Do We Americans Still Have It? Do We Care? #MicroblogMonday

Apocalypse-road-sign-resizedI’ve spent most of my life thinking about disasters and potential apocalypses and injustice and misery: I’m a journalist, or at least I was, so I don’t get discouraged easily.  So far the world, or at least our country, has always seemed to right itself in the nick of time.  I seriously wonder if we can still do it though.  We all know why:

A bitterly divided country


Institutional injustice

The terrifying assault on women’s rights and well-being, here and elsewhere

The decline of our public schools

Climate change

The rise of fundamentalism

The coarsening of our culture

The cost of a college education




Anti-Vaxx-ers (seriously)

Add your own here____________________

Beneath those individual issues lies the biggest threat: what appears to be the larger change in our values.  As I watched The Roosevelts and, strangely enough, re-watched The King’s Speech, I wondered (not for the first time) where those sorts of world leaders (FDR, a president with political skills, toughness, vision and an understanding both of where the country was and where he needed to take it, Teddy Roosevelt who took on income inequality through trust busting and began what became the environmental movement (and yes he also started a couple of wars… or a reluctant King George IV, who not only held Britain together and committed under horrible circumstances but also led by example) are today, whether they could be elected or heeded —  whether they would even be willing to try.  Even more, I wondered if our country would accept them; whether we are still capable of selflessness or a sense of duty or a thoughtful response to a call to sacrifice.  I hope so.




Being a Grandmother, a Mother, a Daughter, and Sad


These two are both dads now.

These two are both dads now.

Once a year I pay special honor to my parents.  In a  service on Yom Kippur called Yizkor, I say a prayer to their memory and pledge to do something to remember them:  to donate charity for their sake.

This year, even more than usual, I wept as I prayed, and afterward. I have three grandsons now, one of whom shares my father’s name, and my parents don’t know it.  They aren’t here to enjoy these lovely boys, or to help me handle the issues that emerge when one’s children have children.

Our boys and their wives are stunning parents (and wonderful to us) and our grandsons are, of course, perfect; that’s not the issue.  It is, rather, that I know now some of what they must have felt and I would be so grateful if I could tell them what I have learned about their own grace as grandparents, and ask them for advice on the moments that grab the heart, or maybe even, as in every family, for a moment, break it.

Justice on Television: Way Before Good Wives and Even West Wings!

The Defenders East Side West side posterMovies stay with us; they’re great historic documents, but television is intimate, and when it’s good, television is us.

My own early understanding of injustice and race and poverty and social change came from television.  For example:

There are plenty of others but this is #microblogmonday so I’m about done: consider though the WWI episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs, and Route 66.

* The Museum of Broadcast Communications called it “perhaps the most socially conscious series the medium has ever seen”, a show”singularly resonant with New Frontier liberalism.”

When the Children Become the Parents: After You…

ancestors other1Two new grandsons have joined our first (born almost three years ago); one is 6 days old, the other just over two weeks.  They are beautiful and delicious; watching our sons with them is breathtaking.

With the birth of that first little boy, we became grandparents; he brought us a new identity. Just after the birth of the second of the three, though, the rabbi took us beyond that.  With the birth of their children, our children have become ancestors, taking their places, as we had done, in the thousands of years of Jewish history.

I’ve written before about the special meaning of our “Biblical” lineage , especially since we can’t trace our personal ones very far back, but I’m saying something else here: look forward as well as back.  There’s something compelling about the concept of one’s children becoming ancestors – something wonderful and profound.

GONE GIRL – I Wish She’d Kept Going

dorothy parker gone girlOK so I was all set to do some real work this morning.  I was.  Then I saw this in my friend Katherine Stone’s Facebook feed:

Gonegirl katherine

Katherine is a remarkable person whose fierce advocacy for women with post partum mood and anxiety disorders is legendary.  I listen to her.

The problem is, I really really hate Gone Girl.  Really.

First of all I figured out the ending near the beginning.  Secondly, the ending was kind of lifted from SPOILER ALERT: Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent.  Third, I’m betting the movie, soon to be released, is really good, which will just get more people saying nice things about the book.  David Fincher.  Ben Affleck.  Neil Patrick Harris.  What could go wrong?  I read they changed the ending, too.  In principal, that usually bothers me but in this case I’m really curious to see if the change makes the story more palatable.

I am far from the only person with negative feelings toward this novel.  The sample in Katherine’s feed includes comments like these:

Rachel Kaffenberger Great writing but the characters just pissed me off. I hated that book. Awful, horrible people are in that book.

Jen Neeld Bradshaw Ha! I read it two weeks ago and I still have some rage.

Asha Dornfest That book freaked me out.

Deb Rox I threw the book. You can guess which scene.

