Sunday, November 30, 2008

Free Trade

The cover story of today's NYT magazine, about a rich woman paying another woman to serve as a surrogate and carry her baby to term, was horrific, but irresistible. I was compelled to read the entire thing, wanting to retch as I did.

The author, Alex Kucyzynski, is a 40-year old NYT staff writer (in, of course, the Style section). She and her husband decided to hire a surrogate for various reasons, as Kucyzynski portrays it -- she emphasizes health. However, Kucyzynski revels in the other benefits of paying someone else to have her baby:
AS THE MONTHS PASSED, something curious happened: The bigger Cathy was, the more I realized that I was glad — practically euphoric — I was not pregnant. I was in a daze of anticipation, but I was also secretly, curiously, perpetually relieved, unburdened from the sheer physicality of pregnancy. If I could have carried a child to term, I would have. But I carried my 10-pound dog in a BabyBj√∂rn-like harness on hikes, and after an hour my back ached.

Cathy was getting bigger, and the constraints on her grew. I, on the other hand, was happy to exploit my last few months of nonmotherhood by white-water rafting down Level 10 rapids on the Colorado River, racing down a mountain at 60 miles per hour at ski-racing camp, drinking bourbon and going to the Super Bowl.

I had several friends around my age — 37 and up — who were pregnant with their first children at this time, and I was amazed at how their feet swelled like loaves of bread. They were haggard. They seemed sallow and tired, and they let their hair go gray. I decided to call all of us Gummies — grown-up mommies — with the implication that some of us were so old we could have dentures.

I would soon be a Gummy. I just didn’t have to do the hard part. I had the natal equivalent of a hall pass, a free ride, an automatic upgrade to first class. According to the expectations that govern modern womanhood, I should have been moaning to a shrink or to my girlfriends over cosmos about my inadequacies. But I tried hard not to see myself as a failure. I allowed myself the anguish of the moment when Cathy was playing my piano, and after that I vowed, not entirely successfully, to refuse more self-punishment. I had been through so much — so much death and sorrow — that the gift of Cathy carrying my baby, shouldering the burden of the pregnancy, transferring all the fear of failure to her shoulders, was liberating.

The important part of that excerpt, of course, is that the author admits to carrying around her "10-pound dog in a BabyBjörn-like harness on hikes".

Kucyzynski mentions the several homes she and her husband (who is twenty or so years older than her, who has had three previous wives and six previous children, and whom she describes as a "very successful investor") own in various places across the country, her regular trips to Bikram yoga (just plain "yoga" will not do -- it's Bikram yoga), and other aspects of her fancy life. She cares very much about who will carry her baby -- not just any womb will do:
When we came across Cathy’s application, we saw that she was by far the most coherent and intelligent of the group. She wrote that she was happily married with three children. Her answers were not handwritten in the tiny allotted spaces; she had downloaded the original questionnaire and typed her responses at thoughtful length. Her attention to detail was heartening. And her computer-generated essay indicated, among other things, a certain level of competence. This gleaned morsel of information made me glad: she must live in a house with a computer and know how to use it.

There is something interesting going on with the photography that accompanies the article. I am not convinced that Kuczynski is aware of it, but the photographer and the photo editor have conspired to throw Kuczynski under the bus with the photos. In the cover photo, Kuczynski appears in a fancy and expensive looking black dress, with high heels, with her hands on her stomach to emphasize her slim figure; next to her, her surrogate is in baggy slacks, a dumpy-looking sweater, and massively pregnant. Another photo inside shows Kuczynski standing in front one of her several homes (this one is in Southampton), with a lushly landscaped garden behind her, and with a shorter African-American "baby nurse" (why the "baby nurse"? is the baby sick?) standing at attention nearby -- in a nurse outfit. It's like something out of "Gone with the Wind".

The next photo is of Kuczynski's surrogate, Susan Hilling, a week before she "delivered", sitting on her stoop in Harleyville, PA. The paint on her white house is dirty, the foundation appears to be cracked, and there's a rack of dirty white sneakers on the porch behind her. She does not have a perfect lawn like Kuczynski; she's got some weeds and mud. Harleyville is not Southampton. Oh, to make sure the point is not lost, Hilling is barefoot in the picture.

Kuczynski tries hard to be "honest" about the situation in her piece, as if her purported "honesty" about the transaction obligates her reader not to judge her, excuses her condescension and obvious self-absorption, and erases any qualms about the role money plays in this market transaction. Kuczynski writes in such a way that makes clear that she wants, and indeed, expects, our sympathy and understanding. The accompanying photos, which steadily undermine her hermetically sealed poses of self-awareness, suggest that perhaps she deserves none of that.

