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Friday, March 28, 2008

Curiosity as female trait

"Curiosity is one of the forms of feminine bravery." — Victor Hugo
Maybe this is why women make such great (albeit underpaid) journalists...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Widening income gap

Here's lovely little stat from the March/April issue of Columbia Journalism Review from a 2002 Indiana University national survey of journalists:
"...researchers found the median salary of female journalists to be $37,731—nearly 20 percent lower than the $46,758 pulled down by male journalists, a wage gap that widens as journalists grow older and more experienced."
A wage gap that widens as journalists grow older and more experienced??? Are you kidding?? No wonder women leave this profession in droves.

The article isn't available online, but the gist is that female journalists can get along in this business if they either become "one of the boys" (and still get paid less despite having "more education, better contacts and broader personal networks") or choose to become "one of the girls" writing about those subjects that benefit from the "women's angle."


Taking a shot in the dark

H/T to Michelle O'Neill for sending a link to this piece by writer Cornelia Read. It's long and somewhat winding, but if you know anyone touched by autism it is time well spent. Hell, it's time well spent if you care about good public health policy, accountability, reliable journalism, doctors/researchers with a backbone, curtailing special interests.... I could go on and on.

At dispute is thimerosal, which was used as a preservative in childhood vaccines. If you have a child born between 1989 and 2003, he or she received vaccines with this preservative containing mercury. My kids were born in 1992, 1994 and 1999. When my youngest was born, I remember expressing horror at the number of vaccinations he received at one time. Of course, he got them because that's what pediatricians recommended.

Do you remember those chubby little thighs getting poked two, three and four times a visit? The silent cry of your child, followed by the wail? The colorful band-aids quickly applied to cover up the prick? The suggestion of Motrin to alleviate any pain? The warnings of reactions to the shots that you presumed would never come? You scoop up your baby and snuggle him or her close knowing you have at least a few more weeks reprieve before they are stuck once again. I'm not disputing the great advantage of childhood immunizations (though I resisted the chicken pox vaccine for many years because of its newness and only succumbed when all my efforts to expose my children to the chicken pox had failed).

I don't know what the answer to catastrophic autism rates are, but I do know that good research must continue on all fronts and that calling a matter "closed" is scientifically unsound and could detrimentally impact hundreds of thousands of children. I have many more questions about this issue than answers.

What happens when all of these autistic children become adults? What happens to the veracity of research when findings are whitewashed to benefit a desired outcome? How does that impact researchers in general, not just for autism? Search for the cure for cancer...unless you discover something financially devastating...and then we'll have to alter your findings.

As a journalist, if you take a look at some of the mainstream news articles about this issue, journalists are quick to point to the CDC as the authority on this issue, often discounting the parent perspective or that of researchers or even public officials who have expressed concern. In addition to the failure of the public health community, it appears the mainstream media may have added insult to injury. Better scrutiny to studies, statements, legislation and money must be paid.

Read's post references articles in:
Rolling Stone (see related on MSNBC)
Dr. Marcia Angell, who took a parting shot at pharmaceutical companies when she left her post as editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine

Kennedy is an attorney and environmentalist who has spent years working on issues of mercury toxicity. He frequently encountered mothers of autistic children imploring him to look at the link between mercury-based thimerosal and autism rates. He was skeptical, until he read the Simpsonwood transcripts referenced below.

From Kennedy's Rolling Stone article informed by documents obtained through Freedom of Information request.
In June 2000, a group of top government scientists and health officials gathered for a meeting at the isolated Simpsonwood conference center in Norcross, Georgia. Convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the meeting was held at this Methodist retreat center, nestled in wooded farmland next to the Chattahoochee River, to ensure complete secrecy. The agency had issued no public announcement of the session -- only private invitations to fifty-two attendees. There were high-level officials from the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, the top vaccine specialist from the World Health Organization in Geneva and representatives of every major vaccine manufacturer, including GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Wyeth and Aventis Pasteur. All of the scientific data under discussion, CDC officials repeatedly reminded the participants, was strictly "embargoed." There would be no making photocopies of documents, no taking papers with them when they left.

The federal officials and industry representatives had assembled to discuss a disturbing new study that raised alarming questions about the safety of a host of common childhood vaccines administered to infants and young children. According to a CDC epidemiologist named Tom Verstraeten, who had analyzed the agency's massive database containing the medical records of 100,000 children, a mercury-based preservative in the vaccines -- thimerosal -- appeared to be responsible for a dramatic increase in autism and a host of other neurological disorders among children. "I was actually stunned by what I saw," Verstraeten told those assembled at Simpsonwood, citing the staggering number of earlier studies that indicate a link between thimerosal and speech delays, attention-deficit disorder, hyperactivity and autism. Since 1991, when the CDC and the FDA had recommended that three additional vaccines laced with the preservative be given to extremely young infants -- in one case, within hours of birth -- the estimated number of cases of autism had increased fifteenfold, from one in every 2,500 children to one in 166 children.

Even for scientists and doctors accustomed to confronting issues of life and death, the findings were frightening. "You can play with this all you want," Dr. Bill Weil, a consultant for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the group. The results "are statistically significant." Dr. Richard Johnston, an immunologist and pediatrician from the University of Colorado whose grandson had been born early on the morning of the meeting's first day, was even more alarmed. "My gut feeling?" he said. "Forgive this personal comment -- I do not want my grandson to get a thimerosal-containing vaccine until we know better what is going on."

But instead of taking immediate steps to alert the public and rid the vaccine supply of thimerosal, the officials and executives at Simpsonwood spent most of the next two days discussing how to cover up the damaging data. According to transcripts obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, many at the meeting were concerned about how the damaging revelations about thimerosal would affect the vaccine industry's bottom line. "We are in a bad position from the standpoint of defending any lawsuits," said Dr. Robert Brent, a pediatrician at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware. "This will be a resource to our very busy plaintiff attorneys in this country." Dr. Bob Chen, head of vaccine safety for the CDC, expressed relief that "given the sensitivity of the information, we have been able to keep it out of the hands of, let's say, less responsible hands." Dr. John Clements, vaccines advisor at the World Health Organization, declared that "perhaps this study should not have been done at all." He added that "the research results have to be handled," warning that the study "will be taken by others and will be used in other ways beyond the control of this group."

… The CDC paid the Institute of Medicine to conduct a new study to whitewash the risks of thimerosal, ordering researchers to "rule out" the chemical's link to autism. It withheld Verstraeten's findings, even though they had been slated for immediate publication, and told other scientists that his original data had been "lost" and could not be replicated. And to thwart the Freedom of Information Act, it handed its giant database of vaccine records over to a private company, declaring it off-limits to researchers. By the time Verstraeten finally published his study in 2003, he had gone to work for GlaxoSmithKline and reworked his data to bury the link between thimerosal and autism.

And then there's this conflicting statement in the New York Times following the vaccine court's decision in favor of Hannah Poling:
“Let me be very clear that the government has made absolutely no statement indicating that vaccines are a cause of autism,” Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday. “That is a complete mischaracterization of the findings of the case and a complete mischaracterization of any of the science that we have at our disposal today.”
Sure would be nice to get to the truth or even some approximation of truth. The government phased out thimerosal in vaccines by 2003, the CDC and FDA bought up a bunch of the leftovers and shipped it off to developing countries (!!). Some it left here to be used in vaccines for older children (presumably better able to tolerate the mercury levels). Lost in all this discussion of mercury levels and public health policy and who pays what are the hundreds of thousands of children who have been diagnosed with autism and their families.

