Hey Adam, Did You Hear About This One?

Monday, 29 March 2010 08:00 PM Written by

This is the questionnaire Adam Ravenstahl filled out for the Steel City Stonewall Democrats endorsement meeting this past Sunday. That he did not attend.

It was pretty hard to get past his answer to that first question.

Hey baby, are we losing touch?

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A Status Update

Monday, 29 March 2010 05:51 AM Written by

(for all of us)

Late last week, one of my former Carnegie Mellon students posted a Facebook status update that arose from the clutter of the home page, caught my eye, and then stuck in my brain. Over the weekend, a brief exchange of comments followed. I post them here, unedited, for your consideration:

Someone needs to teach journalists not to feed the trolls.

Unless I’m mistaken, the modern media has more or less BECOME the trolls

I can’t argue with that.

I was dismayed by how hard it was to find really detailed coverage of what was actually in the bill, versus the Cliffs Notes version or which politicians “won” and “lost.”

Did you catch the Daily Show clip where they compared politics to boxing, and the media to fight promoters? Good stuff.

I thought of that exchange again this morning, when I opened up the PG to this Washington Post article...

Poll finds that split on health-care... 46 percent of those polled said they support... 50 percent oppose... similar to the divide... opponents of the measure were more than twice as likely... Fifty-six percent of Democrats now “strongly support”... Eight in 10 Democrats now approve of the way Mr. Obama... most since last summer... Mr. Obama’s overall approval rating... disapprove... the president and his party still face significant obstacles... 26 percent of all adults said they are angry... up from 18... that includes 54... 15 percent... 40 percent of liberal... Among opponents... (86 percent)...

...and this haunting image...

and this taunting cartoon...

...and wondered, as I have for months, how many people who are writing or drawing or responding or picketing or posting or tea-partying or protesting or letter-writing or brick-throwing or Facebooking or screaming or taunting or celebrating or sloganizing can accurately explain, beyond the most bare and broad and fleeting essentials, what that reform actually does.

One possible answer, at once both comforting and depressing, is this: more, at least, than can accurately predict how it will all work out.

The devils are supposed to be in the details. But these days, it seems, they’re only ever on the scoreboard. 

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(Warning: This is satire, meant for entertainment purposes only. Writer assumes no liability if you are not entertained, however.)



TOKYO (March 29) -- Automobile engineers for the Japanese company Toyota Motor Corp. announced today they have finally developed a vehicle that senses when a motorist lacks the intelligence to operate a car safely, and sends the car into complete lockdown mode, which includes containing the motorist until proper law enforcement arrives and issues a citation that orders the license holder attend a 40-hour driving instruction course.

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How to Train Your Parent, Part 2

Sunday, 28 March 2010 06:33 AM Written by

(the prequel)

At the start of yesterday’s post, I promised I would dig into the archives and exhume my deconstruction of the foul and festering corpse that is The Family Road Trip in the Digital Age, the undisputed champ and incontrovertible masterpiece of the We Poor Parents genre. And so I did.

This one needs no more introduction than it has already received, though it does require at least a couple of warnings: it’s long, it’s often maddening, and, if you still cling to that increasingly quaint notion that parents can and should control what their own young children do, it will come awfully close to making your head explode...

is published with odd intentions.

[First written and published on TWM, July 2007]

In the last ten years or so, as more and more parents have become more and more self-absorbed and self-pitying, and as more and more media outlets have chosen not just to forgive but even to fuel those unfortunate conditions, a new and supremely annoying subgenre of the first-person perspective piece — call it the Woe is Mom, or the We Poor Parents, or the My 8-Year-Old Daughter Dresses Like Britney Spears and I Can't Do a Thing About It Essay — has arisen from the muck of cluelessness and the mire of permissiveness to lumber like some literary Godzilla, plodding and graceless, across the burning landscapes of good writing and respectable publications.

It's inevitable, of course, that these hideous creatures and their screeching laments over the intractability of their children and/or the nefarious influence of technology and popular culture should flourish on web logs; when you have no editor but your ego and no arbiter of sense or reason — or of actually, you know, having a defensible point — but your own sniveling self, these pieces, served as they are with so much whine and cheese, are bound to proliferate online. But they have proliferated also in newspapers and magazines that should know better, in publications with thinkers and writers and editors who should do better than to let these essays — which, to any savvy or rational reader, lament nothing more or less than the writer's own lack of perspective — cloud their own better judgments and clog their own better pages.

