Archive for June 2008

No pantyhose for Michelle: Mrs. Obama gets girly on The View

June 19, 2008

Hillary Clinton has voiced some concerns about sexism in the media, and for a number of reasons, the Reasonable Reporter has been quick to brush them aside. That’s mostly because three semester units of women’s studies backfired badly – crushing the capacity to give special consideration to female suffering in any circumstance except actual childbirth.

In that class, women students were instructed on the first day of the semester to count off, one, two three, four, then to stand together in groups. Ones gathered in one corner of the room, and the twos in another, and so on.

“Three out of four of you have been sexually molested by someone you know,” we were told. “So whichever group you’re in, for the moment you can consider yourselves the lucky ones, and look at the other three groups. Statistically speaking, all of the women you see outside your group have been sexually victimized.”

As it turns out, sexual victimization takes many forms, and if your brother brushed your buttocks with a can of Pringles while the two of you helped mom unload groceries in a tight pantry, that counts.

A full semester of this brand of nonsense was very clarifying, even at age nineteen. And so the Reasonable Reporter was startled all these years later to find herself doing victim math as Michelle Obama visited The View, where the five female hosts and the guest added up to a disquieting six. That means one “lucky one,” and a fractional remainder of a lucky one.

Good God, where did that come from? But this show, its success and its apparent importance to the presidential race – even peripherally — is difficult to fathom in the same way that class was difficult to fathom.

Aside from Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters, the Reasonable Reporter can’t name all five female hosts of The View. But here’s what they talked about with the prospective First Lady of the United States:

1) Diversity- Whoopi notes that every black woman she sees on television has gold teeth and can’t speak in complete sentences. Wonder how she missed Gwen Iffel and Condi Rice and Oprah all these years. And oh yes, there’s Whoopi herself, and unidentifiable View co-host number three, both black. And Mrs. Obama, who’s getting a lot of coverage. There are six regularly televised articulate black women, right there, with no gold teeth.

Formal diversity training isn’t as effective says Mrs. Obama, as conversations like this, where we discuss things like…

2) Pantyhose. Barbara Walters is on the fence about whether or not to wear pantyhose. Out of respect for Michelle Obama, she wore them today. But Michelle Obama threw Barbara a curve. She didn’t wear any pantyhose, because she’s five-foot-eleven, and she finds them uncomfortable.

3) Inevitably, kids and husbands came up. Barack Obama no longer takes out the garbage. Unidentifiable View co-host number two, the blonde, has a child with food allergies, and she makes a food chart for her husband to follow when he has daddy duties and she’s not at home. (Viewers are treated to a shot of the chart, which resembles a NASA flight plan.)

4) They brush lightly against politics. Ever so lightly. Unidentifiable blonde co-host is also an apparent political conservative, but she and Mrs. Obama go out of their way to convey that they can disagree on issues and still be nice to each other. No actual viewpoints are exchanged.

5) Well-toned arms. Mrs. Obama has revived sleeveless dresses, and by the way, she is often compared favorably to Jackie Kennedy.

6) Whether Mrs. Obama is proud of her country. Whoopi plays the offending first-time-I’m-proud-of-my-country sound bite, and provides analysis of the vocal emphasis. It was the first time Mrs. Obama was really proud, says Whoopi, not the first time she was proud.

7) Strong women. People aren’t used to strong women. We don’t know how to talk about strong women. Speaking of strong women, Hillary suffered sexism, says the prospective First Lady, for the sake of Michelle Obama’s daughters.

There was more, but it began to sound all distorted and far away, like an odd dream. Like a dream about the presidential primary debates during the umpteenth month of debating. The Reasonable Reporter found herself yearning for the sound of Hillary, uttering a tortured string of hedge phrases.

(Remember the Hillary sentences that made you want to gouge out your eyes with knitting needles? They sounded something like this: “We’ll begin to take steps toward taking a look at what can be done to move in that direction.” How smart Hillary sounds now.)

Michelle Obama has a difficult assignment. She has to play it straight, and smart, and tough. But not too straight, or too smart, or too tough. She came out of this okay. It was definitely not too smart, but that wasn’t her fault. Of the six women on The View, Michelle Obama was definitely the lucky one.

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What do Jim Gibbons and Eliot Spitzer have in common?

June 13, 2008

What do Jim Gibbons and Eliot Sptizer Have in Common? Not a great deal, except that they, like the rest of us, have had their daily movements electronically tracked and recorded, and because they did, acts they considered to be private became public.

Spitzer, the former Governor of New York, was caught purchasing sex because the women he purchased it from were top-of-the-line prostitutes, and therefore he had to move large sums of money in order to pay them. The pattern of money movement suggested money laundering, which he was not doing, but it nonetheless brought him to the attention of the IRS.

Gibbons sent text messages to a recipient in whom the Nevada media has a prurient interest because of his pending divorce, and his rumored involvement with another woman. In an unfortunate failure of best practices, he used his government-issued phone, and the records belong to the public.

Could similar records have become available to law enforcement and the media before the advent of hand-held text messaging devices, and before banks had the powerful database technology employed for know-your-customer tracking? Certainly. But the two events spotlight the practical privacy concerns we all ignore every time we digitize our daily affairs.

Every single day, we sign away our privacy in return for the joy and convenience offered by technology. The average person makes the tradeoff multiple times a day, and is utterly cavalier about the possible consequences. It happens from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep.

iTunes, for instance, knows you’re a dweeb who listened to the most pointless song ever recorded — Come on Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners — 43 times in one week. Yahoo and Google also know what you like, if you know what I mean. Important or not? You never know until it becomes important.

Some years back when geo-tracking devices became widely available in cars, the Reasonable Reporter predicted, only half jokingly, that it would become more difficult to keep an extra-marital affair from coming to light. Not that the Reasonable Reporter condones extra-marital affairs, but she is a fan of privacy, and assumed that a large number of people would relate to the example. And there was certainly a point to be made that whatever convenience the service might provide, tracking every spot on the planet one chooses to visit could have a down side.

This was after the potential abuse of grocery store shopper cards was already being discussed. Recall the divorce attorney who delved into the ex-husband’s supermarket records, and made a successful case that if the guy could afford premium wines, he could afford more child support.

These developments seem primitive by current standards. The Las Vegas Review Journal reported this week that “Microsoft and Harrah’s just announced an interactive bar table that lets patrons order drinks, watch YouTube videos, play touch-screen games, and even flirt with each other.” The program will remember your favorite drinks, and facilitate snapping photos and swapping phone numbers with attractive strangers.

Hmmm… It’s almost impossible to count the ways this could become damaging on the morning after, or on some morning thereafter. Databases never forget.

Security agents at McCarran Airport are getting a detailed look inside your clothing. Anyone want to bet long it will be until those images end up on a website?

Soon, we’ll have toll roads. We will have them because it’s folly to think we’ll give up our cars, and it’s greater folly to think that the government can continue to spend a million dollars a mile to build a road, and still keep up with demand. We won’t and it can’t.

You’ll have a bar code on your bumper, scanned by a toll road reader to tax you by the mile. Or maybe an RFID chip. It will know where you went, what time you were there, and how fast you were going, but the speed check will be redundant, because of the black box under the hood, which the insurance companies are already lobbying to make standard.

There’s more. So much more. None of this is to bemoan greater use of high-tech devices. Technology makes us faster, richer, better and smarter, and we benefit from it every day. We just need to learn to be smarter than the people who own the databases.