I'll leave you with this snip from Cornelia Read in the comment section of her post:
Brett, as you no doubt know I've got fraternal twin girls. They had the same shots at the same ages--same lots, same doctors, etc.

One was the "dominant twin" the first year--hit all her milestones first, etc. Between 12 and 13 months she stopped looking up when we said her name, stopped most of her babbling (they'd both been using words by that point), stopped looking us in the eye, stopped playing with her sister. By the time she was two and a half, she had completely lost her language. She's never spoken again, except for repeating a phrase someone else said twice, over the last 12 years.


I try really, really hard not to imagine what life would have been like if they were BOTH okay, because if I think about that, it makes me break down and sob every damn time.

When I read that description of Hannah Poling, I had to leave the computer for about an hour, because I know just what that was like for her parents--to watch a child recede from you when there's not a DAMN thing anyone can tell you about it, and certainly not a damn thing they can do to stop it.

To find out over the years that there might have been a way to stop it, that the government might have been able to act in time to save several hundred thousand children from this horror (and probably millions more around the world), is goddamn heartbreaking.
Word of the day
obtuse: lacking sharpness or quickness of sensibility or intellect

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Robert Frost on poetry

"A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching out toward expression, an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the word." — Robert Frost (born March 26, 1874)
Word of the day
doppelganger: a ghostly counterpart of a living person: 2) an alter ego

Monday, March 24, 2008

The sparkle of a rainy day

The calendar may say spring, but in Northeast Ohio we know there are many gray and rainy days to endure before the sun's warmth coaxes reluctant buds to open. Living so close to Lake Erie means spring also brings a blanket of fog that is pulled back the further inland you drive.

So while we may gripe and groan about the weather, Christian Science Monitor assistant photo editor Joanne Ciccarello explains how "a rainy day has its own sparkle."

Word of the day
vexing: causing or likely to cause trouble, distress or agitation

Friday, March 21, 2008

Review: "A Remarkable Mother"

Near the end of his latest book, former President Jimmy Carter describes the toll his mother felt his presidency had taken on her family.
"Recalling how she had first learned that I was projected to lose the 1980 election, Mama said, 'I was in the hospital with a broken hip when Jimmy came to my room and said he was going to lose. It was the day before the election, and all the news was about the anniversary of the hostages being held in Iran, and blaming it on Jimmy. I said, 'Good!' and I went back to sleep. I wanted him out—my whole family had been attacked and split wide open from Jimmy being president.' "
Bessie Lillian Gordy Carter—Miss Lillian to the world—was never bashful about expressing her feelings whether or not people wanted to hear them. But like many women of her generation, she didn't really discover her own voice (at least outwardly) until after her husband, Earl, had died. An independent spirit dressed in loose-fitting dresses and often barefoot, she also was dutifully obedient of Earl, curtailing her job as a nurse when Earl insisted she needn't work.

Miss Lillian's influence over her children and especially the former president is the subject of Carter's latest book, "A Remarkable Mother," due out in time for Mother's Day by Simon & Schuster.

Crafted from the amazing journals, diaries and letters meticulously kept by the Carter family, Jimmy Carter weaves a loving, though not always flattering, portrait of the woman who most influenced his life. If this love letter does nothing else, it illustrates to us all how important it is to capture family memories and experiences as they are happening. These writings provide such wonderful insight. Though Lillian died Oct. 30, 1983 at the age of 85, she is very much alive in his book.

While their father read to the four Carter children—Jimmy, Gloria, Ruth and Billy—when they were young, it was Miss Lillian who encouraged their reading of current events. They would have magazines and newspapers at the table for every meal except for Sunday dinner. The Carter children, having grown up on a farm, realized quickly that if you were reading, you didn't have to work.

She also engendered in them the notion of service to others. In interviews later in her life, Miss Lillian would comment that the only thing to do in Plains, Ga., was to attend church (even though her own experiences there proved otherwise). Living on a main road, during the Depression, "When Mama was home, we never turned away anyone who came to our house asking for food or a drink of water."

A lifelong, vocal Democrat, Miss Lillian and Earl Carter's votes usually cancelled each other out. Carter's father became a Libertarian more in philosophy than in name, given his disenchantment with FDR's New Deal. "For some, including my father, these were sacrilegious acts, and a totally unacceptable invasion by the federal government into the private affairs of free Americans."

While Carter would not grow up to share his father's political views, he did share his "obsession with punctuality," something that Miss Lillian, as a member of the medical profession, did not necessarily abide.

Even though she worked sporadically as a nurse, Miss Lillian was always working at something including growing pecans, which provided the family with some side income, enough to fund vacations to major cities to see her beloved baseball. More than just a grower, she was also a shrewd negotiator and was able to earn more harvesting pecans than she did in a year of nursing. "Growing pecans … was like picking up money off the ground."

Baseball was like a religion to Miss Lillian. She consider it to be "one of God's special blessings" that she and Earl were present when Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
"After our family became famous, she would call Tommy Lasorda to complain about managerial decisions he had made. When Mama died, we found a complete Dodgers uniform in her closet, even including cleats, with a love letter signed by the entire team," Carter writes.
When Earl Carter died, Miss Lillian blossomed into the a true family matriarch, what her children describe as her "two different characters." She despised McCarthy, was a strong support of Democratic candidates devoted to civil rights at home and human rights abroad, and served as priest, banker, confident and in loco parentis for a bunch of Kappa Alpha boys at Auburn University.

The Carter family was ostracized for their support of Lyndon Johnson, but Miss Lillian had high hopes in his plans to address civil rights and poverty. Not only the Carter family matriarch, Miss Lillian was also the town matriarch. She once talked a young black boy down from the water tower when he wanted to kill himself. More than that, she brokered an agreement with the sheriff to see that the boy's father didn't continue beating him, which was what drove him to the top of the tower in the first place.

Reading that age was no barrier to entry, at age 70 Miss Lillian entered the Peace Corps. Her only request was to go somewhere warm where her nursing skills could be used. She wound up in Vikhroli, India. Initially stymied in her attempts to teach the villagers about birth control, she eventually wrote a play that helped get the message across. Realizing that the clinic was horribly under-supplied, she persuaded drug companies to donate samples. With little more comfort than her Mickey Spillane crime novels, she gave to India a piece of her heart.
"I didn't dream that in this remote corner of the world, so far away from the people and material things that I had always considered so necessary, I would discover what Life is really all about, sharing yourself with others—and accepting their love for you is the most precious gift of all.

"If I had one wish for my children, it would be that each of you would dare to do the things and reach for goals in your own lives that have meaning for you as individuals, doing as much as you can for everybody, but not worrying if you don't please everyone."
She returned to Vikhroli during the first year of Carter's presidency and was greeted by 10,000 people, many of whom called her "Lilly behn" (our sister Lilly). She told them, "I was happier walking here, sometimes barefoot, than I am now coming in the president's plane."

It seems that all of her children took her advice to heart. When Billy Carter was once asked about his eccentricities, he told the interviewer that one sister rode a Harley-Davidson, one was a holy-roller preacher, his mother entered the Peace Corps at age 70 and he ran a farm and occasionally drank too much. "Which one of our family do you think is normal?" he said.

