streets of Chicago for 20 years, possibly get such a rap?

A lot of Americans, but particularly a lot of foreigners just don't get it. They must be thinking to themselves:

Why don't Americans see what we see? He's black! He's underprivileged! MY GOD, HE'S NOT BUSH!

Well, yes, that's right. He's not Bush. A lot of Americans don't like and didn't like President Bush, but they still voted for him.

See, he represented stability, resoluteness, and above all, values.

But those ephemeral notions just don't cut it when talking about the guy. You really have to see what Americans see, to make you understand what you don't.

The simple fact is George Bush is a real down-to-earth kind of guy. There's very little phoneyness about him -- oh, he's ham-handed and ridiculous all right, no doubt about that. But all politicians are ridiculous when campaigning.

But he is who he is, and he's so comfortable in his own skin it transforms him from a goof, to someone knowable. We know guys like that in our lives. He's a red-blooded guy. An American.

Indeed, it's when candidates are not campaigning, when they're just being themselves, that Americans get a sense of a man.

What is he really like? everyone asks themselves in their heads, without verbalising it to their neighbours. But we're all pretty much thinking it.

So, here is my attempt in photographs to try to convey to you why poor Senator Obama, that fatherless kid from the wrong side of the Hawaiian tracks just seems, well, snobby.

But worse than that, much worse for a guy seeking the Presidency -- phoney.

That's the kiss of Presidential death.

...oh! Why not Senator McCain, you must be wondering? The guy survived unmentionable tortures when his plane was shot down in Vietnam. He did so for 5 years in the Hanoi Hilton, earning himself 17 medals, as his captors beat him with rifle butts, slowly making him cough out his front teeth.

He can't lift his arms beyond his shoulders because of this, so let's cut him some slack, shall we?

And anyway, this election is still about George Bush and everything he stood for. Yeah, that's right -- what he stood for.

Remember that last bit when you're reading this.


A President of the United States has to be all things to all people, including to the Dalai Lama.

But it helps if he's 100% American and doesn't get dressed up as the Dalai Lama.

When you put on a cowboy hat, make sure you look like you belong in it.

And not like a Blazing Saddles extra.

If you look like you know a gutter ball from a bocce ball, knock down those pins!

If you can only shoot a pantywaist 37, for chrissakes DON'T.

If you want to greet your wife with big ole sloppy kiss, do us all a favour and get a room.

But not a locker room.

If you do, however, want to be the nation's QB, mug to the camera like this.

Not like this.

P.S.: Also make sure your missus doesn't look better flinging pigskin around than you do.

If you want to be photographed chatting on the phone, throw on an Al Bundy shirt, and get one of those old-fashioned black phones you only see in ratty Motel 8's.

Not like a Ralph Lauren model with your silver Razr.

Know which team you support, and stick to 'em.

'Cause a real White Sox fan...

...wouldn't be caught dead wearing a Cubbies baseball cap.

An US President knows sometimes he has to take one for the team.

And not let his surrogates look stupid for him.

If you look like you don't know how to put on a geeky bike helmet, unlike this guy:

Do NOT get on that bike after being planted in a low-income black neighbourhood by your aides, even though you don't (a) usually bike, since your tire is flat (b) especially in that neighbourhood. You'll totally look like President Urkel or in Wonkette's words: a douchebag.

Instead of the guy who kept up with Lance Armstrong.

And loves to get mud all over himself.

Above all, stick to your strengths. You look awesome when you do.

If you know you're out of your element, show it. Americans will understand.

...because they'll never forgive those who pretend to be something they're not.

Domestic and foreign policy. Decisive mindset. Ideological conviction.

These are the real metres of a presidential candidate, not whether the guy can bowl. Come on Vic! I can hear people saying.

You're right. Absolutely.

And though I just admitted you're right, I have to say, an US Presidential campaign is the severest testing ground for any politician anywhere in this world.

Don't fault the process, if a guy is shown being a great big phoney. Blame him for condenscending to the American public, hoping he can pull a fast one on them.

We call BS every four years in November.

IN THE COMMENTS: Ron makes an important correction! That's a Cleveland Indians baseball cap Obama is shown wearing on CNN.

Gee, he sure does like a whole mess of teams, doesn't he?

(Yes, I know, it's just politics)

ADDED: Reader Chad corrects the correction! It's Da Bearsss hat.

Former JAG officer, Ruth Anne, contributes two important bits of information:

President Bush, in his second term in office, indeed his last year, has been acting up of late.

And McCain Blogette, Senator McCain's daughter's blog, has a lot of photos of her father relaxing in mufti. I had visited a few times, but unlike Ruth Anne, wasn't a regular fan.