The most regular and awful offender, the downtown Tokyo for these great, big, fire-breathing phonies, is Newsweek's My Turn column, a regular feature that used to showcase thoughtful and original commentaries but that, sometime between accepting and never running my media violence essay and accepting (and inexplicably running) that My 8-Year-Old Daughter Dresses Like Britney essay — no, really; I wasn't making that up — became a sort of clearinghouse for parents so busy writing about how the world conspires against them that they haven't had time to notice how often, and how foolishly, they conspire against themselves.

The most regular and awful of the recent My Turn offenders, Lisa Segelman's wretched ode to The Family Road Trip in a Digital Age, arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago, right after I'd return from a family road trip of my own. I would, of course, have dismissed and detested the piece at any time of the year, but the perfect timing of it all made me all the more crazed and incredulous. I first referred to it here a couple of weeks ago, and I've been meaning to get to it ever since. Last night, I read it again. And I realized, once I was certain that my head would not actually explode, that the time had come to slice it up into some tasty TWM morsels and then share it with you.

We'll pick it up here in the third paragraph, after Ms. Segelman announces that her family of five has decided to (bad sign #1) motor south from New Jersey to Florida, recalls (bad sign #2) a golden-aged, salami-sandwiched road trip with her own parents, and admits that she thought (bad sign #3) this trip would be a chance to relive a simpler time. Once you've seen those signs, and especially once she refers to this current trip down memory highway, you know it's only a matter of seconds, or maybe even syllables, before the whole old/new, good/bad, simple/complex, innocence/expedience dichotomy rears its phony head and tries to convince us that we're all on the family road trip to some near-future hell. Less than one sentence later, Ms. Segelman does not disappoint:

...those 1,200 miles aren't what they used to be.

Perhaps because parents — with some notable exceptions, of course — aren't what they used to be.

Companionship and shared experience have been replaced by individual desires and personal technology.

Maybe in your car and your house, lady. But not in mine. And not in plenty of other people's. Because individual desires have always existed. (Yes, they even predate iPods and cell phones! Can you imagine?) And because no matter how many pieces of personal technology you have in your car or your house or your life —  and I'd be hard-pressed to imagine a family with more pieces of personal technology per capita than mine — they only replace companionship and shared experience if they're allowed to.

You know, by parents too cowed or compliant or indulgent to stop them.

Exhibit A:

I knew I'd have to combine the old with the new.

Well, you could have. And you probably should have. But you didn't have to. You are one of the parents, right? I mean, you are still in charge, aren't you?

Aren't you?

Exhibit B:

I made speeches about library books, but also borrowed a two-screen DVD player.

I could rest my case right here. And maybe I should. But I won't.

She makes a speech about library books — which, presumably, none of her children heard, because they were too busy listening to their iPods and blabbing on their cell phones — but then borrows a DVD player for the minivan. The use of which she will not control. And will eventually lament.

Anyone see a problem here? An irony? A great, big, you-made-your-own-bed-and-now-you-gotta-lie-in-it-but-you-still-wanna-lay-the-blame-somewhere-else kind of moment?

A woman who wants her kids to read on a road trip supplies a DVD player and a pair of video screens for the back seats of her car. A woman who laments that her children will tune-in to technology and tune-out to her conversation supplies those kids with the most obtrusive media source they'll have on the trip. She may as well have lamented her children's drug habits, then bought them each a crack pipe.

Anyone else think Ms. Segelman just destroyed any tiny scrap of credibility she may have been able to claim? If not, just wait...

What I didn't realize was just how much technology was packed already.

After all, how could a parent have any idea about, much less set any restrictions upon, the amount of technology her children are packing for vacation? It's not as if she has any interest or authority in the matter.

Reality check: for our recent family road trip, we knew every single thing, from technology to clothes to books to beach toys, that our boys had packed. Why? Because we oversaw their choices. Because supervised their packing. Because we approved — or, on occasion, disallowed — their choices. You know, because we thought it was our responsibility as parents.

Funny, isn't it? And almost as quaint, it seems, as those golden-hued, salami-sandwiched road trips of yore. But you know what was even funnier? That neither of our boys, even as they occasionally lobbied for a different decision, ever resented or rebelled against that level of parental involvement. Because they're used to it. Because they expect it. And, most importantly of all, because they respect it.

