Friday, October 30, 2009

The startling news about Baby Einstein

Well, I was shocked, I tell you. Just shocked when I read the news about the Baby Einstein products. Turns out, buying the videos, now DVDs, and then plopping your baby or toddler down in front of them for a couple of hours does not automatically grant them a waiver from submitting an essay along with their applications to The Ivy League. (I thought perhaps there was a box to check on those admission forms that confirmed: Yes, I watched and enjoyed thoroughly all the Baby Einstein videos by the age of 26 months.)

That sounds a ridiculous, I know, but it’s no more ridiculous than the idea that watching videos of any kind will improve your child’s I.Q.

Before I go much further, I’m not some kind of “no television ever!!” parent. I remember enjoying many moments of sanity that came in 30-minute increments, courtesy of Disney’s Sing-Along-Songs videos. Those video compilations of Disney’s greatest hits, with the lyrics accompanying each song on the screen, entertained my kids many times. The words on the screen were simply an added bonus; at no time did I ever imagine that these videos were also teaching the boys to read. Not once.

I have to congratulate the marketing team here. If you want to lure parents into the making quintessential purchase that will benefit your child, how do you go wrong if you evoke the Einstein name? Who doesn’t want a baby Einstein?

Turns out, nearly everyone does. At least among the enlightened parents who want “in” on the latest thing that will elevate their progeny to the rarified air we call “gifted” or “advanced” or whatever title we affix to special children who are somehow quantified as more intelligent than their peers by the age of six. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? The headline we should all take away from this is that, sorry, not everyone is intellectually superior and you can’t train someone to be.

There’s a reason that an entire culture connects with that name, and exactly why the title of this series was so brilliant. Einstein was a genius who comes along maybe once in a generation. The very name itself represents a phenomenon, an anomaly, something we won’t see again for perhaps decades. According to Wikipedia (not my favorite source but it was more concise than most), the recap of Einstein’s career included these contributions to physics: the special and general theories of relativity, the founding of relativistic cosmology, the first post-Newtonian expansion, explaining the perihelion advance of Mercury, prediction of the deflection of light by gravity and gravitational lensing, the first fluctuation dissipation theorem which explained the Brownian movement of molecules, the photon theory and wave-particle duality, the quantum theory of atomic motion in solids, the zero-point energy concept, the semi classical version of the Schrödinger equation, and the quantum theory of a monatomic gas which predicted Bose-Einstein condensation.

Got that? I also learned that Einstein never wore socks, was basically a slovenly dresser, didn’t like games like Scrabble that made you “think,” and was a horrible speller. Okay, fire up the DVD and let’s go! Your child is just six disks away from being a genius!

All I know is I must have some money coming to me from various exercise gurus and trainers. I bought their videos and did the workout exactly as they proscribed for weeks and weeks. I wanted to ‘hit the spot’ or get various body parts ‘of steel’…I wanted it all. Guess what? I don’t have rock hard abs or killer arms. Class action lawsuit, right? Anyone want in?

It’s called marketing, folks. It’s advertising. It’s putting the right name on the right product for the right audience at the right time. You can’t go wrong. Baby Einstein worked for these reasons and more. But now you can get your money back for up to 4 DVDs, purchased between June 2004 and September 2009. For the record, Baby Einstein notes that this is simply an extension of a refund policy that has always been in place, mostly to publicly address an attack by a vengeful consumer. You can read their statement here.

Look, I’m not opposed to video entertainment for children. I’m not even opposed to video edu-tainment (cringe). I am opposed to parents who view some videos as more equal than others, and then feel somehow misled when they find out that sometimes a DVD is just a DVD. Entertaining, enjoyable, fun, light-hearted and yes, enthralling, even for just 30 minutes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A publishing miracle.

Inexplicably, something that actually makes sense came about as a result of James Arthur Ray’s depraved indifference toward human life, otherwise known as his sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona. You may have heard of Ray: he was one of the contributors to the mega-bestselling The Secret. His latest news made headlines everywhere but the basics are these: About 50 people, dedicated to Ray’s teachings and philosophies, paid almost $10,000 each to attend his “spiritual warrior” retreat in the Arizona desert earlier this month. After several days of participating in various practices and rituals, including food and sleep deprivation, they entered into an enclosed space – Ray’s new age version of a Native American sweatlodge.

