Archive for the ‘Are you kidding me?’ Category

The case for a correction in the case of Rosemary Namubiru
May 24, 2014

namubiruI don’t know Rosemary Namubiru. I don’t know what it was to be her, at 64, a nurse in Uganda, a country where the incidence of HIV the virus that leads to AIDS is going up, instead of down, as in other African countries. I don’t know what it is to live in a country, as she does, where, for every 14 people you know, chances are one of them is living with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. I don’t know what it was like to be working that Sisyphean job of tending patients where the health need is never met, in spite of Uganda being one of the wealthier countries in Africa. I don’t know what it is like to have HIV, as she does.

Given all of that, I recognize at least some of what I don’t know about Rosemary Namubiru.

This is what I do know: In January, a two-year-old child with a fever was brought into the busy clinic where she worked, and she tried to give the child an intravenous injection. The child was struggling, and at one point, the needle pierced the nurse’s skin, instead of the child’s. The child’s mother reported that Ms. Namubiru didn’t change the needle as she went on, finally, to successfully administer the injection. The police were called and arrested Ms. Namubiru, at one point pulling her head back forcibly so news reporters, who also had been called, could get a picture of her face, and put it in the newspaper and on the internet. They called her “Baby Killer” and “Killer Nurse.” She was held without bail for her trial on a charge stemming from a colonial era law criminalizing exposing people to an infectious disease. During her trial, containers of the antiretroviral medicine that she takes, and that keeps her virus from being readily communicable was introduced as evidence against her. The child, also, was given antiretroviral medicine to keep him from acquiring the virus, a practice familiar in health settings known as “post exposure prophylaxis,” has been tested twice for HIV, and has been found not to have it. Her trial finally concluded this month when she was sentenced to three years in a Ugandan prison on a conviction of negligence. This much is a matter of record.

So why American news outlets picked up, and ran a story saying that she was found guilty of negligence for “attempting to spread HIV,” and for “spreading HIV,” is something else I don’t know. We share English as a common language, and negligence, you can look it up now, means inattention, failure, laxity, oversight, forgetfulness – not intention. “Spreading HIV” means giving it from one person to another, which did not happen in this case. I don’t know what it was to be Rosemary Namubiru that day in the clinic, or the parents of the child, who I can imagine were upset to see a needle that had pierced a nurses skin used on their child. I say “can imagine,” because I don’t know that either. I don’t know how often that happens in that overburdened health system.

I do know what it is to be a journalist, though. I knew, in the news writing 101 class I took that misspelling someone’s name would get you an F on an assignment. Doing what the Ugandan journalists have done would get you fired, and sued.

That is supposed to be what happens here, when you write things that aren’t backed by record here, and that accuse people of things a court hasn’t even charged them with. And yet, news outlets all over the country picked up a story that was not only riddled with inaccuracies, but observable inconsistencies. Many, including some that added embroideries of their own, remain as is, online. The story on continues to say that Uganda criminalizes intentional spread of HIV, a statement that, while irrelevant, also happens to be untrue. So, another thing I know is that it is past time to stop, examine how journalists, including editors, treat stories out of Africa, and correct them.


What an Asshole Gerald(o) Rivera is
March 23, 2012

Long ago the former Gerald Rivera was a local news reporter when he got a scoop about terrible conditions at an institution for mentally disabled children and became a star. He could have done all kinds of things with the fame that one story earned him. He ran with it — all the way to a trash talk show on which he got his nose broken in a staged fight, and then to Fox News.

Which is all to say he has little reason to believe that his judgement is so sound that he needs to weigh in on anything, let alone the painful and angering lessons surrounding race, law enforcement and gun laws, and the sorrowful tragedy of the death of Trayvon Martin.

But, the asshole formerly known as Gerald, who added the “o” when he launched his tv news career, does in fact know something about the powers of ethnic symbolism, and perhaps for that reason, felt he had cracked the case of Trayon Martin’s killing: The Hoodie did it.

I know that sounds silly, so let’s use Gerald(0)’s words instead. He wrote on his blog for Fox News:

His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman did

What a relief. Problem solved. All we need is a dress code for black kids, and we will live in a sane, just and safe world. Thanks Gerald(o). Let me guess how Gerald(o), who points out, conciliatingly, that his own son is “dark” (along, so help me, with being “dashing” and “handsome”) could deal with the inevitable objections to his solution.

Like, what if it’s cold out, or other form of apparel sets off some other lunatic with a gun? Perhaps, better than a dress code for black kids, a curfew would be even safer.