Aside from the DVD player, we had two computers, three MP3 players and three cell phones, which meant we connected to a lot more than the scenery.

Ms. Segelman would no doubt be shocked to learn that none of those gadgets is capable of turning itself on. Or that none of them is (yet) capable of overriding parental authority and limitations. Assuming, of course, those limitations are properly placed. And enforced.

On our road trip, we brought a laptop, a cell phone, two iPods, and two handheld video game systems. At various and appropriate times throughout the vacation, every one of them was put to use. But in the car, even as we logged close to 1,000 miles on the trip, only one of those things was ever put to use: my iPod. Which, plugged into the 4Runner's stereo system and set to shuffle, was the soundtrack for every single mile. That we all listened to. And grooved to. And sang to. Together.

Every once in a while, on a particularly boring and soulless stretch of highway — think Pennsylvania Turnpike from Blue Mountain to Carlisle, or New Jersey State Route 55 from Camden to Millvile — we let the boys pull out a couple of books (you know, those humble alternatives to borrowed DVD players) and read for a while. But for the rest of the trip, we connected to the scenery. And to the conversation. And so to each other. And yet, until I read Ms. Segelman's awful lament, I never once considered us exceptional.

And I still don't. But if I read a few more essays like this...

Gone are the days of marveling at a new bridge or cheering as governors welcome us to their states via big border signs.

Horse hockey.

Because somehow, against all odds, we managed to marvel at a new bridge (a wonderful new span over the Susquehanna River in central PA) and cheer our welcome to new states (while the communal iPod, bless it's little artificial intelligence, cued up Bruce Springsteen for our arrival in New Jersey). We also marveled at new roads and buildings and ballparks. At cows and corn fields and windmills. At shanties and tour buses and lovely little produce stands set up on the side of the road. We played The License Plate Game, Alphabet Travel, and Road Trip Scavenger Hunt. Most of all, we played Put the Electronics Away While You Watch the Wonderful World Go By.

I doubt Newsweek would publish an essay about any of that. But we did it all. And we don't have a single lament to show for it.

Instead we had daily "tech checks" to make sure everything was charged.

Translation: We made sure everyone had fresh crack for their pipes.

There were so many cords traversing the minivan, it looked like a fully equipped kidney-dialysis unit.

I'll admit: this one sparks my curiosity.

What the hell were all those cords doing? They couldn't possibly be charging everything at once. And I doubt they were running an outlet strip out of the minivan's cigarette lighter. So to what was everyone plugged? And if everyone was plugged, and if there were cords all over the minivan, why the hell did they need those daily "tech checks" to make sure everything was charged?

We even added GPS to my son's cell phone (even though our position was I-95 from start to finish).

That's right, kids: a woman who laments the role of technology in her family's life allows her son to have a cell phone he surely does not need, allows him to use it in the car on the road trip where it surely does not belong, and even adds one more layer of technological hoo-ha for assistance they do not need — surely even someone as slow on the uptake as Ms. Segelman should be able to follow one road all the way to Florida — and then bemoans (for six sentences!) that she did it, as if the hands of the GPS Gods themselves had descended from the satellite-filled heavens and forced her, against her will and her howls of parental protest, to do so.

Is it possible this woman has been brainwashed by her children? By her husband? By the Al-Qaeda IT Department? Because I can't begin to imagine another scenario in which she could have this little self-awareness. Or this little sense of irony.

That meant we had the voices of "Kelly" and "Robert" with us at every turn. If we tired of Kelly's too-seductive voice telling us to "prepare to turn left," Robert would encourage us to "prepare to turn right."

You know, because we had to keep them turned on. We had no choice. They were like HAL in 2001; they just took over, and we couldn't do a damned thing about it. Oh, the humanity!

Although I brought along the fat AAA Tour Books,...

Once again, I remind you: they were taking I-95 the whole freaking way.

Perhaps those books were like a safety net, a back-up plan in case Kelly or Robert went really crazy and wouldn't let them back on the interstate, or maybe tried to destroy them like SkyNet in the Terminator movies. I mean, I doubt she could have used the books to navigate, but she could have used them to attack, and perhaps eventually to disable, her son's cell phone.

I used them only to prop up the computer on my lap.