The tragic result was that twenty-one of his followers needed medical attention and three of them died as a result of his enlightened approach to spiritual “cleansing.” It’s very likely a number of factors contributed to their deaths, among them the oppressive heat, and Ray’s own direction to everyone to stick with the program and not give in to their desire to abandon the effort. Even while the criminal investigation is underway in Arizona, Ray is continuing to enlighten different followers, otherwise known as same s—t, different day.

The surprisingly lucid news about this story follows: On Monday, I read an update in Publisher’s Weekly, stating that Ray’s publisher, in a moment of clarity that was no doubt encouraged by the company’s legal team, had postponed the upcoming publication of two new books by the financial advisor turned spiritual guru. The first title scheduled was the paperback edition of his bestseller Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want. The second was a new book from Ray, titled The Seven Laws of True Wealth.

Before I go any further here, I have a few questions: why is everything that can make me happy in life is a secret? And why does everyone seem to know it but me? Why would I want to attract a life I don’t want? When there are laws or rules or habits that everyone should know, why are there always seven of them? Why aren’t there 23? Or 6? Or 327? What is false wealth and who would desire it?

Okay, enough about my issues. Hyperion, Ray’s publisher, has postponed his books until January 2011. Yes, that’s fourteen months away. By that time, Ray could well have offered the injured and the grieving families of the dead enough money to help this all fade from public view.

I hope they get some kind of compensation for their pain – whatever that could possibly be - but not one of them should allow him to get away with this. I’ve watched enough Law & Order to know Ray committed some kind of crime here and needs to be held responsible. Arizona must have its own real life version of Jack McCoy.

Hyperion has started to pull the plug on his deadly game of smoke and mirrors and good for them. The book-buying public needs to begin to do the same, not only to James Arthur Ray, but to every specious guru like him who professes to know exactly what we need to know to be fulfilled and happy and enlightened…knowledge they’ll happily share with us if we pay them a small price (in the case of a paperback book) or a very large fee, like those required to attend the horror show in the Arizona desert.

Because no matter how enthusiastically these now deceased people followed Ray, I refuse to believe that any of them were willing to pay with their lives.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Baseball questions that spring to mind.

I will rarely watch a baseball game during the regular season. I have little patience for a game where the ball is actually moving and literally in play for somewhere between 10 and 12 minutes during the entire game.

I will, however, stage my own rally during the post season and support my super-fan husband when his beloved and erstwhile Phillies are involved. He has his own ridiculous rituals when it comes to doing his part to bring about victory, rituals that will go unexplained at this point. Suffice it to say, they are pointless and I guarantee you they will influence exactly nothing that's taking place in the City of Brotherly Love tonight. He also has a lot of opinions, especially about pitching, that he'd be happy to share with Charlie Manual should he place a call to us one night.

But here are my questions:

Why would Joe Torre, the Dodgers' manager, hold a mini-interview with the TBS commentators during the game? I know this is more of a TV thing, not necessarily a Torre thing, but shouldn't the manager of a major league baseball team, a team playing for a spot in the World Series, push that mike away and explain, "Can't talk to you now, I'm working." I mean, would a surgeon step away from an open chest cavity to take a couple of questions about the procedure taking place? Would an orchestra conductor step off the podium and speak to a reporter and let the musicians hold it together on their own? No, no they wouldn't.

I don't get players like Manny Ramirez. He not only left the dugout, he literally took a shower and was practically out the door before the game ended the other night, only to find that not only did his team lose the game, they lost it in quite dramatic fashion? Isn't he part of a team? Doesn't a team work together, and support each other during the disappointments? (This isn't the high school team, I get that, but still. These are grown men - extremely well-paid grown men, I grant you - playing a game they've adored since childhood. If there weren't at least a little leftover boy in each one them, I don't think they'd pursue the dream.) I guess his work day was done and regardless of the excitement swirling around him, he was out the door. That's camaraderie. That's brotherhood. Very impressive stuff from Ramiriz.