But maybe there’s a fairness issue there — is it really so wrong to want to run out to the convenience store to pick up some ice tea and skittles after dark, even if you are black? Good point — perhaps separate neighborhoods could solve that problem. In fact an apartheid system.

The idea is, one way or the other, to keep black kids wearing hoodies off the streets they may share with the next George Zimmerman — for their own sake. As Gerald(o) explains:

“Whatever Reverends Sharpton and Jackson say in Florida Friday, after listening to the 911 tapes and hearing the witness’ testimonials, I believe Trayvon Martin would be alive today but for his hoodie.”

Also but for George Zimmerman’s gun, you asshole, Gerald(o), but first things first.

RSSF, Part Deux
March 15, 2012

This is what the guy who wrote the look at me I’m quitting my job as a money pimp at Goldman Sachs because I have more integrity than any of the other pimps I work(ed) with reminds me of.

The guy, who “isn’t highly paid by Wall Street standards — earning about $500,000 last year . . .” or about 10 times the salary of a veteran public school teacher, figured out a business that produces only money — is built around greed. Well, I’ll be. Since it took him 12 years to figure that out, I’m sure glad he isn’t handling my money.

That an economy built around finance rather than products and services that benefit the larger society is not a healthy one is something many of us figured out a few years ago when we lost our jobs, our property values plummeted, and our tax dollars were diverted to corporate welfare cheats.

I kept hoping for something juicy, at least, something I didn’t already know from this guy’s story, and I’m sure there was more to tell. Like what he was thinking about during the Occupy protests.

I’m pro-abortion
February 6, 2012

In Zambia, where a woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy must get a doctor’s note saying her life would be endangered if she did not, physicians address this restriction in a logical way. The doctors ask their patients what they would do if they do not get permission for a legal abortion. Invariably, in a country where traditional healers, including a growing corps of Chinese herbal practitioners, offer an alternative to modern medical care, patients respond they will pursue other means to end their unintended, unwanted, and, for many reasons, dangerous pregnancies. The doctors then have the answer they sought: without access to a safe, legal, medical abortion, their patients’ lives are, in fact, in danger.

Yes, legalized abortion is a matter of equality and the human right to have control of one’s own body. But it also is a matter of life and death. The disregard the Susan G. Komen Foundation showed for women’s lives when it cut off funding that made mammograms accessible to poor women should have highlighted how twisted a debate nurtured by fraudulent politics has become. That the term pro-life has been claimed by the side of the debate who would return women to the time of desperate life-endangering choices in their own country is maddening enough. That we, on the side of life, have backed away from what this argument is about by accepting the mealy-mouthed euphemistic “pro-choice” label, is sad. We are pro-abortion — pro-abortion rights — if you want to go to greater lengths to explain yourself than the argument deserves — because it is a matter of life and death.

Other people’s madness
January 22, 2012

LANTANA, FL — I don’t think I’m the only one who left the last meeting of our homeowner’s association feeling good about our community. It was a model of protocol. We not only had a quorum, but every single person there behaved with consideration and decorum.

We did of course catch a few lucky breaks. The one resident gets particularly loud and belligerent by the time of evening we continue to hold our meetings apparently got too drunk to show up. The resident who could have taken the most offense at some of the proceedings (we were discussing his unsuccessful lawsuit against the association, and our plans to sue him back for attorney’s fees) has become increasingly distracted and wasn’t paying attention during that part. Also, though, some people made a real effort. One old woman, who has in the past issued such comments as “why don’t you go have another drink,” and “shut up,” held her tongue. The resident who on the last meeting I attended charged on another elderly woman with a balled fist, kept his seat during the whole meeting. And the resident who second guesses the board at every item at every meeting did so without actually saying “you don’t know what you’re doing,” as he has in the past.

So I couldn’t have been more impressed with our little community. I admit to being invested in that pride, having just become our community’s First Lady; the main squeeze was elected at the end of the meeting to succeed the outgoing leader (who completed his term, although, his wife shared with us, he had been urged to step down sooner by his doctor). Then the next day the new president shared with me a new resident’s impression of the meeting: “He said it was madness — sheer madness. He wanted to know if they were always like that.

How embarrassing. We had become, as people everywhere do, inured to our own madness, and think our best day is good enough.

I thought about this when wondering how to answer an African friend of mine who just wrote to inquire about the political scene here. I take it he has picked up some hints that our Republican brothers and sisters face a difficult choice — which of their prejudices to surrender. It would be easy to point to their madness when I respond to my friend — a different mean-spirited, unprincipled incompetent has won each of the primaries they’ve held so far. But then I think how unfair. To them, perhaps, each of those forays into democracy represented progress — as they got rid of the woman who said HPV vaccines make you retarded, the guy who can’t count to three, the one who upon dropping out of the race immediately began to trash his former boss (and who is one of the two who believe in magic underpants), and having already lost the one who doesn’t know where Libya is, but sure would have handled things differently than our president, if he did.