Anyone out there think she never turned it on? Anyone really think she, Ms. Technology-Is-Destroying-My-Family, never, ever turned it on? (Yeah, I know this family's technology seems to be able to turn itself on, but bear with me, just for the sake of argument.) Or do you think she just rode all the way to Florida with it and all those fat tour books on her lap?

We didn't need them because the GPS was able to pinpoint nearby franchise restaurants, guiding us into the same Mexican chain for the same quesadilla we'd eaten three states ago.

And here, finally, we have proof that Kelly and/or Robert took over: they would, in their typically soulless and nefarious post-modern way, only direct this poor family to franchise restaurants. They rendered the car unable to arrive, and its passengers unable to eat, at anything other than the franchises that Ms. Segelman seems — is it a cry for help? is she hoping the GPS voices won't read her essay? — to lament. At least a little.

Not enough to prevent her family from eating there again, mind you. But enough to include it in the essay.

When I was the designated driver, my headphone-wearing husband and daughter would burst into laughter during choice moments of their movie, while my ear-budded son would randomly sing out, "Ain't no mountain high enough..."

Wouldn't you love to know, just out of morbid curiosity, what movie they were watching? (RV? National Lampoon's Vacation? 1984?) There is some consolation, I suppose, in the thought that her son at least has good taste in songs. (Though I have a sinking feeling he was listening to the Meisha Moore version.)

"Anyone want a cookie?" I would ask. No answer.

Which is funny.  Because every time I asked Wendy and the boys, Anyone want a Starburst? or Anyone want a Life Saver?, I always got an answer.

"Hey, look! There's a real cotton field, right off the highway!" No response.

When I said, Hey, look, there's Boathouse Row! or Hey, look at that beautiful pond, I always got a response.

"Wanna stop in Georgia for pecan logs?" Silence.

And when I said, Wanna stop at Sideling Hill for a drink and a bathroom break?, I heard three resounding Yeses.

A traffic jam caused by an overturned truck filled with uranium got most of the family to look up. I guess it takes a nuclear threat to get a preteen's attention.

It only took a word or a phrase or a point to get my teen's attention. And my seven-year-old's attention. They must like me better than Ms. Segelman's kids like her. Or maybe I'm just a better parent. Or maybe Wendy and I just know how to prevent our kids and our technology from getting so out of control.

Which does, of course, prevent us from writing such simpering My Turn essays. Even if it does compel me to write about them.

For much of the vacation drive time, I was in my own virtual reality.

Judging by your writing and your lack of self-awareness, this was not much of a change.

I had no one to talk to, no one to share whatever meager experiences I-95 had to offer. I tuned in to some scratchy country-music stations and empathized with their loneliness. I yearned for the old days in my mama's Buick station wagon, rolling around the back hills of suburbia.

Without ever realizing that, were you to exert a little parental authority or influence, were you to tell your children to remove their ear buds and turn off their DVD player and stick a cork in Kelly and Robert, you wouldn't have had to yearn. And you could have actually enjoyed your trip.

Then, only 10 miles from our destination, our daughter got inexplicably tangled in her seat belt. She was uncomfortable and starting to panic. The computer and MP3 players couldn't help.

Okay. Here's where this essay, teetering precariously along it for so long, finally goes over the deep end: when her daughter, who is apparently able to manipulate cell phones and MP3 players with ease, can not manipulate — and indeed gets hopelessly tangled in — her own seat belt. In the back seat of a caravan. While driving down I-95. And then, suddenly, well, those darned electronic gadgets can't help her!

(No, you're not missing something. I've read this thing five times now, and I assure you, there's nothing there to miss.)

Luckily, before I left New Jersey I had packed an old-fashioned emergency kit. It had a white rag (the pre-cell-phone distress call), matches, canned food and just what I needed, a pair of scissors. I cut the seat belt tangled around my daughter's waist and released her from her misery. The scissors may have been low on the tech scale, but they were just the right tool for the job, once we climbed over all the gizmos and gadgets to get to our daughter in the back row of seats.

So, just to recap: she had to surgically remove her daughter from a tangled, misery-causing seat belt. And thank God she had those low-tech scissors, or otherwise her high-tech daughter might just have... what, exactly? Been strangled? Suffocated? Forced to stop watching High School Musical for the forty-seventh time?

