Aunts and Cousins: Great Memories and an Uncertain Future

Nonny & 3 sisters

Sunday night both boys, their wives and kids came for dinner.  We won’t all be together for Thanksgiving; one son and his two kids will be with his wife and her family; we’ll be with our other daughter-in-law’s family.  So Sunday was special, and it was a lovely evening.

Afterward, for some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Thanksgivings when we were kids.  It was always at our house: my parents, my mom’s sisters and their husbands, my grandmother and “the cousins.”  There were 9 of us, six girls (I was the oldest) and three boys.  My Aunt Bettie, her husband, two sons and a daughter lived in Cleveland; the rest of us were all local, so when the Cleveland Cousins showed up, it was a big deal.

There was a kids table of course.  Nobody, not even bossy me, was in a hurry to move to the old folks’ territory.  We were having too much fun.  In addition to everything else (including games of “Murder” and “Sardines” and lots of running around outside) we planned and performed little dramas every year.  I doubt they were very good, but everyone clapped and we had fun.

I wonder about so much now, though: the covert sisterly conversations in my parents’ bedroom, my grandmother (that’s her in the picture), whom I thought had gotten mean but was apparently losing her sight and trying to hide it, the lovely uncle and the wild one, and the impact of the Depression on the sisters and their men.  There’s so much of that time that I’d love to see with my grown up eyes: about raising kids and being a grandparent of course, but even more, about what WWII and the Depression had done to them.   After all, as I watch events unfold, it’s scary to think how close we are to leaving our kids and theirs to face similar harshness.

I wrote this about them back in 2007, when the last sister died:

In some ways, they were the lucky ones; all three sisters and my father and uncles — were able, on scholarships, to go to college. All three marriages, despite tensions and tough times, survived with a real friendship between spouses for most of their lives. Each had three children who were smart, interesting, and self-sufficient. Even so, the bounty of choices they gave to us was so much more than they had had themselves. The young women in this photograph, and their husbands, never had the luxury of dropping out of school to campaign for Eugene McCarthy or majoring in music or theater or spending years doing trauma medicine a couple of months a year to pay for a life of mountain climbing and exploration. There was no give, no leeway, in the lives of those whom the Depression and the war that ended it – had stamped forever.

I’d give anything to hear it all now.  All of it.

I hope we, and our kids, have the guts to be as courageous — and tenacious, as they were.

Happy Thanksgiving.

ISIS: They May Hate Us but They Thrive on Our Stuff

Like most of us, I don’t think I’ve felt like this since 9/11, although Paris may feel scary in a different way because the scope and savvy of ISIS makes Al Qaeda look primitive in comparison.

I spend hours on the Web every day, and probably understand the reach, creativity and strategic smarts of ISIS outreach more than most of my peers.  It’s kind of amazing that people committed to such a regressive lifestyle are so adept at using modern methods to build it.  They’ve been using Twitter, Whatsapp and other basic tools for some time but even though I raised two gamers, it never occurred to me until I heard it this morning that online game consoles are great, almost invisible, ISIS communication tools.

There have been hints though, in our popular culture. Portraits of these tactics have appeared  in TV shows as disparate in audience as NCIS and The Good Wife: plots about the online recruiting American teenagers for homegrown violence and about exploiting western commitment to privacy and free speech and thought, as well as the seemingly insurmountable gap between the world that nurtures these terrorists and the world we have tried to create for our own kids.

Of course, that dissonance means nothing if your goal is to return us all to a particularly fierce, and very old, version of holiness.  It’s so sad to note, too, that our wonderful technology is once again taking us away from all we’d hope it would be.


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.

Something Truly Remarkable

Between work and Passover I have been completely delinquent about posting but you need to see this.  Really. You need to. It's less than three minutes and you'll be really glad. 

Written, directed by : Patrick Jean

Director of Photography : Matias Boucardp

Online Politics Conference Part 2: Lots of Interesting People

The Online Politics Conference is over and the basic coverage has been excellent.  Since I’m late writing these (see yesterday’s post for why) I’m wandering through the two days reflecting on what I saw and heard – so join me.
Debra Bowen cropped Here are some of the great personalities who were part of the Politics Online Conference earlier this week.  The woman you see here, Debra Bowen, is the Secretary of State of California.  She’s also a savvy Facebook and Twitter user and completely accessible.  She speaks plain English about policy, politics and just about everything else, including the changes she hopes to make in California in online electoral reform.  Later, she showed up at a panel on the youth vote in jeans, her hair pulled back, no ceremony, no nothing.  Keep an eye on her – she’s got a lovely future I think.