Since when do managers put pitchers in a game to pitch to one batter? This idea of a specific kind of pitcher to face a specific kind of batter is nonsense. Aren't these guys professional ball players? Don't they pitch to all kinds of batters all season long? Doesn't Charlie Manuel remember that this is the kind of poor management that lost the game in Colorado a week ago? (This is one of the reasons the mister wants Manuel to call him. He can remind him.)

Are the umpires nervous about that little box that indicates where all the pitches land? If they can be tracked accurately through this "cyber-ump," why does the game need these guys? Is it the human factor and the idea that ballplayers and managers love to look aggravated and argue with umps whenever they can? That baseball wouldn't be baseball unless fans could complain the next day (and for the next thirty, forty years or so) about the calls that went against them during that fateful game?

Okay, I think that's it for tonight's baseball mysteries.

Oh - one more thing. This isn't a question, it's an observation. I have personally witnessed the sign of a true Phillies fan: he can find misery in a game where his team holds a six-run lead. Should the Phillies win tonight, I've learned that there is too much time between now and the start of the World Series. Why? The Phillies will cool off and no one will cool off faster than Ryan Howard. What the heck is that about? Only a real Phillies fan could find the crumb of torment lurking inside a possible victory for the National League pennant.

You gotta love it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Another (but this time, a lucid one) view of success

I can’t help but juxtapose Ivanka’s “we all have our advantages” philosophy against another world view I read just recently, in an enlightening and ultimately uplifting book titled Closing Time by Joe Queenan, a writer I admire a great deal for many reasons. What follows is an excerpt, Queenan’s take on the crapshoot we all call our destiny:

American folklore stipulates that those who rise above their humble circumstances do so because of an indomitable will to succeed, coupled with the good fortune to inhabit a country that rewards industry. Here’s another: Poor people who succeed do so because they are born with talents that other poor people do not possess, because they are cunning enough to capitalize on these talents, and / or because they are either born lucky or develop a lucky streak pretty damn quick. If you are born poor and stupid, you’re going to need to be very lucky. If you are poor and stupid and ugly, you are going to need to be even luckier. If you are poor and stupid and ugly and a member of an ethnic group that American purports to admire but secretly abhors, then you might as well skip the preliminaries and get yourself started on a life of crime at the earliest possibly opportunity.


“Most things in life come down to the luck of the draw. Line up ten poor people. Nine of them won’t make it. One maybe two, will. It might as well be you, third pauper from the left. It will help if you are born with chutzpah and personality or are capable of unleashing a stupefying amount of violence on complete strangers in a short period of time with little concern for the consequences. But even that will not be enough. Everyone who is saved is saved because someone tossed him or her a lifeline or, in my case, numerous lifelines. It may be a parent, it may be an employer, it may be a teacher, it may be a priest, it may be a boxing instructor, it may even be a parole officer. But, as the events of Good Friday make abundantly clear, no one is saved all by himself. Alumni of the slums succeed either because someone is reaching down from above or because someone keeps pushing hard from below. Or, in the ideal situation, both.”

I don’t know about you but I find that viewpoint enormously refreshing in these days of endless empowerment or enlightenment or illumination or whatever the "you're wonderful" scheme of the day seems to be. I love the fact that first and foremost on Queenan’s list of “how to succeed” qualities is a little thing he labels “talent.” It's not a specific talent, not an option, not a vague concept none of us can quite grasp. A concept like, oh I don’t know…a concept like “some kind of advantage.”

Nope – Queenan chooses “talent” first and adds the ability to capitalize on your gifts and maybe a little luck as well in order to have “success.” He adds things like “chutzpah” and “personality” and then, only after those ingredients are in place, does he acknowledge that the assistance of others who want to see you succeed is vital.

So who do you side with here? Ivanka or Joe? I am clearly in the Queenan realism corner here. My sense is that when you achieve your success on something other than honest talent and ability, you’ve built it on a house of cards and your success is just about that secure. Unless, of course, the foundation on that stunning house of cards was built by the Trump Organization. Then, sure, you’ll probably be in pretty good shape all around.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Willy DeVille tribute: notes from the day

From Sister Sue -

The story below is also attached to the original post ("And another musical light flickers out" August 2009), but here they in one place, for everyone who asked about the event on Saturday in New York.