Each in their own ways, the Carter children embraced their mother's wish. Writing in a wonderfully southern storytelling fashion, Carter describes how he told his mother that he was running for president. He visited her at the house in Plains, sat down and put his feet up on the coffee table, to which she replied, "Get your dirty feet off of my table!"
"After some preliminary discussion, I told her that I had made a very important decision and wanted her to know it.

'Well, what is it, Jimmy?'

'Mama, I've decided to run for president.'

Startled, she asked, 'President of what?'
It was an hour later before she realized he was serious and she said, "I think you can do it, and I want to help." Help she did. Her diaries during the campaign show that she met with more than 500 groups of supporters and made up to five campaign stops a day. She endured endless chiding and comparisons by the press, some of whom referred to her as "Rose Kennedy without the hair dye" and someone who wore "drip-dry dresses."

Her relationship with the press was tenuous. She was skeptical but at the same time developed relationships with people like Walter Cronkite and Johnny Carson. And occasionally she would use the press to send her son messages on the campaign trail (he should "quit that stuff about never telling a lie"). During the inauguration when Carter's press secretary told everyone not to speak to the press, Miss Lillian retorted, "Jody, you can go to hell. I'll talk to whom I please."

Ironically, the matriarch and key campaigner was practically left at home when the Carter family was leaving Plains for the inauguration. Everyone thought somebody else had picked up Miss Lillian.
"I raced back to her home and found her, stony-faced and furious, sitting in her living room. Her first comment to me was, 'I've decided to stay at home and not to attend the inauguration.'

"She was soon persuaded to go with us, but she never let us forget that we had left her behind."
Miss Lillian traveled the world on behalf of her son's administration. She always gave the State Department pause, as they worried what she would say or whether she would violate diplomatic etiquette. She did on occasion, though to no great detriment. She called King Hassan of Morocco a "damn foreigner" for offering her 21 bottles of perfume. In her high heels she practically slid into the new Pope John Paul II (much to Rosalynn's chagrin and the pope's delight) and she told her son that Ireland was her favorite place and "if she could have another month there she could resolve the problem between the Catholics and the Protestants."

After her papal visit with Pope Paul VI (one of his last visitors before he died) she said if she had another lifetime to live she would be a Catholic because they didn't have a problem with a drink in the afternoon or a game of poker now and then (a game she much preferred over bridge).

While with Pope Paul, in advance of her trip to West Africa, the two prayed for an end to a devastating drought in that region. While Miss Lillian was in Mali a few days later, torrential rains came. All these years later, Carter says people of that region still feel the prayers of Pope Paul and Miss Lillian ended the drought.

Carter's love for his mother is rooted in all of those wonderful complexities of a mother-son relationship. Unconditional love, occasional embarrassment, exasperation, adoration, shared laughter, protectiveness and the sense that with such a person behind you, anything is possible—even becoming president.

But her love spread far beyond her family's close circle. In October 2006, the Carters visited Vikhroli, India, as part of Habitat for Humanity. They had the chance to meet with a number of villagers whom Miss Lillian had helped, including one young girl she had taught to read who was now president of a university.

Word of the day
raconteur: a person who excels in telling anecdotes

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ryan's narrative essay

With his permission, I thought I'd share Ryan's narrative essay on overcoming an adversity. He wrote about his collarbone break, which he originally said was a stupid idea, for freshman English. "That's not that big of a deal," he told me. "It was to you," I said. "To write a good narrative, you have to write emotionally about something true to you. Others will relate to it because they may have experienced similar feelings in a different setting."

The only tip I gave him was how to get started. Originally, he was starting with the day the break happened. I told him to think about the worst day of the experience. It wasn't the day of the break. He paused at the computer and said, "Strimbu's office that first time was the worst day." So I told him, "Start there." And off he went. This is his essay as he wrote it, though I broke up the paragraphs for easier reading. He got an A on the essay and his English teacher told me during conferences that she learned a lot about how important athletics are for student athletes as a result of what he shared.

“No football.” Those words rang in my head for hours as I thought about what a stupid decision I had made three nights before. The doctor told me that it wasn’t a big deal and that at least I had basketball to look forward to. That was not what I had wanted to hear, especially after all the hard work and time I had put into football this summer.

All summer long I had been getting up at 6:30 A.M. to go to the lifting and conditioning sessions starting the first day of summer. On top of that everyday after lifting I would spend an hour or more throwing routes to my receivers, and working on my footwork. I had high expectations for myself and my teammates in what was going to be my first high school football season. My sessions with my receivers were helping. We were getting our timing down very well and I was throwing some of the best balls I’ve ever thrown.

The day before our first scrimmage, coach called my parents to see if it would be alright with them if I started JV in the scrimmage the next day. The scrimmage was mainly a varsity scrimmage so there wasn’t much time for the JV players, but the time we did have I felt I made the best of in impressing the coaches. I felt invincible and on top of the world because I had just given everyone a taste of what was yet come and I was excited.

Later on that night before the Browns pre-season game we were playing a little pick-up game to kick off the season. For some reason I played really hard and as I was being tackled I tried to lower my shoulder and truck through my friend but he jumped on my back and I landed hard on the grass shoulder first. I heard a loud cracking sound and I knew right away what had happened. I shouted, “Go get my Dad. I just broke my collarbone!” Of course they didn’t believe me and they thought it was funny until they saw how displaced the bone was.

When I was in the emergency room I knew it was bad, but the thought of it ending my season never really crossed my mind. It wasn’t until the orthopedic told me I was looking at a minimum of 8 weeks, which would’ve given me two games left to play in and that was only if everything went fast in the healing process, that I realized I may miss the whole season.

It sounds silly because it was just football, but it affected my self-confidence as I started high school. The one place that I was 100 percent sure of myself was on the football field and being a part of the team already made me feel like I had started high school. Even though I was still on the team, not being able to participate didn’t fit with the vision I had in my head for how my high school career would start. It even affected my grades in school. I couldn’t concentrate at first and I found myself continuously day-dreaming about football. I couldn’t get over the fact that no sooner had I been given this great opportunity that I had blown it.

I would come home everyday and tell my parents how much I wish I could take back that day. Even more than that, I felt like I had let my teammates and coaches down. Because the football program is so small it messed up the whole coaching game plan and many had to move around positions. I know that programs have to do that all the time but I felt like I was the one to blame for all this.

Each week to get through I would distract myself from it by giving myself little jobs to do like filling up water bottles and fetching balls. Just being there also helped because one of the reasons I love football so much is the atmosphere.

The hardest part to get over was pre-game because that’s when I normally am getting really pumped up and excited to go out and do what I need to do to lead my team to victory but I couldn’t do that. Instead I had to watch my friends get ready and go out and have fun and I just felt so helpless and left out.

Freshman and JV games were bad, but varsity was the worst. Everybody dressed for those games regardless of your class, and when the whole school and town are there to watch while everyone is in uniform and ready to play, I’m standing in street clothes feeling left out again. To pass the time I would stick near the offensive coordinator, quarterback coach and the quarterbacks themselves to see what I could pick up and use to my advantage for my return.

