Banks vs. robbers-with-guns. And the difference is what?

Big banks: When did they officially trade customer service for big, fat lies?

This remarkable New York Times story by Gretchen Morgenson focuses on the absurd, seven-year battle by one beleaguered mortgage holder, but here’s the important part:

“The whole episode makes you wonder, yet again, how many of the millions of foreclosures in recent years might have been based on questionable accounting or improper practices by loan servicers.”

The bigger the bank, the bolder the perjury.

Well, I guess he passed the test.

Overheard in Emergency Room of a Portland hospital:

NURSE (speaking to ailing, elderly man): “Sir, can you tell me what day of the week it is?

MAN: “Thursday!”

NURSE: (nodding) “OK, now can you tell me who the President is?

MAN: “That black guy.”

I’m not sure if he got points for that answer or not.

Blame the victim, create the victim. We do both.

The story about the aftermath of an attack on a CBS newswoman in Tahir Square and the obituary for B.N. Nathanson, the famous abortion defender-turned-opponent don’t bear any similarities on the surface. But both reveal the power of provocative views spoken loud.

After Lara Logan was separated from her news crew, beaten and assaulted by a mob, a number of  bloggers, Tweeters and “columnists” took her to task for being there in the first place. And we’re not talking about anonymous idiots; these are commentators with big, visible platforms. (No, I’m not going to link to them. )

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who quickly went after the hateful Logan-bashing writers, as did Kim Barker, ProPublica journalist, also writing for the NYTimes. Other writers are still responding with articulate anger. One of the common points is that Logan is being punished for her sex and looks (attractive, blonde female); more than one writer points out that no one would berate a man for being mobbed and sodomized.

There are two reasons for this kind of blame-the-victim spewing: The spewer is a publicity-seeking fuckwit willing to use any shocking rhetoric to stand out. Or, s/he needs to believe that evil things happen for reasons, e.g. you get raped  if you’re too pretty. The reality of random hate crimes is too frightening to acknowledge. (There is now actually debate over whether Logan was raped or “just” sexually assaulted.)

Now, Nathanson. This intelligent activist doctor had a lot to do with legalizing abortion and moving it from a back-alley butcher’s job to the safe medical procedure that is the right of every woman. Later, upset by the large numbers of procedures he carried out and supervised, he spoke up as an opponent to the procedure. In both incarnations he wielded great power over public opinion. He founded what became the powerful pro-choice group NARAL and he gave the anti-abortion faction their favorite line when he pointed out a fetus’s “silent scream” while narrating a sonogram of an abortion in progress.

The other similarity between these news stories is that they reveal the only-sometimes-veiled misogyny that still exists in our society. Nathanson was okay with abortion as long as not many women exercised their right to make decisions about their own bodies, lives and health. Commentators (and others who silently agree and don’t challenge them) mouth politically correct sentiments about women being equal to men in the world of journalism, until they get a chance to berate them for being too attractive, too female, and for asking for trouble.

In both cases, I wonder how this sexism would hold up if the tables were turned: The hate-blogger gets left alone with an angry mob or the anti-choicer is told that he cannot elect a medically safe surgery, but must instead sneak off with a fistful of cash to a dangerous, illegal appointment.

Alert the media: RAM implant was a success.

Yes, Dear Reader, it appears I did manage to unscrew the panel on my iMac and install a new hunk of memory.

I did not:

–Get a shock (unplugging devices = good move);

Upset my beloved computer (it was for your own good, baby);

I did:

–Give thanks I have not yet had Lasik surgery on my eyes (turning that tiny screw on the panel requires my extremely-up-close uncorrected vision);

Need a piece of chocolate in order to calm down (organic, at least).

Rene Verdon, the “First Chef” of Camelot, is dead.

When Jacqueline Kennedy hired the French chef Rene Verdon to work in the White House in 1961, it was bigger news than Alan Shephard heading into space in Mercury Freedom 7.

Well, bigger news to my mother, anyway.

Verdon died Feb 2 at age 86. Despite other successes–posh restaurants and bestselling cookbooks–Verdon was always best known for the five years he spent in the White House kitchen. Before his arrival, the food had all the allure of a Navy chow line. Under his leadership, White House state dinners were fabulous…and guests no longer spent the cocktail hour stuffing themselves with crackers and olives.