Thanks for writing, Sue - it sounds like the kind of loving commemoration of a life all of us would like to leave behind someday. Please do share my August blog post with Nina - and let her know Willy's music will remain in my heart.

Here is Sue's recap:

Hello all. My apologies for taking so long to get back here. As you can imagine, I have been just overwhelmed.

The event was incredible. There was a ton of work to be done getting ready. I mean weeks of work. It consumed my life and at times I had to wonder if it was worth it. It was.

Nina (Willy's wife) had written to me asking if she could come. I had a feeling that she would not show and she ended up deciding at the last minute not to come. That was fine. If she didn't feel it was right for her then I think she did the right thing. I only wanted two things. And I wanted them desperately. To honor Willy and to find someone... ANYONE!... to share emotions with.

We had a good turn out of fans and the bar was perfect (Bar on A at 170 Avenue A, NYC). I spent hours decorating it. Pictures of Willy everywhere. Candles. Signs. Memory book. White roses. Etc... The bar was homey with couches and was intimate and it looked great!!

We had only been going for about 15 minutes. People were eating, drinking and singing (very loudly!!!) to all the Willy songs I was playing. A man in his 30's came in, looked around and immediately became teary. It was Kevin. Willy's nephew. Kevin has lost his mother and father. Willy was everything to him. Everything.

Someone immediately introduced me to him. He grabbed me, hugged and kissed me and told me multiple times how much the family appreciated this. After he calmed down a bit I asked him if he would like to speak when I got the program going. At first he was uncertain because he is extremely emotional still. But he resolved that he wanted to speak. So I told him that we'd let people get drinks, mingle, more people arrive, then start the program.

I had put out a sign up sheet for audience members who wanted to speak. Quite a few signed up. So I told Kevin that I would speak first to break the ice, then he would talk so he could get it out of the way and relax and listen to the audience speakers.

When I went up to the stage to speak, Kevin got a bar stool and put it down right next to me. He would laugh, cry and comment on many of the things I said, often grabbing my arm and pulling me towards him. He made both public and private comments, which I will always treasure.

Kevin's speech, totally unprepared and from the heart, was amazing. People in the audience were literally sobbing.

The event went on for about 6 or 7 hours. Everyone in the place came up and expressed thanks for organizing the event. They all needed to acknowledge, celebrate, remember... whatever... Willy. Willy's son, Sean, showed up as well. He, Stephanie (Kevin's girlfriend) and Kevin expressed thanks many times from the family. It was very touching.

We had a memory book at the event. People wrote thoughts, emotions, and messages to Nina. I am going to send the memory book to Nina on Monday. I had to bring it home because I had not had time to write in it, my daughter (11 years old!) wanted to write in it and a few people here in Kansas City want to write in it.

Would anyone here like to contribute as well? I think it woud be awesome if you would share your thoughts, feelings, emotions, whatever you want to share. I know that Nina will treasure it. If you write something I will print it off and make sure it gets into the memory book and directly to Nina as long as you get it to me before Monday. I really really hope that you are able to do this!!!

If you do write for the Memory Book PLEASE get it to me before Monday. Do not write it here. Email it to You can certainly post it here also if you want, but I need everything coming to one place. Please!! I am completely overwhelmed as it is!

That's the report for now. I look forward to getting your thoughts for the memory book. We all know how much Willy would appreciate us writing to Nina and letting her know our feelings for Willy and his music.

If anyone can tell me how to post pictures I will be happy to post pics of Kevin, Sean, audience, decorations, etc.

Love and Emotion to all! SisterSue

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What were your advantages?

We’re in the midst of the next greatest generation in the media. This can’t be good.

We’ve seen the likes of Luke Russert – remember him? - and Jenna Bush invade the airwaves at NBC. Russert was supposed to be the voice of his generation for NBC News. I’m not sure whether or not that’s still happening. He seems to have disappeared. Jenna Bush apparently does some kind of reporting for The Today Show on NBC. I think she’s still there.