Kit Kelly I hated it.

And my own two personal favorites:

Susan Petcher I feel like “Books that Make You Hate Humanity” needs to be a new FB meme.

Doug French I wanted the last sentence of the book to be, “And then they all piled into a Greyhound Bus and drove into a volcano.”

I’m with Doug.  There were also some positive comments but these are the ones I agree with and there are already enough good comments out there in the ether and it’s my blog so….

Even so, it is true that the book evoked a ton of comments and a lot of emotion.  I guess there’s some skill required for that to happen but if that’s true, she’s squandered it.  Allegedly her other work is better but that’s no excuse – especially for a public which seems to be gaga for this one.

Right now I am reading California, a dystopian, almost too real story of a dark American future.  It’s probably only on the radar screen because Stephen Colbert used it as an example of books by young first-time authors who are most hurt by the Amazon-Hachette battle.  Since then it too has gotten a lot of attention so one makes me think of the other.

California doesn’t have as many stars on goodreads.  For me though, it’s so very much more exciting and provocative.  Her characters are more than horrible stereotypes, and it’s Edan Lepucki’s first published novel which is exciting.

This is not a contest between California and Gone Girl or between Stephen Colbert and Ben Affleck.  At least not to me.  I just didn’t want to be this mean about a book without including one that has my attention, is unpredictable, and includes some decent, interesting people.

Don’t we love that books can get us all riled up like this?  Far more fun that terrorists and the NFL!

And for a treat, here’s the Colbert Report after LePucki’s book made the New York Times Best Seller List:

OH and #boycottNFLsponsors.



The NFL, Women and Spartacus

SpartacusNobody can stop talking about the NFL.  Me neither.  Yesterday I wrote about the complicity of broadcast networks and sponsors  (who by the way paid my salary for more than 25 years) in this issue of women’s and children’s safety.  I’ve never seen so many tone-deaf people in my life.  Even CoverGirl can’t seem to get it right.

But today, on Microblog Monday, I have another question.  What do we do about this world of modern gladiators in a game that damages their brains until many of them are never able to think clearly again?  How do we protect them from the impact of the conditioning and brutality that is part of their work?  And what is the difference between NFL owners and those who sent Rome’s ancient, doomed fighters into the Coliseum?

Women Are 45% of NFL TV Audience. FORTY-FIVE!! Time to Take On the Networks

Photo by Coemgenus via Wikimedia

Photo by Coemgenus via Wikimedia

We need to do something (HINT: #boycottNFLsponsors)

Why is it so hard to affect the NFL and its disgraceful responses to abusive players?  After all, women are 45% of the NFL fan base.  It makes sense to care what we think.

Sadly, there’s that other thing. To see what we’re up against, follow the money.

Team owners make money from tickets and souvenirs but even more from TV contracts and the networks who pay for them.  It’s all nicely divided up.  In the 2011 9-year NFL-broadcast contract, CBS gets American Football Conference games – and is asking $500,000 for thirty second spots, according to Forbes, Fox carries the National Football Conference and NBC broadcasts Sunday night in prime time – with ads going for $628,000/30-second spot. Each network gets an exclusive crack at three of the nine Super Bowls and all the revenue that comes with it. (Bloomberg News)

Here’s what Forbes said this time a year ago, “Live appointment television—already extremely important—will only grow in significance in coming years, as television programming and audiences continue to fragment. On TV, the NFL is king.”

This morning (9/15/14) Joe Scarborough, never one for impulse control, lashed out at NYT columnist Alan Schwarz for his mention of the failure of broadcasters to acknowledge their own complicity in the shameful collaboration among the NFL, sponsors and the networks who charge them for their ads.

It’s like the story of the nail and the horse and the war*:  Sponsors pay the networks, networks pay the NFL, the NFL divides the revenue among the teams and the owners combine these huge paydays with their ticket sales.

Listen to the Wall Street Journal describe the most recent TV rights auction:

The auction was a sign of the NFL’s huge leverage over television networks, which are increasingly looking to the NFL to help fortify them against the rise of online video services, the stagnation of pay TV and other threats. “It’s almost like the networks are afraid to say no to the NFL,” says one senior TV executive involved in the bidding process for Thursday night games.

So.  If the NFL is king and everyone, especially the TV networks who profit from ad revenue, ratings and football programming in general, are enablers then we have to make it scarier to continue than to take a stand.  That means finding, and boycotting, NFL sponsors and letting the network brass know what we’re doing.  (I boycotted Greece for years during the Junta years.  Then an Amnesty International leader told me “If they don’t know why you’re not coming, it doesn’t do any good.   You need to write to them and tell them why you’re not there.“)

That’s the other part of it.  We need to be noisy and bold and brassy and (forgive me Ms. Sandburg) bossy about this – holler like hell in support of our sisters and put our money where our mouths are.  Nobody needs any of the stuff that advertise on NFL games and there are alternatives for all of them anyway.