The distinctive appeal of Ikea fills store like Disney Land
January 16, 2012

SUNRISE, FL — It was the special appeal that a classically basic, $49, full-size bed frame had for me, with my exceptional eye for quality, integrity and a bargain, that drew me to join the masses who pulled into the Ikea store in Sunrise, Florida this afternoon.

A map of the location could be next the “Way the Hell and Gone” entry in the dictionary, which was one more thing that made me feel clever and industrious for going there to get a simple basic pine bed. My uniquely simple classic thrifty quality taste led me there. Only to be ushered in by no fewer than half a dozen of those guys with torch-like things who lead you to parking at major outdoor concerts (and easily more; I stopped being surprised enough to keep track). It’s not a store, it’s an event, it turns out.

You line up to get on the elevator, to walk through the front door, to walk through the place. If you forgot something in your car, like I did my glasses, it doesn’t occur to you you can go back and get it.

Your fellow Ikea goers push carts with big yellow bags stretched across the handle, so they don’t have to forgo any of the new necessities they discover along a trek that is actually reminiscent of a tour of the Guggenheim Museum. There’s only one way to go, one way out. The occasional store maps, which illustrate the maze you are in, show “short-cuts” the name, in this context seems to hint at “for losers,” but even if you are tempted to bypass the education in how to live in a room that has every necessity, and looks comfortable and completely unembarrassing, for a total of $750, or how to live in 230 square feet — it turns out those short cuts aren’t there. Perhaps no one used them, so they closed.

But discovering one of the little disillusionments of Ikea is reassuring; you already knew it was too good to be true. What a minor falsehood a missing short cut is.

More serious, as you wind your way around to where the tour is getting serious is the discovery in relatively small print that some of the beds that are on sale require the purchase of an additional mid-beam. That is substantially more crucial information than adjusting the store map for closed short cuts. This means you could get your bed frame home, put the whole thing together — add the slats, that, incidentally, they also don’t make a big deal of telling you your bed frame will be incomplete without (but at least that information is online) — and have the mattress fall right through the frame and onto the floor. Then you would have to go back to way the hell and gone, line up to park, take the elevator, walk in the store, through the exhibits of how to live in 230 square feet, or like a oxymoronically tasteful yuppie for $750, just to get a mid-beam. It seems like it would be simpler for everyone, including the call center customer service reps dealing with legions of new enemies on a daily basis, to put it in the box with the rest of the bed.

The maze had wound all the way to the “self-service” (as if there was some other kind of service, in other words, as if you were taking a clever, independent, plucky person’s option, when that is the only place the maze leads) when I saw that “this needs a mid-beam sign.” It put a chill through me, and I tried to file it away, but let it slip my mind in the midst of locating aisles 28 and 30, (by common aisle definition they are one and the same) for, respectively, bed frame and slats.

Then, on the cart jostling, warehouse store type check out line, one customer after another hit some kind of obstacle that halted their progress and led to dialogue with the great cheerful guy whose function I had once dreamed was only to pass the scanner over cartons of goods, and tell people when to swipe their credit cards. Two guys up three carts ahead got into a discussion with the cashier that lasted at least 20 minutes while everyone behind them began to gesture, make faces, slap the boxes of wood stacked up on their own carts (everything but talk, on the whole because Ikea draws an international crowd it turns out, who can’t count on complaining in the same language.

I told him, the young woman with an ornate Italian sounding accent said, this is the cash register, not the information counter, no?

So I went up and said, why not call a manager to work out the details, we are all waiting.

And the big cheerful cashier said nonchalantly I’ll get to you shortly.

And when he did, what do you know, I got the same individualized attention. He said, This bed might need a midbeam. To which I said, if I have to get back on this line, I’m leaving everything right here. To which he said, then your mattress will fall through right on the floor, which showed he hadn’t been listening, so I explained no it wouldn’t because I wouldn’t have a bed. Then while we waited for someone to call him back to tell him if the Fjellse bed needed a mid-beam we passed the time discussing ways to make that addition less of an ordeal . . .

And then it turned out it didn’t — that I had cleverly picked out a $49 double bed (plus $20 for the slats) that didn’t need one more extra piece — and I completed the transaction, wheeled my cart out, leveraged the lead heavy box of bed bits into my car, and felt very uniquely smart over the whole adventure.