And don't you just love how all these gizmos and gadgets are the bad guys again, not just for being no help but for somehow rising up and getting in her way and preventing her from getting immediately to her bound-and-gagged daughter?

In our quest to be tuned in at all times, I hope we don't tune out some of the basic things that have kept us going for generations — things like simple tools, a Sunday drive, everyone singing the same song in the car.

You don't want to tune those things out, Ms. Segelman? Then don't. Tune 'em in. Turn 'em on. Turn 'em up. Who the hell's stopping you? (I mean, besides Kelly and Robert?)

Oh, that's right. You are.

I hope we can occasionally "single-task" as passengers and just look out the window, perhaps offering the occasional comment. Spotted cows, retro cars and even rainbows may be just around the next bend in the road.

On our road trip, when things like that — or ostriches, crab trucks, and military caravans — were around the next bend, we always saw them. And talked about them. And wondered about them. Because we all know — and, in fact, have always known — how to single-task. (Or at least, when we're listening to the same song or playing the same word game, double-task.) And we understand that the first step in doing it — for you, for us, for everyone — is to remember that parents have the authority, the possibility, and hell, even the responsibility, to make some rules and set some limits and decide not just how, but even when or if, anything besides the bodies of the passengers makes it into the car or the luggage.

You felt like five strangers in a minivan? That's a shame. Because we felt like a happy family in a 4Runner. And we had no one to thank but ourselves.

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How to Train Your Parent

Saturday, 27 March 2010 07:10 AM Written by

(in 2-d)

It’s been a while since I read an example of what I like to call the We Poor Parents genre: an essay or a blog post or an op-ed column that wants to lament how difficult the modern world has made the author’s job as a parent, but that merely proves to the modern world how inept the author is at performing his or her job as a parent. For the sake of my own mental and physical health, I’ve long tried to steer clear of these works — the undisputed masterpiece of the genre appeared three years ago in Newsweek; as both public service and a personal lament, my deconstruction of it will appear here tomorrow, once I’ve pulled it out of the archives — but a headline on Slate.com last night duped me into reading one.

Why Kiddie Movies Are All 3-D, a post by Rachael Larimore in Slate’s Brow Beat culture blog, never directly addresses that point. Nor does it care to. All it really wants, in a trio of by turns insipid and infuriating paragraphs, is cry Woe is Mom, and lay the blame for the author’s own parental failings at the feet of her local, and no-doubt long-suffering, multiplex.  

How To Train a Dragon comes out today, and my husband and I are considering taking the kids (6 and 3) to see it - a convenient way to kill some time on what promises to be a rainy Sunday afternoon.

With the highly suspect prospects of taking a three-year old to any movie, much less a PG rated movie, and the idea that attending a matinee showing is a low-impact way to babysit your own kids, I could write a whole post on this sentence alone. (In some ways, I already have.) But in the interests of getting to the greater point, I’ll move on.

Like many other kiddie movies that have come out recently (
Monsters vs. Aliens, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Alice in Wonderland), it will be in 3-D. And I suspect that every kid-friendly movie that comes out in the future will be in 3-D, too. This is highly annoying, because our local multiplex does not offer child rates for 3-D movie tickets.

Your local multiplex does not, of course, force you to take your children to every 3-D movie that comes down the pike. (Are they, at 6 and 3, so pop-culture savvy and so powerful in the household that they both know about all these movies and are able to issue binding decrees to be taken to them?) Nor to see them in 3-D. (Your local multiplex must surely, as all of my local multiplexes do, offer the films in a standard 2-D print too.)  Nor to use them as a glorified nanny on a rainy Sunday afternoon. (You could actually, you know, play with your kids. And maybe even read to them.)

And my informal survey-of co-workers and Facebook friends (all in different cities) and various theater-chain Web sites-shows either that 3-D ticket prices nationwide are the same for adults and kids or that both have been inflated.

Do her co-workers and Facebook friends also believe they have no choice but to see these films, and to see them in 3-D? Do they also believe they have no free will?

Either way, it's not a cheap afternoon, especially when you factor in the snacks.

Oh, the snacks. Of course. (I’ve written about them, too.)

When my husband and I go to a movie by ourselves, we buy our $10 tickets and maybe split a Coke. If we go to a regular 2-D movie with the kids, we buy our $10 tickets, the kids' $7 tickets, and then lay out another $20 on popcorn, lemonade, and whatever else we need to keep them in their seats.