Women’s bodies should not be paying for the bad business planning of television networks; if they won’t take a stand with the NFL, let them find another way to make their money!


UPDATE: See this Jezebel story on CoverGirl, too.

Microsoft  @Microsoft (big deal w/NFL to use ONLY Surface Tablets and other MS technology on the sidelines

Gatorade  @gatorade                 Bud Light  @budlight

Visa  @visa                                  Verizon @verizon

Papa John’s  @PapaJohns           FedEx  @FedEx

Marriott  @Marriott                    Pepsi  @pepsi

General Motors  @GM                Campbell’s Soup  @CampbellSoupCo

#boycottNFLsponsors  Please add more in comments!


*For Want of a Nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a horse the rider was lost.

For want of a rider the message was lost.

For want of a message the battle was lost.

For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.   

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.



NOTE: This is another 2008 virtual baby shower post – to Julie Westerbeck Marsh when her first son appeared.

OK so I grew up with sisters.  And I went to a women’s college.  And most of my life I’ve worked in offices with more women than men (amazing, no?)  So, when I was pregnant I was terrified at the idea of having boys.  They were so strange — so noisy — I just had no idea what was coming.  Except that what was coming was Josh. And then Dan.  And it turned out that — hang on sisters – boys are a blast, great company, luuuhhhv their moms and — boys are easier!  I know this because I’ve watched my friends raising daughters and the tensions are fierce.  Girls and their mothers — boys and their dads.  Not easy.

But let’s get back to basics.  Little boys run around a lot and make noise.  They jump off things.  They ride the dog around and fall off and hit their heads and need stitches.  They, later, seem to be trying to kill each other much of the time.  And before I go any further – let me tell you that there’s an old shrink saying that therapists never believe that babies are born with personalities until they have their second child.  This is also true with many women regarding gender differences – it hits you once they show up.  My kids are feminists and very good to the women in their lives as far as I can tell – but they are men and they were boys and that is not like being a girl.  Nope.

I have great memories from when they were little – stomping around singing Free to Be and Da Doo Ron Ron Ron and The Garden Song and Abiyoyo, skiing down black diamond slopes and going to Yankee Stadium to see Billy Joel and Carnegie Hall to see Pete Seeger and Madison Square Garden to see Sesame Street on Ice and being dragged to an infinite number of Police Academy and other disgusting movies.

And I lived in alien space much of the time.  Some of our hit toys (ie things I would NEVER have had in my house if there were not these strange male creatures inhabiting the premises — and pre-video game age of course):
One of those Radio Shack electronics build-your-own thingy kits that make bells ring and bulbs light up if you hook them up correctly.
Anything aviationary
Anything Star Wars
Anything GI Joe
Weird wrestling stuff (boy did I fight that one!)
Folk music (that’s my fault though)
Baseball cards  (and proudly, I did NOT throw them out)
Stuffed animals

No  Mary Poppins books (I tried) but I did get to read all The Great Brain and Ralph S Mouse and Timothy Goes to School and a gazillion baseball player bios.

There’s serious stuff to having sons, of course.  We have to be sure, no matter how much we love hanging around with them, that they get enough alone time with their dads or some other male figure.  And wave bravely as they off together on a Sunday (also your day off after all) without you.  We have to accept and celebrate the guy stuff.

Just like girls, but differently, we have to let them know we think they can take care of themselves – enable independence at each landmark, if we think they can handle it, even when we really want to help.  It’s so easy, with a boy, to want to remain more connected than is useful for them as they grow.  At certain points they may pull back for a while, when they need to untangle.  We have to let them and respect the struggle

With regard to respect for women – I am deeply impressed with my sons’ perspectives.  I hope that being honest and respecting their developing attitudes, helped.  I never threw a Playboy out of our house but I made it very clear how I felt about them in the (brief) period they were around.  Anything like that, of which I (or my husband) disapproved, had to come out of their allowance.  They had to put their money on the line – and I think that helped more than locking it all out of the house and pretending they weren’t interested.  It also helped us understand where their heads were.  Although that is easier for boys because they are, honestly, more straightforward.

Of course none of what I write here applies to all boys.  Much of it may apply to plenty of girls.  But it was my experience and in a kind of stream of consciousness baby shower kind of way it’s what rose to the top.   The bottom line though, is that even though it’s scary if you’ve lived in a world of women, as I had, they are just wonderful.  Most of all, because I know Julie, from reading your blog for so long, you  would be a great mother to any child with whom you were blessed, this kid is in for a great life.   And where advice is concerned, I say take it only as far as your gifted mother gut takes you.  Where the two collide, trust yourself.  Girl, boy or android, that way your little one will always be in the right hands.