Scrolling through several month's worth of Meghan McCain's candid shots just put her family in perspective for me, though. What a treasure trove of visuals it is, and so very down-to-earth!

I hope Meghan won't mind, but here are some of my favourites.

Cindy McCain, daughter and friend horsing around.

The Senator with some soon-to-be-'Qued poultry.

Mmmm. Ribs. Note the young Beta Male hovering on the side.

Oh, and speaking of young males, this is Midshipman Jack McCain. Hotcha mama!

Put him on the campaign trail, and he'll be responsible for a few hundred thousand votes all by himself.

Veddy In-te-res-ting...

That's more like it.

UGH. I cannot BELIEVE I missed this McCain sighting at one of my regular haunts, Cafe Versailles in Little Havana. Ruth Anne has to do a better job of keeping me informed!

...and finally, just thought I'd throw this out there.

This is Meghan McCain's shot of Governor Bobby Jindal's (R-LA) penny loafers. By the way, she has a thing about shoes (I have a thing about her LV handbags).

Since Governor Jindal is now universally believed to be the future of the Republican Party, and that's actually a brand new shiny penny in each of the loafers, just gotta say this to the young Governor:

You want to look like the Alpha Male handling the tongs, sir, even if you're a veggie.

But don't worry. You got time to rework the geek look.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Donna Shalala's Perfect Day

University of Miami President, Donna Shalala, was honoured by President Bush with the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the highest civilian award in the country.

To put the honour into context, the President's father, GHW Bush, still hasn't received one -- President and Mrs. Carter have one each.

Here she is being personally decorated by the Presidential hands.

(You'll notice the jokey demeanour President Bush employs around women he likes. The jabs in the crook of the elbows, the nudges in the ribs, the forceful little pats on the back. His attitude towards Shalala reminded me of that awkward little shoulder rub he gave Chancellor Merkel. Shalala looks much more comfortable than Merkel was, than I would be, come to that)

Donna Shalala came to this great honour after a lifetime of service both in academia and to her country.

She's the well-liked 5th UM President, having gone on a barnstorming campaign to raise funds for that hallowed South Florida university. To date, her efforts are well over 1 billion dollars -- an impressive sum.

Prior to that, the lady who must measure a full 4'11 in Manolo pumps was President Clinton's Secretary of Health and Human Services. She was an 8-year man, despite being called by The Washington Post: "one of the most controversial Clinton Cabinet nominees".

Why? Well, apparently, she was in their judgement too liberal. Too liberal for the WaPo. I'll let that sink in.

Her liberal credentials included having a previous Presidential position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, home to my dear friend, Brother Daryl, and Professor Ann Althouse.

In that capacity, she instituted a "speech code" on campus, effectively banning hate speech on campus (or as Wikipedia puts it both in "noninstructional" and "instructional" settings. I'm guessing they meant dorms, and that's an overreach. No wonder it was struck down).

Though you won't read this on Wiki, she did something similar at the Coral Gables campus: shortly after arriving, she instructed IT engineers to firewall white supremacist websites, and the like. The problem is that other hate speech websites were either greenlit or overlooked, so it created a strange atmosphere of tolerance to intolerance based on ideological perceptions.

(Perhaps we can coax Brother Daryl from the shadows for a more pertinent opinion on the lady)

As for me, all I can say is that she's a very nice lady and a hands-on administrator. She personally teaches a class on the US Health Care system of which, of course, she has deep insight.

You can see her bounding across campus surrounded by a bevy of female assistants, and sometimes her dog, a tiny spinsterish dynamo of energy.

Her mother, who still plays tennis with her at the incredibly advanced age of over 90 (a fact revealed when President Clinton paid a visit, with yours truly in the audience), often visits her in the sprawling Coral Gables 9,000 sq. ft. estate, hers during her term as President.

She once was interviewed by the New York Times, proudly showing off her 500 songs on her iPod, marvelling at the wicked awesome life she has in the mansion.

That article, plus my own impressions about her being rather star-struck (she gushed like a teenybopper that Anderson Cooper was a "rockstar", and practically fainted when shaking hands with Al Gore) tells me she's not without her little foibles.

So, she's a little obvious.

But who isn't in Miami. It's that kind of town and frankly, we wouldn't have it any other way. Certainly it beats the hothouse, post-hippie, BoBo atmosphere of Madison.

As mentioned, here is part of a lengthy interview the Lebanese-American standout granted the NYT. My cheeky comments in brackets.

Her perfect day: Someone gives a $10 million donation before breakfast. I have lunch with graduating seniors who all just got great jobs. After lunch I recruit one of the world's best doctors for the medical school, then I go play three sets of tennis.