Fortunately, I was never the only one in street clothes on the sideline, there were many other injuries through out the season that sidelined my teammates for various durations and we all stuck together and tried to help each other get through our injuries.

Week 8 rolled around and I had a decision to make as to whether I make a risky return or wait it out for the next season to avoid further injury. As much as I wanted to come back and play this season, the severity of the injury meant that one big hit could result in a re-fracture, causing me to also lose the upcoming basketball season.

By the time I had gotten to the doctor’s office I had pretty much made up my mind as to what I wanted to do, and that was to let the bone thoroughly heal and not to risk re-injuring the bone by coming back this season. Six weeks before it would’ve been impossible to imagine that I’d be already at the point where I needed to make a decision on my return. With the season winding down and only two games left to play there wasn’t really much I could do to help the team by returning. I realized that the best thing I could do for my team was to think about returning strong next year.

In football, I’m normally one of the guys that never comes off the field, but this injury gave me a perspective of the kids that don’t get to play. They put in just as much time as me and they may only get in a few plays a game.

As soon as the basketball season is over I will begin my lifting program again and if I even think for a second about complaining I will think about this past season I spent and how bad I missed everything.

After the fall athletic meeting just before school started my 7th grade brother and I walked over to look at the new turf field and I told him I miss everything. “Don’t you ever take any of it for granted,” I said. I told him, “I miss the heat, the hitting, the sound, the grass, the sweat, and even the smell of football.”
Basketball season has ended, with the freshman team as West Shore Conference champs. Lifting is in full swing and aside from a few sore muscles, Ryan has remained true to his word and has not complained. He'll be playing in a 7-on-7 flag football league starting on Saturday night with some of the varsity players. We practically had to pull him off the ceiling when he got the call to participate. It's another year and a new season.

Word of the day

bildungsroman: a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"A more perfect union" speech is required watching and viewing

Yesterday afternoon, in between finishing a project and shuttling kids, I happened upon this transcript printed in the New York Times from Sen. Barack Obama's speech yesterday at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

I finished reading the speech and knew it was historic, something I've not yet seen in my adult lifetime. Intent to write about it here, I felt it was important to let my initial thoughts simmer a bit. Why? Because I felt the most important thing Sen. Obama did yesterday was enjoin us to think. He held up a mirror to our country—black, white and brown (as he says)—and asked us to look at ourselves. He's demanding more of us all and isn't that what a great leader does?

Never have I heard anything come as close to this authentic a discussion about where we are in our national conversation on race. It was so ground-breakingly honest and heartfelt. He doesn't have all the answers. But he's invited us all to the table. And that's more than anyone has done on this issue since Martin Luther King Jr.

There are people who will question his timing, that his speech was a reactionary move, something he should have done long ago in this campaign. But to get mired in that distracts from what he was trying to say. He told us about himself—who he is as a man and not just what he looks like. That he—like our nation—is more than just a sum of his parts.

The impetus for this speech (full video here), which I suspect given its thoughtfulness, has been in the making for some time, was the hate speech shown endlessly on TV and You Tube of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where Obama and his family are members.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Wright doesn't speak for Obama just as my priest doesn't speak for me. How could a Catholic priest speak for me? His life experience is completely counter to my own. I am a married, mother who has questioned the church at many turns and remains doubtful not of my faith but of the church's role in that faith. My pastor is a fatherless, celibate man who, I'm guessing though I don't know for certain, is quite grounded in his faith not only in Catholicism, but the church's role. We are at opposite ends of the Catholic continuum, and yet I do not leave the church. But he does not—indeed could not—speak of my experience as a Catholic woman.

Sure Obama could've left his church. But then he would be criticized for the doing the politically expedient thing and questioned on that judgment. His commentary goes further to show us how divided we remain.

There is a disconnect—a chasm, as Obama says—between the black church experience and the white church experience. But that is the reflection of a larger chasm of religion in America in which, "the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning."

Obama's speech gives us a context for not only the racial attitudes, but also the generational differences. The attitudes and realities that persist today are grounded in generations of people who have been denied quality education, segregated in housing, worship and opportunity, and subjected to an ongoing cycle of poverty and blight. "What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them," he says

Rather than stop at the black experience, Obama also talks about the "white Americans [who] don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch."
They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time. (Bold is mine.)
"Opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense." I don't know that I've read a truer statement. I've heard similar words uttered in my reporting on education reform. "In bringing up all kids and providing for all what some have had, inherent in that message is that you're taking something away."

And yet he tells us, we cannot continue to be victims of the past. We can be informed by our past, but we don't have to let that past dictate our future.

Who among us hasn't been around family members who express stereotypes—whether gender, racial or ethnic-based—and not cringed. But as Obama said, do you disown those people whom you love? He separated himself from Wright's hysterical speech while recognizing that the man is still someone who has shaped him in other ways. Some will say he's equivocating. I don't think so. He's walking through the gray matter of race. To me that is a sign of an intelligent mind. To break our racial stalemate we must be willing to come together in ways we never have as a nation, to continue the work of perfecting our union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who's been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

His ideas are not pipe dreams, but are based in the reality. We have serious problems in this country that affect us all. Those problems cannot be addressed unless we come together as a nation to improve our lives for all.

"A More Perfect Union" will be required viewing and reading in my household. As I watched it for a second and third time, I envisioned high schools across America playing this speech for all students. Let students see that they don't have to be stuck, that they aren't someone else's problem. They can demand a quality education, they can take responsibility for improving their lives, they deserve safe neighborhoods with places to play, they have a voice and they are free—and, yes, encouraged—to use it. That they can start discussions in their classrooms and in their homes about how to perfect our union.
It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.
Word of the day
verisimilitude: state of having the appearance of truth as in art or literature

Monday, March 17, 2008

Check out my new marketing page

Successful independent writers make regular time in their week or month to do some marketing. I've been remiss of late. Negligent is the better word.

No more, my friends. Tonight, I've finally pulled together a capabilities page that outlines my work in three categories—journalism, long-form narrative and editing. I've been gathering testimonials from people with whom I've worked for some time and I've been more thoughtful about the kind of work I'd like to do. All of this has taken time and delayed the effort, but I think it's been time well spent.

The final product is here. You'll notice a link to this page is now included in the blog description at the top of Creative Ink. Feel free to share with others. And let me know what you think.

Two interesting charts from State of the News Media 2008

Public Interest vs. Media Coverage

Least Covered Domestic Issues
Percent of Newshole


Court/Legal System
Development/ Sprawl

Source: PEJ, A Year in the News, 2007

Check out the complete State of the News Media here.

Writing life is a marathon not a sprint

"Mere literary talent is common; what is rare is endurance, the continuing desire to work hard at writing." Donald Hall, U.S. poet laureate 2006-2007
H/T to Chip Scanlan

St. Patrick's Day 2008

"When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious." — Irish novelist Edna O'Brien
Word of the day
blithe: of a happy lighthearted character or disposition

Friday, March 14, 2008

The influence of mothers

Regular readers of Creative Ink will periodically get a glimpse of my three sons here. Those who know me well, however, know that they are more than just a periodic thought in my head. I am crazy about them, I mean really, truly in love with them.