In the end, Kuczynski has given us a long, poorly written essay about how hard it was for her to pay tens of thousands of dollars to someone else to have her baby. And no doubt, she has continued to add to her "healthy income as a writer" with this piece. The photos suggest that perhaps Hilling would have been able to give us a better perspective on the difficulties of this arrangement. But, then again, perhaps Hilling wouldn't have been able to discuss the "paradigms of motherhood" as Kuczynski does -- plainly admiring herself as she raids the dictionary to lard her prose with fifty-cent words. Because, in Kuczynski's world, isn't her very ability to not only own a computer but write about the "paradigms of motherhood" the thing that allows her -- to her mind, justly -- to pay Hilling to carry her baby as Kuczynski rafts down "level 10 rapids . . . drinks bourbon and [goes] to the Superbowl"?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From the Department of Truly Terrible Ideas

Neanderthal burial

Just a quick note that there are scientists out there struggling with whether the Neanderthal that they are working to create from preserved DNA should be brought to term in a human or a chimpanzee.

Really? We really want to bring back a sub-species of humans? I'm sure we'll know just what to do with the Neanderthals once we bring some back. Especially if they've been created by resequencing chimpanzee DNA and birthed by chimpanzee mothers.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Somali pirates seized a Saudi tanker today. The tanker was carrying two million barrels of oil -- approximately one quarter of Saudi Arabia's daily output. The hijacked ship, the Sirius Star, is the largest ship to ever to be hijacked.

A friend of mine currently living in Khartoum pointed out to me that last month, pirates operating off the coast of Somalia captured a Ukrainian ship apparently bound for South Sudan. The cargo? military weapons and tanks.

Unrelated note: I used to love the game Pirates! for the Apple IIGS. That game was the bomb.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The View from the Tank: Q-Tip at the House of Blues L.A. - Nov. 15, 2008

shirt available at

Thirteen years ago or so, when I was riding in the backseat of a friend's car, with the windows down, and Mobb Deep, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Nas, or the Wu Tang Clan blasting out into the green pastures surrounding our college town, I would wonder what it would be like to listen to that music years later. When I was fifty-five, would I be sitting around in a faded Phat Farm hoodie, playing my antique cassette tapes and CDs and snapping my arthritic fingers and tapping a vintage, yellowed Shell Toe along with "Shook Ones" or "Protect Ya Neck" as my kids shook their heads in embarrassment and pity?

I'm not quite there yet, but heading to the Q-Tip show in L.A. last night, I felt I was a bit closer to that imagined scene. Q-Tip had faded into relative obscurity in the years since the glorious heights of A Tribe Called Quest in the early 90's. Their peak was likely around 1992 or 1994 -- somewhere between The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. Going to a Q-Tip show in 2008 felt a little like going to see Poison or Steely Dan reunited in Foxborough. And it wasn't a reunited ATCQ crew -- Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor) , in another sign of the time that had passsed, had developed diabetes, which has kept him off the road. (He's just received a kidney transplant after years of dialysis.) It was just Q-Tip, backed by DJ Scratch (of EPMD fame), and a full band.

Q-Tip was promoting his new album, The Renaissance, which had received surprisingly positive reviews and nearly universal acclaim. There were some intriguing decisions on the new album -- most notably for me, a collaboration with Norah Jones on the track "Life is Better".

Any doubts I had about this show or Q-Tip were erased as soon as Q-Tip took the stage. Q-Tip released The Renaissance on Election Day (he reminded the crowd of this several times). Before the curtain rose, the speakers pumped out the words of Barack Obama from his famous speech after the New Hampshire primary defeat. Q-Tip (born Jonathan Davis -- name changed to Kamaal Ibn John Fareed in the 90s after he converted to Islam) is clearly a massive fan of Obama, and he was plainly still soaring high on Obama's victory. The crowd roared with every mention of Obama. Mrs. Octopus was dressed exactly right for the occasion, wearing her t-shirt that features the name BARACK in the format of the Run-DMC logo (see above). (Many other fans at the show were sporting their own Obama shirts, and at least three people came over to tell Mrs. Octopus that they loved her shirt.)