If you thought I was wrong, or overstating my case, or perhaps a bit too harsh in my belief, a few paragraphs ago, that (most) three-year-olds should not be taken to the movies, consider the final clause of that sentence. And the ultimate absurdity of that sentiment.

Here are a mother and father who, after plunking down $14 for tickets to a movie their children almost certainly did not ask to see, and most surely could have lived without seeing, now lament the extra plunking down of $20 for a concession stand buffet they need to keep them in their seats. It’s bribery, blood money, a popcorn payoff — the treats and trinkets and non-stop smorgasbord necessary to keep the kids sated and in their seats at a movie that is, in theory anyway, supposed to sate them and keep them in their seats.

What’s wrong with this picture? What’s rotten in the Slate of Cinemark? Why don’t parents just plunk down that money on a babysitter — with whom, if these essays are any indication, the kids would surely have a better time — and go to the movies by themselves? (And when they do go by themselves, how do they manage to stay in their seats with only half a Diet Coke to ply them?)

In other words, the theater more than recoups the discount it offers on tickets.

In other words, you have no one to blame but yourself.

But taking a family of four to see a movie in 3-D quickly becomes a $75 outing, not counting any lunch or dinner out.

Lunch or dinner out? You just stuffed $20 worth of food and drink down your kids’ gullets in the space of 90 minutes. How could they possibly have room for lunch or dinner? After dessert, I suggest you take them to a therapist, for a head-start on coping with their future eating disorders.

Is it worth it?

Instead of asking that about the ticket prices, you should be asking that about the concessions. And about that second mortgage you’ll soon need, just so you can afford to take your kids to a movie they’re too young to appreciate and, apparently, too ravenous to watch anyway.

So, yes, I'll probably be among the first in line for Toy Story 3.

Of course she will. I mean, it’s not as if she has a choice, right?


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(Reconciliated) Notes From a Friday Afternoon

Friday, 26 March 2010 08:10 AM Written by

(pulling the goalies of my mind)

For your consideration: another curious collection of thoughts, reactions, and observations that didn’t make it into a full-length post this week...

• After reading this morning’s letter to the editor from Suzanne Broughton, President of the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh, I will expect the League to recuse itself from all activities in this year’s 4th Congressional District race. It is, after all, impossible to reconcile the League’s proud, ninety-year history of strict non-partisanship, and its steadfast claim to neither support nor oppose candidates for office at any level of government, with the content of those five published paragraphs. When your president is on-record in a public forum, declaring that the entire organization is appalled by Congressman Jason Altmire’s health reform vote, that it was not impressed with his explanation for it, that it believes he was trying to scare the seniors, and that his stance both lacked courage and fell short of justice, you have clearly forfeited your neutral, non-partisan credibility.  

• And please spare me the defense that the league is wholeheartedly political and works to influence policy through advocacy. The advocacy worked, the policy is now signed into law, and that letter, from first sentence to last, was a direct, after-the-fact criticism of Rep. Altmire, his position, and his vote. That’s not encourag[ing] informed and active participation in government; that’s taking a principled, but most surely partisan, stand against a single candidate.

• While we’re on the subject of letters to the editor, I should call your attention to the recently published work of two of my very good friends: Ron Vassel, who weighed in yesterday on Congressman Altmire’s health reform vote, and Tim Murray, who last week wrote first to praise, and then to build upon, a great Tony Norman column. The comment threads that follow both letters are long and contentious and consistently entertaining — which is both fitting and unsurprising, since Ron and Tim are two of the smartest, most fiercely opinionated people I have the very great pleasure to know.

• Nothing quite says people of freedom and principle like voice mail threats and death wishes, or bricks thrown through office windows, or thinly veiled notes about nooses and snipers and Armageddon. It was a health reform bill, you idiots, not a declaration of martial law.

• Note to the unhinged: If you really want to fight a bogus war for your country, you’re in luck, because we already have one. Just head down to your local recruitment office, sign up, and tell ‘em you can’t wait to ship out to Iraq.

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School Lunches, Unpacked

Thursday, 25 March 2010 08:00 PM Written by

As promised, more on the notorious school lunch.