What these two bring to their positions other than their family name is beyond me but I didn’t hire them and as you can tell, I don’t watch them on NBC. Like everything to do with television, it’s about ratings, building your audience and doing whatever you need to do to beat the other guys so you can charge your advertisers more money for your commercial airtime.

None of this explains a new book on sale this week, titled The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life. The author is the 27-year-old daughter of Donald Trump, Ivanka.

I’ve watched the Nightline interview with Ivanka, and read two excerpts from the book. She is smart, no doubt about it. From the very start, she acknowledges her privilege, her advantages, her status, her family’s wealth, her connections and the fact that she entered the real estate business, the same business both her father and grandfather had built and excelled in for generations. This is how she addresses it:

“Yes, I've had the great good fortune to be born into a life of wealth and privilege, with a name to match. Yes, I've had every opportunity, every advantage. And yes, I've chosen to build my career on a foundation built by my father and grandfather, so I can certainly see why an outsider might dismiss my success in our family business as yet another example of nepotism.”

She acknowledges this all over again when she recalls her post-college plans: “I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do and how to accomplish it. I also had an edge: there’s no denying that my family name, first-class education, and top-tier contacts gave me a bit of leg-up, a Trump card if you will but I’m also a firm believer in making your own luck and the most of your opportunities.”

That’s clever, right? How can we object to her, now that she has acknowledged everything we’re all thinking? How honest and refreshing! How disarming and self-deprecating – if you can call what she wrote deprecating – of her!

On the other hand, I read sections that reveal just how a life of privilege colors your view of something as universal as a job interview. Words of advice from Ivanka about your interview skills: “It’s not about the school you went to, what you majored in, what your GPA was, or who your parents happen to be or know.”

You’re joking, right? I’ve been on lots of job interviews in my life and not once did I ever worry that the interview would turn into a monologue about who my parents happen to be and who they know. Not once. Never happened. But thanks for the tip!

Ivanka also describes the process she uses to overcome the preconceived notions others might have about her because of her background. It’s pretty simple, actually:

“Get over it. It's the same message I used to give to myself whenever I spent too much time worrying what people would think of me or how I'd risen to my position in the company or what attributes I brought to the table. I'd catch myself agonizing along these lines and think, Just get over it, Ivanka. Or, It's not your problem, it's theirs. After all, I eventually realized, we've all got our own baggage. Whatever we do, whatever our backgrounds, we've all had some kind of advantage somewhere along the way. Some break that might have gone to someone else. Some edge or inside track we couldn't have counted on.”

Examining this entire statement would just about wear me out and make me want to weep so I’d like to focus on just one thought here: “Whatever we do, whatever our backgrounds, we’ve all had some kind of advantage somewhere along the way.”

Hmmm. Whatever we do, whatever our backgrounds, we’ve all had some kind of advantage somewhere along the way. I need to break that down and since this is primarily supposed to be a business book, I’ll focus on that:

Whatever we do…: no matter what job you have, what career you’re pursuing, what specialized skill you possess, be it plumbing, farming, toll-taking or performing brain surgery, you all had some kind of advantage somewhere along the way.

Whatever our backgrounds…: whether you are the daughter of a blue collar family in western Pennsylvania or the daughter of an international real estate mogul in Manhattan; the son of an illiterate father and poorly educated mother in West Virginia or the son of an international real estate mogul in Manhattan, you all had some kind of advantage somewhere along the way.

Once again, the message for us is unmistakable: “…we’ve all some kind of advantage somewhere along the way.” I asked my husband to share the advantage he had along the way. He’s thinking about it and said he’ll let me know. I’m still thinking, too.

Let's face it. Ivanka is pretty, she's a household name thanks to her father and her appearances on his television show and she seems fairly grounded. At the very least, we didn't have to witness her devoting herself to some kind of lawless, rudderless "wild days" a la Paris Hilton. I suppose writing a book about success in work and life isn't the worst thing she could do. I only hope she's donating her advance and any subsequent earnings to charity. Maybe someone on the receiving end of that contribution will realize a couple of "advantages" as a result, somewhere along the way.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Life Lessons from Q.T.

My day started out with a headline and story blazing across my screen, a headline that couldn’t have portended anything good: Life Lessons from the Wizard of Oz or something like that. I’m not going into the details of this because the article itself could have been written by everyone who has seen the movie, provided they have mastered the ability to hold a crayon.