Q-Tip, who is now 38, did look his age. He's gotten a little chubby. (Mrs. Octopus thought he had man-boobs.) But he was fired up from the get-go, dancing in his slightly dorky, jerky way, his voice still nasal, vaguely immature, and smooth, his delivery still crisp but relaxed. He bounced around quite a bit, encouraging his band to launch off on solos, and ceding the stage to DJ Scratch for a brilliant trip down a memory lane of hip hop golden oldies, including a riff on Black Sheep's early 90's hip hop anthem "The Choice is Yours" that sent the crowd into a stomping, leaping frenzy. (That song, by the way, was the official soundtrack to my college admissions process. I remember seeing the album for sale at the Haverford student union when I was there for a campus tour -- that nearly sealed the deal for me.) He played a bunch of stuff off his new album, and, of course, a good number of ATCQ classics, which was a little odd, and a little sad, because he had to deliver Phife's verses, which was as weird as it sounds. A large part of ATCQ's success came from the peanut butter and jelly combination of Q-Tip's mellow delivery and Phife's energetic, fired-up short-dude style; it's not quite the same when you have only one half of that combination.

I hadn't been to a hip hop show for a long time. This show was a look back, but it felt fresh and new. Everyone in the crowd seemed deliriously happy. Tip stoked this collective joy with repeated questions "How y'all feel about our new president!?" And his music -- hopeful, celebratory, joyful -- felt exactly right for this moment. There was an older white guy there, dancing near where we were standing. He must've been in his mid 70's, with white hair, and still-tanned, weather-beaten skin. He was in a suit, with a drink in one hand and something that looked a lot like an unlit blunt between his lips. It looked like he had escaped from a nursing home in his best clothes for this show. This guy was thoroughly enjoying himself, and all sorts of girls came over to dance with him and take pictures with him; guys came by to slap his hand and give him a pound -- attention he clearly ate up.

Watching the old dude, I knew exactly how he felt -- like it was a good time to be alive.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lock and Load

Since Obama's election, gun sales around the country are way up. Apparently, the people stockpiling weaponry are worried about (1) Obama taking away their guns and/or (2) the coming race/food/water wars as the U.S. dollar becomes toilet paper, we slide into a Paleolithic barter system, and people are turned into Soylent Green.

Also, remember SNL has-been Victoria Jackson? Did you ever wonder what happened to her? Neither did I. Anyway, just for fun, check out her new, fundamentalist Christian view of the world, including her opinion that Obama is the Anti-Christ and a communist. (Does that mean he's not a Muslim? *Phew!*) Also, she's been appearing in TV spots against her former SNL buddy and MN Senate hopeful, Al Franken.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gov. Howard Dean, M.D.

Gov. Howard Dean is stepping down after a four-year term as head of the DNC. His accomplishments in those four years? Engineering a fifty-state strategy that brought the Democrats back into power in the House and Senate in 2006, further consolidated that advantage in Congress in 2008, and helped put Senator Barack Obama into the White House.

This blog began roughly four years ago, as I was trying to find a way to deal with the emotionally devastating re-election of George Bush. I supported Kerry once he was the nominee, but anyone who knew me back in 2003 and 2004 will remember that I was a certified Deaniac. In the early days of this blog, I spent a lot of time hoping that Dean would return. (Indeed, I even floated the idea of a Dean-Obama ticket for 2008.)

Dean was the candidate in 2004 who best captured the anger that so many of us felt at the horrors and depredations of the Bush administration and its wholly unjust war, its lies, its arrogant disregard for international law, its casual abuse of the Constitution. I was devastated when the media tore Dean down, exploiting the infamous Dean Scream to complete their media assassination.

As Dean steps down from his historically successful tenure as DNC chairman, we should recognize the power of his strategy, and the tremendous results Dean has helped realize. Many -- including the new White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel -- once mocked Dean's fifty-state strategy of building support for the Democratic party in "Red States". It's that strategy, adopted by Obama, that helped turn Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia blue for the first time in decades.

That beautiful map we saw lighting up on Election Night with blue from Virginia to Colorado, from Indiana to Nevada? Thank Howard Dean.

The Visit

This is simply an extraordinary image, and, honestly, one for which I was not really mentally prepared. The reality of last Tuesday's results continue to surprise me.

One wonders what is going on in Bush's mind today. I have had the sense, over the past few days, that Bush has tried to place himself on the right side of history with regards to the election results, and that he will go out of his way to appear to be helping Obama with a smooth transition. Of course, at the same time, Bush and Co. will likely be busy with eleventh-hour pardons, and other monkey business. I also wonder how Bush feels, giving Obama the tour and the briefing, knowing that Obama ran 100% against Bush's policies, and just yesterday announced that one of his first priorities will be to undo and reverse Bush's various executive orders.

Bush must know that his disastrous administration played a large role in Obama's rise. I wonder if he at all consoles himself with the thought "Hey, I may have f*cked things up pretty good, but at least we got something great as a result of it all."