The reality is best expressed by a food business insider who tells me, “The box cutter is the lunch lady’s favorite kitchen utensil.” Of course, he’s alluding to the fact that meals are no longer prepared in a kitchen, but are, rather, straight-from-the-package, mostly processed foods with a page worth of ingredients, being heated by cafeteria workers. Then served to your children.  

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Oh, Well

Thursday, 25 March 2010 06:50 AM Written by

(he’ll be dead)

It’s an old, sad story with some new, almost as sad (and almost as infuriating) developments. Follow along if you dare.

On the morning of February 6th, as Hazelwood resident Curtis Mitchell lay dying just four blocks away from her idling ambulance, acting paramedic crew chief Josie Dimon demanded that he walk through the snow to reach it. After waiting for nineteen minutes — an amount of time sufficient for her to have walked the four blocks herself, assessed Mr. Mitchell’s condition, and walked or at least reported back — Ms. Dimon, whose understanding of the term first responder must surely be different than mine, plumbed the shallow depths of her own humanity and summoned the following expression of compassion:    

“He ain't (expletive) comin' down, and I ain't waitin' all day for him. I mean, what the (expletive), this ain't no cab service."

(You can listen to the 911 recordings here. If you can listen to them more than once, you have a stronger stomach for tragedy, and a higher tolerance for outrage, than I.)

Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Public Safety Director Mike Huss, who were birthday partying at Seven Springs while Curtis Mitchell lay dying and Josie Dimon stood waiting, unveiled a report that determined Ms. Dimon had failed to call for a 4-wheel drive vehicle to reach Mr. Mitchell; failed to go after Mr. Mitchell on foot; made inappropriate radio transmissions; and failed to render the respect due a patient. The language was clear, the understatement generous. The punishment — a five-day unpaid suspension and possible termination — was a good start. It will be made much better should possible turns to actual.

Paramedic union President Anthony Weinmann, doing at once a service to his membership and a disservice to his community, declared he would challenge the punishment. They were simply following orders, he said. He did not say who, exactly, had ordered Ms. Dimon to play the jilted jitney driver, nor why he thought it wise to invoke the defense of Nazi prison guards.    

Paramedic union grievance coordinator Tom Polito, proving that solidarity sometimes overcomes humanity, declared, There are no grounds or merit to discipline. Zero. Which is news, I suspect, to anyone who thinks a paramedic’s job requires her to get closer than four city blocks from the dying man she’s been dispatched to save, or who believes that a call to 911 should be something better than a prayer and a crapshoot if the sun is not shining and the birds are not singing at the time.  

A few dozen city paramedics, exhibiting a flair for melodrama rivaled only by the acuity of their persecution complex, imagined themselves as scapegoats for the city’s failed snow response, declared Director Huss’ intention to slander them and their colleagues, and boasted that many in their ranks worked around downed power lines and trudged through deep snow to answer calls during the storm. Lost on them all, apparently, were the fact that their jobs require them to work even in non-optimal conditions, and the irony that, had Ms. Dimon trudged through a little snow herself, they would not need to defend her, nor to confirm for us what we already suspected: that many paramedics did their jobs far better than she that day.

Union officials, paramedics, and doubtless Ms. Dimon too, seek refuge in a state report that found gaps in EMS communication and logistics but no violation of laws or regulations governing patient care. How laws or rules of patient care can apply to a paramedic who never actually reached her patient has not been sufficiently explained. Nor has the glaring disconnect between how unionized paramedics want the world to work (fail to perform the most fundamental part of your job description, and you shall not be disciplined, even if that failure results in death) and how the world works for the rest of us (fail to perform the most fundamental part of your job description and, even without a resultant death, you can be canned so fast your head will spin).

The explanation I most await — and the one I am not certain could ever be sufficient — is for the attitude, surely not universal but apparently institutional, with which the women and men charged with saving us can be so cavalier, so selfish to the point of indifference, about whether or not they actually do, or did, or ever will save us.

"Oh, well," an unidentified paramedic said at one point of Mr. Mitchell's calls. "He'll be fine."

If that, and all of this, and the thought of Curtis Mitchell left to suffer and die and so be about as far from fine as you can get, does not chill you to your marrow, and if these words, these thoughts, these ethically and morally and humanly indefensible actions do not creep out of the shadows to haunt your mind should you ever have to dial 911 for a medical emergency in this city, then you are stronger and more forgiving than I. 

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