[Yep, that pretty much sums up my perfect day too]

Morning routine: I get up at 5:30 a.m., get dressed and take the dog for a walk around my neighborhood. Then I come home, work out for an hour, shower, read six newspapers and head to the office by 7:30 a.m.

[I read 5 newspapers on my Kindle, but if I get out of bed by 12 PM, I pat myself on the back]

Best thing about Miami: The energy.


Worst thing about Miami: You have to drive. I like places where I can walk to everything.

[A woman who doesn't like to drive is not to be trusted]

What she drives: I own a Lexus hybrid S.U.V. and a red Volkswagen Beetle, which my mother drives when she's in town. I love Beetles. They are perky and whimsical.

[Good news: It's a hybrid. Bad news: Lexus SUV. Isn't that like boasting about being friends with "nunnish prostitutes"?]

Her philosophy of presidential living: I've been president of three universities and worked in the White House, so I have strong views about what a president's house should be. It should be elegant and warm. It should reflect the taste of the occupant. Most of all, it should be accessible. In this house you can put your feet up on anything.

[Elegant but down-home. Now that I have to see]

Her roommate: Sweetie is a rescue dog. She was found beaten and lying in a Dumpster. She's like a toy German Shepherd, but she'd be upset if she knew I told you that. She wouldn't want to be described as small.


Personal hero: I have always admired Amelia Earhart. She was brave and she was willing to risk everything to achieve her goals.

[Wow, Amelia Earheart. The woman you couldn't tell was female or male or what. But yes, she was quite a brave pilot. Would it be a stretch to imagine her other heroine is Babe Didrickson Zaharias? She was sporty!]

Book she has read the most times: James Hilton's "Lost Horizon." It's a novel about a group of people whose plane crashes in Tibet. It's really about morality.

[I liked the film]

How she beats the heat: All the rooms have fans. I hate air-conditioning. I don't want to pretend that we don't use air-conditioning in the summer, but I don't like it.

[What! No one uses their fans in Florida, or walks. Yes, we all have fans in every room, and a lot of us have legs, but it's just not the Floridian way]

Gadget she can't live without: My iPod. I just love it. I listen to it when I travel and when I walk the dog. I put books on it. At the moment I have the opera "Madame Butterfly" on it.

[A Puccini fan. I like her already]

Favorite design element: Political cartoons about me. My favorite one shows a little girl telling a little boy: "You be the doctor. I'll be the secretary of health and human services."

[See what I mean by being a little obvious?]

Best recent purchase: A 1790 French country cabinet from the estate of the late Washington Post columnist Meg Greenfield. I always loved it and admired it, and it reminds me of Meg and the times I spent with her.

[I'm sure]

Worst recent purchase: My 29-foot motorboat. I bought it when I came down here because I have a dock, and I thought it would be fun. But I just don't use it enough. If anyone wants it, it's for sale. It seats 12.

[Hey, Madame Prez -- the NYT isn't Craigslist, you know?]

Favorite Republican: Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. He's always been committed to women's sports. I used to play tennis with him when I was in Washington, and I just like him.

[Don't worry, this was before partnering Bob Dole in that bipartisan veterans committee. I'm sure she's added him to her list of favourite enemies]

Favorite sport: Tennis. My strengths are my backhand and drop shot. My weaknesses: I'm not as quick as I used to be, and I don't have a great serve.

[My serve is killer! I want to play with this lady at the Salvatore Park tennis courts!]

Person she would most like to meet: Bono.

[Oh God]

Talent she covets: More language skills. I speak Arabic, Farsi, English and a little French, and I read German. I'm studying Spanish, but it hasn't been easy for me, and you have to understand that my Farsi and Arabic are marginal.

[So basically, you don't speak Farsi and Arabic. Why are you counting them then?? I don't count Romanian, though I can read it. And Latin!]

Procrastination technique: Surfing the Web. I look at sports Internet sites. I especially read all the insider columns about college sports.

[I'm telling you. Babe Didrickson is number two. I can smell it]

Favorite vacation spot: The kingdom of Bhutan. I am partial to isolated places with big mountains near them. The cold air clears my head.

[Oh God, Part Deux]

Evening routine: Most evenings I have something to do. There is often a reception of some sort, or a dinner at the house. Once a week I'll entertain at home. My guests can be anyone from high school counselors to the Dalai Lama.


Fictional character she identifies with: Wonder Woman.


Àpropos to the Lebanese connexion, do you know that the New England Americans for Lebanon --NEAL-- endorsed Senator McCain in November? Hmm.