Also, an interesting article on "Obama and the Dawn of the Fourth Republic" a friend of mine sent me.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Road to Texas Runs through Latin America: South to the Future

The L.A. Times runs a story today echoing the idea I raised earlier this week: Texas can be turned blue in 2012.

Obama can help make this a reality by continuing to build goodwill with the Latino community in some of the following ways:

First, he should work to enact comprehensive and humane immigration reform that will recognize that millions of undocumented Latinos living and working in, and contributing to America deserve fair and just treatment.

Second, he could appoint Bill Richardson as Secretary of State, Antonio Villaraigosa to either Education, Transportation, or Commerce, and, when the time comes to make a Supreme Court appointment, Obama should consider a jurist such as Sonia Sotomayor, who currently sits on the Second Circuit in New York.

Third, Obama could do much to help repair our frayed relations within our hemisphere, with Central and South America. Too much of our policy -- especially over the past eight years -- has been driven by antiquated, Cold War anti-communist positions (with the bogeymen of Castro, Chavez, and Ortega) and a badly misguided "War on Drugs" in which we have found ourselves allied with right-wing ideologues (see Columbia). We need to get beyond this outdated mindset and reach out to the vibrant democracies in our hemisphere, in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, and elsewhere. Change is sweeping the Americas -- indeed, one could see Obama as just the latest in a string of progressive and left-of-center leaders to come to power in the Americas. The Obama Administration should make it a priority to partner and develop deeper ties with our neighbors to the South.

R.I.P. -- John Leonard (1939-2008)

Some sad news this week: the critic John Leonard, he of the famously purple prose, the marvelously extended paragraph, and the allusions to Looney Tunes and Wittgenstein in the same sentence, died earlier this week. He was 69. The world will feel a little too quiet in the absence of Leonard's playful, rambunctious voice.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Chris Murphy (D-CT) for Senate 2012

We Democrats have had enough of Joe Lieberman and his poisonous ways. Connecticut deserves a senator that represents the best values of the great Constitution State.

Join me in urging Representative Chris Murphy (D-CT) to run for United States Senator in 2012 so that we can replace Joe Lieberman with a true Democrat.

Murphy, who was elected to Congress in 2006, is a graduate of Williams College and the University of Connecticut Law School. He was an early and outspoken supporter of President-Elect Barack Obama. He is one of the younger members of the U.S. Congress, at 35 years old.

He just defeated a Republican opponent to win his second term in Congress:
Another freshman, Rep. Chris Murphy, defeated Republican state Sen. David Cappiello in the 5th District race. The election was Murphy's first since toppling 12-term Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson in 2006. He said the victory was sweet, especially with Obama winning the White House.

"We can say without fear of exaggeration that we have changed the world, my friends," Murphy told his supporters.


Spread the word.

From Rep. Murphy's website:
Congressman Christopher S. Murphy is currently serving his first term representing Connecticut’s Fifth District, which includes the towns of Danbury, Meriden, New Britain, and Waterbury. He serves on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as well as the Financial Services Committee.

On the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Congressman Murphy plays a role in investigating and proposing solutions to the nation’s most pressing issues, including the management of the war in Iraq, the implementation of Medicare Part D, and the need for open government. As a member of the Financial Services Committee, Congressman Murphy plays a role in overseeing all components of the nation's housing, insurance, banking, and securities industries, which are all vital to Connecticut’s economic success.

Prior to his service in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Murphy served for eight years in the Connecticut General Assembly. He spent four years representing Southington and the 81st district in the House, and then spent four years representing the 16th Senatorial District, which includes the towns of Waterbury, Wolcott, Cheshire and Southington. While in the Senate, he served as the Chairman of the Public Health Committee.

As Chairman of the Public Health Committee, Congressman Murphy was the General Assembly’s leader on health care issues. In 2003, during his first year as Chairman, he led the passage of Connecticut’s landmark workplace smoking ban. That year, he also authored legislation that prohibits hospitals from engaging in overly aggressive collection practices against uninsured patients and a law establishing new government powers to be utilized during a bioterrorism attack.

In 2005, Congressman Murphy authored and passed Connecticut’s historic Stem Cell Investment Act, a bill that he had introduced in the previous year. The legislation, which invested $100 million over ten years into embryonic and adult stem cell research, became the nation’s first law directing state funding to life-saving stem cell research.

Congressman Murphy is also a leader on children’s rights issues. In the State Senate, he authored legislation establishing the new Office of Child Protection, and as Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Judicial and Corrections, he championed efforts to reform the state’s juvenile justice system.