Hard Times
January 5, 2012

Everywhere — The first big news today was that Willard “Mittens” Romney, the guy who has managed to maintain a belief in magic underpants, but not in people’s right to healthcare, got eight more votes than Rick Santorum,whose name is a synonym for, well, for santorum, who has been steadfast in his contempt for human rights, and who brought a miscarried fetus home to meet his kids. This “win” and “second place” apparently was good news for both of them, like in Kindergarten when everyone gets a star so long as they weren’t in time out.

But Michelle Bachman has been in time out ever since, at least, the time she shared that she had just learned from a reliable source (a woman she met a few minutes earlier) that the anti-HPV vaccine can make you retarded (apparently not having gotten the memo that Sarah Palin doesn’t like when you use the word “retarded” lightly). So she read a long speech that ended up being about that she’s not going to run for president anymore, and that Republicans need to unite against healthcare, which is going to make it tough for anyone who followed what she was saying to unite behind the guy who won, by eight votes, but so what. None of the rest of it made any sense either.

The survivors of what I would call, forgive me, Retard Island, who with the exception of the magic underpants cultist, cite Christ more than the constitution as the basis of how they would run things, are coming to Florida soon, to persuade Jews, immigrants, unemployed people — and that pretty much sums up the population here outside of the very rich — that it is in their interests to vote for them.

NYT to staffers: “Again,” don’t let the door hit you in the ass
December 29, 2011

I used to work with an editor who was famous for outrageous and pointless orders. He was a deputy middle-management sort of person, even when, briefly he was promoted to real middle-management, but his silly directives carried a little added authority because he seemed likely, if he were on the receiving end of them to carry them out.

He was as white as copy-machine paper, had a doughy flaccid physique, and thick glasses that magnified the pouches under his eyes. He was in his 40s, it turned out, when I met him, but he looked like a grandpa in the sun room of a nursing home. He was not a healthy or happy looking guy. The seat of his chair, which he vacated only briefly, was stained and crusted with the remnants of meals he had eaten while sitting there. He ate three meals a day at his desk, starting with a breakfast sandwich he carried to his desk from the company cafeteria. All of which helped, when he gave his ludicrous and sadistic instructions on how to report a minor story, you would remember that he was more pathetic than mean-spirited. He was giving his life to the newspaper. He thought that’s what you were supposed to do. So did we. So when, towards the end of your night cops shift, near midnight, when the paper had gone to bed, and then a dispatch went over the police radio that about a domestic call in which a man might be armed, he would amble over. “You’re going to want to go there,” he would say, “and see what’s going on, until, say, 2:30 in the morning.” Once, when scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were in town to investigate the Anthrax attacks, he ordered me to chase them in my car, so I could report on everything they did while here. That kind of thing. Stupid, a lot of the time, but with one common theme: You were supposed to do whatever was necessary, and certainly whatever your superiors told you to do, in the service of collecting the news and getting it to the readers. It was like the army, at wartime — it was a mission, and you were part of a whole carrying out that mission. Your own life: the missed meals, lost family time, depleted energy were not to be figured into that equation. So while I did flat out refuse to stand outside the domestic disturbance until 2:30 in the morning that one time, most of the time, you did what he said, because that was how newspapers function.

What kept us from feeling like total patsies in that arrangement is that our newspaper offered phenomenal job security, enticed you to stay, yes, even threw a big dinner and gave Rolexs every year on employee’s 20th anniversary, then offered life insurance and a pension once you were 55, along with your 401K. So in exchange for giving it your all, you got security, maybe not a completely equitable exchange, but one freely made.

Which made a lot of us feel like patsies a few years ago when we all got an email saying nearly all of use were superfluous, and that anyone who didn’t accept the buyout offer risked getting laid off. Additional treachery made that even harder to swallow – like the discovery that a select handful of exceptionally unproductive friends of the bosses were quietly told they could stay, which a human resources woman told me couldn’t possibly have happened because that was illegal – except it did happen.

So, in spite of the improvement that leaving the newspaper brought to many of our lives, we couldn’t help but feel had.

All of that, however, pales, in comparison to the rude, snitty, supercilious “answers” to Frequently Asked Questions that someone at the New York Times company had the appalling indecency to send to employees of its regional papers the day after they discovered they had been sold out.