So as you can see, she's a delight. She's great for her university. And she's rather intent on letting anyone know despite her SUV, motorboat, and gilt-trappings, she's still a lady who can reconcile all that, plus the recent janitor strike when she sided against the UNICCO union workers (mostly Haitian immigrants), and still be considered a big-time liberal by the WaPo.

Listen, I like her. She's great. And she fully deserves the recent honour she received.

Despite my irreverent tone, I'm glad she's brought the University of Miami to the pedestal of progress it now has.

Her predecessor President Tad Foote (son-in-law to Senator Fulbright of Arkansas) was a very similar man in politics, and demeanour, albeit a very tall guy. He too had lofty ambitions, which didn't exactly pan out.

So I suppose we in academia know what kind of messages they will emphasise, but not quite deliver on.

In Shalala's case, she's a Wonder Woman wannabe, and we're darn proud of her.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Michelle No-Belle

After 6 months of intense spotlight, and short of Bill Clinton's stump efforts, an impressive tally of surrogate appearances for her spouse, it can be said Michelle Obama is no stranger to the American public.

We know her face. We know her voice. We even kinda know her body language.

But how much of that is due to media coverage? 99%? A fair percentage, wouldn't you say. And you know what I have begun to notice:

That Michelle Obama is rarely photographed in flattering poses. In fact, she's quite ugly in them.

Oh sure, for every posed, sleek photograph like this one:

(Which, by the way makes the Al/Tipper tongue-lock look tame in comparison. Note to Ebony Magazine: yes, I'm delighted to find out my potential future President shtups his missus. I just don't want to SEE it, you know? Especially from behind, ew)

There's this:

I have entitled this typical facial moue of hers, "Michelle regrets".

The kind of regret in a face that says, in a perfect world, I would be young, rich and successful, married to a great, ambitious guy poised to rule the world. Instead, she got saddled with her god-awful life.

Poor Michelle. Life sucks so hard.

If it were only this kind of candid photograph, you might think I were exaggerating. But just look at this photo:

Yes, the overbite doesn't help. Yes, the commie fist pump even less.

(What IS it with the Obamas and fists? Don't go there, I just did, sorry).

And well, being darn well close to 6 feet tall, I suppose the photog had to winch himself on a crane to get the overhead shot.

But couldn't he have waited a split-second more to capture her in passionate dignity? That's not as much a non-sequitur as you might think. Here's Caroline Kennedy showing how it's done.

The next candids are where savvier blogreaders will understand what I really mean about unflattering poses.

This one is just hideous.

Like many tall women, she needs to bring back her shoulders and stop slouching. Probably a defense mechanism "tallies" (as I, a shortie, call them) employ.

But the St. Tropez squint kills her. And the furrowed brow. And grabbing the mic as if she were squeezing the life out of a, well, the mind plays tricks so close to her husband, that's all I'm saying.

Here's another one. Yikes. The photographer really dropped the ball on this shot.

Couldn't s/he have waited one New York second to have gotten a less menacing shot of the Senator's wife?

My God, flashbacks to my irate Headmistress dressing me down in her office are flooding me in waves. Stop it!

Too late.

If the one up top was Michelle Regrets, and the one in the middle, Michelle Berates...this is full-on Michelle Mucho Pissed Off.

Even the angry, scrunchy-wearing 1992 version of Hillary Clinton didn't look this bitter at the patriarchal establishment.

Why, compared to Michelle in 2008, even Hillary's cackle and ability to poke fun at herself was almost...grandmotherly. Bubba turned Bubbe.

But my stars, not even sketch-artists leave her be.

If someone doodled a picture of me showing my "Chinese moustache" lines, I'd be livid. As a dermatology laser treatment survivor, I feel intensely for what Mrs. Obama is going through.

I just can't understand why photographers would do this to Michelle. How mean. How sexist. Frankly, yes, okay, I'll say it -- how racist!!

Yes, you heard me: R-A-C-I-S-T. You know how I know that? Because she's black. Duh.

She's not the first black woman around politics to have to undergo the trials of Sheba in white racist America, either. Look at how the media delighted in portraying poor Cynthia McKinney.

With whacked out, bulging madwoman's eyes you wouldn't elect to dogcatcher, let alone to the US House of Representatives!

I'm just so ashamed of everyone who has contributed in bringing down Mrs. Obama by constantly showing her in unflattering poses.

I think all Americans need a huge time-out in the corner. Think long and hard why you are seeking to bring down this poor woman, and write a letter of apology.

THIS is not the America I knew.

UPDATE: This week's copy of US Weekly to the rescue! The Obamas are "just like us".

And then, of course, there was yesterday's The View!

And no, Whoopi didn't say, "Michelle, you in danger girl!".

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