When my younger sister was pregnant with her first child, I remember trying to explain to her the rush of love you feel for your children. A scary feeling because you suddenly realize how vulnerable you are to loss and devastation should anything happen to them. I try not to be morose, instead choosing to enjoy them—their humor, laughter, arguments, stubbornness, intelligence, sloppiness, athleticism and worldview.

Whenever I arrive home from a trip and I'm excited to tell them about what I've learned or the conversations I've had, the conversation quickly turns from anything I may have to share with them to the wonderful things they want to share with me. Who is going out with whom, the injustices of a basketball game at recess, the latest antics of a teacher or friend, what kind of homework help they need. Sometimes I get angry and hurt when they don't listen. People I meet on my trips actually want to hear what I have to say, I tell them. They look at me blankly in response because I am only mom right now, nothing else.

As they get older, however, I can see my influence on them in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Ryan is keenly aware of injustices in this world and he is not content to just let them pass. Patrick is an old soul, a compassionate person, who tends to withdraw into himself when he's feeling overwhelmed. And Mikey is so fiery in his passion that it can overwhelm everyone around him.

I'm not sure of much in this world, but I do know that I'm a good mother to my boys. It's the best and, frankly, the most natural thing I do. We were at a gathering once and someone was saying, "Just wait, when they're teenagers they will stop talking to you," as if this were something to look forward to. Later my mom told me that she doubted that would happen because my boys and I have always been crazy about each other. She didn't expect them to suddenly shut down.

For the most part, they do still talk to me. At 15, Ryan is very open to both me and my husband. Patrick, at 13, is a little less s0, but you have to get him one-on-one. He won't try to compete to be heard with his older and younger brother around. And Mikey is 9 and tells us that when he's grown up he will have a house big enough for mom and dad to live with him.

Mothers and sons and fathers and daughters. Most of the successful women I've interviewed have always talked about the influential role of their fathers in their lives. Maybe they draw a direct link, but more often it's a subtle connection. Maybe it was just the sense that their fathers gave them permission (verbally or nonverbally) to be anything. The same is true of mothers and sons, though I suspect men have a harder time articulating publicly the influence of their mothers. The sting of the "Mama's Boy" label must still pinch well into adulthood.

Despite the difficulty as a journalist of uncovering that influence, I am always fascinated by the ways in which a mother shapes a son's decisions and values, both good and bad. The New York Times today has an interesting feature story and multimedia segment on Sen. Barack Obama's mother and her influence on him. She died in 1995 so we don't see her standing on the dais with him and his family. There are no extended interviews with Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, so we're left to learn about the woman who raised a presidential contender from others. We don't know what her aspirations were for him, the very values she hoped he would carry on, but rather we must rely on the filtering of others for tiny glimpses.
“She felt that somehow, wandering through uncharted territory, we might stumble upon something that will, in an instant, seem to represent who we are at the core,” said Maya Soetoro-Ng, Mr. Obama’s half-sister. “That was very much her philosophy of life — to not be limited by fear or narrow definitions, to not build walls around ourselves and to do our best to find kinship and beauty in unexpected places.”
Obama would not be interviewed for this article, but evidence of his mother's influence is seen by his most prized keepsake: "a photograph of the cliffs of the South Shore of Oahu in Hawaii where his mother’s ashes were scattered." Maybe he is protective of her, even in death, as are many sons of single mothers. Maybe he feels it's too personal or even painful to discuss publicly. Or maybe those are just thoughts he chooses to keep for himself. Who can blame him?

She is described as a big thinker, someone not afraid to speak truth to power, an idealist, hardheaded, intense. "A weaver in college, she was fascinated with what Ms. Soetoro-Ng calls 'life’s gorgeous minutiae.' "

“She loved living in Java,” said Dr. Dewey, who recalled accompanying Ms. Soetoro to a metalworking village. “People said: ‘Hi! How are you?’ She said: ‘How’s your wife? Did your daughter have the baby?’ They were friends. Then she’d whip out her notebook and she’d say: ‘How many of you have electricity? Are you having trouble getting iron?’ ”

She became a consultant for the United States Agency for International Development on setting up a village credit program, then a Ford Foundation program officer in Jakarta specializing in women’s work. Later, she was a consultant in Pakistan, then joined Indonesia’s oldest bank to work on what is described as the world’s largest sustainable microfinance program, creating services like credit and savings for the poor.

She wanted to be remembered for her life of service. And perhaps that's her lasting legacy on her son. I'm sure he will someday take the time to explain or write about what his mother means to him. Maybe it's something that comes easier with age and perspective.

Yesterday, I received a copy of former President Jimmy Carter's memoir, "A Remarkable Mother," about the incomparable matriarch Miss Lillian Carter. She is described in the book flap as "a registered nurse, pecan grower, university housemother, Peace Corps volunteer, public speaker and renowned raconteur."

I look forward to reading it.

My Gram always told me that you can tell a lot about a man by how he treats his mother. When I'm gone from this world, I certainly hope my boys will look back and say, "She was everything to us, but she was more than just our mother. She was adventurous, intelligent, passionate, generous and keenly interested in others. We didn't always hear her when she needed us to listen. But without much fuss, she would set aside her own needs for the betterment of ours. She was always there."

Last is first
"The last thing one discovers in composing a work is what to put in first." — T.S. Eliot

Word of the day

prodigious: exciting amazement or wonder

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More on the KnowledgeWorks award

Just had to share this from fellow storyteller Tracy Zollinger Turner, who writes about Brookhaven High School in Columbus.
We look good in silver

I just received a happy piece of news in my email. For the second year running, KnowledgeWorks Foundation's annual publications about urban high school reform have won silver Wilmer Shields Rich awards from the Council on Foundations (the awards aren't listed on their site yet, but we received word from our editor).

As one of the foundation's "storytellers," I wrote pieces for both the small school and early college books last year.

The foundation's "Think Tank" publication, Primer, also won a silver award. I wrote about my experience in the storytelling project for one of its issues last fall.

I began this work the same week that I lost the last of my grandparents, and a few short months before I got pregnant with Declan. For as long as I have been a mommy, I've also been a regular visitor at schools where the majority of the student body qualifies for free or assisted lunch. I have learned a lot (the Primer article I linked to above says much more about that than I can muster in a post).

And at the same time that any preconceived notions I had about the term "economically disadvantaged" have peeled off like onion skin, I've ironically had one of the biggest privileges of my freelance career — a regular working relationship with writing and editing peers from around the state. In a line of work that tends to be isolating, I can't tell you how rare and wonderful that is, especially because they are some darn bright, talented, fun and passionate people.

Of our combined work, one of the judges said: "Loved the idea of storytelling to address impact – anecdotal evidence speaks to emotional core as does education… could serve as a model for others."

While most of the more routine things I write for publication have to land within 50 words of a given marker, I've had the chance to write expansively during this project. And while my writing has often been carved down in order to see print, I've learned that I probably should be rolling in research and interviewing more people who don't ordinarily get much ink (or pixels) and ultimately writing books. My peers in this project have really helped me to see, and become more optimistic about that possibility.

Having put in our four years, we're getting ready to graduate from the project this summer, so, the award is a little bittersweet. Congrats, colleagues!

Thank you, Tracy—and Peggie and Larry and Phil and Linda and Andy—for making me see new possibilities. You have all helped me to be a better writer and for that I will always be grateful.

Word of the day
iconoclast: a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Today's mishmash

This has been a crazy week with not a lot of time for thoughtful exposition, so here are few quick hits for today.