But it got me thinking. What other movies have I seen that taught me some important things about life?

After some deep thought, I came up with this: Life Lessons from Pulp Fiction. I know; it’s not nearly as cuddly and not exactly as obvious but the Oz Lessons article more than covered those categories. So just go with me on this, okay?

1. “Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.” In other words: be prepared. This timeless piece of wisdom is nicely illustrated by Vincent and Jules, preparing for their meeting with Brett and Roger, who stole their boss’s property. They need shotguns but don’t have them and have to make do with handguns instead.

2. “Never be afraid to try; you just might surprise yourself.” Vincent didn’t have any idea he would find himself participating in a dance contest with Mia Wallace during their evening together and yet, not only did they enter the contest – they won. Sometimes when we try things that frighten us, we find they aren’t so intimidating after all.

3. “True friends are there for you, even when you’re not at your best, even in the very worst of times.” Lance is there for Vincent when he needs to inject Mia with a hypodermic needle to bring her out of her heroine overdose; Jimmy is there for Jules and Vincent when they need to cover up the murder and subsequent mess left behind by Marvin’s brains when they shot him in the backseat of their car. Real friends never let you down when you need them.

4. “Always keep your promises, even when that’s a challenge.” Pulp Fiction illustrates this perfectly through a memorable scene featuring Captain Koons and a young Butch. Koons gives Butch a watch; a watch that had been hidden on, or more correctly in, two soldiers during the Vietnam War and secretly transported home through – shall we say – an unusual method.

5. “Indulge yourself in wonderful moments. If not now, when?” A lovely notion is made obvious by this classic line from Fabienne: “Any time of day is a good time for pie.”

6. “If you made the mess, take responsibility for it and clean it up.” Nothing drives this message home better than Jules being on “brain patrol” and then encouraging Vincent to switch jobs with him so Vincent can take on the more onerous task of scraping together Marvin’s remains.

7. “Always turn to experts for the help you need.” Let’s not forget how Lance consults his medical book before instructing Vincent on exactly where and how he needs to plunge the needle into Mia’s chest to revive her. And suffice it to say without Winston Wolfe's expertise, Vincent and Jules would have never solved their Marvin problem.

8. “The enemy of your enemy is your friend.” Zed, Maynard and the Gimp vs. Marsellus and Butch. Enough said, I hope.

9. “Manners always matter, even during times of stress.” Vincent asks Winston for a “please” after being ordered to start the clean-up in the garage. To his credit, Winston complies, albeit with a big helping of sarcasm.

10. Articles that offer “Life Lessons” based on movies are predictable, specious and insipid.

Yes, including this one. Which proves my point.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I was wrong. The Emmy award is here.

I should have known better than to imagine something as mundane and ordinary as SNL appearance that will lead to the President's future Emmy Award. This is about to have its debut.

He's gonna need a bigger shelf.

Well, President Obama already has a Grammy award to display next to his Nobel Peace Prize so that leaves an Emmy, an Oscar and a Tony. Possibly also a Golden Globe.

He hasn't won a Pulitzer (yet) but he helped someone win. The 2009 winner, Damon Winter, won the Pulitzer for his photographs of Obama during the presidential campaign.

It will take exactly one SNL appearance to win the best the guest star Emmy; I expect that appearance will happen sometime this season. Perhaps already in the running is one of his late night talk show appearances. So we can almost check that one off.

The Oscar will have to wait until he produces a documentary about his presidential years, sooner if he's the "producer" on a film about his campaign; and the Tony will come for his one-man show in 2016.

How someone wins a Nobel Peace prize based on his intentions or his mission or his philosophy or his popularity or his promises or his eloquence is beyond me. The hubris of his nomination alone astounds me. (The call for nominations went out last September, two months before the presidential election.) Forget about the fact that as of the nomination deadline, he had served .82% of his term according to The Wall Street Journal.

I get it. It's a message from the rest of the world (well, from Norway anyway) to America: thank God you have finally gotten rid of GW Bush, his people and his toxic approach to humankind and given us someone we like for a change.