Here are some of the manifestations of utter contempt for the hardworking employees who were, I’m guessing already feeling a little dissed by having given no notice this was coming:

(Note the lack of useful information in the answer to “question” number 3 — bearing in mind these are literally hypothetical questions, one that the human resources department guessed would be asked — followed by the snotty-sounding “again”  to number 4. )

3. How many employees will be retained by Halifax?

That decision will be made by Halifax, but they have committed to making offers of employment to the vast majority of employees. You will be notified within the next 48 hours whether the buyer will be offering you employment.

4. What is the process for determining who will be hired?

Halifax has decided who it will hire. Again, you will be notified within the next 48 hours whether the buyer will be offering you employment. The New York Times Company has not been involved in that decision.

11. Should I plan to look for another job?

We cannot advise employees on their personal, professional decisions.

Huh? Then why’d you ask? You posted this, not the employees. Nasty.

Read it. It’s sickening – if the staffers who received this had brought this kind of indifference to standards of performance to their job as the person who signed her name to this blowoff, this would be justice. Otherwise, it’s an outrage.

How we treat each other, that’s entirely up to us
January 17, 2011

CAMBRIDGE, MA — A few years ago, a relative of ours had the misfortune to greatly overestimate his capacity of for marijuana intake, with the result that he ended up spending two weeks at the local mental hospital with a bout of toxic psychosis.

I thought of this the other day because of the events last week in Tucson, involving a map with crosshairs and a gunman variously described as “wicked” (Sen. John McCain) and “evil” (you-know-who), but who, from apparently comprehensive accounts, was almost certainly psychotic.

It all took me back a few years because while the Main Squeeze and I didn’t know what had caused our relative’s breakdown then, the relative was, inarguably, psychotic at the time. His age, a generation below ours, was appropriate for the onset of schizophrenia. That is what we feared, from the day the relative walked home barefoot after giving his car away to a homeless man (on the guess the other guy needed it more) to the day about a week later, when he calmly told the Main Squeeze that he knew why he was in the hospital, raising a short-lived hope that he was returning to the reality we shared. This hope, sadly, was dispelled seconds later, when the relative explained, in reasonable tones, that he had been confined because he, and he alone, knew the secret about God and Jesus, that the authorities didn’t want anyone to know. Oh well.

Those were anxious days, and I called the Main Squeeze at work shortly after this “revelation” , when I knew he had just visited our relative again. By a fortuitous coincidence, the Main Squeeze was working a writing stint at a national tabloid magazine at the time, not far from the mental hospital.

“Are you busy?” I asked, the way you do, when you call someone at work.

“Well, yes a little,” he said. “You see a meteor is about the crash into the earth, and I have to figure what to do about it. I may have to call in the BVM.”

Calling in the Blessed Virgin Mary to intervene in planet-threatening catastrophes was a reliable solution to the kind of stuff he was assigned to write about for that particular tabloid.

The biggest difference of course, between him and our hospitalized relative was being paid to deal in such verbiage, as opposed to being locked up for it.

Big difference. Then there was the chicken-and-egg conundrum of who was making who do what . . .

Was the Main Squeeze, with his divine intervention as deus ex machina, creating a climate in which our relative’s cheese slipped off his cracker? Or was our relative just a particularly extreme example of the audience for those imaginings?

We still don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. Our relative returned, thankfully, to normal, which of course was for the best, although his Christ-like phase saw him at his most selfless. But was there a connection? Of course. Neither of them — tabloid writer, or mental patient — was the inventor of God and Jesus. That distinction belongs to more powerful and prolific minds than either of theirs. But blame? Who needs it? They were both part of the same culture.

So here’s what’s bothering me. I don’t remember anyone blaming you-know-who and her crosshairs map for the shootings that killed six people and injured 18, just pointing out the connection between one psychotic mind, and one with no such excuse. Before everyone got confused, I think the point was about what kind of culture we choose to live in.

If we can’t do anything about profitable politics, gun control, and inadequate mental health resources (and I think you have to be nuts to accept any of that), well at least — at least, as our President said this week, “how we treat each other, that’s entirely up to us.”

The difference between compromise
December 23, 2008


LANTANA, FL — The difference between compromise and appeasement is as vast as the difference between politics and policy, the difference between co-optation and cowardice.

When on election night voters in three states chose to preemptively take away the rights of some of their fellow Americans with same-sex marriage-banning amendments the echo of Kristalnacht’s tinkling glass was all bu drowned out by the rapture of Obama’s victory. And in spite of that roar, the sound of broken glass from those three states, including this one, said that although we had reason to celebrate, we were far from showing the potential of our humanity.

And on inauguration day, we will be further than we could have been.

Which is to say that when the Pastor Rick Warren delivers the invocation at our next president’s inauguration, some of us will be feeling the difference between feeling disappointed and feeling betrayed.