Gas prices [gulp!]
That crosstown commute for both my husband and me is a killer in these times of $3.45 for a gallon of gas. I stopped at BP on Mayfield and Coventry in Cleveland Heights today and the person just ahead of me had pumped $50 worth of gas. Not sure if I'm kidding myself or not, but when prices are that steep I find myself stopping at $20. Just. Can't. Spend. More. After all, maybe tomorrow prices will be lower.... Today $20 didn't even get me half a tank.

Citizen journalists can be heard on global issues and The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting want to here from citizen journalists. Gotta hurry though: The contest closes at midnight (EST) tonight; winners will be announced on March 25th. Here's the press release, which arrived today:
Andover, MA - March 12, 2008 -, a website devoted to publishing the writing of citizen journalists that receives 3 million unique visitors each month, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a leader in international nonprofit journalism, are co-sponsoring the Global Issues/Citizen Voices Contest for citizen journalists. This contest is the first of its kind, providing writers with a platform to report on critical global issues while bridging the gap between traditional journalism and citizen journalism.

In just two months the Global Issues/Citizen Voices Contest has produced hundreds of articles. Helium members compete by writing to one of thirteen global crisis issues (each issue is associated with one of the Pulitzer Center's global projects and the corresponding coverage). Citizen journalists can research the issues at Pulitzer's website and then publish their own articles at Helium. Every article is sorted for quality by Helium's community of writers; after hundreds of anonymous ratings by Helium's community, quality content rises to the top. The Pulitzer Center will then pick from the top-ranked articles in each category.

"We've been truly impressed with the quantity and quality of the articles that have been submitted through Helium," said Jon Sawyer, executive director, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. "The articles are proof that the public does care about these issues, and that 'public voices' have valuable insights to share.
Anniston Star salutes its letter writers
I just love this idea. I was at last year's banquet honoring the prolific writers of letters to the editor and thought it one of the finest examples of democracy in action. I wrote about it here.

One regular of our letter writers banquet, Willard A. McDonald of Ashland, was absent. Mr. McDonald passed away last week. He was 76.

His death inspired us to take a look back at his contributions to the newspaper. He was never shy about expressing his views, which usually landed between the right and the far right.

Of Bill Clinton he wrote, "No one since the founding of America has dragged us down in [greater] shame and disgrace." God had "blessed" Clay County by keeping it alcohol-free. The Star, in his view, was hopelessly misguided in its editorial positions.

The Star's editors always had room for Mr. McDonald's letters. The dirty secret is that we often like the critical letters more than the fan letters.

One by Mr. McDonald nicely summed up what we do and why. Our letters column, he wrote, fosters "freedom of both the press and the freedom of speech to their fullest."

That's our aim.

Angry journalists
Is this for real? Poynter had a piece in its e-newsletter earlier this week. The site is pathetic. If you're so freaking miserable, get out of the profession and do something else. Many of us left the suffocating newsroom malaise only to find life outside of the newsroom far more invigorating, though without the cushy benefits and buyout packages.

Feeling her pain
The former First Lady of New Jersey offers these words of sympathy for Silda Wall Spitzer and a cautionary note for the chattering classes.

Word of the day
vainglorious: marked by vainglory (excessive or ostentatious pride especially in one's achievements)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

KnowledgeWorks book wins award

For the second year in a row, the KnowledgeWorks small schools storytelling books have won a silver award from the Council on Foundations. The awards are not yet posted online, but here's what we received from KWF:
One judge commented, “Loved the idea of storytelling to address impact – anecdotal evidence speaks to emotional core as does education… could serve as a model for others.” The three judges gave us 4.5 out of 5 on “readability/clarity/organization” and said this of the writing:
• Judge A: Written very well
• Judge B: Stories are very engaging
• Judge C: Very well written, engaging
Congrats to all my fellow storytellers and to our fearless and tireless editor, Linda, who never fails to keep us on task.

Here's a link to an excerpt from my 2007 stories.

Word of the day
pedagogy: the art, science, or profession of teaching

Monday, March 10, 2008

Jennings roundup

As often happens when one returns from a professional workshop, the mind is overrun with experiences, conversations, information, possibilities, etc. This is certainly true of my weekend at the National Constitution Center for the 2008 Peter Jennings Project for Journalism and the Constitution.

I'm trying to pick a highlight, but I don't think I can. Certainly there are several people with whom I hope to remain in contact. We had some wonderful breakfast and dinner conversations that ranged from the lousy cooking of Irish mothers to the unique characteristics of Ohio versus Pennsylvania; from who will survive in "The Wire," to what it was like to work for a journalistic legend like Gene Roberts; and all around the colorful political history of Philadelphia ("the only city in which a mayor unleashed a bomb").

We gathered in the early evening hours Saturday in an auditorium careful not to walk into or trip over the C-SPAN paraphernalia lining the room. The room was quickly filling to listen to a discussion on Women and the Law. The featured speaker was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

She followed moderator Lynn Sherr onto the stage and looked so tiny, yet when she spoke it was quite clear that her mind is great indeed. She must have stories upon stories to tell about being a woman in a man's world. I would have liked to hear more.

When she graduated from Columbia Law School (at the head of her class) in 1959 she had a four-year-old daughter. No law firm in New York would touch her. But a professor in charge of finding clerkships got her started. He insisted this judge give Ginsburg a chance. If it didn't work out with her, he had another hotshot male lawyer ready to step in. "If you don't give her a chance," she told us, "I'll never refer another law student to you."

The conversation meandered through various discussions of women's struggles in the law profession and how far they still need to go. But Ginsburg mentioned that it was former President Jimmy Carter who deserves the credit for advancing women in the federal judiciary. When he took office in 1976, there was only one female judge. He gave her a position in his cabinet, which left none. By the time he left office in 1980, there were 25 women serving on the federal bench. It was his efforts that really paved the way for Ronald Reagan to appoint Sandra Day O'Connor as the first female Supreme Court justice.

Sherilynn Ifill, law professor at the University of Maryland and facilitator of my case study workshop, was absolutely outstanding. Both she and Gene Pratter, a U.S. District Judge nominated to the Third Circuit, recognized that women still do not hold the high positions in government, business, law firms and nonprofits, but that when they do achieve those positions, they hope women do so not by mimicking men, but by bringing those distinctive qualities of female leaders.

Ifill asks her female and minority students where they see themselves in the Constitution. Most would flip through to the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th amendments. Only a few, Ifill said, recognized that they are visible in the first three words: We the People.

Our case study group continued to examine the issues in our case (Republican Party of Minnesota v. White) over breakfast on Sunday. When we tried to make the case about the validity of judicial elections, Ifill would bring us back to what the case was really about: freedom of speech and its possible tension with the right to due process under the law.