And that's what wins a Nobel Peace Prize these days? God help us.

Friday, October 09, 2009

And in the continuing category of things that make me cry….

Immediately, with almost no warm up, I will cry at the end of the film, Schindler’s List. I don’t even need to watch the entire movie, although that is a very emotional experience every time I do. No, I need only the last few scenes and I’m overcome. The sight of the people who survived the horror of the Holocaust largely because of Oskar Schindler and his dedication to doing what was right is enough for me. The survivors filing past his grave, placing stones in tribute to the man and his life on his memorial move me to tears.

I watched the end of the movie recently and once again recalled the story of Irena Sendler. Like Oskar Schindler, Yad Veshem recognized Sendler as a righteous Gentile and the organization planted a tree in her honor in 1989. In fact, there are thousands of people the organization has recognized for their humanitarian efforts.

Sendler was a Polish woman who rescued more than two thousand Jewish children from inside the Warsaw Ghetto and other locations in Poland during World War II. You can read more about Irena and her life-saving and life-altering efforts on Life in a Jar website. She was a humble, sincere, dedicated, courageous, and selfless. She also suffered cruelly for her efforts, including imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Gestapo.

In May 2008, at the age of 98, Irena Sendler met with some of the cast members of Life in a Jar, a play written about her rescue operation. She told them: “You have changed Poland, you have changed the United States, you have changed the world [by bringing Irena’s story to light, Poland has seen great changes in Holocaust education, in the perception of the time and have provided a grand hero for their country and the world]. I love you very, very much.”

I love that quote. I love the fact that it’s only because of her efforts, and the people who worked with her, risking their very lives, that the dramatization of her life even exists. But the only time she uses the first person “I” is to express her love for the cast who portrays her story.

Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. That year, the award was given to Vice President Al Gore, for his commitment to enlightening the world and leading the fight against global warming (now called climate change.)

In other news, we congratulate the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner: President Barack Obama.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

When is CALM not a priority? When it starts in Washington.

You have to love Washington, D.C. I’m not what you would call a news junkie but even someone like me knows that our government is in the throes of addressing some of the most trying times on our history.

Some of the highlights of our situation: the highest unemployment in a generation; the financial, housing, media and automobile industries in tatters and surviving on life support at this point; continued unrest and violence in the Middle East, including the possibly escalating war in Afghanistan and the madman at the helm in Iran; and finally, the debate about health care that rages on from coast to coast. In the midst of these headlines, we've had an ACORN scandal, an Olympic debacle, and news about any number of personal indiscretions committed by our elected officials that have come to light.

Yes, Washington seems to be occupied by a number of critical issues. Which is why I was delighted to hear that in the midst of all this, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is taking on one of the most pressing problems of all, by enacting the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation Act, also known as C.A.L.M. This is exactly what you think it is.

You know how you plop down at night, all set to click through something like 400 channels as you look for the same old movie to watch on TNT (The Shawshank Redemption / Lord of the Rings) or AMC (Lonesome Dove / A Few Good Men) or TBS (Wedding Crashers / Titanic) and once in a while, you find yourself somehow stuck in a commercial break? Or maybe you somehow forgot to DVR a program or a movie and you are forced to watch it in “real time,” not in "recorded time" that would allow you to fast-forward through every break. As a result, you get confronted with a commercial or two, a circumstance that’s usually as rare as Congress putting something to a vote. But like every twenty-first century American with access to a keyboard or keypad of any kind, instead of watching it attentively, you surf the net or send a text message or Twitter something or update your Facebook status or check your bank balance or read your work email or buy something online or play thirteen quick games of Solitaire or Bejeweled to pass the time until the program begins again.

But it’s not that simple. Ever notice how the commercials are much LOUDER than the program you’re watching? That’s not an accident or your imagination. In this age of TIVO, DVR and HULU, networks are desperate to have someone watch their commercials before they lose every single advertiser that still pays attention when they announce their fall season programming. If they have to assault your senses to do it, they will.

But like I said, that should come to an end. We have Washington on our side. I suppose if the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation Act gets passed, we’ll get some relief from commercials shouting at us every night. Thank God the House Energy and Commerce Committee knows where to focus their energy and effort.