America the Beautiful

Celebrations in the streets of New York City on Election Night. This is still sinking in.

Also, Obama has won North Carolina. He is the first Democrat in 32 years to win the state.

Finally, please check out my good friend the Tonic Blotter's moving post on his post-election thoughts.

OK, last thing: for 2012, Texas is a swing state. You heard it here first. Obama did not lose by that much there (compared to say, McCain's margin of loss in NY and CA), and changing demographics may put Texas in play for Democrats. Take a look at the way the districts in TX break down -- especially along the border. Over the next four years, that blue will continue to surge northwards in Texas. Some may be surprised to learn that Texas has more Electoral College votes than New York (34 to NY's 31). More on this later.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A New Beginning and a New Road Ahead

Today is a day to savor. America has done something incredible. As the New York Times described it:
From far away, this is how it looks: There is a country out there where tens of millions of white Christians, voting freely, select as their leader a black man of modest origin, the son of a Muslim. There is a place on Earth — call it America — where such a thing happens.

But this is also a day to shift our perspective: supporters of Obama can no longer be, as we have been for much of this campaign -- as I have been for much of this campaign -- uncritical fans and followers of President-Elect Obama. From this point on, we must continue to support the new administration in its efforts to deal with the wreckage left by the past eight disastrous years, but we must also work to keep a President Obama true to the principles that led so many of us to support him in the first place. We cannot let a President Obama forget that we, the people who put him where he is today -- and whom he will need again in four years -- demand
  • an end to the war in Iraq;

  • affordable health care for all Americans;

  • that our progressive perspective to be represented in the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court;

  • immediate action to combat global warming;

  • high-quality public education for all American children, and programs to make college affordable for all willing and deserving students;

  • a real effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fairly and justly, and

  • a renewed emphasis on negotiation first -- especially with those that we have called our enemies.
It is true that President-Elect Obama will be inheriting some of the most difficult conditions any new president has seen in decades. And it will take some time to get to most of these issues; we cannot expect that everything can be changed overnight. But we must not forget the point of this victory.

It was not simply to get the Republicans out of power. And as incredible and history-making as it is, it was not simply to elect an African-American to the Presidency. It was to put America back on the right track, and to make this a better, more just nation. It cannot be overstated: Obama's election is in itself one of the most powerful symbolic steps America has ever taken. However, in the overwhelming glory of this moment, we must keep our eyes fixed on what we must do with this opportunity. This could be the beginning of a fantastic period of, yes, change in America -- change that will live on long past an Obama administration.

Our work is not done -- now that our moment has arrived, let's actually make change happen.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Make Election Day a National Holiday

On this Election Day, with people around the country taking time out of their schedules to vote, it is time we realize that Election Day really should be a national holiday.

Voting is the most important civic act we engage in as citizens. We should make it as easy as possible for everyone to vote. As it stands now, federal Election Days are on Tuesdays, in the middle of the week. Many voters – especially working-class voters -- have jobs that they cannot easily leave for very long to go wait in line; younger voters often have classes they must attend. Voters shouldn’t have to juggle jobs or school and voting. Election Day should be a national holiday. An Obama administration, working with a Democratic Congress, should make this one of their first priorities.

In passing legislation to make Election Day a national holiday, an Obama administration and the Congress should encourage citizens to participate in the voting process, to get involved as poll workers, election workers, and to devote part of each Election Day holiday not only to voting, but in volunteering in the American democratic process.

I can’t think of a better legacy to leave for future generations of voters. And I can’t think of a better day to start this movement.

If you support this idea, please leave a comment to this post with your name and city. Let’s make this happen.

Please spread the word.

Make Ohio Blue

Monday, November 03, 2008

Barack Obama's Grandmother Dies

Barack Obama's maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, died early this morning in Hawaii.

It is so incredibly sad that she did not live to see her grandson demolish forever one of the greatest barriers on earth and win the presidency of the United States of America.

Rest in peace, grandma Dunham. You raised a kick-ass grandson. Tomorrow is for you.

Dick Cheney Wants You to Vote For John McCain

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Vote No on Prop. 8

This repulsive proposition is being funded by out-of-state money, by fundamentalist whack-jobs that want to make a big statement in favor of discrimination by messing with the California constitution.

Why in the world would we want to inject religion into our state constitution? Why in the world would we want to amend our state constitution to enshrine discrimination?

The campaign for Prop. 8 is built on lies, distortions, and distractions. We should not cave in to the demands of a band of ideological bigots.

Vote against discrimination. Vote against hate-mongering and fear. California is a place of tolerance and freedom: let's keep it that way.