In the end, our group was divided 6-5, with the majority siding with Justice Ginsburg's dissent that the state of Minnesota's "announce clause" was not a violation of free speech. I spoke for dissent in our group, that in the actual case was the majority opinion. Instead of using the words of Justice Scalia's majority opinion, however, I drew from Justice Kennedy's concurrence:
"If Minnesota believes that certain sorts of candidate speech disclose flaws in the candidate's credentials, democracy and free speech are their own correctives. The legal profession, the legal academy, the press, voluntary groups, political and civic leaders, and all interested citizens can use their own First Amendment freedoms to protest statements inconsistent with standards of judicial neutrality and judicial excellence. Indeed, if democracy is to fulfill its promise, they must do so. They must reach voters who are uninterested or uninformed or blinded by partisanship, and they must urge upon the voters a higher and better understanding of the judicial function and a stronger commitment to preserving its finest traditions."
I asked, during our workshop, what the role of the press was in informing citizens of the qualifications of a good judge. That led to an interesting discussion that prompted our small group to ask: What does open-mindedness or judicial temperament mean in the judiciary? Aside from graduating law school and passing the bar, what intellectual requirements comprise a good candidate?

Certainly, the press can do a much better job of explaining to the electorate why partisan issues are not the basis for selecting a good judge.

The experience has left me charged up and ready to tackle more—more of what I'm not yet certain. But as the weekend continues to simmer in my brain, I'm sure all will become clear.

At the end of our time together yesterday, against a spectacularly clear and sunny day, we listened to two Fellows from last year tell us how the project informed their work. Both confessed to getting push-back from their news organizations. Can you imagine? Getting push-back from news organizations on the Constitutional implications of stories?

Word of the day
tenacious: persistent in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired

Breaking news: Spitzer involved in prostitution ring

This is breaking right now from New York Times. A statement from New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is expected shortly.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Blasted rain!

Had to cut my afternoon short because of a downpour. I could've stayed out longer had I been smart enough to take the umbrella that the hotel so thoughtfully provided in my closet. But noooo, I didn't want to carry it. After all, it's the same overcast gray here that it's been for months on end at home.

So here's my afternoon in a nutshell with a few visuals. I picked up my goodie bag from the National Constitution Center, which includes two heavy hardbound books (thank God I bought the big suitcase). I went across the street to Independence Hall, which in a very surreal way reminded me a bit of OU's campus. The nice park ranger there informed me I needed a timed ticket for the tour, which could be had in the visitor center across the green.

You can have breakfast with Ben Franklin on Saturday mornings at the visitor center (reservations are required). Anyway, I picked up my ticket with just enough time to stroll through the Liberty Bell exhibit and clear security for the tour.

Security isn't so bad. I always asked about taking photos instead of presuming it was okay and they only asked me to open my coat and to search my purse. Took less than a minute each time. I felt sorry for the parents with the stroller and the diaper bag and four small kids and all the kiddie crap that, frankly, in this post-9/11 world I think would deter me from ever sightseeing with the young'uns. For a minute, I thought security was going to sniff the contents of the little girl's Dora the Explorer canteen.

Our tour guide at Independence Hall was kind of annoying. Maybe it was just her East Coast accent or maybe it was the volume and pitch of her voice—or maybe it was a combination of all the above—but I was getting a headache. But she had a few interesting details.

She reminded us that two signings occurred in the famous hall—Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—but only six of the Founding Fathers signed both documents. Thomas Jefferson did not since he was a minister in France, and John Adams did not since he was a minister to England. Both were busy settling treaties at the ratification of the Constitution.

The old sage Ben Franklin, however, was present at both. And I liked her description of him as America's Leonardo da Vinci ("both were multi-talented and both knew things before their time").

She also called the Declaration of Independence a "well-written press release, not a form of government." George W (not THAT George W) admonished all 90 participants not to speak of the proceedings with any family, friends and certainly not the press for the four-month duration of the assembly. Can you imagine such a thing today? We have the scribe James Madison to thank for official record of what transpired.

The room itself, though it appears massive in the famous painting by Howard Chandler Christy, is actually quite intimate, save for the expansive ceiling. Call me crazy, but I really dig the gray-ish color of the woodwork.

Most of the items in the room are period pieces, but the only actual piece that was there during the Constitutional Convention is the so-called "Rising Sun" chair, in which sat the stately George Washington. It was so-named by the elderly Ben Franklin who had looked at the carvings on the back of the chair trying to determine if it was a rising or setting sun. The rising sun, of course, is a metaphor for the rising nation.

My stomach led me to The City Tavern, founded in 1773 and a favorite gathering place for the Founding Fathers. When independence was nothing more than a whisper, the great minds of democracy would gather in secret from the British. Ironically, the tavern is designed in the style of London tavern, so I guess we weren't that independent.

The servers are in complete Colonial dress, with the women in lacy Betsy Ross caps and the gentlemen in knickers. Since the misty sprinkles were just starting, I opted for some New England Clam Chowder and a salad. Amazing how cold a pewter mug will keep a beverage. The Thomas Jefferson sweet potato biscuits were divine.

I was setting to leave when I noticed the rain pouring off the awning outside. I was only a block or two from the hotel, but in the time it took to get back, my hair was soaked and has reverted to its natural frizzy state.

I'm warming up the flat iron to get rid of the frizz and then it's off to the National Constitution Center to meet my fellows and the faculty.

Word of the day
epistolary: of, relating to, or suitable to a letter

Philly at first blush

After an uneventful flight (just the way we like 'em), I had a rather harrowing ride into the city. Philly is a lot like New York City with traffic everywhere, only smaller. I was in a shuttle van, riding shotgun, with a bird's-eye view of every near miss—vehicular and pedestrian.

The driver blamed the traffic on the Philadelphia Flower Show, occurring this weekend. Apparently, it's a HUGE draw.

I'm in the Old City neighborhood, which is fantastic with brownstone-lined streets and some lovely little shops and cafes. Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are literally across the street. So I'm going to go do some walking before the weekend begins with a reception at 5.

But before I do, I'll share this little story about how my kids never let me forget who's really in charge. My lovely little Mikey, all of age 9, has a number of silly sayings, one of which is "You need a squoosh in the toosh?" So I'm unpacking, hanging up my clothes and noticed something stuck to the back of my suit jacket for tomorrow. Using my label maker, Mikey made a sticker that read, "I need a squoosh on the toosh."

Can you imagine my horror, walking in tomorrow with that taped to my back? Thank GOD I found it there!

Of course, afterward I started howling laughing because it's just like him to do something like that, just to let me know who is the boss.

I'm out for a stroll.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Constitutional immersion in the City of Brotherly Love

In a few hours I'll turn my attention away from the mass of editing and toward packing for my weekend as a fellow in the Peter Jennings Project for Journalism and Constitution. I depart for the City of Brotherly Love tomorrow morning and, hopefully, will have a few hours before the weekend begins to explore the area around Independence Hall, where I'll be staying.

I don't need much—a good local bookstore, a walk through Independence Hall, and a stroll through the historic neighborhood of Society Hill. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and my photos will turn out. Otherwise, I'll find a good coffee shop nearby and while away the hours with my book.

For now, I'm in packing mode. Gotta make sure I have all the necessary traveling items—iPod, cell phone and charger, journal, laptop and cords, notebook, business cards, boarding pass, gum, throat lozenges, camera and batteries. Should I bring my tape recorder? Nah. I don't want to mess with it and will prefer instead to absorb the info.

I'll be posting a bit here and there as the weekend continues. The conference is a mixture of small group case study workshops with larger discussions on the Constitution and race, women and the law, and interrogation and the Geneva Accords. Sherilynn Ifill, University of Maryland law professor, will lead my workshop on a free speech case involving Minnesota judicial candidates and the "announce clause."