YOU ASKED FOR IT: Advice for New Moms

6 Replies

Josh_and_cindy_in_muir_woodsNOTE: In the early years of BlogHer “virtual baby showers” – posts on a topic new moms might like – were frequent.  This, one of the first, sought advice for new moms.  In honor of two new grandchildren, here’s what I wrote then, in April of 2007.

That’s me with my older son, Josh, in Muir Woods outside San Francisco  — pretty many years ago.  I don’t know if you can tell but I’m pregnant with his brother.  Happy to join the virtual shower although despite my adoration of and respect for both Liz and Catherine, I’m from the generation that put their babies to sleep on their stomachs and so may sound a little old-fashioned.

1. Don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right no matter whose advice it is.

2. Trust yourself.

3. Remember that everybody makes mistakes and anyway a child is not a product, she is a person. You’ve heard that kids are resilient. They are. Do your best with love and if you don’t dwell on your mistakes neither will they.

4. You can’t turn a child into someone. You can only help them become the best somebody they already are.

5. Don’t be afraid to say no. Parents who don’t set limits and help their kids learn self-discipline are selfish. It’s easier but it’s not right.

6. No experience is wasted on a child. Maybe they’re too young to remember, but if it happened, it had an impact. So share as much of what you love as you can – music, museums, trips to Timbuktu or Target — poetry, cooking, washing the car.

7. No child ever went to college in diapers.

8. Listen to experienced people you respect, preschool teachers, friends, even, God forbid, your mother.  Experience really is a great teacher.  Then, though, think it through and then do what you think is right.

9. Everything is not equally important. Pick your fights and win them.

10. Leave time to just be. Lessons are great but quiet time is where imagination and a sense of self emerges.

11. LISTEN to your kids. They are smart and interesting and wise and if you respect them you have a far better chance of having them respect you.

12. Did I say trust yourself?

With love, admiration and the joy that comes from knowing all you wonderfulpoetic and caringcommitted and in one case, very new mothers on the occasion of this lovely virtual baby shower.


On the Arrival of a First Child

x Dan hospital picSix years ago I wrote this piece to honor the pending birth of a friend’s child.  It’s about the first days after the birth of a first child. Right now, each of my sons is expecting a child, so one more time, here’s the memory – with gratitude and love.

What an emotional shock it has been to write this.  I need to start with that; the feelings, years later, are still there. Since this baby shower is for one of my favorite bloggers, and friends, I’m grateful to be part of it.  Our task is to share those lovely early moments with our brand new children.  That’s why I’ve added this, which may be the most perfect photo I own, because it says just what we all know.

The connection of a mother and newborn is so complete that it’s almost
impossible – even with writers as remarkable as this community — to describe.
At least I can’t find words that say what I know this photo says.

This is actually my second son, very soon after he arrived.

He’s almost 33 now and more extraordinary than even I, proud mama, could have imagined
that cold November day in Roosevelt hospital in 1979.  He and his brother
both started off with beautiful souls though.  They are beautiful still.

When I think of those early days, it isn’t all the getting up at night (although it could be) and it isn’t that I had so much trouble nursing that I needed to supplement (although it could be) and it isn’t the absolutely perfect terror that I might do them harm that accompanied the first days of their lives (although it certainly, indubitably could be.)

Nope.  Here’s what I remember, and what I wish for the two of you and all you other moms and moms-in-waiting:  it’s a cold winter night, maybe after about a week as the new parent of son number 1.  It’s dark, but out the window you can see the boats going up and down the Hudson River (even though our windows leak so there’s ice on our windows, on the inside.)

You hear a cry and struggle out of bed, grab a robe, go retrieve this new little person from his crib, change him and move with him to the bentwood rocking chair (of course there’s a rocking chair) facing the window. And you hold him in your arms and you feed him.

The dark envelops you,  the dim skyline across the river in New Jersey is the only light you have, except for the tiny pinpoints of light on the tug boats and barges as they make their way.  And it’s silent.  Not a sound.  And, with this new life in your arms, you rock gently back and forth.  The gift of peace of those nights in the rocker was so intense that as I write this, I can feel it. If I let myself, I could cry.

I remember watching my mother with each infant – can still see her face as she responded to them,  thinking to myself then “Oh. This must be the way she was with me.  How beautiful.  How beautiful.”

And I remember this.  My parents came to us very soon after our first son was born, helped put the crib together, celebrated with us. Late one night, as I stood with our baby in my arms, my dad walked into the room. Looking at the two of us, in perfect peace, he said to me  “NOW do you understand?”  Of course I did.