The rumor was that Verdon was so offended by LBJ’s plebeian tastebuds that he quit. It’s more likely that he was exhausted. The White House chef  usually works with the First Lady, Chief Usher, White House Social Secretary and…get this, the Executive Pastry Chef. (Now there’s a business card worth having.) If you assume that each relationship means at least one teeth-gritting compromise a day on the part of a chef, then you can imagine how exhausting this all gets.

The workplace was fascinating, however. One section of a great time-wasting site, The White House Museum, has a selection of very cool kitchen photographs–including an award winner of Mamie Eisenhower consulting with her staff.  Ike may have been a bland, middle-of-the-road sort of guy, but his wife had some very memorable dresses.

By all accounts, the late Mr. Verdon was a talented and even-tempered man. He came close to losing it once when the Secret Service was spraying bug killer too close to his crabmeat appetizer, but you can’t hold that against a guy.

We owe him (and his patroness, Jacqueline Kennedy) a debt of gratitude for giving the White House some much-needed class. It was time for iceberg lettuce to go.

Joan Leegant’s novel: “Wherever You Go”

I had the good fortune to read an advance copy of Joan Leegant’s novel Wherever You Go, some months ago.  Leegant is a brainy, multi-degreed writer and teacher (Harvard undergrad; then law school and on to an MFA) who moves easily between Boston and Tel Aviv.

The book, published in 2010 by W.W. Norton, is getting good press–and among her stops, Leegant will appear in Portland in the spring. The review in The New York Times didn’t resonate for me on this one, but one paragraph had a good summary:

The book is an indictment of certain anemic corners of the modern American Jewish experience — spiritually sapped by bourgeois values, rote religious observance, Holocaust fatigue and jingoistic ethnic pride — and an exploration of the radicalism, religious and political, into which some searching people flee.

What wasn’t emphasized was the sympathy and fairness with which all those corners are portrayed, or Leegant’s gift for nailing down the nature of our imperfect introspection into matters religious and cultural. This slippery process has everything to do with the generally inept coverage of “Jewish issues” by mainstream media. When the interviewees are not articulate about their own Jewishness or view of Israel, the interviewers aren’t either.

I thought Steve Pollak, writing for Jewish Literary Review, did a good job on his review of Leegant’s book. And, for a better sense of Leegant and her writing process, click here for some video.

Conventional wisdom.

On a recent pass through Whole Foods I noticed one word on a few signs in the produce department.

(I also noticed that a teeny bunch of  cauliflower was going to cost me upwards of $4…that’s a story for another time.)

Right inside the entrance was an enormous display of avocados, salsa and bags of organic chips–hey, even vegans watch the Superbowl. A big sign hung over the table blaring:


No, “conventional” here does not mean middle-class, suit-wearing avocados clinging to the status quo, it means “not organic.” It is a common term now; I had somehow managed to miss this linguistic development. When I checked out the WF website, I read this:

Organic foods set the standard for top quality freshness, texture, flavor and variety. These foods are produced without the standard array of potentially harmful, environmentally long-lasting agricultural chemicals commonly used on conventional food products since the 1950s.

WF is, of course, right to label the provenance of  produce. “Organic” is a USDA designation that must be earned, and these avocados, tasty as they may be, were not worthy of the O-badge. But I couldn’t help feeling, well, judged, as I grabbed my $5 worth and hurried off: Suddenly I’m conventional, typical, pedestrian in my choice of guacamole ingredients. I am conforming.

Maybe a sign saying “Old School Avocados” would be better.

A soldier’s courage takes many forms.

For a lovely–and timely–article that manages to be lyrical and tough all at once, see the blog post, “A Soldier Writes: Taking off the Armor” in The New York Times by Rajiv Srinivasan:

Just because a soldier doesn’t have a diagnosis of PTSD doesn’t mean he does not have life-altering post-traumatic stress. The war zone is not limited to the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan. The fight does not end for a soldier when he comes home. He may shed his helmet and rifle, but he still carries his armor.

For the full piece, click here.