Early this morning I was thinking about what my husband would say when friends ask, "Where's Wendy?" His response is likely to be: "She's in Philadelphia for some work thing." That response is fine, but the real reason I'm going is to become a better journalist, to get inspired by the subjects that first inspired me to go into journalism.

A trend began to slowly emerge as I sat down to write my personal statement for my fellowship application. It began with the realization that all my life I've been counseled by well-meaning people not to rock the boat. But the longer I wrote, the more my path became clear. I'm giving a voice to those who don't have one or can't use theirs. I write about ordinary people, sometimes doing extraordinary things, living extraordinary lives or facing extraordinary challenges. These were the stories that stood out from nearly 20 years as a journalist:
"For the farmers who watch as their fertile land is stripped from them so that the wealthy can build their mansions; for the blacks and whites who must daily work on the delicate balance that an integrated community requires; for the business owners who find their livelihood stripped away at the hands of one man's greed; for the undocumented immigrant mothers who are torn away from their children in order to serve the interests of the law; and for the educators who embody in loco parentis in the hopes that they can save a generation of children from economic despair."
I write out of a belief that we can—and must—do better as a nation. For my part, I'm going to Philly to learn how to do better by those ordinary people about whom I write.

Word of the day
introspection: a reflective looking inward : an examination of one's own thoughts and feelings

One harsh—and mistaken—critic

"Richard Wright, soon to become the bestselling author of Native Son, categorically dismissed [Zora Neale] Hurston's book: 'The sensory sweep of her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought,' he wrote."
From the article, "A Protofeminist Postcard from Haiti," by Valerie Boyd, about Hurston's book, "Their Eyes Were Watching God." Boyd wrote the biography, "Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston", published in 2003.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A good read or two or seven

My car looked like a glazed donut when I arrived home from the east side yesterday evening. Despite the wind blowing my car all around the Shoreway on the way home, I had to make a stop at the library because I absolutely needed something else to read. Can't be snowed in without a good book.

The Bay Village branch of Cuyahoga Public Library leaves much to be desired, but I did manage to pick up two novels I've long wanted to read. First I grabbed Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible." I must be one of the only people not to have read the book. But then I looked at its size and realized that since I'm flying on Friday, I needed something a little slimmer, a little more travel friendly. So I picked up Zora Neale Hurston's, "Their Eyes Were Watching God."

The first line of the book immediately sucked me in:
"Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board."
Last night, while awaiting election returns, I surfed a bit on Amazon for some other books that I've either seen, held or had recommended to me. If you have recommendations, feel free to send them along.

Snow Flowers and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See (recommended by Kristen)
Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky (read about it in PD)
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (have picked this one up a number of times)
What the Gospels Meant, by Gary Wills (love his renegade, smart way of writing about faith)
The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett (friend and running partner Lisa recommended this and she's always dead-on on her book recommendations)
A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah (picked this up a few times, too)
People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks (heard her tell the story of this book on NPR and was mesmerized)

Word of the day
momentum: strength or force gained by motion or through the development of events

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Liveblogging election returns

"We're looking at fear trumping hope." — Chris Matthews, MSNBC

Now there's a depressing thought.

Recognize the name?

Prolific Cleveland writer John Ettorre earns top billing in the books section of today's Christian Science Monitor for his review of "Reagan's Disciple." Nice job, John.

Gay Talese at CWRU tomorrow

Details are here. You can read more about my experiences with him here and here.

Do teacher labor agreements impact education?

Report from The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation on how teacher labor agreements impact leadership. Cleveland Metropolitan School District was one of the 50 included and its labor agreement was identified as "highly restrictive." You can download the entire report as PDF.
In the era of No Child Left Behind, principals are increasingly held accountable for student performance. But are teacher labor agreements giving them enough flexibility to manage effectively? The Leadership Limbo: Teacher Labor Agreements in America's Fifty Largest School Districts, answers this question and others.

The main findings:

  • Thirty, or more than half, of the 50 districts have labor agreements that are ambiguous. The collective bargaining agreements and the formal board policies in these districts appear to grant leaders substantial leeway to manage assertively, should they so choose.
  • Fifteen of the 50 districts are home to Restrictive or Highly Restrictive labor agreements. Nearly 10 percent of the nation's African-American K-12 students population attend school in the 15 lowest-scoring districts-making these contracts major barriers to more equal educational opportunity.
  • The study also found that districts with high concentrations of poor and minority students tend to have more restrictive contracts than other districts-another alarming indication of inequity along racial and class lines.
  • The labor agreements of the nation's 50 largest districts are particularly restrictive when it comes to work rules.
  • Most of these agreements are also quite restrictive when it comes to rewarding teachers for service in hard-to-staff subject areas such as math and science, with 31 actually prohibiting districts from doing so.
Word of the day
gadfly: a person who stimulates or annoys especially by persistent criticism

Monday, March 03, 2008

No shortcuts, please

"Sometimes the path to knowledge and insight has no shortcuts. You have to make the time to walk the distance and take the weight." Jeffrey Shaffer, Portland, Ore. writer in today's Christian Science Monitor

Review: "The Distance Between Us"

Masha Hamilton knows firsthand the psyche of a foreign correspondent and she captures the dedication and the self-imposed isolation that exists in those who tune out their own needs and voices to tell the stories of others abroad.

In her book, "The Distance Between Us," Hamilton's main character Caddie Blair is hard and cold, yet also funny and warm. She's a guy's girl who is in the Middle East for the story—THE story of who gets the right to "piss on the ancient ground," which has long been the subject of battles large and small. There are two types of people, she says: "There are whose who leave, and those who stay."

While on a risky trip to Lebanon to interview a reclusive politician, Caddie misses the warning signs of an attack and her photographer boyfriend, who kept telling her he wanted to leave but whom she convinced to come with her on one more assignment, is fatally shot in an ambush.

Like the Palestinians and the West Bank settlers that she covers, she is filled with thoughts of revenge. She is quickly losing herself in a quest to block out all else. That is, until a strange Russian professor shows up along with a journal of photographs that her late boyfriend's parents sent from Britain.

One is feeding her need to lose herself physically and emotionally, the other is forcing her to look at what she's become. Caddie's emotions or even lack of them hurts because you know she's going to implode if she doesn't face them.

Most journalists will recognize the desire to lose yourself in your reporting. Sometimes it's out of sheer enthusiasm for a subject, other times it's an escape—from reality, from boredom. But what Hamilton shows in her journalist is that while she was busy escaping her feelings and boredom thinking she was covering the story of the death and violence of the Middle East, it becomes increasingly apparent to the reader and to Caddie that she's NOT reporting the story.

She didn't put a human face on the death and violence that marks the territory. It remained faceless, nameless, a sheer numbers game. Through some painful and traumatic moments, she learns how much she missed the things around her. And it's through the photos in her boyfriend's journal that she sees herself—and him—for the first time. He had wanted out and she blew him off.

"War strips us naked. I am horrified by what I find in me," he writes at the end of his journal. The effect on Caddie is immediate, though other events have also been building toward her recognizing the "selective deafness" she has exhibited in her work and in her life.

She knows now that the stories have to be about people, about individuals, and that's the only way to lessen "the distance between us."

Word of the day
haunting: to visit often; to have a disquieting or harmful effect on