Jeremy bird

This is Jeremy Bird, Harvard Divinity Grad and Deputy Director of Organizing for America – the successor to the Obama online campaign.  Shrewd, funny and knowledgeable, he echoed something we heard from all the Obama people at the conference: integrate online into every aspect and every major meeting of the campaign.  They need to be a seamless part of the team, not stuck in the basement.  Keep everyone in the loop and they take ownership.  “I”f you don’t know what it’s like on the ground, you will fail.”

These two guys, Larry Irving and Mike McCurry, were part of a broadband panel.  Irving ran NTIA in the Clinton Administration; McCurry, of course, was Bill Clinton’s White House Press Secretary and left with his integrity intact.  “Broadband and access to broadband is an indispensable tool for every American” says McCurry.  The panel basically made a case for broadband as a tool for health care, education, economic advancement and more.  It’s not just cool to get Hulu, it’s critical to our growth, the panelists maintain.  It can also save considerable money, particularly in health care, by making the best experts available, remotely, to any doctor anywhere.

Joshua Klein

Things weren’t all nuts and bolts though.  One panel, probably, along with a riveting exploration of the youth vote, was my favorite.  It’s title:   The Visual Frontier: How the Arts, Pop Culture and Business Innovates the Way We Consume and Use Information.    So whose eyes are those to the left?  They belong to Josh Klein, a “hacker” and wise man of technology.  He and the others in this panel have a combination of wisdom, originality and articulateness that made this panel a real pleasure. 

Judith Donath Probably the other really intellectually exciting panel was How Are We Changing Because of What We Do Online?  Its star:  Judith Donath of the wonderful MIT Media Lab.  Here’s a bit of what she said:

The information world is making many things no longer ephemeral the way they once were.  We used to be a country of constant reinvention (You could move to the west, change your name, and start over.)  We’d move around, and if finished college more than five years ago, we lost our old friends and reinvented ourselves.  Now that’s coming to an end.  Things written on Usenet years ago comes back to haunt us.

Now our online identity is our most long term and long lasting in the world we are building around us.  All that we’ve clicked on is retained somewhere along with shopping records and more.   What do we do with the vast amount of the past trailing us around, and how does it affect how we see politicians and each other?

So.  Plenty to think about from this gifted and influential group – politicians and “big thinkers” alike.


Leftbehindgames_promoToday on AlterNet – a wonderful aggregator of things political, there appeared the rather remarkable tale behind production of the video game Left Behind.  Based on the phenomenally best-selling series of books set during the arrival of the End Times and the Rapture, it sounds like it’s pretty violent for a religious game. 

I guess though that the entire story of the End Times is pretty grim.  I remember thinking that back when I first heard of these books.  It was around 7 years ago, when the first one came out.  I wandered back to the galley on a cross country flight and found the flight attendant transfixed, deeply involved in the story.  We spoke of it for some time; it meant a great deal to her.

Duck_and_cover_photo_2 I have always found apocalyptic stories riveting.  Maybe it’s growing up in the "duck and cover" era but the idea of the world ending in fire seemed so plausible in those times*  I was deeply affected by it, I think.  If you had to go under your desk in 2nd or 3rd grade and put your crossed hands over your neck, you’d be scared too.   

In addition to our air raid drills, there were books and movies like Alas, Babylon, On the Beach, and dozens of other nuclear disaster tales.  They were full of small, horrible moments.  I was pretty young but I remember, from Alas Babylon, mobs storming drugstores and looting them for medicine.  Even now it is probably the image of nuclear war that sits most viscerally in my mind.  My father had high blood pressure – and was lost without his hearing aid – and I remember fearing that a war would take away his medication and the hearing aid batteries that connected him to us.

The bombs always came from countries back then.  Now of course all it takes is a suitcase and some under-funded port security to empower someone bent on destruction.  It probably is no accident that the Left Behind books are so popular — there’s so much uncertainty and so much that’s frightening.  Which brings us back to the game.  Somehow it seems less acceptable to insert violence into a religious game, but as I become accustomed to the weekly reading of Torah portions I realize the bloody violence in the Bible itself.  Even God was not immune – his anger was swift and deadly.  The understanding of that somehow seems, at least partially, to justify the violence of apocalyptic literature.

So.  No conclusions — just a riff for a Wednesday night.  And the thought that if violence emerges so often in sacred works it’s an acknowledgment of those things in our natures that challenge us most… to keep our own rage, envy and hatred from popping out and contributing to chaos — in real life, on the pages of a book, or on an XBOX 360.